The newest edition of “Good News for Eating Disorders Recovery” is now available, and I wanted to share this month’s timely message with you here as well. I hope you find it helpful!
You CAN Forgive Yourself
Forgiveness can be a touchy subject.
I should know.
For years, I absolutely, categorically insisted that I was beyond forgiving. I was willing to go round 1000 with anyone who dared to suggest otherwise, too.
I wasted so much time and energy treating myself differently from the way I treated everyone else around me. I was often quick to forgive others, for the very reason that I assumed automatically that if they were mad at me, I must deserve it.
But when it came to me, I was rock-solid bent and determined upon locking myself safely away in a forgiveness-free purgatory of my own making.
Why do we refuse to forgive ourselves? Is it protective – are we afraid of what we might do, say, or create if we give ourselves any leeway?
Is it reactive – are we so inordinately tuned in to our ever-changing inner climate (a climate, by the way, that no one but us will ever be privy to) that we suffer a catastrophic objectivity-fail that factors out the presence of our humanness, and the natural frailty and continual proneness to error that being human entails?
For me, it was both, and the loud presence of my eating disorder as well.
The other night I was talking with a friend about loneliness.
Well, not about loneliness itself, really, but about what loneliness causes us to do. Or at least causes some of us to do.
When I had an eating disorder, I never really thought about loneliness. I wasn’t allowed to feel loneliness, because I wasn’t allowed to feel anything. I wasn’t allowed to even think about feeling – all that was allowable was thinking about and focusing on the scale, any reflective surface, how my clothes fit, and how every word I heard spoken around me must somehow be a message about my weight.
Yuck. I don’t miss those days.
But it has taken more than a decade in strong recovery before I have really given myself permission to hone in on the curious condition called “loneliness”.
A friend and I were talking about loneliness the other night, and as I have just moved and I have a new neighbor who seems to play the television for company more than any other reason (for instance, she leaves it on even when she goes out and turns it on the moment she opens her door when she comes back home), so it is topmost on my mind at present.
In attempting to work through this issue, the argument I got from both my landlord and my neighbor was two-fold: a) that the prior tenant didn’t complain, and b) that as soon as I got my television installed and hooked up so I could watch it, the problem was likely to fade into the background (literally).
I noticed the surprise – shock, even – when I explained that my daily habits don’t include hours of television watching at night.
Okay. I will admit it. I got a little bit curious before my latest copy of “Real Simple” hit the recycling bin, and I opened it.
I opened it right to the page where all of the advertising is (of course – they put big thick plastic inserts into the middle of the magazine to make sure you ALWAYS open it to the ads). I instantly put on my invisible “ad blinders” and looked to my left, where I saw an article entitled “Life Lessons: Good Read”.
That sounded like something more up my alley.
Author J.I. Baker, who wrote “Seeing Ghosts” and more recently, “The Empty Glass”
The article profiled one author named James Ireland (“JI”) Baker. He writes in a reflective style about a recent trip he took down memory lane in search of a letter a much younger JI had received from a writing mentor.
JI never found the letter, but he found lots of other memorabilia that, far from calling up past memories, actually drew a blank. I found this quite interesting!
I, too, have had the not infrequent sensation, as I have strengthened in my inner and outer health, in my relationships, in my sense of self, in my perspectives and preferences, in my life goals and all the rest, that the me who used to be is a) no more and b) a stranger to the me who is now.
According to JI Baker, I am not the only one. Whew.
Recently I got a, um, gentle reminder (warning) from one of my airline mileage clubs that my miles were about to expire.
The message was worded in such a way as to suggest I might regret this event for the rest of my life if I foolishly allowed such a thing to happen. Luckily for me, the package they sent me included a helpful list of ways I could “spend” my miles in lieu of airline flight (having avoided this particular airline like the plague, clearly I have never been on track to accrue enough frequent flier miles to actually fly anywhere anyway).
One of the suggestions seemed simple enough – use my miles to purchase subscriptions to magazines I like to read. There was only one tiny wrinkle in their plan – being in the eating disorders field, there are very few magazines I actually like to read. In fact, I avoid magazines the way I avoid (or try to, anyway) root canals. Taxes. And anything with small pinchers and a taste for drinking my blood.
So I picked out two magazines I was sure would be harmless – “Time” and “Real Simple”.
So here we are – the Great Wish Experiment, Part Two.
In Part One, we investigated how viable an option making a wish really is in the life of adult-us today.
Do we still taking “making a wish” seriously? Do we roll our eyes at ourselves as we do it? Have we erased wish-making from our daily activities? How do we respond to others who make wishes? Do we encourage them, but secretly feel just the teensiest bit sorry for them on the inside? Do we truly believe that their wishes will come true, but refuse to believe in our own?
There are a myriad of different options here. All are possible – our minds really are both that powerful and that determined. So what we now need to figure out is how we want it to be.
Which is a process not that much different from wish-making itself, as luck would have it.
With this post, I wanted to share with you a helpful process one of my mentors offered me to help make wish-making feel more real, more probable, more satisfying.
This is helpful because, while I often don’t take the wishes I make on my own behalf all that seriously, I quite frequently take the wishes I make on behalf of others very seriously indeed (by the way, some might choose to call this “praying”, but for our purposes here, it is really just a matter of semantics in my book).
So the process my mentor suggested incorporates my own wishes, and the wishes of others. Here is how it goes:
For some reason, the stars (planets? moons? blades of grass?) have been lining up to send me a very consistent message over the last month or so.
Make a wish. Have fun with it.
The truth is, I wish I felt more comfortable making wishes, but in the last six weeks since I finally picked up the (extremely unsubtle) hint that it was time to make some real, heartfelt wishes in a real and heartfelt way for me in my own life, I have realized that in fact I do not.
That sounds so silly, doesn’t it! It sounds silly to my own ears.
I mean, who on earth wouldn’t feel comfortable making wishes? We learn how as kiddos. We engage in wish-making with our friends, giggling about future bridal gowns or dreaming of joining the All-Star League.
Yet as we begin to ease towards adulthood, we tend to more readily speak of wishes – our own and in general – with a casualness that greatly underrates their presence and potential in our life.
Do you doubt me? Then ask yourself this: when was the last time you caught yourself tossing off phrases like “I wish that…” or “Well I guess that is just wishful thinking….” as if wishes were pretty much the last bastion of immaturity.
We do tend to treat wish-making that way, don’t we? We want to let all the adults around us know that, while we might be having a bit of trouble with letting go of the old habit of wish-making entirely, we at the same time do realize how silly it is – no childish wish-making for us! How would that look on a resume?
It is only occasionally that I will do a two-parter on a person (the 20-parter and counting that I have done on my own mentor, Lynn, is the obvious and growing exception ;-)).
But I am just so struck by the legacy of Joe Campbell, which I just “happened across” (I use that term less and less as my age creeps upward) across thanks to the kindness of a friend.
For years I have struggled, looking for “it”.
What is “it”, you might ask? And would be totally justified in doing so, too.
To be honest, I am still not sure. But I know what it is not – and according to the writings of one late, great Joseph Campbell, courtesy of the Joseph Campbell Foundation website, I am not alone in that.
“Joe”, as his family, friends and colleagues commonly referred to him, entered the workforce in 1929, when the Great Depression was running the country and there was no work to be found. In Part One of this two-part post, I mentioned how Joe famously remarked about his years of unemployment, “That was a great time for me.”
When I first read that quote, I thought, “huh?”
But then I realized that I got it. I got the spirit of what mature Joe was saying through his writings about the experiences of a much younger Joe – and what those experiences had taught him about life, love, patience, self-esteem, the value of hard work, inner growth, and most of all the much-discussed but seldom-solved “meaning of life”.
As I continued to read more of Joe’s words beyond the passage my friend sent me, I discovered that he, not unlike myself at his age, undertook a road trip (mine was a transatlantic trip) to attempt to discover his purpose in life.
What he discovered was quite unexpected. He discovered that “it” – the meaning of life, his purpose in life, whatever it was that he was actually looking for in life (as opposed to what others told him to look for or what he thought he “should” be looking for) – wasn’t in any of the places he looked for it.
It just wasn’t …
A friend sent me this neat quote the other day.
The author of the quote is the inimitable Joseph Campbell. He wrote it in 1987 when he was 83 years old:
Poets are simply those who have made a profession and a lifestyle of being in touch with their bliss. Most people are concerned with other things. They get themselves involved in economic and political activities, or get drafted into a war that isn’t the one they’re interested in, and it may be difficult to hold to this umbilical under those circumstances. That is a technique each one has to work out for himself somehow.
But most people living in that realm of what might be called occasional concerns have the capacity that is waiting to be awakened to move to this other field. I know it, I have seen it happen in students.
When I taught in a boys’ prep school, I used to talk to the boys who were trying to make up their minds as to what their careers were going to be. A boy would come to me and ask, “Do you think I can do this? Do you think I can do that? Do you think I can be a writer?”
“Oh,” I would say, “I don’t know. Can you endure ten years of disappointment with nobody responding to you, or are you thinking that you are going to write a best seller the first crack? If you have the guts to stay with the thing you really want, no matter what happens, well, go ahead.”
Then Dad would come along and say, “No, you ought to study law because there is more money in that, you know.” Now, that is the rim of the wheel, not the hub, not following your bliss.
Are you going to think of fortune, or are you going to think of your bliss?
I came back from Europe as a student in 1929, just three weeks before the Wall Street crash, so I didn’t have a job for five years. There just wasn’t a job. That was a great time for me. [emphasis added]
Now, I would love to pretend that I knew …