Wednesday, August 4, 2010

History in the making

As I was just commenting on someone's blog I found myself reflecting about a concept that my AA sponsor has said to me over the years.  Of course in AA it's all about alcohol, but as I was reading the gal's post, I was reminded of the concept and how it can apply to food and eating as well.  My sponsor calls it "building a sober history". 

When I first came into AA, I'd been using alcohol as:  medication, feel-good potion, escape hatch, pressure release valve, augmenter of positivity, diminisher of negativity, confidence booster, social lubricant, personality improver, validator of my right to be on the planet with the rest of you guys - basically as an all-purpose best friend on whom I could rely for whatever the moment's reality warranted.  I didn't stay drunk 24/7, but I used booze a lot.  Often.  And like any best friend, it never let me down. 

Until it did. 

But being a trusting and loyal soul, I didn't jettison booze out of my life when something didn't go well as a result of its counsel.  I gave it another chance.  And it would treat me well again and so I'd know that the one bad experience was a fluke that would *never* happen again.

Until it did. 

I could continue this dramatic recitation of my personal experience with alcoholism for many pages.  Or I can advise you to hit "replay" countless endless times, and you'll have the tale in a nutshell.  Our stories are many and varied with different props, sets, players, details, plot twists, attempts to quit (also countless), relapses and so on. 

When I finally put down the drink for the last time (several months after I started trying AA), my emotional landscape (after the initial physical withdrawal) became a landmine field.  Little and big explosions all around and within - things like having to remember to sign permission slips for field trips for my kids, a broken washer, the snub of a know, LIFE.  But suddenly LIFE was full-on and not blunted by the warm buzzy haze of alcohol, and it was harsh.  It was happy, sad, maddening, frustrating, PMS monthly (that I never perceived), scary, angst-ridden.  I walked around for the first several months feeling like I was having major surgery with no anesthesia - as raw as an open wound.  And my # 1 go to remedy was no longer available (if I was serious about getting and staying sober).

I'd call my sponsor and complain, moan, whine and generally SUFFER about all the little and big things, and about wanting to just drink, damn it.  I wanted to drink every single day.  I'd say to her (and anyone else who'd listen) "This is ridiculous!  I'm worse now than I was before.  At least I didn't think about drinking when I was drinking, and now it's all I think about!".  She gently said that I was thinking about it constantly because I wasn't doing it.  It's called obsession, and the only way to extinguish an obsession is to not feed it.  If I drank, I'd be reinforcing the obsession so that next time I wanted to stop, the obsession would be a little stronger because I'd fed it previously.  But if I didn't drink and instead went to a meeting, cried, called her, took a bath, made a bed, went for a walk...anything besides drinking...the intensity of the desire to drink would diminish gradually.  For that time in particular, and for all time in general...gra-a-a-dually, slowly.  Think glacial.

And then she'd say, "You're building a sober history!"  Huh?  But as soon as I first heard the words, I intuited what she meant...that I was learning to live life on life terms without the crutch (or the aniticipation) of alcohol to soften all the rough edges.  If I got through one crisis (which could be as small as a broken shoelace) without drinking, I'd have that experience to help me with the next thing, and the next.  The first sober holidays, the first sober seasons...births, deaths, vacations, weddings, in-law visits, ups, downs...all that life tosses up to us - handled sober, rather than in some level of pre, post or during a "load".  Sober history.  I love that term, and my sponsor, Lisa (the one who is still battling lung cancer) is the only person in AA I've heard say it.  She learned it from her sponsor.  It's the notion of life experience informing future life experience, and in this sense - in a VERY GOOD way.

What does this have to do with a weight loss/food addiction blog?  Everything, because again and again I experience or read of others' experiences with getting a few good sane days of healthy eating together and finding themselves suddenly restless, irritable, discontent.  Critical, judgemental, easy to anger.  Fearful.  And the food thoughts start to intrude.  Refrigerator contents mockingly beckon with their empty promises of calming creamy, sweet, salty, crunchy, cold, warm, flavorful emotional salve.  And THIS is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to building a new history.  Getting through an episode of the urge to binge one's brains out, or to have "just 2 cookies" when I've never eaten just 2 cookies in my life but lie to myself that this time will be different, and NOT doing it.  Feed the obsession, you strengthen it.  Find other means of self-comfort that don't involve compulsively mindlessly overeating, and you begin to diminish it.

It's a conundrum that when you stop engaging in addictive type eating, you feel better for a day or two, and then you feel worse.  Much worse.  Emotionally and physically.  Part of it can be physical withdrawal, but much is the fact that when we stop stuffing our feelings, they begin to surface and our awareness of them is acute.  And it's HARD.  And food will WILL help *for a time*.  Maybe just a few minutes, maybe for a few hours.  Maybe until whatever food I shove in gets on board sufficiently to either trigger the desire for more of the same, or another flavor to offset the first (like something salty after something sweet).  And off to the races I go.

So it occurred to me today that I want to build an eating history in which food is used for nourishment and a little pleasure, rather than as a cure-all for the scared little girl inside who really isn't hungry or malnourished.  She's starving for affection, love, kindness, intimacy, friendship, solitude - any number of things that calories can't provide.  And she wants to love herself fully, not just the parts that aren't overweight, weak-willed, anxious and scared.

I've never thought of myself as a pioneer, but in the negotiation and management of my own life, my feelings, my struggles, my character defects and my spiritual development, I really am a pioneer.  No one has done "ME" before, so it's up to me.  I can rewrite the history of Leslie using a softer touch and loving self acceptance.  With a little help from my friends and a lot of help from my God.


  1. Leslie, I LOVE this. Love it.

    I have an alcoholic brother who has steadily gained weight since he gave up the booze and pills many years ago. He needs to lose around 150 pounds.

    Everything you describe here is what I've always felt he's done with food. I swear I am tempted to print this out and send it to him anonymously...

  2. Something brillant is here. I'm flagging this as my post of the day so I will always have it to refer to.

    Truly wonderful insight into what happens when we try to face life "naked".

  3. Leslie, Thank you for this. Substitute food for alcohol, and you have told my story.

    I've marked this post as a favorite--first time I've ever done that! I need to read this again..and again.

    I am a food addict. Nothing could make it clearer than this post just did.

    Now that I've gotten all of the gluten nonsense identified (and it's related cravings left), and have developed healthier eating habits that include vegetables and water and appropriate portions, one thing became abundantly clear and that was my tendency to want to eat in response to--well, everything you listed at the beginning of this post.

    One sentence really struck me, it was when you recounted your complaint about thinking about drinking all of the time, when you didn't think about it before--you just drank.

    I've often thought that, in fact, have written that, when I first started this last weight loss thing. I kept saying, I DO NOT want to start obsessing about food! I didn't before--I won't now.

    Well, I do think about food way more now than I ever did, but I also feel that decreasing some. Unless, I'm stressed...or anxious...or hurt...or.... Well, you know.

    Sorry this comment turned into a novella--but this post REALLY spoke to me. Again, thank you.


  4. I loved this post also! Right on the mark.
    "It's called obsession, and the only way to extinguish an obsession is to not feed it." Wow, and it's so true that while we don't feed it, we FEEL the stuff we were trying to numb previously.

    When I first started blogging, it would drive me NUTSO when people kept posting about how EASY it was... I wish they would read this... it is what I would tell them as to why I couldn't claim it was easy for me!

    In Dr Phil's book The Ultimate Weight Solution, he called it creating a new history. And that we built on it, with every good choice. And that would build our confidence. Same thing you are saying.

    Excellent stuff!!

  5. This is one of the bests posts EVER Leslie! Thanks for sharing yourself with us xoxo

  6. Wow, very insightful! Nice job looking at yourself! I just kept nodding as I was reading. So nice to be aware of how to re-make yourself! To heck with how it was then, this is how it is now. Good for you.

  7. This: " Feed the obsession, you strengthen it. Find other means of self-comfort that don't involve compulsively mindlessly overeating, and you begin to diminish it." - I love. Wonderful, wonderful post, really get it.

  8. This is a great post!!! I will come back to it. A lot to think about!! Thank you!! Hugs!

  9. Leslie this was brilliant!

    I got goose bumps and the hair on my arms stood straight up!!!

    This is powerful and I want to share it with everyone who is struggling with their weight.

    Here is to everyone's new "History" with eating and managing our lives.

    Thank you for this post and sharing your wisdom. It touched me deeply.

  10. Most excellent blog. Reading what you say about alcaholism, and comparing it to food. I noticed a lot of the points sort of remind me...

    Of me. And having a family history of interesting and varied addictions, perhaps I should re-read, and think real hard about this.

    Thank you.

  11. Wow. Thanks for sharing this. I was most struck by the part about how you didn't think about drinking before but once abstaining thought about it a lot. I am sure that I am that way with food. Isn't that why so many people say that "diets" fail? My goal is to get to the place where I don't think about food. I just eat. Good stuff. When I am hungry. I think you will write a great new history for yourself:)

  12. I read this three times...and I'll probably read it three more times. LOVE this perspective....seriously...and love you!

  13. Wow...I'm lost for words, what a powerful and moving post Leslie. You've put everything I feel about food into words.

    This touched me most: "So it occurred to me today that I want to build an eating history in which food is used for nourishment and a little pleasure, rather than as a cure-all for the scared little girl inside who really isn't hungry or malnourished. She's starving for affection, love, kindness, intimacy, friendship, solitude - any number of things that calories can't provide. And she wants to love herself fully, not just the parts that aren't overweight, weak-willed, anxious and scared".

  14. I love this post. The line, "But suddenly LIFE was full-on and not blunted by the warm buzzy haze of alcohol, and it was harsh," is my favorite. Substitute alcohol for carbs and there's me. More similarities than differences. I love your honesty with this post!

  15. THIS IS WHAT I NEEDED TODAY. It really really is. I'm plastering this all over facebook and all over Twitter. Rightnowthissecond.

    You are amazing. You got your guest post drafted? Or shall I just steal this? XOXO

  16. WOW!!! This is sooo true. Thanks for writing this.

  17. Great post Leslie. Struggling with a food addiction is REAL and I was an addict. I look at food as fuel these days and it has opened my eyes and made me feel so much better.

  18. I think this one is your pinnacle of wisdom!! (So far.) Really, Leslie, this is so very insightful!! "A sober history." Like that a lot.

    I need to create a "non-overeating history"! For my scared little girl! EUREKA!!

    Thanks, you're a genius!! I bow to you!

  19. Leslie

    Most awesome post and one I an identify for reasons I can't share here. I will say that I am addicted to sugar. It comforts me and allows me to escape as you so eloquently said in this post. I love "building a sober history". It most definitely applies to eating right and making better choices until you're at the place where TJ mentions... where you look at food as fuel. I'm getting there slowly but it's like you said... I'm building a sugar free history. love your post


  20. hmmm....

    Something brilliant IS brewing!

  21. Thank you for this very honest post. Most people don't equate compulsive overeating (aka food addiction) with alcohol or drug addiction. I believe they are very much the same, and research has shown that they have similar effects, in terms of chemical responses of the brain.

    You just told my good addiction story. I am rather new at "blogging for weight loss." But I have been blown away by other weight loss bloggers who have told their stories in their blogs and continue to do so on an almost daily basis. This has been mostly helpful, but some folks seem to think that because they have been successful at losing their weight, those of us who are in the struggling stages should "just do it." Of course we should, but this is a process, and it needs to play out for each of us, in our own way and our own time. Addiction of any kind is a very complicated, individualized condition. Your post has been an eye opener for me, and in inspiration.

    Again, I thank you for your very insightful post. It has helped me immensely.

  22. Best post ever! Really hits home with me... I know it's a cliche, but I need to reprogram myself to 'eat to live, not live to eat'... Doing well at the moment, and maybe I'll handle my obsession better in the future!

  23. I know there is a lot of meaning in this post and it will take time to absorb it all!

  24. An absolutely magnificent, inspiring and personal post. Thank-you, Leslie for sharing this story with all of us. Reading stories like yours support our journey-each and every one of us. I would say that what we are doing is building our “mindful eating history” every single day we think about what we are eating and why and take the time to enjoy what we are eating. It is a journey of for our life time. Michele

  25. I have hit that replay button in my own recovery. Recovery from drugs and alcohol is much easier then this food thing. At least for me it is. It is just as much a slow suicide from food as I was doing with the drugs. True story. Maybe because really, food is the mother of all addictions.

    When I first got sober that was my one goal. To make better memories for my kids. And for me.

    Such a thoughtful post. Totally relatable on so many different levels. Thanks for being brilliant!