The Fix.

Are you an addict?  Do you need a fix?

Addiction is essentially a compulsive dependence on a behavior (e.g., gambling) or substance (e.g., caffeine) that persists despite negative consequences. A hallmark of addiction is denial (‘I can stop anytime’); thus you must recognize that there is a problem before you can begin to address it.  Battling that addiction is tough. The habit is merely a symptom of the psychological condition. By definition, an addict is vulnerable, so it is easy to see why it is common for a recovering addict to transfer his addictive behavior to other parts of his life, sometimes without even realizing it.  This is ‘replacement’ or ‘substitute’ addiction, also called “switching.”

A dear friend of mine is a recovering drug and alcohol addict. She said that in rehab, they told her that the most common substitute addictions are sugar and sex, but they may also be exercise, work, smoking, dieting, overeating, drugs, shopping, cleaning, or a host of other activities. It’s still addiction. Even if the substitute is not in itself a bad thing, like work or exercise, it is clear that spending an excessive amount of time working or exercising can be harmful. You’ve changed the outward manifestation of your addiction, but you’re still addicted. You may not know it, but the people around you probably do.

I’ve known people who choose not to drink because their parents were alcoholics; their drug of choice is food, specifically sugar. One of my acquaintances quit drinking hard liquor and now only drinks beer. And we all know ex-smokers who gain weight because they eat candy instead of smoking. They simply replaced one habit with another – and that is not recovery. Your brain still craves the reward, the ‘high’ of whatever you did to satisfy the craving; it’s just finding another way to get the fix.

So let’s bring this closer to home. After a lifetime of obesity/food addiction and unsuccessful, yo-yo dieting, you have weight loss surgery. You have changed your eating habits; you are losing weight and getting healthier. However, you now smoke twice as many cigarettes as you used to. Or now, under the guise of ‘celebrating’ your weight loss, you max out your credit card at the mall. Or maybe you have become obsessive about working out. Or you become overly flirty and promiscuous in an effort to demonstrate your attractiveness. Or you become preoccupied with proving something at work, becoming an overachiever or workaholic. Or you spend countless hours online.

Whatever your replacement addiction may be, legal or not, it is like a rebound after a romantic breakup – it is a short-term, feel-better coping mechanism. It helps you escape the downside or negative consequences of your behavior. At best, it may not be harmful, but at worst, it certainly can be.

The problem is not the activity itself – it’s the obsession.

The need.
The craving.
The dependence.
The preoccupation.

So what can you do about it? Well, recognizing that you’re switching is a good start. Then you must realize that you need help dealing with it. Help might mean behavioral therapy with a professional. It might be a 12-step program, counseling, or a support group. It might be developing other ways to deal with the stresses in your life or adopting new pastimes. It might be as simple as enlisting friends and family to hold you accountable or to help keep you away from challenging situations.

To me, it proves that I can’t do this alone. Left to my own devices, I would substitute one thing after another after another. For years, when I dieted, I would smoke more; when I tried to quit smoking, I’d eat more. When I finally quit smoking for good, I gained a lot of weight. Now that I’m not overeating, I find that I’m shopping more and spending more idle time online. (I’m also writing more, but I think that’s a good thing.) I have to be very careful not to let the habit gain the upper hand because I know it can easily happen.  My brain still wants that fix.

I’ve come to the understanding that my obesity was not just about food. Facing myself and overcoming my compulsive behavior takes a lot of work and a lot of time. The key is in finding the balance in your life. You want to cultivate productive, healthy habits and behavior but not form detrimental attachments to them. It’s tough. I’m glad that Mr. Stuck and I are working on this together. I’m grateful to every one of the people who come to the same WLS support group we attend, because their insight and encouragement is what keeps us coming back.

I’m not a psychologist or counselor. I offer neither authority nor expert opinion on addiction. I know there are people out there in much worse situations than I, and I do not mean to downplay their struggles toward recovery. I just want to acknowledge that an addict doesn’t have to have a needle in his arm or a bottle of vodka hidden in the bathroom cabinet. It could be the guy on the treadmill, the boss who stays late every night, or the woman next to you with the Diet Coke.  It could be me.

Or it could be you.

 

For further reading on this subject, check out the book Eat It Up! The Complete Mind/Body/Spirit Guide to a Full Life After Weight Loss Surgery by Dr. Connie Stapleton, a licensed psychologist and certified addiction counselor.  Eat It Up! shows you how to create and maintain balance in your life and helps you on the journey to your well-being.  In addition, Dr. Stapleton is the ‘Doc’ to Cari De La Cruz’s ‘Post-Op’ on their Facebook page, A Post-Op & a Doc, where you can find wit and wisdom and lots of support.  Check them out!

 

photo credit Alan Cleaver

 

 

Just One.

While talking with my Mister this week, as I sometimes do, I mentioned a friend from work that he had met before. This friend – let’s call him “W” – is the one whom I credit for inspiring me to see a hypnotherapist. He had successfully quit smoking with hypnosis, himself, and referred me to the therapist he used. Unfortunately, she was no longer in the area, leading me to find another, who turned out to be just perfect for what I needed. Anyway, as an update, I told Mister that W had started smoking again. The last time we spoke, W spent most of that time kicking himself for backsliding. He also struggles with his weight, and he felt pretty helpless about that, as well.

It got me to thinking. When I quit smoking in 2005, that wasn’t my first time. I had quit smoking several times before that. Most smokers do try to quit, and most try more than once; I was no different. I quit for about a year, way back in my 20’s, and was really proud of my success until the night I went out with my friends to a local bar. My friends all smoked, and this was before smoking indoors was banned. We all sat around this big table with our beers, and out came the packs of smokes, lighters, and ashtrays. After sitting in the second-hand smoke for a while, I thought to myself, Man, I really want a cigarette. I’ll just have one. I even framed the argument in my head, lest one of my friends object. I thought of what I would say to them if they protested. I think the extent of my defense was, It’s not like I’m going to start smoking again! I just want one while I’m having this beer.

So I asked my girlfriend, who only smoked while she drank, for a cigarette. She gave me a sidelong glance and handed one over. She said, “If you start smoking again, don’t blame me.” I assured her it wasn’t going to happen, and lit the cigarette, taking a long drag. I felt the rush of the nicotine hitting my system; it made me a little woozy, but it was also comforting in a strange sort of way. The brief nausea I felt went away with the next couple puffs. I enjoyed that cigarette far more than I thought I would or should have.

I wish I could say that I stopped at one, but I didn’t. That night I ended up bumming another cigarette or two from her, and then out of guilt I bought a pack to pay her back. Naturally, I finished the pack in the next day or two. And another, and another…until I was back to my nearly two-pack-a-day habit.

That “just one” plan was flawed from the outset. I should have known, and I probably did, but I chose to ignore the angel on my shoulder when the devil on the other one was egging me on. I should have seen that I was addicted to smoking, and that thinking I could have just one was risky. As it turned out, I lost that battle, and I smoked for several more years until I quit again right before I got married.

Yes – I was determined to quit. I had great reason to: I was going to be stepmom to a terrific little girl, and I didn’t want to smoke around her. So I quit again in 1991. I marveled at how much better food tasted and how the acrid smell of smoke no longer followed me everywhere. It was a win-win, because Mister was not a smoker and hated that I was. Plus, it saved money, and I felt better, too.

Fast forward to 1999. Tragedy struck, and I was completely overwhelmed. When I came back to work, I was in a fragile state, and found myself needing to get up from my desk and take a walk to clear my head from time to time. When my not-particularly-sympathetic boss questioned the frequency and duration of my breaks, a helpful friend devised a solution: he gave me an unopened pack of cigarettes he had found. He said, “Put it on your desk so if anyone asks, you can say you’re taking a smoking break.” Good plan. The pack sat unmolested on my desk for a few days while I enjoyed my breaks with my smoking friends. It wasn’t long until I asked someone for a cigarette – just one – and not long after that, I opened that pack on my desk, surrendering once again to the demon nicotine.

This time it’s different, I told myself. I’ve been through hell lately, so don’t judge. If smoking is the worst I do, then who would blame me? Anyone else would do the same thing. I readily acknowledged that smoking was my crutch to get me through. At least, that’s what I told myself to justify the relapse. I hid it from my young sons as best I could, smoking outside after they went to bed or taking a trip to the store just so I could have a cigarette in my car. I felt so guilty about living that lie, but I absolutely did not want them to see me smoke and think it was okay. I knew I was setting a terrible example, and that made the guilt even worse, which meant I smoked more and more.

Eventually, they caught me smoking. I had to confess. It was a great weight off my chest, now that the secret was known, but I knew I had to quit – for good.

In March of 2005, I was involved in a 4-vehicle accident; the car behind me plowed into me so hard that his license plate was imprinted on my rear bumper. I had numerous soft-tissue injuries and was off work for quite a while. I was seeing a doctor, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, and a physical therapist. The pain was incredible, but I kept pushing myself to recover. The PT spoke to me plainly, telling me that if I quit smoking, my circulation would improve, and with better blood flow to my injuries, they would heal faster. I hadn’t thought of it that way. It was then that I sought out the advice of my friend W for quitting smoking. On November 7, 2005 I quit for good.

What I know now is that I am an addict. I cannot fall into the trap of “just one” thinking. I can’t have just one cigarette. Not even one. If I do, I will once again be a smoker. What I also know now is that my addiction is not limited to nicotine: if I allow myself, against my better judgment, to indulge in certain foods, I will likely binge. There are certain foods that trigger that behavior, and I am nearly powerless against them, so my best bet is to stay away. My food addiction, which is a manifestation of a lifetime of unhealthy thinking and emotional baggage, is very real. Just look at me.

I like to think my war with cigarettes is over, and I won. Because of hypnosis, I no longer have cravings or even think about cigarettes. I have never cheated; I have no desire to smoke. But my war with obesity is not, and never will be, over. It’s easy to talk myself into, or out of, certain things, but those actions have consequences, and one of them is obesity. I fight with myself on a daily basis. But I have to remember that my success is predicated on my constant awareness; I can’t make big, sweeping plans and ignore the details. I have to take this battle one day at a time.

Just one.

 

 

photo credit Brett Jordan