Posted by: innerpilgrimage | December 4, 2010

Advent

Holiday Eating Season Countdown: 29 Days

      Woo! Less than a month left in Holiday Eating Season!

      My very early youth was a mix of wonderful and awful memories. When I was very young and unaware of my weight problems (I was always promised my “baby fat” would go away naturally), I had some pretty good memories. Not all connected with food.
      The weeks leading to Christmas tended to hold most of the good memories of my childhood. I suppose the better natures of the people I cared about came out then. Not sure why, but that’s when I felt the most connected to family, friends, and spirituality. Whatever happened between Thanksgiving and my birthday, there was a shift. Excitement, hope. Something changed, though I do not really know what.
      While Christmas ended up a holiday I loathed in my adolescence and adulthood (likely because the days of awe quality were left behind by 1980), it once was a magical time for me.
      I am not sure where our traditions began, though my sisters might remember better. I have two memories that resurface around the holidays every year–St. Nicholas’s Eve and Advent. These traditions make sense, considering that I’m three-quarters German. My history on one side was once-upon-a-time Lutheran for generations.
      I do not know the source of my parents’ temporary practice of Advent. I know we did not do it by the time I was 10.
      Advent, for those unfamiliar with it, is the countdown to Christmas. For the four Sundays leading up to Christmas (and even daily, in some traditions) a candle is lit to represent the coming of the Christ Child. In Lutheranism, Advent is the beginning of the Biblical cycle, which starts with the life of Christ. Anyhoo, there are meanings for each of the candles, and I think we used the “modern” meanings of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. It is one of my good childhood memories–seeing my mother happy. I mean actually happy.
      We used red candles. I don’t recall the lighting of the pillar candle on Christmas Eve night, but I do remember it.
      It’s possible I ended up connecting to Hannukah because it reflected my early childhood celebration of the spiritual.
      This brings me to a childhood fantasy coming full circle. I’ve written about it before. I had a fantasy of being a switched-at-birth story, where my real parents were waiting for me and watching for me. My fantasy mother loved me unconditionally, and her sadness at losing me was equal to her joy in the fantasy of my arrival at my fantasy family’s doorstep. She sat at a storm-paned window in an old city in Europe, waiting for my return. And I fantasized running toward the wood-doored home in the dark of a misty night, where the door would be opened and I would be welcomed in to a fire-warmed home.
      It never got much farther than that. But the imagery has stuck since early childhood. I don’t recall when that fantasy started, but I think the creation of this escape is pivotal to when I started to succumb to the approval addiction then ended up succumbing to the food obsession. I am not sure when I went from overeater to compulsive overeater.
      As a child, somewhere along the line I got two messages: I had to naturally know how to be perfect, and I had to submit to authority. I look at those, now, and see them as innately conflicting messages. The achievement of perfection would require me to have complete knowledge of myself and reality. By pushing me to pursue perfection, my inner voice would be required to be perfect as well. Yet I was a child and “knew” nothing. Every person older than me was an authority. Parents, grandparents, teachers, ministers . . . all of those adults were supposed to know better than me. I was forced to submit through physical pain as a corrective measure to align with my father’s vision; I was forced to submit through fear as a corrective measure to align with others’ views. Since many of these views conflicted, I was left unable to know which authority could lead me to perfection.
      Somewhere along that route, I figured that to achieve perfection would mean that everyone loved me. If all people loved me, I reasoned, then I would have achieved perfection. Not sure where that message came from, but it is as broken as the onus to achieve perfection where all others failed (save for Jesus, who I was told was “perfect”) by being saved by an authority figure. My princess complex grew then, as well as disturbing views on the role of women. The archetypes of strong women combined yet conflicted with the archetypes of submissive ones. I was at last left considering that my only chance would be to become a modern-day Helen of Troy–whose beauty was supernatural and drove men to possess her. I used what I thought was beauty, the archetypes of models and actresses. These underweight and bird-framed women, mannequins for clothing designers, were the standard of beauty I measured myself against. And, as I grew taller and bigger-boned, the dainty qualities I assumed I would possess as my birthright never manifested. As each day passed, I lost hope in achieving this unachievable goal.
      I gave up in action, though my mind was still on achieving perfection through submission. In other words, I was relying on a Prince Charming to make a Happily Ever After for me.
      What I find more devastating is that I found mean who wanted to rescue me, but they couldn’t fix my problem. The profundity of the Serenity Prayer escaped me even to a few months ago. No one can control the world around them; everyone can change the world within them; the sooner one accepts it, the sooner one will put the effort in the right place. The right place, for me, is revealing those inner messages to myself. I learn my own secrets, dissect them into their component parts, then let them go and find an alternative way of living.
      So, here is my core:
      (1) I believe that the reward of achieving perfection means I will be worthy of the love my parents cannot give because they are ill;
      (2) I believe that if I have enough people (ie. ALL of them) pointing out that I am deserving of love, they will convince my parents that I am lovable and that I can be trusted with their love.
      In recovered thinking, I have to use acceptance (despite hating the crap out of its fundamental opposite concepts:
      (1) I am human and cannot achieve perfection, but I can achieve alignment to my natural self;
      (2) To be humble means that I accept others as being different but the same as me–imperfect human beings.
     
      Now, yes, there are things some people do which are so antithetical to my inner self that I am shocked into abject horror by the behavior. Sexualizing children? I find that horrific, and it makes me nauseous. Forcing one’s will on me? I find that unacceptable, since it assumes I am going to remove my humility and choose to be humiliated in order to be “a good girl”. Those things require my action–from using legal recourse to refusing to use a convenience (like flying on airplanes) because my rights to be safe about my person are violated by those full-body scanners. I have the ability to make choices which align with the way I want to live. There is a level of accepting things as they are (predators exist, and the TSA is treating their responsibility as power abuse), and then there is footwork (I will choose to halt a predation by notifying the police and any child protective agencies and physically getting between the predator and the child if I become aware of a predation event, and I choose not to travel by airplane). In other words, there is acceptance of what I cannot change and there is courage to change what I can.
      At this point, I am preparing to close the gap between that little girl who I was, once, and me, today. My Fourth Step feels like a bridge to that, a means to close the many open books of my life that I turn back to (hoping the words have changed). I sometimes feel like a split soul–part of me in yesterday, part of me in tomorrow, and part of me in today.
      And, as I thought on that Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace that the lighting of the red Advent candles of my far-past childhood returns to me every year, I realize that I am on a countdown to that spiritual awakening promised by Step Twelve. Unlike Advent, I don’t know when the end date is, but I am feeling the process as I work to live a recovered life–a life retrieved. A restoration to a former, or better, state.
      I can relate the tradition of the Advent wreath to recovery. In the beginning, I had hope that maybe OA was the answer for me. OA was only the beginning. I am shifting toward love–learning to take care of my heart, soul, body, and mind, so I can do what makes me happy. Joy comes next, though I am not sure how it will manifest. Last is Peace, the inner serenity of finally finding a place to rest after running from my emotions and my broken messages for years. The final step will be accepting the gift of the fulfillment of the promises of serenity and release of the affliction by living a new and real life of constant growth and change and progress–the lighting of my inner white candle.
      How do you keep a tradition like Advent alive? Practice it. Just like I am practicing how to learn from the world around me, how to change what I can and let go of what I cannot, how to find acceptance, and even how to process the emotions so I don’t dwell in them and build deep resentments.
      My name is Jess, and I am a food addict and an approval addict. Yes, I will talk about religious things because I have a foundation in organized religion–good and bad. It is part of my history, though it is not part of my today.
      Tomorrow? Who knows? But for today, I am still an agnostic with a Higher Power and no self-selected authority telling me that how I relate to my Higher Power is wrong. That is their Higher Power, and I appreciate they have a connection with theirs which fulfills their needs. Well, I have a need for a Higher Power which doesn’t want me to suffer the pursuit of perfectionism any longer and which doesn’t want me to give up the power to change the things only I can change to someone who I have been told knows better than me.
      On the day I meet the perfect person, then I will grow with that new information, as well.

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