I’ve heard recovering alcoholics say that one of the manifestations of their disease is that they are constantly, obsessively aware of alcohol. They know the locations of every bar and liquor store in town, and can tell you which ones are the closest to any given point in the city. At parties, they notice who is drinking, what they’re drinking, and how much. And what really drives them crazy is when they see a person slooooowly nurse a drink, and then set it down half-finished… and forget about it. Even alcoholics who have been sober for a number of years cannot understand how it is possible for a person to do that.
I am not an alcoholic. I sincerely believe that there aspects of addiction that one can never understand without having been there firsthand. But I have found that I have a very similar obsessive awareness when it comes to food.
Whenever I leave the house to run an errand, I often find running through my mind an inventory of the restaurants or drive-through windows or bakeries that are on the way to or from that particular destination. It just happens. I had a food junkie recovery of sorts a few years ago, and so I don’t actually stop at them very often any more, but still, it happens.
One time, in the early days of that food junkie recovery, I went to heat up my carefully planned, calories-counted lunch in the office microwave, and found that someone had placed a tray of doughnuts on top of it. I stood there for a long time, staring at those doughnuts. Then I prayed to God to get me away from the one with the frosting and the sprinkles, because I knew I was about to fall off the wagon and, left to my own devices, would be powerless to stop myself. It worked.
I still notice how many times people have gone through the potluck line. And if I should see a person set down a half-finished piece of cake and forget about it? You guessed it. Crazy.
Right this minute, around the corner from my desk, is a spread of cookies that the winner of last weekend’s football pool brought in this morning. I haven’t eaten any personally, but I can tell you that there are four kinds—peanut butter with chocolate, M&M’s cookies, toffee, and frosted pumpkin with raisins. I can’t see them as I’m typing, but I can give you a pretty close guess as to how many of each kind there were this morning, and how many there are right now, because I just passed them on the way back to my desk from a meeting and did a quick mental count without even realizing I was doing it.
Today, for the first time in the seven years since I started my current job, it occurred to me to wonder if the fact that I work at the corporate headquarters of a large-ish fast-food chain is some kind of demented self torture. The floor I work on is plastered with promotional posters for all manner of diet-busting deep-fried, greasy and/or sugary delights.
Although, to be fair, office doughnuts and cookies would happen no matter where I worked. And, like alcoholism, my food obsession will probably never disappear completely. For today, I left the cookies alone. And that’s something.