More and more often these days I look back on the days (years, decades) I spent battling anorexia and bulimia and I see time well spent.
And time needlessly wasted.
In the former case, I see life skills built that I still lean on every single day. I see brave me where scared me once stood.
I see empathy built from the inside out – is there any other authentic way? – that I am only just now learning how to handle, focus and use for good.
In the latter case, I see a decision made in a moment of pure life crisis turned into a potential lifetime coping method that was never meant to be.
Food cannot be my shield and my fuel at the same time.
Long before I really grasped what I was saying, I used to tell mentees that recovery from an eating disorder (or anything in life, really) is like learning to drive.
Although really, recovery is more like learning to take the car apart, put it all back together again, align the wheelbase, rotate the tires and then drive.
Because if the four wheels are not all pointed forward, you aren’t going to go anywhere.
The four wheels in this overdone metaphor are body, mind, heart and spirit. You can rename them however you like. Sometimes for heart I use emotion. Sometimes for spirit I use benevolent good or positive connection.
The point here is that it takes a lot – a LOT – of work to properly assemble (or reassemble) and then learn to pilot that kind of complex craft.
I am turning 50 this year and honestly I still cannot believe we don’t come with at least some sort of rudimentary operators manual. It is a huge responsibility for one person to take on all by themselves – to take care of a body, a brain (and its mind), a heart (both physical and emotional) and a spirit (gut, intuition, whatever you prefer to call it).
It is a full-time job.
And that is why I titled this blog post what I did.
Just in case you are at that stage where I still remember being, where I still kind of thought or hoped or fantasized that if I managed my food perfectly, looked a certain way, acted a certain way, dressed a certain way, etc, etc, it would all come together, with “it” being my life, my hopes, my dreams….
We aren’t here for that.
I truly experience that every single day of my life.
We are here to get in there and take the darned car apart.
We are here to turn over every part, gaze at it with curiosity and wonder, spit-polish and shine it up, do our darnedest to put it back in the spot it was always designed to fit into and then figure out what the heck this gizmo we’ve just rebuilt can do.
To do that, we need fuel. Food is that fuel.
Food is only that fuel. It isn’t anything else.
Sure, when you get really recovered (like to the point where I am today after three decades of work, not to say it will take you that long) food can also be fun.
It can be pleasure. It can bring people pleasure. It can occasionally be a source of comfort. It can help you heal when you are sick. It can help others heal too. And it can provide you with hours of enjoyment as you photograph and video your pets trying to attack and jump on top of your dinner plate again and again and again without ceasing because what you are eating looks so good and they are just sure you made it all for them (which of course you did, who are we kidding).
What I’m trying to say here is that food is NOT the enemy.
It can only do one thing: fuel up your body for the long ride yet ahead of you.
It is very good at its job and very terrible at any other job you try to give it.
The sooner you get to that, sort through whatever you need to sort through to get to that state of awareness that food is fuel, nothing less and certainly nothing more, and then go back to basics and learn how to fuel up properly to meet your daily energy needs, the sooner you can get back to the business of being you in the world.
And this is really really important.
Because we need you.
We. Need. YOU.
This world needs you.
And it needs you well, and healthy.
And just in case no one has told you today or ever, you matter.
You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.
It is so tempting – and I know because I did it for years – to hide under a pile of food fears and fantasies because the big wide world with all its problems is so overwhelming and sad and scary and painful and impossible to fix we can’t even imagine trying.
It is a lot easier to go back and arm-wrestle your meal plan one more time than tackle healing and changing the world.
After all, with all that is wrong in the world today, what on earth could one person do?
Get better, give it a try and I promise you will be surprised.
I also want to say this – again from the perspective of someone who has lived it – your battle matters.
This thing you are fighting – the food thing, or the mood thing, or the grief thing, or whatever it may be that has you so gridlocked in its intensity at the moment – it matters.
You need it because it will make you strong.
So – and I hope you really hear me here – I am not telling you to toss it aside, casually, like “oh that was no big deal, silly me” and just get back up and go save the world.
Nope. Get in there. Battle it. Fight it out. Really dig in and go for it. Fight like a dog for the right to sit in the driver’s seat, turning that wheel any which way you want the car to go.
So go get into the mud. Get dirty…REALLY dirty. Give it all you’ve got – your time, your energy, your total undivided attention. Have you ever peered under the hood of a running car? It is hot and messy and god-awful dangerous under there. This isn’t amateur hour because you aren’t here to play it small, underestimating yourself and thus missing out on ever noticing how brave and powerful you really are.
You are here to tackle the grittiest parts of yourself to the ground, wrestling them around until you are both so exhausted you finally just give up and agree to disagree. And perhaps even become friends or at least compatriots towards a higher common good.
Maybe, just maybe, one day, long after that collection of grimy parts scattered all around you right now is put back right, all squeaky clean and humming eagerly for your next adventure together, you might have the opportunity to pass along a little or a lot of what you have learned to another soul who is sitting in total vanquished exhaustion in the middle of an enormous mishmash of grimy stinking spare parts, unable to even conceive of how they could ever belong together. And you will sit down beside them and encourage them and celebrate with them as each piece of the puzzle gets found, fitted and finally, taken for that first glorious test drive.
Maybe one day you will be there for them because you were first there for you.
Maybe this is the only way worlds ever get changed – when we first change ourselves and then pass on what we’ve learned to one single other struggling soul.
The only way to find out is to try it and see.
With great respect and love,