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How Overcoming Addiction Makes You Stronger

Last updated on August 17, 2020

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Oreo addiction is real.

In our Kim household, Oreos are a permanent staple in the kitchen pantry, as we routinely replace them even before the ginormous Costco packs are completely empty, thanks Costco!

Remember not too long ago when Oreos as a justifiable addiction made a trendy headline? Vegetarians and most vegans high-fived one another that they too could scarf these perfect combinations of chocolatey, crunchy, and creamy goodness. 

But what if I were to choose to take a step back from the Oreo addiction, or any other addiction for that matter? It’s worth pointing out that the heart of an Oreo, or an o-re-o, is re, which in Latin means subject matter.  So just like with the cookie itself, you’ll want to get to the middle of the addiction, I might say, sandwiched between two big o’s. 

Judson Brewer has a pretty popular Ted Talk about breaking from bad habits, smoking, and other powerful addictions.

I like the novelty of his taking the position of a mere observer watching point by point the addiction or bad habit as it happens because you’re no longer fighting head-on the stronghold of addiction, and then beating yourself up afterward for caving into the craving, but rather just watching passively almost from afar. 

If you could, how many bad habits would you break with the snap of your fingers? Too many to count on both hands and still have fingers left over to snap? I have to say that my initial excitement from Brewer’s talk went downhill pretty quickly as I reached for another Oreo, and another, and another one after that (insert sigh here).

I guess it would be a cop-out to blame marketers and advertisers out there for taglines that seem etched in your brain, catchy jingles that you sing in your unawares, and clever commercials that are hard to forget?

And I guess that would explain terms like “vice-like grip.” Lay’s chips were right in saying that normally “you can’t stop at one” because the more you eat, then the more you want even still. Here too, nutritionists talk about how people’s palates and brain neurotransmitters adapt to what you eat. In other words, eating more Oreos makes you just want more Oreos.

It’s sad but true – trust me, as I can vouch for it myself. I also had a friend who tried to eat so much of it at one time, figuring that this way she would get too sick of it to eat it again. But she tells me that she never found that point of too much of a good thing.

The time it takes to break an addiction

Try Googling 21 days, and you’ll find no shortage of studies and psychology papers about 21 consecutive days to form/break a habit. Some say that 21 days is the minimum of a reported range of time to break a habit. If 21 days is the bottom end of that range, then what’s the upper end? How about 7 years? That’s how long it took Matt Talbot from Ireland to ease into living life without the struggle of alcohol. From there on he did maintain sobriety for the remaining 40 years of his life, in his defense.

Wow, you know what I’m thinking.  Seven tough years of struggling with an oreo addiction pale in comparison to getting over alcoholism, right? How did Matt persevere? I mean, even the thought of such a protracted battle makes me want to reach for another Oreo!

Could we maybe just ignore the addiction, or even peacefully coexist with it? If I limit myself to one pack a day and skip breakfast, maybe I won’t gain 20 lbs each year into a diabetic coma? My body, my choices, right?

Well, Aristotle would fault my line of thinking with his famous quote, “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence then isn’t an act, but a habit.” Thomas Aquinas goes further to describe habits as characterizing their possessor. Both Aristotle and Aquinas speak of habits as being not secondary but essential for man’s pursuit of happiness.

From addiction to excellence

This idea about habits makes me think differently about addictions as a disordered attachment to a temporal good, elevating it to a spot that should be reserved for eternal good. It comes from an inordinate desire to satiate my lower senses, rather than a natural desire for something that’s forever and doesn’t expire or go stale.

Aquinas in his Summa Theologica separate good habits called virtue from bad ones called vice. We don’t speak enough of virtue or vice these days, but I think even acknowledging them would be very helpful, especially for kids like me finding our way in life.

As virtue and vice are both habits that facilitate the act and in some ways define the person doing the act (e.g. a person who habitually plays the violin every day is, safe to say, a violist by definition), their importance can’t be overstated.

This morning my family drove out to Venice Beach and was surprised to see a far cry from the Muscle Beach of old. Rather than fitness and nutrition habit enthusiasts exercising in the So Cal sun, there were homeless people cursing and yelling at one another, which was honestly terrifying. 

Some of these people looked relatively young and healthy, and some looked like they were struggling with addictions of their own. It made me think about what a slippery slope life can be going from a bunch of virtue to a bunch of vices. That could be me there in the tent with nowhere else to go.

Matt Talbot could’ve been a drunkard on the streets of Dublin, but he managed to beat his addictions, even after years of struggle. How did he do it? Just like Jesus, Talbot fasted and prayed. See Luke 22:44, “In His anguish, Jesus prayed more earnestly.”

On the level of human nature, nutritionists and biologists alike attest to intermittent fasting (IM) releasing you from sugar addiction and other cravings. And fans of prayer know that the humility that comes with letting God do His will in your life unleashes a ton of graces that strengthen you beyond what your measly will on its own can manage against temptations. 

Noting that in each of us is a potential saint and sinner I’m going to take another note from Brewer’s talk and retrain my addiction’s trigger. 

Maybe after a meal, when the thought of an Oreo usually results in a zombie-like trance to the kitchen pantry, I’ll try breaking the trigger and habit by offering up the sacrifice for all the folks on the streets who need help breaking out of their addictions. At least during the Safer at Home Mandate, there will be plenty of opportunities to try that!

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