Facing our demons | Say yes

Yup. More rantage coming up. Writing yesterday’s post felt liberating but it upset parts of me that are afraid of the path I’ve begun to walk, parts that are afraid of letting go, afraid of letting something new (= unknown) in. Parts that try to hang on to the old, no matter how destructive it may be.

I ended up doing what I do when I am deeply anxious – binge eat. Or rather: it is what I do when something inside of me tries to raise its voice to tell me something I don’t want to hear. And it works, too. By creating another problem that I can focus on – eating till I feel sick to my stomach, beating myself up over it, asking myself why I keep doing this to myself (but only on a physical level, of course) – I don’t have to look at the real issues. Really convenient, right? Except for the part where I’m destroying my body, and oh yeah: that keeping an issue from coming to the surface of my mind doesn’t solve anything, it just suppresses it – until something else triggers it. Apart from those minor details, this method works perfectly well.

I have been using food/eating as means of reacting to emotional stress since I was about 16. I don’t find the clinical terms (“eating disorder”, “anorexia”, “bulimia”, etc.) helpful anymore, although I used to define myself that way. I could recognize myself (to a t) in the various descriptions you find in self-help books etc., which I read at some point.

It is definitely comforting to know that you don’t do the things you do because you’re crazy but that your behavior can even be construed as “normal” given the circumstances. From that perspective, this rational/scientific/psychological way of dealing with these issues has its merits. However, putting a label on things can also become a way of stigmatizing yourself, of locking yourself into a box. A box that is difficult to climb out of, even though really it only exists in your own mind.

Every time this “happens to me” (well, if you read my previous post you know I don’t believe in that), when I am overcome with the feeling that I just have to eat, and that nothing else will make this anxiety go away, it scares me. It makes me feel like a failure that no matter how far I seem to have come I still resort to this self-destructive  measure. Sure, these binges have decreased in frequency. There was a time in my life when they could go on for days, I couldn’t even go to school, I was completely overpowered – now there can be months in between. Sometimes I even think I have “beaten” this “thing”. Usually, that’s when it comes right back to prove me wrong. I have laden this behavior and its side-effects with a lot of meaning. Doing it means there’s something wrong with me, not doing it means everything is ok. One side-effect is obviously my weight, and me attaching meaning to that as well. So, in accordance: weighing less would mean I am normal, gaining weight = failure.

I don’t like to talk about this part very much, not because I am ashamed but because I find it frustrating that no matter where you turn, no one seems to be happy with how they look, and somehow it usually boils down to their weight. I know that I am not obese, that my weight in fact is “normal”. I know that I could, SHOULD be happy with myself, and I really wish I were. I would love to be one of those examples that I myself am looking for everywhere – someone that has not been affected my the media brainwash, someone that is truly happy with themselves and how they look even though they don’t fit the mold. Sadly, on a lot of days I can only pretend to be that person.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, binge eating = something’s wrong, not binge eating = everything’s peachy. I’ve come so far to realize that the key is not to think in these kind of opposites. I find myself best protected against these self-inflicted attacks when I am aware and accepting of the fact that this is part of my life. I guess just like alcoholics or addicts of other drugs still refer to themselves as addicts even when they’ve been sober for years.

Obviously, this is not easy, because who wants that, right? I don’t want this in my life, so why should I have to accept it, let alone embrace it?! Someone (I should probably know who, like Buddha or the Dalai Lama, ehem) once said that pain is not something we choose but suffering is. And if you’re into this “spiritual stuff” (I only got into it two years ago, so a lot that may be old news to you is still new and revolutionary to me) you run across this realization sooner or later, and maybe you run into it even if you’re not into “spiritual stuff”: the only way we can suffer is by trying to reject what already is, which of course we cannot succeed at. No matter how much I don’t want something that already is, my not wanting it to be cannot undo its existence. It’s a waste of energy.

So, if you cannot change something, allow it to be. Obviously, this permission isn’t really about the external thing, for it is what it is no matter what you think about it. That permission is for you. Allow yourself not to judge. It will spare you the suffering that you will inevitably go through if you try to fight what already is.

Please don’t get me wrong: this is not to say that there aren’t things we should change in the world, that we should just sit back. But you have to know what is and isn’t in your power to change, and when the time is right.

This concept may seem simple, and in theory, I guess like the best concepts, it is. I can also see how I could/should/want to apply it in interactions with others: there is no point in me getting mad over something someone else already has done. I mean, getting mad is important, too, to not let anyone run over you but there has to be a limit. After you’ve expressed your discontent, you should try to get over it and move on, instead of dwelling on it. As I said: simple in theory …

Where it gets tricky is when it comes to one’s self. For intuitively I want to claim that anything I do is in my control, so how can I accept the things I don’t like about myself? Well, I think just that last part kind of questions my premiss: if I am fully in control, how can I do something which I do not approve of? Sounds kind of schizophrenic, don’t you think? Yet I am going to be so bold as to state that we all do things we later regret, we even do them over (and over and over again), and regret them over (and over and over again) – and that at least most of us would say that they are in control over our own actions – who else would be? I mean, sure, you can argue that we are products of our environment, the society we live in. But on some level, the individual does make a choice for a concrete motion it is about to undergo (whether physical or mental), right?

I have gotten side-tracked again here, I see the term “ego” coming up, which is not what I had in mind when I started this paragraph out, so please excuse if I am bringing this one to a screeching halt before I get into something I cannot possibly cover in a paragraph or two. Once again: yay for the internet, feel free to go ahead and read about the ego elsewhere now – or continue here with me.

What I did want to get at was this: our experience tells us that – for whatever reasons – we are not free from contradictions, we do things that we later wish we hadn’t, we detect character traits in ourselves which we’re not happy about. Therefore, this notion of allowing what is applies to ourselves just as much as it does to our interactions with others/external factors.

I try to do this with my eating habits, and obviously, it’s not easy. Because I really don’t want to have this in my life – but somehow that is not for me to choose. I don’t feel guilty about it afterward as much as I used to, even though that is hard, too. I try not to punish myself. Again: not easy.

Yesterday, I tried something that in a twisted way felt especially difficult because it made the whole binge-eating episode obsolete: I looked into myself and asked that voice that I had shut up by stuffing it down with food to speak to me, and tell me what had upset it so much. It spoke to me, and this confirmed what another part of me knew all along: there is nothing to be afraid of when facing our demons. They are parts of ourselves that cannot actually threaten our existence. They are scared themselves and need healing.

May we remember that there is nothing to fear but fear itself, that our souls are indestructible. And may we be kind and forgiving to ourselves when we act cowardly.

PS: I first came across this concept of “allowing what is” when I listened to Eckhard Tolle‘s The Power of Now and Realizing the Power of Now, something I can recommend to anyone. I think it is pretty accessible even if you think spirituality is “mumbo-jumbo” but then you probably didn’t read this far, so …

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