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Atwater:

“Arleen” had never been what you would call a good little girl. She was high-spirited, sensitive, a little stubborn and defiant to the bone. Her defiance, like that of most children, was born of her insecurity and sensitivity; she learned early how to keep people, including family, at arm’s length.

Her early training at avoiding the pain that comes with relationships resulted in a lonely, angry teenager who found relief in a bottle. “Arleen” always was the target of the popular girls because although she was aloof and uninvolved, she was pretty and always got the boys.

Little by little, Arleen’s drug of choice became the two “B”s – Booze and Boys. Over time, they progressed to booze, drugs and men. She found the partying lifestyle allowed her to indulge in all the above and yet stay separate. The rush of infatuation and attraction, winning the “prettiest girl in the room” competition, drunken antics and the “look but don’t touch” attitude kept her high and alone.

She felt desperately lonely, and her solution, she thought, was to marry a wealthy but equally damaged man who could be her “party partner.” It worked for about a year, and then things slowly unraveled over the next nine until, living like strangers, less happy and more isolated than before, they divorced.

Even in her worst times, Arleen knew her emptiness couldn’t be filled by booze or other people. She never knew what could until she met a therapist who suggested she stop drinking and head for an AA meeting.

She did, and three years later, Arleen’s life has turned the corner. She has found some inner peace and new sustaining relationships. She also found that although not heavy, she started using food like a sedative. Instead of shaming herself and then eating more to cover the shame like she did with the other addictions, she got honest about her compulsive eating. Her goal was to look for what she wanted to avoid and face it rather than hide behind food, or anything else, anymore.

As she began to observe what she wanted to hide, she found some of her same old pals, fear and insecurity. This time, instead of feeling hopeless and defeated, Arleen felt like she was ready to peel away another layer of her addiction and face who she really is.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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