Holding Back the Tide: Part One

Slipping to the Bottom)

There is an engineering problem that is so difficult that it has become an idiom for any impossible task: pushing water uphill. All of us know that the tendency of water is to take the most immediate route downhill. It pauses when it comes to a level surface and pools up, but only until it is able to feel out another path downward.

Many times, living with an addiction can feel much like this problem of trying to keep water at the top of a hill. There are steeper edges on some side of the hill, where your temptations are strongest, and the tendency to fall is constant. Through sincerely working an addiction recovery program, one may start to shore up the steepest sides of the hill, putting up a bulwark to prevent themselves from slipping that way anymore, but what happens next? Well, if you deny water its usual route, it run along the length of the barricade until it finds whatever the next best route downward is. And this is the case with our addictive tendencies, too. Many the addict has momentarily rejoiced at having his addiction under control, only to slowly realize that he is losing control in another area of his life! One addiction is traded for another!

My Victory and Defeat)

This was the case with me when I began recovery work for my addiction to lust. I threw myself into a program with all my heart and will, determined to make any changes whatsoever until I had beaten this unacceptable behavior. And you know what? It really worked! I started accumulating some real sobriety, and it stuck! At last I felt I had solved the riddle that had stumped me for twenty years.

Then, a couple years into sobriety, I started to notice something annoying. When I had first started my campaign against lust I had started to live a more healthy lifestyle overall, resulting in me losing a good deal of weight. Now, though, the numbers on the scale were starting to go the wrong way again.

Okay, I thought, I got a little lazy with my exercise these past couple months. I just have to recommit to my routine of running and calorie counting. Things will get back into place in no time.

Except that they didn’t. Though I recommitted myself to being physically healthy (multiple times!) I just couldn’t make those changes stick. In fact, the more I tried to improve my behavior, the more I seemed to dive off the deep end instead. Now the overeating had my full attention, and I was horrified to recognize in it the same impulsive, stress-coping, habitual nature that had defined my addiction to lust.

But even realizing this fact was not enough to regain power over my appetite. Until recently, I was trying to approach my sedentary life and unhealthy diet as an addendum to the first addiction, an additional area to work on now that the main issue was under control. But this wasn’t an accurate portrayal at all. This wasn’t an addendum to the addiction, it was the full addiction itself. The same water, just pooled to a different part of the hill. I had pinned the dragon down in the cave, but it had snuck out under disguise and was razing the village once more!

You can’t keep the water in place by laying sandbags in one place. If you shore it up where it was running out, it will come spilling out of areas that were only somewhat a problem before. If you shore up those areas, then the water will start coming out of areas that weren’t a problem at all before. You have got to get the sandbags around the entire perimeter of the hill.

A Total Reformation)

Now I admit, I had allowed myself to get complacent in my recovery work. When I first started I was singularly focused on my addiction to lust, but soon learned that nothing short of an entire life restructure was going to suffice. This was why I had been able to make some headway on my physical health, as well as my social and financial health, too.

But after I finished my initial addiction recovery program I did not immediately get myself to a consistent twelve-step group. Just when I started to realize that I needed to, COVID shut down in-person meetings, and I took that as an excuse to still float adrift. By the time all the lockdowns had been lifted, I had stopped thinking about joining a group entirely. And through all of this I had maintained my singular focus on continuing sobriety from lust, but I had given up on the broader view of maintaining an entirely new lifestyle. My physical care was therefore in severe decline, as well as my social connections and my finances.

Half a year ago I started to right the ship. I joined a twelve-step group and have been attending diligently ever since, while also doing recovery homework. I have, as a result, seen the downward trends be halted, and some of them have started to turn back in the right direction. The journey seems to be slower this time than it was before, but maybe that’s just how it feels when you’re in the trenches.

Most importantly, I have become reconvinced that if I am not willing to change my entire life, then my life will not change in any significant way. I am trying to rebuild control and consistency, with the understanding that areas must be worked on. If I get my health and wellbeing back where I want them in just one area first, I won’t make the mistake of thinking that now I’m done and the other sectors of my life can be left to themselves.

Tomorrow I will discuss a little more of how I am trying to make changes in my life on a day-by-day basis. I’ll see you then.

Give Thanks- Variety

I am grateful for variety.

We didn’t have to have mountains and valleys and forests and tundras and deserts and islands and plains. It could have all been just one biome. But it isn’t.

And we didn’t have to have fruits and vegetables and herbs and spices and meat and grain. It could have just been one superfood. But it isn’t.

And we didn’t have to have art and music and inventions and dance and theater and humor and magic. Humanity could have only had cravings to do the work necessary for survival. But we don’t.

One of the greatest signs of God’s love is that the world isn’t only survivable, it is thriving. And it isn’t only sufficient, it is overflowing. And it isn’t just plain, it is beautiful.

#givethanks

Personal Commitment: Month 7

November’s Review

For November I wanted to get curious about my relationship with food. I want to know that part of me, and understand the reasons behind my behaviors. With other habits, I have learned that I usually have a very understandable reason for my misguided behavior. And correcting the misguided behavior without first accounting for the wound or fear that it is protecting can be quite traumatic.

And so I did some introspection this month, and I made a few important discoveries.

First off, I have “deprivation thinking.” In other words, I’m worried about there not being enough to go around, and thus having to hurry to get as much as I can. It’s not hard to imagine how I might have come across this pattern of thinking. I grew up in a family of eleven, and if one wasn’t quick the jar of cookies might be empty before you even got one!

Secondly I’ve realized that I just want to be satisfied. Some days I just want to eat a dessert that’s a perfect 10. But if I don’t have that available, then I’ll try and eat two 5s to reproduce that same experience. Obviously it doesn’t work that way, and I would be better off to go and get the one 10 instead of compensating for it with volume.

Thirdly, food is a checklist. When we buy things from the grocery store I have a sense of having invested money into it and needing to get that money’s worth. I am mortified at the thought of any going to waste. When grocery shopping is compounded with receiving extra food during the holidays, it becomes overwhelming trying to eat it all.

And lastly, food is a stimulus. If I ever feel hurt or distressed, I grow numb. And then when I’m numb, I want to feel alive again. Waking up one’s heart naturally can be hard, though, and it is tempting for all of us to rely on easier stimuli instead. Thus we turn to overeating, heavy media use, lust, extreme spending, and other destructive behaviors.

I don’t believe this list is exhaustive, but I do believe these are all very real reasons for why I have built such an unhealthy relationship with food.

December’s Commitment)

So I want to start teaching myself to appreciate the bounty of the earth and the resources I’ve been personally blessed with. I want to build in myself a surety that I can take care of my needs and wants. I want to teach myself these things so that I stop being afraid of missing out and so that I don’t need to compensate for mediocrity with more mediocrity.

And it isn’t enough to just look myself in the mirror, say it once, and have my entirely frame of mind changed forever. I gained these patterns subconsciously over an extended period of time. It may take some reinforcing for this message to really sink in.

So for December I am going to recite a few mantras each day, and call out specific examples of the bounty all around me. I am going to try to reach a point of gratitude each day for all the things I already have, that I don’t need to do any further effort to secure.

I am also going to acknowledge that sometimes I am rooting for a pearl among the trash, and I will try to call out these moments as they occur. When they do, I will stop, and give myself permission to go find an actual pearl instead.

Thank you.

Personal Commitment: Month 6

October’s Review

My goal for this last month was to address my physical health and to rebuild my approach towards food. Specifically I committed to:

  1. Be open with others about my efforts to change
  2. Examine why I cope with stress through unhealthy eating
  3. Define what behaviors ought to be considered a “slip” in my recovery
  4. Strive to eat consciously and healthily, according to what my body genuinely needs

How I did with each of these is a mixed bag.

For #1 I spoke to my wife about my efforts…and that’s about it.

For #2 I didn’t really do anything. I guess I’ve at least I paid attention to myself, and am now fully convinced that I really do use eating as a coping mechanism! I was able to call out multiple moments where I was doing just that. I am therefore certain that this habit is primarily emotionally driven, but as for how and why I began this pattern remains a mystery.

#3 I actually did very well on. I accomplished this step early in the month, and the list that came out of it has been a real help for evaluating each day.

As for #4…well…I began each day with good intentions, but I finished many with “never mind about today, I’ll try again tomorrow.”

One of the main issues I see here is that I am not devastated about my slip-ups until some time after they occur. When that extra slice of cake is calling to me I find it very easy to say “so what? This may not be healthy, but it doesn’t hurt anybody.” Only later, when I look myself in the mirror, do I confess that yes, it actually does.

November’s Commitment)

I have one other takeaway from October’s efforts. I felt very distinctly that the addict-self was tightening his hold. He felt his domain challenged, and there followed a rush of rebellion within me, an insistence that I must not surrender a behavior that has long been a security blanket.

From prior addiction recovery I understand that the way forward is not to get mean and go to war with that scared part. That part of me is undoubtedly misguided, but probably has very good reasons for believing what it believes. That part therefore requires guidance, not harshness.

And so November’s commitment is twofold.

First, I will dedicate my next topic of study to “how a Christian disciple is meant to reason with and persuade the wayward soul.” Whether that wanderer be a family member, a stranger, or a part of the inner heart, we all need to know the Christ-like way to help a lost sheep.

And secondly, I commit to carrying out the lesson from that study with my food-addict self. I will dedicate some time each week to getting to know him, understanding his story, validating his concerns, gaining his trust, and gently guiding him back to the light. Basically a more enhanced version of step #2 from last month’s commitments.

I really don’t know what I will learn from that part of me, nor do I know what I will say in response to his concerns. But I take comfort in the knowledge that I don’t have to know now. For now I just need to listen, and then let Him direct me accordingly.

Thank you.

Personal Commitment: Month 5

September’s Review

I frankly did not define last month’s commitment very well. I most certainly did not meet the S.M.A.R.T. model (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound). I simply said that I wanted to define where my battle lines in life are, and then advance on them.

That being said, I did conduct my review as promised, and identified a list of practices that I am currently doing and wish to maintain, others that I am not doing and want to advance on, and even a list of ones that I want to get to someday, but won’t be adding now for fear of overwhelming myself. And then, through the rest of the month, I sort of kept track of them and tried to improve…but it was not a very earnest effort.

Having taken stock of my life, though, I grew increasingly aware of which specific area I want to improve on the most. From this heightened awareness I realized that there is a single section of my life that I am only making meager efforts in, but now want to start taking a lot more seriously.

October’s Commitment)

Which of course brings us to this new month and my commitment for October. The area where I feel the greatest need for improvement is in my physical health. Yesterday I was considering where I stand in this sector of life, and came to the conclusion (not for the first time) that I show several addictive behaviors in my approach to food.

I eat when I know I am not hungry, and I am more likely to eat when I am upset or stressed. I feel in my gut the healthy foods I want, and I dismiss those for more instantly-pleasurable options. And then I try to correct my imbalance by swinging into other unhealthy practices, such as starving myself.

In the past few years I have made great strides in other sectors of my life, with a lot of healing and growth that I am proud of. But I’ve reached the point where even those areas I feel are being limited by this one persistent weakness in my physical health. It is time that I focus on this piece of puzzle, and so I am going to approach my physical health with the same seriousness as any other addiction recovery effort.

This means that for the month of October I will:

  1. Find friends and loved ones to be open and honest about my efforts with
  2. Examine my past, discover how I developed my reliance on this unhealthy lifestyle, and identify any wounds that I am trying to medicate
  3. Define my bottom lines, behaviors that I will now consider a “slip” in my recovery journey
  4. Sincerely strive each day to listen to my body, eat when I am hungry, stop when I am full, and give myself the nutrients that my body craves

I’m very excited to finally start working through this process directly. I’ve been teasing at it for a long while, but at last I feel ready to do the work that it takes to heal. I’ll let you know how the process is going at the start of November.

Thank you.