Contentment: It’s not about where I am but where I’m going.
I have been off of work this week while I wait to get assigned to a new job. I have been cleaning my house and listening to audiobooks. Working out in the afternoon instead of first thing in the morning. I have been enjoying the freedom to get things done in my own time and on my own schedule. And I am feeling ridiculously content.
Contentment is absolutely a direct result of having my eating under control. I don’t think I ever experienced it until I was literally years into having boundaries around my eating. Perhaps when I was a very small child I was content. But definitely not once I was school-age. For nearly all of my memorable life, I was anxious, worried, fearful, unhappy, and/or overwhelmed. Life was hard for me. Not because I got a bad one. In fact, on paper I got a great one. But that didn’t really matter. It didn’t mean I was happy. It didn’t mean I was grateful. I was not.
I think a thing that happens to a lot of people is that we can see how good we have it, and it makes us think we *should* be happy. We can see who has it worse. We can see the disparities and it makes us feel like jerks. And society tells us we are jerks. There are children starving. There are kids with nothing. We have it so much better than the ones who came before us.
And all of those things might be true. But what getting my eating under control has taught me is that it is ridiculous to compare my life to anyone else’s. For the good or the bad. It is not a competition. It is not a race. It is not a zero sum game. There is no winning or losing. There is only my experience and my journey. There is only my path, and the places my path intersects with other paths.
There is a saying that people who do what I do with food say: Keep your eyes on your own plate. This is practical advice. That person may be eating cake, but I don’t need to look at the cake. I don’t need to judge the cake eater. I don’t need to be jealous of the cake eating. And I don’t need to romance thoughts about the cake. I don’t need to focus on who has what I don’t. Especially when I have a full plate right in front of me. (Especially especially when my plate has bacon and homemade chocolate ice cream and melt-in-your-mouth carnitas.)
There is always a thing I think I want, because someone else has it. Sometimes I read a book that is so good, or beautiful,or creative that I am insanely jealous that the writer both had it in them, and could get it out so perfectly. Sometimes I see a dress that is so stunning I ache for it, but it is prohibitively expensive or made for a different body type than mine, and I have to mourn that I cannot have it. Sometimes I see someone do something I have no talent for, like drawing, or ballet, and I get frustrated that I cannot simply have it just because I want it.
This used to seem so unfair. I was filled with envy and cruelty and shame.
In these past 15+ years of keeping my eating boundaries, I have learned to treat the acquisition of skills as a practice rather than a gift. If I want to learn ballet, I can learn. I may not have a natural talent, or be naturally shaped the way most ballet dancers are, but I could study it if I wanted to. I could practice. I could try. I could put in the hours and the sweat. I don’t know what the results would be. But that really wouldn’t matter. I could write a book if I wanted. I could read up on the craft, and plan and plot, and sit in front of the blank page and see what uniquely me thing came out. I could give up on the expectation of genius or grace or perfection. I could be willing to make bad art.
One of the best lessons I have learned in my life is that in order to make great art, you have to be willing to make bad art. This is not just about art. I have learned to be willing to make bad life too.
The contentment that comes from having my eating under control is about accepting what is so, deciding what I want, and taking actions to create the life I want to have. It is about eliminating expectations and being willing to do something, anything, without knowing that it will turn out the way I want it to. It is about doing for the sake of doing. And not for the outcome.
When I was eating compulsively, food was control, even if my eating was out of my control. Food helped me control feeling my feelings, which felt entirely out of my control most of my life. If those feelings were too much for me to handle, food made me numb, so I didn’t have to handle them. Getting my eating under control helped me control the experience of those feelings without feeling like I had to control the results. I could let them wash over me, use them as sign posts and guidelines, and then make choices with my higher self: my head, my heart, and my conscience.
I am still an anxious person. I am still an addict. I am still occasionally jealous and regularly ache for something that seems out of reach. But more than any of those things, I am content. I learned to choose what I already have first, and to strive for something better second. I learned to put in the time and the effort and let the chips fall where they may. I learned to define myself by how willing I am to move forward, rather than where I stand at any given moment.