There was a time in my life when I could not get through an entire day without throwing up. I would get hungry, eat to the point of discomfort and vomit. I went to therapists who tried to help me. I tried various techniques, stalling methods, eliminating certain foods, but in the end nothing I did helped. I couldn’t stop. I remember sitting in my apartment, afraid to eat anything because to eat meant I would purge. It was no longer a choice. It was something I had to do. All of this was complicated by body image issues, tremendous shame and the belief that who I was depended on how thin I was. That I was dying inside seemed less important than how I looked.
“One major distinction between an addiction and a compulsion (as it is experienced in obsessive-compulsive disorder) is the experience of pleasure. While people who have addictions suffer all manner of discomforts, the desire to use the substance or engage in the behavior is based on the expectation that it will be pleasurable.
“In contrast, someone who experiences a compulsion as part of obsessive-compulsive disorder may not get any pleasure from the behavior he carries out. Often, it is a way of dealing with the obsessive part of the disorder, resulting in a feeling of relief.” ~ About.com
When I read a description such as this one, I begin to question my eating disorder as addiction and wonder whether it was much closer to the definition for OCD because though it all began with a desire to quell pain and seeking pleasure, by the time I found recovery, pleasure was illusive and no longer part of the equation. “This can get a little confusing because there often comes a point for people with addictions where they don’t really enjoy the addictive behavior, and they are just seeking relief from the urge to use or engage in the behavior.”
“Although this can look like obsessive-compulsive behavior because the pleasure is gone, the original motivation to engage in the behavior was to feel good.” ~ Helpguide.org. So we have come full circle and are back to addiction.
I bring all of this up because as with anything whether we are talking about addiction, OCD, anxiety or any of the other numerous issues many people struggle with, the labels can overlap. So I was an active addict and when I was active, my addictive behavior mimicked pretty classic OCD behavior. There was a point when the idea of sitting with my feelings, sitting and not tamping them down with food was inconceivable to me. I really believed I would die. This statement describes OCD almost exactly. “OCD… characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform.” ~ Helpguide.org
And yet, even though OCD looks a lot like addiction, there are differences. Differences that make helping someone with one or the other tricky, but understanding the differences is important. For example the two most common forms of treatment for OCD is cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication, though neither have proven to be entirely successful and often it is said that OCD, like addiction is something one must learn to manage for the rest of ones life, these treatments flourish. Treatment options for addiction have proven to be equally challenging. Some people have found help in working a 12-step program, but others have not.
“While the onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder usually occurs during adolescence or young adulthood, younger children sometimes have symptoms that look like OCD. However, the symptoms of other disorders, such as ADD, autism, and Tourette’s syndrome, can also look like obsessive-compulsive disorder, so a thorough medical and psychological exam is essential before any diagnosis is made.” ~ Helpguide.org
Someone whose neurology is autistic may have OCD AND a whole host of other things too, similar to the non autistic population. Because there is so often an overlap, people mistakenly think that autism is the same as OCD or assume that ALL Autistic children and people have OCD. The lines between the two become blurred and the distinctions get lost. So much of what people believe IS autism, are actually co-morbids. Without making the distinction between what is and isn’t “autism” we may be treating something that we should not be or are missing what we could treat, but aren’t.
Autistic neurology, like non autistic neurology needs to be separated from the co-morbids that affect some, but not all people. Just as I am non autistic AND an (not active) addict, no one would leap to the conclusion that because I am both, ALL non autistic people are also addicts or that addiction is the same as being non autistic. Yet, we see this kind of thinking over and over with autism and Autistic people.