10/10/2015 8:20 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

A Crisis Of Identity: How I Went From The Prison Of Addiction To The Prison Of 'Recovery'

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For as long as I can remember I have been told how important it is to develop a strong identity and a distinctive style of one's own. Most of us are given this advice, from our parents, teachers and other figures of authority. It appears to be an indisputable instruction, yet it's a daunting challenge.

The effort to build that identity, distinguished from others, often antagonises our core -- who we really are -- and, unwittingly, we become estranged from ourselves. The effort itself defies a natural state of evolution yielded by the almost imperceptible process of discovery. Instead it constitutes a digression, which will, at best, deform us or, worse, disease us - gradually we become not victor, but victim of that identity.

As a child I didn't want to be different; I wanted to be like everyone else, to feel like everyone else. I needed to belong -- the "being different" was a cruel contradiction, so feared by every child, so celebrated by the parent and coveted by the adult. I was inherently and effortlessly different. I was transient everywhere I lived, but in my desperate search to be the same as others -- to belong -- I forged multiple identities and buried myself beneath so many different facades I was unable to find my way back to who I really was.

"The rhetoric of conventional rehabilitation claimed that I, like every other addict, could never shed the label..."

Eventually I was discovered, my lies uncovered and fraudulence exposed: I was ridiculed, rejected, hurt and humiliated -- my shame was overwhelming, the silence of loneliness deafening. It was then that I found solace in the world of addiction, primarily an addiction known as anorexia-bulimia -- a world in which I was able to suffocate the sense of shame and anaesthetise my loneliness and pain.

Suddenly I had a new identity: I was an addict -- a label that effected a set of beliefs about myself by which I was shackled for the next 13 years of my life. In my frenzied search for an identity I had stumbled into one which held me prisoner. I did not understand that addiction was a consequence, not a cause -- it was a predator aroused by fear and nourished by the need to escape not only fear, but also other feelings I did not know how to negotiate. I had never learned to feel my way through life; like so many young people, I had been encouraged, if not forced, to think my way forward.

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The rhetoric of conventional rehabilitation claimed that I, like every other addict, could never shed the label -- we were told we would never recover and could only hope to be in recovery for the rest of our days, forever threatened by a relapse into our various, sometimes numerous, addictions. I was taught to consume a regimented diet motivated by need and devoid of desire. I was warned against feeling hungry and full -- in short, like every other addict, I was instructed to evade choice and avoid sensibility. But that is not a solution. It is a sentence of imprisonment that transfers the addict from a prison of addiction to a prison of recovery.

We must learn to make the right choice; we must learn to feel it, but that is only possible when we deconstruct our identities, dismantle the definitions that damage and imprison us, heal our instinct, restore its virginity and with it the power of all possibility.

Addiction is a modern day epidemic, widely misunderstood and mistreated. Anorexia-bulimia itself is little understood as an addiction, and is possibly the most complex to cure.

What is important to know is that the nucleus of the addictive tendency lies in the subconscious of the individual, a burial ground of emotion camouflaged by a carefully constructed identity. That identity must be systematically disassembled and the subconscious penetrated if an addict is to find real freedom from addiction -- if any psychologically impaired person is ever to find a real sense of freedom within themselves.

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