Good morning! I got back from Seattle Monday afternoon, which meant that I spent most of yesterday reminding myself that it was Tuesday and not Monday, which is an elaborate segue into saying that it is currently Wednesday. This means that I’m linking up with Peas and Crayons to share some food with you! My weekend trip prompted me to write about how to travel (and enjoy your trip) while still in the process of recovering.
Eating disorder recovery is painfully isolating, and the tendency to stick to rigid routines can prevent someone who is recovering from breaking these routines to visit friends and family. Less than a year ago, a trip away from home for less than a day felt entirely overwhelming and impossible to me. The real tragedy of this reality is that the isolation is self-perpetuating. If you never step out of your safe bubble, you aren’t able to remember the wonderful world that exists outside of your disorder, and you begin to forget what life as a recovered person could be like. That’s why I think it’s incredibly valuable to challenge routines at all stages of recovery. The secret to doing so is simple, and the motto of every boy scout in America: always be prepared.
When I travel, I pack snacks. I pack snacks on snacks on snacks. At this stage in recovery, I am much more comfortable eating a variety of foods than I used to be, but I always like to have back-ups of foods that feel safe to me. I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I am tempted to eat nothing simply because nothing feels safe.
This preparedness may make my carry-on bag look a bit odd to the average TSA agent, but they have more important things to be paying attention to than some peanut butter packets alongside tinted moisturizer, right?
When I’m at home, my breakfast routine is one that is close to my heart. But I know that my routine is likely not possible when I’m traveling, and that’s okay. In preparation for this trip, I packed some oatmeal packets and nuts so that I could throw together a quick breakfast if need be. As it turned out, the friend that I was staying with and I ate breakfast at the house every morning, and both of us love oatmeal. I had mine with dried cranberries and peanut butter, and it rivaled the oatmeal that I make at home. Although I didn’t end up needing the breakfast items that I brought along, knowing they were there gave me some ease of mind as I prepared to travel.
Although I had the safety net of the food that I brought along, I wanted to try to challenge myself on my trip. Few things feel better than fighting through the anxiety and making it through a food challenge, and I was able to experience a couple of these successes in Seattle. I ate lunch at a church potluck on Sunday and tried my best to focus on the people and the conversation rather than obsess about what I could or could not eat or how my food compared to the food of others.
While some challenges came in the form of potluck lunches, others pushed the envelope a bit more. One night, my friend’s housemates brought home ice cream. It had been a few hours since I had eaten dinner, and I was getting hungry again. My initial reaction was panic. Unplanned eating! Food-related social experience! Ice cream! Sound the alarm! I took a few deep breaths, reminded myself that normal eating can include ice cream, and told myself that I was going to eat some ice cream because I was hungry and because it sounded good.
Even though I only ate a bit of ice cream, I sampled a taste of each flavor and felt good about successfully navigating a food challenge. It has been well over a year since I’ve eaten ice cream, and it was nice to enjoy it with friends once again.
In an effort to keep myself in somewhat of a routine and avoid eating too little, I continued to eat a snack before bed while visiting my friend. I have found that, at this stage in my life, my body does best when it eats a nighttime snack. While traveling, I knew that the snack might not be the same every night, and that was okay. Peanut butter remained a mainstay, but sometimes it was paired with a graham cracker instead of bread. Some flexibility is important when traveling, and when you are in recovery the most important thing is that you are eating, even if meals are not exactly the same as they would be at home.
Traveling in recovery can be difficult. I know that I’m still not as comfortable around food as the general population, which can make it easy for me to feel insecure and ashamed of doing things like bringing my own snacks with me wherever I go. Ultimately, the goal when traveling in recovery is to remember to care for yourself. I know that I am able to enjoy myself more and care for myself best if I have snacks with me, and there’s no reason to feel insecure about that.
When visiting a friend or family member, the first priority should be to focus on the people you’re visiting and the experiences you’re having. If you’re not caring for yourself, you are not able to do these things. This weekend provided me with a good opportunity to remember how fulfilling life can be when spent with others, walking around the city, having drinks at a bar, or eating ice cream. I wholeheartedly believe that human connection is the most beautiful thing about life, something my disorder tempts me to forget from time to time.
I know that there are probably ways that I could have had a more ‘recovered’ trip. I could have challenged myself more, I could have successfully navigated a weekend away with no preparation whatsoever, I could have eaten only fear foods. But I know that I’m not in that stage of recovery right now, and I am okay with that. I believe that I will be there one day, and I consider this weekend a smashing success because I was able to fully enjoy the friends and things that my healthy self loves more than anything else. No matter your own stage of recovery, traveling can be an enjoyable experience as long as you prioritize caring for yourself and enjoying the people in your life whom you love, and who love you.