I was talking to a friend this morning. Another woman with eating disorders and body image issues. Someone I love and identify with. The kind of person with whom you can have a conversation that is both intellectual and spiritual at the same time.
She said something that I had never heard before. “Genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.” It’s a quote by Dr. Francis Collins.
I believe that I have a genetic predisposition to have an unhealthy physical reaction to sugar, grains, and starch. And I believe that when that physical reaction was triggered in my childhood, it triggered a mental obsession. But the environment I grew up in triggered a very specific mental obsession. It was an obsession with eating. Eating more. Eating constantly. I hated being fat. So I disconnected from my body. But my obsession was with food. Sugar, specifically.
Then I moved away from that environment. To New York City. And in that new environment, I developed a whole new set of mental obsessions that stemmed from that same physical reaction. All of a sudden I had a kind of vanity that I had never experienced before. I did not have bulimic tendencies or the same kinds of body image issues before I moved to New York City. There I was still obsessed with eating, but then there was this added obsession with appearances. With being beautiful. With appearing like a normal eater by maintaining a socially acceptable body.
I am clear that I am not going to be able to reverse any of these things now. Perhaps if I never moved to New York, I would not have become a bulimic. But I did. And I am. And now I can’t unshoot that gun. Or the sugar addict, compulsive eater gun. I am now irreversibly a compulsive eater, bulimic, exercise bulimic, and sugar addict with body dysmorphia. One particular blessing is that I do not have to engage in the damaging behaviors of these diseases because I do the work I do every day to keep my eating and my eating disorders under control.
But then I have to ask, what of it? Does it even matter? Is there an environment that I could have grown up in that would not have triggered my eating disorders? And even if there were such an environment, that’s not how my life went. Who is to say that growing up with a healthy relationship with food would have given me a better life?
Because along with a certain amount of pain and difficulty, my eating disorders gave me another gift. Dealing with them meant changing the way I looked at life and the world. In other words, I don’t know if I would have learned the best lessons of my life if I didn’t have to learn them to stop killing myself with food.
• Keep your eyes on your own life. You don’t know what people are going through by looking at their shiny hair and skinny thighs on the subway. All you are seeing is their outsides. You don’t know their troubles or their pain.
• You have your journey and everybody else has theirs. You didn’t get a bad one. Or the wrong one. You didn’t get a life any worse than any other.
• Control is an illusion. The only things you control are your actions and your reactions. Outcomes are totally out of your hands. So behave in a way that makes you proud of yourself. Because when you think doing it “right” means it will turn out the way you want, you’ll start to think you always do everything thing “wrong”. Bit if you live like you can’t do it “wrong”, you start to notice that everything always turns out “right”.
• Perfection is not an option. And once you accept that as the truth, you are free to be yourself. And free to be happy.
I guess what I’m trying to say today, is that it doesn’t matter that genetics loaded the gun. It doesn’t matter that environment pulled the trigger. It doesn’t matter that I can’t unshoot it. It’s life. My life. I happen to think it’s a good one. Full of blessings. But in reality, it’s the same life as when I thought it was a great big bucket of suck. I just make better decisions now.