Coming from a family with two veterans, as well as a close friend whose husband has deployed to Afghanistan twice and looks to be returning for a third time this fall, I am always moved when the Memorial Day holiday arrives each year.
Like Dr. John Nash, whose fear of being drafted was so extreme that some speculate it may have contributed to the onset of his schizophrenic delusions, I have always had a fear of being constrained, confined, or otherwise hemmed in by…..drum roll please…..COMMITMENT.
Never mind that most of my close friendships span a decade or more, I am quite close with my family (after several rocky years during the period when I was recovering from my eating disorder), I have worked ceaselessly to build MentorCONNECT into an international mentoring community for eating disorders support, and I have kept several houseplants and one small bird alive for several years now.
It doesn’t matter. Because when it comes to contemplating what it might be like if I was in the military, I feel an emotion not unlike panic.
Recently I received a question (I answer questions each month via Good News for Eating Disorders Recovery, MentorCONNECT’s monthly community ezine) that struck me as one that is particularly relevant for mentoring teams.
Here is the question: I have been seeing my therapist for almost four years and it would devastate me to lose her. I have been able to open up and tell her things I have never ever been able to tell anyone before as I have so much trust in her. She is the first person to ever show me they care. Now I worry about the fact that I could lose her sometime too. I dont think I would be able to open up to anyone else like I am able to with her. I am very afraid of losing her.
My response at the time I first received the question was to simply encourage the writer to focus on building her relationship with her therapist now, and all the while to remember that if she had the skills to build a trust-based connection with one supportive other in her life, she has the skills to do it as needed throughout her recovery journey.
But now it occurs to me that that is just Phase One of combatting the fear of losing a mentor or other significant individual who provides us with a lot of support.
In Phase Two, it is time to branch out.
Recently my mentor sent me an interesting article called Self Compassion: The Most Important Life Skill?
Of course I had to read it right away.
This urgency comes from the fact that I have quite literally lost count over the last few months of the number of folks who have responded to some random comment or other that I have made with the words, “You are too hard on yourself.”
I know this.
But somehow being reminded doesn’t make it any easier to stop.
I don’t know if being too hard on yourself is a learned trait, a genetic trait, or (most likely) some combination thereof.
What I do know is that, once begun, it becomes habit-forming.
When I first heard about the APA’s (American Psychological Association) Mental Health Blog Party, I thought, “Wha?!?”
A blog party. That part was confusing enough.
About mental health?
And I thought there was bickering in my head about meanings before.
A Mental. Health. Blog. PARTY.
I decided I had to check this out.
I learned that apparently, some folks still don’t feel comfortable discussing mental health.
I guess, moving in the circles I do, I find it all too easy to forget this.
There is an often-quoted Twelve Step principle that I have not paid much attention to….until recently.
Recently, while reading a book my own mentor recommended to me (Marianne Williamson’s “A Return to Love”) I stumbled across it again (my mentor’s a subtle gal, let me tell you!)
“Acting as if”.
As Marianne explains it, I am starting to understand the importance of this principle for the first time.
For instance, when we see our fear – of socializing, food, intimacy, growing up, being responsible, whatever it is – we can acknowledge that it is there.
We can say to ourselves, “Wow – I learned something new about me today. I never knew I was so scared (of whatever it is).”
What comes next is the critical mass point. Because we then face a fork in the road. Option A – we can then proceed to wallow in the experience of the fear (I am very, very good at wallowing).
Or Option B – we can “act as if” we are not afraid – now, today – and just go and do, say, or become whatever it is we now know we’ve been so afraid of.
There is a dialogue in Byron Katie’s book, “Who Would You Be Without Your Story”, that just fascinates me.
She is talking with a gentleman who has arrived at her workshop bearing a particular – and particularly common – issue. Especially in recovery circles.
He doesn’t feel good enough. Or enough. Or all of the above.
He is courageous though, and has volunteered to share his story with Katie in front of an audience of hundreds, hopeful that it might help.
The gentleman begins to share, explaining that he simply does not believe he is living up to his full potential. This is Katie’s response –
If I’m good at something, I don’t give it to the world….I give it to the one in front of me, because I’ve received it myself. If I have the most sweetheart thing in the world, it’s not for everyone. It’s for the one in front of me – it’s for me first and then you. That’s all. That’s all that’s required. No push, no pull. It’s not a grand scale. It’s just for this, the one in front of you. That’s your job.
She has just described the essence of mentoring, in one short paragraph.
Oh, and summed up the essential existential struggle raging inside my being since, well, birth.
That, I think, was a bonus.
Right now I am reading my way through Byron Katie’s “Who Would You Be Without Your Story?”
It is an interesting question.
Who WOULD I be?
This identity I have – as me, with my foibles (uncoordinated, can’t cook), hang-ups (socially anxious, too serious), phobias (roaches, knives), talents (music, hopefully writing!), interests (recovery, birds), etc etc etc….
Is it really “me”?
Who is me?
Who am I?
This concept of “us as story” gives me a whole new perspective on these age-old profound questions.
I might be all of the above. None of the above. Somewhere in between. Or nowhere I’ve ever been before. Or everywhere.
Do you want to know what Ed (for “eating disorder”) adores above all things?
Today, I thought I would share an excerpt from a recent letter I received in the hopes it might be helpful for those of you who are having trouble making peace with the pace of your own recovery progress.
The writer shares:
When I was first diagnosed with my eating disorder, I saw people on the unit that told me, “I have been struggling for 3 years …. I have been struggling for 5 years …. I have been struggling for 10 years….” My first reaction (internally) was, “Heck, that’s never going to be ME.
Yet, here I am, nearly 8 years after I first started struggling with eating issues, and I can’t help but think to myself, “What on earth HAPPENED??” I am now “one of them.” So now I’m also struggling with keeping the light at the end of the tunnel in sight. If I can’t keep it shining for myself, if I can’t keep it in sight, how else will I EVER recover?? I’m struggling a lot with just wanting to give up.
I know recovery is possible….it has to be. After all, you were entrenched in your Ed for what?? 15 years?? I just have trouble acknowledging that it’s possible for ME.
Byron Katie says that we will know we are ready to do things differently when we do. I love this. To me, this feels like walking hand in hand with the present moment, knowing in the depths of my being that I am in good company, and that patience is becoming my best friend.
It is so reassuring.