This week I celebrated my 13th anniversary of keeping boundaries around my eating. One thing I was taught early on was to set boundaries with people. Even if they were “clunky.” Even if they were graceless. Even if I sounded like a jerk. Even if I *was* a jerk.
It has occurred to me in the past few months that I avoid difficult conversations. In some ways, this came as a surprise to me. I like to think of myself as a model of self-expression. And I thought I had already overcome this. Which I had. But I should not be surprised. My experience is that we all have our lessons. And we have to learn those lessons over and over, deeper and deeper.
Once I realized this, I knew that I wanted to do something about it. And I have. A little snappy. And a little pushy. But moving ahead.
Right now, I don’t know what to do about it in terms of concrete actions. There are ways to make commitments to things like this, but they are not as obvious to me as food boundaries or water drinking promises. Those are no brainers. 4 oz of meat, weighed on a scale. Three 20 oz bottles of water a day from my reusable water bottle. That’s easy. Or at least, easy to wrap my mind around. But having uncomfortable conversations occurs to me as less clear-cut.
Still, I will work at it. I want it. I want to say the things I need to say so that I don’t feel resentful, or self-pitying, or stifled. I don’t want to be “nice.” I want to be kind. I don’t want to be “likable.” I want to be authentic. I don’t want to be “good.” I want to be powerful.
When I don’t muddle my thinking with food and sugar and carbs and things that make me fuzzy, I can feel my uncomfortable feelings, and consider what I want to do about them. I am in no hurry. I can be happy for now with the baby steps I have begun to take, even if they are clunky and graceless. I can think about it a little bit longer. I am in no rush. I have all the time in the world to grow. And there will always be more growing to do.
One of the ways I keep my eating under control is by focusing on my part of a situation. With food it’s about keeping my eyes on my own plate. I don’t worry about what anyone else is eating. With life, it’s about minding my own business. And keeping peace in my own heart and mind. Other people’s behavior and relationships are also none of my concern. I keep my eyes on my own life.
But another way I help myself keep my eating under control is by being authentic, and speaking up for myself. I do not let myself be abused. I do not please others at my own expense.
There are some people at work, both customers and fellow employees, who are really not nice people. (No seriously. Not like normal people having a bad day. Like people who actively try to make others unhappy. Like total jerks.) And it’s hard for me to find a balance between taking care of myself, and being peaceful, regardless of the situation.
The other part of this is finding the best way to keep the Good Girl in me on a short leash. She let people abuse her for a long time. Her worth was in how far she could diminish herself for the happiness and use of others.
Look, the Good Girl, when she is right-sized, and in her proper place, is part of the reason I am so good at my customer service job. When I am not being a martyr, I genuinely like giving people a great experience. I aim to leave people at least satisfied, and hopefully even happier, as a result of their time spent with me.
But just like I wrote in last week’s installment, the Good Girl can have me agree to do things that end up leaving me feeling resentful and frustrated. I can wind up feeling taken advantage of, often forgetting that I allowed myself to be put in the situation in the first place.
I am not going to eat compulsively over these feelings of resentment. But that is a luxury that I cultivate. Resentment is exactly the danger to an addict like me. It is just the thing to convince me that I totally deserve that chocolate cake, damn it!
Last week, I was doing what needed to be done for the store/my department, and neglecting to care for my own self. I forgot that integrity means keeping my word, but it doesn’t have to mean volunteering at the expense of my own peace. I was doing what was requested of me, simply because I was asked. I agreed knowing I didn’t want to. And that was dangerous. I was putting myself and my eating disorders in a dangerous situation.
I know that I need to keep my food boundaries at the center of my life. Keeping my sugar addiction and my eating disorders at bay is the most important thing I do in my life. Part of that is never letting any resentment, judgment, or torment grab a hold of me. It means I have to shake them off quickly. I have to be grateful for what I have. I have to remember that all things pass eventually. And if I am unhappy, I am the one who must change.
In parting, I will leave you with the Serenity Prayer. (If you don’t already know it, I promise it’s a good one. By the way, it’s not just a prayer. It’s a way of life.)
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
I had my first day at my new job yesterday. It went really well. I think I will be just fine at it.
I only get a 15 minute break per shift, so that means packing the smallest possible meal when I have to work through a meal time. But it’s manageable.
I had a handful of rough days worrying. First about meals. Now that I have the experience of having eaten one meal in my 15 minute break, it seems like a non-issue. But mostly I had been worried about scheduling. Or more specifically, asking for what I need in terms of my schedule, from someone I don’t know.
I have a history of working for power-crazy bosses. Not all of them. I have had plenty of kind, considerate, honorable employers. But I have also had a lot of bosses who liked to demonstrate their position as the person in charge of my money.
And I historically, I have let them.
I am the person in charge of my money. I always have been. But I lived for many years as if it were not the case. And I was easy to manipulate, because I was a people-pleaser who thought her job was to make the boss happy. I thought that I didn’t deserve money for less than that.
It turns out that all that time, my job was my job. And the boss being happy was not in my control.
I do my best. I am committed to integrity. But my best isn’t going to make everyone happy. And I need to live with that.
So right, scheduling. I was hired with the understanding that I could not work after 4 pm on Thursdays. But I got my schedule and I was immediately scheduled for Thursday night. And I was so upset.
So the “Good Girl” in me wanted to just accept it and work Thursday night, so that she didn’t have to be humiliated by making requests on her first day. And that fear of humiliation made me angry. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was even more anxious than usual.
And there is another part of it. I spent most of my life alone. And that meant that my choices had limited reach. But now I’m in a relationship. So money is not mine anymore. It’s ours. In the past, if I felt uncomfortable with the way I was being treated in a job, it was my right to walk away. But now walking away from a job would at least require a conversation with my boyfriend.
But Thankfully, I was at least present enough to know that I didn’t know what was going to happen. (Being sober helps in that way.) I knew enough to know that I needed to take care of this one step at a time and not get ahead of myself.
So I walked in on my first day and I did my best. I also made my requests. And my boss was great. He told me he never got my availability schedule, so he didn’t know about my Thursday nights. He rescheduled me that day. He even accommodated another request, that I specifically told him was not a necessity, but would be nice since I had planned something before I got the job. In other words, he’s a good boss and also a nice guy.
I was worried and upset because of history. Because I didn’t know what to expect, and I was afraid of getting the worst of what I have gotten before. But it’s also about confronting the worst of myself. The doormat. The Good Girl. The martyr. It’s scary to go head to head with those aspects of my personality. I was that way because I got something out of it. And even though I get more out of being honest and straightforward and taking care of myself, the fear of losing something by not being obliging can still be intense.
But now I have another reference point for self-care, where it worked out perfectly in the end. So it turns out that history does not always repeat itself.
Twice now in the past three days I have had to speak up for myself. I have had to say no and stop.
It’s always an experience to see where I resist this. My “Good Girl” is a bit of a die-hard, it turns out.
Although it is not all about being a “Good Girl.” There is a line many of us walk. That line between self-care and egotism. I sometimes have a hard time distinguishing that line. I know that living my life generously is a gift back to myself. But taking care of, and responsibility for my own needs is also a gift to myself.
My mother and I were talking not too long ago about money. She said that my whole life, even when I was a child, if I “lent” somebody money, chances were I would never get it back. Because I never made it a priority. In some ways that was generosity, and in some ways it was a lack of self-care.
The truth is that while I like money, I don’t love it. It does not motivate me or thrill me. Losing it does not scare me. But over the past several years, as my self-care has become ever more important, I have done very little “lending.” And more often than not, if I am going to give you money, I am going to gift it. I don’t want there to be expectations. This also makes it easier for me to say no. If I pretend that I might get it back, I might feel like I “should” say yes. If I know that once it leaves my hand, it is gone, I can better gauge if I am willing to part with it. It’s a kind of Jedi-mind-trick. But it works. And brings me peace.
But what I had to do this week was not about money. It was about time, sort of. But really, it was about something else. It was about access to my attention. It was about allowing people in. And this is a line I have a very hard time walking.
My first reaction is to keep everybody out. I spent my life building fortresses and hiding within them. When I was actively in my addiction, I lived in a fortress of fat. That I fortified with isolation. I would hide away and eat. I would sit alone for long stretches and binge. I would eat all day until I passed out in a sugar induced coma. And I would wakeup fatter and more “protected” than I had been when I came to from the previous night’s passing out.
But I also have a history of doing things I don’t want to do because I “should.” (There’s that word again. I hate that word…) Things that I thought I would want to do if I were a good person with a pure heart and an honorable soul. I have a history of being a “Good Girl” and resenting the hell out of the people I was being “good” for.
The first boundary I set this week was a long time coming.
I am part of a group. A group I like and love and enjoy. We meet once a week on a video conference call. And it is important to me.
Several months ago, I was asked to help a couple of people to get set up on their computers. Make sure they had the proper accounts and software. And I did that. Even though I don’t like computers. Or interacting with strangers for that matter. And then it became expected. And for months, the expectation was that I would help everybody and their brother set up their computers. And even the few times I said no, I didn’t stick to it and ended up doing it in the end.
Part of this was my “Good Girl” who could not bear to say that my time and attention were too important to help somebody else. And my ego that told me that I had let it go on so long that it must officially be my job and that I would shame and dishonor myself by saying anything about it after all this time. And part of it was my arrogance that insisted that if I didn’t do it, it was not going to get done. And that that somehow made it my responsibility.
And I got more and more resentful. And as time went by and my resentment grew, the level of responsibility that I grudgingly and hatefully took on grew. Until this week I got a message from a complete stranger, saying that somebody had told her that there was some sort of meeting on the internet for our group and that she should get in touch with me.
First I boiled with rage!
And then I said no. I said that they should refer back to the person who referred them to me for help.
And then I wrote a message to the group and I said no again. To everybody. I said that I was not available to help people get on the group any more. That if people wanted people to join us, they were going to have to take some responsibility for it. And I am so grateful to have said it. I am so relieved.
Resentment feels awful. It feels dirty and itchy. Plus it’s exhausting. You would think that I would recognize right off the bat that it is not something I want in my life. That if a behavior of mine is cultivating it, that I should stop that behavior. Immediately.
But it can be so hard. It can be so easy to second guess myself. And this is coming from somebody who works at exactly this every day. I’m not some schlump walking through life blind. My only ambition in life, besides being an amazing girlfriend and partner, is to grow spiritually. To be an amazing friend to myself. And I can still harbor a resentment for months and months.
And then two days later the next one happened.
It was late at night (for me. I happen to be incredibly lame.) I got a PM on Facebook from an acquaintance. She wanted to ask me about something and told me that for that purpose, I needed to accept her friend request.
Now you should know that I have a hard time with Facebook and friend requests. I already have many people on my friends list that I have hidden from my news feed. If you share a lot of pictures of cakes and brownies and various foods I do not eat, chances are I have hidden your posts. If you share a lot of weight-loss/diet articles with pictures of skinny women in yoga pants, chances are I have hidden your posts. If you share a lot of violent stories and pictures, chances are I have hidden your posts. Or just generally, if what you share upsets me or makes me uncomfortable, chances are I have hidden your posts.
But there is also another aspect to being Facebook friends with somebody. It gives them license to comment on your life. When you say yes to a friend request, you are saying, I care if you “like” what I post. I am willing to hear what you have to say about what I have to say.
And guess what? If we are not friends or family, I don’t give a shit what you think.
Now the reason this was particularly poignant for me was that this is not the first time that this person has sent me a friend request. The first time, I told her no very clearly. I even gave her a brief explanation. Which I did not owe her. I do not owe people explanations for the choices I make. (And no, I did not say that I did not give a shit what she thought. I was clear but diplomatic. In case you were wondering.) And shortly after that, she sent me a Facebook message that said she did not know how to get in touch with me since I wouldn’t accept her friend request. Of course I responded, without noting at the time that she was, in fact, being in touch with me.
A few months ago I got yet another friend request from her. By then I had realized that if you just leave the friend request there, you don’t have to reject the same person repeatedly. So her request has been sitting there since then.
And last night it happened yet again. Her PM said that there was something that she needed to go over with me, but she didn’t know how to get in touch with me if we weren’t Facebook friends.
Now I was angry.
And I took a few deep breaths, and I wrote her immediately. Sure, sometimes I believe that communication should be slept on and considered. When I need to disentangle what part of it is my BS and what part of it I need to address with the other person. But there was no doubt in my mind what I needed to say. It was obvious. It was simple. It was “Respect me.” “Respect my no.” “Stop it.”
When I was eating compulsively, I ate difficult conversations. And sugar made me high enough to make the uncomfortable feelings go away. And not feeling the uncomfortable feelings allowed me to convince myself that a conversation didn’t need to be had. Or a statement didn’t need to be made. Or a boundary didn’t need to be set.
But the farther I get from the food, the harder it is to sit in the discomfort. And I will say this. I have been keeping my commitments to water and meditation this week. And it has occurred to me that it is perhaps no coincidence that I have had a little breakthrough in saying what needs to be said. Perhaps it was hard to sit still and be with myself when I was itchy and gross with resentment. And perhaps forcing myself to sit still has made not saying what I needed to say unbearable.
I don’t know. It might be a coincidence. But then again, it might not…
My boyfriend and I are in Chicago for the weekend. So as usual, it’s a short blog this week.
I have two things I want to mention this week. The first is eating out. And the second is not sharing food with a two-year-old I really love.
While we were in town, my dad wanted to take me out to eat for my birthday. So we went to a really nice sea food place.
I had called ahead, and talked to someone. I asked lots of questions about portion size, ingredients and preparation. I figured out how much I was going to need and what to order ahead of time. And when it came out, the steamed vegetables had butter on them. It’s funny to me, because I made such a point of making sure they’re just plain steamed vegetables and they come out with butter on them? So I sent them back. I made sure they came back without fat on them. Which they did.
Because my rules tell me that I can have a certain amount of fat. And I wanted drawn butter on my crab legs. So I had to send the vegetables back, or not have butter for my crab. (Yeah, that was not going to happen. Crab without butter is just wrong.)
There is a small part of me that wants to explain. But I didn’t. I don’t owe anybody an explanation. I have my rules. They are mine. And my responsibility.
And even with having to send food back, it was an easy dining experience. And so delicious! I don’t usually love steamed vegetables. But they were so fresh that they were lovely. And the crab with butter would have made even subpar steamed vegetables all worth it.
It’s nice to remember that things don’t need to go perfectly for them to be stress-free. It was a good reminder that being upset is a choice.
The other thing I want to talk about is not sharing my food. With my boyfriend’s granddaughter. Whom I love. And who is sweet and adorable.
See, it’s easy with grown ups and older kids. You can explain it to them. And if they don’t like it, oh well. Too bad. But with a toddler. They don’t understand. You can’t explain.
The truth is, I don’t want her to be sad. And I want to give her whatever. Because I like her. And I love her. And I want her to know that. But I also need to remember that not getting everything we want is just a part of life. For all of us. And it doesn’t mean anything to tell someone no. No just means no. It doesn’t mean “you aren’t worthy.” Or “I don’t love you.” Or “you should be ashamed for asking.” Just no.
And I would also do well to remember that taking care of myself is teaching a little girl to take care of herself.
Most women have been taught that being womanly and nurturing means being “selfless” and “a good girl” and taking care of others at their own expense. And I don’t want to be a part of perpetuating that.
If anyone learns anything from me, whether it’s my boyfriend’s granddaughter, or a grown up reading this blog, I would like it to be that you are allowed to take care of yourself. Not just allowed! You should! You should take care of your peace and your needs and your own happiness.
So the sweet thing did not get any of my cantaloupe this morning. And she lived. And we still love each other. In fact, at this very moment, she is singing “If you’re happy and you know it” and jumping and dancing around the house. So all is well. And I still have my integrity around my food.
I’m in a funny place about my body lately. Not terrible. But not great either.
I have not been weighing myself for many months. And I am grateful for that. For some reason, numbers make me irrational. But I can tell I go up and down. In the way my clothes fit. And how big my butt is.
For whatever reason, a few weeks ago, I was up. And I can tell that I am in the process of going back down. And while I don’t know how much in terms of pounds, it is not a lot. I am not growing or shrinking out of my clothes.
But I am disappointed lately. Because I had hoped that I would have lost more weight by now.
If you don’t know, I quit smoking for my 35th Birthday. And I will turn 37 in less than 2 months. In the first 9 months of quitting, I gained 30 pounds. Not because I was eating to compensate. But simply because that was one of my side effects. I had others too. For the first 6 weeks I had open sores in my mouth and for about 10 months I was depressed. But it was the weight gain that was most devastating to me.
As a former fat girl, I have all sorts of eating and body image disorders. Sometimes they are dormant. And sometimes they are active. Though only in my head…When it comes to eating, starving, binging, purging, laxatives, over-exercising, and all other manner of acting out with food, I have the action part under control with strict rules and boundaries. And I have for over 8 years.
So gaining 30 lbs, especially with my eating under control, was triggering for me. It made me crazy. And unhappy. And it was hard to reconcile myself to it. I felt like I was being punished. And it was especially frustrating because I felt like I was being punished for quitting smoking. You know, no good deed goes unpunished, and so on.
But I felt like I could handle it, because I thought it would be temporary. I thought that after some time went by, I would lose that 30 lbs. Or at least the greater portion of it. And here I am almost 2 years later, and a full year since the excessive weight gain stopped, and I have not lost any weight.
There is something that I have told more than one person recently, and I would do well to remember it myself. When I was actively eating compulsively and eating sugar, my eating habits were surely the reason I weighed 300 lbs. (Duh.) But since I got my eating under control and stopped eating sugar, I have noticed that what I eat has generally had the least to do with my weight. The thinnest I ever was in my life was the time that followed the illness of my Dad’s mom, who was the first love of my life. In the months that led to her death, I must have dropped 15 lbs, and I was already thin. Then, and in the years following that time, it did not matter what I ate. Drenched in butter, deep-fried, bacon, full-fat dairy, huge portions. Every day. Just to maintain a tiny little body. And then I quit smoking. And even cutting portions in half, reducing fat content and limiting how often I ate certain foods, I still gained weight. I gained 30 lbs, eating less than half of what I had been eating before I gave up cigarettes.
I’m saying I don’t want to start worrying about what I eat. That I don’t want to start drinking skim milk and eating nonfat yogurt. I don’t want to start steaming my vegetables. I don’t want to stop eating roasted squash and carrots. In the (possibly vain) hope that I will lose 20 lbs. Because for years now, what I eat has not had nearly as great of an impact on my weight as all of the other things going on in my life. My stress, my sadness, my anxiety, my withdrawal, my unwillingness to let things go.
And I’m also saying I want to stop judging my “willpower” and my looks so harshly.
I know that my eyes are broken. And I can see that sometimes I think I look like women who are significantly bigger than I am. But also, the truth is that I am not particularly thin right now. And I don’t like it. And dammit! I don’t like that I don’t like it.
I really want to be comfortable in my own body. Exactly as it is. And I don’t want to feel like I should eat diet food. And I don’t want to judge myself on what I am eating. And I don’t want to feel like my worth is based on how “good” I can be. And I don’t want how “good” I am to be based on how much I can deprive myself, and how much I can suffer for a smaller body. And I don’t want to buy into the notion that a smallest possible body is always healthier, prettier, better.
Because that is the notion in modern Western culture, right? That any body bigger than tiny is fat. That the best body is the smallest one. That as a woman, that’s the one to strive for. And if you are not striving for the smallest possible body then you are somehow lacking. Lazy, or shameful, or ultimately unwomanly.
There is a kind of person that I want to be. And it involves having peace around what is so. And it involves trusting that I have exactly the body that I am supposed to have. And knowing that this body is beautiful. Because it is well cared for. Well fed. Well hydrated. Well maintained. Well used with out being abused.
And I want to be the kind of person who has some perspective about bodies. Specifically my own body, but also in general. Human bodies in the world. To have a realistic and sane outlook on them. To see that they aren’t all created to grow into doe-eyed, pouty, ectomorphs, if only their owners would behave properly. To understand that they all grow into different shapes and sizes. And at different rates. And that I got as good of one as anybody else. And you did too.
On the train to New Orleans with my friend last weekend, we were talking about something that made me remember that I had written a poem. Three years ago. March of 2011. And it was relevant to what we were talking about. And I was proud of it because it was good. So I found it on my phone and I read it to her.
I am not a poet. Don’t get me wrong. I know that my style of writing can be poetic. Frankly, my style of speaking too. And I have written a handful of poems in my adult life. Because I love words. And language. And that concentration of meaning and emotional experience that a good poem offers. But I don’t spend a lot of time writing poetry. Or wishing I had the time to write poetry. Or thinking, “Gee. That would make a really good poem.”
What I am, though, is available to be a channel. For what I call God. But you can call it art, or creativity, or expression, or life. Or you don’t have to call it anything. My point is that I am available to be moved, and in turn, to move others.
But I am only available since I got control of my eating.
For one, I am no longer worried about being judged. Being a fat girl means constantly being judged. By others and by yourself. And it overflows past just the body.
I already knew that my body was being judged. People are very vocal about their judgments of fat women. But there was also a sense of other things I “should be.” Whether real or imagined. That I should be selfless. That in order to be good enough, I should be perfect. That in order to be loved, I should fully understand my worthlessness.
This made it hard to be proud of the things that I was good at. Writing, learning, teaching, among others. And not being able to be proud of these things made me not want to do them in the first place.
Also, I stifled so many of my gifts and talents by living in a sugar-induced fog.
There is this thing that used to happen to me a lot when I was eating compulsively. (So essentially the first 28 years of my life.) People would come up to me and tell me how I had said something to them that had changed something in their life and their way of thinking. That my words had had a profound impact on them. And then they would tell me what I had said, and I would think that it was, indeed, brilliant and profound. But I wouldn’t remember saying it. In other words, I was giving people gifts that I couldn’t give myself. And I couldn’t even be proud to have given them to other people because I couldn’t remember them.
I don’t remember a lot of my life before I stopped eating sugar and put boundaries around my eating. Seriously. Sometimes family members will say, “Hey! Remember that time…” And I will have to say no. And sometimes I even ask if they are sure I was there. But the truth is I probably was. And I just don’t remember because I was too high. Because I was always too high. I spent too much of my time escaping from life in any way I could. But mainly with sugar. I was so disconnected from reality that I couldn’t even remember my own wisdom. And I sure as hell couldn’t hear it for myself.
But now, I am not high. I am free from food addiction. I am sane and happy (most of the time.) I like myself. I trust my instincts. And I remember my own wisdom. And if you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I always err on the side of thinking I’m awesome.
So here is my poem. Because I am proud of it. And because I don’t care if you like it. And because it has some of my most profound wisdom.
I wrote it for me. But you can get wisdom from it too, if you like.
Good Girls Get Fat
Good girls get fat. Extra good girls, accomplished girls, starve themselves. Good girls who are just not good enough, make themselves throw up. Good girls who are just not good enough eventually get fat. Extra good girls die young. Or get fat.
I am not a good girl.
Good girls take care of everyone. Good girls manage. Everything. And be everything. All at once. And are exhausted. And are hungry. And eat the tasks that didn’t get done. And eat the leftover unkindness. And eat their own humanity. They are that hungry.
I take care of my own needs, and leave the rest to life. I am not a good girl.
Good girls give and take. Good girls give the good and take the bad. And chuck the bad. At someone they love. And that makes them hungry. And they eat their words. And wash it down with their shame. Good girls believe that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
I give it all and take it all, and get what I get. I prefer my medicine bitter. I am not a good girl.
Good girls fill the gaps and meet the needs. Good girls keep the world running. Keep themselves running. An endless string of marathons. Good girls stumble and fall. Good girls are spent. Like money. Spare change.
I run when it’s time to run. And then I rest. I am not a good girl.
I am a fucking fantastic woman.
If you don’t know me personally, it may surprise you to learn that I do not have a college degree. After all, I am a highly intelligent, critical thinker with an excellent grasp of the English language, a knack for clearly expressing ideas, and a decided lack of modesty.
I was discussing this not too long ago with my (Harvard PhD, university professor, and scholar) dad. He said that he heard a man on a news and opinion program say that having a college degree basically means 2 things: 1) That you were smart enough at the age of 18 to get accepted into college, and 2) that you were willing to conform to the rules of society enough to get the piece of paper. And my dad said it finally made sense to him why I dropped out of college. Because I have never been one to conform for the sake of conforming.
Then a few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were sitting at the kitchen table and he said that when we were friends as teenagers, he had been fascinated by the fact that I “just never gave a f*** what anybody else thought.” (He meant it as a compliment.)
To a certain extent, this surprises me to hear about myself. I am used to thinking of myself as a people-pleaser. I just really wanted you to like me. And I have been dealing with my “Good Girl” since I got control of my eating. Learning to keep an eye on her. Making sure I don’t let her make any decisions. (She has terrible judgment.)
But I can also see what my dad and my boyfriend were seeing in me. It’s true, I have never been one to do as I am told without question. Partially because I have generally had a very strong sense of what I wanted. And enough willfulness to insist that I would make my own decisions, right or wrong.
Yes, many many of them turned out to be wrong. But mine.
But then when I look at giving up sugar, I can see what a gift it has been to be a non-conformist. And that my willingness to flout convention was one less obstacle to my sanity around food.
Because for whatever reason, people are very uncomfortable with those of us who don’t eat in a way they consider “normal” or “acceptable.” I am sure vegetarians, vegans and everyone else who has their own self-inflicted boundaries around food, have an experience of this. People behave as if they have a vested interest in what I put into my body. And what I don’t. And they often give unsolicited opinions and/or advice (both of which I consider rude and insulting.) They often try to disguise it as care and worry. They often use pointed questions to challenge my choices. As if I will suddenly be struck enlightened by their intrusiveness.
When I first put boundaries around my food, before I knew that seemingly everyone in the whole world was going to have something to say about it, it never occurred to me to worry about what people would think of my eating habits. I had never cared what people thought before and I was not about to start now that my life, health and sanity were hanging in the balance.
But I can see now that a lot of people who want to put boundaries around their eating do care. That before they can save their own lives, they have to get over their fear of disappointing society. Their fear of embarrassing their loved ones. Their fear of being singled out and shamed.
Being a non-conformist means that I do not feel compelled to answer other people’s questions. I do not feel the need to explain or justify myself. Being a non-conformist means that I can just say no. Or it’s none of your business. Or I can say nothing. I don’t owe society anything when it comes to the way I eat.
As I have mentioned before, I don’t think we humans have a lot of “either/or” to us. I think we are a lot of “and”. And I definitely have both “Good Girl” and non-conformist aspects to me. And my non-conformist has not, in retrospect, always led to me making the best, or wisest decisions. But I love my non-conformist nature. I love that it allows me to live a life I love. Because it lets me look for what I love without reference to how the world at large will take it. And it lets me be true to myself without guilt. And it lets me like myself as I am, rather than pine to be what I am told to be.
I started a new job last week. I’m back in the work force after many months of being unemployed. I like it.
I like the job itself. It’s an office job. I like working with spreadsheets and systems. I like learning new things. Plus what I’m doing is not mindless or unnecessary. It all makes sense. And I find that I’m good at it, which is rewarding.
But there is something else too. I am contributing financially in my relationship. Not as much as he is. But something. There was something slightly off-putting about not working.
Not that I minded contributing by doing the domestic things. I didn’t mind cooking and cleaning and laundry. And my boyfriend did not expect it of me. But it felt good to do things for him around the house while he was at work all day. I was going to have to do that stuff for myself anyway. And doing it for one other person, a relatively tidy adult for that matter, was no burden. But it was still hard to ask for things that I needed when I wasn’t pitching in with the money. Everything that was bought for me felt like a gift. Like something I should be grateful for because I didn’t “earn” it, rather than something I was entitled to because I am allowed to get my needs met.
For the record, I’m not talking about leather handbags and jewelry. I’m talking about food and toiletries. And for the record again, this is not to imply that my boyfriend made me feel that way. He never has. It all comes from my own head. My own fears and insecurities. It’s just that when you spend the first 34 years of your life expecting to be alone forever and having to take care of yourself until you die, it’s hard to go into your first relationship at 35 and immediately have a man take care of you financially without some serious head trips.
Needless to say, working and bringing home a paycheck, even a small one, makes me feel like I’m doing my part in my partnership.
Now if you are new to my blog, you may not know that I am a worrier. I worry all the time. Since I stopped eating compulsively, the worrying is usually just static noise in the background, with occasional spells of noticeable anxiety. But something big (like starting a new job) can trigger that noticeable anxiety. So one of the best things that can happen to me is that something that I would most likely worry about comes from out of the blue and there is no time to panic. There is only time for immediate action.
That’s how I found out I had a job. I was sitting around doing laundry and crocheting when I got a call that a job needed me to start tomorrow. There was no time get anxious about whether or not I were smart enough or good enough. I didn’t have time to worry about whether or not my new boss would like me. Or if I would like her. I had to pack breakfast and lunch for the next day and get to bed early for my 5 AM wakeup.
Of course there are still some things that I worry about with this new job. But they are mostly food related. I worry about having enough time to make and pack breakfasts and lunches for the work day. On the days that I work, I work 9 hour days with a 45 minute commute each way. It does not leave me a lot of time to do much when I get home in the evening. Plus there is still dinner to cook and eat every night. And small town Mississippi is not like New York City, where if I worked late and was too tired to cook for the next day, I could go to Fairway, or one of a number of gourmet delis, or a favorite diner to get fresh, delicious, pre-cooked vegetables in quantity to pack up for the next day. I do not have the option of grabbing something quick and easy from the nearest gas station. (Yes, gas station. It’s super small town Mississippi). Nor the option of skipping a meal entirely. I eat within my boundaries, and I eat every meal. I must. My commitment to my food boundaries is what has saved and continues to save my life. I keep those boundaries no matter what.
But I think the biggest fear I have about this new job, which is the biggest fear I have in any new situation, is what I will do if I have to say no, or walk away, or assert myself in order to keep my food boundaries. I am generally afraid of disappointing or angering or offending people, even if it’s to keep my eating under control. Of course, I try to keep my “Good Girl” under wraps, but she’s still in there. And having boundaries around food inevitably means setting boundaries with people. Any people. Family, friends, my boyfriend…and even bosses. And that’s scary.
The clear-headed, not anxious part of my mind tells me to stop worrying about the uncertain future. That such a thing may never happen. And that if it does, I will be able to handle it with grace and honor and love, and still keep my boundaries, my integrity and my self-respect. And then it tells me that even if I fail to be graceful, I will keep my boundaries. And that whatever the result of keeping my boundaries is, it is certainly the right result. Because not being fat, bulimic, crazy, miserable, angry, selfish, and self-loathing is more important than any job, relationship, or amount of money. Because I am always going to be in my own life. That’s the relationship it’s most important not to sabotage.