Last week I was musing about the concept of abstinence and its varying meanings, especially as applied to something that you don't have to 100% quit or, as in the case of food, can't 100% quit. Abstinence for me does not mean weighing and measuring everything I eat (I can figure out how much is a cup and how much is 4 oz. of meat by sight pretty well anyway), nor writing some plan the night before that I absolutely Have to stick to or bust the next day, nor forbidding things entirely. Absolute rules like that don't work for me at all. If someone says, "You can't have ANY cookies. No, not even ONE! Not even a PIECE of one! NONE!!!" I will probably start wanting cookies or at least get kinda hung up on why NOT cookies? On the other hand, if someone says "Cookies are here, you can have some, or not," then it's highly likely that I will have one or two cookies on Monday, and maybe two or three on Tuesday, and then decide I am cookied out for the duration and not have nor want any more for about a month and a half. It reminds me of Geneen Roth's story about how she didn't want anything to eat but raw choco chip cookie dough, so she had a ball of dough every night for dinner until on about Day 4 she was sick of dough and ate the meat and veg her friend had cooked instead. When you make something all "forbidden," you just obsess over it and want it even worse, rather than relate to it in terms of whether you logically want it, much less need it. I apply the same reasoning to certain concepts of "sin", but that's another topic for another day.
Abstinence for me, I've decided, is figuring out some flexible framework of behaviors where everything is available, but I'm not using anything as a crutch. Not food. Not shopping - not even shopping for healthy and cheap stuff like books, of which I buy way too many simply because they are Healthy and Cheap. Not alcohol. Not partners. Not friends. I have the Big Empty inside me like everybody else - we all have our version of The Big Empty and we're always throwing things at the void to fill it. The Big Empty is like silence in a conversation, it makes most people nervous, you want to fill it. But if you're comfortable, there's no REASON to fill it, just like you can happily sit in silence with a loved one for a while (or at least I can) and not have to worry about anybody saying anything cuz you're content to just Be.
I always have a tendency to Do Too Much of everything, because I'm afraid whatever it is won't be there the next day. Restaurants foster that kind of thinking with huge portions and buffets. Stores also push that kind of thinking. Buy a whole ton of stuff today on credit, it'll be out of stock tomorrow or we'll have brought in a whole new load of crap even though the last load wasn't completely sold yet. My pet peeve is any sort of collectible toy that comes with one million accessories and more to collect, argh. Theory of created demand, anyone? Let's get these little kids (or grown adults, they buy a lot of collectible toys) right into "Gotta get 'em all" mentality so we can keep raking in the bucks. It's a bad thinking pattern because you never have enough, there is always more to want.
I used to be the sort of person who, when I went to the store and found, say, a sweater I liked, I would want to buy it in two or three colors, or even two or three of the same color. Because I liked it so much and was afraid that if I only had one, I would wear it out or ruin it in the wash, and then there wouldn't be any more. So I would get more than one...and then be afraid to use ANY of them because they would get ruined and because fantasizing about where I would wear them, and how thin I would finally be when I did wear them, and whose attention I would attract, was giving me more charge than actually WEARING the damn things. Meanwhile, my life was going by, and I wasn't living it. I had to get, still have to get, more sure of things. Yes, people die and leave and sweaters get ruined. But your true friends (as opposed to fairweather-bastards-may-they-rot-in-hel
It's like I told a very good, very close friend a few years ago...someone I would have trouble living without and used to always worry that I would lose, because we fought half the time or so it seemed. (And you know we had to be pretty close the rest of the time for me to put up with that. I've been looking at that "say ten random things to your friendslist" meme that's going around again, and the stuff people feel comfortable saying to supposed "friends," even anonymously, just boggles. I don't mean the "tough love" stuff like "I like you but get your damn act together," I mean shite like "I really don't like what you do" or "I don't trust you" or "I secretly think you're a real jerk." If you're going to bitch someone out like that or say you don't trust them, they don't belong on your feendslisst, or IN YOUR LIFE! Duh!!) I said I wished we could get to the point where I was sure they cared, and then I wouldn't have to talk to them every day, we could just call up every two weeks and say How ya doing? And that is the way that it eventually did go. Once somebody is around and in your life for four or five years, even if you fight with 'em over dumb stuff (as opposed to super-serious stuff), it doesn't matter, you know they'll be back, generally, and you don't have to keep tabs all the time.
anyway...I've been spending a week kinda exploring the Big Empty in me. It's not such a bad place. I'm picturing it looking sort of like the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, which are hot and dry and have hantavirus and can kill ya, but which, in the right air-conditioned car and with plenty of water, are exceedingly lovely and wondrous places, full of colors and stillness, and un-full of people having loud ditsy conversations. Where normally I would buy some small thing or eat some small thing just to make myself feel a little better, I've been asking myself if I really need it, and the answer is sometimes "yes" but generally "no"...it's a totally different head. Totally.
Abstinence for me means knowing that people will be back, will be around, and that there will always be Enough...if not of the same exact thing, then of something just as good, maybe better. I don't want my day to revolve around the distraction of what I get to eat or drink or buy, or if I get to talk to someone I want to talk to. My days used to rise and fall with those things, the result of years of denial that just put all that crud, things AND people, up on a pedestal way above where they belonged. with power over me. No more. I don't want to dwell in the past (though it's fun to visit sometimes) and I don't want to be constantly yearning for the future because right now isn't any good. Right now IS good, even with its flaws. And I've been through enough of my life where right now DID actually suck, and I had to keep telling myself "after graduation...after you move away from here...after you actually have some money instead of being poor all the time...after you meet the right guy...after you lose weight...after after after you will live Happily Ever After," that now that Right Now is halfway decent, I have to train myself to enjoy it.
Living in the Now is what Abstinence means to me.