DAY 22: Dining out without relapse, resentment or self-pity
Dining out without relapse, resentment or self-pity
I can’t order the Whiskey River BBQ Burger at Red Robin. (I won’t even bother saying that it has more than half a day’s worth of sugar, sodium, almost zero fiber, 89g of fat, and nearly 1400 calories. Oh wait, I just did.)
Unlike the solitary indulging we do as food addicts, where we hide our consumption because we fear the judgment of others, eating out is often a celebratory and social event. We want to be like everybody else and join in the party. And if indulging has always been our modus operendi it will certainly raise eyebrows among our family and friends if all of a sudden we order a salad with the dressing on the side. It puts us suddenly in a very conspicuous position, one that we may not be entirely comfortable with.
When I wrote about our ambivalence toward recovery, this is one of the things I was talking about.
We’re conflicted. We want to get better. We want to live without the obsessive thinking about food and the manic cravings. We want to make better food choices and maybe even lose weight. But dammit, we also want to forget about it every once in a while and just eat the damn cheeseburger! Is that so much to ask???
I’m guessing you’ve had each of these thoughts, even if you haven’t said them aloud:
“How come everybody else gets to throw caution to the winds and I can’t?”
“Screw this meal plan! I’m sick to death of eating this way!”
“You can’t tell me what to do!”
No, I can’t tell you what to do. Neither can anybody else. You’re an adult and you get to make your own decisions about what you put in your mouth.
But before you give your order to the waiter, let me share with you one simple, irrefutable truth about food addiction:
Self-pity and resentment are the gateway to relapse.
During the month of December I was headed to a holiday party. I knew that booze, food and desserts would be free-flowing. Momentarily I was downright envious of the other party-goers who could indulge without (what seemed to me) a care in the world. They could nibble on the tantalizing sweets, slice up luscious cheeses and plop them on crackers, and worst of all have a beer or a tall, sparkling champagne cocktail without batting an eye.
Me? I’d be scanning the table for the veggie platter, holding out hope that our host offered hummus to dip them in. Otherwise all I had to look forward to was celery sticks and broccoli florets. Gag.
It was the pity party before the party even started. And it was a doozy.
I felt sorry for myself and I was growing increasingly resentful of my limitation, self-imposed though it was.
I knew I was in dangerous territory, so rather than letting my feelings simmer on low boil, I texted a friend. The friend I texted has an intimate knowledge of addiction; see, he’s an alcoholic. More accurately, he’s an alcoholic who’s been living in active recovery for a very long time.
I told him how I was feeling heading into this big holiday party; how I longed to just set my “rules” aside and be like everybody else, how I hated the fact that I couldn’t, and how I resented the fact that I always had to behave.
In an instant, he got it. He totally understood my ambivalence about maintaining my “sobriety” if you will, in the face of yet another test.
His advice was direct and practical.
“I can typically hold out for about 90 minutes in a situation where I’m tempted. I plan ahead of time to make my exit when I hit that wall, and then I do it.”
It also helped tremendously just to have someone understand the complexity of my emotions and help me refocus with an action plan.
I think the lesson of my friend’s advice is just this: know where your wall is.
He knows that he can endure temptation for about 90 before he hits his wall. Then he leaves. It’s a self-protection behavior that works for him.
For me, it helps to have allies nearby. People who know my goal to stay away from temptation and will provide support and accountability.
It also helps to reach out to others and give voice to my feelings. Hence my text message to my friend.
And I’ve learned I either need to pick the restaurant myself (so I’m guaranteed some workable options) or I must bow out.
Sometimes the best escape plan is to simply avoid the situation altogether.
Back in that booth at Red Robin, it may be too late to escape the situation, but it’s not too late to take ownership of the situation without self-pity, without resentment and ultimately, without relapse.
More tomorrow. Until then, stay strong.