Relationship Status? Complicated – Part 4 – Addiction

Experience has taught me I have an addictive personality. I find a new hobby and do it to excess and then abruptly stop, moving on to the next new thing. Sewing? Yup. Papercrafts? Yup. Cross-stitch? Yup. Projects are started and I go gangbusters on it until I am bored or distracted and then I move on to something else. It took me over a year to refinish a piece of furniture. There is a project piece currently in my back yard that I am “working on”. I started it last summer. I keep telling myself and The Hubs it will get finished as soon as the weather is stable, and I can work outside. The truth is I lost my steam and moved on to something else. Those are just examples of how my addictive personality reveals itself.


I have an addictive personality. My Dad was an addict too. I bet my Mom is to a certain extent as well. Cocaine was removed from my roster in 1987. I began smoking at 15. I’ve stopped smoking at least a dozen times in my life, the most recent being 1 November of last year. Every hour of every day I want a cigarette and it has been 6 months of not smoking. Unlike other people who can be “social smokers”, I cannot. I am either all in, or all out. In my dreams I am smoking, and laughing, like an old school cigarette commercial. And then there is THIS ad…

I stopped smoking and then what happened? I replaced smoking with food and promptly gained 15 pounds. In other words, I substituted one addiction for another. (Moment of truth – I keep asking myself, which is worse for my cardiovascular health, carrying around the equivalent of a 15 lb bowling ball all day, every day, or smoking…?). The only hobby that has remained and morphed into something solid is cooking. Why? Because it feeds my addiction.

Having the abundance to eat whatever and whenever I want makes it so easy to feed my addiction. That’s a real problem there. Think about it. I know I have an addiction. I can financially support that addiction. My addiction is socially acceptable, unlike the drugs of my past, and doesn’t harm anyone…anyone except me. My addiction supports small businesses, and grocery stores, and farmers’ markets. No one gives me side-eye when I drive thru Popeye’s to get some fried chicken, like they did when I was snorting lines in the ladies’ room. No one feigns a cough when I grab a couple of tacos from a food truck like they did when I smoked near them.  Food is a perfectly normal and accepted vice. As long as I keep my shit together and stay at a “socially accepted size”, no one cares.

Several years ago, I was diagnosed as, and I quote, “borderline bipolar”. I suffer from depression and then I have manic mood swings that I can’t control. They prescribed meds and all of them made me feel like a zombie. There was no depression, but I didn’t feel happiness either. I felt nothing. Except hunger. So I stopped taking them. I eat my feelings. I know I do and still, I can’t stop myself. Addiction. Happy? Have a cookie! Sad? Have some chips. Bored? What’s in the cabinet? Angry? Excited? Anxious? Let’s see what’s in the fridge! It seems food solves all the problems…for a while, just like the cocaine did. And then I can’t zip my jeans.


Dining out can be a real challenge for me. I want to try at least half the menu in most places. We can afford it, why not? Then the leftovers come home, and I find myself in the middle of the night, after The Hubs is in bed, noshing on leftovers by myself. They say if you drink alone, or hide your drinking, you might be an alcoholic, but what if you eat alone or sneak food, or eat all the leftovers? What does that make you?

When I am at my lowest, food gets shoved in my face in a fog. Am I hungry? Probably not. Sometimes I don’t even realize I am actually eating until the dishes are piled in the sink, or the trash bin is full of empty containers. There are only two brownies in that big container, let’s get rid of that. Just a handful of tater tots in that bowl in the fridge, let’s make some room. That ice cream container is taking up too much space in the freezer! Let me get rid of that. Why is this large container in here with only a small amount of fried rice? Let’s fix that.

Did I even taste the food? Who knows? I tell myself that I am not wasting food. I convince myself that I am cleaning out the fridge, eating things that no one else wants (hello there are only two people in my house…), or making room for new leftovers. The lies I tell myself about food are astounding! It’s disgusting. I am disgusted and ashamed of myself. Does that stop me? Do I do it again? Of course I do because I have an addiction!

It’s more than the act of chewing that I want. And no, gum will not suffice. You don’t swallow gum. I eat until my belly is beyond full. I eat to the point of being uncomfortable, and I unbutton the fly of my jeans. Hell, I go upstairs and put my pajamas on. It doesn’t matter what time of the day. Sometimes I fall into a carb coma on the couch. When I wake, I am disgusted with myself.


The other day I was in the grocery store and somehow ended up in the chip aisle. Lay’s were on sale $1.99 each if you bought 4 or more. One bag was $4.79. I convinced myself I was saving money buying 4 when all I really wanted was to try the Dill Pickle Flavor. I eat potato chips until the bag is empty. For the record, it doesn’t matter what size the bag is. Five ounces or 500 ounces, once that bag is open, I will not stop until it is empty. Once the bag is open, I eat mindlessly until they are gone because those chips sing a siren song that I cannot ignore. They are my personal kryptonite. If the bag stays closed, I can resist them…for a short bit of time.

I remember as a kid the rare package of real Oreos would magically appear at the house. My sisters and I would eat them with milk virtually all in one sitting, afraid we wouldn’t get our fair share. Worried if we would get them again. I KNOW I am going to get potato chips again, so WHY the fuck do I eat them all at once? Because I am a glutton. And then I am disgusted with myself over this behavior. What do I do? I eat even more! I already blew my diet for the day, so who gives a shit?! Then I can’t zip my jeans and feel even worse about myself…and it starts all over again. It’s a vicious circle.

Does my past experience with scarcity color my actions now? Probably. I can remember the first time I self-medicated with food. We were sitting around the table having baked ziti for dinner. I can see the kitchen of the trailer as clear as day in my mind and I can tell you what position at the table I was seated. The phone rang. There was a death in the family. Everyone else sat stunned and stopped eating, I took the entire pan of baked ziti and began eating directly from the pan. I can’t remember the year, but I am guessing it was 1975 or ’76. I was 10 or 11.

Next? Culinary School and how I learned to really cook.

Relationship Status? Complicated Part 3 – Toxic Comfort

The differing ways people look at food tell me a lot about who they are and sometimes how they grew up. Do they look at food as fuel, comfort, or something else? In my experience people who think of food only as fuel have probably never been in a state of want. Because of my personal experience, and having been in a state of want, I think of food in a much more complicated fashion and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Safety – Comfort

When you are hungry – truly hungry – food takes on a whole different meaning. Have you ever looked in your fridge and saw empty shelves? Or gone into your pantry or cupboard and not find anything to eat? No one should ever have to experience that. I have. I have looked in the fridge and saw nothing but condiments and I’ve looked in the cupboards and saw nothing to make an entire meal.

The first time it happens, there is a certain low-level panic that starts to bubble up in your throat and wants to come out as a scream, but you don’t let it. You shove it down inside as if it was edible. You chew on that panic until it all but consumes you. Then you move on. It becomes less panic inducing each time until it feels normal. But is it normal? What is normal? Normal is a setting on the dryer; it shouldn’t be a feeling of hunger or panic.

Even now, as an adult, in an upper middle-class bracket, I start to get a little edgy if I can see the shelves in my fridge. I KNOW where my next meal is coming from. We can afford groceries and I KNOW I don’t have to hoard food, but this little part in my core is still afraid of empty shelves. I feel safe when I have a lot of food in the house. Food is comfort for me. Not fuel, comfort. A full fridge means I am safe. It means I don’t have to panic. But I do. I joke, telling myself and others that I am prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse. But I am not kidding. Not really. I am ready. And I still panic a little. Every now and then.

Then I feel absurd and clean out the fridge, like I am doing this morning. Organizing everything. Checking dates on condiments and tossing stuff out that I simply “had to have” and yet let spoil or go to waste. Because a full fridge meant wealth. Stability. Safety. Comfort.

Wealth – Status

I have a confession to make. In a way, it’s embarrassing, in a way it’s prideful. I have three fridges. Yes, three. And an upright freezer. And they are all full. There is one just for drinks. The one in my kitchen is the primary and has the most food. The one in the garage is the “overflow” fridge. There are two legs of prosciutto, a bag of limes, and extra produce. Who the fuck has two legs of prosciutto?

Occasionally, I use the overflow fridge to cure bacon or fish before it goes on the smoker. Frequently I store pots of stock for a couple of days until I am ready to skim fat off and can it. The freezer is similarly full. One drawer each for chicken, beef, pork, and fish. And shelves with phyllo, puff pastry, wonton wrappers, the bowl for my ice cream maker, and leftovers that are waiting for mealtime. The leftovers don’t always get eaten. Sometimes they are forgotten and become freezer burnt and must be tossed out.

Obviously, having the space and the funds to fill that food storage space, is a luxury and I know it. It’s the definition of “an embarrassment of riches”. I am acutely aware that I have more than most. It is baldly transparent to me that I should be ashamed to have such abundance, but it makes me feel safe. It makes me feel like I have finally achieved some level of status, never mind the wealth. Because a full fridge meant wealth. Stability. Safety. Comfort.


Additionally, sadly, I use food as a reward, an excuse, and a celebration. For myself and for my son when he was growing up.

  • “Get an A in Math and we’ll go for ice cream.”
  • “If you behave in the store, you can have a candy bar.”
  • “Wow! You did a great job on that project kiddo. Let’s have a celebration dinner. Where do you want to go?”
  • “I got the job! Let’s go out to eat.”
  • “It’s too hot to cook, let’s go out to eat.”
  • Or the most ironic one… “I lost 10 pounds! I’m going to get some fried chicken!”

You will notice that all the above involve going somewhere to eat. Not using the abundance of my fridge, freezer, and pantry. Because having the income to celebrate meant we didn’t have to do it at home.

The Offspring and I had “The See’s Ritual” when we went to the mall. At See’s Candy Store, you can go in any time of day, and they will give you a free sample of their choosing. When we went to the mall, if he behaved, we would go to See’s. He would get a free piece of candy, and because I felt guilty for walking in just for free candy, I would buy him a Scotch Mallow for later. How fucking toxic is that?

I rewarded good behavior with something unhealthy and celebrated it as a good thing! WTF?! C’mon, admit it. You’ve done the same thing. We all do. The one thing I have never done, is used meals as a punishment. “Behave or go to bed with no supper,” is cruel in my mind. To be fair, I have said, “This is not a restaurant. This is what’s for dinner. You can eat this or not. Your choice.”

Oh yes, and speaking of mealtimes, I am also a member of the “clean the plate club”. You know, “Eat everything on your plate. There are starving children in China!” I tried NOT to do that to my son. I have the rule that you must TRY everything on your plate, but you don’t have to finish it. It’s weird that I was able to exorcise THAT demon in a fashion, but still used food as a reward…

Comfort – Safety – Addiction

The reason certain foods are called “comfort food” is multi-faceted. You want to eat it because it makes you feel good, and you reach for comfort food when you are feeling low. Comfort foods recall memories of safety, happiness, family, and well…comfort.  But when reaching for food becomes the norm and not the exception, and you are self-medicating with food to make yourself feel better, you have a problem. You may have an addiction. I know I do.  More on that in the next installment.