I was reminded in a blog post by Jan Allsopp recently about the idea that there are two roles people play in life: participants and audience. When I’ve been active in my addictions, I have no energy for life, no enthusiasm for participating. Oh, I get stuff done. I’m too responsible not to. But I’m not really in the game, not in what Brené Brown calls the Arena of Life.
When I’m in recovery, I am so glad to be a participant. I engage in what I’m doing. I think more clearly, I speak more eloquently. I am in it, not watching it. I am experiencing it, not dreading it. I spent a lot of years in the audience. I don’t want to do that anymore.
Where are you in the participant/audience conversation?
“None of us is ever able to part with our survival strategies without significant support and the cultivation of replacement strategies.” From her book Daring Greatly.
What replacement strategies are you cultivating in your recovery? What significant support are you leaning on?
It’s easy to see our addiction and our recovery as only a personal issue. Nobody cares if I eat another piece of that. Similarly, it can seem that nobody really cares if I don’t. But there’s such a difference in our being-ness when we are abstinent. We are lighter, clearer, calmer. And that makes a difference to everyone around us.
They may not know that abstinence is what’s making the difference, but they will appreciate what we can offer in the peacefulness that abstinence brings us.
What differences in your being do you notice between abstinence and addiction?
Last week, I went to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning. I still get anxious going to the dentist. Perhaps a holdover from childhood or an adult aversion to pain and possible expense. I got a great report this time, which made me relieved and happy.
I also noticed that the hygienist spent very little time cleaning my teeth. When I asked her about it, she said that it was because I’m not eating sugar and simple starches. They create a film within the first hour that quickly cements itself to our teeth as plaque; this is why they suggest brushing our teeth after every meal or snack, which I don’t do. I was thrilled to know this new benefit.
In a women’s circle recently, we were discussing the difference between being happy and being contented. Contented has an old-fashioned sound to it, but the feeling it evoked resonated with all of us. And I realized that on the days I’m contented with my life, I struggle much less with wanting extra food. I’m not looking for food to create that contentment; I already have it.
So I’ve been journaling about where contentment regularly exists in my life (friendships, painting, 12-Step involvement) and where it doesn’t (work schedule, visual clutter in my environment) and taking steps to up my contentment.
How might upping your contentment support your recovery from food addiction?
For the last year, I’ve been writing a lot about creating a sweeter life between meals as a support for our abstinence. In those writings, I always acknowledge that this may include some hard changes, changes we may really want to resist, changes like getting a different job, staying away from an abusive parent or spouse, or finding different playgrounds and playmates, as we say in AA.
I’m at one of those crossroads now. When I watch my own pattern of overeating, when I watch myself make a commitment to not eat between meals and then break it, I can see that it’s occurring almost always when I’m working. I’ve been doing the same work for a lot of years and it often doesn’t really engage me anymore. My spiritual director suggested that my soul is sending me a big red flag. Do something else, it’s saying, something you really want to be doing.
So I’m entering into an inquiry about money and income, my self-definition, retirement (or cutting way back). I’m both excited and terrified.
What big change might you need to make for your abstinence?
Self-improvement often gets a bad rap. Don’t try so hard, people say, or just accept yourself as you are. That can be fine if acceptance is a starting point for creating what you want but not if it’s encouragement to stay miserable.
I’ve been reading Jen Sincero’s great book You Are a Badass. It’s a wonderful, energetic, and sassy take on the Law of Attraction ideas. One of the statements she makes really resonated with me. “One of the best things you can to improve the world is to improve yourself.”
I’m not talking plastic surgery or some complete make-over. I’m talking about giving up the beliefs that don’t serve us anymore. “I can’t live without sugar.” Well, sure you can. “I can’t make money doing what I love.” Well, people do that all the time. Why should you be excluded? “I can’t keep the weight off.” Yes, you can. You just have to create a wonderful life that satisfies you more than food.
What one thing about yourself or your circumstances could you change that would support your abstinence from trigger foods?
I’m back in an old and very stale conversation with myself. When am I going to lose the rest of the weight? Two and a half years ago, I gave up sugar and flour (all pulverized grains), got on a great food plan, and lost about 80 pounds. In the last year, I’ve gained back 14. What’s more, 80 pounds wasn’t all I needed to lose. There were/are 30-40 more to get me to a really appropriate weight. So I need to return to the weight loss plan and do it.
But I don’t. Instead I talk about it and I think about it. And nothing happens. Of course not, because talking and thinking don’t really create change. Action does. And I’m having trouble getting out of the conversation and into action. I know this is probably familiar to you. In fact, you may be stuck in this same stale conversation.
So I’m committing to action. My first step will be to get myself back on a meal schedule: Breakfast between 8 and 9, lunch between 1 and 2, dinner between 6 and 7. I can see that I’ve let that slip and been both eating at odd hours and eating more than three meals.
What one step would get you out of your stale conversation about weight loss?
We can be tempted to think that moving into abstinence from sugar and food addiction is a big, complicated process. And sometimes it can be. Sometimes a number of things in our life may have to shift so we can reduce the triggering circumstances that drive us to self-medicate with food. But other times we can be tempted to use those complications as a reason to postpone abstinence indefinitely, and that doesn’t serve us.
When we want to make an important change, we can start by doing the simplest parts. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Here are some of the simple things I started with. Note that I did these one at a time.
- I gave away or threw away all sugars (white, brown, powdered, honey, agave, stevia, you name it) in my home.
- I gave away or threw away all flour and prepared foods with flour (crackers, chips, just about every snack food).
- I stopped buying energy bars (most are a form of “healthier” candy bar).
- I began reading labels on anything canned, frozen, or packaged.
- I stopped going to certain kinds of food places (pizzerias, Mexican restaurants, bakeries, ice cream shops).
These were pretty simple ways for me to start taking care of myself in a new way.
What one or two simple ways could you use to start taking care of yourself?
Many of us are conscious of how our active addiction impacts our friends and families. When we’re obsessing about food or trying to hide our stash or the wrappers and cartons, we’re not fully available. And when we’ve numbed out from eating, we’re not really present to our lives or those around us.
With the world as difficult as it is now—shootings, terrorism, immigration unrest, climate change—the world needs our concern and our consciousness more than ever. We can only bring that consciousness to those around us if we aren’t obsessing about food, if we are willing to stay abstinent and stay present to our lives. We may not be able to solve the world’s problems, but we can take a step in the right direction by solving this one of our own.
How might seeing your abstinence as service change things for you?