The other night I had a craving for sushi as I was running errands. I went to my local sushi bar, which was not busy at the time I was there – plenty of empty tables. I walked to the front and placed a small order to go. I returned within ten minutes, picked up my order and sat in my car alone to eat. I could have eaten in the restaurant but I chose to eat alone – out of sight – in my car. I began to think about that when I was in the car, eating my agadashi tofu in the dark. For the first time I questioned why I had this pattern. Often when I am out I will order food and sit alone in the comfort of my vehicle to eat – avoiding the social interaction that comes with eating in a restaurant or even on a park bench outside. Alone, shut off and isolated I have created a pattern of securing myself before I eat. It reminded me of animals who will (when given a piece of food) back up in a corner with their meal as a primitive means of preparing to guard themselves against would be food thieves. It became apparent that I don’t like social settings, or more precisely I don’t like social settings I cannot control.
By eating in the comfort of my car I am making a decision to cut myself off from others – I withdraw. It’s become worse over the years. I realized that when I am teaching I will always – not often – always take my food to my desk, shut the door and eat alone. At home, my preference is to take my food and find a room in the house to eat….alone. Always alone and most of the time it’s my decision to do so. People that come over to enjoy Christmas or Thanksgiving Dinner – usually my spouses friends and family – will notice that I rarely sit at the table with them. I make myself busy washing dishes, moving around and excusing myself to “check” on my children. I am sure they think I am snubbing them. It is merely my dysfunctional way of protecting myself from engaging in social interaction.
Early on during the years of my abuse I believed that I was the cause of abuse – that I was the one who was different. After sessions of abuse I sought out junk food to help me feel better – if only for a minute. My go-to favourite was taking a Wagon Wheel, which is essentially a chocolate covered graham wafer and marshmallow sandwich, and covered it in peanut butter. Delicious, high in calories and it seemed to do the job in suppressing my hatred/fear/sadness.
This habit as a child continues as an adult. Many people stress eat, but for me it is different. After an argument or confrontation of any kind my immediate pattern is to go “get something”. It’s a pattern I am starting to stop – and it is hard. I find a quiet peace when I eat in my solitude. I know a lot of people that hate eating alone, and will seek out company when they want to go out to eat. It’s the opposite for me. I find conversations painful unless it’s with someone that I am very comfortable with. I know this stuff seems a little pathetic, and it is – and it’s something I am consciously working on.
I am quick to turn down invitations to go out with people because my social anxiety. If you are not familiar with this term it is the fear of socially interacting with others and in social settings because of the feelings of being negatively judged, humiliated and inadequate. For example I make the choice to eat in my car because no one is looking at me when I am eating. What helps me justify this is that I tell myself I have to be in a quiet place because I will be going over emails on my phone. The truth is my smartphone is my social anxiety enabler. I see this in others too. When I see a potential unwanted social interaction approaching – such as seeing people you know walking towards me, a panhandler on the street, a co-worker – it is so easy to pull out the phone and look “busy” – or hold the phone up to my ear and begin a mock conversation. I have done this countless times and I know I am not the only one who uses the phone in such a way. It helps me get out of potentially awkward social situations and back into my comfortable solitary isolation. I am not proud of my “cutting myself off” from the world. It’s more of a habit than a choice these days – a pattern that has damaged my professional development and has slowed my career building. I am finally aware of it. Often I find when I do put the phone down and force myself to interact, it is enjoyable. I like people. When I was a teenager I had a supposed “friend” who had told me I spoke too much and was a braggart around my peers. His revelation cut into me. It was his observation that was the catalyst into my isolation. I know I was trying to compensate in social settings by trying hard to fit in and sell people how cool I was. My over-selling as a young man became my quiet awkwardness into my current pattern.
A part of me would love to go out and interact with others. I envy those who can do so effortlessly. I would love to fit in. I know that as I put a stop to (or at least minimize my patterns of) social isolation, I will put an end to my own self-punishment. I keep trying to tell myself I am worthy, that I am ultimately a good person and that I deserve the good things in my life. As a survivor this is hard. It’s getting easier – but it is hard. As Yoda says “patience you must have”. I am learning it. I am starting to love myself. I am starting to feel my worth in this life. I am healing, and I will not fear my power as I continue my journey. Thank you for reading. May the Force be with you.