onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “be yourself”

And the Kate award for Kate awesomeness goes to…Kate (Who could have seen that coming?)

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.

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Vulnerable, unpredictable, and intense – just as it should be

When I was in New York last weekend, I was with a group of people who make it their lives’ work to be present and honest. And it’s intense.

Now, it is also my life’s work to be present and honest, so quite frankly, I loved being there. But it was still really intense.

When I strip away the pretense of day-to-day living – like wanting to be liked, wanting to look cool, wanting to be acknowledged for being “good” or “right,” or any of the things that I do out of fear so that I don’t have to acknowledge my truth or be present for my life – what I am left with is unguarded love. To love and to be loved in return.

Here’s a secret. Love is scary. It’s vulnerable and unpredictable. It’s intense. Sometimes it can feel like it’s too intense.

I wouldn’t understand until years after I got my eating under control and got sober from sugar, but food was my main defense against being present and honest. And it was my first fortress against love. It did not matter how much love was sent my way. I had a wall up, and that wall allowed me to filter how much of it got in. I could take my love in easy-to-swallow, palatable doses. A lot of the love meant for me went to waste.

Being with this group of people was also interesting because I met them before I got sober from food. One of them was the one who sent me to get sober. Because of having known them for so long, I have memories, in my body, of how uncomfortable I was when I was eating compulsively. I could feel very clearly how free and peaceful I have become in the last 9+ years. I remembered how much I thought I had to hide then. I could feel so clearly, in contrast, how open I am now.

Another dear friend of mine talks about how getting sober from sugar and compulsive eating lets her discover who she really is, as opposed to who she was trying to be. And how she really likes the person she is discovering. That is my experience too. That in being who I am, I really like and love me. That I am happier being my flawed self than I was trying to be a perfect someone else.

So I am posing a question to you. (Yes, you. Who else?) Who would you be if you were totally yourself? What would it look like if you could let that true self be loved without filtering how much of the love you let in?

I didn’t know where I was going, but I got there in the end.

This week was a mixed bag.

At work, I spilled coffee on my computer while some IT guy was setting up a remote file sharing system for me. So I now have a remote file sharing system set up on a computer that I can’t use. I am waiting for the main office to send me a new computer. And in the mean time I am using a really crappy computer that is difficult to maneuver, saving all of my work on a flash drive so I can print from a printer in another room of the office, and file sharing by emailing my work to my colleagues.

It was upsetting to break my computer. It felt shameful. I was embarrassed. And then all of the inconvenience that resulted was a moment to moment reminder that the cause was my “stupidity” or “failure” or “inadequacy.”

There is a joke that I find particularly funny. When a normal person goes to their car and sees they have a flat tire, they call AAA. When an addict goes to their car and sees that they have a flat tire, they call a suicide help line.

The problem is that I have a lifetime of abusing myself for mistakes. As if natural consequences were not punishment enough. It’s a habit that is hard to break. My body and my brain are very familiar with the knee-jerk reaction of thinking I’m terrible and worthless, and feeling ashamed and humiliated.

The simple truth is that if you spill coffee on your computer, it will not work. And you will have to make do with other, less convenient, means of doing what you had done before. That is all. And it’s enough.

But I have a default setting of thinking everything is a moral issue. It’s like I’m living in the Middle Ages. My sinful existence has angered God and I am being punished with faulty electronics.

But then yesterday, I had a group of friends come over. All of them women who put boundaries around their eating. And that was wonderful. I got to spend time with people whose company I enjoy, and laugh and talk and tell stories and hear stories. And I also got to talk about the way my life has changed over the past 8 ½ years.

9 years ago, breaking my computer would have been the end of the world. Of course I would have eaten a chocolate cake over it. But back then I was going to eat that chocolate cake no matter what. I was at a point where I didn’t need a particular excuse to eat. Life was enough. And that particular chocolate cake that I had eaten after that particular incident would have let me be paralyzed in relative comfort. I would have been high enough that I wouldn’t have worried about what to do next. Until I came down. And then that end of the world would be even bigger and scarier because I wouldn’t have done anything and it would have been even later. So I would eat more cake. Or perhaps make a rash decision. Do something. Anything! Even if it was not logical or well thought out. Even if it just made everything worse and more complicated. And then I would eat more cake. And eventually life would move on. And it would drag me along with it.

I got dragged a lot for the first 27 years of my life.

The sad thing is that there might not have even been something to “do next.” I had a habit of making uncomfortable situations into all out problems. By not looking straight at them. Or making rash decisions without thinking about them.

And as I write this, it occurs to me that I have been making decisions too quickly lately. Not necessarily rashly. But without giving them the kind of time I would prefer. Because people want answers now. And I have been wanting to please.

I have forgotten that I am allowed to ask for time to think. I have forgotten that I am allowed to take time to think. Even if the person asking doesn’t want to give it to me. I have forgotten that I am a slow processor. That I need time to figure out what I want and need. That I need time to make decisions about what I should do next. And that nobody else has to like it. That I can be myself. That I don’t need anybody else’s permission.

I guess that’s the lesson of this blog, even though I didn’t know it when I started writing it. Even though as I look back at how it started, it seems like a complete non sequitur.

I suppose it doesn’t matter how I got here. It’s where I ended up. And it feels right.

Everyone else is already taken

My past few weeks have been about revisiting old lessons. This does not particularly surprise me. It has been clear to me for a long time that growing is circular and cyclical. Revisiting the same aspects of ourselves at different levels and different perspectives.

So first it was remembering that I can take steps to be the person I want to be in the midst of a culture of people I don’t want to be. And then it was remembering to mind my own business. And that being helpful does not always mean offering help. And then it was remembering that it’s ok to judge. That that is how I figure out what I want, how to get it, and if I am, in fact, getting it.

So this week has been about remembering that I have my own journey. That it is mine. That it is exactly the one I am supposed to have. And that it is as good as anyone else’s.

When I was eating compulsively, I had a lot of jealousy. A lot of anger at God. A lot of frustration at what it seemed everybody got that I did not.

Of course, first was my broken body. That I got a body that was fat and disgusting. That mark of my innate wrongness that God made visible to everyone. While everybody else got one that was normal and good.

But there were other things too, outside of the body itself.

There was a girl I went to grammar school with. She occurred to me as perfect. All of the teachers loved her. The principal. The office staff. The other mothers.

She was smart, and pretty. She was popular. (If the term popular can be applied to a small class in a small school in the suburbs.) And I was very jealous. Not that I didn’t like her. I did. Very much. She was extremely likable. But it seemed to me that she got a good life, and I got a bad one.

This kind of thing was common through my whole life. There were people like that in my family. In junior high and high school and college and at jobs and in social circles. Everybody had something I did not. Everybody was privy to things that were mysterious to me. I have described before that I thought that everybody got a life instruction manual that I did not get.

When I got my food under control and stopped being high on sugar all the time, I learned that a lot of what I didn’t understand about life came from my own insistence on numbing myself instead of feeling my feelings. And that part of it was also my lack of integrity. That willingness to lie, cheat and steal. That ability to numb the shame and guilt of lying cheating and stealing with chocolate cake. With my food under control I learned that life actually just works better when I honor my word. When I have integrity.

But there is something else I learned when I got control of my eating and my eating disorders. And it is that lesson I need a refresher course in this week. I learned that the life I got is beautiful and perfect. I learned that I have a place. And that it is a place that nobody else can fill. It is Kate’s place. And I need to fulfill Kate’s missions. Even if I don’t know what all of them are yet. Even if they are not worldly. Even if they don’t make me rich. Or famous. And even if they are and they do. That my life, however it twists and turns, whatever it looks like, is my gift from Life. And that it is also my gift back to life. And that I had better honor it. As it is.

Because this week, I read a book. A novel that made me ache with jealousy. For the first time in a very long time. It made me envious. And it made me pity myself. Poor me. I didn’t write that brilliant novel. And then came the (frankly ridiculous and unnatural conclusion) that I could never write something like that. That I got a bad life. That I got sub par talent.

And then I saw a girl in a perfect outfit. Simple and clean. Unobtrusive and yet stunningly fashionable. And then I realized that I could never wear that outfit. Because it was beautiful on her because she is thin and straight. And I am curvy.

I love fiction. And I have, several times in my life, attempted to write some fiction. I have written some that I thought was pretty good. But I have never gone very far with it. Certainly never all the way. And for most of my life I thought of myself as not worthy of being a writer. Because I never finished anything. Or I never polished what got finished. Because I never followed through.

And then I started this blog. And I made a commitment to write. And I have written. Regularly. And well. Granted I do not always impress myself. But sometimes I do! Sometimes I read something and I think, “Hot damn! Did that come out of me?”

And I know for sure that this is what I am supposed to be doing right now. That this is my mission at this moment. That this blog is Kate taking the gift from Life. And giving the gift to Life.

I also need to remember that this is the body I am in. And it is beautiful. And that I have a very specific style. And it is also beautiful. I have really gorgeous clothes that fit me body and soul. That I can admire somebody else’s style without needing to adopt it.

So maybe someday I will write a novel. But if I do, it will not be the novel I read this week. That one is already written. And maybe I will change my style someday. But it won’t be that girl’s style. That’s already hers.

I should remember Oscar Wilde’s perfect advice.
Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

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