The newest edition of “Good News for Eating Disorders Recovery” has just been released. I wanted to share this timely pre-holiday message with you here as well, since the holidays are often a time when happiness can feel less like a choice and more dependent on circumstances or other people than at any other time of year.
I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful!
You Can Be HAPPY
Many, many years ago, one of my mentors made an incredible statement. She said:
It takes much more strength to hold joy than to hold sadness.
I had never heard anything like this before. My yet-to-be healthy mind was RIVETED.
My eating disorder mind, on the other hand, was distressed to the point of panic at her words, having used the exact opposite argument to keep me dependent upon it for so many years.
This simple statement transformed my relationship to my eating disorder, to my recovery efforts, and, ultimately, to myself.
I began to see happy people, joyful people, as the truly strong ones. I wanted to learn more about them, so I began studying those great souls who exuded contentment, joy, a spirit of giving and service, gratitude, and humility whether in the midst of plenty or deprivation – and wondering HOW they had achieved this feat.
Then I began to wonder if I could achieve it too.
“You always have a choice”.
This is a phrase that has been resounding in my ears for YEARS.
I am not saying it is a phrase I have agreed with for years. That part has only gradually started to unfold over the last year or two. But it is definitely a phrase I have been hearing for years from books, articles, friends, and most importantly (and often) from mentors.
The truth is, at least from this tiny corner of the world, that it is relatively easy for me to convince myself that I do NOT have a choice. Especially when the issue at hand is something I do not want to do, am afraid to do, think I cannot do, or think others do not want me to do (or do want me to do as the case may be – I, too, have my rebellious side), I have discovered that it can be much, much less costly in terms of energy output and personal growth work to simply say “I have/had no choice”.
Except for the ill-concealed, niggling little fact that this is not – is never – true.
You – me – each of us and all of us – we always have a choice.
The very definition of “choice” is to choose between two or more possibilities or options. In this definition we do not read anything about unwillingness, unreadiness, or a strong dislike for the potential outcome of what we are choosing to do or not do. What we may call a lack of choice is nearly always a lack of affinity for one or more possible outcomes of the choice we say we cannot make. In other words, “I have no choice” equals “I don’t like what will probably happen if I do/don’t do this thing I say I have no choice about.”
Here is an example. Let’s say you are diagnosed with cancer. Your doctor says you need an expensive treatment. You look into your bank account and – no cash. So you might be tempted to state, “I …
Many people I know enjoy the continual companionship of sound.
Whether it is the sound of their favorite music CD, a television program, a pet barking (or, as the case may be, meowing or chirping), a roommate, or other sound source, sound is a near-constant, welcome presence for many.
But not for me. I crave quiet.
I crave quiet the way my bird, Pearl, craves shiny things. To me, silence is its own form of sound, reverberating with stillness, presence, meaning, guidance, and companionship.
When I cannot experience silence daily, and often enough during each day, I start to wear down little by little. My energy is sapped with each little interruption of sound interjecting itself into my required daily allotment of silence. Correspondingly, once I am able to return to a state of stillness and silence again, I can feel the experience replenishing the well of energy, stamina, and serenity within me once more.
It is probably important to distinguish here that not all types of sound are equally draining to me. For instance, the sound of Pearl chirping is rarely an irritant, nor is any sound I am personally generating by choice, such as a music CD I decide to listen to or a television program I choose to watch. But sound that is generated over which I have no control, such as a neighbor’s loud conversation, a delivery truck’s beeping, a nearby construction site, or the indiscriminate tolling of church bells – these sounds translate in my mind as “noise”.
So part of the reason I crave quiet revolves around an issue of control, and that aspect I am continually working on so that I can improve my tolerance for the noises of others around me. Just as I cannot expect to control all elements in my life (I can always control how I react, but I simply cannot expect to control what I am reacting to), in the same way I cannot subject myself to a continual state of personal misery that only abates when silence once more prevails.
As one of my treasured mentors, Byron Katie, teaches, I must instead look at where the real source of …
I can’t honestly say that I have yet met a person who loves conflict.
Even the scrappiest folks – the one who seem to just draw disagreements to themselves – will, when entering into a discussion of conflict, concur that it quite simply sucks.
So if we all loathe conflict, and we are all trying our best to avoid it like we avoid root canals and cleaning out the garage, then why does it still happen to us so frequently?
It would be one thing if you or I were the only person who hated conflict and everyone else loved it. But clearly that is not the case. So either everyone else is holding out on us, or there is something here that we are collectively missing.
In my last post, “The Hunt for Equipoise”, I talked about how pain can be a motivator to help us learn and grow. It may not be our preferred mode of education, but it can often be an effective method of last ditch resort when everything else has failed to adequately turn our focus towards a lesson in need of learning.
Perhaps, in confronting the appearance of conflict in our lives, we need to acknowledge what lies beneath the surface – a joint opportunity for self-healing, growth and evolution.
A couple of months ago I moved to a new home. After I moved, it seemed that there was about a month’s worth of concurrent ongoing conflicts that accompanied my physical relocation. Conflicts were popping up on nearly every front – with work, friends, even my health. I was so stressed out I wasn’t able to sleep, and for the first time ever I asked my doctor for a prescription to help me rest.
Then one morning I “woke” up (a rather generous term for the quality of sleep I’d been getting) and all those pent-up emotions just came pouring out. Some were new and related directly to the move and the usual challenges moving can kick up (think “why can’t AT&T get my internet working here when it worked just fine at the old house” sort of challenges here). Others were much older, dating all …
It is a terrible (or wonderful, depending on which day you catch me) irony that I have a life filled with change.
Because I also have an equal and opposite unquenchable desire for order and stability in my life.
Here is my problem in a nutshell: whenever I have experienced brief periods of order and stability, I have quickly grown complacent and, sad to say, bored. But during my much more frequent periods of daily changeability, which can last for months or even years at a time, I as quickly grow irritable and begin daydreaming about a day when order and stability will once again reign supreme.
One of my mentors calls the thing I clearly do not have “equipoise”.
Equipoise basically translates as “balance”. Here we are talking about emotional or inner balance, although perhaps the easiest analogy from a visual perspective is what happens when an Olympic (or any) gymnast does not fall off the balance beam during their routine. If they manage to stay on that (ridiculously) narrow little slab of composite, it is due to the power of equipoise.
I spent one summer in gymnastics – a summer that was mercifully cut short when I jumped off the balance beam and promptly broke a bone in my foot.
But to this day I continue to long for equipoise the way my bird, Pearl, longs to shred my new magazines with her sharp little beak. I feel quite sure that a generous application of equipoise would make everything in my life better.
From a mentoring perspective, I have always puzzled a bit over the insistence upon labeling the different types of human struggles.
I do understand that from a treatment perspective, it is very important to know whether a person is struggling with an eating disorder or cancer, a breakup or nearsightedness. What is not as clear to me is why some types of struggles seem to generate so much compassion, empathy and support from others while others invite so little.
We may never understand what it is like to have leukemia if we haven’t had it too, and even if we have had it, we still won’t exactly know what another person’s experience of the disease is like. In the same way, when I was struggling with an eating disorder, my mentors didn’t always understand the exact nature of my struggles, but they didn’t let that stop them from offering me their support.
I guess what I am saying is that, at the most basic human level, it doesn’t really matter what the diagnosis is. I always encourage myself and others to refuse to get hung up on labels, especially those that are less known and may even seem scary, such as “anorexia nervosa”. Yes that diagnosis is scary to hear, but it is even scarier to the person who has it, and they will need a doctor’s care, but will need support from mentors, family and friends even more. Doctors can heal the body, but love from supportive people is what will be needed to heal the spirit and give that person the will to fight and survive.
So I guess what I am saying today, on World Mental Health Day, is that some of us might have a “physical health” issue and others of us might have a “mental health” issue, but we all need the same basic things from each other while we are struggling.
We need love. We need companionship. We need connection. We need distraction, too, sometimes. We need to remember what it feels like to laugh. We need to know we are not alone.
I was watching one of my favorite holiday-themed movies, “Valentine’s Day”, again recently.
Don’t ask me why I was watching it in October – maybe because I have to confront the reality of this overpriced corporate holiday at some point each year, and I’m usually not in the mood in February.
Or maybe it was just because I love how deep Taylor Swift’s character is.
Nope, that can’t be it.
Truthfully, though, I know why I’ve watched V-Day four or five times now. I love films about real love – imperfect, messy love, between people who often look as well as act imperfect and messy, about guys who are sappier than gals (it does happen – I’m just about the least sappy gal I know, so it’s nice to know I’m not alone) and gals who aren’t ready for or just haven’t found commitment yet (ditto the “not alone” statement here).
So I guess really I love films about real love that I could see myself actually starring in – or at least playing a bit part.
The night after I watched the film, I woke up the next morning thinking about the lifelong romance portrayed between Estelle (Shirley Maclaine) and Edgar (Hector Elizondo). It usually isn’t “young love” that moves me to tears – it is portraits (in film or real life) about couples who have spent their entire lives together that get the waterworks going. So many people want this – long for it – feel that life will quite simply but incomplete, not fully lived, if they never find it. I have spent many years wanting it myself.
Today, I want it less than I ever have before, but not for the reasons you might think.
In my last post, I introduced a topic that has riveted (okay, haunted) me for years.
Where is success? Where is it for other people? (somewhat important) Where is it for me? (very important)
Is it okay if “my” success doesn’t look like the success others crave or find?
(answer key: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. Probably, yes.)
In fact, in recent years I have tabled my curiosity about where other people find success, because, as I mentioned in Part One of this post, it really isn’t relevant. It doesn’t even help me other than to tell me that where they found success isn’t where I find it, and frankly I already knew that.
So now I have really honed in on where I find success. What does “success” feel like? How do I define the word “success”? What would make me know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have had a successful life – even if everything I love and know were to suddenly depart? Would I crater if those people and things left me? Or would I be understandably sad but able to still grasp a sense of success in “being me” – whatever that means?
Obviously, these are not easy questions to answer.
This morning I was pondering a recent move to a new home.
I am in love with my new casa. The space feels so good and so homey already (despite the total lack of furniture in it as of yet). I love the place, and it appears to love me back.
In the same way, I am so happy in my relationships right now. I am having a great time with my family and friends, I am on track to take a nice vacation to one of my favorite places this fall, my writing and speaking clients are great to work with and some have become good friends as well.
Oh, and I have the best pet in the world. That is not an opinion.
Yet I have noticed that some part of me – some deep part that has different needs and goals than the rest of me – still feels unfulfilled.