Sometimes when I’m working at my gym, clients will just… pull up a chair and talk to me. So I joked that I should put up a sign like Lucy and give free therapy.
That led into a discussion about the difference between therapy and advice. I said that advice is someone else telling me what I should do, and therapy allows me to figure out for myself what I should do.
That seems like a very clear distinction now, but I don’t think I phrased it that way in the moment, because a coworker stared at me and said that I had essentially described two ways of making a ham sandwich: one sandwich is bread then ham then cheese then bread and cut across, and the other is bread then cheese then ham then bread and cut on the diagonal.
If you’re looking for the end result of eating a ham sandwich, both of those are valid.
If you’re a normal human being, you know the experience of those ham sandwiches are completely different and only a degenerate would cut their sandwich across. Diagonal is the only way to be.
This distinction is relatively new for me. With wisdom I’ve come to know that I used to set goals rather arbitrarily and, because I didn’t know how to quit, would stick with them even when they were long since inappropriate for me.
I had a vision of myself married and as a mother, and so my goal was to get to marriage and motherhood. Whether or not I actually liked the partner or relationship I chose didn’t matter, because all I cared about was the end result.
I wanted to be smaller. So I’d flit from diet to diet, losing weight each time, gathering some more nutritional info each time, and then inevitably needing a new diet to keep to my goal of being smaller. I also always seemed to need to buy stuff to help me get smaller – vitamins, clothes, stuff.
I wanted to be someone different, so I wouldn’t take care of Present Me. All those big hopes and dreams could wait until I figured out the weight stuff, or the sex stuff, or the money stuff, or the education stuff, or until I was perfect enough that no one in the world could criticize me.
I let myself get distracted.
Focusing on food, or on Future Me (or an idealized picture of future me), or on the stuff I needed, or all the ways I could say, “Not yet,” was easier than admitting the truth:
I’m not here for any of that.
I’m not really here to lose weight and be healthy.
I’m not really here to fit an ideal.
I’m not really here to help other people, or be of service, or to get rich.
I’m here for myself. I’m here to fully be a human being.
I’m here to learn how to honor and love and support and respect myself in a way that takes me where I want to go.
And that’s true in all aspects of my life. Sometimes that aspect has to do with food and nutrition and how I treat my body in that space.
Sometimes that aspect has to do with relationships and love and sex and how I make sure that I am honoring my own boundaries and also not trying to constantly defend my heart and stay in power.
Sometimes that aspect has to do with my relationship to the world at large and how I can be a responsible member of society (and how I can not bring my personal stuff into that space).
It’s easy to be distracted by the smaller stuff. It’s much easier.
“Starving, in its inimitably perverse way, gave me a way to address the anxiety I felt as a young, scared, ill-defined woman who was poised to enter the world and assume a new array of rights and privileges; it gave me a tiny, specific, manageable focus (popcorn kernels) instead of a monumental, vague, overwhelming one (work, love). … [P]ermitted, at least in theory, to be big (ambitious, powerful, competitive), I would compensate by making myself small, fragile, and non-threatening as a wren.”
– Carolyn Knapp, Appetites
What are you here for? Even if your playground is food and how you treat your body, what are the qualities underneath that focus? What’s the deeper lesson for you?
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