ritual gone wrong: addiction

pill bottle

In my 20s and 30s, I used to binge on food regularly. A binge would start when I couldn’t stop thinking about an item of food I really wanted to eat. I was either in school or had a job all day, so I would spend hours planning my binge in my mind: What I would eat, how much of it I wanted, where I would get it, when I would eat it. When I was finally free, I stopped at the planned store (or stores), and quickly and shamefully picked up the items I’d been dreaming about all day. If anybody asked (although no-one ever did), I was going to say that I was stocking up or getting ready for a party. There was no way I would ever admit that those four chocolate bars or that entire cake or that huge bag of potato chips were all for me.

My favorite place to shop for a binge was a local Italian grocery store and deli that also served hot food. I loved the way the store smelled – rich and florid from the displayed cheeses and meats. They had amazing breads, in a variety of sizes and styles. They also had a huge bakery section, with Italian pastries and my favorite: authentic tiramisu made with whole cream. I typically picked up a few bars of Belgian white chocolate, some smoked provolone, a loaf or two of bread, some pastries and tiramisu, and some hot meals: ricotta and spinach pizza, and eggplant parmigiana. Maybe some rice balls.

If I was lucky, I was alone when I got home. I would eat as much as I could, until I felt ill. I’d store the rest of my purchases in the fridge, or in my room (the chocolate bars). I never made myself vomit, but would sometimes alternate a week of near-starvation with a weekend of bingeing, and for a few months in my late teens I even used laxatives to “get rid of” a binge.

When ritual isn’t consciously practised, but instead gets diluted and forgotten, it goes unconscious, and often expresses itself through addiction. If you understand the symbolism involved in the addiction, you can begin to trace the aborted ritual back to its roots, and discover what the soul is really hungry for. In the case of my food bingeing, my body was screaming for connection with the Great Mother, or the female, embodied aspect of the divine. My binges were an unholy communion, and I never received the transformation I was unconsciously seeking, but kept swinging back and forth in an unhealthy pattern of feast and deprivation.

In her many books on Jungian psychology and the psychology of the feminine, including The Owl was a Baker’s Daughter, which details her own experience with anorexia, Marion Woodman suggests some of the symbols that various addictions represent. Alcoholism? Longing for spirit (God). Sexual addiction? Thwarted creativity, or union with the unconscious masculine / feminine. Conscious awareness of the addiction can be the beginning of recovery.

Are you an addict? Do you have compulsive behaviors that may be aborted rituals? What is it that you’re really seeking when you use your drug of choice?