On veganism, the dog, and abundance

On veganism, the dog, and abundance

I pass a McDonald’s on the way home from the gym every day. Its golden arches glow like a beacon, promising the comforting familiarity of a greasy, salty quarter pounder with cheese. That damned little disc of a pickle. Those french fries. And oh my god, the dollar sundaes.

I don’t remember the last time I ate McDonald’s, but it was certainly longer than two years ago, when I first went vegan. It was likely many months, maybe even years, before that. It’s not something I even want, really, unless I start thinking about how I can’t have it.

“Can’t.” Probably the least useful word I use far too often.

Like so many things, veganism is completely arbitrary. The boundaries I set for myself exist nowhere but my own mind, and I could absolutely go order a Big Mac or decimate a Chinese buffet if I wanted. Still, I sometimes find my mind wandering to the constraints, obsessing on all the things I “can’t” have, as if they’re kept behind some magic forcefield, rather than readily available items I simply choose not to consume.

At those times, veganism feels like a cage, and it’s when I’m most likely to indulge in some other deeply unhealthy snack as a way of comforting myself for my loss or limitations. (If you think vegan foods are all healthy, allow me to introduce you to my friends Oreos Dunked in Peanut Butter, Entire Bag of Mixed Nuts in One Sitting, and Doritos in the Purple Bag.)

By focusing on constraints—on “can’t”—I put myself in a scarcity mindset. My brain, an evolutionarily perfect survival machine, gets into Gorge Mode, and I act out with desperate behaviors.

It’s not just with food, either. I see this in virtually every area of life. Recently, it’s with my new dog, whose presence has imposed wildly inconvenient limitations on me, and I sit around thinking about all I’ve given up, all the solo camping and long-distance driving and easy traveling I can no longer do because I’m anchored to this anxious little mutt. I work myself into a frenzy of resentment and self-pity, as if this dog just materialized in my life and was not a choice I made gradually, over many months of consideration and research.

Even for circumstances I haven’t chosen, like when people broke into my car and stole my jewelry, obsessing over the loss, the negative, is a great way to foster even more negativity. If I think about that white gold necklace my godfather gave me and how I’ll never again see its delicate strand sparkling against my skin, I become angry. It’s a useless anger that has nowhere to go, so it radiates from me toward everything in my path. I’m angry at the coffee machine, my clothing, the work I have to do that day. This anger over something I can’t control, long in my past, is tainting every interaction with my present. It’s making me a worse person.

Conversely, when I focus on the positive, when I force myself to switch attention from that which I lack to that which I possess, I’m able to arrest that scarcity mindset and reframe to an attitude of abundance.

In most cases, the shift is from feeling powerless and constrained to reminding myself I’m in control of my choices. For veganism and the dog, it’s about remembering why I do what I do. I want to feel healthy and like I’m acting in accordance with my values (or as close as I can get given our current food system), or I want a healthy outlet for my caretaking impulse (as it turns out, romantic relationships are not the ideal place to parent [I have discovered after a decade of therapy]).

Whenever I find myself fixating on a limitation, I conjure up that Grand Why, think about all that I’ve gained from this choice, and cycle through options I still do have. Usually it looks something like:

  • Step 1—Admit I can have a Big Mac if I want one.
  • Step 2Do I really want a Big Mac? How will it make me feel? How do I want to feel? What could I eat instead? Do I really want a whole bag of chips and guacamole? How will that make me feel? What would make me feel best?
  • Step 3I’m excited to eat a nice, healthy salad, full of foods I love, because it aligns with my values and goal of nourishing my body to feel its best.

I understand how cheesy that sounds. It’s genuine, though. I really do think absurd, dorky thoughts like that about health food. Sometimes I even go through that process multiple times a day, and more often than I wish, I fail somewhere in the middle of Step 2. That’s when I end up in a binge.

Similarly, in cases where I have less choice or control, in which I’m dealing with involuntary loss, I run a list of all that’s still available (I have my favorite octopus ring and bullet necklace!), celebrate the strength that comes from doing without (in cases more serious than missing jewelry), and look forward to the new fillers of that now-blank space. As much as possible, I try to see opportunity rather than loss.

More popular parlance would probably call this gratitude. I prefer thinking of it as abundance because it specifically combats scarcity mentality, which is the mother of so many evils. While a part of the process is appreciation, the bigger focus is on shifting attention away from loss and toward gains.

I’m by no means perfect—or even proficient—at this. I still get caught in cycles of anger or resentment or self-pity because I have far more training in those lines of thinking than I do in the alternatives. Negativity is a stronger reflex. Reframing requires a ton of mental bandwidth, and I have to keep constant check on my own thoughts and physiological states to do it well. Sometimes I have no idea I’m in a spiral until I realize I’ve been brow-furrowing and tab-switching for hours, or the dog barks and I yell just a little too loud. (Or I find myself elbows-deep in a bag of popcorn.)

That said, when I do catch myself and reframe, it’s like unzipping a heavy, matted monster suit and letting it fall to the floor. I feel light and fresh. I see the dog not as a burden but as a source of joy, adding enormous value to my life. I see the constraints in which I operate as welcome guardrails that help me feel the way I want to feel. I see blank spaces as opportunities to find something new. I’m able to act with intentionality instead of desperation.

My goal is to keep applying this to more and more areas of my life until it becomes second-nature. I’d love to approach the world with an abundance mindframe in every possible circumstance, keeping useless feelings of anger or competition or self-pity at bay. I don’t see any value in such thoughts or any reason to allow them to fester. They’re borne of a false sense of scarcity, of feeling limited, when there’s always something available.*

As always, I just have to keep working.

*Note: I understand some scarcity is extremely real, and the flip side of acknowledging my own false sense of lacking is compassion for desperate behaviors borne of genuine scarcity. For example, stealing to feed a family. Abundance reframing can certainly help one cope with real adversity, but it should not be an expectation of people dealing with serious issues. This post and advice, if it can be called that, is intended for minor strife and the daily limitations we perceive for ourselves. Its scope is limited.

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Quality Over Quantity

Quality Over Quantity

My life has grown smaller in almost every way. Fewer belongings, fewer activities, fewer friends. In most arenas, I’ve combed for necessities and discarded bloat, ever reducing as I make pass after pass.

A slow, tectonic shift is occurring in my values, favoring not options but certainties that feel solid and strong and good. I’m more willing to work on relationships that add value and reject those that drain because I don’t need quite as many tendrils reaching quite as many places as a young me once did. Maybe it’s age. Maybe I’m simply learning what nourishes and which wells run dry.

Still, I reach sometimes, deep into vast emptiness, plunging after something I know must be there, if I just stretch a little harder, extend a litter farther.

My whole life, I’ve plunged. I’ve sought and yearned and chased impossible things—the understanding of my father, affection from people without resources to give it, validation from those who’ve thought little of me. I’ve hit sandy bottoms and withered there, unable to accept the reality of this dearth. This death. Nothing here will give me life, and I cannot leave.

Even with improvement, I occasionally find myself in a wither. I recently chased the receding waters of a once-fruitful friendship, and today I struck bottom, forced to face a drought I should have seen coming. I should have heeded the signs and surrendered long ago, but parts of me resist wisdom, resist the knowledge of better ways to be. They lean heavily into old habits, chasing, striving, wasting energy in dark depths when I could be basking in sun.

Progress isn’t perfect.

Today is a difficult day as I retract another tendril, retreat from yet another well that once seemed bright and alive and promising. Quantity diminishes once more. I am smaller, even than yesterday, and it doesn’t feel like a victory yet.

Over time, that conserved energy will feed me. I’ll learn to heed signs earlier and avoid withers before they begin. My smallness will become hardiness. I tell myself this as I observe all that I lack, the blank spaces around me where others expand. Do they find nourishment in more places than I could, or do they, like a younger me, spread themselves to weakness, looking everywhere for something found only in a few select places? Are they seeking and plunging, too?

Comparison does disservice to growth, I know. It’s another dry well from which I must retreat, more emotional bloat to abandon, wisdom that must be heeded despite every impulse to ignore, resist, press on.

I am smaller, yes, and stronger and surer, too—maybe not than they were, but certainly than I was—and that’s progress.

Not in Love

Not in Love

I went on a date yesterday. Now that I’m stationary for a few weeks and have some breathing room, I’m back on dating apps (okay, just the ladies-only one because dudes are way too easy to stumble upon in the wild and who needs any EXTRA involvement in their weird power plays and convoluted attempts to impress you with asinine chivalry like insisting they walk on the traffic side of the sidewalk as if that very gesture didn’t make you pray for a rogue Town and Country to leap the curb and take you both out then and there). I love dating because OH LORDY THERE ARE SO MANY ATTRACTIVE PEOPLE I WANNA SMOOSH MY FACE AGAINST it’s fun to play by ever-changing rules and make yourself an appealing candidate for face-smooshing meaningful conversation, and it’s such a delight to learn a new person, to get a glimpse into their world, and to try on different possible futures you could have together.

Except that’s not what dating is for me anymore.

As a nomad, I’m no longer a prospect for any kind of future. I am, by the very nature of my circumstances, a transient player in your life—a drop-in character who imparts some new knowledge or shares some mini-adventure or plants some seed of an idea that you cultivate for years to come, unbeknownst to me. Or, who just makes you laugh for an hour and is forgotten by next week.

Whether significant or inconsequential, whatever effect I have on you will happen in my wake. I’ll be gone, onto the next town, the next fling, the next set of sparkling green eyes.

In many ways, this is how I’ve always operated. I prefer short-term contracts to long-term employment, and I make that clear to anyone who enters my orbit. I will leave you. (Giving people warnings is strange because they often fail to heed them, which I say as someone who failed to heed warnings like, “I’m a garbage person,” and, “You will get broken into,” as recently as this month, so NO JUDGMENT HERE.)

Still, as I admired a forest of freckles sprawling over the delicate shoulders sitting across from me yesterday, as I listened to her hopes for a future with children, her impressive resume of service-oriented work, and her efforts to untangle the complex relationship between her upbringing and who she wants to become, I felt remiss. We both knew I couldn’t factor into her life in any kind of real way, and even as affection swelled for this beautiful new (to me) soul, it was tempered by the knowledge that my whispered warning—I will leave you—has become a shout—I’m already gone.

Despite my constant claims to the contrary, I’m a junkie for love. I love being in love, and I do it as often as possible.

Currently, a few distant crushes and romantic entanglements use the best parts of infatuation (mixtapes, mostly) to masquerade as something like love, but there’s no future tense involved. We don’t—can’t—entertain any notion of Together and instead content ourselves with fantastical catharsis, with Wouldn’t It Be Great If and Maybe Someday We Could. I’ve countless “plans” to run away and start new lives with various people, but we all know it’s just play. They’ll continue along their paths, and I’ll continue along mine. Maybe we’ll intersect someday, and maybe we won’t. In the meantime, we have effusive texts and songs on repeat, which is the most “in love” I can hope for at this point.

I feel envious, in some ways, of people who share their lives with a partner. They have a witness. When they’re 87 and refuse to wear their hearing aid and think they’ve heard something related to a vague memory they almost have, they can turn to their mate and say, “Ed, where was that place we stayed with the water leak where ceiling that dropped in on the kids’ room?” and he’ll say, “Albuquerque,” before continuing with his story about sailing Lake Superior.

I won’t have anything like that.

Each life path comes with tradeoffs, and what I’m gaining in adventures and perspective and novelty, in freedom to be and become whoever I want on whatever timeline works for me, I’m giving up in a witness, in a rolodeck of memories shared with someone who was also there. Maybe I’ll regret it someday.

In the immediate term, I’m not as afraid of regret as I am mourning the loss of the romantic possibility that comes with Maybe We Could Be. Without the potential for a future, dating loses a significant portion of its allure. The big question—what could we become—is pre-answered and replaced by a much smaller one—do you want what I have to offer—which is perhaps more honest than I’ve ever been in romance. It creates a new challenge: to be compelling enough to get a HELL YES, to create an interesting enough experience that people are willing to forgo possibility just to participate in whatever moments we can share with one another, despite knowing our limits. I intend to rise to that challenge.

As with so many aspects of nomadism, dating has become another arena in which the mantra is now, “Earn your keep.” I didn’t anticipate this, how much harder I’d have to work to accomplish basic facets of personhood than I did in my cushy little cubicle life, where routine and stability created a glossy veneer that hid countless cracks in my foundation. I’m grateful, though, for the ways in which this lifestyle is pushing me to become better than I’ve ever been before.

If I decide someday to be a settled person, a partnered person, I’ll have this exercise in honesty to improve the quality of that future relationship. For now, I have adventures and mixtapes and fantasy, and while it may not be everything, it’s actually a lot.