Monday, March 19, 2012

Recognizing CNC and other ramblings

It’s pretty neat and scary all the same to recognize my old patterns of thinking in others.  I didn’t know how many kindred spirits I had when I lived in a world of preparing myself for the worst in every situation.  Sometimes it seems almost like a protective mechanism of self to diminish all that one does in an effort to mask feelings of unworthiness, unfulfilled potential, and ineffectiveness as well as protect from disappointment.  When we deny the importance of what we are doing in any given minute or walk in life, deny how much it might mean to us and make such efforts to mold ourselves to what we think other people’s expectations are, we deny ourselves so many exceptional experiences.
These exceptional experiences don’t always feel good!  They might be very painful moments of learning that are crucial in propelling us forward in whatever we do but they remain so necessary and it seems we continue to revisit a lesson until we have learned it.  In retrospect, one can look back and see the missed opportunities for that learning and often wish that we had been more aware and done it earlier.  Sometimes it takes many attempts to learn something and get it right for us and be able to apply it to our lives.  This shouldn’t be a source of frustration but rather recognition that what we tried the first xx times isn’t working for us.  Then, we have opportunity after opportunity to solidify our learning and it’s difficult but not impossible to be aware that sometimes we are doing all the “right” things and we’re just offered many chances to practice what we know.
I identify with the negative thinking pattern.  I basically know that one inside out and backwards.  I know how hard it is to change but I also know the absolute freedom I have now and the joy I experience regularly when I seek out the positive and really experience it!  There are still many disappointments in life and countless challenges that have, at other times, might have seemed insurmountable but here I am!  Life happens and there’s not a darn thing I can do to stop that so why fight it - and now, why would I want to fight it?  Why continue to make it miserable for myself?  Because I’m scared of getting hurt?  I’m scared of disappointing others who, based on their judgement of themselves, apply judgement to me? Why would I lend myself to internalizing that and creating a me that pleases as many people as possible?  I don’t anymore, no thank you!  I am no longer subject to the judgement of anyone else.  Making this change has not been an easy road but it’s been worth it to the enth degree.  I still worry about disappointing myself and not living up to the potential I know I have but not in the same crippling capacity that I did before.
I used to worry a lot about failing (let’s use academic learning as an example).  I did get to a point on my own where I didn’t care so much that I would fail by someone else’s standards, I desired so badly to not be susceptible to external pressure that I just denied it and buried any hint of that pressure I felt.  However, the judgement I had for myself was and remains much larger than any of that held by people on the outside.  I had impossible standards for myself.  I wanted to be perfect.  If I had the slightest notion that I couldn’t be perfect or at least in the top percentile for something, I would often not try at all.  Or, I wouldn’t put in an ounce of effort so that I could justify doing “poorly” by saying I didn’t really try.  I was constantly worried that I would give something my best effort and still not reach my goal or live up to my own standards.  I never felt good enough.  This is another pattern of negative thinking that I made a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I thought I couldn’t do something, I would put in minimal or no effort and thus didn’t do it very well and confirmed that I couldn’t do what I had set out to do in the first place.
Now, I have accepted not being perfect.  I have confirmed that I have many skills that are good and with practice and help get better but I am a master of very little and that's okay.  I live so much in the moment that the effort of achieving something holds its own rewards because it feels good to give something my all, to work hard, and “just” to try.  Oftentimes I am finding that the process can be more rewarding than the result itself regardless of how “successful” it is.  I’m not scared of new things anymore because I don’t feel the pressure to be perfect, I can try and I can learn and have fun while trying and learning!
This took practice.  It took becoming painfully aware of a comfortable way of thinking, believing blindly that life could be better if I thought differently and thus challenging it constantly.  It took the help of many many sets of external and objective eyes to help give me regular doses of reality when I got lost in my negativity.  It took me developing a level of trust that I don’t think I’d ever had in people or in myself.  I had to trust that I knew that these people were telling me the truth.  I had to be confident in my gut feeling that these people cared about me and only wanted to help me live a life that worked for me. 
There have been a few inevitable “burns” where I thought someone had good intentions and that wasn’t really the case.  The difference now is that those times don’t diminish the trust I have in myself or lead to believing less in the goodness of people that exists in the larger human population.
Now I’m practicing seeking out those helpful external objective eyes as adjuncts to those of my own that I have developed.  This isn’t my practice because I necessarily need it in a self-doubting way but because it feels good to be connected (a common topic of mine!) and to have people to check things out with.  To confirm what I already know.
The odd thing is that when one is caught in the negative thinking patterns, we seek to confirm it through circumstance and thus lend ourselves to compromise and self-trickery.  I always found that finding confirmation of my negative thoughts through people externally was nearly impossible.  This can be illustrated simply by a very underweight me asking if someone thought I looked “fat” – always hearing the honest answer of “no” but never internalizing it.  I would then seek out confirmation in other ways like through contorting my body in bizarre ways in front of the mirror that I would never present in public to “prove” that I looked fat or at least strange.  However, confirming the positive and true thoughts is actually quite easy.  A very simple example of this could be a day where I am feeling a little shaky with my body image but in an effort to deny the negative and refocus I might say, “It’s great to have the energy and strength to spend the day skiing” and I might hear a reply of something along the lines of “Yes, I had a good time too.  You have a natural ability and your stamina is great!”  Thus, what is really important is reinforced: pleasure in activity and the strength and ability of my body.  In the past I might have labelled this as compliment seeking but that is not my intention and because I am solid in that knowledge of my intent, I can receive positive feedback.  Also, because of the people I seek it from I can trust that what they say is sincere.
The attempt to make this change in thinking was kind of imposed on me as I set out on my journey towards recovery - it was part of the program - but it certainly wasn’t handed to me.  No one could change my thinking for me, I ultimately had to do the work and now I have to find ways to practice this and make it habit in my old environment.  I was helped by a specific group of people but I’m finding every day that those people that I needed were right here in front of me the whole time, they just might not have known the language that I needed to understand and really believe and move forward.  My point is that it’s possible anywhere if one choose to help themselves.  People are here, people care…as cliché as it is: what are friends for?  It’s too often through distressful times that we discover who the pillars in our lives are and who we have put effort into that resulted in fair-weather friends.  It’s another painful lesson that often comes in acute times of need but through each and every trial, we come out stronger and when we seek out help in those times, we rise together – connected.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Body Image

I’m told that when my view of my Self gets to where it has always been meant to be that my body image will improve.  I’m not so sure I buy that though.  You see, I like my Self.  I might even venture to say that I love myself but that doesn’t mean that I like the body that houses this Self. I know that I’m not obese but I also know that I'm not thin.  I’m trying to find a place in my mind where this middle ground is okay.  I haven’t weighed this much in many, many years and it can be pretty difficult to tolerate.  I’ve known somewhere in myself that I would have to achieve this level of weight restoration to feel my best and be my strongest and really let joy and happiness flow through me with no restrictions but knowing that hasn’t made getting to this point easy and it rarely eases the discomfort in the moment when I notice my foreign-to-me reflection. 
At this point, how I feel about my body is purely based on the physical.  I vividly remember the days where my reflection was that of how I felt inside and that is no longer the case.
Anyone who has been treated for an eating disorder could probably write a book of techniques that professionals feed us to try and improve our body image as we weight restore and give up behaviours that manipulate our natural bodies however…
The fact is, I’ve gained more weight than a normal woman would during a pregnancy in the last 9 months.  I would venture to say that this would be a difficult experience for any person regardless of how beneficial  - essential – to my wellness it has been.  Put this experience on someone coming from my old distorted, anorexic mindset and we enter a whole new level of challenges.  This has been physical development from child to adult at lightening speed.
I am trying to seek out answers for myself through other people’s experience which is not all that common for me but this is one department in which I’m finding it difficult to break my own trail.  I like answers, I like to do things right, and I generally like to do them as quickly as possible and get onto the next task.  I’ve grown in my patience as it pertains to my emotional growth.  I understand the need for practice as it pertains to the skills and knowledge that I am developing and I am trying to apply this patience to this concept of reconciliation with my body.
“There comes a time when the pain of staying a bud was worse than that it took to blossom” (wording changed slightly).  I hold onto this because I know it has to be true.  It hurts so much more to try and contain myself through manipulation of my body and efforts to shrink myself into oblivion then it does to tolerate a bad body image day in a body that enables me to live the life I want.  There is far greater joy in my day despite any thoughts, feelings, and distortions around my body that I can actually fully experience in this body than in one whittled down to skin and bones.
The thing is that now, any given day where I am crawling out my skin does not come with thoughts that make hurting myself to fit into a skin that I might feel temporarily more comfortable in acceptable.  Absolutely not!  Even when I look in the mirror and see a lumpy, large, and awkward reflection, a difficult-to-look-at person, a face that only a mother could love, etc. I do not think to starve, to purge, to do anything that would compromise me or my practice of solidifying the new habits that honour my being.  Perhaps the thoughts might flit though my mind out of habit, but I give them no room to stay.  They are merely automatic and habitual and more often than not at this time, they do not even arise. 
I do sometimes feel like I exist in a foreign body and to me, I am doing just that.  I hardly remember how to Be in a life vehicle this size and in fact, I have never done it with health.  I am relearning things as simple as putting on clothes “normally” and finding things that fit properly however differently than I’d grown accustomed to.  I have physical sensations that I can’t remember having before and I move differently in this body I’ve grown into.
It’s funny as I type that, I have a little whisper in my head rephrasing that sentence into “…this monster I’ve become”.  It’s a curious experience to view that thought so objectively.  To notice it, give a crooked smile as it comes into my consciousness, and realize that it is a lie.  It is something that I believed previously with great conviction.  I was a monster at any size and to consider that I would have become the physical self I have would have been the psychological death of me not so long ago.
So where to from here?  This is another aspect of attaining wellness that I don’t know how to navigate alone.  I can’t find the solution in my head.  I. Don’t. Know.  I don’t know what would or how to comfort myself in this department.  I want to know How?  How do I get there?  How do I accept this?  How do I love this for all that it is?  Right now, I’m choosing to abandon How and just Do.  Maybe there isn’t a right way, maybe it just happens like so much of the rest of this process.  Maybe I will discover a way as I keep moving forward.  Maybe one day it won’t matter at all beyond what this body can enable me to do and experience. 
I am almost constantly trying to internalize the positive feedback that I get that really matters:  “You shine from the inside”; “You are so you and not compromising on that”; “Your smile starts in your eyes”; the laughs I can share with people when my mind is active and quick witted; etc.  I’m finding that reaching out to the solid people in my life for reassurance and creating an army-like attack on my doubts and fears is effective in beating down the internal demon that tries to get me.  This eases the power of the negative thoughts that I have about my body but does not necessarily change what I see or the discomfort that I feel.  However, it is helpful to me to focus on what matters most to the core of Julia and the physical is very low on my importance scale.
I know that denying any negative thought directed at my body the power to ruin my day is essential.  Keeping my life as full as possible in all departments that are only available to me as a whole person is also essential.  Because of this, most days, body image seems inconsequential but there are days where I find it very difficult to exist in this body and it feels bizarre and so not mine – but if the answer is starving myself into oblivion to feel comfortable in my skin and thus losing everything else I’ve worked towards, I would take a life sentence of poor body image!