I was talking to my patient, Natalie, the other day about her struggles with overcoming compulsive eating. She told me that after years of becoming increasingly heavy, she was afraid that she’d “never be able to stop eating.” We spoke about how powerfully she felt the pull of food, and that it was almost as though she was under a spell that she couldn’t resist.
After our session, I started thinking about the similarity between women who overeat and those who are in relationships with abusive men. In both cases, the women know, to some degree, that what they’re doing is hurting them, and in both cases, they hold on tightly to the hope that if they just keep at it, eventually they’ll get their needs met.
In my mind, every addiction has the same roots: the dysfunctional attempt at obtaining emotional healing and nurturing to compensate for hurts and losses from childhood. This is always accompanied by the addict’s “pathological hope” that if they persist in their behavior, eventually it’ll pay off and they’ll get what they were looking for.
The demon lover is a man who lures a woman in by promising her everything her heart desires, and then enslaves her in a terrible prison of frustration and misery from which she can never escape. It’s the same with addiction.
In Natalie’s case, she holds on to the hope that food will give her the soothing, nurturing and relief she seeks. She can’t stop obsessing about food and her weight, and she can’t stop her compulsive binge eating. Even when eating fails to meet her needs, she persists in her quest. That’s because food, for her, is the demon lover, promising to heal her emotional wounds and meet her unfulfilled needs, but leaving her, after each binge, feeling emptier than she did before she started.
She’s been at it for so long that she’s become demoralized. She’s full of shame and self-loathing for her lack of self-control and her self-esteem has plummeted. Worse yet, she’s come to believe that she doesn’t deserve to have more than the fleeting moments of pleasure that her overeating brings her. She’s convinced that real happiness and fulfillment aren’t available to her.
Women in abusive relationships also have a hard time maintaining their self-worth. Living with a man who rejects them and who holds them in contempt eventually erodes their confidence, as well as their hope for a better life. They become filled with shame and self-blame and as the years go by, they have lower and lower expectations of what their lover, and life itself, can offer them.
Whether a woman is addicted to love or to food, or to drink, drugs, gambling or shopping, for that matter, she’s under the spell of the demon lover. She compulsively pursues the promise of love and healing where these things don’t exist, and instead finds herself feeling more and more miserable as time goes by.
If you’re struggling with addiction, the cure is to break the spell that the demon lover has on you. You must see that it has seduced you with the false promises of happiness and healing, and that its aim, really, is to lock you away in a prison of obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior. When you realize that you’ll never, ever get what you’re looking for, and that the only thing addiction has to offer is a lifetime of suffering, you can let go of the hope that keeps you hooked, and begin to walk away from the demon lover once and for all.