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.
I travel with my husband for work. And I love it. I love the kind of travel we do. Long stints in a bunch of places. (So far we have done Mississippi, a couple of places in Kentucky, a couple in Texas, a couple in Indiana, and one in Tennessee.) One of the things I particularly like is it occurs like the perfect balance between routine and adventure.
I like routine. It makes the food boundaries easier. Having a home with all of the cookware I need to cook delicious meals, and getting to know the grocery stores and butcher shops, and what they have, and where to get what I need as well as what I want. And there is an indescribable peace that comes with knowing that my highest priority is always taking care of my food addiction. I know that if I do that, everything else will be well.
And I like adventure. I like seeing new places and meeting new people. I also like trying new foods, new seasonings, new flavors around the country. My husband and I are on a hot sauce kick at the moment. And it’s fun! And a mini adventure in itself. (Just reading all of the labels and ingredients lists is like an adventure within an adventure. And yes, there are a lot of hot sauces I cannot try because they have a lot of sugar.)
What I love too, is knowing that I can keep my food boundaries anywhere. Some places are less convenient than others, of course. But it is all about my commitment. And sometimes, that inability to get whatever I want at a moment’s notice gives me the opportunity to try new things in a different way.
When we were in small town Mississippi, I did not eat out at restaurants. I knew that they could not accommodate me. I made sure I had my own food all the time. But there, I figured out where to buy beautiful steaks, sugar free bacon, giant cantaloupes and apples. It’s also where a friend found me a recipe for making my own vanilla without alcohol. And I was lucky to have another friend who would bring me kabocha squash and fried tofu up from New Orleans once a month when she came to visit. I had yet another friend who introduced me to a bowl for making my own ice cream. It’s also where I was introduced to Chinese Five Spice, which I still use all the time. So obviously, in terms of food, small town Mississippi was not too bad for me. I did not miss eating out at restaurants.
I love my happy lifestyle, gently swaying from adventure to routine and back. I love the things I learn and the things I get to try. Some of them become staples, and some pass with the next move and the next town. But no matter where I end up, my food boundaries go with me. And I always make sure they are delicious.
I am a believer in language. I believe that the language we use not only expresses what we mean, but, in part, helps to create the world we live in. That it shapes our perceptions, which in turn, create our reality.
When I meet people who are trying to give up sugar and carbs, I discourage certain words and phrases. For example, I recommend they stop saying they are giving up the “foods they love,” or “favorite foods.” I recommend they not say they “miss” those foods. I suggest they not think fondly of the memory of those foods. That, in fact, they not think about those foods at all. Those foods are making them miserable. They are hurting and tormenting them. They are like an abusive partner. I believe we, as sugar addicts, need to stop telling ourselves things like “ but I love x” and “but y is so good.” These things are killing us. It’s like saying that you are bummed about having the black eye, but your abuser is a good guy. Remember all the times he bought you flowers?
My relationship with sugar and carbs seems pretty close to that kind of abusive relationship. The truth is that food was there for me at first. It wooed me by helping me get through life as a kid. I needed it to cope with a lot of unhappiness. But it turned on me pretty quickly. And by that point I was trapped. Or at least I felt trapped.
So now my “favorite foods” only include foods that I can eat within my boundaries. I only “love” foods that keep me nourished and sane. I don’t “miss” foods I am addicted to. Because peace and freedom are the most important things to me. And I don’t want to create a reality where my “favorite” things are things that are killing me and my happiness.
I feel like I need to write about the fact that I am still not writing, aside from my weekly blog post here. But I am definitely not writing fiction. I feel like I have to mention it because it is exactly the kind of thing that easily fades away from my own mind if I don’t keep talking about it, if I don’t keep it fresh. It has happened before and I have let my writing fall through the cracks. My world has changed significantly in the past month, and I am getting my bearings and finding my footing.
It’s interesting to me how I forget all the time that this is the way life works. Yes, I have a particularly mutable lifestyle. I am very happy with it. But change is the only constant in life for everyone. It has always been this way. I just didn’t recognize it until I got my eating under control.
And I probably didn’t recognize it because I was holding on to things too long and too tightly. Sometimes long after they ceased to be.
I sometimes think about the ways my physical self and my emotional self mirror one another. I literally have a hard time remembering to physically put things down. I will hold on to objects, even when they are getting in my way. For example, sometimes at the grocery store, I will have my wallet in my hand while I am trying to load an entire cart full of groceries onto the conveyor belt. Obviously this is a task that would be better done two-handed. All I would have to do is put my wallet in my pocket or my purse. But it does not occur to me. The wallet is already in my hand.
This is also how I find myself acting in life. A few months ago, I already had a routine. And instead of rearranging my life, I have been trying to fit 40 hours of work into the routine I already had. Needless to say, it’s not working out as well as I had expected. (No, I have no idea why I would expect that to go well.)
I have a quick mind and wit, but emotionally, I am slow. Slow to recognize. Slow to get comfortable. Slow to decide. Slow to change.
When I got my eating under control, I started to understand what it meant to “go with the flow.” I learned about “life on Life’s terms.” I learned to accept things the way that they were, and most importantly, that when I accepted them fully, exactly as they were in the moment, it was only then that I had a chance to change them.
I read something the other day about sayings that people hate. (I read a lot of random stuff on the internet.) And one person hates the phrase, “it is what it is.” I, personally, love that phrase. It may be obvious, particularly linguistically, but to a past version of me, it was frustrating if the way it was didn’t match the way I thought it should be.
Right now, I am not writing fiction. And that is what it is. But I want to. And I am slow to change. So I am going to keep talking about it, and writing about it, and meditating about it. And I don’t doubt that something will shift. That I will notice that I am trying to load a cart of groceries with my wallet in my hand and finally manage to put it down. Because life is full of changes anyway. And did I mention I’m slow?
I have been working for about a month now, and there is a learning curve when it comes to time management and priorities. Finally this past week I started jogging again. But I have not been writing. And frankly, I am too exhausted.
But ultimately, that is not good enough for me. I have a novel that I have been working on for about a year. And I love it. I’m proud of it. I want to finish it and get it published. And right now, the way things are, that is not an option. So I have to change the way things are.
I forget that it takes time to get my bearings after a major life change. More than just a week or a month. I forget that I have blind spots where I can’t see the pitfalls, or recognize what can be changed. Change is so scary to me, often it feels like nothing can be changed safely. That all change is the potential for ruin.
And there are things that must get taken care of. First and foremost, I still have to take care of my food. Every day. No matter what. And what that means in practical terms is grocery shopping for the whole week in one go, and spending hours of my time packing breakfasts and lunches in advance for the week ahead. It’s an area I cannot cut corners in.
Food addiction is my problem. Really the only problem I have. Other things go badly and need to be remedied or cared for or dealt with, but they are not “problems” like food is a problem. When my food is out of control, my entire life is out of control.
The truth is, I like my job. The work is interesting. I like that I am good at it. I take pride in it. I like learning new skills. My difficult co-worker has calmed down and returned to behaving in a normal, respectable, and respectful manner. (I have also remembered that people in the world, especially in the workplace, have a wide range of personalities, but that I honor my principles in the face of difficult personalities.) But in all honesty, right now, I am not very happy. I’m just too tired. And I am having a hard time imagining how I can change my circumstances in order to both, not be constantly exhausted, and still do all of the things I want to do.
This is a luxury problem. If I were eating compulsively, I would have already given up on writing. I would not have figured out how to get my jog in 5 days a week. I would not have made time for it. But then again, if I were eating compulsively, I would already have been looking for a way to not jog, to not write, to not take care of my head and heart and body. I was always waiting for any excuse to abandon my goals and dreams, or really anything that was work, anything that took something, but made me feel good about myself.
There’s one more thing that I haven’t been doing that I need to get back into, and that is meditation. I think my first priority this week will be to get back into that habit. If any practice will help me figure out the next right step, and how to get the things I want, that’s probably it.
I was talking to some people the other day about making changes. I am talking about the kind of changes that alter the course of your life. In my experience, there is a human tendency to get inspired, and decide to jump head first into change. And then, when change gets difficult, which it inevitably does, to give up.
Sometimes, when I am helping someone give up sugar and put boundaries around their food, they will tell me that they have a laundry list of things they want to quit. They want to quit sugar, and smoking, and caffeine, and chewing gum, and diet soda, and artificial sweetener, and watching more than an hour of TV, and playing video games, and Facebook, and…
I always tell these people that they can do that if they really want to, but that I don’t recommend it. I think you should take on one thing. Especially if it’s one thing that takes a lot of time and energy, like quitting sugar. I believe that first you take care of the thing that is killing you quickest.
As an illustration, I was a smoker for over six years after I quit sugar. I am going to be blunt. It helped. I needed it. I could even say it saved me. Coffee and cigarettes were like a kind of religion for me at that time. Of course, I was already a smoker and coffee drinker. I didn’t start smoking to stop eating, though I went from a cup or two of coffee a day to drinking it from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed, often drinking 15 cups a day. But again, I needed it. Coffee wasn’t going to kill me before the food was. Cigarettes weren’t going to kill me before the food was either. I am suggesting that “killing you quickest” doesn’t necessarily have to mean physically. Smoking may be more likely to kill you younger statistically, but not being able to stop eating was killing me physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. It was killing my self-love, my self-respect, and my feelings of self-worth. Eating was more than just slow-motion suicide. It was fuel for the fire of my self-loathing.
I am glad I didn’t try give up coffee and cigarettes at the same time that I put boundaries around my eating. It would only have been in the name of chasing after perfection. And I can tell you pretty assuredly, that I wouldn’t have succeeded. And then where would I be? Still eating, still smoking, and felling like a failure, who was cursed to be fat and food obsessed forever.
The excitement of change doesn’t last long. Ask any gym patron who goes year-round. On January 15th, everyone is at the gym, excited to make a change. On February 15th, they are excited that Valentine’s Day chocolate is half off.
Perfection, or at least the quest for it, has always been my enemy. I never pull it off, and whatever I do achieve is not good enough, because the goal was perfection. But when I do one thing, and I do it with purpose, commitment, integrity, and love, even when it’s hard, even when it sucks, even when I don’t want to, I see results. I make a change that sticks. And once I have made that change, and it has stuck, it is no longer the thing that is killing me quickest. Now there is something else to deal with, slowly, honestly, purposefully.
For me, that is how things get done. And this is from a low-functioning addict, someone who didn’t get a lot done for most of her life. So screw perfection. I recommend the bare minimum, but every day, like you mean it.
I started writing 3 handwritten pages every morning, just stream of consciousness. It is not a diary. It is not a story. It is simply meant to get thoughts trapped in my head out into the world by putting them on a page. It doesn’t have to be neat. It doesn’t have to make sense. It is simply another form of meditation.
It’s a practice that comes from a course/workbook called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I did this course from the workbook with a friend more than once when I was in my 20s. And I always hated the morning pages. I would buy the smallest notebook I could, and I would fight so hard against this particular practice. Sometimes I would just write, “I don’t want to do this” for the whole three pages. Sometimes I wrote, “I don’t [expletive] want to do this” for the whole three pages.
Now, I write them in a regular sized composition book, and the words just flow. They are not a burden. They are not difficult. I have thoughts. I get a chance to organize them every morning by getting them out in no particular order. Sometimes I write about my terrible handwriting. Sometimes I repeat the same banal observation several mornings in a row. It doesn’t matter. It’s not meant to be read.
On an average day, I don’t think of my mind as a particularly calm place. I don’t necessarily take note of how different I am now compared to how I used to be. But taking on this practice of stream-of-consciousness writing to get my head clear has illustrated a few things for me. 1) In my youth, my thinking was constantly cluttered. 2) I did not want to get my thoughts out of my head then because I would have had to look at them, and I already knew I wasn’t going to like what I saw. And if I really didn’t like what I saw, I would have to (gasp!) do something about it. And 3) Since I got my eating under control, my inner life is completely different than it was when I was an active sugar addict and compulsive eater.
I was so filled with shame, fear, and dishonesty that I couldn’t even just write words for the sake of writing words. I was constantly second guessing myself, all while trying to project an air of having it all under control.
I am sure that part of the clarity that I have now is that I am not high on sugar all the time anymore. I sometimes wonder how I managed to learn as much as I did in school growing up. But so much more of it is beyond the chemical and physiological. It’s spiritual. Not in the sense of heaven and hell, or gods and demons, but in the sense of having a moral compass and the ability to follow it. It’s spiritual in the sense that I have peace, in my head and my heart, because I know what I believe to be the right thing to do, and I have the ability to do it, even when it’s hard or scary.
I lived my life in pain and suffering for so many years, because of my addiction to food and the addictive behaviors of lying cheating and stealing that went along with that. The reason I don’t usually think about it is probably because peace and self-love are my new normal. (Sort of new anyway – 11 years is not an eternity, but it’s not a drop in the bucket either. P.S. The human traits of resilience and adaptability are truly mind-blowing.) But this ability at this point in my life to write my morning pages with ease and grace has been a powerful reminder that I live a transformed life. It is evidence that I have changed, not only outwardly, having lost weight and maintained that weight loss, but also in the ways I think and feel. It is a reminder that I have peace, personal inner peace, even when it feels like everything around me is crazy.
First, for those of you who were wondering if that internal growth spurt I mentioned last week meant I was pregnant, I am not.
I was referring to a spiritual/emotional/personal kind of growth spurt. I am talking about getting better and better. I mean becoming more and more my authentic self.
Perhaps it does have some similarities to being pregnant, though. Like in how I forget the pain and I get excited to do it again.
For some reason, every time I make a move and take action to grow and change, I expect it to be easy. I expect the experience to be that of getting consistently happier, and more confident, with a steady acquisition of new skills.
Yeah…not so much. The truth is, while I am in the middle of it, it sucks. It’s painful and humiliating. And before I am graceful and happy and better than I have ever been before, I have to stumble and fall, fail and persevere. I forget that, like having a baby, it takes the blood, sweat, and tears of labor.
And there’s something else I have noticed. Life will always, always, ALWAYS give me a chance to backtrack. Usually more than once. Life makes me choose change over and over again, depending on how committed I am. It makes me say out loud, ‘I want something better.’
When I made the decision that I wanted to be in a serious, committed relationship, I took actions and made different choices. And out of the blue, multiple men from my past started calling and texting me. Seriously. Guys I had not heard from in months or years decided that they were curious about me.
Maybe that doesn’t seem like such a hard test, but familiar relationships are comfortable. Even if they are bad, or mediocre, or unfulfilling, there is such a temptation to go backwards into a set of circumstances you already know. Especially if what you want hasn’t shown up yet.
I didn’t know that my current boyfriend would turn out to be the love of my life. It was an act of faith in the benevolence of Life to turn away from men from my past. But I did it. I told Life that I wanted something more. And that I was willing to hang out in the uncomfortable unknown and trust.
And here I am right now, once again in the middle of a huge transition. Learning how to drive. Writing samples and interviewing for a dream job. Staying at a job that I absolutely abhor while working my way into a bigger, richer, gooier life. And sometimes it hurts so bad that I cry. And sometimes I hate it so much that I behave badly, like a little brat. And sometimes I am terrified that I will get stuck in the middle of the transition and never reach the other side. But somehow, I always manage to make it. And I live to forget how terrible the pain was. And again, like childbirth, I have this person that I love more than I thought I could. Only, in my case, that person is me.
Having boundaries around my eating is not the reason I can change. But it puts the whole thing on a fast track. Not being able to numb my disappointments and dissatisfactions means that I either have to live with them or change them. So I usually choose change, because I am very bad at sitting in discomfort. And that is a very special gift, because it has given that incredibly unhappy little fat girl a life beyond her wildest dreams.
I used to be a miserable person. I was a victim. I saw everything from a negative point of view. Now I am a cheerful person.
I made a choice to be a cheerful person. I made that choice even before I got my eating disorders under control.
I started by faking being cheerful. I adopted a cute-girl smile. I would ask myself things like “what would a cheerleader do?” It got easier once I got my eating under control, because one of the people who helped me do it would tell me to be grateful for what I had. So I started saying “I’m grateful” like a mantra. Being grateful automatically makes me more cheerful. Plus, I didn’t hate myself anymore. And I couldn’t act like a victim anymore, once I had taken care of my eating problem.
In many ways, my pessimism and victimhood was based on what I thought a really smart fat girl should act like: snide and indifferent.
That person, the one who decided that she wanted to be cheerful, is the one who got her eating disorders under control. That person is the person who believed that she could change. That part of me believed, even while I was a miserable finger-pointer.
It gets me a little choked up. It’s good for me to remember that the person I was is the one who changed. That snide and indifferent fat girl is the one who decided to be a cheerleader (figuratively…sorta…I mean, I can’t do the splits or anything cool like that). That took a lot of courage. I sometimes forget how strong I was as that miserable fat girl.
Sometimes I hear people say things like “People don’t change.” But I have changed so much in my life. The first change was not getting my eating disorders under control. That was the biggest, yes. It cleared so much space for me to change in bigger ways, even more rapidly, but it was not the first. By the time I did that, I already had a history of changing. Maybe I could only do it because I was already a believer.
I don’t remember what the first change was. It doesn’t matter. It could have been anything. I am forever grateful for that thing in me that believes that people do change, and that I am the light bulb that really wants to.