Trapped in the Dark Alley of Food Addiction?

Trapped in the Dark Alley of Food Addiction?

Have you ever take a wrong turn? Maybe you were 5 minutes late and your hunch that the next street was the right street backfired and landed you in an alley with some shady looking characters. By shady I mean varmints—a ragged feline atop a rotten fence hisses a warning, and a half-starved dog with hollow eyes half barks/half growls from its chain in a bedraggled front yard. As you try to back out, you hear a crack, and with horror recognize the outline of a giant tree limb as it crashes to the ground behind the car. You are trapped! So you reach for your cell phone only to realize there’s no cell signal and suddenly your wrong turn has evolved into a very serious situation. On top of that, a hulking figure opens the door of a dilapidated house and peers out at you. What do you do?

Food addiction is a lot like that. One minute you are coasting along, driving the speed limit, obeying the rules that keep you safe, when suddenly a road sign pops up with some tantalizing message and your thoughts run askew. You may not even realize it’s happening until you are well on your way to planning how best to get your fingers on a Big Mac. You fight the urge. After all, you have managed to maintain your sobriety for a few months. But even that thought is deceptive. After all, you “deserve a break today”. You’ve been so good. What’s one Big Mac in the grand scheme of things? And a diet Coke? That almost makes it calorie free. And right after you say “I’d like fries with that!” you are in the parking lot scarfing down that special sauce laden patty and promising yourself it’s the last time. You’ll repent tomorrow. Until tomorrow becomes last week, or last month, and the path to hope is blocked by the giant tree limb of despair. Because the Big Mac wrappers may be safely hidden in the trash can no one looks in, but your pants don’t lie. And no, the drier did not shrink them again.

Food addicts always live in the tension of relapse. It’s not an “if”; it’s a “when”. We avoid our trigger foods to the best of our ability but inevitably the moment arrives when the flood gates of desire break down the dam of resolve and precipitously, we find that we are drowning.

I read a misleading book some years back titled, “The Disease of More.” Eleanor R. (who chooses to remain anonymous) details her journeys through alcohol and food addiction with the help of Emmit Fox and Overeaters Anonymous. By the end of the book she is cured. Initially the book was very helpful to me because her struggles made my own journey less lonely. But at the end, when she revealed that she had “arrived” at a place of full recovery, never to transgress with food again, I felt hopeless. I wondered, will I ever “arrive?” Is that even humanly possible? And I seriously wanted to call Kirstie Alley and ask her how she felt about that.

My heart is always restless, but more so when I am suffering. My body is restless too. I am constantly seeking for ways to cope in this world amidst the agonies it inflicts. Therefore, I sometimes take a wrong turn and end up in an ally with a tree limb blocking me in.

Now maybe you are reading this and thinking, “I don’t know what you are talking about. My life is fabulous. Good job. Perfect husband. 2.5 children, and everything is looking up.” Well let me tell you, “it” is coming. One day you are going to find out life is not “peachy.” One day you are going to take a bite and spit out a mouth full of worms.

It was in that condition I found myself on Sunday evening after a long weekend of weeping. I consumed one chocolate chip cookie. And then another. And that was after the giant bowl of popcorn and the ice cream cones. I had one thought while I was doing it, “I don’t care anymore.” And in the moments when I don’t care anymore, I slip on the lie that food will comfort me and fall further into the pit of despair. Then the tree limb isn’t just blocking me in, it has fallen on my chest and is crushing me.

On Monday morning when I woke up I had to ask myself a very hard question; do I really want to stay in the dark alley of food addiction? This is an important question because for many years the answer was yes. Sometimes we become a little too comfortable in our alley and with the tree that is crushing us. We make a habit of buzzing around inside like a fly in a jar.

“Woe is me!” we buzz.

“It’s not fair!” we buzz.

“God made me this way!” we buzz.

We distract ourselves with the scary cat and the barking dog because we don’t want to face our fears and our feelings. But what kind of life is that?

Tom Hansen illustrated this so beautifully in his book, “American Junkie” about his recovery from heroin addiction. He lay in a hospital bed sobbing because he had been numbing his emotional pain with heroin for so long that when he started to feel again, he was completely overwhelmed. With help from a counselor, he had to learn how to manage all those big feelings without drugs. So do I. And I need help too. My emotional pangs are big and scary. And I am sorely tempted to keep numbing them with food, but every time I do so I simply reinforce the bars of my cage. That is why it is so important for me to face the truth.

Food has never given me hope.

Food has never given me a future I can be proud of.

Food is a faithless lover that robs me of all my joy and peace.

Therefore to choose food is to choose a great lie. And to choose a lie over the truth is to deceive myself. Yes, my body requires food, but cookies, ice cream and popcorn will never feed my hungry soul.

And so I must make difficult choices. Buzzing won’t move that tree limb, but maybe I’ll get somewhere if I roll up my sleeves and begin chopping off smaller branches.

Which is how I found myself on a bicycle and in layers of athletic wear early on Monday morning. It wasn’t easy and I’ll admit I found myself sobbing as I climbed hills and considered the heavy grief I was carrying in my heart. For goodness sakes, we can’t all look like a Nike commercial! But in the middle of facing and dealing with my pain, I remembered that I am not on this journey alone. And what greater comfort is there in life than to know that regardless of how I feel, I never walk(or ride) alone. And thus I remembered one of the promises He gives, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” – Psalm 126:5

“I am sad and my sadness matters.” That’s what I said to the hulking figure poking his head out of the dilapidated house in the alley I found myself trapped in. And do you know what happened next? He leaned out from the shadows and said, “Would you like my help with that tree?”

I learned once again that facing my fears is important because usually fear is just the knee-jerk reaction to pain. Once we begin to address the pain, we start to notice what is causing the wound. And with the wound diagnosed we can finally ask the great Healer to heal it.

At least that’s what the Guy told me while we were moving the tree limb. Because even in the darkest alleys of life, Jesus is there. Even when we are too weak or broken or depressed to invite him into our stories, sometimes he will poke his head out anyway. Sometimes we just need to be brave enough to strike up a conversation.

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