Today I read an article on the Chicago Tribune about Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent Facebook message to her community. In the article, Gilbert was quoted as saying/writing the following:
“Here’s what it comes down to for me. I need to live my life in truth and transparency, even more than I need privacy, or good publicity, or prudence, or other people’s approval or understanding, or just about anything else. Truth and transparency not only make my life more ethical, but also easier. (Why easier? Because untruth is always complicating, and truth — no matter what the consequences — is always strangely simplifying.)”
I have been thinking a lot about transparency lately. I have also been thinking a lot about my truth. I have been wrestling with some big things, such as whether or not I am happy with the work I do, whether I am happy with my weight and my life, whether I am being honest with myself about my life, and so much more.
I think living our truth is so hard because the action takes a great deal of self-awareness. For example, this past spring I was seeing a counselor at work (a free service to employees, which is an amazing benefit). I think because my counselor is employed by my employer, I was not always honest with her, or myself, about what was going on in my life (e.g. issues with coworkers, struggles with my partner, stress at home, etc.). Instead, I focused on my weight.
My weight has been a buffer in my life, a sort of shield. One evening, within the last few weeks, I was upset with my partner. I found myself at home with a bag of potato chips. I was almost violently shoving the chips in my mouth as I was thinking about how angry I was with my partner. The realization made me pause. I felt like I was eating the bad food as a way to punish him, but instead, I was hurting myself. I know that eating has a close relationship to my emotions (anger, boredom, sadness have been triggers for me to eat more). I know that when I do not exercise, I turn to food to release stress. But I have also been realizing that addressing my eating habits and exercise habits will not 100% address my problem with food. The overeating is just a symptom of bigger issues in my relationships and with my tendency to avoid and stuff my thoughts and feelings.
I read a self-help book once about healing one’s relationship with food (I think it was Women, Food and God). One of the initial exercises had me imagine that I was with myself as a child. In this imagining, I was supposed to talk to myself as a little girl. The exercise always makes me cry. It seems so much easier to love myself as a little girl than as an adult with all my problems. But it is this same love that I feel for me as an innocent child, that I am trying to extend to me as an adult with flaws and rough edges. I mean think about it. As I have stumbled through life, I have picked up messages on who I am. Sometimes those message are good, such as I am caring, goofy, academically smart, I make others feel heard and loved, but sometimes those messages are painful: I am flaky, too self-sacrificing, a people-pleaser, I never follow through on goals, etc. For me the negative list is often longer and easier to generate than the positive list. But as a child, I have not experienced those disappointments or challenges. I am just innocent and looking to be loved and accepted.
I am medically overweight, ok, obese. I gained over 12 pounds back from the food study where I lost over 20 pounds last fall. And over the last two weeks, I hurt my back, got into a massive fight with my partner, have struggled at work, and have not been able to turn to exercise for stress relief. I turned to food: gummy bears, beer, beer-cheese nachos, wine, more nachos, chips, pasta, carbs, carbs, and MORE CARBS. The hard work I did this summer to lose weight is long gone. My clothes are tight and I was emotionally beating myself up for my actions. But yesterday when I bought a chocolate covered Oreo from Whole Foods, I chose the dessert because I wanted to eat it. I did not give myself a guilt trip. I made a choice and I owned my choice. I accepted it and I chose to accept myself exactly where I am today: overweight but still beautiful, smart, with something to contribute to this world, etc. My personal value does not decline as the inches on my waist increase.
The truth is that I have some big questions to answer in my life, questions regarding what I want out of my life, what I want to contribute to this world and to my community, what makes me feel good, etc. If I am honest with you and with myself, then I have not been happy lately, to the point that even a gratitude journal has not helped to spark a feeling of love and joy in my heart. I have been grasping for happiness and hope and instead have been feeling empty and automated. But I know that I have the capacity to love deeply and greatly. I have the capacity to give and to receive. I have the capacity to transform my life. I have the capacity to regain whatever part of my soul I feel like I have lost. Maybe my desperate attempt to find a solution to losing weight has really been a scientific trial and error. I am trying things out and finding what sticks, what works for me. Essentially, I am not giving up or quitting, but I am working to find a solution that nourishes my soul (see what I did there? I am trying to change my perception, change some of the negative stories/messages I have told myself along the way, such as I never follow through on my goals). Being healthy is important to me, and I know there are connections between physical fitness and happiness brain hormone levels (very scientific). I know I am happier when I exercise, but I also know I am beautiful and valuable and deserving of love and acceptance exactly where I am today, overweight and all.
As I write this post, I am feeling better. I know I am not alone and that we all have our struggles and issues. I am writing this post to be more transparent and authentic. As a counselor in training, it is easy to want to only talk about the easy, good things and the positive things I am trying, but life is messy. Life is full of immense joy and intense highs and incredible lows and acts of destruction too horrific to always comprehend. But I am not giving up. Sometimes darker moments in our life are just a reminder to truly celebrate and cherish the brighter moments. This too shall pass.
Thank you Elizabeth Gilbert for living your truth and inspiring me to try to live my truth as well.