The A Word: A Series on Addiction
An Introduction To Addiction
The A Word, a series on addiction, is my project dedicated to showing the life and struggle of an Addict. You see, most people think of addiction and immediately jump to the top two – Drugs and Alcohol. At some point, I’ll be sharing my external experiences with both of those. For now, this story is about my own personal struggle with addiction. My addiction isn’t one of gambling, sex, drugs, or even alcohol. No for me, the never-ending battle of addiction is with Food.
Hello, my name is Amber and I’m An Addict!
Hello, my name is Amber, and I have an addiction to eating! There I’ve said it. Sounds like an AA meeting right? Well guess what, they have Overeaters Anonymous, and I’ve been to the meetings, that’s exactly what they feel like. The term Eating Addiction actually has its own definition aside from just “addiction”. According to the internet (Wikipedia to be exact), it is termed as: a behavioral addiction that is characterized by the compulsive consumption of palatable foods, you know the ones that taste good, which activate the “reward” system despite the consequences.
The struggle is real!
If you’re having trouble imagining what it’s like to be “addicted” to food, let me paint a picture for you. You’re sitting at home, it’s near the end of the evening, and you’re already in your pajamas. It’s snowing outside (or some form of terrible weather) that no one wants to be caught out in. You’ve eaten your food for the day. Meals carefully planned and prepared to stay within a calorie budget because you’re trying to live a healthy life. Suddenly a thought pops in. Ice Cream. You want it, you need it, you can almost taste the sweet cream on your tongue as it melts sending pleasure through your system. Uncomfortably you shift in your place on the couch or bed.
You know what’s coming next. The unrelenting compulsion to get dressed and out in that weather, to drive to the nearest store for a pint of ice cream or through a drive-thru that has ice cream. You try to distract yourself, watch a movie, write in your journal, play a video game. It doesn’t help, nothing you do helps until you finally give in. Before you know it you find yourself in the car, braving the slick roads to get to your drug of choice. You finally have it, and the moment it reaches your tongue you feel like all is right in the world. For the moment. Then reality sinks in, you couldn’t stop yourself yet again.
This compulsion that burrows into your brain wins every time. It starts as a whisper and ends up as scream drowning out all thoughts of resistance. It sounds dramatic for sure, yet the truth is, your partner, roommate or anyone else in the room next to you would never know you are damn near dying inside as your mind zeros in.
Round 2: The Shame
Sadly that’s just the first round. What comes next is the heartbreaking part. The shame, guilt, and recriminations. The hopelessness that comes with any addiction. That sickening sense of defeat that settles in your belly and makes you believe you will NEVER overcome. Resistance, at this point, is gone. The cycle takes a drastic turn and spirals down. Again, these all parallel the cycle of any addiction, no matter what the DOC (drug of choice) may be.
I’ve had times where I’ve bought a pint of ice cream on the way home and said “okay Amber, you’re just going to eat ¼ of the pint and put it away.” The next day I’ll go to grab my ice cream that I put away and it’s gone. I call this “blackout eating” I honestly couldn’t remember eating the rest. In my mind, it truly was back in the freezer waiting for me. I didn’t even have the false comfort of a roommate or boyfriend to blame. I was living on my own at the time! Realization hit, I had to face the facts that I truly had a problem. I wasn’t fat because my body had a slow metabolism. I was fat because I couldn’t stop eating. What I had, was a problem.
Admitting is the first step
Being able to admit that to myself for the first time was both frightening and exciting in the same instant. Exciting because this was a problem and problems can be solved. This was something that with help I COULD take control of. They have programs for people like me, I’ll just google them, hop in one and everything would be ok! Yet it was scary as well because the word “addiction” was foreign to me. I didn’t understand how a woman who grew up in a home that was plagued by some sort of addiction, and had a very strong conviction against drugs and alcohol, could be addicted to ANYTHING. There was so much I didn’t understand at the time, and while I know more now I still feel like I’m just dancing on the tip of the iceberg.
The first thing I did was the absolute wrong thing. I decided to put myself on a strict food regime. Eating addictions are so hard to regulate because let’s face it, we HAVE to eat every day. We don’t eat, we die. This isn’t like alcohol or cigarettes or crack. There is no “cold turkey ” food.
Don’t get me wrong, I tried. Regulating everything that I consumed, only led to more failure.. No more ice cream. Never a drive-thru again! I made promises to myself, I made promises to God, bargains, and threats to both. I begged and pleaded with myself, with God, with the universe. Surprise surprise guess what, it didn’t work. I would tell myself “no more fast food!” and then the next day there were two bags from various fast food places on the floor of my car. The more restrictions I put on myself the worse I became. It seemed like there was never going to be a way out for me.
Trying It All
I tried all the restrictive diets, low carb/keto, vegetarian, and low fat. As a result, the more I restricted myself from a food group the more obsessed over that food group I became until the thing I couldn’t have would be the constant source of my late night or impulse cheating. Recently, during a talk with my sister, I finally saw the destructive pattern. She pointed out that while I was trying different things, it was always the same underlying action. I was no closer to beating my addiction, in fact, all I was doing was to continue to create unhealthy relationships with food.
This wasn’t a series of a few months that I went through all of this, I have been developing misinformed and unhealthy relationships with food for the majority of my life. I realized then, that I needed to take a serious look, not at the “what” part of my addiction, but at the “why”. Later I will dedicate an article to each of the following things, but for now, here is the list I came up with to start to truly battle my addiction.
The First Steps in Admitting You Have a Problem
- I needed to take a very long look at why I had formed an addiction. What was at the root of my desire and compulsion to eat. What was the hole I have been trying to fill and where did it come from?
- Trigger foods. Identify them, write them down and have a plan to counter them with healthier foods (for me this includes a fast-food binge)
- Seek outside help. It sucks, I know, and no one wants to admit they need help, but for me, this is a major step. I am actively talking to my therapist about how to battle and overcome my addiction. In the past, I have used overeaters anonymous. I will go into greater detail in a future blog about my experiences here
- Do not go on a diet! I did the worst thing you can do over and over again! Certainly, I want to lose weight, and to feel like I have control, but adding restrictions at this time just makes life so much harder and sets me up for failure.
- Make a list of the pros and cons of your current life that can help with overcoming an addiction. I had to be really honest with myself. I have no desire to eat different from anyone else when I go out with friends to a social function. Being seen as different is a struggle for me. Sometimes I have to say no, because I know that despite my best intentions in behaving myself, my compulsions on what I eat will take over. I’m not ready yet to go out and trust myself.
There IS Hope! Don’t Give up!
The reality of addiction is, it’s hard. It’s one of the hardest things anyone suffering from it will ever have to face in their life. The good news is, It CAN be defeated. You have to believe in yourself, have faith that you can and will overcome, and most importantly always be honest with yourself when you struggle or fail. Recovery is not a straight line. You won’t go from point A to point B without getting lost and tangled up on the trail. I remind myself of these things every day. So until the next episode of The A Word, remember you are not alone out there. Your struggle is mine and we can get through it together.
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