onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “change”

The bare minimum, but like you mean 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.

A nice reminder that I used to be kind of crazy, and now I’m kind of not

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.

 

To hang out in the uncomfortable unknown and trust

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.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

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.

I prefer flow to puches, but I’ll go or roll, as the situation dictates.

There’s a saying among people who keep the same food boundaries I do. (If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of sayings among the people who keep the same food boundaries that I do.) A day when everything goes my way and I keep my food boundaries is a great day. A day when nothing goes my way and I keep my food boundaries is a miracle.

I have a lot of miracles. It’s a nice feeling. That is not to say that things aren’t going well for me. They are. But so few days are without some sort of hiccup.

One of the things I had to learn early when I stopped eating sugar and eating compulsively was to go with the flow. Or, on a particularly bad day, roll with the punches.

There were things that I didn’t understand before I got sober from sugar. I didn’t know that I was making life harder by fighting what was, instead of accepting it and adjusting myself. I refused to go with the flow, or roll with the punches. I spent almost all of my time either drowning, or getting the crap beaten out of me.

In self-help books and top-whatever-number-habits-of-whatever-kind-of-people essays, there is a lot of talk about planning. Have a goal. Have a plan. I wholeheartedly agree. Having a plan is great. But having a plan is the easy part. There is something else that is often talked about, but harder to do. Having the ability to be flexible when some part (or all) of your plan falls through.

When I was eating compulsively, I felt like “fairness” equaled Life going according to the plan I made. And when it didn’t go that way, I was angry at Life. Because I had zero skills for adapting and adjusting.

And I believed that people who were happy, well adjusted and peaceful were people whose plans always went smoothly. I was fighting the way things were because I thought the way things were “supposed to be” was the way I had planned them.

What I would eventually come to understand was that happy people were people who understood that the way things were was really the way they were “supposed to be.” Happy people didn’t fight what was, in order to get reality to coincide with their plan, but adjusted (or scrapped) their plan to coincide with the reality.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I was going to start eating more raw vegetables because it helps me keep a tighter hold on my body-dysmorphia. And I did just that. It was great. I felt great. And then I started working, and the days that I have to eat a meal at work, I only have 15 minutes. I can’t eat a one-pound salad in fifteen minutes. It’s just not physically possible for me. So I have to make smaller, denser meals when I have to eat during a shift.

Now I could fight the reality if I wanted to. I could become resentful of my job because I only get a 15-minute break. I could get resentful of my food boundaries because they are inconvenient, and wonder why I can’t just skip it on the days I work.

Or I could choose the softer option. I can adjust to the situation as it is. I can be grateful that I have boundaries around my food, and that I have a job, and that I can take care of my meals in 15 minutes on workdays by making them smaller and denser. I can go with the flow. And I am grateful to have the clarity to see that eating smaller meals is definitely an example of “going with the flow.” I reserve rolling with the punches for the big life-and-death stuff.

It’s not the salad, so much as the principle…

I have been eating a lot more raw vegetables for several weeks. I have been having big salads at least once, and often twice a day. Colorful, delicious arugula salads with radishes, onion, mushrooms, bean sprouts, cucumber, and a handful of steamed broccoli and canned artichoke hearts.

I haven’t generally thought much about raw versus cooked vegetables, but I have noticed that my body dysmorphia is in what seems to be a dormant phase. And it makes me wonder if the two are connected.

I eat my vegetables every day. I have done so for over 9 years. I have been regularly consuming fresh produce like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, onions, bok choi, Swiss chard, cabbage and green beans. Mostly roasted or sautéed. But since I have started eating so much salad, I have been feeling significantly calmer about what I look like.

And I have not lost weight. That’s what makes it interesting.

I have questions about why. Is it chemical, and physiological? Is it all psychological? Is it a combination? Or is the whole thing just coincidence? Am I just in a good phase regarding my body image issues?

There is a part of me that wants to say that it doesn’t matter if the two are connected. What matters is that I am mostly well now. But ultimately, it does matter. It is the difference between peace and torment. And I need to admit that I do not believe it is a coincidence. But I don’t want to, because I love eating lots of cooked vegetables. And if I admit that is having an effect on my mood or my happiness, it means I will have to moderate how much of my food is cooked.

I am a compulsive eater. I might have my eating under control, but I will never be neutral around food. If I ever had the ability to be indifferent, that ship has sailed. And then it sank. I like my food, and I like it decadent.

It’s not that my big salads are not delicious. They are wonderful. I love every bite. But I can often forget how much I will enjoy them when I am not in the actual process of eating one. There is a kind of mental block I have around salad. And I know that I am not the only one. I have talked about this with lots of other people.

And there is that part of me that doesn’t want any more limits. Whenever I think it might be time to make a change, my first reaction is always to be a crybaby-whiner. But I already gave up sugar and grains, and I quit smoking, and I limit my coffee, and severely limit my diet soda. Don’t take anything else away from me! I mean, they are just sautéed Brussels sprouts? Can you really find fault with Brussels sprouts? Seriously?! (Can you hear the whining?)

The first thing I have to remember is that moderation does not have to mean The End. I do not have to give up my Brussels sprouts forever and always. I can limit them to, say, three or four times a week. But the more important thing I have to remember is that I don’t have to do anything. It’s one of my Jedi Mind Tricks. It takes away a lot of my initial instinct to rebel when I remind myself that I’m a big girl who lives her own life and makes her own decisions. If I want to fight and make a fuss, I can eat cooked vegetables every day on principle. Who is going to stop me? But just like every other action I take, I will reap what I sow. There is no escaping that.

In the end, I always want the gifts. If limiting my cooked vegetables means more days of peace and sanity, I will choose that. It’s how I roll. But I don’t always choose that first. Sometimes I take longer to get out of my own way than others. But ultimately, I want what I want. And I have learned over the years that I want sustainable happiness more than I want instant gratification.

I am still interested in the ways you take care of yourself and the gifts you get from not harming yourself with food. Use the hashtag #betterthanchocolate and share your experiences. I want to hear from you!

Also, follow me on twitter @onceafatgirl5.

And please feel free to follow, share and repost my blog!

Let the chips fall where they may. (Because they are going to anyway.)

It’s funny to realize that you don’t know yourself. Or that you are not who you once were. Or that maybe you were never that person you thought you were and you didn’t realize it.

I have always considered myself a person who never took chances. Who played small. Who never risked.

To a certain extent, I know that it’s true. Until a couple of years ago, I never took risks with my heart.

But when I look at the things I did do, I can’t help but note my own daring. I auditioned and got hired as an actor in a famous, long-running comedy in Chicago at 20. I moved to New York City at 21. I danced with a modern dance company for years. I wrote a play that went up in San Diego and spent a month there while it ran. And through all of this, I never thought of myself as a risk taker.

I also did all of these things while I was fat and food obsessed. I am not saying that these were bad decisions. They were not. But I was high on sugar. I made these decisions, but I didn’t always take responsibility for them. I had grand notions, but I was not a high-functioning addict. A lot of these exciting things were marred by my needing to get rescued when I couldn’t pull my shit together to see them through on my own.

When I got my eating under control, I let my life get kind of small for a number of years. In retrospect, I can see that it needed to be that way. They tell people who are just getting control of their eating that they shouldn’t make any major life changes for the first year.

The first year. That makes me laugh. I needed at least 5. But I have always been a late bloomer. Quick in understanding, slow to process. Fast with ideas, paralyzed around actions.

But then I started writing this blog, and keeping a commitment to write weekly, which was risky in my little life. And then because of this blog, I fell madly in love and let myself get risky again. Really risky. Like leave-my-home-and-go-start-a-new-life risky. Only this time I was sane and healthy. I was sober. I made bold choices, not rash decisions. Choices I knew I would take responsibility for. Because I had the clarity to think them through, past the current moment. And because I had given up trying to control life.

When I put boundaries around my food, I learned that you can only do the best you can, only do the right thing, only follow your heart. And then you have to let the chips fall where they may. And go from there. I learned that I don’t get a say in where the chips fall. That I can’t control the outcomes of my choices with manipulation. That even exquisite planning and execution don’t deliver the results I think they “should”. In other words, when I put boundaries around my food, I learned to let go.

And since I have been in love, I find that I really do love adventure. Yes, I am afraid of the unknown. I think that is part of being human. But I am not paralyzed by it. I am actually excited by it. I think love makes me excited for the next adventure. Because it’s an adventure with my boyfriend. Because it’s not my adventure, it’s ours.

And it may be time to embark on the next adventure. I don’t know for sure yet, but it might be time to move forward. And I don’t know what that looks like or where it will take us. And I can’t wait. Because there is something else that I learned when I got my eating under control. If you do your best, follow your heart, and let go, things always get better. Maybe not right away. There might be dips and stalls. But ultimately, I have always ended up happier, wiser, more content, and in a superior position. So there’s always that…

You get what you get and you don’t get upset

My mom is “something” at me about this blog. I say mad. She says “not mad”. She won’t say what. But she’s something. She said I was blaming her for my difficult childhood. In case you think so too, let me be clear: I do not blame my mother for my difficult childhood. Everybody gets the life they get. Yes, I had a lot of pain growing up. But in case you hadn’t noticed, I turned out fucking great!

I also feel I should note that my mom is not insinuating anything about my personality that is particularly far-fetched based on her experience of me. There was a very long period in my life when I did blame her for most things, and everybody else for everything else. I had no concept of responsibility. I was a victim of life. Life hated me. And it was everybody’s fault but my own. I can see how she might come to the conclusion that I wanted to get righteous and lay blame. She has known me my whole life, after all. But she is mistaken about the point of this blog. I’m different than I was growing up. Inside and out. Not that I’m cured of my defects. But I don’t lead with them anymore. And I certainly don’t want to use this blog to foster them. I want to scrutinize them. I want what I write here to be an exploration of honor, not a manipulation of people and feelings. I want to expand my integrity, not make excuses.

The thing about blame is that it takes away responsibility. If I blame my mother for my life, I give up my power and freedom. Thankfully, I have already learned that this is a fallacy. That no other person can be responsible for my life. Even if I want them to. Even if they want to. Even if I don’t “take” responsibility for my own life, I can never escape its consequences. I guess that’s kind of what makes a life a life. It belongs to one person who is responsible for the whole thing.

I have a lot of emotions. I feel things very deeply. I didn’t know how to cope with that as a child. (I’m still figuring out how to cope with it now!) I can remember being about 4-years-old, in bed under the covers, having some overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t manage. I don’t even remember what it was, or what brought it up. I just remember that I said to God, “This has to get easier, or I’m not going to be able to do it.” I meant life. I meant feeling.

Who’s to blame for overwhelming feelings? Maybe it’s chemical. Maybe it’s my personality. I don’t know why I got this intensely sensitive heart. But I did. It makes me an excellent friend and a fabulous babysitter. It made me eat myself to 300 pounds. How I dealt with it, good and bad, was up to me. And no, I did not do a very good job of dealing with it for most of my life. But it’s my sensitive heart. They were my ill-judged coping mechanisms. And I paid the consequences for them with my life. Which, frankly, is exactly as it should be. Because then I got to change.

For years, I believed that I was fat and crazy, and that fat and crazy were me. But through some miracle, my understanding shifted. Yes, I was fat and crazy. But no, fat and crazy were not me. That was not my inescapable fate. My past did not have to be my future. I was going to have to change myself in extreme ways. But it was possible. And more importantly, it was up to me. Only me.

Now I want peace in my heart. Who’s to blame if I don’t have peace? Shall I blame my parents? Or my boss? Or my government? Shall I be angry and righteous? My heart will still be sensitive. And I will still have eating disorders. And life will still be life, with its million valid reasons to panic and cry and rage and hate and quit. And a million legitimate places to lay blame. But I’m pretty sure that all of the validity and legitimacy in the world will never make blame into peace. And I’d rather have peace.

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