As I pulled from Spear to Main street headed past UVM “downtown” for breakfast the brown sugar snow caused the mini van to jitter. It wasn’t a full fledged fish tail, but don’t tell my stomach which dropped floors worth as I quickly catalogued the traffic around me and the odds of crashing into the commuters.
Safely on Main I realized how much the not near crash mirrored my thoughts.
After reading for days about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug overdose he was on my mind as I drove. I didn’t know him, or his struggles, but it is hard to imagine that heroin addiction can be much other than an attempt at escape.
It is less legal than prescription medications, and more deadly. But more effective in the instant. It is not quite the same as alcoholism, or food addiction, or cutting, or purging, but all of these things are related. Each of these things are either a numbing of pain, or attempting to feel something other than numbness. They offer us a sense of control, or a break from control, and they release chemicals into our bodies that temporarily take us away.
We are all cars on a snowy road. Some well equipped with AWD and snow tires, but no matter the preparation sometimes the world is going to send in a shit storm, and you have to drive through it.
If you keep yourself away from urban centers you are less likely to take anyone down with you as you fall, but also less likely to receive help from a benevolent bystander.
PSH lived in a large city, but traveled his bumpy road in semi secret. No matter his talents, his esteem, his ability to afford intervention he was just exposed and raw to this shit storm world. He knew that he was risking his life. But at that moment it didn’t seem like there was another option.
For almost two months I have been well medicated and equinimicable. I have few black or blue periods and less escapism through bed, or food, or picking fights. Whatever I do to numb or distract myself has faded into the background replaced by loads of laundry and arriving a week early at school to take my kids to the book fair so eager am I to be a functional mom.
I read that he had good times too. Twenty seven years of sobriety, interrupted by habit forming medication that tipped him off the edge back into the well of addiction. For years he was not a user, but he was always an addict. Every day he had to choose, hundreds of times a day perhaps, not to drink, or use pills, or shoot up. So many times he made the sage choice.
I know, like PSH surely did, that my choices about food, exercise, and medication don’t maximize my chance at a long life, or a quality life. I already have high blood pressure, don’t dance or run or swim. Things that brought me pleasure are off the list for the dual pain of lack of conditioning and unfavorable comparison to times past.
I remember the first time I didn’t put on a bathing suit because of embarassment about my body. Looking back at those extra five pounds now, I find it both comical and sad how I let them impact my activities. They were a mental barrier. That I let become a physical one.
There are plenty of addicts who function at a high level, hold onto jobs, create great art, raise families. The consequences of addiction are often more subtle then a literal broken heart. We may not be great artists like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and our struggles may not incite debate over whether an OD death is tragic, or brought on by your own choices, but every one of us has something to take from this story.
I read that 90% of the world does not struggle with addiction. So their shit storm days must be rare, and a cleanup crew on standby. I think those stats might be off. I haven’t used drugs in a decade, and drink once a week, but consider myself an addict. I am not in those stats, just like I don’t show up in the unemployment numbers, and I imagine if food addiction were tracked those numbers would be different.
I crave food all of the time. Right now as I am typing I am full. Comfortably full from a garlicky kale quesidilla. I still want to be eating. If I were not full I would not be able to form words. Food will be the only thing on my mind. If there is food in my sight and reach I have to use 100% of my effort not to eat it. I might be carrying on a conversation with you at the counter, but I will not know what I am saying.
Last night Steve brought a small bowl of tortilla chips to bed. I don’t particularly like tortilla chips. From the time they entered the room until the time I had the first chip in my mouth it was all I could think about. Nothing else mattered. It would have taken a fire to distract me from those chips. Steve chatted with me about something. I chatted back. I have no idea what we talked about. He settled in to bed. Then didn’t hand the chips over. WHY? I screamed inside. WHY IS HE TORTURING ME? GIVE. ME. THE. CHIPS.
This is addiction.
I believe that not just my physical health but my mental health would completely change if I controlled my eating. So 16 times a day I will make a “healthy” eating choice. Each time I say no to carbs, or whatever is on the shit list my willpower wanes. Finally I have my 17th opportunity and it is all over. The salted caramel gelato has been in our house since Saturday. When I finally gave in to it on Wednesday I was powerless and ate the entire pint. I know, I know, many of you have eaten a pint of ice cream. The sensation of succumbing is what makes this feel like addiction. Not the act of eating.
Knowing the science behind hormonal changes with weight gain, the chemistry of the brain’s reaction to chocolate, and the best practices for maintaining weight loss haven’t helped. What would it take? I don’t know. I can do it for 3 weeks and then I rebound, each time worse than the time before.Tight structure, a clear plan, and tons of support. Plus the desire.
Russell Brand writes in the Guardian about his 10 years of sobriety, and shows a way to sympathy for people who struggle with substance abuse. The help is there, the structure, the path. As he says, it is simple, but not easy. He watches tape of himself smoking heroin and this is what he says:
When I saw the tape a month or so ago, what is surprising is that my reaction is not one of gratitude for the positive changes I’ve experienced but envy at witnessing an earlier version of myself unencumbered by the burden of abstinence.
We are all hopeless. But not necessarily helpless. He writes to drug and alcohol addicts and tells them not to pick up. The bottle, the pill, the syringe. Somehow it is less compelling when it is the fork, the chip bag. This addiction is just as deadly just in a slow, less dramatic way. What is the same is the feeling of impotence and powerlessness, and probably, the short term thrill of the fix.
For me it is all intertwined, the depression, the way food will temporarily jolt me out of it, and has probably sunk me into it. I see depression everywhere. I watch comedians in cars drinking coffee, Jerry Seinfeld’s web series. It is great. Short and funny. Except Jerry. Maybe it is the old “when you have a hammer everything is a nail” thing, but he strikes me as being actively depressed. Speaking with David Lettermen he talks about mortality and fatherhood, summing up…’kids, they give you something to look at.’ I over-relate. The undercutting sentiment that even in a life where everything is in reach, nothing is of interest. And that that lack of interest acts as an invisible fence between you and the people closest to you. Instead of connecting with them you observe them. And despite picking up the comedians for coffee you always drop them off and hit the road alone.
But maybe with a bag of chips.