When I was in was in high school, I regulated myself to one Zesto visit a month. Zesto is an ice cream shop in my hometown that serves magnificent concoctions of candy, syrup, fruit and ice cream and offers a new flavor of homemade sherbet daily. One goes there to celebrate a birthday, after a softball game, to cap off a day at the beach. I set my my monthly limit for a couple of reasons: too much ice cream makes you fat, I didn’t deserve ice cream but once a month, and to see if I could do it. This is good for me, I told myself, as I watched friends eat from plastic ups of peaches, caramel and vanilla ice cream while I sipped water. Yes, I did want ice cream, but I also like the satisfaction of restricting myself, knowing that I was in control.
Since then, I’ve gone on dozens of “challenges,” in which I remove something from my life for an insignificant amount of time. I’ve given up shopping, TV, gluten, Facebook, eating animal products, chocolate – anything that seems to extravagant. My nearly 10-year status as a vegetarian began as a year-long test that I just kept doing.
A friend and I were talking on the phone the other day, and I mentioned to her that I am currently on a vegan diet. I didn’t tell her, because I was a bit embarrassed, that I am actually also not eating gluten or sugar, and I recently gave up coffee. She linked the diet (or maybe I did) to my sobriety and said that I holding on to my power to control what I can. I told her that I might start drinking in a few months when the sober project is up. She said that it doesn’t matter if I do or don’t, what matters is where my head is and what my intentions are. That conversation stayed with me for a few days, because I hadn’t thought about my sobriety as being another challenge, although it very much is.
I like restricting, removing things from my daily life for no other reason than to prove that I can. I like being in control and having control, so when I say, “Well, I haven’t had sugar in two weeks,” it doesn’t matter that I am miserable and constantly thinking about sticking my face in a vanilla shake. I have proven to myself, and others, that I have impeccable control. I often don’t care if my limiting is unhealthy or crazy, because withholding gives me a balance that I am not finding in my normal life.
When I feel stuck or unsure of myself, I start restricting. I throw out things because I can, because I want to show myself I do have good self-control, which is a reassuring quality to me. I am constantly terrified of being a gluttonous, lazy person, but I can calm my anxiety by reminding myself that I am currently not eating eggs, cheese, meat, wheat or sugar and not drinking alcohol or coffee. My confidence isn’t totally reclaimed, but it gives me a sense of obtainable perfection, which is something I know not to exist and yet I chase it every day. Restricting feels sort of like an addiction, it gives me a high I can’t find elsewhere.
My friend is right; at some point I am going to have to look below the exterior of control and deal with what’s underneath. But I am not there yet. I can’t control when people text me back (seriously struggling with this lately) or if what I put into the world is not liked or well received, but when I give things up, I feel in charge and that gives me enough to get through.