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!