There are lots of theories about the root cause of addiction. I’ve heard a lot of them. But nothing I’ve read or heard has completely explained, to me, why I am an addict. So I’m digging. I don’t know if I’ll ever answer the question completely, but here’s what I’ve come up with, today: I think I’m searching for joy.
Looking for the Cause
I’ve been gone for a while. Well, a long while. In more ways than one. I’ve been gone from this blog, from Bright Line Eating, and from – essentially – my life. I need to get back. And there’s no easy way to get there. A superficial fix is never going to satisfy me. I’m a Naturopathic Doctor – I will always be trying to dig down to the root cause.
This morning, as I began journaling under the heading of “Day One” – a title I’ve penned more times than I can count – I asked God, and myself, a question: Why do I keep doing this?
There’s a lot wrapped up in that question. What’s wrong with me? Why do I break out of the boundaries I’ve built for myself, that have kept me safe and peaceful, again and again? What is it, exactly, that I’m looking for?
My behaviour doesn’t make sense. I need the boundaries – the Bright Lines around food that prevent me from binging and, in essence, wasting my life away in a pit of self-loathing. I know that. I’ve run the experiment. Starting in January of this year, after 18 months of being in this ditch, I hauled myself out and cleaned myself up and finally, without any reservations, admitted that I absolutely need Bright Line Eating. I surrendered. I embraced the lines, the rules, the fences. I admitted that I was an addict with absolutely no hope of recovery without these boundaries. Or so I thought.
But I broke through the boundaries. For no good reason, that I could tell. Just like every time before. Which begs the question: what’s wrong with me?
Where Did I Go Wrong?
I was feeling good. Really, really good. I’d got myself an official BLE membership, gone through the Bootcamp, and was just finishing up a BLE course called Reboot Rezoom.
I was following the lines. I had a new Mastermind group. I felt committed. I felt at peace. So what was the problem?
When I look back at where I was, I can only see one thing that was missing: joy.
I am not a typical addict. There’s no addiction – of any sort – rooted deeply in my gene pool. I’ve never experienced any serious trauma. I had a happy childhood, I love my family, I have a first-rate education, and I live in one of the greatest countries in the world.
I have no excuse for being addicted to food. But I am.
I also have no excuse for being unhappy. But I am.
There is something inside me that is never satisfied. A part of me that always wants more. And deep down, I know that what I want is not really food. If it were, I would feel better when I eat. But beyond the initial rush of that first bite, I don’t.
I’m looking for something. It’s something that the food promises, but doesn’t deliver. What is that thing?
It’s not peace. I get peace when I’m within the lines. When I break those lines, my peace disappears. And I know that.
It’s not rest. Bright Line Eating is restful. It’s easy. It becomes an automatic thing, something I hardly have to think about. Binging is the exact opposite. It’s exhausting: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Stuffing myself to the point of physical pain requires a whole lot more effort, and is a lot more draining, than eating on plan.
It’s not a sense of purpose or belonging. I managed almost 3 months of bright lines before this latest break, while living alone, with relatively little social connection. During this time, I was also feeling inadequate as a doctor (and, frankly, as a human being). I know I need purpose in my life. I’ve been searching for it for as long as I can remember. But it seems to be unrelated to food, except in the sense that losing control of my eating makes me feel useless, which makes me feel miserable, and makes it more difficult to stop eating. I don’t eat in a search for purpose or belonging. My latest break in lines occurred while I was on vacation at home, surrounded by family, flooded by feelings of belonging and acceptance, and yes, even purpose. I felt wanted and needed. It was a really great place to be.
I think the missing element is more basic than any of these things. It’s joy.
Joy: The Ultimate Motivation
Several years ago, I read Desiring God by John Piper. In it, he makes the case that the ultimate motivation, for every human being – the only reason, in fact that they do anything – is to find joy.
I thought it through. For a long time. He made a very good argument, and in the end, I had to agree with him, though with one little mental gymnastics move. I couldn’t accept that the most self-destructive of actions were committed in a search for joy – and to be fair to Mr. Piper, he did address this issue, even using suicide as an example – at least, not as we usually define joy. But if I thought of joy not as an absolute, but as something that could be measured on a sliding scale, from the ultimate level of joy on one side, to the ultimate level of pain on the other, then it could make sense to me. The person who commits suicide may not believe that killing themselves will bring them joy, but they may believe that death will be less painful than life. In that sense, they are hoping for more joy than they are currently experiencing. Even if all they expect is nothingness, that could constitute – in their mind – a higher rating on the “joy scale” than their current level of pain.
That seems to work in terms of binging behaviour – another horribly self-destructive action – to a certain degree, as well. Often, I eat to numb out. To escape the pain. To avoid feeling sad, or facing other negative emotions.
I’m starting to rethink this position, though. Because I can binge even when I’m not in pain. At least, not in the conventional sense. Misery is not a prerequisite to breaking my lines. All it takes is a lack of joy.
Maybe the opposite of true joy isn’t being emotionally tortured by real or imagined circumstances. Perhaps a certain level of joy is simply necessary. And without it, we can’t survive. We’ll go searching for it, in all sorts of stupid places. Take awful risks and give up everything we’ve worked for, for a chance to experience it.
I wasn’t in pain when I broke my lines in March. I was home. I was happy. I was wanted. But something was still missing. Something that my soul cries for, unrelentingly, and will accept no substitutes for.
And here’s where I get really theological.
Searching for Joy
I don’t really know what joy is. It’s hard to define. But I know where I can find it: heaven.
I’m the kind of person who has been looking forward to heaven since childhood. Not in a suicidal way; just in an impatient way. It’s better than here, so I want to get there. This world, as much as it has going for it, has never been enough, and never will be enough, for me. I’m not content. I know there’s something more out there, and I want it.
I want a world without pain. Without pollution. Without mosquitoes. I want to be free of sin, and I want to see God. I want to curl up in the palm of his hand and never leave.
Is that too much to ask?
Maybe it is. Maybe my problem is that I haven’t learned to be content. I want too much. I want the impossible. Heaven is heaven and earth is earth, and I need to lower my expectations. The high I’m chasing is too much for this world. It isn’t achievable, because we’re not meant to experience it in this life. And if we do, it burns out our dopamine receptors and we don’t get any joy at all.
Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe we’re supposed to experience joy, and I’m just searching for it in the wrong place. Maybe my longing for heaven isn’t a mistake, but put there by God to drive me to him – and I got tricked into going after a cheap substitute: bread and sugar, instead of the bread of life. Easier to find, but with nasty side effects.
I’m leaning toward the latter.
Focusing on Heaven
I think John Piper was right: I need to spend more time with God. I need to let everything else go, and trust him to take care of it. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:34).
Yes, I need to work hard. Yes, I need to be self controlled. I need the bright lines. There are many, many good and helpful things that I can and should incorporate into my life. But nothing is as important as this: knowing God, and enjoying him. Loving him, and being loved by him.
It’s time to make that my priority. Because without it, I won’t be happy. No matter how thin I get, or how many visits home I make, joy will elude me, and eventually, I will break my lines. Because I can’t live without joy.
I don’t serve a God who asks me to be content with substitutes. He offers the real thing.