My favourite chocolate bar is Mr. Big. It’s the most satisfying blend of crispy wafer, creamy caramel, melty chocolate and crunchy peanuts. It’s pretty much heaven in an edible stick. Last week our office had someone come in with a box of candy and chocolate for charity. The idea is that when you want a treat, you put $2 into the box and take a treat of your choice. At first, I was a little panicked, I’m not used to situations like these where I can control myself around all the food (especially the high fat high sugar kind), mostly because my body was so starved for quick easily digestible energy.
I have had a lot of trouble in my life with food at work, mostly because I can’t control it. I can control what types of foods I have in my home but I can’t control someone’s wife making cupcakes, my ability to resist an inexpensive chocolate bar from the candy machine or being scheduled a shift on the day of a fundraiser bake sale. For years I approached these situations with extreme caution, like I imagine a Roman gladiator would approach the impending battle for his life. You pulse quickens, your senses awaken and you scour your surroundings looking for any possible escape. With no way out, the only way is to plan the fight as much as you can and hope your wits save your life.
Sometimes my plans would work, and sometimes they wouldn’t. If the event was something planned I would bring my lunch and make it easily accessible, bring something safe so that I knew what I was eating was alright and bring something sweet (usually fruit) so I wouldn’t be tempted by the foods that surrounded me. I would sit in stony silence across the room from the food and eat my lunch, staring at it the whole time as if even blinking would give it a chance to jump into my mouth. Sometimes if I felt especially like punishing myself I would sit next to the food just to prove to myself that I could resist it. I would watch other people come and eat the cookies, cakes and brownies and feel full just knowing I would be thinner than them for not having participated in their primitive eating ritual.
Most of the time, my plan would not work, or I was blindsided and wasn’t quick enough to get away from the food before it lured me in. Sometimes no matter what I brought or how prepared I was the food took control of me. It would scream at me from across the room and almost grow in my perception until I could not ignore it. Before I could throw out a hand to stop myself I would be eating the cookies convincing myself that I had been really good lately and could eat just one. Then the panic would hit and go through a purging cycle in order to cleanse myself of my sins.
It got to the point where after a number of chili cook-offs, bake sales, fund raisers, barbeque days, Christmas parties, leftovers from Halloween and people bringing in treats to work forced me to leave the building all together and eat my lunch outside. If it was raining I had to find somewhere dry, if it was cold I had to stay warm and sometimes I was lucky enough to have a car at work or a secret place I could go to eat in peace. Eventually even the best laid plans caused so much anxiety that I avoided work completely. 90% of the time if I called in sick to work it was because I couldn’t face the food that was going to be there, once I even turned down a job offer because their bathroom was too close to the desks and I couldn’t purge in secret if anything went wrong. Food was in control of my whole life.
Since entering seriously into recovery the pull that food has on me lessens every day, this has been especially evident to me in the last few days. On Friday last week I decided that I wanted something sweet for my morning snack and remembered the box of chocolate and candy in the back room. I searched my purse and found $2.00, I could have a treat but had to make a good choice. I went to the back with my money in hand and stood infront of the box, almost paralyzed – I was about to have a chocolate bar, something that I have only had once without purging in the last 10 years.
I stood in the quiet, alone with this box and thought about how differently this experience would have been even 18 months ago. I saw a ghost of myself hiding food under my clothes so that no one would see it and I could eat it in secret, grabbing at the bars in a frenzy praying that no one walked in and saw me. I took a deep breath, released the anxiety from that thought and took a good look at my options afraid almost to touch them. I saw the Mr. Big and my heart leapt but I felt pulled towards a “better” option, eying the KitKat and Caramilk bar trying to pull their calorie counts from the cobwebby recesses of my mind. I stood there for a few minutes trying to decide and went with my heart, grasped the Mr. Big bar donated my $2 and walked back to my desk hoping none of my coworkers would see the bar in my hand (shame over eating is something I still have to overcome). I cut the bar in half and said I could have the other half if I wanted it, but that I would like to be able to save it for another day – I slipped the uneaten half back into the wrapper and put it in the top drawer of my desk.
Miraculously it was not until Wednesday this week that I even remembered it was in my desk! I wanted a sweet treat after lunch and there it was to greet me. It hadn’t been shouting at me all week, my mind wasn’t consumed with this “forbidden food” and I was able to carry on with my life even with half of a Mr. Big bar in my desk. I took a moment to allow myself to fill with pride as I smiled down at the crumpled yellow wrapper. This chocolate bar was no longer the controller of my life, and no chocolate bar would ever again rule my mind.
I have an amazing sense of freedom, accomplishment and joy over something that seems so small but it really feels as if I have conquered something so much bigger than myself. I am coming to terms with food, we are at peace and one day we might even be friends.