A Lesson in Boundaries from Charlie Sheen

March 20, 2011

A lot’s been written lately about Charlie Sheen and his bizarre, bitter ranting (check out my friend Chris Wells’ great article about it on AOL News), and the news that he’s about to embark on a 21-day live tour that will net him $7 million made me sad for him. Someone (CBS) finally stood up to him and said, “Your behavior is unacceptable,” yet others have rushed in to laud and applaud him, enabling his violent, delusional conduct.

There’s a great saying in Twelve Step circles: You hit bottom when you stop digging. Charlie Sheen has no incentive to stop digging. Every time he does something stupid, immoral, or illegal, his money and fame come to the rescue.

Lost your wife because you held a knife to her throat? No problem, get a couple of porn stars to move in with you. Lost your lucrative day job because you refused to get real help for your drug problem and then very publicly insulted your boss? So what? Sue CBS, and launch a lucrative live tour.

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Suffering’s Role in Creativity

January 17, 2011

I’ve always fancied myself to be a creative person. A reader from a young age, I wrote my first “novel” in the fifth grade. I won prizes for my short stories in high school. I went to graduate school for creative writing, and I write for a living today.

For a long time, though, writing was something I had to do—as Maya Angelou once said, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”—but it wasn’t necessarily something I enjoyed.

You see, I bought into the myth of the suffering artist. I thought great art could only come from a place of pain. I identified heavily with Hemingway when he said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I conveniently forgot that Hemingway killed himself, which is the most destructive act anyone can ever achieve.

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Authenticity vs. Anonymity

December 13, 2010

When I was a teenager, all I wanted to do was blend in with the crowd. I never raised my hand in class, I never raised my voice.

When I went away to college, I’d wander off the small, safe campus of my liberal arts college and walk aimlessly around the mall to avoid seeing people I knew.

I sat in dark movie theaters by myself for hours at a time bingeing, because eating while watching other people’s lives unfold onscreen was safe. It required nothing from me.

Bingeing in anonymity meant I didn’t have to know who I was, and I didn’t have to explain myself to anyone.

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Why Community Can Be More Healing Than Therapy

December 2, 2010

I love therapy. Truly, I do.

My husband and I have been seeing a therapist since he came out of the hospital two years ago. She’s great, and going to see her has improved our communication by leaps and bounds.

John also sees a therapist on an individual basis, and honestly, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with him coming home from the hospital if he hadn’t been willing to go. Seeing his therapist has helped John come to terms with his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and it’s given him the tools he needs to cope with it.

That said, though, I haven’t always derived great benefits from therapy, and there have been times when having the support of a community of my peers has been way more transformative than participating in therapy ever could be.

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How Much Is Good Enough? Work’s Role in My Relapse

November 4, 2010

One of the first things I learned when I joined my Twelve Step program back in 1999 was that when it comes to figuring out how to live my life, I have to consider my recovery first, my family second, and my job third.

When I’m in the grip of addictive eating, I’d way rather hang out on the couch with a pile of food than with my friends or family. (Eating in isolation was so easy; hanging out with people when I was feeling crummy about myself was so much work.)

When I’m eating addictively, I’m too distracted at work to do a good job. And I can bet you good money that, as I did through high school and half of college, I’d be spending a lot of time in a toilet stall, stuffing down candy bars before throwing them back up.

So for a long time, for five and a half years, I put my recovery first. But once I entered the work world in 2004, keeping that order of priorities became a bit more difficult.

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10 Years

September 25, 2010

John had a psychiatrist appointment on Monday morning. He goes about once every three months, and I pretty much always go with him.

We like his psychiatrist, Dr. Wilson, a lot. The first psychiatrist John saw after coming out of the hospital misdiagnosed him, immediately started taking him off Risperdal (substituting Pristiq), and pretty much ignored me when I tried to tell her that John was psychotic again.

After John’s second hospitalization, Dr. Wilson met with the two of us for an hour, listened to me when I told him about John’s symptoms (because he was delusional, John didn’t perceive a lot of manic behavior as symptomatic), and diagnosed John with bipolar disorder. Over time, he tapered John off the Risperdal, relying solely on the mood stabilizer Depakote. When John continued to experience residual depression months after his psychotic break, Dr. Wilson gradually switched him from Depakote onto Lamictal, which has been working great for about 15 months now. No depression. No trouble concentrating. No manic swings.

On Monday, Dr. Wilson confirmed that John’s been very stable. He cautioned us, though, that sometimes when people are stable on the meds, they begin to question whether they really need them. He explained that due to the severely disruptive nature of any mood episodes (John was on disability for 3 months, and he was lucky that he didn’t lose his job), he doesn’t recommend playing with a medication that’s working unless a patient has been stable for ten years.

John didn’t have a problem with this recommendation. With the Lamictal, he doesn’t experience any side effects, so taking a pill every night is no big deal. Now, if he were still on the Risperdal, which left him lethargic and messed with his ability to focus and do complex math (he’s an engineer), I think it would be a different story. Fortunately for John, Risperdal isn’t part of the equation right now.

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Twenty Questions about Food Addiction

June 20, 2010

When I wandered into my first Twelve Step meeting in January 1999, I was 19 years old, weighed 185 pounds, and had been bulimic for five and a half years. I was nervous about going to the meeting–I always wanted to present the image that everything was fine–but as soon as it started, I knew that I was in the right place. These people spoke about food addiction, and I felt as though—after years of trying to play tennis with a ping pong ball—someone had finally pointed out to me my mistake:

I was an addict.

What was wrong with me finally had a name.

It was an incredible relief.

What really got me, though, was one of the pamphlets. It had (and still has) a list of 20 questions to help people determine if they’re food addicts:

  1. Have you ever wanted to stop eating and found you just couldn’t?
  2. Do you think about food or your weight constantly?
  3. Do you find yourself attempting one diet or food plan after another, with no lasting success?
  4. Do you binge and then “get rid of the binge” through vomiting, exercise, laxatives, or other forms of purging?
  5. Do you eat differently in private than you do in front of other people?
  6. Has a doctor or family member ever approached you with concern about your eating habits or weight?
  7. Do you eat large quantities of food at one time (binge)?
  8. Is your weight problem due to your “nibbling” all day long?
  9. Do you eat to escape from your feelings?
  10. Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
  11. Have you ever discarded food, only to retrieve and eat it later?
  12. Do you eat in secret?
  13. Do you fast or severely restrict your food intake?
  14. Have you ever stolen other people’s food?
  15. Have you ever hidden food to make sure you have “enough?”
  16. Do you feel driven to exercise excessively to control your weight?
  17. Do you obsessively calculate the calories you’ve burned against the calories you’ve eaten?
  18. Do you frequently feel guilty or ashamed about what you’ve eaten?
  19. Are you waiting for your life to begin “when you lose the weight?”
  20. Do you feel hopeless about your relationship with food?

The pamphlet said that if you answered yes to any of the questions, you might be a food addict. I answered yes to 19*.

I joined the program back in 1999. I lost 55 pounds and have weighed 130 pounds ever since. I haven’t binged or purged in nearly 11 years, and I’m no longer obsessed with food. It’s a rigorous program–some people think it is much too strict–but man-oh-man, has it worked for me!

*I couldn’t relate to #8. I didn’t nibble; I binged.

as soon as it started, I knew that I was in the right place. These people spoke about food addiction, and I felt as though—after years of trying to play tennis with a ping pong ball—someone had finally pointed out to me my mistake:

I was an addict.

What was wrong with me finally had a name.

It was an incredible relief.