By Stephanie Baker
My name is Stephanie and I'm a sushi addict.
My bank account is dwindling and my waistline is expanding, and neither in the desired direction. The colored plates stack higher and higher each time I go out as if I'm trying to build my own personal Tower of Babel to the sushi gods.
While I still insist that there is some addictive substance in sushi, I admit that I have a problem.
The excitement of finding a new restaurant with special deals or a new roll with a never-before-seen combination of ingredients felt rewarding. It was a simple kind of joy that lessened the hardships of living. Treating myself to a quick lunch of spicy tuna and salmon rolls was a way of celebrating myself and indulging a little. All I saw was the $10 dip in my expenses and the rise in satisfaction.
Yet a careful rifling through my crinkly old receipts shows me that fulfilling these seemingly small acts of excess has cost me $75 this month alone.
With the money I've spent on sushi I think I could buy a mansion complete with wait-staff, gold-lined swimming pool and bed sheets with a thread count of 10,000. However, each semester I grumble and complain about the cost of textbooks. How do I spend thoughtlessly on myself in pursuit of relaxation and relief, and yet feel shocked when I need to shell out a little more for something even more important?
When I look at my habit this way it seems rather nasty and excessive. But the truth is every time I cave and spend the extra $6.95 for a crunchy roll, knowing the caloric intake alone is appalling, I still leave feeling just a little bit happier.
On the road to recovery I've completed step one of the twelve: admitting I have a problem. A delicious, melt in your mouth, savory problem. I mean, an excessive, gluttonous problem.
Peter Sagal's "Book of Vices" has helped me understand my naughty behavior a bit better. He investigates actual vices and the people who are held captive by them. Sagal explains finding small bursts of happiness in self-indulgence isn't a sin, but it is a vice.
"Despite what various preachers and reformed vice hounds will tell you, vices are, in fact a lot of fun," says Sagal.
I know what I'm doing is wrong on some level but I enjoy it anyway.
I'd like to think that I'm not alone in my epic struggle to gain a hold on my habits. Each of us has some sort of guilty pleasure, something that we know is bad but makes us feel oh-so-good. The morning $4 coffee is a staple for some while the weekly social magazine is a must-have for others. We don't need these things to survive and we don't need them to be happy. But we like them.
We run into trouble, however, when the every-once-in-a-while slips into the every-other-day and becomes a necessity. You become the "caffeine junky"; you need it to open your eyes and start the day.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, we seek a better version of ourselves, on some level, with these small acts of self-indulgence. We believe that somehow, some way, we can become a better, happier, more satisfied person.
Like all species, we are inclined to repeat behaviors that produce pleasure and reward, and to avoid behaviors that bring pain or negative consequences. It is self-control and a desire to lead a balanced life that prevents us from grabbing that ice cream cake with bare hands and smashing it into our mouths in spite of our the inner 2-year-old that would love to do so.
"Consuming food is a biological imperative common to everything from amoebas to elephants, and while other animals have their amusements –the play of kittens, the poo-hurling of baboons –no other creature eats strictly for pleasure or status," Sagal points out.
What was once a matter of survival for our homo sapien ancestors is now a testament to our class-level, tastes and resources.
In tabulating my sushi expenses I realized I had let go of my self-control. There are no parents telling me where and how to spend my money. I don't have to ask for permission to use the car or even to be out late. My decisions are entirely my decisions now. Maybe, like a fool, I mistook newly gained freedom for an anything-goes mentality.
Although the soy sauce still runs through my veins and the subtle waft of sweet sticky rice still lingers on my clothes, taunting me to jump in my car and drive the 15 miles to my favorite fix, I need to set up some limits.
I can live with going out only three times a month. I have to repeat that to myself like the little engine that could, until I truly believe what I'm saying. Each time my limit will be $15, a total of $45 each month. Realizing that that comes out to $540 a year is shocking. I know my fiscally minded father would shake in his boots if he saw that figure, But for me that's being modest, cutting down by $30 a month, $360 a year.
Maturing is about learning to practice personal responsibility and quieting that inner 2-year-old. Your parents can no longer ground you from the phone or take away your car keys if you make a bad decision. For me that means struggling to find my own discipline and setting up limits for myself.
Limits do not necessarily translate into a prohibition of all things we enjoy. We need breaks from our day-to-day routines to enjoy life. That often means spending money and time on things that aren't necessary. Coupled with personal responsibility and good sense, these little pick-me-up-habits help us navigate hardship. There is, however, a tipping point at which we become dependent on these habits to make us feel content.
The worst that can happen would be to find me, months from now, sitting alone in a booth made for four with plates covering every inch of the table, half of the food already expanding in my stomach.
There's no ankle-bracelet I can wear to monitor my intake and no patch I can slap on to ease my cravings. But I can beat this thing. I've got to.
But then again, falling off the wagon has never been so tasty.
My name is Stephanie, and I'm in recovery.