Monday, April 29, 2013

Similarities between my addiction to food and drug addiction

David and Nic Sheff

Last week, I started reading David Sheff's book A Beautiful Boy, and his son Nic's book, We All Fall Down. I tried reading both of them at the same time, meaning, read a chapter of David's book, then a chapter of Nic's. But for some reason, I didn't want to read Nic's book. I told myself that the reason was that David's book was well researched and beautifully written. I come from the same generation, and I'm accustomed to reading the concise, descriptive style of writing the elder Sheff displays in his book. The more in-your-face, raw style of his son was jarring to me, or that's what I told myself. My first reactions to books and life situations aren't what they seem at the time. There's often something rumbling underneath the surface of my initial reaction. Usually, it's something I don't want to face.

I wish I could say that since David Sheff is from my generation and a journalist that I identified more with his story. I admire his writing and his dedication to setting the stage, providing the research that is necessary for understanding the most complex pressing social and health issue facing this country right now. And, for the sake of pride (which, as we all know, cometh before the fall), I would like to say that I belong to his group of esteemed journalists. But that would be a lie. My food addiction and extremely low self-esteem obliterated  every dream I ever had of working for a major newspaper or magazine when I was younger. And, he managed to earn a living doing what he obviously loves. That would be another no for me, for the reasons stated previously. And, if that isn't enough, he lives in Marin County (California) with his wife and two children, who are Nic's step-siblings. Yes, Marin County. I don't know if I would have lived there, but if I had pursued my journalism career to the best of my ability, I probably wouldn't have lived in the high crime, low income places as consistently as I had over the past 25+ years. And I probably wouldn't be broke now. However, I still would have been an addict, so my long term effectiveness in the career of my choice would have been questionable.

Even though I am 55 years old, have been married and divorced, raised three children as a single parent and now have a grandson, I realized that I had much more in common with twenty-something Nic than his father. The reason is simple:  even though David Sheff was going out of his mind with worry and doing everything he could to help his son, he doesn't appear to have the same kind of problems with addictions that his son and I have. He's human, that's for sure, and he made plenty of mistakes. But when he discovered that his son was most definitely an addict, he approached the problem in a way that most addicts wouldn't...he gathered up all the information that he possibly could, and he asked for help. Would an addict do that? Absolutely not. No matter what the particular substance or behavior any addict is into, we all share some pretty basic characteristics: denial and a lifelong membership in the I-can-take-care-of-this-myself-so-leave-me-alone club. To sum it up, addicts are people who desperately need help, but they won't get it until some catastrophe, life or mental health-threatening situation happens to them and they have to say, "All right; I give up. Help me."

And sometimes even that doesn't work. I can tell you all about that. I've been in relapse. And, I think, so can Nic Sheff. He has relapsed countless times. Here's a few quotes from his book that echo my thoughts and feelings about myself, addiction and recovery a little too much: 

Page 20, paragraph 8: "Writing my book--finishing it--getting it published--that's like the one thing I have to hold on to. I mean, really, since I was, like, six years old (age four for me, and I was frustrated because I didn't know how to write the alphabet yet), my dream has been to get a book published." Nic's treatment center counselor tells him to stop trying to write and talking about writing and publishing with other clients in treatment. I remember telling sponsors that writing was the only thing I do well, and it's only thing that keeps me sane during recovery. I had a lot to learn.

On top of page 139 is the ubiquitous "your addict is in control" speech. Unlike Nic, I never said anything whenever a sponsor or another recovery fellow ran that one down for me. But inside, I was fuming. I have to give Nic kudos, at least he voiced his discontent to his treatment counselor: "I can't talk about having doubts or anything? I mean, I'm telling you, I'm genuinely freaked about this whole thing. Should I just, like pretend I'm not feeling this stuff?" I always said, "Yeah, you're right." And I still did whatever I wanted to do anyway.

I also heard, "you are not unique, you just you think you are." That really pissed me off. I don't know if it's right, but at times like that, I automatically switch into "children should be seen, not heard" mode and clam up so tight that minutes of silence goes by. What I was thinking was, "Bitch, how do you know what I think? You don't know me!" I don't think saying that to a sponsor is appropriate, however. I guess those "I" ("I feel really angry right now.") statements is better than popping off with a smart-ass remark, which I never did because my mother drilled it into my brain to "be respectful" aka, shut-up-when-folks-who-know-more-than-you-do-are-talking. Hence, the silence. Actually, at the behest of some of my recovery fellows, I did try one of those "I" statement things about how I felt on a sponsor. Her response was, "So? Feelings come and go. They don't matter. What matters in recovery is taking the next right action."  All right? Recovery folks say "take the next right action" a LOT. But what does that MEAN, exactly? I need some definitions for these terms, something I can understand and hang onto. After all, I know I am a low-bottom, gutter level food ADDICT. But what I don't know is how to "do life" without flour, sugar, and excess portions of food.  The problem was, when I did ask, I didn't like the response: "Pray. Make phone calls. Read the Big Book. Write, not your kind of writing (as if "my kind of writing" had the cooties), but recovery writing." Well. That's not a whole helluva a lot of fun now, is it?

On page 177, first paragraph, Nic writes, "As much as I try to just be like everyone else, I always end up leaving feeling hollowed out, fucking gutted--like I need a drink--like I must be some entirely different species from the rest of humanity. I swear, sometimes I really do wonder if I'd be better suited as a hermit living off in a cabin somewhere--away from all people and pressures and judgements and responsibilities."

Yeah. Of course, I would rather have a deep dish pizza with garlic breadsticks or some fried chicken with greens and super-buttery cornbread (even though this kind of food would make me do the "vomitus projectus" thing because of my gastric bypass surgery), but other than being addicted to a different substance, I relate to Nic's sentiments about being better off living in a cabin somewhere 100%. In fact, whenever I read about people being locked in solitary confinement, I would think, what's so bad about that? At least no one would be bothering me. And being like everyone else? Yeah, I've always been hopelessly inept at that. I don't know how to do it, even with people in my recovery groups. I know it's me and my messed up thought patterns, but it's difficult for me to come up with something to say. Someone approaching me and saying, "How are you, Angela?" completely freaks me out. Do I tell them what I think they want to hear or the truth? Like Nic, I've always opted for what I thought people wanted to hear. Life seems so much safer that way.

And finally, this little gem from the second paragraph on page 326: "My whole life I've been looking for the easy way out. It's like I've been wearing those little plastic water wings, pretending that I could swim but never actually taking the time to learn how. So here I am, twenty-four years old, and I can't even swim. The water wings are gone, and I'm sinking--I'm going down and I'm gonna die if i can't get someone to teach me how to swim."

At fifty five years old, I feel exactly the same way. Sad. But Nic pulled himself out. And others have, too. I'm going to have to swallow my pride and ask for help. I have to let someone throw me a life preserver instead of sinking by myself. And also like Nic, I need a lot of help, not only from my food addiction 12 step program, but also from mental health professionals. For people like me with "grave emotional and mental disorders", there has to be more than one source of help: God (of course), my 12 step fellowship (who I will have to learn how to trust), psychiatrists and therapists. After all, it is MY recovery, no one else's. For the very first time ever, I recognize that I need to do this, and to stop being ashamed of the fact that I do need extra help. Thanks, Nic, for sharing your story and helping me see myself reflected in your words.

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