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“A Bar at the Folies-Bergère,” Édouard Manet
Dear First name / friend,
Hi, my name is Jen, and while I don’t like to label myself as an addict, I’ve spent most of my life completely lost in addiction. I have been a compulsive binge eater since age ten or so, and by the time I was about 25, I was also a daily blackout drinker. 
As a kid, growing up in an alcoholic/drug-addicted home and in the “Just Say No” era, drugs of all kinds seemed to have some kind of supernatural power—one sip and you were a goner. And there was no question it “ran in my family.” It seemed that somehow, for whatever reason, we all just had terribly addictive personalities, generation after generation.
I watched alcoholism completely consume my father. It started slowly, insidiously, gradually tarnishing his reputation one misstep and mistake at a time, and eventually destroying his once celebrated career. Then it came for his mind, his humor, his intelligence, and the very essence of his larger-than-life personality. Eventually it poisoned every lingering connection and relationship in his life until he died alone, surrounded by empty bottles, in his tiny, filthy Anchorage apartment. 
I was terrified the curse of alcohol upon my house would drag me under the same waves if I ever so much as touched it, so I didn’t touch it. I got through high school and even a year abroad living in a famous brewing town in Germany without ever imbibing. It wasn’t until one day in a chance conversation with a college therapist, when I was told that the idea that addiction was genetic had been debunked, that I opened that door.
It was love at first sip. The first night I got drunk felt, as this week’s guest Adam Sud puts it, “like a warm hug from the universe.” All my problems were solved. I was suddenly extremely hilarious (so it seeemed). I could flirt shamelessly (with other wastrels and drunks). My social anxiety and other insecurities just…vanished. From that point forward, it was a rare night that I didn’t get completely wasted. And most nights (and days), I got well beyond wasted. I was on an accelerated path of self-destruction, choosing alcohol over almost everything else in my life. It took alcohol nearly half a century to fully annihilate my father, but I always was a star student. When I finally did miraculously manage to quit, I was at a tipping point and I knew it. If I hadn’t stopped when I did, I would not have made it another five years. I am quite certain of that.
I am very proud of my decade of sobriety now. But the truth is that most of that time has been in a state of sobriety, but not in recovery. I’ve been what the salty old-timers in AA call a “dry drunk”—someone who is technically abstinent from the drug, but who is totally neglecting the emotional and psychological reasons she drank in the first place. My other addictions have run rampant, and in particular I’ve continued to use and abuse food, in the same type of abstinence dance with periods of higher or lower “compliance.” Food is certainly not nearly as effective at achieving state change and emotional escape as alcohol is, but it will do in a pinch.

I liked Hell,
I liked to go there alone
relieved to lie in the wreckage, ruined, physically undone.
The worst had happened. What else could hurt me then?
I thought it was the worst, thought nothing worse could come.
Then nothing did, and no one.
—Marie Howe, “The Addict”

All of this brings us to the questions at the heart of this week’s “Face of the Deep” episode: why do some of us become addicted in the first place? Is it just a question of “supernormal stimuli” and unlucky genetic susceptibility, as I had always believed growing up and as we tend to think of these things in evopsych land? Or is addiction solving problems that seem otherwise unsolvable?  How much does environmental context—including childhood dynamics—really matter? How do these things all interact with one another?
And, most importantly: how can we recover—really recover, not just remain abstinent? How can we live a life free of compulsions of all kinds? As Adam says, it’s all about making your life a “safe, secure, hopeful, and exciting” place to be. And that is true whether your rock bottom looks as scary as mine did, or as Adam’s did, or if you’re just trapped in some patterns of self-medication that are compensating for the ways in which you struggle to find that security, hope, and excitement.
To learn more about and connect with Adam, you can find him on Instagram at @plantbasedaddict, or visit his website:
You can watch the newest episode here, or find it on iTunes here.

P.S. In other podcast news, I’m also Chrissy Benson's guest on “Vegan Posse” this week, which also gets into my history with addiction—as well as ancestral trauma, the limits of evolutionary psychology, why I wouldn’t take my own past dating advice, weight gain and imposter syndrome, and a bunch of other things. You can listen to it on iTunes here. 
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