'I was picture perfect on the outside but broken underneath'
For 'Addiction in Young People' month, Gemma shares her story of dependence on food and alcohol with Niamh Horan
This month marks the Addiction in Young People campaign at the Rutland Centre and as part of the crusade entitled, 'Recovery - Living My Best Life' the focus is on the millennial generation.
In today's Sunday Independent, Gemma, a woman in her thirties, shares her story.
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"Not that I would have been aware of it at the time, but I would have had an eating disorder from the age of six. At the time, I didn't realise it, because there was no purging, anorexia or getting too skinny but everything was very controlled and I had that constant negative self- talk that 'nothing is good enough'. It was my inability to handle life. I didn't have the emotional tool kit for it. I was a very sensitive soul and things that may not have impacted on others, I took on board and internalised.
Looking back from the outside, my childhood was very normal. As a kid I did well in school, I was very pleasant, well-mannered, had friends and played sports but inside, I always felt desperately lonely, even in groups. For me it was always about 'how do people perceive me? What do I look like? What do they think of me?' I had a very busy mind. My head was constantly going, like a washing machine and then I reached the age of alcohol and it gave me peace between my ears. Looking back, I now know I was numbing the fear and pain. I started working and partying and I was in the circles that I wasn't doing anything different to anyone else, except that they weren't coming away from their nights out feeling the way I did. Absolutely desperate. I thought I had control over it, because I didn't wake up thinking 'I need a drink' the next morning in order to function. But for me, I knew that once I picked up a drink I couldn't stop and it was ending in blackouts. I would say on a Monday morning 'I'm never going to drink like that again' and then a few days would pass and I would be off.
Perfect life, on the outside
All the time, my mental state was getting worse. And yet, on the outside, I was ticking all of the boxes of what is expected in life. I was changing jobs, upskilling, being promoted, I bought a house, I had a car and I was still very young doing it all. So I was achieving, but thinking 'what am I supposed to do next?' Everything was so perfect on the outside. I was the person who everybody came to with their problems, I supported everyone, but I had no idea that I was the one who needed support more than anyone. I was the one who was so lost and broken. I suppose I never really liked myself, but I didn't know that then. I came from a place where there was no value in talking about feelings or understanding yourself. Or simply being able to say 'I had a bad day'. It was understood that 'that's life' and you brush it off and move forward.
Compulsive eating and bouts of intensive exercise
During the week, when I wasn't drinking, my behaviours around food were insane. I would go from fad diet to fad diet. My weight would yo-yo.
When I wasn't drinking I was up at 5am in the gym and there were weeks when I would lose a lot of weight and in another few weeks I would put twice that back on. I was constantly fluctuating and consumed with dieting and how I look and having to achieve a weight, but then getting there and then never feeling any better. Nothing I did was good enough, nothing satisfied me, nothing made me feel like I was whole. I had that hole inside that nothing would fill.
I changed a lot of things in my life in the last year. I would say 'I feel so bad because of… situations I was in, where I was living, how I was living, etc... and I changed all those outside things, and then a year later, I realised I was the common denominator and that there was something seriously wrong with me. I had nothing left to blame.
Going into a treatment centre was the best thing I've ever done. It lasted five weeks but when I look at how many years I lost, there is no comparison. I actually live today. I actually like myself. I have peace and contentment. I don't have it 24/7, I am not unrealistic, life is life and it happens but I now have a normal reaction to everyday situations and I don't have to block it out. I am 10 years down the road now and I have definitely come out stronger on the other side."
For more information visit www.rutlandcentre.ie (01 4946358).