I am trapped in a toxic relationship.
I’ve always thought of myself as pretty strong – able to overcome most things. Hell, I’ve lived with epilepsy for 15 years now, right?
But this particular relationship just keeps coming back and biting me in the ass. Every time I think I have escaped, it reaches out and grabs ahold of me again, drawing me back into its grasp.
The moment I give in I am simultaneously enraptured and ashamed. I know for a fact that what is coming will be humiliating and painful. But, in the name of a few moments of pleasure, I take the plunge anyway.
The really hurtful thing is this – my relationship is literally toxic. I keep poisoning myself and I can’t seem to stop.
Too Close To Home
Less than a quarter mile from our home is a cesspit of sin and amoral license, known as “Sonic Drive-In.”
Oh, they sell things I can eat. Grilled chicken sandwiches and basic burgers I can remove the buns from. They make a decent boneless chicken wing 6-pack if I am in the mood to spread my eating out over a couple of meals.
But that is not where I go wrong.
Every once in a while, about once a month or so, the urge overwhelms me. We go to Sonic, and I buy the most forbidden of fruits:
When we pull in, I try to rein myself in. I will get the “Mini” size. My self-directed negotiation makes me promise myself I will split it in half. I will contain my lust for Fudge and Ice Cream whipped together – I will keep myself together.
Ten minutes later, I am looking into an empty small drink cup, wondering where I went wrong. And being tempted to lick the last vestiges of whipped cream off the inside of the cup.
Five minutes after that, I am locked in a bathroom for the next few hours. That’s all the time it takes for me to begin paying the price for my lack of self-control.
The Failure of Negative Reinforcement
A large portion of the early success of any kind of bariatric surgery is negative reinforcement. After surgery, your stomach has been shrunk to such a degree that overeating produces discomfort and, in some cases, outright sickness. For many of us, certain foods are especially difficult to handle – sometimes leafy greens, occasionally tougher proteins, some folks even have difficulty with certain liquids.
But just about all of us can’t handle processed sugar anymore. We even have a specific term for it: “Dumping Syndrome”, categorized by sharp pains, foaming vomit and long-term diarrhea. This is usually enough to encourage us to stay the heck away from foods containing processed sugar.
Negative reinforcement does not always work. There is always that one child who doesn’t learn the first time and keeps trying to stick the silverware into the electrical socket.
I am afraid that, in this particular case, that child is me.
Negative reinforcement usually works for me, too. It only took two trips to the hospital to be treated for kidney stones. After the second visit, I started making sure that I get in my 64+ ounces of water a day.
But I just can’t seem to make the ice cream thing stick.
So, every few weeks, I find myself camped out in the bathroom for several hours in a row, wondering why in the hell I keep doing this to myself.
The Tangle In My Brain
Seriously, now: there is absolutely no reason that my body would be craving processed sugar.
I get over 70 grams of protein in every day. That is usually balanced by 60ish grams of carbs. A multi-vitamin takes care of any other missing dietary components.
There is literally nothing in processed sugar that my body needs.
Plus, I can pass up the brownies, the Little Debbie snacks, the Snickers bars. It is simply this one “food” that triggers this reaction in me.
In short, it is all in my head.
Mind you, this is not minimizing the problem. The great majority of our bad dietary decisions are “in our heads”, which is why healthy folks have so much trouble understanding obesity. “Just put down the cheeseburger”, and all that.
Something simply misfires in our brain, and next thing you know we are neck deep in addictive behavior. And yes, Virginia, there is such as thing as psychological addiction. It is not the same as physical dependence/addiction, but it is a real condition just the same.
And food addiction is extremely pervasive among those of us with obesity. So much so that many patients of bariatric surgery turn their food addictions into a different type of addiction: alcohol, gambling, shopping, etc. The surgery that changes our physiology does nothing to change our mental processes.
The Quest for an Ice Cream Cure
I am a fortunate case – I haven’t relapsed into overeating or started drinking Jack Daniels by the gallon.
But I just can’t manage to stop poisoning myself once a month.
Lor has tried to help. Every time I decide to do it, she warns me what is coming. I tell her “I know” and do it anyway. Then, after an hour or two in the bathroom, I invariably ask her “Why did you let me eat that?”
Addictive behavior is rarely fair to loved ones.
It has been suggested to me that I seek professional help. It just seems so overboard to start talking to a counselor because I make myself sick every few weeks.
On the other hand, do I wait until I am doing this to myself once a week?
Accepting failure is hard – especially when it seems so minor. My weight hasn’t changed. My clothes still fit. I am still able to do a host of things that I couldn’t two years ago.
And, yet, still: every time we drive by, I hear Ice Cream calling my name. A sweet siren song, promising moments of pleasure followed by hours of pain.
Maybe We’ll Just Move Next Door To A Salad Bar,