Posted by: innerpilgrimage | December 11, 2010

Self Care and Stress: The Season is the Reason

Holiday Eating Season Countdown: 22 Days
Countdown to Christmas: 14 days

      My body has worn down to the point I need to start doing some serious self-care and get over this very slight achy cold. Or whatever it is. I’ve been taking in a lot of recovery and a lot of information over the last two weeks, alone. Recovery, when I push, can be very stressful–which is why I am not supposed to push.

On Thursday, I triped over (HP moment) and picked up (HP guidance) the copy of Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth displayed by itself on a shelf at the local library (thanks to recoverydiscovery for recommending that book–her August 5 and August 21, 2010 entries discuss it). I picked it up yesterday and only put it down when I got exhausted reading it today. I’m getting a lot of recovery out of it, and even practiced the principle of focusing as I ate. Really tasting what I ate, without distraction. Which was hard, because I had the book, my emotions journal, and a crossword book out while I was eating. I eat in a constant state of distraction, so I did them independently.
      I set down the food when I turned to the crossword then went back when I was ready to eat more. It took some real conscious effort to actually eat, to be aware of what I was eating, to notice the flavors and textures of what I was eating. While I am not quite ready to give up my weighed-and-measured food plan (I use it to keep mindful of how many calories I need to consume on a daily basis and the basic serving sizes–though I do eyeball portions a lot more these days), the future of the Eating Guidelines are ones I am going to head toward and consider in a year or two, when my portion distortion has been trained out of me. I am not on a diet; I am eating a nutritionally sound amount of food on a daily basis. And there are days when I want to binge, so I am starting with awareness within my food plan in order to move toward the awareness-based food plan from Ms. Roth’s book). Unlearning the excess eating while I work the steps in OA and SLAA, using the boundaries-based food plan while I make progress on going through my past as an observer.
      I like, however, her spiritual concept of going backward to a time when I was not broken, when the messages had not been implanted, and I lived in wonder at the world and its miraculous simplicity. She also has meditative practices about being aware of my body, aware in the moment, aware of (and setting boundaries on) my inner critic. That part of me which, when I get a good idea, puts the kibbosh on it by piling on a mountain of reasons why it’s a bad idea. Belief that I cannot be trusted to know what is best for me. Belief that I have to suffer, to be punished, in order to earn a life of perfection–martyrdom in order to earn love. Belief that if I actually let myself feel the sadness, anger, and fear, I will fall apart completely–as if all of my atoms would explode out in different directions or I would be brought to Lovecraftian levels of Cthulu-style madness. Belief that I have to keep voices and distractions going all of the time because I fear being in the quiet alone would show me how truly lonely I am. I live in a world of distractions, all keeping me from the reality that I am sane and I am fine in this moment–as long as I can release my death-grip on the messages that my addict self says defines me. My addict self, then, would be that inner critic which tells me I might as well give up and eat, since feelings would land me in the trouble they did when I was younger. Self-control and intellectual superiority are the orders of the day. Only through mastery and perfection can I earn worthiness, so says the authorities of my long-passed childhood.
      That brings me to yesterday’s study of emotions, where I was kneeling on the floor yesterday, alone. I spoke to myself, told myself to feel them. I was on the floor having a struggle inside, shoving away the instinct to shut down emotionally. I fear the emotions because I fear punishment from the God of religion and my parents for feeling–for being content in my humanity. But I am an adult, and letting emotions wash over me then dissipate naturally are part of that adulthood. It feels weird, unnatural, to actually feel and let the tears in the moment come and go, or the anger come and go, or even the fear come and go (though the fear likes to stick around–I guess I just have to sit with it and ask what, at my core, I am fearing at the moment).
      So, I had intense anxiety–I was holding something in. I did cry, though I don’t quite remember what about. I think it had to do with my anger that I was taught that I could never be good enough by people I trusted to care for and educate and love me. But whatever it was, I expressed anger and sadness then was able to release it. I went through it.
      Today, I was in the car and was listening to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (this version sung by Josh Groban), and I remembered that not only is this the thirteenth anniversary of my mother’s father’s passing, but I remembered those golden-hued memories of him and my mother’s mother on Christmas morning when I was a little girl. They tried hard with me, and I always considered any positive traits I possessed during my deep addiction came from my time with them. At Christmas, they had such joy at the delight I had giving and receiving presents. I got my birthday money from them, and I spent it yearly on Christmas presents. I wanted to. I did resent, after a while, my sisters getting to spend their own birthday money on themselves because their birthdays were in Spring and Summer, respectively. But I also remember that I had nothing better than to use the money either on food or on gifts for others. I tried my best to think of beautiful things for my mother and grandmothers and manly things for my father and grandfathers, and fun things for my sisters. I remember buying an iridescent-painted porcelain swan with a ribbon and giving it to my grandmother. I got it for her because it made me think of her–graceful, beautiful, iridescent, and pure. I am not going to deny that I think she may have loved me more than my sisters, if only because she wanted to see her reflection in my eyes. If you saw my grandmother, you might notice her ears or nose or weak chin. I saw her smile and her kind eyes, and she was that swan to me. Her death devastated me because I could not believe she would kill herself with alcohol. But I knew she was not satisfied with herself, that she believed she wasn’t good enough. That she should have been and done more than she did–which was quite a lot! My child eyes never abandoned my mother’s parents, though I worry that perhaps my belief they were as close to perfect as humanly possible caused harm. Living up to the expectations of someone who loves you without agendas, when you expect agendas because that’s what you’ve been taught. “Love has a price,” my inner critic says, “and you’re bad if you can’t figure the price for each individual person. You are unlovable because you’re imperfect, Jess. And if you’re not perfect, you are doomed to be alone in this life and dunked in that fiery lake that the church nuts taught you about as a kid. Good ain’t good enough, lady. You gotta be perfect.”
      My inner critic is a complete and utter bitch.
      It also has a plan, a roadmap on how to reach perfection. First, emotions have to go. They’re messy. Second, intellect is the only path to wisdom. I must read everything there is and take the common threads and find perfection that way. I have to give these people authority, because they have the answers. They’re more educated than me, after all, which makes them better. Third, I have to martyr myself, because if I even consider taking care of me, it’s selfish. To be perfect means to be willing to sacrifice anything and everything to others. Fourth, get in, get the love, move on. You got seven billion people to have worship you and only one lifetime to do it.
      That’s a pretty tough schedule to keep. It’s cold, calculating, and manipulative. And it is 100% against everything I am at my core–which is why I rebelled and got labeled with an anxiety disorder and depression for my troubles.
      Recovery is slowly relieving me of those messages. Emotions are necessary to my sanity; I have to learn to let the emotions flow over me in order to find the sanity and serenity in the closure. Wisdom and intellect are unrelated; when I approach recovery like I would a collegiate class, I find myself frustrated because wisdom has no deadlines to meet. This is where my HP’s time comes in. When I am frustrated by recovery, it’s time to release it out into reality and have it return when it’s ready–not when I want it to be ready. I want these things solved right now, or (at the latest) tomorrow: the ability to feel my emotions, to eat intuitively, to not have the craving to seek approval. But those things take time, and my desire stems from the addict need to numb away or muscle through any growing pains I may have. This, I think, comes from an unrealistic expectation that I will reach perma-happiness if I get through this. Not so. I will be closer to my natural self and I will be free to live in the moment (instead of the past or future). Life will still have downs with those ups, tragedies with those joys. My realistic hope is that I will be able to live in today without the historic baggage telling me I am hopeless and worthless or better than everyone for some petty reason. Changeable reality, not permanent bliss. Lessons, not failures. Progress, not perfection.
      I’ve also learned, recently, that I have to take care of me to take care of others. I’m sure some people would argue and some people would nod emphatically. However others want to live is fine, but I need to learn to take care of me so I can take care of others. That means I am neither a fortress nor an undefended city. I have boundaries, and I know where they are. I know who should be in close and who should be treated with polite regard. It’s hard to go from all-or-nothing (high, thick walls or an open plain) to a life of boundaries. Where the word no is entirely acceptable and needs no excuse to say it. Where unsafe people are treated graciously but not with the depth of connection as a safe person. Where I actually slow down when I’m ill, even though I believe I have to keep up to give others what they need and want.
      That tactical strike style of getting love means I would have to be getting something others might call love but definitely is not love. And the whole world? Seriously? What about the people I was a jerk to, who never want to hear my name or see my face again? In not meeting the goals, I lashed out emotionally sometimes. People were harmed. I cannot change what I did, nor can I con them into hearing me out in order to get my Made Complete Amends 12-Step Merit Badge. I am a great believer in my HP bringing the people into my life who needs those face-to-face amends and bringing me the addresses of people who can handle them by post.
      My stronger belief than that reality will bring those people into my life is that I cannot go to them with anything but sincerity. Manipulation means I’m not recovering. The innate dishonesty of manipulation goes against the program, which asks of me rigorous honesty. I need to be honest with myself; I need to be honest with others. Dishonesty eats me alive with guilt, leaves me stewing in resentment. I try to control things I have no business controlling, and the pain of being powerless against reality will make me turn toward my addictions in order to comfort myself.
      So, manipulation, which is something I am addressing as I work toward withdrawal in SLAA. While I’m not acting out the approval-seeking behavior, I am not sure about that inner space . . . I start having euphoric recall and fantasy and stop them as they begin, because I know that the next thing is the heart-wrenching agony of trying to will the Universe to be as I want–even to my own detriment! I want to want to get in the fray and test the waters. My inner critic, of course, is telling me I’m too old, that I’m still too fat, that I’m too stupid, that I don’t deserve what I have for even thinking these things . . . all the while daring me to test it so I can see that, yet again, I am a failure.
      Like I said . . . inner critic is an utter bitch. It’s like having the Devil Wears Prada lady in my head. Not fun. What’s worse? I think when it is voiced, it’s my own voice . . . not my father’s, mother’s, or any other authority’s.
      So, I am exhausted because I have taken every opportunity to push the recovery envelope before I turn 41 on Wednesday. Perhaps I should go back to this same week last year and see how far I have come. I’m not the same person at all. While yes, I was living on a lot more hope that this was the answer (and I still believe it is, despite the keen awareness that the reward is not bliss but a real life with real ups and downs), I was approaching a spiritual problem with intellectual pursuit. I was giving authority to anyone who wanted it, I was trying to prove myself, and I thought that by methodically going through it . . . I could control it.
      I really don’t believe I had an intense and complete Step One until I did it with my OA sponsor. I saw my powerless over the food; I saw the unmanageability of my addicted life. But I think I was treating it like an observer. When I finally did it this last time, I felt it. It wasn’t despair or resignation. I felt relief. It was over. I had lost the war on food. I felt brung low, yet I also finally felt I could rest.
      Step Two was believing in an ally which could kick addiction’s ass. Step Three was asking for that ally’s help–which was freely given. Yes, I have to set up a different form of governance, and part of that will be a lifetime alliance with my Higher Power. The new form of governance is based on freedom of thought and freedom of action. I can choose to start a fight with my addiction any time I want and I will get schooled. My HP won’t step in until I ask. I’d rather have the calm of having it present rather than sending it off thinking I can handle the addiction now that my HP and I pushed it back. Nope. I can choose recovery (sanity) or addiction (insanity). Insanity sucks. I pick reality and its associated sanity. And it may sound nutty to talk/write through this process like this, but I’m recovering. I am an addict by default. It takes forethought plus an alternative to the knee-jerk addict reaction to choose a path based in accepting reality and making changes to my attitudes and beliefs in order to align with reality.
      I gotta just listen to my body’s signals better. It knows when I need to slow down so I can recover from physical illness, too. And right now, I need to stop writing and get to the business of trusting my body will heal . . . if I stop pushing myself to do and be for others, and to try to force spiritual and mental recovery when I am too physically exhausted.
      My name is Jess. Still addicted to food, still a beggar for your approval. I’m going to drink my cozy tea and send my achy self to bed and let my HP manage everything I learned in the last two weeks. It’s in my Higher Power’s time now, and I’ll be seeing it all again soon enough.


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