An unhealthy habit becomes an addiction when it causes suffering to self or others and prevents a person from pursuing something that matters to him or her, says Paul Guinther, a licensed psychologist at Portland Psychotherapy.
“Sometimes people drink or shop or engage in activities as a form of experiential avoidance, which is a way to push painful thoughts, memories or feelings from consciousness,” he says. “It’s a way of coping that has some side effects.”
Addictions can run the gamut from gambling, shopping and overeating, to alcohol and drug abuse. Three recovering addicts share their stories of addiction and recovery here in their own words, in the hopes of inspiring others to start anew in the coming year.
Angela Teuscher, recovering alcoholic
I really didn’t have a problem that I could pinpoint until probably in my 30s. It took on a life of its own. I started drinking first thing in the morning until the end of the evening.
In November 2008, I was arrested for a DUI, and that’s when I first was introduced to recovery.
They say that alcoholics have an allergic reaction, and I believe that because when I stopped drinking for a year and I started back up, I was right where I left off. My kids kept finding bottles and stashes around the house. Eventually, they caught me for the last time and called my family.
I ended up in the psych ward. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, which is a lot of times what we drink or use for, and I realized that I had been self-medicating for a long time.
My sister presented the option of De Paul Treatment Centers. I come from a family that couldn’t facilitate paying for treatment. De Paul was able to get me in on a funded bed.
I learned lots of life skills. We used a lot of acceptance. It’s accepting life on life’s terms.
What I’m trying to work on this next year is really defining what about me do I like, and what I want to do. I want to go back to school so that I can already use the skills that I have and create more of a career.
In Oregon, about 6.9 percent of people age 26 and older reported alcohol dependence or abuse in the past year compared to 5.7 percent nationwide, according to the 2010-11 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol abuse, contact aa-oregon.org or depaultreatmentcenters.org.
Freda Emmons, recovering binge eater
I grew up in a violent home. It was hard to be OK when there were things that were out of control with most of my family members.
When I went to school, I did OK. It was safe at school.
I joined Bluebirds, with Camp Fire Girls. In the summer between my second grade and third grade year, I went to camp. I learned that you could go back for seconds and thirds and fourths.
Something clicked, and I started eating just to be OK. When I came home, my parents did not recognize me. I had gained about 30 pounds.
I really liked to binge. It became a way of avoiding dealing with my feelings.
When I was 40, I learned that I had diabetes, and it helped me to be diagnosed and to have a physical reason why I had to control my eating.
This book that I’ve written (“Flame of Healing”), it’s a comfort to me, so that I don’t have to go to food for comfort.
I was probably about 267 pounds at my heaviest, and now I’m about 210. It’s been a long journey. I’m not there yet; I’m still struggling every day to keep my weight down, to keep my exercise up and to keep making good choices.
Losing the weight is a long-term goal. It’s better if I can just focus on getting stronger and take it day by day.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oregon had a 26.7 percent prevalence of obesity among adults in 2011. In 2009-10, about 36 percent of all U.S. adults were obese, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. If you or someone you know needs help with overeating, visit oregon-oa.org.
Cindy Mahar, recovering compulsive shopper
When I was a child, I was abused sexually, and that came with a whole lot of dysfunction and control issues. One of my abusers was close to the family, and he would give me an allowance. I think that’s where some of it started.
(My first husband) was responsible and a good provider, but I wasn’t allowed to spend the way I wanted to and had to be accountable at every step. That was where I really rebelled.
How it progressed through the years was getting Visa cards and doing my own thing and then having to get a part-time job and pay it off because he found out.
I would say, “Will you go shopping with me?” because I wanted accountability, and he would say “No.” So I would just let go.
He realized that I had gotten another card and I ran up $3,000, and I agreed to go (to treatment).
I was helped by that, and I went through Debtors Anonymous. But the greater thing that helped me was my spiritual growth.
In 2009, I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I had $96,000 in debt. And it’s all paid for.
Later on that year I met my (current) husband and we were married in 2010. We started volunteering at My Father’s House, and now we facilitate a (Financial Peace University) class there. We want to teach a class for our church.
It’s been so rewarding, and doing this, we have to stay on track.
According to a 2006 Stanford University study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, about 6 percent of women and 5.5 percent of men are compulsive shoppers. If you think you or someone you know may have an addiction to shopping, you can seek help at oregondebtorsanonymous.org or visit shopaholicnomore.com for more information.