the ongoing process of not-checking-out

(Please note that the post below is long and full of feelings.)

This past week has brought about serious shifts in my sluggish paradigms. Though I had forgotten what revelations were, new images of the world--and myself--have appeared out of the blue. Last Tuesday I started a new journal, with pleasure and relief to shove the old one onto my newly-organized notebook shelf (49 volumes and counting). And something shifted, and then another thing. Yesterday I finished reading Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth, and the two bookish events seem, already, to mark the boundaries of a distinct era of discovery.

On May 22, I wrote:

I am determined to be good to myself. When was the last time I sat, unconcernedly reading poems and picture books, like I did today? When was the last time there wasn't a demon inside me, compelling me to eat when I wasn't hungry, when in fact I just felt sick? I had cucumber and yogurt for lunch today (not to cut calories stupidly and radically--for once, it was all I wanted and I didn't force myself to eat more), a bagel with mozzarella and tomatoes for supper, and taught myself chain stitch. Today was very different from other days. How have I been checking out, refusing to occupy my mind when it or my circumstances seem to become unbearable. Is life such a torture, that I don't want to experience it directly as myself? Does my job justify it? My marriage? No. But I have even been sleeping more. It is, right now, ten-thirty, and it's the latest I've been up and doing anything at home for a week. 

On May 24:

I've come to visit Oma and Opa by myself; I'll stay overnight and go home tomorrow. How good it is to be my solitary self. To come into a guestroom smelling of rain, to find a bed waiting, made with blue flannel sheets, a European duvet with a flannel cover. To wash my face and hands in the guest bathroom, brush my teeth, apply benzyl peroxide. To come to bed with a water bottle, a tube of herbacin kamille (lotion) for my hands, some books. No expectation of sex, no household worries, no one else's sleep schedule to accommodate. To be only Lizzie, not a wife, or the woman of a house. To be without a crutch; also without tethers. This woman is stronger, more ambitious, has a longer history (stretching uninterrupted back to early childhood). I must bring her back when I leave. 


 . . . 


I've borrowed Looking Up and Walking On, Opa's parents' memoirs. Sitting here, on the acreage Oma and Opa built up from scrub-brush, reading about the incredibly enterprise and determination of my great-grandparents, I am proud that Tim and I live on beans and homemade bread in the basement of our first house. I'm proud that we're putting in a vegetable garden, that Tim can build things, that I can knit, that both of us can fix things and sharpen knives. 


I'm sleepy, but I need to mention a small revelation. I realized today, as I kept asking myself, before I ate, whether I was hungry, just how often I want to eat out of sheer boredom, or to dull some unpleasant emotion. Very, very often. Food does not fix stress, or sadness, or fear, or self-loathing, or exhaustion. I need to remember this.


It was shocking to keep realizing that I was treating the world like a long series of traumas, and that I was constantly "escaping" (and not even into my own head--into blankness, onto autopilot). I was holding up my end of conversations with nothing but stock phrases. The poignant sense of both self and surroundings that I was recording in the new journal was bewildering fresh, unusual. With these realizations still at the forefront, I took Women, Food and God out of the library.

* I took it out of the library despite the fact that I have deep-seated reservations about self-help books, don't believe that food obsession is a women's-only problem, and don't believe in any god.*

Already convinced of the sensible-ness of intuitive eating and not expecting to learn anything, I was surprised to find that most of the book was concerned with the ongoing process of not-checking-out. I was instructed not only to examine and welcome my physical hunger levels, but a whole gamut of feelings and reactions, aside from physical hunger, that I might be numbing with food (or sleep, or shopping, or social media, or simply an unwillingness to attend). I was asked if I could consider simply being present. I've heard this phrase before, of course. It's of major importance in Buddhism, yoga, wholistic health and nutrition, and philosophies of self-care that I enthusiastically  subscribe to. But I did not think I needed to "be present". Surely I already was. So why (in my own words) did I feel "disconnected"?

It seems obvious that if I want to be healthy and relaxed, comfortable in my own skin, focused on that which is most important to me and not on the torturous question of how to lose weight, the link between eating habits and deliberate paid-attention is too important to ignore. One of the passages in WFG sums (all this) up well:

"To discover what you really believe, pay attention to the way you act--and to what you do when things don't go the way you think they should. Pay attention to what you value. Pay attention to how and on what you spend your time. Your money. And pay attention to the way you eat.

You will quickly discover if you believe the world is a hostile place and that you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly. You will discover if you believe there is not enough to go around and that taking more than you need is necessary for survival. You will find out if you believe that being quiet is unbearable, and that being alone means being lonely. If feeling your feelings means being destroyed. If being vulnerable is for sissies or if opening to love is a big mistake. And you will discover how you use food to express each one of these core beliefs."

- Geneen Roth
Women, Food and God, 17