Recently I may or may not have turned left in a bus-only lane.
When this allegedly occurred, I was blissfully unaware….as I had been for the past approximately seven prior months’ worth of turning left at that very same corner.
I was genuinely mystified when I parked, looked in my rearview mirror, and saw flashing blue and red lights behind me – to the point where I actually leaned out the window and said to the officer, “What on earth did I do?”
It also seems worth mentioning I was tempted to add “this time” to the end of that question.
The truth is, there is an undeniable opportunity cost associated with being me.
For instance, I am generally inattentive to street signs (especially when – just for the record in case any Houston traffic cops are reading this – they are small, faded, and blend nicely into the surrounding scenery).
As such, from time to time I may (will) miss signs and signals that are considered highly important by rule-making others. When this occurs, since those others tend to work for the justice system, I will likely be fined in money and then fined again with six grueling hours of online “driver safety” coursework.
There is just one problem with this rehabilitation system.
It doesn’t work.
Worry is simply a refusal to accept life as it is.
Since I read these words, no matter how much my mind has tried, it simply cannot manage to refute the truth of this statement.
As I contemplate more, I am slowly realizing that each moment I spend in worry is a moment spent away from my actual life as it unfolds, moment by moment.
As well, for every minute I spend worrying, that is a minute I have not spent acting to positively influence the course of my present….and thus my future.
Worst of all, when I permit my mind to soak itself in worrisome thoughts and scenarios, I am giving it permission to creatively imagine into being a potential future I am clear that I do not want.
Yet, for me at least, the daily practice of worrying is not just habitually ingrained, but socially reinforced.
Sometimes I do not love service.
This (not surprisingly) can be inconvenient at times.
Service is a big part of what helped me stay in recovery from my eating disorder, especially during the early days.
Service is also what has helped me maintain that recovery – and grow stronger and stronger – in the many years since those early days.
Currently and for the past several years my primary service work has been through mentoring. I run a mentoring-based nonprofit called MentorCONNECT, where I oversee the organization’s behind-the-scenes (with a lot of awesome fellow helpers), offer my time as a mentor, write and speak about mentoring, lead meetings, and more.
It is time-consuming – sometimes very much so. It can also be stressful and worrisome, especially when new folks join the community and they are really struggling in their recovery. As well, volunteers come and go, members relapse and rebound, money is required to keep certain programs functioning (whether we happen to have those funds or not) – well, you get the picture.
It is also rewarding – to start something new and see it not only survive but grow up and begin to thrive – that part is undeniably nice.
But there have been many days along the way when I wondered what on earth I was thinking when I used to romanticize about being of service to others and how wonderful and fulfilling it would be.
All his life, my grandpa loved “playing the horses.”
Each summer we would visit my grandparents at their home near Boston, MA, and Grandpa would spend every morning the same way – hunched over at the kitchen table, working out the odds the old fashioned way (yes, with pencil and paper!), and deciding which horse most deserved his precious pennies.
He also loved taking my brother and me to the track to watch the races. Adam, being naturally competitive, enjoyed betting – and enjoyed winning his bets even more.
Me? I just felt sorry for the horses. Those black blinders (today called “blinkers”) looked uncomfortable. For that matter, so did the bridle, the saddle, the bit, and the itty bitty man perched up top.
The famous movie “Rebel Without a Cause” starring James Dean was intended to portray the “moral decay” of American teens.
Instead it engendered a rabid fan following among those very teens, who perceived in the film’s outer twists and turns an accurate and (oddly) reassuring portrait of their own often emotionally chaotic, confusing and overwhelming growing-up years.
While the adults who crafted the film wanted to hammer home a message that youth needed to straighten themselves out, a very different message got communicated to their intended audience – a message that clearly said, “if you feel this way too, you are not alone.”
In a similar way, it is so easy to label the discomforts of daily life – the restlessness, the anxiety, the depression, the fears, the anger, the worries, the wondering – as unique to us, as an indication that there is something uniquely “wrong” with us that we need to “straighten out,” as “causeless” and frankly inconvenient, when in fact their presence is both universal and very purposeful indeed.
Restlessness has a place in our lives. So too does anxiety, depression, and all the rest.
A friend recently sent me a post called “When Your Mother Says She’s Fat” by author Kasey Edwards.
The post was hard for me to read – painful, too.
This is because I had a similar experience with my own mom growing up.
One night she and my dad were going to a party, and she looked sooooo pretty to me! So I told her, “Mom, you are beautiful!”
Her response was less than reassuring. While I don’t remember the exact words she used, I did get the distinct sense that she disagreed with me – that perhaps I had even somehow embarrassed myself with my lack of correct perception.
In my assertion that I saw my mom as beautiful, I had made myself vulnerable, and received criticism rather than appreciation in return.
It was also jarring to realize that, as her daughter, this meant I was not beautiful either – or at least, I was destined not to be as I grew up into a woman.
As a girl I loved to copy drawings of beautiful faces and clothes line-for-line out of the magazines, relishing my ability to recreate loveliness on paper.
But after that night, my girlish art hobby soon turned from a source of sensory delight into a fretful fantasy that maybe one day, if I just changed enough about myself, I might be the gorgeous woman being drawn instead of the copy artist.
I never did manage to achieve that goal.
Instead, I got sick, and then sicker. And then I grew up and realized that “beauty,” like talent and intelligence and all the rest, is both an inside job and a wholly subjective assessment. I also realized it was a choice I would have to make for myself – whether or not to see “me” as “beautiful.”
A dear friend and colleague, Emi Berger, recently wrote a blog post about a concept called “The Hero’s Journey.”
Joseph Campbell, the creator of this “monomyth” (the technical term used to describe his creation), has outlined three distinct stages the hero takes.
Of course, each one of the three main stages then has several sub-stages, meaning it isn’t quite so streamlined to get from One to Three as you might assume (and as I might like).
Right now, Emi is tackling her biggest athletic challenge to date – competing in an Ironman event this coming July. She is planning to use her competition to raise money for MentorCONNECT, the nonprofit organization I founded in 2009 for which she is currently a board member.
In her post, Emi describes first feeling called to compete, then resisting, then eventually answering the call (this being stage one – Separation).
In the next stage (Initiation), Emi talks about having to face her many fears full-on as her training progresses – a stage which for her is currently in-progress.
When Emi reaches the third and final stage of Return, she will have conquered each of those fears, whether or not she wins her competition.
As I was reading about Emi’s amazing journey (from the comfort of my couch), it occurred to me that the Hero’s Journey is also a great analogy for recovery.
Just the fact that there is such a phrase in use today – the “anorexic brain” – makes me realize how far medical science has come since I first contracted anorexia as an 11 year-old in 1981.
Those were dark days – no longer was a person who refused food automatically incarcerated in a general psych ward – but neither were they ushered straightaway into treatments tailored to their specific needs.
This, of course, was because there were no treatments tailored to the needs of anorexics….or bulimics, for that matter, or persons suffering from binge eating disorder or eating disorders not otherwise specified or any types of eating issues.
But today, thanks in large part to the work of Dr. Walter Kaye at the University of California-San Diego, and Dr. James Locke at Stanford University, we are staring into the face of an exciting (and long awaited) new era.
With the help of brain imaging research, we are beginning to understand what kinds of treatments make the most sense to help people heal from irregular eating patterns. This imaging research shows clear differences in brain activity when the brains of persons who have suffered from eating disorders are compared against the brains of non-eating disorders persons.
Not so many weeks ago I wrote a post called “It’s Okay to Not Know What to Do.”
I really loved this title – and I loved being able to share an “aha moment” I had about letting go of the need to control everything – even if it was just for one instant.
Unfortunately, that solitary “aha moment” passed all too quickly and didn’t bring friends or reinforcements, so it seems we’re back to strangling again.
Yesterday I had a conversation with my mentor regarding giving up control – or lack thereof.
The trouble is, in the culture I grew up in, maintaining control was rewarded. It was seen as a good thing. My perfectionistic nature kept me out of trouble at school, got me noticed in my music studies, and earned praise from my parents and peers.
The other day I went out walking with my mom and her hiking club.
The walk leader promptly proceeded to get us lost in the urban woods. For TWO HOURS.
At first I took it well – it was a pristine day, just the right degree of sunshine and warmth, and the company was good.
But as we walked and walked, and it dawned on me that we were walking in circles yet again, my temper finally frayed. Once it began fraying, it wasn’t long before it completely unraveled.
When we got back to the car, I apologized to my mom and her friends, saying I didn’t know why I had gotten so angry. My mom said, “Yes, usually you aren’t like that.”
The truth is, that particular combination of events represented a particularly heinous pet peeve of mine – trusting someone else to lead me and getting lost as a result. As such, I was angry at myself first and foremost, and as my anger towards me built, it simply spilled out and over onto everyone in the damage path.
Through this experience – and a few similarly irritating others that piggybacked on it in days to come – I have recently come to realize just how much I have often depended on the internal combustion of unexpected (and frequently humiliating) anger to push me towards positive change.
For instance, I still remember my childhood best friend telling me I was “too fat to be friends with” – too fat to even be seen with, for that matter.