If there’s a single lesson that regular readers of this column would pick up, it’s that the journey to health and fitness has not been an easy one for me.
Being the kind of person I am, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why that is, so I can address the root issues that have led me to a lifetime of out-of-control eating and a sedentary lifestyle. The two things are not necessarily related.
Although it’s personal and painful to talk about publicly, I believe that many core issues I have about body image, self-love, and even basic feelings of deserving a better quality of life, can be traced back to childhood sexual abuse. A book I read recently talks about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among people who have been through childhood abuse likens it to things like being in a concentration camp—only worse, because people in a concentration camp know with every fiber in their being that their situation is wrong, and they can cling to that. Child victims of adults, (often parents, relatives or family friends), must find ways within their own immature psyches to cope. Child victims are often totally dependent on the people who abuse them, or in some other way can’t realistically escape or understand what is happening to them.
I bring this up because addictive behaviors tend to walk hand-in-hand with PTSD from childhood abuse. I’m not saying that every person who had bad things happen in their childhood becomes an addict; there are other factors, like genetic predisposition, that come in. But for me, addiction has been a constant in my life since I was a teenager.
My list of addictions includes cigarettes (I smoked my first cigarette around age 8 and started for real at 16) and screen time, and the way I approach food, especially sugar, is like an addict, pure and simple. So I spend a lot of time thinking about how to circumvent my addictions and do the things I want to do anyway, like get exercise.
It’s not been easy, but I have made progress over the years.
I find that the more I focus on the addiction, the harder it is to kick it. But ignoring the addiction is just as useless—because then automatic action takes over and next thing I know, I’m smoking or halfway down a tub of ice cream. Etcetera.
This week I decided to try an experiment with my youngest son, who asked me if I’d join him in not drinking coffee for a week.
Coffee is an interesting addiction. It’s so accepted culturally that my Facebook feed is filled with memes, all along the lines of “don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee.” They’re funny and cute, and people giggle, hit “like” and share. Tee hee. Imagine if the meme said “don’t you dare talk to me until I’ve had my cigarette” or “back off until I shoot up my heroin.” Okay, okay, I’m getting carried away, but still.
The main reason I agreed to this week-long experiment is not because I think coffee is horrible. Actually I’m a coffee snob and I adore my hot brew. I’m picky and exacting about how I want it. I drink it every day (a lot), and even now, typing this, I wish I had the hot cup that would ordinarily be right next to my keyboard. I even absent-mindedly reached for it a minute ago.
I agreed because my very first thought was, “Coffee?! No way, no how, just no!”
Giving up coffee, even for a week, seemed like a totally impossible task. I mean, just totally ridiculous, not-even-on-the-table-for-consideration impossible. So I said yes.
For me, decaf is out of the question. Yuck. And I decided that I would cut caffeine, not coffee, so sodas and black tea are out, too.
As I write this, it’s my second day without coffee, and surprisingly, I feel pretty good.
I have not experienced a caffeine withdrawal headache, which I was expecting. I did have a slump mid-afternoon yesterday, but I went outside, took in some fresh air and communed with a tree or two (I know, silly, but I did), then came back to the keyboard and the high-stress job. One thing about caffeine: It can add to stress as it does things to your body like raise your heart rate. I do feel more relaxed, and I slept great last night.
Like alcoholics or drug addicts in a 12 Step program, I’m not swearing off coffee forever—just for today. I can get through a day without caffeine. Let’s not talk about the rest of my life.
While some parts of my childhood left lasting scars and fallout that I still deal with even decades later, I rely on perseverance and a sense of humor to get me on down the road.
I try this, I try that, I try the other thing, I see what sticks. Frequently (so, so frequently) I start over. This no-coffee experience is about nurturing some discipline. In the end, there is no one else reaching for a tub of ice cream but me, and discipline matters.