Thursday, March 10, 2011

Christmas Can Never Be the Same

Remember when you were a kid and every Christmas was this magical experience in which you were immersed in delight? You watched the animated specials on television and made your list for Santa, and you believed that there was a Santa and he cared about whether you were good or bad. Since you had no power to buy yourself things, getting the gifts was this incredible experience in getting at least some of the things you most wanted. All around you, special things happened, and all you had to do to bask in them was be a kid.

When you became an adult, Christmas started to lose its magic. It's not only that you stop believing in Santa, but also that gift-giving is steeped in obligation and cost. There are also all sorts of preparations and expectations which wear you out. As you get older, the gifts lose their charm both because you can usually buy things you want and because you often have to tell others what you want in order not to get something wildly inappropriate. As an adult, Christmas can still be a wonderful time, but it can never be that transcendent experience that takes you from your normal reality to a time of magic. And what is more, you can never go back to that state again once you have lost it.

That final sentence and this experience are ones that I want to invoke because they come closest to paralleling something which has happened to me in regards to my relationship with food. Lately, I've been having a very bad time of it both emotionally and physically in my life and a few nights ago, I decided not to binge for comfort, but to "allow" eating up to maintenance level eating in order to just release the pressure on me for that one day to stick to my caloric deficit. I knew this might be a bad idea, but I got a mini candy bar (about 70 calories) and decided I was going to allow it and a few other things. Yes, I was looking to give myself a little comfort with food.

I snapped the small candy bar in half and I ate half of it. The response from myself was nothing. The emotional consequences of that bar were flat. It tasted nice enough, but it in no way provided any sort of emotional palliative. I ate the other half, and it also gave me no satisfaction. I ate a single potato chip. I ate two more. Still nothing. At this point, I reached the realization that food does not work for me anymore as anything other than food. Sure, it still tastes good, and I still would like to eat more than I "should" because I'm hungry from eating at a deficit every day for weeks on end and I still have cravings. However, eating is a hollow experience when it comes to having any emotionally comforting effect.

Back when I first started losing weight, I would have wished for this to happen. In fact, I'm pretty sure that there were days when I agonized over the fact that food had such power over me and felt that if that would just go away, I could fix all of my eating problems and lose the weight. If I could just shoo that monkey off of my back, my life would be infinitely easier. Well, the monkey has passed away and cannot be reanimated, and things are more complicated than ever.

I have been realizing in increments what it means to no longer have food play the role it once did in my life, but it took those moments of gaining nothing emotionally when I was in pain to demonstrate just how profound the loss is to me. Food was the easy comfort to bad times. It wasn't just comfort though, it was the tension release valve, the kick back and relax experience. It was the thing which when my life stretched me so tight that I thought I would snap would help me put some slack back into it. Now, there is absolutely nothing which does that for me, and this is crushingly difficult.

A lot of people probably will misunderstand what I'm saying, so I want to be certain that I am properly understood. This isn't about me wanting food to play that role and bucking against it. I want to be very, very clear that food is now ineffectual, not that I'm resisting using it. It's like trying to unscrew the lug nuts on your car with a wad of gum when trying to change your tire. It simply doesn't do anything.

I've gone from wanting to sit on the couch and watch a movie while eating popcorn as a means of chilling out and comforting myself to knowing that it won't have the effect it once did. Like the childhood Christmas experience, the time when that emotional experience could occur is over and can't be brought back. I guess this means that any emotional addiction I had truly is dead.

You'd think I'd be rejoicing, but I don't have any other vices to speak of. I don't drink. I don't sleep around. I don't party or use drugs. I don't even watch television much, and due to physical infirmities, I can't exercise much at all without serious (and real) risk of injury (as I injured my back from doing extremely modest exercises, this has been reinforced quite recently). When my life is wound up tight, there is no easy release now. Nothing. Losing this ability to be lost in food is emotionally one of the hardest things I could ever imagine. Now, nothing is easy to deal with. It's all painstakingly slow and difficult to work through. Unwinding is as much effort as being wound as it's just one more thing I've got to work at psychologically. At some point, untangling all the mental knots just compounds the sense of feeling overwhelmed and having no simple release. This doesn't make my extremely hard-won "victory" over food any less of a triumph or make me regard it as regrettable, but it does greatly temper the sweetness of it.

I'm not talking about this because I want suggestions for how to "fix" this, or even as a "warning" to people who think it would all be simpler if food weren't so appealing as psychological palliative. I'm talking about it because this is a record of what I'm going through and this is a profound change which I think many people do not anticipate (I know I didn't). Somehow, I will work through this, but at the moment, I feel incredibly overburdened by this sense that nothing in my life will ever be "easy" again. That being said, while I may be unhappy that "Christmas can never be the same" (food will never be a magic cure again), I wouldn't go back to being a child who spends one day in wonder at the expense of having no control over my life.