As a person who struggled with an eating disorder and a co-occurring substance abuse problem, I spent nearly a decade lying.
I lied about how much I was eating, I lied about how often I was eating, and I lied about what I was doing after I was eating.
I lied about how much I was drinking, I lied about how often I was drinking, and I lied about my ability to stop once I started drinking.
To maintain my alcoholism and eating disorder, I retreated into myself; I operated in my own world, on my own schedule, and along my own rules. It was a very lonely place, but I couldn’t escape. I couldn’t stop telling the lies that allowed me to continue my behaviors, and when you’re lying all the time, how close to anyone can you really become? How can you maintain a friendship based on half-truths at best and blatant lies at worst?
The answer is that you can’t.
Plus, I began to lie about more and more.
I lied about my sex life, because I felt ashamed about the way I sought sexual validation when I was drunk. I felt pathetic that I needed to know that someone, anyone, found me physically attractive.
I lied to my professors and my bosses. I made up elaborate reasons about why I missed class or couldn’t come to work because I knew that if I were honest about the real reasons I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, I would be made to get help.
I couldn’t have that. I couldn’t bear to lose my drinking, or my restricting, or my binging, or my purging. Those were my coping mechanisms. I couldn’t imagine how I’d deal with the grind of daily life without my rituals and dysfunctions, without my indulgences and my self-inflicted punishments.
I lied to myself. I told myself that I was okay, that I could keep doing this forever. I repeated that things would get better, that I’d gain more control, and everything would fall into place.
“I know that I drink too much,” I thought. “But I’ll grow out of it.”
“I know that it’s not healthy to eat everything one day, and nothing the next. I know it’s unhealthy to eat what other people eat and then make myself sick,” I thought. “But I’ll make it through this phase. I’ll stabilize.”
And I believed it; I truly believed my own lies for nine years. Through rehabilitations, and emergency room visits, through relationships ruined and happy moments lost, I told myself everyone and everything else was the issue, not me. I repeated that lie over and over and over until I was able to escape whatever shame spiral I was in.
Then I went back to my habits, my addictions.
Finally, when I was 22, I woke up one morning after blacking out. I’d blacked out hundreds of times before but my body was speaking to me this time. I felt like I was near death.
I realized that I was going to die soon if I didn’t stop.
The message from my body was stronger than the lies inside my head. My defenses broke down.
I collapsed and admitted I needed help.
I got that help.
Recovery from my eating disorder and substance abuse has been a journey in itself. An instant cure to every shred of darkness inside of me it was not.
I had to work to stop lying to everyone around me, all the time. It had been many, many years since I’d been honest.
I learned that honesty isn’t easy, and it doesn’t always feel good. Honesty can mean disappointing someone and the truth can lead to you not getting your way.
But that’s life: you can’t control it by creating your own narrative or rules; you can’t find happiness by creating your own world.
All you can do is dig in, and do your best to be happy, successful, and kind. Oftentimes, reality doesn’t meet your expectations; you have to do things you don’t want to do, sometimes even things that scare you.
Living without the shell of my addictions isn’t always easy, or happy, or fun, or magical, but it’s real.
And I’ll tell you this: it’s a hell of a lot better than lying.
Seamus published his memoir, Shitfaced: Musings of a Former Drunk, in early 2017, and has written about mental health and substance abuse issues for Teen Vogue, Upworthy, Advocate.com, The Huffington Post, and The Mighty. He has been a guest for a live recording of the Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast, has Facebook Lived about his own experiences for The Mighty, was a panelist for NEDA’s Twitter Chat about eating disorders in men and was also a panelist for Refinery29’s ‘Race in America’ dialogue. Follow Seamus on Twitter, and like his Facebook page here.