I am having some problems at work. Personality problems. And they difficult to navigate. It takes a lot of restraint on my part.
I am having some problems at work. Personality problems. And they difficult to navigate. It takes a lot of restraint on my part.
Halloween has passed and Thanksgiving is this week. As many of you know, I don’t participate in Thanksgiving. It is essentially a food holiday. The whole thing revolves around one big meal. You can say it’s about family, or gratitude, but tradition says it’s about turkey and potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Every family has their own traditions, and they are all about the meal.
St Francis of Assisi said “Wear the world like a loose garment.” 12 step folks use this phrase a lot.
When I gave up sugar, I figured I would end up with an average, boring, mediocre life. And that did not thrill me, but I had become so unhappy in that previous year with eating and body image disorders that I was willing to go to any lengths.
I had always despised the thought of my own mediocrity. Perhaps it was being a child who grew up in the 80s. Sesame Street told us we were all special. Perhaps it was that I had a huge personality and love of the attention of strangers. People expected me to be a performer. And that made me expect to be a star. Or perhaps it was that I was born with a lot of a particular kind of talent, the kind of keen intelligence that made understanding the world around me easy as a kid. People called me precocious. I expected that I would be able to win for my whole life as easily as I had early on.
This was not the case for several reasons. Obviously, my pool got smarter. It turns out, they put smart kids with other smart kids. Also, I was pretty fragile emotionally. I did not take failure well. And I didn’t learn much from it. The lessons I took from failure usually ended up being not to do that thing I was bad at anymore. And, probably most importantly, early in life I figured out that sugar and carbs would make all of my difficult feelings go away.
This life that I have now would almost certainly make child and teen Kate cringe. It would occur to her as pathetic and pointless. It would occur to her as mediocrity incarnate.
But I look at this life as particularly extraordinary. And I think it’s specialness, and the fact that I think so, is all about having my eating under control.
Being the person I am now means I judge my success in terms of my integrity, my growth, and my contentment, not accolades or prizes from outside. This lack of outside approval is exactly what mediocrity looked like to my young self. How would I know I was awesome unless someone else told me. Unless everyone told me. Unless *important* people told me.
I am not diminishing the power of “important” prizes. But not everyone is going to win a Pulitzer. And I don’t have to base my pride in my life on whether or not I do. (I am not even writing right now. But even if I were.)
When I got my eating under control, it finally clicked for me that wanting an outcome had nothing practical to do with getting it. By putting boundaries around food, I learned about taking action. I learned about practice. As crazy as it seems to me now, I somehow had it in my head that wanting to lose weight was enough. But it’s not that crazy when you consider that sugar gets me high like a drug. The thing that was making me fat was also muddling my thinking. It was a win-win for sugar and a lose-lose for me.
Sometimes people in the self-help world talk about visualization. I used to think this meant something like visualizing myself winning the Pulitzer. And while science says that there is a case for that kind of visualization being effective, what is more effective is visualizing oneself *doing the work.* Because if you picture yourself doing the work, you are more likely to actually do the work.
Through having my eating under control and thereby getting a body I could love and be comfortable in, I came to understand about the practicality of achieving something. I got this body by entirely changing the way I eat. I did something about my body. I didn’t just “want” it to be different, I did the work.
Between my meals, I do the next right thing in my life, whatever that is for my next goal. When I wasn’t working full time, it was writing. Now that I am working, it can be dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s on a particular work task, making sure I am doing my job to the best of my ability. Or in my free time it can be ripping out a section of knitting because I realized I did something wrong and I want to get it right. Or it can be drinking my water quota or going on my jog.
I practice the things I want for myself and the things I want to get better at. And in understanding practice, I have come to recognize that one doesn’t win a Pulitzer Prize by aiming to win one. One writes the book or the music. One does the thing. And maybe it strikes a chord with one’s fellow humans. Or maybe it doesn’t.
The idea that something I do won’t wow the world no longer feels mediocre to me. The idea that I do *anything,* especially with any semblance of integrity and consistency, whatever that may be, feels like I have become a powerhouse in the world. I feel like a shining example of accomplishment. And I haven’t won an award of any kind since high school.
I used to think that everyone understood life but me. I used to think that knowing with certainty what to do next was obvious to everyone else. I felt incapable compared to all of the confident, well-adjusted beings all around me. But I realized that most people are flying just as blind as I always was. They are just better at hiding it.
And I realized that wanting to be liked by others more than honoring oneself is about as average and mediocre as it gets. And here I am trying to impress the hell out of myself. That sounds pretty extraordinary to me, if I do say so myself.
I have a friend in town for the weekend. She’s getting ready for us to drive to Nashville for the night. So I am writing a blog post as fast as I can. Go go go go go!
I am having a great time! I’m so happy to see her. But there is a bit of panic nagging me. Because my routine is being thrown off. And I am attached to my routine on many levels. But my food is covered and packed in a cooler and I don’t have to worry about any of that for the next 24 hours.
It’s times like these that I have to remember that I got my eating under control for exactly moments like these. I got my food handled so that when I was with the people I love, I could really *be with them.* I didn’t have to be focused on other things, namely eating.
I thought we might go out to a fancy place for dinner, but then I called about the way they cook their vegetables. Their Brussels sprouts are roasted in rendered bacon fat. Which sounds amazing, and would not be a problem except that it’s bacon with sugar in it, of course. And when I asked about the caramelized onions, he said something that made me stop him. “You cook them in a roux, is what you’re saying.” (A roux is a butter and flour mixture for thickening sauces and gravies.) The answer was yes. Then he said, “but I can make you some plain steamed vegetables if you would like.” Right. Obviously. And no. I would not like.
So I packed a small dinner for myself, and we will stop somewhere for her to grab a bite of whatever variety she likes, and I will not eat with my friend. I can have a diet soda, or an iced tea. I don’t have to eat with her. I’m not going to Nashville to eat. I am going to have a good time with my good friend. Yay!
I am a food addict. But I can laugh about it. And that is a beautiful thing.
Yesterday I bought a cantaloupe and a honeydew, both of which smelled amazing, and I kind of agonized over which I was going to have for breakfast today. This is what is known as a “luxury problem.” I eventually went with the honeydew. It was incredible. I will get to eat the cantaloupe in due time. All of it is mine! (Luckily, neither of these things is a fruit my husband wants in the slightest, or there may have been trouble. And I take this stuff seriously, so in the event of, say, a fight to the death, I’d put my money on the food addict.)
I found these exquisite specimens because my husband took me to a different grocery store than my usual yesterday. It was a date. Because to a food addict, that’s some romantic stuff, right there. I found Italian sausage and Chicago-style giardiniera that I can eat! (Mom, you don’t have to drive it up from Chicago now!) And my favorite full fat Greek yogurt that I can usually only find in NYC or Florida! Plus all of the other things I need like sugar-free bacon, lots of salsas, and my Liquid Aminos! (Look at all of those exclamation points! That is how exciting that was!)
Food is still exciting to me. It is actually more exciting because I eat guilt-free. I love being in a comfortable body. I love being able to jog, and fit into my clothes, and I love not feeing like I don’t have the right to take up space. But I would do what I do, all the shopping, prepping, portion control, and food restrictions, just for the guilt-free eating.
I was always embarrassed and ashamed of my eating before my boundaries. Now I can eat without a thought to if I “should” eat something. I love my guilt-free full fat yogurt. I love making it into guilt-free “ice cream.” I love my guilt-free bacon and pork rinds. I love knowing that whatever it is that I am eating, I am doing the right thing.
The other day a friend told me she was going to eat a decadent breakfast that was totally within her boundaries and that she was going to love every last bite and I said “good job!” And I meant it. It was not sarcasm. There was no “but.” I was proud of her for loving her food. I think it’s important to love our food.
How can I love my body if I hate what I nourish it with? How can I love myself if I hate my body? I don’t think I can. At least I have never been able to. So I love my food, my body, and myself. And my husband who takes me on dates to fancy grocery stores. *Swoon* Maybe I would let him have one of my fruits if he wanted one. Maybe.
It has been yet another week of “not my week.” Someone at work who is stressed is going out of their way to stress everybody else out. Including me. I’m having a hard time dealing with a group I belong to. There is a decision that has to be made that I have strong feelings about, and it remains undecided and I need to consider what I want to do about it for myself, my peace of mind, and my own integrity. And that sucks. I am a person who doesn’t remember dreams, and recently I have regularly been having nightmares. And then yesterday, we had sewage coming up from our bathtub. And after the plumber snaked the drain, one of the pipes to our water heater started leaking, soaking our carpet. So someone else came to fix the leak, and someone else came to dry the carpet because we thought the leak was fixed, but it wasn’t, so it’s leaking again and getting the carpet wet again.
Oh, and I cut myself with a knife I had just sharpened while I was making dinner.
I’m tired. I’m scared. I’m frustrated. I’m angry. I’m annoyed. I am having a lot of difficult feelings. And they are eroding my confidence. And that is a scary place for me.
In general, I walk around with a lot of confidence. I am happy with my life, with my integrity, with my honesty, with my marriage and how I interact in it, with my work and my work ethic, with my gifts, and with my resilience. I have a lot to be confident about.
And usually, difficulties come into my life in drips and drabs, in easily manageable portions. Bite-sized, individually wrapped inconveniences. Fun size, if you will. But this past 2 weeks have felt like non-stop bludgeoning. I’m unhappy.
There. I said it. I am unhappy. I’m feeling a little whiny, a little resentful. Why me? Waaah waaah waaah!
It hurts my pride a little to say it. I like being the girl who can shake stuff off. And I definitely like being *seen* as the girl who can shake it off. But really, it’s OK. It’s OK to be unhappy. It’s the truth. I don’t have to pretend to be invulnerable. I am definitely not.
I lived my whole life unhappy before I gave up sugar. I lived my whole life resentful, and scared, and angry, and sad. But then, I was the one making myself miserable with my lying, cheating, stealing and instigating drama, and I was entirely unaware of how I was responsible for my misery. Everything seemed like something done *to* me, not by me. And every circumstance and disruption seemed immovable, insurmountable, unchangable.
And I know now that very few things are immovable, and that the things that are usually have a workaround of some sort. Like I’m a sugar addict. And I believe that will never change. But I found a solution to my problem with food. I didn’t have to learn to live with being fat and obsessed. I just had to learn to live with being an addict. I had to learn to give up sugars, grains and starch. I had to learn to eat 3 meals a day in specific portions. I’m still an addict, but the things about being one that used to plague me, don’t anymore.
In some ways this is good for me. First, I am sure there is a growth experience in here somewhere. Maybe lots of them. And I am committed to growth, as a lifestyle. And second, I can sometimes equate my easy, happy life to some sort of virtue on my part. And that is not entirely misguided. I don’t lie, so I don’t deal with the consequences of having lied. I actively try to maintain a positive attitude, so a lot of my happiness is created by me. But life is not made so that only good things happen to good people. And it is not that a happy life is a reward for pleasing an old white man on a throne in the sky. Bad things do happen to good people. And apparently so do a string of uncomfortable inconveniences that cost time, money, and energy.
Oh well. Breakfast was delicious. And lunch is coming.
The past few days have been an emotional roller coaster. But seriously, that’s the good news.
First, a particularly annoying guy at work asked for documents that I have already given him, and at least 2 other people, *at least* once before. That ticks me off. I am good at my job, and I don’t like doing the same thing repeatedly because other people are not good at theirs.
And then I got a call that a particular shady landlord did a particularly shady thing, even though I was sure I had taken care of everything. And they did so in an illegal manner. (So I am pretty sure I did take care of everything, because that’s how I roll, and this person came after me out of spite.)
It’s not a big deal in terms of money. But it is a *huge* deal in terms of honor, honesty, and integrity. And now I have to decide what I want to do about it and how hard I am willing to fight. I have a lot going on. And it is work to fight for what’s right, and the financial loss is so minimal. Essentially I have to decide what my priorities are, free time or principle.
And then I found out that someone has been repeatedly lying to me for the past two weeks, about something I take incredibly seriously. And they told me in a way that made it seem like they thought it should be no big deal to me. And tried to convince me that they didn’t have to tell the other people they have been lying to. That they didn’t owe honesty in a community that is based on honesty.
But none of any of this ruined my day, and that is amazing! That is a gift! That is a miracle of having my food under control. And of having “a roller coaster buddy.”
My life was a roller coaster of ups and downs for a couple of days. But when I was eating compulsively, this would have been all down and no up. Not a roller coaster, just a long drop straight to hell.
I often write in this blog about getting high on sugar. But I also used to get high on things like anger. I use to get high on drama. There was something perversely comforting about my blood pressure going through the roof, and my pulse thundering in my ears. And all of my anger could be turned into “righteous anger” in my own head.
Now I know that I can’t afford “righteous anger.” I am not saying I swallow whatever someone else is trying to shove down my throat. I am saying that I can’t get high on it. I have to take an action. I have to be proactive. I have to calm myself. I have to keep everything in perspective. I have to enjoy the enjoyable, and take actions to right the wrongs. I have to make decisions and keep priorities straight. I have to keep loving my life.
So my first strategy was to call my best friend, who is a voice of reason for me when I lose my shit. And I am the same for her. We have a commitment to one another not to “yes” each other to indignation, but to help one another find some peace and perspective in difficult moments. So this is a plug for having “roller coaster buddies,” people in your life who will help your life be a roller coaster of ups and downs, and not a bleak, angry, downward spiral. People who won’t feed your misery and “righteous anger,” but who will feed your happiness, your integrity, your love of life.
Because you can’t escape the ups and downs, but you can have a friend who can help you enjoy the ride.
Yesterday, I did not leave my house, and it was glorious.
I was thinking that the older I get, the more time I need to be still and alone. But then I realized that I used to spend the majority of my time still and alone. Back then what I needed was to get out and mix with the world. It turns out that my day-to-day life is totally different than it used to be.
I am a loner. I really always have been. Even as a child. I need a lot of time to spend in silence. I need a lot of time in my own head. I love my own company. I like getting lost in my thoughts. I can be fascinated by ideas that occur to me only after I have let my imagination wander deep into unknown (to me) territory. And that doesn’t even cover how much I loved (still love) reading novels and comics.
And I have always been a fan of projects. I used to make things all the time from the time I was young. Mix tapes (I’m showing my age, I know), costumes, jewelry, posters, scrap books, crochet projects, etc. As recently as the past 3 years I even taught myself to knit.
When I was eating compulsively, this was the majority of my time. I spent little time doing anything else besides thinking about whatever, accompanied by occasionally feverishly working on making something. I would often manically work on something all night until morning and then pass out and sleep half (or all) of the day away.
There was school as a kid, but I always did less than the bare minimum there. I was super smart, so I got away with it, for the most part. And also charming and manipulative, so what I may not have gotten away with in certain circumstances, I got away with anyway. And pretty much the same with work. Though work was harder. Being a waitress isn’t the same as being a student. People notice when you suck at doing the work. I was a better nanny.
When I got my eating under control, I suddenly had less time to do all the nothing I wanted to. I had groceries to buy, and fresh, homemade meals to prepare. I had to go meet up with people who had boundaries around their food. And then, the longer I had my boundaries, the more I had to “show up” for things like work. I had to get better at life because not being in a sugar fog meant that I could see clearly all of the things I was doing (or not doing) that I was ashamed of. And there was no cake or pizza to mask the shame, to hide it from myself anymore.
And getting my food under control, and getting good at life got me a relationship with a man I am madly in love with. And we started a life together. So there was necessarily more time that I did not get to spend alone doing nothing. And it also ended up meaning that the way I worked and the kinds of jobs I had changed. I wanted to spend time with my husband. So I didn’t want jobs where the hours were flexible, and I worked odd shifts. I wanted to work when he worked so I could be home when he was home. Eventually I wanted to exercise too. So there was even less time to do nothing.
I am not complaining. I am very happy. I love my life. And I know that I love my life *because* I have so many commitments that keep me from doing so much nothing, and so many projects, not in spite of it. But I still love my nothing time, and my projects. (I just finished a baby blanket yesterday!) And I am grateful for having had a whole day to not leave the house.
But now I have to go to the grocery store and then cook meals for the work week. Because that is how I maintain this happy life.
I just turned 41 about two weeks ago. I love my birthday. I love getting older. I love that at this age I am in the best shape of my life, and the happiest I have ever been.
In the wake of two high profile celebrity suicides, I read an article about the problem of American culture that can lead people who seemingly “have it all” to end their own lives. And the answer the article gave was that we are a culture that prizes accomplishments that reward us in the forms of money, fame, and prestige, and we believe that these things will bring us happiness. And when they don’t, we despair.
I don’t know if this is true, but it happens to be a very clear illustration of the difference between my own personal mental and emotional state as a compulsive eater, and as a keeper of eating boundaries.
Because in order to stop eating compulsively, I had to make friends with my life exactly the way it was. I had to stop thinking I should be doing “something” to make me stand out, when I didn’t even know what that something should be. I had to stop thinking I needed to be making huge strides toward some great goal, when just the thought of such a stride left me paralyzed with fear. And I had to relinquish what I thought was control, but what just tujrned out to be wanting, followed by the pain of not getting exactly what I wanted. That was the pain of thinking that if I were better, if I were “good enough,” I would have perfectly executed my plan and received full marks, and my award of money, fame, and prestige. I numbed that pain with food.
I had to learn that I can want. And that I can do whatever is in my power to the best of my ability to get what I want. But then I have to get what I get, and trust that what I get is what I am supposed to get, even if it is not what I wanted.
That is a hard lesson to learn in a culture that prizes material rewards over everything.
I also learned that I didn’t have to “accomplish” anything to like and love myself. In the beginning, all I had to do was not eat a cookie. All I had to do was keep my food boundaries. That was it. I could sleep the rest of the day and still feel good about myself, still be proud. At first, that was the sum total of how I measured my integrity. But the thing about integrity is that it grows outward, as if in concentric circles. When it butts up against a lack of itself, it feels the need to integrate it. (It’s kind of like The Borg, only benign, and unfortunately, much easier to break out of. You have to really work for integrity to keep it.)
And as for the kinds of accomplishments I wanted to accrue, I had to learn that they didn’t have to bring me money, fame, or prestige to make me proud, happy, or content. I could work out on a regular schedule. I could learn a new knitting technique, and finish a project using it. I could write a weekly blog that a handful of people read. I could crochet a gift for a friend. I could have a difficult conversation with a person, and build intimacy in our relationship.
And there is another thing that I learned by happy accident when I got my eating under control. It is that all of my satisfaction lives in my relationships with myself and other people, not in how much money or how many accolades I have. I am content in my life because I am content in my relationships. And I am content in those relationships because I am not constantly trying to manipulate people into giving me what I want, or think I want in order to accomplish things I think I should, so I can acquire money, fame, and prestige. I am content because I am offering an authentic human self (me) with a commitment to grow and change, and accepting another authentic human self, and allowing them the space to be who they are, and to also grow and change.
I learned all of these things because I got my eating under control. Could I have learned them if I hadn’t? Maybe. Probably. But it would not have been the crash course it was.
P.S. I am not done learning.