Addicted to Feeling Good: A Love-Hate Story

To kick off Lent, the author reflects on some of his dumber quests to feel good.

Mood music for this post: “Snake Eyes and Sissies” from Marilyn Manson:

Every now and then, it’s useful to look back on who I used to be so I can appreciate who I am today.

Today, as Lent begins, I do it simply to laugh at how in many ways, despite the progress I’ve made, I’ve been as stupid in adulthood as I was 20-plus years ago.

Lent is a time to sacrifice habits you love, gain a true appreciation for the sacrifices Jesus made [which were well beyond anything mortal man can comprehend) and draw closer to God. [More on my Faith in Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely, Rat in the Church Pew and Better Angels of My Nature]

I’ve given up cigars for Lent. It’s probably not nearly enough, because I don’t smoke them often enough to really be sacrificing anything. But since I’ve already given up flour, sugar and alcohol, I couldn’t think of anything else.

Still, giving something up always brings back acute memories of some of the dumber things I’ve done in the compulsive-obsessive drive to feel good.

So please indulge me as I take inventory:

Age 18: I’m living off 8 cups of black coffee and a mug of Raisin Bran a day in an attempt to be rock-star thin. I discovered an after dinner drink — Haffenreffer Lager Beer. There were little puzzles on the underside of the bottle caps, and your ability to solve them would steadily decline — or increase — depending on how drunk you were. Being addicted to instant gratification, I’d suck down three bottles in quick succession so I could immediately enjoy feeling like I had just absorbed half a keg of lighter beer.

Age 21: I’m pacing up and down the driveway of the old Revere house in a blue-green polka-dotted bathrobe I used to own. I’m freaking out because I’ve just consumed two beers and an entire stick of marijuana by myself in the concrete storage room beneath the front patio.

The fellow who gave it to me was about 500 pounds and wore a black trenchcoat, even during the summer. He died Valentine’s Day 2009 of a heart attack. I lost touch with him as I became focused on career and learned after his death that he had led an admirable life of aiding the mentally disabled. Anyway, I was freaking out because, in the midst of lying on my bed enjoying the high, I suddenly got the idea that I just might have a heart attack. That’s one of my earlier memories of an anxiety attack.

We partied a lot in that basement. It was the scene of many impressive and entertaining mood swings.

I called my friend Danny Waters and asked him to come over. He did, and found me pacing up and down the driveway in my bathrobe. He took me down the street to Kelly’s Roast Beef and got me an order of chicken fingers to munch away the anxiety. Kelly’s was always a favorite place for me to binge eat away my troubles. It was as good as any drug or liquor store.

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That was the year this photo was taken in my basement:

The guy on the left is me. Dan Waters is in the middle. The guy dressed as a vampire on the right is Sean Marley. [Read about him in Lost Brothers and Marley and Me]

It was also around the time the three of us were ambushed by a group of punks while walking home from Kelly’s. I was walking ahead of Sean and Dan and escaped injury.

Age 29: I drop 100 pounds of fat I packed on while binge-eating my way through the middle 1990s. I’m inspired by the quadruple bypass surgery my father has recently had. I lose the weight by pigging out Thursday through Saturday and starving myself Sunday through Wednesday. The binge eating continues through the next few years but I manage to keep the weight down, fooling most people.

Age 33: Around this time, the binge eating gets a new playmate in the form of red wine, which I decide I can’t live without.

Age 39: No more binge eating — not today, anyway. No wine. I work the 12-step program of recovery.

The instant gratification is gone, replaced by something much better — long-term sanity and clarity that allows me to see all the precious moments around me that went unnoticed during the days of mental haze.

Giving up cigars for Lent is the least I could do.

What Kind of Day It Has Been

The author’s day has not gone as planned. He’s OK with that, though he wasn’t always.

Mood music for this post: “Adrift And At Peace” from NIN:

This day has not gone as planned.

I wanted to be in the office today plowing through some work. But another winter storm forced me to work from home.

Some would say it’s great I can do that, and it is. But when there’s a lot on the plate, I prefer to be in the office. Especially when the kids are home from school for February vacation. At least in the summer I can write from the back deck while the kids play in the field behind the house.

This time of year we’re all indoors and the kids are loud.

A few years ago the snow, the change in schedule and the kids in my workspace would have unhinged me.

I’d get a story written. Maybe three. But I’d be a puddle of lava by day’s end, good for nothing except sleep.

Not so today.

I’m enjoying the cozy chair by my living room window, watching the snow fall.

I’ve gotten as much writing and editing done from here as I would have from the office.

The kids were indeed loud and distracting, but I enjoyed that, too. What used to be stress is now comic relief, especially when Sean tells Duncan he looks adorable when he cries and Duncan responds by pouncing on his older brother, yelling, “Who’s crying now?!”

I smoked one last cigar before Lent begins tomorrow, since that’s one of the things I’m abstaining from until Easter. It was a Cuban stick at that. Thanks to my friend Bob Connors for parting with it.

The coffee is French-pressed and bitter. Just the way I like it.

A much different day than what it would have been five years ago, before I gained the upper hand over the OCD.

Days that don’t go as planned are especially difficult for people with OCD. We do, after all, crave control over everything we can control. And we badly want to control things we can’t, like the weather.

Forget about the small stuff, like checking a doorknob seven times or tapping your feet to the count of 60. A carefully crafted schedule in shambles is the big stuff; hell for a sick mind.

That’s when someone like me turns to the food or the booze to comfort the troubled mind.

But the food is well under control today, and bottles of wine that once taunted me from a kitchen counter rack have gone unnoticed in the corner.

I’m not the same man I used to be.

Credit the therapists, the Prozac, the religious conversion or all of the above.

Whatever it is, I’m grateful for it.

In Defense of Patrick Kennedy

The youngest son of Edward M. Kennedy has often been criticized as a lightweight Congressman who gets away with things other people would get arrested for. But the author salutes him anyway. Here’s why.

Patrick Kennedy, the youngest child of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, announced yesterday that he won’t be running for re-election to the Congressional seat he has held since 1995.

US Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island announced that he will not seek reelection, capping a 16-year career in politics. Patrick, the son of the late Senator Edward M. 'Ted' Kennedy, said his father's death caused him to do some soul-searching about his future. With Kennedy's departure, this will be the first time in more than six decades the Kennedy family will not have a member in Washington. Scroll through this gallery for a look at how the Kennedy lineage has impacted politics and public life.

Some will tell you it’s just as well. The Congressman, after all, hasn’t done much except for living off his family name and crashing cars into roadside barriers while high on narcotics. That’s often what I hear from my more conservative friends, who hate everything having to do with the Kennedy name.

Stew Milne/AP Photo

But as someone recovering from OCD, depression, a binge-eating disorder and other addictions, I have plenty of reason to defend this man.

In my view, this fellow has gotten some pretty unfair treatment. Let’s start with Laurence Leamer’s book, “Sons of Camelot.”

In this book, Patrick is described as a spoiled kid who has accomplished nothing in Congress other than repeatedly winning re-election. He’s described as someone who blindly follows the Democratic leadership.

Some of that may be true. But Patrick has done some courageous service for those who suffer from mental illness.

Kennedy has been open about his own struggles with bi-polar disorder and the addictions that go with it. He has been in and out of addiction treatment centers and once noted how his addictive behavior could latch onto anything from pain medication to something as simple as cough medicine.

What’s more, he did one of the hardest things people like us can do: He lived in the spotlight as a public servant, where critics can be cruel and a lot of people like to hate the Kennedys just for the hell of it.

Patrick has carried a lot of pressure being a Kennedy. There’s the pressure to match his father’s towering legislative record and live up to the legendary stature of his uncles.

Some would have dropped to the floor long ago, curled in a fetal position, over the pressure. Some would not have survived. One of Patrick’s cousins, David Kennedy, one of RFK’s sons, didn’t survive the battle with the demons. He died of a drug overdose in 1984.

RFK Jr. also struggled with addiction. So did Christopher Kennedy Lawford, who wrote an excellent book of his own on the subject: “Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption.”

I loved Lawford’s book for a variety of reasons. He recounted his sordid tale with humor and was brutally honest about something addicts are all to aware of: When you quit the thing you’re addicted to, it doesn’t automatically turn you into a good person.

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In fact, recovering addicts often become big jerks before they find their footing. They’re learning how to behave in public without being drunk or high. A deep depression often sets in because years of abuse leaves the brain with deep chemical imbalances that hit you like a brick to the head once the booze, food or narcotics exit the picture.

Patrick has dealt with all of these realities and still carried on in public service.

He continued to show up for life when life was at its most unbearable.

It gave people like me a little inspiration when we needed it most. So as Patrick prepares to exit the public stage and embark on a new life, I thank him for his service and wish him the best.

It’s easy for people to pass judgment on him for his flaws.

But people who do so often forget about their own flaws.

None of us are truly without sin. But we like to cast the first stones anyway.

When Pain Drips from the Mind to the Body

The author on why it’s true that mental illness leads to physical sickness.

Mood music for this post: Metallica’s “The Unnamed Feeling,” since the unnamed feeling is often the physical pain that stems from the mental pain:

I’ve heard a lot of people argue over whether this person’s or that person’s aches and pains were “all in their head.” You know the types: Never any real underlying disease, but they’re always calling out of work with a headache or some intestinal discomfort.

It’s all in their head, you say?

Well, yeah.

It’s called psychosomatic illness, when mental anguish leads to physical sickness.

http://www.rodale.com/files/images/458870.jpgI’ve been there. Migraines. Brutal back pain. A stomach turned inside-out.

But it wasn’t always clear that what ailed me was in my head. Childhood illness confused matters. A huge chunk of my digestive track was in flames and spewing blood because of  Chron’s Disease. I’m told by my parents that the doctors came close to removing the colon more than once, though I don’t remember that myself; probably because the doctors had that conversation with the parents instead of the patient.

To throw it into remission, they used the maximum dose of a drug called Prednisone, which caused another kind of body blow in the form of migraines. You can read more about that in “The Bad Pill Kept me from the Good Pill,” but the bottom line is that these headaches came daily; always making me sick to my stomach.

Later in life, I developed severe back pain, the kind that would knock me onto the couch and keep me there for weeks.

All legitimate physical problems. But at some point my brain lost the ability to differentiate a real Chron’s flare-up or back spasm to an imagined one.

In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. It may as well have been one of those things. Because when the mind thinks it is, it has a habit of BECOMING real.

I found an article in About.com that describes the problem better than I ever could on my own:

Any illness that has physical symptoms, but has the mind and emotions as its origin is called a psychosomatic illness. Although you may be told that it’s “all in your head”, these illnesses are not imaginary. The aches and pains are very real, but because your doctor is looking for an actual physical cause, they are very tricky to diagnose and treat. The key is to look for a source of stress in the person’s life that the person is not coping with. By treating the underlying stress and depression, it may be possible to heal the physical problems as well.

For me, it was easy to separate the Chron’s episodes from the tricky stuff described above, since the disease was sitting there for the doctors to see. I was always told mental stress could trigger flare-ups and I guess they did, especially when my parents divorced 30 years ago and a lot of stress over custody ensued. I’m fairly sure the after-effects of my brother’s death set off the last real flare-up in 1986.

But the migraines and back problems seeped seamlessly into the things that were going wrong with me mentally.

Anxiety attacks felt essentially the same as a heart attack, complete with the pain shooting from the chest to the neck and down the arms. Migraines followed. Work stress often sparked migraines and back pain.

While it was difficult to separate other legitimate physical problems from those stemming from mental distress, I can tell you that dealing with my underlying OCD, depression and addiction made a lot of ailments go away.

I’m not sure I can credit it with ending the back problems. Though mental illness most likely enhanced the back pain, that problem was eventually diagnosed as three out-of-whack vertebrae the chiropractor knocks back into alignment every other week. No more imprisonment on the couch.

But these things have gone away — and have not returned — since I got a handle on the OCD and related binge-eating disorder:

–Puking up stomach acid in the middle of the night

–Numbing of the feet

–A strange poked-in-the-eye sensation that would hit me early mornings and leave me with blurred vision for a day or more.

–A dull ache in the left hand, which often got worse as my mind spun out of control with thoughts that it MIGHT be a heart-attack.

–Fatigue that would cause all my joints to ache unless I were to lie down and go to sleep.

–Heart palpatations.

All disappeared once I started to attack the core problem.

The ultimate take-away from all this is that something in your head can cause real, physical pain.

And when you deal with what’s in your head, the pain in the rest of your body can be eradicated.

OCD Diaries: The Office Mom

The author salutes Anne Saita, a former co-worker who showed me how to stand up to people and face down my fears — and whose blog is a must-read.

Mood music for this, Motley Crue’s “Shout At The Devil,” because Anne was horrified one year when I spent the Barnes and Noble gift card she got me for Christmas on that album:

I’ve been reading the blog Run DMZ a lot lately.The main reason is that it’s chock full of excellent content on how to eat and exercise properly. The other reason is that the author is someone near and dear to me: Anne Saita, my former boss at SearchSecurity.com.

She’s an avid runner, an inspirational Mom to her two daughters and to people like me, and one of the best writers I’ve ever seen. [Side note: She sends Christmas cards each year featuring her daughters, and last time my six-year-old saw it he declared: "Wow. They're really, really pretty."] The boy is a flirt and knows what he’s talking about.

My Photo

With her I’ve power-walked along Lake Michigan in Chicago and gallivanted with her on the rainy streets of San Francisco during security conferences.

She literally rescued me from a job that was killing me (because of the late-night hours and the still undiagnosed impact of OCD).

At SearchSecurity.com, she was a nurturing soul. She encouraged me to make time for family, something I wasn’t yet good at. She knew I feared travel at the time, but gently coaxed me into doing more of it. Now I love travel. She showed me what courage is by constantly standing up to the TechTarget/SearchSecurity brass when she felt the brand’s reputation was being compromised by stupid marketing ploys. At the time I often thought she was being stupid. But at the time I was also so obsessed with pleasing my masters that I didn’t know any better.

I always got a chuckle out of her gift for gab, especially when she was offering up explicit details on a medical procedure she was having.

Because of her motherly disposition, I was able to come clean with her in late 2004, when I was inches from a nervous breakdown and realizing for the first time that I needed some serious help. The morning after I had my first appointment with a therapist, I told her about it, along with the rest of my warped behavior. She didn’t flinch. She urged me on, and in the coming months, when I was pushing up against depression and emotional breakdowns, she gave me the room to fall apart and then pick up the pieces.

When I started to react to the pain of therapy and digging deep into a sordid past by embarking on the most vicious binge eating stretch of my life, she saw that the weight was piling on but didn’t shame me over it. I was feeling shame in her presence anyway, because she had once told me that when checking my references before hiring me, the deal was sealed when a former CNC co-worker told her about my singular determination to lose 100 pounds in the late 1990s.

That kind of toughness impressed her, and there I was, losing that toughness as I packed on each pound.

Unfortunately, I only started to gain the upper hand on my demons after she left SearchSecurity.com for another job.

But thanks to the Internet and our two blogs, we still keep in touch regularly.

She’s gone through a lot herself, with physical injuries that kept her from running, blinding headaches that came and went without explanation, and the loss of a job she loved last year, as the Great Recession gunned down millions of jobs.

But she always comes back. Stronger than before.

In the photo above: Anne at the right, with Dennis Fisher, another former [and good] boss and avid runner, after a run in San Diego.

If she didn’t know before how much her friendship means to me, I think she’ll understand after reading this post.

She may also yell at me for revealing a bit too much about her. But then I always did enjoy the motherly rebuke that only she can provide.

Sobriety vs. Abstinence

Whenever I share my experiences with OCD and the related binge-eating disorder [See: The Most Uncool Addiction], there’s a word I always refrain from using if I’m outside the safe confines of my OA group: Abstinence.

I don’t hate the word. But I don’t like it much, either.

All anyone ever thinks about when it’s uttered is refraining from sex or studying for the Catholic priesthood. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I am a devout Catholic, after all.)

Nevertheless, it’s a word I can’t get around any longer, so let’s talk about it.

In the world of a recovering food addict, abstinence means to abstain from eating compulsively. It’s the exact same thing as the word sobriety in the world of a recovering alcoholic.

Think of OA and AA as essentially the same thing, only OA folks are addicted to compulsive overeating to the point where they walk around dazed like zombies, unable to manage their lives. Ailments boil over and friends and family suffer with you.

I’m abstinent from binge eating, which means I eat nothing with flour and sugar in it and most meals are portioned out on a small scale. I’m sober, too. I used to drink a lot of alcohol when traveling. This weekend I spent a security conference sober. [See: ShmooCon and Snowmageddon and The Engine in Hyperdrive]

This weekend was challenging to be sure. It wasn’t always easy drinking club soda while everyone else drank wine, beer, etc. And while I kept it together with the food plan, being away from the normal routine makes it challenging  to keep all the portions straight. I probably could have done it better, but I think things worked out pretty well on balance.

It was challenging at Christmas, too. In fact, that was probably the closest I’ve come to a relapse. Not helping matters is my tendency to come down with depression around the holidays, partly due to the lack of daylight. Thankfully, I managed to hit the breaks in time to avoid that.

Of course, other, smaller addictions try to reassert themselves [See: How to Play Your Addictions Like a Piano]. One of them is spending. I have a weakness for collecting political and historical knickknacks, especially when I’m in Washington D.C. That weakness is evident to anyone visiting my work space. [See: Someone to Watch Over Me (A.K.A.: Desk Junk] This time, I held back.

I also like a good cigar when traveling, and probably enjoy it more than I should. I’m going to abstain from the stogies during Lent, which starts next week. We’ll see what happens after that.

The Internet is an addiction, too, but it’s a hazard of my profession. Staying away would be like a miner trying to do his job without stepping into the mine. But I stay away from the porn sites and Facebook applications, which are as dangerous as they are dumb, in my opinion.

I drink a lot of coffee, but I’m not giving that up right now.

All in all, I have a lot to be grateful for.

For someone who lived at the bottom of the Dumpster inhaling the stench for as long as I did, abstinence and sobriety is the gift of all gifts.

But it will always be a work in progress, with good days and not-quite-as-good days; always with room for improvement.

That’s OK, though. It is a journey, after all. A journey that you have to take one day at a time.

The Engine in Hyperdrive

It’s Sunday and I’m wrapping up my visit to the #ShmooCon security conference in Washington D.C. My compulsive tendencies are humming along at full throttle, which isn’t as bad as it seems.

True, the goal is to minimize the OCD overdrive as much as possible. Especially when it comes to giving in to one’s addictions. But sometimes it’s good to have that extra drive.

I’ve produced three articles and two podcasts from #ShmooCon, which is pretty prolific for covering a conference. And this is my third personal blog entry from the trip.

Here’s what I haven’t done:

–Consumed alcohol

–Consumed flower or sugar, the matter and anti-matter that fuel my addictive behavior

–Worried about the weather and getting our RV shoveled out in time for the departure we have planned. A few years ago that kind of worry would have unhinged me. Now I just don’t see the point of thinking about it. We’ll do our best and we will get home. Besides, it doesn’t look that bad:

–Worried about measuring up to the demands of covering the conference. I used to come home from these in pieces. The worry would always be on getting the next story covered, keeping up with the competition and keeping the bosses happy. This time, I cranked out the content for the sheer enjoyment of it.

And I did take time to smell the roses. Or, more accurately, to play in the snow.

Staying indoors through the entire blizzard would have meant missing cool moments like seeing folks cross-country skiing past the White House.

All in all, a good trip, and a POSITIVE use of OCD hyperactivity. I wanted to see it all, and I did.

Now, I’m eager to get back to the wife and children I adore so much.

Seize the day.

Rest Re-defined

The author finds that he gets the most relaxation from the things he once feared the most.

Mood music for this post: Henry Rollins reciting “I Know You,” to a backdrop of Nine Inch Nails. Absolutely brilliant:

A strange thing happened to me on the way to recovery: I started finding peace and relaxation in the very things that used to fill me with fear and spark anxiety attacks. [See Fear Factor]

It used to be that relaxing meant holing myself up in the bedroom watching endless episodes of Star Trek. I watched a lot of the news, too, which instead of relaxing me would send my brain into an endless spin of worry about things happening at the far corners of the world.

Lying on the couch all weekend — sleeping for a lot of it — was relaxation.

Then Sunday night would arrive and I’d go into a deep depression about the tasks that awaited me the next day at work.

Writing — the very thing I earned a living from (and still do) — filled me with dread. Oh, I loved being a journalist even back then, but I was always in fear of not getting a story perfect. I would sit on a story for hours; writing, re-writing, polishing and reading it aloud multiple times to make sure it “sounded” perfect.

It drove my co-workers nuts. [See The Crazy-Ass Guy in the Newsroom]

If I had to make a business trip, the heart would pound. I’d obsess about the travel itself and whether I would actually make it there alive. Conferences filled me with dread. What if I didn’t manage to cover every piece of news coming from the event?

Oh, and when writing, it had to be absolutely silent around me. Noise would interrupt the gears in my mind — except for the sound of my voice when reading my articles aloud.

I would go crazy about getting the kids to bed by 7:30 so I could lie comatose in front of the TV. If my wife wanted to talk instead, rage would build inside, though I would try not to show it. I sucked at hiding it, though, and in my own passive-aggressive way, she knew she wasn’t getting through. And yet she stuck around anyway. (See: The Freak and the Redhead: A Love Story]

I’m not sure when things changed. But here’s what relaxation and peace mean to me now:

–Family time. Of course, I’ve always craved being with my wife and children more than anything else. But it used to be that I wanted us all sitting around the house doing nothing. Now I love experiencing things together. Trips with Erin to Campobello Island off New Brunswick, Canada, the mountains of New Hampshire or Newport, R.I. for the Newport Folk Festival. Trips with kids in tow to Battleship Cove, Old Sturbridge Village, The N.E. Aquarium, The Museum of Science. I always cherished my time with them. Now I cherish it more. A lot more.

– Writing. For the life of me, I can’t figure out the reason for this, but writing is relaxing now. Other than when I’m with my wife and kids, writing is when I’m happiest. And I no longer re-read my stuff over and over again. I decided that’s what editors are for. Sure, I’m an editor. But every editor needs an editor. And no, I don’t read ‘em back to myself anymore.

–Writing WITH music. In another bizarre twist, I went from needing quiet while writing to needing music. The louder the better. Henry Rollins. Motley Crue. Metallica. Thin Lizzy. Cheap Trick. All perfect writing music.

–Travel. Instead of fearing travel, I now relish it, though I don’t like being away from my family for too long. I start to miss them the second I hit the road. They’re on my mind the whole time I’m away. But I love to go places, see things, experience cities outside my own comfortable Bostonian walls. Last year alone, I visited Chicago twice, Washington DC twice, and went to San Francisco, Nevada, Arizona and New York.

One of the DC trips was in an RV with a group of IT security guys. That was the trip back from the Shmoocon security conference. It’s a 12-hour ride and it’s cramped. But I get to hang out with some of the smartest people in my industry. [See Slideshow: The Security Twits Roadtrip, from last year's trip]

Above: Cloud security guru Chris Hoff and security researcher Zach LanierPhoto on last year’s Shmoobus.

Thursday, I leave on the RV for the trip down to DC for Shmoocon 2010. I’ll do a lot of writing for work this weekend. But I’m going to have a blast doing it. I’ll get impatient to be home by Sunday afternoon. I’ll miss my family. But I’ll be a better journalist for making the trip.

Wherever I go, I always try to carve out time to see things, especially items of historical significance. Especially in DC.

I’m determined to take the family to DC this year. There are logistics and financial realities to work out, but it’s going to happen.

I don’t spend much time wondering how I came to enjoy what I once feared. I know the answers.

Erin and the boys teach me something every day about living, whether it’s Erin showing me courage by quitting a steady job to try and make her own business work or Duncan, the youngest son, convincing his older, more skittish brother to go with him on a camping trip with the grandparents because “It’ll be fun, Seaney!” That was a couple years ago. Since then, Sean, who has overcome a lot of fears himself and made his Dad proud, relishes those trips as much as Duncan does.

But above all — and the family examples are a huge part of this — I think the transformation came with my conversion to the Catholic Faith. My bringing God into my life, everything has changed for the better. That includes my concept of rest.

To me, rest is not about lying down and shutting off. It’s about living to the best of your ability. When that living gets scary, I put my trust in God. And that makes everything come together.

Make no mistake: I still have a lot of work to do on these things. But I’m glad to be making the journey.

As Henry Rollins once sang:

No such thing as free time. No such thing as downtime. There’s only lifetime. It’s time to shine.

Regulating Addictive Food: A Lesson in Futility

As an obsessive-compulsive binge eater, the author feels it’s only proper that he (cough) weigh in (cough) on the notion that regulating junk food might help. Here’s why the answer is probably not.

Since I know what it’s like to be deep in the muck of a binge-eating addiction, my wife thought I might find interest in an article from The Environment Report suggesting that the regulation of foods that are bad for you — same way as with cigarettes — might help some sufferers.

The cattle prod for this item is a new book called “The End of Overeating.” The author is David A. Kessler, MD, and a former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. I actually have a lot of respect for this guy, whose tenure included the successful push to enact regulations requiring standardized Nutrition Facts labels on food. That, in my opinion, was a huge win for those of us who want truth in advertising.

In “The End of Overeating,” Kessler makes a compelling argument: Foods high in fat, salt and sugar alter the brain’s chemistry in ways that compel people to overeat. “Much of the scientific research around overeating has been physiology — what’s going on in our body,” The Washington Post quoted him as saying in a story brilliantly headlined “Crave Man.”

http://starvingwritersbooks.com/bookstore/images/endofeverlasting.jpg

The real question is what’s going on in the brain, Kessler says.

His theory on food as an addictive substance is as on the mark as you can get. Trust me. I’ve lived it. Binge eating is all about addiction for me. It’s tied directly into the same corner of the brain where my OCD resides.

He is also right that sugar, salt and fat are addictive substances, though for a lot of people, the components of our poison boil down to sugar and flour. Of course, most of the food that has flour and sugar also tends to be high in salt and fat.

The first and most important tool in my OA recovery program is a plan of eating. Flour and sugar are off the table — period. Almost everything I eat goes on a little scale. 4 ounces protein, 4 ounces raw vegetable, 6 ounces cooked vegetable, 2 ounces potato or brown rice, etc. Every morning at 6:15 I call my sponsor, someone who hears my food plan for each day and gives me the necessary kick in the ass.

But salt and fat are not forbidden for me. In fact, I’m allowed to substitute 4 ounces of meat with 2 ounces of cheese or nuts.

To some, this may sound like a typical fad diet, but people in OA have used a plan like this since the beginning. And the plan isn’t the same for everyone. If you have diabetes, for example, removing every scrap of flour from the diet isn’t usually an option. No matter. The only requirement of the program is to stop eating compulsively, no matter how you get there.

This isn’t something I pursued to drop 65 pounds, though I did lose that amount pretty quickly. This is a food plan for life — a key to my getting all the nutrition I need and nothing more. Just as an alcoholic must put down the booze or a narcotics addict has to put down the pills, I have to put down the flour and sugar.

This is the plan that got me out of the darkest days of addictive behavior and I’m a true believer.

Flour and sugar mixed together becomes a toxin that knocks the fluids in my brain out of balance. Kessler’s research is definitely in line with what’s happened to me.

But the idea of regulating food the same way as something like cigarettes? It won’t do much good.

It certainly couldn’t hurt. The nutrition labels at the very least gave us an education on what we put in our bodies, and it’s been especially helpful to parents who are trying to raise their kids healthy. Regulating cigarettes has certainly made it harder for minors to buy them.

But for the true addict, regulation is a joke.

Knowing what’s in junk food won’t keep the addict away. I always read the labels AFTER binging on the item in the package. And the labels have done nothing to curb the child obesity pandemic.

If you smoke, it’s certainly more expensive to buy a pack than it used to be. But if you crave the nicotine, you’ll find a way to get your fix. It’s the same with drugs, and with food.

I’m going to read Kessler’s book because it sounds like he has  some breakthrough findings that can help make people better.

But when someone suggests regulation as a solution, don’t ever believe ‘em.

A suffering brain will always find a way to disregard the rules for the three minutes of rapture that follows the binge.

Rat in the Church Pew

The author has written much about his Faith as a key to overcoming mental illness. But as this post illustrates, he still has a long way to go in his spiritual development.

The scene is the parking lot of All Saints Parish, just after today’s 9:30 Mass. Father Mike Harvey greets the Brenners and the conversation somehow turns to the kids listening to their mother and father.

Father Harvey: Remember kids, if your mother asks you to do something or tells you something, she is always right.

Me: Does that rule apply to me?

Father Mike: Yes. You always should answer her with “Yes Dear.”

Me: I’m an editor so I always try to make do with fewer words. So instead of “Yes Dear,” I shorten it to “Whatever.”

I have to be honest: While Sunday Mass is always a place for me to find peace and get closer to God, sometimes I ruin it for myself. I’m not a special case, because we all have our good days and bad days, but it’s worth noting here because it shows that while I’ve come far in conquering my demons, sometimes I backslide.

Case in point: I woke up cranky as all hell this morning, and as a result I went to church with a lousy attitude.

I didn’t hear the Homily, or the Gospel, or the Readings. I stood stone-faced during the Prayers of the Faithful. I got annoyed with the school principal sitting in the pew in front of us because her perfume was inflaming my allergies. I looked with disdain at a couple people who were reading the church bulletin during the Homily. It’s not my business, and I was as poorly-focused as they were. I was being judgmental, something I need to work on.

What’s this have to do with managing OCD? Let me explain:

Even though I’ve come a long way in managing my demons, there are still going to be days where I’m not as on top of things as I should be.

This is normal. Sliding back is part of the process.

It’s also easy to get caught up in parish politics and attitudes. Sometimes we get pissed because we feel someone is judging us. Yet we turn around and judge them back.

Today was a reminder that my mental tools are only going to remain effective if I keep working to perfect them. That includes the eating plan at the center of my recovery for binge eating.

The battle against the demons is never completely won. It’s a battle that continues until death.

I like to think of it as something more positive: a journey.