I was talking to a friend the other day about making friends with certain difficult or frustrating aspects of ourselves. I feel like making friends is not what we are taught. We are taught to eradicate and transform. We are taught that we should change the way we are. It is all about principle and not about practical. All about what we should be, instead of what we are.
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.
At my job, I am working in an office with a bunch of strangers from different companies right now, though I may be moving to a private office trailer soon.
A lot of people at work are very curious about my food. In a lot of ways it is frustrating the way they talk about it. It’s all filled with a certain kind of praise and awe, that I don’t identify with.
I don’t do what I do to be envied or put on a pedestal. I am saving my life. To me, it can be like praising someone with a disease for taking their medicine. It reminds me of a woman who wrote about having a child with high-maintenance special needs, and how everyone would say, “I could never do that.” And she always had to hold herself back from saying “Of course you could. You just don’t have to, and I do.”
That is, of course, not entirely true that I “have to.” We all make our choices. Parents of disabled kids and addicts alike. We all have to decide what our priorities are. But if you can eat a cookie with impunity, it doesn’t make me feel good that you “could never” do what I do. And if you can’t, like me, and you choose the cookie anyway, I don’t know what to tell you except that you could and can do what I do. Yes it will suck for a while. A long while. But a friend once told me what her mother-in-law said to her when she first got married.
“It’s gonna get real hard before it gets reeeeeal sweet.”
I feel that way about putting down sugar and carbs. I feel that way about playing the long game with my life. Do I like getting up at 5 to get to the gym before work? No. I really don’t. But I love feeling comfortable in my body, loving my life, feeling like I accomplished something, and like I did something toward my ultimate goal of aging gracefully.
And as someone who just turned 41 last Wednesday, and feels healthy, happy, and beautiful, I would say it is all worth it.
Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about what it looks like to let people be themselves. Make their own choices. Fight their own battles. Live their own lives.
It’s a hard thing. I know that it is hard for everybody. And I like to think it is something that I am relatively good at.
Relatively. I mean, it’s not easy. Especially when I love somebody. Or in my pride I think I know what would be best.
And maybe what I think other people should do really would make them happy, or give them peace, or just generally make things work out for the best. But none of that matters.
When I was growing up, a lot of people wanted me to lose weight. Doctors and family and friends. Not because they didn’t like or love me fat, but because they did. They wanted better for me. They wanted me to be healthier and happier. They didn’t want me to get obesity related illnesses. Or be made fun of. Or get hurt and rejected.
But nothing those people wanted for me ever helped me. None of their opinions or advice ever landed as anything but judgment, cruelty, and conditional caring. I am not saying that that is what it was. I am not saying that it was not genuine love and concern. But it did not occur that way. It occurred as intrusion. And for the most part, it still does.
I love advice.
When I ask for it. Because I am choosy about whom I ask. I go to people who have something I want when I ask for advice. When I wanted peace around food, I went to people who had peace around food. I did what they did. Not people who were skinny. Not even people who had lost a lot of weight. I wanted food to stop being an issue. So I went to people for whom compulsive eating was no longer an issue. When I wanted to open my heart and find a powerful relationship, I asked for advice from people in the kinds of relationships I wanted. Not people who happened to be married. Not women who were trying to land a husband. It was about relationships. When I wanted to quit smoking, I went to people who had successfully quit smoking and were empowered by it. Not people who still had a puff every once in a while. Not people who had never had or wanted a cigarette. People who quit so that they could grow.
What I do around food is not for everybody. Plenty of people are not sick with sugar addiction or eating disorders, and can eat sugar and drink alcohol normally and without negative repercussions. Or have other food issues that would be exacerbated by what I do.
And no. Not everybody wants what I have. And I can understand that. I think most people can’t imagine how sweet and delicious my life is. I don’t think many people can fathom what it is like to have found a certain amount of peace. I bet they think that what I have is a dull as can be.
But even more, there are people who do, indeed, want what I have, but are unwilling to do what I do. Almost everybody wants to know how I live with the idea of never eating chocolate cake again. Or never having a glass of wine with dinner. Or they want to make sure that I know that they never could. So many people, when they hear my solution, decide that it’s too much. They want an easier, softer way. Not so hard. Not so extreme.
And who am I to tell them differently? Who am I to judge them for not doing what I do?
And it’s not just food. Food is just the most obvious example to me. My “amazing” weight loss transformation that is written all over my body. (Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I put amazing in quotes because I happen to know that my weight was the symptom of my eating disorders. That what’s really amazing to me is the gift of having my eating under control, which takes care of my weight issues. And that more than amazing, it’s work and dedication and giving myself over to grace.) Who am I to offer advice about any choice. Who am I to tell anybody anything? Who am I to tell another person how to live. Or what happiness is. Or where to find it?
Unless you want to ask me. And then I would love to tell you what works for me. And even then, I give it as a gift. With no strings. To do with what you will. Because your life is yours. And you get to live it for yourself.
I know that I am outspoken about not loving the holiday season, but there is something I do love about this time of year. I love the New Year. And I don’t just mean the parties. (Though there are aspects of New Year’s parties that contribute to it being one of my favorite holidays. Getting dressed up and dancing, traditional staples for New Year’s festivities, are two of my favorite things ever in the whole world ever.)
But what I really love is the opportunity to look back. To remember and reflect. And I love the opportunity to look forward. To anticipate and plan.
And I love when we choose to do this. That we do it around winter solstice. (Historically, the New Year has been celebrated either around the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, or around winter solstice, the first day of winter.) There is something beautiful to me about having the year end just after the darkest days are done. To make a new beginning just as the days begin to get longer again. We begin as it’s getting better. Waxing.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how different this time of reflection is for me since I got my eating under control. I was trying to remember which were the great years for me before 2006. And I thought about the fact that I don’t remember looking back on any year before then with fondness.
Not because they were all bad, I realize. But because I was a whiney, whiney complainer. Because I was always unhappy. Because I hated myself. And I hated life. And I was sure that God was out to get me. When I look back at my life, the things that I accomplished and the opportunities I was given, I can see that some of those years were pretty great. Exciting things happened for me. But I didn’t have any gratitude for them.
And then I started to think about the past 8 years and how wonderful they have been. But then I realized that they were not necessarily wonderful. They were certainly not all light, easy and fun. I realized that I had occasionally had some crazy, or terrible or painful things happen to me. But that my attitude about any particular year was never that it was all bad.
In 2007, I lost my Grandfather. He was the first grandparent I lost. I was also evicted from my apartment. I couch surfed for months before I got back on my feet. I had some incredibly generous and amazing friends come through for me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It was scary and difficult and stressful. But I also loved that year. I got a whole new appreciation for my own capabilities. And I went through that whole period keeping boundaries around my eating. I never said screw it. I honored my commitment even though I’m sure nobody would have “blamed me” if I had numbed my fear and anxiety with food. It was also the year I came out of my sugar-withdrawal fog. For the previous year and a half, I had been walking around in a daze. I had been high on sugar so consistently and for so long that being sober made me feel high. I was scared, but I was so grateful to feel empowered and in control. And loved.
2010 was particularly hard. I lost my grandmother and my aunt that year, two women who were incredibly important to me. I spent a lot of time crying. And I was not sorry to move on to 2011. But I didn’t write the whole year off as awful. I wasn’t miserable. I was sad. That’s all. Just sad. And not only sad. When I look back on it, I can remember that 2010 was a year when I gained a whole new level of confidence in my beauty and my worth. It was a year I went on a whole bunch of dates. And I went on those dates looking for a man who would deserve me, not for one who would “take me” or “put up with me.” I still had a lot of things to work through on that front. I wouldn’t even start this blog until January of 2012. But I liked myself in 2010. And I loved life. And I didn’t take the hard stuff personally. I had gratitude for all of the good stuff. That the women I lost had loved me and I loved them. That I was growing as a woman. That I had hope.
And in 2012 I fell into a depression after quitting smoking. Because it made me stop producing important brain chemicals. And because it affected my metabolism and I gained a bunch of weight. Which is hard on a woman with eating and body image disorders. But it was not a bad year. I also started writing this blog that year. And I took some risks in terms of love and relationships. And I took some new actions in terms of work and money. And depressed or not, I had quit smoking. I did a lot of growing that year. I changed a lot. For the better. And I was grateful for it.
That is one of the many things that getting my eating under control has afforded me. Gratitude. For life. It has taught me to be grateful for the gifts and the miracles. And to remember that the bummers and the upsets are not God pushing me down. They are not personal. They are life. Not just mine, either. Everybody’s life. And that they are also opportunities to be better if I want to use them.
So when I look back on this past year, and I see that it has been gift after gift, it brings tears to my eyes. I came out of that depression from quitting smoking this year. I found a love beyond my wildest dreams this year. I jumped with both feet into a new life and a new lifestyle of travel and excitement. Even though I was nervous and anxious. And I found that I love it. And just yesterday, I started a new job.
I could have found plenty to be grateful for this year. Even without love and adventure. Because I am so grateful to be in a body I love, free from my obsession with food, with my integrity intact. But 2013 has been the best year I can ever remember having. Ever. In my whole life. And while I don’t expect that every year will necessarily be so filled with so many extraordinary life altering joyous events, or so devoid of losses and pains and hardships, I can’t imagine that I’ve hit my peak yet. I fully expect for life to continue to get better.
How could life get better than this? I don’t know. But 2014, feel free to consider this a dare.
I have spent this week in Indianapolis. My boyfriend was on a short job. 6 days. Tomorrow we leave early in the morning and take a 12 hour drive south to a long-term job. Roughly 9 months. Or that’s the plan anyway.
We were supposed to be at that job already. We thought we would be there mid-September. And then early October. We already have an apartment there. We moved in, and then packed up a handful of things and left it again for a few weeks. Because the work was elsewhere.
My boyfriend keeps telling me, “Nothing is certain in construction.” Apparently….
But I’m getting better at this whole moving around thing.
Today I have already packed up for the drive tomorrow. My 3 meals are ready to go. As well as a bit of extra food for the next day so we don’t have to go to the grocery store tomorrow night after the long drive. I did the laundry and all of my clothes are packed except the ones I’m wearing and the ones that I will wear on the drive tomorrow. I have opened up the drawers and cabinets to make sure we won’t leave anything behind.
And I’m also getting better at this whole uncertainty thing.
My boyfriend said that he was surprised at how well I took it when he told me would be coming to Indiana before we went back to our new apartment.
Yeah. Historically, I haven’t been the best at dealing with change. Especially sudden change.
When I got control of my eating, it became (and still is) the most important thing in my life. There is a quote by Thomas Jefferson. “Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for liberty.” I understand that this is a universal truth. Jefferson was certainly speaking of the liberty of the nation. But it is just as true regarding my liberty from food addiction. I have been a slave to food. I have been oppressed by my eating disorders. I am free now. But in order to stay free, I must never take that freedom for granted. Keeping boundaries around my food and keeping my eating disorders under control does, indeed, require constant, eternal vigilance.
I’m not complaining. It has never not been worth it.
But because of this desire to protect my freedom, I have often been very bad at “going with the flow.” For years after I quit sugar and put boundaries around my eating, I kept my life in a strict routine. I did not step out of my comfort zone. I ate my meals at home, or at restaurants I knew well. I avoided trying new things with food. And making plans to go out for a meal, or even around a meal time, would often fill me with anxiety. I could never be comfortable until I had eaten my meal and that was out of the way.
Because of this, the thought of travelling was terrifying. The only place I ever went was my hometown to visit my family.
Vacation? Vacations are about relaxing and enjoying. Not anxiety. How could leaving my own kitchen be a vacation?
But here’s the interesting part. All of that vigilance opened up my life. Made me available for new things and new experiences. Made me available to fall in love. Gave me the clarity to realize that what I was supposed to do was leave my life in New York City and travel the country in a pickup truck with the man I fell in love with.
It’s funny. All of that habit and familiarity and routine directly lead me to give up all of that habit and familiarity and routine.
Of course, I am still vigilant. I want to keep my freedom. So I protect it.
But it turns out that there are so many more ways to take care of my food boundaries than I ever thought before. It turns out I can do it and still move around the country.
But also, I am with a man who is not just supportive, but who goes out of his way to take care of me so that I can take care of myself. He makes sure I can get to the grocery store. He booked us a hotel with a kitchenette this week, so I could cook for myself. When we went out to eat with his family, I picked the restaurant so that I could be sure of getting what I needed. And I did.
Plus, I have all of this experience now that shows me that when I am committed to keeping my food under control, I can. And I do.
So, yes. I am getting better at this. The roving and the roaming. And the unknown.
I’m with the person I want to be with most. I am experiencing new places and things. And I am more comfortable trusting that everything will work out than I ever thought I could be.
The truth is…so far, I love this life.
I’ll end with a little story. We’re in an extended stay hotel, so many of the guests are regular travelers. I met a woman today in the elevator. We got to chatting a little. I told her my boyfriend was in construction, and that we travel. I said, “The truth is, it’s a pretty sweet life.”
She got a little teary-eyed. She said, “I just recently lost my husband. But he was in construction. And we travelled around too. And yes, I had the best life in the whole world.”
So I’m getting nervous. About what you think of me. Wondering if you’re feeling sorry for me. Think I’m a Debbie Downer. I feel like I’ve been giving you rather melancholy stories. All deep, and emotional. So I want to say, I swear to God, I’m a lot of fun at parties! (Not that I go to that many parties…But when I do – super fun!) I do, in fact, know how to tell light, funny stories. I’m quick, and I love to laugh. I am not all gloom and doom all the time. (Plus, I’m a fantastic dancer!)
The truth is, having the first 28 years of my life be difficult, and painful, and having eating disorders was perhaps the best thing to ever happen to me. If I had simply been mildly maladjusted, I may have been able to live with that. I may have had a “fine” life. (Of course, who knows?) What I can tell you, is that I was a miserable wretch with some serious food issues, and some serious behavior issues, and they were tied together. So to deal with one part, I had to deal with the other. And that offered me two beautiful gifts. The first is to know the glory of honesty, self-respect, and peace because I know the ugliness of dishonesty, shame, and desperation. To see that without the distinction of one set of experiences, I would not have either such a clear understanding of, or so much gratitude for the other. (I mean that going both ways.)
The second is the opportunity to live a life of deep, and ever-expanding integrity. Which is, by far, the most awe and peace inspiring experience I have ever had.
The truth is, I live with a relatively steady stream of low-level anxiety. I worry pretty much constantly. Sometimes, I’ll be getting a massage and I’ll be worrying about whether I silenced my phone. And what I will do if the phone rings in the middle of my massage. And if I should stop her now and make sure my phone is off. And sometimes I pray for it to ring so I know and I can turn it off. I worry about nonsense in the middle of the thing I do to relax!
But the worries I have now, are nothing like the worries I had when my eating was out of control. Now I worry about vagaries in the uncertain future. Nonsense, like my phone ringing at the massage place. Failure, like will I be able to get the 3-year-old I take care of to go to sleep. And things I have no control over, like the MTA, or what you think of this blog. But none of these kinds of worries haunt me.
I used to worry about real things. Serious things. Things that eat at your heart. Lies I told. Ways I cheated. Things I stole. Broken promises. Lies told to hide broken promises. Things I said I would do and didn’t. Things I said I wouldn’t do and did. There was no relationship between what I said and what I did or how I felt. I did all of these things with the aim of making my life easier. And instead I made my life unbearable.
I am not saying that I live a life of perfect integrity now. I don’t even believe that is possible. Life is messy. I have many many messes I have yet to clean up. I have a bajillion glaring breaches in my integrity that I have not dealt with. I make new ones all the time. (It helps that, for the most part, I clean as I go now.) But I no longer believe I have the right to use dishonesty to make my life “easier”. My word means something to me. I honor it. I try to follow three rules. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Be where you say you’re going to be when you say you’re going to be there. And tell the truth. This alone has eliminated an entire world of stress and upset for me. This has given me such a beautiful, easy, fun life!
No, seriously. I love my life! I look forward to waking up every day. I am regularly brimming with gratitude. All because I am not worried and haunted and filled with dread about all of the ways I dishonored myself and the people in my life. I love my life because I can look God in the eye.
There is a phrase I use that friends sometimes tease me about. A tag line, if you will. “I’m grateful.” I say it when someone holds a door for me. When someone gives me a compliment. When someone lets me pass them on a crowded sidewalk. When the barista hands me my americano. When the grocery store check-out person hands me my change. And I mean it! Truly and sincerely. I’m grateful.
I am grateful every day. I am a generally cheerful person. A bad start doesn’t mean a rotten day. A difficult situation doesn’t mean I can’t laugh about it. Or at least laugh about something. I have learned that when I don’t eat a bad feeling, it will pass. If I don’t eat a difficult situation, the answer will come. If I don’t eat to get through something, I will actually get through it. And what is on the other side is dignity. And self-respect. Which bring peace. What is on the other side is a really beautiful life!
So if you’ve been feeling sorry for me, don’t! Don’t feel sorry for me because I can’t eat chocolate anymore. Not because I was an unhappy kid. Not because I have a sensitive heart. I’m a joyful woman who is learning how to navigate life with peace, grace and gratitude. I am a woman who loves life! And I promise, I do not miss chocolate. Not even a little. Life is rich and sweet enough for me.