It’s not about the food.
It’s not about the food.
Or the booze. Or the dope. Or the money. Or the video games. Or the mindless web surfing. Or the drama. Or the sex. Or the shopping.
Whatever it is we use to tune out, to muffle ourselves, to hide from any potential discomfort that might dare to brush up against us isn’t the problem. It’s that avoidance of discomfort, of effort, of pain, of embarrassment, of feeling that’s the problem. But here’s the thing: the frothing, deep waters of that discomfort are exactly what we need to dive into, head first, trusting we’ll land safely. Why? What does this even mean? Why are we supposed to embrace discomfort, and what’s wrong with tuning out once in a while or doing what makes us happy?
I’ll start by saying what this post isn’t about: becoming a fear-conquering adrenaline junkie; the goal here isn’t to trade one addictive behavior or one extreme way of thinking and being for another. But readying for and even embracing the discomfort not just of starting out (because starting is easy, right?) but continuing day after day after day after day, is the surest path to healing I’ve encountered.
Obviously, we’re not meant to live in a constant state of fear and discomfort, and of course delicious food/drink and entertaining social media sites or games or programming are all great (wait for it) in moderation. These things enhance our lives, and most of us work hard for the chance to kick back, relax and savor our free time. So when I say ‘discomfort,’ I don’t mean abstinence or detachment. I mean the discomfort that comes from trying something new, or the discomfort of pushing through the intro to that essay/chapter/article/entry and getting it done, and then turning around and starting on the next thing. The discomfort of risking rejection and sending that email anyway. Of telling someone in our lives that you have boundaries they are no longer welcome to cross. Of waking at six a.m., peeling away the delicious, cool comfort of your sheets as you swing your legs over the side of the bed, wondering where you left your running shoes.
I did just that this morning; I could’ve slept till eight but instead I got up and while I did not love my workout, I loved having finished it. Another promise kept, another self-imposed barrier nudged aside. As I lay in bed contemplating whether to just let today go, give myself a break and the gift of extra sleep, I thought about my upcoming girlfriends’ getaway at the end of July, a little joint I named Fred that is populated by an incredible group of women whom I adore (and who would adore me whether I weighed a hundred pounds more or less than I do now). I’m really looking forward to seeing my girls and getting out and doing some fun stuff on the Oregon coast, and I wondered how I’d feel if I’d regained any weight by then and my clothes became too tight. Or if I let my recent two-week exercise hiatus last so long that I started feeling out of shape again. How would future me feel? When I considered that, I got up, found my shoes, and worked out.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve let Future Me down—usually centered around some significant event (wedding, vacation, reunion, conference)—where I’d realize that I’d let another season or year get away from me and I once again faced that I wasn’t where I wanted to be. Usually these feelings would emerge related to my weight, fitness levels, and body image, but this pattern extends far beyond food and fitness. I’ve also watched colleagues and friends sell book proposals, snag agents, build thriving websites, and finish first drafts of novels while my great ideas withered in the sun at the starting gate. I never coaxed those great ideas out because that would be hard. And uncomfortable. And, let’s be honest: it would require sacrifice. And time. And patience. And learning from mistakes and missteps. And follow-through.
Thinking about it all seemed easier. Beating myself up for staying stuck seemed easier. Relying on the bank of Someday became the default setting.
If you’ve padded your life as securely as I have, you understand what I’m saying here. That’s why I maintain that this isn’t about the food. Or the number on the scale. I’ve followed the same patterns of comfort seeking and avoidance in my career for the past couple of years, in large part because I didn’t want to feel discomfort, and also because I was afraid to truly be myself professionally. Lots of perfectionism (if I can’t do it perfectly, why bother?), people pleasing (“I’m a good girl, and good girls do ______, so even though I’m not like that, I’ll do it anyway because it’s what I’m supposed to do”), and fear of rejection or failure if I did things my way and in my own voice. I’m not sure where that divide came from, but I’m working on merging it and finding my place as a writer. I’m also pushing through a long-standing pattern of avoidance when it comes to both fiction and nonfiction writing. What my ‘security’ has gotten me is a stalled career, a heaping mound of debt, and a bank account so lean that for the first time ever, we may not have enough to pay our mortgage next month. And I have no specific idea of how I’m going to fix that, but I know it won’t be through avoidance and fear. For the first time in a long time, thanks to supportive family, friends, and a kickass career coach, I have hope that I can turn this around.
None of those work issues are about food. Or weight. Or money. The food is just a symptom of a greater problem, a deep-seated scarcity mentality. Same goes for the debt and the lack of financial success; living in fear that the bottom will drop out often gets you exactly that. Funny how that works, huh? Until I address the roots of that fear, the dark spot that drives everything else into ruin on the surface, I won’t succeed in losing weight, paying my bills, or achieving my narrative and fiction writing dreams. It’s not about the food. It’s never been about the food. Or the money. It’s been about the fear of not having enough or being enough to achieve my goals.
What’s the solution? Here’s what losing nearly 40 pounds has taught me thus far: Show up. Every day. I tell my kids all the time, “Don’t ask, don’t get.” Well, “don’t do, don’t get” is equally true. And nothing gets done all at once, or perfectly with mastery on day one. Why I or anyone else expects this is beyond me, but I think once again it comes down to preferring comfort over effort. Here is that crossroad of my life where I discover the humility of taking one step at a time and as many steps as it takes to build something I know I’m capable of creating and achieving. Here is where I refuse to surrender to what feels easier in exchange for what I really want to do and who I really want to be. I’m going to be writing about this here, warts and all, and I welcome you to share your own thoughts and questions about this process.