Holy Sit: What’s in Your Vice Chest?

What’s in Your Vice Chest?

In the chapters about Suicide by Cancer, I wrote about the most important decision to make when faced with a disease diagnosis of any severity. It can be an opportunity to check out of life, or it can be an opportunity to fully check back into life. I chose to check back into life. What I found is that I had some changes to make in order to regain my health and have the vital life that I dreamed of and DESERVED.

While I believed my body had the strength to heal itself, I was still scared and unsure if the alternative healing route I had chosen would actually work. What I was sure about was that the coping mechanisms that had been life long companions would no longer serve me.

For example, sometimes, when life got stressful or emotions were overwhelming, I would reach for a glass of wine (or two), a bowl of sweet cereal (or two) or perhaps a piece of chocolate (or six). But, now knowing that cancer feeds on sugar, I couldn’t reach for those vices any longer. They would feed the cancer (aka Uterine Space Invader), and if I want to be dramatic, would eventually kill me.

Frequently, after a stressful day I would treat myself to an oversized plate of nachos while watching the latest episode of the Biggest Loser. I found comfort in consuming those yummy, crisp, corn, tortilla chips oozing with melted cheddar cheese, sour cream, olives and fresh avocado. Although perpetually “a single digit gal” as my friend, Marcie, likes to call those of us under a size 10, I still shared the mindset and some behaviors of many of the obese guests on the show. From time to time, I overate, and over-drank to deal with stress, grief, loneliness and my own innate feelings of inadequacy. When a woman weighing 250 pounds has the courage to go on The Biggest Loser and get on a scale in front of America, I admire her courage. I feel her pain when her habits are in her face and directly in conflict with her goals. I cheer her on when she pushes past her old limits. I feel her joy when her 250-pound body is transformed to 135 pounds.  Then I realize that major transformation is also possible for me in significant areas of my life, such as changing self-destructive behaviors. 

Unhealthy tendencies are alive and well in many of us. Just because we don’t wear it on the outside, doesn’t mean it isn’t eating us up on the inside.  Unless the pattern is named and interrupted it can lead to serious health challenges like obesity, heart disease and cancer to name a few. Alongside the health challenges are relationships, jobs, reputation and physical safety that can be impaired when our habits turn into addictions.

My point is, that as I was healing and making changes in my life, I had to take an HONEST look at what vices were in my vice chest. I define vices as something that a) is used to avoid what’s really going on such as painful emotions or b) when used in excess can create a negative impact on your life. 

So, my vices, in no particular order, are:

  • Sugar consumption (especially chocolate)? Check.
  • Overeating? Check.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption? Check.
  • Workaholism? Check. Check. Check!
  • Exorbitant Facebooking? Check.
  • Oversleeping? Check, but with reservation. I believe sleeping is the healthiest coping mechanism I have.
What’s in your vice chest? There are plenty more to choose from: caffeine, shopping, excessive TV watching, sex, prescription and recreational drug use etc.

I know I’m not alone in this. We have a national health crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the estimated cost of substance abuse and addiction is $559 billion per year – this is what we pay in health care, productivity loss, crime, incarceration and drug enforcement. Going unconscious is easy; we have created a world of consumption that has dumbed us down and numbed us out. Doing the work to stay awake, healthy and emotionally connected in this world is hard, especially when there is so much suffering and so many distractions and substances ready to take our minds off of anything painful.

One of the most poignant finds on Facebook is this prescription pill bottle put together by a chiropractor that sums up our cycle of dependence on pills and quick fixes.  While this is a humorous illustration, it’s a serious issue. Prescription drugs are now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States taking first place over car accidents.

If not prescriptions, many of us are borrowing energy from that first shot of morning coffee, or sugary cereal. By late morning, the sugar or caffeine crash hits, so we need another shot of stimulant that might come in the form of an energy drink. By late afternoon, we need another “fix” to help us get through the day and by nighttime, an alcoholic beverage or pill is necessary to help us sleep since we’ve been amped up on synthetic energy all day. This behavior might start out benign enough, but eventually it becomes a habit and then an addiction. Soon, we are dependent on borrowed energy until our body literally becomes bankrupt and shuts down with adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue or even more serious diseases.

It’s not a pretty scenario, but my guess is that many of us have fallen into our own self-destructive cycle whether it’s to deal with physical or emotional issues. As for me, I knew that the most important thing was not to feel shame about behaviors that had served me somehow up until this point in my life. As researcher, author and vulnerability expert, Brene Brown, writes, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

If I shamed these companion vices, I would never create the space in my heart for self-compassion, and therefore, room in my mind for change to occur. So, I had to observe my behaviors without judgment, and slowly (actually quickly) set out to replace them with behaviors that would feed my soul and starve the Uterine Space Invader.

Of all the vices that I was most concerned about, overworking was the biggest issue for me. It was a habit that brought on perpetual stress and caused me to reach for something from my vice chest (sugar, alcohol, nachos)! Stress from overworking, environmental toxins, plus emotional toxins likely created the perfect storm for a cancer diagnosis. Then I spent my hard-earned cash chasing the problem, and seeing specialists to help me with a growing list of health issues. In my typical type-A, fix-it-now mentality, I bought expensive, last minute trips to Hawaii to quickly “relax.”  It was too little, too late. If I stayed on this trajectory, I’d soon be a little old lady dragging my oxygen tank to the beach, eating handfuls of Peanut M & M’s while trying to convince Kekoa at the Hula Hut that I was perfectly fit to take surf lessons. Denial anyone?

Gaining the knowledge that my vices would contribute to my demise, I couldn't ignore this anymore. But how would I cope with the severity of a cancer diagnosis?

It was time to reach for more peaceful strategies. It was time to reach back into the spiritual realms. It made sense actually. The word “spirits” is often used to define alcohol. Alcohol is a spirit. People want to be inspired or to “be one with spirit,” and they often use alcohol, substances and sugar to get a high that can sustainably be achieved through spiritual practices. Meditation, prayer, chanting, and reading inspiring literature can give us a similar high and the closer connection to Spirit that we all (consciously or unconsciously) crave. When we practice some of these peaceful practices in community it can be as gratifying as having a couple whiskeys at the local pub with friends. And the good news is, you don't get the hangover.

This is a longer blog than I wanted, so here is the summary:

  1. Most of us have unhealthy vices that help us numb out or cope with physical and emotional pain from time to time. It’s important not to feel shame about it so we can go into action and change the behavior.
  2. If facing a health crisis, those vices can actually work against our goal of healing i.e. eating sugar to cope with cancer when cancer feeds on sugar.
  3. If unchecked, vices can turn into habits and then addictions, which can impact not only health, but relationships, jobs, and our reputation. Nationally, we spend billions of dollars annually on substance abuse and addictions. 
  4. The best time to interrupt the pattern is obviously before a person gets sick and before habits turn into addictions. If you are addicted, there are many places to get help. Ask those who’ve been through recovery, see a therapist, search for local 12-Step programs on the Internet. Don’t give up until you get the support you need to heal.
  5. If your vice is still in habit form, it’s a good time to start looking at more peaceful means of coping with stress, suffering or pain. I will address some of these more peaceful tools in the next blog, Making Peace with Disease.

Wishing you shame-less self-awareness, great health and inner peace.


Note: This Holy Sit blog is one in a series of blog posts that tell the story of my journey healing from cancer without surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. It's also about spiritual awakening and finding inner peace in a chaotic world. If you want to read the full story, check out the chapter titles on the Holy Sit home page & start with this one.  Cheers to your health!