Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the month “October, 2015”

Not special. Still happy.

I am posting early this week because I have lots to do this weekend.

I am on a plane to New York again. I am going to an annual gathering for people with the same food boundaries as myself.I am already thinking about the farmer’s market and the giant apples. Maybe even Norther Spies, which I have not been able to get since I left. 

It has been nine years and ten months since I quit sugar and stopped eating compulsively. 3581 days.

Life seems to go so slowly while I am living it. But in retrospect, things change in an instant. The new normal doesn’t take very long.

Three years ago, I was single and living in New York. I had just quit smoking. I had just gained 30 pounds because of it. I was a nanny and a receptionist. I had not yet started crocheting again. 

Today I am happily, madly in love. I live in the suburbs of Chicago. I am learning to drive, and I just accepted a freelance writing gig, along with my part time job at a grocery store. Plus I spend my spare time crocheting gifts.

And the intervening years were also diverse. Living and making friends, first in Texas, then in Mississippi. Working for a construction company. Learning to crochet clothes. Teaching myself to knit (although I’m still not great at it.)

Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I don’t remember my life being so filled with drastic improvement before I got my eating under control. I don’t recall it shifting so quickly. And, though it comes with dips and drags and false starts, I don’t remember my life getting always happier, calmer, more steady. More serene. 

But even if my memory is faulty, the truth is that my experience of myself before I got my eating under control was of stagnation, anxiety, and dread.

One of the things that happens every year at this gathering for people who don’t eat compulsively is that I meet people who are struggling with food and sugar addiction. I like being an example of what is possible. Because I was a hopeless case too. There is nothing special about me. I don’t have extraordinary willpower – or really much of any willpower. I’m not naturally thin. I am a sick and twisted compulsive eating sugar addict who weighed 300 pounds at 19 years old. And I still managed to find a solution to this problem. And that gave me the clarity to find solutions to my other problems. It allowed me to create a life that keeps getting better.


Killing me softly

I have been having a very emotional week.

I was talking to a friend of mine recently. The one with the button that says “Give A S***.” She said to me, “Every time I don’t eat a piece of chocolate cake, a little part of me dies inside.”

It has been a while since not eating cake made me cry. Many years, in fact. But there are things that are like giving up sugar, actions outside of my comfort zone, that are little deaths.

Giving up sugar was the biggest step I have taken on a journey I started long ago. I knew some time in my youth that I wanted to get better. I wanted to grow and change. I wouldn’t understand until many years later, but ultimately, what I was looking for was peace. Serenity. What I wanted was to rest easy, knowing that I was being the best person I could be.

But every time I get better, the girl I was dies. And while I certainly choose it, a life of little deaths can be decidedly uncomfortable.

So it turns out that driving is one of the more painful undertakings of my life.

My first lesson was just a few days ago. And since then, I have cried a lot over it. I am crying while I type this. This is the death of a very young and tender part of myself. This part of me I’m killing may be even younger than my sugar addict.

I was not terrible at driving, but I wasn’t good either. And that is kind of hard on me. I am used to being good at things quickly and without much effort. Even giving up sugar was relatively natural to me. Vigilance, perfectionism and being single-focused are things I am exceptional at. Being aware of four directions at once, remembering a whole new set of rules, and figuring out how the machine I’m controlling responds to my touch, is a lot of information to process. I find it overwhelming. It makes me anxious. It makes me cry. Either way, both giving up sugar and starting to learn to drive have made me feel raw and vulnerable. Itchy. Like I am walking around without skin.

These little deaths are not murder. It’s not bad that I am killing these aspects of myself. They were useful until they were not. Being sad or in pain does not mean that what I am becoming is worse than what I have been. But I have to be gentle with the girl in me that I happen to be killing off at the moment. It won’t do any good to kill her brutally. I am going to have to hold her hand and tell her it’s ok to go. I am going to have to let myself mourn her. I’ll still let her die, but ultimately, I’ll kill her softly.

Freedom, anxiety, and doing that thing I had hoped I would never have to do.

I took a big step this week. I got a learner’s driving permit, took an online course, and scheduled my first few driving lessons. It’s a big deal.
I am afraid of driving. As a small child, I used to have nightmares about having to drive a car and not knowing how. I can still remember some of those nightmares. I can see images of the dark night and the bright street lights. I can feel my tiny body lean to almost horizontal to try to pull the heavy door closed. I can feel my heart race trying to figure out pedals and gears. I can still remember these images and feelings even though they are more than 30 years old.

When I was living in New York, I didn’t expect I would ever leave. I didn’t expect to ever need to learn how to drive. That was just fine with me. I loved New York just for being New York. But I was also always dimly aware that living in New York meant never having to learn how to drive. And I liked that about it too.

Now I am back in the south suburbs of Chicago where I grew up. I have lived here for a year already without driving.

In being sober from sugar and compulsive eating these past 9+ years, I have learned that I am allowed to do things in my own time. 

Just because I know I want a change, doesn’t mean I am ready for it. And it doesn’t matter what other people think about it either. I am allowed to change in my own way, and at my own pace. 

People keep assuring me that I will catch on quickly. That driving is simple. That even stupid people can do it.

I’m going to tell you something. This is not helpful. The nature of my anxiety is not rational. It’s deep rooted in childhood trauma. It’s not about easy or not easy. It’s about something much more primal. The physical reaction is intense. Fight or flight. And failure occurs like life or death.

And it is. I have never paid so much attention to vehicles on the road as I do now. I look at some guy driving a Hummer in this fully paved and basically flat suburb and I think “when I start driving, that guy will be a threat to my physical safety.” I think things like “perfection is the only option or I die. Or kill someone else.”

And I wonder how it is that every day, people just get into their giant rolling blobs of mass and inertia and go about their day like it’s no biggie.

I’m not saying I won’t do it. I will. I even suppose it will eventually just become life. Like things do. 

I was terrified to give up sugar and carbohydrates too. And in the beginning it was scary. But now it just is what it is. And I’m happy to have the freedom. Which is probably exactly what driving will be like in the end.

If you need the wood, I’ll be off the cross in a minute.

One of the ways I keep my eating under control is by focusing on my part of a situation. With food it’s about keeping my eyes on my own plate. I don’t worry about what anyone else is eating. With life, it’s about minding my own business. And keeping peace in my own heart and mind. Other people’s behavior and relationships are also none of my concern. I keep my eyes on my own life.
But another way I help myself keep my eating under control is by being authentic, and speaking up for myself. I do not let myself be abused. I do not please others at my own expense.

There are some people at work, both customers and fellow employees, who are really not nice people. (No seriously. Not like normal people having a bad day. Like people who actively try to make others unhappy. Like total jerks.) And it’s hard for me to find a balance between taking care of myself, and being peaceful, regardless of the situation.

The other part of this is finding the best way to keep the Good Girl in me on a short leash. She let people abuse her for a long time. Her worth was in how far she could diminish herself for the happiness and use of others. 

Look, the Good Girl, when she is right-sized, and in her proper place, is part of the reason I am so good at my customer service job. When I am not being a martyr, I genuinely like giving people a great experience. I aim to leave people at least satisfied, and hopefully even happier, as a result of their time spent with me.

But just like I wrote in last week’s installment, the Good Girl can have me agree to do things that end up leaving me feeling resentful and frustrated. I can wind up feeling taken advantage of, often forgetting that I allowed myself to be put in the situation in the first place.

I am not going to eat compulsively over these feelings of resentment. But that is a luxury that I cultivate. Resentment is exactly the danger to an addict like me. It is just the thing to convince me that I totally deserve that chocolate cake, damn it!

Last week, I was doing what needed to be done for the store/my department, and neglecting to care for my own self. I forgot that integrity means keeping my word, but it doesn’t have to mean volunteering at the expense of my own peace. I was doing what was requested of me, simply because I was asked. I agreed knowing I didn’t want to. And that was dangerous. I was putting myself and my eating disorders in a dangerous situation.

I know that I need to keep my food boundaries at the center of my life. Keeping my sugar addiction and my eating disorders at bay is the most important thing I do in my life. Part of that is never letting any resentment, judgment, or torment grab a hold of me. It means I have to shake them off quickly. I have to be grateful for what I have. I have to remember that all things pass eventually. And if I am unhappy, I am the one who must change.

In parting, I will leave you with the Serenity Prayer. (If you don’t already know it, I promise it’s a good one. By the way, it’s not just a prayer. It’s a way of life.)
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.


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