I was talking to a friend the other day about working on my abstinence. She asked me to explain. Have you ever noticed how sometimes your nose is so close against the window of your own issue that you forget the rest of the world isn’t pressed against the glass too?
I thought it might make a good topic to discuss. The more I work on my own abstinence, the better off I’ll be.
When I first went to a therapist who explained that I had an eating disorder, I was also lucky to have picked one who was in OA herself. Not only did I begin to be exposed to different ideas about the way I used food, but I started to learn a new vocabulary and new understanding to go with words I knew in different contexts.
Like abstinence for starters. I knew that for an alcoholic or drug addict, abstinence meant they abstained from drinking alcohol or using drugs. It’s different for overeaters. We can’t abstain from consuming food of some sort. So, abstinence for me means refraining from the behavior of compulsive eating, not avoiding the substance.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve wondered whether it would be easier for me if I actually could go through life no eating at all. Would the black and white choice of Don’t eat/eat be less of a challenge than having to control when/how/what I eat all of the time. In a few decades I’ve never determined an answer. It’s the never ending pondering.
When the therapist first worked with me on attaining abstinence, I was in the grips of a horrible, long-term bout of binge eating. I’d consume huge quantities of food every day – mostly in the evenings. I didn’t have a clue how to stop or how to define what abstinence meant for me.
We started with broad strokes that purposely did not require me to limit my quantity per se. Here’s how it worked. The goal was for me to experience not giving into the compulsion to eat something just because it was there, or I wanted it, or because I wanted it and it was there. My first abstinence plan was to wake up and determine what and how much I would eat that day — organized into six meals. In order for me to claim abstinence that day, I could not eat anything other than I’d planned or eat at any other time than a pre-set meal.
So, if I woke up in the morning and planned that dinner would be an entire pizza, then I was within my abstinence guidelines. If, however, I planned to eat three pieces of pizza at dinner and then had a fourth – then I was not abstinent. If I ate two pieces at dinner but then grabbed another piece later that evening, I wasn’t being abstinent.
Sounds a little nutty, doesn’t it? It was drastic, but it worked. I learned a lot by employing that method. After a while, I was able to structure my abstinence to something closer to reasonable nutritional guidelines, but harnessing the disease eating behavior was the most important thing for me in the beginning.
I know what my abstinence needs to be – for today. A small “meal” every couple of hours, for six times a day. Do not deviate and pick up extra food at an unplanned time. Eat in the balanced proportions of my 21 Day Fix.
I’ve talked about my issues with available Halloween candy. It’s a trigger food for sure. So today when I set up my abstinence plan, I committed to not grabbing a piece of candy out of the plastic pumpkin currently hanging out in the office kitchen prior to lunchtime. I have myself permission to have a piece with my lunch but none before 12 noon. For me, abstinence does not mean never eating chocolate or another sweet treat. If I want that piece of chocolate, I can have it – as long, and this is the key part, I’ve planned when and how much of it I’m going to eat. The fact that I held to that plan was a victory for me. I feel really good about it.
Every time I choose my abstinence and resist the urge to eat compulsively, it’s a win. Wins are positive things. Positive actions are foundations on which to build.