I had been working out intensively for two hours, exhausted and fatigued, yet kept going, obsessively counting in the head my calorie intake from last night’s bingeing and calculating the hours required to burn it off.
It had been almost a year since my first bingeing episode, and the occurrence had become more frequent and intense over time. My mind was preoccupied with food most of the time, going through a vicious cycle of binge eating and excessive exercise. I was unable to share my obsession with anyone out of fear of being judged. I alienated myself from my social circle to reduce the risk of being found out. I was isolated, alone, ashamed, and disgusted, silently battling with an eating disorder called Bulimia Nervosa.
I was an addict, addicted to food.
Are you an addict?
Before we jump to an answer, let’s examine what constitutes an addiction. Addiction manifests in any behavior that a person finds temporary pleasure and relief in, therefore craves. In the long term, the person suffers negative consequences from the behavior and is unable to give it up. While addiction is often to substances, it could be to anything that fits the definition – to gaming, to work, to sex, in more recent years, to social network, to Netflix, and psychologically, to attention, even to love.
In his groundbreaking book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, trauma and addiction expert Dr. Gabor Maté writes, “There are almost as many addictions as there are people.” He posits that most of us fit somewhere along the addiction spectrum.
So now, are you an addict?
What need does an addictive behavior fulfill?
When you lose the promotion for which you have been working for the last two years, do you try to understand the reason behind this seemingly unfair decision or do you go to bars, in a desperate attempt to drown the unbearable pain of unworthiness in alcohol?
When you sense your partner’s elusiveness to your seemingly innocent questions, do you try to sit him down to have a difficult but honest and necessary conversation, or do you turn to online shopping as a way of suppressing the pain of negligence and betrayal?
When you snap at your children at dinner table knowing it is your stress acting out on them, do you apologize to your children and let them know parents often make mistakes too, or do you turn on your favorite Netflix series to mute the voice in your head whispering a painful truth that you are not a good parent?
When you fail yet another workout regime, do you try to identify the pitfalls and re-engineer the program so you have a better chance of success the next time, or do you sooth the pain of self-shame with excessive amount of food?
The ultimate question is not why the addiction, but why the pain, posed by Dr. Gabor Maté.
We can’t run away from our pain. We can’t get away with anything.
So, what do we do?
The Canadian clinical psychologist and author, Jordon Peterson advises: “Pick up your damn suffering, and bear it, and try to be a good person so you don’t make it worse.”
In his book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” he talks about how to face the reality of pain and suffering in life.
“To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and mortality are only dimly comprehended. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the ancient language).”
Instead of going to the bar, can we put our ego aside, have some humility, and solicit constructive feedback from our team so we could start to address area of inadequacy?
Instead of logging on Amazon, can we let our defense down, open our heart and be vulnerable, trusting our partner will do the same, both out of love and kindness?
Instead of turning on the TV, can we cuddle our children, admit to them sometimes we are just clueless about parenting, and we seek their understanding and patience?
Instead of binge eating, can we re-evaluate the training program and adjust goals to be more specific and realistic?
Do not run away.
Heal our pain, not with addiction, but with courage, humility, compassion and ultimately, love.