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 have been thinking lately about patience. The nature of patience. And how I learned patience from getting control of my eating.
I spent my life as a pleasure junkie. I don’t think it’s too uncommon. Food was my first drug of choice. Drama was probably my second. Then cigarettes. Marijuana. There are others. Some more benign. Reading and daydreaming are still pleasures I indulge in regularly.
There is something else that I love. That gives me a certain kind of pleasure. Learning something.
I started crocheting since I started this blog. I am pretty good at it. I have gotten significantly better in the past few months. I find that for me, there is a tipping point to learning. Or really a series of tipping points. I learn the basics. And I practice them. Then I learn something a little more advanced. And I practice it. And I mess up. And I forget some of the things I originally learned and I have to go back and relearn those parts. And I practice. And I learn a little more. And I get good at one something and I do it over and over until being good at it loses its novelty. And then I learn more. And at some point, all of this disjointed knowledge that has been teetering on the brink over my head tips over and cohesion cascades over me. Suddenly, how it all fits together makes perfect sense, and I have reached a new level of understanding and skill.
So I decided the other day that it was time to teach myself to knit. And this was kind of a big deal. Because I am already good at crochet. And I already get a lot of pleasure from it. And there is still plenty for me to learn. And when I do it, in the end I get a product I am proud of. And knitting was going to require patience. It was going to mean a lot of messing up. And frustration. And being bad. And ugly products. For now.
Now, I am good at certain things. There are things I naturally have a knack for. That I have since childhood. I have very good fine motor dexterity. (Hand-eye coordination for things like sports and video games is something else entirely. Um…yeah, that stuff not so much…) I am also good at understanding how things fit together to make up a whole. One example of this might be how loops of yarn interlock with other loops of yarn to form cloth. Or how to reverse engineer those loops.
So obviously, I am at an advantage when it comes to something like knitting. I am sure that being predisposed to be good at it made me want to do it. I don’t know that it would give me as much pleasure if I would only ever be mediocre at it. The plan is to one day excel.
But right now, at this very moment, I am one notch above sucking royally. And that is uncomfortable. But totally ok. Because I have patience. And I have patience because I got my eating under control.
Getting the hang of something sets off my pleasure centers. While the struggle before that happens can be frustrating. And sometimes it can make me doubt myself. Or be angry with myself. But that moment that something clicks, I get a nice little buzz. And that moment of greater understanding is positively blissful.
But lets face it, chocolate cake would give me that whole blissful experience in a matter of seconds without the year+ of toiling and learning and practicing and trying. With out all of that discomfort in between.
And that’s exactly what I would have done if I were still eating sugar. I would have been excited to learn something, because the prospect of learning is exciting. And then I would have tried. And sucked. And eaten a cake. And gotten that feeling. And stopped trying. And eaten more cake.
Of course cake was killing me. Physically, emotionally and spiritually. It left me depressed. Not to mention hugely fat. It made me hate myself. It took more and more, more and more often, to get that blissful feeling. And eventually, the feeling was not so much blissful as just “not in deep pain.”
Because blissing out, and then eventually just numbing out, all the time made any kind of discomfort into “deep pain.” And getting control of my eating slowly allowed my body and brain to re-regulate. Not eating over every feeling allowed that “deep pain” return to being regular old, bearable discomfort. And not eating feelings also taught me how to bear it. Not manage it. Not mask it or fix it. But just let it be there. And live with it.
And I will say that the experience of learning, the clicking and cascading, is better than “getting high.” It is worth the discomfort. I don’t know why exactly. But I’m sure it has something to do with those feelings being real. That I earned those feelings of pleasure. That I did not steal them. And that I do not expect them to be my constant state. That life, as it is, is enough for me. And maybe I’ll get a scarf out of it. Sure, an ugly scarf for now. But I’ll be patient. And eventually I will make something pretty.
Yesterday I finished crocheting a new small throw blanket. And there is a story about this throw. And the story is an analogy.
Several months ago, I made a baby blanket for a specific baby. (Unlike my tendency to make things, including baby blankets, for no one in particular.) And when I was done, I had quite a bit of extra yarn in a shade of pink that I loved.
Around early September, I learned how to crochet squares with flowers in the middle. And around that time, I found a light shade of green yarn that I liked a lot. So I made a bunch of pink and green flower squares. And they were lovely. But I didn’t know what to do with them. And I didn’t really have enough of either color of yarn to make much.
Plus, I had just purchased some fancy (superwash cotton and wool blend) yarn at a specialty yarn store. Needless to say, I was very excited to make something with the fancy yarn. So I put the pink and green aside and I completed a project with my fancy yarn. And then it was done. And it was time to do another project.
So I went back to my pink and green flowers and decided I would make it a 3 color blanket. I went to the store and I bought a bunch of skeins of another shade of green. I brought them home, held them all up next to each other and thought, “Ugh. This is not right. This is going to look terrible together.”
But this was the yarn that I had. So I decided to move ahead with the project. And I kept telling myself, “Just do the next thing.” And I kept crocheting.
And I kept stopping. “This can’t be right. Should I quit? Should I just give it up before I put a bunch of wasted work into it? Should I go online and order more of the light green and the pink? Well, for now just do a few more squares. Just do the next thing.”
So I crocheted. And stopped. And crocheted. And scrunched up my face wondering if this was going to end up a complete fiasco. “This really can’t be right.”
But it was something to do. And even with all of the stopping, I had already gone pretty far. So I kept just doing the next thing.
And it went on like this for the whole project. Right up until the very end. “I should just stop now. This can’t be right. Ugh, just be quiet and do the next part.”
I think that this turned out to be one of the most amazing pieces I have ever made. It is maybe my favorite.
And I could never, ever EVER have planned it. Because it seemed like it couldn’t possibly be right the whole way through.
I see life this way. It starts out with something I love or I want. But I don’t know what to do about it. So I don’t do anything. I just go about my business. And then opportunities arise. And they turn out not to be what I expected. Or what I thought they should be. Or what I would have chosen as the best option for my happiness. But they are what I have. So I do the next right thing. And I stop. And I make false starts. And think, “Are you sure? Really? This can’t be right.” But I keep doing the next thing. In bitty baby steps.
This happened for me with food. (Give up sugar? Forever?!?! That can’t be right.) And it happened with writing this blog. (Write every week about being fat? Or bulimic? Tell people personal things about myself and my eating disorders?! That can’t be right.) And it happened for me with falling in love. (Leave New York City? With my childhood friend? To travel Small Town America in a pickup truck?!?! That can’t be right.)
And in the end, these turned out to be the greatest decisions I have ever made in my life.
I am limited. I can’t imagine anything outside of my own experiential frame of reference making me happy. But I have this amazing tool. Willingness. Surrender. To go along. To not seek too far into the future. To just do the next right thing right now. And to trust. That life knows better than I do. About blankets and yarn and blog writing and love and food. And anything else that I am willing to be open to.
I sometimes have mentioned that I have gotten many benefits from getting my eating under control. More than being in a smaller, healthier, more comfortable body. More than no longer being obsessed with food.
There’s a long list, frankly. Self-confidence, integrity, peace, happiness and love are just a few. But this week I am really struck by one of those gifts. A specific kind of patience that I have acquired. Patience to learn and improve. Growth patience.
When I was a small child, my grandmother taught me how to crochet. She taught me one stitch, and how to make rows of that one stitch. But I don’t remember ever finishing anything as a kid. Not a scarf or a blanket. Not a pot holder. Perhaps I did. But for most of my life, I thought of myself as someone who never finished anything she started. And I would say that I thought of myself that way because it was true.
In my early 20s I took up crocheting again. But I did it feverishly. And with no concern for the quality of my work. Or the quality of materials I used. I half-assed a few hats and scarves because they were quick and easy. I would get impatient to be done and would start making my stitches bigger to hurry up and get it over with. I even started using the wrong size tools so that I could make bigger stitches in smaller yarn. I had zero patience.
I’m not sure why I even wanted to crochet back then. I don’t remember enjoying the process at all.
But in the past 10 months, I have completed and given 7 homemade gifts, made 2 blankets, a hat and a scarf for myself, and have 2 small complete throws sitting in my closet that don’t have recipients. And I am in the process of 2 new projects at the moment. Some have been quite large and time consuming. Some have been smaller and quicker. But they are complete.
And they have been good. I take my time. I care about both the quality of my work and the quality of my materials. I am proud of what I make.
Mostly because I have been patient about learning. And practice. I have been willing to make the best thing I can with my current skill level. And then to take the time to learn something new. And to make a project with my new knowledge. And then to practice some more. And to be content to be where I am without needing to be the best right away.
Don’t get me wrong. I got a little ahead of myself in the beginning. Wanted to go from making a scarf to making a dress in an instant. Tried to make a dress. And failed.
But I decided that was ok. I didn’t quit crocheting. Instead I decided to quit having ridiculous expectations of myself. I decided to take a step (or ten) back, and get better at what I already knew. And then I decided to learn a little something new. And get comfortable with that.
Because one thing I learned from getting my eating under control, is that pretty much everything worth anything takes time.
Losing weight takes time. Changing the way you think takes time. Getting the life you want takes time. Becoming the person you want to be takes time. That slow and steady wins the race.
And it’s always only a journey. That there is no destination.
My life eating was all about destination. And accomplishment. One destination to the next kept me from ever being satisfied. My worth was based on getting everything right and/or perfect. And that still didn’t propel me to doing things right or perfect. It more just kept me from ever getting anything done. Out of fear and shame.
Getting my eating under control has taught me patience. I have to be patient for my next meal. And in between meals is time to do something. Anything. Have an experience. Read something. Walk somewhere. Learn something new. Make something.
For the most part, I am still making blankets. I’m not quite ready to move on to sweaters or dresses yet. But it has been less than a year since I started crocheting again. And perhaps I never will move on to sweaters. Perhaps I will only ever make scarves and hats and blankets. I don’t have to decide today. I just have to get better at what I know. And decide what I want to learn next.
I learned that from putting boundaries around my food.
I’m posting some pictures of a few of the things I have made since last November when I started crocheting again.
One thing I’m prone to is obsessiveness. And right now I am obsessed with crocheting. I have 2 projects going simultaneously. And I’m in love with them both. Which is a blessing and a curse, since they are both gifts I’m going to give away.
Mostly, a little obsession over a hobby is not a bad thing. I am pretty good at crochet. I use it to do a lot of calm thinking. Each project has a natural conclusion, so it never feels overwhelming. And it’s deliciously satisfying to spend my time making something tangible. When I have put in a certain number of hours of work, it turns out there is an afghan. Or a scarf. Or a hat.
But if there is a problem, it’s that I never want to stop. I’m on a roll! I want to keep going! One more skein, one more row, one more stitch. I may never have the chance again! It may all disappear and slip away in an instant.
I see this with so many things in my life. This obsession. This wanting it NOW. Before it goes away. It’s more than just the desire for instant gratification. Somewhere in my warped mind, I really believe that it could all go up in a puff of smoke.
I buy an apple for every day of the week to have for breakfast. But every morning, I want all of them. Now! As if they will disappear. As if there will never be another apple ever again!
If I am reading a particularly good book, I read until I pass out. Literally. I may wake up with a book or my kindle on my chest. I can’t stop. Just one more page. Just one more sentence. Just one more word. I may never get to read it again!
And of course, when I was eating compulsively, this is how I dealt with food. I wanted it all! NOW! Before it went away! And I had no rules, no boundaries. So I ate it all. Now. Because there might never be any more ever again.
Don’t think the irony has escaped me. Oh God! There will never be another piece of chocolate cake ever again! led directly to Thank God! There will never be another piece of chocolate cake ever again!
Plus my obsessive nature can cause me to burn out. At first I want more because it’s fun. Or exciting. Because it feels good. But after a while, whatever it is that I’m obsessed with becomes a need. It’s not so much that I like it, as that I am afraid I will be unhappy if it goes away. It’s about my inability to let go.
But I can’t live like that anymore. And I am grateful that the way I live my life now insists that I keep my obsessions in check. I have things that I am committed to doing. Daily and weekly.
I must eat 3 times a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. I must meditate every morning. I must write a blog post every week. I must sleep 7-8 hours a night. I must go to the market. I must cook my food.
And thank God! This structure reminds me that my crochet projects will still be there in my free time. And if they are not, well…I will live. I will move on. It will all be ok. I have lived the last 6+ years without chocolate cake. Happily. Joyfully. Without regret. So if I can do that, I am pretty sure I can survive just about anything.