Bravado, Shame, or Seeing Things as They Are?

The “happy gene” chatter in my last blog seems to have caught up with me. This week I’ve been restless and in a bit of a funk. I’m certain the happy gene is holding it’s place, just hanging back so other, equally important “seeing things as they are” genes can make themselves heard.

Last week’s blog about my present eating routine got me wondering whether it would be good to talk more about bulimia as a second, major theme in my book, Joy Ride. This notion came up originally before a book reading event I was part of in early March. Sarah, the organizer, asked if she could make reference to my bulimia history in the press release about the event. I said sure, and sent her a copy of a press release noting the bulimia that my editor and I wrote for other media events. Sarah never mentioned bulimia – instead she said something about behaviors I’d struggled with, something like that. I think she wasn’t sure how I really felt about having it show up in the newspaper.

Since then it’s been bugging me, and I’m wondering if maybe she was picking up on my discomfort with it – although at the time I didn’t think I had any discomfort. Today, though, I’m pretty certain I do – have discomfort.

Here’s my shake-out about that. I’m wondering if my writing about my relationship with bulimia in the book came from a place of bravado – wanting to shock people from a distance. Throughout the book, I fondly and disgustedly called it E&T (eating and throwing up) before I was able to see it for the multifaceted addiction that it was. I never used the word bulimia until the epilog when I wrote about finding my way to Twelve Step programs, and finally letting it go. So many aspects of that addiction feel shameful: the gluttony, the head in the toilet, the wasting of food, the stealing that accompanied it, the lying, hiding, what it did to my teeth, on and on. And yet, as I lived with it and wrote about it in the book, I was thankful for it, even sort of worshiped it, felt proud that I had figured out how to continue it, seemingly without notice (although I was always wondering who knew).

As I step back (or maybe it’s that I’m stepping closer), I see this vacillation between a kind of bravado and an overwhelming shame. Maybe it was a dichotomy that had to exist for the secret of bulimia to continue, and for me to continue functioning.

Today, as my head spun, throbbed, and tried it’s best to rid itself of the reality of this funk, something shifted inside and I began to see how bravado and shame are my concocted stories about me and my past. They are characteristics, loaded values and judgements I’ve attached to a behavior. I can accept the behavior and it’s 40+ year history without naming it shameful or bravado. I might understand bulimia as an addiction, a coping mechanism, or something I had to do, and I can talk about that honestly, while remembering it’s simply one part of a story of a life.

I was lamenting today about how this process stuff gets old. It seems everything I do – writing a book, or a blog post, or going to a workshop, or even having a conversation, or going swimming – leads to some new self-awareness that then challenges my identity, my joyfulness, my very fragile self-acceptance.

Here’s a quote from David Niven that makes me chuckle.

“Keep the circus going inside, keep it going, don’t take anything too seriously, it’ll all work out in the end.”

Is this what a joy ride is all about?

Born with the Happy Gene?

I often think I’ve been lucky to be born with something that keeps me looking at the bright side of things, even while I may be struggling with some dark inner mess or, like for many years, with behaviors I know are in direct opposition to any happiness or growth. Thankfully, I’ve been free of bulimia for the last twelve years, but I’d be lying if I said I was free of anxieties around eating. These come and go with whatever is up in my life – maybe the focus on food anxiety keeps me from feeling other, more uncontrollable anxieties. Of late, I’ve had an annoying evening eating routine – I sit in a corner of my kitchen, facing a wall, and eat cheese melted on toast, raw veggies with hummus dip, and chips. Some nights I drink a beer. I read the local paper until my eyes begin to close, then shuffle off to bed for another hour or so of reading – usually a book or magazine article, sometimes Facebook, which, while minimally interesting, is mostly a time suck.

On the face of it, this is a rather harmless evening routine; I might even say it’s well-deserved downtime after a day of work, exercise, and checking in on my soon-to-be 90 y/o mother. And I’m good with that way of looking at it. It’s just that I want to stop doing it. The whole thing. I’m bored with it and it doesn’t bring me any pleasure. It’s a numbing routine, becoming more and more numbing each day.

This is what I want to do: I want to eat different foods (I have to be careful here that I don’t expect different foods to make me happy and engaged, or to change what’s driving the boredom – these are the deluded wishes of a food addict); I want to read more books and journals; I want to play with art materials, even it it’s just for an hour or so; and I want to write more again. I just have to find the jump-start that will take me to a new inner place where I’m able to change even one thing about the current routine and then, maybe I’ll get the tiniest insight about the boredom.

I’m wondering if all of this coming to a head this week is related to my Sunday experience in a short dance workshop where one group exercise had us focus on movements that were either boring or interesting to us. We were instructed to move as we wished, speaking aloud the words boring or interesting as we walked, rolled, sat, ran, flailed…in space. If we said something was interesting we were instructed to let it go; if we said boring we were to repeat two times, doubling that with each successive, boring movement. I found myself uttering the words randomly and playing with the notion of boring and interesting in ways unrelated to the movements. Repeating things sometimes made them more interesting and even compelling (I think my evening ritual has become a variation on compelling – closer to habitual), and I’m wondering why I often feel compelled to continue to do things that initially seem good for me (which the food ritual may have been when it began – maybe it was a way to allow myself foods that I had previously considered forbidden), but which become traps that lead to a kind of deadened state. When dancing, I notice that my habitual patterns sometimes comfort and soothe me, but I know I have to break the spell if I want to find real pleasure/aliveness in any extended improvisation. I have to stop myself, do something different, or just be still until some new impulse arises.

To add to all of this external input that has me focused on my current stuck-ness, I saw this quote form Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher (1813-1855), in the local paper:

“Boredom is the root of all evil–the despairing refusal to be oneself.”

I get it. I really get it. Thankfully, I’m not quite to the despairing part (I did experience that extreme state years ago before I began dancing, and before I was able to use the wisdom of the twelve steps of OA/AA to find freedom from the bulimia/E&T – eating and throwing up – as I so lovingly called it for more than 40 years). I may not be deep in the pits at present, but I am stuck and bored with myself, and have, at most, a hazy view of how my innards are hankering to evolve.

I’ve been here before – restless, in a kind of daze, falling back on old patterns, listening some to the inner knowing, yet not fully opening my mind, heart and ears. I know I can’t force things in these times. I can make an effort to change one thing about my stuck, bored routine, though. I can cultivate patience with myself while nudging myself to act. I can do my best to trust that whatever aspect of myself is clamoring for more air-time will be one I can embrace and ride into the next chapter – hopefully free of my current evening routine.

And, as I take baby steps in the doing of all of the above, I can thank that happy gene for allowing me to keep a sunny disposition while all this unfolds. Some people – like me – are just lucky!

Do I Really Look Like That?

This is a high level problem, for sure – nonetheless, one of the most difficult things in my life is seeing pictures of myself, especially when they’re published somewhere the whole world can see them.  It’s rare that I even minimally like a picture of myself – it doesn’t help that I’m a master at closing my eyes, even in cellphone photos. If I like any photos, they’re usually snapped when I have no idea it’s happening.

That said, I just reviewed twenty-three pictures from a “photo shoot” (the words send shivers up my spine) I had with Eva, my Joy Ride editor/publisher/Jill of all trades, a week ago. We’re looking for a photo to compliment a Facebook page I’m in the midst of launching to support the book. As I review each one, artfully re-fashioned by Eva, that little bugger with the big voice inside my head continually critiques: your hair is a mess, you have so many wrinkles, that outfit makes you look fat, your not smiling, on and on. The voice takes over and it’s hard to quiet it enough to allow for my more reasoned self to have a say. It’s a deep inner anxiety that rises up out of nowhere to shoot down even the most flattering photo, and it takes all the courage I can muster to challenge that shouting critic, look with an open heart and mind at the photos, and be even ‘just okay’ with how I look.

Thankfully, this gut wrench has lessened over the years as I’ve strengthened the friendly, compassionate voice that resides along side the bugger. But some part of me still wishes I looked different and still has to work to overcome the negativity. I’m not even sure how I want to look; it just seems like the bugger wants to pooh-pooh any and all looks. I like life in motion, animated and fluid. Photographs memorialize moments, capturing amazing moments we may have missed given the way our lives often seem to pass by so fast. Still photos give us the opportunity to remember all sorts of moments with all of our senses and with our hearts, as we open ourselves to seeing the whole of the scene that was captured. We can re-experience the motion and animation that surrounded the moment, and can feel the spectrum of emotion from sadness to joy to rage or surprise that was unfolding as the the shutter closed around the scene.

Looking at the photos Eva took last week, I’m remembering our outing, the day, the weather, and our playful bantering as we attended to the task of taking the photos.

I’ll share one of the photos and a quote from Pema Chodron that speaks to the battle that sometimes rages inside, as my little bugger and my more accepting self spar.

Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right or when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live.