This weekend at work a colleague saw me eating a snack cake. He lit into me about how I was violating my diet, and that he wanted to see an article about how it was okay to eat a snack cake when you are on a diet. Okay, buddy, here it is.
I am not on a diet. I wasn’t on a diet this weekend, either. When I was eating only meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner I was not on a diet. I have dietary guidelines that I attempt to live by and if you commonly read this blog, you know exactly what they are. I don’t eat processed foods. That snack cake was a highly processed, sugar filled violation of a guideline that I live by. The fact that I ate a snack cake did not fill me with shame. I was not eating it in a closet, I did not hide and try to eat it. I decided to have a sweet and I had one.
Living as I do, three meals a day following the rule to eat no processed food, it is not unsafe or a sign of anything at all when I step over that bright line. The occasional variation from a norm is not a pattern, but it can become a pattern. The way that it becomes a pattern is to hide it. The way that it becomes a pattern is t0 be ashamed of it. The amazing thing about your brain is that if you do something under cover, that you must keep a secret, it is instantly a dangerous habit beginning to form.
Here is a video of doctor Renee Brown discussing shame. Hiding something is a behavior that happens when you think what you are doing will lower your standing with the people you are hiding it from. The fact that you are hiding means that you fear that you are not worthy of your friends, family and peers esteem. If you feel that you are unworthy it is a symptom that you don’t believe you are who you should be and has no connection to how your relations will view you.
Your feelings of unworthiness and disconnection lead you to more and more shameful behavior. When I didn’t accept the accusation that I should be ashamed to be eating something processed and sweet, I defused the power of that cake to become something that I could not control.
A person that is addicted to something, drugs, alcohol, food, if they are wanting to stop, benefit so much more by being connected to everyone around them, instead of being scorned and shunned by them. Connection to other people leads to a healthy and happy environment to heal in. I wrote an article sometime in the last year that talked about this, and one story in there is about lab rats that chose to use drugs and to eat junk. The first study showed them getting addicted, and what the rates of addiction were. Another researcher had the idea to compare these animals, who were living the miserable existence of a lab rat to identical animals that were living in a happier environment. The research showed that misery led to addiction, and that substances weren’t just naturally addictive.
After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is — again — striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.)
Feeling ashamed of yourself is a real problem, it is a source of misery, and the problem is all in your head. Your greatest fear of what would happen if your big secret were exposed is way overblown. Your wife won’t leave you, nobody will hate you (except all of the commenters of Facebook) and even they wouldn’t hate you if you were their mom or dad. Your shame is your shitty cage, and you made it.
The place to combat shame is when you think of what you are. You are not an addict that can’t resist temptation, you are just you, a person that needs to love and respect himself enough to ask his loved ones for help. You don’t need them to stand guard over you to prevent you from hurting yourself and that’s not what you would ask for. You are worthy of their help and support. All you have to do is ask for it. Open yourself to the vulnerability of your life for one second and ask for help. That cage that is keeping you ashamed and addicted instantly vanishes. And you are free.