Friday, April 8, 2011

Ending the War

That's the title of Chapter 2 in Geneen Roth's Woman Food and God.  I love her chapter titles.  She says so much with so little.  And Ending the War is the foundational mind shift that needs to occur (and continue occurring as we live our lives).  Pg 27:

...we are not going to fix [our] relationship with food; we are actually going to walk thru the door of [our] eating problem and see what's behind it.  Instead of using food to avoid discomfort, [we] are going to learn how to tolerate what [we] believe is intolerable.

When her retreat students hear this, panic sets in.  They don't want to learn to 'tolerate the intolerable'.  To diffuse the tension, Geneen tells her own story of "gaining and losing a thousand pounds, loathing myself, being suicidal....I talk about the switch to not dieting and eating what I wanted to eat." Pg. 28: only recently became clear to me that the radical part of the tale is not that I stopped dieting; it's that I stopped trying to fix myself. (emphasis mine)

She mentions that most folks can't even "imagine a world where they would stop dieting or fix the size of their thighs."  We have whole relationships where the war against our bodies is the foundation.  It makes us fit in with all the other desperate women who hate themselves.  Women, who Geneen says, will continue the constant war with food and body size to be loved.  Which is why they never lose that last 20, 30 50 pounds. Pg. 29:

As long as you are striving and pushing and trying hard to do something that can never be done, you know who you are:  someone with a weight problem who is working hard to be thin.  You don't have to feel lost or helpless because you always have a goal and that goal can never be reached.

Oh how I can resonate with this notion of never reaching the goal!  Oh my.  I have realized more than once in my  life that I'm not sure what I was about or who I really was without a weight/food issue. It had become my identity. Growing up, from about 12 years old on, my appearance was paramount to being happy.  Not because I really cared, but others did.  They weren't trying to be mean, but lived within a system that told women that fat people weren't happy.  And because they loved me, they wanted me to be happy.  So I learned to hate my body.  I learned that I wasn't enough as I was.  Culture helped pushed that mindset along as my teen age years hurled me toward obesity, and I learned first hand that they were right: fat people weren't happy.  So, you see, I had to enlist in the army, learning the art of warfare against myself.  I became extremely proficient as a sniper..picking off any happy or positive thought as soon as they appeared.  I was ruthless with myself. Pg 30:

If a full-scale war with themselves is what it takes to avoid being fat, if they need to keep blaming themselves and their mothers and their partners for their relationship with food, if their self-worth is increasingly shredded with every failure to stay on their diets, well, so what.  Every war has collateral damage.

So sad.  But so prevalent.  Even as I attempt to look behind my food issues, I find it difficult to stay within a mindset that I'm not at war with my thighs.   Again, Geneen's retreat students react: Pg 30:

They really truly believe that there is something that will fix their weight problems and thereby fix what they can't put into words: what it feels like to be them......They realize intellectually that losing weight will not take their their friend's cancer away, but the promise of weight loss is that it will allow them to live on a magical piece of earth from which everything else will be manageable.

Um, yeah. That. And this too: Pg 31

If my body is in shape--which it never has been and probably never will be--then I will be able to feel what I can't feel now.
If I fix myself so that I am no longer myself, then everything will be fine.  My feelings will be manageable.

Now she begins to untangle the hairball of our obsession with food and with warring against ourselves with the sacred: Pg 32:

Women turn to food when they are not hungry because they are hungry for something they can't name:  a connection to what is beyond the concerns of daily life.  Something deathless, something sacred
....Combine the utter inefficacy of dieting with the lack of spiritual awareness and we have generations of mad, ravenous, self-loathing women.  We have become so obsessed with getting rid of our obsession, with riding on top of our suffering and ignoring its inherent message, that we lose the pieces of ourselves waiting to be found beneath it.  But fixing ourselves is not the same as being ourselves. (emphasis mine).

That last zinger hits me squarely where I live.  So much of my process is embracing the 'now'.  Living in the present tense.  It's very hard to do that when you're constantly trying to fix what you perceive to be broken.  Living in the 'now' means feeling the extra rolls of fat under my bra, dealing with the prickly heat rash between my legs where they constantly rub together, being aware of how tight the waist is on my pants.  It means accepting the reality of who and what I am RIGHT NOW and being gentle and kind with myself anyway.  Not running away in my mind to the sweet by-and-by when I'm a size 10 then heading to the cupboard in a daze of depression for something to soothe the reality that I'm NOT a size 10.  

Geneen suggests that when we expend our entire lives trying to fix ourselves thru diets and self-hatred, we're "trying to fix something that has never been broken.....   Yes, something is wrong, but it will not be fixed through losing weight."   She goes on: Pg 33:

The relentless attempts to be thin take you further and further away from what could actually end your suffering: getting back in touch with who you really are.  Your true nature.  Your essence."

She suggests trying to remember a time when we were little, when we weren't so very aware of ourselves.  When we were 'enough' "just because everything was the way it was."  Back to just being happy to be alive.  She asks, "What if you could live that way now?  And what if your relationship to food was the doorway?"

Some very probing questions.  Here's what I sum up from this chapter in my own life:

1-Food and weight issues are not the problem
2-Dieting and self-loathing (or even reaching some goal size) won't fix what's broken
3-Realizing there is a place that is whole and unbroken within me can help me release the constant need to 'fix' myself. Getting in touch with (and living out of) that unbroken place means looking behind what it is I'm avoiding by eating when I'm not hungry and warring against myself.

She ends chapter 2 with this:

Compulsive eating is an attempt to avoid the absence (of love, comfort, knowing what to do) when we find ourselves in the desert of a particular moment, feeling, situation.  In the process of resisting the emptiness.....we ignore what could utterly transform us.

When we welcome what we most want to avoid, we evoke that in us that is not story, not caught in the past, not some old image of ourselves.  

We evoke dvinity itself.

So what am I trying to avoid?  What uncomfy feelings am I cutting off?  How intolerable are they really?

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