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Posted by on in Alcoholism

It's the 4th quarter of the NFL Super Bowl. There are 10 seconds on the clock, it's 4th down, on the 10 yard line, and the Dolphins (sorry, but I'm a Dolphins fan so I'm using them as an example) are down by 5 points. The opposing teams fans are screaming their heads off as the Dolphins try to decide on the next play. The most important play of the game. They come to an agreement, they all take a serious look at each other almost to say "this is what we've been waiting for! It's our turn to take the trophy home." They line up opposite their opponents. They are shaking with anticipation and almost look as if they are cars revving their engines at the starting line of a NASCAR race. The quarterback yells "hike!" The receivers take off to the end zone with their arms flailing to catch the quarterbacks attention. "Im open! Im open" one yells. The quarterback scans the field yet disregards their cries to pass them the ball. He can see they aren't actually open and realizes he has to make a decision as the time clock fades. He's running it himself! He takes off towards the end-zone and the defense quickly realizes what is happening. They all start gunning for the quarterback, to take him down and to earn what they feel is rightfully theirs. The quarterback doges one tackle...8-yard line...jukes another...5 yard line...hurdles over a defender, making an attempt to dive towards the goal line...he lands and both teams pile up on him. Did he make it?? Did he score?? Did he cross the goal-line?? The referees manage to clear away the battling teams. The crowd is silent awaiting the signal from the ref. The referees arms go straight up in to the air...TOUCHDOWN!!!!

For days after the big game, once the trophy has already found its new home for the year, all anyone can talk about was that quarterback's daring run to the end-zone. "He did the impossible. What luck!" the sports announcers say. "How did he do that" or "It was a miracle!". With all of the hoopla and opinions of that day, the only person that knows what really happened that day is the quarterback himself. He knows it wasn't a miracle. It wasn't luck. What the outside world is failing to realize is the effort he put into training himself to react the way he did during that stressful situation. He was able to think clearly under pressure because he's practiced that exact situation thousands of times, over and over again, in his head. He ran drills for years, trained his body, taught his mind to adapt. The big game may have come down to one moment for the world, but for him it was about years of training his body and mind to do exactly what he accomplished that night.

At this point, you are probably wondering "what does this have to do with recovery?" There's no doubt that was an exciting sports story but why did I take the time to write that. Let me explain...

If anyone has ever experienced a craving, they know it can be debilitating. I'm not talking about a fleeting thought of your favorite drink or drug of choice. I'm talking about a real craving. An urge so powerful it takes the wind out of you. Something or someone triggers something deep within your subconscious and suddenly you can't think of anything besides drinking or drugging. These happen in recovery, especially early on. How do we deal with that feeling? What do we do?

From early on in recovery, we typically are taught to follow various sets of rituals, whether they be call a sponsor everyday, frequently attend support meetings, find a home group, develop a support group and stay in contact with them, pray daily, etc... We are "trained" to do these actions daily. We are told to call our supports even when we have the slightest thought of using allowing the process of reaching out for help to become an easy practice to accomplish. I like to look at these practices as putting deposits in the "spiritual bank". All of these rituals are put in place for a reason though. It's not just to manage the instability of early recovery. The main reason we practice these daily rituals is so we can be ready when that massive craving hits, that's our "big game."  We won't have time to think rationally about the consequences of using. We aren't able to "play the tape all the way through." We have to act on our trained instinct during that time. All of the practice of picking up the phone and calling our sponsors or supports. All of the times we've prayed for a minor craving or obsessive thought to be removed. The repetitive efforts in our recovery, the deposits to the "spiritual bank" all now protect us during this difficult time. We are able to utilize our tools that we've engrained in ourselves day in and day out. Our past efforts have allowed us to adapt our body and mind to react in a positive way to the powerful phenomenon of craving. 

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Posted by on in Food Addiction

Food has been a problem for mankind since Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The word forbidden conjures up thoughts about sin, punishment, guilt and shame. Food is still an emotionally charged area of life for many. If you have been on diet after diet after diet I bet that you want to be free to eat what you want without looking over your shoulder at the ghosts of the “diet police.”

Sometimes the “diet police” are real people, a parent or spouse who stays on your case and judges you or makes remarks about your looks or what you are about to put in your mouth. Sometimes you hire a policeman in the form of a doctor or nutritionist to tell you what to do. I once met a woman who wanted me to help her with her food cravings. After the first session she called to cancel. She explained, “I want someone to tell me what to do, so I am going to Weight Watchers because they weigh you, and if you don’t lose weight, they kick your ass!”

It is a fact that diets often lead to full blown eating disorders. When we hear someone tell us that certain foods must never pass our lips again it can cause a harmful reaction. The first Overeaters Anonymous meeting I ever went to scared me so much that I didn’t go back for four years!

The speaker, a slim woman, reminded us that we were allergic to sugar and if it passed our lips we would be certain to go into uncontrollable eating binges. She proudly announced that she hadn’t had a piece of cherry pie for umpteen years. Although I wanted to look like her and have the peace of mind she seemed to have, I went home and ate up a storm. Even though I hated cherry pie, the thought of never having it again, or any pie was more than my deprived inner self could accept.

What is a “bad” food? One person’s mayonnaise is another person’s ice cream. Carla told me that she had to stay away from mayonnaise because she liked to eat it with a spoon. I felt like gagging when she said this because mayonnaise is not one of my favorite foods so I have never felt a craving for it. Yet in my past I often ate peanut butter with a spoon and even had to hide it from myself. How can you hide it from yourself when you know where it is? This is crazy making!

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Posted by on in Food Addiction

Binge eaters hate themselves because they can’t stop overeating. They promise themselves that they will stop tomorrow and be good, punish themselves for pigging out or panic because they can’t close their zipper. The one thing that bingers don’t do is to pay heed to the binge. Bingers tell themselves that binges are bad and the overeater is bad for being so weak.

If you are find yourself going out of control with a substance or behavior, I want you to consider that compulsive behaviors are a sign of a life out of balance. Instead of going into denial or trying to avoid binging again, let’s look at a binge as a message from your inner self trying to tell you that something is wrong in your life, and you are unwilling to face the pain or do something about its origin.

Stuffing yourself with food is like taking an aspirin when you have a broken leg. It may dull the agony a tiny bit, but it will not heal the problem. Often when an overeater curbs her gluttony she may often switch to another behavior that brings temporary pleasure such as overspending, gambling, alcohol, drugs, etc.

A young woman who had been hospitalized in her teens for treatment for her severe bulimia told me that she was grateful for that experience since she received help in understanding herself better and learned tools for problem solving, as she became an adult. A binge is an invitation to examine your life and create skills for dealing with the inevitabilities of life.

There are 5 steps to each binge.

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Posted by on in Other Addictions

Many years ago when Overeaters Anonymous was in its infancy in Los Angeles, members of AA who had years of sobriety were invited to speak at OA meetings. They brought experience, strength and hope to a group struggling to get on its feet. Among the AA helpers was a wonderful woman named Dottie who was an inspiring speaker. Dottie was welcomed at the burgeoning OA meetings and became a friend and supporter of those wanting to be free of compulsive eating.

As the years went by and OA grew, other anonymous meetings sprang up for drug addicts and later spenders and sex addicts. Then word went around that Dottie was starting another new meeting that was different from all the rest. It was a meeting open to any and all people suffering from addictive or compulsive behaviors. No type of addiction was considered more serious than another. It was a meeting where all attendees were practicing the 12 steps.

Soon after this meeting got underway I moved away from Los Angeles so I never found out what happened to that group, but I never forgot it. We desperately need a new support system today that is like Dottie’s since we have become a society riddled with addictions and compulsions of all sorts. People switch from one to another but are never free of the cravings to feel good at all costs.

I recall Betty, the very first client I treated after I was licensed as an MFT. Betty was an overeating, drug-addicted alcoholic. She wanted me to help her stop her compulsive overeating. Then she met her husband, who was a drug dealer, and she dropped out of therapy. She eventually returned, having divorced her husband. She was not using drugs and was trying to stay off booze, but food was a constant battle.

I worked with Betty for quite a while as she tried to kick all three of her compulsions. She never managed to get rid of all three at the same time.  Finally she relocated to another city. I remember one of her letters in which she said that she went to an alcoholism counselor who told her, “I don’t care what you do, just DON”T DRINK!” She wrote that she stopped drinking and immediately gained 35 pounds!

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Posted by on in Food Addiction

It happens far too often.  You read about some celebrity who has a new diet that is guaranteed to help you shed those pounds.  Or you talk to a friend who has lost a ton of weight by following a new plan.  You even hear the experts describe it not as a diet, but as a new way of life.  So you go on it.  Then the inevitable happens: you get bored, you get stuck, you cheat a little and then the cravings hit.  The next thing you know it’s a slip then a relapse.  Your choice is to try again, or head off to the next diet.  Atkins. South Beach.  Body for Life.  Paleo.  Is it going to work? In fact, research shows that dieting actually increases cravings.

What if the problem isn’t what you eat, but what you do when you are not eating?  For most people that’s exactly the issue: the problem is cravings.  Cravings are why you switched from one plan to another; cravings are why you feel you need to “cheat.”  And cravings will come no matter what diet or “way of life” you choose.

So instead of, yet again, changing what you eat, why not change you, by changing what you do when you’re not eating?  Here a 5 suggestions that will help you do just that and get those pesky cravings under control.

Write it down

“Wait… you want me to write down every single thing I eat or drink?”  Absolutely. Keeping a food diary greatly improves your chance of success.  Food diary users are more likely to lose weight, less likely to crave and more likely to stick to their plans.  If writing down your meals is too cumbersome, a number of smartphone apps like LoseIt! and MyFitnessPal make logging a snap, and even allow you to scan the barcodes of foods to automatically enter their nutritional information.  If you have issues with orthorexia, this may require some special modification/attention, but most people who struggle should take inventory. Many food diary users, however, will log their meals for a while and then stop, which leads to the next suggestion:

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Posted by on in Food Addiction

Over the last several years, nearly every new diet on the scene has addressed cravings by suggesting “cheat meals.”   Usually the hack formula goes something like this:

All the other diets you have tried have been wrong because they didn’t pay attention to the problem with food X.  Food X and those like it are a major problem.  You need to stop eating them.  Here is a plan to do that and some recipes to show you that eating without food X is possible and even enjoyable. This is not a diet; it’s a way of life. Here are a bunch of people who have successfully lost weight on this plan.  Oh and by the way, because the cravings will be intense, you should give yourself a break and cheat every once in a while.    Of course, one major problem with these diets is that they don’t adequately address the more important issue:  craving.  In fact, research shows that dieting actually increases cravings.

However, another even more important reason these diets fail is that they never really address what is really core to the weight gain, dieting, weight loss cycle:  shame.  Shame drives the cravings bus.  Shame is why you gain the weight back every time.  Shame is what tricks you into thinking you “deserve” that piece of chocolate cake.  Shame tells you that deserve to cheat every once in a while.  For most people on the roller-coaster of dieting and weight gain, the diet they are really on is the shame diet.  And they are bingeing and purging shame in a vicious cycle that no diet will ever adequately address.

Rather than a cheat meal, want to know what you really deserve?  (Hint: it’s not some deep awareness about the toxic effects of wheat or gluten).  It’s self-love, acceptance, peace, a sense of purpose, and connectedness. Shame destroys all of these basic human needs by tricking you into thinking that you deserve something that actually hurts you.  Just think about it: does it really make sense that either cheating or dieting could be a solution for shame?

Leaving aside the issue of dieting…could it ever make sense that a new way of eating could solve the shame problem?  And if you’re doing the cheating, who exactly is being cheated?

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

 

You know the drill: you have spent countless hours in meetings, on the phone with your sponsor asking endless questions about your desire to use.  You have worked the steps and you’ve even consulted specialists.  In a moment of desperation you found help by attending treatment. You’re able to rack up six to twelve months, but eventually you find yourself in the throes of your addiction. None of this seems to work.  You find yourself questioning your commitment and ability to stay sober.  Maybe your sponsor was right when he said you lack willingness.

Not so fast….

What you are likely experiencing is Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or PAWS.

PAWS consist of a set of impairments that occur immediately and at times simultaneously after the withdrawal from alcohol or other substances.  These impairments affect three distinct areas of functioning and last six to eighteen months from the last use of alcohol or drugs as your brain tries to regain homeostasis.

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