This month’s edition of “Good News for Eating Disorders Recovery” is now available. I hope you enjoy this month’s inspiring message!
I continue to have sad feelings on a somewhat regular basis, even though I have been in recovery for more than a decade now.
The difference is that today I do not try to shove those feelings down, ignore them or run and hide. Rather, I open the door, open my arms, and welcome them as friends.
Certainly at times sadness can “just happen” – it can be the result of hormonal fluctuation, seasonal shifts, biological imbalance, even empathy with a loved one’s pain.*
But for most of us and most of the time, sadness felt for any of these reasons will be the exception rather than the norm.
As well, in the same way that anger, grief, jealousy, resentment, frustration, loneliness, despair and other so-called “uncomfortable” emotions may visit us because it is in our best interests that they do, sadness frequently comes knocking because it is bearing a message – and gifts.
It has taken me a long, long time – more than 30 years to be exact – to recognize my sad or difficult feelings as friends.
But once I did, I stopped feeling afraid of them. I also stopped feeling afraid of me when I had them.
Rather, I saw that these difficult-to-feel and heal feelings came to reveal to me my own strength and wisdom, my faith and depth of vision for the present and the future.
My sad feelings would never have approached me if I wasn’t strong enough to welcome them and learn what they had to teach me.
It just took me some time to realize this.
For the past several years, I have sometimes (and sometimes often) felt sad for no particular reason.
I tend to notice these feelings most during my quiet moments – perhaps in the morning, or in the evening. While I am taking my walks is also a time when I have more attention to give to myself, and so sometimes I will notice the sadness then.
When it first started, I would hear this phrase over and over in my head: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” I didn’t know who was saying it (a young me? me now? someone else?) or who it was being said to (myself now? myself then? someone else?)
It almost felt like I was speaking in code to myself, only I had neglected to give myself the primer to decode my own messages. Obviously, I was intrigued. Even more obviously, at times I was bothered a bit – if it had been joy I was feeling, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to dig too deeply. But since it was sadness, an emotional state I don’t love, I was more motivated to get to the root of the issue and try to make it stop.
As I worked on it, slowly but surely some insights began to arise. For starters, the speaker, the recipient and the meaning were not always identical. Sometimes, it was the girl me who was apologizing to her parents or others for being her, for failing, for not having all the answers, for disappointing an unnamed someone. At other times, it was me at an indeterminate age apologizing to whatever concept of God I happened to have at that time for a myriad of imagined (or real) oopses.
At still other times, it was me as an adult, apologizing to myself as an adult or as a girl. It was here that I had a most helpful breakthrough. After one particularly prolonged session of “I’m sorry” that extended over a few frustrating days, I finally got the bright idea to ask myself, “How can I make it up to you?” The answer I heard surprised me. From within myself I heard, “Keep …
Personally, I loathe this phrase.
I can’t say it strongly enough. It has taken me awhile to come to this conclusion, however, because usually the people who end up saying it to me are long-time dear friends or family members, and I can tell there is love attached.
But there is also judgment. Lots of it. Like a person who is still learning to speak a second language and needs to continually translate in their head what is being spoken, I have been struggling with my reaction to this phrase, feeling something emotionally I wasn’t able to put into words – until now.
I have finally realized that when someone says “you deserve better” in response to something I may choose to share about career, my love life, friendships, and so forth, the impact it has on me is the same as if they had said, “”You poor thing. I feel so sorry for you. No way are you allowed to be happy or pleased with what you have right now – aren’t you even smart enough to know you deserve more? Do I really have to tell you this?”
If it continues – by which I mean the person continues to ignore everything I offer to the contrary in the interests of simply parroting back their opinion again and again – the feeling then ventures beyond pity into active distrust. They may love me, but not sufficiently to even attempt to restructure their usual way of seeing things to try to comprehend why I continue to do the thing or see the person, etc, that they think is insufficient to what I deserve. Love, then, would be if I take their advice and trust their instincts over my own.
To me, that sounds less like love and more like a contract. Short of hanging out with someone who is beating me or working for an employer who is robbing me blind, in which case clearly my instincts are no longer trustworthy, I quite simply struggle to handle this lack of openmindedness on the part of those who claim they love me.
Cosmo is a parrot. Specifically, she is an African Grey parrot and she lives in Georgia with Dr. Betty Jean Craige, a professor of literature and humanities. If you have spent more than five minutes reading my blog here (or elsewhere) you have already likely picked up on the fact parrots often edge out even people as my all-time favorite companions.
Parrots (unlike some people I’ve met) make smart, funny, hugely affectionate companions under the right circumstances. The right circumstances include that the parrot has to be bred and trained to live in captivity with humans, and the human has to be sensitive to what the parrot needs and be willing to spend the time to offer it.
In the way of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her crew of African Greys, Dr. Craige has spent an inordinate (and no doubt deeply fulfilling) amount of time studying the ways of parrots. Or, specifically, she has spent a great deal of time studying one particular parrot – Cosmo. Dr. Craige has even written a book about her experiences called “Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot”.
With this book, and unlike Dr. Pepperberg in her official role of animal researcher studying African Greys, Dr. Craige is also not shy to claim that Cosmo has done something called “acquiring language”.
Why is this significant, you might ask? It is significant because acquiring the comprehension and use of language is what many humans feel sets us apart from “lower” beings such as birds and other animals. My argument, vastly unscientific though it may be, is that we can spend all the time we like stoking our egos with the idea that we alone possess language. But the more likely scenario is that we simply don’t speak “bird” or “horse” or “elephant”, so we just don’t recognize it even when it is spoken all around us.
I am fascinated by Temple Grandin. Her story, her life, her unique ability to overcome the affects of a potentially debilitating condition like autism in a time when there was little known about either causes or treatments – it is nothing short of marvelous to me.
I can relate, of course. I learned how to transcend the often debilitating effects of my own disease – an eating disorder – in a similar time period when little was known about causes or treatment. As did Temple in her own journey, I saw firsthand the transition from the “blame the parents” generation of thinking to the “blame no one – it’s in the brain” generation of thinking.
This, too, has been marvelous.
Consequently, today there is very little I love more than the validation of encountering another determined veteran of those medical dark ages – and understanding that there are likely many more equally inspiring, heroic stories that prove that recovery can still take place even in the presence of nearly insurmountable odds.
Perhaps in part I feed off of stories like these because of my work at MentorCONNECT. At MentorCONNECT (or “MC” as we locals often call it) we seem to specialize in hope for the hopeless and comfort for the comfortless. We didn’t necessarily seek out that role, but more than 2,500 applicants to date have poured out their stories to us, sharing that by the time they find us, they feel like they are already at the end of their rope and they are barely hanging on.
I know that feeling well. After reading “Thinking in Pictures”, Dr. Temple Grandin’s biography, I know that she does too.
This phrase is one that has alternately inspired and terrified me for more than two decades now. It inspires me because it sounds like a wonderful way to live. It terrifies me because, most days, I am quite certain I will never be able to get there.
Finding peace in the midst of chaos appears to be one of those quests that requires accepting the presence of the chaos first. I have a very hard time with this. My preferred way of finding peace is by eliminating the chaos. This works for me…..it just doesn’t seem to work for anybody else.
Other people (who shall remain nameless but usually seem to enjoy living or working either right beside, below or above me) seem to like chaos. I find this confusing. Perhaps it is because chaos is always in ready supply while peace is harder to locate and even harder to retain.
Chaos, to me at least, is represented by the presence in my life of pollution, noise, drama, conflict, intrigue, fear, anger and other similarly jarring or emotion-laden experiences. I also feel like, if I’m doing it right, accepting or rejecting chaos should be largely a matter of personal choice. For example, I can engage in gossip with a friend or refrain. I can turn the television on or off. I can also choose what I watch on TV or at the movies. I can stop and take my time before responding to someone who has made me angry or I can mouth off right away. I can live in a city where people outnumber trees and there is lots of smog or one where trees outnumber people and the air is cleaner.
In these instances at least, accepting or rejecting the presence of chaos in my life feels like something I absolutely can control. But what about when chaos comes in uninvited and refuses to leave?
If I have learned anything in my 42 years to date, it is that making a wish often doesn’t have the exact effect I was going for when I made it.
For instance, when I make a wish, assuming my part is done the moment the words have passed my lips (or emptied out of my mind) is both naive and fruitless. I can use wishing for patience as an example. My mentor has often jokingly warned me against wishing (she usually uses the word “praying” instead) for patience, reminding me that what I am likely to then receive is endless opportunities to learn how to be patient. Unfortunately, she is always right.
In the same way, if I decide to make a wish for more money, a more understanding mate, a quieter place to live, a bird who doesn’t jump into my scrambled eggs….well, what happens next? In the past, I have treated wish-making like genie lamp-rubbing. I make the wish, and the end result appears.
That is, um, wishful thinking. EXTREMELY wishful thinking.
What in fact will appear at the very moment I finish making my wish is the start of the process of fulfilling that wish. So let’s take my avian scrambled-egg hurdler as an example. Making the wish, “I wish Pearl would keep her claws out of my scrambled eggs” is just my wake-up call to myself that I would like something to change. Specifically, I want to eat my own scrambled eggs, from my own plate, without having to first extract feathers and dander or section off a pile for her personal use.
So next, I then have to start working on facilitating the realization of my own wish.
Recently my mom lent me a stack of books. There were some must-reads, a few maybes, and a couple heck, nos. One of the maybes (which later turned into a heck, no) presented an interesting concept – more interesting than the book itself, as it turned out.
The concept was conserving our words. The book framed this in context with a group of women living in a convent and why it might be a good idea in that setting to limit casual conversation. But it was not a stretch at all for me to see how valuable it could be to monitor how we use our words and how many words we use in our ordinary conversations as well.
The idea at its core seemed to revolve around the energy found in words. Each word has a meaning and that meaning is linked to both an intellectual definition and a corresponding emotion. Some words have a great deal of intellectual meaning but little emotional impact, while other words sport the opposite. Some words are neutral until added together with other words. Still other words are rich in both intellectual meaning and emotional meaning whether on their own or connected with other words.
I think I like the idea of conserving my personal words for a couple of reasons. One, if I do less talking this will help me continue to work on my goal to become a better listener. And two, word conservation can help me choose the words I do speak more carefully. This can help me avoid committing to things before I’ve thought them through, saying things I don’t mean and other word-based actions I want to avoid.
Over the last few weeks I have been practicing conserving my words, but not just when I am in the company of others or on the phone. I have also been practicing word conservation when I am alone. So instead of allowing my mind to chatter endlessly to me in my head, I might repeat a mantra or listen to soothing music. If I am with others, I …
I am a navel-gazer by nature. It’s often not my favorite quality about myself, but there you have it. It wasn’t something I necessarily chose – my introspective personality in all likelihood came pre-programmed, and learning how to manage it has been one of my big tasks to date in life.
What this often means is that I can get easily consumed in the “thinking about doing something” phase. This is probably why I often also seem impulsive to others – because often it takes an actual shove (administered by me, to me) to get me to stop thinking and act already.
Medication has helped with this. So has working with a life coach and a series of mentors. Watching my pet bird, Pearl (an action-oriented being if ever there was one), is also very instructive. Reading books about how to act, exercise (a great way to get me out of my head and into my body where all the emotions and intuition is usually impatiently swirling around), meditation and more are also useful.
Out of all this, I have developed a process of sorts to help me move from thinking to acting. I have found this to be very helpful because I like to make lists anyway, and because often part of my navel-gazing is getting hung up in figuring out what other people would do or what the “right thing” is to do. But often, there is no one “right thing”. And how other people might handle it might not work for my personality or the unique situation I am in.
I have noticed that when I follow this process, I get to both think and act (both of which feel good in their proper places) and I also usually feel much better about the action I choose to take.
Here is the process: