An interesting question was posed to me recently that has had my mind spinning. Or perhaps dancing is a better way to describe it. Interpretive in nature.
It’s no secret that due to the background I endured…of abuse of the physical, mental, and emotional kind…that I responded by self-medicating for many years. Science has worked diligently to determine how addiction — defined as
Have we figured out whether the potential for addiction resides within each of us, just waiting for the right switch to be thrown to activate it? Of that, I’m not certain.
In our household, punishment was how we were shown love. So much so, that some of my siblings learned that the only way to love one’s self was to inflict bodily harm. That could be through overeating, drugs, alcohol, etc. That certainly happened with me. From the age of 14 until well into my 30’s, I abused myself in so many ways. Self-medicated. That, to me, was me loving myself. Replacing abuse from our parents with self-abuse. One day I “woke up.” On that day, September 2, 1997, I decided to stop what I was doing, which was killing myself in the slowest, most painful way possible.
I came out of that era with many scars, which I strived to bury prior scarring beneath. However, it seems that I came out of it with another addiction.
Food. In our family, food was the white flag waved every time one of our parents were especially violent with us. We learned that food was the one safety zone in which we knew we had gotten through the worst of the recent storm relatively unscathed. But you and I both know that no one comes away from abuse unscathed. We absorb every moment of that pain and hoard it, doling it out in small or large doses to ourselves for the rest of our lives.
Now that I’m in treatment to help me move past that extreme trauma, my therapist suggested something that startled me. He asked if I would be willing to attempt to break my unhealthy connection to food. Until that point, I hadn’t known how truly addicted I had become to it. Food was my safe word. I knew I could “eat” my emotions and gain temporary peace…even though each time I binged, I hated myself more and more. Yet that’s how addiction works. You cannot help doing it, but you make sure to despise yourself for it as punishment. Are you seeing the connections?
So Doctor Therapist suggested a way to break free from food addiction. I saw the logic in his request, but my brain automatically refused. Brain says that food is good, even if it’s two or three quarter pounders from McDonald’s. Brain says, food will never let you down, as the scale continues to tilt toward higher and higher numbers. I see that I’m overweight now where I used to be 225 pounds of muscle and sinew, I’m now 235 pounds of fat and unhealthy tissue. Therapist said, as a caution, that food addiction was similar to heroin addiction. We become psychologically and physically addicted, even though it’s most certainly killing us.
So I agreed. But then he caught me off guard again.
“What are you going to replace your current addiction with?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, confused.
“You’ve been addicted to one thing or another for more than half your life. Probably most of your life. And you will definitely need to replace your addiction to food with something else. Hopefully something healthy.”
I had never thought of that. Once we become addicts, we are forever wired that way. I never understood that concept until he pointed it out. I always thought that “recovering addict” was a term from 12-step programs. So what would be my replacement addiction?
I have thought this through for the past three days, pretty much non-stop. I go through times of refusal to participate in weight loss therapy, even though my participation would eliminate some of the accompanying illnesses that come with obesity. Today, I’m in a state of mind where I’m willing to commit to it. 100%.
In thinking this through, I came up with some replacement addiction ideas.
Compassion. Coming from an abused childhood, I struggle with compassion for others. Or perhaps I’m so sensitive to others’ pain that I often take ownership of it. But what if I were to replace food with working on compassion?
Knowledge. I said this jokingly in session, but what if I replaced food with my undying desire for knowledge? That seems like an admirable pursuit.
Trust. I don’t trust easily, if at all. What would it feel like to actively work on trusting others, even when I get hurt or betrayed?
Health. There is such a thing as being addicted to being healthy. That option seems much too obvious for me…because even when I pursued a healthy lifestyle as a young man, I was still an addict, so that idea holds emotional land mines that I’m not sure I’m yet strong enough to overcome.
Love. I tell people I don’t “believe” in love…that love is merely a chemical reaction in the brain that makes us think we’re feeling love. However, without love, we cannot heal ourselves, because what is healing if not self-love?
I have not yet decided how this will proceed, but I’m mulling it over every day.
If you were allowed to choose an addiction to replace a current pattern you’re living, what would it be?