They say jokingly that when you go vegan, you will start losing friends. It’s, sadly, a very true statement, but not necessarily because of the vegan thing. It’s an evolution thing. My friend loss was delayed for many years, as it so happens.
We are constantly evolving as people. Constantly growing and changing from day to day. The human experience is truly a beautiful thing. Sometimes we resist and become stagnant. Sometimes we face the struggle to accept the lesson and then grow.
Most of us don’t start out as vegan. We come to it because something is triggered in us… awakened. Whether it was for reasons of health or for the animals, generally most of us will come to realize that we stay vegan in the long run because “All Of The Above.”
The well-intended people who always followed what they were taught by their doctors and those convincing TV commercials preaching on the massive amounts of protein we need to survive (fear fear fear), those people might in time desire to turn their life around after a sobering health crisis. Those same formerly desensitized people may look back upon their clouded state and feel a preference for doing less harm in the Universe.
Awareness of the consequences of some actions leads to a caution for the consequences of other actions, especially after an unsettling life crisis. Why do more harm to others when it’s so easy to continue doing less harm to others and yourself simultaneously and enjoy the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle? It becomes so easy to have compassion and a consciousness of choices and their consequences.
People who come to it for animal advocacy reasons after seeing the horrific cruelty of the industry may also stumble upon the unintentional health benefits of cleaner eating. Although, just because something is vegan, that doesn’t make it automatically healthy. It is sometimes an accidental or unintentional transition to “All Of The Above” as time progresses.
We experience. We learn. We evolve. Or not. It’s a choice.
Near the beginning of 2014, I had a mental health crisis. I had been on anti-anxiety medication for a few years after coming out of a divorce with several toxic years of marriage. I can’t blame all of my anxiety and depression on the marriage though. I was also resolving many emotional issues from my colorful childhood. Other stories for other days.
My crisis came when I was weaning myself off the medications and realized that I had developed a chemical dependency on these medications which I took exactly as my doctor had directed. The more withdrawal side effects I experienced, the more I researched. The more I uncovered on these medications, the more they screamed “Danger!”
At the time I decided to go on the medications, I was close to not being able to function and was afraid of losing my job because of my inability to focus at work. I had panic attacks frequently. My marriage had been on the rocks and that was not helping matters. I wanted to give the marriage and my life a shot at succeeding and moving forward. For numerous reasons, I decided to try the medication. If it meant getting doped up for a little while to work on the issues, I was willing to risk it at that time.
Withdrawal hit me hard and lasted for several months with a controlled taper off. I worked through all of it and miraculously was not fired from my job. My personality had noticeably altered during that time. I would swing between crying fits, anger, yelling, giddiness, dizziness, panic, shaking, flu-like symptoms, and an inability to focus. It was not fun to say the least.
A lot of social damage happened during this time, as it usually does with mental health issues. During the withdrawal period, I documented my journey on social media as a way to also help others who were going through similar issues or dealing with loved ones who were struggling. I received surprising feedback from some people whom I thought were friends and also some surprising feedback from some people whom I previously thought weren’t that close or caring. People surprised me. Even in the fog of the withdrawal, I started to see others in a way I never had before.
Between my withdrawal updates, I also posted a few vegan awareness messages. Some were about the cruelty of the industry against animals and some were about the health benefits associated with the vegan lifestyle. Some were even about the environmental impact of going vegan. At that time, I had zero vegan friends. None. I was the only one I knew! I didn’t feel special. I felt alone and misunderstood in the midst of the world spinning around me. Literally… the withdrawal dizziness was awful.
My Standard American Diet (SAD) friends would argue with me about the vegan awareness posts constantly. It also became the only topic they would talk with me about in person. I had always defended, or rather, gotten defensive with my vegan lifestyle (or as my SAD friends called it, my “eating habits”). It hurt me how blind people could be about themselves and the animals and how the thick layers of cognitive dissonance persisted among those I cared about.
The playful teasing got worse and developed into frequent bullying. When someone gets defensive, it’s a bully magnet. When someone’s having a mental health crisis and is at their weakest and most vulnerable, increased bullying over their vegan lifestyle is REALLY. NOT. NICE. I didn’t help things by creating a giant target over my head with my defensiveness.
People would send me pictures of meat and say things like “mmmmm meat.” I had one person comment “bacon” on every single one of my posts, or if I had commented on a mutual friend’s post on a completely unrelated topic, the person would come around and comment “bacon” right underneath me. I also had someone “moo” at me. Yes, quite literally “MOO” at me… in the office… and other coworkers would laugh at me. It taught me to keep coworkers at a distance to protect myself, although my current place of employment does not tolerate behavior of this sort. I had a very old close friend make his own thread about why all vegans are angry which was dedicated to me. I kept trying to make them understand. I would argue. I would tell them they are being toxic and terrible people – hurting themselves and others. I would justify myself over and over trying to make them understand.
Towards the end of my withdrawal period and after 12 years of dealing with the teasing and poking and bullying, I finally snapped. I got mad and I got mean. I called people murderers and rapists and sick fucking idiots when they attacked me. I went on a blocking rampage and cut off the especially toxic people and repeat offenders. Then, I started blocking even the first time “bacon” commenters. Yes, I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms and a warped perception of reality, but even looking back on the situation with a clearer head now, I have some understanding and compassion for my former volatile self.
The dust settled within a few days. Suddenly, I felt calmer. I was okay. I am me. This is who I am and who I’ve been for a long time now. I don’t apologize for being me. I don’t argue against being me. Not anymore. I don’t beg for approval. If you don’t approve of me, fine. If you bully me, I’m not going to argue. I’m simply going to adopt the “have a nice life” attitude and walk away and not ever look back. Congratulations to me, I finally found my backbone.
This incident ended up being the catalyst for a complete social makeover. I stumbled upon the Vegan Friend Bomb on one of the vegan communities. I participated and instantly made 100 vegan friends. Holy rescued cows! I’ve never had vegan friends before. Now I don’t know how I ever managed without them. They are my rock. My soulmates. My sanity.
When the world seems so heartless and cruel, off to the internet I go to read what like-minded people are doing and thinking and I connect with them directly about issues that we all deal with each and every day. I was so alone before in thinking that I was the only person who thought this way, who lived this way, who experienced moral conflicts this way, who gave conscious energy to trying to evolve and become more aware every single day. Of course vegans aren’t perfect people. They are human too. It was still awesome to meet some compassionate people for a change.
After meeting these vegan people, the remaining non-vegan friends started falling into two distinct categories. Toxic and Tolerant. The Tolerants tolerated my vegan posts and some even got excited about them. They tried my recipes and asked me for transition tips. They would send me questions like “I have a new vegan coworker, what should I make them?” They were real friends. Good people.
The Toxics though… I never noticed how many of them I had collected until I saw the contrast of the more positive, passionate, and proactive vegan friends. I started noticing things like how certain friends never had anything nice to say ever about anyone or anything. They enjoyed complaining and ranting constantly and couldn’t wait to discover a new reason to be upset with others and the world. They got off on it and enjoyed their ignorance and lack of awareness through the peephole in their tiny claustrophobic reality.
I stepped back and realized, this is really not me. No… Correction: This may have been me in the past, or rather I was attracting them to me or attaching myself to them or they were fulfilling a certain need I was craving, but this is not me any longer. I don’t surround myself with gossip, complaining, manipulation, two-faced backstabbers, tantrums, martyrs, and constant self-inflicted and intentionally perpetuated drama. I need to heal. And this is poison.
I blocked several other people in this process. Not because they were anti-vegans or bullies, but because they were simply black holes of negative energy. Some had been around for a short time, but others, and this was somewhat conflicting for me, I had known for a very long time and had strong connections with in the past.
As I evolved rapidly during this time and growing more and more conscious and, well, happy, they were not evolving with me. Or at all. I left them behind long ago when they repeatedly planted themselves comfortably in their resistance and bitterness. I sent my love to the people we used to be and the experiences we shared. I let them go so I could keep growing in a positive direction and not get dragged into their dark turmoil.
I found confidence and happiness. I found self-acceptance, self-respect, and self-love. I was taking the next step in the recovery process and choosing my happy ending.
The human experience is truly a beautiful thing. We are faced with a choice every single day to either do the same stagnant thing while expecting a different result, or to evolve and make the changes for ourselves. I made hard choices. And I did find that brighter tomorrow.