Category — Addiction & Recovery
Has this ever happened to you?
You hear a song on the radio for the first time, and all of a sudden, it’s on every station? Every time you turn on the radio, there’s that song!
Or, you read a book by an author you’ve never heard of, and all of a sudden everybody is talking about that book? Everywhere you look, you see that book and that author?
Or, you buy a car, and all of a sudden, EVERYONE has the same car! You can’t believe how many of that same car you see on the road!
Would you surprised to learn that there’s actually a name for that phenomenon? No, it’s not something catchy, like “déjà vu” or “serendipity” or “synchronicity.” Heck, it’s not even a “coinky-dink.” Nope, this is something a little different called The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. See? I told you it was not a cool name. As a matter of fact, it’s so uncool I can never even remember what it’s called, even though it happens to me all the time!
So, what does that say about the experience if there’s a name for it? To me, it says that it’s more common than I ever imagined.
Contrary to the belief that the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is some amazing “smack of destiny,” it’s really nothing more than a cognitive bias. It’s how we feed our need for order…after all, humans love patterns. We love to find rhyme and reason to randomness. We also like to find explanations for things.
Okay, so why am I talking about this?
Well, Thursday night (during my weekly Tuesday night video confab with The Doc, Connie Stapleton, PhD), I was working through some “life junk” and she “gently” brought a few things to my attention (read: smacked me upside the head in the most firm, but fair way imagineable). Basically, she helped me to find law and order among the chaos; she helped me to see that I was marinating. Yes…she helped me to see that I was experiencing the dreaded emotional marination syndrome. I thought I was doing pretty good, but she helped me to see that I was really just doing backstrokes in the marinade.
So, how can I get out of the pan and towel off?
Well, remember that Baader-Meinhof Pheonomenon I was talking about up there?
Last night, it occurred to me that what I was doing was focusing on the negative in my life. In other words, I was seeing the same (yucky) thing over and over and over. But, why?
Well, imagine seeing a sexy red sports car on the way to work one morning. It’s hard to miss because…well, it just stands out from the other cars. It’s distinctive. It’s memorable. Next thing you know, you’re seeing the same kind of red sports car everywhere you go! It’s in the parking lot next to you; your neighbor just bought one; you’re stuck behind one on the freeway (not that this ever happens to me) – you cannot get away from that red car.
Okay, what do we *know* about red cars?
Well, as anyone worth their salt will tell you (with unshakeable certitude, I might add), red cars “look” like they’re going faster, which means they draw attention from everyone…especially police…thus, if you drive one, you’re more likely to get a speeding ticket. (Trust me, everyone says it). And, if you get more tickets because you drive a red car, then you’re going to pay more insurance. Plus, red cars show the dirt and scratches, and the paint fades (because red is the first color to show its age).
EDUCATIONAL BREAK: Ever wonder why red fades faster than other colors? (I’m not talking about my hair, or anything…after all, it’s natural…) Here’s what the Naked Scientist forum says about it:
Why does red fade faster than all the other colors?
It depends. Yellow also fades, but it’s difficult to detect because if it fades, it will turn to creamy white. So, not much difference is noticeable. All color absorbs wide spectrum or light from the Sun. The sun’s ray is polychromatic, so it consists of all visible and non-visible color. I believe red fades faster because the red color components react by absorbing the blue ray, which in fact has a higher energy so that makes the red color molecules changes (degrades) from time to time.
Blue has shorter wavelength, therefore higher energy. If you see in rainbow’s color spectrum, red is in the complete opposite from blue or violet. From that, we can see that red will be the first “victim” among other visible color. Of course there are many ways to protect, one example is to layer it with highly reflective material and UV protection.
In other words, red seems to fade because it’s more noticeable than the other colors. We focus on the red.
Hmmm…If you’re focused on red cars, then all you will see is RED CARS!
SO, if RED CARS represent negative thoughts (read: stinkin’ thinkin’), and all you see are red cars, then it’s time to change your thinking.
Or…buy a white car.
I know what you’re saying, “But, white cars are so…boring…white cars are actually non-colors! People only white cars because they can’t decide on an actual, real-live color.”
Actually, according to Wikipedia:
EDUCATIONAL BREAK #2: White is the color of fresh milk and snow.It is the color the human eye sees when it looks at light which contains all the wavelengths of the visible spectrum, at full brightness and without absorption. It does not have any hue.
As a symbol, white is the opposite of black, and often represents light in contrast with darkness. According to surveys in Europe and the United States, white is the color most often associated with innocence, perfection, the good, honesty, cleanliness, the beginning, the new, neutrality, lightness, and exactitude.
So, white is light. White is positive. White is a fresh start.
Let’s think about this in terms of your life. Are you stuck in a traffic jam with nothing but red cars for miles? Is everything in your life going wrong?
Poor me! I can’t catch a break! I hate my job. I’ve regained some weight. I never have time to do what I want to do. My kids are driving me crazy. I am always tired. I’m so depressed. I don’t have any friends. I’m broke.
Red cars. Every (stinking) one of ‘em.
If any of that sounds familiar, it’s time to start LOOKING for white cars on your road.
What are some of the RED CARS causing traffic jams in your life?
How can you trade-in that red car for a white car? Begin by thinking differently about your circumstances:
RED CAR: I hate my job.
WHITE CAR: I enjoy working with my customers to make them happy.
RED CAR: My child never listens to me.
WHITE CAR: I had a wonderful time playing with my child at the park.
RED CAR: I don’t have any friends.
WHITE CAR: I picked up the phone and called someone I haven’t talked to in ages. It was wonderful.
RED CAR: I’ve regained some weight.
WHITE CAR: I’ve kept some weight off and, since I lost it once, I can lose it again.
Here’s the bottom line: Since we live what we focus (on), doesn’t it make sense to focus on positive things?
Would you be surprised to learn that I drive a White Ford Focus? Totally true. I recently traded-in my RED PILOT. Now, how’s that for irony?
Question: What is a RED CAR in your life? What’s a WHITE CAR can you focus on?
As I reread this, I realize how far I’ve come…how much healthier I am emotionally and physically…how much freer I feel since I’ve cut those ties that bound me. Thanks to some wonderfully supportive friends and a willingness to do whatever it took to get well, I learned that, the first step in being a recovering control freak is to recognize you really control…nothing. My wish for you is this: Let go of your need to control, and watch how much more “in control” you feel… ~ Cari
The Fallacy of Control
I would describe myself as a “recovering control freak with latent OCD tendencies.” The idea of “control” is quite seductive and appealing for a Type-A personality like me. Unfortunately, it’s always tantalizingly out of reach — just around the bend, over the horizon, or in the next “whatever.” Which is why control is such a lie. You see, no one ever really has it — not over situations, or others, but least of all over SELF. I mean, PUHLEASE — Self-Control. What the heck does that mean??? Does it mean that I get to control everything I think and do? Does it mean that, as long as I try hard enough, everything I touch will stay in check? Does it mean that I can actually be the master of time and space?
Not so much.
I spent years misunderstanding the idea of control, and more importantly SELF control. The reality of control is that, despite all best laid plans, intentions, hopes, dreams or preparations, whatever is GOING to happen, will happen. It’s what I DO about it that really gives me CONTROL (limited control, naturally).
I began to learn this painful lesson when my daughter (who will turn 19 on the 16th) was 3. We had dressed her as “Belle” from Beauty & The Beast; she had a lovely golden yellow dress, and cute black patent mary jane shoes, white tights, a plastic pumpkin with a handle (to carry her loot) — and an incredibly intricate undo with about 10,000 bobby pins holding it up, and an entire can of hairspray CONTROLLING every single hair on her head.
She looked ADORABLE….as long as she stood perfectly still. The problem was when she moved. LIke any 3- year-old, she had to RUN to each house. Of course, as her *loving* mother, I *patiently* encouraged her to *take it easy.* I think it went something like this:
“HANNAH! Quit running! Stay here! ”
“HANNAH!!! You are MESSING YOUR HAIR UP.”
“HANNAH!!!! Come here so I can fix your hair. NOW!”
Oh my God.
About 3 houses later, it hit me: What the HELL was I doing? I was chasing my 3-year old in a frantic and misguided attempt to CONTROL — her hair. That was my “come to Jesus” moment for sure. At least in THAT arena. I made a solemn vow that I would STOP being so neurotic about things that didn’t matter, (as long as it only pertained to Hannah’s hair, apparently! Everything else was still fair game.)
So, I pulled out the bobby pins and said, “Baby, go have fun.” Which she did.
That might sound like a happy turn of events, but what I didn’t mention is the fact that inside I was boiling over in frustration, filching Snickers and 3-Musketeers from her pumpkin after each house:
“Why can’t she just hold still? Her hair looked so beautiful and I spent *so much time* on it? People are going to wonder what kind of a mother I am, sending my kid around looking like such a scruff muffin…”
Parent at door: “Oh, don’t you look ADORABLE?! Who are you supposed to be?”
Me: “Well, she is Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, but her hair fell. It looked so pretty a few minutes ago. But you now how little urchins can be….”
Okay, that doesn’t sound like a recovered ANYTHING. I just stopped trying to control my kid and tried to control everybody who opened the door!
Fast forward a few years.
We go camping with our friends and family. It’s always a big to-do; a huge — well-organized — affair with exquisitely planned MEALS and events! I always pre-reserve sites, so there won’t be ANY SURPRISES when we get there.
Only…there always ARE surprises. We always end up in a campsite with a big rolling trashcan (the one that everyone in the loop uses for their garbage), or a telephone pole. Our trees are always lacking shade, and the site isn’t level, so we have to sleep rolling downhill. And no one likes to eat when I say it’s time to eat: “Be back in time for dinner!! No later than 7, okay?”
Are you noticing a trend here? A sick pattern?
I was ruining everyone’s time in my endeavor to CONTROL the situation. Instead of just going with the flow — rolling with the punches — I would get bent out of shape, like someone had intentionally hollowed my insides out with a spoon. Nothing to do but EAT to make it feel better. Fortunately, I always had Red Vines, Double Stuff Oreos and BBQ Ruffles potato chips to assuage the pain. There was always plenty of bacon in the morning, extra blueberry pancakes, and s’mores after dinner. There was always room to stuff my frustrations way down so I could “fully enjoy” myself.
The only problem was, I didn’t enjoy myself. I stayed behind in camp while everyone else was off hiking, biking and exploring. I would carefully (and gracelessly) climb down out of the motorhome (trying not to fall and sprain my ankle — for the umpteenth time) and lumber over to my big-butt beach chair. There, I’d pop open my 13th can of Diet Pepsi and flip through one of the 17 gossip magazines I’d brought along for entertainment.
“Look at her — she is WAY too thin! Please! Who looks like that? ‘Lose 10 pounds in 1 week!’ — Are you kidding me? I have to lose 200 pounds…nobody has only ’10 pounds’ to lose. Piffle.”
And on it went, until my family was late returning for dinner — which would allow me to get all worked up. Again. And I’d eat some other junk I’d stashed in the cupboard (like Zingers).
Fortunately, through the help of my very best friend in the entire world (Jan), I began to see the error of my ways. Now, understand that I didn’t realize how cancerous the behavior was to my psyche; I only understood what it was doing to those whom I loved. So, my motivation to correct the crippling behavior was borned from my desire not to hurt OTHERS; It had nothing to do with HELPING myself.
Whatever the case, I made a solemn vow that I would NOT have nuclear meltdowns all over everybody when something didn’t turn out as I’d perfectly planned. If it didn’t “fit my picture” then I’d paint a new one.
Here’s how it looked in application: When we’d roll up to a campground, and the site would be “less-than-perfect,” my initial reaction would always be one of intense unhappiness and frustration. But, rather than letting it ALL out all over everybody, I would stop for a beat, take a deep breath, clench my fists, and announce, “Okay. I’m going to need about X minutes calm down. Just go about your business, and I’ll be with you soon.” The amount of time required to talk myself back away from the ledge would vary, depending upon the “severity” of the campground or situation. If it was “really bad”, I’d need 30 minutes.
Of course, my family members would protest, but I’d tell them that if they wanted me to enjoy myself, they needed to back off until I could come to terms with the situation. They were to “carry on” with their business until I was feeling human again.
So, I’d sit there and talk myself through it. Sometimes, I’d pace. Sometimes I’d stop and grouse. I’d say things out loud, like,
“This really SUCKS! I HATE THIS! It’s not FAIR.”
And then, I’d say, “But…it’s okay. It doesn’t fit my picture, so I’ll create a new picture.”
“But I wanted a BEAUTIFUL campsite with a bubbling brook running along side it.”
“But running water brings mosquitoes. It’s better this way.”
Over and over I’d repeat things like, “It doesn’t fit your picture, but it’s going to be okay. No one else saw the picture you painted in your head. Only YOU know what you expected. They had other expectations, but they are fine with the reality. Everyone is having a good time. You need to mellow out so everyone will enjoy themselves. Don’t ruin everyone’s time. Calm down, It’s going to be okay.”
At some point, I’d tell myself I was done being cranky and it was time to move on. Whether or not I actually FELT done was of no consequence. 20 or 30 minutes was sufficient and it was time to grow up, move on and deal with reality.
And so it would go.
When they were late for dinner, I’d just told myself that we’d eat at 10 PM.
It didn’t always work, but it was better than it had been before, and people seemed to have a better time without me raining on their parade like Eeyore.
Of course, what I didn’t do was cope with the reasons behind my discontentment, and I didn’t deal with my reaction to force-feed the bad feelings away. So, during the time I tried to “cure” myself of my crippling negativity, I ballooned to 316 pounds.
And then I had weight loss surgery and I couldn’t eat the lack of control away. I had to find a better tool. I had to realize the error of my ways once and for all. I had to quash those negative feelings dead in their tracks and replace them with truly positive ones. I had to reshape my actions into something healthy, rather than destructive.
Now, I’d love to tell you that I have perfected this art form — but as we all know, perfection is impossible and is a convenient way we set ourselves up to fail. Obviously, if perfection is unattainable, then making that the goal is self-defeating.
Anyway, I haven’t killed the beast of CONTROL, but I have won more battles than I’ve lost. As a matter of fact, up until 2 nights ago, I can’t remember the last time I unwisely decided to cope with my unhappiness by consuming an entire box of Jujubees. I can tell myself that I had a very good reason for eating myself into a post-gastric-bypass-coma. I can tell myself that sleeping in the fetal position all night was the perfect solution to my despair.
But it wasn’t, and everybody knows that.
So, I had a couple of really bad days, and then I awoke this morning, looking forward to my therapy session (Jim will get an earful from me!) and realizing that only I can control my actions.
The bottom line is: I can’t control HOW I feel, but I sure can control what I DO.
So, I’m still a recovering control freak with OCD tendencies. I still try to make things as “perfect” as they can be — but then I step back and let reality take over.
Sometimes, as you can see, I do better than others 😉 Fighting for control, like maintaining a 170 pound weight loss, is a war that is never permanently won. It must be fought anew each day — and maybe even each hour. But, with each victory, comes the knowledge that there is hope and the battle is worth fighting.
What Are You Afraid Of?
I mean it. What. Are. You. Afraid. Of?
At first blush, you might offer up the obvious things: heights, spiders, tight spaces, dying — but you might have to dig a little deeper to come up with those other (deep-seated) fears…like fear of FAILURE or fear of SUCCESS. Of course, those are nebulous things…deep concepts…not really tangible — until you tie specific events to them. Like: Fear of Failure…because of weight regain. Or, Fear of Success…because you get promoted to a job you’re not sure you can do.
Alright, now we MIGHT be getting somewhere, but I’m still not convinced.
I’m gonna keep digging:
Why does it matter? A lot of us can quickly say what we THINK we’re afraid of, but the reality is, we’re probably afraid of something ELSE. Which brings me to the idea of this post. You see, I’ve been struggling with lots of things lately. Life just isn’t…easy — not that anyone ever promised it would be, but somehow, I always convince myself there will be a manageable “ebb and flow” to things; a sort-of “give and take,” where I get to recover between the shovelfuls of dirt that keep getting dumped upon me. I keep thinking I’ll be able to climb out of the hole whenever I want, but I keep digging, and with each shovelful, I’m convinced I’ll be buried alive. Sometimes, when you can’t see the top of the hole, you begin to fear that you have no options. You convince yourself there is no way out. You become entirely consumed with terror. Why? Because your FEAR TELLS YOU TO.
I know I’m not actually buried — not in dirt anyway — so…what am I afraid of?
- Am I afraid I can’t handle the pressure? Nope. Too nebulous.
- Am I afraid I can’t keep up with the pace? Nuh-uh. Very vague.
- Am I afraid I can’t live up to my own expectations? Lovely, but fuzzy.
If those aren’t my fears, I guess I’m gonna dig a bit deeper.
What is driving this panic? Why do I feel I’m going to suffocate? Why do I fear I will collapse under the weight of it all? Ahhh…I think I’ve hit upon something: I am afraid because I am afraid. Of what, exactly? Being buried alive? No, that’s not the fear. What is it??? Right now, I am afraid of something…NAMELESS…which, for some inexplicable reason, makes it even scarier.
Could it be that if I don’t know what I’m actually afraid of, then my fear is bigger than what I’m actually afraid of? Yes, I think I’m onto it…I’ve uncovered something big and here are the two treasures I have dug up:
- Fear only has as much power as I give it.
- I give fear power when I don’t give it a name.
Well then — it’s time to render my fears powerless and give them names. Ready? (Careful, they’re scary…)
- I am afraid of not meeting impossible deadlines at work.
- I am afraid that if I don’t meet those impossible deadlines at work, I will be accused of untrue things.
- I am afraid that if I am accused of untrue things, I will lose my job.
- I am afraid that if I lose my job, I won’t be able to find another one.
- I am afraid that if I can’t find another job, I will be broke.
- I am afraid of being broke.
Wow. Just take a look at those (until now) unnamed fears! They are real monsters — terrifying monsters — and they have been feeding upon each other AND ME! Well, not anymore, because you see, they now have names, and I have removed their power by reframing my thoughts and actions.
Here’s how that looks:
OLD: I am afraid of not meeting impossible deadlines at work.
NEW: I am only responsible for the effort I put forth to meet impossible deadlines; I cannot guarantee anything that is beyond my control; I am responsible for myself and my actions.
OLD: I am afraid that if I don’t meet the deadlines, I will be accused of untrue things.
NEW: I can be accused of untrue things even IF I meet deadlines because I do not have control over what other people think of me. I am responsible for my own behavior.
OLD: I am afraid I will lose my job.
NEW: I could lose my job for a number of reasons and none of them might have anything to do with me or my effort! The business could dry up; we could lose clients; the owner could decide to shut the doors. I am not responsible for anything other than doing the best job I can do (perfectionism, be damned! There is no room for that here…)
OLD: I am afraid I won’t find another job.
NEW: If I lose my job, I will work very hard to find another job — which may not be easy – but I found this job, and I could find another, if I had to.
OLD: I am afraid I will be broke…and I am afraid of being broke.
NEW: I could be broke, but I would find a way to survive. It would be a challenge, but I am made of better stuff. Would it be scary? Absolutely…the unknown often is — until it becomes KNOWN.
The bottom line is, our level of fear is often disproportionate to the size of the things we actually fear, usually because we don’t define them, or we run from them. And that’s the pits. But, by FACING our fears, we learn just how deep a hole we’re in and what it will take to get out. Basically, we learn what we’re made of, and where our strengths lie when we name our fears. Hey, this stuff isn’t easy. It’s downright scary, and it’s hard, and just knowing what we fear doesn’t make the fear go away. I understand, but that is where courage begins.
Courage is, by definition, facing your fear, but doing it anyway.
So, I ask again: WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?
If you don’t know, it’s time to figure it out, because that’s the only way to wrap your arms around it and strategize your survival and recovery.
Need help? Think about Little Red Riding hood — innocently skipping through the woods with a basket of goodies for her grandma. Now, think about what happens when she gets there — she meets the wolf, but tries to convince herself it’s grandma. Silly girl! Instead of facing her fears, she pretends they don’t exist (which is pretty scary, if you ask me), and I kinda think that pretending something isn’t what it is isn’t any better than pretending something is what it isn’t. Did you follow that? If LRRH faced her fear head on, she wouldn’t have gotten eaten by the wolf, likewise, if we spend our lives thinking there’s a wolf around every corner, then we’re just eating ourselves!
Phew! That was very, very deep. But, I don’t want to leave you buried without a shovel — so here are a few things to unearth:
- Are you giving power to your unnamed fears?
- Do you think your fear has “bigger teeth” and “bigger eyes” than it really does?
- Do you believe you can face and beat your fears?
Not sure? Sit with yourself for a bit and figure out what scares you. I mean, what really scares you — not the easy stuff — the tough stuff. Write it down. Say it out loud. Tell someone you trust. Hear the words. Understand the fear. Know where it comes from and if it’s as big as you really fear it is then, plan your way out of the hole. Determine what you can influence, and what you can’t; what you are responsible for, and what you aren’t. What you can live with, and what you can’t. There will be some things you can’t fight — I understand that — but you can definitely minimize their power over you…if you turn and face them. I believe that with all my heart.
Fear not, my friend. You can do this — Just keep digging, you’ll get to the heart of the matter soon enough!
Have you ever watched INTERVENTION on A&E? It’s a program where addicts, who are (ostensibly) unaware that they will soon be facing an intervention with their family and loved ones, are given the chance to go to inpatient rehabilitation to learn how to treat their disease. The ultimate goal is for the addict and loved ones to enter recovery together, but that doesn’t always happen. In the majority of episodes, the family doesn’t go to treatment themselves, even when they are offered a chance to attend the Betty Ford Clinic. Of course, this decision doesn’t help the addict, who often returns from their 90-day program to the same, unhealthy system they left.
As a viewer, it’s incredibly frustrating.
As a food addict, it’s downright frightening.
I don’t know about you, but when I watch that show, it all seems so clear…and so easy. I mean, you watch the addict and you think, “STOP THAT. JUST STOP IT.” And then you watch the family, and you think, “STOP THAT. JUST STOP IT.”
Meanwhile, the addict continues to abuse the substance while the family continues to enable the addict to do so, and the whole thing just makes you throw your hands up and yell, “WHY CAN’T YOU SEE WHAT I SEE???”
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve sat there (MexiKen, Hannah and I), talking to the television. We say things as if the people on the show can actually hear us: “C’mon! How could you possibly think you’re not an addict? Look at yourself! You need help! You can get better! Just say ‘Yes.’” And then we talk to the enablers, and say, “Can’t you see what you’re doing? Isn’t it obvious? You’re not helping! You’re part of the problem! Stop that!”
And then, at the end of the show, we learn whether the addict chooses rehab or not, and…we cry. We hear that music, and we just cry, because we hope that they will make it. Now, since we have a DVR, we always pause to take a round robin of everyone on the couch.
“So…did they make it, or not? What do you think?”
So often, we are wrong. And that’s great – as long as we thought they didn’t make it and learn that they did. It’s those times where we absolutely thought they’d make it, but learn that they didn’t…those are the times that make us really sad.
You know…it’s those words that scroll across the screen at the end of the show…with the sad music. “Jane left recovery after 15 days and has begun using again.” Or, “John was asked to leave the program after 29-days. He has returned to life on the streets. His mom continues to pay his cell phone bill.” Ugh.
It is tragic and frustrating to watch, because IT SEEMS SO EASY ON TV.
But then…I think about my own life. I think about the challenges of being in recovery from obesity. I think about my food addiction, and I realize that I will fight my disease for the rest of my life. I hope it will become easier over time, but for now, it is a daily job, just to stay in recovery…to stay on track.
I know that my own family and friends are willing me to succeed; silently yelling at me like we yell at the TV: “C’mon, Cari! You can do this! Just don’t eat too much of that, work out over here, stay on track, you look great!”
And, you know what? I don’t disagree. I CAN do this. I AM worth it. I DO look (and feel) great. However, it’s not that easy, as anyone who shares my struggle will affirm. There is a huge community of people who battle the same demons. Some battle obesity; others battle both obesity and addiction; most have chosen to treat their obesity through surgery, but many choose to ignore their addiction…
Why? Why not complete the treatment? Why not FIX the problem, instead of ignoring it??? Do they think that since no one can “see” their disease anymore, they don’t have to worry about anything else? I can’t say for sure, and won’t venture to guess, but I know this: Sometimes, I have Survivor’s Guilt.
Just the other night, I was having a conversation about this with my business partner (Dr. Connie Stapleton). I told her that, I think the weight loss surgery community is cyclical, like the Lion King and the Circle Of Life. With each passing year, I see people disappear…evaporate…leave the community. The old king goes away to die. BUT, I see others join (a new baby is born!)
And everything is okay. For awhile.
People lose weight.
People regain weight.
People maintain weight.
People re-lose what they regain.
People develop addictions.
People get sick.
It feels like…INTERVENTION. I’m watching that show, and I’m screaming at my computer when someone doesn’t “make it.” I’m screaming that they can do it…not to give up…to be strong. I’m thinking…that could be me – There’s a reason, in recovery circles, they say, “There, but for the Grace of God go I.” There’s a reason they say “Easy does it,” and “One day at a time.”
It’s too hard to think 90-days down the road.
Heck, it’s too hard to think about tomorrow.
But, that Survivor’s Guilt. That’s how it feels to be the lone survivor in a plane crash. Obesity is my plane crash…it’s devastating and deadly. I look to the left, and I look to the right, and I think to myself, “That could have been me. If I’d done X, I’d have set the wheels in motion to regain my weight. If I’d done Y, I’d have jump-started my food addiction…” And then, of course, I realize this is not healthy thinking, so I set it aside in favor of better throughts. I think about what I’m doing well. I think about how grateful I am that I have stayed the course (for today) and am working my program; trusting the process. I am thankful for my growth and the peace that comes with it.
But, that doesn’t stop my heart from aching for those whom I know are suffering and feeling like failures. I realize that our community is a lot like…well…just about any other community. Whether it’s an AA meeting, with people coming and going, newly recovered, and newly relapsed…or a circle of friends who are newly married, newly divorced, newly single – whatever. People make choices, things happen, and we do our best to survive and thrive.
I know that I can’t change what other people do with their lives, and I know I can’t make them think the way I think, but that doesn’t stop me from WANTING to.
I think my message for today is this: We must never lose hope for ourselves, and others who are on this journey. We must always believe that recovery is not only possible, it’s happening – all around us. I know, I know…I used the “must” word…BUT, I feel strongly about this, so that’s why I’m saying it.
It’s like the 80’s band, Journey said: Don’t Stop Believin’.
I’ll leave you with this: If you’ve relapsed in your Bariatric After Life€, consider this your personal intervention. It’s never too late to do the next best thing. Happy Recovery, guys…
It’s been one week since I learned about my friend’s condition and shared it with you here on my blog, so I felt it was time for an update. I would love to tell you that she is doing well and has “turned the corner.” But…you don’t turn a corner with liver failure…not a “good” one, anyway.
They have sent her home to…I suppose…wait for a donor, a limbo I know all to well, as my own family lived there for 3 years while my brother waited for a kidney to save his life. As you can imagine, it was a horrible time waiting and worrying that his dialysis would stop working before a match could be found. But fortunately, about 15 years ago, they DID find a kidney for him — and a great one, at that…”Sydney” has been performing like a champ ever since.
“Our” story turned out well. But…we must wait to learn how the next chapter will be written for my friend. No matter how it unfolds, her journey will not be an easy one to read. That’s because there’s a bitter irony to her survival; she’ll need a new liver to live, but someone will have to die first.
Such is the beauty and horror of organ donation.
The horror is the death. But the beauty is the life that’s given. You see, organ donors are the most special of angels; they give the greatest gift without ever knowing they gave it, and those who receive it get a gift they will never forget.
* * *
But, back to the situation at hand: I’ve been pondering my friend’s circumstances, wondering if there were warning signs that she simply didn’t recognize…wondering if some doctor, somewhere, with some blood test could have called attention to this before it got this bad; wondering WHY it got this bad…? Of course, all of this is like yearning for yesterday, but it still makes me wish for a “Wayback Machine” so I could send her back in time to face this monster before it got its hold on her.
As I write this, she has still not been able to eliminate the 30 pounds of toxins that her body has decided to hold onto, so she is feeling understandably miserable. Also, she has been banned from ever consuming sushi or shellfish again. Ever. These are things she adored for as long as I’ve known her, and I promise you, she is mourning the loss. When I asked her why the doctor said not to eat them, she simply said, “I was told to eat like a pregnant woman for the rest of my life.” And that means, no alcohol, either…
When I told her I had shared her story with all of you. she was momentarily heartened because she knew some good would come of her bad. She knew her suffering could save someone else’s life, or keep them from suffering quite as much. I’m sure she never imagined she’d become an advocate for this cause, but she has assumed that role as gracefully as one can expect, and promises me that she will avail herself to any support groups in the area who want to meet her and ask her questions about her life since weight loss surgery — especially the tough stuff about the booze.
So, where am I in all of this today? Well, for the last week I’ve been, for lack of a better word, “managing” an unbelievable volume of feedback and discussion on the subject of alcohol consumption after weight loss surgery.
I’ve witnessed an avalanche of outpouring for my friend’s condition, and I am eternally grateful for the love, support and prayers going her way; thank you all for that.
I have also felt the undeniable burn of fear and frustration as the subject of my blog spread like wildfire through our community.
I have heard a chorus of confusion, anger and denial from those who simply want to know how this could have happened.
I have fielded more than a few private messages from people who see themselves in my friend’s story, and are terrified that they will end up like her.
I’ve heard from multitudes who simply didn’t know this was a possibility after surgery, and feel betrayed that they were never warned.
I’ve met precious people who shared with me how terrified they are to be at a point where they’re so far out of control with their own alcohol consumption they wonder if they’ll ever find their way home. They worry that it’s too late, and fear that all hope is lost, but mostly, they want to know if they really are addicts.
Well…addiction is a scary word and sometimes, it keeps people from getting the help they need. So…why use it? It’s not necessary to identify yourself as an addict to seek recovery — you only have to know you have a problem and need help. It sounds trite, but it’s true, and I tell everyone the same thing: Recovery is not easy, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it; it simply means we shouldn’t give up when it gets hard.
I am passionate about this subject. I am convinced to my core that we must open the lines of communication and talk about this very real, very deadly problem. And we must start now.
- We must talk about the things that scare us.
- We must be bold in the face of criticism.
- We must not fear judgment more than we crave recovery.
- We must take a stand and tell others what so many doctors neglected to tell us: Alcohol consumption after surgery is not healthy, not necessary, and non-negotiable.
We lost weight to gain our health; why would we throw it away on something as meaningless as a drink? Clearly, we didn’t see it that way, for if we had, we might have thought a bit longer before we poured that first glass.
I’ll leave you with this: Tomorrow, I am heading south to attend the annual ASMBS convention in San Diego, California with my friend and business partner, Dr. Connie Stapleton (The Doc). We are fired up and ready to bring THIS life-and-death message to doctors and healthcare providers.
In no uncertain terms:
- You MUST talk to your patients about the very real dangers of alcohol consumption after weight loss surgery.
- You MUST educate them on how their new bodies will process the toxins in alcohol.
- You MUST let them know that therapy is okay.
- You MUST let them know about the potential for cross-transfer addictions. And finally,
- You MUST let them know it again, and again, and again.
You know my position on this:
- We must stand together as a community and support our brothers and sisters who are struggling with addiction (or whatever you want to want to call it) after WLS.
- We must bring a united message of hope — not judgment or condemnation — to those who would confide in us about their private battles with food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, etc..
- We must not fear the truth, for those who follow in our footsteps will demand better of us.
I am on the front lines…ready to do what it takes to shine a light upon the dark secret that is not-so-silently killing people in our community. I hope you will join me.
I will keep you posted on my friend’s condition, and update you on the feedback we get at ASMBS. In the meantime, thanks for your support and prayers. We ALL need and appreciate them.
RECOVERY FROM OBESITY: Learn About the 12-Steps
Reality: It Does Happen.
Today’s posting is going to be pretty raw, but then…the content is pretty raw. This is serious business and, well, there really is no good way to say it. Some of you will reject what I’m saying with a “It can’t happen to me,” reaction; others of you will say, “There she goes again. Overreacting.” I can’t change that. But, I can hope to reach those of you who are willing to set aside your feelings about the subject long enough to hear the truth.
Let me begin by saying, those of you who know me well, know how passionate I am about people having the information they need to make wise and healthy choices. I am rabid about doctors telling patients what they need to know to live healthy, balanced lives after weight loss surgery. I am fervent that, while I am not responsible for the behavior of others, I am responsible for:
1) Informing them if their behavior is dangerous, and
2) Not reinforcing the behavior by turning a blind eye.
Many people are afraid to say something if they know they can or will be judged negatively for saying it. Fortunately, I am not one of those people, because what I am about to say is coming to you from a place of utmost love, concern, compassion, reality, and yes…distress. It would be easy to feel helpless, but I refuse to do that, because I know my words have the power to help.
So, here goes:
Yesterday, I received a text from a woman I’ve known for many years. We worked together about 12 years ago, but have stayed in touch (albeit sporadically) since then. She has always lived her life unapologetically, boldly , fearlessly and without excuse. Though we didn’t always share the same perspectives on things, we didn’t have to justify our choices. We just knew who we were. She is one of the most talented, expressive and “larger-than-life” people I have ever known, and have always felt that my own daughter is cut from the same cloth. She is Bohemian, eclectic, edgy, ferocious, feisty, in-your-face, over-the-top, brash…and yes, even crass. And you know what? It’s always fit her.
Eight years ago, my friend had weight loss surgery (RNY) and shed nearly half of her body weight. I heard through the professional grapevine that she looked incredible, and…I’ll be honest: I was envious. Fast forward about 2-1/2 years, and I contacted her to ask her about her experience as a post-op. She said, “Rather than telling you on the phone, let’s get together and I’ll give you the unvarnished truth. I’ll tell you stuff you won’t hear anywhere else.” She was right. She was honest, forthright, and again — unapologetic. She said it was the best decision she’d ever made, though the life was no picnic.
That was the last time I saw her (in person).
And then, yesterday morning, at 6:30 a.m., I received a text message asking me if I wanted to drop by for a visit. (???) She said she was at a local hospital (had been for a week) and was a “captive audience.” She then said something very mysterious. She said, “I want to share something with you so you can bring it to your ‘students.’ It’s important and it has to do with WLS…it’s a direct outcome that no one ever talks about.”
My mind raced. “What could it be?” I wondered…I gently asked, “Is it…emotional stuff?” — “No,” she laughed. “I’m not in the psych ward!” I was relieved and thought, “How bad could it be, then…?” I pondered…
And I went to therapy. Thankfully, I went to therapy BEFORE I went to see my friend.
I stopped by Home Depot on the way because I thought I shouldn’t go empty-handed. No matter what she was in for, she’d enjoy some flowers.
I arrived at the hospital and, with only a tiny amount of trepidation, headed to her room. Which, it turned out, was in CCU. That’s right: Critical Care Unit. Now, I have had a LOT of experience with this floor. My dad died there 3 years ago. My brother nearly died there several times. My dear friend (one of my first loves) nearly died of cancer there.
The instant the elevator doors opened, I was filled with that familiar dread. You don’t get good news on this floor. But — I soldiered on because I knew I had to be there for her. There was a profound reason she had called me.
As I made my way past the secured doors….all the way to the end of the hall, I remember thinking, “Wow! Corner room. It can’t be *that* bad…” Don’t ask me why I drew this conclusion. I don’t know.
I walked in and spotted a woman sitting in a chair. I was relieved because, I thought that was my friend, and she looked great. Ahh, but it wasn’t my friend; it was her cousin. I had only to divert my gaze to the form in a reclining chair to see the woman I hadn’t laid eyes on in 5 years. If I hadn’t known who I was going to see, I might not have recognized her, because the person in front of me was completely foreign. Her hair was matted and thin; she looked gaunt and pale; she had black and blue marks beneath her eyes and on her arms, and she had the proverbial wires and tubes protruding from beneath tape on her hands and chest.
This was not what I was expecting.
On any level.
She greeted me in her usual way: “Welcome to the penthouse! Sorry I can’t get up, but I’m in liver and kidney failure.”
As I type that, my heart leaps to my throat again, and I am fighting back tears. These are stinging tears of anger and injustice. “Why was this happening?” I demanded in a brain that couldn’t began to wrap its arms around the situation that presented itself.
She said, “Sit down. I’ve got a story for you. It’s something you need to share with your people. You need to get the word out there because doctors aren’t saying it.”
She has cirrhosis of the liver and it is bad. My friend needs a liver transplant or she will die.
Why did this happen? Easy. Because no one told her that 1-2 glasses of wine would kill her. Before surgery, she enjoyed drinking. She’ll tell you — she loved mixing exotic drinks, living high and celebrating with her friends. After surgery, she did what she was told: She cut back on her food and drank IN MODERATION. After all, there is nothing wrong with a little wine. It’s harmless and sophisticated. Besides, if someone tells you you CAN’T DRINK, then it becomes “forbidden fruit…” and we can’t have that. We can’t turn something “acceptable” into a tabu. Once we do that, we start to label people and say that they are “bad and wrong.” And — If we’re not careful — we begin to call them addicts, which only means they are “lazy,” and “out of control.” So, best to just avoid that slippery slope by telling people that alcohol is okay after weight loss surgery: IN MODERATION (naturally).
Makes sense. After all, I was the modicum of moderation at 320 pounds. I had no problem with the “less is more,” concept.
BUT, not everyone is like me. And, that is why I was told (quite sternly, I might add) that, after surgery, I would no longer be able to…
DRINK FROM A STRAW.
EAT & DRINK AT THE SAME TIME.
DRINK CARBONATED BEVERAGES.
That’s right. These behaviors would…Well…I think the concept is that these behaviors would…Oh yeah, I remember: Make me hungry, possibly create an obstruction AND potentially stretch my pouch. We couldn’t have that, because then it would defeat the purpose of the surgery and I would regain my weight.
As opposed to drinking *a little* alcohol which — if I was told NOT to drink it — could: KILL. ME. Did you follow that logic? I was NOT told NOT to drink alcohol, even though it could kill me, but I was told told NOT to chew gum because it could get stuck, allow more air into my pouch, or — God forbid — make me hungry.
Do I sound angry? I hope so, because I am. I am angry by the cavalier attitude of many doctors who are afraid to draw a line in the sand about alcohol consumption, but have no compunction putting the fear of God into me about gum, straws and soda.
But, should I blame the doctors? Is it their fault? They play a large role in the problem for shirking their responsibility to educate patients about things that can and will kill them, but what happens after that?
I blame a community that reinforces and CELEBRATES the “freedom,” “joy,” “sophistication,” “gleeful abandon,” “merriment,” “enlightenment,”….”fun” of — not just drinking, but drinking to the point of sickness. Why doesn’t the community say something? Because (I am told), you “can’t tell someone what they should and shouldn’t do.”
Oh, really? How come you’re telling me that, as a post-op, I need to take vitamins, monitor protein, and steer clear of processed foods that are high in sugar and fat content? How come you can tell me that I must exercise — and then exercise more? Why is that acceptable?
Oh…perhaps it is because we cannot expect OTHERS to do what we ourselves are not wiling to do? Sure, that’s it. I can’t tell you not to drink because I have an occasional glass of wine and — (this is rich) — we’re all adults here.
Well, I have a strong opinion about that. We may be adults chronologically, but many, many — okay — most of us are damaged children. I’ve said it before, I didn’t become obese because I was emotionally stable. What do you think Dr. Connie Stapleton’s new book Thriving! is all about? Abuse. Neglect. Addiction. Horrible things. Traumatic things that we tried to eat away because it was all we could do to survive.
What is alcohol, then? Why is it something to turn to when we are “on vacation,” or “celebrating a holiday” or having a “special occasion”…?
Short answer? IT’S. NOT. OKAY. It’s a drug. Plain and simple. And I am not judging anyone who uses it. I am warning you. It kills. If you have had weight loss surgery, and haven’t had a drink — “YET” — don’t start. If you’ve experimented — STOP. If you’re doing it regularly – GET HELP.
That’s it. Nothing more. If you don’t like what I’m saying, I understand. I don’t make the rules, and there is a lot of conflicting OPINION out there. But this is fact: After weight loss surgery — particularly after gastric bypass — we are rewired..bypassed…altered. Where do you think that alcohol goes when you get that immediate “high”…followed by an “all-too-fast” low?
Hey, I’m not a doctor, so I can’t give you the specifics in medical terms. But, my friend can. She can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about organ failure. She can tell you in great detail how it feels to have a body that will not process toxins, so it holds onto them..in her legs…around her abdomen…She’ll tell you how she gained 30 pounds of poison in 1 week. And then she’ll tell you about all of the inconclusive tests that were run, how her veins collapse from all of the poking around and dehydration. She will tell you how the first doctor who came to visit her called her a drug addict and alcoholic. She will tell you how they can’t seem to get her meals right, so instead of cottage cheese, fruit, peanut butter and celery (which is what she requested,) she gets spaghetti and meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a burrito. Oh, plus “diet pudding,” that she has decided is really just lemon flavored petroleum jelly.
Then, she will tell you that she can’t tell her boyfriend the truth of her circumstances. Because it would be too painful. FOR HIM.
Think I’m judging you for drinking? Okay. If you must.
Think I’m judging HER for drinking? That’s a little harder to justify. Don’t you think?
Here’s the bottom line: My friend called me because she doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else in our community. Yes, she feels betrayed by doctors — but more importantly, she can’t understand why this community celebrates alcohol consumption. She knows that I am vocal advocate for living a healthy and long Bariatric After Life™ — and she is right. So she asked me to carry her message forward.
If this post stops even ONE PERSON from drinking. If this post encourages even ONE DOCTOR to speak to a patient about alcohol after WLS. Then, the potential backlash will all be worth it. Heck, even if that doesn’t happen, I will not stop speaking this truth because the guilt of knowing that I COULD have done something, but didn’t would be too much to bear.
Thank you for reading and I sincerely hope you choose life over that next drink.
Ever read the directions on the shampoo bottle?
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.
- REVERSE 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:
Obesity is a Gun
Pointed at Your Head
Don’t like guns? Don’t like that imagery? Good. You’re not supposed to – because there is nothing safe or pretty about obesity. It kills.
In case you haven’t guessed, this is going to be a very serious, but very necessary post. You see, I’m a straight shooter and I’m pretty fired up about a few things that I’m witnessing in the bariatric community. But don’t think that I’m taking aim at anyone in particular, because I’m not. I am simply calling the shots as I see them, and I absolutely know that anyone who ignores the truth will eventually have to face the charges.
If obesity is a loaded gun, then the caliber of the round in your gun is relative to the caliber of your obesity. Thus, if you are super-morbidly obese, you are looking down the metaphorical barrel of a .50 caliber, semi-automatic machine gun.
But it doesn’t end there. In addition to the “obesity” round loaded in the chamber, you might also have other rounds of ammunition – one for each co-morbidity. In other words, one bullet for diabetes, another for high blood pressure, another for physical limitations, and so on. Over time, some obese people will end up with a round in every available chamber, while others will end up with a single open chamber. Either way, the odds aren’t good because whatever that pre-op (or pre-weight loss) gun looks like, it’s pointed directly at your head.
I don’t know about you, but I spent my obese life hoping and praying that the gun “wouldn’t go off.” Every morning I squeezed the trigger and prayed for a misfire.
Am I on target with my description so far?
Finding Yourself in the Crosshairs
I know what you’re saying – what does this have to do with me? Well, keep your eye on the target because I’m going to make my point right now:
After gastric bypass surgery, I got to swap my high-caliber firearm for a smaller (less deadly) weapon…but I was forced to keep a single shot for obesity loaded in the chamber. In other words, though the odds of “survival” are much higher for me now, I (like every other post-op) will always be at risk for relapse. Which would be bad enough, except that…for many post-ops, the remaining chambers of the gun won’t stay empty; they will be reloaded with bullets like alcohol, smoking, promiscuity, gambling, or eating disorders; instead of someone else holding the gun, they’ll hold it to their own heads and bet they won’t pull the trigger. They’ll play the ultimate game of Russian roulette.
In other words, if you’re a post-op who drinks alcohol, makes poor food choices, indulges in unhealthy foods, doesn’t exercise, or generally ignores the program, then you’re fighting a duel between you and yourself – and that, my friend, is a duel to the death. Don’t tell me that alcohol isn’t a danger, because it is – especially for an altered body and an unaltered mind.
Knowing this, why would anyone rearm themselves with a loaded gun? I mean, knowing that we are truly given a second chance at life why would we be willing to throw it all away for a “good time”? It just blows me away to think about it.
If you’re wondering why I wrote about this today, I’ll tell you: This past weekend in Las Vegas, I saw a lot of post-ops with guns blazing. I saw people hoping they could keep dodging bullets – even as they squeezed the trigger on excess and addiction – and I saw new or insecure post-ops getting caught in the crossfire. There was a lot of drinking, gambling and overeating.
It was a bloodbath and there were casualties…which breaks my heart.
You see, I’m not bullet proof, and neither are you. Ironically, I will catch a lot of flak for daring to discuss a loaded subject like this, but I’d rather speak my peace and lose the battle, than be quiet and lose the war on obesity.
I had surgery to save my life; I didn’t have it so I could get drunk faster, or take a vacation from healthy eating, or pretend that good health will just happen. Unhealthy behaviors are unhealthy and trying to convince myself that “I’m entitled” or “I deserve it” or “I should and ought to” or that no one can tell me how to live”…are loaded ideas that will backfire on me. Every time.
Dodging that Bullet
If you have placed yourself squarely in the crosshairs by drinking, smoking, making poor food choices, hanging out with negative influences or pretending you’re wearing a bullet proof vest – it’s not too late to “unchamber” that round.
You and I bear the wounds of a common enemy. Obesity found its mark over and over in my life and I refuse to get picked off again. I hope you’ll join me and holster your gun.
Hitting the Mark
Not sure how? Stop shooting, take cover, and stop reloading your gun. If you are taking on shrapnel with cross addiction, depression, or even disillusionment, and can’t seem to hit that healthy target, please seek help from a professional, therapist/counselor, clergyman, family member or trusted friend. Stop self-inflicting your wounds.
We don’t need more casualties in the war on obesity. What we need is people on the front lines who aren’t afraid to stand their ground, so that those who fall in behind us will find shelter of their own.
Pulling the trigger
It’s your gun. Are you going to reload, retreat or recommit? That’s entirely up to you.
Being an addict is like drowning in a sea of…well..poop. Let’s just keep it “clean”…My business partner (Dr. Connie Stapleton) likes to use the “formal” word to describe it, but I won’t (because my mom reads my blog.) Anyway, it’s like being up *that* creek without a paddle.
When I was actively participating in my binge addiction (read: feeding it), I was drowning in that familiar “geographical creek” we all know and hate…I was in way over my head. I wanted help, but knew that no one in their right mind could understand:
- why I was even IN this pooh-pool to begin with
- why anyone would willingly venture in to save me
- why I thought I couldn’t get out by myself
- why I thought I deserved to be there
- why it looked like I was “enjoying” myself (many believed I had obviously “chosen” to be there.)
That last one is tricky, but it’s unfortunately a common perception about addicts (that they choose to remain addicted, despite the consequences), and while that is true (on a primal level), perhaps they are there because they don’t BELIEVE they can get out of the muck (if they even deserve to).
I don’t presume to know the answer to that one, but stick with me because this is going to get a little DEEP…
At some point along the journey toward recovery, every addict is faced with the truth of his or her circumstances and is forced to decide what to do about it. Many will choose to do “nothing” (in other words, keep drowning), but others will decide that they WANT to be saved, even if they aren’t sure how or IF they can do it.
In my case, the moment presented itself post-surgically, after the honeymoon, when my ghrelin (hunger hormone) returned with a vengeance. Up to that point, I was convinced that, thanks to my excellent new behaviors and habits, I had kicked my carb addiction to the curb and would never have to do battle with it again. Why would I? I had no cravings and just felt…great.
How wrong I was.
You see, my addiction was NOT strictly physiologically (chemically) based…nor was it strictly psychologically (behaviorally) based . It was environmentally, conditionally, reactively and habitually based…which meant that, to simply “fix” one aspect was not to address the full scope of the problem. Thus, *just* removing the physical craving wouldn’t eliminate my addiction, especially if I wanted to transfer to something else (like shopping or drinking). Ultimately, an addict is an addict is an addict and, as I like to say, you can be addicted to pocket lint if you want because it’s not the substance; it’s the behavior.
Meanwhile, back in the muck, with my old foe back in my face, I was struggling to remember to at least keep my mouth closed while drowning in my addiction — something I failed at much of the time. And then one day, I removed myself from the sludge and struggled to the shore.
There I stood..stinky, sad, weakened and afraid. Until something caught my attention: RECOVERY. Yes, recovery. It was a shining city…on the other side of poop creek. It was HEAVENLY and sparkly and there were lots of happy people there. I wanted to be one of them…but I wasn’t sure how to get there.
“There MUST be an easy way to cross,” I reasoned. “They must have crossed a bridge or flown in a helicopter,” I surmised. Obviously, they hadn’t waded through that body of filth to get there because…they all looked so clean!
So, I spent time studying the creek and the island of recovery on the opposite side. I looked at the creek, and I squinted at the land of recovery. I yelled to the people on the other side, “Can you help me cross?!” I asked. “How did you get there?” I called. Each of them answered the same way, “You can’t get here alone, but no one can do it for you.”
What in the world? Was I living some Buddhist Parable??? Were they telling me that salvation from my binge addiction would only be found in some imponderable mystery?
In a word, “Yes.”
In another word, “No.”
I hollered again, “Can I get to the other side of this creek?”
The answer was unanimous (and loving): “YES! You can do it in just 12 little steps…”
Ugh. Not THAT. Anything but THAT.
So, I tried it my way. I walked up and down the shoreline (wasting at least 1,000 steps)…looking for a narrow spot in the creek where I could wade across and not be swept away by the strong current of addiction.
It didn’t exist.
I fashioned a canoe of ignorance. But I lost my paddle, found myself in rough waters, overturned my boat, and found myself back in WAY over my head.
Eventually, I realized that there truly was only one way for me to cross the river of addiction and get to recovery isle: I would have to follow the steps…just like everyone else had.
I began with the ones I already knew and quickly found myself waist-deep in the goo. And then I decided that I didn’t need *all* of the remaining steps, so I tried to just dog-paddle the rest of the way. No luck. Nearly drowned. Again.
I tried again. This time, I closed my eyes, held my breath and waded in…I was there for what felt like an eternity. Until I got so scared I had to turn around and go back to the place I knew…sure, it was addiction, but it was comfortable. I was familiar with it. I knew what it felt like, and, even though it was yucky, I remembered the “good times…”
And then something strange happened…I came to the sickening realization that, before I’d given up on myself that last time, I‘d nearly made it to the other side. Did you hear me? I had ALMOST MADE IT, BUT HAD GIVEN UP. Why? Bbecause my eyes were closed and my nose was plugged and I couldn’t see how far I’d come. All I knew was, I was over my head and wasn’t sure if it would get deeper before it got better. So I cut and run. I was more than halfway there when I turned around and came back!!!
Exhausted (and disgusted with myself) I called out to my new friends, “HEY! Why didn’t you dive in and save me? Couldn’t you have dragged me to the other side with you?!”
They calmly whispered, “No. You must do this for yourself,”
This made me very cranky…so I pouted a bit and acted out (like a 5-year old) and drank stuff that I shouldn’t (cappuccino martini anyone?) and ate stuff I didn’t need (I’ll just have one…) and felt…miserable. What was wrong with me? Why weren’t the old ‘tricks” working? Why didn’t I feel BETTER (like I used to?)
Easy: I tasted recovery…I saw what it looked like and knew that I could never be truly happy unless I lived there.
Back into the brackish sludge I went. Taking the familiar steps. Plugging my nose. Closing my eyes. Shutting my mouth. One step at a time. And one day…I noticed that my head was above the muck and the grime. I was emerging on the OTHER SIDE OF THE CREEK. I was nearer than EVER to recovery.
And I stopped. Dead in my tracks.
What if I can’t make it? What if I get there and then fall back into my addiction? What if…? What if…? What if…?
There I stood. Muck up to my ankles, stinking to high heaven, shivering and weak…but then…I looked back over my shoulder at the life I’d lived in addiction. In that moment, I realized that I couldn’t go back. Oh, I don’t mean it wouldn’t be “possible,” I mean that, emotionally, logically, rationally…experientially…I couldn’t do that to myself again. I knew the pitfalls. I knew the stench, the sickness, the despair. If I attempted to do the “familiar old things,” the price tag would be even higher than before, because I now knew exactly how much it really cost. Ultimately, it would just be foolish on every level. Talk about burning a bridge! There was only one way out; FORWARD. I had to go through it…to get through it.
You know what? With a deep breath of accountability and commitment, I took that final step and reached the island of recovery. It felt good. Unbelievably good. Peaceful. I exhaled…and then I waited. At this point, I haven’t ventured far from the shore, and the temptations of addiction still lap at my feet…BUT, I am committed to being healthy…to being here…to living with others who have shared my journey. To living a LIFE IN RECOVERY.
As I look behind me, I see hundreds of people who are also drowning in addiction. I see hundreds who don’t know help and hope exist, and I see hundreds who are trying to convince me they are “just swimming.” But, for every hundred who won’t ask for help…I find one reaching out for the answers. Looking for hope. And that is why I do what I do.
I now know what the recovering addicts mean when they say “you can’t do it alone but no one can do it for you.” I also know what they mean by, “You can’t keep it if you don’t give it away.” To maintain my recovery, I must share my news with all who will listen — and even more who won’t. Not because I foolishly believe I can “save” them, but because I know that, eventually, some of them will realize they can save themselves.
The moral of the story is this: Addiction is crap and it stinks. BUT — recovery is there for the taking, if we are willing to trust the process, wade through the stench, and reach the promised land on the other shore.
Are you in over your head? Are you afraid you can’t make it? Trust the process and keep moving forward. You might surprise yourself.
A (Not-so-brief) lesson on PERSONALITIES (aka “Better pull up a sofa and some protein before you read this.”)
I am a study in contrasts. I am a black and white thinker who loves to live in the grey area. I am all or nothing, but want it all. I am happy-go-lucky, and I am a worry-wart. I am optimistically pessimistic. I am positively negative. I am certain I can do anything but afraid that I can’t. I hate being a procrastinator so much I bought a book to fix it…and never finished it. I am the most social loner you will ever meet. I need to be loved deeply but don’t love deeply, unless I love you deeply. I forgive everyone but myself. I plan everything – including spontaneity, which I dislike. I’m sure I can go forever; until I stop, and then I’m sure I’ll never start again. I can be deeply shallow and deeply deep. I forget to remember things that I remembered never to forget, and I remember things that I was supposed to forget. I remember things exactly as they weren’t and have a hard time remembering things as they might have been. I laugh as hard as I cry and often cry laughing. I am skilled at making people laugh and am equally capable of making them cry (but, as an adult, have learned NOT to do that). I am impatiently patient and patiently impatient. I go when I should stop and stop when I should go. I believe that if less is more, then more is better and less is just unnecessary.
When things happen to me, I’m convinced that I deserved it, but I am frustrated when I don’t deserve what happened to me. I love to be the center of attention, but hate parties. I need to be alone, but I hate being lonely. I am an enigmatic foregone conclusion.
I am maddeningly complex, yet deceptively simple.
I am a sanguine. Ahhh, but it’s not that simple. You see I also have a “melancholy” side! What that means is, my “happy” car will be traveling down the road of life (without a care in the world) and then SUDDENLY (without warning, I might add), I’ll hit a patch of “sad” and my happy car quickly hits the sad skids. I hate it when that happens and…gosh..I never seem to see it coming. So, this means that I am a certified Sanguine-Melancholy (not to be confused with a melancholy-sanguine, which is an entirely different animal).
WAIT! Right about now, you’re probably asking: “What the heck is this ‘sanguine-melancholy’ junk?” Well, if you must know, “Sanguine” and “Melancholy” are two of the four temperaments (also known as humors) identified by Hippocrates (many moons ago.) In those days great thinkers were convinced that each personality type was directly connected to a surplus (or deficiency) of a particular bodily fluid (e.g., blood, bile or phlegm. Sorry, but it’s true), and that balancing these fluids would make people more emotionally stable. These four temperaments (sanguine, melancholy, choleric and phlegmatic) were widely accepted as a complete way to define every human being…until the early 80’s, when one was added to the mix (supine), but since I don’t know much about it, I’m going to ignore it in this post.
Suffice it to say, I have only my very best friend (Jan) on the entire planet to blame for this maddening (yet limited) knowledge of personality traits, for if she (Jan) hadn’t told me, I’d never have been bothered by it. Likewise…I’d never have been helped. So, you see, having knowledge of the basic “temperaments” is quite useful, because it can really help someone better understand someone else, even if that knowledge can sometimes be painful.
First of all, I’m a big believer in “intention.” Learning these character traits has helped me to better understand people who have different traits than my own, because I can see that my intention for doing something is often quite different than someone else’s. In other words, if I do something a certain way, my intention might be to hurt, yet someone else (or a different personality type) would do the same thing, but instead, be doing it without a thought of whether it will hurt.
Let me get this out there now: Anyone who is not a sanguine or a melancholy is cranky and uptight.
Okay, that’s not “completely” true….Cholerics and Phlegmatics are not (necessarily) cranky and uptight…I just feel that way because I’m not like them. But, it is helpful to note that cholerics (and to a lesser extent, phlegmatics) make the world go around because they keep law and order and make sure that things get done. Heck, they usually MAKE the laws and DEFINE the order. That means: We need them; they are great (and powerful) leaders for lots of reasons, mostly because they don’t allow silly emotion to muddle their decision-making, but also because they tend to be tenacious and energetic. You can see why I have a little difficulty interacting with them…they are
TOTALLY UNLIKE ME.
Hmmm…How can I explain this better? If you think of people like dogs (!!!), cholerics are like a dog that won’t let go of a bone (it IS, after all, HIS). Phlegmatic dogs will bury their bones (albeit, in a secret place) for safe-keeping and future need. The sanguine will loyally follow you to the ends of the earth (without really knowing why) while the melancholy will plunge into an endless fit of despair when you leave (because you are most likely never coming back).
Remember, I’m the sanguine(melancholy) which means that I always want you with me because if you leave you’re never coming back, but if you stay, you need to be nice, and oh yeah, sometimes I need to be alone and I worry that I will hurt your feelings.
Seems perfectly reasonable to me…except that CHOLERICS are the bane of my existence.
There, I said it. Happy?
Just when I think I’ve gotten everything ironed out, I add a NEW choleric to my world and end up going through the whole learning process all over again! To be fair, I can be equally maddening to cholerics, but I am not going to give them equal billing here…on my blog.
Here’s my story: For pretty much my entire life, I’ve been plagued by cholerics…starting with my daddy (who was actually a choleric-melancholy, but don’t get me started on that.)
As a rule, cholerics and phlegmatics approach things based upon what they know to be facts. They are not emotional about decisions; they make them because they are right. (Sounds very fair and reasonable…don’t you think?) They do the right thing and expect you to do the right thing – without excuse or explanation.
I, on the other hand (being the sanguine-melancholy) make a decision based upon how I and others will FEEL about it. (Don’t ask me how I know what they will feel; that’s part of my mystique). And yeah, I agree that it all seems sorta…silly…
After all…we’re talking about validating decision making based upon Fact vs. Feeling.
Given those two options, I’m betting most would choose fact over feeling, but – there’s a little more to it than that.
Let me toss out another metaphor: If we’re talking about cups, the choleric’s cup is always the biggest and is always overflowing. They really don’t consider whether anyone else even has a cup. The phlegmatic’s cup has just the right amount of liquid in it (whatever that amount should be.) The sanguine’s cup is always full, while the melancholy isn’t sure he even HAS a cup.
- The choleric says: Do it my way. My way is the right way and there is no other way.
- The phlegmatic says: I’m doing it this way because it is the right way to do it.
- The sanguine says: I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do and because if I do it, everything will be okay.
- The melancholy says: I don’t even know why I’m doing this…nothing will change, it’s probably not right, and it never will be, besides, someone is probably going to be disappointed with me.
Those are extremes, of course, and you should know that we all have a little of everything in us, so it’s very rare to find a “purebred” anything (though legend holds that they do exist!) Having said that, people do TEND to lean toward a particular trait, and this is what propels us through life.
Are you catching on?
I tend to put my energy into being sanguine, and am always surprised when the melancholy comes to town. I am absolutely withered by cholerics and just don’t understand phlegmatics. When I encounter a melancholy person, I try to cheer them up (even though I am one).
If we’re in the 100 Acre Wood, I am Tigger, Rabbit is Choleric and Eeyore is Melancholy. Perhaps Piglet is Phlegmatic, and Pooh is Supine…but I can’t be sure.
So, why am I talking about this and why does this matter in my Bariatric After Life™? As usual, I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching to figure out why I do the things I do and why I think the way I think. Naturally, this whole “personality trait thing” factored heavily in my processing because I believe it is the key to unlocking my long-term recovery from obesity. i really, really do.
Here’s why: Growing up, my feelings were hurt ALL THE TIME (which is why I ate…to make myself stop hurting). Now, this was largely because I didn’t understand the intention behind anyone’s actions and generally ASSUMED that others were being mean (for no apparent reason!) Through great persistence (and occasional bashing) from my choleric friend, Jan, I now know that when my dad (a choleric) said something was “fine,” he meant just that. In other words, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, so it was…FINE. He wasn’t trying to hurt me or be mean. But, I didn’t know that then, so I ate.
That is because I was NOT fine with this answer, preferring to hear something more definite…like…”It’s GREAT! It’s AMAZING! I’ve never seen anything better.” Of course, a choleric wouldn’t waste time talking like that (unless it were true), but again, I didn’t know that when I was 8! I thought my daddy was tactless and rude, while he thought he was just…fine.
Growing up, I’m sure my over-sensitivity was infinitely frustrating to him. I mean, why should he have to qualify everything with an superlative? (Stupendously Fine! Magnificently Fine! Unbelievably Fine!) Did he really have to take an opinion poll to get an answer he already had? Why did he have to worry about how other people FELT every time he gave an answer? If he wanted to be mean, he’d be mean, otherwise…people just needed to know that everything was: FINE.
But…I wanted harmony, while he wanted productivity. So, I ate.
I wanted peace, while he wanted action. So, I ate.
I wanted happy, while he wanted compliance. So, I ate.
He got mad, while I got hurt. So, I ate.
Sanguines are ALL ABOUT FEELINGS.
Cholerics are ALL ABOUT FACTS.
Sanguines are about MAKING PEOPLE FEEL BETTER.
Cholerics are about MAKING THINGS HAPPEN.
Of course, in those days, I didn’t understand the differences in personality types, and thoroughly believed that everyone should think, feel and behave the same way as I did.
When they didn’t, it short-circuited me. I thought they were doing it on purpose.
The sad part is, I believed it was my lot in life to be beaten up by cholerics…which makes it even WEIRDER to know that I married one! That’s right, MexiKen is a choleric (with a little melancholy thrown in for good measure.) Some would say I’m a glutton for punishment, seeing as how a choleric is like water to the sanguine’s flame, but you know what they say: we marry our dads and I’m no exception.
But really, there’s more to it than that. You see…somewhere, down inside, I am DRAWN to cholerics. I NEED someone who is stronger than me to keep me on task…to make sure I finish stuff. It’s like playing with a tiger: As long as I’ve got him by the tail, I’m okay, but eventually, I might get bitten. (The melancholy in me is certain I will eventually get bitten, but the sanguine is positive I never will…and doesn’t even want to think about it.)
So, I might need a choleric, but does a choleric need me? I mean, why exactly, would a serious choleric put up with a silly sanguine? Easy. Because they need fun in their lives and they can’t do it alone. It’s not how they tick. Imagine the king and his court jester: Make me laugh – NOW. Ha ha ha. Okay, now stop. (Yeah, that’s a choleric). Obviously, there’s a little more to it than that: They love our carefree enthusiasm and zest for life. They love how we can do stuff (without worrying a whole lot about the consequences.) They love our spontaneity. They love our silliness. But, they can’t stand our flakiness and oversensitivity. They can’t stand how we have to decide how we feel before we can even decide what to order from the menu.
Just to complicate things, every trait has its positives and negatives, and negatives from one trait often have negative affects on another (intentionally, unintentionally or otherwise). That’s where it gets really messy.
SO, with that said, can my problem with cholerics be fixed? How do I function in life if I know my negatives might rub someone else’s negatives the wrong way? What do I do if I don’t think I even HAVE negatives and can only see the negatives in others? How do people get anything done if half the population is hurt, while the other half is angry???
Well, I don’t claim to have all the answers (as I am clearly still a work in progress), but what I can gather is this: Each personality trait has to respect the other for both their strengths and weaknesses (that’s number one), but secondarily, all personality traits must work to overcome their own destructive weaknesses so that their strengths can shine through. They must each find a way to be the best version of themselves they can be.
This is a really, really tall order… one which I have learned cannot be handled alone. My personality traits are so deeply woven into my tapestry, only GOD can help me unravel the parts that aren’t stitched well. Only GOD can help me to overcome my deficiencies; only GOD can give me strength when I am weak, and enable me to embrace my shortcomings (without running away in terror). Only GOD can give me the grace to persevere through the harshness and triumph over doubt. Only GOD can give me strength NOT to eat when I hurt. Don’t misread this. I don’t think that God will “do it for me.” I believe that, in my prayerfulness and humility, HE will show me the way, grant me mercy, give me strength and offer guidance. Just like a parent.
Sounds great. How long does all of this work take? Two days? A week? Maybe a year? How about…a lifetime? Yeah, this personal growth is the gift that keeps on giving! Every person on the planet is unique, but I guarantee you, once you know and understand what makes others tick, you can solve (and even avoid) most problems pretty quickly (which can translate into recovery)….unless they are Supine…which I don’t get, so we’ll have to leave that for another post.
At any rate, this has gone on longer than a kinesiological-geometric-chemistry textbook, so I’ll end it with this: Sometimes, personality traits collide in a troubling way, but if we learn tolerance and compassion, we can (and do) work together for good.
Ultimately, we need all types to make our world go around: Cholerics, Phlegmatics, Sanguines, Melancholies, and yes…even Supine (though, I still don’t know what they do).
We need all types to make us laugh, make us work, make us think, and make us dream.
As I see it, my job (as a sanguine-melancholy) is to just do it…without worrying so much about how it feels, whether it’s perfect, or what others might think.
Your job (if you accept the challenge) is to learn more about character traits for yourself! The good news is, there are lots and lots of resources on the web. Heck, there are even TESTS you can take to help you determine what makes you tick (and gain a better understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses.)
Trust me! You’ll get an eyeful (and a brainful).
By the way, sometimes, I misinterpret stuff or just plain get it wrong, so if I mischaracterized something (Jan), feel free to tell me. Just be nice about it. Oh, and I’m eager to hear your personal tales, so if you know who you are, let me know how you’ve learned to be a better YOU! Success is about learning from others, so be bold and share!