Thank you Sanctuary Magazine

Sara Somers is the author of Saving Sara: A Memoir of Food Addiction (She Writes Press) 
and a staunch advocate for those suffering from food addiction.


Your addiction started at the age of 9. Do you remember if you realized something was wrong as a young child?

I can confidently say that my problems with food started much earlier than nine years of age. By the age of nine, I knew, without a doubt, that something was seriously wrong with me and my life. But my non-cognitive brain was unable to make use of any information. I was extremely lonely, I was getting angrier and angrier at what I thought of as the injustice in my life and thought it was all my parents’ fault. My father had given me a small, blue diary because I was so taken with the movie The Diary of Anne Frank. In it, I wrote “Sara, what is wrong with you?” over and over digging in the pen so deep, it went through ten pages. Inwardly, I thought I must be defective or adopted or….Outwardly, I raged at my parents for being so “mean” to me.

It was only as a middle-aged adult and the discovery of the 12 Step programs that I was able to see that I was probably born with the addictive gene. I can’t say for sure when I crossed the line with food, but I was young. I was stealing, lying, and cheating by the time I was 14 in order to buy items with sugar and grains in them. I had become very defiant in order to numb myself from the loneliness, fear, and rage. It was only in moments of “quiet desperation,” like falling asleep, that I would think it was me that was the problem, but I was powerless to do anything. The rest of the time, I was raging at the world, at my family, at authority. I played the blame game for a very long time.

Toward the end of the book you write, “I believed I would feel deprived. What actually happened was that I felt a huge sense of relief and freedom.” Could you explain a bit?

I started dieting at 15, and, by the time I came into the rooms of GreySheeters Anonymous (GSA), I had probably tried every diet available. Most diets will tell you to hang in there, once you reach your goal weight, you can add back foods that were taboo during the diet. So there was something to look forward to. The “doing without” was short-term. Over the many years of dieting, I gained and lost hundreds of pounds by reaching goal weight and then gaining back all the pounds with the foods I “got back.” But it never once occurred to me that the foods I got back might be the problem.

By the time, I got to GSA, I thought ice cream should be one of the four main food groups. The disease was so entrenched in me that the thought of never eating ice cream again caused me many years of anguish and resistance to what I knew was the solution. When I finally reached ’the last house on the block’ and there was nowhere to go but dying, insanity or GSA, the future and the unknown seemed less terrifying than the hell I was living in. Plus, the members of GSA kept telling me I only had to do it one day at a time. It took a while for me to see the big picture but this is what happened: the black and white boundaries of GSA gave me a structure. The acceptance that I couldn’t have sugar or grains in either liquid or hard form finally made sense to me. I realized my body was like a distillery. If I put those ingredients in me, it all turned into alcohol and set off the cravings. I am completely powerless over cravings. With the structure of the GSA program and my acknowledgment that I had a severe allergy to sugar and grains, I dropped the struggle with the food, my weight and the 24-hour obsession for the first time in my life. That gave me hours of time to have a life, to learn new things, develop new hobbies, travel, to find out who I am and what I love. For many, many years now, I have believed and felt that what I gave up to get this amazing life is minuscule. But the nature of the disease informs me I can’t live without those things that I am allergic to.

The relief I felt was enormous. I never had to work so hard again to deny who I am. Yes, it was work to acknowledge the behaviors that would lead me back into food obsession, but I would have walked on my hands for a mile if you told me that was building a defense against the first bite. The freedom was genuinely freedom. I was locked in a prison of my own making – my life was a 10 x 10 cell. Being in GSA gave me the key to get out of prison and have a life beyond my wildest dreams. I know we often hear addicts in recovery say that but it is true. If I had dreamed up a life for myself, I could never have allowed myself to come up with something this rich and this rewarding.

Even today, with the Coronavirus raging throughout the world and most of us in some kind of lockdown or sheltering-at-home, I feel completely free. The program taught me to plan ahead, to build structure in my life, to feel gratitude for what I’ve been given every day, and to reach out to someone still suffering. I don’t have time to be anxious or scared. The program taught me that this too shall pass, and I believe it. I don’t know what the world will look like when we all emerge from our various states of stay-at-home, but I am sure that if I keep forging forward on my path, I will not overeat, drink or start any other self-abusive behaviors. I’ve been given the gift of self-care.

To get a copy of Saving Sara: A Memoir of Food Addiction, go to http://www.bookshop.org. This site supports indépendant bookstores. You can place your order, find you local bookstore and either have it sent to you or pick up curbside. Thank you

IF you have any questions or thoughts for topics, please write in the comment section. See you next week,

Sara

Bedroom Slippers

“My first sponsor told me that food and eating addiction is the strongest of all the addictions yet other addicts are hospitalized to sit around in their bedroom slippers for thirty days before they graduate to a half-way house. New (Greysheeters) think they can continue doing their (usually) crazy lives while detoxing, learning to be abstinent from sugar, grains and refined carbos, and establishing a new way of living. Wear your figurative bedroom slippers for at least the first thirty days” —-member of GSA

I asked this woman if I could share what her sponsor told her with my readers. It underscores what I want to tell everyone who is detoxing from sugar and grains. As a population, we do not take seriously enough the deadly power of those substances on food addicts. We have grown up thinking that we can just make up our minds to lose weight, find a diet that we think we can stick to and then go on with our lives changing nothing. Even after years of losing and gaining wight over and over, it still doesn’t occur to most of us that in order to kick the dependency on these substances, we have to do what every other addict has to do: cut out everything that isn’t absolutely necessary for our daily life and focus on getting through the detox and withdrawal time.

There are those in the substance abuse field who think that sugar is as hard or harder to kick than heroin. Just the fact that they think this should be important information for us. My own experience is that for me to get through this difficult part of recovery, I had to find a group of other food addicts and place myself right in the middle. I had to call on them for help and advice and just to talk to me on a daily basis. I had to commit out loud to another person (in my case, my sponsor) exactly what I was going to eat that day. Experience and my history showed that unless I did that, I could not be trusted to follow through on my intention even though it was helping ME that I was doing this for. I joined them in group meetings as often as I could. I had a friend at the time who told me “you need your brain washed! Everything you thought you knew about weight, food and how to deal with the accompanying shame is wrong. You are a food addict, you need to start thinking like a food addict.”

There are care units for compulsive eaters and food addicts. They are expensive. I didn’t have health insurance that would cover that kind of treatment. I had to create the CARE unit myself. I capitalized the word CARE because self-care is not something I was familiar with. I focused on others and assumed they would do the same—care for me. Then someone said ‘You have to do this for yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. YOU are your own responsibility.’

After many, many years of trying to breeze through withdrawal, of not being willing to go 100% in total acceptance that I had a disease that would kill me, that wanted me dead, I let go of all my preconceived notions and followed the examples of those that went before me. Now 15 years later and 11 years of back to back uninterrupted abstinence from sugar and grains and MORE, I believe these words more than ever. The further I am from that last binge, the clearer my head gets on how insanely I binged, how crazily I tried to run my life, how distorted my thinking was in order to rationalize eating foods I thought nurtured me (and, in fact, were killing me). They say the disease of addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. I say ‘and sneaky, and cruel and viscous and always just one bite away from jumping back into your thinking and doing.’

Most of us cannot kick this addiction alone but together, helping each other, reminding each other, we can move on and have lives worth living.

What is your story?

Sara

Withdrawal

“Withdrawal occurs once a person stops eating any addictive food. Though abstaining from foods is a contentious subject in the scientific literature, there is no question that it will cause a level of discomfort that often drives addicts back to eating… Feelings of deprivation, obsessions about food, and anxiety arising from unresolved trauma that was being ‘medicated’ by the addictive foods may appear like spectres that linger, worsening before they get better… It may seem that life without one’s comfort foods is simply not worth living. Even problematic eating is seen as better than feeling bereft to the point of suicidal thoughts. But others might find the symptoms so common they are not even recognizable as withdrawal… The good news is that detoxification is not a long process; it only lasts for a relatively short period – between one week and four weeks… Cheating by having a bite here or a spoonful there is also an excellent way to suffer withdrawal in perpetuity. Withdrawal will not end if the substance is constantly being reintroduced back into the brain reward pathway.” 
― Vera Tarman, Food Junkies: Recovery from Food Addiction

Some people who believe they are food addicts and let go of the substances that make us sick: sugar, grains and refined carbos, are completely surprised and shocked by how bad the detoxing and withdrawal process is. Even smart, well educated people with knowledge of food addiction, seem taken by surprise at the discomfort. The discomfort can be great. The physical detoxing can last anywhere from three to twenty-one days. But the emotional withdrawal can last a long time. We know that drug addicts and alcoholics go through bad times. Withdrawal symptoms can include severe anxiety, headaches, sadness, anger, sweating, shaking, disorientation and depression. Why are we so surprised that sugar and grains do the same thing. I think it’s because most of us come from a diet mentality. It’s just food and we go without until we reach our goal weight. Then we are told we can have all those foods back. After all, we’ve earned it! So clearly, they aren’t bad, just give them up for awhile until we get down to a weight we like.

WRONG! That might be true for non-food addicts. They can give up those sugary foods, using willpower, and then not abuse them once they lose the weight. But not us food addicts. Those ingredients are like putting poison in our system. Enough of it for a long time and they will kill us. Strong words I know. The truth is it’s so much easier never to eat those substances than give them up, take them back, give them up, take them back. As Dr. Tarman says “Withdrawal will not end if the substance is constantly being re-introduced back into the brain reward pathway.”

I believe this is why addicts cannot get sober or abstinent on their own. The opposite of addiction is connection. We take away something from our bodies that it is habituated to and it leaves a big hole. We have to fill it with something or we won’t last through the withdrawal. The best (and cheapest) way to fill that hole is to find other recovering food addicts. Talk to them, find out how they got through painful times. They will tell you. They will also tell you to make wonderful meals, to love your food. There is no deprivation in letting go of sugar and grains. When was the last time you felt joyously happy after bingeing on sugar? What’s left without those foods? An abundance of fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, fish, chicken, beef or, if you are vegan, other proteins.

Look into the Twelve-Step programs. There are a number of food programs. The worse the food addiction, the more structure one needs. Find out what the community of people are like. Are they happy, in recovery and can tell you about it? Do they reach out to you because they know how you are suffering? Because they’ve been there and know what you are going through? Those are the people you want to surround yourself with. People who can say “I did and you can to.” Yes, sometimes the pain gets worse before it gets better. Do you remember pulling a splinter out of your foot? It always hurts more for a short time. There is a hole there and the air is getting in. Soon it will close up and the body, our magnificent bodies, will heal the wound.

Getting rid of the poison we put in our bodies is worth the short time pain. Then you have the possibility for a life full of other things than obsessing about food. And you get to have different problems just like normal people and not the same problem over and over and over–how to stop eating?

Have you been through withdrawal? Write me and let me know how it was for you.

Sara

What Exactly is Withdrawal: https://foodaddictionresearch.org/question-and-answer/what-is-withdrawal/

Is Food withdrawal a real thing?: https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2017-01-03/is-food-withdrawal-a-real-thing

Food Addiction: Consideration of Detox & Withdrawal Symptoms: https://www.addictionhope.com/blog/food-addiction-withdrawal-detox/

One person’s story

In the April issue of Recovery Today magazine, p.46 “Confessions of a down and dirty, rock bottom food addict.” Their title not mine. But it says what it needs to say.

I got sober on June 1, 1998. I was an alcoholic, but alcohol wasn’t my bottom line addiction. Food was. I was a down and dirty, rock bottom food addict who couldn’t ingest sugar and grains in either liquid or hard form. I first went to AA in an effort to learn what the 12-step programs were all about, after coming from Overeaters Anonymous where I had been dazed and confused.

I was so ashamed of my food addiction that I never spoke of it to my sponsor or friends. In private,I tried to make AA solve my food issues. Such an irony: I knew that AA was a WE program, that connectedness was the antithesis to addiction. I knew that telling like-minded people how I’d used and abused my drugs of choice brought it all out in the open, gave me another 24 hours to keep the disease at bay. But my shame of eating, of my body, was so huge that I found it impossible to share with others. In my memoir, Saving Sara: A Memoir of Food AddictionI once and for all detail how my food addiction progressed and became more unmanageable over the years. I found OA in 1979 but was too arrogant to let go and try it someone else’s way. Then I was introduced to  GreySheeters Anonymous in 1983. I knew immediately it was the solution I had been looking for. But being a hard core addict, hard- wired to do self-destructive things, I felt sure that I could fix myself on my own.

It took me another twenty-six years to crawl back to a GSA meeting, broken and beaten up.I was seven years sober at that time. I had been sitting in AA meetings wondering why I wasn’t happy, joyous and free. I had done the steps a number of times. But I always kept my dirty secret to myself: I couldn’t stop binge eating. Now, fifteen years later, I have been abstaining from sugar, grains and refined carbs. It helped to accept that I could only deal with food addiction with other food addicts. No matter how much my AA friends loved me, since they didn’t eat like I did, I felt they couldn’t understand. On top of community, what GreySheeters Anonymous gave to me was structure. If I did what my sponsor said, I had a good chance of arresting the bingeing. I weighed my food at every meal and ate the same amounts as the day before. GSA knew I had a life and death disease and that was what the GSA boundaries treated. Since food addiction isn’t discussed as often in our society, I hope Saving Sara will open the door for much needed conversations to arise.

To pre-order the book: https://www.amazon.com/Saving-Sara-Memoir-Food-Addiction-ebook/dp/B07VBKZK3Y/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3NEQDD6UPIVF4&dchild=1&keywords=sara+somers&qid=1587045620&sprefix=Sara+Somers%2Caps%2C337&sr=8-1&fbclid=IwAR0tQzP3fs3RkgrH4LbL3TuNg-lqaUiuSLzWV-qK319S8PvCjZmziSNV9_U

As always, ask your questions, make comments, this is a blog for all of us

Sara

Education is always a good idea

Someone e-mailed me at the beginning of the week and told me, “It’s a good thing I’m not compulsively eating. I’d eat everything I had stored for the entire time we are in lockdown. I wouldn’t be able to get away from myself. It would really truly be living hell.” I’ve had similar thoughts of deep gratitude that my disease is not active. Many people are frightened. For food addicts, being frightened or not knowing what is coming around the corner is a reason for bingeing. Bingeing eventually numbs us, pushes the fear and anxiety way down under temporarily. It can seem like a solution. In fact, it is part of the problem. We food addicts do not know how to live with discomfort, any kind of discomfort. So we try to escape into the food. It didn’t work for me. Does it work for you?

My friend I haven’t met yet, Dr. Vera Tarman, wrote to remind me that there is a second edition of her wonderful book: Food Junkies, Recovery from Food Addiction. Dr. Tarman has been a huge supporter of Saving Sara the book. She read it cover to cover and pointed out some inaccuracies. So I need to amend what I have posted. Her first book is the Food Addiction: Truth about Food Addiction. Dr. Tarman works with food addicts on a daily basis. “As founder and spokesperson for Addictions Unplugged, she’s has focused her medical practice over the past 7 years on addiction treatment and recovery. Along with serving the addiction community through her own private practice, she has been the Medical Director at Renascent since 2006 and the Staff physician with Salvation Army Homestead since 2004.”–Linkd In. Of course I want you to buy my book Saving Sara when it comes out May 12, 2020, but educating yourself about food addiction is always a good idea. My book is my story. My story is one of hundreds of stories, all very similar. My story ends with hope and recovery. Dr. Tarman’s book gives you facts from the medical perspective, from her experience of working in the field. Dr. Tarman’s book is a good read.

Last week, I had the honour of being interviewed by Public Radio in Santa, Fe, New Mexico. http://healthywoman.libsyn.com/healthy-woman-march-28-2020-sara-somers-on-food-addiction

Stay inside. Wash your hands and don’t touch your face,

Obesity

The other night, the channel OCS in France, showed the February 28th episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. One of his guests was Nicholas Kristof who is one of my favorite columnists at the NYTimes and anywhere. I subscribe to his column and pay attention to the issues he writes about. I find that he is thoughtful, kind and extremely intelligent. He and Bill were talking about drugs, alcohol and obesity. Maher said “The Chan School of Public Health at Harvard says that in 10 years, half the country will be obese, 1/4 of the country will be severely obese and 40,000 people will die of obesity every week”. Kristof didn’t disagree with him. He said that it was all “part of the miasma of depression.” When things feel hopeless, “people self-medicate with soda and potato chips”. I could have jumped through the TV screen and kissed the man. I don’t think I have ever heard a public figure as famous and as well-respected as Kristof is talking about self-medicating with food.

One of the comments on the show in YouTube read: “Obesity is on the rise due to stress we have to deal with.” Kristof says much of this is the lack of education made available to people. I could hear Melinda Gates, in my head, saying that much of the inequality in the world is due to lack of education. I wrote my book Saving Sara in part to educate people. In my opinion to say that one is obese because of the stress we have to deal with is a lack of education. In this day and age, we have to learn to deal with stress without turning to soda and potato chips. Sugar and grains, the ingredients in alcohol and many of the foods we binge on, are depressants when taken in vast quantities. In our world where so much is unfair, where hopelessness is on the rise and depression seems to be a companion to many people, those ingredients only make a bad situation worse. There is so much we cannot control in our lives. We are in the midst of a pandemic and the majority of us are self-isolating in our apartments or homes. What happens tomorrow is out of our control. Speaking personally, what is within my control is what I put in my mouth, how I prepare to spend maybe up to two months alone in my apartment and how I chose to face my small world each morning.

I was obese. I am 5’6″ tall and weighed almost 200 hundred pounds. One of the ways I stayed in denial about that figure is by only looking in the mirror from my neck up. The rest of my body was deep in the sand just as if I was an ostrich. I was miserable, I felt hopeless, abandoned by the world and very, very sorry for myself. When I finally asked for help, the solution was not what I wanted it to be. It was not easy. I was told I would be unable to do it alone, that I needed all the support I could get and the best support would be from recovering food addicts. I was ashamed and didn’t want other people to see me so I resisted the group idea. Sure enough, I couldn’t do it alone. My solution was joining a 12 step group that treated food addiction like alcoholics treat alcoholism: it is a serious disease and you can’t be half-way committed. In order for me to turn my life around, I had to change my behaviors 180o, accept the black and white nature of the solution, the no matter what of the solution. Then I could learn how to live in the grey areas of life.

I thought depression was in my DNA. By the time I found the 12 step program, I had accepted that I would be on anti-depressants for the rest of my life (I am one of the fortunates who has health insurance). I can honestly say that since I have stopped putting sugar, grains and refined carbohydrates, in liquid or hard form, into my body, I have not had a long depression. I have felt blue. I have felt down when something didn’t go my way. When my Aunt died, whom I was very close to, in 2011, I got depressed for 4 days. It was NOT the depression that used to send me under the covers for days on end, praying that I would die but too scared to kill myself. I felt really, really awful. My friends in recovery said “You don’t have to binge over this. You can feel your feelings and grieve your loss and in two weeks, a month, you will still be abstaining from sugar and grains. If you use this as an excuse to binge, you will be back facing the only problem you have ever known–How to stop bingeing. You’ll have no room to find solutions for your everyday problems.

Today, here in France, we are on Day 10 of Lockdown or as the French so quaintly call it “our confinement.” I used every tool I learned in my recovery program to plan ahead, to make sure I had enough food in my apartment to last two months if needed. I started a Zoom meditation group in the morning of every single day of our confinement. This gave me a reason to get out of bed and to get dressed. I have reached out to my friends and started using Zoom to connect. I even threw a birthday party on Zoom. Someone said to me “we shouldn’t be calling this social distancing. In reality, it is physical distancing and doing whatever we can to socially reach out to each other.” We need each other now more than ever. We will get through this. Yes, it is stressful but it is not a reason to drink, take drugs or binge.

Thank you for your precious time in reading this. If you go to http://www.sarasomers.com, I have put up a long and, I hope, comprehensive list of things to do at home right now.

Until next week,

Sara

Time on our hands

In general, addicts, all kinds of addicts, don’t do well with time on their hands. Thinking tends to turn towards self-entered thinking. Then peppered with self-hatred and fear, it tends to become extremely negative thoughts. Without a strong program, a strong support group and a strong commitment, a crisis is often the time people go backwards and start practicing their addiction.

With that in mind, I thought I would post something a friend posted on her blog yesterday. Since most of us are at home, in lock-down as in France or Shelter in Place as in California, this will give you something to think about.

“What if…
we subscribe to the philosophy that life is always working out for us, that there is an intelligence far greater than humans at work.

That all are interconnected.

What if…
the virus and it’s demands of social distancing actually help us?

What if..
We reset as individuals, taking time to recall all that is truly important, as we reconnect with family, loved ones and community- in giving.

What if..
By reducing travel? Our environment, the skies, the air and our even lungs get a break for a bit.

What if…
Our cities see blue skies and less smog for the first time in a long time, with factories being shut down.

What if..
Many get to work from home, during this time, as oppose to commuting which lessens pollution and provides more personal time.

What if..
Families reconnect; having more time at home. Lovers reengage and remember the gratitude they have for one another.

What if..
It’s an open invitation to turn inwards in deep thought, as oppose to the pressured social gatherings, with self-soothing drinks involved.

What if..
It’s a time to reconnect with self and ask, what is really important to me?

What if..
It’s a economical and social reset, balancing and reevaluating both our minds and business structures.

What if..
It’s a time to understand the working poor, with a lack of healthcare access for the over 30 million in the U.S. alone. Giving a greater understanding of the importance for paid sick leave.

What if..
It’s a time to revalue spending habits, retirement, college funds, IRA and savings, along with 3-6 month rainy day, or in this case- pandemic, funds.

**How hard does one need to work to be able to LIVE, to HAVE A LIFE… outside of work? Let us contemplate our career, home and extracurricular time we allot for ourselves.

What if..
Washing our hands properly and proper hygiene was something many needed as a reminder. Yes, one irresponsible person effects many. Yes, we are all interconnected.

What if…
It resets our gratitude and a provided a presence of peace we haven’t felt in long while.

What if…
There is a favorable shift underway in our society?

What if…
this virus is an ally in our evolution?

What if..
We needed a reminder to be and stay connected, humane, to live a simpler life, with more joy.

What if..
We needed a kick to be less impactful to our environment and more giving to each other.

What if..
It triggered more offerings of the heart.

What if..
We give these uneasy times an offering to another perspective, another way to impact and unfold our evolution in a positive manner.

What if…
We remembered the gifts we are receiving by this virus and continue on with some of the simplicities this has provided.

What if…
We are better tomorrow, for what we were given today.

What if…—”

Sara