Tag Archives: spirituality

Writing Group Topic: Emotional Independence

A very timely topic for me, this. I don’t have a marriage relationship to look into but my visit to Austria in a few weeks’ time looms heavily on the horizon and I know there will be many days when I need to retain (or reclaim?) my emotional independence.

In our family, we didn’t argue. My solution has always been to “check out” – emotionally at first because that was the only way I could, and later on of course, physically by moving away as far as possible. Now when I go I still check out emotionally. It’s what I want to do. But the problem is that I’m only able to check out superficially: I don’t really become emotionally independent from my environment, despite having worked on this for the biggest part of my life! To be honest, apart from being away at a distance, I still don’t know how to do it and that’s why a week with them drains me so much. I can do a week per year, but I come back needing lots and lots of healing every time.

When I get together with my father’s side of the family, there isn’t open conflict so much as there is underlying seething resentment. After less than a day with all of them together last year at our birthday celebration I was literally unable to smile for the photo. I could not do it. I had a pokerface on so firmly that I couldn’t even break it for the photo. I don’t know how to describe the emotion, the list of words in Paul’s book doesn’t seem to list an adequate word – I think hatred is the best word, although it’s not a fiery angry kind but a cold one, and not just in myself but underlying every interaction within that family. They resent, undermine, disrespect, and hate one another with a cold detachment disguised as civility. And I can’t seem to isolate my emotions effectively enough.

How do I become emotionally independent in such a situation? I don’t participate in the needling of hurtful comments that fly around, in fact if anything I will defend the person attacked; I say good things about others; I refuse to engage in character assassination behind someone’s back – all of these are completely counter to their ways. I do this, but it’s not enough. It’s not like I can take my stand once and for all; the same person will continue to try, and try, and try to draw me out just a little, to get just a tiny slip, chipping and chipping away at me. That’s what is wearing me down.

I hate it all. I have chosen to abandon my family (my father’s side, anyway) by moving away and it was the best decision ever, and I’m emotionally healthy enough to take the drain for a week. But it’s not easy and I don’t look forward to it.

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Writing Group Topic: My right to do badly

I have a right not to do well: this is something I need to remind myself of because it’s a revolutionary concept to my way of thinking.

For me, it’s not that I have to keep anyone else in check to see that they are respecting my rights – it’s myself who is taking those rights away from me. I don’t have to continually improve? I have a right to be wrong? I can let myself off the hook occasionally?

These are dangerous thoughts because they make me fear that once I open up the door for one of them, I’ll lose control and totally go down the wrong way. Like taking the first bite in my perfect abstinence. Part of what keeps me abstinent is the fear of what would happen if I let go of that control. I have to learn that abstinence is a special case, whereas “doing well” (doing the right things, performing, etc.) is not a 100% black/white issue.

Case in point – just yesterday I picked up gum again. (I am tired of this, and I’m sure you are tired of reading about it, but I have to get this out there). I had every intention of having “just one”. Needless to say, I consumed all I had and hated it! Somehow I’d managed to convince myself that I don’t have to be abstinent from gum because that doesn’t mean losing my abstinence, so I can be “imperfect” and have just one. The problem is, I lost all control. That’s exactly what I’m afraid of when it comes to letting go of *any* of the things I hold myself accountable to!

Exercise is an example where I kind-of have a balance now, but not really. I want to exercise, but right now I’m “allowing” myself off the hook and to be imperfect by trading my requirement to exercise for walking to and from work (a total of 40 mins. brisk walking per day). So I don’t do nearly as well as I want to, or think I ought to, but I am doing something and that is some sort of success. Except that each week, I have this urge to do better the next week and add to what I’m doing. No matter how much exercise I do, I get this urge each week to add to it. More, more, more – better, better, better. Then, if one week I don’t do more or improve, I feel like I’ve lost it all. Then it’s so easy to just let it all go.

It’s a pointless roundabout and I can see my thinking patterns here. With exercise I’m sort of getting there mentally (content with just walking, and recognising / refuting the inner self-talk to HAVE TO do more/better next week), with gum I’m not (I’m OFF it now), and with many other things I haven’t even recognised these patterns yet. Sigh. I’m my worst enemy and critic.

Adult Child of an Alcoholic

I suspect I could be an “Adult Child of an Alcoholic”… this is a new concept to me that I had never thought applied to me, before. I mean, obviously I am the daughter of an alcoholic, but the term “Adult Child” implies something about stunted growth, a child that hasn’t grown up except physically, and I never thought of myself that way. While in the food, eating was the problem that eclipsed everything else, and once I got abstinent the freedom from that was so much more than I could ever imagine, so I thought this was the solution to everything.

And it is, really – because if I wasn’t abstinent, I would never have realised this ACA thing. I would have blamed the things I identify with on lots of other things, all to do with the food. Now the food isn’t there, isn’t the issue.

What happened: I simply picked up a book at the church library, something about healing for adult children of alcoholics. Just curious. Then I read the back, and it hit me like a hammer: could this be me? Not everything, but there were some very uncomfortable statements that resonate with me:

  • “I usually don’t feel happy OR sad.”
  • “I want to be close to people, but I just never make it.”

–> these two are complaints I have often made, often wondered about, but never knew that these were symptoms of being an ACA without recovery… I knew all along that most of the time I have no idea how I’m feeling, if anything; and of course I know that while I do have friendships, I have never been in an intimate relationship of any kind, I have not loved anyone since my mother’s death when I was 15. Most of the time I’m content. I perform well, I get along, I have a good life that I enjoy and friends I care about. But the above two issues remain…

Writing Group Topic: Emotional Sobriety

Emotional sobriety isn’t something I tend to think of as being a problem for me. That is to say: I am sober of emotions, period. However, I would argue that this isn’t altogether a good thing!

To what degree that is simply a stoic personality and to what degree I am suppressing or just not receiving emotions, I don’t know – but it’s definitely a mix of both. I’m certainly an overall stable personality, not going through heights and valleys all the time. I always have been “level-headed and determined”, and I suppose these things mean that I can get very focused on outcomes, at the total expense of emotion along the way. In others as well, not just myself. I have a desired outcome; whatever my emotions along the way I either ignore or they just don’t exist (I don’t know) – but I have to consciously remind myself of the emotions of others. It would be easy for me to walk all over people; not doing it is a choice and I am very conscious of it. I have the capacity for incredible callousness – compassion is not in my nature – but I make that choice all the time, from the head rather than the heart.

So, emotional sobriety: check. However, there’s obviously a flip side to that coin, and that is, I don’t get close to people because I cannot connect on an emotional level with them. I connect through the mind, but that only gives a certain depth… so I’m aware of a lack in that area. I’m happy (not ecstatic; just comfortable) and have nothing to complain about, but mentally I’m also aware that I am probably missing out on positives.

Where does it come from on the “nurture” side? As I said, personality is part of it, but upbringing certainly is another part. My aunt, where I lived after my mother’s death while I was age 15-18 (then my aunt died), was emotionally abusive. In German the word for it could be literally translated as “psychological terror”. She knew what hurt, in terms of emotional pain, and used it with laser-sharp accuracy and relentless repetition. I believe that treatment on a daily basis taught me to live emotion-free, because if I had them, she would know and use them to hurt me. So I just learned not to care.

For example, after my mother’s death my aunt would use the guilt I felt about it (I was my mother’s primary caregiver during her illness and sometimes just absconded without telling her where I was – staying for a night at a friend’s house, for example – which made my mother’s illness worse because it was a psychosomatic disease which was worsened by distress. In effect, my behaviour killed her sooner than she would otherwise have died.) My aunt would use this, bring it up and discuss it like a bulldog with a bone for hours on end, over and over again, and the effect was that after a while I just learned not to feel pain about it. Today I can truly say I don’t care because it didn’t matter, she would have died anyway and the shorter her suffering the better it actually was for her (it’s an incurable, always fatal disease). Although I’m still sorry I caused her distress, of course.

There are many other examples – basically, whenever I had an emotion, or became attached to a person or thing (started to care), that would be used against me. After my mother’s death I used to go to a local horse stables, riding and helping with the horses, for several hours every day. I loved it, I loved the people, everything. It was an obvious target for my aunt. Over the course of months, she clipped my time there for various reasons, it was the standard punishment for anything I did wrong time at the stables was cut. The twist here is that it was cut permanently, not just for that day or that week. So gradually, my time at the stables was whittled down to something like an hour per week, at which point I said forget it and just quit it. So she didn’t have that leverage any more (nevermind, she moved on to the next thing I cared about).

Sorry to go on for this long… I’m finding things out as I write about them. I don’t know if any of those emotions are resurrect-able, as they have certainly been killed off very efficiently during my formative years. Plus, of course, it’s partly my personality as well. I guess more will be revealed as I remain abstinent…

I choose my attitudes

I choose my attitudes. That is so true – but I’m not always aware that I have that option. I am getting more aware of it more often, though! This week there was a great example of this. I had to go to Birmingham for a week of studies. It’s about 2 hours 10 minutes to drive, or it should be, so I left about 3 hours before I was supposed to be there. It was a relaxed drive, but once I got to Birmingham I got hopelessly lost, and with no satellite navigation I was totally on my own. I drove around for a long time, getting stressed as time passed, but not yet too stressed because I had factored in that time. When I eventually found the place I had about 10 minutes left… and then I hit the parking lot. Which was packed full, they were letting cars in one at a time as others left, and the queue stretched for two blocks. I sat in it for about an hour before I got to park.

By the time I actually got out of my car and made my way to the building, I was thoroughly stressed as well as annoyed and desperately wanted to vent onto somebody – blame someone, find fault, hurt someone. Seriously. But as I walked toward the building I became aware that I could, alternatively, simply walk in there, decide to like the people who were there, take a light-hearted approach and laugh it off.

That’s what I did – I apologised for being late, explained what had happened, smiled a lot, and chose to interest myself in getting to know the people who were on the course with me. They are in fact a fascinating lot, from all over the world. The course has so far been demanding, exciting, stretching… and all because at the beginning I decided I was going to have a positive attitude and enjoy it.

I’m still in Birmingham. I stay with a couple with two young kids, and I had never met them before (I know the guy who leads the relating church here, and he arranged it). Why I’m always fearful of meeting new people I don’t know, but I was and I consciously chose, again, to believe the best; to get to know them and be interested in them; and to simply walk in there with an open attitude and BELIEVE that I was going to really like them, and they me. And so it is! They are wonderful, great to talk to, so interesting. And they are so great about having me in their home, I’ve got an ensuite room to myself and wireless Internet and they gave me a key to the house as well as lent me their satellite navigation (thank GOODNESS!).

So again – my natural inclination is always for the worst, anticipating and expecting bad things and getting them. Not believing the best will happen, not believing the best about people. As I become more aware of the fact that I have a CHOICE to make in this, I try to make it as much as possible and I find the concept – and the results – revolutionary.

The unexciting life

Somebody recently shared the saying, “carry water – chop wood”, meaning that we continue to do the boring stuff of life, that we can’t stop doing the basics. I’d never heard the phrase before but it got me thinking. I tend to expect some sort of excitement even from the most basic of tasks… or I’ll get bored… perhaps part of that leads back to the food, too. Even if I was satisfied with my diet of the week I kept tweaking it – why? To get more enjoyment… to speed up the weight loss… because I could…

Today I obviously don’t have a diet to tweak. In fact, in what I believe is a gift from God, I have been given such contentment with my food and the ability to take off the expectation of constant new thrills from food that I am perfectly content with eating the same thing over and over again, simply because I like it. But the issue hasn’t gone away, its focus has simply shifted.

I think it’s hedonism, for me personally. Sure, it’s in most people and the marketers play on it (otherwise, why would anyone ever use a different shampoo once they found one they like? It’s the need for a change, just for the sake of change). But in my case I believe that hedonism ran riot with the food and I can still be unreasonably looking for change without need. There’s another saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and I really need to learn that.

I really think I’m over the top with this sometimes… I got bored with brushing my teeth, so I bought an electric toothbrush. I get bored with the products I use on my body (toiletries) so I keep looking for different / better ones. Heck, I even get bored with showering but there’s no way out. 😉 I get bored with my commute and take different routes. I get bored with my desk setup and rearrange my stuff. Same for my room at home. I get bored with coffee and switch to tea, then back. I thrive on routine and I know it, yet at the same time I feel this need to break out of it and tweak it in some little ways until I end up with something unworkable and impractical!

Not sure why that is. Perhaps sustained abstinence over the long term will give me more clarity on that and it will work itself out. Right now I just thank God that the food is not the focus in this particular obsessive issue any more.

Topic: Getting out of isolation

Isolation. Am I an isolator? I think I didn’t have that tendency, growing up, but I became one. When I was a child, and in my teenage years, I thrived on being around people. I was open – I found it easy to speak to strangers and make friends. In fact, in my teens, as home life was going badly I relied on friends as something akin to family. They were who I wanted to be around, not my home family.

I think one part of the change that happened came when I lived at my aunt’s, whose psychological terrorising of us all was continually invading, violating any privacy we might have had. So I became more protective of it. But I didn’t overeat compulsively yet, at that time – that came later, once I had moved out and was living with my grandmother, who also (though in a different way) had a habit of attempting to violate my privacy. Her way was just more sneaky, spying and such. So again I became protective – and of course once my overeating really took off, the shame of that increased my isolationism exponentially!

The food has always been a source of shame to me, ever since I began to binge. Which wasn’t until very late in my teens, early 20’s. So because this is such an integral part of me, of my life, I isolated from people and from life. Because of the shame, mostly, but also because I genuinely did not want to be with others when the food became my best friend.

People began to look unpredictable, I became fearful (of being “found out”), I was guarding and protecting myself. So I looked at people with suspicion, and would not let anybody near. The food replaced them, my friends, my family – the food was where I found consolation, where I went when things went well and when they went wrong. It usurped more and more of what my world had been.

In Greysheet abstinence it still took me quite a while to come out of the shame and isolation. First, the shame went… slowly. For my first six months of abstinence, nobody I knew personally knew that I was doing anything different with my food. I had never eaten in front of people anyway, so what I did in private, nobody knew. But of course after six months, people began noticing that I was losing weight and as I gained confidence and read other GS’ers stories, I slowly began to “come out”. Today everybody I know knows what I do and I have no problem going anywhere with my scale and food backup, and eating out, eating with others, having others eat with me… no shame there.

But the other thing, of food being a better friend and viewing people with fear, that took much longer to go. And it’s probably still not fully gone, although I can see immense progress – especially recently, I have been connecting with people so well and I’m thriving on it. But even years into abstinence I would often feel safer around food than around people. My food was safe (abstinent) and people were not safe. They had their own minds, they were unpredictable, and I feared them. As I grow in abstinence and recovery, and maturity dare I say, I’m so encouraged by how easy it has been for me recently – I haven’t tried harder, it has simply happened. I’m so grateful for this programme and the chance it gives me at living a full life where food is in its place!