By Mary DeYon What does LOVE have to do with addiction? I once believed love could conquer all—my addictions as well as my Dad’s and husbands. Isn’t that what all...
By Mary DeYon
What does LOVE have to do with addiction? I once believed love could conquer all—my addictions as well as my Dad’s and husbands. Isn’t that what all the songs say? “Love is the Answer, All You Need is Love and Love Will Find a Way.”
Growing up I thought if I loved my Dad enough by being the perfect he would stop drinking and yelling. When I married, I thought if I loved my husband enough by being the perfect wife he would stop drinking, drugging and carousing. But it wasn’t until my second marriage I finally understood it was love of MYSELF that was the answer.
Like many of us I was raised to be a people pleaser. So if I followed the rules and was perfect I wouldn’t get scolded (as much). I relied on my parents for food and shelter and my emotional well-being. I learned early on that life was better when I behaved in a way that gained their approval.
When I entered Catholic school the same rules applied. If I behaved I didn’t get punished. I tried to be ‘good’ but with strict rules at home and school it was difficult to contain myself.
In fifth grade after a bout of orneriness, my teacher broke my arm in exasperation. Weren’t the nuns supposed to be God’s representatives on earth? I couldn’t believe God thought I was so bad I deserved such punishment. Even worse, my mother believed the school authorities when they said I had come to school with a broken arm.
So my love affair with food began there, it was the only thing that never betrayed me. I could numb every feeling of shame and guilt with candy, cake and cookies. I got a high from the sugar and the added weight served as a protective barrier from the world and its pain. As a child I was a victim because I had no control and relied on my parents and teachers for everything. I had no choice but to live under the tyranny of home and school.
On my own in college I became empowered by being able to make my own choices. Sometimes they were the typical rebelliousness of a girl after Catholic school and sometimes I made bad choices like dropping a college class — just because I could.
The freedom was amazing but with this new power came an obsessive need to control. First, with diet and exercise. My weight went up, then down in a continuous cycle of control and loss of control. I didn’t apply this control only to food and exercise but when I married and tried to be the perfect wife. I lived by the ‘70’s Aretha song, “I want to be what he wants, when he wants it and whenever he needs it.”
In my career I worked extra hours to make more sales. All the while tending to everything at home. Living by the words from a fragrance commercial, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and never let you forget you’re a man.”
These things make me laugh now, but they were the early anthems of the women’s liberation movement for those of us who believed them. I loved the accomplishments of being out in the real world. But still felt I had to keep up with the housecleaning, cooking and all of my son’s needs.
Exhausted from trying to control the Universe and not knowing how to continue I finally surrendered in my second marriage only because I could do no more. In that surrender I finally understood the concept of “detachment.” I had heard about it in many Al-Anon meetings. It had never made sense to me before. It felt unloving to detach from my supposed “soul mate.”
What I found in that wonderful place of detachment was how little control I had over how much my husband drank or what he did. In fact, I realized I had no control over what mood my boss was in or how my son would act in school, or how my mother would continue to criticize me. All I could manage was my reaction to them.
I could never control everything outside me enough to get the approval I so fervently sought, the approval had to come from within.
There was such freedom in realizing I could step back and watch all the craziness unfolding before me like watching a movie. I didn’t have to get emotionally involved with any of it. I had so little control over it anyway.
Finally the Serenity Prayer began to make more sense. “Accept the things you cannot change” became my new mantra. Why was that so hard?
This journey from victimhood to empowerment to surrender then enlightenment is the spiritual journey I write about in my book. It brought me back to being able to love myself.
When I felt the true feeling of detachment it was a feeling of being at one with God. But at the same time I was separate and only able to control myself and my reactions to the world around me.
It wasn’t that I was no longer responsible as my husband’s wife or my son’s mother. I looked at them differently and could see they were responsible for their own choices and consequences.
I began to see my son as the man he was growing into instead of a reflection of me and my value as a mother. When he mooned the school bus, I was able to see the humor in it rather than thinking the whole school along with the whole town would think I was a terrible mother because of it.
I changed my focus from counting my husband’s drinks and obsessing over my son’s behavior — to me and what I needed. I honored myself every morning by spending time reading spiritual books, meditating and exercising. Getting centered each morning helped me to react to the day’s craziness from a place of peace. This practice helped me to make peace with God as I realized it was the nun who betrayed me — not God.
Now that I was learning be at peace with most of my life, it was time to make peace with my body. Forty years of my journals showed “lose weight” as the number one goal on any list. No matter what I weighed I hadn’t been happy with my body since fifth grade.
I thought about why a few extra pounds should make so much difference in how I felt about myself.
When friends of mine gained or lost weight, did it make a difference to me? No, they were still my friends. Nothing changed except for my bit of jealousy when they lost weight. Then I immediately wanted to know how they did it.
Food was My Addiction
Why did I have to wear mine? An alcoholic could hide their addiction for years. Maybe then the red nose and cheeks showed up on their bloated faces like W.C. Fields. Even cocaine addicts could pass off their sniffling to a cold or allergies. But when your addiction is food, everyone knows.
Food served me well, comforting me in fifth grade when I was betrayed by the nun and my Mom. It insulated me from the world. Later in life it was a way to make myself unattractive so I wouldn’t be tempted to stray from my unhappy marriage. And, I can never forget the deadening comfort of going comatose from a carbohydrate high.
Food, like cigarettes, had been my friend. But food is not like cigarettes. You can give up smoking, but you have to eat.
Many times, with countless diets, I tried to starve my body into behaving—but it was useless. For example, there was the “Eat whatever you want” diet, which my son had found particularly amusing. I would eat nothing all day and then for one hour each night I could eat whatever I wanted: maple frosted doughnuts, sausage pizza, peanut butter and chocolate ice cream. It didn’t matter, as long as it was within one hour. My son would shake his head and leave me in the kitchen laughing all the way down the hall to his room. Of course the diet didn’t work but I continued to starve myself with every diet known to man or woman. I would also beat my body into submission with exercise.
I was beginning to learn to accept myself but still kept trying “the next best thing.” I hired a personal trainer built like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who shouted orders like my Dad, until I popped a rib while bench pressing. In another gym stint, I was running around the track, tripped and tore a ligament in my knee. As I limped back to the locker room one of the gym rats said, “You know, not everyone is made for running.” “Thanks for that,” I said looking down at my well rounded body, built way too close to the ground. When I sprained my ankle falling off a treadmill I finally realized some people are just not gym material.
So I decided to appreciate myself. I thought of everything I had done to my body over the years—overeating, starving, binging, insane exercises, fad diets.
Looking down at my little feet I said, “I’m sorry I’ve given you so much to carry.” I took a good look at my legs, thighs, stomach, chest and arms. “I’m sorry,” I repeated. Through all the torture my body had served me amazingly well. “Thank you, Body,” I said out loud.
God had not made me to be tall and thin. I had made peace with the height part, now it was time to make peace with being thin. God had built me for comfort, not speed.
With that, I made a promise to be kinder to myself. I got rid of my scales and no longer judged each day by how much I weighed. I realized I had treated myself poorly for a long time. The golden rule says, “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” I decided to start treating myself as I would like others to treat me.
And I reasoned further: Why would anyone treat me well, if I wasn’t good to myself? I began treating myself to good shoes, decent face cream and especially good food. I realized I deserved the best food I could afford to buy. No more burnt toast or questionable leftovers in the fridge. These were the beginnings of treating myself well.
I learned to treat my body like it was part of me, instead of something outside of me. I learned to ask my body what it wanted to eat, rather than thrust upon it what the latest diet guru said was good for me. This way I could truly enjoy every bite and I didn’t need as much. When I ate consciously I could tell when I was full and I stopped. It felt so much better than stuffing myself mindlessly. I asked my body what it wanted for exercise , a walk, yoga? Slowly I began to really love my body, fluffy as it was.
Part of learning to love myself was forgiving myself for all my perceived wrong doings. I had set such high standards in my quest to be perfect and try to control everything. No human could accomplish the impossible goals I had set.
I had forgiven my body for wanting it to be something it wasn’t. I knew I needed to forgive myself for not being a perfect wife or mother, my divorces and all my other apparent sins from what I learned in school.
Several clients I have worked with felt stuck in their addictions until they realized they needed to forgive themselves. Some had abortions, others had affairs. When they were able to forgive themselves, their lives changed dramatically.
The guilt and shame from our childhoods and the constant critical voice in our heads needs to be dealt with. There is nothing unforgiveable in God’s eyes. We are human. We make mistakes. The big mistake is not letting it go. We are so forgiving of others. Why not ourselves?
I believe in any situation we are doing the best we can under the circumstances. All can be forgiven.
Forgive yourself. Love Yourself Everyday
The journey of conquering our addictions is a spiritual journey. It is a journey to learn to love yourself as God loves you. As you do you realize you no longer need to seek approval outside yourself. The kingdom of heaven is within.
What does love have to do with addiction? Everything. Love can conquer all when you love yourself
Mary DeYon is an author, speaker and Codependency Coach who insists on bringing humor to the Truth. For more information about her programs, Podcasts and events, visit marydeyon.com. You can contact Mary at [email protected].