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Monday, January 14, 2013

the war is over

Something very cool, transformative and uncharacteristic is happening to me.

In December I could feel the need for change about  how and what I eat coming.   I knew that whatever would come of the force growing in me it wouldn't be a new diet or a new exercise plan, but that an entire shift in how I think about my body and food was needed.

The past month has taught me some things. 

First off,  I cannot do to myself what I did to myself this holiday season. There has got to be a more enjoyable way to celebrate the holidays that don't make you feel swollen and bloated and make your jeans too tight.  Social occasions, baking, the reciprocal baking we received and all the heavier foods and regular wine intake was more than my body could handle. 

In every way, overindulgence like the kind I participated in, is the opposite of enjoyable. I'm finally getting that.  For this reason, I have (and you can hold me to this!) sworn off next year's holiday baking.

Figuring out the best way to be eating for me is a multifaceted process. I know it is not in my best interest to live by rules because I just use them to rebel against.  I don't want to be a slave to calories. I want to eat in ways that make me feel vital and healthy, energized and happy.  I don't want to gain and lose the same 10 pounds over and over.  I don't want to crave or need certain foods.  But I also don't want food I can't eat or am afraid of.  I want to be able to eat anything in moderation and feel fulfilled and satisfied by what I eat.

Yet, healthy eating can't just be about the food I actually consume.  It must be about the manner in which I consume it.  I must cultivate an appreciation for small servings or simply a taste of something.   I must learn to have food and eating be enjoyable without turning to it for enjoyment.  I've spent so much time either restricting myself from foods or counteracting deprivation with excess that part of finding balance is to not be so strict.  I need to slow down and be mindful and appreciative of the food I am eating so that one of something is enough. 

For me this means I have to pay exquisite attention to my body. I have to not only to pay attention to what it wants (I am going with the idea that my body has the wisdom to know what will best suit it to be healthy), but to reestablish signals of satiety and fulfillment. I need to know the moment that I am reaching to eat something for the wrong reason or the moment that I become full.  Sometimes this means stopping mid way to my mouth or putting back something I just grabbed out of the cupboard.

I'm talking, of course, about being present.  Very, very present.

This level of presence is not something I have been incredibly comfortable with.   Certainly there are many of aspects of meditation and any mindfulness practice that appeal to a deep need in me for connection.  Yet, as life has gotten busier since I became a mom and I am on the go so much, I have fallen soundly out of the practice of being present or having any sort of mindful practice.  This means that I am on the ball 99% of the time, I get a lot done, I'm easily excitable and I am the go-to person for a lot of people. It also means life is passing me by way too quickly, I'm always thinking about what is coming next and I am on the edge of cranky and restless a lot of the time.

I have come to terms with the fact that I actually create a lot of the "busyness" in my life. For those of us who don't sit still well, a busy life can become something to hide behind, something legitimate that holds us apart from being present.   If there aren't things that need my immediate attention, I will go find or create things.  (This is tricky of course because I am also someone that thrives on a certain amount of stimulation and creative energy to funnel into projects but I am talking more about the spinning my wheels variety of busyness.)  I've  realized recently how much of the time I hold my breath as I swiftly check off my to-do list, how much of the time I am just trying to get through a mountain of stuff so I can enjoy the other side.

But busyness, like anything else, becomes its own habit and, once on the side of completion, it is hard to actually put my feet up and stop. 

I have operated this way for a long time now.  Yet, within the last few months my body has become intolerant of this state of being. I can see how I was turning to food to smooth my rough edges, to calm me down, to take me away, to minimize the internal conflict.  My insides are screaming for change, for stillness, for breathing room and the in-control, dominant parts of my functioning are trying to maintain the status quo.

And alas, and I know you saw this coming, there was much more to the story than me just eating too many almond cookies over the holidays.

I've needed to be brave and look inside.   There are truths that are bubbling to the surface like a pot of water on the verge of a boil.  There are storms in me that are breeding unhappiness like bacteria colonizing in a petri dish. 

Have you ever had that panicky feeling when you know you need to look within and afraid of what you might find?  What if what you discover means major change for you or your life circumstance?  What if something that was previously tolerable is suddenly, profoundly no longer okay?  What if you face these new awarenesses and are left with truths that require action you feel ill prepared to carry out?

Thankfully, it turns out nothing too scary lives beneath.   Yet, there are things about the way I live that are making me unhappy.  And my unattended unhappiness had become larger than life. 

I've figured out that I don't like how overwhelmed and short-tempered I am. I don't like the burdens I feel on my shoulders.

I  don't like a few our family dynamics and how member's needs are met. 

I don't like the pace I keep or the feelings of stress I have as I manage, shuffle and spin the plates that keep our lives going. I am aching for quiet and presence and gentleness.

I don't like feeling like Sandi is doing big and important things and my life has become a string of days that bleed into each other of laundry, cleaning, getting food on the table and to-do lists.

In this task-oriented life, I am missing so much. I am missing getting on the floor and playing with my kids (the ones that are growing alarmingly fast, creating an added state of panic in me). I am missing appreciation and finding pleasure in the labor-intensive meals I make. I have lost the sense of value and purpose to my living, to my spinning, and in so, am left feeling spiritually bankrupt.

Here are the revolutionary things I am doing in the face of these realizations:  I am doing less. I am resting more.  I am meditating.  I am sometimes choosing to forgo the intense environment of the gym in favor of an outside run (or even a walk) or yoga.  I am talking to Sandi and figuring out how we can do things differently. I'm reinforcing my own value and contribution. I am trying to eat slower, take less and be appreciative.  I've put the scale to the back of the closet, and am working hard to not think about the pants that don't fit and trying to be extra kind to myself when I get dressed in the morning. 

I might even go so far here as to say that I am almost grateful that my weight is a barometer of my internal world.  Irritability and a chronic state of stress I will apparently dismiss, but tight pants will get my attention every time.  (Plus I feel grateful that it wasn't illness that had to grab me.) I am using it as the indicator it is rather than trying to muscle my way back into my size 6's.   I am grateful that I am not exactly where I want to be right now in my body because it forces me to practice self-love in the face of something that is less than I want.  It is much harder to extend love when what is isn't what you want. 

This is an entirely new approach for me: to not be at war with myself, but instead to lend myself some of the compassion and love that I so freely give to others.  It is making me strong.  Each small progress toward kindness, towards doing things differently,  I applaud myself.   Each time I stop and set everything down and play with the kids, or pick up a book in the middle of the afternoon, to put down food I don't need that will make me awful later, I acknowledge the olive branch I am passing to myself.

In turn I am asking questions of myself that I have never asked before:  What do I want to do?  What will feel best in this moment?  What do I need?  What can I take out of this day so I can breathe?  What will lend meaning to my life in this very moment?  Where can I find joy right now?

For most of my life my body has been a boxing ring where I've work out my internal issues.  It is like my scapegoat, my punching bag.    I'm trying to change it more to the environment of a U.N. peace-talk but I have a long history of fighting with myself on some of these deeply entrenched issues.  But I seem to have broken along my own fault lines and I'm peeking over the canyon's edge.  I get it now: my body is me and how I treat it is how I treat myself.  

I might not be at "my body is a temple" but I am, with turtle-like speed, working my way there.  I am not even close to graduation, but more like a toddler looking forward at the daunting task of kindergarten. 

It's okay with me that this will take time. I am cultivating patience.  All I care about at this point is that I am progressing, away from self-blame and judgement and into peace, care and understanding.  I almost have to do a double take at myself these days that is how profoundly this change has taken root in me. 

Last week I took myself snowshoeing.  All by myself and just because I knew it would make me happy. The snow was literally sparkling.

In an act of great parental humility I told Ella a few weeks ago that I was working hard to be more patient and less frustrated.  I can feel in my kids a need for me to be calmer, less quick to jump at them, for me to live in a more forgiving way so that they may also live that way. 
Remember how I said that it feels like life is passing by too fast and I'm missing it?  I see my kids growing up and remembering me as the person who did laundry, made food, cleaned the house and drove them around, getting everywhere on time.
Let's be honest. I'm also afraid of them growing up and me remembering myself only in this way.  
This in and of itself is a powerful impetus to seek presence.
Then a couple of days ago, Ella came up and gave me a big hug and said, "I just want you to know that I notice all the hard work you're doing.  You are doing a great job being more patient and less frustrated." 
I wanted to cry while my heart beamed from the compliment from one of the two it matters most from.
I'm very clear that my kids are also going to benefit from this process.  They don't need a mother in an ongoing state of existential crisis.  They also don't need a rigid task master.  The biggest gift I can give them is to find the softer spots inside myself and make room for them to come in.  Additionally, modeling self-love to two girls is no small gift to give.
Maybe food is your barometer too.  Maybe it's something else.  (Or maybe you are totally zen and can email me some of your tricks.) Whatever your personal equation, I share this all with you because I know so many people (women especially) who also hold themselves to too high a standard, give themselves no breathing room and are, to some degree, at war with themselves. 
Here is what I know:  I deserve my own kindness.  I deserve wiggle room.  My life has total meaning and value just by that fact that I me, even if I don't have a reputable career or make a lot of money.  I can step off the treadmill, out of the rat race just because I want to.  I don't owe anyone any explanations - I can just say no. I can put myself first.  Finding a new, more self-grounded way of existing in the world and inside myself will reflect in what and how I eat.   I don't need rules or fear to be my guides.  My body will show the results of my mindful practice. 
I am worthy of my own own kindness and love.
And so are you.


Emilie said...

I love you for many reasons but one of them is that you are always looking at yourself. You are always looking for new ways to be better for yourself and the people around you. Thanks for reminding me to do the same. You are amazing.

Zoe Kreitzer said...

You are my moment of zen today, my dear. Your post resonated on so may levels with me, as I've struggled my whole life with that same edible attachment. And while living in an environment where I don't control what is in the fridge or pantry, I find my resolve weakened. But you're right, mindfulness and personal gratitude are the key. Bravo, bravo, bravo for such introspection and courage. Accepting what is true is not always effortless, especially when that truth is about ourselves. High five!

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