As a young girl, my friends’ nickname for me was Twiggy, after the slender actress/model of the times. My brothers just called me Toothpick.
Holding onto this skinny image of myself, I was nothing less than stunned when I was trying to wriggle into a pair of size 14 jeans in the dressing room, and couldn’t get them on. By that point, a good 15 years out of college, I’d lost a sense of what my ‘natural size’ was, but I knew it wasn’t size 16.
At age 21, I’d been a size 8 or 10. Somehow, that had slid to size 12, then 14. On the day, when I was going to have to buy a size 16, I for the first time ever, looked in the mirror and declared a simple truth, “You’re fat!”
I went to the YMCA and weighed and recorded my weight as 168 pounds. With help from my sister, I figured out a likely natural weight (in college we were the same height and build). She said she’d maintained within +/- 2 pounds of 130 since college. So, I realized, I was about 38 pounds overweight, and hadn’t ever considered that I might be fat. How did it happen? I’d gained about 3 pounds per year, a quarter-pound per month, steadily for a decade.
With all the books I’d read about nutrition and healthy meals, you might have thought I was an expert on the topic. I did. But the sheer size of my body showed otherwise.
Even though I might have known the facts about nutrition, I wasn’t able to feed myself and exercise myself properly to maintain a healthy weight. I needed help and I finally admitted that. A friend had transformed her health and I asked her for advice. I enrolled in her nutrition support group, and began the weekly meetings.
I had to give up my deeply ingrained habits, and start from scratch. We weighed and measured and wrote down our food. Our food choices were limited initially, and gradually expanded throughout the program. We learned about common emotional issues around food and explored their impact on us individually in daily journals. We learned how changes in the food industry might also interfere with our ability to control our food intake responsibly. We learned from nutrition experts about recent findings in nutrition research.
During the first week of the program, the biggest change I noticed was a dramatically more peaceful brainspace. Seeing an item that I wasn’t going to eat, the process became simply:
End of mental discussion.
Before the program, each opportunity to eat generated rounds of pro/con arguments. The simple appearance of a brownie could generate minutes of internal debating. I never realized how exhausting of a way this was to live, all day every day, until I experienced life without this running commentary.
Like most of our mental chatter, seen from a distance, it was really quite entertaining. I chuckled replaying the scenes: Me, a rather fat lady, launching into declarations like, “I need this!” “I’m so busy taking care of everyone else, I don’t have time to eat anything else!” “I work so hard and no one notices. I’m going to treat myself! I deserve it!” “It’s on sale!” “It’s healthy! It’s a whole-wheat brownie!” “I’m only eating this because it’s your birthday!”
Throughout the program, as other foods were reintroduced, we learned how to recalibrate our intuition. The goal was to develop a healthy relationship with food, so it would be instantly obvious what to eat and what not to eat. No internal debates required.
Every six weeks, we stepped on the scale for the reality check. If we were being honest in our choices and our internal discussions, we would be closer to our natural weight. If we spent the time deceiving ourselves, no progress was made. It was that simple.
Most powerfully, we submitted ourselves humbly as novices who were ready to learn anew how to feed our bodies. Painful knees, allergy troubles, and skin problems faded or disappeared. When we dealt with ourselves honestly, our inner peace soared and our naturally fit bodies emerged.
“When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.”
- Byron Katie
Lying to Yourself
It doesn’t matter what your addiction is. It always involves lying to yourself.
For an alcoholic, the topic for debate is how there can be no harm in ‘just one drink’. For a workaholic, it’s ‘just one hour’. For a smoker, it’s ‘just one cigarette’.
While addictions are difficult to kick, they have one feature that makes it easier. Addictions happen within a person. It is what a person is doing to himself or herself. Period.
Yes, addiction is typically a family disease and there are many aspects to solving it. But, the addiction itself belongs to one person alone. As long as the person maintains the line, “I’m okay”, nothing will change. And as long as that person is content with tenaciously lying to themselves, the addiction will continue.
Anytime you take a stand against the truth, you can expect an argument.
Excuse Me, Who am I Talking To?
When we are dealing with an addict, confusion is the modus operandi.
If I’m an addict, and you’re talking to me, you see one person. But you’re dealing with two or more competing world views! Part of me wants to maintain the status quo, wants you to see me as a person who has my act together. Another part wants to come clean and change!
You’re going to get mixed messages, because you just stepped into the middle of an ongoing argument with myself.
The more you try to clarify what’s happening, the more confused you are going to get. One side will be outraged, and the other side will be begging for attention.
You will walk away, shaking your head, wondering what you said wrong.
The Body Says…
If I pour honey into the gas tank of a car, and insist it’s a good idea, no matter how much I say it, I would be proven completely wrong when the car itself sputtered, stopped and prove otherwise.
The land of thinking and talking is rich with the spontaneous, creative, contradictory, oftentimes irrational beliefs. In contrast, the body itself can be a simple repository and display of truth.
The body can thrive in a wide variety of conditions. It does not require perfection in its care and feeding. But after suffering persistent lack of care, luckily, the body will protest.
When we persist in acting in a way that is harmful to ourselves, that social self that we present to the outside world, will insist that we are acting responsibly. The body, luckily, will provide a solid counter-argument.
Just like when I was unable to get into a size 14, it was my body that finally stated irrefutably what my thinking had dismissed as impossible.
Growing Up: Moving beyond Emotional Immaturity
Imagine if your fashion style had not changed since age eight. That’s a scary thought, right? (That’s worth pondering for a moment, just for the hilarious images you’ll generate of you and your coworkers!)
Addictions are our way of handling our emotions in ways that we may have learned as kids, and dismissing any facts that don’t support our simplistic reactions.
Scrape your knee? Here’s a lollipop! All better! When we eat chocolate because someone didn’t return our phone call, we’re using that kid-logic to address our adult emotional needs.
As a 50-year-old, if you still define ‘good food’, the same way you did at your eight-year-old birthday party, you’re kidding yourself. Read one basic article on nutrition and you’ll know our bodies thrive on fresh produce, and have problems with heavily processed food. If you still think vegetables are for health fanatics and fast food and sweets are the only good food, you’re stuck.
If you’re continually hungry, thin and weak, you don’t know how to feed yourself properly. Your decisions and calculations about what and how much you need to eat are flawed. If you’re feeling constant drama around food choices, but insist you’re okay, you’re stuck.
If you’ve smoked or drank every day for years, and still attest that it’s not affecting your health or that it doesn’t matter, you’re stuck in the mindset of an 18-year-old Jimmy Dean character.
When you feel depressed or bored, do you have the habit of turning to alcohol to ‘drown your sorrows’? Has that ever actually worked? Would you advise your best friend to follow your routine? Or, when you’re talking to your friend, would you let the grown-up do the talking?
If you think you have to work long hours, day and night, year after year, and leave your young children at home, you haven’t accepted the fact that you are your boss in life. You’re letting your life be ruled by the logic of a 12-year-old who acts as if he has no choice. A mature adult person can consider the precious time a family has together when the kids are young, and plan to optimize this time. To hold your workaholic line, you have to ignore every parenting book, every major religion’s and culture’s view of the value of parenting. Defending your workaholic stance will be a full-time argument in your head.
If you feel the need to be critical and controlling to your kids and spouse, you’re probably really tired about now. It’s destroying your relationships, but you rationalize that you have to do it. Another part of you, just as relentless, keeps piping up, begging you to stop.
If your stance about your own addiction or compulsive behavior is not exactly the same advice you’d give to a friend with the same dilemma, you’re going to be embroiled in an exhausting inner argument against the truth.
Recognizing a Weakness and Admitting the Need for Help
Most of us have a go-to addiction or compulsive behavior, or a list of them. The point is not to declare that you don’t have that tendency. The point is to figure out a way to keep them in check, to grow through, and eventually, past them.
If I’m habitually staying late at work, starting to put on weight, or obsessing about a new person in my life, I know that I’m regressing into one of those self-sabotaging ruts from my past.
I’ll see the mental chatter of rationalization ramp up, and hear the soothsayer part of me speak up, saying, “You don’t have good judgment about this. You need help.”
“I am willing to change.”
- Louise Hay
The immature response can be dramatic and quick, “What? How dare you? You have no idea how busy I am and all I have to do! This place would go to hell in a handbasket without me!…”, and on and on.
Distance yourself from this internal arguing, and instead keep a pulse on your inner peace. From there, you can evaluate the truth of the situation. Easily. Instantly. When your inner peace is running low, it’s likely that you’ve let an argument against the truth go unchecked. Once you notice this, it only takes a minute to tidy up.
Addiction Recovery Research and Support… Easier than You Think
People often think that addictions are just a curse you have to live with. The shame and the guilt of living a life of self-sabotage is not something most people want to bring out into the open. And thus it remains… that one container we can’t bear to open up or throw away, and it’s starting to smell!
But there is a wide body of knowledge about what perpetuates addiction, how to kick an addiction, or minimize the negative impacts on the addicts and their circle of family and friends. No one said it was easy to kick an addiction, but you know, it’s not easy living life as an addict either. In many cases, huge progress can be made with some simple, doable steps.
When I was first out of college, I fell into the workaholic rut quickly. Smugly, I’d joked to myself and others about being a workaholic. But one day when I left the office at 6:30 am, as another colleague was arriving to start the day, I realized, “Wow, that’s crazy! I have a problem.”
I found a book called, “Confessions of a Workaholic” and checked it out of the library. Within a few pages, I found wisdom and insights that seemed to be directly written for me. I was blown away that a condition I’d barely acknowledged could be so easily explained and dissected by someone I’d never met.
That book and others I’ve read name every feeling and rationale I’d used to spend my time at work, and the common time management problems that compound the addiction:
- perfectionist tendencies that increased the scope of work beyond what I’d been asked to do,
- assuming I had to work longer to cover up how slow or inexperienced I actually was,
- wasting time during regular work hours so I’d be ‘forced’ to work late, thus appearing more diligent,
- difficulty making progress on projects because I was hesitant to ask for clarification,
- procrastinating making important phone calls due to fear or embarrassment for having to ‘bother’ someone again,
- the natural tendency of projects to expand to fit the time given,
and on and on.
The shame and confusion evaporated as I learned what was happening. It was like learning about the digestive system. It changed an emotional, confusing embarrassing situation into a natural process. (Yep, a lot like the digestive system!)
Feeling that your relationship with your boss or new love is unhealthy? Need some ideas? Start by “Googling it!” Counselors who’ve spent their lives developing healthy skills for the area you’re struggling with are available at your fingertips. Give up the idea that you are unique and that you must hide in secret and in shame. It will give you some quick tips, as well as ideas of books to read and where to go for more in-depth support.
Believing that a compulsive or addictive behavior is a life-sentence will ensure that you are right. Get to a point where you can say, “Yep. This is an area of weakness for me. I am willing to let this pattern go. I’m probably going to need some help to do it.”
In many areas, a single book has been enough to turn the course of my life. For me, finding a weekly or more often support group, has been the most powerful key to change. But any change always starts with the recognition of the problem and the willingness to get help.
Let’s Pass Down the Best of our Family Values
Have you ever listened to a radio call in show? I used to listen to “Adam and Dr. Drew”. It was on late on weeknights, and teens and adults called in for help with sexual problems.
The first couple of times I listened, I was amazed. It was like listening to a fortuneteller, except that they could see the past rather than the future. The caller would hesitantly explain their current problem, then Dr. Drew would ask a few questions. “By any chance, did you have a parent that was extremely strict? Strongly religious perhaps? Controlling?” “By any chance, did you have brothers that teased you about your looks?” “By any chance, were you forced to have sex at an early age?” “By any chance, was one of your parents an alcoholic or drug addict?” “Do you remember being left alone much as a very small child?”
The callers and I were surprised when he hit the nail on the head, guessing exactly what had happened to them as young children. After listening to the program for awhile, I saw that he was less of a psychic and more of a data-based analyst.
You’d be hard-pressed to find research that shows that addiction is not somehow related to our early childhood. Body composition, life experiences and many other complicating factors may dictate the details of how they play out, but addictions and compulsive behaviors are generally set up in our youth.
Flawed behavior in one generation sets up the next. We then pass on our version of flawed parenting, setting up our kids for flawed relationships. Okay, let’s accept that. Who among us can say that we would be able to be, or have been 100% right on target as the loving parents we feel every child deserves. So, chances are we picked up some crazy beliefs as kids.
But, we don’t have to pass on the whole package of what our parents gave us kit-and-caboodle, uninspected.
Tell me about your treasured family recipes. Do you follow your mom’s potato salad recipe exactly, or do you prefer less mayo? Just because your grandma was famous at potlucks for her jello with pimientos, are you?
When we look at our family beliefs and values as a step in evolution, we see clearly that it is our responsibility to tidy things up, to spruce up the good stuff, and to throw out the old useless stuff. Then, yes, we can proudly pass on the best of our family’s traditions and values.
Inner Peace Check
You can put your fingers in your ears and say, “Na na na na na na, I can’t hear you.” But truth doesn’t go away, so it won’t be long until you hear its voice bubble up again.
The truth is that we have a very short time on the planet, and that we will be fulfilled by being loving toward ourselves and others. The weaknesses in ourselves are not to be hidden, but to be admitted, and seen as challenges that present a way for us to grow into deeper, more compassionate people.
When you acknowledge that you have a problem and that help is likely available, you’ll feel a wave of peacefulness wash over you. Your peace meter will be pegged out.
- What areas of your life are your go-to addictive or compulsive behaviors? Make a list.
- What areas used to be problems that are no longer? How did you move through them? What changes did you make? How?
- Listen to the mental chatter. Is there an area of a heated argument? What is the topic? Is a compulsive or addictive behavior involved?
- Instead of siding with the addict in your thinking, try to move to the middle. Are there arguments that come from that deeper place of truth you’ve been trying to dismiss? Acknowledge them.
- List the compulsive behaviors and addictions that you know of for the people nearest you when you were a child.
- Google it. Allow the possibility that there might be a solution for your problem. Then, google it. “What causes overeating?” “What are the best proven ways to stop smoking for people that have already tried everything?” “How can I stop nagging my kids?” After a week of research, hopefully you’re beginning to consider this more like you would approach a project at work, and less like a big pimple on your butt cheek.
- Write down a statement about a weakness. Can you honestly say something like, “_______ is an area that I’ve had troubles with. I can see how it is holding me back from my highest potential. I might need help to change and move through it.” Or simply, “I allow the possibility of change,” or “I release the need to hold on to this pattern,” as Louise Hay suggests. Work on variations of this statement daily. See how changing the wording registers with your inner peace meter.
- Formulate a plan for a first step. This could be as simple as reading a book that you’ve found recommended repeatedly for this problem or signing up for an email newsletter on the topic. It could be attending a support group meeting or contacting a friend that has overcome the problem.
- Continue monitoring the mental chatter and your level of inner peace. These two can help nudge you to keep you on the right track.
Be gentle with yourself. Remember the goal is not to be perfect. It is to get to a point where you can readily identify and seek help for areas of weakness, as you would for a friend.
When you admit that there is a problem, the bickering couple in your head puts down the vases and gives up arguing.
They suddenly remember that they love each other. They are smiling, snuggling on the loveseat in their pajamas.