Monday, February 8, 2010

Seven months and fifteen days: chasing the dragon

It was a Monday like every other. The addict awoke too early, his stomach and head at war to determine whose turn it was to ruin the day. On this particular Monday,his head won. It would spend the rest of the day intermittently celebrating its victory.

And as he does every Monday, the addict spent the first two minutes of his day frantically trying to convince himself to go back to sleep. "This is the day I call in sick," he said, before slowly dragging himself out of bed.

He was wracked with guilt. In this way, too, today was like every other Monday. How could he have backslid yesterday? It was Super Bowl Sunday; everyone was partaking, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. What, was he supposed to live like a monk? During the Super Bowl? Everyone else was partaking and they seemed to be fine.

Sure. Everyone else also stopped after awhile. They had their share, then sat back and watched the game. Heck, the Poet With the Forty-Inch Vertical actually ducked out at halftime to take a business call. That's how much discipline that guy has. He knows when to stop.

The addict isn't like everyone else. He knows this. Even during his most militant periods of outward denial, on the inside the voice nags at him. He knows it. But that didn't stop him from binging yesterday. And now, today, here he is again. Back at the beginning. Back where he was last Monday, and the Monday before that and on and on since Thanksgiving, when he wiped out two solid months of stellar citizenship, throwing it all away and blaming it on "the holidays."

One little slip-up; that's all it took. One day his willpower was at an all-time high. The next day he couldn't say no. That's how it goes.

So he does like they say, and takes it one day at a time. He pulls himself out of bed and gets into the shower. He shaves, because he knows that if he at least looks like he's got it together, the odds of actually keeping it together are greater.

Temptation is everywhere.

Because our addict isn't addicted to mind-altering substances. No, he's never had a problem with that. He's not a kleptomaniac. Our man's addiction is omnipresent and insidious. It lurks around every corner. There is no escape.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, during the good period, the addict reached an important milestone: he weighed 195 pounds. In a period of three months, he'd lost 25 pounds. "I've got 15 more to go," he boasted. And then, a day later, he drank a Coke.

"Just one," he thought. "It's no big deal."

Pretzels, once a lunch mainstay but recently jettisoned in favor of an apple, returned to his lunch the next day. "Twelve pretzels equal 150 calories," the addict told himself.

Each time an addict relapses, the bottom comes quicker and with more force. Within a week, the addict was making side trips to Park Plaza Foods on his way to pick up his son from school. There he would buy ten malt balls from the bulk foods bin. He'd sit in the parking lot, eating his forbidden treasure. He took to leaving ten minutes early, giving himself enough time for malt balls. Ten of them.

By Christmas, the addict was back over 200 pounds. "Once the holidays are over, I'll get back on track," he told himself. That didn't help on Mondays, when he had to face reality: in a month, he'd wiped out three months of hard work. His mood began to suffer.

He was disgusted with himself. Every day started with a vow to stay clean. Sometimes it lasted until lunch. Sometimes it lasted as long as it took to walk to the coffee place near BART, where he'd get a hot chocolate. Toward the end of January, he began adding a poppyseed muffin, reasoning that, while he used to treat himself with hot chocolate on Fridays, the treat was now hot chocolate and a poppyseed muffin, which wasn't so different than just having hot chocolate.

Sometimes he made it all the way to dinner, starving himself at work, subsisting on yogurt and string cheese, only to arrive home and gorge himself on tortilla chips while waiting for dinner.

There are men who can't pass a bar without wanting to go inside and sit down. Our guy has the same problem with liquor stores. Not because he wants alcohol, because he knows that in there are Vanilla Cokes, Milky Ways and pretzels. Always with the pretzels.

In mid-January, the addict returned to the gym, where he'd once anticipated Thursday weigh-ins with excitement. That first week back, he hit the scale: 205. "Not that bad," he thought. "I can get rid of those ten pounds easily. I did it before."

For the next week, he pretended to be on a diet. Out came the yogurt again, the tiny applesauce containers for afternoon snacks. Somewhere along the line, though, he lost his way. On the following Thursday, he weighed himself again: 206. Then the world came crashing down.

There's only one way to treat a hurt like that. Yes, when you're frustrated and disappointed, angry at yourself and fearing for the future, there's always a nice bowl of potato chips to crawl into, or a few donuts to dull the pain.

Or maybe you grab a small handful of the pink and red M & Ms your wife put in the candy dish for Valentine's Day. You grab six, maybe seven every time you walk by. Before you know it, the M & Ms are gone and your wife is acting shocked, even though a week ago you begged her to not put M & Ms in the candy dish.

For the next three Thursdays, each time the addict stepped on the scale at 24-Hour Fitness he found he'd gained another pound. That this bad news came immediately after what always felt like a good workout made it even more disheartening.

Pizza, garden burgers, macaroni and cheese, burritos from La Corneta, and tortilla chips. Always more tortilla chips.

This morning, as he stood in the shower, the addict promised himself again that today would be different. He would avoid temptation. This would be the first day of a new regimen. Soon he would be back at 195, gaining momentum on his way to 180, a weight he hadn't seen since moving the San Francisco a decade ago.

The addict was determined. When he arrived at the Montgomery Street station, instead of slowly riding the escalator from BART to the street, he ran up the stairs with the other fitness freaks, head down as he passed the idle blogs he used to resemble on the escalator.

It wasn't going to be easy. He knew this. Working downtown, you pass two 7-11s, a Peet's Coffee and a Boudin Bakery just getting from BART to the office.

At lunch, instead of getting a falafel one of the uncountable Middle Eastern places located within a two-block radius, he sentenced himself to the familiar yogurt and string cheese, plus a bowl of tiny, out-of-season grapes.

At 2:30, starving, he left work to take a walk. This was to be the greatest test. First, he eluded Del Taco, which had become a weird recent obsession. Then he crossed Market Street to get away from Specialties, with those incredible double chocolate cookies that cost $1.65 and would put Mrs. Fields out of business if the world had any justice.

Every block held another temptation. Blondie's Pizza was on Powell. The guy on the corner of Market and Stockton sold giant soft pretzels from his cart. And the San Francisco Center, where the addict browsed Foot Locker and Champion Sports, staying in workout character, had an entire floor devoted to food; if that weren't bad enough, it also had Coke machines set up every 100 feet or so. Maybe it just seemed that way. At one point, the addict found himself at Bristol Farms, staring into a bakery display case before turning away and fleeing.

Down that narrow street is the frozen yogurt place, setting off a familiar song in the addict's head: "Frozen yogurt isn't bad for you. It's just yogurt, like the stuff I just choked down for lunch, only it's frozen."

He kept walking.

By the time he returned to the office, the addict was feeling stronger than he had in weeks. Maybe this would be the beginning. He was starving, and spent most of the hours of three to five p.m. imagining ways he could get food. But he ate nothing.

He arrived home, still starving, realizing that his wife and child were at some Bar Mitzvah class and wouldn't be home until around seven. Frantically, he rifled through the pantry and refrigerator, before steadying himself and backing away. "I'll take the dog for a walk," he said, but not before grabbing one whole wheat tortilla, folding it in half, and eating it in four bites.

Considering the bigger picture, that wasn't so bad.

At seven, the addict's wife, sleek and fit as always, returned home with his son -- and burritos from La Corneta. The addict shrugged his shoulders, put about ten tortilla chips on a plate and washed his burrito down with a glass of water, not a Coke, not a beer, not even the grape juice he'd suddenly grown fond of in the past month.

This is how the addict completed the first day of his recovery. On Thursday, he reminds himself, he will probably still have gained a pound. Consuming entire family-size bags of tortilla chips and pretzels during one football game will do that to you.

Sitting at his computer, the addict takes a long, satisfying drink from his glass of water. No calories. No flavor, either. He will awake tomorrow and start the whole thing over again. That's how it goes when you're an addict.

No comments: