Are Secrets Really Secret?

…or are there any secrets? Do I merely soothe myself by believing there are things no one knows about me even if I’ve told them?

These last few weeks I’ve been obsessing about why I didn’t say more about my relationship with E&T, aka bulimia, in the initial launch phase of my book, Joy Ride: My One-legged Journey to Self-Acceptance. And today, for the first time in a couple of months, I took a look at my website, karenwittdaly.com, and realized there’s not one word about my forty-plus year relationship with E&T, despite it being a major part of the journey I catalog in the book.

Am I still hoping to keep that part of my life a secret, even though it’s openly discussed throughout the book? It’s a puzzling revelation, especially because I was proud of how honest I was in describing the way bulimia affected every aspect of my life. Maybe I thought it was a secret that readers who knew me would discover for the first time. Or, maybe I thought potential readers would be turned off by the topic of bulimia – another story of addiction and recovery – and not even consider reading the book. What I see now is that opening up about difficult, shameful things is a gradual unveiling, a process that’s more about how I think and feel about myself than about how others might see me. I suddenly have a desire to change up the website and some other writing to more accurately represent the various aspects of the journey I wrote about.

This reminds me of a quote by Richard Brautigan I recently came across:

Are You the Lamb of Your Own Forgiving?
I mean: Can you forgive yourself / all
those crimes without victims?

It seems forgiveness, of others or of oneself, is impossible when that which is to be forgiven remains a secret. But, if I don’t make space to forgive, I continue to blame myself (and maybe others). To what end? Sometimes stories we continue to tell ourselves just reinforce things we need to let go of. I now know (from reading some of the reviews of my book) that my years of bulimia were not a secret. People close to me knew about the behavior, even though I told myself they didn’t, while knowing deep inside myself they did. And, although I did my best to keep it a secret from myself by denying it was a problem, and rather considering it something I was destined to do, to purify myself or cope with difficult things–I always felt the shame of it. Maybe only now–after having published a book that on the cover doesn’t even mention bulimia, but on almost every page makes reference to my E&T ritual–I am releasing the secret and beginning the journey of forgiveness.

Life is such a surprise – every day there’s something I was sure was behind me that pops up right in front of my face to remind me it’s not over yet. And, then, I have the great good fortune to dig a little deeper, clear out more of the muck, and make room for even more joy.

What could be better than that!

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!