My 16th Christmas abstaining from sugar and grains has passed. As far as food was concerned, it was just another day. Christmas, as a season, can be full of wonder and full of stress. I’ve always loved the lights that sparkle and entertain as the nights grow longer. I love the music and carols. But when I was growing up, all that was overshadowed by the stress of the family getting together.
For me, the stress of Christmas drove me towards the foods I’m allergic to: sugar and grains. Each year I’d vow that “this Christmas it will be different.” But, each Christmas, as stress grew, I turned to sugar and immediately I’d feel possessed by something I didn’t understand and was terrified of.
Then a miracle happened. At the age of 57, I realised, without a doubt, that my bingeing wasn’t normal. That when it comes to food and my relationship to certain foods, I am not normal in any way. I would eat and binge like an alcoholic drinks. Since I was 35 years old, I had been told I had an allergy to sugar, grains and certain carbohydrates. My body simply will not process them. If I put them in my body, it sets off a craving just as if I was alcoholic. When a relief to finally accept that that is who I am and not keep banging my head bloody up against a brick wall trying to be someone I’m not.
Today, I can say with gratitude, that I have had 16 wonderful Christmases because I don’t eat those substances. Even this year when so many of us are still in lockdown, I have enjoyed the music, the lights and the Zoom get togethers.
If you think you might be like me, please read my book: Saving Sara A Memoir of Food Addiction. If you identify with my story, you may need a solution like mine–a spiritual program that doesn’t cost anything. Where we help each other never, ever to put, what for us, is ‘poison’ in our bodies. GreySheeters Anonymous. http://www.greysheet.org
In the world of food addiction, Thanksgiving is just another Thursday where the food is concerned. For me, it’s a day to look around and say ‘Thanks’. Since I no longer binge and I no longer eat massive amounts of sugar or carbos or grains, I now have the bandwidth in between my ears to have a day of true Thanks Giving. A day when I can say with all my heart how grateful I am that I live in the solution and never ever have to binge again. A day when I can say with all my heart how grateful I am to have the willingness to do everything I need to do to show that I care enough about myself to work hard not to engage in self-abusive behaviors that drove me deeper and deeper into food hell.
Normally, this is a lethal time of year. Starting with Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then all the Christmas parties, then Christmas itself and finally New Year’s Eve. At every single one of those occasions, there is always an over-abundance of food. Does that mean we have to eat as everyone else does? Does that mean we aren’t celebrating if we say No to foods and alcohol that will hurt us? These are loaded questions with difficult answers. Most people I know want to belong. Whether to a family, to a close organization, somewhere that they know they can let their hair down. So many of us have grown up thinking of food as love. “If I eat everything at Thanksgiving, I belong. I’m home and I know I’m loved.”
For some people that may be true. There is a joke amongst recovering food addicts: Thanksgiving is amateur day for normal eaters. Everyone overeats. But not everyone pays the price of triggering the phenomenon of craving. Not everyone starts with Thanksgiving and can’t stop bingeing until they wake up on January 2nd determined to start yet another diet. We food addicts are different. We will never be normal eaters and therefore Thanksgiving and the rest of these holidays have to be about something else. About being with family, about knowing what works well in your life and saying thank you to the universe. It just takes practice. One holiday at a time.
This year, nothing is normal. It’s all different. Here in France, ex-Pats do celebrate Thanksgiving but we won’t this year. We are in lockdown and no one I know would risk exposing someone they love to the possibility of getting sick with Covid-19. In the US, I’m hearing that more and more states and cities are entering lockdown. New Mexico went into lockdown today. One thing both Covid-19 and food addiction have in common—they don’t take vacations. We can’t let up on our vigilance of either disease just because it’s a special day. Wanting to belong to your family has to take a backseat to true love and telling them that we aren’t celebrating in person this year and let’s brainstorm how we can celebrate. On-line? Zoom? FaceTime.
This Too Shall Pass. We all have the opportunity to wake up January 2nd and not be vowing to diet and not have the deadly Covid disease. To do that, we have to expand our imagination. We have to put our heads together and ask each other “How do we celebrate? Do we celebrate? Maybe we wait and have Christmas in July?” There are as many answers as there are people.
So to all of you I say: You don’t have to eat foods that will ultimately kill you. You can provide yourself with an abundant delicious meal on Thanksgiving and any day. You can stay “sober” and truly let the people you love know how much you love them. You can walk through the holiday season, one step at a time, one day at a time without engaging in self-abuse. This is the Holiday Challenge. Can I love myself as much as I love others?
Let me know how you are doing? Please write some encouraging words to other compulsive eaters and let them know they are not alone.
As part of my self-care program to keep my food addiction at bay, I meditate. And, as everyone who participates in any kind of social media knows, once I started asking questions or downloading any thing to do with meditation, I began to receive many invites in my e-mail. One of the best that I have discovered is 10% Happier–an app that had its beginnings with the book of the same name by Dan Harris of ABC Television. This no-nonsence, down to earth approach and aid to meditation is a wonderful way for anyone to get started on meditation as a daily practice.
A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from 10% Happier inviting me to partake in the Election Sanity Challenge. Of course my mind went on Tilt. No such thing as sanity and election in the same sentence. Elections in the USA have grown more and more insane as the years go by. But, in theory I thought, great idea, sign me up. Each Monday, a talk arrived in my mailbox that addressed one of the four nobel truths of Buddhism: Loving Kindness/Friendliness; Compassion/Giving a crap; Sympathetic Joy/the opposite of schadenfreude; Equanimity/Keeping cool. The second label is Dan Harris’ way of making these truths accessible to all of us. It works.
Why am I telling you all this? This week, I realized that as the election is 7 days away and I have no idea what will happen, this is the kind of worry or anxiety that I would eat over. The more I got involved with something that I feel great passion for, the higher my anxiety got as I realized that I had no control over the outcome. That kind of anxiety is terribly uncomfortable and I would always eat/binge when I was at any level of discomfort. Preferably–my drug of choice ‘ice cream’, which I thought would cool me down. Of course, the quantities that I consumed would knock me out, make me numb, and while numb I might sign up for yet another round of activity with my political party of choice. When the food/drug wore off, there I was: neck-deep in craziness, powerlessness and not knowing. Three quarters of the way towards another binge.
Radical Self-care is the assertion that you have the responsibility to take care of yourself first before attempting to take care of others. It’s necessary to fill your cup first, then to give to others from the overflow. This is what gives you the capacity to heal and to move forward into your next chapter of life.
This is a week of ultimate need for radical self-care. Dan Harris anticipated this and, for the last month, has been preparing us and our active minds to think in terms of kindness–to ourselves and others. He offers a daily mediation challenge through next Tuesday. You can sign up on the app 10% Happier. I find that I need to consciously acknowledge where I can go with this sense of wanting to control the outcome of the election. The first thing is to accept that I cannot control it. This morning, I asked myself if I was pleased and satisfied with all the actions I had taken to participate in this election. As a voter from abroad, I had the extra challenge of making sure I got my ballot in time to get it returned in time. I did. Check. Have I participated in physical actions to get out the vote? Yes, Check. Since my time zone is not conducive to making phone calls all day to make sure people voted, I donated money. More than I ever have in any previous election. Check. But I don’t want my mailbox filled with requests, solicitations, some even shaming me for not doing enough. So this morning, I unsubscribed to every single one of them. I didn’t feel guilty. I felt strong that I wanted to survive this election time abstinent from compulsive eating, abstinent from crazy, insane, powerless thinking, abstinent from the adrenaline rushes I used to get from the highs of sugar misinterpreting that energy as creative energy.
No matter what happens next week, I still have to live with me. I still have to wake up each morning and feed my cat, do my work, write my blog, talk to friends. Do I really want to wake up having thrown away years and years of abstaining from the substances that will kill me? Go back to living in hell praying to the God that I don’t understand to help me stop binging? Having to face all of you and say “I didn’t make it through this election.” NO I DON’T. No election, no political party, no person (other than me) is worth throwing away the life I live today; a life of mostly sanity, a life I have chosen that I love.
What are you going to do this week to take care of yourself? If you have a horse in this race, how can you detach from the outcome today and one moment at a time, abstain from the substances and the negativity that once ruled you and your life. You are worth it. Vote for yourself, for your happiness, for freedom from the food from this moment forward. Then listen to 10% Happier!! It just might give you some new and well needed tools.
Here’s to freedom from Food Addiction, one day at a time.
When you have finished your meditation, take a look at my memoir–how I went from fat and bingeing on a daily basis to recovery from my food addiction. If you identify, there is hope, I promise. Available at your favourite bookstore, bookshop.com and of course, Amazon.
A reader asked me, “What was it like when you first gave up sugar and grains?” For me, as a food addict, I stopped putting poison in my system. I didn’t completely understand what was happening, but it certainly was very disruptive to my physical being and my life. I’d say I was detoxing which can be both emotionally and physically painful. I was (sometimes still am) an instant gratification person so the desire to stop the pain was intense. All my life I’d used sugar and grains to numb myself from pain. The people I now had to turn to for guidance said, “you are very, very vulnerable right now. Take good care. Protect yourself.” I really didn’t want to be living in hell anymore so I said ‘No’ to most invitations. I wanted the support and encouragement of my friends but, truthfully, it’s very difficult to understand why anyone would go to the lengths I was going unless they also were a food addict and had lived in the hell I had lived in.
It was not so different from learning a new language and the best way to do that is total immersion. I didn’t have the money to put myself into a treatment center and, in the end, it was me who was responsible for my own health and sanity. I had to create a similar atmosphere of immersion so that most of my days would be surrounded by the love and encouragement of the people who had gone before me. That included meetings, phone calls, walks with other recovering food addicts, going to others’ homes and weighing my food with them. Being around others who would love me until I learned to love myself.
Each thing I contemplated doing outside of this initial time of detoxing and learning the ins and outs of eating healthily without sugar and grains, I had to consider carefully. It wasn’t in my nature to think ahead and to be totally honest how I would respond to certain situations. An example of this was a cruise I had signed up for. A group of friends and I were going to fly to Russia and take a cruise up the Volga to St. Petersburg. It was fun planning it and I was looking forward to it. Then my sponsor asked me how I was going to deal with the food. Well, I hadn’t even thought about it. Not one member of our group was in a Twelve Step program. No one was sure if we would have any WiFi and I probably couldn’t make any phone calls so it was certain I would be out of contact with all my support. Because it was a Russian cruise line, it took me almost two months to get through to someone who could tell me about the food. By that time, there was only about three weeks until we were to leave. I was told that there was one seating an evening and only one choice for a meal. If I cancelled I’d lose my deposit. I started going back and forth in my head. On the one hand, I was trying to rationalise why it would be ok if I went, I’d be fine–even though left alone without support, it had never been fine before. My GSA program was urging caution and “when in doubt, leave it out.” No one said ‘Don’t go’. I made myself crazy trying to fit something I really wanted to do into a hole that it wouldn’t fit in. I didn’t want to lose the deposit. Finally my sponsor said, “What if you lost your abstinence and ate sugar and grains. You likely would binge because that is your history. How much money do you think you would spend on bingeing before you were able to get home?” That was pretty convincing. I could easily see myself terrified and desolate and paying top dollar for an early flight back to California. In the end, it would cost many times more than the $500 deposit. So I cancelled and have never regretted that decision.
My friends didn’t really understand. The average person thinks it’s a matter of will power and knowledge. I had tons of knowledge about food, nutrition, psychology, behavior and I was very wilful. None of that helped me deal with my food addiction.
I have a spiritual disease, an emptiness, that only a spiritual solution can heal. What I had to do during those first days and months of abstaining from sugar and grains, my friends in recovery call Radical Self-Care. Many people grow into adulthood knowing these caretaking things. Addicts don’t. In the quest to feed the habit, many important skills do not develop.
Next week: What are these new friends like, the people I had to depend on for my life and sanity?