Learning about myself and my addictive behaviour patterns is one of the greatest investments that I have made in my recovery. Some of the things that I do are so ingrained that I need help to notice them and bring them into the light so that I can work to make changes. Some of that help is through a trained counsellor, some comes through my husband and friends, and sometimes through prayer and reflective times with God, the Holy Spirit reveals things without need for human help. This post looks back at the last 3-4 months of revelation, reflection, and change.
I am going to talk about addictive behaviour patterns. The more I read about the mind of the addict, and moreover the addictive power of sin, the more I realise I don’t know. I remain quite fickle, balanced between the two main schools of thought in the spiritual understanding of addiction, knowing it isn’t possible for them both to be right. To put it at its most simple, the 12 step understanding, which is where I started, and through which millions have achieved sobriety, looks on alcoholics/ addicts as “different” to “normal people” in the way that their brain chemistry responds to substance(s) and therefore also in the way they tend to think about themselves and the world. An alternative, that I first found in the writings of the evangelical American Edward Welch, is that the way addicts think and behave is really no different to any other sinners: neither in neurology nor in psychiatry but only in the far reaching consequences that their particular weakness to temptation has. I need to read more and pray more to reconcile this for myself, but I think whatever way you personally think about this and whatever you believe, you can see “addictive thinking” to be equivalent to “temptation thinking” and “addictive behaviour” approximately correlates with “sinful behaviour”. I might come back to this, to revise my theology, and subsequently my medicine. For now, knowing in part will have to do.
One thing I do believe is that addicts are shape shifters. Once people have used something to make themselves feel better and take the pain away, they are always vulnerable to other addictive substances, or processes. To illustrate substances: the heroin addict who relapses with alcohol, and processes: the high rate of co-dependant relationships formed by addicts in early recovery.
Last year, I put on 3 stone, and it’s therefore easy to see what I used as my second ‘drug of choice’ – overeating. In terms of life events, I had two major orthopaedic operations leaving me immobile and had to say goodbye to my daughter. I got through all of that without a drink, and the chocolate was certainly killing me more slowly than picking up a drink would have done. Overeating is a process addiction, according to addiction theory, whereby the action is what is addictive rather than the substance¹, but my experience suggests to me that it is a bit of a hybrid.
Facing what I was doing to myself was the first and hardest thing. In fact, immobility is not really implicated in weight gain², the reason I’d gained weight was, quite simply, greed. I was using sugar-containing food, in particular, to produce feelings of temporary fullness and happiness and to reduce pain, because I could or would not live with the emptiness and physical, emotional and spiritual pain I was having. It was habit, as my husband is a great lover of puddings, and I am a lover of baking, and so the withdrawal, if you like, had to be done surrounded by the substance itself. All the ways in which I was justifying it, minimising it, and particularly in denial about it, were all old friends – these were thinking patterns that I’d burned well into my neurons, and it seem to take a life of their own, to preserve the status quo above all costs.
Obesity is more common, and more acceptable perhaps, than alcoholism. It kills you more slowly, but in the end, it will kill you. The obesity epidemic is probably the single biggest challenge facing Western Medicine not just this decade but probably this century, and unsurprisingly research opinion is beginning to see Type 2 Diabetes as essentially a physical complication of addictive illness³.
Whilst I was immobilised over Christmas and New Year, I started reading about the addictive power of sugar in particular² ³, and it really rang true for me. What has followed is 11 weeks of a second recovery – and quite a meaningful one, because more than days counted there is health gained, pounds lost (23 and counting) and most importantly, the blessings that come with not being enslaved to something that previously had a hold over me. The counselling work that had begun has more effectiveness because I am no longer papering over the feelings with chocolate. I am amazed at how my hunger has decreased, how little I miss carbohydrate-rich foods, how my blood sugar and moods and food cravings have levelled out and left me, and how my eating has become so much less about feelings.
Where do I go from here? I long to be better-thought-out about these things; about the science, the theology, and to gain wisdom on how these can be applied to all that long to follow Christ and wrestle daily with temptation and sin. The battle against sugar is far from won, and I expect that having worn the neurological path of quick gratification well and persistently, I will have to continually wear a new path by choice for a long time – whether drinking or eating or shopping: my first response, or default setting, remains pain avoidant. Continually looking at what I put before Christ is the only true way to daily take up my cross and follow Him.
²Escape the Diet Trap – Dr John Briffa
³Why we get fat and what to do about it – Gary Taubes