Warning: Intense blog. If you’re looking for my funny, you may want to wait until next week.
For those of you who’ve been reading for a while, you’ve been privy to my never-ending list of diets and self-loathing rants about my body. These past weeks, I have not spoken of it here, figuring the subject had become white noise by now. Move on, Jill, we get it. Now the battle with food and your body has become boring.
But what you don’t know is that, behind the scenes, the struggle has been anything but boring. It’s become worse, so bad—this obsession with losing weight and being thin, one I wrongly thought I’d long conquered (thank you middle age)—that it now affects everything I do and think about.
For example, last weekend we met our dear friends Joan and Dave from Chicago in Washington, DC on what was the warmest weekend since last summer. While everybody was overjoyed at the balmy temps, I was horrified. The questions that ran through my head like a constant river were practically abusive: What would I wear? Would black spandex be too heavy? Could I survive in jeans that had grown increasingly tighter over the past several months, despite my incessant dieting and exercise? What would people think of me, wearing clothes that were clearly too heavy and inappropriate? What would I eat, anxiety taking hold every time we went out to eat and the server delivered plates of excess. What do I do now? How much should I have? Everybody will notice if I eat too much. But how deep and wide should I deprive myself, am I up for the challenge? And how do I unbutton the jeans now digging into my stomach and tug at the pant legs clinging to me like unwanted cellophane without anybody noticing? Why does everything have to be so fattening in a restaurant?
And why must I be so overweight and ugly?
I couldn’t help myself. It was a voice-track playing over and over without hesitation. And instead of reveling in the 75-plus degrees, the dear friends we only get see once a year, and the budding of the cherry blossoms, I could not stop the record from turning.
Once back home, I followed up the weekend with an annual visit to my doctor (who practices both Eastern and Western medicine). When she asked, “How are you?” I said, “Still trying to lose the same weight we talked about last year, except now it’s a year later.”
So we started talking. Of course, she wrote me a long prescription for bloodwork. Let’s check your hormones, your thyroid, the usual suspects. Again. And then she said this: I also want you to see our shaman.
What’s a shaman? I ask.
Somebody who can help you rewrite your own story. And you’re there — it’s time.
To which I said to the doctor as much as meant it for myself: What’s wrong with me Dr.? Why can’t I just accept that this is my body and it’ll never be any different? Why can’t I accept that no matter how hard I try, it’ll never cooperate? I mean, I have a loving husband, a wonderful job, and great friends. Why is that not good enough?
Sometimes, she said, when we think we don’t deserve all the good things in our lives, we find a way to hold on to something that makes us feel bad.
Reminds me of something my dear friend Marilyn once said to me during one of my many vent sessions to her about my expanding waistline: Who would you be, Jill, if you weren’t struggling with the issue of weight? What else you got?
At 47, I’d give anything to find out.
And so, I am crying as I write this, because this is powerful stuff. Powerful and personal and it’s taking a lot of bravery on my part to put it out here—here—so please, whatever you do, don’t take it personally (mom) and please don’t judge.
I don’t know what your powerful stuff is—the deep-down-stuck-in-your-gut-so-deep-not even-the-tools-of-a-quarry-could-scratch-it-out stuff. But if you know what it is, visualize how it makes you feel, and then you know where I’m at. In a place of desperation, made only worse by the fact that I know what the problem is. I can see it, smell it, and hear it. I just can’t touch it. Or make it change.
So after this week’s visit with the doctor, I “accidentally” stumbled upon an excerpt of a new book called Women, Food and God written by Geneen Roth. I describe Roth, who hasn’t had a book out in a long while, as a level-headed, trail-blazing poet who’s been there. And, who’s other books (i.e. Feeding the Hungry Heart, When Food is Love, etc. ) have brought me to my knees, they’ve resonated so deeply in my struggle to find peace with my body.
It seemed divine intervention—after six days of hating myself through the first weekend of Spring, after starting but another diet and extreme exercise program, and after wondering with great sadness whether I’d ever be able to wear anything other than black spandex again in this lifetime—that I would stumble upon her prophetic words in a magazine article called “It’s Not About the Weight”. And they said this:
“When I was in high school, I used to dream about having Melissa Morris’s legs, Toni Oliver’s eyes, and Amy Breyer’s hair. I liked my skin, my breasts, and my lips, but everything else had to go. Then, in my 20s, I dreamt about slicing off pieces of my thighs and arms the way you carve a turkey, certain that if I could cut away what was wrong, only the good parts—the pretty parts, the thin parts—would be left. I believed there was an end goal, a place at which I would arrive and forevermore be at peace. And since I also believed the way to get there was by judging and shaming and hating myself, I also believe in diets.
“Diets are based on the unspoken fear that you are a madwoman, a food terrorist, a lunatic. The promise of a diet is not only that you will have a different body, you will have a different life. If you hate yourself enough, you will love yourself. If you torture yourself enough, you will become a peaceful, relaxed human being. …But the truth is that kindness, not hatred, is the answer. [After all] the shape of your body obeys the shape of your beliefs.
“Diets are the result of your belief that you have to atone for being yourself to be worthy of existing.[However] until the belief is understood and questioned, no amount of weight loss will touch the part of you that is convinced it’s damaged. It will make sense to you that hatred leads to love and that torture leads to peace because you will be operating on the conviction that you must starve or deprive or punish the badness out of you. You won’t keep extra weight off, because being at your natural weight does not match your convictions about the way life unfolds. But once the belief and the subsequent decisions are questioned, diets and being uncomfortable in your body lose their seductive allure. Only kindness makes sense. You are not a mistake. You are a not a problem to be solved.
“The Sufi poet Rumi, writing about birds learning to fly, wrote: ‘How do they learn it? They fall, and falling, they’re given wings.’
“If you wait until you have Toni Oliver’s eyes and Amy Breyer’s hair, if you wait to respect yourself until you are at the weight you imagine you need to be to respect yourself, you will never respect yourself. To be given wings, you’ve got to be willing to believe that you were put on this Earth for more than your endless attempts to lose the same 30 pounds 300 times for 80 years. And that goodness and loveliness are possible, even in something as mundane as what you put in your mouth for breakfast.
Reading that. Well. It was as if she reached a long gentle hand inside of me and pulled out the words. This is precisely what happens to a person when she grows up with a parent (sorry mom, I love you) who, with all the best of intentions, teaches her that she’s only good when she fits comfortably into a pair of size six jeans. And then feeds you (her)—and, in a child’s eyes, loves you (her)–accordingly.
I’m calling the shaman this week. Because I’m falling and I’m almost there…I’m ready. New story, here I come.
How about you? Can you relate to Geneen? To me? Do share. It’s not as scary as you may think…
Until next time.