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impact

My Monkey Wants Junk Food: Five Things I’m Doing About It

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addiction recovery junk food

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.”

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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.

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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!

What Will Your Placard Say? Four Simple Ways to Impact Your World

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Impact the world

Make Impact In Your World by Doing These Four Things.

In the middle of my city sits a volcano. Inactive for nearly 300,000 years, it’s one of the many things I love about my quirky hometown of Portland Oregon.  It’s called Mount Tabor, and if you climb the hefty 280 steps to the top, an inspiring view of the downtown cityscape is your reward.  Peppered with towering Douglas Firs, luscious grass, and picnicking areas, the park is a beautiful place to sit, think and contemplate life.

Years ago I was at a crossroad. I was considering going back to school to become a counselor. Helping people had long been my passion, however going back to school would be an arduous task.  I already had a career, a family and the responsibilities that go along with being an adult. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my calling was to be a therapist.  I took a hike up Mount Tabor and found a bench that looked down the side of the mountain. As I sat there, I noticed a placard embedded in the foundation that held the bench in place.   It read, “In Loving Memory of Larry Stahlnecker from his family and friends.”   I thought to myself, “What will my placard say? What will be my contribution?” It was then I decided to go back to school.

There is deep within me the desire to make an imprint on the world that leaves a lasting legacy. Most humans share a deep emotional need for significance. At some level, we want to contribute to the greater good. Even so, if you’re like me, reality tends to thwart your effort to make a difference, and you feel like your best endeavors go unnoticed.  When the need for significance goes unmet, there is the tendency to fall into despair. Our hearts tell us that there is more than to life than the instant gratification, click-bate, and malignant narcissism that feeds our timelines on social media. We become painfully aware that life is but whispers in the vastness of history. This fact makes the toll of insignificance all the more detestable. The pandemic of anxiety and depression that permeates our culture isn’t only a neurochemical imbalance; it is a fear of being alone, going unnoticed and unable to influence our world.

Ultimately, we believe we lack “impact,” the ability to make a difference. The truth is that within each of us is the capacity to affect our world in positive ways.

Think back to an individual who has had a considerable positive effect on your life. As you visualize this person ask, “What is it about them?” Was it something they said or was it something they did? Was it a combination? I would wager that the significance they had in your life came as a result of their character.  As I consider this for myself, I remember the people who have had the greatest positive influence were people of substantial character. It’s taken me years to understand this concept fully, and through working with my counselor, attending recovery groups and working with others, I learned that true positive impact flows from my character. It’s about the “who I am” not the “what I am” that matters most.

There are four areas in my life that I continually strive to improve.  My experience is when I practice these virtues I am more likely to make a positive impact on others. 

1. Practice kindness: Everyday there are small opportunities that allow each of us the ability to influence others. From simply smiling at a stranger, saying thank you to your servers to giving a compliment to someone you love. Kindness flows from a generous spirit because kindness is a gift. It costs you nothing, and at the same time, your words and actions are opportunities to change lives. As the  13th-century poet, Rumi said,  “Your acts of kindness are iridescent wings of divine love, which linger and continue to uplift others long after your sharing.” In other words, our kindness spreads throughout eternity.

2.  Choose words wisely: King Solomon said, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” This quote reminds me of an experience I had with my dad. My father was an in the public school system and on many occasions we would be walking in a store, or some public place and a former student would stop us to say hello.  On one such an occasion, a student of my father was talking and remarked that something my dad had said years ago inspired the student to change the direction of his life. Now as a grown man the student expressed gratitude for the words my father spoke.  As we walked away, my dad turned toward me, whispering, “You just never know what’s going on in someone’s life and what words are going to stay with them.”

3. Be authentic:  Michael Hyatt, New York Times Bestseller and author of “Platform – Get Noticed in a Noisy World” put it this way: “People will only trust you if you are willing to pull back the curtain of your life and give them a peek inside.”  Authenticity is difficult because it requires letting someone examine your flaws and shortcomings.  In one of my men’s groups, a member shared a significant struggle in his life. I could see the fear in his eyes as he shared, but the other members shifted and also started to share at a deeper level. When the group came to an end, these men had bonded as brothers. They continued their friendships well beyond the confines of the group, all because one man had the courage to be authentic.

4. Make things happen: There are two types of people: those who talk about what they’re going to do and those who do it.  Individuals who have a positive impact are doers and are willing to do what others are not.  They get up early, work late into the night pounding away at their craft. They show up; they make it happen. To quote Thomas Edison, “Vision Without Execution Is Just Hallucination.”  Your dreams will never make an impact without hard work and follow-through.

There will come a day for all of us when our ability to live with purpose has passed, and the sum-total who we are is finally etched in stone. I challenge you to aspire to impact your world in positive ways that leave a lasting impact.  I love the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” What do you want your placard to say?

Discussion Question: What do you want to be remembered for? 

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