I recently taught a day-long workshop for a women’s recovery retreat. I always go well prepared with an outline but at the same time I’m willing to go with the flow of ideas as they occur to me. My topic was creating a life that supports our recovery with an emphasis on meaningfulness and spaciousness.
I presented a lot of ideas, got some good questions, but when I asked people to make a list of what was in their way of having what they wanted, a lot of yeah-buts came up, all those obstacles that we believe in and cling to. It was interesting to watch the energy drop in the room, to see the frowns on the faces of so many of these women. So I asked them go a little deeper, to look at which obstacles were factual (I have a disabled child) and which were not (my partner won’t like it, I’m not smart enough). I asked them which ones led to possibility and which ones led to more stuckness.
It was amazing to feel the energy shift again and we moved on to talk about commitments: choosing one change, one shift, one goal towards something each really wanted and dedicating a few minutes (just a very few) to that commitment each day.
What yeah-buts are holding you back? What one commitment would bring you closer to the life you want?
Shifting what I eat has turned out to be much less problematic than I expected. After a couple of weeks of abstinence from sugar and flour, any physical cravings went away and hasn’t returned (2.5 years later). In fact, it makes me queasy to think about eating any sweet foods although every once in a while, I do miss pizza.
The surprisingly difficult part for me of abstinence is my relationship with hunger. I hadn’t realized how much of my overeating was about physical discomfort at its base rather than emotional discomfort. I see now how difficult hunger is for me and what it takes to embrace it as an opening rather than a problem. Real physical hunger is a good sign: a sign that our bodies need fuel. If we want to lose weight, we need to spend some time hungry so that our bodies will burn stored fuel (aka fat). If we don’t want to lose weight, we still need some hungry time for our intestinal systems to rest. If we eat all the time, it never gets to do that.
I find this hard to remember when hunger seems miserable. That’s when I need to hold in mind that my life is sweeter, that I’m more alive with less food.
What is your relationship with hunger?
Overwhelm has always been a food trigger for me. The burden of too much to do ups my anxiety level and I want it to stop now. So I turn to food. I no longer eat the sugar and flour that would just increase the jangled nerves but I still want to eat more, hoping to get somewhere, anywhere but here where I feel overwhelmed.
I recently came back from a blissful week of retreat, where time was open and spacious and responsibilities were few. I stepped almost immediately back into appointments, two work projects, some writing commitments, and several meetings. While none of this feels like overwhelm in the context of my daily life, it felt enormous coming back from retreat, and I didn’t take any of that into consideration when I set it all up.
I didn’t even see how I was feeling until I found myself in the kitchen with my hand in the bag of cashews in the cupboard and I released the nuts from my hand and stepped away. What I did see after that was that the overwhelm just felt worse after eating, not better, and the smartest thing I could do was nothing. I took a break, sat and petted one of my cats. That helped way more than cashews.
What is your solution to overwhelm?
My good friend Sage has taken on maximum health this year as her most important business goal. She’d been through a rough year of stresses and difficulties and found herself sleeping and exercising less and weighing more than she wanted. She and I are part of a mastermind group that focuses on marketing and promoting our services, and it made perfect sense to me that she would take on her health as a business project as well as a personal one.
Being in good health makes everything work better. We have energy, we have clarity, we have strength—things we need to be our best in our work and in our relationships and in our passions. Sage is staying off sugar and flour and eating a crap-ton of veggies and some clean meats and fruits. This is also the plan I’m on and it’s one that works so well.
How has recovery from food addiction supported your business or work goals?
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?