Fasting for Jesus

During the Fast of 2013, I went insane.

This was supposed to be a moral experiment — the Daniel Fast, it’s called. It’s a strict diet: fruits, vegetables and whole grain. It lasts 21 days, based on the Bible story of the Old Testament prophet who survived on very little to make himself worthy in the eyes of God. As the Christian Broadcasting Network’s website explains, “We follow his example not so much because his diet is worth emulating as because his heart is worth emulating.”

The Daniel Fast is practiced by millions of Christians worldwide every year, often around Lent. Locally, Celebration Church — the Southside mega-church to which my boyfriend belongs — leads the masses. Last year, I signed up for the first time. It didn’t go well.

If this is supposed to get me closer to God, I wonder, why am I making plans in the grocery store to steal candy from an old lady and contemplating the health risks associated with eating the day-old bagel I found on the street?

At first I worried I wouldn’t be able to give up everything, and I didn’t want to set myself up for failure, so I just gave up dairy products. As someone who’d years before made a vegetarian pact with her body, I never dreamed doing so would affect me in any tangible way. I was so very, very wrong.I wanted to punch the world in the nuts.
For the most part, I ate normal things. Bun-less veggie burgers, homemade salsas, salads and mayo-free sandwiches. Not bad, right? But the cravings grew worse every single day. Everywhere I went, aromas of those forbidden foods entranced and intoxicated me. My Christian friends told me to pray, to “ask God to help fill you up with his word and the Holy Spirit.” They say this with a smile because they, in fact and faith, believe it.

As an Episcopalian, I don’t do the whole swaying-in-the-pews-shouting-hallelujah thing. The only thing I want to be filled with is tasty, soothing Camembert — and lots of it.
I started the fast thinking I’d lose weight. I didn’t think I had any battles to fight with myself.

It’s Day 3. My boyfriend and I are in South Georgia — him on a work trip, me tagging along. I’m angry and paranoid, totally convinced Boyfriend hates me, so much so, I try to sleep in our hotel room’s bathroom because (and this is not at all normal or rational) “I want to make it easier on you to leave me in the morning.” Yeah.

The boyfriend doesn’t leave, bless him. Instead, he drops me off at a cozy coffee shop with Wi-Fi — a place where the baristas’ accents were as thick as their terrible coffee — so I could work.

“May I please have a veggie wrap, no cheese, add mustard?”

In South Georgia, where “vegan” is a four-letter word, this is Greek. What they gave me was a blob of white and yellow in a loose flour tortilla. In my dairy-deprived mind, I envision jumping over the counter and screaming in the teenager’s face, “I SAID NO FUCKING CHEESE!” (Closer to God, indeed.) Instead, I calmly ask her to make a wrap with no dairy. “Is ranch dairy?” she replies. I leave.

I had no idea what was going on with my brain and body. I wanted to give up. I couldn’t bear to tell Boyfriend that I damn near murdered a teenaged barista over ranch dressing.

Two days later, I buy a huge bottle of red wine. My favorite, most precious vice. The hotel just had a wine mingler in the lobby. I take my Friar Tuck vessel down to ask the receptionist to open it for me.

I wait in line while she takes personal calls and then — in the worst Reba accent ever — informs me that they don’t, in fact, have a wine key. “Well, you just had a wine-down in here.”

“Oh, we had boxed wine, hon.”

“Ooooohhhh yewwww had bawwwxed whaaaanne,” I snap, impatiently tapping my fingernails on her desk. Bitch Abigail has come out to play. Once again, time to leave.

We came home, where corkscrews abound and there are vegans and vegetarians alike in my familiar community.

I reached out to a vegan friend: Has anyone else ever felt this way? What the hell’s wrong with me? I was so angry and emotional, driving myself (and the unlucky few around me) mad.

Then she told me about a little bugger named casein, a protein in dairy that, when you go off cold turkey, can produce withdrawal symptoms not unlike an opiate detox. (Seriously.)Oh my God, I’m not crazy.

I took relief in the newfound reality that this is all temporary, that Bitch Abigail will go away as soon as the Daniel Fast does. Secure in this knowledge, I could deal with my behavior. I could make it work. And I did.

I began the Fast of 2014 on Jan. 12, determined to use the tools I’d forged and give it another go. It ends Feb. 2. I’m free of dairy, booze, soda, bread. I eat only fruits and vegetables. Mostly raw. I have to meticulously plan my day — every hour, really — with activities to keep me busy physically. (Sex fiends, rejoice!) I usually pour a glass of wine when I read at night, so reading is out of the question. I go for walks, try to write. Let’s face it: You’re at your best, literarily speaking, when half-lit. I clean my room and find loose change that I immediately equate to how many cans of soda I can get at the Jiffy. I bought Advil PM, but decided it’s cheating if my plan is to hibernate for 21 days.
So why do I do this? Self-reflection. Self-realization. Self-inspection (introspection?). Call it what you will. I’m hoping to achieve some kind of new awareness level, which is scary, considering how murderous I grew last year.

I’m not doing it alone. A group of friends is doing it with me — some for religious reasons, others to lose weight. Tools notwithstanding, it’s still freaking hard. Prayer is still an option, I guess, but when those cravings arise, the voice in my head answers, “Shut up. You chose this all by yourself.”