As I walked out of the donut shop with my bag of five donuts, I looked furtively around to ensure I wasn’t caught by anyone I knew and loved. Let me be clear with you, all five of those donuts were for me and since one of them was an apple fritter which we all know could be conservatively counted as two donuts, we may as well say I was preparing to go home and eat a nice round half a dozen donuts ALL-BY-MYSELF. And I knew that I had to hide this from certain people who know me.
A logical conclusion for one to make is that I was struggling with some kind of eating disorder that included binging. I suppose eating half a dozen donuts is akin to that, but it is also something different than the anorexic binging and purging I did in my late teens. All of the complex messines of body image and one’s value and worth being tied to weight loss/gain were in a separate box. This was outright addiction. I was using. And I knew I was using. As a recovering alcoholic and marijuana addict, my addiction was manifesting itself in a slightly different way, through binging on sugar.
As I walked the four blocks with my current drug of choice-sugar- I was imagining what would happen if I were caught by a particular friend, we’ll call them Sam. I’ve had plenty of conversations with Sam about how even though I’ve been clean and sober for almost 20 years, the current substance I was abusing was sugary food and for me, binging on desserts was using.
I’ve most recently returned to 12 steps meetings after an absence of many years. For those of you who don’t know, the reason a recovering addict may attend a meeting may not be because we want to use again, but rather because it is a safe space to talk about our emotional health with people who understand the emotional landscape unique to addicts. Of course us recovering addicts know better than to say we will never use again, even after 20 years of sobriety. At the same time, I can confidently say that what keeps me from drinking or smoking pot again is the picture in my mind of where that road leads.I know deep in my bones that the 12 step saying “One is too many, a thousand is never enough” is all too real. The rewarding career I love and my relationships would be burned to the ground if I had one drink or one hit off of a joint. But sugar. Sugar isn’t going to sabotage my life in the way drugs and alcohol would.
Having your addiction manifest itself through food is weird. With booze and weed it’s simple- just don’t drink and smoke. But how am I not going to eat? And I suppose I could give up sugar, but how am I never going to eat my mom’s kuchen? I’ve also found that the more restrictive I make my diet, the more I obsess about what I can’t eat to the point where I have to eat it all!!!!!!!!
My response to this puzzle is to learn about the impact sugar actually has on me. I’m reading books and researching what sugar does and in the meantime the words of a therapist who shepharded me through my early years of recovery resurface. “Do it with intention.” So that is what I’m doing. I’m super aware of the out of control feeling I have when I’m standing at the donut counter and don’t really want to be there, but can’t walk away. In that moment, I don’t know how to not order a blueberry fritter, 3 kind of cronuts, something cream filled, and a glazed.
I also tell people in my life, with no shame, what I’m going through. It’s important they know what it looks like when I’m using because they are a line of defense. I clearly ask them for what I need. So as I was walking home and hoping I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew, specifically Sam, I wondered if they would know what to do if they saw me. In my head, I began to construct a hand guide for my support system to use about how to interrupt my using.
Please note, these suggestions were constructed by me and what I needed at that moment. Addiction is such a funny, slippery thing and I know that what I need changed from day to day early in my recovery. Becoming clean and sober for the first time feels like being reborn. I know, that’s incredibly cliched and at the same time I felt like I had to learn how to do everything new again, sober. Even doing laundry. What was I supposed to do at the laundrymat without a six pack?
Also, your needs change as your degree of white knuckling it changes. People often worry about drinking around me or think they have to exclude me from get togethers at bars. I actually really love bars- weirdly, they remind me of my childhood because my parents owned one in the small town I grew up in. Currently in my recovery, seeing someone drink won’t make me drink but seeing someone eat a sweet might make me run to the donut shop. Addiction has no rhyme and reason.
I was also thinking that my target audience would be people who know me deeply and have already had conversations about how addiction manifests itself with me. I’d be cautious about applying this advice to someone you don’t know well.
Having said all of the above, here is what I would want Sam, or anyone else who knew me do if they saw me about to use:
Step 1: Take the offensive substance- the bag of donuts, the bottle of beer, the bag of weed- away!
Step 2: Destroy it. Remove the donuts from the bag and crumble them up in a trash can. Open the bottle and pour it out. Open the bag of weed and dump it in a trash can. No, you do not get to eat, drink, smoke it yourself later. That will enflame the addict’s sense of injustice that other people get to use and they don’t and just make them want it more.
Step 3: Take them somewhere, preferably somewhere outside in which they are moving their body. A walk in nature, or a bike ride to someplace pretty. There is a lot of science that says exercising outside improves mental health.
Step 4: Make a plan. Let them talk about what they’re going through, what they need, and make concrete plans about how they are going to stay sober. Maybe look up a meeting schedule and plan how they’re going to get to the meeting. Have them text you after they’ve been. Make a plan for the next day and the day after. Have them text you a picture of them doing what they say they will in the plan. Again, getting outside to exercise is a great plan!
My friends know that I will try to cancel plans and they shouldn’t let me. I was talking to someone in my support system about plans I had made with someone else. “Do they know about not letting you cancel?” they asked. Addicts are sneaky. It’s important that you can distinguish between your friend’s healthy voice and their sneaky addict voice. Ask them, “What should I do when you’re sneaky addict is trying to get out of the plan we made?”
This is by no means a comprehensive list of ways to help the addicts in your life. Again, addiction manifests itself in a myriad of ways and every addicts’ needs can change from minute to minute. This is what works for me.