Friday, June 01, 2007

Refining Abstinence

My food plan is strict. Weighed & measured meals, no sugar, no flour. When I'm abiding by it, I'm a happier person, by & large. I am, however, much less likely to go out in the world, to participate, to be with such friends as I have.

My sponsor & I are talking about whether, on advance-notice occasions, I can eat "civillian" food. She's afraid I'm playing with fire & so am I. I also know that to be abstinent at a party at which I have no idea when dinner is being served, or what the dinner is, is not only hard but makes me shitty company, even if I keep a smile plastered to my face & it's the company of my own resentful, high horse thoughts.

I went to a Memeorial Day barbecue that started at 4. Dinner was served around 7.30. I ate tortilla chips & a small amount of ice cream & had 3 glasses of wine. When my sponsor & I discussed it, I conceded that, yes, I could have skipped the wine & dessert without turning into someone I didn't want to be with, let alone risk unleashing on friends.

That's what I want, these days: to have the space to be honest, to talk about what I can do differently & better next time, & to have the space & honesty to talk about it ahead of time & afterwards to keep a check on the exceptions to the rule.

The victory of Memorial Day for me was that, despite having money with me when Daisy & I walked home, I did not go to the deli. I had to turn around & go take care of two Italian greyhounds & I did not go to the deli. I did not come home & make a big bowl of yogurt or eat rice cakes & peanut butter. I went to bed. I haven't touched illegal stuff since Monday.

I want my abstinence to be one of aspiration. I aspire to stick to it vigorously. I aspire to get thin. I aspire to some other things that have less to do with food than with my life.

The pain of ending my..."friendship" with Jeff lingers. I got a political cartoon in email yesterday & couldn't forward it to him. There are moments I turn around in astonishment at myself that I gave up an important person in my life. I don't like being the occasion of what I know causes him a certain amount of pain as well. But it was the right thing to do for me. I'm not going to be free until the original feelings I had for him die completely.

I also emailed the man I've talked/emailed a lot to & said that, after consideration, I am worth meeting & he now has to consider that. Having said all that, I'm not sure I want to now.

I aspire to having a free, clean heart.

I aspire to having a free, clean brain. Fewer computer games is a start.

I aspire to feeling less overwhelming anxiety. Making some friends is a start, & practicing friendship is the next step.

I aspire to be creative. I've fallen in love with photography & the idea of topsy-turvy art. I have a book to write & a couple of novels in me if only I can stop being afraid of my own shadow.

I aspire to be better, & right now better is freer, more confident, clean & honest relations.

But I think, as well, that this morning I will commit to you that I'll eat three weighed, measured abstinent meals.

It's Friday. I find that my mood sinks toward the The Dark Place by the end of the week. I think it's partly because I'm tired but that it's also the way I feel in the evening when I want to eat to smother the feelings of failure that I didn't do enough -- or anything -- during the day & it's too late & I'm too weary to do much as the sun is sinking. So I'm fighting today to keep my head, to safeguard whatever good I did for myself earlier in the week -- the freedom I invested in, the self-regard I granted myself, the honesty I opened up with my sponsor.

I just wish I'd done more writing, lost 80 pounds, cleaned my apartment & won the Nobel Prize for Self-Indulgent Memoirs.


Maureen said...

I LOVE your self-indulgent memoirs. They are an inspiration. I was wondering if you still had a sponsor.
I read an article in Readers Digest the other day about AA's 12-step program. One woman commented that she still kept on going to the meetings because she was afraid of falling through the cracks. She said that YES she was dependent on people, on a daily basis, to keep her abstinent. However she would rather been dependent on people than on her addictiction.
I thought that was insightful.
Good for you! It's hard to end a relationship, no matter what it looks like. I believe the best time to leave one is when it is working, whatever THAT looks like.

Still grammerless but intrigued....

Gallis said...

You know, I feel bad making a grand assumption on the basis of one blog entry, but it seems the real issue here are feelings and how they relate to food. I think saying certain things are forbidden automatically sets you up for failure. It's not real life.

I can totally relate to this in terms of food allergies which can be a nightmare. But maybe another way to look at this is instead of no wine at all, limit it to one glass.

I fully respect the approach of AA, but I get abstaining from drinking. You don't have to drink alcohol. You do, however, have to eat. So I don't see how intake cannot be moderated versus this hard and fast approach about what is allowed and what isn't. Cause from what I've read, the bingeing is with foods "not allowed." Maybe you're bingeing cause you never have these foods. Maybe eating these foods is just a "f*ck you" to the restraints in your life.

I've never been in a 12 step program and have at times had a bad relationship with food, but I wouldn't say I'm a compulsive eater. So I fully admit that I may be speaking from a place of ignorance and if I am I apologize. It's not my intention to be critical. I'm just trying to understand the issues at play here.

But I think the bigger question is why you feel bad at the end of the week if you haven't saved democracy as we know it and thrown in a cure for cancer just for good measure.

Nan said...

I love this post! I think the most important point (and which no one has mentioned) is that you've found a way to work with available nourishment and with your sponsor such that a little wine, tortillas, and ice cream isn't compulsive and doesn't become compulsive. Going straight to bed without a bite or sip of anything else -- victory indeed.

The word "aspirational" is one that's popped into my own head lately. But you've really put it into words and action.

Thank you.

Nan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nan said...

"...the freedom I invested in, the self-regard I granted myself, the honesty I opened up with my sponsor..."

This is what it's all about. This is the best part of this post.

Laura N said...

Keep aspiring, Frances. You are inspiring, as well. I hope we see more of your pictures--I love your pictures of things around your city.

And holy freakin' cow, look at all those dogs you walk! That, my friend, is an accomplishment I can't imagine. The picture of all FIVE of them is beautiful. They are gorgeous dogs (dare I say Miss Daisy is the prettiest?!) but my word, what a handful. You are awesome to take them all on. They look worn out in that picture, so I'm sure you gave them a good walk.

Maureen said...

I don't know but aspiring sounds like work to me. Inspiration is effortless.
However I also agree with Inky. It is an extraodinary act to start again. It takes courage each time and THAT you have lots of.

Anonymous said...

All I can say Frances, is that your posts always inspire and it leads me to aspire for a more abstinent life.
Keep inspiring and aspiring!

Lynn said...

I loved your book and have read it three times. I too have had to have rigid rules in order to loose weight and I always worry about "will one taste of ______" set me off.
I recently read Martha Beck's book "The Four Day Win". While I haven't done the exercises, the introductory chapters concerning why we yo-yo and how we sabotage ourselves were eye-opening food for thought.
I was going to end with some kind of encouragement but they all sounded like platitudes and I imagine that sort of thing would just annoy.

Unknown said...

I hope that you and your sponsor can work out a way that feels right to you and lets you be honest and happy about your life.

Anonymous said...

I have a few comments on 12-step food programs, and I want to be clear that my comments do not apply to AA.

What is abstinence? Does abstinence mean that we abstain from certain common foods such as wheat, sugar, and flour, and adhere to eating the same food groups at the same time each day, without any allowances made made for social events or life's surprises, joys, and celebrations? Or does abstinence mean that we abstain from eating compulsively of any food, but with the ability to enjoy what we like in moderation, minus what WE identify as trigger foods. I have many friends who are "normies," and most of them overeat (even compulsively) at certain times. The difference that I see between them and me is not the question of allergy to wheat, sugar, and flour. It is instead, the reality of not regressing into that bottomless pit of the shame, blame and guilt game and psychological freak-out that only makes matters worse.

Our ancestors (in recent centuries) had diets that were heavy in staples such as flour, wheat, and sugar, and they were not triggered into obesity and compulsive overeating in the large numbers we see today. Are so many of us who are overweight really allergic to these substances, as we have been led to believe in the 12-step programs?

After a stint in a 12-step program that left me overwhelmed, confused, angry, perpetually full of shame AND eating compulsively, I have opted for a plan of eating that allows me to be a social, functional human being. However, it took me three years to rid myself of the damage of a few months of trying to convince myself (and being convinced by other 12-steppers) that I am a defective personality who has to be placed in a prison of "Group Think" in order to be thin, healthy, and a good person. I have been on many food plans, and there is no magic answer, but I have been most successful at losing and keeping weight off when moderation was the basis of the plan--not the rigid abstinence defined by the 12-steppers.

Although 12-step food programs do work for some, most people who attempt it are unable to sustain it for a reasonable length of time. As evidence of this, I ask how many people are abstinent month after month, year after year, as prescribed? In the programs I have seen, only a few. In addition, the grief and shame that follows defection from the fold can be paralyzing and depressing. I have always regretted my stint in a 12-step food program. I have spent a good deal of time trying to recover from the good intentions of a few people who, in some cases, may have replaced one compulsion for another.

I know that what I have written will offend some--write me off if it helps, but I believe that every viewpoint is a valid one. Thanks to all of you who share your thoughts, struggles and successes, as you deal with the problem of compulsive overeating and obesity, which has become a national concern. Too many of us are living lives of quiet desperation, and I think there is more than one way to approach this issue. Help is where you find it. Good luck to all of you.

Anonymous said...

Frances, it seems like you are trying to do many things at once. Perhaps too many things.

You're writing a difficult book. You're working an eating plan. You're doing your work with the dogs. You're doing your own spiritual work.

I think that adding "internet dating" to this mix is self-sabotaging. I've often found that when I was having difficulty with an artistic project or spiritual journey my brain somehow decided that what I Really Needed was a new romantic adventure.

Then the stress and static of a new romantic adventure allowed me not to sit with the difficulties of the artistic project or spiritual journey. Also, there was another human person playing, as opposed to just me (or me-and-my-muse, or me-and-God).

This may not be apropos to your situation, but your words make me think it is. I would encourage you to take a leave of absence from online dating and focus on your own work. For a while.

You don't know me, so you may discount this advice. But I've been there and I know what the place looks like.

Anonymous said...


I've never posted before. It's funny how when a person with food issues says,"I ate today", I instantly recognize what that statement really means. People without food issues think "Yeah? So did I. What's the problem?". It's not understood; the code for the internal agony that goes along with "eating today."

The food you ate did not sound over the top to me. However, I recognize how you could have felt about what you ate. Good for you for not using that as an excuse to truly overeat later.

I struggle because I want to feel normal, but also because I recognize that limiting food choices isn't. The whole "good foods/bad foods" issue rears up for me all the time.

I have a friend who wanted some carrots and then said she'd better pass because they're "high on the glycemic index" and might make her stomach even larger. What the heck has happened that we've become afraid of even carrots and whole grains?

I eat sugar and sometimes I over indulge like my thin friends do. However, I do not think banning sugar is the best thing for me. I want to lose weight and be healthy, but until I have one of those "big moments" the best gift I can give myself it to eat without judgment. I do not lose weight this way, but I don't gain it either. I'm 100 pounds overweight and have been for 8 years. I eat what I want whenever I want and still exercise and am active. Again, I will not lose weight this way, I maintain. I know I have to change something. I know I have to eat less, yet for whatever reason, I'm just not there yet.

I consider myself to be a smart and passionate person who used to have a food issue tbat left her with a weight issue. I dealt with the food issue and now I have to deal with the weight issue. Does that make sense?

I'm not happy with my body and yearn to be thin, but until I decide to give myself the gift of a real plan...I'm not going to let myself panic over a few cupcakes. Normal people eat cupcakes and gain weight over long weekends. This one gift (no judgment) has kept me from gaining even more weight at least. I think panic and loathing leads to more eating and thus more weight gain and the cycle continues.

I love you Francis, because you're real. I read the first book, was sad to hear of the weight gain. I'll read the second book when it comes out. You brutal honesty about men, craigslist and your body amaze me. Have a good day and please pat yourself on the back for eating less than many people would at a party.