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Panic, Addiction and Choice

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In order to maintain a 200 pound weight loss for nearly a decade I had to dis-illusion myself about myself. To put it simply, I had to stop living with blinders on. I began by observing my thought processes and watching my body reactions. I discovered that whenever I felt I didn't have a real choice in a given situation -- that someone else was "making me" do something -- my stomach would ache, and I would feel stressed. It's probably no accident that by some perverse twist of etymological fate desserts is stressed spelled backwards. What was really going on, however, was that the helpless-powerless button in my irrational thinking was being pressed automatically.

Most people who are binge eaters or who have other addictions have these buttons. I call them their panic buttons. We tell ourselves that we are powerless, rather than acknowledging that we are, in fact, actually choosing the situation and putting ourselves into it. Now before you go off on me about all the people who have lost their jobs or are on the street or other dire circumstances, I am not talking about them. I am talking about those of us with garden variety eating disorders. Those of us who at some point felt threatened as kids or didn't learn healthy coping skills. Those of us who didn't learn that by truly embracing that we had a choice in any given situation, we could regain our power.

The first step, of course, is to understand the role that panic plays in the process. Those fight or flight responses you've heard so much about and played such an important role in early human survival are still with us. Fortunately, most of us no longer live in hostile environments where lions and tigers and bears (oh my) roam freely and provide a real threat. Unfortunately, we are hard wired to behave as though we still do live there, and that they do still pose a threat. The result is what Dr. Charles Portney calls the root of most addictions, "unreasonable and illogical insecurity and self-doubt." It can be triggered by unconscious fears -- fear of uncertainty, the unknown, being alone, abandonment or even death and has its roots in the distorted thinking patterns we discussed in other blogs. Once the state of panic takes hold, it becomes even more difficult to work your way out of the situation and regain your balance. However, whether discovered early or late, there is a way out and I've used these steps and you can take them to extricate yourself from anxiety (addictive triggering) situations:

You are talking to a co-worker who is pushing on you to do a task that is not only his job, but also you don't want to do. You begin to feel a RESISTENT, ANXIOUS reaction.


You notice where in your body you are feeling the reaction and observe that you are reacting with what you now recognize as a PANIC type of response.

Question to self: Have I entered into unreasonable and illogical insecurity or self-doubt?

Answer to self: Yup, it's a reactive pattern I have when someone is asking something of me I don't want to do, don't think I can do, don't have time to do, etc. and I am feeling pressured into doing it.

I go through a self-dialogue:

Q: Have I done anything wrong?

A: No, but I still feel panic building in my stomach.

Q: So, what am I telling myself?

A: That I am threatened somehow if I don't do it.


I take a few deep breaths

CHOICE POINT. I can choose to see how I am running illogical and unreasonable self-doubt and fear. I can decide to recognize that these are irrational beliefs, and I can choose to say no and that doesn't make me a bad person, etc. Or, I can choose to say yes, and that doesn't make me a push-over. But either way, I have realized my power of choice and I am not a victim. Interestingly, once I claim my own power the panic subsides, so does the need for whatever the addictive fix is.

RESULT. I don't need to numb out.

We all took a long time to develop the buttons and learn the reactions that are now self-destructive, so be patient with your self. This is a process that with practice and determination does work and quite effectively, I had a situation last week in which I applied these steps and the hardest part for me was to realize that I was in a state of high anxiety.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you with comments or about your experiences.

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