For those of you who don’t know, in real life, I’m a nutritionist. Which means I spend most of my days justifying the consumption of spinach with campaigns not dissimilar to Popeye’s.
Patients often have this charming assumption that I do not suffer the same afflictions of donut lust or question the sanity of putting kale in a smoothie. More than once, I have been asked if I make my own mayonnaise, as if I moonlight as some backwoods version of Julia Child with pet chickens.
And probably, they say, I don’t eat sugar or consume alcohol or have any of those sorts of vices because I know better. We all know better. Which is what makes times like these so hard.
On the eve of Thanksgiving I have come to realize that my response to not spending it with family is to make just as much food and eat it myself. In fact, I have been systematically preparing for this by stress-eating my way to the combined weight of myself, a toddler nephew, and one frail but voracious great-aunt.
Oddly, I have been intentionally washing these meals down with red wine, which has caused a kind of teetotaler’s short circuit in my brain because I don’t drink. Or at least I didn’t, but then a pandemic and an election and Zoom meetings broke me.
My sustained optimism and commitment to “cultivating happiness” in my life has been replaced with pie and Buddhist literature on the weakness of attachment. Buddhism is particularly supportive of my inclination to indulge, as enlightenment should happen when I stop feeling so attached to my pant size. At this rate, I’ll stop being attached to pants at all because only a toga made from a king-size sheet is going to fit me.
The downward spiral is not unfamiliar to me. I just wish we didn’t have to hit rock bottom as a nation before climbing back out. I don’t know how you are all faring, but if you are elbows deep in pastries and bad habits, I want you to know you are not alone.
As I bear witness to the painful unraveling of my expectations for this year, I cling to the few healthy survival tools I have left: self-compassion and hope. The former I have learned through years of self-abuse. The latter I read about in “Man’s Search for Meaning,” a title that simultaneously destroys and restores my faith in humanity.
It is OK for us to feel loss and sadness, overwhelm and even despair. For the introverts out there, or those whose therapists recommend they avoid dysfunctional family gatherings anyway, your sense of quiet relief at having a pandemic to blame is also OK.
Some days, we might find we are kinder to ourselves about those less than healthy coping strategies. The pie and eggnog may be serving a unique purpose this year, a kind of emotional triage. And something tells me your New Year’s resolution will have much momentum behind it come January. I have been drafting mine for weeks.
Some glimmers of hope for the future are already visible. While that could be sequins from the latest home crafting project (not surprisingly, all my new hobbies involve a lot of glue), if Viktor Frankl was even an iota of right in his observations: Any distant sparkle, however faint, is enough to keep our hearts beating.
Of all that I will find to be thankful for today, it is the hope that most fills me with gratitude. It is for the people who give me this hope, the communities, the teachers, the readers, the doctors and nurses, the journalists. It is for the families with fresh babies and the grandparents who remind me.
I might not be able to have you around my dinner table tonight, but I can feel you out there, a collective spirit of hope for brighter days. They will come.
In the meantime, eat all the pie. Next year, you’ll have to share it again.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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