Hello, again. After a 1-month vacation that turned into 3 (sorry!), I’m finally back at it. And very glad to be so.
You may have noticed that this post is not numbered. To be honest, I’ve lost track of the days. What with my re-boot sometime in June, and now the 3 months of silence, I’ve lost track of what day of BLE this is. And really, I intend to be living this way indefinitely. I know a lot of people get satisfaction from being able to number their days on BLE, but for me, that just seems overwhelming. So from now on, my posts will be numberless.
Now. To address my 3-month absence.
My summer holiday up north was wonderful. It was a lot of studying – trust me, this was an 8:00 am to 8:00 pm thing – but I was in my favourite place in the world, so it didn’t seem as tiresome. As far as food went, I was at peace. I was content within the bright lines, and felt no temptation to break out of them. I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t miss my old food, and I handled the cold. The first couple of weeks, I did have a time of feeling a bit flat, emotionally – I might write about that experience some time in the future – but even then, there was a contentment that I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was a good rest.
And then I came home.
Real life is not a cabin in the woods – at least not for me. Not yet, anyway. I was back to a world of distractions, food, and all the other things I go up north to escape – city lights and noise and pollution and Wifi radiation that gives me headaches. Encountering all these things again was an unpleasant shock to my system. But I had one thing going for me: I stepped on the scale for the first time in a month, and all my reasonable expectations were exceeded. Apparently, the northern climate agrees with me, because I had lost a ton of weight. And that gave me a boost in confidence and enthusiasm that I really needed at that point in time.
That little boost carried me for the next few weeks. While I wasn’t able to carve out time for writing – my 1st board exam was quickly approaching, and my anxiety about all the things I hadn’t yet studied was building into a fevered pitch – my lines stayed bright. I stayed dedicated and hopeful. I had beautiful visions of the future me. I had it all planned out, month by month: how I would shed layer after layer of unnecessary adipose tissue, emerging as something new and shiny at the end of it.
And then came a little speedbump.
Plateaus are to be expected. But I never expect them. They simply don’t enter into my plans. I’m not just an optimist, I’m an idealist. I always envision smooth sailing. No matter how much I try to warn myself that life doesn’t work that way, to anticipate trouble before it arrives, the obstacles that eventually do arise seem to come out of nowhere, because I never really believed my own warnings. Or at least, a part of me doesn’t believe them. So when they come, they throw me for a loop: a loop of incredulity, indignation, and at times, forthright despair.
And this wasn’t just a plateau. After consistently losing, and adhering to the lines perfectly, I was suddenly gaining weight back. At an alarming rate. It was maddening. Weeks of effort were being erased, through no current fault – that I could tell – of my own.
I was not happy.
I got through it. I complained to my Mastermind group. I came up with a strategy, and implemented it. I was simply going to have to eat less. I was angry, but I resigned myself. And slowly – so slowly – I started losing weight again. I was back on track.
But I wasn’t happy. Sure, it might be my own fault that my metabolism was messed up from years – almost 2 decades – of disordered eating. But it felt like I was being punished. As if it weren’t enough that I was giving up everything BLE asks us to surrender, I was having an extra portion stolen from me. Some of that precious food was being snatched out of my mouth.
I was angry. And I was hungry.
Then, after my 1st exam at the end of August, I celebrated by going apple-picking – an annual tradition at a nearby organic apple orchard. And pretty soon, I was eating apples as I picked.
I justified it. The first 4 (these are really small apples) were the day’s fruit portions. The next couple that I slowly munched through were the fruit portions from the previous days where I’d skimped or skipped meals. I didn’t feel out of control – they were just apples, and this was apple-picking day. Generally, on apple-picking day, I don’t eat anything but apples. I continued to snack on them after I returned home with my loot, but I wasn’t having any protein, fat, grains, or vegetables, so my overall calorie intake was probably not that high. How much harm could 1 day of unlimited apples do? It wasn’t really a binge – even I can only eat so many apples.
But the next day, I started eating chickpeas.
I was soaking dried chickpeas in my crock pot to make a big batch of hummus, to freeze in individual portions. And the smell was amazing. I tried one. And then a few more. And before I knew it, I was literally binging on salty chickpeas. I could not stop myself. You would have thought they were chocolate caramels, not a bland legume. I kept going back for more, and more, and more. That was when I knew I was out of control.
Thus began a few – let me see – 3 weeks of uncontrolled eating. After the 1st 2 days, I got right back on track, and thought I was fine – I hadn’t eaten any flour or sugar, so I figured this should be relatively easy. But I soon fell off again. And again. It was not good. I could feel my world becoming unstable. I would plan my meals in the evening. Make resolutions in the morning. And within hours – or less – I’d be eating without weighing. Then searching the kitchen – always searching, searching, for something to take away that indescribably uncomfortable feeling. That itch. Never finding it, but always trying.
I still stayed away from flour and sugar. Those were 2 lines I shrank away from crossing. I thought about it – I knew that on my kitchen raids, when I unearthed nuts and cut up cheese, and ate potatoes and peas with butter and eggs, I was really looking for something else. But it was as if I were contemplating taking illegal drugs: it was not a real option. I shut down that voice that would have loved to convince me otherwise in a kind of panic. I knew, deep within me, that those foods would lead me down a path of pain and remorse that I might never come back from. So those 2 lines were protected, reinforced with a healthy dose of fear.
As for the other 2 – well, being outside them was uncomfortable. I felt bad for breaking my promise. But not bad enough, apparently. Because I couldn’t convince myself to get back inside them. I began to realize that these lines – meals and portions – had never felt like absolutes to me. From the beginning, when I’d committed myself to them in writing, I can remember feeling a fuzziness about them. My life is chaotic enough that my meals have never been at consistently regular times, and splitting the day’s calories into 3 distinct groups seemed rather arbitrary to me. And as far as portions went, those weren’t immutable. I couldn’t even be specific about portion sizes in writing my commitment, because if I reached maintenance within that year I was committing to, the portions would presumably increase. So, while I said the words binding myself to those lines, I’m not sure how much I actually meant them. And since making that commitment, the amount I was allowed to eat had actually decreased, making the lines even fuzzier. They were weak. They were easy to cross. And so I did.
Now, don’t think I was happy about this. I was miserable. I was in crisis. The ease with which I’d gone back on my word made me wonder if I would ever really be free of this addiction. After everything I’d done to make sure I had no way out, that I was tied in every possible way to this way of life, I had turned out to be a liar. I didn’t know what had happened to that peaceful, grounded person I’d known for the last 2 months. I didn’t know if she was real, or if I would ever get her back. I’d lost her.
It took 3 weeks. Then, on a Wednesday, during my Mastermind group, I confessed: I was out of control. I needed help.
I hadn’t hidden my indiscretions from them, before. But for the past 2 weeks I’d confidently assured them – and myself – that this was a momentary lapse. That I could fix it. That I was going to be better. I couldn’t do that anymore. So, instead of trying to stay positive, I went into it: just how bad the eating had gotten, my stresses, and my fears.
I got a little choked up. I had to stop, a few times. And I’m not sure how much sense I made – I was thinking these things through as I spoke. But I was trying. And I knew that was a good thing. Though I was still pretty miserable at the end of it, something had changed.
The next morning, it was like I’d really woken up for the first time in at least a month. I was no longer in a daze. I weighed out my food, and ate it, as if I’d never eaten any other way. I felt like me, again. And that was a gift. I hadn’t accomplished it with my own strength. I’d tried desperately, for 3 weeks, to get this person back, without success. I wasn’t strong enough. I was weak. I was helpless. This had been given to me, unexpectedly and undeservedly. And I was grateful.
But with this waking came something else.
I’d explained my break as a reaction to stress. To 4 months of non-stop studying. To the physical stress this had put on my body, as well as the mental discipline it required, which felt almost painful. And also the fear and uncertainty – I still don’t know if I passed that 1st exam. There’s a good chance I didn’t. And it will not be fun breaking that news to my little circle of the world, if and when that day comes. Lots and lots of reasons for me to be stressing out and overeat.
But that wasn’t it. Yes, I was tired. Yes, I was stressed. But I’ve been stressed for the last 5 years. I’ve been writing exams for the last 5 years. I’ve been constantly judged, never feeling smart enough or healthy enough or good enough. While all of these are understandable, if not exactly logical reasons for eating insane amounts of food, it didn’t explain why I was suddenly turning back to food to cope, after doing so well for so long without it.
When I woke up, things began to come to the surface. And it had very little to do with stress.
I was sad. So very, very sad. That was the emotion I had buried with food, and that’s what came out when I stopped eating. I spent that Thursday morning in tears. I ate my breakfast, and I cried. I read my Bible, and I cried. I straightened up my room, and I cried. I began organizing my notes to study for my next exam, and I cried. I listened to old hymns we haven’t sung in church for years, and I cried.
I didn’t have any real explanation for all that crying, at the time. It was difficult to tell what I was sad about, exactly. But what came up most consistently, most strongly, and most inexplicably, was that I missed my dog.
Angel died 6 years ago. I spent a lot of time crying for that animal. There was no reason for me to be crying for her again, now. It made no sense. But it was very real. Just like the year after her death, I found myself thinking I saw her out of the corner of my eye, lying beside me. I would get up from my desk, almost expecting to hear her nails on the floor as she scrambled up to follow me. Surprised by the silence, by the emptiness of her absence. And missing her. Missing her with that deep, painful ache of recent grief – not the faded echoes of that grief that remain after years and life have washed over it.
When I was faced with the idea of having to put my dog down, I told the vet, in shock, and through tears, that I couldn’t imagine my life without her. And I still don’t think I could have expressed my feelings any more accurately. I’d had that dog since I was 17, and she’d been my best friend ever since. She rode shotgun in my car as I drove across Canada to my first teaching jobs – and learned how to open the passenger-side window so she could stick her head out, scaring me half to death in the process. She was the person I came home to after a miserable day at school. She was my carry-on when I flew to the Arctic. The leverage with which the corrupt Middle-Eastern airport workers extorted money from me, when we arrived in Abu Dhabi. My roommate, my walking buddy, foot-warmer, my alarm system. She was the constant in my life.
When she died, it was like a part of me had been severed. And it took a long time to get used to living without that part.
Muscle memory is a real thing. About 6 months ago, I relocated my Q-tips from a basket on the shelf beside my closet, to the top of my bookshelf on the other side of the room. After I shower, with the feeling of water in my ears, my feet still head for the old spot to grab a cotton-swab-on-a-stick to dry them out. I have to swivel around to the bookshelf, every time – sometimes, not until my hand is actually in the basket, coming up empty. But I know that soon, if I live here for a few more months, heading to the bookshelf for a Q-tip will become natural. My muscles will get used to it. Because I got used to living without Angel.
I stopped expecting her to gobble up every piece of food I accidentally dropped on the floor. I stopped waking up at night thinking I could feel her beside me. I stopped hearing her footsteps behind me.
As much as I loved her, life went on without her. I have new people to love – when Angel died, I had 1 niece; I now have 3 nieces, and 5 nephews. When she died, I was a teacher – well, a former teacher, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Now I’m a doctor. I’ve grown gardens without her, gone to school without her, walked without her, taken car rides and train rides and bus rides without her. I can speak about her without getting choked up. Look at pictures of her and smile. I can remember her with fondness, while acknowledging the many faults in her, resulting mostly from my own deficiencies as a trainer. I can even think about getting another dog, someday soon.
But on that Thursday, my heart was breaking for her. Again. I was inconsolable. I went through mounds of Kleenex, and lost a significant amount of fluid. It was like I’d just lost her.
I don’t know why, exactly, I was experiencing this sadness. But I’ve tried to think it through, and I’ve come up with a few theories. The first is, Angel was the one thing in this world that was truly mine. I have friends and family who love me, and whom I love and am grateful for. But these people don’t belong to me. I’ve been able to share in a larger part of some of their lives over the last 8 years than I did for the 10 years before that, but in the end, I am planning to leave again. Even now, they’re not really mine. I visit with my sisters. I borrow my nieces and nephews. I mooch off of my parents 🙂 – whose tolerance is greatly appreciated. But they’re not mine. They are not dependent on me. They don’t need me to feed them or walk them, bathe them or brush them.
My home isn’t mine. My back yard isn’t mine. My room isn’t mine. The little plot of dirt where I grow herbs isn’t mine. And now, I don’t have school to distract me from that. I’m not a student anymore. I’m not a teacher anymore. And I’m not really a doctor, yet. I have nothing, and I am nothing.
So, in this line of thinking, when I miss Angel, I am missing who I was. I may have been fat and miserable, but I had Angel, and I had a place in the world. If I didn’t have a permanent home, at least I had a purpose. I was something. And I had someone to share all my adventures.
Apparently, the loss of these things was so painful that I didn’t want to feel it. I ate to drown it out. To keep myself hidden in that numbness that was preferable to the pain.
It seems silly, now. Sadness isn’t the end of the world. Yes, it hurts, but it doesn’t last forever. And crying it out feels much better than burying it inside me to rot and fester.
But food is where I’ve always gone for comfort. Where I’ve always taken my hurt. Because I couldn’t handle it on my own. And because food doesn’t ask any questions. It requires no explanations.
Over the last week or so, I’ve been working some things out with God. And it’s not easy. The tears keep coming. When I take an honest look at my life, at my shortcomings and failures, it hurts. When I think about the future, there is doubt and fear. And I ask a lot of questions that aren’t given answers.
But I’m not alone. I don’t have to deal with it on my own. Walking through – or crying through – all this sadness that keeps coming up, is hard. But I can do it, because he makes me strong enough.
Angel was my best friend. But she was a gift from God. And that God still loves me. And he is mine – in a way that even Angel couldn’t be.
I will go through this sadness, and I will go through more. And I will do it without food. I’ll do it with God. It’s harder, but it’s better.
Ok. Time to buy a new box of Kleenex.