May 19, 2009

Addictions and Subtractions

I found and liked this definition of addiction on a coaching website:

"...behavior that does not create lasting emotional satisfaction. From this broad perspective, addictive behavior can be seen as habitual ways of thinking and acting that limit our possibilities and satisfaction in life--including drug use, eating, relationships, money, sex, entertainment, power, and work."

What a wonderful opening for questioning. "Drug use (drinking, power etc.) expands my possibilities." "Overeating (sex, money) satisfies me."

Seeing as I have been overindulging in my self-limiting behavior of choice lately, I took the opportunity to inquire into one of my may justifications for doing so.

I invite you to take the trip with me. What habitual, fleetingly satisfying behavior backfires or ends up being too costly for you to continue....and how would you answer these questions? Who would you be if you showed up in your life without your addiction?

"Overeating satisfies me."

Is it true?
No (not in any lasting way).

How do I react when I believe this thought? What happens?

I use food (especially foods that are better for me to have in moderation, very limited amounts, or not at all) to distract myself from other feelings or from my "to do" list, to self-medicate, entertain myself when bored, to keep others company when they're eating things I know not to eat and in amounts that I know not to eat.

I get upset when people question what I eat; then justify or tell them to butt out. I get spiritual or existential about the body (it's not who we are, we all have to die of something, etc.).

I substitute food for whatever is lacking in my life at the time: employment, sex, attention, busy-ness.

I get overly interested in food and eating to the exclusion of other things that could be equally if not more satisfying (long walks, creative writing, inquiry).

I justify spending large amounts of money on special ingredients where others would do and fit better in my budget. (Does someone with $1550 rent who rarely pulls in more than $1000 a month income need to buy a $10 per 2-ounce jar of salmon caviar on a regular basis?)

I make eating about taste sensations, fullness sensations, fun, socializing, guilty pleasure, etc. rather than about fueling the body. I don't take time to notice and appreciate my food, especially when I'm "limiting" myself to "healthy" eating.

I am greedy, needy and scared. I get anxious when I think I won't get enough of something.

I seek collaboration and affirmation from fellow big eaters. I prefer to dine with people who indulge in food--especially the ones who eat more than I do, and especially specially specially those who eat a lot and aren't overweight--so that I can continue to justify my actions to myself.

This belief started in early childhood when I always wanted a second cookie or a larger helping of a food I liked, especially if my mother said "no." It became a game, a strategy and a battle of wills to get what I wanted and I did not feel satisfied and didn't give up until I did. (Sometimes I'd just sneak the extra cookie.)

Alternately I have used dieting as a way to punish myself, to give myself no undeserved satisfaction.

Holding this belief "Overeating satisfies me" costs me health, peace of mind, money, integrity, individuality...and I could go on.

Who would I be without this thought?
As I certainly have been without this thought, as recently as last night, I can speak from experience: I would be most satisfied and happy with a wonderfully fresh California-grown salad in a reasonable amount.

I would eat only when I am hungry and in the amount I really want...with common sense, weighing the pros and cons of doing it differently and being very clear about what I want to eat - no shoulds, no shouldn'ts.

I would experience no guilt over an occasional slice of (fattening, allergenic) pizza. No need for a second slice of said pizza. Enjoying the hell out of every bite of it. Not beating myself if I go for that second slice as long as I'm conscious about my decision and loving it as equally as not eating it.

I'd ask myself what it is I really want and need in the moment I think I want to (over)eat. If it's really a big slushy umbrella drink at poolside that I want, that's fine...and maybe I want something else instead, such as the feeling of belonging (in which case, start belonging, Carol!). It's the way I stopped napping in the middle of the day. (I discovered years ago that regular midday napping would turn into two hours and made me feel sluggish for the rest of the day, so I found other things that were both restful and satisfying and better for me.)

I would stop to be present with my food, my body, my life...tapping into natural myself what I want from that extra food.

I might leave food over. (Gasp!)

Turn the thought around:

To the opposite: "Overeating doesn't satisfy me." Just as true. Examples:
1. Never for more than a few minutes.
2. It doesn't satisfy me that I've re-gained weight that I worked hard to lose.
3. It's often really uncomfortable in terms of feeling stuffed, logy, sugar-buzzed out, etc.

To "my thinking": "Overthinking satisfies me."
Not true, but that's what's going on when I think I want more of something. I think, "If I eat this, I will be happy, satisfied, mollified." When this doesn't work, then the thinking has to stuff itself with something else, whether it's food or another addictive item/action/thought.

To the opposite (another angle): "Overeating dissatisfies me."
1. I don't like myself when I overeat (and that's another worksheet).
2. I am dissatisfied with the resulting indigestion, fatigue or weight gain.
3. Going against my better judgment cancels out any satisfaction I might temporarily experience at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.


ED said...

OK. So now what? How does this questioning show up in a change in behavior?

Carol L. Skolnick said...

ED, it might or might not result in a change in behavior. That all depends on what you want. But if the behavior isn't serving, understanding it might give the addict a good reason to stop it, one that would result in more peace. (We already have a reason, or several, to continue doing what we do - that's why we do it.)

If the behavior is not seen as a problem, it will continue, and that's fine. If the problems that lead to the behavior are not dealt with, the behavior will continue. That may not be okay with you.

In my personal experience and my experience in working with many people with self-limiting behaviors, it doesn't work to do The Work to stop smoking, gambling, drinking, overeating, etc. We do The Work to know ourselves. That is all that it's for...and it's amazing how we notice, after a time, how we've changed.

I stopped biting my fingernails after doing The Work for the first time. I didn't work on my habits, I worked on a Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet on an ex-boyfriend. I have no idea what underlying belief this was related to, but two weeks later I looked at my hands and was shocked to see that I needed a manicure. I've been going to the nail parlor regularly ever since.

Fabrice said...

You're an adept of the midday nap? I'm jealous! ;-)

-- Fabrice

Brian Adler said...

I really love this particularly as a springboard for things to bring to inquiry.

Thanks Carol!


Carol L. Skolnick said...

Fabrice: Yes, in that I've become adept at not napping midday.

paul etcheverry said...

As you know, with my recent "D" diagnosis, behavioral change in this area has become a must.

Usually punitive thoughts have no effect on me whatsoever, but such concepts as "your blood sugar will go through the stratosphere if you eat this" and "your friend died of this who was just a couple of years older than you" are working pretty darn well so far. But until I got the bad news (and undeniable numbers) from my doc's office, the "mmmmmm mmmmmm good" thought always won, hands down.

Is the thought "I can overeat raw vegetables (sans dressing) and get away with it" true? It better be, 'cause we'll have lots of those the next time we meet for brunch!

Solo-Dad said...

Your willingness to be totally honest in your online presence takes my breath away. I enjoyed this post very much.