If you’re like almost 2.5% percent of the population and almost 10% of New Hampshirites, you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka: SAD. That is, sometime during Winter you go into a depressive period. Whether it’s related to the lack of sunlight, vitamin D deficiency, a lack of exercise, or anything else SAD makes winter much longer and colder.
For compulsive overeaters, SAD episodes can be frightening. Its sufferers may feel a general malaise during winter, but acute periods can be harrowing. Arising from seemingly nothing, they can come suddenly and last for a couple weeks or more. During times such as these, we are especially vulnerable to our stinking thinking. Our disease, progressive, always getting more powerful within us, can use times such as these to reawaken urges we hoped had been put to rest permanently.
In addition to SAD’s symptoms of depression, anxiety, and malaise, we compulsive eaters may experience echoes of the restlessness, irritability, and discontent we associate with the disease of addiction. Some of us, abstinent for long periods of time, report experiencing a sudden increase in food thinking. That is, we find our obsession with food heightened. Some of us also report food dreams and other similarly strange symptoms related to our illness. For those who have experienced abstinence, a ramping up of such thoughts can scare the dickens out of us.
There is, however, good news for us doubly privileged to have SAD and food addiction. We can successfully apply our program to the Winter blues. We look to OA’s spiritual principles as a guide. And we must if we don’t want our mental obsession with food to grow powerful enough to damage us again. [We may, of course, also wish to seek the help of outside professionals. OA takes no position on outside issues, but it does recommend that we get outside help as appropriate.]
First off, we have to admit to ourselves that we are in pain. Strange as it may seem, it can be hard to do so. We want to keep it together and not let others see what’s going on. Don’t worry, they know already. So let’s just be honest that it hurts and that we’re feeling a creeping sense of unmanageability.
We then have to tell our Higher Power that we need help, and that we’re willing to do what’s necessary to stay out of the clutches of our disease. Next, we need to examine our thinking and actions. Is SAD and our response to it causing us to turn toward self? To tell ourselves lies? To act self-centeredly? To be filled with fear? Of course that’s what depression and anxiety do! So we need to be honest.
For example, a chief dishonesty around SAD is the notion that we will never feel better. Our disease LOVES this one. It leads immediately to corrosive fear. What a great excuse to say f*** it and eat! But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know from past experience that these episodes don’t last forever, and that we will feel relief soon.
One of the most important tools we have against SAD and depression in general is telling someone else that we have it. Truly, we find some immediate ease just by admitting to another person that we are in pain and sharing how this pain warps our thinking and behavior. Then we check whether we’ve done anything while in pain that may require an amends and make any that are necessary.
We stay in touch with our Higher Power about all of this, and we pray not merely to have SAD lifted, but rather to have it lifted so that we can be of use to God and to those around us. Finally, we top things off with helping others. We make calls, send texts, chat with someone who is struggling, do sponsorial work, whatever we can to pass this message of recovery to those still suffering.
In addition, the OA Tools of Recovery can be particularly helpful. Picking up the phone, reading literature, writing, and going to meetings buoys us when we need it.
And soon, sooner, perhaps than we think, the period of bleakness will lift. The temperatures will rise, the peepers will start to sing, and we will feel more like ourselves again. And best of all, we didn’t have to eat over the winter blues.