I’m writing this on a red-eye flight coming home from San Francisco. My husband and I flew out to join family in celebrating the brilliant life, and mourning the premature death, of 28 year-old Brian Thompson. The weekend was just what it should have been—a time of intense bonding, grieving, and love. Brian’s gigantic heart and wicked wit were brought to life again and again throughout a service that was poignant, tender, and frankly gut-wrenching.
It was harder than usual for me to stick with the Bright Lines this weekend. And I guess that’s natural. People around me were eating up a storm. And I guess that’s natural, too. There were many times when I came face-to-face with the thought that, “I used to eat over this.”
“This” being THIS FEELING.
In a Mexican restaurant, with family tension and chaos swirling around me, I stared at my too-soon-empty plate and scraped it with my fork over and over, wanting to find some kind of reprieve in putting that tiny bit of flavor on my tongue.
After the service, which was held at 2 p.m. (not lunchtime and not dinnertime, and therefore not eating time for me) I really REALLY wanted to partake of the massive buffet, and especially the three cakes that we were encouraged to eat up, because it would have been so much easier to lose myself in the food.
I didn’t eat.
Instead I focused on the people and spent time with them, one by one. I offered my shoulders to lift some tiny bit of the crushing weight off of Brian’s dad, mom, sister, and brother. I saw their eyes soften and brighten for those moments.
Then, earlier today, as I strolled down Pier 39 with my husband and brother-in-law on an uncharacteristically warm, clear, and sparkly January day in San Francisco, I felt the tug of desire to have something doughy and sweet to eat as I walked, like so many tourists around me. I quickly snapped my mind shut from those thoughts and redirected my attention to the shops, and the loveliness of the air.
Eating in restaurants meal after meal takes its toll. Gauging portions is hard and I am prone to eating too much. I am more peaceful when I can use my digital food scale for most of my meals.
Grieving is hard. It’s easier to feel happy and coast along with the world making sense.
Navigating interpersonal relationships can be tricky. I’m powerless over other people and how they handle situations. I only get to determine my half.
I think what I wanted all weekend was to use food as a crutch. Essentially, I yearned to find comfort in food.
But mindlessly eating a bunch of junk so I can check out of life isn’t really comforting.
It’s numbing, and in a way it really works (at least for that moment), but it’s a far cry from true comfort.
And because I personally am not a person who can recover quickly when I turn to food for comfort, because that one indulgence that I tell myself I “deserve” cascades into a snowball of obsession and desperation that most people simply don’t experience and can’t relate to, I must choose a different outlet for my momentary reprieves. I must stick with the Bright Lines or I simply do not get to live the life I live now.
So. All this raises a question that every Bright Line Eater must learn to answer for him or herself:
Where can I find comfort now that I’m not using excess food as a crutch?
What does true comfort look like?
We’re all different, so I don’t know what true comfort looks like for you. But I can share some of the things that have worked for me.
I don’t have to go back very far.
Just earlier this month, when I found out about the passing of my cherished friend Anna, and then 18 hours later learned about Brian, I didn’t think about eating at all. Surrounded by the familiarity of home and my normal mealtime routines, I instinctively sought comfort in more deeply nourishing places.
I retreated to my bedroom. I turned on the electric mattress pad and crawled under the covers with a hot water bottle on my tummy. I looked out the window at the trees, and over to a candle I had lit in memoriam that reflected in the mirror above my dresser.
I peeled and chopped a bunch of carrots so they would be ready to roast up for dinner.
I took a hot bath.
I called a friend.
And then another.
I cuddled with my teddy bear.
I doted on my kids and gave them the attention they so crave.
I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.
I let myself slow down. All the way down.
I cried some more.
I congratulated myself for feeling the appropriate feelings at the appropriate time. I recognized that the grieving I was doing was my insurance policy against mysterious explosions coming out sideways at some future time, or perhaps the sudden need to go back to therapy.
I paid special attention to doing the things that keep me balanced and centered. Like exercising regularly, and meditating every morning.
I got down on my hands and knees, buried my forehead in the carpet, and talked to God.
I sat up, took out my favorite prayer book, and intoned fervent prayers for the happiness and progress of Brian and Anna’s souls in the next world.
Food is fuel, but it’s so much more than that. It’s comfort, connection, a friend, a crutch.
That’s normal and natural, and, for most people, completely and utterly harmless. But some of us have a history of hurting ourselves with food, and ours is the job of finding new, textured, deeply fulfilling ways of finding comfort and connection without bending our elbows and putting that fork in our mouth yet again.
It’s a process of discovery. It’s a necessity. And it’s a gift.
P.S. -- What comforts you? Let's start a community list! Scroll down and leave a comment. I can't wait to learn some new tricks :)