You see – it is only on those days, during those weeks, throughout those months and years when I put my needs above everyone else’s that I can maintain a healthy homeostasis for my body and my mind.
But do you know how hard it is for most women and some men to put their needs above everyone else’s? Do you? It’s SO SO SO SO SO SO hard. It’s excruciatingly hard. It’s monumentally hard. We are afraid it makes us selfish and self-centered and horrible people. We’re afraid that if we put ourselves first, that means we are letting everyone else down. But it’s interesting how, in reality, things tend to work the other way.
When I’ve YET AGAIN taken too much on, overextended my human self, expected myself to take care of everyone else’s needs but have completely let go of taking care of MY SELF, that’s when I’m most useless to all of those people I’m attempting to serve. And, the exact opposite is also true: when I place my needs first – above everything and everyone else’s, I am able to serve the people I love so much better, so much more completely, so much more effectively.
If you’re having trouble understanding what I’m saying, consider this. A person with a severe allergy or illness has NO CHOICE but to put themselves first. My husband, for example, CAN NOT eat gluten. His reaction – due to Celiac Disease – is severe enough to send him to the hospital. If he eats gluten, we all suffer, because he really is the primary caretaker in our family. If he eats gluten and has to go to the hospital, me and my children are left to take care of everything ourselves and that sucks for us. We like it better when he’s taking care of things (of course, we also love him very much and don’t want him to suffer – sure sure sure). This means HIS needs for gluten free food – and a gluten free kitchen – completely dictate our family’s eating habits and strategies. But… this is my point… he can’t take care of US, unless he is taking care of HIMSELF. THIS is the natural way his body works.
Which brings me to MY disease, my addiction. My addiction/disease IS, in fact, the habit of my mind that makes my weight naturally fluctuate. I say “naturally” because this happens without my consciously willing it one way or another. I go through these periods where the disease/addiction loses its hold on me. It lets go. And it lets go through the monumental strength of something inside of me that knows there is something better waiting for me (and maybe by the grace of a perfect storm of other factors I have yet to identify). During these periods where my addiction lets go of me, I can breathe and see clearly and I can put myself first. I can recognize that I have a disease – and if I don’t pay attention to this disease, if I don’t take care of this disease FIRST, I cannot take care of anything else effectively.
THIS is the nature of compulsive overeating, my addiction, MY disease.
When I used to attend 12 step meetings that helped me deal with my addiction, I frequently heard the phrase that compulsive overeating is a “cunning disease.” The much older ladies in my groups would have long conversations about how no matter how they thought they had conquered their addiction to compulsive overeating throughout their lives, eventually it would sneak up on them and take over the show again, if they were not vigilantly watching over it. Of course, at the time, I did not fully understand their discussions. I was younger. And smarter, of course (she says, sarcastically). And these ladies clearly just hadn’t worked hard enough or wanted recovery bad enough. My god! My arrogance!
I believe this is just what happens in the slopes up to and the peaks of my weight fluctuations. The addiction begins whispering to me that the time I’m giving myself to work out, to plan meals, to journal, to write, to sleep, to meditate, to dance, to simply sit and think is “selfish,” and “self-centered” and detrimental to my family’s needs and my friends’ needs. So, little by little I stop giving myself this time. I stop sleeping. I stop planning meals. I stop journaling and writing. I stop meditating. I stop exercising. I stop taking my dogs for walks. I stop thinking. I stop dancing.
And dammit… I love to dance.
And eventually when I haven’t been dancing enough or taking any of the time to do any of this enough, I lose my grip on my emotions and my calm and my happiness. And… even though my last post might have made it seem like my weight was the star of the show actually… my increasing weight is just one small outward manifestation of the “bad place” I find myself in mentally and emotionally. And the mental and emotional thing is FAR FAR FAR FAR FAR worse. The mental and emotional piece is what wreaks havoc on my relationships and my ability to do my life.
And this is the really weird thing – the most “cunning” thing about the disease – it speaks to me from the craziest, most unexpected venues. Recently, for example, I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of body positivity authors -- hearing the voices of all of these young women writing about body positivity and empowerment through “not-giving-a-fuck” about what we eat, basically. And the easily riled, bra-burning feminist inside of me who wants to take the patriarchy down with one wild swing of my enormous, patriarchy-hating sledgehammer nods her head vigorously then takes the advice to pound a boston crème donut if she so chooses.
But, for me, a compulsive overeater, this is not sound advice. And, in fact, it is detrimental advice because it encourages me to engage in a behavior that, ultimately, is self-hating and self-destructive. For my husband this would look like indulging in a giant plate of whole-wheat spaghetti followed by a giant glass of Guinness. These are both things he would LOVE to be able to have – just like I would LOVE to be able to have a boston crème donut. HOWEVER, eating those things would trigger his disease to take hold. And though my indulging in a boston crème donut does not land me in the ER, it allows my disease to take hold. It certainly does.
For those of you who simply can’t understand compulsive overeating as a disease or an addiction, I can imagine I sound just as ridiculous and weak as those older women at my 12-step meetings sounded to me back in the day. I can only ask for your grace and acceptance that perhaps things are true for others that are not true for you. Perhaps this REALLY is an addiction and a disease for ME, when indulging occasionally in lovely rich foods is only a pleasure, however guilty, for you.
The bottom line on the delicious combination of Fitness and Feminism is that no one has a right to tell you what is right or good for YOUR BODY – but this includes NOT telling me that I should give myself permission to pound boston crème donuts. No I shouldn’t. No. I really shouldn’t. If I happen to pound a dozen boston crème donuts, should I forgive myself? Should I not make a federal freakin’ case of it and act like the world is going to end? ABSOLUTELY! If the pounding of say… a few dozen boston crème donuts DOES happen to occur once or twice, no one is going to die, nothing is going to explode, BUT that does not make it the “right” thing to do, especially for me. For me, this would not be the “right” thing to do, not because of the weight or fat it would put on my body but for the chaos that it would unleash in my mind. FOR ME, this would be an act of self-hatred, an act of self-destruction. For me, THIS would be my disease finding a chink in the pavement so that it can spread its quickening vines around my heart and once again, take control. So, I’m really looking for more and more ways to be done with self-hatred and self-destruction not more and more permission to behave in self-hating and self-destructive ways. FOR someone else, maybe pounding donuts would be an awesome thing to do – a method of empowerment. So, do it. By all means, PLEASE do it – and have one for me too while you’re at it!
For me – I have to remember, despite however loudly my disease whispers into my ear and promises me otherwise -- body positivity and empowerment comes from giving a fuck about what I eat, about CARING for myself enough to manage my addiction to compulsive overeating. That’s what works for me. And it doesn’t “work” for me because it leads to the side effect of fat loss, though that IS usually one, not unwelcomed, side effect. It works for me because it makes me more patient, calmer, more able to listen to others, less self-centered (ironically), less of a Tasmanian devil in the lives of my immediate family, and on and on.
One of my work-friends always uses that line – I think it’s from one of the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings Tolkien books – that when he has overextended himself too far he feels like “too little butter spread too thin over too much toast.” Something like that (but with all those “toos” that can’t be quite right for Tolkien… anyway…). This year, I’ve spread myself too thin again. It happens more often than not, actually. It’s one of the hazards of a job like mine for a person like me. There are endless opportunities to DO things when one teaches on a college campus (probably teaching anywhere is like this, actually). If one is a person who cares about students and wants to DO fun, great, empowering, awesome things that students can take part in, these opportunities begin to feel like requirements.
Last semester was a disaster. Not only had I taken too much on but I had taken on the politics of my school. And I’m one of THOSE people who should really stay as far away from politics as possible. I do not have good enough manners. I do not know how to keep my mouth shut. I do not know how to play the popularity game or work people’s egos effectively or efficiently. I’m terrible at ALL of it. And I suffered last semester. In fact, there were several moments when I thought my heart was going to give out on me – the stress of the semester was so intense. My husband helped me through it. My sister helped me through it. A couple of colleagues hesitantly gave me the advice to step away from what felt like it was killing me – but they followed that advice up quickly with explanations of the social and political and career-level repercussions that stepping away from the politics would have. Oh well. In the end, I stepped away and I promised my husband, “never again.”
Then, this semester. And instead of “never again,” my family got “this time is different” because rather than being insanely – I mean INSANELY – busy with things that I hate, I am INSANELY – TRULY TRULY INSANELY busy with things that I love. Starting a Poetry Center. Hosting Poetry Readings. Creating a faculty group and a student group to raise awareness of sexual violence. Co-directing the Vagina Monologues. Hosting 10 different events in one week. INSANE. Teaching 19 credits. Teaching 4 fitness classes on top of my regular teaching. Taking 10 credits of classes of my own, mostly, in Chemistry and Exercise Physiology to work toward finishing my Health Fitness Specialist Degree (that’s a bit of a longish story). Coaching one of our local Girls on the Run teams. I’m on a couple different smallish committees – one of which I’m late to a meeting for right now -- INSANITY.
But I LOVE every single thing that I do every single day --or at least I did, at the beginning of the semester. At the BEGINNING of the semester, I felt full of energy and excitement and eagerness for every new task I ran to, all day long. Still, even now, as I feel like that very thin and melted butter, I love the things I get to do all day long. With the exception of grading student essays (which is a special kind of intellectual hell that you simply cannot appreciate if you haven’t had to do it), I sincerely feel lucky to do everything I get to do this semester. And, this is unlikely to change going forward because I have learned ONE lesson about choosing my activities in life – I am happiest when I CHOOSE activities that I love and NOT activities that I feel I “should” do for the sake of someone/ anyone else. Only my children are afforded the privilege of “forcing” me to do something I would rather not do, something I feel I “should” do even if I don’t WANT to do, from now on.
So, back to the addiction. It’s the addiction’s seething little whisper that told me to get involved in the politics of my school. It’s that whisper that told me I had to prove myself by doing something I felt I should do rather than something I truly wanted to do. So, I got smart and I stopped listening to that whisper. THEN, guess what the whisper became? A whisper about how I’m such a failure because I couldn’t stick it out doing something that was difficult for me. You’re never good enough, JodiAnn. You’ll never ever ever be good enough, JodiAnn. But, what I didn’t realize until just a few weeks ago is that it was ALSO the addiction that whispered to me: if you take on A LOT of activities this semester, and behave as though you are a superwoman, you will prove your worth again. I will love you again. Everyone will love you again.
But as a dear friend & colleague pointed out to me during the highest peak of stress so far this semester: Haters gonna hate.
I can’t be worried about impressing anyone else. The voice that tells me I need to impress others, that I need to prove my worth, that I need to do this by sacrificing my own needs, my own self-care, my own love for myself is the voice of my disease, my addiction. And this voice eventually always wins for a period of time because it is CUNNING. It shows up in all different forms and when I least expect it and if I am not vigilant, it takes over my life. This is a natural process because this disease is a part of me, it is something I was born with or developed so early in life, I might as well have been born with it. It is not something that is EVER going to go away. It is only something that can be MANAGED. And like many other basic lessons in my life, I have had to learn this, accept this, surrender to this truth OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER.
I have not been vigilant over my disease since I started teaching fitness classes in the fall of 2015. There’s probably a lot to explore there but the MAJOR lesson I’m now learning is that no matter whether I am busy doing things I hate or busy doing things that I love, being too busy is just what my addiction wants. So, something’s gotta give. And I’m working on that.
Unfortunately, unlike Celiac Disease, the triggers of MY disease are not as clear and easily recognizable. One trigger, I now fully understand, is being too busy. And again, I’m working on that. I am surrendering to the idea that being too busy (for whatever reason) is something I MUST avoid for the sake of my health. I am becoming vigilant over my time so that I can avoid that cunning voice of my addiction.
It is in only in these moments– or days or weeks or months or years – of vigilance and surrender that I am most peaceful, most useful to others, most connected spiritually to the Universe, most grateful. I am my happiest in these moments of surrender. And it just so happens that I am ALSO, usually, reaping the healthy side effect of carrying around less fat on my body.
Reap ALL the healthy side effects of making yourselves your priority, Teamies, with love