Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Total abstinence: I won't last a day without food

I can’t remember the last time I went a whole day without eating.

I used to go on extreme diets, but that was a long time ago. When I look at pictures of how thin I was BEFORE the diet, I plotz. In some photos I look like a ghost: it was at that point that I felt I was “thin enough”, at least until I put back 5 pounds or so.

I have had an uneasy relationship with food, with eating.  Whole industries have sprung up around it, billions of dollars’ worth. Buying food, preparing food, eating in restaurants so we won’t have to put out any effort at all.

I remember feeling a little shocked when a friend of mine (quite obese, and apparently going to a nutritionist because she said she had no interest in food ) said to me, after we’d finished eating in a restaurant, “So what's so great about it? It’s in one end and out the other.”

Well, it’s true, but we don’t think about that, do we?

Why make such a fuss about food? Everything turns to shit anyway. Kind of like a metaphor for life.

I’m thinking about all this, as I sit here already feeling hollow and groany in the stomach. I’ve been doing “prep” for a colonoscopy for several days now, first with a restricted diet (no this, no that), and today with a liquid diet restricted to anything I can see through.

Meaning limited Jell-o, limited chicken broth (these consumed as “meals”), ginger ale, apple juice, and water and water and water. And water.

Already I am feeling unmoored. For food isn’t just something that keeps us going, as in "calories in". It’s a way of marking the day, of orientation. “Haven’t you had lunch yet?” “You mean you don’t eat breakfast? It’s the most important meal of the day.” (Why?) “Let’s have dinner some time.” Etc. Not “let’s get together and talk trash", but “let’s get together and stuff food into our mouths”.

I won’t write about the obesity crisis which seems to be blowing people up like balloons. My theory (one that I have never seen anywhere else) is that people are responding to the emotional stress of a harrowing, violent, climate-damaged world by stuffing things in their mouths. They’ve been doing it since they were babies.

It’s self-comforting, and the thing is, when you walk into the average store, I mean a drug store or department store like Walmart or Target or one of those, one of the first things you see is a WALL of junk Sometimes walls and walls of it. None of it is really edible and most of it consists of sugar, fat and other empty calories. All of it is within easy reach and does not cost very much.

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s your pacifier! Come stuff it in your mouth, and a few hours later, shit it out in your diaper. Or wherever.

But I set out to write about this strange fast, this abstinence, fortunately only one-and-a-half days long. Later this day I must purge, and I’ve heard this stuff is a Roto-Rooter to your insides. It scares me half to death  because the whole reason I am having this procedure is that I’ve been having abdominal pains. Might they be made infinitely worse by this liquid Draino I have to drink tonight?

I am not one of these people who wants to “watch”, by the way. I don’t know why they let anyone watch the procedure. The whole reason it’s done is to screen for cancer, tumors and other abnormalities of the colon. Who wants to be lying there staring at the screen and suddenly hear the technician say, “Oh my God, that’s the worst one I’ve ever seen"?

It’s seven minutes after eleven, and all I’ve had today is coffee (black) and water (clear). I thank the Lord I can have coffee at least. When I have my fasting glucose test every few months, coffee is not allowed, and by the time my arm is stuck and bled, my head is pounding. After the siphoning I run for Starbuck’s or, even better, McDonald’s, which has surprisingly good coffee that is just loaded with caffeine.

As I sit here listening to my stomach make noises like a grizzly, my mind bounces back and forth. I’ve been doing this for weeks now, but it has intensified over the past few days. Of course everything will be all right. I’ve “passed” every medical test I have ever had. Nothing is ever wrong. EVER.

Then why am I having this?

There’s no cancer in my family. Anywhere. But that turned out to be a lie, or a “mis-truth”, a form of selective amnesia. My Dad was indeed treated for bladder cancer and completely cured and went on to live another 30 years. My mother had her uterus removed, but no one ever told me why (and in fact I did not find out she had a hysterectomy until many years later. At the time, she was just “in the hospital”.)

So it is quite possible that BOTH my parents had cancer. A strange sort of flip-flop from what I believed until quite recently. I wasn’t lying to myself. I just didn’t “know”, though in fact I knew very well. I was protecting myself from the truth.

So how do I feel without the anchoring effect of food, the three meals a day that prevents everything from blurring together into “blunch”, “linner” and “dupper”? I find I’m already forgetting and almost grabbing something to eat. Just a banana. (God, I had a lot of bananas yesterday.) I am holding off on my feast of peach Jell-o and Knorr chicken broth (“Made from real chicken!” Hell’s bells, what ELSE would it be made from?) until I am truly desperate.

I don’t want this “procedure” to happen, but at the same time I want it over with. I know the most likely result: no phone call, which is good news, isn’t it? Better than the other kind.

I can’t help but remember, though, all the friends I used to have, the ones who fell to disease: cancer, heart attack, AIDS, more cancer. . . Oddly enough, the one that bothered me most was the recent death of someone I could only call an acquaintance. I had not seen her for years – she was once a member of my former church and had just been ordained as a minister – and then suddenly I’m getting a Facebook message inviting me to her memorial service.


When you leave a place you’ve been part of for years, it sort of freezes in time. If you meet someone you knew years later, you can’t help but think, God, they look old. But when someone dies at 50. . .  Someone you admired, liked, even though you weren’t really friends. Someone whom you knew would make an outstanding minister because of her soaring spirit and vibrant faith.

And now she’s dead. Dead?

I am still having trouble getting my head around it, don’t really believe it, can’t associate her with death at all. And it was cancer, that looming shadow, perhaps the main thing we are trying to rule out tomorrow, which is why I have to be so cleaned out. If she could die like that, just vanish, so that I’ll never see her again. . .

I can’t finish that sentence.

This is just a procedure. Millions of people have it. I haven’t had any real symptoms. At least, I don’t think they are symptoms. I don’t know what they are, just things that have been bothering me. I only know I am not allowed to eat, and the peach Jell-o quivering in the fridge is beginning to look like coq au vin.

Not eating, fasting, is like missing a step in a dance or a skipping rhythm. Or maybe stepping back from everything. It feels weird, hollow. It leaves you clutching at the air. And oddly depressed, your pacifier snatched out of your mouth, so that you are forced to see, and feel, all the things that you would really rather not.