On Addiction

I couldn’t really leave you hanging there, could I?

Remember where I dropped that life-is-a-rope-we-weave-together business? I am also influenced by the concept of the Hegelian dialectic: thesis and antithesis meet, and gradually, synthesis occurs. I find that nature and nurture are synthesized—a reason that I’m an Open Theist who buys that there are some who are elect and some who choose to believe, but that is an argument for an entirely other day, right?—into a new whole. In my case, I’m sure that I was always going to have the propensity to be bi-polar, or to be addicted to food, or any number of my other personality quirks. The environment I’ve had around me, though, has certainly had an influence on how my life has happened to date, and how it’ll go forward. [I am not a determinist.]

In a way, I guess I’ve long known that I’ve got a food addiction, just as I’ve long suspected that I had some mental health issues to address. In both areas, I was convinced that I Could Handle My Shit, but addiction is something you’re powerless to control. In my case, I used the addiction to self-medicate. It’s an effective measure, of course: go read neuroscientific studies about the effects of food on the brain, especially with the pleasure centers. When your brain has you convinced that Life Is Really Kicking You in the Balls, you might be tempted to eat yourself out of that hole. You’re eating yourself into another hole, of course, but that doesn’t occur to you at the time—your whole goal is to Make It Stop Right Now.

Even if you’ve got a problem, you still have to admit that you have one. For me, there was a confluence of factors that brought the topic to mind again and again and forced me to confront the ugly reality. Loosely:

  1. As you’d expect, this is a topic of discussion with my therapist. She’d used the word addiction a number of times in our sessions, and I’d always nod, but I’d never really accept and deal with that reality in my brain. I never wanted to engage with it.
  2. I’ve been re-watching The Wire lately, and watching junkies work for their fix, I kept returning to the concept of addiction.
  3. Paul Graham argues that addiction is accelerated with technology. I viscerally reacted to Graham’s assertion, not thinking that he’d be wrong, but because, well, he was using the word addiction. So I hit Mark Pilgrim in that reply, and Mark, well, he knows what addiction is. I pretty much loved Mark’s reply to me:

    @gfmorris If he knows anything about addiction, he hides it masterfully in a sea of bullshit. Get your own word, PG. This one’s taken.less than a minute ago via web

  4. Lastly, there was the Rescue Me episode “Breakout”, where Lou talks about his addiction to food. I tried to find a clip online, but all of FX’s legal clips miss his full speech. I’ll edit this when the clip is available so you can get the full speech for yourself, but he gives the classic discussion of what it means to be a food addict. It’s pretty close to what Misty wrote the other day:

    I eat when I’m happy. I eat when I’m sad. I eat for entertainment. I eat to celebrate with friends. I eat when I need something to do with my hands. I eat because it tastes good. I eat because I like food. I eat. I eat. I eat…I eat too much.

All this came to a head on Tuesday morning. I’m to the point with EMDR that we’re working on future templates: taking plausible situations and working on cognition to reverse negative behaviors and replace them with positive ones. Last weekend, I’d come to realize something: I didn’t want to grocery shop for a week at a time, because I didn’t want to have that much food in the house. Why? Well, because … I’d eat it in half the time. Then I said the words, “And I guess that makes me an addict.” Therapists use the term breakthrough a lot, and it was one, but it’s still a bit tender.

I think the realization and the admission are the key things here. The first of the twelve steps: “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.” I would call being near four bills unmanageable. I would call not wanting to keep food in the house, for fear that I’d eat it, unmanageable. I’d call the 20 Chicken McNuggets I ate last night on the way home from Stephen and Misty’s, when I wasn’t even really that hungry, unmanageable. That, after Misty and I’d had a good conversation about how this is a struggle that we both share. I’d also call this evening unmanageable, where I’ve not wanted to eat because I didn’t want to give in to whatever my inner addict would have me eat tonight—now I’m writing on an empty stomach.

So, what now? Treat this as an addiction. Admit that I can’t handle it, which is the only way to begin to handle it. The hell of being addicted to food is that you can’t abstain from it. It’s damnably hard to abstain from alcohol if you’re an alcoholic, but you can do it one day at a time, making the conscious decision each day to not take that drink no matter how much your body may want it.

As always, I don’t share this out of some desire for self-aggrandizement or -flagellation. I share because it never hurts to know that you’re alone. I share because I believe in honesty, even if I don’t practice it enough. I’m not asking you to hold me accountable—unless you’re local to me, you really can’t even begin to do that. The most important audience for this site is me, because I have to face up to the words that I write.

One day at a time.