onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “anxiety”

On making friends with a new devil

I consider myself pretty good at change. I have a lot of experience with it. From all of the kinds of jobs I have had, to all of the moving I have done to different homes and different cities and towns. And I have learned to give up things. Like simple sugar and carbohydrates. And smoking. 

And I have an experience. That life will always give you the opportunity to go back to the way it was before. It will always let you choose to go back to the *you* you were before. Because when you make a commitment, you change your life’s trajectory. You set yourself on a new, unknown path. 
When I was single, and it didn’t work out with a man, he would inevitably show back up in my life just when I had moved on. Within a week of the day I quit smoking, I had a neighbor stalk me and I had to call the police and my landlord. It was very stressful. Exactly the kind of emotional upset I used smoking to soothe. 
It comes back to that old saying: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” I find that life always gives me a chance to escape the unknown and return to that comfortable misery. 
Now, I don’t believe that the devil you know is better. And I have known plenty of devils. When it comes to change I agree with Mae West. “When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.”
There was the devil of significant weight gain when I quit smoking. And wow was that difficult and painful. And there are, of course, lots of devils to keeping boundaries around my food. There is the time it takes to shop, prep, cook, and pack. There is the navigation of the feelings and expectations of people who don’t understand. There is the planning involved in having my meals be complete and accounted for daily, while still having a life. There is all of the extra work involved in eating out, when for most people, eating out is when they *don’t* have to do any work. And there are all of the *feelings* that can be painful, overwhelming, scary, uncomfortable, unwelcome, or just plain yucky.
But when I was eating compulsively, I already knew a lot of devils, and they were shame, self-hatred, self-doubt, crippling anxiety, an inability to move forward with my life, fear of failure, fear of humiliation, regular emotional paralysis, and physical pain and difficulties.
I promise, those devils were worse. But if you asked that Kate, who was suffering under all of those devils, she would most certainly have told you the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. And if you had told her that she would spend a huge portion of her time shopping and prepping and cooking, and also feeling uncomfortable feelings, she would have said that sounded like the worse devil! Who would want something like that?!?!
But now, I have reached a point of no return. I am not saying I could never go back into the sugar. I am still an addict and it is still as dangerous to me as it ever was. When I put sugar in my body, it sets up a craving for more. That is biological and inescapable. But I know all of the devils now, and I’ll never be able to think of the difficulties of food boundaries as worse than the prison of self-loathing.
I hated myself when I was eating sugar and carbohydrates. And I hated myself so much and for so long that I didn’t even know I hated myself until it stopped. But the point is, it did stop. And I found that in doing all that work, and feeling all of those feelings, I came to love myself, to like myself, to trust myself, to enjoy my life, to have fulfilling relationships, and to respect myself and others.
And I want to say something about this regarding fat acceptance. I hear a lot on social media about how society has socialized us to hate ourselves if we are fat, and to internalize that bigotry. And I don’t think it’s necessarily untrue. There is certainly an aspect of being taught that we are less than. But I want to note that after quitting sugar, grains, and starches, I did not loose weight all that quickly. And there have been many times in which I have gained weight keeping my boundaries. But my self-hatred has been stilled ever since I started. And when I was thin, but eating compulsively, I hated myself as much as when I was fat. Perhaps more, because I felt like the body I was in was a lie. I don’t want fat people to hate themselves. I don’t think it’s healthy, or helpful, or right. And it is certainly my wish for you to love yourself in whatever body you are in. But for me, it is very clear that my eating, not my body, or my weight, is what made me miserable and ashamed. And in taking care of my eating, I learned how to love my body and my life. So consider that just maybe there are angels hanging out with the devil you don’t know.

I’ll just be over here doing my flawed thing that works

I have had boundaries around my eating for over 13 years, and those boundaries are really specific (as working boundaries are.) But there is a thing that happens to me occasionally, where upon hearing one of my boundaries, a person wants me to know that whatever food I have just mentioned I abstain from is “very healthy,” and I should reconsider eating it. Avocados, bananas, and grains like quinoa are the usual suspects. 

I promise I know that avocados are both delicious and packed with nutrients! Guess what!?!? I’m still not going to eat them! 

There are other times things like this come up. On Twitter the other day, someone told me that drinking water by “quota” was “flawed.” 
I always have to remember that what I do is not science. I don’t do it because scientific research says it works. I do it because in my own experience it works. I do it because a bunch of people who were fat and could not control their eating found a solution. And I tried it when I was fat and could not control my eating, and it worked for me. So I continue to do it to this day. That is the only reason I do it. Because it has worked for me for over 13 years. And really, you have to admit that’s a damn good reason. 
Is it flawed? Certainly! Are there things about it that I am not sure are valid? Yes. Does that make it any less effective? No. No it does not. I am not a stickler for perfection. I am a stickler for the rules. As they are. Because not questioning them gives me freedom. 
I fought with the food for most of my life. I don’t want to fight with the food anymore. Especially now that my way of life works.
I want to say that I believe that someday there will be many volumes of scientific evidence that say that refined sugar, grains, and starch are addictive and have adverse effects on our bodies, brains, and hormones. And that for many of us, once we become addicted to these foods, putting them in our bodies sets up the phenomenon of craving more. 
But for now, there have not been a lot of studies. And many of the studies out there are paid for by the food industry. So I have to continue to do what I do without science-based evidence.
I am OK with that. 
Because there is something else that I have, that science couldn’t give me. A community of people who are doing what I do, and supporting me to continue. 
Because all of the science-based knowledge in the world would not help me not eat a chocolate cake if I were sad or anxious enough. But a friend could.
Knowing myself has never deterred me from eating a cake. Not wanting to eat a cake has never deterred me from eating a cake. Hating myself has never deterred me from eating a cake. 
When people ask about the way I eat, I usually say it’s not rocket science. Don’t eat sugar or flour. Eat a little fruit, and lots of vegetables. Portion control.  But, of course, just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. Turning down cake when your whole body seems to light up at the prospect can be daunting. And it took about a year and a half of no sugar or simple carbohydrates at all for my body to stop screaming at me about how it wanted them. A year and a half was a long time to deny that crying toddler in me who is my sugar addict. Most people can’t be in Target for 25 minutes with their kid without giving in. A year and a half is a little bit of hell. But as they say: When you’re going through hell, keep going. 
But there is a point where science becomes a “problem” for me. It’s when someone (often a doctor or medical professional, but it could be anyone, frankly) decides that the way I eat is unhealthy. That everyone “needs” carbohydrates. Without noticing, apparently, that the majority of my food is fruit and vegetables. 
(What do people think those are, btw? Also, I do eat a small amount of wheat germ most days. Though it is a choice, and not a requirement. And I know plenty of people who never touch the stuff and are perfectly healthy.)
What they never seem to take into consideration is that for me, a diminutive slice of whole grain bread is a step away from that cake. What they don’t seem to fathom is that a banana sets off a craving in me that makes me feel crazy and out of control. Perhaps it is unfathomable to someone who has never had the desire or capacity to eat an entire chocolate cake, especially as the result of eating a slice of spelt bread. But it is not unfathomable to me. It is not even hypothetical. It is a thing that has happened in my life. (Though first I ate the whole loaf of spelt bread.) It is also an illustration of much of my first 28 years. Even though there is very little science to prove it. 
What I do is not science. It’s common sense. Figure out what you are addicted to, and stop doing that. Do what works. And keep doing it. That’s as common-sensical as stuff gets. 
Do I honor that avocados and spelt bread are nutritious foods? Of course! Hooray for them! I hope all of you non-addicts enjoy them! 
And don’t worry about me. I have given up my own experimentation. I don’t need to know if I could now eat an avocado with impunity. Because the result if I couldn’t would be far worse than any potential nutrient benefit. And I promise, whatever it is that you want to offer me as a gift, it’s nothing compared to the peace of mind and body that I am experiencing doing my “flawed” thing that works.

My eating is taken care of, so all is well with me

There is a saying that “Hell is a hallway.” That it is the transition, the periods of unknown, that make us unhappy, anxious, and weary. I am in a hallway. I’m right at the threshold,  but I’m not quite in the door yet. 
I moved this week. Packed. Drove 8 hours. Unpacked. (OK sort of unpacked. There’s a lot left to do. And a lot of clutter in our new living room.) But a lot is still up in the air. Unfinished.
My furniture and internet don’t come until Tuesday. What office space I will have on my new job is unclear, and I will be working from home until that is figured out. 
And grocery stores are not what I would prefer. I have been spoiled. It turns out that small town Oklahoma is not going to provide for me in the manner I am accustomed to. Even driving an hour to the nearest city I can’t find some of the things I really “need.” Like Italian Sausage without sugar. This is a bit of a blow. I will have to see if there is a butcher who will make it for me by special order, like I did in Texas. Or maybe Amazon. You can but almost anything on Amazon.
But what I do know is that I will adapt. I always do. My eating habits will change, but I will stay within my boundaries. My routine will change, but I will figure out how to take care of myself. Some new things will be better and some will be worse. That seems to be the way of it.
But because of the consistency of keeping food boundaries, new normals come quickly to me. I think this much travel and change could have a hangover effect on me if I didn’t have a touchstone in my food commitment. 
Don’t get me wrong. I’m tired. I have gotten less sleep and more physical exertion in the past few days than usual. And I am ready for my new home and new job to be settled. But my food is already settled. It was while our old apartment was in disarray. It was while we were on the road. And it is while our new apartment is littered with crates and boxes. My food is always taken care of. And that makes my life better.
People often shudder and balk at the idea of what I do. So restrictive! So extreme! So unyielding! But in actuality, it makes times of difficulty easy. I don’t always get to eat my favorite foods when I am living in the crazy, but I never have to worry about food. I have already planned, and prepared. And the truth is, there are lots of ways to do what I do quickly and efficiently. Ways to cook huge batches of food to freeze. Ways to buy pre-packaged proteins that travel well. Ways to simplify that part of my life so I can focus on the tasks at hand.
I still have lots of unpacking to do. And I still have work that needs to get done from my last job that has fallen by the wayside in the face of a big move. But my food is taken care of and my eating is under control. So all is well with me.

Irrational thoughts about value

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 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 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.

Two parts clarity, one part magic

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.

A big-girl-panties kind of day

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.

The luxury of comfort 

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.

Eating and driving

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.

All there ever is to do is what is in front of me 

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.

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.

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