Monday, August 1, 2016

Don’t label yourself what you don’t want to be: Breaking yourself out of the box people tell you to put yourself in

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about addictive behaviors, since my own directly contributed to my recent health challenge, which inspired me to start writing this “holistic health and Buddhism” series.

I have always seen the disease / remission model for addiction recovery as disempowering for two reasons: 1) Asking people to label themselves as lifelong addicts imprisons them in a negative label, and 2) Blaming the issue on genetics or a disease gives people absolutely nothing they can use to change things for themselves.

Any addiction is a coping mechanism for unmet needs. This is why I don’t believe addiction is genetic or a disease. The reason it’s passed down in families is because these behaviors, and lack of education about meeting needs in healthier ways, are passed down generation to generation. Inherited physiological traits, such as a greater sensitivity to the effects of certain drugs that can make chemical dependency more likely, can make it worse, but that doesn’t mean the addiction itself is genetic. Seeing ourselves as having addictions rather than being addicts is not the same thing as denial.

In my third post in this series, I wrote about replacing the word “fault” with the word “responsibility” when it comes to taking ownership of our problems. In my fourth post, I made the point that I’m not out to argue with anyone that I’m right and they’re wrong. Different approaches work for different people. So, you can decide to apply what I share here to your own life, or disagree with me and keep doing what works for you.

So many people discount the idea of sugar as an addictive substance, since it’s something our bodies need a certain amount of, and society’s compassion for any food-related addictions is often blocked by the stigma about being “fat” (which many people who struggle with addictive eating behaviors are categorized as).

Having been “fat-shamed” a lot in my life, by people who look at having extra weight as a character flaw, I’ve found it extremely difficult to talk about this issue. Shaming people who struggle with addictive behaviors is only one extreme; on the flipside, just as invalidating is telling a person “But you’re not fat.”

Please stop saying that. It’s not about whether the person is clinically classifiable as overweight or not; it’s about how the person has come to view herself, and how she suffers as a result of both her own low self-image and the negative image other people have held her to for so long. (This of course can apply to men too; we can easily swap out the female pronouns for male ones.)

What such people need is compassion and empowerment to change, not to have one more person invalidate their experience by telling them what their self-image should be. What saying “You’re not fat” and making light of addictive eating behaviors do to a person suffering with this issue is make them that much more likely to suffer in silence.

Because sugar is not something that can be completely eliminated from our tastes like alcohol and cigarettes can, the best way to overcome addictive behaviors regarding sugar is difficult to determine (and probably different for everyone). Some people treat it like they would alcohol-addiction recovery: They ban all sweet-tasting foods from their lives, call themselves lifelong addicts, go to 12-Step meetings, and treat their sugar-abstinence as remission from a disease, that can come back at any time if they don’t keep reaffirming they have a dormant disease and will always be under its shadow.

Other people see this as unnecessarily dramatic, advocating instead gradual moderation and not placing any more emotional load on the process than we already have.

I’m in the process of finding out what approach is best for me. I know for sure, after sitting through one 12-Step-style meeting last summer, the disease / remission model and calling myself an addict are not it.

Wayne Dyer advises us to only use our “I am” statements forwhat we want to be. “I am healthy.” “I am empowered.” “I am here for help overcoming my addictive behaviors.”

Hear how different that sounds compared with “I am an addict”?

Image: "Thinking Outside," by Karla Joy Huber, 2008; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker

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