Typical high-functioning alcoholics, or H.F.A.’s as Ms. Benton calls them, are in denial about their abuse of alcohol. Coworkers, relatives and friends often enable the abusive behavior to continue by refusing to acknowledge and confront it.“The story of the H.F.A. is seldom told,” Ms. Benton writes, “for it is not one of obvious tragedy, but that of silent suffering.”
And this is what really hit home for me: the silent suffering, the tragedy-with-a-lowercase-t. It explains so much of why I find it difficult to navigate in this world. Why I feel such gaps between my similarly-aged coworkers and myself.
Let me explain. There were definitely times when my life was abruptly and rudely interrupted when the anorexia spiraled out of control. But most of the time, it wasn't super-obvious, not even to me, how much the eating disorder had seeped into every pore. There were the food and exercise issues, yes. The tallying of every calorie. The need to workout on a certain schedule (even if said schedule wasn't excessive). The fear of restaurants. Not drinking lattes or booze because I was afraid of the calories. Yet I functioned. I graduated second in my class at college with a biochemistry degree. I've received two master's degrees.
So how could I be sick? Clearly, I wasn't that bad. I've never had a feeding tube. My weight was very low, but I've known plenty of people who weighed less.
Sarah Benton had this to say about being a high-functioning alcoholic:
“Having outside accomplishments led me and others to excuse my drinking and avoid categorizing me as an alcoholic. My success was the mask that disguised the underlying demon and fed my denial.”
Even though I'm not in denial anymore, that veneer of success also makes it hard for people to see the true depths of the problem. It's not obvious from the outside. My life has gone on, and yet there are large portions of time that I can't explain. My life has gone on, and I've yet to catch up.
Those outward vestiges of normality were almost cruel reminders to me in the depths of my illness, something so close yet so far. Although I've made great strides towards recovery, "normality" remains illusory. I do a damn good job at pretending, but that almost seems to rub it in my face that I still don't know how to relate to this world.
Therapy is going to be in my future for a long time, to try and figure out how a healthy person lives. To try and become high functioning, rather than just a high-functioning anorexic.