My title is inspired by this lovely song, and I find myself singing it quite often when I'm feeling silly. I like to belt out "alllllll byyyyyyy myselffffffff" and more often than not, no one understands what I'm singing, but I still do it anyway. Anyway, the reason why this lyric came to mind as I sat down to work on this post is simply because my current lifestyle and disease-management process is conducive to feeling lonely.
*FYI: This post is a little longer than the previous ones, so if you are pressed for time keep an eye out for the bold and italicized information :-)
Before I dive into the meat of this post (now I'm thinking about bacon... yum ^_^), here's what I'm going to cover today. First, how my lifestyle used to be and how it was easy to be a social butterfly, how my lifestyle is now and how it can be isolating and lonely at times, and finally, tips and tricks to making yourself, friends, family, and loved ones who are somewhat limited in their choices feel comfortable with their different routines and habits. (If you'd like to hear about the science-side of why connection and social activity is so awesome for our mental health, check out this awesome post by The Paleo Mom :-))
So, even if you yourself don't have a chronic illness or can eat and drink everything on planet Earth please continue to read on, because this post will give you insight as to why I personally have changed my social behaviors, and I'll also teach you the reasons for why these changes are so important for someone trying to become healthier.
A former life, a former diet, a bloated and unhappy me...
Okay, so, here's the thing, we started out friends... wait, what? I'm sorry, my mind loves to think in lyrics. Here's the thing for real, I used to be the most undisciplined and unhealthy human being despite being a pretty decent athlete my entire life. Meals consisted of copious amounts of gluten, dairy, processed foods, fast food, sugar, sweets, and more. I loved anything and everything fried. For example, every time I would go to Friendly's this was my order: munchie mania (crumbly onion rings, mozzarella sticks, and chicken fingers), chicken BBQ melt with a side of sour cream, obviously, and then I'd finish it off with a chocolate Reese's peanut butter cup Friend-Z (essentially the same thing as a McFlurry, BUT BETTER!, for all you non-NYers reading this post). To put it bluntly, I ate like shit and I felt like shit. At the time, I didn't know any better.
But, eating was a huge part of my social life: family functions, going out to eat with a significant other, grabbing some ice cream with a friend, bonding over food with coworkers, etc. Even though the food I was eating made my tummy upset, it helped create social bonds with people in my immediate circles, which made me happy.
One tequila, two tequila, three tequila MORE!
While I rarely drink anymore, I used to be able to throw shots, brewskis, and mixed drinks back like nobody's business. The next day was a completely different story. Picture me dry heaving into my garbage can for upwards of seven hours, unable to even keep a handful of Cheerios down. I was dubbed the mayor of "struggle city" my senior year for all the times I would get plastered and then resemble a zombie the next day. Despite those horrible effects, I loved to drink and I enjoyed all the fun and happy times it brought with it, well... those I could remember.
I revolved my schedule around what nights I could drink in college, I looked forward to every rugby drink-up with the night before christmas-type excitement, and more often than not I felt like the life of the party. Singing, dancing, beer slip-n-sliding, drinking games, bonding with friends, ridiculous amounts of confidence, the list goes on. For me, drinking equaled social opportunities up the wazoo.
My current lifestyle - a drastic, but necessary, change
Flash-forward to today; how I live day to day is extremely different than in undergrad. I cook almost every day, I hit up the grocery store anywhere from three to five days a week, and the only foods I eat are meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit. I do this because I need to heal, and eating any sort of food that causes me discomfort or inflammation works against that goal. It is not because I am picky, difficult, obsessive-compulsive, or most importantly, trying out a new "fad," it is because this diet truly has and will continue to put my disease into remission.
As a result, it makes it hard for me to join in when my roomies want to get fro-yo, or when my cohort hangs out at the pub and eats cheese balls, or to have the energy to organize a dinner-date, because more often than not, I can eat zero things that these places have to offer. Other times, people simply forget to or don't invite me to outings because they know I can't partake in the festivities.
The same goes for drinking events. I don't mind being sober at a bar or club to be honest, so it's not an issue for me to be in attendance, but when people give me grief for not drinking, it drives me to want to drink sometimes! This has been the hardest part for me - saying "no" and giving people a "good enough" reason as to why I won't drink even a sip of alcohol while at a bar.
Again, this is not to be difficult or wimpy, rather, my liver needs to heal itself, my body cannot handle any sort of toxin. It just makes sense that I don't drink alcohol. Plus, I've done my fair share of drinking, and I've had my fair share of embarrassing moments as a result - I'm fine with being in complete, well almost ;), control of my actions and emotions for the time being.
Tips and tricks that have worked for me
Through trial and error, much error at that, I have figured out some ways to adhere to my health regiment and still be social. I'll separate these categories into food- and alcohol-related gatherings.
Food for thought - how to dine out without a pout (oh lord, someone get me under control)
1) Look up the menu before you get to a restaurant and see if they have anything you can eat. Call ahead and let them know your situation. If you have questions about ingredients or need special accommodations to be made it's better to do it in advance as opposed to when you're at the table ready to cry because you haven't eaten in hours and now have no options. Been there, done that :-)
2) If you know there are no options for you at a restaurant that your pals are going to, or if you're headed to a family function where there's little to nothing for you to eat, make your own food and bring it with you! I've been doing this all the time lately, and it keeps me happy and full and takes the pressure off of others. Win-win in my book! In fact, I brought a salmon salad to a diner over winter break and the waitress had no problem with me doing so. As long as you communicate your situation, people are usually understanding :-)
3) When attending social gatherings, make some treats in bulk, so that you can share with everyone and spark up a conversation about your diet in a fun and inviting way. Sometimes this is hard for me because I'm poor and don't always have the funds to cook in bulk, but making appetizers doesn't put too big of a dent in my pocket!
How to deal with alcohol-related pressure
I think it's karma that people pressure me to drink so much, because I used to be "that guy": calling my friends out who weren't drinking, buying them drinks, chanting in their face to "chug, chug, chug," etc. I was a drinking hype-man, and now the roles are reversed. I realize that usually people's intentions are coming from a good place - they want me to partake in the fun and join in on the festivities, but sometimes I find it insensitive and insulting, so, a dialogue must take place!
Depending on who is pressuring me to drink, I try to explain that I have an autoimmune disease and my poor little liver needs to steer clear of any type of alcohol. This usually takes care of it because it sounds serious, right? Sometimes people keep on probing, other times the berating continues, to which I say "more alcohol for you, and I can give you a ride later if you want." Sometimes I simply say that I am on medication and can't drink - that one really works when I'm fed up. Overall, it depends on how receptive the other person is. If the person still doesn't get the hint I just hit them with the old "get outta heaaaaaa" and walk away. I don't have time for people who won't even try to understand the choices I make or won't have a productive conversation with me about it.
Before I was diagnosed with an auotimmune disease and before I knew what was really going on with my body I struggled to come up with a retort. This usually resulted in me feeling guilty and taking a shot, or two, or three, until I was home shoving tortilla chips into my mouth, waking up with a splitting headache, and ultimately, being really upset and disappointed in myself. Why couldn't I just say no? Well, this was because even I didn't understand why I shouldn't be drinking. Until I conducted the proper research and figured out why alcohol was so dangerous to my system, I couldn't enforce this new "rule" and I certainly couldn't explain it to other people. Lesson learned, do my research before I implement a lifestyle change.
I don't expect everyone I come across to understand or champion me for eating a certain way and not funneling a beer, because that would set me up for failure. Yet, I do think that there is a happy medium to be found. I try to educate others through conversation - creating a comfortable dialogue is key to helping others get behind a dietary or lifestyle change. Moreover, just because I can't eat cheese balls and drink a blue moon with my pals doesn't mean that I have to sit at home every weekend with a bowl of brussel sprouts and Netflix. Again, there is a happy medium to be found.
If you come into contact with someone who has a chronic illness or who doesn't eat or party it up like you do, have some compassion, try to learn why they have made this choice. There is usually a reason behind it. Just because someone doesn't want to throw back a shot with you doesn't mean they are a loser or a bad friend :-) And just because someone doesn't want to go grab some McDonald's breakfast doesn't mean he or she believes themselves to be better than you.
The question that I have for you all today is what challenges have you faced in trying to change or maintain a certain lifestyle? What has worked for you? What hasn't? What helps you understand other's lifestyle choices?
Until next time!