“Omg no more food for liiiiiiife”—@veduncan

Or: Yes, I have control issues.

(title from my May 17th tweet)—I have this ongoing love/hate relationship with food. Basically, I love food, and when I eat it I hate it. It’s not like that exactly, but… well, let me explain.

Every time I look at food, sit down at the table for dinner, or take my empty plate to the sink to be washed, I feel fat and hate myself. I’m not thin like I was in high school, and I didn’t realize until recently how much that I bought into the “you’re only pretty and worthwhile if you’re thin” paradigm that women have to struggle with every day.

I’m very particular about putting some things into my body; but what and/or how much seems pretty arbitrary on the outset. For example, I’d gleefully eat an entire bag of Cheetos Puffs and yet would never take a single sip of a daiquiri or margarita, despite the former being logically, arguably more damaging to my health than the latter. I rarely drink coffee or espresso drinks, but I love Dr. Pepper and root beer (except for Barq’s brand, but that’s a different story). I also like black teas—Earl Grey and vanilla chai being two readily accessible favorites—so I know it’s not about the caffeine or lack thereof. I don’t eat meat (except by accident once in a while) but I’ve eaten nothing but those mini powdered doughnuts, the kind found at 7/11 and gas stations, for days on end.

I sometimes claim it’s a health thing, but really it’s my controlling what goes into my body… and what doesn’t… and subtly, possibly somewhat subconsciously poking it in the figurative eyes of the people around me. Except I’m not very good at that, either. I’m overweight. It would be one thing, I suppose, if I was irritating and looked good, but mostly I’m just irritating. I have more belly fat than is really seemly. I have curves in the wrong places. I don’t have any extenuating health conditions, so it really is because I eat too much and exercise too little.

This kind of control over “my stuff” extends beyond food, though I admit it’s most obvious when I eat nothing all day and then scarf down three old fashioned glazed doughnuts in a row at 9 PM. It’s supremely difficult for me to talk on the phone, but texting is just fine. My best friend says I drive like a grandma, but I guess I think in terms of that old saying among pilots that my father told me once when I asked him about the one time his father flew under a bridge in a tiny twin engine and was grounded for a long while: “There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.” At least, that’s what I tell my best friend about why I drive the way I drive.

Really, I guess, it’s a combination of two primary things. First, it’s more efficient to coast up an off ramp and stop at the red light at the end with a light tap on the brakes than it is to speed up the ramp at 65 miles per hour and then have to suddenly stop short at the end just like everyone else. I know drivers behind me are often irritated by such behavior, but honestly, I’ve been trying to give myself permission to just be okay with pissing off more people more often for myself without being completely apologetic about it, and driving is a relatively safe way to go about asserting myself, albeit rather passive-aggressively. Second, and partially related to the first, I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, the unique aspects of which cause me to imagine turning the wheel violently and flipping the vehicle or driving straight off a bridge into a gulf below. I haven’t done what I’ve imagined, but I’m deathly afraid of it, not to mention the distraction from my driving of just “seeing” (in my mind’s eye) said in the first place.

But, I digress. Food. That is, specifically, my relationship to it… which is to say, unhealthy. Here’s the thing. I don’t cook. I’m not a chef of any kind. Which isn’t to say I can’t make decent, non-burned food, but I just… don’t. Maybe it’s a subconscious reaction to patriarchy; I wouldn’t be surprised. I just know that I like eating food while putting in as little effort as possible making it. That means that I’ll take a piece of bread from the breadbox or refrigerator with the intent of making toast with jam or honey and instead will eat the bread unadorned, as is, because I don’t want to go to the effort to put it in the toaster and wait for it to toast. It’s funny in a sad way, but I’m not joking. If I could get away with eating MREs and protein bars with an occasional family dinner, I would.

For me, food is a bane. It’s necessary for life; I can’t just up and quit like a smoker could with cigarettes, or wean myself off of it, or anything like that. Plus, in the culture in which I live, mealtimes are also social times, and not eating at those times is likely to be looked down upon, or at least looked strangely upon. I can make excuses (“I ate earlier” or “I’ll eat when I get home”) but even if they’re accepted, it’s still awkward and often other people want to share their food with me. It’s not like I’m bulimic—have you ever thrown up for any reason? It’s not exactly fun or tasty. It is, in a word, gross. (Not to mention it rots your teeth.)

And I’m not exactly anorexic, either. It’s not that I don’t eat—I eat plenty—it’s just that I eat the wrong things because my desire to not waste my time on something that’s not important to me (that is, food) almost always overpowers my ideally eating healthy, correctly-proportioned meals. And I don’t have any set mealtimes, either, since my job requires that I be available to work anytime between 4 AM and 10 PM six days of the week. I work better with a rigid, self-disciplined schedule (another part of OCD, and possibly related to my post-traumtic stress), and my life just doesn’t allow for that at the moment. And who knows; it may never allow for me to have as much control over “my stuff” as I really want.

I will happily eat food prepared for me, but even thinking about that raises my hackles; I don’t want to depend on anyone without properly giving something in return (though my actions often conflict with this ideal). Going out for a meal is fine, since I pay for it with money and I try to tip well because I know first hand how crappy working in the food service industry really is. And (bonus!) I don’t have to clean up afterwards. But if my (metaphorical) partner makes me dinner, how do I even the scale? Should I even be “keeping score”? I will feel obligated to him or her, and I hate that feeling more than almost anything else in the world. Maybe the answer isn’t to not be obligated to someone, but to not feel said obligation, whether it actually exists or not.

I heard once in a radio advertisement for Lexus (a brand of car in the United States), “The ultimate expression of power is control.” And the more I delve into my own weirdness (food, driving, alcohol, talking on the phone), the more I come to realize that it’s really about control. That is to say, I don’t feel like I have any. I don’t really know when this started becoming, you know, an issue, but it was probably sometime in high school, if not before. Seeing as I’m well on my way to age 30, I can say that having “control issues” is more trouble than it’s worth more often than not.

Okay, so now that I’ve rambled about food, driving, and having a thing about not talking on the phone, it turns out that that‘s what this essay is really about: control, and my lack thereof. Telling myself I can only control my own actions and no one else’s only helps so much since it means I start to obsess and obsess. One way I control something is to avoid it completely. I drive as little as is feasibly possible. I won’t talk on the phone for more than a couple of minutes at a time only once twice or three times per week. I don’t drink alcohol, take any medications for anything other than their intended purpose, or do any illegal and/or nefarious drugs. And, in that last set of “things I don’t do”, (*super extra unpopular opinion time!*) I actually honestly look down upon people who do do them.

I don’t go to bars; I have no desire to mingle and meet people over cocktails and other drinks. I think that alcohol as a “social lubricant” is self-medicating the symptoms, not the cause. The cause—that is, the problem—is that people feel awkward and unable to speak plainly with each other… and sometimes we’re not even sure that’s what we want (the “thrill of the chase” and all that nonsense). The symptom is needing to “loosen up” in order to chat up the pretty lady or cute guy (or whatever kind of person floats your boat) sitting at the other end of the counter. If you need a “social lubricant” like alcohol to talk to me, then I doubt I want to hear what you have to say anyway. I understand that people drink for a variety of reasons, including be able to forget what shitty lives they’ve had. And yes, I realize many people actually have had shitty lives, but let me be as honest as plain as I can be here.

I don’t care why anyone drinks. I don’t care what kind it is. Alcohol is alcohol, and it is a social evil. I have never seen it do any good in any situation and have witnessed and experienced it do irreparable damage in many. The psychological wounds I retain from one man who was under the influence of alcohol one night during my senior year in college will be with me until the day I die. I have trust issues. I don’t like anyone touching me. I need to be in control.

I’m working on it, but it’s a slow, painful, expensive process. I’ve rambled enough for one essay, I think, and I still have no answers. I still love food just as much as I hate it. I’ll still avoid preparing it and will still happily eat it if someone else prepares it for me. I’ll still forget the last time I had something to eat and then scarf down a whole package of goldfish crackers and three Hershey’s chocolate bars right before I crash for the night. It’s about control, and fighting the power it has over me when I can recognize its debilitating effects on me.

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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