I Fell Off The Wagon – Vegan Edition

On January 1st 2012, after not eating meat (no fish, cow, pig, chicken, sheep, goat, turkey, etc…) for nineteen years (fifteen of which I was vegan – no eggs, dairy or honey) I had a Big Mac. A cold Big Mac because I was too ashamed to eat it in the restaurant. I brought it home by taxi and ate it all by my lonesome. A true reflection of how disconnected I was from my self, my soul. That night I felt such shame which then turned into numbness. Cognitive dissonance kicked in, separating me from the consequences of my actions – the animal, environmental and human suffering associated with our culture’s (anti) nourishment status quo. This disconnect stuck around for four years.

For four years every time I ate meat my mind would block out compassionate thoughts and replace them with rationalizations for why I should eat this dead animal (nineteen years – I had done my part, if it’s organic it must be humane, why must *I* be the change you want to see in the world?).

I still feel some shame about this experience, but in retrospect I see it for what it was –  a sad yet fascinating experience that taught me a lot about how we humans can talk ourselves into doing something that goes against our core (yet not socially supported) values. Sad and fascinating, but mostly sad.

But Why?

I think the main reason I went back to eating animals was my poor mental health and my alcoholism. Through therapy, mindfulness mediation and spiritual practices I was exploring new healthy ways of coping with difficult emotions (like fear, anxiety and anger), but I was still very early on in this process. I was weak and tired. I wasn’t sure of who I was and what I believed in. My marriage, my stigmatized work, my divorce – they all did a number on me.

Eating eggs, cheese and then later animals became a bit of an obsessive thought. I think this was because there was so much focus for so long on my weaknesses, flaws and failures. Post-divorce I rebelled. I was tired of being good and subservient. I was tired of always being wrong. I was just plain tired.

I see now it was a destructive attempt at self-discovery. Had I not hit my bottom… well, let’s not go there.

Thankfully, I came out the other side knowing what was important to me, how I wanted to live my life and

How Did I Get Back to My Values and Living According to Them?

Quick answer – by developing a mindfulness practice AND getting very specific on how I wanted to feel.

Learning to be comfortable with discomfort was a key to my healing and my journey back to veganism. I had all kinds of very unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with emotional pain. I had to develop a higher tolerance AND discover new ways of dealing with my suffering. I’ve written about this process here and here.

I discovered and how to my Cored Desired Feelings (CDFs) via The Desire Map and thought about them on a daily basis. I examined my choices, big and small and made sure that I was acting in a way that served my CDFs. Learn more about The Desire Map process here.

I realized that I felt FULL when I practiced self-care in the form of healthy habits (mindfulness mediation, higher quality sleep, staying sober). I nurtured myself in kind and compassionate ways – kind to me and my health, to animals, to the planet, and those in the farming industry.

I remembered how I began eating vegan the first time.

I figured out my triggers and avoided them (McDonalds, McDonalds, McDonalds).

I took it one day at a time and didn’t demand perfection of myself.

I informed myself of animal suffering, the environmental impact to raising animals for food, and the health benefits to a plant based whole foods diet.

I focused on delicious, nourishing and energizing vegan meals.

However, there was a lot of start and stop, a lot of two steps forward and one step back. For about a year I managed and waitressed at a restaurant – a deli.  Staying vegan or even vegetarian while working there was a challenge. I would eat consistently vegan for a couple of weeks then slip. Also I found myself often at McDonalds if I was on my own or travelling (wtf is it about McDonalds? so freaking addictive). I didn’t beat myself about all of this as I knew that would make the situation worse. I was doing the best I could but I knew I could do better.

Turning Point

When I moved to Ottawa this past spring I thought the change in environment would inspire me to stick to a strict plant based diet. However, I struggled with it the first few weeks. I had a new job. I had a horrible sinus infection. I was spending a lot of time with my sister and her young family. She was used to me making some sort of declaration about my diet and then not sticking to it. I didn’t want to do that again so a very personal and family of origin fear came into play. Plus, I didn’t want to burden her with my diet. She has so much to deal with. So I ate what they ate. However, as we spent more time together we developed a new connection based on who we are now and not who were used to be five, ten and fifteen years ago. This gave me the confidence to bring my own meals over or to turn things down at her place. I eased into vegetarianism and then veganism.

I feel quite solid about it now. I’m enjoying my kitchen in my new apartment (I have proper counters for the first time) and cooking once again. I’m exploring new recipes and revisiting old favourites. I feel so good inside and out now that I am eating a whole foods plant based diet again. Like most everything good in my life today I wish I had figured it out long ago. I am still learning to accept that. But if I remember my CDFs and stay present with loving kindness to my all of my feelings I think things will be OK.

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