A Few Degrees South Of A Relapse

My recovery program for compulsive binge eating hasn’t been right lately. This is where I come clean about something many go through after extended periods of abstinance and sobriety.

Mood music:

I haven’t been to many OA meetings lately.

I haven’t called my sponsor in awhile.

I was getting to a point a couple weeks ago where I realized I was also getting sloppy with the food. It’s always the little things you get reckless about: Instead of the 4 ounces of protein I should be having during a meal, I’d let the scale go to 5. I’d slack on the vegetables and sneak in more grain. This is where the relapse starts.

For some of you this isn’t easy to understand. An out-of-control relationship with food still isn’t accepted as a legitimate addictive behavior in many quarters, and one of my goals in this blog has been to raise awareness and understanding.

A lot of my earliest posts preached the Gospel of the 12 Steps and Overeater’s Anonymous. I had reason to be so fanatical: OA helped me break a horrible binge cycle that I hadn’t been able to stop before.

It owned me until I started going to OA meetings, got a sponsor and started to live the 12 Steps OA and AA use to give addicts the spiritual fortitude needed to break free.

I still depend on the program today, but a big problem has gotten in the way: I’ve started to rebel against a lot of the rules. That’s typical addict behavior. When life gets a little rough, we start looking for excuses to fall back to old, self-destructive patterns. My family has experienced difficulties this past year (my father’s stroke, etc.), and that has made it difficult for me to stay squeaky clean.

At one point I started smoking again. My wife caught me and I stopped. But I was pissed, because I felt entitled to do something bad for me. People like me are stupid but common: When we want comfort, we do the things we know will kill us in the end. Stuffing cocaine up your nostrils will eventually give you cardiac arrest. Weeks-long binges, centered around $40-a-day purchases in the McDonald’s drive-thru, will do the same. The latter may just take longer.

I also started to give the halls of OA the stink eye because I was starting to find a lot of people too fanatical about it. There are people in the program who will tell you that you’re not really abstinent if your program doesn’t look exactly like theirs. One person told me the program comes before everything and anyone else. I bristled over that, because in my mind my family comes before everything else.

True, without abstinence and sobriety I can’t be a good husband and father. But I can’t be those things if I’m running off to four meetings a week and making six phone calls a day to others in the program, either.

I’ve also had the sense that people in these meetings love to hear themselves talk too much and too often.

I’m ashamed to say that, because I think these people are doing exactly what they should be doing. I’m just tired of hearing it is all.

I don’t think I’m rotten for feeling this way. I’m trying to figure out where this program truly fits in my life, and I think these are honest reflections on my part.

If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that you can’t do the same exact thing forever and expect the process to stay fresh and helpful. Like a tire that’s rolled thousands of miles, a recovery program can wear down until you get a blowout.

I do have a few things to cheer about: I haven’t suffered a full-blown binge relapse and my weight has remained steady. Clothes still fit. I still climb hills without spitting out a lung halfway up. I have absolutely no interest in hitting the McDonald’s drive-thru or stuffing my coat pockets with candy bars and cake in the gas station snack aisles.

I haven’t caved to alcohol either, and believe me, there are times I’ve wanted to. Alcohol was never the monkey on my back that food is. But I used it heavily as a crutch at one point.

I brought all this up with my therapist at last week’s appointment. I lamented that I can’t spend all week in 12-Step meetings and still have a life. I complained that people simply trade their first addiction in for a new one — the program itself.

My therapist noted that some people have to do that, otherwise they will certainly binge and drink again. It’s not a choice for them.

So here I am, plotting my next move.

I already tightened up the food plan. I’m being strict in weighing out the food. I’ve all but eliminated dairy from my diet, because I was starting to use it as a crutch. I’m walking regularly again. I’m hitting at least one meeting a week.

Today, I’m calling my sponsor to come clean with him and see if he is still in fact my sponsor. It’ll be a good conversation whatever happens, because I relate to this guy on many levels.

It’s time to look at the rest of my program and honestly assess what I need to be doing. A “program before everything” approach isn’t what I want right now. My life is too busy for that. I need my program, but I need it in its proper place.

I need to go to more meetings, though three or four a week ain’t gonna happen.

I need to talk to my sponsor a lot more often, though not daily like some people do. In the very beginning I needed that. Now it just irritates me, because I usually have work to do right after a call, and some mornings I simply don’t have anything to say to people on the phone.

I know I still need the 12 Steps, meetings, a sponsor and a rock-solid food plan. But my needs aren’t the same as the next person, and that should be ok.

Some in the program will read this and suggest I’m pining for the easier, softer way that doesn’t really exist in an addict’s world.

I don’t feel I am.

I consider this my search for the more realistic, honest way.

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Strong Too Long, Or Weak Too Often?

There’s a saying on Facebook that depression isn’t a sign of weakness, but simply the result of being strong for too long. Somewhat true — though weakness does feed the beast.

Mood music:

I’m feeling it this morning.

I’ve always taken a certain level of satisfaction from my ability to stay standing in the face of death, illness, family dysfunction, depression and addiction. Sometimes, I get an over-inflated sense of survivor’s pride.

People love to tell you how awesome you are when you emerge from adversity stronger than before. The victor is placed on a 10-foot pedestal and life looks hunky-dory from up there. But it’s only a matter of time before the person on top loses balance and crashes to the ground.

I’ve fallen from that pedestal a bunch of times, and my ass is really starting to hurt from all those slips off the edge.

All this has me asking the question: How much can you blame depression on being strong too long when many times it comes back because the victim has been weak?

I don’t think there’s a precise answer. I only know this: I feel like I’ve been trying like a motherfucker to be strong 24-7. But I don’t seem to have the fortitude to maintain it, and I give in to weakness.

In the past, that weakness would involve indulging in food, alcohol and tobacco until I was too sick to function.

Today, the weakness involves getting angry and self-defensive and distant at the drop of a hat.

For all the progress I’ve made in managing my OCD, there are still moments where I go weak, put the blinders on and do some stupid things.

It’s the compulsion to keep staring at the laptop screen when one or both kids need me to look up and give them some attention.

It’s stopping in the middle of a conversation with my wife because the cellphone is ringing or someone has pinged me online.

It’s spending too much money on food and entertainment for the kids because it’s easier to me at the time than  cooking the food myself and playing a board game with them instead.

I’ve been working double-time at bringing my compulsive tendencies to heel, going through some intensified therapy. The short-term result is that I’m an angrier person than I normally am.

My therapist made note of that anger at our last meeting. The trigger in the room was him taking me back to my younger years in search of clues to present-day debacles. I thought I was done with sessions like that five years ago.

But I’m learning that the road to mental wellness is not linear. It goes in a circle. It’s like driving to the same place every day for work. The drive to work and back is a loop of the same landmarks, the same traffic patterns and the same behind-the-wheel thinking sessions.

I’m learning that managing my issues is going to involve frequent trips back and forth from the past to the present. This pisses me off. But I know I have to keep at it.

I guess I’ll always have my weak moments because of the events that shaped me.  But you can still be strong throughout it, learning to regain your footing more quickly  and being better at the kind of discussion with loved ones that prevents endless miscommunication from adding up to a mountain of pain.

I don’t know when I’ll truly reach that level of strength. But for now I’m leaning hard on all my coping tools, including the music and the praying.

What Else Is There?

When I’m wallowing in self-pity, I like to ask that question. It always goes back to those moments when I’m not particularly enjoying the clean and sober life.

Mood music:

For the most part, it’s gotten easier. When you don’t spend all your time thinking about how to pull off a binge, you get to experience a much fuller life. You enjoy the company of people more. You pack a lot more living into your travels. Best of all, you don’t go through the day under a foggy shroud that follows a drinking, eating or drugging binge.

But I won’t lie. Sometimes, when everyone around me is enjoying a glass of wine, a few beers, some cake and a smoke, I feel like the spoiled child who sits with his arms folded, pouting, because he lost dessert for leaving vegetables on the plate.

Saturday night kind of left me feeling that way. Erin and I had a fabulous evening at an auction to benefit our kids’ school and afterwards we went to the home of friends. The kitchen was packed with people whose company we’ve come to treasure. We didn’t go home until around 2 a.m., which for us is almost unheard of.

It was St. Patrick’s Day. Part of me would have loved indulging in the whiskey and wine on the table, and I would have enjoyed a cigar even more. But I can’t do that stuff anymore. Luckily, our hosts had Red Bull on hand. That’s my go-to beverage when the temptation for alcohol becomes too much.

I’m starting to realize something about these “what else is there” moments. It’s the dark side of my soul trying to trap me in old behavior. The devil whispers something in my ear about how I should be able to enjoy some of the finer things in life; that I shouldn’t be living the clean life if it’s going to make me a miserable bastard.

And yet I still weigh out every meal I eat. I avoid flour and sugar as if it were lethal poison. And whenever I have the opportunity to drink alcohol or smoke — particularly during travel — I don’t follow through.

I suppose I have a strong enough memory of all the pain that followed indulgence and I remember how hard I’ve worked to clean myself up. I guess the thought of falling backwards pisses me off and sparks worry more than the self-pity I feel when I can’t party.

Strangely enough — particularly where the smoking is concerned — I think the Wellbutrin I take along with Prozac to keep depression at bay has eased the craving for smoke. I’d heard about Wellbutrin having this effect on people, but I quit smoking several months before taking it and I didn’t really connect the dots.

What I’ve discovered, I told Erin Saturday night, is that I stopped being pissed about the no smoking when the Wellbutrin took hold. Until then, though I had quit, I was pissed about it. I wanted to smoke and only stopped because I got caught.

The clean and sober life is a lot more complicated than I thought it would be.

But when I look at the things I’ve gained in life, I know it’s worth every deprived minute.

Such A Waste To Lose One’s Mind-Fulness

A combination of OCD and ADD has given me a bitch of a handicap: Living in the moment and being present has become tough as nails. Health experts call this elusive thing I search for “mindfulness.”

Mood music:

Here’s what happens:

When the OCD runs hot, I develop tunnel vision. I focus in on the task I’m either doing or thinking about. That’s good if you have a major work project to complete. It’s bad when someone is trying to talk to you and your brain is weaving a hundred schemes.

When the ADD picks up steam, I lose my focus. I’ll start thinking about a song I heard that day or how good it’ll feel to get into bed with a book. All while someone is talking to me.

I thought I stabbed this problem in the heart and killed it. On further reflection, I’m finding that the same problem has simply changed bodies like Dr. Who.

That in itself is still good, since the old persona was intense fear and anxiety that often incapacitated me. I broke out of that shell and life has been so much better as a result. But my current troubles are still painful.

Dealing with this issue has become the main focus of recent therapy sessions. I started bringing up the issue with my therapist because I’ve been realizing how unfair and hurtful zoning out can be at home. I don’t want to be that guy. And yet, for the moment, I am.

It’s not just a problem at home. Anywhere I go, when people are talking to me for anything longer than five minutes, I start to enter a fog. I still capture the main points of the conversation, but it requires heavy effort — effort that can be physically painful.

In recent weeks, I’ve considered what this handicap could cost me. My first reaction was to feel scared. That has settled into a low-grade anger.

Anger that I can’t just fix my brain and be done with it.

Anger that I have to do more therapy than usual.

Anger that the whole thing is exhausting me.

But that’s life. I have a problem, and I intend to beat it. And if I can’t beat it, I intend to figure out how to manage it.

At my age, I’m really not sure how much more I can fix. But even though I haven’t achieved perfection up to this point, the journey has been a beautiful one, full of experiences I never could have had a few years ago.

What lies ahead could be unpleasant. But as with past challenges, I may find gifts buried beneath the ugliness.

Art by Bill Fennell