So work. It’s a thing for me again. I started working for my husband’s company (again) this week.
First, there is the whole food thing for me. I have to make lunches in advance so I can grab them in the morning and go. But, of course, that is something that I have been doing to travel a lot lately, so this has been, in some ways, on a smaller scale. I haven’t had to prep every single meal for days. I have just had to make lunches. And I have worked before. I was single for 35 years, after all. So I know how this goes.
But the first few days of work have been bumpy. Mostly, it’s just that there is some sort of problem with my work computer that the company sent to me. And instead of sending me a new one, they are trying to fix it remotely. For days. Several days.
But all of my work is to be done on this computer. In other words, there is nothing for me to do without it. So they are just not having me come in. So my first week of work has barely included any work. And I still have no idea when the computer, or at least a computer, will be available for me. And nobody is telling me anything.
Needless to say, I’m frustrated.
But there is something else. I am having a hard time not feeling like I should be doing something about it. Or it is my fault, or my responsibility.
Rationally, I know that this is stupid. I didn’t build the computer. And I didn’t break it. I have done everything I could to help the IT people fix it. I have offered information. I have stayed on the phone and helped with lost internet connections. And I have stayed home and not worked when I was asked to.
But there is this nagging feeling like I could do more. That I should be doing more.
And I need to squash this feeling. Because it is false, and blaming myself for things beyond my control is not only silly, it’s destructive to a person like me.
Work is an area in my life where you could say I still have a lot of fear. It’s not that I haven’t been a good employee. I certainly have. I am smart and capable. And I am willing to take direction, and I love to learn new things anyway.
But I have issues. Value issues. Worth issues. I have had them all my life. And I am sure that in some ways they are tied to the fact that I am an addict.
My inability to control my eating for so long made me feel worthless and ashamed. How could I expect to succeed in anything when I couldn’t even take care of my own body? How could I fix or help others when I couldn’t even fix or help myself? What does a person like that, a person like me, even deserve? Money? Money for services rendered?
Of course, the answer to that is yes. If I do the job, I deserve to get paid for it. But even as I write yes, there is a part of me that says “just for doing the job? Don’t you have to really prove your worth?”
I am talking about the irrational here. If I do the job, I am worth the money. Obviously. But that is not always obvious to the shamed, embarrassed, sorry compulsive eater that lives in me.
I am sure this will change. Slowly, but surely. Already it is changing. It’s changing because I am writing about it right here. And saying the scary things out loud, and shining a light on them is the surest way I know to start a shift.
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago where pretty much everybody drives, but I never learned how to drive. I was afraid of it. I used to have nightmares as a very small child about being expected to drive a car and not knowing how. I can still remember how small and frightened I felt in the big driver’s seat in these nightmares. I didn’t even understand there were peddles when I started having these nightmares. And my fear of driving did not really lessen as I grew up.When I was 18, I left the suburbs and went to college in the city of Chicago, and lived on campus. Public transportation was the norm. And then at 21, I moved to New York City. Where the subway was not only the norm, but was cheap and reliable, definitely the best way to get around. I loved NYC immediately, and expected to live there for the rest of my life. I remember a feeling of relief at one point early on when I realized I would never have to learn how to drive.
But 14+ years later, and I did leave New York City to be with the love of my life. And oddly enough, to return to the suburb of Chicago I grew up in. And that meant I did have to learn to drive.
So just about a year ago I got a permit and got behind the wheel for the first time. I got my license in February, at the age of 38.
Last week, I did something a little terrifying, and pretty exciting. I drove over 2 1/2 hours, by myself, to an airport in a city I have never been to. And it was particularly empowering.
I have always been an anxious person. When I was a kid, I used to bite my nails, and chew on the sleeves and collars of my shirts. I would often have large wet spots under my chin, or up my arms. It was how I managed. As I got older, I numbed my anxiety with food, specifically sugar and carbohydrates. True, I was less anxious. But I was also either ineffectual, or reckless. Instead of worrying about everything, I didn’t worry about anything. And nothing got done. Or I would fly headlong into a situation without thinking it through. But either way, the situation probably turned bad, and I got through by expecting someone else, usually my mother, to bail me out.
A lot of the anxiety I feel is not specific. It’s like a fear of the unknown and unknowable. It is fear for the sake of fear.
What having my eating under control does is allow me to break my life down into manageable pieces. It allows me to look at real possibilities, and create contingency plans. Like having enough meals with me, or leaving myself more time than my GPS estimates I need. And it also allows me to trust that all is well, no matter what happens. It reminds me that I am capable and clearheaded. It lets me recognize that if I stay calm and present, any issue can be resolved. That it’s all just experiences anyway.
I don’t really know why it works that way. I’m pretty sure it’s two parts peace, quick thinking and self-possession, which come from not being high on food all the time, and one part magic. But either way, it works.
This drive to the airport felt like a turning point in my life as a driver. I expect there will be more of those turning points in the future. That’s life, after all. But I don’t want to miss feeling the satisfaction of this one. And I can feel the satisfaction, just like I felt the anxiety. Because I feel things when I’m not numbed out on sugar. And that’s as it should be. It’s all just experiences anyway.
So I talk a lot about how I live with a steady stream of low-level anxiety. I especially worry about doing things wrong. Friday, I was feeling pretty anxious. I had to drive for an hour by myself to apply for an apartment. And the lady said she couldn’t give me the keys to the apartment until I got all of the utilities turned on in my name. So I drove to the Municipal Utilities office and took care of that. Then I drove all over the new town, and ran my errands: Ordered furniture, set up a cable and internet installation, went to the bank to deposit a check, etc.
It’s not that I wasn’t anxious. I was. But after years of having my eating under control, I have learned that I don’t have to feel confident to do something. I just have to do it. I just have to take the next right action, one baby step at a time.
When I was eating sugar, I got high to deal with my anxiety, like a form of Dutch Courage. When I gave up sugar, I had to get myself some real courage.
I know that what I had to do was not that big of a deal. People do those kinds of things all the time. But to me, it was a “big-girl-panties” kind of day.
I kicked a** and took names on Friday. I did everything that needed to be done to get the keys in my hands that day.
I was anxious every step of the way. And I won’t say it went off without a hitch. But it all got done, and it went smoother than a worrywart like me ever expects.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an apartment to move into.
It has been a long week. Cleaning, packing, driving 7ish hours, and unpacking, on top of the usual everyday life stuff. But I’m with my boyfriend again. (Yay!) And we’re on the road.
I’m happy. But I’m also raw. It’s emotional. And that’s uncomfortable.
Driving in this town is very different from the suburbs I am used to. It is stressful for me. I am going out every day to practice, but it I’m still not at ease on the roads here. The internet at the hotel is bad, so I called around to Internet and phone companies, and thought I got better web access. But after all that, I couldn’t get on to send out the invitation to an important video meeting. Then we decided to start looking for an apartment closer to my boyfriend’s job site. Plus keeping in touch with various people who are taking care of our house.
It’s a lot. And I feel it. Of course, I feel it. I’m not high on sugar and carbohydrates.
I was talking to some friends the other day, and one of them was talking about how she was feeling nervous, and anxious, and worried that she didn’t know how to do some things she was doing. And then she realized that she was feeling like that because she was doing new, exciting things. She was pushing her comfort limits. She didn’t know how to do things because they were things she has never done before.
I could live a very small life with relative ease and happiness. I can find a million reasons to say no, stay home, take my usual path. I like the usual. It’s comfortable and comforting.
But for some reason, I have repeatedly chosen to do things that make me uncomfortable. Or perhaps it’s just that I have decided that comfort will not be a major factor in whether or not I do a thing.
I ate sugar and carbohydrates to feel comfortable. Dazed, zoned out, numb, heavy. They call it a food coma for a reason.
Being aware can be uncomfortable. Even when it’s beautiful. Even when it’s pleasurable. I have to make decisions. I have to take actions. I have to be in new, uncertain, scary situations. It’s just the way it is.
When I quit sugar I agreed to be uncomfortable. Not only did I have to sit in feelings I had been avoiding by eating sugar, but I had to sit in the feelings of withdrawal too. Thank God I stuck it out. It turns out the feelings I was eating are almost never as bad as sugar withdrawal. And even the most painful feelings, the ones that are worse than sugar withdrawal, pass so much more quickly, and are ultimately so much more easily soothed and satisfied.
Being okay in the face of discomfort is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.
I don’t mean to say that I don’t enjoy comfort. I do. Maybe I love it all the more for keeping it as a luxury, rather than a necessity. A thing my compulsive eating self would never have understood.
On Tuesday I leave home and head out to meet my boyfriend in Indiana, where we will be staying for the next 9 months to a year. This past week and a half or so has been about preparing to go there. A big part was getting my driver’s license and getting comfortable driving. I have been driving every day. Since I got my license on Wednesday, I have been making sure to go out by myself every day too. I need to get used to it.
I have a lot of anxiety. It’s part of the way I have always been. Except that when I was younger and eating sugar, I numbed that anxiety by getting high on food.
I think the hardest part of learning to drive at 38 is that I am no longer fearless, like teenage drivers, and I am no longer numb, like I was when I was eating sugar. I feel everything, and everything includes a lot of fear.
When I talk to people who are giving up sugar, I like to talk about “a healthy fear of the food.” Look, sugar and carbohydrates are dangerous to me. I am an addict. When I put it into my body, I set up a physical craving and a mental obsession. And that leads to a lot of addict behaviors like lying, cheating and stealing. So I am right to be a little afraid. But chocolate cake is not going to jump into my mouth of it’s own accord. I take responsibility for my part of my food boundaries and I trust the rest will go the way it’s supposed to. I know people who have boundaries around their food who have a kind of panicky fear around the food. But I can’t live like that. I got my eating under control to find peace, not to feed my fear.
I have a similar experience when it comes to driving. I want to maintain a healthy fear of driving. I want to remember that I am controlling a dangerous machine, but not in a panicky way. No, the metaphor is not perfect. After all, when I deal with my eating, I am the only one who is putting the food in my mouth, where as when I am driving, I have to negotiate roads with other drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. But for me, there are similarities in the way I want to look at food and driving so that I can have the most peace around it. I do my best to be a safe, and courteous driver. I pay attention to what I am doing. I take responsibility for my part and I trust that the rest will go the way it’s supposed to.
I don’t think about sugar and carbohydrates very often. Or I should say, I don’t think about specific items of sugar and carbohydrates.(Obviously I think about it. I’m constantly looking for it on ingredient lists and explaining that I can’t eat X, Y, or Z because I have an allergy to sugars, grains and starches.)
I don’t think about what it would be like to eat bread or cake. I am not actively worried about sugar. I don’t expect it to jump into my mouth, and I am not afraid of putting it there myself.
But I know that it is still a danger to me because I still have pretty much all of the things I used to eat over.
I still have fear and anxiety. I still worry about being wrong and messing up. I still question if I am good enough.
I am being looked at for a writing job I really want. And the process is slow. It can go long stretches without my hearing any word about it. That’s really no big deal. Except that I have a mind that can create doom and gloom like nobody’s business if I leave it unchecked.
See, if I go through the list of what I am afraid of, it’s all false. It’s a mind game I play on myself. I am afraid I am not a good enough writer. I worry that I won’t be able to manage my time properly. I’m worried I am too lazy. I’m afraid I will mess up irreparably. I am afraid I will give up and let everyone down.
All of these fears are groundless. I am highly capable, a hard worker, punctual, honorable, honest, and responsible. When I look at these fears, they seem silly to me. I have flaws, but they are not these things I spend so much time worrying about, oddly enough.
My addict loves drama. She always has. And she is still using the same fears to drum it up as when I was an elementary school student. They are all about how I am not worthy.
When I add food to the equation, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I become lazy, unable to manage my time, irresponsible, dishonest, and ultimately a quitter. My addiction made sure that I had an endless supply of drama.
But I took food out of that equation 9 years and 11 months ago. It’s funny how that kind of thought pattern will stick with you, even after it’s obsolete.
So for now, my job is to be patient and peaceful. To trust that everything is going exactly as it should. To remember that I am sought because I am qualified and desirable. And to put my faith in knowing that whatever happens is for the best.
One of the most important skills I have attained in the past 9+ years is the ability to give up attachment to an outcome.
Of course I want this new job. I won’t feign indifference. But any time I have wanted something and failed to get it, what was in store for me was so much better than what I lost.
So I keep my mind from wandering into Doomsville. I focus on this day and this moment. And I take the next right action. Because that is all there ever is to do anyway.
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.
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.
Life is always full of changes. But I now have a job where my schedule changes weekly. That is a strange thing. I haven’t had that kind of life since I was in my early twenties as a waitress. Thankfully, my food boundaries don’t change. Nor does my commitment to writing my blog. These things ground me. They make my life simpler. Of course, it can be stressful trying to make it all work. After a week of shifts at my new job, today I am going to my cousin’s wedding. I have to plan and pack my dinner for tonight. I am supposed to meet my mom to get our nails done, and I need to plan lunch around that. And I still needed to get this blog posted since it’s already Sunday. (Okay, obviously I can check the blog post off the list.)
I’m still getting used to the life that comes with my new job. That newness still has me anxious. But knowing that I won’t change my commitment to my food boundaries, or my blog writing makes me feel safe.
It’s funny because it all comes down to my own choices. I am not relying on anyone else to make me safe. It is about what actions empower me, and knowingly taking those actions. It is about creating a safe place for myself.
When I was eating compulsively, I repeatedly took actions and made decisions that created disorder, sabotaged my peace and my integrity, and generally made my life scary and unsettling.
By doing what it takes to keep boundaries around my eating, and make time to write about my eating disorders, I have a permanent parachute, for when everything else in my life is in free fall.