It happened again this week. Like a never-ending nightmare, I made the same horrible choice I’ve made before — with the same results.

For most people, the idea that eating could be an addiction sounds silly. For those who have experienced the patterns I have, though, it’s something that can feel both inexplicable and inevitable.

It wasn’t until I had a political friend who was a recovering alcoholic that I realized the patterns I go through with food are very similar to what any addict experiences. That shocked me at the time and it’s led me to think and read quite a bit about it over the years. The knowledge and insight haven’t stopped me from doing things, though — more often than I’d like to admit — that I know are unhealthy for me.

It’s never about the food. It’s always about the feelings that the food can mask.

That’s what happened Thursday night. This was a busy week and I tried to keep my mind focused on the things I needed to get done. I had successfully concluded a month-long project on Wednesday and I was happy about that narrow subject. But in the midst of being happy about something I’d done, that old gnawing emptiness got louder and louder. Again.

When I start feeling that kind of craving — for love, for connection, for something I need to fill the void — it’s as though there is an intense pressure that builds inside. It’s hard to put it into words, but it’s like a silent scream that feels emotionally painful.

It took me many years to even be able to describe it this well — and I know this description is still not quite accurate. I don’t know how to put it into words. I just know it’s intense and it’s inescapable when it starts.

When I eat at such times, I’m driven to eat a lot of sugar. (A half gallon of ice cream is my favorite way to get a “hit.”) Something about the experience dulls the pain in my heart. I have no idea why I taught myself this pattern. I just know it soothes or dulls the emotional pain — even as it creates physical problems that are just as real. It’s led to weight gain for years and high blood pressure recently. I even fear it could lead to diabetes. It’s a form of slow suicide.

So what is this? Is it a disease?

I don’t want to argue with people who like to label addictions as diseases, but I think it’s inaccurate to call them diseases. A disease is something that simply happens to you physically — something you can’t control. It’s caused by a germ or a bug or a mutant cell.

An addiction is a coping mechanism of some sort. It’s not a disease. It’s a pattern your mind has evolved to protect you from a feeling that you don’t know how to deal with otherwise. It’s something like a safety valve for the emotional mind — something that takes some pressure off in a crisis — but that safety valve might end up causing even more problems as you turn to it over and over again.

I recognize the feeling which I’m trying to avoid. It’s something I feel most days. I’ve talked quite a bit about this need for missing love, understanding and acceptance. And it can even be demonstrated with clock-like precision, depending on the state of my relationships. When I feel loved and understood by someone, I suddenly lose the need to eat the wrong things. Food is just something to fuel my body at those times. I naturally start dropping weight and feeling healthier.

But when love disappears, the emptiness returns — and the addiction returns.

I’ve come a long way in understanding this over the years, but it’s become far more intense in the last few years. It’s like a cage for me. It’s a cage that my mind builds in an effort to keep me safe from something I can’t control. It protects me from the immediate pain, but at a huge price.

My friends don’t really like hearing about this anymore — because there’s nothing new to say — but if you see me heading toward the ice cream aisle once again, you know what’s going on. And you know that I have no idea how I’m going to stop this pattern that’s slowly killing me.