What Looks Like Strong

For addicts, successful long-term maintenance is so much more challenging than getting to goal. Those who are any kind of new to this journey hate to hear this, often they bristle at the mere mention of it. That’s the primary reason why I bowed out of the larger, unmoderated forums I participated in for 10 years until I finally felt strong and stable enough to do so, in 2006, 7 years after getting to goal and staying there.

As the years have piled up I have seen nothing but more and more evidence from more and more journeys that the first 3-7 years (or longer) beginning generally when someone comes to within ~10-15 pounds of goal, are when it becomes time to begin making slow, small but profound changes in our lives and our approach to the people and situations that challenge us. And we have to make these changes, especially in the ways we handle our myriad of feelings, exactly the same as any other abstaining addict—without wavering, holding our abstinence-line strong and firm.

The easiest thing for any addict to do, any day of any week—whether abstinent for 2 years or 20—is to avoid dealing with any given challenge, be it a hangnail or a hit-man, by returning (just this once, just a little, we always tell ourselves) to using our trigger foods.

For food addicts in particular, once we’re at goal we have fewer reasons to stay the abstinent course. The downsides, our perceived ones anyway, of using have all but disappeared from our lives, and the upsides of staying the course, by comparison, can feel like a set of diminishing returns, especially during challenging times.

But an inconvenient truth is that, although in some respects the longer we are away from our drugs-of-choice the stronger we feel, the opposite is true. The longer we’re away from our drugs, the weaker we become about fighting back against the consequences, if for no other reason than we’re out of practice with dealing with the force they have over us.

It can feel downright delightful to forget the daily feelings of shame and embarrassment, and the near-constant inner misery—the sluggishness, the brain fog, the cravings, and the constant underlying emotional pain of navigating this world in an overweight body.  But as we have built months and years of abstinence—of what we thought was strength—our coping skills for fighting through the crap-food-fog have also grown rusty. With sustained abstinence we also slowly let go of the seething anger we relied on in our early days and years of this journey. That anger helped keep us resolved and on track as we took the first tentative steps to walking away from a battle we couldn’t yet believe wasn’t exactly win-able.

Abstaining only allows us to walk away from the symptoms, not the illness.

Over and over, when I turn down crap and feel pushed to explain why, I’ve been told: “I could never be as strong as you are.” And over and over I’ve answered by saying, “I’m not strong, I’m weak. And that’s exactly why I don’t eat fill-in-the-blank. It’s because once I start, I can’t stop. Therefore, I don’t start.” Amazingly, that usually silences them, maybe because it’s a good answer, or maybe because it’s way more information or thought than any other normal person wants to give to what or why *I* eat anything—good grief, they were only trying to be nice and share!!

I know this because due to my valuable lowcarb online life, over and over I’ve seen the rude awakening, the addict’s lament: “OMG, the cravings are horrible!! I’m not as strong as I thought I was!”

My husband and I have a close friend who is, or was, an abstaining alcoholic for about 2 years. He likes to spend time with us in large part because we’re not drinkers. I also think he views my husband as somewhat of a father figure. About a year ago, with his “success” at not drinking, he decided to quit smoking, and found that after six months, he was starting to falter on that addiction. He’d started by bumming cigarettes from his smoker-drinker friends. About a month ago as he was leaving he casually remarked, “you know, I think I really could have an occasional drink or two now, but no way am I strong enough with these darn cigarettes!” I said, “Oh no, no no, Charlie, don’t you dare try that!” (not his real name, of course…)

I later told my husband, “Charlie’s gonna take a drink now.” My non-addict husband said something like: “oh no, you are overreacting (as usual), Charlie is a guy, he was just comparing how strong his pull to smoke is compared with his pull to drink…that’s the way guys are, blah blah blah”

And I said, “Y’think? Hmmmmmm.”

Well, lo and behold the next week Charlie tried to sound casual when he proudly told us he’d had two drinks of Bailey’s Irish Cream he had bought to give to his mother, and just as he suspected, he was totally fine, why he was so darned nonchalant about the whole thing, he didn’t even really want the second one (although he did drink it…..)

Anyone care to take bets on how long it is before Charlie’s back to drinking regularly? And did he, after all, as he said when he embarked down this path, finally learn his lesson from spending a night in jail for DWI?

Trust me, for food addicts, it’s the same damned dance with food. It isn’t like an addiction. It is one.