Posted by: innerpilgrimage | April 9, 2011

Legacy

July 26, 2011 — The link to the PDF doesn’t work any longer, though a quick Google Search has it as a Google Doc, if one searches for Courtney Strain and What to Do. I hope to find a place to put PDFs and other documents I link to up–yet keep my anonymity–soon.

      I was puttering around my kitchen preparing coffee in order to continue noveling when I heard this story on the local NPR station. It’s primarily about a woman named Courtney Strain (nee Brooks, since she was married when she died), who was facing end-of-life because of untreatable brain cancer. Because of Courtney and a program called Lumina, there is now a published .PDF guide for people who don’t know how to handle the end-of-life issues with close friends entitled “What You Can Do When a Friend (Like Me) Faces the End of Life”. Thank you, Courtney, for the gift of knowledge for those of us who do not know how to face the tragedy of losing the day-to-day human interaction with a bright, beautiful spiritual being like yourself.

      I lost my first schoolgirl crush, who was an obsession, to brain cancer. He was twenty-six when he died, a year older than Courtney. The weekend he died, I fantasized a future of returning home and finally facing him to tell him how I had felt. That I loved him. I know, today, it wasn’t really love. I had given him the magical property of healing me, of being my golden-haired savior. Of being Prince Charming to my Snow White, hoping his kiss would bring me to life and make me “enough”.
      I initially planned to entitle this entry, “Enough.” This is the essence of my battle with addiction, that I fed my love-hungry heart with an excess of sweet things because I wanted to feel the sweet relief of being enough. My binge foods are all either sweet foods–candy, cookies, cakes–or comfort foods–high-fat peanuts and warm, soft, butter-covered breads and deep-fat fried foods I connect with the memories when I almost touched that fantasy that my perfect life was at hand and that I had finally earned the label: “Enough”.
      To that end, I am challenging myself and anyone else willing to rise to the task of setting out a spiritual legacy. As the AA slogan says, “I am not a human being having spiritual experiences; I am a spiritual being having human experiences.” While I do have things I want to do before I die (Who among us hasn’t written down a “Do by 30”, “Do by 40”, “Do by 50”, or “Do Before I Die” list of achievable and unachievable goals?), I feel that by distilling it to a spiritual set of goals, I can find that even if I don’t ever get that Bachelor’s Degree I so long for or to be able to support my family by writing a series of bestselling fiction novels which will rocket me to fame and fortune. Those goals are like winning the lottery–the right place, time, situation, and luck are required to settle into place in order to make it happen.
      With this spiritual legacy work, I can start doing it all today. And they are all achievable today and every day I turn my focus towards them.
     
1. Truth
     
      The first legacy I want to leave is one of truth. Now, truth can change as revelations happen over time. I certainly know that my memory has changed since I even started this journal. I have a nebulous concept of when things happened in my life for some curious reason. The things that I can settle into my life concretely I do repeat. For example, I repeat again and again that my first day in OA was September 23, 2009, because I can look back in this journal and see when that was. When I first discovered OA is fuzzier, because I didn’t put it down on paper. I knew where I was and I can attach it to a life-changing landmark in my life. But the precise time evades me because I didn’t consider writing it down. Not like I really had the organization to do so. In addiction, my thoughts were rarely put on paper in a journal. I have a few journals from my adult life. My teenaged journal has disappeared to HP-knows-where. I remember the little locking book, though I don’t really recall what it looked like. Just that it locked and it had a padded cover, and that in the early 1980s, I saw Simon LeBon from Duran Duran leaving the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco and felt self-conscious because I was wearing a Jessica McClintock dress that made me look like human porcelain doll. It was a cotton print dress with lavender and pink flowers, big poufy sleeves, a wide ruffle at the bottom, and a cloth tie at the waist to cinch the enormous A-line tent of cloth. And yes, I did look like a frizzy-haired Madame Alexander doll in it–pudgy pink-appled cheeks, clear and almost white skin, dry yet poufed out dark hair, and small pink bow lips. Throughout my youth, this was what I heard consistently–I looked like a porcelain doll. I looked like a doll. I looked like a thing to put on a shelf, a possession, a little-girl object.
      I also saw 1984 presidential candidate Gary Hart not long before the Monkey Business photos came out. Why do I remember this? Because my mother believed in Gary Hart as a presidential candidate and was excited to have seen him leave the hotel. I remember the lanky, beautiful women leaving with my dream-boat rock star, all of them very tall and model thin (all legs and arms and make-up and Vogue-beautiful), and it imprinted on me that if I wanted to be part of that life (oh, and I did)? That was how I had to look in order to do it. The little-girl doll was supposed to grow up into a dress-designer’s mannequin. It was internally consistent, too–I could become an adult’s possession, an adult’s object to be used as a means to display clothing and the ideal of beauty for my physical age.
      The lie that I was a physical thing was a deception by me and by culture. It was not the truth. It was never the truth. My truth is that slogan I wrote above: I am a spiritual being having human experiences. And when one’s a spiritual being? The vessel–be it a child’s porcelain doll or a dressmaker’s dummy–is unimportant.
      Generations of my family have handed down half-truths, changes to the story because it’s honestly embarrassing to them how they live sometimes. In my Friday morning meeting, we have a regular who is such a compelling Big Book speaker that he’s got podcasts out of his shares at regional conferences. He regularly says about living honestly that we live our lives out in the open. As his example of how to live day-to-day, he asks us to consider what we do before we act by asking ourselves if we would be okay to have what we did that day be published on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.
      I’m doing something similar, by publishing what’s going on in my own recovery in hopes that what’s out here will allow a person to find relief. I remember feeling lost. I remember not understanding why I couldn’t stop eating. And no, it wasn’t about freaking putting down the box of cookies or bag of candy and using a little willpower. I find myself offended again and again by the self-esteem destroying advice people who don’t have that addiction giving that ignorant and honestly cruel advice to overweight people. Despite good intentions, that is far more damaging than simply listening to the person. We do figure it out if we’re not ignored. But we’re ignored.
      The thing that bothers me the most is that anorexics and bulimics are both relieved of this criticism about self control and in far more danger of being lost to the addiction because of it. Because the body, the object, they present to the world is socially acceptable? They are the forgotten eating disordered. They fit the fashions, they are cooed over for being thin and so self-controlled. And they are suffering within, punishing themselves even as they are applauded for their vessel’s appearance of self-control with food. And because they are not ceaselessly badgered like the obese? They slide between the cracks of the addiction and face death because no one is pointing out that they have a problem.
      Obese, normal-sized, or emaciated, we are not the vessels. I can only hope that the people so readily willing to open their mouths and praise or criticize the objects called “human beings” consider in their own lives the damage they do broadcasting instead of receiving. Screw offering “helpful advice”. Try offering some “helpful listening”. That, and only that, will allow the eating disordered to finally whisper the nightmare that consumes them every second of every minute of every hour of every day.
      And yes, this is more advice for me than for others, because when I drop my advice out into the world? It’s really a mirror I place in front of me, showing me what I should be working on to align myself with my inner purpose and spiritual self.
      Now as for the changing truth even in this journal? I plead that the truth can’t be spoken or written. It is sensed, felt, and intuited wordlessly. What I write here is filtered through my brain then placed here by my fingers on a computer keyboard. Words are imperfect. Words are part of the physical world we live in, and nothing–and I mean NOTHING–is perfect in the world we wander in our bodies and minds.
      All I can do is translate the truth as best I experience it in that moment. If I experience a spiritual truth and feel impelled to write it? It has to be filtered through this brain. My only hope is that I filter it through the recovered part, the one which tries its hardest to see with the Third Eye open wide. But I am only human, and I am wont to be imperfect. So even if it is the truth, it is the truth through the mind and hands of an imperfect human being–and therefore it is innately imperfect. BUT (. . . terfly, which means what is about to come needs to be let go) if it touches someone’s soul wordlessly, if someone intuits a bit of their own truth through my words? Then I’ve gotten as close to the spiritual as I can in this human experience.
      And that is a legacy I want to leave: My life will be open to my family, to my children, to those who come after me–good and bad.
     
2. Honor reality.
     
      To honor reality, I have only to turn to Anaïs Nin’s deeply spiritual quote: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
      When I seek perfection in body and mind in order to get people to appreciate me, I am speaking a truth that I do not consider I will ever be enough, that I will never have enough. I am not honoring reality when I do this.
      My spiritual self? It touches perfection. It can be perfect, but I won’t be able to bring this into my physical and mental lives on this world. My brain and body are limited by this world. I think of an Albert Einstein quote, one that might give the perception that imagination is the potential where we can find perfection: “Knowledge is limited; but imagination encircles the world.”
      When I read that, I see the bright line between imagination and spiritual reality. My brain is limited, even with its imagination. There is a point where it touches the walls, even if the walls are mightily expansive. It’s beyond the words and images that imagination offers that the spiritual extends on forever. And that is how I am assured that even my imagination is limited. To make it even simpler? In reality, people do things that horrify me. It is beyond my imagination that people could conceive of something beyond the most evil I could consider. And even though my imagination is expanded because of the revelation that a person can do something like that? There is still a border beyond which my imagination does not cross–a place where reality does exist beyond my conception of it.
      So, if I cannot strive for perfection because it cannot be earned (as it’s purely spiritual and cannot be touched by anything with a brain or body), what can I do? I can honor what does apply to me.
      In my previous journal entry about religion and spirituality, I realized that a goal of perfection through mental and physical means dishonors reality. Perfection, as my mind sees it, isn’t. That definition of goal-related perfection requires my imagination to define perfection. Since my imagination is limited, perfection is limited. And, logically, that’s not possible. Perfection is perfection, without limits; it is indefinable. It is unspeakable because there are no words to express what perfection truly is. So, my soul may know it. I may even experience it after I slough my physical and mental forms. But until then? No dice.
      So, what in the reality my physical, mental, and spiritual experiences can I achieve? Well, to be human–truly human–I need to look at what is truly human. There is nothing more human than being born, growing, maturing, then dying. And, as a spiritual being, I see the potential of rebirth. A new beginning after the end. And that is achievable. I’ve achieved it already, in fact.
      We learn in cycles. From infancy, even, we learn in cycles. And one of the simplest examples is the process of learning to walk.
      We begin learning to crawl. We are born to our first success crawling after much practice. We grow into crawling, learning how to use our infant bodies to move around. We mature into the crawling, making our parents have to run to keep up with us. Then, we stand and realize that perhaps we can do what our parents are doing. We die to crawling . . . and are reborn to walking when we take that first step. We grow into walking, falling on our diaper-padded rears again and again until we mature into walking. And when we mature into walking . . . we die to walking and are born to running, as well.
      Now, when we die in the process of lessons, it follows the concept of reincarnation theory. We take forward with us the Karmic lessons from lives we’ve lived before. As an adult, I can crawl, walk, and run. I also can gallop, skip, jump, hop, and even dance (though badly–I’m still in the growing stage and may never really leave it . . . not like I have to).
      For me to honor reality? I must consciously choose to abandon the chase for perfection and make a goal of learning as a model-sized version of a human life (as I see it). That is achievable; that is consistent with reality.
      And that is the legacy I want to leave: I honored reality not by chasing the fantasy of perfection but by growing through a cycle that reflects what I believe as a human’s physical, mental, and spiritual growth over lifetimes.
     
3. Recovery is possible.
     
      This legacy honestly requires the other two firmly in place for me to do this.
      The truth is that I learned to survive my childhood even as I was surrounded by mental and physical abundance. It seems odd that I was starving at a feast, but that’s kind-of how I’ve learned spiritual lives can be led–if the tangible is honored over the spiritual simply because we can’t sense or transmit the spiritual with our physical minds and bodies? We are starving.
      The Eastern philosophy of the hungry ghost is precisely what we live as when our spiritual selves are being starved. Spirituality requires presence in today to be fed. Just like we can’t go back in our lives and manifest the holiday feasts of our childhood (living in the past), we cannot go into the future and eat the phantom feasts of holidays to come (living in the future). The only place we can eat is today, right now–physically, mentally, and spiritually.
      As a compulsive overeater, I ate physical food and mental knowledge to feed my spiritual hunger. Early in program, thanks to Overeaters Anonymous, I learned a very important lesson:
      Each foundation of recovery requires the proper nourishment to sate its hunger–food for my physical hunger, conference-approved literature (and HP-inspired literature) for my mental hunger, and spiritual nourishment for my spiritual hunger. I cannot nourish any of them with the food of another foundation of recovery, and that is the core of my food addiction–trying to feed my spiritual self with food or the knowledge of human nutrition.
      I have found that a lot of food addicts know as much as professional dieticians concerning what to eat and how much. We know to lose weight, we need to eat less and exercise more. We know what nutrients we need to keep our bodies running to their maximum efficiency. We know how starvation affects the human body, we know about nearly every diet out there, we could probably write volumes about how to get a healthy body and maintain it.
      We just cannot.
      That cannot comes from the place which kept my hand moving to my mouth even as I didn’t want to eat any more candy because I felt sick and I was tired of being obese and miserable and honestly living in a food-chemical-induced insanity. That rock-bottom last binge is completely different than a pre-diet binge. It touches our desire to stop eating in addiction as opposed to being permission for a final Mardi Gras-like feast before we enter the Lenten season of a diet. It is spiritual, it is an awakening, it is our first taste of awareness that our eating is bigger than us. That we aren’t in control of it, that we aren’t choosing to eat like that any longer. That it isn’t about our willpower because we invoke willpower and find there is nothing to be drawn from that long-dry well. And when we cannot access the STOP button? It scares the living crap out of us.
      Some of us walk into an OA room; some don’t. Me? I walked into OA and haven’t left yet. Sure, I’m not perfect in recovery and if I don’t do my Step Four Inventory soon, I will very likely be facing down relapse and have a new abstinence start date after almost 18 months of just-for-todays where I eat enough not to be an anorexic and little enough not to be a binge-eater.
      I am in recovery. Some people even say I am recovered at the most base definition: that I was pulled from the cold ocean and into a lifeboat. That I may mentally land in that water again, but I can never permanently go back into that water at that time and drown in the ignorance that I have no option other than death by addiction. Recovery is possible because I see it every time I walk into a 12-Step room.
      And that is the legacy I want to leave: Addiction does not have to kill any of us, and no one is too good for or too undeserving of recovery.
     
4. Honor who I am.
     
      To honor who I am, I must accept what is. I cannot change my past. I can’t really even change my future, since it involves people coming into my life who will have great influence on my life. I can change how I perceive things, however, and in that I can honor who I am.
      To honor who I am, I need to accept I am not just a body and a brain. I have something more, something that drives an intense feeling of disconnection or connection depending on what I do. Just like my stomach growls when my body needs to be fed, and just like I am driven to read a book or take a class or attend school in order to get a degree or a certificate when my mind needs to be fed, I feel a depth of loss that is indescribable and has no identifiable source. And when, in my darkest times, on the edge of that despair, I ask for comfort from the quiet Universe? I feel comforted. I feel fed with hope and purpose. To acknowledge that I am a spiritual being with bodily needs honors me as I am.
      Last, I think I’m an optimist who is deeply pain-averse. It drove me to find a solution for a lifetime of running from the feelings which arrive and leave–unwelcome visitors to any addict.
      Addicts don’t like to feel. It’s why we turn toward anything that will give us a chemical rush in order to emulate good feelings. We’ve sat in the bad for so long that we just can’t take one more damned minute of the uncontrolled wash of emotion that always seems to linger and bring more misery than we can bear. We “control” our lives by rejecting our actual emotions, descending into madness through our own efforts. Our lives do become unmanageable; we do become powerless because we are not working with what we have to move toward something. Instead, we are permanently running from something, everything.
      I was so frustrated by having to suffer that I tripped over a truth from another slogan: “Thank [HP] for the seemingly bad.” There are certain experiences that are part of reality. I cannot change them. I can, however, practice changing how I approach them. For example, the core emotions of sadness, anger, fear, and elation are part of the reality of the human experience. In addiction, I want to just have the elation. I want the happybunnies and rainbows and the giant cookie sundaes with no calories in them.
      Well, there is good in the unchangeable facts of life and the primary emotions we deal with. First, emotions pass through unless we hold on to them. All I gotta do is let them pass through me in the natural time. Sadness is a message that something is leaving my life. It is also a message that I am growing and I have an opportunity to be reborn into a new way of thinking and a new way of living. Passing through grief is the process of learning to live after an event occurs, with that event as part of my existence. I can let that event take me down, or I can grow from it. And as growth is good and natural? Sadness becomes a good thing.
      Anger means it’s time to take action. I just need to identify what is making me angry then make the conscious choice to use that energy either constructively or destructively. Since I have decided to follow a path which will keep my amends to a minimum, I have committed to doing my best to use that anger constructively. If I feed that energy to constructive pursuits? It will become part of my life in practice. So, in time, when I am angry? I know I can use it to help people, to inspire myself to grow.
      Fear is a warning of danger–real or imagined. I can choose to cover my head and let it haunt me, or I can shine a harsh light on it. Once I know what I fear, I tend to find it’s not insurmountable. And when a fear becomes manageable? I have the opportunity to build courage. Personally? I want to be a courageous person instead of a brave person. It is said the difference between courage and bravery is that bravery is action because one does not know enough to fear and courage is action in spite of one’s fear. That’s a really cool thought, that I overcome the desire to run and hide like a child and stand up like an adult to face what comes. That is part of who I want to be every day. And to do that? I must look for fear situations. Yes, the fears will overwhelm me a lot at first, because I am an experienced runner from life. But as I practice courage-building, I will run less-and-less. I will face real life-or-death issues with calmness and respect for the solemnity of the situation. And that is definitely something I feel is aligned with my spiritual self. And when I am aligned with my spiritual self, capable of living in reality? I am honoring myself as I am.
      And that is the legacy I want to leave: To honor ourselves, we must be aware of ourselves. To honor myself, I must be aware of myself and my ineffable place in reality.
     
      “Enough” is an ineffable concept, a word of the spiritual as opposed to the mental realm? I have to remove that sticky tape from my butt and from my forehead that says, “NOT ENOUGH” because I cannot have a definition for it. I have a lot more labels to remove from myself as time passes and as I learn more.
     
      Today, I have no idea what legacy I’ve left . . . but revealing the legacy I want to leave is definitely a step in the right direction. I fulfilled it today by simply writing this, by sharing it, by preserving it for myself instead of letting it flit through my mind then disappear into nowhere. And that is honoring my legacy . . . to respect what I am learning to reinforce it regularly by writing it down.
     
      My name is Jess, and I am a food addict and an approval addict. My addiction manifests as a combination of the extremes of denial and excess, a false sense of a balanced life. In recovery, I seek to walk down the middle of that road, to not deny my needs and to not indulge every whim that flutters through my brain. Just like living for today instead of living in yesterday and tomorrow, living at the fulcrum of life is a life of living in enough–not too much and not too little of anything.

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