Rejecting the False Promises of Addiction

I debated whether or not to publish this one, as it is not becoming. I hate everything about smoking and have never wanted to be associated with it. That’s why, to the best of my ability, I hid it. However, given all of the touching birthday wishes from readers, especially those thanking me for my vulnerability and transparency, I decided to let you in my recent struggle with nicotine, as I have my kids. It has been harder than giving up alcohol, harder than any other addiction (and I have a few). I write this for anyone in the midst of the same struggle. We can do this! 

My birthday dinner ended up being an intervention of sorts by my kids about the quantity of sugar and junk food I’ve been consuming.

“Would anyone care for dessert?” the waitress asked.

“No!” they both responded, much to my surprise.

“Wait a minute, this is my birthday dinner,” I said.

“You’ve already eaten a huge box of Milk Duds, a few sodas, and chocolate-covered pretzels,” explains my 17-year-old son.

“It’s just that you used to eat so healthy and we are worried,” chimes in my 15-year-old daughter.

Willpower is limited

It was one of those moments where I could keep my struggle to myself or try to teach them by my dysfunctional example. I decided on the latter.

“Here’s the thing, kids.” I said, “We only have so much willpower. We need to use it on what’s most important. I know that I told you I gave up smoking on Christmas, but the truth is that I had a slip and have been smoking and chewing nicotine gum again. I quit today and am having a really hard time with the withdrawal. I’m eating and drinking anything that appeals, including large quantities of Diet Dr. Pepper, 4.5 servings of Milk Duds and chocolate-covered pretzels. But I promise you I will turn around my eating once my body adjusts.”

Willpower is, in fact, like coal. It runs out. In 1996, Roy Baumeister, Ph.D. conducted a cruel experiment where he and his colleagues studied will power by withholding scrumptious treats. He kept 67 participants in a room that smelled like freshly baked chocolate cookies, then showed them the cookies and other chocolate bonbons. Some got to indulge, and others were told to eat radishes. After this torture, the team assigned the participants a difficult geometric puzzle. As you might imagine, the folks who got stuck eating the radishes did far worse on the puzzle than the ones who got to indulge in the treats. The concept was born that our willpower is finite.

Rejecting false promises

Addiction, however, isn’t about willpower—I’ll go over that later with my kids. If it were, I would have never been able to throw out the gum and cigs two days ago. It’s about recognizing the false promises whispered in our ears and begging a higher power to help direct us away from temptation.

“Addiction is a process of buying into false and empty promises: the false promise of relief, the false promise of emotional security, the false sense of fulfillment, and the false sense of intimacy with the world,” writes Craik Nakken in his insightful book The Addictive Personality. “Like any other major illness, addiction is an experience that changes people in permanent ways. That is why it’s so important that people in recovery attend Twelve Step and other self-help meetings on a regular basis; the addictive logic remains deep inside of them and looks for an opportunity to reassert itself in the same or in a different form.”

I exercised willpower in August for a month, and then relapsed. I exercised willpower again at Christmas and relapsed. However, both attempts were efforts to satisfy other people’s requests. This time was initiated completely by me and I declared powerlessness. A year of painful side-effects had brought me to my knees. Only after I uttered the Third Step Prayer as the sun rose over Back Creek was I able to toss the two remaining cigarettes and the rest of my Nicorette into the trash and persist through the hellish withdrawal symptoms of these first few days. I looked out at the calm water and said,

Dear God, I obviously can’t handle these things, much like I couldn’t handle alcohol. I suspect they are contributing to my ruminations, my fragile mood, and my anxiety. I have tried many times to taper off of them without success. Therefore, I give this addiction to you. Please take it all — the cravings, the pain beneath the habit, the hole in my soul. Fill that space with your love and peace.

Walking away from the toy grabber

Nicotine, and every addiction of mine, is like that infuriating toy grabber claw arcade game where all you have to do is cinch the claw at the right time and the cute stuffed pig or octopus is yours.

Oh! —there it goes!, you say as your pig slips underneath the claw teeth.

Another 50 cents later, Darn it! I swear it was almost mine!

Some people walk away after a dollar, figuring out that the game is rigged.

Other people play the bloody game until their pockets are empty.

Addicts fall into the second group. Their brains are missing the link associating certain behaviors with unfavorable responses. Their craving for a high, or a dopamine spike, is so acute that they don’t consider the prior 99 failed attempts before they load the machine with another 50 cents. This time will be differentLook how cute Nemo is. My happiness depends on that stuffed fish. Somewhere in the insanity of their thoughts, they step from Fun Land to Addict Land.

Let’s talk addiction

Ironically, my birthday intervention brought me closer to my kids. I learned that they don’t want a perfect mom, as much as a mom who is trying her best to be healthy. I earned their trust with my transparency, and I was impressed by their level of empathy. While it would have been easy to blame the junk food on perimenopause or some other excuse, I felt that these two young people who share my DNA need to know what addiction looks like, and how difficult it can be to walk away. They also need to know that if they have to choose between four servings of Milk Duds and a cigarette, they should definitely go with the Milk Duds. They’ll be back to eating carrots soon enough.

Share this:

12 thoughts on “Rejecting the False Promises of Addiction

  1. Love to read your articles!
    I was a smoker, and a closet smoker. I don’t know how many years I smoked, because I quit and started again so many times. It has been 20 years since the last one! And I didn’t even like it!!
    Therese, I do know this though, that being transparent with our Lord will bring you many, many blessings…
    So, whatcha writing now, huh?!

  2. Beautifully written! I always read your articles…perhaps because I knew you growing up in our small town, or perhaps due to our common denominators…high school, band, and my youngest brother.
    I am a former smoker and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but so worth it. Prayers for the journey.

  3. I am not a smoker but I’m a binge eater, a stress eater. Your honesty about your nicotine addiction opened my eyes to the lies I’ve been telling myself. I really appreciate the prayer you shared and will use it in my battle. Thank you for your insight, Theresa.

  4. After working my way out of a toxic marriage, I still had other behaviors to address. My toxic job came second and 2 weeks after leaving the old job I started a new job and quit smoking. Also left behind most of my smoking companions. I talked with my physician who helped me get some help and I haven ‘t gone back to smoking for 15 years. I have learned to work on one behavior or situation at a time. Don’t give up Therese! You will know when the time is right. Continue to seek strength and let go of self judgement. Give time time.

  5. Keep at it Therese. One minute at a time. Keep the Milk Duds handy. When you give something up you have to fill the void or else you’ll be right back in it. Self care and self compassion all the way. Take good care!

  6. This is a very brave post Therese. Your transparency gives courage to those struggling with their own personal demons. I lived with chronic depression for decades. I made drastic changes in what I eat, and I lived a miracle. Begin free from chronic depression is wonderful, and I am always mindful it is there waiting for me to eat pastry and donuts (my personal fav!)… We have to remind ourselves to seek progress not perfection. Big virtual hug to you for your courage!

    1. Cheryl,
      How did you overcome depression by just changing your diet? I have TRD and would
      love to understand what you did. I believe
      there are many components ie medication,
      therapy, exercise/diet etc
      Thank you,
      Jane

      1. Hi Jane. My recovery was a complete accident. I became depressed when I was 13.
        Prescription drugs hadn’t worked for me; I had been on and off Zoloft, Paxil and I can’t remember what else numerous times. In 2012 my husband was having terrible side effects from taking a statin for 7 years and was borderline diabetic. We were terrified and got rid of sugar, gluten/wheat, dairy, preservatives, processed foods and so on to normalize his glucose levels. We pulled him back from diabetes, and a few months later realized I was no longer depressed. I haven’t been chronically depressed in over six years. I hope it’s ok if I share that I published a book last year about my recovery. If you want to check it out on Amazon, the title is “Eat Your Blues Away” which is exactly what I did. If you’d like, you can also check out my blog, http://ThinStrongHealthy.com

  7. Thank you for sharing this struggle you are experiencing. I somehow never smoked but do have some eating and Facebook addiction at times. It is a lot easier to escape from dealings with today by binge watching tv or spending too much time concrete computer. Congratulations for quitting smoking. It is a process. ( Someone saids Rome was built in one day) Thanks again from longtime reader FB

  8. Your kids sound Awesome!! There is so much we have yet to understand about the addiction command-center in the brain. I know it is being worked on and studied and, in some cases, discoveries are being “coincidentally” found by patients who were 2-pack a day smokers coming out of brain injuries or comas without their addiction. Hang in there, treat yourself to additional alternative replacements like accupuncture, craneal work, patches. Nothing wrong with needing and admitting a need for help – in fact it is very admirable as is all of your writing. Keep it up! ?

  9. Thankyou for your honesty. I have battled with addiction to chocolate and sweets etc every time my antidepressant medications were changed or increased and was so discouraged when I continued to gain weight. I tried so hard to control what I ate and to eat healthy otherwise but the craving for chocolate or chocolate ice cream was hard to resist. But every time that I was able to reduce the meds that addiction went away. At the moment I have blocks of chocolate in my pantry that I have no interest in eating because I am coping on a lower dose of my antidepressants.

Leave a Reply to Kathryn Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *