Idiosyncratic Connections

Featured Image: “Rise and shine,” © Tjarko Busink (own work), Jun 2014. CC BY-NC 2.0. (license)

One afternoon, about a year ago, my division chief at the time popped into my office for a spontaneous chat. Michael was an unusual character and the only person to ever directly ask me what it was like to experience life with an eating disorder. Such baldness was fairly typical of his manner, and our little dialogues often diverged down rather unconventional paths. On this particular day, he was specifically interested in discerning my degree of spontaneity. Why? Your guess would be as good as mine, but apparently, it was a personality facet that was of explicit interest to him.

“Hi!” Michael announced in that stark and sudden way that always caught me slightly off guard. He seemed to appear in my office from an empty void of hallway outside. I smiled, assured him that he wasn’t interrupting anything important, and waited to discover what exactly it was that he wanted. “If I asked you to go camping this weekend, would you say yes?” he asked, without prelude.

“Ummmm… Nooo,” I replied, drawing out the vowels of my response with an inflection that was intended to convey just how entirely inappropriate I considered his question. “What the hell?” I thought.

“Why not?” he persisted, taking a seat across from my desk.

Staring at him with incredulity, I blinked, wondering which of the 3,000 reasons coming unbidden to my mind would be best to verbalize first. “Well, to begin, I hate camping,” I started. Why Michael continued in the mistaken belief that I was some sort of hiking, canoeing, snowshoeing, campfire cooking, outdoorsy, person, I could not understand. Multiple attempts to impress upon him my strong attachment to electricity, hot water, flush toilets, and soft bedding repeatedly fell on deaf ears. “In any case,” I continued, “you’re my boss.” Working under Michael’s supervision was one matter. Though some of his leadership decisions were a bit questionable, and his personality was a bit eccentric, he was an engaged and responsible chief. However, he was difficult to read, and he was not someone I would ever want to encounter outside of the workplace in a social atmosphere.

By his direct but indirect way of approaching a topic, he had yet to hint that the ulterior motive behind his wildly irregular query was one of determining just how adventurous I might be. “Well, you like to travel. What if I asked you to take a trip with me?” he asked. “What if I told you that the trip was all planned, tickets purchased, hotel reserved… would you go to, say Atlanta, with me this weekend?”

“No!” I exclaimed, quite scandalized. At that moment, I desired nothing more strongly than for him to depart my office immediately.

What did my face look like as I spat out my response? He seemed to finally catch onto my consternation, and he finally explained himself. “Ok,” I thought. “Weird, but ok. I’ll play along.” He rephrased his question, inquiring whether I would jet off with a friend under the same circumstances. “If it was someone I knew well,” I mused, “someone that I trusted, maybe someone I traveled with before, then yes, I think I might. It would need to be a very good friend though – someone who knew all my idiosyncrasies and whose idiosyncrasies were known to me. Then, I would truly trust her if she told me that all the details were already worked out.”

Even from Michael, I didn’t expect what came next. “Idiosyncrasies?” he asked. “What do you mean?”

A real friend doesn't judge when they find you sitting in the sink..
Cool Spot,” © wabisabi2015 (own work), Jul 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)

A real friend doesn’t judge you when she finds you sitting in the sink.

My puzzlement and amazement deepened. “What do you mean, ‘What do you mean?’” I countered redundantly. “My idiosyncrasies. You know, like my little personality quirks.” His expression was one of bewildered bemusement. “You know, like…” I racked my brain… “I prefer to shower at night, and I prefer to wake up early and go to sleep early. I don’t drink alcohol or soda, and I don’t like babies, or Mexican food, or most dogs. I really can’t stand cigarette smoke, and I go to church every Sunday, even when I’m traveling.” When put on the spot, it was difficult to quickly summon a list of idiosyncrasies that were appropriate for sharing with one’s boss. I certainly was not prepared to divulge any stories that might exemplify my more hard-to-tolerate eccentricities. My trustworthy travel companions were the people with whom I forged those tales. They understood me enough to never speak of eyeballs in my presence, they didn’t care what I looked like without makeup, and they didn’t mind if my feet smelled or if I snored when I was extra-congested. For my part, I didn’t particularly care what they looked like without makeup, either, or if their feet smelled, if they snored, or if they stole all the blankets when we bunked together in a room with only one queen. I didn’t mind if they wore socks with their Sperry’s, or if they washed their clothes in the bathroom sink of the hotel, or if they always burned the microwave popcorn.

Michael scrutinized me briefly before responding. “Oh. I suppose I never thought about that sort of thing,” he intoned. He tipped his head to one side, thoughtfully. “I would have to say that I don’t have any idiosyncrasies.” I nodded and smiled politely. I was pretty sure that I could help him identify one or two. He slapped his hands on his knees jovially and pushed off of the chair. “Well, have a great afternoon!” he bade me, vanishing from my doorway as cryptically as he appeared.

Blinking, I watched him disappear. As perplexed as I was by the exchange that just concluded, our conversation was directing my thoughts along a different tangent. Recalling numberless road trips, beach trips, Euro trips, and couch surfing expeditions spanning decades, I found myself swimming in delightful memories. I wasn’t recollecting perfect experiences, however. I cringed at reminiscences of my own foibles, and I smiled warmly at the patient tolerance of my friends. I grinned at their own unique peculiarities, and I laughed as I reflected on all the crazy, weird ways that the stress of the unexpected could manifest when our coping skills inevitably slipped. How blessed was I to be able to treasure those moments? How much did my life overflow with abundance to be loved and accepted by these trusted few and to be able to love and accept them in return?

“See everything; overlook a great deal; correct little.”

~ Saint Pope John XXIII

When my plane lifts off for Paris on May 19th, there will be no one waiting to meet me on the other side of the ocean. I frequently travel by myself for work purposes, sometimes living out of hotels for up to a month at a time, but my upcoming trip to France will be my first solo vacation. To claim that I don’t worry a bit about being lonely is a lie. What will it be like to stay in a foreign country par moi-même for seven whole days? I’m not sure. My nearest comparison was a two-day side-trip to München during a two-week sojourn in Germany, and I was very glad to return to Helene’s apartment in Stuttgart at the end of those 48 hours. Despite living on my own for over a decade, an underlying predisposition in my personality toward loneliness, isolation, self-pity, and melancholy tends to assert itself if I allow that to sprout and take root. If. The thing is, I am never alone. Wherever I go, I am known, and I am loved. With me, I carry all of the people I treasure in my heart. Inside of me, I contain every occasion we shared, great or small, exceptional or mundane. Deep down, in my center, there is a little nugget of God. Even when my vision is blurred by the sticky mire of loneliness, all it takes is a twinkle of grace to penetrate the muck of my soul, give my heart a bit of a polish, and remind me, once more, of all my beautiful connectedness and of the all-loving God who is holding me in his hand.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

~ Timothy J. Keller

Misericordia

Featured Image: “Just a little yawn,” © Rob Hurson (own work), Jun 2015. CC BY-SA 2.0. (license)

Part of the human condition is that we all contain within us something abhorrent. (At least, that is what I’m telling myself.) At our deepest core is nestled a beautiful soul, God-given and graced, and we are capable of great goodness. Yet, none of us ever live up to all of our values all of the time. There is always a conflict under the surface. When everything is going well, when all the potential stressors in my life are minimized, I neglect this grimy underside of my human reality.

There are many monsters in my closet, and, though I may put on a good show of vulnerability and openness, I do not enjoy inviting them out for tea or cake. I prefer it when those monsters lie silently in the dark. When they are quiet and cooperative, they allow me to narrate a promising story of self-improvement and growth that is colorful and filled with light. When my world becomes more chaotic, it is increasingly impossible to maintain this illusion. As the veneer of my carefully constructed, idealized self displays its true fragility, those demons emerge to help me cope. They bare their teeth and unsheathe their claws, gnashing their jaws against the suggestion that my life is not rhythmic, predictable, balanced, and fair. When other people, the world, and extraneous circumstances exert their force on me, I fight back. My monsters include Non-acceptance, Unwillingness, Defiance, Self-Righteousness, Blame, and Anger. They serve me well. They are quick to leap to the defense of Order, Control, Obedience, Rules, Self-Sufficiency, and Safety.

wild-things
where the wild things are,” by Jonahliza Eliger, Nov 2008. CC BY 2.0. (license)

One week last October, I fell back into a self-protective, self-defensive mode of reacting as the burden and pace of work demands mushroomed. I was confronted with a sharp incongruence between conflicting priorities. In my recovering perfectionism, I was still striving to understand my identity apart from my professional life. I was messily attempting to establish boundaries with myself and with others in order to create the space and silence that I needed to explore and preserve my authenticity, and I recoiled against any unanticipated demand on my time or attention. My constant inner monologue was a noisy place of overlapping ultimatums and thinly veiled threats. One word was dominant as I attempted to respond simultaneously to all of the mixed messages I was sending myself:  Should. Sometimes, it was expressed as “must,” or “need to” in the intensity of my strict expectations. “I should be able to run these tests myself. I need to finish these reports by the end of the day. I should NOT stay late. I must go to the gym on Tuesday, and I should still go to church after work. I should swim on Wednesday. There should not be so much to do. I should not be so angry. These reviews should not take so long.”

With little flexibility for myself, I afforded even less consideration to the experiences of others. I was wrapped-up in a rather narcissistic, self-tortured vortex that I created of my own volition simply from the refusal to concede that my standards were impossible. I started to lash out at the very people who cared about me the most, my closest friends at work. My mutually exclusive expectations were colliding with the incontrovertible physics of reality, and in my over-functioning state, the more overwhelmed I felt, the more I piled onto my unending “to-do” list. My fangs were bared. My claws were out. Obviously, I was bearing an unequitable share of the burden. Just as always. Plainly, I was being unfairly treated. When others “failed” me, when I failed myself, Non-acceptance, Unwillingness, Defiance, Self-Righteousness, Blame, and Anger were there to pick up my shattered ego and carry me onward.

Recognizing that I was not behaving in a manner congruent with who I wanted to be, I only stumbled deeper into anger. Hating myself in my blindness, I knew that I was being unreasonable and irrational, but I couldn’t see clearly. I was blinded by the acrid smoke of my own emotions. This cycle continued for four tiresome days. It was tiresome for me, and tiresome for all those around me who endured my moodiness, irritability, and cartwheeling temper. Finally, my friend Steve had enough. I just finished saying something particularly biting and acerbic to him, who was my closest confidant at work, and turned on my heel to storm off. “Now hang on!” he called after me. “Come back here, and close the door!” I knew that I was in for it, and I deserved it, but rather than a severe reprimand, which really wasn’t his style, he met me with a patience that I didn’t deserve. “You’ve been pushing back a bit hard lately, don’t you think?” I hung my head in shame and embarrassment. He acknowledged the pressure that I was under but also observed of my behavior, “It’s a bit much, don’t you think? We’re your friends. We’re on your side!” Sulkily, I offered a shallow apology and slinked back to my office. Instead of barring my fangs, I was licking my wounds.

It was another 24 hours before I apologized in a more meaningful way. It was late on Friday, and I was headed off to yet another out of state conference the next morning. I didn’t want to get on a plane with the sour taste of my own bitterness still in my mouth, but when I went to find Steve before I left for the day, he was caught up in meetings with the administration across the hall. As I packed, I was still sucking on the acidic aftertaste that lingers with the knowledge that I inflicted pain on others in order to diffuse my own discomfort. Finally, I phoned Steve under the auspices of discussing some final bit of work business before I departed for a week. At last, after chatting for two minutes about that mundane subject, I meekly voiced an admission of my truly inexcusable conduct of the preceding days.

In the end, I was filled with gratitude and was left amazed and bewildered by the extremity of the grace I experienced. I did not deserve forgiveness. In recent memory, I could not recall carrying on so wretchedly for such a prolonged period of time, with such disdain for others. I treated them as means to my ends, stripping them of their inherent dignity and worth from my self-righteous, self-defensive perspective. My friend possessed the empathy to hold me accountable for my behavior without responding to me in kind. When I offered my somewhat useless apology, expressing that there were no justifications or explanations that could make what I did “all right,” he replied only with understanding and compassion. As I hung up the phone, I wracked my brain to recall a time I was ever treated so charitably. There was no further admonition, no lecture, no conveyance of a lesson, only pardon and peace. I started to cry. “Oh God,” I prayed, “Is this what it feels like when you forgive us?”

“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;

he who finds one finds a treasure.

A faithful friend is beyond price,

no sum can balance his worth.

A faithful friend is a lifesaving remedy;

such as he who fears God finds.

For he who fears God behaves accordingly,

and his friend will be like himself.”

~ Sirach 6:14-17

sulky-wild-thing
Sulky wild thing,” © louiscrusoe (own work), Feb 2012. CC BY-SA 2.0. (license)

Going to the Mattresses

Featured Image:  “The gloves are off,” © Chris Bird (own work), Aug 2014. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)

This is a message of warning to mediocre desserts everywhere. Don’t cross me. An Italian chef may drizzle you with a triple-chocolate reduction, sprinkle you with organic cocoa, and poise a perfectly rounded scoop of house-made gelato beside you, but it doesn’t change the fact that bread pudding remains, in essence, cubes of soggy bread. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… well… let’s just say that things will get real.

As I explore novel foods and cultivate a new relationship with eating, nutrition, health, and my body, I am learning to embrace the peculiarities of my individual tastes. I don’t like gummy worms, lollipops, or potato chips. I don’t understand the allure of popsicles, and if it can be described as Cajun, it likely will not appeal to me. It’s easy to dislike food that I consider “unhealthy.” It is exceedingly more challenging to accept that I probably possess more than one sweet tooth and that some of those “bad” foods are actually really yummy. Like, really yummy. I am beginning to acknowledge that when I go out to eat, I am going to need to leave room for dessert. Is it progress that I don’t necessarily need the permission of the others at the table when the waiter hovers at the end of the meal, awaiting the answer to the awkward question, “Can I show you our dessert menu?” That particular moment always seems to prompt an uncomfortable shifting of eyes and inarticulate mumbling. Instead of remaining silent and then releasing a sigh of disappointed relief after a friend answers, “I think we’re all set,” I am increasingly more likely to declare that, yes, I absolutely want something sweet and preferably chocolatey. Half the reason I look forward to dining out is the fancy dessert at the end, which I don’t allow myself when I’m preparing a usual weekday meal in my solitary apartment.

The path to accepting my love of dessert was paved with potholes. When I binged, it was mainly chocolate, ice cream, and simple carbohydrates that I craved. These were dangerous and evil foods. Especially ice cream. “Do you even like the taste of ice cream?” Kelly asked me once, after I nearly passed out while standing in front of the dessert table at Alice’s house last Fourth of July. It turned out that the answer was yes, but only certain flavors, and certain types, in small amounts (so as to not irritate my lactose intolerance), and under specific conditions. After battling my weakness for dessert for most of the past year, Amelia made the choice much simpler. The first time that we went out together, she revealed that she never passed up an opportunity for dessert. Though she always let me pick out the restaurant, and she never put me in a situation that was beyond the ability of my coping skills, we ordered dessert on each of our every-other-week outings. There was never an uneasy pause when the waiter or waitress circled back with his or her inevitable query. At first, I continued to berate myself on those nights when I felt “too full,” or when I finished every last lick or crumb… especially if the taste, like that of the bread pudding, was sort-of mediocre. “Can’t you just accept that when you go out, you’re going to order dessert?” Kelly finally asked me. “Is it really so bad? Is it really so awful to know that when you eat at a restaurant, you’re going to need to save room during the main course, because you will want to order dessert?”

…Hmmmmmmm…

So, I began to embrace this sweet-loving side of me. I gave the little demon a name, put on a record, and coaxed it out of the closet for a dance. Or at least a shuffle. Maybe a wiggle. A wiggling shuffle. At the same time, I continued to discover new insights into my likes and dislikes. Bread pudding? No. A nice, gloopy rice pudding? Well, now that is a different creature all together! Cupcakes from a boxed mix? Definitely pass. Store-bought or packaged chocolate chip cookies? ICK! Homemade carrot cake? Sign me up!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
dessert platter,” © Pearl Pirie (own work), Sep 2014. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)

The week before Easter, a box arrived in our office from Germany. It was a care package from Inga, one of my co-workers who was abroad on business. When I arrived at 8 am, it was already spilling its plethora of brightly colored plastic wrappers and shiny foils onto the table in the break room. She sent a case of Kinder Hippos, a bucket of Haribo chews, rolls of licorice string, hazelnut cream-filled cookies, and milk chocolate-covered toffee Easter eggs. Grand. Knowledge of the presence of this surfeit of sugar mere paces from my door did not distract me from my work all morning. Progress! Before treatment, the anxiety, impulsivity, urgency, and distress would, without fail, overwhelm me within an hour and precipitate an all-day binge. My ability to walk away from the food and the thoughts did not escape my attention. Hooray! *Back-pat.* Recovery works. However, when it came to my usual snack time, my mind returned to those hippos and toffees. They were not treats that I would ever choose for myself, but they were readily available, and they were “special” because they came all the way from Deutschland and bore labels that I couldn’t interpret. I decided to mindfully and purposefully try one of each chocolate variety, of which there were three. At the end of my taste-test, I concluded that the hippo was the most delicious – not too sweet, with a truly delightful cream center – even if it was shaped like a children’s toy. The two toffee flavors, on the other hand… well, the hippo was definitely better. My co-workers seemed to agree with me, because by the end of the day, the hippos were gone, and the bags of toffee still remained.

Two days later, I found myself preparing my lunch and staring at that same, stupid bag of chocolate toffee. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible. After I finished my lunch, I tried it again. Maybe I needed to give it a second chance. It wasn’t any yummier the second time around, though. Then, last week, after a particularly emotional day and a difficult meeting with my therapist, I found myself bee-lining straight to the office kitchen. Where are those chocolates? I knew that I was seeking sweets to soothe my emotions, and I wasn’t pleased about it, but I also wasn’t binging, and I wasn’t in any anxiety or distress about one isolated incident of eating a piece of candy because I was emotional. It happened. Big deal. However, when there were still three flipping pieces of that substandard toffee left several days later, I was about to lose my mind. Clearly, nobody in the office was all that interested in it, because it was still laying around. I snatched them up. Enough was enough. It was time for my counteroffensive. The chocolate in the break room was starting to become a problem. Or, at least, I was starting to have a problem with the chocolate in the break room. One of those last three pieces I gave away. I wrapped the remaining two in a paper towel, I delicately placed them on the floor, and then I jumped and stomped on them until there was nothing left but a mash of chocolate toffee dust. What does that mean? Is this some sign that my ED is worsening? part of me wondered. Another part of me didn’t care. I felt relieved and liberated. I made a different choice.

Life is pretty uncertain for me these days, and I am in a very vulnerable place. I recognize that I am coping with many changes, and to say that it is difficult is a massive understatement. Even working with my therapist and my nutritionist, it is hard for me to put the pieces together, identify my thoughts and emotions, and address them. In this place of vulnerability, I know that I am at risk of using my old coping behaviors, but I realize that seeking comfort in food is not a solution. It will not bring me the relief that I seek. For better or worse, here I am, with all of my dark marks and blemishes. All I can do is the best I can and pray that it is enough. I’m not the person I was before. So… mediocre-tasting desserts. I will not eat you just because I am feeling lousy. Don’t test me.

Untitled - boxing
Untitled,” ©Paola Kizette Cimente (own work), Apr 2010. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)

 

 

The Perennial Party Problem

Featured Image: “Eyjafjallajökull Eruption,” © Söring, May 2010. CC BY-NC 2.0.

As I begin to type, I’m sitting in my office, back arched away from my desk chair, shoulders pulled angrily up to my ears, forehead creased, mouth taught and frowning. There are five minutes until I need to walk across the hall for the daily 9am meeting, but my fingers are slamming the keys. If I can just put a few words on the page, maybe the hostility that’s seething inside of me won’t continue to consume me like a pyroclastic cloud, burning me up from the inside-out.

WHY am I so upset? What exactly is it that is compelling me to both lash out and to self-destruct. I can feel the forces of my anger directed simultaneously outward and inward. I want to scream at my co-workers, then grasp the mug that sits between me and the keyboard, in which steeps my steaming green tea, usually such a tranquil focal point, and fling it at the wall. I imagine the ceramic shattering into huge chunks and bits of powder with a satisfying jolt and crash followed by a tinkling rain. I want to punish myself. What’s going on? I realize that this reaction, now probably temporary, is the state that I once lived in nearly every day. Today, just under the surface, if I peel back a hastily applied, too-shiny shellac that barely obscures all my thoughts and feelings, there is a running list of my mistakes. Screw the Powerball. I will put my money on the underlying message that is playing on the tape reel in my head. Consciously, I’m deaf to it right now, but if I stop long enough to listen, I bet I will discover it repeating some version of, “I suck,” right now.

Ok. Meeting time. Good vent.

Narrow Passage
Narrow Passage,” © Marc Soller, Feb 2010. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

There’s something about the combination of sitting in a quiet meeting room, meditating on my breath and the tone of the voices filling the air, a blank page, and Yo-Yo Ma that is intensely therapeutic. Here it goes… Time to scrape at the layers.

Before I begin to write, I want to take a moment to be grateful. I’m grateful for a private office, where I can close my door, pump up the volume of Ma’s sweet sounding cello, and pause. I am grateful that I work in a place where this moment of introspection is possible. It doesn’t happen every day, but more often than not, if I need a bit of time for reflection, I can find the space. I know that I will be much more effective (and much more pleasant) if I can process whatever is going on between my heart and my head in this moment. If I continue to press on, then I am at risk of acting out. I’m grateful for this insight.

Getting down to the matter at hand, here is how I’m feeling. Defensive. Angry. Vulnerable. Not in control.

Exposed. Imprisoned. Captive. Trapped. Like a caged animal, I am ready to scratch the eyes out of anyone who comes near me or chew off my own arm to get away.

There is an obstacle in my immediate future that I cannot escape. Two obstacles, actually. Two work parties. On Thursday, some of my co-workers are throwing a “diaper party,” which is apparently an alternative to a baby shower, except all the gifts are diapers of various types and sizes, for one of our officemates. His wife is expecting their first child later this month, and I get it. A baby shower for a close colleague is one of those events like a birthday or Christmas, and while I’m not excited about navigating the food situation at work, I am supportive of the occasion and am excited for my friend. I’m not burning up over the diaper party.

But I am reeling about the barbecue banquet that is being planned for the following week. As a reward for winning the inter-office holiday decorating competition, our department chair is throwing us a celebratory lunch. The group-wide email soliciting input about date and type of food to serve is currently circulating through the “reply-all” channels.

Why are we so uncreative as a society that we continue to use food as both reward and punishment? Why can’t we be rewarded with a few hours off to go bowling as a team (there’s an alley close to our office), or brainstorm some other fun activity that we might all enjoy? I am not eager to attend another office lunch where my colleagues can demonstrate their individualized disordered eating patterns (either binging or restricting), while seeking external validation in the form of baiting others with comments about the new diet they plan on starting, their juice cleanse, new work-out routine, or, worse, observations about what other people are eating, how others look, or how much others exercise. I am often the object of many of these “others” comments. So… yeah. I tend to loathe forced socialization with my co-workers, and I especially abhor mandatory fun with food. Outside of these events and these conversations, my colleagues are wonderful, amazing, astounding people. They are kind, generous, well-meaning, funny, intelligent… I can go on and on. I even enjoy getting together with them outside of the office from time to time. Oblige me to sit in a windowless conference room with them and eat, though, and they are the enemy.

The seething is already starting to recede. I realize that I have a choice – continue along this path of AVERSION and WILLFULNESS, or search for an alternative way. What is the alternative? Is there more than one other choice?

Step one – Recognize that I am experiencing a strong emotional reaction. Identify when I am triggered.

Check. Definitely, definitely check.

Step two – Explore.

Well… isn’t that what I’m essentially doing right now? Here I am, sharing my explorations with the world, if the world cares to read them. It feels like groping through a bucket of opaque bile, searching for a nugget of gold.

Step three – Choose differently.

Crater Lake
Crater Lake,” © Andy Spearing, Aug 2008. CC BY 2.0.

Ugh. This is the hard part. My co-workers are good people. They are not malicious. They are caring, thoughtful, loving, and compassionate. From the number of emails flooding my inbox, I can tell that they are very excited for this celebratory barbecue lunch. They are almost more excited to join together for a few hours of fast-food pulled pork than they were for their festive “Star Wars Christmas” scheme, which was, believe me, quite elaborate. They deserve this win. This party isn’t about me, and it isn’t about my eating disorder. It isn’t personal. I still take issue with the “food as reward” approach, but my perspective and background on that matter is unique.

What am I going to do? Well, I am going to need to be OK with the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen or how I will react on the actual day of the lunch.

In the meantime, I dug deep (as Brené Brown might say), and instead of lashing out in bitterness and resentment, I called upon humor. Gratefully, it was accessible in my hour of need. My supervisor and I were joking about the terrible road conditions on the drive into work this morning (it was snowing pretty heavily during the AM commute), and I noticed that our banter was actually discharging some of my pent-up aggression. I felt the tension in my body slackening. Interesting, I thought. John knows about my history of an eating disorder, so without too much planning, I dove in. “Hey,” I started jovially, “I conscientiously object to using food as a reward. I vote that you guys throw your party on Tuesday so that I won’t be here and I won’t have to go.” Tuesday was one of the days initially proposed, and it also happened to be the afternoon of my weekly, standing appointment with my therapist. My words were light and my face was laughing, but my meaning was serious.

He smiled thoughtfully, gazing up and to the right in that honest, innocent way that people do when they are contemplating. “Oh yeah, I guess it is using food as a reward,” reflected the father of five. “Ok!” he agreed with a grin.

From the email traffic, it seems that everyone else is onboard with the plan for Tuesday, and some of my distress is alleviated. I am taking a (tiny) stand on an issue that is important to my values, without making too much of a fuss, and I am confident that I will navigate next Tuesday skillfully. In the meantime, I will keep trying to explore as I keep trying to cultivate ACCEPTANCE, WILLINGNESS, and COMPASSION, for myself and others.

Crater Lake OR
Crater Lake, OR” © Jonathan Miske, Aug 2014. CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Day the Wall Came Down

Featured Image:  “Remains of the Berlin Wall,” by Joe deSousa, Jul 2012. Public domain, CC0 1.0.

*Note to the reader: Names have been changed. Despite the allusion to the contrary below, I am not, in fact, on a first name basis with my boss.

The Scene: A non-descript hallway in a non-descript office building. Poorly engineered overhead lighting does little to improve the appearance of the grayish, scuffed walls and beige, linoleum tile floor. Lulu exits the women’s restroom, and a slight man of about 45, with thinning brown hair and a tanned, lined face approaches from behind.

Michael*: Hey! I was just on my way to see you in your office. (A subtle emphasis is placed on the words, “in your office.” It is almost imperceptible.)

Lulu: (Thinking to self: “This can’t be anything good. Why does he need to talk to me in my office? Ok, wait, it doesn’t necessarily have to be bad. I will try to avoid jumping to conclusions.” She laughs nervously.) Oh, really?

Together, they walk toward another hallway, which intersects the first at a right angle, and Lulu opens a heavy, unmarked door. Michael follows behind as Lulu passes into a wider office space filled with cubicles. They pass a row of cubicles,  toward another open door. Warmer, welcoming light streams from the entryway. As they approach, the soft, muted tones of Enya can be heard playing in the background.

Michael: Yeah, you know. It’s been awhile since I talked to you!

Lulu: Perplexed. Sounding innocent. Since Friday?

Michael: Yeah, well, you know. Three days! What’s been going on? That’s nice music!

Lulu: (Trying to hide embarrassment that she listens to Enya in her office. Makes a soft, chuckling, choking sound.) Yeah, it’s my after lunch, chill-out music. Um, things are pretty much the same.

They cross the threshold into Lulu’s office, which is richly decorated with a Tiffany lamp and an area rug patterned in gray and gold that complements the tones in the glass. An elegant table runner drapes over the top of a low bookshelf, forming a perfect surface for a rose-colored, ceramic pot of pink flowers, a decorative teacup, and a picture frame. A plaque that reads, “Believe – v. to have confidence or faith in the truth of,” sits next to the pot. A map of the world hangs on the wall above, and the remaining walls are covered in diplomas and certificates framed in heavy, dark wood. Lulu quickly maneuvers behind the desk and propels herself into the security of her familiar chair, while Michael more cautiously seats himself in a straight-backed chair opposite her. Michael leans back, picks up one foot, and places it on the other knee, allowing his leg to flop to the side casually. Lulu props her elbows on her armrests and tents her hands under her chin, lips pinched, leaning forward.

Michael: So, I was just wondering, you know, if it’s not too much to ask, and only if you’re comfortable, I don’t want to put you on the spot or anything, but would you tell me what it’s like to have an eating disorder, you know, from your personal experience. (He drags out the world “personal” emphatically.)

Pause….

Michael: You know, if you’re comfortable. I don’t want to put you on the spot or anything. I just, I mean, you’re the only person I ever met with an eating disorder. I mean… what’s it LIKE?

Pause…

Lulu: (Thinking to self: “WHAT… THE… … … … ?”)

Pause…

Lulu: (Thinking to self: “Did the director of my division seriously just ask me to share my personal experience with binge eating disorder? Um… How is this going to factor into my performance stratification?”) Um. What?

Michael: You know, you just seem so open, otherwise I wouldn’t ask. You just seem like such an open person. (He repeatedly stresses the word “open.”)

Lulu: (Thinking to self: “Well, he certainly has guts… Is my mouth hanging open? I think my mouth is hanging open.”)

Michael: You know, we were talking last week, and I realized that I don’t really know anything about eating disorders. I mean, I’d like to understand better what it’s like for you.

Lulu: (Thinking to self: “Geez. Well, I’m the one who is always saying that I want to increase awareness and break down stigma… I just didn’t think it would be with the head of my division.”) Well… what do you want to know?

Untitled,” © Kyle Cheung, June 2011. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Can you imagine my shock, mingled with horror, mingled with speechlessness, when the above occurred just before Halloween? We ended up speaking for an hour! Historically, my division chief and I did not have the most open relationship, to use his adjective. It wasn’t as though I thought that he meant me any harm. I believed him to be very well meaning, but I also found interacting with him feel forced and awkward. However, our mutual courage to be a little bit vulnerable might just be leading us both to an improved understanding, to borrow from one of my favorite authors/researchers/storytellers, Brené Brown.

On the subject of Brené Brown… as my division chief and I were chatting again last week (about the dicey topic of my future professional plans – dicey because I don’t have any at the present moment, which is not something I am eager to confess to my career-focused boss), he interjected with, “Hey, do you like TED talks? Have you seen these TED talks by this woman Brené Brown on shame and vulnerability?”

My reaction was essentially to think, “How the fudge do you know about Brené Brown?” Except I didn’t think the word, “fudge.” Fortunately, what actually came out of my mouth was something to the effect of, “I would pretty much attribute my success in recovery to discovering her work. They made us watch her video on vulnerability, and then I read her book, The Gifts of Imperfection while I was at Walden, and it was a definite turning point.” I didn’t go into how research demonstrates that it is critical in establishing and sustaining eating disorder recovery for a sufferer to be able to learn self-compassion. We needed something to talk about the next time we chat! But, prior to Brené Brown, I didn’t know what vulnerability, shame, and self-compassion meant. (There are more resources about self-compassion and ED recovery on my favorites page).

I’m pretty sure Michael didn’t realize just how much of a compliment he was paying me when he told me that I seemed to practice the appropriate degree of vulnerability that Dr. Brown discussed during her TED talk. He confessed that, despite watching the videos several times, he struggled to fully understand exactly how and why vulnerability was necessary for establishing human connection, and why connection was necessary for leading a wholehearted life (he admitted that he was stuck on the “necessary” bit). “Would you mind going over them with me?” he asked. “I think I can find the transcripts online,” he continued. “It might be helpful if I could highlight them, and I could write down some questions. I think I would understand it better if I could discuss it with you.”

The transcripts arrived in my email inbox the next day. I’m looking forward to our next conversation.

"Kaffee für zwei," © Marco Huber, Aug 2013. CC BY-ND 2.0.
Kaffee für zwei,” © Marco Huber, Aug 2013. CC BY-ND 2.0.

The Drift

Featured Image Credit:  Untitled, © Fi15 (Own Work), Apr 2009. CC-BY-SA 3.0.

“See, you’re like me,” remarked John charismatically. I mentally recoiled, feeling myself snapping off at the root whatever cognitive connection was beginning to bud between us in conversation. No. That is always my immediate instinct and default response whenever there appears to be a suggestion made that I am the same as another. Do not begin to think that you understand me, I want to say. As I listened to the continuation of his sentiment, though, the depth of the analogy that he wove rekindled my curiosity. “You’re like this beautiful swan, looking all peaceful and calm on the surface, but underneath you’re just spinning and churning.” He held his hands in front of him, palms toward the floor, and flapped them wildly up and down from the wrists to emphasize his point.

John is currently my interim supervisor. Unfortunately, though he is filling in only briefly, he happens to be covering during a time when my work-mandated medical review is due for renewal. This creates an interesting situation, because John knows nothing of my history of binge eating disorder, orthorexia, and depression. John lives in what I call, rather un-creatively, John-land, which is a very pleasant and rather oblivious place to be. He is a wonderful, kind, caring person, but my impression of him most of the time is that he is rather clueless and uniformed. On the spectrum of the 3 U’s, he would be both unknowing, and uneducated. I’m not really sure where he thinks I was for six or seven weeks last winter during my out-of-state partial hospitalization for binge eating disorder, and I’m fairly certain that in his benign, kind way, he couldn’t care less. My actual supervisor, Inga, is well aware of all the details, and I have supportive friends in my office. John just isn’t one of them.

As my interim supervisor, John was required to write a form letter attesting to the fact that my eating disorder and depression didn’t interfere with my ability to perform my job functions. I thought that Inga took care of this before she left, but apparently it was incomplete or needed revision. The fortunate bit was that he was working from her draft. The weird part was that this was my first discussion with John about any of my mental health history. I didn’t quite know where to start. It turned out that when my previous supervisor departed for a new job in May, she informed John of the rudimentary basics of my past. He was the interim supervisor then, too, before Inga, a woman I’ve known for years and who was already aware of my E.D., transferred into the position. While he knew that I had an eating disorder, he remained grossly under-informed. It didn’t take long to discern that he was still clueless about the scope or severity of my illness or the intensity of treatment I underwent. Exactly where did you think I was? I still wanted to ask. John-land must be such a blissful place.

One of the main reasons that I always chose to not discuss my eating disorder with John (when I felt comfortable talking about it with my other peers) was because I suspected that, due to his lack of understanding, he also lacked the capacity to empathize. Sitting in his cozy office, directly next door to my own, I struggled to decide just how much to reveal. Was it even possible to communicate my experiences to someone who I doubted possessed the contextual framework that would enable him to fathom? He conveyed how remarkable he thought I was as the most senior and most experienced person within our organization in my particular capacity, how strongly worded his recommendation would be, and how he noticed not a single hint of impact in my performance, ever. I thanked him and agreed that my eating disorder and depression, now in remission for nearly a year, do not impair my functioning. Yet, perhaps this was an opportunity to illuminate some of that unknowing…

“I’m doing great now,” I nodded, “but at this time last year it was a different story. I was in a terrible place. I was in bad shape. Maybe it didn’t look like it to everyone else, but I was circling the drain. I was losing it. You know the reason I was gone for two months last winter was because I was in a treatment program in Massachusetts.” He didn’t know, of course. It was a complete surprise. “Maybe it just shows that we’re all too hard on ourselves,” I continued, thoughtfully. “I mean, we all do it. We think other people can see right through us and that they know just how screwed up we are inside. We drive ourselves crazy. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough, we’re not working hard enough, we are failures because we aren’t meeting some unachievable standard we create, when really, we’re doing just fine.”

It was this reflection that elicited the swan analogy. Perhaps John wasn’t as devoid of empathy and understanding as I thought. Maybe I never gave him enough credit. There remained an underlying disconnection, but it was more of a connection than I expected, and his imagery left me with something profound to contemplate.

Untitled, © olkin11 (own work), Sep 2006. CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Untitled, © olkin11 (Own Work), Sep 2006. CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0.

“I feel adrift,” I told my therapist last week during our regular session. The swan, I decided, was a fitting analogy. “I’m just sort of… hanging out in the middle of the lake. I just feel…” I paused and took a deep breath. Leaning forward on the plush, softly upholstered couch, I rested my elbows on my knees and my chin just touched the tips of my fingers. I released a long, deep sigh. There was no word to describe this feeling of drifting. Only the sigh could make audible the sensation in my chest.

My therapist wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easily. “Can you put words to that?” she asked me. “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know…” I responded, sitting in silence awhile longer. “It’s like… I’m not flapping my little feet furiously, churning the water up all around me, completely exhausting myself while going nowhere anymore. Instead, I’m just sort of floating in the middle of this flat, placid lake. I’m still not going anywhere, but now I’m just floating. And I have no idea where I’m supposed to go or where I even want to go. I’m sort of just eyeing the shore, thinking, ‘Hmmm, that grassy spot over there looks kind of nice… Ooooo, that little boathouse over there is pretty… oh look, there’s a pagoda over there that’s nice…’ but I’m just floating.”

My job doesn’t fill me with meaning. I don’t have an overarching purpose to my life. I’m living in a place that is not the place I want to live, separate from the community and the people who fill my life with the most vibrancy and warmth, because this is holding the place of whatever will come next, until I decide what that will be. I’m just kind of… waiting. I have an advanced degree and I’m in my 30s. When am I going to figure out what I want to be when I grow up?

We talked about the different activities that I am doing while I wait. Taking classes, exploring different interests, getting to know my authentic self, learning my likes and dislikes, prioritizing my values. “It’s not like you’re just parked in the middle of this lake doing nothing,” my therapist pointed out. “You’re swimming a little closer to the boathouse to take a better look, and then you’re swimming a little bit closer to the pagoda.” Point taken.

“I know that there’s no timeline on this,” I repeated. I heard it so many times before, and I acknowledged its veracity. My therapist nodded emphatically in agreement. “But how long am I going to float here?” I wondered aloud, “Until I molt?” We both laughed aloud.

Swan Feather on Hatchet Pond,” © Jim Champion, Sep 2008. CC-BY-SA 2.0.

The Potluck Lot

One of the recurrent themes that I seem to return to with great frequency is my aversion to the preponderance of food in my workplace. I feel as though I live in a varying state of dudgeon over what I interpret as the unconscious perpetuation by those around me of the insidious and reprehensibly unhealthy values surrounding food, exercise, and body image that are so deeply ingrained in our culture. My righteous indignation stirs into a fiery fervor whenever the “Naughty or Nice Cart” rolls through my hallway. I feel like a zealot on a one-woman crusade against the political, media, and industry-fueled machine that drives perversions of what is considered “healthy” in our society. Sometimes, I wish that I could just shout, “Wake up! Wake up, people! Don’t you realize what is going on here?!” After so much cognitive behavioral work, so much practicing at identifying my distorted, all-or-nothing, black-and-white thoughts and then replacing those thoughts with more reasonable, appropriate, rational versions, I might be better at recognizing the pattern of extremism and alarm underlying my ruminations.

Yet, I still find myself sucked into a vortex of vilification and catastrophization on a not-irregular frequency. Why is it so difficult to just LET GO. Is the situation as tectonic as I paint it through my choice of language and the story that I construct in my mind? I am so sensitized to these issues due to my personal history that it is impossible for me to approach the problem from an unbiased, objective perspective. A frequent topic of conversation at my weekly therapy appointments is trying to decide just when to speak up and when to simply ACCEPT that I do not control the actions, opinions, behaviors, or beliefs of others. Can I acknowledge that, though I have a unique insight, I am not an expert, and I am not always right? Can I “choose my battles,” so to speak? Can I WILLINGLY tolerate the off-hand comments, insensitive remarks, and the possibly uneducated or uninformed, but not necessarily ill-intentioned, activities around me? I CAN… but it takes practice. And more practice. And more practice. And more and more and more and more practice.

My latest distress revolved around an office potluck-staff meeting. I wanted to characterize my workplace as evil and my co-workers as criminal because we must hold a potluck at every quarterly staff meeting… However, I ruefully acquiesced that the focus on food did not, of itself, make the environment hellish or the people wicked. In fact, I admitted to myself, a shared meal can be a very healthy activity! It builds bonds of connection and can be an expression of love, friendship, and joy. Unfortunately, in my personal experience as someone with binge eating disorder, these large-scale potlucks are too often derailed by eating just for the physical pleasure of consuming food, which shortly loses its pleasing effect. The sanctity of the meal is lost. The gratitude for nourishment and fellowship and the serenity that would follow from that sense of fulfillment erodes away when satiety is exceeded, the sugar crash sets in, and I begin lambasting myself for being such a fat, stupid, worthless cow in the privacy of my inner mind. I can’t speak for others, but I wonder if this is not a somewhat shared experience. Do we joke about how overly stuffed we are, the number of calories we just consumed, how many hours at the gym it will take to burn off our excesses, or the number of pounds we just gained in order to normalize, rationalize, and justify? Again, how can I expect to be objective? Sometimes, it seems that attention is purposely diverted to others in a scapegoating fashion. At the last office potluck-staff meeting, I listened in shocked horror as two colleagues made some of the most demeaning, dehumanizing “fat jokes” I could recall hearing since riding the school bus as a teenager. When I objected, one of the men laughed and stated, “It’s OK, because they’re fat. They deserve it. If they didn’t want to be made fun of, they wouldn’t be fat.” Appalled, I decided this was one of those situations I wasn’t going to be able to change (though I did speak to the supervisor later about the inappropriateness of those comments).

Perhaps it was this past experience that aroused so much discomfort and resentment in me as the day of the potluck approached. Recollections of previous struggles at similar office events were also, undoubtedly, contributing factors. Would this potluck-staff meeting be anything like those affairs? When I considered the looming occasion, words such as “awful,” “horrible,” “sucks,” “crap,” “problem,” “failure,” and “disaster,” sprang forward. Alternatives such as, “less than ideal,” “it is what it is,” “imperfect,” “opportunity,” “challenge,” “doable,” “growth,” and “surmountable,” were much less accessible to me. When I was able to string together a “rational response” to a doomful prediction, the thought was ephemeral, vaporizing almost as soon as it was conceptualized, while my negativity lingered.

On the day of the potluck, I summoned my courage and my coping skills. It wasn’t graceful. I always have this image of myself navigating distressing situations with perfect equanimity. Of course, using that ideal as my standard, I felt shamefully dejected. Fortunately, the wonderful supports to whom I reached out possessed the clarity and insight to point out that such a model is entirely unrealistic, and I was able to listen. Once I started admitting my small successes, it became increasingly easier to see the multitude of ways in which I did remarkably well under less than ideal circumstances that were beyond my control. My brain is expertly trained to instantly find the fault, the critique, the thing to improve upon. What I discovered following the potluck, or perhaps just stumbled upon again, is the need to preferentially look for my positives. My good qualities. My strengths.

So… these are my goals today. 1) Practice willing acceptance. Again. And again. And again. 2) Look for my positives. I hope you all can see your positives today, too!

"Hawaiian Sunrise 09," by Tamugreg, [Public Domain], May 2009. Wikimedia Commons.
“Hawaiian Sunrise 09,” by Tamugreg, [Public Domain], May 2009. Wikimedia Commons.
Featured Image Credit: “Ceremonial,” © NAEINSUN, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Feb 2008. Wikimedia Commons.

Shame Doesn’t Lead to Change

Today, I’m upset about some joking that I overheard at the expense of “others.” Some people at work were making cruel “fat jokes,” and if that weren’t bad enough, they were saying these awful words within earshot of some very wonderful, lovely colleagues who happen to be struggling with weight and body issues at the moment. When will we all learn that we don’t motivate ourselves or the people we care about (or even don’t care about!) to change by making them feel bad about themselves? Martin Luther King, Jr. phrased it much more eloquently than I can when he said,

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

As LeVar Burton used to tell children on the television show Reading Rainbow, “Don’t just take my word for it…” Below is an NBC News piece by Melissa Dahl that summarizes an article published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE in 2013.  The results demonstrated that not only was size discrimination ineffective at promoting weight loss, it actually led to weight gain. Another study from University College London in 2014 revealed the same pattern. The second link leads to a Washington Post article describing those findings.

http://www.nbcnews.com/health/fat-shaming-actually-increases-risk-becoming-or-staying-obese-new-8C10751491

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/09/11/fat-shaming-doesnt-work-a-new-study-says/

The following is of my favorite Brené Brown quotes, which reminds me that I am constantly in need of practice when it comes to humility and empathy…

The biggest potential for helping us overcome shame is this: We are “those people.” The truth is…we are the others. Most of us are one paycheck, one divorce, one drug-addicted kid, one mental health illness, one sexual assault, one drinking binge, one night of unprotected sex, or one affair away from being “those people…”1

Fat jokes are a mechanism of shame that is often, inexplicably, socially condoned. This blog post is my plea to whoever reads it that we stop using these criticisms to undercut ourselves and others. I am just as guilty of using shame as anyone else in the world. I use it in a misguided attempt to impel myself toward self-improvement (especially when it comes to matters of body image and professional performance), and sometimes, it just slips right out in conversation or in my body language. I wish I could suck it back in, reverse time, swallow my words and my facial expressions… but that’s not the way it works. The only way to move forward, at least that I am finding, is to ask for forgiveness, admit my mistakes and my vulnerability, acknowledge my weaknesses, and love myself anyway. When I can do that, then I can love the equally imperfect people around me, and together, maybe we can all move toward a brighter future.

I owe a lot of what I’m learning on this topic to my wonderful therapist and nutritionist, the amazingly strong, beautifully vulnerable people in my therapy, groups, and the resources listed on my “Favorites” page. Check it out, maybe find a reason to forgive yourself for a past mistake or to celebrate a current accomplishment, and perhaps find a way to encourage someone else. Let me know what you think!

  1. Cover photo credit: “Cygnes et cygneaux,” by 20100, May 2007. [Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons.
  2. Brown B. (2007) I thought it was just me (but it isn’t):  Making the journey from “what will people think? to “I am enough. New York:  Gotham Books.

“Naughty or Nice?” – A Lesson in Letting Go

Featured Image: “Northern lights (Aurora borealis) flowing over the Lyngen fjord in 2012 March,” © Ximonic (Simo Räsänen), CC-BY-SA 3.0. Original work. Wikimedia Commons.

It drives me nuts!

It’s awful!

It’s horrible!

It embodies everything that is disordered and sick in American culture!

It is the latest food-related fundraising effort at my workplace – “The Naughty or Nice Cart.” The first time that one of the office staff rolled through with this trolley of over-priced snacks, it was late on a Wednesday afternoon.  I was already in that fatigued, clock-watching, brain-addled state of non-productiveness that sometimes settles in around 3:30 pm. For that reason, I wasn’t particularly swift to recognize what was going on as she silently ambushed me, popping from seemingly nowhere into my doorway with, “DO YOU WANT TO BUY SOMETHING OFF THE NAUGHTY AND NICE CART?!”

The scales of justice have been replaced by food scales.
The scales of justice have been replaced by food scales.
La Giustizia,” by Antonio Canova, 1792. Photograph © Fondazione Cariplo, CC-BY-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

It’s bad enough that I get hit-up for money at least once a day.  Usually, I’m asked to contribute to charitable organizations I never heard of by people I never met. It’s worse that the fundraising creativity within my (very large) organization never branches beyond bake sales, pancake breakfasts, barbecue ticket sales, lumpia sales, cookie bake-offs, chili cook-offs… you get the picture. The fliers on the stairwell and bathroom doors I can stare past (although I must admit to passive-aggressively tearing one down once), the emails go straight to my junk bin, but when people come knocking on my office door it stirs up all sorts of defensiveness and anger. In the same breath that my boss tirades on about the “obesity epidemic,” he cajoles us to participate in the pasta lunch, because “we need to show that we have team spirit, and those ladies in the front office worked hard to put this together for a good cause!  So come hungry!”

The fund-raising tools of default. “A Selection of Rolling Pins,” © Terra Ambridge, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Jan 2010. Wikimedia Commons.

It usually takes all of my mindfulness skills to remind myself, in the moment, of what my therapist and nutritionist try to reinforce with me at our weekly appointments.  They don’t know any better. We are all victims of the same community-societal dysfunction and economic exploitation. I am very privileged and fortunate to have the opportunity to unlearn my food-related behaviors. Most people don’t even recognize the extent of the problem in our homes and in our society. I can see myself and my co-workers for who we are, complicated people who are suffering in our own ways.  I can forgive their comments and their actions, even when they put me down or put other people down, or when they perpetuate the underlying disordered patterns that are keeping generation after generation physically, mentally, and emotionally sick… just like I would want them to forgive me, because I am sure not perfect, either!

Jarred from my computer screen-induced stupor, I was caught without a ready response for my unwanted solicitor. I was also particularly appalled at the concept of a “Naughty or Nice” theme. My moment of delay gave her the opportunity to interject with enticements that she mistakenly thought would motivate me to dip into my pocket for loose change. “We have healthy snacks, too! You can choose to be NICE! We have fruit, and veggie sticks, and water…” So if I were to choose the chips or soda, does that make me NAUGHTY? I thought. I wanted to scream at her to get the hell out of my office with her token of pathology and judgment on wheels.

“No thanks, I don’t do food-related fundraisers,” I said instead. I saved my rant for my colleague, Steve, whose office is across a narrow, quiet hallway from mine. We leave our doors open and call out to each other through the day, popping in and out to pose questions, share interesting tidbits, or alleviate our boredom. He’s probably my biggest supporter at work, and helped cover for me while I was circling the drain prior to getting into a treatment program, then picked up my workload while I was away.

“Now our self-worth and value as human beings can be qualitatively determined by our snack purchases for an office fundraiser!!!” I growled, angrily.

“Really?” Steve raised an eyebrow. “Anyway, I thought you gave up all this complaining business and all-or-nothing talk,” he casually replied. Grrrrrrrr… I couldn’t even stew in my own indignation. He was throwing my Wise Mind back in my face! What was I supposed to do? Start burping up buttercups? I knew that he was right, but…

What can I do? As my nutritionist once told me, I can’t change the world – not alone, and not when people don’t want to be changed. When the Naughty or Nice cart rolls by now, the woman pushing it doesn’t bother knocking on my door anymore, and, still simmering, I return to the Serenity Prayer…

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.
~ Reinhold Niebuhr

So, dear readers, what would you do?

Sunny Day,” © Marcus Quigmire, May 2008. CC-BY-SA 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.