An interesting thing happened on my way to enlightenment last night…
It was my turn to bring up the topic for our women’s group and I chose to start the discussion on the differences (similarities) between and among boredom (as in eating out of), habit, compulsion and addiction. Now, as my group is weight (health)-focused, the natural line of discussion was how these behaviours apply to weight loss/maintaining a healthy weight and enjoying a positive attitude toward food. That being said, our discussion could very well have involved any behaviour, some that come to mind are: drinking, smoking, drugs, sex, gambling, reading, watching TV, crafting, friendship, relationships…really anything that could become a focus for your life.
So, where did we go? We were missing members, so the discussion was more sparse than normal; however, that probably only increased the intensity of the conversation. We discussed, again, the reasons why we eat. Is it because we are hungry? Not for P; not anymore. She underwent gastric bypass surgery some time ago and has now lost more weight than she currently carries! She said that, for a long time after the surgery, her hunger mechanism didn’t work…it’s only now started to return. She had to plan her meals and virtually make herself eat in order to keep her body healthy.
Another member of our group, PH, is currently taking a medication which regulates her blood sugar. As a result (probably), she feels full for most of the day and, in fact, must also think about her schedule and eating to keep her body healthy. Interestingly, she is unnerved by this lack of hunger. I don’t understand. Neither does she. It would seem like that feeling is for what we all strive.
So, the difference between habit, compulsion and addiction? I’m not sure we have a definitive answer. I looked up the definitions in the dictionary and found some clues – compulsion having to do with the irrationality of the act relative to the circumstances, addiction characterized by the presence of “severe trauma” when the substance is withdrawn. As for the difference between habit and compulsion, P suggested that the difference is how we FEEL when we cannot have the object of our desire. When I drive by the Kangaroo and miss my Diet Coke and cherry pie, can I shrug it off and keep going? Then it’s probably habit. I wonder, then, if I stop at the next one, is it compulsion? Do I realize that I’m even stopping? For me, the answer is – not all the time. It’s an eerie feeling to find yourself sitting in front of a store – or more often, at the cash register, paying for merchandise you don’t remember picking up. Risking over-dramatization, it’s like a food blackout.
Many people call the behaviour I am describing as a lack of willpower. The prevailing attitude for those among us who are compulsive or addicted tells us that we just need to stop. “Just do it” “You’ll do it when you make up your mind. You just have to make your mind up.” I call bullshit. If that were what it took, I wouldn’t have made it to 12 fat, much less 42.
So why am I still fat? Why did it take P intensive, partial hospitalization and radical surgery to begin to lose her 422 lbs.? Of the three of us present last night, only PH remembers being anywhere close to a healthy weight. Why did she gain?
The difference between habit and compulsion might have to do with the extent to which it buffers us from, well, everything. Particularly for P and I – what would we be without the weight? We’ve never known ourselves “healthy.” and I would submit that “healthy” applies to emotionally, psychologically and spiritually as well as physically. Without my weight, who am I?
The answer is, I don’t know. I have always believed that I wanted to know. I even wished that I could somehow become anorexic – just for six months or so – in order to shed the majority of my weight. I know it’s not healthy and that’s not REALLY what I want. And I don’t mean to belittle the struggles of anorexia and bulimia. Don’t we all want the opposite of that with which we live and struggle? But what would I REALLY be like both without the weight and living a healthy lifestyle. I would be a different person. A different me…an alternate reality.
Can I do that…can I make this journey? Do I want to? What has kept me from beginning/maintaining momentum the thousands of other times in my life I’ve tried? Is there something wrong with me? Am I a bad person for being obese? For not doing something about it when I was 11. or 15. or 20. or 30. or 35. or 40? Can I start this journey at 42? Am I breaking habits, compulsions or addictions? Or all of them? Will I know where I want to be when I get there? What if I am still a mess?
More questions than answers…I guess this is a way of searching for those answers…