I read a comment today in one of the BLE Facebook groups. It was by a woman who wished there were rehab for food addiction – the same way there is for drugs or alcohol. A place where she could be free from outside temptations and influences, just for a little while. Where she could heal.

Some people pointed out that a rehab environment isn’t real life. That we’ve got to deal with the world eventually, so we might as well get used to it. That there’s no use in crying about what we don’t have. And those are valid points. We can’t avoid reality forever.

But I get where this woman is coming from.

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Breaking addiction is hard. It can be overwhelming, and isolating, and miserable. Even SPT admits that starting is the hardest part – one of the reasons she tells us, repeatedly, to remember the bunny slippers. One of the reasons she has a bootcamp to support those starting on their journey. The beginning is the worst. It’s supposed to get easier from there.

So why not a BLE rehab?

Rehab Failures

The effectiveness question is a good one. I’ve seen people go to rehab, get clean, and then fall right back into their old habits as soon as they get out. This is, I think, the strongest argument against this whole model. It seems to prove that rehab is worthless – that abstinence while in a rehab program does not carry over to the real world. And if that is the case, then maybe it really is just a money grab.

The argument I don’t like, and give no credence to, is that people who go to rehab are just spoiled rich kids who want a vacation from reality and a miracle cure with minimal effort. That, I think, is a false impression. We see celebrities doing multiple stints in rehab, which makes us doubt their sincerity or their desire to change, and then we apply this prejudice to everyone else.

I’m not sure that’s fair. How many of us have tried BLE repeatedly, trying desperately to quit food, only to fail? Does that mean we don’t really want to change? I don’t think so. Quitting often means failing, and picking yourself up again, and giving it another go. Again, and again. Until eventually, it sticks.

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A Passion for Social Justice

I suspect that much of our disdain for the people who go through this struggle publicly is actually borne of jealousy. If there is no place for us to retreat from the world while we try to get sober, or we lack the resources to access these places, why should anyone else get to?

It’s the same attitude some of those who’ve succeeded with BLE have faced from others who are overweight. Being told they’re too thin, when they’re not. That weighing their food and sticking to absolute rules is unhealthy, when they’re more health than they’ve ever been before. Humanity has an ugly tendency to try to drag down those who are trying to escape the misery of those around them.

Rehab might not be for everyone, but if someone wants it – and perhaps finds it, and even succeeds with it – why should that bother anyone else? There is no reason, other than jealousy. It’s an emotion we all need to fight. Myself as much as anyone.

A few years ago, I was visiting one of my sisters in Ottawa. She was driving, and we passed a girl – skinnier than I ever have been or could be – jogging. And my sister said, out loud, “You go, girl!” I looked at my sister strangely, and she shrugged. “I realized one day that when I saw one of those girls running, I got angry, because it made me feel bad about myself. And that was wrong. The fact that they’re staying healthy doesn’t hurt me. So I started saying nice things about them. And now I actually feel happy for them, instead of jealous.”

My sister saw that her attitude was wrong, and she shifted it. Just by saying something nice. That day, I was there to hear her, but normally, it would just be her kids in the back, oblivious to her comments. The running girls on the sidewalk certainly couldn’t hear her. It wasn’t for them. Her jealousy hadn’t hurt them, it had hurt her. And her willingness to fight that tendency to jealousy in herself let me see that I had some of the same feelings. Maybe not an angry kind of jealousy, but an inner sadness kind of jealousy. Envy. I wanted what those girls had.

Other people’s success should not make me feel sad for myself. It should make me feel happy for them. And maybe look at what they’re doing differently from me, and ask myself honestly if there’s something I could change. There’s a good chance that most of those people aren’t facing the same challenges I am, and maybe their approach isn’t the best one for me. But the moment we start looking at humanity and dismissing the idea that we might have something to learn from each other, we’re screwed.

A Possible Road to Success

Rehab probably isn’t for everyone. But if some people could benefit from it, why should the rest of us try to tear down their dreams?

And some people do benefit from rehab. This past Sunday, my church hosted a choir from Teen Challenge Canada – basically, a Christian rehab program. And we heard story after story of real success. Current and past students had turned their lives around in a lasting way. I don’t know if the program works for everyone, but it certainly worked for a lot of them. And I doubt anyone in that building begrudged them the opportunity. On the contrary – they donated their hard-earned money so that more people with addictions could access it.

So why not rehab for food addiction?

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Susan Peirce Thompson has said that food addiction is harder to break than addiction to drugs or alcohol. And I believe her. Drugs and alcohol can be avoided by most people, with a little effort. But food is everywhere. The detox reactions from flour and sugar might not be life-threatening, but they suck. And some people just don’t have a lifestyle that allows them to take it easy for a few months. Escaping from their regular routine completely may be the best option.

Dreaming of a Better World

Want to know my dream? My dream is to one day open a BLE rehab centre. A school for women and girls with food addiction. Where they can learn how to cope with a world full of things they can’t eat. With the constant pressure to partake. And where, yes, they can be taken care of, for a little while. Where their individual challenges can be addressed. I wish there was a place like that for me. If there had been – and I’d known about it – 6 or 7 years ago, I would have gone there, instead of spending 5 years learning Naturopathic Medicine. It’s not even a difficult choice. But now I have that education, and I think I could help others, and make their struggles easier. Eventually. I’ve still got a lot of stuff to work out on my own.

In the meantime, yes, we do have to live in the real world. But it’s a world we have the power to improve – at least a little. So let’s not tear each other down. Let’s encourage each other’s dreams. That’s how the world gets better.

Photo by Rose Erkul on Unsplash
Rehab and Human Nature
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