Category Archives: Addiction

Day of Rest

softdexterConfession: Even though I don’t talk about it as much as I did, I am still missing Dexter something awful. I was looking through my archive of journals this morning for something specific I wanted to write more about, stumbled across my entry from the day Dexter died, and maybe partly because Sam and Eric were gone on a walk and I was alone and knew no one would hear me or be upset by it, I started sobbing. It seems harder to “get over” this loss because I still wasn’t really over losing Obi or Kelly when “it” happened again. And to be quite honest, since I’m confessing, coming clean, in the past five or six years really awful stuff has happened, much of which I didn’t talk about here, either because it was someone else’s stuff or because the consequences of speaking out were too great. Add that to the fact I’m an introvert and Highly Sensitive Person who is easily overwhelmed and it’s a toxic mess.

Stress, suffering comes from resisting what is happening, when things aren’t going the way we wanted, and no matter how evolved we might be, how able we are to stay with, cope with the hard stuff, no one wants to see those they love suffer, get sick, or die. My delusion that I should be able to help, to fix it, and smashing myself to bits if I can’t, only adds more suffering.

Continuing in the spirit of confession, yesterday I ate an entire bag of Smart Puffs. They are all natural, gluten and trans fat free with no preservatives, and an entire bag is 630 calories, which is less than a Big Mac or a Peanut Buster Parfait, but still it was a deliberate binge. I was tired, frustrated that my energy wasn’t keeping up with everything I wanted to do, so I took a break to watch TV, a really good show from Mike Birbiglia, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. I finished off the tail end of a bag, less than 10 puffs, could have stopped right there, but made the decision to open a new bag. Multiple times I made the decision to keep going, keep eating, and eventually finished the whole bag.

(This video has been helping me to be gentle with myself when I eat something I think I shouldn’t, I remember his sweet little voice listing off everything he’d eaten, groan about how it was too much, and it makes me smile, have a sense of humor about it rather than beating myself up)

Underneath any binge is always the collection of all the other hard stuff I haven’t quite been able to deal with, all the bad stuff that’s happened, the things I’m sad or worried about, what’s been lost, the various times and ways I’ve abandoned or denied myself.

The bottom line, whether you weigh 340 pounds or 150 pounds, is that when you eat when you are not hungry, you are using food as a drug, grappling with boredom or illness or loss or grief or emptiness or loneliness or rejection. Food is only the middleman, the means to the end. Of altering your emotions. Of making yourself numb. Of creating a secondary problem when the original problem becomes too uncomfortable. Of dying slowly rather than coming to terms with your messy, magnificent, and very, very short—even at a hundred years—life. The means to these ends happens to be food, but it could be alcohol, it could be work, it could be sex, it could be cocaine. Surfing the Internet. Talking on the phone.

For a variety of reasons we don’t fully understand (genetics, temperament, environment), those of us who are compulsive eaters choose food. Not because of its taste. Not because of its texture or its color. We want quantity, volume, bulk. We need it—a lot of it—to go unconscious. To wipe out what’s going on. The unconsciousness is what’s important, not the food. ~Geneen Roth, Women Food and God.

whatareyouhungryforI am rereading Geneen Roth’s Women Food and God. You already know, if you’ve been reading, that I am working with a therapist who specializes in dis-ordered eating. I’m also starting a book group with the book Intuitive Eating led by Rachel Cole. I’m making an effort, but in other ways I am surrendering, letting go of effort, letting go of pushing and trying and forcing. I also am back to weighing the most I’ve ever weighed, after losing this same 20 pounds six years ago, having hired a trainer and started yoga and even running and going on yet another diet, starving myself down to what seemed acceptable. Slowly the weight came back — some due to more food less movement, some because of the shame I felt being called obese by someone who was supposed to be helping me, some of it because my body is changing and my metabolism and energy levels just aren’t what they were — but mostly because I wasn’t dealing with the underlying issues.

Brave Belly

When you believe without knowing you believe that you are damaged at your core, you also believe that you need to hide that damage for anyone to love you. You walk around ashamed of being yourself. You try hard to make up for the way you look, walk, feel. Decisions are agonizing because if you, the person who makes the decision, is damaged, then how can you trust what you decide? You doubt your own impulses so you become masterful at looking outside yourself for comfort. You become an expert at finding experts and programs, at striving and trying hard and then harder to change yourself, but this process only reaffirms what you already believe about yourself — that your needs and choices cannot be trusted, and left to your own devices you are out of control. ~Geneen Roth

I don’t want to keep doing this, cycling through restriction and binging, punishment and control followed by rebellion, shame and smashing myself to bits. I’ve lost all sense of what my authentic body might be and I want to discover it, that point at which I am both happy and well, sane and healthy. I want to reach the point where I can stay open to what is happening, show up for what is exactly as I am, to feel the full weight of how sad I am, how much I have lost, allowing how much it’s going to hurt. And the one thing I know for sure — it’s not about the food.

Let Go and Come Back

In meditation, when you get lost in thought or a daydream, or caught up in a strong emotion and forget to focus on to your breath, the instruction is to let go and come back to the practice. Let go and come back. The letting go isn’t harsh, there’s no rejection or pushing or running away or resisting, but rather a simple and gentle letting go. To notice, be with the thought, with the feeling, to acknowledge it, to watch and soften as it dissolves.

To feel what that feels like, clench your fist, hold it as tight as you can manage for a few seconds, and then let it go, relax your fingers and open your palm. Do you feel that release? How ease replaces tension? There is such relief in letting go.

As does so much of my meditation practice, this instruction finds it’s way into my life off the cushion all the time. I struggle with being a “better” person, with improving and becoming and doing. I get so focused on changing, on fighting with who I am now in this moment, on self-improvement, that I forget I’m enough already, and that who I am right now is the gift, that there is no destination, no goal, nothing to win and no finished or done. There will be no summit I’ll reach where I’ll finally and permanently be happy and safe and well. As Pema Chödrön suggests, we should just go ahead and “abandon hope.”

Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, not to run away, to return to the bare bones, no matter what’s going on. If we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death. ~Pema Chödrön

One place this instruction keeps coming up for me is around my relationship with food. I’ve mentioned it briefly before: depending on when you ask me, I am either a highly functioning food addict or a recovering one. It’s gotten so much better in the last year, the obsession and the smashing myself to bits. The swing between rational and compulsive behavior is relaxing its grip, my wisdom in relation to food and eating is developing into something that can often look like health, and I go for long stretches of time where I could even say I’ve left it behind me.

Then something triggers me, and I’m right back in the thick of it. The stress of being an introvert and highly sensitive person at a party, or in the presence of people I admire and adore, or in a room full of 1000+ other people, or having to go in to my paid work when I’m supposed to still be on vacation.

The month we spent at the beach left me feeling relaxed and hopeful. I was getting enough sleep, spending enough time resting and playing, and was feeling so good about the opportunity I had to clean up how I eat and take better care of myself, so happy about how I’d “changed.”

Then I had to go in to work for half a day. I had been getting lots of emails about what needed to be done, what was coming up, pulling me back into that space, rushing me into fall. The night before, after eating so happily and healthy for days, I got out a bag of caramel corn and my ipod and ate and numbed out until I made myself sick, first my stomach aching and then my head hurting from sugar and tension. I thought when I went to bed that night how much better I’d feel if I could throw up, but I’ve never been good at that, ever since in grade school when a friend tried to teach me how by sticking the eraser end of a pencil down my throat. Back then, no one talked about Bulimia, so I had no idea and told no one.

I don’t talk much about my food addiction, even with how open I am about everything else. It’s because I’m ashamed and embarrassed by it, upset that I can’t control myself, shy about sharing the details of how low I sink, how gross it gets. And there’s the added bonus that in a thin obsessed culture, where your worth is measured literally in terms of your size, that I get to also feel guilty and ashamed of the extra weight I lug around as a result. I love to exercise and eat healthy food, but coupled with this compulsion, they can only keep me from becoming obese, not overweight. Add perimenopause to the equation, and I’m screwed.

This feeling bad about “failing” and what I look like robs me of joy. I get to go to this fabulous World Domination Summit prefunction party at Kelly Rae Roberts’ studio, with all of these women I adore and admire, and when I start to show up in pictures of the event on their websites, I can only feel happiness and gratitude for having been there for a split second before the disgust and despair kick in: “my stomach looks so fat.” I can’t even appreciate how amazing it is that I was at this event and there are pictures to prove it, on some of my favorite blogs even, can’t say “hey, look, there I am!” with any kind of excitement because all I can see is how fat I look, and am so sick in that moment that I actually think “maybe people will think I’m pregnant,” which is quickly followed up by a nasty voice that says “that doesn’t necessarily explain your arms or double chin.”

I can’t tell you–no actually I can tell you how much, how badly, how desperately I want released from this thing. Not the weight, but the obsession and confusion that is underneath, the self-loathing and despair that comes after. It’s not about the weight at all, it’s not even about food: it’s about hunger.

Rachel Cole did a reunion conference call for those of us who attended her Well-Fed Woman Retreatshops this past year, so I’ve been thinking a lot about hunger. Typically what is happening when I am obsessing about food or eating too much or making unhealthy choices, it’s not about food at all, certainly not about physical hunger. I am hungry for self-care, but I keep feeding myself food.

I was thinking about this in terms of taking a shower. It is important for me, unless I am planning to take the dogs on a walk or go to the gym, to shower in the morning as soon as possible. If I don’t, I won’t put on clean clothes, because I’m not “clean,” which means I’ll stay in my bathrobe or put on the kinds of clothes I wear to do messy chores, like painting or cleaning the bathroom, and this isn’t uplifting at all. These clothes, worn for that reason, make me feel depressed, dull and down, which leads to behaviors that are triggered by such feelings, like overeating or numbing out on the computer. I feel disorganized and discombobulated, stuck. Nothing sane or healthy happens and it’s hard to move on.

Taking a shower is one way to truly feed my hunger for self-care. Sometimes I am feeling unworthy, maybe my blog stats are low and I haven’t meditated for a few days and I’m comparing myself to others, beating myself up for not measuring up, comparing my blooper reel to their highlights. Sometimes it’s overwhelm, so much has to get done, so much I want to do. Sometimes it’s taking care of the should and have to work, the paid work, and the energy it takes, how much I’d rather be doing something else but can’t yet afford to leave that work, and that can lead to depression.

I have been feeding these real hungers with food, always with food. What are the real needs, what am I really hungry for? Physical tiredness needs rest and sleep, pure and simple. Unworthiness needs connection and a reminder of my basic goodness, of the real need for my voice, my light. Overwhelm needs to have permission to only do what can be done, and then to practice self-care, to rest and play, experience joy. Depression needs to exercise and reconnect with nature, be in the body and the world.

When you are in the grips of something so old and deep, sometimes you give up. You look back at the struggle and then ahead to your future, and you can’t imagine it will ever leave you, fear that you’ll be stuck in this cycle of obsession, swinging between control and crazy, gaining and losing the same 20 pounds forever, trying and eventually giving up on every new system, method, or plan, feeling the rise of hope and the sink of despair, like Sisyphus and his rock, never finding a way out. But you can’t divorce yourself, can’t leave or move out, get any kind of legal separation, split your assets 50/50 and wish each other well. You have to stick it out, are stuck, have to live with it, with yourself and your confusion.

When I really look at it, really think, trust myself, I’m pretty smart, pretty sure about what to do. I know the hunger, but still tend to feed it the wrong thing, still fall into the old habits, the discursive patterns, the way of being when I am tired, and I am tired a lot. But that’s okay, if only I can remember to let go and come back. This is what practice is, falling down and getting back up, falling apart and being whole, trying again, continuing to show up, again and again, time after time. This is what all of life is, isn’t it?

Let go and come back.