Addiction and Recovery is a Journey.
OK, I admit it. I have an addictive personality. If something is fun, feels good but is “bad for you,” chances are it’s on my list of personal vices. It has been a battle, but one by one I’ve been able to wrestle my monkeys into submission. Still, it seems that as soon as one addiction goes into remission, another one pops up like a bad zit right before a first date. And so it goes, because there is a new monkey that I have yet to tame.
I’ve been holding onto this “little guy” as the last bastion of my guilty pleasures…and I know it’s killing me. What has worked for me in the past was to take that first step and admit that I am powerless over the substance… so here goes: “Hi, I’m Chuck, and I am addicted to Food.”
I freaking love food! I get high when I’m eating. I plan my days around what and when I’m going to eat. But not just any food, I love crappy food. I love sugar, carbs, and anything deep-fat-fried. Taco Bell, Arby’s and McDonald’s; these are my sanctuaries. My God, what is it about a McDonald’s cheeseburger? I could eat four or five in one sitting… and their fries? Grind them up and snort them if I could! I adore Jack-in-the-Box tacos. If you have never had one, you can get two for only 99 cents. That alone should be a warning sign. The recipe is simple: the leftover hamburger is seasoned, ground up, folded between a corn tortilla with a slice of American Cheese then immerse in boiling oil until the shell is transparent from grease. They are simply… Amazing.
Pizza? That is my crack-cocaine. I will fantasize about pizza and long for it as if waiting for the return of a distant lover. Left to my own devices, I would eat pizza every single day, for every single meal and never tire of it. I know this is true because (and I hate to admit this) I have done it.
In the 12 step program of recovery, one comes to an acceptance that their life has become unmanageable as a result of the substance. While I haven’t lost a job from a sugar hangover, spent my rent money on Twinkies, or ended up under a bridge covered in empty ice cream cartons, my life has become unmanageable. Most specifically it’s unmanageable in the area of my health. I’m overweight, my cholesterol is high, I have irritable bowels, and I have to take medication to control my blood pressure.
I know if I continue on this path, that there are still many “Yets” to come: I haven’t had a heart attack…yet. I don’t have diabetes…yet. I haven’t had a stroke…yet. It has become apparent that food is controlling me, I am not controlling it, and that makes my life unmanageable.
So here I am, back in a place of readiness to make some lifestyle changes. I’ve been here before, and I know the path of recovery and here’s how I’m doing it.
1. A Support Group: Recovery groups worked for me in the past. Seven years ago I got sober in a group and maintained my sobriety as a result. The power of a group keeps me on track as I learn from the experience of others who share their strength and hope. Groups create accountability and ritual, both of which help me make changes in my habits. Three weeks ago I joined another group… Weight Watchers. Each week I weigh in and am encouraged by others who attend as well as the leaders who are there with advice and empathy. Today I’m down 11 pounds.
2. Self-Compassion: I define self-compassion as treating myself as well as I would treat someone else. I would never feed poison to someone so why would I feed it to myself? Eating healthy foods is being compassionate, loving and kind to myself. I’ve started to try to cut back processed foods, stay away from sugar, and eat more fruits and vegetables. It feels good to treat myself well and at the same time see results.
3. Eating Mindfully: I tend to eat my emotions. If I’m feeling bad, sad, mad or even glad, I reach for anything that is tasteful and convenient. Cookies, chips, candy, and carbs are the four horsemen of my snackocalypse. Another bad habit is scarfing food. I eat faster than my brain can signal my stomach that it is full. Apparently, the stomach releases a hormone called Cholecystokinin in our intestines that triggers the hormone Leptin in your brain to let you know that you’ve had enough to eat. This whole process can take up to 20 minutes. Eating “mindfully” means being present and using my senses to experience the moment fully. By slowing down and focusing on the flavor, texture, and smell of the food, I’ve noticed I feel satisfied with less, and I’m less likely to eat when I’m stressed.
4. Daily Awareness: When I achieved six months of sobriety I was asked, “How did you stay sober?” to which I answered with the tradition of, “One day at a time.” By keeping track of what goes in my mouth, I find I’m less likely to overeat. One benefit of Weight Watchers is that it comes with a nifty App that allows me to track everything I’m eating. Every day is a choice. When I use the App and track my food, I eat what my body needs rather than what my inner addict wants.
5. Benefit Analysis: When I first got sober, my sponsor looked me dead in the eye and asked: “Give me ten long-term benefits to continuing to drink.” I couldn’t come up with one. I could think of a lot of short-term benefits that had long-term drawbacks. I’ve tried to adopt this philosophy to other areas of my life, and when faced with any dilemma it’s worked well. For whatever reason, I’ve never asked this question about my food choices. “What is a long term benefit of eating crappy food?” As with alcohol, I have yet to come up with any real answers. There are short term benefits: tastes good, it’s cheap, it satisfies my hunger… but long term? I can come up with feeling good, looking good, more energy, longer life just to name and about a hundred other reasons.
The small successes I’m having with food today feels good; I know there are many miles to go on this journey, but I’m happy that I’ve taken the first few steps to get back to healthy eating. I am committed to facing my food addiction with the same conviction and humility that has subdued my monkey in the past. Now if I could just get him to like exercise!