Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Losing battles, my heart and a blunt instrument, and a first attempt at a new humility

When I stopped eating sugar six and a half years ago, I admitted that I have no power over it. That if sugar and I ever end up in a battle again, sugar will win. I will lose. It’s that simple. And that’s ok. I don’t battle with sugar anymore. There is no need. It is the reigning victor.

In other words, do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy? Do I want to prove that I have willpower and nothing can beat me, or do I want to live in peace? I choose happiness and peace. I choose to acknowledge my weakness and my humanity. Not just acknowledge them. Honor them. Give them their proper place and their due. Have some humility.

Because I understand that I am going to have to submit in some way. I cannot have it “my way”. My way does not actually exist. I cannot eat a little bit and stop. Which is not actually “my way” either. “My way” would be to eat and eat and eat and not be fat. Or obsessed to the point that I am careless of others. My way would be to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, with no consequences. Anybody know the secret to that? (Even if you said yes, I wouldn’t believe you.) So I can submit to the acceptance of my weakness and forfeit sugar as an option. Or I can try to control sugar. And control myself around sugar. But I have a lifetime of experience that assures me that I will just end up having to submit to sugar in the end. And be its slave. So I give sugar its rightful throne. And stay the hell out of its kingdom.

But the longer I have my food under control, the more I learn that I have no power over other things too. So many things. More and more things than I ever imagined. And it turns out that I have no control over my heart. I cannot control my feelings.

Let me make some distinctions. I am not talking about my thinking. I absolutely get to choose what I think. And what kinds of thoughts I think. I can stop thoughts. I can redirect my focus. This is important. It is an excellent skill to have. I cultivate it. If I have a thought about how great chocolate cake is, I stop thinking that thought. I cannot afford to romance thoughts about foods I don’t eat anymore. Foods that will kill me. Foods that will torture me first, and then kill me. If I am feeling like life is unfair, and I am throwing myself a pity party, I can list the things I have to be grateful for. I do have power over my thoughts.

The other distinction I want to make is about shutting my heart down. I can do that too. It is a skill of sorts. It was very useful in my early life. It saved me as a child. I had a pain that was too big for a little girl to deal with. Fear that was too dark and scary. But this is not what I’m talking about either. Because shutting my heart down is not like using an exact tool for performing detailed work. It is a blunt instrument. It is all or nothing. My heart is either on, or it’s off. If it’s off, there is numb. If it’s on, there is whatever there is. And that’s what I’m talking about. When it’s on, I have no power over what comes out of it.

I have this agreement with God that I will not “take my toys and go home”. I originally made this promise about men. That I will not run away as soon as I think I might get hurt. That I will not stop caring to avoid pain. That I will follow every relationship to its natural conclusion. That I will be available for whatever a relationship has to offer. And if it’s pain and getting hurt, that I’ll stick around to get hurt. (Oh yeah. Huge fan of this agreement with God…) But what is starting to dawn on me is that I choose shutting down with all sorts of situations. I have spent my entire life trying to control my feelings. So I don’t feel disappointed. Or hurt. Or frustrated. Or angry.

And I have been thinking of this shutting down as a kind of power. That I have power over my feelings. But I do not. If my heart is open, I’m feeling whatever I’m feeling. If I let my heart be open.

So I’ve just come to the conclusion that on is better than off. All the time. That there is no such thing as a bad feeling. Even if the feeling is jealousy or greed or anger. Even if it’s something that I’ve been told to think of as shameful or wrong.

This is new for me. And I’m going to tell you I’m scared. Because I don’t really know what it will mean to stop fighting my feelings. I don’t know what that looks like when practiced and applied. And because I want so much to be a good person. And I’m so afraid of my dark side. And that it is just another log on the fire of my unlovableness. But if I am going to be honest, I have to admit that I am powerless over my heart. And the more I resist it, the more exhausted I am.

When I stopped eating compulsively, I gave up fighting with food. And now I want to give up fighting with feelings. Because the longer I am sober from sugar (and cigarettes) the more clarity I get, and the more I understand that I have spent my life fighting battles I can’t possibly win. So I guess I’ll just have to do my best and let you know how it goes…
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Being committed: It’s not just for institutions anymore

I’ve been a little blocked about what to post this week. Because with only subtle differences, this week is much like last week. Doing that dance with myself. Worrying about my weight. Eating well anyway. Trying to remember that my value is not the size of my body. Forgetting. Waiting it out. Waiting for my body to adjust to quitting smoking. Waiting for what it looks like to be a non-issue again. Waiting for my eating disorder brain to quiet down. And it will. This too shall pass. There’s nothing to do but live my life in between my meals.

But then what am I going to write about? Because I have a commitment to post every week. Even if I have nothing to say. So I have decided to write about that. That kind of commitment. Because that kind of commitment is how I keep my eating under control. And I apply it to other things too. Like my daily meditation. And this blog. And being committed has changed my life.

I didn’t know anything about commitment when I was eating compulsively. I knew about excuses. Sometimes I just didn’t “feel like” doing something I was supposed to do. Or I did “feel like” doing something I wasn’t. But I knew that the right excuse, a strong enough excuse, would “make it ok” in the eyes of “the world”. Whatever “it” was. Whoever “the world” was. If I could get a “who could blame you?” kind of response, then whatever I had done or failed to do was “made right”. And I could move on. This was how I thought, and therefore how I lived.

What I never understood, of course, was that I couldn’t move on. Or at least that I wasn’t moving on. Sure, my feet weren’t being held to the fire by humans with authority anymore, but my conscience actually didn’t give a shit about authority. I didn’t even understand that my conscience was my conscience. All I knew was that I was incredibly hungry. Starving! I didn’t know that that feeling was shame and not hunger. Because food made it go away for a while. I didn’t know that was numb, not fed. So I just kept making excuses and eating. Getting bigger and bigger and never ever being satisfied.

My conscience still doesn’t care about authority, by the way. Its only authority is my word. My truth. My commitments.

When I put boundaries around my food, I had a kind of epiphany. I understood that I had to keep those boundaries no matter how I felt about it. What I “wanted” was taken out of the equation. What I “felt like” eating was irrelevant. Gratification ceased to be an option. There were more important things. Honor and commitment.

In a way, of course, my boundaries are about what I want. Because the big picture is that I “want” to be thin and peaceful and sane. And not be fat, or crazy, or sticking toothbrushes down my throat to make myself vomit. But at any given moment, whether I like the way I eat, or want a piece of cake, or feel like keeping my boundaries, has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I keep them. I just do. That’s it. No discussion. No negotiation.

And what I learned from eliminating the idea of “feel like it” from my eating, is that there is value in doing things because I do them, regardless of how I feel about doing them at any given moment on any given day. That gratification is a trap. That commitment makes my life better all around. It doesn’t even matter what the commitment is.

So like I said, I have a commitment to post every week. And I don’t even know who it’s to. Myself? God? You? I just know that I do it. There are no excuses. Circumstances don’t matter. Because I almost never “feel like” writing a post. I can think of a million excuses not to post on any given week.

Unless some glaringly obvious eating disorder thing comes up in my life, I always think there is nothing to tell you. And yet I manage to get something up every week. And most of the time I think it’s somewhere between not bad and pretty good. And every time I respect myself for doing it. Respect myself that I did it simply because it is something I do.

But I’ll admit that this commitment often feels like a burden before the post is written. I’m regularly afraid to write. Because I want to wow you! Every time! And that’s not how it works. And that’s not how life works. And that’s the best way to crash and burn and never write another entry again, let alone another entry I’m proud of. Or impressed by. (Because sometimes I do impress myself.)
Needing to top myself every time would be the best way to come to hate this blog. And myself. Not posting an entry one week because it’s not up to par would be an excellent first step in letting this blog end. More like disappear. Because it’s not good enough. And I’m not good enough. Will never be good enough.
So I write every week, even if I have nothing to say. And I post every week, even if it’s not so particularly good. And I keep in mind that to make greatness a requirement for sharing my writing is like killing the Golden Goose. Cutting open it’s belly looking for the gold inside. Forgetting that the gold comes from the magic that lives in the goose. And from the time in between laying the eggs. That there’s more gold. If I don’t get greedy. For pride. And praise.
And wisdom too. Because sometimes what I want most of all is to be the best person I can ever possibly be right now, instead of wanting to just be the best person I can be right now right now.
So here’s this week’s post. I wrote it even though I didn’t feel like it, and was afraid it would come out mediocre. And now that it’s up, I am relieved. And feeling pretty good about my level of honor and commitment. And sure, I do hope you like it. But mostly I just like that it’s done.
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PowerPoint presentations in Heaven and other self-inflicted Hells

This week I have been eating to be satisfied. Not to be skinny. And it has been fantastic! It has made me peaceful. And happy. Grounded. Free. And in an unexpected twist, it illuminated a tricky little bit of eating disorder thinking that had been lurking (creepily) in the dark, seedy parts of my mind. Letting go of my obsession with my appearance, and taking care of feeling nourished and physically comfortable gave me some important insight into the way I see myself and my value.

I was looking in the mirror shortly after a particularly satisfying meal. (Yes, on purpose. Why was I even doing that in the first place, you ask?  Because apparently I will go out of my way to look at my body in unflattering states. I may as well have run right out to the nearest dressing room and tried on bathing suits with horizontal stripes under fluorescent lighting.) I was scrutinizing my stomach. And I had a thought. “Well at least you’re happy. Because no man is going to want you this way. You’re not even trying to be the prettiest you can be.”

But I was fed. And calm. And my head was clear. And I could distinguish the basic premises of this thinking. And um…ewwwwww!

First, in order to be the prettiest I can be, I have to be the thinnest I can be (to within 3 lbs. I don’t know where “3 lbs” came from. It’s arbitrary. But it lives in my head like it’s based on something important.) Also, being the thinnest I can be doesn’t automatically make me the prettiest I can be. A equals B, but B does not always equal A. Second, what I look like is a major factor in whether or not I am worthy and/or enough. It’s like there is a graph or chart somewhere, (Where, I’m not sure. Heaven? Outer space? Probably wherever Plato’s Forms reside.) that has quantified my looks. And there is a line that delineates pretty from ugly. Or maybe just good enough from not good enough. Dropping below this line is an automatic fail. A deal-breaker, if you will. It automatically renders me unworthy of love.

I also want to say that the beauty line is high. Besides being thin, there is manicured, pedicured, shaved, plucked, tan (in summer), nicely dressed, in heels, with clear skin, and a cute hairstyle (up in summer, down in winter).

And then there is attitude and personality graph. Happy, grateful, nurturing, helpful, honorable, kind, generous, peaceful, loving. And always learning from my mistakes.

And here’s what makes it extra twisted. I even know that perfection is not an option. It’s like my eating disorder brain is pretending it’s giving me a break. It’s telling me it has all kinds of room for my humanity. And in a way it does. It is ok for me to fail. It’s ok for me to mess up or do something wrong. Or be mean. Or selfish. It’s ok to not look my best at all times. It is ok for me to fall below the lines on my graphs. As a person. As an individual. As a lone human being. I can clean it up and carry on. God still loves me. My family and friends still love me. I still love me and respect myself.

But if I ever want to be loved as a woman, by a man, I had better be doing every conceivable thing I can possibly do to the point of utter exhaustion to be as close to perfect as is humanly possible. I had better not let a man see me fall below. Ever. Maintaining myself above my “good enough” lines is the only way that I will ever deserve love. Or at least convince a man that I deserve it. That is how I can earn love. Through perseverance and hard work.
And wow is that exhausting. And am I ever exhausted. And does it ever make sense that I have always preferred a fortress and loneliness. Because the standard I have been holding myself to is unsustainable. At least for me. And I am trying to separate that fact from the assumption that naturally follows in my head. Therefore you will never earn love so you will never be loved.
Yes I know that love is not something you earn. That it’s something you inspire simply by being alive, and accept simply by being open to it. I guess my heart hasn’t gotten that memo yet. And my eating disorder brain doesn’t believe that could possibly be true.
But this is the other thing I know. (Are you paying attention, eating disorder brain? This is for your benefit.) I have lived a life where I did not do “the work” and i have lived a life where I have done “the work”. And I did a lot of work. Good work. Quality work. And I have yet to inspire the kind of love I am looking for. So clearly “the work” is not the answer. And what I would like to know, really know, is that I could be loved. Human. With bushy eyebrows and hairy legs. Crying. Angry. Impatient. Saying mean things. I would like to know that the same way I know that I respect myself. I would like to know that like I know that I am a woman of honor and integrity.
And also, I would like to know how to welcome it when it shows up.
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How a giant cantaloupe saved me from the evil vortex

Most of the time, since I got control of my eating, my eating disorder brain stays essentially dormant. I always have it, of course. But my issues are not necessarily prominent in my day-to-day life. My body stays basically the same. I eat basically the same. I’m not hungry or full. I eat 3 meals a day. Those meals are within my food boundaries. The rest of life goes along as it does. For the most part, since I no longer eat compulsively, food, eating, and my body are non-issues. But from time to time, my eating disorders move into the prime real estate in my head. And since I quit smoking and my body has been going through some big changes, my body image issues are reclining in a penthouse with an ocean view.
A few weeks ago I posted “Stupid mirror! I said fairest, not fattest!” That particular body image disorder attack was about looking at myself in the mirror and seeing a distorted image of myself.  Seeing myself as fat when I am not.
And then I realized last night that for several weeks now I have been having what I call “diet-head” issues. And I didn’t exactly realize that I was in my “diet-head”. Because my eating disorders are sneaky and subtle and disguise themselves in myriad ways.
Since I quit smoking, I have had two things come up that are a double whammy when they come at the same time. I have been hungry and I have been gaining weight.
At least that’s what the scale says. Which is a whole other issue between me and my eating disorder brain. Because I was shocked to hell. I was actually expecting to have lost weight before I got on the scale the other day. I have not been feeling fat. My clothes fit. My face, neck and collar area are looking as slender as ever. And my stomach has been getting smaller. Frankly, if I didn’t know what the number on the scale was, I would not have thought twice about being back in my “regular” body. But I did, indeed, see the number on the scale. It was 140.  (Yes! 140! Can you imagine how I freaked out!? I totally freaked out. Called my friend crying like a 3-year-old!) And it does not matter that I had been feeling thin and pretty and back to normal. The number on the scale trumps liking what’s in the mirror.  Eating disorders are a trip, right?

It is very rare that I get hungry. It happens maybe three or four times a year. I eat multiple pounds of fruits and vegetables every day. Plus eggs, dairy, olive oil, butter, and a few times a week, meat. But for many weeks now, I have been hungry. I don’t know if it is emotional or physical. But either way, I have been afraid to do anything about it because the scale says I’ve been gaining weight. And my body image disorder brain has a desperate fear of getting fat.

My food boundaries are just boundaries. There is a lot of room within them. For example, how often I eat meat, or how much fat I want in my dairy products is absolutely changeable. My boundaries are not about deprivation or “dieting”. I never eat sugar, starch or simple carbohydrates, but I have plenty of options. I have plenty of room with the foods that I do eat to make sure I do not feel like I’m being punished. There are ways to eat within my food boundaries that can compensate for being hungry or feeling like it’s too much. One of the ways I can do that is with the size of certain fruits and vegetables. And sometimes I forget this.

When I was first getting control of my eating, I ate positively ginormous fruits and vegetables. I would go from market to market in search of the biggest and the best.

As the years have gone by, I do that less. It eventually started to become too much food. (That’s crazy to me, by the way. That I have reached a point in my life where there is such a thing as too much food! I’m a food addicted compulsive eater. That’s a freaking miracle!) So I generally stick to the basic fruit and veggie quantity. Like I said, it’s still multiple pounds every day…

But I’ve been hungry for a while now. When I have finished my meals, I have not been feeling satisfied. But I have been afraid to go out and find the biggest and the best like I did in the beginning. Because I want to get back to being 133 lbs and not 140. And because I already eat huge meals. I have been feeling like I should be satisfied. Like it’s shameful to want more. Plus the whole thing has seemed damned unfair! I quit smoking and I get punished with both being hungry and gaining weight!?!? Ugh! How am I not supposed to take this personally, God?

And then a good friend said “Stop thinking about it. Forget about your weight and enjoy your food.” And I said yes. I agreed. But in the back of my mind, I was thinking about enjoying fresh and delicious on the lighter side. Because good Lord, I weigh 140!

And then I was at the farmer’s market, and I saw giant cantaloupes. My body said, “Want! Want!” My terrified-of-getting-fat eating disorder brain went. “Tsk tsk. Better not. 140.” And then I heard my friend’s voice say “Enjoy your food!” And I bought a giant melon. Bigger than my head. Half for dinner last night and half for breakfast this morning.

And you know what? For the first time in weeks I felt satisfied. I went to bed with a smile on my face last night. I went to work today with a song in my heart. And I am not ashamed. And I am not afraid of getting fat. And last night, after dinner, I realized that for the first time in forever, I do not feel like I’m being punished. And that I do feel like I deserve. To enjoy my food. To enjoy my life. That I deserve to be satisfied. That I’m worth that!
I am starting to understand that deprivation feeds the idea that I don’t deserve, as much as feeling like I don’t deserve makes me deprive myself. That it is also circular, like the eating making me fat and ashamed, and shame making me eat. Basically, my eating disorder brain is like a giant, evil vortex. It swirls around and around and it will take starvation and deprivation as soon as gluttony and shame. It’s all the same as long as I am punished and miserable.
Let me be blunt. I’m walking a line here. I’m doing a dance with myself and my eating disorders. I am navigating food choices, emotional and physical comfort, self acceptance and body image. Food comforts me. Eating a giant cantaloupe made me feel better. Bacon and fried onions do too. There are things it would be dangerous for me to withhold from myself. Satisfaction in eating. Foods I enjoy. I need these things as much as I want them. For my sanity and my health. And at the same time, it would be dangerous to let myself actually gain more weight than I can be comfortable with. But I also know that I just quit smoking. And I need a little self-love. And some comfort. I don’t know what’s going on with my body. I’m just going to have to wait and see. But in the mean time, I am going to enjoy my food. Within my boundaries, of course. But there’s so much abundance and deliciousness withn those boundaries. So if keeping myself comfortable and cared for means that I am going to have to occasionally eat a cantaloupe bigger than my head…well so be it…

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