"People do not have to be at a place where they have 'hit their bottom' in order to seek out therapy and support - at any phase of the addiction, therapy and other supports for recovery can be life-changing and joy-inducing!"
Whether it is binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, or "not otherwise specified," RtW views eating disorders as a type of process addiction. In this case, the addictive processes relate to food, weight, and body image.
Often, people with eating disorders attempt to control their appearance, weight, and food choices in order to solve or reduce the felt impact of emotional, relational, or trauma-induced stressors. Binge eating, for example, can come with a substance-like high via the "food coma," which may help sedate a person; anorexia can come with a substance-like euphoria or physical and emotional sense of power and ascetic "lightness" when in restrictive behaviors; some bulimic behaviors, like vomiting, release chemicals into the body and brain that can bring a felt sense of relief from intense emotional or physical sensations; intense exercise can also release chemicals into the body and brain that mimic a substance high in the form of endorphins and exhaustion.
Regardless of these chemical reactions in the body, many eating disorders symptoms like body checking, compulsive weighing, calorie counting, fad dieting, laxative abuse, and others also bring a sense of either shame or pride that is used to control one's behaviors over and over and over and give one a sense of identity, purpose, and safety in the world. This can feel like a salve in the face of underlying trauma or challenging experiences or relationships that bring feelings of uncertainty, dread, and deep grief.
Sometimes quickly, other times slowly, these and other eating disorder behaviors and symptoms become addictive, as individuals compulsively manage feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations over and over and over with these coping "tools." The problem is, these coping tools at some point stop working as they used to and/or come to cause tremendous harm physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually, and often lead to increased feelings of shame and isolation and a sense that this is no longer within the person's control.
At RtW, we provide outpatient psychotherapy to treat the behavioral, emotional, psychological, and spiritual difficulties that come with eating disorders; we are willing to collaborate with other members of your team - such as a dietitian and medical doctor - in order to assist your well-rounded recovery from this life-threatening illness.
Eating disorders are proven to be the deadliest mental illness. But there is hope! And we are here to help. Together, we believe that recovery is possible.
Sex & Love addiction
These process addictions, similar to eating disorders, all include a behavior or behaviors that a person goes to repeatedly to distract from or soothe emotional, physical, relational, or trauma-induced stressors. Some of these behaviors are more external - such as gambling or sex or spending addiction - whereas others, like chronic underearning, love addiction, and workaholism - may be experienced as more internal processes that are sometimes very challenging for an individual or others to detect as problematic.
"all addictions do not simply distract one from painful experiences - they also disrupt a person's capacity to experience joy in the moment."
Gambling, spending and sex addiction may give one a physical "hit" or substance-like "high" when the compulsive gambler wins, when a sexual conquest is won, or when a wanted item is compulsively purchased. At first, as with eating disorders, the distraction from stressors as well as these brain and body changes may feel incredibly appealing, relieving, and enjoyable.
With workaholism, there initially - and even for quite some time - may be a felt sense of personal accomplishment or purposefulness, as well as accolades and affirmation from those around the workaholic, fulfilling a yearning for external validation and sense of usefulness to others. Turning addictively to work tasks may provide one with direction, meaning, concreteness, and certainty in the face of stressors.
Chronic underearning and compulsive debting may result in the individual always being "on the edge" financially, which may lead to adrenaline rushes, obsessive anxiety and fixation on money, leading one's attention away from any other stressors, painful experiences, or even joy. Compulsive debting, like compulsive spending, may also bring a rush of pleasure. Typically, though, this is followed - maybe immediately or some time later - by an experience of shame.
All addictions do not simply distract one from painful experiences - they also disrupt a person's capacity to experience joy in the moment. True joy is unfiltered; all addiction is a filter. Or a barrier. At RtW, this makes sense to us, because we believe that the function of addiction, at root, is to keep someone safe from what are experienced as dangerous, even life-threatening events and people. How could joy be dangerous? If one has repeatedly had an experience that joy or a sense of calm, connection or stability is followed by the rude awakening of physical or sexual abuse, loss, invalidation, neglect, or a threat of harm, an experience of joy or stability may become terrifying - there could always be a sense of when will the shoe drop? Well, so, don't get too attached this pleasant feeling, the disease of addiction may suggest! One way to not get too attached to a pleasant feeling like joy is to put a protective barrier between a person and the joy - in the form of an addiction or dysfunctional behavior.
These addictions, which may come with certain desired things, like highs, adrenaline, amassing material belongings and a sense of accomplishment, as well as distraction from or soothing of stressors, become sources of shame and isolation. Perhaps these behaviors once seemed "normal" or fun or were - and still may be - socially and professionally acceptable and even encouraged with friends, family and colleagues. Sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, these addictive processes can overtake a person's life, relationships, sense of self, and ability to experience joy, intimacy, and psychological freedom, as a person struggles to identify coping tools that are less painful, isolating, obsessive, or destructive.
People do not have to be at a place where they have "hit their bottom" in order to seek out therapy and support - at any phase of the addiction, therapy and other supports for recovery can be life-changing and joy-inducing!
Codependency can also be considered a process addiction and can show up in many different ways.
In some cases, a person becomes addicted to fixing, managing, and controlling others or experiences their own happiness and well-being only if others they love are happy and well.
Codependency can show up as compulsive rescuing or only feeling "worthy" if one is useful to someone else. Codependency shows up also in intense emotional reactivity to others' behaviors and a hypersensitivity to being hurt, rejected, or abandoned. Some codependency shows up as a self-harm or suicidality when someone feels rejected, abandoned, or hurt by someone they love.
"Codependency can rob a person of their sense of agency and choices and leave them feeling like a cork being tossed around in someone else's ocean."
Some codependency shows up as compulsive people pleasing and an inability to truly discern one's own opinions, thoughts, and beliefs from what would be - supposedly - pleasing to others. Some experience a "fog of codependency" wherein from one moment to the next they may feel and think radically differently about a situation depending on who they are talking to and hearing from.
Other people's opinions, thoughts, and beliefs may matter to people who are codependent so much that they may become beside themselves if they cannot please another person or are disliked by another person.
Some people with codependency compulsively hear criticism or blame from other people where there is none and find it incredibly painful to hear normative feedback or requests for behavior change from colleagues or loved ones.
These and other codependent patterns of behavior can end up ruling a person's life and can lead to a strong sense of resentment, hopelessness, loss of identity, and directionlessness in addition to romantic relationships with unavailable or addicted people, jobs wherein they do not feel satisfied or fulfilled, and strained or one-sided relationships with peers and family. Codependency can also have serious financial consequences for people who compulsively rescue others from their own financial troubles.
At its worst, codependency can contribute to one's death in a multitude of ways, as codependency may lead to neglect of one's own health or to reactive suicidality when rejected or hurt by a loved one.
Codependency, like the other process addictions mentioned above, also is compulsively used as a way to soothe or distract from emotional, physical, relational or spiritual distress (and remember joy can be experienced as distressing), in that typically the focus of a person in codependency is the behavior of another person or the well-being of another person or the thoughts and beliefs of another person. By focusing so externally, compulsively, a codependent person may be relieved from having to focus on their own difficulties, behaviors, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, memories, experiences, and trauma. Codependency can rob a person of their sense of agency and choices and leave them feeling like a cork being tossed around in someone else's ocean.