St Francis of Assisi said “Wear the world like a loose garment.” 12 step folks use this phrase a lot.
I have a friend in town for the weekend. She’s getting ready for us to drive to Nashville for the night. So I am writing a blog post as fast as I can. Go go go go go!
I am having a great time! I’m so happy to see her. But there is a bit of panic nagging me. Because my routine is being thrown off. And I am attached to my routine on many levels. But my food is covered and packed in a cooler and I don’t have to worry about any of that for the next 24 hours.
It’s times like these that I have to remember that I got my eating under control for exactly moments like these. I got my food handled so that when I was with the people I love, I could really *be with them.* I didn’t have to be focused on other things, namely eating.
I thought we might go out to a fancy place for dinner, but then I called about the way they cook their vegetables. Their Brussels sprouts are roasted in rendered bacon fat. Which sounds amazing, and would not be a problem except that it’s bacon with sugar in it, of course. And when I asked about the caramelized onions, he said something that made me stop him. “You cook them in a roux, is what you’re saying.” (A roux is a butter and flour mixture for thickening sauces and gravies.) The answer was yes. Then he said, “but I can make you some plain steamed vegetables if you would like.” Right. Obviously. And no. I would not like.
So I packed a small dinner for myself, and we will stop somewhere for her to grab a bite of whatever variety she likes, and I will not eat with my friend. I can have a diet soda, or an iced tea. I don’t have to eat with her. I’m not going to Nashville to eat. I am going to have a good time with my good friend. Yay!
I travel with my husband for work. And I love it. I love the kind of travel we do. Long stints in a bunch of places. (So far we have done Mississippi, a couple of places in Kentucky, a couple in Texas, a couple in Indiana, and one in Tennessee.) One of the things I particularly like is it occurs like the perfect balance between routine and adventure.
I like routine. It makes the food boundaries easier. Having a home with all of the cookware I need to cook delicious meals, and getting to know the grocery stores and butcher shops, and what they have, and where to get what I need as well as what I want. And there is an indescribable peace that comes with knowing that my highest priority is always taking care of my food addiction. I know that if I do that, everything else will be well.
And I like adventure. I like seeing new places and meeting new people. I also like trying new foods, new seasonings, new flavors around the country. My husband and I are on a hot sauce kick at the moment. And it’s fun! And a mini adventure in itself. (Just reading all of the labels and ingredients lists is like an adventure within an adventure. And yes, there are a lot of hot sauces I cannot try because they have a lot of sugar.)
What I love too, is knowing that I can keep my food boundaries anywhere. Some places are less convenient than others, of course. But it is all about my commitment. And sometimes, that inability to get whatever I want at a moment’s notice gives me the opportunity to try new things in a different way.
When we were in small town Mississippi, I did not eat out at restaurants. I knew that they could not accommodate me. I made sure I had my own food all the time. But there, I figured out where to buy beautiful steaks, sugar free bacon, giant cantaloupes and apples. It’s also where a friend found me a recipe for making my own vanilla without alcohol. And I was lucky to have another friend who would bring me kabocha squash and fried tofu up from New Orleans once a month when she came to visit. I had yet another friend who introduced me to a bowl for making my own ice cream. It’s also where I was introduced to Chinese Five Spice, which I still use all the time. So obviously, in terms of food, small town Mississippi was not too bad for me. I did not miss eating out at restaurants.
I love my happy lifestyle, gently swaying from adventure to routine and back. I love the things I learn and the things I get to try. Some of them become staples, and some pass with the next move and the next town. But no matter where I end up, my food boundaries go with me. And I always make sure they are delicious.
After over a month of uncertainty and moving around, my husband and I are finally in a place we will be in for a little bit of time. Probably about another month and a half. It’s not exactly long-term, but it’s a chance to relax and catch my breath for a minute.
One of the things that makes my life happier is that my husband and I always travel with a little bit of home. My kitchen, with my cast iron skillets, our dishes, our silverware, my favorite mug, and a handful of other things I know I will need to be happy come with us. In bigger places for extended periods, I bring more. For a month or two, I make do with less. I also bring our linens everywhere. We also bring our internet TV and the husband’s PlayStation.
I started doing these things because of my my eating boundaries. Because I needed to cook all the time and I needed to be sure I had the tools I needed. But it started to become a way to recognize a place as home. My decorative shower curtain has hung on several shower rods above my bath mat, and alongside my matching towels. My coffee mug, my ramekins, freezer bowl to make homemade sugar-free ice cream, all these little things make every new sublet feel like home.
If I were a normal eater, I may never have gotten so good at making myself comfortable. I may have disregarded that kind of home comfort as important. I could have eaten fast food, and gotten by in hotel rooms without kitchens, and flown by the seat of my pants.
I am terrible at flying by the seat of my pants. I like routine. I like sameness. Life is complicated enough. I am always going to be expected to deal with life as it comes up. Always. In the in between time, I like to know that my husband and I will eat dinner together at the same time each night. I like to know the mug I have is big enough for the way I like my coffee. I like recognizing my home in a new place. It makes me feel safe.
So for the time being I am in a tiny little studio apartment with my husband. But I have bits and pieces of my home all around me. And there’s no place like home.
I am literally writing this while I cook. 3 burners plus the oven. In about 3 hours I will be back in the road for the 3rd time in 2 weeks. At least this time is only a 4 hour drive. That makes it much more bearable. And frankly, it makes making sure everything is packed less worrisome. If I did forget something important, I could be home and back in the time that my husband was at work. Not that I want to have to do that. I don’t. But it’s nice knowing it’s an option.
But I do like traveling. Even with all of the cooking and prep that I have to do. Even carrying a kitchen with me everywhere I go. If I were eating compulsively, you the going would be easier. But every little snafu would ruin my life. I would be constantly unhappy. Constantly resentful. Constantly full of complaints. But as it stands, I can get over things. Some quicker than others, but always everything eventually.
So I am ending there. I have eggs to flip and meals to portion out. Maybe 2018 will slow down one of these days and I will have time to write a nice, leisurely post. But today is not that day…
So tomorrow is back on the road for another 20 hour drive. It will be my second in a week. Food is already cooked, portioned and packed up. Again.
When my alarm went off late this morning asking if I posted a blog this week, I let out some quality profanity. One more thing I have to do.
This blog is a priority for me. But I’m busy. And tired. And this has been a loooooooooong month. And the next three days aren’t offering much relief. So this may be a record for shortest blog entry ever.
I keep my food boundaries no matter what. I keep them in the face of driving 40 hours in less than 7 days. I keep them when I am tired, when I am sad, when I am cranky and overwhelmed. And the truth is, it will make the next two days easier, not harder. But I don’t like it. And I don’t have to. I just have to do it. Just like this blog.
Yesterday was a typical lazy Saturday with my husband until we got a call that a family member is dying. Someone my husband is very close with, whom I also love very much. It’s funny how the whole world can shift at a time like this. It’s the kind of thing that gives one a whole different perspective on one’s day-to-day life. The things that we worried about become insignificant. Work, or our apartment, or our cars, or money don’t seem to mean anything at a time like this. Suddenly everything is about connection, love, being there, saying I Love You.
I had worried so much about paying for this out-of-town apartment that we rent while our jobs were up in the air. But in this moment, paying this rent is not an issue. Paying to fly home is not an issue. (My husband is already on the road.) All of my anxiety about material things just flew out the window.
Having my eating under control meant that I could not go with my husband. I had to cook and prep and pack food for traveling. Because I keep my food boundaries no matter what. Even loved ones being sick and dying. Not taking care of myself is not proof of love. It’s not going to make anyone better if I say that my food, which is how I take care of my addiction, is not important. And even after this family member is gone I will have to go on living. So it makes sense to take care of my food, even if it means being separated from my husband for a few days, and taking longer to get home. That’s fine. It let my husband get on the road as soon as he could while I close up the apartment in case we are away for a long stretch. I’m sorry to be apart from him, but maybe he needs a little time to himself anyway.
There are 3 things that having my eating under control gives me that I am particularly grateful for in a moment like this.
1) I am able to be unselfish. Because when I am in the food, everything is about me, my life, how things will affect me. But today is not about me. I can be calm and clear headed. And that lets me be of service to my husband. Am I sad? Of course. But my sadness is not important right now. It’s my job to strong and useful.
2) I am aware of what is really important. And that is relationships. It’s the people that we love that make our lives what they are. And this is coming from an introvert and borderline misanthrope. At some point, all of us will die, but when you can see it coming, that’s an amazing opportunity to get completion and closure. It’s a chance to say “I love you.” “You were important in my life.” “You made an impact.”
3) I am able to go with the flow. This situation is the kind of thing that comes out of the blue. There was no preparing for it. So the only thing there is to do is go with the flow. Fighting and resisting are not going to help. They won’t change the situation. I learned that when I got control of my eating. I spent my time as a compulsive eater trying to control everyone and everything. And not doing a very good job of it. Today I can let life be what it is. That doesn’t mean I don’t care. It just means I don’t waste my energy trying to will the world to be that way I think it should be. I can use that energy to love, to help, to make others comfortable.
So for now I have a lot to do. And I am grateful for the personal power and clarity that my eating boundaries have given me at such a difficult time. And I am most grateful to be present for the person I love most when he needs me to be available for him.
I fly relatively often. It’s part of my life on the road. And even when we are not flying home from my husband’s job for a family visit, I still go to New York about once a year.
I have noticed in the past year or so that I have been getting stopped by TSA and they have been swabbing my bag every time. Every single time. Even after I got TSA Precheck. I have asked why, but in general, TSA is not very forthcoming about the reason for these stops. I get it. They don’t want to make it easier for people to do bad things by telling the public what they are looking for.
But thankfully for me, one woman at the San Antonio airport, before my most recent flight to Chicago, told me that my food looks like explosives in the x-ray machine.
I have mentioned before that I tend to travel with complete meals made into compact little loaves. They are generally made of eggs, wheat germ, pumpkin or carrots, cinnamon/spices, sweetener, sesame oil, and sometimes sesame seeds. And when I cook them in the microwave, which I usually do (as opposed to a conventional oven) they become a chewy, rather wet muffin of sorts. And I can imagine that in an x-ray machine, they look like the kind of thing you would see wires coming out of in an 80’s terrorist movie like Die Hard.
So when we left Chicago to fly back to Texas, I decided to try an experiment. I opted against easy to carry, compact loaves in favor of slightly more bulky and cumbersome meals of cooked vegetables and proteins packed in leak-proof Tupperware.
And I did not get stopped at all.
I had been thinking all this time that I was doing myself a favor by having these tiny little meals that were easy to carry. But every time I got stopped, I was frustrated, And more than that, I was afraid that someone was going to take my food away from me. (I know. I need to get a doctor to write me an official letter stating that I have special food needs.) It was slightly less convenient to pack a meal of cooked vegetables and protein. But the benefits of not worrying about losing my precious meals far outweigh the extra prep time and carry-on space used.
I am not saying that I will never get stopped again. I have been stopped for other things as well. My food scale, and my knitting needles and crochet hooks all come to mind. But it had been worrying me that I was being stopped every time I flew. And that is a stress I don’t need. Any stress is stress I don’t need.
And to be honest, I was packing those particular meals because I thought they were convenient, not because I found them particularly delicious. (Not that they were terrible…But they were dense. A lot of food in a little loaf.) I eat different things when I am at home than I do when I am travelling, either by plane or car. Some foods just don’t travel well. But I now know that those little loaves are not as convenient as they seemed. And now that I have that information, I can adjust accordingly.
Because of the trouble with the hurricane in Texas, we had to come back to Chicago for a stretch. We were told on a Tuesday and had to fly out on a Wednesday. And we thought that we would be here for another week at least, but found out we will end up having to head back to Texas sooner than we had planned. No complaints. Chicago is cold right now. But the quick turnaround has meant being able to fly by the seat of our pants. It means being able to be flexible.
When we got here to our home in Chicago, we noticed that we had some stray kittens living under our deck. They had been abandoned by their (stray) mother, and were starving. They were not going to survive long, and most certainly not a Chicago winter. So I fed them until a friend of mine could help me capture them and take them to a shelter to be taken care of until they were old enough to be adopted. It meant being able to do something that I had not expected or planned on. It meant being able to fly by the seat of my pants yet again.
I hate flying by the seat of my pants. I like plans. I like routine. I do not get bored easily. I can read the same book over and over. I can eat the same foods every day. I can listen to the same song on repeat. I can find something new in old things. I like nuance; I am interested in fine distinctions. I understand that variety is the spice of life for some people. I very often find variety to be the source of anxiety, and worry. But I have my food under control, so I can go with the flow. Or roll with the punches, but I prefer flow to punches…unless it’s zero calorie fruit punch. That I like a lot…
If I were in the food, I would not have had the energy to take care of those kittens. I would not have had the wherewithal to deal with them one step at a time. First feed them, then call the shelters, then catch them, then bring them in to be taken care of. I would have gotten 500 steps ahead of myself wondering how I was going to get them to the shelter, would have gotten completely overwhelmed, and I wouldn’t have fed them in the first place. It’s not that I am a more caring person now that I have my eating under control; I am simply much much better at dealing with unexpected situations.
Then, as I said before, on Friday, my husband called in the middle of the day and said that we had to head back to Texas a week earlier than we expected, as in, we had two or three days to be ready. I told him I would be ready when he needed me to be ready.
I can do that because when I have my eating under control, I can do one thing at a time, and take care of the next right thing. I can think straight and think ahead, without getting ahead of myself. So I am writing this blog, and then I will go to the store and make sure I have enough food for my trip back.
It turns out that life does not particularly care how comfortable I am with change, especially at a moment’s notice. And I don’t have to take that personally. But I do have to deal with it. And I am grateful that I am able to do that now.