onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “setting boundaries”

Commitments, alarms, and reminders. Oh my!

I set alarms for so many things in my life. Just now, an alarm went off asking if I posted a blog this week. And the answer was no, and I had totally forgotten. But I had an alarm set, so here I am.

Before I got my eating under control, I had people in my life, people I paid in either time or money, like a personal trainer, and a life coach, telling me to make plans, and keep those plans, regardless of how I felt. And I refused. Where was the joy in that? What about spontaneity? What about fun? What about what I “felt like” or “had a craving for?” What about eating out with friends or last-minute adventures?

When I got my eating under control, I realized how much I was self-sabotaging by clinging to what I thought was spontaneity and fun, but was really just an out to let myself not do something uncomfortable. I didn’t want to plan what I was going to eat because then, if I didn’t follow through, I might have to look at myself. If there was no rule, there was no rule to break, and no behavior to scrutinize.

The truth is that 1) planning makes it easier, not harder, to eat out with friends and take on last-minute adventures. With my eating under control and firm boundaries around food, there are fewer moving parts. The food has to hit certain marks. Once those marks are hit, everything else can be pretty loosey-goosey. And 2) the things that I was fighting against were not boredom or monotony, but long-term fulfillment.

Instant gratification and long-term fulfillment occupy the same space, so you can really only choose one. If I don’t want to go for a jog, I can think of a million excuses not to. I need the sleep, my hip is tight, I should do x instead. But what happens is it becomes easier to not jog. Every time becomes easier. And suddenly, I don’t do that anymore.

That is how every diet ever worked for me. I went on a diet. Instant gratification won once. Then it gradually became the norm. Then I was not on a diet. Then I gained back all the weight I lost, and then some.

I love my life of rules and reminders. I love my alarms. I love the sameness of people calling me every day at the same time to make a commitment of what they will eat the next day, and my call every day at the same time, to commit to what I am going to eat the next day. To have a plan and a commitment to that plan. To have a witness and to be a witness.

I won’t pretend that I am a particularly spontaneous person, though I have my moments. My rigorous adherence to my rules and reminders and commitments gives me a great sense of peace. And I cherish that peace. But also, I have made some bold choices and some daring leaps, because I am grounded in my commitments. After all, I left my home and my city about a month after I re-met my husband, to start a new relationship where I travel around the country with him, constantly moving. That’s pretty bold, if I do say so myself.

I did not used to like promising things to myself. And I used the excuse of freedom. But I was never free until I gave myself boundaries. Since I put boundaries around my eating, I have found that many things that seem counterintuitive are absolutely right. Boundaries lead to freedom. Commitment leads to spontaneity. Rigidity offers fluidity.

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Hashtag! You’re it. #Betterthanchocolate

This week, I took my Twitter app out of a folder of apps I never use. I decided it was time to use it. I always post Onceafatgirl there. But honestly, I have it set up so that WordPress does that for me. All I have to do is hit “publish,” and each post goes out to my social networking sites. Easy-peasy, as the kids say.

But now I have decided I wanted to use Twitter to hone my comedy writing skills. And I don’t know what has shifted, but I am suddenly not afraid of it anymore.

When I started writing Onceafatgirl, a friend told me to get on Twitter, and start using hashtags to grow my audience. It was good advice. I did it, but I didn’t do a very good job. And then I gave up. I wasn’t ready. Partly because I didn’t have an audience in the beginning and I didn’t know who they would eventually be. I didn’t know what this blog would end up being. I didn’t know that I actually wanted to hit the blogosphere big time. Really, I just wanted to share my story. But also, and importantly, I didn’t understand Twitter. And that made me fear it.

I didn’t want to feel foolish. Or worse. People on the interwebs can be vicious. Especially when they don’t have to look you in the eye while they tear you down, beat you up, and bully you. And this is a brutally honest blog. Brutal for me. It can be intense to admit some of the things I think and say and do to a group of friends and strangers. It is a deeply personal look at myself. Stretch marks and all.

But I am feeling better about Twitter. I have been tweeting this week, and it has been a confidence-boosting experience.

One of the things I really came to appreciate when I got my eating under control, is that boundaries are a fantastic catalyst for creativity. I put some serious rules around my food choices and portions, and ended up with more enjoyable meals than when I could eat whatever, whenever, wherever. 140 characters is an exciting limitation in the same way. I have loved being forced into brevity. It is a delicious exercise in how to put the entire context of a joke into the joke itself. It is an invaluable lesson in editing for a particularly wordy person, like me.

But I want to try something else too. Because this is a very personal blog, I have been protective of myself. I love the feedback I receive, but I am not sure how much I should do about it. I have noticed that I haven’t responded to any comments on any posts for a long time. I have felt uncomfortable with the idea of constantly saying, “Thank you. That means a lot to me.” It’s not a lie. It does mean a lot to me, but it is starting to feel hollow after 3 years.

So I have registered a hashtag. #Betterthanchocolate

Peace is #Betterthanchocolate is the tagline of this blog. For me, it’s about the gifts that I got when I started taking care of myself and stopped hurting myself with food.

Now I want to know what you think. And not just me hearing from you. I want to create this conversation.

If you are a sugar addict like me who has given up sugar, let me know the gifts you get every day that are #Betterthanchocolate. Here are some of mine:

Not being afraid of a flight (or 6) of stairs is #Betterthanchocolate

Dancing the night away without wanting to die is #Betterthanchocolate

Having shoelaces not be an issue is #Betterthanchocolate

But even if you are not a recovering sugar addict, let me know the gifts you get from taking care of yourself that are more important to you than eating. Or the things you love to do that are #Betterthanchocolate.

You get the idea. Let me hear from you! Let you hear from you! You can post them on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or wherever you are using hashtags.

And if you want, follow me on Twitter @onceafatgirl5

Money is money. And time is money. But my attention is worth more than gold.

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…

Good fences make good neighbors

Lately, I have been thinking about the saying “Good fences make good neighbors.” I said it to somebody recently, telling her that it was ok to set a boundary with someone. It is a saying that has come to mean a lot to me.

I never really understood the saying before I put boundaries around my eating. I don’t even mean that it used to mean something different to me and now it has taken on a more profound meaning. I mean it used to seem like just a bunch of words. (Like “We have to let them win a few battles so we can win the war.” I still have no idea what that actually means. Apparently it is a good thing that I am not a military strategist…)

I talk a lot about how I keep boundaries around my food. But I don’t remember how much I have talked about how I put boundaries around how I am willing to be treated. Because I do. I draw lines. I say no. I say that things are not ok. I make requests for people to stop doing things that I find intrusive or abusive. I walk away when I am not honored.

When I put boundaries around my eating, I had to uphold those food boundaries with people. No you can’t have a bite. I can’t wait for you, I need to eat now. I can’t eat that. No, thank you. Etc…

But it eventually became clear that I needed to put boundaries up with people for things other than food. And that these boundaries were linked to my eating disorders and keeping them under control. It was about what I thought I was worth and how I deserved to be treated. First by myself. Then by everybody else.

“How I’m willing to be treated” and “intrusive or abusive” makes it sound like I’m talking about big, scary, obvious things. You’re not allowed to hit me. You’re not allowed to call me a stupid bitch. You’re not allowed to steal my money. But really, it can be things that other people think are silly or petty or ridiculous. It can be things that make other people say, “You’re overreacting.” “You’re being extreme.” Please don’t give me unsolicited advice. Please keep your opinions to yourself. No, I can’t do what you’re asking me to do.

It turns out that people aren’t mind readers. And that many people think they are being kind, or helpful, or playful, or friendly, or intimate when they do things that are hurtful. And many (many) people don’t have any boundaries of their own, so they can’t even imagine what it means that I do. So if I need something that I am not getting, I say so. And if I don’t want to do something that is being asked of me, I don’t have to. I can say no. Because when I ask for things clearly and answer requests honestly, I am giving people an opportunity to honor me.

Right. An opportunity. That sometimes, some people will refuse to take. There will always be people who hop fences. Literally and figuratively. There will always be people who either don’t know how, or just plain refuse, to honor my boundaries. There will always be abusers and thieves. There will always be bullies and assholes. But my personal experience is that setting the boundary is more important than whether or not others honor it.

It is also my experience that somehow, some way, almost magically, if I honor myself, people will either be compelled to honor me too, or they will disappear. I have found that the ignorant and misguided will learn. And that bullies and assholes, thieves and abusers fall away.

But there is something else to setting boundaries. Maintaining them. Because people test. They think I was just being cranky when I told them that it was not ok for them to give their opinion about my weight. Or how I eat. Or whether or not I wear makeup. Or if I use artificial sweetener. They think I will realize that I was being silly. Or that I will change my mind once I realize that they were trying to be kind. Or they don’t care that I have said no, so they think that if they badger me enough or try to manipulate me, I will be coerced into doing what they want. Or they think that if they cross my boundaries enough times, I will stop setting them. I will let it go. I will let them pass.

Because so many times, people do let it go. They let the boundary-crossers pass. Perhaps they think that boundaries should be set nicely, so as not to hurt anybody’s feelings. Or perhaps they wonder who they are that they should be allowed to say no. And don’t. And that is not ok. Perhaps they think that it would be rude to walk away. That it would be arrogant to assert themselves.

It is a scary thing to honor yourself. When I was first learning how to do it, it seemed so much harder to have a difficult conversation with somebody, than it did to shame myself and decide that I was the one with the problem. It was easier to fall back on the idea that I was the one who was overreacting and being extreme. But the more I do it, the better I get at it. And eventually it became the natural choice. It can still be scary from time to time. And some conversations are still difficult. But for me, it’s about my life and my sanity. So a difficult conversation is still easier than failing myself.

I agree that in a perfect world, we would all be able to set boundaries in a pleasant manner. With kindness. And in a gentle loving way. But it’s not a perfect world. And as a friend of mine says, it doesn’t matter how gracefully you set boundaries. It only matters that you set them.

If you know why this fence was put up, you know it’s best not to take it down

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.

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