Whether or not you identify as an addict, craving is a distraction, and distractions can kill.
It was 2004 and my whole family was at a restaurant talking and laughing. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. We had buried my grandmother just hours before. I had a three-hour drive ahead of me, and I just wanted the day to be over, to be able to relax. To do that, I had to have what was waiting for me in the fridge. In my apartment. Three hours away.
I should have been thinking about my driving, or at least about my grandmother but, as I hit the blinker to move right, I was thinking about how much __________ I had in the fridge, and whether that would be enough on a night like tonight, and where I’d go to get more of it if I needed to.
I looked over my right shoulder to the middle lane on the Grand Central Parkway. I was crossing the dotted white line when a van I hadn’t seen came hurtling toward me. We were about to collide, so I cut the steering wheel back to the left. About to hit the thick highway fence, I cut back hard to the right.
Next thing I know, my car is spinning across the parkway at 60 miles an hour.
One full circle. “Shit!”
Three. “… that’s the end of that.”
And that should’ve been my last thought.
I slammed to a stop in the center lane facing oncoming traffic. Hundreds of cars traveling west on the GCP stopped short to avoid hitting me and each other. For a second that lasted a hundred years, I watched the cars stop on a dime like dominoes falling in reverse.
I made eye contact with the drivers nearest me in each of the three lanes. They’d been paying attention, they’d been present while they were driving, and that was the only reason I was alive.
Thank you, I thought.
You’re an idiot and you’re making me late, they thought, and then leaned on their horns.
I turned my car to face the right way and continued home. I thought “I should pull over and get myself together,” but I didn’t. I needed my fix, my stress-relief, my peace, now more than ever. And it was still three hours away.
I’d come about as close to death as anyone ever comes. A big fat life lesson was sitting on my fucking face. And all I could think about was getting home so I could relieve my craving.
The worst thing about having addicted parents is that they’re forever distracted. The same applies when we’re the addict, regardless of what we crave: Certain foods, alcohol, scratch tickets, drugs, cigarettes, or even TV. Of course, the list goes on and on.
Distraction (often in the form of craving and regret) can be just as devastating as the acute physical, mental, and emotional effects of addiction. In fact, distraction can be worse. While it may take decades for our liver to fail, our teeth to rot, or our heart to up and quit, distraction can set in early and plague us every minute of every day.
It can make us miss the bus.
It can make us forget to keep a promise.
It can make us spin our car into oncoming traffic on the Grand Central Parkway.
And it can make us feel disconnected from the life we’re living, the people we love, and the bodies we’re privileged to have.
“Surely you’re not suggesting that getting distracted can be as dangerous as getting wasted?!”
It’s not a suggestion – it’s a fact. My life wasn’t in danger that night because I was drunk or high.
My life was in danger because I desperately craved relief from a need that gets stronger and deeper every time I try to satisfy it.
Craving consumed my attention that night, pulling me off course like Odysseus’s sirens.
If you have what I have, and your life feels like it’s being ravaged by distraction, now’s not the time to freak out.
You don’t have to stop doing what you’re doing.
You don’t have to quit.
You don’t have to try to moderate, measure, or weigh.
Or get all spiritual ‘n shit.
I’ve been where you are (deep in the trenches of a wanting that took me out of my life) and my suggestion is this: Consider just paying attention today to how your cravings for Whatever-The-Hell-It-Is impact your ability to stay focused on and engaged in the present moment.
Pay attention to how being away from the object of that craving makes you feel about the rest of your life – like your work, your family, and your other obligations.
Pay attention to how loud and how often the siren calls.
Pay attention to how that tug neutralizes any goals you might have to make a healthier choice.
Notice that sabotaging your own efforts to moderate feel almost inevitable, such that trying to moderate – or even just thinking about trying to moderate – feels like a set-up for failure.
Pay attention. Be curious. Take notes.
To loosely quote a popular saying, when you’re ready to learn how to keep your eyes on the road – and actually enjoy the ride – the tools you need to get there will appear.
Once again, a completely different way of thinking about this crazy thing. Thank you x
thank you karen!
My eating disorder started in 2006 deguised as a weight loss plan. After a few months of restriction, I started having these periods in which I ate uncontrollably what I couldn’t before. I still struggle with these periods. One I remember particularly was around 2009, I was in high school. Going back home from school, I spent all my money buying packages of cookies and chocolates. I literally had no money, not even for the bus. I had to make up a story and call a school mate (she wasnt even my friend) who lived nearby so she could borrow some money. I realized how screwed up I still was. Thanks to some major changes in my life, these episodes had almost reduced to zero. I’m much better now, but sometimes that craving, along to the shame it carries, remains. Thanks for sharing your experiences. You have no idea how much it meant to me to find your blog and to acknowledge I’m not alone in my fight. Regards from Mexico City 🙂
Thank you for sharing your truth, Danielle.
How do I get right? I don’t know where to start! I’m in a viscous cycle of eat, regret, not exercise, regret, eat, regret…regret regret regret…. Please help! Thanks
Christan – come to the workshop. It’ll help. The link to see the schedule is above.
I am so glad you lived through the ordeal, mentally and physically. Everything you mention is extremely familiar. Its so strange .. . I know I would feel better if I made small steps in my head and body to promote better health. Yet there is a resistance to that. I do not fully understand where this comes from, this self sabotage cycle. Perhaps from years of trying to alter this and that and “failing” in my mind. Thank you for sharing your experience. I love how you write.
Thank you, Bethany!
I love this in so many ways. Long term consequences, short term fixes, and yet another reason to live in the moment. Pay attention to your thoughts and care for yourself….crazy idea eh? So simple, it just may work.
For those who have never done this, it doesn’t always come naturally. I highly recommend anyone who this resonates with to pick up a cheap paperback on meditation. There isn’t really a right way or a wrong way, it is a practice for knowing ones self better.
Oh my, Kelly, So glad that no one was injured. I’m sorry about your grandmother. We have all had close calls. Perhaps this one you were being carried by that Angel grandmother you just buried. May you learn from this as well as writing about it for others to learn from too. Life is precious. One day at a time.
Wow. There are so few original thoughts on these subjects, but I can count on you for a unique perspective. You are so right. For me, it is the carb craving cycle. A sandwich for lunch and I am as good as done until I find the nearest chocolate. When I worked above a drugstore in NJ, it meant a giant Hershey bar. I literally could not think – could not focus – could not process as long as the craving was there. It was real, physical, visceral. And chocolate was the cure. I am still learning about myself and my cravings. Thanks for this great insight, Kelly. Awesome as always.
I feel you, Suzanne. thank you for taking the time to write!
That was very powerful <3 Thank you for sharing.
Dear Ms (sweet) Strong Coffey, once again, thank you for sharing, but most of all, thank you for putting down in black and white exactly what I have been doing for so long…… therefore the many slidebacks and failures.
Thank you that you have given me a new perspective to face my own distractions and not concentrating or fighting hard enough to overcome those and move forward to success and a healthier body and lifestyle.
I know you are a very bsuy lad, and therfore I appreciate reading your mails and blogs
Thank you so much
PS: My condolences with the passing of your family member..to all your family
This is so where I am right now. Right now. As a matter of fact, I just opened a new tab for YouTube to distract me from writing this comment. Trying to sit without indulging my distractions or my addictions makes me want to run screaming from myself. I’m starting to discover the extent to which I have completely checked out from my family, my friends, aspects of my job– much less who I am underneath all this noise. I haven’t had as visceral a scare as you recount in this post, but that’s by chance. Thank you for sharing your work, because the extent to which I want to avoid it only underlines it’s the truth I need to hear right now.
I stumbled upon your website yesterday after doing a Google search for “food addiction” while I was in tears over the constant battle I have with food, cravings, weight, self esteem, guilt, etc. I’m so thankful that I did. Thank you for sharing your story and experiences.
Thank you, Kelly, for putting everything out there in such a real way. You never pussyfoot around & you tell it like it is. It’s such a basic concept, yet so unheard of these days. I’ve gotten so sick of reading all the info put to the “poor suffering reader” and I just love your no-nonsense approach and especially your sarcasm! You are REAL to me & I can relate to you. That means a lot in getting through to my screwed-up brain. Thanks so much for all your wisdom, courage & inspiration!
Thanks, Tori! I’m glad my experience isn’t just my own 🙂