I saw them standing there in the gf aisle of Sprout’s.  The sweet couple talking in hushed whispers looking terrified and trapped.  Quietly, I asked them if I could help them.   They stared for a moment at me, and then the wife flicked her eyes to the basket I was pushing laden with fresh foods and packages bearing the most prominent  gluten free names and logos.  I watched the struggle play across her face, and then she stuttered “Do you know what . . . ” and there she stopped.  The questions were too vast.  She didn’t know where to begin.  Her eyes filled with liquid frustration as she told me how horribly wrong her bread had gone.  Her husband, newly diagnosed, had eaten only one thing every meal for weeks.  He was tired of rice.  She didn’t know what else to make him.  She wanted to ask me “Do you know what he can eat”.

We walked through much of the store together, these strangers and I that late summer night.  My quick errand turned into an hour long adventure.

They have since found their way through this strange gluten free land.   I see them there, now and again, their cart is now full and their eyes no longer hold the terrorized glaze they did that first night.  We nod in acknowledgment, occasionally exchanging opinions on one product or another.  It makes my heart happy to see them there, and to know that my promise to her was true.   I assured her that  she would, in time, find her way in this new place.  Time.  It’s always the challenge.

When I first began this journey, the time factor frustrated me.  I knew that eventually I would figure it out.  I also knew that R&R was coming with alarming speed and since I only had 14 precious days with that man I loved in the span of 400 days, I was NOT going to get glutoned in that 14 day span.  I did the only thing I knew to do.

I researched.

I made a notebook and I put tabs in it.  I thought this new world might be easier if I could break it down, if I could walk in prepared.  I had one tab behind which I put a list of all the words I needed to watch for.  The obvious like wheat and the less obvious like malodextrin or “natural flavorings”.  There was a tab for manufacturer’s, a tab for Trader Joe’s who is kind enough to put out a monthly list of every gf item they carry, a tab for fast food with menus of allergens listed (and darn them usually the calorie count too!), a tab for restaurants near me, and a tab behind which I put a letter I found online regarding celiac that I could hand to wait staff or chefs.  I printed all those many pages I found online and put each page in it’s section.  When that was done, I felt like I was armored.  I was no longer at the mercy of this disease, I had drawn a boundary.  A boundary that stated “I will not live in fear, I will control this to the very best of my ability”.

I took that notebook with me to the store when I was purchasing groceries in those early days.  I don’t take it as often these days, but I do consult it when I make my grocery list and I note which brands are safe for me to consume right there on my list of needed groceries.  Always, I check labels.  Manufacturers change things so fast.  It has become rather automated now, flip the box/can/package over and seek those words.  My eyes find them faster now than they used to.  That first trip I read every list three or four times and then again when I got home still not sure I had caught everything.  Now, I trust myself more.  I know that I have trained me on what to look for.

Those fast food allergen lists saved me a few times when the employee had no idea what I was asking for.   In time, I stopped eating at those places.  They do not understand enough not to poison me, and words seem to have little bearing.

It gets easier, in time, but for now?  A few simple lists might help you find your way.