Today we visited a different church at the request of one of Iron Man’s friends. Their son gave his testimony about his experiences in addiction and rehab and then a guest pastor spoke about addictions and our relationships with God. I am not going to go into much detail about the spiritual aspect of the talk (well, maybe a bit) but more about how the sermon spoke to me.
I come from a family of addicts. I often tell people about how the addiction comes from my mother’s genes but after today I think we get it from both sides, and, from within ourselves. I have also found a new meaning of what addiction is to me. I think that in the past I really understood addiction to be something that ruled someone in a way that had negative impact on their life. You know, drugs, alcohol, gambling, smoking. I would even extend it to include video games and food, because in my experience those too could have negative effects…or at least they have in my life and those around me. I was even willing to say that work was an addiction – although I wouldn’t have necessarily associated it with a chemical/psychological response.
I think that after today I look at addiction a little differently. The way the pastor spoke to it made sense to me, as that which we are addicted to becomes something we idolize…in that it take a higher importance in our life than our relationship with God. This of course widens the context of addiction. In this definition I am an addict to many many things. Not least of which is my newfound focus on health and wellness.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not equating doing crack cocaine with doing hot yoga. They aren’t the same thing. But it is a question of how you define yourself, or rather, what you let define you. I shouldn’t be defined by anything else than my faithfulness in Christ and I shouldn’t seek fulfillment or a sense of success in any other place. And yet, I do. A certain part of my health and wellness focus in grounded in a certain amount of vanity. I want to look hot. There is no if, ands, or but(t)s about it. I love looking in the mirror and seeing my legs and thinking they look awesome. And today, during church, I was checking out my definition in my triceps (amazing!)…yeah, vanity. It isn’t completely vain – I want to be healthy, I want to lead a balanced life…because, well, vanity isn’t my only vice.
Let’s start at the beginning – I don’t know what I was ‘addicted’ to as a child. I remembered dabbling in anorexia for about a week in grade 8 but that was more out of desperate cry for attention (I don’t know why I wanted attention) and when I received little I began eating again, because let’s face it, if there is one thing I love, it’s food. And I managed to overdo it a bit at around 13-14 and was quite pudgy but a season on the varsity track and field team rid me of my fat for a while.
As a teen I found meaning in alcohol and sex. I was a functional alcoholic for three years in high school. I was a binge drinker at the time. I drank at least two nights a week to the point of alcohol poisoning, sometimes more. I had my stomach pumped with charcoal at 15. I might have done some drugs, although nothing ‘serious’. And I had sex. I wanted to be loved and boys pretended to like me and somehow that was enough.
In university I vowed a new start and decided that the sex thing was a little sad and pathetic. I didn’t drink much either, mostly, I think, because my liver and kidneys had suffered permanent damage. I couldn’t drink like I used to. I smoked some weed, nothing horrible but still, addiction is addiction. I did however eat, a lot. I managed to put on quite a bit of weight. I had previously been overweight at around 14 but had since lost it. At this point however my metabolism has slowed down and I managed to pack on some ridiculous amount of weight – I have no idea how much since I had never weighed myself previously. I have no real idea how much I weighed at 18…but not the 160+lbs I weighed at 22.
But my other addiction at the time was my unhealthy relationship. I think, somehow, this too is a form of addiction, as masochistic as it seems. And when that relationship crumbled (over the period of a year) I lost some of the weight, but not because I had managed to rid myself of my food addiction – I simply replaced overeating with underrating – so the addiction remained even if the weight didn’t.
As I entered the workforce as a teacher at 23 I found food again and found a sense of peace and comfort in nutella on wonderbread and white cheddar mac and cheese with broccoli thrown in for good measure. Needless to say, the weight came back. I ate and ate and ate. And I found a great new addiction – becoming a workaholic. Not hard to do when you are a full time teacher and a part time Master’s student. So I ate and I worked – and not much else. Certainly no gym time. I also rediscovered pot for a little while.
In January 2006 I weighed in at my all-time high of 196lbs. A time for change and indeed, I did make a change. Lots of exercise and healthy eating and prayer (I had at that point, discovered Jesus) got me down to 150lbs by October. I don’t think I was addicted to anything then. I exercised to lose weight but it didn’t rule me. I ate well to lose weight but wasn’t crazy about it. Really, at that point, my mom was dying and I was just trying to keep my head above water. There was no time for too many addictions (I was still addicted to work) when you are trying to lose weight and watch your mother die. I was treading water.
Then she died.
I was in shock for about a month. I didn’t go to the gym much because I was busy but I ate okay. After Christmas my life crumbled though and I didn’t return to the gym and I rediscovered two old friends: red wine and chocolate cheesecake. I spent a year drinking. At one point, I didn’t go without a drink for 42 days straight. I don’t think I was counting on purpose, I think I counted when my roommate pointed out that I might have a problem. I denied it because I wasn’t ready to face it. I actually didn’t gain too much weight that first year, mostly because I was losing all the muscle I had worked so hard for. But I screwed my metabolism and all my good habits and my body went to mush. But that wasn’t the problem. I was an alcoholic. Two of my uncles were alcoholics. My grandfather was an alcoholic. Now I am an alcoholic. Or I was one. Oh wait, you never stop being one, right? I mean, I wasn’t a binge drinker like I had been in high school. I was very functional. A half a bottle of red a night. Sometimes a little more. Just enough to dull the senses. That, combined with half a loaf of French bread and some brie – my heaven.
So I drank and I ate. And I ate and I drank. At a certain point I stopped drinking every night. I literally had to wean myself off it. I started drinking a little less each evening. I managed to stop all-together. I think I somehow convinced myself that since I could stop it like that, without an intervention or AA or some huge breakdown, that it meant that I wasn’t really an alcoholic. I convince myself of that every time I have a drink now. But just because I have it in check doesn’t mean I’m not an alcoholic. I am. I know it.
I went back to the gym eventually. Suffered an injury that made it tough for a year but I went back. But my eating still suffered. My food addiction is probably my greatest addiction of all. I seek solace in it. I seek relaxation in it. I seek celebration in it. It meets so many needs. And so, having once been 150lbs, I found myself, in January 2011, at 181lbs. Not quite at my all-time high but not far.
And yet, I had NO REASON at all to eat the way I did. I was done grieving my mother. I had a great job. And, I had met my soul mate, Iron Man in 2009. In fact, by January 2011 we were already married. My life was amazing. And yet, I was still owned by my food addiction.
And so in January 2011 I started this whole ‘let’s lose weight again’ thing. And over the course of the year it became this whole ‘let’s find balance’ thing, when I realized that I was too focused on controlling my food intake.
This whole year I have been ignoring one thing. God. I have heard him tugging. I have heard him yelling now and then, maybe even begging for me. I have ignored the ‘voice’. I have no idea why I ignored him. Until today. I think he was trying to tell me that I have been idolizing the wrong thing, even when I thought I was getting it right. I was so proud of myself this year, for trying to find balance, for trying to eat well and not let work eat me alive, for going to the gym when I was stressed instead of cracking open a bottle of red wine (I only did it once this year). But I was still missing the point. My balance hasn’t included God. I haven’t prayed regularly in forever. I don’t read the bible or anything of any spiritual value. I go to church but a lot of the time recently that has felt like a chore. Even my mission trip felt half-hearted this year. I have felt so far away from God even though I knew he was there all along. I knew it was because I was pulling away but I didn’t know why I was pulling. I didn’t want to face that I had just replaced old addictions with new ones. I had replaced overeating, drinking, sloth, overworking, etc, etc, etc…all those ‘bad’ addictions…I had replaced them with fresh fruit and trips to the gym.
Those things are bad. Those things are bad when they are more important to you than God. They are bad when they make you who you are, when they make you feel successful and like you matter. They are bad when you put them ahead of your relationship with Christ. This whole year I said that nothing would get in the way of my health and wellness goals and indeed, very little has, including God. I have spent months now feeling like something was off. Today I figured out what was off. I have been idolizing false idols. I have been seeking fulfillment in places where I won’t ever really find it. If I continue to ignore God there won’t ever be a low enough weight or enough muscle definition to make me happy. Because that isn’t where happiness lives. It lives in Him.
After thought: I realize that about three people read my blog. I get that. I also know that not all of you are followers of Christ. I get that too. But I am, and to pretend I’m not is pretending to not be me. I questioned, for some reason, whether or not to blog about things pertaining to my faith. But really, my blog is just an online journal, a not-so-private diary. My relationship with God is part of who I am and while I would never impose my faith on anyone else, I won’t deny it in my own life.