Excess has always been my biggest weakness; the twin ills of impatience and greed have plagued me from adolescence through to present day. Notwithstanding my grandmother’s insistence upon it, moderation has been an alien concept which, finally, slowly, is dissolving into familiarity. Time and again, I have acted in ways my conscious mind disagreed with, instead feeding the powerful subconscious drives, analogous to a junkie desperate for a fix. You know it’s bad for you, but you do it anyway.
For fifteen years, I abused sugar to egregious proportions. In a typical day, I may have eaten five cake bars, four double deckers, a cylindrical Cadbury cake designed to serve 4-6 people and perhaps a large Bakewell tart. My ex-wife rightly tired of my binge eating, which left me unable to enjoy her wonderful cooking or engage intimately too many times, such was the bloating and nausea that followed this habit. Not to mention the money it would cost – around £150 a month in petrol station or convenience store extras. On more than one occasion, I binged and vomited. This was never my intention, just an unfortunate, if predictable, consequence.
I suffer from a (at times) debilitating psychosomatic disorder which I am convinced is partly down to increased sensitivity to sugar resulting from gross overconsumption. I had wanted to kick this habit from late 2009 through to July 14th 2016, which was the first day of my cutting out of high-sugar treats altogether. I had failed hundreds of times; this would be different. It was my time and I would beat this. My condition improved almost immediately but returned in December and after a slow reintroduction became horrendous around six weeks ago – lo and behold, after increasing sugar through fruit and in an act of unconscious masochism, three days of cake and chocolate. I quit before a habit set in. I believe I’ve learned from it and so long as I remember what’s happened, I’ll never return to it – but the damage was done and I’m still paying for it today.
Excess spilled into time management too; I began going to football matches more often in 2013, until it became home or away every single week, and family life majorly suffered. I had all these reasons why I went but the truth is I succumbed to excess again.
Sickening levels of materialism came into play – something that has always bothered me though I couldn’t codify it until I read the excellent Stuffocation by James Wallman last May. Year upon year, I’ve fallen for the fashionable charms of Diffusion retail (see the featured post on my blog), and finally the depth of the problem hit home after I bought twenty pairs of jeans and trousers from there, one Saturday morning in Feb 2014, because they were so cheap I felt I had to. I had the money to waste, it was something psychological, something deeper that was pained by this spree. Excess won out again; it is important to label it as such, as when the foe is familiar, we can better recognise him.
The Ancient Greek philosopher, Democritus, wrote, “The brave man is he who overcomes not only his enemies but his pleasures.” Bravery, traditionally, is regarded as action. Taming the lion, taunting the bull, confronting your boss, even playing chicken heading towards a cliff top edge. You may argue a level of stupidity in some or all of these actions, however all are motivated, in part at least, as a show of one’s bravery, one’s courage.
Yet, I suggest to you that a deeper courage exists, in the shadowy recesses of our minds: the courage to control our desires and exercise discipline. A thousand rockstars now passed on will attest to the difficulty of this, and the more abundant your resources that can enable abuse of for example, alcohol, drugs and sex, the harder the battle to say no because the here and now financial cost provided no practical constraint. Less extreme examples pervade our everyday lives; having just one piece of cake; sticking to the three cigarettes a day as you continue to wind down and quit; staying faithful to your partner when temptation presents itself; adhering to the shopping list as you pass the treats aisle…the list is endless.
Controlling these excesses changes how others see us; we project strength over weakness, and to some degree, that matters because how others relate to us informs our self esteem. Most of us, me included, want to be liked, respected. More importantly though, it changes how we see ourselves, how much we respect ourselves and when we attain the right level of that, we are able to set and maintain meaningful boundaries with our desires and with other people. This is the sort of discipline that begins with a series of isolated decisions and slowly builds momentum to achieve that mental detachment and assuredness that leaves you the master of your own happiness, the key to which resides in your own pocket.
For me, the battle goes on and I see now it will always be a case of reigning in desire until such desires wilt under the strength of habitual discipline. I know that I can be around sugary treats and have zero temptation to partake of them; I have gotten there again quite quickly, and this gives me the ongoing belief that I can take control in other areas of my life. The continuing practise of minimalism, too, is a strong ally in that it provides repeated chances to exercise discipline. Saying no to the rapid-thinking emotional centre of the brain and retraining habits that lead to unhappiness are two of the hardest things we can do in practice, and when we do them, the simplicity and happiness we are rewarded with is indescribable, utterly without compare.