I want to be the kind of person that gives strangers the benefit of the doubt. Who is inclined to trust until there is real evidence not to. The kind of person who is whole in herself regardless of who or what she is currently attached to. An encouraging person. Someone who does not contribute to needless aggression or pessimism. Someone who acts out of genuine excitement and engagement, not out of pressure, obligation, or fear. Someone whose life is an end in itself, who does not wait to be validated in order to feel permission to live fully. I want to relax into and own the freedom that I already have. I want to let go of all of the reasons I tell myself I can’t be free just yet. I want to let the chips fall where they fall when I refuse to leave myself anymore. It may feel like someone can take this from me, because it was taken over and over again when I had no power. I didn’t have the space or safety to be to able to choose how to be with myself. But it’s not true anymore and never will be again. If I stay with myself, stay on my own side, I may experience a stomach in knots over someone yelling at me or firing me or condemning me.. But the knots will pass and what will remain is how I be with myself. It could be me tending to my own pain, instead of me trapped in so many stories of why I deserved it or how I was wronged or how I am irrevocably fucked. It could just be another experience in a lifetime of unique experiences. This lifetime that could have the common thread of me loving myself, and loving life because I open to it and feel myself open. Feel myself open.
As part of my training in psychology, I’ve learned about borderline personality disorder. Maybe I’ll go more into depth about it another time, but a “love/hate” tendency is one of the defining characteristics. I have noticed in myself that when others anticipate my needs and go above and beyond in satiating them, I practically fall in love. And when I have to explicitly state what I need, or do not get what I need – it can take only moments to relegate a person to the “doesn’t really understand/love me” category.
At the same time on the flip-side, I feel that when I respond to others’ needs well I deserve love, acceptance, and praise. And when I fall short, there is justification for when I am treated badly. When you add in perfectionism, this leads to a constant struggle to meet others’ needs in order to feel secure, and a constant falling short and consequent feelings of deserving maltreatment.
How does this relate to food, and the title of this post?
Well, for most of my life up till now, I did what I was told. I was a “good girl.” I followed paths that are sanctioned by society as “smart,” “safe,” “good,” “responsible,” “productive.” And whatever I did (which was mainly school), I did extremely well. And I received what comes along with that: people always saying I’m so smart, scholarships, people talking about my potential, people treating me like I’m a “good girl.” I played by the rules no matter the cost and I got the rewards that those particular games offered.
The thing is, when the rewards just don’t do it anymore because you’ve burnt yourself to a crisp, you come face to face with something: your own abandoned dreams, the rules your heart would like to set for the game of life.
Which is all well and good, except when you are used to being a zombie in exchange for people praising you, it can be extremely difficult to learn true accountability for one’s actions, as well as how to relate to others in a way that relies on mutual exchange rather than sacrifice and reward.
So. At the moment, I’ve freed myself from the predetermined “good girl” path. And, as I begin to allow myself to imagine different new paths for myself, I find myself stuck in certain ways. Just the thought of picking anything is strange to me, because I think, “Well, if I pick that, it will just be because I picked it, not because it made sense, it was a good idea, my parents would like the idea, it would be good for my future, it’s the only option, it’s the only choice I can make while I also have to do ______, etc.” It appears that I am having great difficulty with valuing my own choices on the merit of simply being what I want. It feels like I’m waiting to get called on the phone and yelled at for not remembering that this or that is most important right now so I can’t just _______ (fill in the blank with whatever I want).
To get back to the borderline concept, the way I’ve operated most of my life is to feel that I owe others and that they owe me based on whether or not we are meeting certain expectations. However, now, trying to stand only on my own two legs as the foundation for my choices, for my being… Separating my intrinsic value from “doing as I’m told”… I can no longer expect others to treat me a certain way just because I play by their rules, since I realize I can play by my own now and that each person is entitled to this.
I’ve never been thin before, and for most of my life I had a frying pan poised over my skull, with the threat, “YOU BETTER DIET OR YOU’LL BE UNACCEPTABLE FOREVER.” So I dieted every day for 10 years.
Then I threw dieting in the garbage where it belongs, and began therapy in which I have for 3 years expressed “I need to do something about my eating, though, really, seriously, oh my god.” And I do not mean to diminish the true suffering here in any way, it’s real. But – in both this case and with dieting, the issue of addressing my eating has not been treated as a choice. It’s been treated as: You are expected to fix this, and if you don’t, it’s a fucking problem. And the game I’ve played with myself is that as long as I’m suffering enough about it, obsessing enough about it, I meet my own quota for suffering necessary to be a good person and then deserve the reward of bingeing.
I am beginning to glimpse an alternative. If I want to eat differently, do not make it a game with myself, seeing how badly I can demand myself to suffer, and how well I comply. Do not pretend that the “streaks” of doing well, as long as they’re often enough, prove that I’m valuable otherwise I’d just be shit. Rather… Make an honest evaluation, then make a decision, then take responsibility for seeing it through. Every action everyone takes is calculated to be the best action according to underlying beliefs, values, and emotional issues. Everyone is physically in control of the actions they take. So before you take an action you don’t want to take, you can make it your responsibility to find out what underneath is leading to that impulse. You inquire, you figure it out. You don’t ruminate, you don’t pretend it’s unsolvable, you don’t let it go on and on and on. You reckon with it until it’s known.
If you’re completely up and down with your eating, you need to find out what it is that you truly want, and then you need to be ready to commit to it. Decide if you want to live or not! For those with histories of depression or suicidal thoughts, you may need to go back to this most fundamental of questions. If you’re reading this, it’s extremely likely that you do want to live – which means the part of you that’s causing ambivalence is made up of emotional leftovers that you should not allow to run your life. If you want to live, decide if you’re willing to spend more time causing yourself suffering or not – decide EXACTLY how you are going to take action on your own behalf, and know that you can.
There’s a difference between force and threats, and firmness about the fact that you are the only one who gets to decide what’s valuable to you and the only one who is in charge of whether or not you get that value into your life. We can have compassion for the parts of ourselves that need attention, the parts that cause us to act out; however, we do not want those echoes of the past running our lives. We want our best selves and our true desires and values running our lives.
This post was inspired by a conflict with my boyfriend which was essentially about the need to manage one’s own expectations. We have been together for almost 7 years. We know each other, and we know each other’s basic traits, capabilities, habits, communication styles, etc. I like the example I used in the last post, of how people don’t try to jump in the air when they know they can’t fly that way. It would be the hallmark of not accepting one’s own responsibility, if someone yelled at the sky every day, “Oh yeah??!?? Again not letting me fly?!?? You make me sick!!!! You don’t understand me, you don’t love me.. Screw you, sky.” What a way to emotionally drain yourself every single day. Not to mention destroy your relationship with the sky.
If the reality is that this person was actually carrying around a broken heart about not being able to fly, it would be time for them to acknowledge this and to decide whether or not they are going to commit themselves to their dream. Are they going to begin training to become a pilot or an astronaut? Are they going to conclude that what they wanted was an unrealistic expectation and let it go? EITHER one of these, whichever is true in their heart, will bring peace and renewed energy, wellness and direction. Why? Because in either case, even if the answer is to let the dream die, you are no longer raising your blood pressure and releasing the chemicals of stress into your body and soul every day screaming at the sky.
FIND where in life you have conflicts that seem to have been there for a very long time, which you have been unable to solve. Of course we can use the example of food, but as the relationship to food is really only the surface indicator of deeper emotional truths, you must find these conflicts elsewhere as well.
Always all-or-nothing or back and forth in the relationship to food? Decide whether you are ready to choose life over bingeing, then commit to healing through eating when, what, and how much the body needs and doing inquiry when you want food but are not hungry.
Love/hate in your relationship? Decide what you really need, and then commit to getting that, whatever that implies, whether it be weekly conversations to assess the relationship, breaking up, starting therapy in order to sort out which are your own issues, or whatever else is needed.
If you’ve lived a life of having to prove yourself for love (and likely learned to make others prove themselves to you as a way of showing love), it’s time to find the freedom in declaring your own value and respecting the inherent value of others. If you don’t like something, do not expect that enough suffering or enough passive-aggression or enough waiting or enough hinting or enough tolerating or enough despair will make someone else make it go away because you deserve it to. There’s no more deserving in terms of being treated well. You’ve got to want it, and then you’ve got to make it happen. This is not the same as saying “you can only ever rely on yourself” – but in terms of others in your life, you still choose who is in your life and the extent of the chosen ones’ abilities to treat you well.
Let’s not delay in discovering what we truly want and need.
Go get it.
I quit/got-fired-from my job on November 1st in order to go to Geneen Roth’s retreat in California. As of right now, I don’t have the money for rent due on January 6th —- reality check.
I quit in a binge-y sort of way: yes, I’ll go to the retreat! I’ll have free time! I won’t have to wake up early for a while! The retreat will put me in such a different frame of mind for so long! This is it! Yeah, I’ll get what I want! I’ll have it all!!!!
That last bit there – that last little line – is a blaring buzzing neon light signaling binge-mode.
“I’ll have it all.”
It’s the mark of a deprived, out-of-touch mentality. It’s a defense against guilt and loss and anger. Had a fight with a family member? Next thing you know you’re saying Damned right I’m having Chinese takeout WITH the extra egg roll won ton soup duck sauce and Snapple.
Anyway – I went on the retreat in a binge-y way, I was sort of aware of it at the time but considered the expected benefits of the retreat (I had gone once before) to outweigh this fact anyway, so I went. And it WAS brilliant and revitalizing and sweet. But. Now, the rent check is waiting to be written in a few weeks, and I am madly rebelling. I feel like I DESERVE time off and that I want my next job to be perfect for my life before just jumping into another one I will eventually want to leave. Ah – that other blaring signal word – “perfect.”
What I’ve said so far is to provide a backdrop for this main point: Binge or no binge, reality remains.
Whenever you “act out” about something, you’re left with the original conflict that precipitated the acting out, and in addition the consequences of the acting out. Plain english: After you eat all the Chinese food you want, you now still have the fact that you had a fight with a family member, plus the discomfort and self-loathing that results from the compulsive eating.
The only ways to deal with this truth are to try to stay in a stupor as often as possible (eat compulsively all day, drink every day, get high every day, buy something every day), or to face what needs facing.
To be blunt, often, I only stop being self-destructive when something demands that I crawl out of my hole. I may only stop eating when I feel like I’ll get sick if I don’t. I may only get myself to go to my soccer game because if I miss a 3rd one in a row it will look too bad. I may only say I’m sorry to my boyfriend when it becomes explicitly clear that I’ve gone too far and hurt him. I may only pay attention to the fact that I don’t have clothes that fit me when I have 15 minutes to get ready to meet a friend and then rage about it, trying to find something decent enough.
These behaviors are the manifestation of a mentality of avoidance. Essentially, avoidance of reality. Avoidance of psychological and emotional truths, and the truths of being human. This is why the Buddha focused so much on the nature of reality, and declared his central teaching to be that “Life is suffering.” Why would a guy who says shit like that still have so much influence today? ;)
It’s because it IS true – If you find yourself being a human being, it is true so far as anything is true: that you will die, that you will get old and sick and die if you are lucky, or die in some accident if you are not, that you will feel physical pain just by virtue of having a body, that you will feel emotional pain whether it’s because you have love or lack it… As deeply as you believe the sun will rise tomorrow, you may believe that every human being will experience these sufferings in life.
What does this do for us? It can smash the delusions that lead to mental self-torture and lack of compassion for others.
When you dive into the chicken and broccoli and egg roll and rice and scent of the duck sauce and chewing and swallowing and chasing with sweet drink.. When you take the dive into oblivion, no matter how long it takes (a quick swipe of the credit card, a few seconds of obsession in the mind, a 5-hour binge), you are diving into the delusion that you can have it all, and that you can control how you feel.
How many grown people do you see jumping up and down outside, trying to launch into the air and fly?
Because as deeply as they know anything, they know that humans can’t just jump up and fly, so they don’t try.
Self-destructive/addictive behaviors indicate denial of realities that are equally true, such as
– It is impossible for us to always feel happy.
– Suffering is inherent to living.
– You cannot change the past.
– I am angry at a family member.
– I am so tired that I need to go to bed now.
– I hate my job.
– I never figured out what I really wanted.
– We are always getting older, closer to death.
The good news is that working with reality is easier than working with layers and layers of compulsion and denial. Reality is unpredictable, scarier, and more raw, and it means change.. But it is also where you can actually meet yourself and taste this life.
You can’t have it all – but you CAN have what you DO have.
We’ve got limits, but we also have freedoms.
Gotta die? Choose how to spend your life.
Your body only needs 5 bites of food at the moment? Pick which deliciousness you’ll feed it.
You need to work to live? Decide what job will most enable you to be yourself at this time.
Find yourself undeniably tired? Angry? Hopeless? Heartbroken?
Clink an imaginary glass with all of the human souls who’ve ever lived who were brave enough to feel, and know, how they felt. These are the souls who learned compassion for others by facing their own suffering and in so doing faced everyone else’s as well. These are the souls who undoubtedly opened their hearts most to the world, and transformed it. This is what we all seek – offer your exhaustion to this. Offer your anger, hopelessness, and heartbreak to this shared courage and opening. Let screams and tears and laughter and sighs come. Imagine a soul putting her hand on your shoulder, nodding with a slight, knowing smile, communicating with no words, “Ah.. Yes.. That moment of facing aloneness. Mm-mm. Yes, yes..” Just that shared knowing. “Ah, anger with your friend.. Ah, yes.. Ah, that burn.” The humanity of feeling anger. The humanity of feeling the love underneath it. This is so much more precious than what a binge can offer you.
Facing the realities of limits and suffering can be excruciatingly painful, but is also the only way to feel your own heart, to look into your own eyes. If you can do this, you will be most able to be intimate with joy itself when it is time for joy – which it often is.
Offering encouragement for staying with your true way,
There are few things more basic to a living being than feeling hunger and then feeding it. It’s built in from Day 1, and without this mechanism we die.
After years of adding emotional drama and mental judgment onto our eating habits, we eventually lose touch with or abandon our natural hunger mechanism. Natural – meaning no conscious effort necessary. We trade in an ease that we’re born with for a constant struggle, for the promise of something supernatural: being thin-loved-accepted-perfect all the time.
The way back to ourselves and the way back to ease-of-eating is to reconnect with natural hunger. This has many implications on the emotional level as well, but for now, try this exercise:
Set aside a day, or half a day, in which you will not be under much pressure and will have the opportunity to be with yourself emotionally. You’re going to use your imagination and pretend that for this time, you do not know that humans need to eat in order to live. The point is that you will go about your time with other tasks, and will re-direct any thoughts about food because food has nothing to do with people at this time. If you can do this much, you will experience the gift of your physical hunger creeping up on you. While this may seem very silly or unnecessary, for someone who is at the point where they don’t believe they can even FEEL hunger anymore, it can be a miracle. Why? You discover that your body WILL talk to you in EXACTLY the way that will guide you toward your best health. It’s truly about letting it be – letting go because you can trust that when something is needed, you will know, and you will even know exactly what to do. First things first – feel your hunger.
Without hunger we cannot know what we truly need.