National Eating Disorders Association

Living Without Shame: How I Recovered from My Eating Disorder and Addiction

Kelsi Cronkright

For me, substance abuse goes hand in hand with my eating disorder. Also, and more importantly, I believe substance abuse needs to be a part of the conversation. Addicts have been beaten down and made to believe they are unworthy of social acceptance. Due to this lack of understanding, my confidence has taken a serious turn for the worse. 

In my personal recovery, I can no longer afford to only focus on either my eating disorder or my addiction. In order for me to regain my sense of self-worth, recovery from both are of equal importance. So the question becomes, “How do I build confidence in a society that is constantly putting me down for battling both an eating disorder and addiction?”

As difficult as it is for me to accept, this process begins within. If I continuously make excuses and tell myself that the world around me thinks poorly of me because I am an alcoholic, then I will believe it. Society is not going to magically change overnight. Over the years I have told myself it is more socially acceptable to come clean about my eating disorder than to speak about my struggle with alcoholism—only to be left feeling stuck in a cycle of self-defeating shame.

When I reveal my addiction to alcohol to someone new, it initially sucks out any bit of self-esteem I thought I had and leaves me feeling totally exposed. It makes me feel dirty sometimes, like people are looking at me as that stereotypical homeless person drinking out of a brown paper bag. That is such a frustrating and incorrect portrayal of an addict. During my time in the addiction recovery world, I have met some of the most intelligent, insightful and incredibly considerate people. The more I surround myself with these compassionate human beings, the more I begin to see my long-lost confidence slowly shine through the black hole it has been buried in for so long.

While society might have an incorrect perception of addicts—thinking they are weak, immoral criminals—I am learning that no longer needs to dictate my recovery or my sense of self-worth. Regardless of my struggles with addiction and anorexia, I am still a kind-hearted, intelligent and courageous young woman. After years of believing the opposite, I can finally see it is possible to be in recovery and feel like a worthwhile, productive member of society.

According to Brene Brown, "What makes you vulnerable, also makes you beautiful." Years ago, when I first began recovering from my eating disorder, I thought by exposing my eating disorder I had become vulnerable enough. The problem was that a huge part of my story was kept secret—rather than exposing my addiction to alcohol and getting the help I truly needed, I kept myself from building the confidence necessary to achieve complete freedom. 

Maybe sharing this part of my story does make me beautiful. Maybe in order to build a more confident community it's time to break the stigmas involved with being an addict, as well as having an eating disorder. And just maybe, with a little help, I will learn to fully accept myself—flaws and all. 

Kelsi is one year away from her social work degree, has her own personal blog, is a writer for Libero Network and hopes to break the social stigma involved in what it means to be an addict. 

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