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Ever read the directions on the shampoo bottle?

  1. Rinse.
  2. Lather.
  3. Repeat.

Seems reasonable enough…until you think about it for a bit longer than one hair washing, because those directions are not for your benefit; they’re written so you’ll use more shampoo! Besides, they don’t tell you how many times are you supposed to “repeat” – which is kinda important.  We “assume” once, but then again…maybe not?

Now matter what your interpretation of the instructions on the shampoo bottle, I think that ‘repeating’ something is not always necessary or helpful. As a matter of fact, it could be harmful. I mean, when you think about it, repeat soapings on your hair will result in cleaner hair, but it might also result in your hair being stripped of its natural oils…or falling out and running down the drain. (And, what’s so great about a bald, dry head?)

BUT…you know this blog posting isn’t about shampoo…

As always, it’s about Life in Recovery.

So, let’s get started! Yesterday, I posted something on Facebook and it ended up receiving so many comments, I decided the subject might be the basis of a blog!

Here’s what it said:

* * *


  • Don’t Nurse It.
  • Don’t Curse It.
  • Don’t REHEARSE It.

Many times, we keep ourselves “sick” – which is to say “unhealthy” (emotionally, spiritually, physically) – because it’s what we know. We’re good at being obese, or good at being indulgent, angry, sad, judgmental, defensive, wounded, whatever. SO…we marinate in it — which means we “nurse” it.

Other times, we complain about our circumstances…but do nothing to change them (Curse it.)

Each of those behaviors does nothing to help us heal, especially not RELISHING it. How exactly does one relish a negative thought/feeling/circumstnce/behavior?

By retelling the story.

“This is how I have failed.”
“This is what always happens to me.”
“I am no good at ______”
“No one supports me.”
“I hate my body because _____.

Each time you speak the negative — each time you retell your story — you give it renewed energy. Each time you replay that tape about how disappointed you are in this or that (person, behavior, event), you give it new life, new purpose, new meaning. But, you know what? If you just leave it unsaid and move forward, the story fades away in significance, power and meaning. Amazing.

So: What’s the best way to start healing?

STOP: Nursing, Cursing & Rehearsuing your problem (unhappiness/shame/guilt/failure) and START Reversing It.

Stop telling your story.
Stop complaining about your past (or present).
Stop believing it’s the way it must be.
START being the change you want to see and be.

* * *

So, that’s what it said. Evidently, this subject struck a chord with a number of people, which led me to come up with the following analogy (that I think deserves further explanation):

Retelling your story over and over is a lot like watching TITANIC and hoping it will have a different ending! Ever caught yourself saying, “Watch out for that iceberg! Slow down! Get more lifeboats! There’s room for both of you on that headboard!” [Okay, maybe you don’t say that last part, but I do.]

The point is, we all know the story of Titanic. It hit an iceberg. It didn’t have enough lifeboats. They lowered half-empty lifeboats. They locked poor people behind gates. Jack drowned and Rose threw her jewel into the sea. [Again, that last part probably doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things…] or maybe it does. After all, it’s a little detail that’s added to the story to give it new life; new dimension. It’s a great detail that makes people think, “Oh my gosh! Why did she do that? Do you think the jewel is still there? Do you think they found it with their underwater rovers? How much would it be worth today? Would I let someone draw a charcoal drawing of me naked…?”

Anyway, the point is, each new detail forms the basis for MORE DISCUSSION. It feeds the flames…fuels the fire…keeps the story alive for another telling.

Which is exactly what happens in our lives. We become experts at telling our stories.

I had surgery 512 days ago. I lost 122.5 pounds, but I lost 21 of those before surgery, and I regained 4.7 since my lowest, but I’ve been in maintenance for 347 days and I wear a junior size 9!”

Okay. When we lose weight and gain health, it feels really good, but so often, we are compelled to fill in the blanks with numbers and statistics and specifics, as if the basic story isn’t compelling enough. Why aren’t we content to say:

“I lost weight, I feel great, I’m living and loving life.”

Well, I have a theory: I think we do it because it feeds a need for validation and justification (or even vindication) really. We need people to tell us we look good. We need people to tell us we “didn’t cheat” with surgery. We need people to tell us we are successful. We need people to forgive us (?!) for regaining 4.7 pounds. Mostly…we need to believe these things about ourselves, but since we don’t believe it ourselves, we seek the approval and agreement of others.

Here’s my next theory: I think this behavior is an addiction. I say this because I am an addict, and I know how easy it is to become addicted to the feeling you get when people praise you, or when people condemn others who dare to disagree with you. I believe it’s an addiction because, I am never content to stop telling the story to just ONE PERSON. Oh, sure…I might start with my best friend, but once I curry her agreement (and know she’s on my team, of course), I have to go collect OTHERS, or I might stop believing my story. Of course, I’ll have to embellish my story a little to get others to agree with me. I might have to make it sound more dire, or harrowing, or riveting. And, with each telling, the story will become more powerful, more believable, and more tellable.

Given that, how can I NOT share a riveting, powerful, extraordinary, unbelievable story with EVERYBODY. EVERYWHERE???

It’s a regular feeling-feeding frenzy. And it sounds like Addiction to me.

I. Must. Have. More.

I need more and more and more and more people to hear my story. I am addicted to their support, their sympathy, their agreement.

I believe that the more we focus on the past…our unhappiness, discontentment, rage, disappointments, hurt, pain – even successes – the less we  live in the present. If I’m busy complaining about my siblings, or how I was passed over for a promotion when I was obese; if I’m busy complaining that I had a horrible time in high school, or even something as mundane as getting a traffic ticket…then I’m ignoring the here and now!

C’mon, you know you’ve done it. You’ve told and retold your story about how you got a ticket, but you didn’t deserve it, and the cop was a jerk, and it was a trap, and the guy ahead of you was really speeding, and the guy behind you made you run the redlight…You know you have. But…guess what? You still got the ticket. The guy in front of you didn’t get caught (then). The guy behind you still ran the redlight, and the cop may or may not have been a jerk. The point is, no matter how many times you told the story – even though you might have embellished, made it more dramatic, added qualifying factors and scintillating details….you still got the ticket.

…And the Titanic still sank.

  • What would happen if you stopped telling your story?
  • What would happen if you stopped saying where you’ve been and focused on where you ARE?
  • What would happen if you lived in the now, rather than in the past?

Still not sure there’s anything wrong with retelling your story? That’s fine. As long as you’re okay to keep re-living, rather than living.

* Recovery Moment *

Just for today, think of a story you’ve told. A lot. Then, decide NOT to tell it again. Will it hurt? Will it help? Will it matter? You decide. Then get a new bottle of shampoo that says:

  1. Rinse.
  2. Rinse.
  3. Rinse.



1 Nikkie { 05.30.12 at 10:00 pm }

Guilty as charged. Wow! I see it sooo clearly now. The unfair “traffic ticket,” the person who “did me wrong,” etc. Thank you, Cari, for helping me to put things into perspective! “Are You My Mother?” ~0;-)

2 bariatricafterlife { 05.31.12 at 12:06 am }

Well, I'm glad I could help, but of course, you KNOW this wasn't directed at you, specifically 😉 It was directed at EVERYONE, because…I think we ALL suffer from this — to a certain extent. If we don't RETELL our story, we RELIVE our story, and that keeps us sick. Best to live the story, learn from the story, and leave the story where it belongs so you can write a NEW story 🙂 I love you!

3 Nik { 06.01.12 at 1:36 pm }

As a writer and as a human I am compelled to disagree with just about everything you've said. I was taught if we don't learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it. For me personally this is very true. I don't retell my story in terms of my past failings (I actually don't find my old self THAT objectionable…it's just that she wasn't happy). I am not disgusted by who I used to be, I'm not even disgusted by what I used to eat (although I"ve been told many times I should be). But that's neither here nor there.

I don't give "testimony" all that often. There are enough people out there doing that and my story is in no way extraordinary. BUT I do believe it's good to remain cognizant of what got you on that table. You don't graduate from WLS. There is no moment of liberation. Whoever tells someone that is LYING. Because one of two things will happen. Either a) you'll totally fall back into old habits and either regain or have adverse health effects or b) you'll start to go into "a" and run back to the WLS community for health. So to me the real choice is either a) reliving the story you are so resistant to re-tell or b) finding it necessary to begin retelling it to save yourself. Either way, the story is part of who you are.

I believe you should use your story as a tool. You tell it for YOUR purposes. And you tell it in the past tense. When we are talking about the here and now that's in present tense. And if you don't believe the here and now, that is a whole separate issue. But I think there's even some merit in how post-ops operate in fear of their past-tense stories. Hell, if it keeps you on track, go for it! To me personally, present tense contentment is far more important.

I am gorgeous now as I was before surgery. I am healthier now than I was before surgery. I weigh more now than I did at my lowest point before surgery, but you know what? I like me now more than I did at my lowest weight after surgery.

That is my story. Until tomorrow when there will be a new day added.

4 Tia { 06.01.12 at 2:07 pm }

But don't you agree that your "story," whatever the topic, could actually HELP someone new? Hearing someone retell the same story is, in essence, like message boards, chatrooms, support groups, etc. – you take what you need and leave the rest. You don't HAVE to keep reading the same story! I never reached my wls goal due to some horrific gyn issues, but you know what? I've maintained a 110 pound loss for almost 7 years, have met an AMAZING group of online friends, some of whom I'm honored to know IRL, have gotten support, sympathy, empathy and, when needed, a butt-kicking tinged with love!! I also have a great family, a decent job and the love/respect of a man that I MET through an online wls community. I don't see where telling my story is holding me back at ALL – it's part of who I am NOW.

5 Christine { 06.01.12 at 2:18 pm }

Why do you label this as an "addiction" ? Have you looked at the DSM for the criteria for addiction ? Or how about the work of Morse & Flavin, John Bradshaw or Charles Roper ?
In the words of Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." (The Princess Bride, 1987).

6 bariatricafterlife { 06.01.12 at 2:30 pm }

I love that movie (The Princess Bride), and yes, I have looked at the DSM, though I am not a therapist or a doctor.

I am an addict and I work very closely my friend, Dr. Connie Stapleton (a wonderful Psychologist who specializes in addiction recovery) when I discuss it. No doubt, the subject of addiction is painful and misunderstood, which is why many addicts are not willing to identify their problem as an addiction. I don't have a problem calling it that, but for those who do, Connie says it quite simply: If it's a problem, then it's a problem.

Sugar is an addictive substance, and I am addicted to it.
Salty/Oily foods can be addictive, and I am addicted.
Obesity is a disease, and I treat it every day.

That is why I work to be in recovery from both 🙂

7 Connie Stapleton { 06.01.12 at 5:07 pm }

Wow! Interesting blog with some great information and really great feedback! Here's my two cents on the topics. Since I'm a recovery alcoholic/addict of 20+ years, I have been to a LOT of AA meetings! One of the things that is important at meetings IS to share "your story," about what got you into AA, and how your life is different as a result of being in "the program." The PURPOSE of doing this is (at least) two-fold: 1) to remind yourself of the reality of where drinking/drugs go you – so you remember you don't want to go back there, and 2) to help others remind themselves of what life was like AND that THIS IS HOPE FOR A HEALTHIER AND BETTER LIFE IN RECOVERY!

The MOTIVE of telling your story in this case, is positive.

There ARE many instances in which telling your story IS used to keep a person stuck in the sickness. It's important to look at the MOTIVE involved behind the telling of the story. IF a person retells and retells and retells their story to obtain sympathy, compliments, attention, or to feel important, as well as other unhealthy reasons, then the retelling of the story has an unhealthy MOTIVE! A problem with that is the person doing this is unlikely to RECOGNIZE their behavior as unhealthy… it's part of the denial system that protects them.

In your post, you accurately noted that "sometimes" repeating your story is a negative thing to do and it "can be" detrimental. Those are both fair statements. Telling your story can also be a positive thing – depending on the motive of doing so.

People most certainly DO get "stuck" in the muck of their stories sometimes and this is NOT a healthy place to be.

I love the blog and the feedback! Great insights from people!

I want to address the addiction issue – briefly – as I have a patient waiting as I type! 🙂

The DSM criteria for addiction is:

Tolerance (marked increase in amount; marked decrease in effect)

Characteristic withdrawal symptoms; substance taken to relieve withdrawal

Substance/Behavior is taken in larger amount and for longer period than intended

Persistent desire or repeated unsuccessful attempt to quit

Much time/activity to obtain, use, recover

Important social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced

Use continues despite knowledge of adverse consequences (e.g., failure to fulfill role obligation, use when physically hazardous).

Nearly ANY behavior can become addictive for some people. If retelling your story results in three or more of the above features, then it may be an addiction. If I had more time, I would go through each of these in some detail regarding this manner.

It may be that the word "addiction" is used at times when it may not "fit," but is is possible that a person can get addicted to chaos, and if retelling their story in a way that meets three of the prior criteria, it may be addictive for a person.

As Cari pointed out, and I like to say – forget about the word addiction if it rubs you the wrong way – and take note of the point being made. If retelling your story results in problems for you – then it's a problem! When we have problems, the healthy thing to do is to find ways to progress toward health!

So use your story in a healthy way – to remember where you came from, to be grateful you no longer have to be there and have healthier choices for your present and future, and to help others!

Thanks for listening!

8 bariatricafterlife { 06.01.12 at 5:27 pm }

I'm glad you brought up the precise point I was thinking about this morning (and might have made, but might not have made clearly enough): Behaviors can be as addictive as substances! I fully admit that I used to be addicted to gossip and desperately needed/wanted to know what people were saying about me.

Why? Although I can't be sure what I found to be so attractive about it (and the "why" doesn't really matter anyway) I am clear that it was destructive to my health, happiness and recovery, so it needed to stop.

As I stepped away from the behavior, I quickly saw that my chief motivation was to defend myself so I could make others like me! Ahhh…the old 'People-Pleaser" culprit reared its ugly head and made me think I could make someone else "do" something!

Fortunately, as I work my recovery, I have learned that, 1) I can't please all of the people all of the time, 2) It's not my job to try to please anyone, but it is my duty not to try to offend them, and 3) I must stop defending stuff that doesn't need defending in the first place.

You know what? I felt liberated when I identified this BEHAVIOR as a problem because the process of obsessing over other people's thoughts was an all-consuming, exhausting, bottomless pit. And, yes…pretty silly. After all…who really knows what another person is thinking?

No one is a mind-reader…except *maybe* mind readers – ha ha 😉

Anyway, thank you for adding your very wise words, Connie. That is why you are THE DOC and I am THE POST-OP! Muah :-*

9 Lisa Sargese { 06.05.12 at 4:03 am }

The story I see being told here is, "I am an addict. I am in recovery." This means you'll never be well, right? Addict-in-recovery is a shorter story but it's still a story. I hope you can take your own advice and get past it. It would be a good example for others and maybe you'll find peace as one who is fully recovered.

10 Sine { 03.07.13 at 6:31 am }

Cari-Belle this is GOLD. And it hurt. But i loved it. i've stolen it and shared it.

11 bariatricafterlife { 03.07.13 at 2:12 pm }

Muah :-*

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