12 Steps, pandemic, Spiritual

Confessions of a Food Hoarder in Pandemic Pandamonium

grocery cart with item
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

By: Jana Greene

Greetings from The House of Greene, where we now eat unsalted peanut butter, because on our last visit to the grocery store, that’s all that was available.

Now that I write that, how FIRST WORLD does THAT problem seem? And it’s because they ARE first world problems. But I have a funny little quirk about food. Well, MANY quirks. But this one is especially relevant.

It started in my single mother days. I’d been a stay-at-home mom for years when my daughters were little. I was room mother in their classes. I made wholesome dinners every night. Even in the hardest times, when I’d have to get food from the church pantry, we were well-fed.

And then my divorce happened. All of the sudden, it was all on ME. Two children, no child support, no help from family, NOTHING. It was all me and I had to work four part-time jobs just to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. The girls that I had ‘helicopter parented’ became ‘latch-key’ kids, which made me feel horribly guilty. We ate a lot of hamburger helper, minus hamburger. Instant mashed potatoes. Boxed mac and cheese shaped like Spongebob characters.

I will never forget the evening I put the girls to bed and took a bleak inventory of our week’s food supply. There was NO WAY we were going to make it. You know that feeling you get when anxiety comes on real sudden-like, and your blood turns to ice water? Your heart starts racing? This was a normal anxiety attack times 100. Something went awry in my brain that day.

Now, we all made it through and somehow, Jesus pulled a ‘loaves and fishes’ on me. He did THAT by some of my wonderful friends, who (much to the dismay of my pride) showed up with a meal or a $20 bill or something. Let the record show that we were NOT fed by the scriptures that other friends threw at me. Nor the lofty platitudes about if I only had more faith, “claimed” a scripture, or “believed” that our needs are already met.

(If you don’t meet a person’s basic fundamental rights, do me a favor, and DON’T preach at them. A Bic Mac and a couple of kids meals were a whole lot more effective than an “I’m praying for you.” But I digress.)

At some point in my single motherhood, I became a bit of a food hoarder. If I had some around, I felt great. So if I had MORE around, well…you know. I also recalled my old trick of soothing myself with food. I was only a handful of years sober back then, so it was all I could do not to pick up a drink. I picked up ice cream instead. Fast food is hella cheap and filling.

It became a way to reward and punish myself. Then I discovered that I could experience the comfort of stuffing my face, and then throw up to get rid of the calories. This is a HORRIBLE practice and I DO NOT RECOMMEND IT. But I hooked up with bulimia for a bit and thought I’d found the best of both worlds. Eat yummy food. Barf. Repeat. I lost 80 pounds during my divorce. The whole bulimia issue is a blog for another time (and I’ve touched on it before) but I’m telling you the whole story so that you can fully appreciate how f-cked up my relationship with food truly is. It’s WHACK, I tell you.

So fast forward to when I met my now (and forever) husband in 2006. He was so kind and loving. We didn’t have to worry about running out of food after we married, but old habits die hard. For years and years (and up until TODAY, ACTUALLY) it’s kind of a family joke that we always have stuff falling out of the freezer because it’s too full, and we can’t find anything thing in the pantry because I have this sick thing about having it COMPLETELY FULL to feel secure, and in order to fit anything in our fridge, I have to play “fridge Tetris” to make things fit.

It’s super annoying to my family, and honestly – to myself,  but I can’t seem to stop it because WHAT IF we run out. It’s not just about the food. It’s some primal holdover from when I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to feed my kids or something. It’s like a COMPULSION. It IS a compulsion, actually.

But today I opened the fridge and there is an empty shelf. AN. EMPTY. SHELF. I can actually see the back wall of the fridge (hey, it’s WHITE!) which never happens.

Over a week ago, I’d taken a fall due to my POTs and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome symptoms, and it was a bad one. Nearly broke both my arms and was bruised from fingertips to elbows. People thoughtfully brought meals over, since my arms were useless for a while. We had a REALLY full fridge (there are between 3-5 of us living in this house at one time, so it’s not just my belly I’m worried about) and it was glorious.

My first thought was: “I’ll run to the store.” Except I WILL NOT run to the store, because I have virtually no immune function and there is an actual PANDEMIC (another fear formerly referred to as “irrational,” but pretty damn rational now) and I am staying home to avoid germs.

It’s not that we are anywhere NEAR running out of food. It’s that if we were, there is nothing we could do about it. I’m thinking that this whole pandemic is going to be a HUGE re-boot for all of us. I can’t let an empty refrigerator shelf throw me into an emotional tailspin, although that is my habit. Habits are gonna have to be tweaked, as are knee-jerk emotional responses, which are kind of my forte.

I cannot afford to be ruled by my many, many compulsions. But I CAN come here and drone on about how different things are now, and be honest about how I’m freaking out on the regular in spite of my best effort to use my “tools.” Applying my emotional coping tools feels like using a regular screwdriver on a screw that requires a “Phillip’s head” screwdriver (I’m using this analogy because those are the only two tools I can differentiate…) It kind of works, but not really.

It’s like there is a Woody Allen (sans perversion, of course) Me, and a Brene Brown Me. Woody Allen Me’s hair is all askew, he is neurotically pacing, displaying nervous tics, and generally running in circles exclaiming “THE SKY IS FALLING!” while my inner Brene Brown interjects with Ghandi-esque, rational quotes about walking inside your story and owning it, and not standing outside your story and hustling for worthiness, and what not (which, frankly, isn’t even helpful at a time like this.) She is calm. She is at one with the Universe.

Why am I both these people at once. (I’m thinking maybe we are all a little of both right now?)

So for the foreseeable future, I’m planning on coming here to blog about empty refrigerator shelves, and one-ply toilet paper. But also about the very real crossroads of anxiety and faith in an unprecedented time. It’s an opportunity for me to dust off the ol’ 12 steps and revisit “surrender” mode, lest I revisit self-destructive behaviors (which will only make things worse.)

One of the scary things about all of this, if we are honest, is that it’s a leveler. We all feel far less “first world.” But that’s not a bad thing, spiritually. Spiritually, we are all One – all the same. We bear one another’s problems, even when they are more severe than unsalted peanut butter. Seriously, though. Not one of us is less precious than another, and sometimes we get so wrapped up in our privilege, we forget that this is the NORM for so many people across the globe – doing without. I know I forget.

I don’t know what else to do but write about it. Eating my feelings isn’t suitable, since food is more or less rationed, but my feelings are not following suit. All I know for sure is that we will all get through this together. Woody, Brene, me, and you. ❤