1 Corinthians 13:11

Food  I used to believe that if I were thin, I would be loved, indeed, that being loved depended on my being thin.  Now, thanks to a month's-plus worth of reading Geneen Roth, I appreciate that this is not the case.  Being lovable has nothing to do with the size of my thighs or the strength of my appetite.  What I eat and how much and when is nobody's business but my own; likewise, my weight.  I will never please those who would judge me on this basis, particularly the members of my family who made it their business to comment on my weight when I was growing up.  Further, their need to comment on my weight and eating is their problem, not mine.  It is an expression of anxieties that they have about themselves and, as such, has almost next to nothing to do with me.  It is, therefore, not my responsibility even as their relative to respond in any way to such comments, either to correct them or, even worse, to apologize for being myself.  I am fully lovable whatever size I am.

Stuff  I used to believe that in order to be happy (yes, I was that shallow), I just needed more stuff: a house, another sweater, another pair of shoes, another book.  Now, thanks to miss minimalist and a summer's worth of decluttering, I appreciate that this is not the case.  I have absolutely everything that I need right now.  Even better, when I go shopping now for something that I think I want (e.g. a dog bed, a new winter coat), I know to watch myself for thoughts about how everything will be different if only I had this new thing.  I may still buy the thing (I got the dog bed and the coat), but I will not invest it with the power to change my life in any but the most pragmatic way (the dog will have a bed, actually more like a pillow, to sleep on rather than our bed pillows that we've thrown on the floor; I will enjoy having a new coat this winter, but having it will not make me any more glamorous or beloved that I would be with my older one).  Again, I do not need more things in order to be loved; things are just things, they do not have the power to love.  Nor am I obliged to love them simply because I have them now, however they came to be in my possession.  Perhaps there is someone else who will love that coat that I haven't worn in three years more than I will; I can let it go now so that it can be loved and used without diminishing myself or my comfort in any way, rather the reverse.

Work  I used to believe that in order to be productive, I needed to work "all the time."  Now, thanks to Sheryl Canter, I appreciate that working in this way is itself a form of compulsion, much like emotional eating.  Indeed, I now see that it is as harmful to tell myself that, come Monday morning or the start of the academic term, I will do nothing but work, as it is to spend the weekend emotionally eating (a.k.a. bingeing) with the promise that, come Monday morning, I will go on a diet.  Again, being loved is not dependent on how many books I write or many hours a day I put into my job.  Likewise, it is just as abusive to force myself to work beyond satiety (a.k.a. my ability to concentrate) as it is to keep eating when I am full.  Moreover, both compulsions stem from a lack of self-trust.  I no more need to beat myself up to work well than I do to eat well.  What I do need to do is be wary of using either food or work as a way of suppressing uncomfortable feelings, including the uncomfortable feelings that arise while I am trying to work.  This, I now appreciate, is the root of my "need" to eat so much chocolate while I am writing: rather than letting myself feel the uncomfortable feelings I have about my work, I have tended to stuff them down with food, as if to say, "Shut up, don't feel that," rather than listening compassionately to the anxieties that I do have. 

Love  I used to believe, and to a certain extent still do, that loving someone meant trying to feel the same things that he or she feels.  Now, thanks to a year and a half (or so) of therapy, I appreciate that this is not (exactly) the case.  I'm still working on this one.  One thing that I've learned is that I am more frightened of other people's emotions than I had ever realized, particularly when their emotions seem to be making some demand on me.  I say "seem" because it is not always the case that somebody else's discomfort is, in fact, making any sort of demand that I change, but I appreciate now that I have a tendency to interpret others' emotions (e.g. anger, fear) as if they do, particularly if (or so they tell me) those others love me.  I'm really not sure where to go with this realization now.  On the one hand, it is immensely liberating not to feel obliged to respond to others' anxieties or criticisms; on the other, it feels not a little callous, even traitorous, no longer to allow others to have this power over me.  I'm not sure I can cope with this degree of liberty.  Sure, food is just food, fuel for when my body is hungry; stuff is just stuff, I can enjoy having nice things without feeling obliged to keep them for the rest of my life; work is just work, it doesn't need to consume my whole life nor is it the ultimate gauge of my worth.  But love, what is it if not the power that others have over us, that we care more than anything in the world what they think?

Feelings  I used to believe that feelings were bad, that feeling anything other than happy was wrong, a failure, a threat.  I used to believe that I was wrong to feel the feelings that I did.  I now appreciate that the only thing wrong with feelings is refusing to feel them, shutting them up with food and stuff and work and "love" (in scare quotes, because I'm not sure I have a definition at the moment for love as such).  Which is not the same thing as indulging in temper tantrums at the least hint of frustration, the child's response to feeling something she is afraid to feel.  Rather, feelings themselves are just that, feelings, no more to be afraid of than food or stuff or work (again, I'm not sure about love).  As with the falcon, it does no good to tell the child inside of oneself not to feel anxious or afraid when she hears a loud noise or is faced with something she is not sure she is going to be able to do.  "Just snap out it," "Don't be so hard on yourself," "There's no reason to feel like that."  Such advice is worse than unhelpful.  Why shouldn't she feel anxious or afraid?  Some things are scary in life.  Why shouldn't she feel angry or excited or lustful or hungry?  Feelings are not enemies; they're clues, pointers to the things that we need to think about.  Only a child believes that they are dangerous, that if she expresses them, her whole world might be destroyed.  As long as she believes this, her uppermost feeling will be that of fear: fear of allowing herself to have an appetite; fear that she will never have enough stuff to keep her safe; fear that she is going to fail; fear that she is unlovable, particularly if she allows herself to feel.

"When I was a child...," I thought that it mattered how much I weighed.  I thought that I would be happier if I had certain things.  I thought that I was wrong not to want to work all of the time.  I thought that I was unlovable if I did not behave in a certain way.  I thought that it was wrong to feel anything other than happy.  Now that I realize that, yes, I have become a woman, I refuse to think any longer like a child.  The scary thing is, now I don't quite know what to think, not to mention, feel.

Comments

  1. Re: new winter coat
    You used to wear this really beautiful brown or camel hair full length swing coat in Chicago ca. 1995. Do you recall the one I am talking about? Do you still have it? It was quite stunning. I have been searching for one like that for years.

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  2. Yes, I do still have it, how wonderful that you remember it! It is a gorgeous coat, but, alas, a little too gorgeous for walking the dog. It is also not really warm enough for the length of walk I now have to campus. I started having to buy puffy coats when we moved to our new apartment nine years ago and I was biking: the brown swing coat was impossible to wear on a bike. So I wear it for special occasions, but not daily as I used to. It is a Searle Blatt Studio coat that I got on sale at Saks after our first winter here.

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