My Experience with Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Substance Abuse
The etiology of body dysmorphic disorder is complex. For me, I was certainly influenced by the images of women’s bodies I was exposed to in the media, for about as long as I can remember. But I don’t necessarily think that’s where this mindset started. These type of things are deep-seated and start closer to home. It was my mother.
When I was young, she described to me, what some might consider to be the perfect female body shape. She said my hips and chest should be about equal in girth. She also said my waist should be close to the circumference of my head.
As a teenager, I developed relatively early, about age 12. My mother picked on me for gaining so much weight during this time, although it was totally normal. But yet, I can’t blame it all on my mother. In hindsight, I just think that parents need to be careful what they say to their children, because you never know what they’ll latch onto. I’m sure my mother never meant for this to happen to me.
All the women in our family are not curvy – that is, our waist-hip ratio isn’t the greatest. I noticed in my late teens my hips weren’t wide enough, or my waist wasn’t small enough, or something wasn’t what my mother told me it was supposed to be. My head is 22 inches around. A few years ago, health issues caused me to drop down to 102 pounds. Even then, my waist wasn’t that tiny.
I went through a period of near-anorexia, as a lot of teen girls do.I abused diuretics, laxatives, and diet pills. I considered plastic surgery, and waist-training with corsets. I did the latter for a time, but found it made me angry and uncomfortable. Sometimes good sense actually did win over the obsession. But then other times, I just cried.
Trying on clothes is terrible. Everything I find must somehow hit my waist perfectly, so I don’t think I appear “boxy.” This is one of the main symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder – an attempt to hide the imagined flaw from others. Additionally, I do not like to take pictures below the chest area. The odds of them coming out to my satisfaction are close to nil.
During my early 30’s, I began drinking heavily and used alcohol to self-medicate frequently. And somehow, it didn’t cure my body dysmorphic disorder.
And yet I’ve gotten off relatively easy. Some people with this disorder are social outcasts, unable to leave their home for fear of criticism. Often they are unemployed and unable to function in society. Some get addicted to street drugs, such as heroin, in attempt to mask their feelings and/or control their weight.
It is quite foreign to me to ever think I’ll be happy with my body, specifically my mid-section. It seems to me that if I were happy with that, I’d be the happiest person in the world. That’s how much it bothers me.
Maybe I should work on that.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
If you suspect that you or someone you know has a substance abuse disorder, please seek help immediately.