I've always liked grocery shopping. I like going at off-hours--the piped-in music that's carefully calibrated to create a sense of well-being does exactly that to me, and when the store isn't heavily populated I can dance my way through the aisles. And I do: I shuffle off to Buffalo in frozen foods, I heel-toe my way through whole grains, I shake it in condiments. For all my food hang-ups, shopping for groceries has always brought me a sense of joy. (I once went on a date where the guy suggested we go grocery shopping together, and I was in heaven. But he smelled weird, so.)
So on my first official grocery trip of recovery, I was none too pleased to find myself panicked. The rules had changed. My assumptions about what I "could" and "couldn't" eat were in flux, so what had been a pleasant, simple routine was literally making me dizzy. What cheese should I get if it's not for a party, just for me? I "can" drink juice now--what kinds do I like? My god, the cereal aisle! I stood in front of the nuts section for a solid four minutes trying to decide if I could let go of the raw-foods dictate that only raw almonds were acceptable.
I knew that my reaction was understandable, but it was also disappointing: Was this paralysis what the future held for me? What new rules would I come up with for myself? The whole point of recovery is to make my life fuller, and because of the rules I'd come up with for myself in my normal grocery shopping, it was something I could relax into. I liked reading the backs of packages, I liked the constant back-and-forth of putting things back. It was a direct channel to expel my food anxieties; it contained them in a public manner--I'm not at home bingeing, there's nothing to be ashamed of--so it felt safe. I could relate to the world and food in a controlled environment without having to make the choice of what I was actually eating in any given moment. That's where the fear came in; that's when it wasn't enjoyable. Grocery shopping may be panic-filled for other ED sufferers; for me it was a joy.
Today was another grocery shopping expedition, the second one I've done with my newly developed list of staples.* I came to the yogurt aisle. Last week, I picked yogurt just on what sounded good, and found a new brand that had passionfruit and mango, two of my favorite fruits. I bought it without looking at the nutritional information, and only upon eating it and finding myself saying THIS IS SO GOOD out loud, alone, in my apartment, did I look--it was full-fat yogurt. I don't think I've ever had full-fat yogurt before, except as a part of a dessert (the one place I've never skimped--full-fat, real-sugar everything--which is probably why that, and nothing else, is what I would binge on). So today, I picked up that flavor again, and three other flavors of the same brand, all full-fat. And as I put them in my basket, I got this feeling in my solar plexus--light but full, a sort of content elation. It wasn't giddiness, exactly--it felt too deep to be that. It felt like a release.
The last time I felt something similar was the weekend after I broke up with an ex-boyfriend three years ago. It was a troubled relationship with a troubled person, and I'd been steeling myself for the unimaginable waves of pain that would hit once I left him. They never came. Instead: I woke up on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. without an alarm, jumped out of bed, and without putting too much though into it, started doing things that I had put off for years. I dyed my duvet cover. I scrubbed my cabinets. I took a dance class. I cooked myself a good meal. It was April, the time when New York begins to percolate with a certain kind of vibration, and for the first time in the six years since I'd been with him, I was a part of that energy. I walked through the city fully alive, fully awake. I remember it now in candy colors: the pink of spring coats in Soho, the green of the first batch of spring produce at the farmer's market. And, as in this weekend, it wasn't giddiness: It was seeing the world in the way that I'd be able to from that point on.
That feeling wore off, of course. And when it did, I was confused: Breaking up with him was the hardest thing I'd ever done in my life, and I'd thought that the floaty feeling would be my reward--it was supposed to stick, to make sure I knew every day that I was finally happy, dammit.
I'm better prepared this time around. Happiness wasn't my reward for leaving my ex; leaving him was reward enough. I still had all the troubles I'd had, including the ones that led me to get into such a crappy relationship in the first place, but I didn't have to deal with him anymore. And it's the same with the levity I had in the grocery store today. I'm glad I had it--I'm thankful for all the bursts of revelation, all the jumbled emotions I've had since beginning recovery. But that is now what I'm doing it for. I am in recovery not to have the feeling of breaking free, but to be free. I don't think I'll ever take recovery for granted, but I see that the goal is to take the actual liberation for granted.
So: I'm going to enjoy those moments. I'm going to eat the full-fat yogurt and be thankful. I'm going to waltz through the grocery store when it's called for, but I will not cling to that as proof of my recovery. Recovery will come when I have the yogurt just because it tastes good, not because of what it signifies. It hurts to type that, because food has been a signifier for my whole life, and it's hard to give that up. But what I get in exchange is worth more.
*I sat down and made a list of foods I wanted to make sure I always had around so that I'd always be able to make an appropriate meal or have a good snack without having to go to the grocery store at the last minute. I look at it on Sunday, see what I do and don't have, and then go shopping. This is probably what most people in the entire world do, but I've never managed to do it until now.
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