Guilt vs Shame Pt 2: Shame-A Lethal Apology For Existence

Happy birthday to all you people born on April 24th! If I could,  I would make you all cake.  I’d say cupcakes so you can be all individual and have your own personal sized cake with exactly one candle because it’s super cute, but apparently those don’t count as cakes ::rolls eyes at recent argument had over a lack of birthday “cake”::…

How was your week?  Mine was pretty stellar… do people say stellar anymore?  Did I just date myself?

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Moving on…

Yeah, I had a pretty amazing weekend last weekend…Two weekends ago?  You know what I mean.  My sister came to town, who I see like once a year, and we got to spend some time together which was really nice.  This also meant a pretty hefty dose of eating out and eating well, which is on one hand the funnest thing ever, and on the other super challenging.  But, I made it through, with only mild panic attacks, and purposely limited body checking.  All in all, a success.  And I went to a bar, and I got ID’d which is a nice little morale boost because it doesn’t always happen anymore.

It’s funny, because when you first start going to bars and you’re ID’d before you make it two steps in the door every time, it is such a drag, but then when that starts to happen less and less and less, you kind of miss it.  It’s like, man, do I have to start dying my grey hairs yet?

Then again, with that current fashion trend of dying your hair grey, that might not be a solution to any problem.  Or did that trend pass already?  I’m not sure.  I never understood that one anyways…

So you all remember my last post?  You know, the one where I found out that my guilt is a blessing if I choose to look at it in the right light?  Easier said than done, but a good reminder that there’s always a silver lining.  Anyways, it actually said Part 1 on it… as in therefore there’s a part 2, or Part II, or el numero dos, or whatever you please.  Point is, something is supposed to follow it.

I’m like the worst for these types of things.  I even hesitated to title the post “Part 1” because I know myself… I get all gung-ho for something, and I’m über inspired in the moment (because I’m mindful like that), and I’m all like, “Pssshaw, of course I’ll make the next part that logically follows!  Of course I’ll finish my thoughts!  This is like, my current maxim and my level of inspiration and expression will continue to abound for weeks to come!”

Yeah, okay.

I know myself, hence my hesitation.  Some people take lessons from their parents, and learn through the wisdom of age… I don’t do that.  Apparently, I take lessons from this guy:

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And to quote my boyfriend, this guy is “a special kind of stupid”.  So while he can teach me some valuable things, like loving unconditionally (man’s best friend literally), or living in the moment and for the moment (hence the stolen ice cream cone from the coffee table), or life without regret (he had no regret for the ice cream cone, or for the piece of parchment paper that had lined the cheeseburger pan that he stole from the garbage and tore up during the night), he can teach me an infinite number of unnecessary ones as well.  Those are the ones I seem to follow:

  1.  How to do the same thing multiple times, and expect a different result (AKA the definition of insanity, most demonstrated by his persistence of begging for food from me when he never gets any).  My argument is that this could also fall in line with being eternally optimistic… maybe.
  2. How to walk into things that are so blatantly obvious that you never should have walked into them (doors, cupboards, other people).
  3. How to have a remarkably short attention span, get bored easily, and have an inability to focus.

Yeah, that third one.  You know when you throw a ball for a dog, and he’s all excited, but then you bring out a frisbee, or a treat or something, and then the ball that was the best thing in the world is forgotten?  Yeah.  Either that or something like this:

 

See unconditional love, and completely distract-able all at the same time.  Story of my life.

So, I knew I’d get distracted, hence my reluctance to post a Part 1 and commit to a Part 2… and here I am, distracted.  But sometimes, you can turn distraction into a roundabout point, so we’re going to try.

I had a Skype session with my dietician the other day, and we were talking about my levels of guilt.  I had a few challenges for the week last week, and while I met them (mostly), there was incredible levels of anxiety, shame, guilt, fear, and an overall sense of FML that can be surmised in the phrase: “I just wanted to crawl out of my skin constantly.”  Anyone with an ED knows that phrase all too well.

Anyways, we were talking and she said something along the lines of “Well, you gotta ask yourself why that guilt is there.  Why are the food rules still there after so long?  Why do you have the guilt, fear, and need to keep those rules in place?  What are you afraid of?”

“Of becoming huge… and it’s ridiculous, stupid, and pointless. It shouldn’t matter to me!  I mean, WHY does it matter to me?”

And the infamous psychological technique response she gave- a classic answer-a-question-with-a-question.

“Why DOES it matter to you?”

And it’s those annoying questions that frustrate me to no end…  Because I have no freaking idea!  It’s funny how you possess your brain, you’ve lived with it for 24 years, you’ve gone through moments of sadness, moments of joy, birthdays, deaths, weddings, parties, everything, and you’ve done everything in your life with the same brain… and yet a large chunk of the time you still have no idea how it works.  There’s still 3 million crevices left unexplored, places where you’ve stored ideas, beliefs, values, memories that shape you but are enigmas to your conscience and comprehension.  Sometimes your own head is as much a stranger to you as the guy sitting at the next table in a coffee shop.

Why do I have the guilt, the fear, the rules?  Why am I scared to become huge?  Why do I think this is important?

Well, we ended up at the same point as I came to in my last post, which was kind of ironic. The conversation kind of went, “Hey Tiffany, maybe you should write a blog post or something on guilt and how it connects to your values?” To which I responded,”…Um, I kind of already did last week…”

Awkward silence.

Actually no, our conversations are like never filled with awkward silences.  Usually we’re laughing about something ridiculous that happened related to food, like driving backwards  through a DQ drive through, taking an open flame to a nutrition label, or making a YOLO pizza and topping it with rice.

Then we get serious(ish), and back to business.  Such as her next point, “Okay, great! Part II then (haha, it’s a roundabout pun), define your values.  I mean if you value thinness, like you realize you do, look at why, and decide what you’re missing out on if you make it that important.  Hopefully you realize that you don’t have time for that shit.”

I attached a link for her related blog post, because why not explore it with me right?

So, why do I value being thin?

Do it with me: loooooooooong sigh.

I don’t know.  I wish I didn’t.  I think it’s a plethora of things:

It’s that kid that went to family get togethers, and felt isolated because she wasn’t an athlete, or sports-minded.  Whose coordination sucked so much that it wasn’t fun to play baseball, or basketball, or tennis, because really, yes you can have fun sucking if the people you play with aren’t too serious but sometimes you just get tired of not being able to do things.  You just want to make a basket, you just want to rally a ball.  And also being a kid with a ridiculously different body type, but not realizing that it was because of this difference in body type that she looked different from the rest of the people in the family.  I mean, I have a DD cup, and I have curves.  Compare that to an A or B, long and lean. You can’t.

So when the other girls my age could trade clothes, or fit into a size 2, I couldn’t.  I couldn’t because my breasts wouldn’t fit into a small shirt, or a medium sometimes.  and my curves in my thighs ad hips wouldn’t fit into a size 2 pant, or often a size 4.  Usually it was a six.  And when you’re young, things are simple and you don’t understand the complexities of body type, of genetics, of all the fine print.  So if my cousins could fit into a 2 or a small shirt and I couldn’t, there must be something wrong with me.  Just like if they could hit a tennis ball and I couldn’t, there must be something wrong with me.

I didn’t know how to ride a bike, or swim,  but they did.  There was something wrong with me.

I was the quietest.  The shyest.  The most introverted.  A lot of them were extroverted… they were comedians, they made people laugh.  They thrived being with others, and had lots of friends.  They were social and always on the go.  I wasn’t.  There was something wrong with me.

I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and oftentimes ate more than the rest of them (hello fast metabolism I now know I have thanks to my Dad).  But they thought about sugar grams, and ate smaller portions.  If I didn’t do these things, there was something wrong with me.

From a young age in our family we were told of the importance of exercise, of getting outside on a daily basis.  Of not drinking juice until we had at least one glass of water.  And many family activities during our get togethers were focussed around hiking, or walking, or running, or biking, and if we didn’t participate in these things, we were guilt tripped.  We were told how it was “good for us”, how we were “being lazy” if we didn’t.  We were shamed.

My parents didn’t have rules like this.  My parents didn’t withhold food from me until I ate something “healthier” or drank some “clean water”.  They encouraged me to follow my own passions, decide for myself what I wanted to do.  They were okay with me being the artist always scribbling in her sketchbook.  They were fine with me being the academic, with her nose in a book.  And they were equally fine if I decided I wanted an ice cream cone in the afternoon, or a soda with my dinner.  They allow me to decide.

And let me be clear.  I was never “overweight” because of it.

But my cousins were everything I wanted to be, and they were my role models.  They were happy, beautiful inside and out, had tons of friends, and were coordinated.  They were confident.  That was a big one for me.  Confident.  That’s all I really ever wanted to be.  Happy and confident in who I was.  And I was bombarded by messages.  And in between hearing the food rules that they had set out for them, in between watching them eat smaller portions, and only eat certain things at certain times, in between watching them thrive at sports, and obey their parents/aunts/uncles with the “get outside and get moving” mantra, and then see them in their long and lean body types, the solution seemed clear.  Somehow their external appearance and their driven, always keep busy attitudes, were the key to happiness, confidence, and love both inside and out.

There was something wrong with me, and this was the way to “fix” it.

Add to it the rest of the environment.  The environment that all of us face every time we set a foot outside our front doors:

The NIKE labels branded across thin, muscular people, coupled with their slogan, “Just do it.”  Like, it doesn’t matter if you’re tired, or sick, or not happy.  Do it anyways.

The distorted yoga movement that is meant to encourage mindfulness and self acceptance, but is now branded with ridiculously hot rooms, a hierarchy of praise and respect for those who practice the more intense power and vinyasa styles, and an average calorie burn next to videos and course descriptions.

The amount of times you go out for lunch with people and see thin people overeat or eat a “unclean/yolo/cheat” food (brownie, burger, pizza, ice cream, etc) and be praised or appreciated for “not being anorexic” or for “being normal”, for eating for enjoyment, or for being indulgent because they “deserve” it.  Meanwhile, a fat person orders the same thing and is condemned for eating past full, or for just eating for enjoyment… because they DON’T “deserve” it.  They, controversly, are expected to be constantly proving to the world that they are actively trying to be “normal” by working as hard as they can to not be fat.

I’m sorry,  not sorry, but that is fucked up.

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Image Source Recovery Warriors

In what world is it okay for one person to eat a cookie, but another not, based on the amount of adipose tissue strapped across their midsection or thighs?

In what world is it acceptable to have a second slice of pizza based not on hunger or enjoyment, but rather on whether or not you hit 5k on your morning run this morning?

In what world have we replaced the unacceptable racism, sexism, and ageism, with an apparently “healthy” and acceptable size-ism and shape-ism?

Why do I value thinness? Because I am disposed to believe that just as I am, there is something wrong with me.

Or rather, because I grew up believing that there is something wrong with me, as a result of values others hold. I may have contorted them in my own head, but they are a result of nature and nurture, things seen and heard. Because I have never felt like enough, and I just want to feel okay. Because I am ashamed of myself, and I don’t want to add any more shame to the equation. And because in this day and age, the ultimate shame is to be fat.

Which brings me to Part 2! YAY FOR ROUNDABOUT POINTS!

Part 2 of that duo, and that Brené Brown quote:

I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.

Shame is the partner in crime to guilt, but whereas guilt is kind of like a nagging mother (a pain in the butt, and you don’t want her to be right, but her goal is to protect and to help you know what is really important), shame is just the grade 2 bully, or the devil on your shoulder.

The, “I made a mistake” (guilt), versus the “I am a mistake” (shame), if you will.

The reality is that shame does nothing helpful.  It doesn’t encourage you to make amends or point you toward your values.  More often than not, shame just encourages you to give up, leads to despair, and is, as Brené pointed out, “more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behaviour, than the solution or cure.”

If someone believes they are not enough, they are unworthy, or unloveable, it is hard to remain connected to others.  It is hard to remain connected to others because it is actually PAINFUL to remain connected.  The constant reminder of your own inadequacy is one of the greatest emotional pains you can experience.

One of the biggest problems that comes with shame is that the “I am a mistake” mentality is usually related to something about yourself that is unchangeable.  I can’t change my body type, my personality, my introverted nature, or my natural talents.  So if I’m ashamed of any one of those aspects, I can attempt to do something about it (diet/plastic surgery, be false, throw myself into an extroverted group/club/etc, try over and over again to be good at something else) and while it might work for a bit, eventually I’m doomed.   You can’t change the type of person you are.  You can’t change your natural talent for English, or your quiet personality any more than you can change your skin color.  It’s a part of you and you will naturally always fall back towards what is uniquely and inherently yours.  This is the same thing with your body shape and set point weight, and the reason why when you diet eventually you gain the weight back.  It could be slower or faster but your body has amazing control mechanisms to keep you where it is designed to be.

So when you’re shamed by something that is unchangeable, when you can’t change it no matter how hard you try, you just feel like a failure.  You feel unworthy of love, connection, and belonging.  And as those are the basic emotional human necessities, you suffer.

Nowadays, as a society in general we are more bombarded than ever by messaging and fat shaming.  A greater and greater emphasis is being placed on external appearances and physicality, and now that medical professionals and governments have waged a “war on fat”, those who naturally have more voluptuous frames are facing a greater pressure to fit into a mould that only a small percentage of the population is designed to fit in.  Larger women who go to the doctor for an ear infection are told to lose weight.  If a thin woman went to the doctor for the same thing, they would be given antibiotics.  Does the larger woman not deserve the same courtesy minus the extra shame pill thrown in?  Shame isn’t a vitamin, and it doesn’t enhance the antibiotic’s effectiveness.

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Image Source BuzzFeedLife

Here’s the reality:  Just because you’re thinner, DOES NOT mean you are healthier.  Likewise, just because you’re fatter, DOES NOT mean you are UNhealthier.

Just because my thighs have cellulite, DOESN’T mean I’m less deserving of a third slice of pizza than my thinner cousin.

Just because my stomach rolls when I bend over, DOESN’T mean I can’t enjoy a latte with my scone instead of black coffee.

Just because my hips don’t fit in a size 4 half the time, DOESN’T mean that I should walk more, or add in a 5k run to my exercise regime.

AND, if I lost weight, if I changed my body’s natural shame, it DOESN’T mean I would be happier.  I think we’ve beat that one to the bush enough times.  Or does another relapse need to happen?

Just because we’re fat phobic, doesn’t mean we need to fat shame.

Just because shape-ism and size-ism is different than racism or sexism, doesn’t make it right.  Why is my adipose tissue any different than my skin color?

Just because we’re all different, doesn’t mean we’re wrong.  Stop being ashamed.  You are not a mistake.

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Image Source Recovery Warriors

 

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Guilt vs Shame Pt 1: Guilt-The Blessing in Disguise

Ciao!  I woke up this morning, and I was feeling super awesome.  Hence this selfie (I don’t do selfies…):

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This tends to happen when I know I’m going out for a morning at the cafe to write… I can’t help but get excited and bubbly.  Then I walk there whilst I listen to some solid beats on my phone, and because I’m feeling awesome I have some upbeat tunes (my walking groove that always makes its way onto the “feeling awesome” playlist) on that I can strut to.  And I coordinate my footsteps with the beat… And then I realize that I’m singing outloud and getting entirely too physical with my movements and have to tone it down because people are looking at me as if I’m having a spasm…

Uncoordination at its finest.

So I got to the cafe, and it just so happens that the best seat in the cafe is open!  Right by the open sunny window, view up the street, and in the corner so it’s private.  The awesomeness continues, and my face be like:

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AND then… my boyfriend shows up by surprise and he’s like my favourite person.  The awesomeness continues, and my face be like:

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After a visit, I get down to business, start writing, feeling good, on a roll… so on a roll that lunchtime creeps up on me, and I don’t want to stop writing so I decide to finally try that roasted mushroom sandwich with hummus that has sounded so good…

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And in making that decision, in two seconds my awesomeness went to anxiousness. Anxiousness, guilt, and shame, for being seated, in a cafe, ordering lunch when I could be up moving, or making something less intimidating for lunch at home.  All that awesomeness, shot down in an instant.  Bummer.

It’s funny how quickly emotions can shift.  How one day you can look in a mirror and see huge, and the next day it suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.  How one second you can be feeling amazing, and then next second you can feel like crap.  And it’s not just those who suffer from eating disorders that experience this.  Its one of those side effects of being human: having somewhat unpredictable emotions.

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Two overriding emotions in eating disorder recovery, as well as a vast majority of mental illnesses are guilt and shame.  They act as a wall that puts an invisible, but solid barrier between us and the rest of the world.  They separate us, segregate us, and silence us.  And they take the awesomeness out of your morning in one smear of hummus…

I was listening to a podcast the other day, during one of my more anxious moments, and they were discussing one of the most talked about names in the world of self help and discovery: Brené Brown.

Undoubtably, you’ve heard of her.  Author, scholar, and speaker, she is well known for her renowned TEDtalks, and her growing collection of self-help books, among which are the bestsellers Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection.  While I can’t personally attest to their brilliance, as they’re both still on my reading list, I know many people personally who have claimed their ability to impact and change how you view the world and your place in it.

Anyways, in this podcast, they were discussing the difference between guilt and shame, and how both emotions play in when it comes to eating disorders and eating disorder recovery.  I know for me, it is difficult to tell the difference between the two, as they are distinct but often intertwined.  They mentioned a quote from Brené’s book, Daring Greatly, that struck a note for me:

I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.

At first glance, I didn’t agree with this at all, but mostly because of the guilt portion of the quote.  In my own experience, guilt has rarely been helpful, but rather harmful in my day to day life.

I mean, after all,  I feel guilty about eating a piece of cake, so I go for a 3 hour run the next day.  I feel guilty about eating three meals a day, so I skip my snacks.  I feel guilty about leaving university, and so I hole myself up and don’t go to family gatherings.  I feel guilty about choosing the easier yoga video instead of the longer more strenuous one, so I do an extra hour the next day, or miss another meal.

Whichever one you pick, it all leads/has lead me to the same place:  alone, lonely, sad, depressed, anxious, on my death bed…

How can an emotion that has produced so much heartache and emotion, mental, and physical deterioration possibly be adaptive or helpful?  Clearly guilt is a negative emotion, and one to be avoided at all costs!

Yeah, it appears that way at first glance.  And it’s a much easier way to look at things:  my situation is a result of my emotions.  I can blame the things that have held me back and shoved me down on my feelings.  And since we’re supposed to feel our feelings, and not stifle them, I’m completely justified in my behaviours.  Or, if I’m not completely justified in my behaviours, I am at least completely justified in why it’s taking so long and is so impossible to change them.

Except it’s not entirely true… because the emotion itself doesn’t control the behaviour.  An emotion is simply a cue as to what is going on in your internal experience.  The reality is that your situation is not a result of your emotion, but a result of your REACTION to your emotion.

So what is guilt then?  Brené kind of hit the nail on the head here:

…it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

Key: Something we’ve DONE or FAILED TO DO up against our VALUES and feeling PSYCHOLOGICAL DISCOMFORT.

Hence, this is why a most classic example of guilt shows its helpfulness and healthfulness:  You lie to your best friend, you feel guilty because it goes against your value of honesty, and the psychological discomfort you feel (AKA your conscience) pushes you to “right the wrong” in order to realign with your values.

BUT when the experience of guilt results in a harmful behaviour, such as restriction, overexercise, purging, binging, self harm, or the like, does this mean that it’s no longer helpful, healthful, or fitting with its definition?

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No.  Not at all.

I know, shocking.  But remember what guilt does: it points to how we’ve gone against or neglected our values.  So guilt in this scenario, the scenario of feeling guilty over a brownie or a hamburger, or a slice of pizza, points to a value that we must be brushing up against.  If nothing else, guilt is a great little tool to use to tell you what it is that you truly value in your life.

Now for me, the realization of guilt being helpful in this way is a new one.  And as awesome as it is that an emotion I feel a bisquillion times a day is secretly an ally of mine, it is also incredibly humbling and more than a little depressing.  Here’s the crux:

What on earth do I value so incredibly that it results in me feeling guilty about eating these “forbidden/cheat/unhealthy” foods?

Now, in my mind, there’s only a couple possible things that could actually result in food guilt:

  1. I feel guilty about the food because I fear being unhealthy.  I value having a healthy, strong, body and treating my body in the best possible way.
  2. I feel guilty about the food because I fear what the food could do to my outward appearance. I value having a beautiful/thin/fat-free/slim/toned/whatever-adjective-fits-for-you appearance.

And because the guilt is so pervasive, so all-consuming, so strong that I’m willing to push other things aside such as meaningful relationships, spending time with those who matter to me, doing the daily activities that need to get done, just to “right the wrong” and attone for my “gluttonous sins”, it really points that I value one of these things incredibly highly.  As in whatever I value takes priority as one of my chief values in life.

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And that’s where the depressing and humbling part comes in, as well as sadness and anger.  Regardless of whichever element it is (and for me I think it’s both: perfectionism and orthorexia valuing having a perfectly healthy and clean body on the inside, and the having a fat-free, slim, toned, and beautiful outward appearance), I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that I clearly value that so much more than some of the other things in my life.  Like, if it was my funeral, would I really want to be remembered as the “girl who had the perfect/healthiest body” or the “girl who took every opportunity possible to laugh”.  “The girl who put others before herself”.  “The girl who was always up for some quality time with her friends and family.”  “The girl who was not afraid to be completely real, and totally herself”.

I don’t know about you, but for me, every option sounds better than the first one.

But this realization, as sad as it is, and as infuriating as it might be, isn’t a pointer that you’re conceited, self-absorbed, trivial, or whatever other adjective that puts you down says.  The fact that you might value your physical appearance or your fat-free body quite(too) highly isn’t a death sentence.  It isn’t yet another redline through your despicable character that you’re convinced (by the eating disorder) that you have.  Because, there’s always a silver lining…

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YAY!

Okay.  So realization, confession, acceptance:

My name is Tiffany.  I hold no grudge against people who are larger.  I hold no misgivings over someone who has fat, or cellulite, and I think no less of them as a human being.  I do not believe that anyone’s outward appearance has an impact on their worthiness, worth, or value as a person, or their worthiness of love, care, compassion, or happiness.  And I would NEVER, EVER, say that I am better than anyone else based on my outward appearance.  However, for some reason, I do not hold myself up to the same standards.  I value my outward appearance highly.  I value what I physically look like too highly.  And as much as I do not judge others for how they appear, I am terrified of appearing larger, or with more fat, or less tone.  This value interferes with my life.  It gets in my way because it results in me missing opportunities and not being present in my relationships in the ways that I want to be present in them.  And because I value this so highly, it often results in me putting my outward appearance ahead of a lot of other things in my life that it should not, that I do not want it to be ahead of.

Phew.

And it angers me.  And I’m working on the acceptance part.

HOWEVER, here’s that part where I luck out at having guilt as my ally!  Guilt has helped me by pointing out what I value… let’s add to the Brené Brown quote:

I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.  Guilt acts as a lighthouse guiding you home to both your true values AND your MISPLACED values.  And as a result, you can work on changing them for the better.

Mind blown.

Yes, just because you hold something as a value, doesn’t mean it needs to stay a value.  Just because it’s engrained into your psyche as something of critical importance, doesn’t mean that it’s a part of you.  Your values are not your genes: they’re not a special CATGGATC (isn’t that the four nucleotides?) sequence that can’t be altered without some fancy GMO.  If you change your values, you won’t create cancer or suddenly grow 12 arms or bananas with breasts…

I don’t even know where that came from.  Moving on…

It takes work, it takes conscious effort, and it takes immersing yourself completely in new ideas and ideals to change your values.  But it can be done.  And you’ll know when you’ve achieved it:

You’ll eat that brownie without a second thought.

You’ll go out for pizza with your friends and then eat breakfast the next day. And snack.  And lunch. And dinner.

Your burger will come with a side of fries instead of a side of guilt.

Your blessing in disguise will be your guide.

 

The Happiness Equation: Mathematical Machine or Magical Unicorn?

 

 

Hello all!

It’s a sunny Thursday morning in my part of the world, and I feel like I’ve won the lottery because not only is it gorgeous outside (so gorgeous this cafe has its windows open!), but I managed to score a table with an outlet so I can plug my computer IN whilst I write. My face be like:

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Except replace the penguin with an outlet… if it was an actual penguin, my face would be more like:

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Novelty of novelties, I know.

But seriously, there should be a law that every coffee shop has outlets at at least half of their tables, or along their bar.  This particular cafe has only two outlets in the whole store, and they’re both at tables that people love to sit at who don’t have anything to plug in at all.  And while I’m fine with sharing the comfy chairs, for those of us who forget to plan ahead and plug in our laptops the night before and are running on like 20%, those extra outlets would be very much so appreciated.

Either that or people need to become more accepting of having someone sitting under your table at your feet.  Just pretend I’m your adorable Labradoodle.

Personal space bubble, what’s that?

Moving on…

I was sitting here the other day, and I overheard a conversation between two people, specifically two women.  Both were drinking coffees, and it appeared to be a typical meet up of two friends.  But being the recovery warrior that I am, I’m kind of like a dog and the mention of the word walk or treat:  I hear a word related to nutrition, exercise, weight, or shape and my ears perk up.  So while checking my emails, my Spidey senses were sent tingling when I overheard this:

“Hun, you’d be so much happier if you just lost a little weight… I mean you seem pretty happy for a fat person, but 20, 30 pounds, and you’d be so much happier.  It’s all about calories in, versus calories out.  Just tie up your running shoes, and stop ordering the banana bread when we come here for coffee.  It’s all about willpower.”

And it takes a lot of restraint to avoid throwing my iced latte in her face, but:

  1. My iced latte tastes way too good to waste.
  2. I haven’t thrown a drink on someone since I waitressed and tossed red wine on a man’s white pants.  Side effect of being semi accident prone, and not an experience I wish to repeat.

How many times have you heard this ideology: weight=happiness, happiness=weight ?

How many times have you witness/held the belief that the key to all happiness lies in external appearances?

How many times have you been mislead to believe that what you weigh or what shape you have is completely within your control, and by extension, you are in control of your own happiness?

Probably too many to count.

One of the hardest concepts to grasp in recovery from an eating disorder is that you are not a machine.  Part of this comes from the hope and key belief that all eating disorders hold: you are in control.  One of the biggest rewards an eating disorder gives you is a feeling of total control, and that regardless of whatever mayhem is going on around you, there is one thing the tornado of life cannot touch: what you put in your mouth, and what you do with your body.  A plane could crash in my backyard, or a typhoon could occur in Laos while I was on vacation there, or my uncle could wind up in the hospital, and regardless of all this I still have a choice whether or not to eat my McDonalds hamburger.

Mc-scuse me… my Chicken McNuggets.

And by feeling like we are in control of this one key element we feel stable and secure, because this feeling of control brings a whole bunch of other feel-good emotions along with it:

Pride: Because you have (will)power, and a “enviable” body shape due to your ability to control what, when, and how much you eat.

Motivation: You have that get up and go, because at least initially you will receive positive feedback on your changing frame from those around you. And motivation lifts depression, sadness, and shame.  And because you have something to “control” you have a clear cut goal, and that makes you feel motivated.

Hope: This control gives you hope, and the eating disorder itself gives you hope.  Hope that by controlling this one thing everything else in your life will get better, or at least become bearable.  And because a “beautiful” (aka: thin, toned, fat-free, or whatever adjective of choice appeals to you) body is toted throughout society as being of critical importance and worthy of praise, you become hopeful that you will feel content when your goal is attained.

And these three emotions, or feelings, are unbelievably powerful.  They give you a sense of purpose, a feeling of power, significance, and importance, and tend to override other more uncomfortable feelings.  But notice, there is a key emotion I didn’t include in this list, sort of the Grand Poobah of the emotional hierarchy…

Side note: As I wrote this, I felt the need to know where on earth the term Grand Poobah came from.  Apparently, it originated from Gilbert and Sullivan, but it was used most frequently in… “The Flintstones”!!

wtl1evn

#stoneageknowswhatsup

Double side note: Did you know “The Flintstones” was from the 60s?! AND that it’s spelled Flin-T-stones, not Flinstones?! Mind. Blown.

Moving on…

Right.  The Grand Poobah of the emotional hierarchy: happiness.

Because that’s really where we’re all trying to get to in the end, isn’t it?  Like, if we were all happy people, we really wouldn’t feel the need to change ourselves, or complain, or need to feel all those uncomfortable emotions: guilt, shame, anger, fear, sadness, and the like.  By not feeling those uncomfortable emotions, and by not feeling a need to change ourselves, we’d feel less need to change others… because often times we try to change other people in order to make ourselves feel better, or less guilty about some characteristic we possess ourselves.

Yeah, world peace, sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, right?

I promise, I’m not running for Miss America, or becoming a hermit in a tree growing out my leg hair and becoming “one” with nature.

#toomanystereotypesinonesentence. Scratch that.

But, it’s true right?  I mean about the end goal being happiness… I mean, people get high paying jobs to be able to afford the lifestyles they want, in order to be happy by having the lifestyle they want.  Likewise, people quit high paying jobs to be able to spend more time with their families, in order to be happy by being with the people they love.  The reasoning for the actions and the actions themselves are different for everyone, but the end goal is the same: happiness.

And with the sense of control that the eating disorder gives, along with the secondary feel-good emotions that come along with it, you find yourself in a state of pseudo-happiness.  Or rather, you are ensconced in the pursuit of happiness, and completely convinced that the path you are on will eventually lead to happiness.  Because it just makes sense right?  I mean, you feel ALMOST happy, when you feel pride, or motivation, or hope, so eventually if you build up enough pride, or motivation, or hope it will equal actual happiness.

It’s like an A+B+C = D concept.  Linear, straightforward, and mathematically and logically sound.

Except think about it: at the same time that you were rolling your eyes at me for going all sunshine, and lollipops, and rainbows on you about how the world would be perfect if we all just loved ourselves and were happy, you took it to an equal extreme by assuming that pride+motivation+hope=happiness.

The reality is A+B+C ≠ D, it actually equals a smoosh of ABC which if you speak english, you can’t even pronounce never mind achieve.  So by extension pride + motivation + hope ≠ happiness.  It simply equals pridemotivationhappiness.  You can’t make oatmeal out of bananas and peanut butter, so you can’t make happiness out of pride and motivation.  But you can put it all together and make a killer dish.

I feel like I’m getting sidetracked…

Point is, you can’t magically create happiness.  It isn’t something that’s mathematical, and it’s not tied to a specific formula.  You can’t add two things together and create something that is completely individual and independent.  It’s like combining sodium and iodine and expecting to create boron.

 

3xpdg3j

#sonotgoingtohappen

I so did not just use chemistry to illustrate a point…::cringe::.

So now we know, the sense of control the eating disorder gives promises eventual happiness, but it never delivers because it can’t.  It can’t create happiness.  And it can’t create happiness because it, and you, are not as in control as you think you are.

I repeat, you are not in control.

The eating disorder is not in control of your body because you’re not in control of your body.

The eating disorder is not mathematical or magical because you are not mathematical or magical. And you are not mathematical or magical because:

You’re not a machine, and you’re not a unicorn.

In the eating disordered lifestyle, you fall on either one of these extremes on a day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute basis. And because we love black and white thinking so much (insert jazz hands emoji for us Apple users), it’s always one or the other, never a shade of grey. Let me illustrate:

Scenario A:

“I must eat number of (calories, carb grams, protein grams) a day, or less, in order to lose or maintain my weight.”

AKA:  I am a machine.  My body only uses so much, and any insufficiency or excess whatsoever will equal weight loss or weight gain respectively.  I can track from minute to minute what I burn, based on what I am doing, my height, my age, my gender, and what have you, and come up with a precise tally.  This is exactly what I need and this specificity is integral to the operation and mechanics of my day to day life, as well as my weight and shape.

OR

Scenario B:

“I know that your body uses fats, but mine doesn’t.  If I eat fats, it sticks right to my body as fat.  It doesn’t use fat at all, it just stores it.  Therefore I can’t eat butter, oil, cheese or deep-fried foods. In addition, other people burn enough calories to eat lunch after exercising, but I don’t.  My body barely burns anything.  My body is different.”

AKA:  I am a unicorn.  I am unique and special, and even though I could admit that x, y,or z is true for the rest of the world, and logically makes sense, it just isn’t the same for me.  I’m not trying to be better than anyone else, it’s just that I know it won’t work that way for me, because it can’t.  For some unknown (magical) reason, the rules/standards that apply to everyone else, do not apply to me.

And believe me, you, or rather your eating disorder, can twist these things in any which way to keep you living in a cycle of fear, shame, regret, guilt, depression, anxiety, but unsurprisingly NOT happiness.  You don’t even have to have an eating disorder to fall victim to this type of mentality.  After all, how many people have you heard lament, “good for the lips, straight to the hips”?  Or, “I’m going to have to have to do an extra hour on the treadmill to make up for tomorrow”?  It is a lethal side effect of living in a fat-phobic and media driven world, where we are consistently bombarded by messages telling us what we should do, eat, think, and look like.  All to sell us products or lifestyles that may or may not be ideal for us or our body type(s).

So, how do we begin to separate reality from fiction?  How do we begin to see the world as it is, rather than how we think it should be?  How do we begin to let go of the reins of our eating disordered brains?

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Take a step back.  Close your eyes.  Feel what is going on in your body and brain right now:

  1. Feel the air rushing through your nose, into your lungs and expanding your chest as it fills.
  2. Feel the sensations in your fingers and toes, the subtle lines of energy and blood flowing down your arms and legs.
  3. Feel any pain, any stiffness, any discomfort in your skeletal frame.
  4. Hear the world around you, be it the quietness of your room, the blare of traffic, or the bustle of a cafe.
  5. Hear the thoughts going through your head.  Feel their motion and the effect that they have on every part of you.  Feel how one thought produces a physical reaction in your body, be it a tensing of a muscle, or a quiver of a lip.  Notice how the thoughts pop through your head endlessly, and how you cannot change the fact that they appear.
  6. And now notice the air rushing back out your nose, the compression of your chest as it deflates.

Open your eyes.  This is now.

Notice that all those things occurred in the space of seconds.  And notice that every single one of those things you had no control over.  You do not consciously control your breathing, your body just does it.  You do not regulate the degree of sensation in your limbs, or choose how quickly the blood flows through your veins, your body does.  You do not control whether or not your feel stiffness in your neck or shoulders.  You cannot control the car rumbling down the street, or the wind in the trees.

So, if you cannot control all these things, what makes you think you can control how your body processes the things you consume?  What makes you think you are in complete control of what your body looks like or what shape and weight you have?  If your body has its own ideas of how it wants to breathe, or circulate, what makes you think it does not have its own ideas of how it wants to look or feel?  If it is smart enough to know how much oxygen to take in and how much CO2 to expel, do you not think it’s smart enough to know how much fat to store around your midline?  And if it has the power to choose how much testosterone or estrogen to produce, and has manners ingrained into it to keep everything in your body at the correct, not too high or not too low, levels, do you not think it also has the power to control your weight and shape and prevent either from becoming too high/large, or low/scrawny?

You are not a machine.

If you were a machine, you’d require only one type of fuel, like electricity or gasoline.  And you wouldn’t have these mechanisms in place.  If you were a machine, you would rely on someone else to supply you with your fuel, and cease to function if the amounts given were too high or low.  If you give an appliance too much voltage it is fried, or a car too little gas it dies.  Yet, one day we eat more, and another day we eat less, but our ability to carry out our daily lives is unaffected.  Our bodies are smart.  We require a mess of nutrients and types of food to function.  It can alter our metabolism up or down to keep our energy levels and weight and shape stable.  And it does all these methods of preservation automatically. Just as automatically as your breathing or your heart rate.  When we try to override the system, it just alters what needs to be altered to keep ourselves safe, stable, and balanced.

You are not in control.  Your body is, and your body will win.

And that person that you just saw running down the street, or the lady sitting at the next table is the same as you. She breathed, her blood circulated, her ears heard, and her brain thought. And they did all these things without her conscious control too, because she isn’t in control of how her body does things any more than you are.  If her body has the same degree of intelligence as yours in terms of circulation, breathing, hormone levels, enzymatic function, and all other mechanisms, why would the way her body processes food or maintains weight and shape be any different than how your body does?  Why would she use exorbitantly more energy than you when she exercises?  Why would her freedom with food and activity level be easily so much different than yours?

It’s not.  You’re not a unicorn.  Your body is no less or more effective at doing what it needs to do for self preservation than anyone else’s.

You do not control the fact that a thought occurred.  I repeat, YOU DO NOT CONTROL THE FACT THAT YOU THINK.  The only thing you can control is how you react to the thoughts.  You can choose what thoughts you heed, and which thoughts you let go of.  You can choose what directives you listen to, and which ones you ignore.  Remember, you’re not a machine.  You don’t have a CPU that obeys every keyboard shortcut.  You call the shots.  You can choose what thoughts to keep and what thoughts to shred.

Shred the idea that you are a machine.

Shred the idea that you are a unicorn.

Shred the idea that you are in control.

Keep the awareness of the current moment.  Keep the idea that your body knows more than you think it does.  Keep the knowledge that it will keep you where you need to be.

And accept that that is exactly what is going to happen, like it or not.

And through acceptance, eventually you will find a certain degree of peace.  And sometimes, if you’re lucky, peace eventually leads to a certain degree of happiness.  You might eventually attain it, when you weren’t even pursuing it at all.  And that is the real happiness equation:

Happiness = something found when you finally stop looking for it.

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