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The Emotional Side Part 3: Social Struggles
Everyone Just Wants to Belong
Each of us has something that sets us apart from everyone else. That something should be cherished and celebrated. But the reality is that we each just want to belong. Each of us just wants to be a part of the pack. And what does the pack usually do when it gets together?–eat, of course. For the person who requires gluten free, the social struggles can be very real.
The few years leading up to the time when I was diagnosed with celiac, I was living a different life, so to speak. Different home. Different marriage. I was very involved in my neighborhood and had a great circle of friends. This was such a great time in my life. My kids were getting older, not not needing my constant supervision (but were still home where we could be a big part of each other’s daily lives).
I was enjoying being a grown-up, spending time with other grown-ups. There were block parties and other social events. And those social events always included–food! (of course)
Social Life Impacted First By Health--Then By Food
But then I started getting sicker and sicker and crabbier and crabbier, and life (social and family) became diminished because of it. I eventually got a proper answer, thankfully, but this answer (strict dietary requirements) brought challenges of a different kind.
Social life and food.
My social life (and life in general, of course) was first impacted by health (physical and emotional). The answer to my health struggles, however (a strict gluten-free diet) brought a new set of challenges. (Gluten free was far more difficult in the year 2000 than it is now, by the way.)
Life was also being impacted by a failing marriage. I had hoped that it would have improved with my personal health, but that didn’t happen. Instead, it continued to disintegrate.
Health challenges and strict diet changes can be difficult for anyone in a strong marriage. But I was alone in more ways than I cared to admit at the time. And I felt a whole lot of guilt for not not having been a better, healthier, more energetic and happier partner for the person I was married to. Two people living alone is not a marriage.
Give Up The Gluten -- Keep The Friends
Dining out was much more difficult then, than it is now. It’s still not always easy, but there are more options now. The venue my circle of friends generally chose seemed like a fairly easy place for me to eat. The burgers were simple and gluten free. The cooks were careful about cross contamination after I shared details about my requirements. I even learned how to make my own bun. I was good to go…..
That Darn Roller Coaster Gets Me Every Time
But then a new bar and grill opened and the group moved on. This meant I had to start from scratch. I had to start figuring out how to manage this new establishment. A phone call ahead left me feeling defeated. This was not a place I could eat safely. I decided that I wasn’t going to stay home just because I couldn’t eat!
I was still very new to this diet change. My body was still exhibiting and feeling the effects of being starved for nutrition for several years. And my body still craaaaaved certain foods.
I needed fat. I craved fat. And I craved fried foods. Most people like fried foods. I, however, absolutely craaaaaved them. Eating ahead didn’t help much. The food still smelled great. I felt isolated with only a beverage while everyone else passed around the variety of items they ordered to share.
The emotions that came with my need to figure out this situation became very raw.
A Pivotal Moment
I will never forget that evening even though it was eighteen years ago. I’ve grown and adapted a LOT since then, thank goodness! But this was definitely a night that I can look back on as a moment that suggested, change is coming. Change is needed.
Food kept getting passed around the table. “Here, Deb, would you pass this?” and “Oh my gosh, you just have to try one of these!”
But I couldn’t try that pizza. I couldn’t eat a chicken wing. I couldn’t eat a single French fry! It was HARD!!
Today, I can handle it, not a problem (usually, anyway–I’m still human, right?). Back then, however, it was unbearable. I’m an emotional person anyway. Fighting back the tears wasn’t working. I finally decided to just step out for a bit.
A Painful Scene
My goal was to release a little steam, pull myself together, and then go back in and enjoy some laughs and beverages and good company. My (then) husband came out. I didn’t know how to communicate my feelings and he didn’t know how to support me in the best way. Honestly, I don’t know if there was a great thing to say at that time. But the whole scene didn’t go well.
I was told to stop feeling sorry for myself.
I didn’t comprehend everything behind my emotions until years later. How could he know what was behind my tears. I was simply sad and I was hugely emotional. It just looked like I was feeling sorry for myself (in a big way). I was hurting. I was going through very difficult growing pains. And now those emotions were compounded.
This was a new part of this whole process–learning how to put focus on friends while overlooking the food. And I know it wasn’t just my life that was impacted by my new dietary restrictions. Far from it. But at that moment it was all about me. *(And that’s OK, by the way. We have to learn to juggle our own journey before learning how to make others feel comfortable.)
Yup, the night was done. The tears came out full steam. There was no going back inside at this point. And there was a whole lot of me feeling very foolish.
A Little Understanding
If you are reading this as someone who requires this (or any) strict way of eating, you can most likely relate to the social struggles. If you are reading this as a friend or family member of someone who needs this (or any) strict way of eating, please know that your understanding (even if you don’t understand) is so very important.
Everyone is different. What helps one person may not help another. There is no perfect answer. But be there. Ask how you can be supportive. Don’t always expect specific directions because we don’t always know in the beginning. And sometimes, it is just a matter of time. There isn’t always a perfect solution. I don’t think, at that particular moment of that painful scenario, there would have been anything he could have said that would have made it easier for me. It truly is a process.
Time Is A Friend
It takes time. It takes time for many reasons. For me, for example, I had been under-nourished for so many years. Food cravings were powerful. Not only did the food look and smell good, but my body was still screaming, Give me that food!
Plus–I just wanted to dig in and be a part of the group. I wanted to belong. Who doesn’t? Anyone with dietary restrictions can relate. Are you nodding your head yes while reading?
Social struggles are real. But please, please, please, work on it. Don’t avoid events and people just because you cannot participate in the food. It DOES get easier with time and with practice.
It Gets Easier
As you get healthier and as food cravings diminish, this social part gets easier.
And as you learn what works best for you (either by bringing food or eating ahead) this social part gets easier.
Once you start to let go and accept the fact that the food at the social event is most likely not an option, this part gets easier.
And for events that are catered, as you learn to communicate with the caterer ahead of time, and sometimes discover the ability to actually eat some of the food at an event, those social struggles diminish.
Don't Isolate Over Food
We are social beings. Some, like me, enjoy more alone time than others. I love my alone time, but I also enjoy being around people.
Unless joining a group of others who all need to be gluten free, however, there is always going to be that being different factor. There will always be that food issue to face. We are always going to have to either eat ahead, bring our own, or simply say, No thank-you.
This is now our life. Acceptance makes it easier. You may need to go through that mourning phase, just don’t get used to it. That pity pot might be OK to visit, but it isn’t a place to live.