11:30pm – I’m trying to get to sleep but it isn’t easy with this persistent discomfort. I’m three days into a long fast from all food (something I do yearly) and this is one of the parts I like the least. Trying to fall asleep while hungry is no fun at all. I usually take this occasion to think of and pray for people who are – not of their choosing – also going to bed hungry. Thanks to the relationships I have developed at the Love Wins CEC, this year I think of many more specific names in this moment. They are dear to me and I’m glad to experience this in solidarity with them, though I wish they weren’t hungry. Outside of an ascetic practice like this, there’s just no reason for anyone to go to bed hungry, especially not in the richest nation in human history.
I wish I could explain the feeling to you. If you’ve ever had to refrain from eating overnight for a surgery or medical test, you have some idea. But hunger feels a lot different after a couple of days than it does after a few hours. Headache. Body aches. Hunger pangs that feel more like a stomach ache. Tired. Restless. One of the things I’ve learned to be careful about is standing up too fast. Makes me so dizzy I can lose my balance. If you read about fasting, you’ll come across the idea that after several days of a long fast (usually 5 for me), the pains and pangs subside as the body calms down and the stomach goes into hibernation. I found that true to an extent (some fasts are easy than others) but it depends on total abstention. One meal is enough to crank up all the discomfort.
And that’s more the reality some of my friends experience. You can only fast for so long and then you have to eat and eat regularly to be healthy, so a fasting peace is a luxury enjoyed by those who can control when they eat or don’t eat. Being food insecure means going a few days at a time with no food, then having something to eat, maybe even a few meals in a row, then another day or two of nothing. So you’re constantly wracked with the same sort of pain that is keeping me awake right now. Not good.
2:15am – The baby just woke up to nurse. Amy and I have had this arrangement for five kids now, I get the baby, change the diaper, and bring them to Amy. She nurses and gets them to sleep. It’s a good system that has worked for us for years. Normally, I’m back asleep within minutes. I can change a diaper in near total darkness. But tonight (or this morning ugh), I’m laying here in pain, thinking and praying myself back to sleep again. My friends who sleep outside get woken up many times per night by various lights or noises. My friends who stay at the shelters get woken up a lot too by snoring or night terror screams. I’m grateful this will be the only time for me (probably). I don’t really have anything else to say right now, it’s too late/early.
5:00am – I finally thought and prayed myself to sleep; at some point being tired just takes over. Another thing that is not my favorite is waking up hungry. You probably think you know how that feels. We all have experiences of waking up especially ready for breakfast. But unless you went to sleep as hungry as I was last night, you don’t know. I was talking about this in support group at the CEC yesterday and a friend commiserated, “If you’ve never been there, you don’t know. It hurts.” Yeah it does. Feels the same as when I went to bed only with everything cranked up a notch or two. Plus all the pains and cricks from sleeping in a weird position (thanks to a certain 7 year old crawling in our bed at some point and kneeing me in the back). I’m sure it would be worse if I had slept on the ground like some of my friends did. They undoubtedly don’t love the hard ground like I love that hard knee.
Part of this pain is my body telling me I’m dehydrated, which happens a lot faster with an empty stomach. I get some relief by standing up (slowly, gingerly), walking to the kitchen, and drinking a glass of water. The pain subsides and my belly feels “full” for a minute but it doesn’t last. I think about my friends sleeping outside and hope they were able to bring some water to where they’re sleeping. I’ve been told that’s a real chore and can’t always be done. This would be unbearable if I didn’t have some water to drink. My alarm isn’t set to go off until 6:00am. I don’t know why I woke up. No one else is awake. I’m still tired. The only obvious answer is my hunger woke me up. And there’s no chance I’m getting back to sleep now. So I’m up and alone with my discomfort. I think about my friends at the shelters who are getting up now too because it’s time to leave for the day. They have to start the day with a long cold walk. Ugh.
Speaking of cold, being hungry makes me cold. I don’t usually feel cold. But after just a few days with no food, my hands and feet feel cold pretty much all the time. I don’t prefer going around the house in socks but I wear them constantly while I’m fasting. And I use those hand warmer things when the cold outside and my cold hands are just too much. Hand warmers are one of the things we get donated sometimes and we keep for when it’s really cold. They are nice for taking the edge off a biting cold. They only provide limited relief but they are better than nothing.
9:30am – I’m at the CEC now and grateful to see some of my friends (and worried about the ones I don’t see). We talk over coffee (I’ll go off caffeine next week but it helps me make the transition off food) and I can tell we have some specific things in common this morning. The aches from not having a good night’s sleep, the persistent headache and dulled energy from lack of food, the nearly unshakable feeling of cold. But we’re here together now. We have the central heat and coffee to warm us. Stuff from the medicine cabinet can help with the headaches. And thanks to a generous food drop off at the end of the day yesterday, our open kitchen is well stocked. I’m glad my friends can eat today. I regret this may increase their pain later, but I try to focus on this moment, the relief side of that persistent cycle. I will pray for them again tonight as I share again in their experience of going to sleep hungry. And I’m going to send them out with extra hand warmers this afternoon, because I know how they feel.