I hang out with addicts all the time, thankfully mostly in crappy church basements on folding chairs that shake from too much coffee as we go around the room talking about how our lives had become unmanageable and how by working some simple steps and turning our lives over to a spiritual practice we stay sober just one more day.
Over all the years I’ve learned all addictions are not equal and while I can comfortably relate to many forms, I hereby declare that those who suffer with food addiction have the worst battle of all. I know the others won’t agree with me because very few people truly understand the grip of a food addiction, the incredible warping of my brain and the severe impact on my judgment just a few wrong ingredients can create. Unlike most of the others, I have to go back to the trough day in and day out to survive— walking away entirely from the substances that generate my crazy isn’t an option, I don’t get to just not drink and go to meetings, I have to sit with the devil over and over and over again. Of course this is how it goes, I never get the easy way out.
I’ve now traveled around the world and navigated countless business meetings and social settings for more than a decade remaining true to my recovery commitments and yet not making too much a spectacle of myself or being one of those ridiculous people who have to obsess about food ingredients and ask the waiter to go check ingredients 22 times before ordering.
But all my luck ran out on my first trip to Sri Lanka where my hosts wanted me to eat everything. The Sri Lankan’s have a custom, “Guests in the house, God’s in the house” and we would go to these little mountain villages to eat in the homes of family and friends. This was a BIG deal… not just because we were guests of the Chief Monk of North America, but because we were Americans. For many of these people we were the first white people they had ever seen. “May I touch your skin?” some would ask in a bewildered amazement. Eating whatever they made for us was not just the custom; this was the law of the land.
You could taste the servant devotion and deep love in every bite. It felt like feeding us was one of the biggest honors of many of these people’s simple lives.
The monk didn’t know then about my addiction and I honestly didn’t know how to handle it. I’d been in long-term recovery for more than 20 years and I knew how fragile my body was, how quickly being out of alignment with all my practices, both spiritually and physically, could put my life in jeopardy. I knew we wouldn’t get offered alcohol— hanging with a Buddhist monk makes that a certainty— but I honestly hadn’t fully considered the food.
At the first meal, I knew I was in trouble. After so many years, I was finally in a position where I had to choose what to do— some of the core tools that I had been so rigorous about, the choices that sustained me and brought such huge peace and happiness to my life were now being challenged. I thought about the 21st practice of the Bodhisattva and even considered leaning over to the monk to quote the teaching “abandoned it quickly without hesitation” as my intro to explain why I wasn’t going to be able to eat the food these people had likely been making for days and saving money for weeks or even months.
But I couldn’t do it.
As I saw the love and grace all around me, I considered the final part of each of these practices “The Son’s of the Buddha all practice this way” and I knew that being kind and not causing harm to another person was paramount to my own physical struggles. For the next three weeks I ate as carefully as I could avoiding the things that really cause my addiction to rocket, but mostly I surrender to the love and kindness being extended to me and completely humbled myself to the practice, committing fully to the belief that all my other tools and rigorous spiritual practices would sustain me while just this one part got out of alignment.
When we got home, my food immediately got back into alignment and the experience is one of the most vital moments of my spiritual life because I validated for myself what all the guru’s and wisdom teachings tell me— loving-kindness matters most and acts of selflessness will sustain us in the end.