I started smoking when I was 16. When I was old enough to drive myself to the places I knew would sell me – an underage buyer – cigarettes. It took a couple of years for it to turn into an addiction, but by the time I quit at age 28 I was working on a solid pack-a-day habit. (At this point I like to clarify that I did NOT smoke in my house – like that makes me some sort of saint – because it makes me feel a little better that I succumbed to such a disgusting habit for so long.)
I still say quitting was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I look back on the week after my last cigarette and see nothing but anger and frustration and hurt and that did not even begin to fade for several weeks. After many failed attempts I knew what to expect, and I planned it so that the first week would be a week E was visiting his Dad so that he would not face the brunt of my pain. Unfortunately, I was captain grumpy pants for a long time after he returned. Quitting smoking made me ugly and irritated and angry ALL THE TIME. It’s no wonder no one just kicked me out of the house in protest.
I was quitting so that Donnie and I could get pregnant and so – ironically – I gave up my stress-coping vice just in time to enter what I refer to as the Reproductive Nightmare years – the peak of my lifetime stress. I successfully had two kids, but not without many miscarriages (one that occurred at home and was predictably traumatic), D&Cs, a diagnosis of endometriosis and fibroids and cysts, and an eventual end to the journey after a miscarriage in 2012 nearly broke me beyond repair. Break up those 9 stressful reproductive years with some dead pets, some layoffs, and losing my Dad and you can see how I ended up replacing cigarettes with food as a coping device.
Or, if you have an addictive personality you could see it. I know not everyone does, but that idea is so foreign to me that I forget those people exist.
Finally giving up looking at my body and food as something a “diet” can help, and looking at it more like an addiction, is something that has helped me work on the root of my problem: An unhealthy, addictive, and dependent relationship with food. Instead of focusing on my weight or calories, I focus on my emotional relationship with food and my addictive behaviors surrounding food. Lately, I’ve noticed nighttime is the roughest time. And I consider “nighttime” the point at which I’m “done” with my day. When I used to work in an office I would sometimes drive by a grocery store on the way home and grab groceries PLUS something to binge on in secret in my car. Sometimes it was chicken tenders, sometimes it was a 6-pack of donuts, sometimes it was a small cake. It was never a small enough item to justify calling it a “snack” and always big enough to make me feel kind of sick since I wasn’t ever even hungry. Then I would go home and cook dinner and eat like a normal person until maybe I’d make a bowl of cereal when no one was looking or I would hide in the closet and chomp a bunch of Oreos before bed.
So, while I do think about food all day, the point at which I’m “done” with my day until I go to bed is the most difficult time for me to make good decisions surrounding food. And if I’m not eating, I’m drinking which is no better, so I’m trying to manage that as well. It’s like the end of the day is when my brain just starts cycling through what has to be done the NEXT day or what I didn’t get done THAT day and I just stuff my face or drink to drown out the thoughts.
I have gone through all of this boring exposition to tell you that retraining an addict brain is VERY DIFFICULT. Twice this week I’ve wanted to binge at night and instead I’ve just gone to bed early. Like, 7pm early. And there’s nothing wrong with this, recovering addicts spend a lot of time in bed, but holy shit it’s like I’m just facing my darkest demons and I’m still so very shocked at how much control food has over my life. And alcohol to a lesser extent. I’m trying to keep beer as a thing I drink on “special” occasions (like when we go out to eat) but last night I caved and had one of Donnie’s crappy Modelos and JEEZUS. I drank one beer and I couldn’t even make it a GOOD one? But after that I just went to bed because what I really wanted was to drive down the road for some ice cream and donuts.
YES. I SAID, “AND.”
I notice this is easier to fight when I’m in Knoxville because Mom’s condo is a new environment and my bad habits don’t have any triggers there. I don’t even buy alcohol for her fridge and I seem to settle in with a nighttime tea habit okay. But that doesn’t work in Huntsville. Nothing works in Huntsville but going to bed and turning off my life. Donnie will act disappointed that I’m going to bed so early and I want to scream, “IT IS BED OR I DRINK ALL THE BEER AND EAT ALL OF THE FOOD AND THAT WILL MAKE ME HATE MYSELF AND I AM TRYING TO BREAK THE CYCLE AND I JUST WANT TO HIDE UNDER OUR BLANKIES WITH A SILLY BOOK OKAY.”
There’s no point in this other to say it’s hard. Harder than it ever was to count calories or measure carbs or protein or fat grams. Harder than it ever was to focus on deficit eating to fit into my wedding dress. Harder than it ever was to get lighter for my 100K. Harder than it ever was to beat the cutoffs at my hardest 50K. Trying to break addictive behavior with food is emotionally exhausting and do you know what I do when I am emotionally exhausted? I EAT. DO YOU SEE THE PROBLEM HERE?
It’s just that – even though I’m 100% making progress and seeing changes in my body and my mind – I still think about food all the time. If you see me and I’m not eating? I WANT TO BE EATING. I wanted to be eating all the donuts on the table outside at the church we went to for my niece’s baptism, but I was not even hungry! Donuts are my weakness and but I knew that we were literally on our way to family brunch where there would be much better choices to nourish my body and I wasn’t even hungry yet since I had just eaten breakfast and WHY DO I LOVE DONUTS SO MUCH THAT THE SNEAK INTO MY BRAIN WHEN I AM NOT EVEN HUNGRY.
So, I passed the donuts and instead I put on my grumpy pants and couldn’t shake it off for a little while and my daughter thought I was upset and really I was just mad that I am so addicted to donuts and it was just a terrible cycle that took a bit to wind down. Now, it eventually did, which is progress, but it sucks that my emotions are tied so closely to food. I ended up at brunch drinking water only (NO BEER) and had some delicious bread made by a local artisan and some WONDERFUL falafel patties and it was all so much better than donuts without the emotional leashes.
AND YET. Last night? I was thinking about donuts.
I just long for a day when I can be hungry, have ONE donut and enjoy it and then MOVE ON WITH MY LIFE. Maybe that will never happen, although I am seeing changes in my brain’s reaction to food triggers so I’m optimistic. I just wanted to document how HARD this all is. I’ve been writing about success and those are there, but jeezus it’s a constant uphill battle to those successes and I just want to make sure I document that so that I don’t make it look too easy. It is not. At all.