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Letting Go of Addiction Even Though It Feels Safe

Many of us stay in addiction because it’s safe. It’s awful, it’s terrible, it’s miserable, and it’s safe. We know exactly what our lives are going to be like. We may talk about how we would like something different, maybe even freedom, but the truth is that we are terrified of the uncertainty that recovery can bring.

This fear makes no sense to a non-addict. Why wouldn’t we want to break our chains and step into the sunlight from those darkened rooms of corn chips and ice cream and sitcoms? Why? Because we’re human, and as with most humans, the miserable familiar feels a lot safer to us than the unknown, even if that unknown could be fabulous. In addition, some of us have had unhappy experiences with happiness and we aren’t so trusting when times are good.

So how can we be brave? One way is to start by building a healthy, predictable structure for our abstinent life. Regular bedtimes, regular meal times, regular exercise, regular social life. That structure can provide a dependable framework we can count on.

What structure added to your life would help strengthen your recovery?

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Self-Loathing and Recovery from Food Addiction

There are many ways in which our addiction to sugar and food can trip us up, but self-loathing is surely one of the cruelest. Recovery is not an easy journey. Addiction is a powerful and deeply entrenched force in our lives, and it takes considerable time and attention to change our habits, which in turn slowly changes our thinking. We can get tired of the struggle and just give up, and then we’re right back in the misery.

A big part of our tendency to loathe ourselves in the face of relapse is cultural. Our early Puritanical founders perfected self-loathing and it hangs on all these centuries later. We feel guilt and shame when we are unable to stop eating demon foods, and of course, that guilt and shame lead us to eat even more. It’s a horrible cycle.

There is no simple cure for self-loathing but it doesn’t help us in the least to just stay in it. The best treatment is to recognize it when it’s gripped you and take some small action to shift out of that space.

What small steps could you take to get yourself out of self-loathing?

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Curiosity and Its Important Role in Recovery

There are any number of traits that we must call on to get and stay abstinent from demon foods and overeating. Discipline, self-worth, and perseverance come quickly to mind. But I’m learning that curiosity is a key component as well.

When we are curious, our minds are open, available to receive new ideas and new information. We can let in something we haven’t considered before. We can shift our attitude, our mood, and even our beliefs by remaining open and curious.

One of the great benefits of meditation, however we practice it, is to stay curious about what thoughts cross our minds and what feelings arise in our bodies. We don’t have to follow them, we don’t have to wallow in them, we don’t have to fix them. We can just experience them without doing anything about them. Instead of thinking this is awful, we can think I wonder how long this will last or I wonder what this is all about. We can learn to let the thoughts and feelings rise and fall away.

We can also stay open to new solutions to problems we are experiencing. When we respond with food, we are solving our problem in the old, well-worn way. Sadly, we are also reactivating that well-conditioned response, waking it up again as it were, and getting our cravings going again. We don’t want to do that. We want that old response to wither away. Curiosity can help us do that.

How are you using curiosity in your recovery?

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Half-Measures Won’t Get Us What We Want

Over the last few months, I’ve watched two friends who follow the same food plan I do fall into what 12-Step programs call half-measures: one foot in recovery and one foot in addiction. They each had some serious success for the first few months and then things began to slip.

One of the two women struggles to put more than a few days of continuous abstinence together because
frustration or anger or disappointment seem unbearable and the only relief she can think of is a demon food with sugar, flour, and fat. She is adamantly convinced that the frustration, anger, and disappointment are inevitable and cannot be eliminated or managed in another way. The other friend is continually adjusting the food plan, the structure, the support, trying to make it fit so that she doesn’t have to abstain completely. But doing it her way isn’t working very well either.

In the 12-Step philosophy, we have to let go of half-measures. We have to be all in with whatever food or recovery plan we have chosen. We have to trust that what is working for other people will work for us too if we just do it.

Where are you stuck in half-measures? How could you get unstuck?

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Staying Abstinent as a Revolutionary Act

I’m not someone who generally suffers from insomnia. I go right to sleep and if I get awakened, I go right back to sleep. But since Trump’s inauguration, my sleep has been fitful and I’ve had wakeful wee hours in the morning. The world feels like it’s spinning out of control and I am helpless to do much of anything about it. And it would be so easy to go back to abusing food around this.

But I’m not going to do that. Here’s why:
• Overeating and bingeing on sugar will bring only the most temporary of relief (a few minutes at best).
• It will not change anything in the world or the political climate.
• It will promptly put me back in the land of guilt and shame and self-loathing, which is not a happy place.
• In addition to worrying about the world, I’ll be worrying about my health again.

If I stay in recovery, follow my food plan, abstain from sugars and flours and snacks, I will stay awake. And the world desperately needs all of us to stay awake, to participate in our lives and our culture. Going numb will do no one, including me, any good. Not any good that counts.
It’s tempting to go numb. Those in power want us to be numb, to not care. So in a way, it’s revolutionary to stay awake, to stay alert, to stay sober and abstinent. And it’s one small thing I can do.

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How Self-Talk Can Make or Break Our Recovery

Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” I suspect he was talking about being a success in the business world but he could just as easily have been talking about recovery from food addiction.

The most powerful things we say are those we tell ourselves. We can tell ourselves that we can’t leave sugar alone. We can tell ourselves that we can’t stand being frustrated and so we have to self-medicate. We can tell ourselves that we will always be fat and unhappy. We can tell ourselves food plans just don’t work for us. And when we tell ourselves those things, they become true. Why? Because we believe whatever we tell ourselves over and over. We create a groove in our brain, a neural pathway, where those statements take up residence as beliefs.

So if we’re going to have any real chance at long-term success at staying off sugar and overeating, we have to monitor and shift our self-talk. We have to start saying I can do this. Being hungry for another hour won’t kill me. Being frustrated will pass and I don’t need to eat over this.
We’ll have to say these things (or whatever works for us) over and over, as many times as all the negative talk we’ve inflicted on ourselves. But it is so worth it.

What affirmative self-talk could you start doing right now to support successful recovery?

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Action Is Key to a Sweeter Life between Meals

Most of us have talked and talked and then talked some more about getting off sugar and flour or cutting down on how much we eat or getting more active. We’ve even gone so far as to make resolutions or promises to ourselves and others about when (usually sometime in the not-too-distant future) that we’re going to do this. Often that time never comes. Or, if it does come, the actions we take are not enough to overcome our well-entrenched habits and nothing really changes.
But action is key to change. We cannot talk or think ourselves into a right-sized body. We cannot talk or think ourselves into a food plan that supports weight loss and reduces the cravings that keep us stuck in food compulsion and addiction. We must step into new actions to get these results. Here are some actions I had to take (and keep taking):
• Remove all sugar, flour, and processed foods (with the exception of some salad dressings, nut butters, and canned veggies) from my home.
• Eat three meals a day with nothing in-between.
• Give up the occasional diet soda (I now don’t consume any kind of sweeteners).
• Plan my shopping and meals ahead of time so I always have delicious, safe foods available.
• Choose freedom over self-medicating.

What actions can you take to get what you want?

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Identifying Our Too Much and Our Too Little

Moderation is not a skill that comes easily to me, so I do my best to practice wherever I can. The past week or so, I’ve been attending to what seems too much in my life and what seems too little as well as what seems just right. Here’s some of what I’ve discovered:
Too much:
• Alone time
• Stuff not put away
• TV watching
• Protein (lots of meat)
Too little:
• Painting time in the studio
• Laughter
• Movement and fresh air
• Salad and raw veggies
Just right:
• Reading
• Petting opportunities
• Computer time
• Sleep

While this isn’t a formal practice with me, I like checking in (I often do this in my journal on Sunday nights) to see what needs shifting. The sweeter life is about a healthy balance for me and keeping tabs on that I find useful.

Where is too much and too little showing up in your life?

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Choosing Freedom over Pleasure

We’ve had an unusual number of snow days this winter so far. At first, I like it. Home with no place to go and a chance to get some things done or play more in the studio or read a good book. But when it goes on more than a day or two, I get restless. And restlessness is one of the triggers for me to eat. I want something good and food is still my first thought. Fortunately, it is no longer my first response.

When I committed in 2015 to a sweeter life between meals, it meant giving up the immediate pleasure of snacking. In my active addiction, I didn’t have just a snack once in a while. Snacking for me meant eating all day long. Whenever I felt the urge. Whenever I had any room. So there are long periods now each day when I don’t eat (I go five hours between meals and 13-14 hours between dinner and breakfast).
The choice I have made is for freedom, freedom from compulsion, freedom from obsessions, freedom from the grip sugar and flour and fat had on my life. Yes, I have given up some of the pleasure I got from food and I do miss it, especially on a snow day. But the freedom I feel from weight and guilt and worry and shame is so much more important to me.

What freedoms might you experience if you gave up eating between meals?

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Five Books That Are Supporting My Sweeter Life

I’m a big reader. I usually have a couple of books going at a time (a novel and a nonfiction book or two). In the nonfiction realm, I am drawn to books with an accessible, friendly style and suggestions for living a more peaceful, generous life. Such books have long supported my recovery from alcoholism and now my recovery from food addiction. Here are a few I’m fond of:

The Rhythm of Life and Perfectly Yourself, both by Matthew Kelly (no relation that I know of). Kelly is a youngish (40s) Australian writer and speaker. He has a genius for phrasing his ideas in a most memorable way and of encouraging us to be our very best selves. His books have had a profound impact on my thinking and my behavior.

Help! Thanks! Wow! by Anne Lamott is a wonderfully unconventional book about prayer. Lamott is known for her quirky, intimate style. This book helped me look at praying in a whole new way.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown has helped me simplify my life and keep more clearly in mind what is most important to me. In our land of overwhelming opportunity and possibility, his ideas are counter-cultural and compelling.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo finally helped me figure out what to toss and what to keep. It all has to do with joy. I’d bought a half-dozen decluttering books and used some of the ideas but always fell back into acquisition and keeping. Kondo’s ideas, if you embrace them, will save you from your stuff.

Courage by Debbie Ford helped me rethink all the reasons why I wanted to be free of food addiction, not just weight loss. Ford’s work is marked by her long-time association with 12-Step programs and with Landmark Education, a personal transformation program I participated in around the turn of the millennium.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m not really a Gilbert fan and I resisted reading yet another book on creativity for quite a while, but this book is brilliant and has so much to tell us about creating a life we really want to live.

What books are supporting you in creating a sweeter life between meals?

If you find these blogs helpful, consider subscribing to the 52 Conversations program where you’ll get extended discussion, great food for thought, and helpful tools for change.