I was talking to a friend the other day about making friends with certain difficult or frustrating aspects of ourselves. I feel like making friends is not what we are taught. We are taught to eradicate and transform. We are taught that we should change the way we are. It is all about principle and not about practical. All about what we should be, instead of what we are.
I have a love/hate relationship with feelings. I live for feelings. I spend all of the free time I can listening to books and reading comics and watching soap-opera-y TV shows. I am in all of those things for the feelings. If they make me so uncomfortable that I have to pause and calm down, I love that! If they make me cry, even better! (Sometimes my poor husband comes home and I am huddled under a blanket with tear streaks on my face and I have to explain that I was just reading a comic, and everything is fine…)
But when it comes to my own feelings, well, let’s just say I am not nearly as comfortable with those. Having my own feelings makes me panic. Even after 13 years of feeling my feelings, my first reaction is to freak out and shut down.
This week, I had a problem come up with my food. Part of what I do is tell someone who does what I do what I am going to eat the next day. It’s essentially making a promise. I consider it sacred. And I found out this week that I had to find someone else to make that promise to. And that was terrifying.
I understand that to you, it may not make sense why this was so scary. But it was. You will just have to trust me on that. And my first thought was to panic.
But of the many things I have learned in keeping my food under control, one important step is to take care of the most pressing problem. And another is to stop, calm down, and think over my options for the long-term problems. And to definitely not make any rash decisions.
So I called someone and made my promise for the next day. And then I went to bed and I dealt with the problem of finding a new promise-taker in the morning. By morning, the problem was not nearly so scary.
Panic and paralysis were the standard of my life before I got my eating under control. I would panic, and then I would shut down, and then I would eat myself into not caring about my problem. Which never took care of the problem causing the uncomfortable feelings, just the uncomfortable feelings themselves.
The other part of getting my feelings back is that I didn’t just get the yucky ones back. I got the panic and the hurt and the terror, sure. But I also got the joy and the love and the swooning, and the pride.
I don’t have to like my feelings. But I am now able to honor them. And that means I can be effective in my life. And that ability to live life as it is makes me like myself and love my life. Yucky feelings and all.
This week I celebrated my 13th anniversary of keeping boundaries around my eating. One thing I was taught early on was to set boundaries with people. Even if they were “clunky.” Even if they were graceless. Even if I sounded like a jerk. Even if I *was* a jerk.
It has occurred to me in the past few months that I avoid difficult conversations. In some ways, this came as a surprise to me. I like to think of myself as a model of self-expression. And I thought I had already overcome this. Which I had. But I should not be surprised. My experience is that we all have our lessons. And we have to learn those lessons over and over, deeper and deeper.
Once I realized this, I knew that I wanted to do something about it. And I have. A little snappy. And a little pushy. But moving ahead.
Right now, I don’t know what to do about it in terms of concrete actions. There are ways to make commitments to things like this, but they are not as obvious to me as food boundaries or water drinking promises. Those are no brainers. 4 oz of meat, weighed on a scale. Three 20 oz bottles of water a day from my reusable water bottle. That’s easy. Or at least, easy to wrap my mind around. But having uncomfortable conversations occurs to me as less clear-cut.
Still, I will work at it. I want it. I want to say the things I need to say so that I don’t feel resentful, or self-pitying, or stifled. I don’t want to be “nice.” I want to be kind. I don’t want to be “likable.” I want to be authentic. I don’t want to be “good.” I want to be powerful.
When I don’t muddle my thinking with food and sugar and carbs and things that make me fuzzy, I can feel my uncomfortable feelings, and consider what I want to do about them. I am in no hurry. I can be happy for now with the baby steps I have begun to take, even if they are clunky and graceless. I can think about it a little bit longer. I am in no rush. I have all the time in the world to grow. And there will always be more growing to do.
It’s that time of year. New Year’s Resolution time. I am not a Resolver. I love the New Year. I too feel the warm glow of possibility in ending the old and welcoming the new. I like the chance to look back, and forward. But I don’t like to pin all of my hopes on a feeling.
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.