I’m an Addict. What a Relief!!

This week I started a weekly Wednesday night Facebook Live series called Food Addiction: FAIR and FIRM. During the program, I commented that when I was told, “Connie, you’re an addict,” after the initial shock wore off, I felt the most tremendous sense of relief. For the first time in my life, certain things made sense to me.

Let me speak to the shock part first. Yes, I drank - a lot – in college. So did everyone else I knew. So did everyone in my family. In fact, most of the people in my family drank a whole lot more than I ever did! After I got married, I quit drinking on a regular basis. When I did drink after that, I usually drank to get drunk – true. It’s also true that I drank less after I got married because I started taking codeine – very rarely, at first – for bad migraine headaches. Over time, however, I took it daily because codeine helped me to not feel. Anything. At most, I took maybe three in day. I thought addicts took lots and lots of pills!

So when I was given the alcohol and drug addiction screening, I was certain I wouldn’t meet any criteria for alcoholic, and most definitely not for drug addict. Well, I got one heck of a case of the “Yeah buts…” in a hurry when the therapist said, after scoring my test, “Connie – you’re an alcoholic and a drug addict.” As she talked to me about the items that indicated addiction on the test, every one of my responses to her started with, “Yeah, but…” For example, “Yeah, but I could have answered that question either way.” “Yeah, but I don’t drink nearly as much as most of the people I know, especially the people in my family.” “Yeah, but, drug addicts take a lot of pills throughout the day.” “Yeah, but I was able to take care of my kids and work and go to school.” “Yeah, but I’ve never been in trouble with the law.”

When I had exhausted all the “Yeah, buts” I could think of, imagine, or create, I got quiet and let it sink in. I am an addict. And then I felt it. Relief. It made sense.

What made sense to me about my being an addict is understanding, for the first time, the reasons I continued to do things that went against my own values. I started to understand the reasons I did things I said I would never do. It began to make sense that things I promised I would stop doing seemed impossible to stop doing.

 

I am an addict. I have a disease that “hijacks” the brain. When I am in active addiction of any kind:

·                   the disease of addiction that affects my brain doesn’t allow me to listen to reason but stays locked in denial mode

·                   the disease of addiction that affects my emotions keeps me in protective mode so I defend myself by blaming other people and things for my behavior

·                   the disease of addiction that affects my spiritual self says, “do what feels good in the moment” and hides the part of me that says, “what I value is good and decent”

·                   the disease of addiction that affects my social self brings out the loud, obnoxious, hurtful voice I am capable of using

·                   the disease of obesity that affects my physical being takes dangerous risks, eats            poorly, doesn’t exercise and doesn’t care

Accepting the truth that I am an addict was a relief. NOT AN EXCUSE. I understood my poor choices better. It made sense that it was so difficult for me to follow through with the convictions I made to myself and the promises I made to others. I began to understand why my behaviors went against the person I wanted to be. Addiction is a brain sickness and a soul sickness. And a protector. All at the same timFood, alcohol, shopping, pain medication, and other things I engaged in addictively, protected me from my feelings. That is what I wanted most of all. To not feel. I didn’t want to feel the reality of my sadness, my anger, my pain and my shame. The trade-off for not feeling was to use addictive substances/behaviors and betray myself by doing things I was embarrassed about, ashamed of, and seemingly unable to control.

Being an addict was in no way an excuse for the behaviors I engaged in. It’s very uncool to use being an addict as a way to avoid taking responsibility. “I danced with the boss’s husband at the holiday party. What can say – I was drunk.” NOT COOL. “I told her off but she had it coming and besides – I was drunk and couldn’t keep my mouth shut.” NOT COOL.

For food addicts, it is similarly bogus to make excuses for overeating because: the kids were acting up, you were late for work and got yelled at, your mother was sick, or your spouse ticked you off.

Each one of us is 100% responsible for our behavior – even if we have addictions. If we have an addiction, once we realize that truth, we are responsible for getting help and learning healthy ways to deal whatever life brings us. We are responsible for learning to deal with our feelings in appropriate ways. We are responsible for learning to work through losses, past abuse or neglect, present hardships, frustrations with family and friends, and all of life’s realities. Without the use of addictive chemicals or actions.

The addictive substance or behavior, whatever it is, isn’t the problem. Sure, alcohol is a problem for alcoholics. Certain foods are problems for food addicts. Shopping is a problem for shopaholics. But those are only the surface problems. Addictive substances and behaviors are symptoms of the real problems, which are almost always rooted in shame: “I’m not good enough.” That shame stems from many possible places.


To treat addictions, we must first remove the substance or behavior. No, one cannot eliminate food from their life. But they can eliminate the food(s) that cause them problems. Once we are free of chemicals or the addictive behaviors, we can work on the real problems and choose who we want to be. When we don’t “use,” our actions can reflect our values.

“Connie – you’re an addict.” WHAT A RELIEF! I understood why I couldn’t STOP doing things I didn’t really want to do. I finally knew there was hope. I knew I could learn to live life in healthy ways and according to my values. But I first had to be willing to live without the addictive chemicals and behaviors.


So I needed help. I couldn’t do it alone. And I didn’t have to. Together, we can support one another into a life of RECOVERY.
 

What a relief!

 

 

 

 

Value the Friend More than the Friendship

As many people know, I love to listen to podcasts and Ted Talks and talks by people I consider to be wise. One person in particular I often refer to is Andy Stanley. I was listening to one of his series tonight, in which several speakers participated, on my drive from Atlanta to Augusta.

I’ve heard Andy comment in a number of his talks about the importance of having mentors and wise people who will provide us with guidance, direction and insights along our journeys. Successful people in all arenas (and by success, I do not necessarily mean money), note having a number of such advisors to help guide them in their lives.

We all need people to help us navigate unchartered territory, to help us through difficult stages of life, and to steer us in a helpful direction when we veer off track.

How many of us actually have people in our lives who are willing to tell us the difficult things we might not want to hear, but need to hear?

 How many of us are willing to say difficult things to the people we love who might not want to hear, but might benefit from, hearing our concerns?

It seems easy to refrain from saying to a good friend or family member things like:

“When I hear you talk to your husband in a rude tone on such a regular basis, I feel upset and worried for you. It seems like he’s the only one you speak to so harshly. I worry about the effect that has on your relationship, not only with him, but in the way you feel about yourself.”

“I’ve noticed you talking more frequently about drinking an entire bottle of wine after the kids go to bed. I’m worried about your health, what would happen if one of the kids needed you in the night, and how your drinking might be affecting your work the next day.”

“I know this is a very sensitive thing to talk about and I’m going to do it because I love you enough to tell you. I’m scared because I’ve realized your weight is now resulting in your being out of breath walking up the stairs. You are also canceling our walking dates more often than you are keeping them. I want you to live as long and as healthy a life as possible and to see your grandkids grow up.”

“Since you had weight loss surgery, I’ve noticed that you are taking your prescription pain medication every few hours. You used to take them only a few times a week. I’m worried that you have found a different, yet equally unhealthy way to avoid your feelings. Let’s talk about this.”

Maybe you’ve been told (or rationalized to yourself) that your brother’s drinking is none of your business so it’s not your place to “interfere.” Maybe you’re thinking that since your friend’s use of pain medication doesn’t directly affect your life, you have “no right” to say anything.

A very wise woman who has been a mentor in my life for many years taught me, “You always have a right to share your thoughts, your feelings and your observations” with others. I’ve learned that it’s important to share my thoughts, feelings and observations in appropriate ways AND that I cannot expect anything specific from the person after I have done so.

Translated:

Use “I” messages when sharing your thoughts, your feelings, your observations:

            “I worry that your drinking is harming your children…”

            “I am concerned that you are spending so much money because…”

            “It appears to me that…”

When you do share your thoughts, your feelings, or your observations, you have to accept that the person may: thank you for sharing; may tell you the issue is none of your business; my get angry and say things like, “How dare you…”; may turn things around and say, “Well, what about the way you…”; may follow up and get help for the issue; or may never speak to you again. In other words, share with them because you care for them, not because you expect them to do what you think is best for them.

One of the wisest things I have learned in life is, “You are only responsible for the effort you put into whatever you do.” The outcome is not yours to control. For example, if you eat healthy and exercise regularly, your body may remain at a weight you think is “too high.” You are responsible for the eating right and exercise. A healthy weight for your body may not be what you would like the scale to say, but you are only responsible for your effort.

Similarly, you are only responsible for kindly, lovingly sharing your thoughts, your feelings, and your observations with others. You are not responsible for what they do with what you have shared. You are responsible for realizing that you don’t get to control the outcome based on what you would like to see happen or what you believe is the “best” thing for that person.

Another reasons people don’t honestly share their concerns for loved ones is, “They might not like me.” I’d rather have someone not like me and potentially make some changes in their life, even if they never speak to me again than to have them “like” me while I watch them make unhealthy decisions for themselves and others.

Take it from someone who has done this sharing of her thoughts, feelings and observations a number of ways. In the past, I did so in some very inappropriate ways (yelling, blaming, shaming). I would let things bottle up and then explode. That did not work well and always made me feel horrible about myself in the process. I’ve also not said anything to people when, in retrospect, I wish I had.

As I’ve worked through many of my own issues over the years and have learned more about healthy communication, I have become less worried about whether someone will “like” me for sharing my truth. I’ve realized that I may lose some relationships if I do say something, which has happened. And I’ve learned that I cannot make anyone do what I think is best for them.

Most importantly, I have learned what that what Andy Stanley says is so very true, “Value the Friend MORE than the Friendship.” I am blessed to have three incredible friends with whom I can share my deepest concerns and they do the same with me. We don’t get angry with one another, realizing that if we share something the other may not want to hear, it is out of deep love. I have a husband and grown children with whom I am able to do the same. I share my concerns with them and I ask them to let me know when they see me behaving in ways that are contrary to my values. This is love, the verb.

Do you value yourself and do you love your friends and family enough to share your honest thoughts, feelings and observations with them, even if it means risking the relationship? And… are you open to hearing the truth from those that love you?

Good food for thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We CAN Get the Word Out! TOGETHER.

Frequently, I submit abstracts to speak at bariatric conferences. Educating people, whether said “people” are bariatric professionals or patients, about the psychological aspects of weight loss, about food addiction, and about maintaining a healthy weight is important to me.

It’s always more fun to work with patient groups because patients are eager to learn insights and new ways to address weight issues. It is essential, however, that more bariatric medical professionals listen to what patients and many in the allied health sectors know:

Weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight after weight loss involves a lot of psychology. And for many patients, food is a substance that can be as addictive as heroine, cocaine and other illicit drugs.

 At most of the large bariatric conferences, the medical doctors’ meetings are held separately from the allied health professionals’ meetings. For this reason, physicians rarely hear the messages that I, and others on the same crusade, have to share.

I understand and respect that physicians are educated about physiology. Surgeons are trained, and are interested in, the biological aspects of weight loss. Physicians vary in terms of how interested they are in the “whole person” model of weight loss, to include the emotional and psychological variables that render “behavior modification” minimally useful for some patients. Particularly if food addiction is a factor.

Just as it is essential that all members of a patient’s care are aware of, and remained informed of the physiological realities of weight loss, physicians owe their patients the respect to take heed of the emotional aspects that can interfere with weight loss and maintaining that weight loss.

“Do no harm” is the ethical creed, I believe.

I maintain that not learning about, and not referring patients for whatever emotional support they need, is absolutely doing the patient harm. Not learning about food addiction is doing the patient harm.

I had an opportunity this past week to present a talk at an international bariatric conference for professionals in Italy. I was thrilled when I realized that all participants, regardless of background, were in one room! Finally! I had the opportunity to speak to the physicians. The bariatric surgeons, no less! The ones I want to educate the most!

I suspected they would be a tough crowd. It has been my experience over the past 15 years that bariatric surgeons are … less than interested in messages about emotions and food addiction.

Tough crowd does not begin to describe this group. No matter to me! I took the microphone, walked away from the podium, and gave ‘em all I had. On that particular day, all I had in terms of my voice wasn’t much. I had gotten run down and a little sick, so my voice had temporarily abandoned me, being replaced by a dry, throaty cough. But I croaked as loudly as I could into that microphone and called upon the passion that is within me.

My intention in speaking my truth was so we, all bariatric professionals, can better serve those who are struggling to lose weight and keep it off, those who are working hard to overcome the battle that is raging inside them in the form of food addiction.

 The less reaction I received from the audience, the more determined I became to have them hear me. “Are you with me?” I demanded. “I beseech you to hear what your patients know… .” I looked those I could see squarely in the eyes to command their attention. It didn’t matter that they did not smile or nod their head in acknowledgment of my words. I had a mission and now I had a platform. For fifteen whole minutes.

I believe I used my time wisely and stated what I needed to. I trust I spoke on behalf of my fellow professionals with whom I am privileged to work; those who are trudging up the mountain of partial peer resistance alongside me. And most importantly, I hope that I shared the truth that is a daily reality for those patients we serve: Food IS an addiction, for many.

Following the session, one physician attempted to engage me in a philosophical discussion, leaving me uncertain if he agreed or disagreed with what I shared. Fortunately, an enthusiastic young psychologist in the audience approached and I gracefully pardoned myself away from the philosopher to engage with her. She was beyond grateful for the message I had shared and was eager to make further contact with me.

The really GREAT news came from YOU, those who are working to spread the news that FOOD can be addictive. More people need to know this reality so that we can help treat the addiction! By addressing both the food addiction and utilizing bariatric surgery or any weight loss method, more people will be free to live FULLY in recovery from obesity and from food addiction. As you and I know, trying to treat just the obesity isn’t going to work if a person is addicted to food.

Nearly 3 thousand of you have viewed the talk I presented. I am beyond grateful to my bestie, Diane, who was at the conference with me. She recorded the entire talk on Facebook Live! Thanks to her, and thanks to you, we are reaching many. Please, share the video on your own pages. Others will benefit from the knowledge and we will reach individuals in need of this information for their personal success. We can reach bariatric surgeons, other bariatric professionals and many recovery addicts who may not realize that FOOD has replaced alcohol or marijuana or cocaine. The awareness that food addiction may be hindering one’s ability to follow through with the “behavior modification” tools to help them eat better and exercise regularly may be the key to seeking treatment for the addiction.

If you are a food addict, being in recovery from food addiction WILL make losing weight and keeping it off much easier. NO weight loss method, including bariatric surgery, will result in permanent weight loss if you are food addict and are not treating the addiction with as much determination as you are the obesity. Both addiction and obesity are diseases. They both need treatment. People may not know they have a food addiction. Use this video to help educate others.

Awareness is the first step to change!

Keep helping us spread the word. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

It Can’t be Coincidence!

I’m in New Zealand today, where I have been for the past three weeks. It has been a privilege to work with a number of bariatric professionals from different disciplines associated with the Foundations Healthy Living Retreat. During this five-day retreat, a small group of post-operative bariatric patients live together, eat together, exercise together, learn together and share with one another. Various staff members share their expertise about healthy living. Topics include much more than how to eat well and exercise. Participants learn the importance of focusing on personal values in all areas of their lives, discover the importance of positive self-talk, address self-sabotage and learn the importance of living mindfully. Coping skills, communication skills, and boundary setting skills are discussed. The topics of shame and vulnerability are explored, as well. Participants get what all bariatric patients in all corners of the world need following bariatric surgery: the Foundations of Healthy Living. Hmmm… good name for the retreat!

What I think as I look around me are the many “non-coincidences” in my immediate surrounding. I do not believe that my being here, halfway around the world, is a coincidence. To begin with, Dr. David Schroeder, a bariatric surgeon, and his wife, Andrea, are, in many ways, absurdly similar in personality to my husband Steve and myself. David and Steve are both kind, intelligent, rational, left-brain thinkers who are mild-mannered and soft-spoken. Andrea and I, on the other hand, while also kind and intelligent, are passionate, passionate and more passionate. Translated, we are thinkers and DO-ers, we are upfront and direct, and are most definitely whatever the opposite of soft-spoken is. Oh, loud. That’s it!

Andrea and David are passionate about their work in the bariatric field. They are zealous about the physical health of surgical weight loss patients, and are also super passionate about the patients’ psychological health. The Schroeder’s know that the journey of recovering from obesity takes a lifetime and includes the physical and the psychological wellbeing of each person. Andrea created the Foundations of Healthy Living Retreat and they have been hosting the retreats for the past five years.

It is definitely not a coincidence that David reached out to me after reading my first book, Eat It Up! Our professional philosophies are very much in sync. My work, with great help from Steve, is all about addressing the psychological needs of patients while their physical needs are being medically managed. David and Andrea, like Steve and myself, dedicate much more than our careers to providing bariatric patients with education and support. We address the WHOLE person, pre-operatively and after weight loss surgery. We put our hearts and souls into the work we do because we are convinced by the feedback our patients provide that they want and need much more than the surgical procedure can provide in order for them to live healthy lives, both physically and psychologically following bariatric surgery.

Since meeting in 2011, I have learned a great deal by working with both Andrea and David. The Schroeder’s have twice brought me to New Zealand where I have had the opportunity to learn from, and contribute to, the lives and education of their patients and staff.

Andrea and David, as well as every person presenting information at the retreat, address bariatric patients from a whole person perspective. Each participant is treated respectfully and compassionately, as a human being who is much more than a bariatric patient. Their emotional support needs are emphasized, as success following bariatric surgery involves more than dealing with a person’s biological innards.  

Is it a coincidence that Andrea and David, in New Zealand, know the same things that Steve and I know in the US? We all know, and work toward, helping patients and bariatric professionals realize that bariatric patients have tremendous emotional and psychological needs that require attention. Behavior modification by itself is not enough when it comes to sustaining weight loss. If it were, well… wouldn’t more people have kept weight off after diets and bariatric surgery?

Is it a coincidence that the bariatric patients I have talked with during individual sessions, along with the participants at the retreats, all from New Zealand, talk about the exact same issues as the bariatric patients I have worked with in the US for the past 15 years? I’m not talking about the physical problems. I’m talking about the lack of self-care this population acknowledges. Not just in their eating and exercise behaviors. These people talk about a great lack of self-value that translates to a lack of proper self-care. The greatest common denominator, aside from the physical co-morbidities of the bariatric patients I have spent time with in both countries boils down to this: I don’t believe I’m good enough. That, my friends, is the definition of shame.

Our bariatric patients need to heal from the shame that draws them back into unhealthy habits. Healing from shame requires much, much more than a bariatric procedure in an operating room, or “theatre,” as they call it in New Zealand. It is not coincidental that bariatric patients across the globe suffer from shame. It is tragic that so few bariatric professionals around the world are willing to provide the full spectrum of care that patients require in order to be able to follow through with behavior modification techniques. Deep shame will eventually extinguish behavior modification efforts.

How long before more bariatric professionals get it? How long before more than a handful of patients get the emotional support and psychological care they need after bariatric surgery? How long before we provide a truly comprehensive program to help our patients eliminate shame and establish self-acceptance?

The shame belongs to the programs and professionals who do not provide a comprehensive program… because those programs simply aren’t good enough. (Along with the Schroeder’s, I will be offering residential retreats through bariatric centers in the near future. For more information, contact me at connie@conniestapletonphd.com.)

I’m grateful for the non-coincidences that have led to meeting Andrea and David Schroeder. I am not surprised to see and hear that the patients in our very distant geographical countries are so very similar. Mostly, I am thrilled to know that there are professionals and patients who know that the Foundations of Healthy Living go way beyond medical care alone!

For now, patients can participate in the GAIN While You Lose 10-week program. This is a great way for patients around the country (and the world) to have access to the same topics discussed in the Foundations of Living Retreat. This class includes an hour and a half “lesson,” taught live but available online or via recorded session, followed by weekly homework to make the information applicable to each person’s life. (http://www.conniestapletonphd.com/online-services/weight-loss-program)

Why aren’t we currently doing retreats in the US? Are you, the patients, willing to pay to attend? Are you willing to take the time and spend the money to invest in yourself? Do you value yourself enough to work on your emotional issues? You’ve most likely been willing to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for weight loss programs, powders, gimmicks and scams. What about actually finding a way to find self-acceptance, a requirement for being able to follow through with behavior modification tools?

Patients: there is no shame in having problems. It is tragic to me if you know there are problems, but choose not address them. Please seek the help you need! After all: YOUR HEALTH is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. THIS DAY. EVERY DAY.

 

 

 

 

Laugh At Us... WITH Us!

Laugh at Us… WITH Us!

One really has to laugh... especially if you ever plan to travel with us. We left Atlanta at 7 PM on Friday evening. That morning, minutes before we had to leave to meet the builders at our house site, the Lovebug realized his passport expired in four days... while we would be in Sydney. I told him it wouldn't be a bad place for him to have to live. While in panic mode, searching online about how to update his passport immediately, the Lovebug discovered that a person must have a Visa in order to enter Australia. Panicking further, he CANCELED our hotel reservation (yes, he did)! We raced out to have our meeting with the builder and then Steve headed downtown to the Atlanta passport office to see if he could get his passport updated. In the meantime, Kelsey and I looked up the Australia Visa thing. Turns out it's a form you complete online, pay $50, and there you have it - a Visa to Australia. Not a trip-canceling ordeal by any means.

By 2 PM, goober Lovebug had a brand new passport for a mere $190. Visa – CHECK. Passport – CHECK. Hotel room – NO! He called Hotels.com to try to get our canceled room back, but ... you guessed it. No longer available. The Hotels.com person said there were only three hotels with any availability in all of Sydney. One at $500 a night and the two others were for backpackers. "Can I cancel the $500 a night room if I need to?" asked the Lovebug, who planned on conducting his own hotel search. Since the answer was yes, he could cancel, he booked that $500 a night room (BA HA HA HA HA)! And yes, he canceled that same room, after finding a place that got 4 stars and had good customer reviews. All of this was happening unbeknownst to me, as I was getting all groomed up for the trip (mani/pedi and haircut, all horribly overdue). I felt like Humpty Dumpty being put together again. Steve did confer with me before booking our stay at the Art Hotel. At that point in time, I didn't care where we stayed and I felt so bad for him that I would have agreed to just about anything so he would be able to relax.

So we fly our 20 hours on three planes to get to Sydney and upon arrival, we have a text on my phone that reads, "I have your bag. Call me." There was a US number that had come from a 202 area code. Steve recognized it as D.C. number and we laughed it off, joking that we had all of our bags with us and how is it scammers figure out so quickly where you're at, etc. etc. etc.

We got to our hotel room at the Art Hotel and were anxious to get outside for two reasons: 1) we needed to WALK after all that sitting, and 2) the weather forecast was "a shower or two." The sun was, at that moment, peeking out from behind the thick clouds and we wanted to enjoy the sunny, shower-less time outdoors.

I opened my suitcase to get my walking shoes and immediately realized the items inside were not mine. "Steve! This isn't my suitcase!" We tried for about 30 minutes to contact the luggage department of the airline and couldn't get an answer. We decided we'd deal with it later and off we went to see Sydney Harbor and the Opera House. We actually squeezed in a lot of beauty in a short afternoon. We walked through a magnificent city garden and an amazing botanical garden on the way to the Opera House. We marveled at the Opera House and then took a ferry boat to "Manly Beach." We walked around there and had Starbuck's (yes, I have become a Starbuck junkie) before ferrying back at dusk. It was on the ferry that the Lovebug had an epiphany. “’I HAVE YOUR BAG. CALL ME.’ Oh, my God! That was from the person whose bag we have!” We can be pretty slow sometimes. All I could do was laugh.

We decided to take the bus back to the hotel as it was dark by the time we got off the ferry. We asked a young woman at the bus stop for assistance and learned that our hotel is in a "colorful" area of town. When we got off the bus, a few blocks from our hotel, we started noticing some of the names of the local establishments. Our two favorites were the liquor store, cleverly called "Lick-Her Here," and "the Tool Box." We still think the gay bar in Atlanta wins the title contest, though, with “Swinging Richards.”

Back in our not-$500-a night room, we made arrangements for the woman’s suitcase to be returned to the airport in New Zealand in the morning. Turns out she’s a reporter in D.C. (I Google’ed her!).

I was able to buy an inexpensive pair of walking shoes and some socks – at the drug store - so I’m good, at least until tomorrow when I can maybe buy some undies and a tee shirt. (Now I understand why they encourage people to have all of your medications on your person when you travel – which I did, along with all of my electronics and cords.)

All in a day’s play! As long as we’re all healthy and happy, what’s to get worked up about? I’m not sure who’ve I’ve become, actually, but I didn’t get upset about any of the Murphy-ism’s we’ve brought upon ourselves in the past 48 hours. I’m becoming like Pete the Cat (without the pot)… “Did Pete worry? GOODNESS, NO!” ‘Cuz it’s all good!