Body Image -Perception or Reality?

The picture wasn’t valuable, it was just a copy of a painting, but it was my favorite.  It depicted a beach house -not the whole thing, just a partial exterior wall showing two windows and a door.  I loved the colors and shadows.  I felt at peace when looking at it; almost as if I could reach out, open the door and walk into a calm place.

As I took it off the wall to wrap it up, this one last look made me feel a respite from the drudgery of moving a household.  But something seemed different about the picture now, something in the window I hadn’t seen before.  There, almost as big as the window itself was an angel painted in profile.

I couldn’t believe my eyes!  How long had I owned this picture, admiring it everyday when I walked into my bedroom -four years or more?  And I never noticed the angel.  In fact, if I had spotted it before, this art wouldn’t be hanging in my home.  When I purchased it, I was an atheist.  Angels or anything resembling Christian or religious heritage had no place in my house.

But recently, I had recovered my lost faith.  Was this a divine event or a message from God letting me know that the angel was watching over me even while I was an unbeliever?  I wanted to believe this…and in some form, it may have been true.  But in reality, I knew that my perception of the painting was skewed because of my beliefs.  In my atheistic mindset, I didn’t perceive the angel.  I liked the painting and wanted it in my house. Not seeing the angel allowed me to take it home and admire it without compromising the beliefs I held at that time.

We perceive the world based on our mindset and beliefs.  When I was in the throes of an eating disorder, I perceived my body as being bigger than it really was.  In the mirror, I saw a much larger me than reality.  If someone pointed out that my perception was inaccurate, I was convinced they were the ones with the skewed perspective, not me!

My perception of myself was not based on truth, it was based on a feeling.  And that feeling came from a deep-seated belief that I was not good enough the way I was.  It manifested itself in the thought that I had to be thin to be a good person, to be acceptable to society.  I chose to see my chubbiness as a critical defect in my being.

Of course, all these beliefs came from somewhere, some traumatic experience in my childhood or being teased and mistreated because of my weight.  But to me, it doesn’t matter as much how I got them, what matters more is how I changed them.

When I began this binge free journey, my expectation was that I would stop bingeing and overeating which would result in weight loss.  But the further I got into this journey, the more I began to appreciate my body for what it is.  Not struggling with food has given me a new awareness of what it means to be healthy.  I don’t have to be “thin” to be healthy or good looking.  Health and beauty come in every shape and size.

One way I came to terms with my body was to make a list of all the awesome things it can do -like walking, showering, laughing, stretching, even breathing.  All these things may seem mundane, but without a functional body we couldn’t do any of them.  I also found the things below helpful in getting me to appreciate the body I have.

-While looking in the mirror, I say positive things about my body, looking at every part with kindness, not disdain.  I smile while doing this.  I didn’t feel it at first but after a few times, I felt happier in general.
-I take pictures of myself having fun with others.  If someone else takes a picture of me on their phone, I ask them to send it to me.  I look at those pictures with kindness and appreciate that I am having fun.  I don’t criticize my body or tell myself that I need to change anything.
-I don’t make jokes about my size or belittle myself in any way.  If I find myself doing this, I don’t chastise, I just stop the negative talk and go on.

No matter your size, you are a valuable person.  Thin, fat, tall, short, whatever, it doesn’t matter.  If we base our value on our body size, we are missing out on the best part of life. Take a chance.  Be honest.  See the value you hold that isn’t related to your size or what you look like.  When you are open to it, you will perceive it.

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Read thoughts on Food Addiction

Choose To Be Present

Roll call in middle school. The teacher called out names in alphabetical order. When we heard our name, we responded “present.” That may be one of the only times I paid attention in school. Most of my time was divided between talking to my desk-mates, writing and passing notes, daydreaming or doodling in a workbook. I said I was present, but I wasn’t.

A good part of my life was spent trying to improve myself, constantly looking for books with detailed instructions on how to make something happen that I wanted to happen in my life. Mostly it was about losing weight. I thought the weight made me different than others. The only problem was, sometimes I wasn’t overweight, but I still perceived my body as problematic. This was just another way of not being in the present moment.

Mind-drifting and distraction may be a tool that allows us to function in a situation where we feel overwhelmed or unsafe, but we don’t have to stay in this mode. We can choose to live in the present, accepting everything as it happens, even if it is unpleasant or confusing.

When I first tried to be present, I took a hard look at the truth of my life. I saw myself as a person who was just trying to make a decent life the best way she knew how. It was difficult to accept that bad things happen and that I may not be right all the time. I wanted to make everything perfect, not just for me but for my family, for everyone if I could.

I’ve learned that being present is not about trying to be present or mindful as much as it is about allowing whatever happens to just happen. That is, I can allow things to happen without reacting to them or trying to make things the way I think they should be. Even if I think someone else is wrong, I can let them be wrong. I don’t have to judge them, give my opinion or make corrections.

This also means I don’t have to worry about what others think of me. I don’t have to get angry or upset. I can choose to not feel guilty about past mistakes or stupid things I do. The less I react to my behavior and surroundings, the better I can see it for what it really is and make adjustments to bring my life into a healthy state.
I am not suggesting that you can be completely immune to hardship or pain. I am saying you can allow yourself to feel however you feel without determining if it is good or bad. Not judging yourself, or others, is one of the first steps to acquiring a healthy state of mind.

Being in the present is very do-able. But you have to figure out how to accomplish this your way. It’s good to read about how others have overcome obstacles and learned how to be peaceful. But I don’t think there is any one sure way to do this. If you have the desire to live in the present moment, you have already learned most of what you need to know to make it happen. Trust yourself and let it happen.

I used to think that if I accepted myself the way I was at any given moment, then I was settling for something other than my best. But I found I must accept myself the way I am now to find the love and self respect which will push me into my full potential, my best self.

Thoughts on building a core of happiness, click here.

If you struggle with bingeing or overeating – start here

 

It’s not my job to judge everyone, its my job to love them.

beach pixabay

Time For A Thought Check

Do you sabotage yourself for no good reason?  Have you ever said, “Why do I do this to myself?” And then do the same destructive things over and over?  If so, you may have a belief or a script running in your mind that you are not even aware of.  Or you could be aware of it, but not know how to change it.  You may not even know that it is possible to change.

For many years I had scripts running in my head that I never actually verbalized, but I let them color my thoughts and emotions.  I can speak them now because I had to examine them before I could stop believing them.  They went something like this, “I am adopted, my mom gave me up, there must be something wrong with me.” Or “My adoptive dad is an alcoholic, my adoptive mom is verbally abusive, there must be something wrong with me.”  And of course, “I am fat, and I want to eat all the time, there must be something wrong with me.”

I had many more. But they were all used for the same purpose; to allow me to feel sorry for myself and to get others to feel sorry for me. This was the only way I knew to get the attention I needed and wanted.

For years, I was unaware these scripts ruled my thoughts and behaviors, they were so ingrained.  And even though someone told me about them and that I needed to change them, I didn’t get the message until I read the book ‘Feeling Good’ by Dr. David Burns. That was in the early 90’s.  It was my first taste of cognitive therapy and the beginning of the life I wanted to live.

Cognitive therapy was not a complete cure for all my problems, but it started me on the path of taking responsibility for my feelings. I learned that I created my own suffering with my thoughts.  It took many years to delete all the scripts.  But this was only because I had the idea that the process of psychological change was difficult, time consuming and painful.  And even though I went to therapists and programs, I didn’t do the homework.

When I finally made the commitment to become emotionally and physically healthy, it was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  I realized I was worth making changes and it became natural to want to change for the better.  I got the courage to question my core beliefs and tell myself the truth about who I was.  And the truth is this -I am a good and worthy person and my value has nothing to do with what anyone thinks about me, what has happened in my past or even how I behave right now.

Knowing this truth allowed me to begin to make a few good decisions.  Making good decisions boosted my esteem and helped me make even better decisions.  This helped me rise up even more.  It’s like getting into an upward spiral.  The more you do the right thing, the more confident you get about who you are, and the more good things you do for yourself.  Then you start to reach out to help others and you almost forget what it feels like to be fearful, weak and full of self-pity.

There is always more than one way to accomplish what you want, but the best way is your way.  Read, listen and learn from others, but sift through all the information and find what works best for you.  You are worth it.

Suggested reading Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns (look for the latest edition) or Summary of Feeling Good by Fastreads

For list of cognitive distortions and ways to untwist your thinking, click here.

For a list of self defeating thoughts and counter thoughts, click here.

 

“We can put ourselves in an upward spiral with one belief. That belief is -Our value is inherent.  It does not depend on our size, shape, color, talent, intelligence, financial or emotional status or past experience.”

palms and ocean

Trying Too Hard?

Just before I entered fifth grade, my family moved to a new city.  It was summertime, no school was in session.  I was an only child and a little shy, so I didn’t make friends right away.  But my parents encouraged me to go out and play and find new friends.  I came back, day after day, having met no one and feeling dejected.  My mom asked me why I hadn’t met any kids and I lashed out with, “But I’m TRYing.”  She just said, “Maybe you’re trying too hard.”

My mom was right, I was trying too hard.  I have tried too hard my whole life.  I struggled with depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, bulimia, and bingeing.  All through those battles I would declare in exasperation, “But I’m TRYing!” Just like a dejected fifth grader.

Even with the knowledge that I made lots of mistakes, though, I don’t regret anything I experienced to get where I am today.  I’m just happy I am here now in this moment.  Of course all the good stuff happened when I stopped trying so hard.  And to stop trying so hard, I had to acquire a new mindset.

This mindset is based on the knowledge that I am valuable simply because I exist.  For me, as a Christian, the realization that God endows every human being with the same dignity, gave me the strength to begin to trust myself and understand my worth.  My genetics, my background, my character –none of these affect my value as a person.

From this foundation, I can simply build the life I want to live.  And by ‘simply’, I don’t mean easy, I mean uncomplicated -that I don’t need to force things to happen.  Knowing  I am worthy makes the process of doing the right thing natural.  I become responsible for my actions and add meaning to my life when I learn to respect myself.

This doesn’t mean I am perfect.  It means I am okay with being me and I accept myself. This, in turn, frees up space in my psyche that was previously used for self-bashing.  And with the extra room in my brain, I can concentrate on making the changes necessary to enhance my life.

Can I learn how to feel valuable when I feel like a failure and do the same stupid things over and over again?

If you’ve read any of my posts, you know I believe wholeheartedly that we can learn just about anything.  So, yes, knowing your value can be learned.  Let me rephrase that –you can unlearn all the bad stuff that obscures your feelings of worthiness.  Everyone is born with self-esteem and a knowledge of their worth.  When we were babies, we were never too embarrassed to cry when hungry, and we learned to walk without giving a second thought to what our thighs looked like or wondering if anyone was talking about us behind our back.  So, the foundation is already there.  Just be honest with yourself about what it means to be a worthy person.

One thing which can be unlearned is believing what others have said about you or to you.  It’s easy to believe someone when they keep telling you how bad you are.  If you had a troubled childhood, it’s easy to believe that what happened to you defines you as a person.  But you don’t have to believe that these things define you.  You can create your own truth.  And your truth is more real than what anyone says about you or how anyone treated you in the past.

When I went through this process, I had to come to terms that my truth had nothing to do with my looks, talent, or accomplishments.  The world uses these things as indicators of value.  But don’t confuse these with your worth.  Your truth and value stands on its own, regardless of your looks, talent, successes or failures.

And if you think you don’t have any accomplishments or talents or beauty, that will change when you see yourself as a worthy human being.  Once I gained the knowledge of my value, I no longer felt like I didn’t ‘fit in’ and was able to stop trying so hard to do just that.  I made positive changes since there was no reason to keep myself down.  I was no longer second rate and began to accept the weird stuff in my life.  I now know that my dignity, as a human being, is no more or less than any other person on this earth.

This does not mean that everyone is the same.  We are each valuable in unique ways. That’s the beauty of knowing our worth. We can share our uniqueness without worrying about what everyone else thinks.  We can help make our lives, and the lives of others, better.  We can stop trying so hard.

Read more about overcoming binge eating:     Binge Free- The Beginning                                                                                                                   Binge Free- First Steps

“Even if I didn’t believe in God, I would have a good case for the significance of life.  We are all made from the same stuff as the universe. Who am I to think that I am any less than anyone else, or even the universe?” MD

flowers-98163__480

 

What Makes You Happy?

A few years ago, while attending a rehab retreat in Iowa, I had the opportunity to hear motivational speaker Ward Foley, AKA ‘Scarman.’  Foley was born with serious birth defects requiring many years of painful surgeries.  While working in a donut shop as a teenager, he burned both arms, up to the elbows, in a vat of hot grease.  A few years later, he was almost killed by troubled teens he was trying to help.  He’s been in a serious auto accident and his best friend died of cancer.

Despite everything he has been through, the first words of his presentation were, “I am the happiest person I know.”

Those words burnt a hole in my heart.  I couldn’t imagine how anyone who had gone through what he went through could ever say that.  I always thought happiness was situational.  When things were going my way or were better than expected, I was happy. When they didn’t, I complained.  And when I thought things were really bad, I got depressed or anxious.  This seemed normal to me, being at the mercy of my circumstances.

For a few weeks after I heard Foley speak, I tried to figure out what could make him be so happy after living a life so full of pain, humiliation and heartbreak.  And he wasn’t just happy at this stage in his life.  Throughout his talk, I realized he had been optimistic his entire life.  I thought the secret was that he had a close relationship with his mom who showed him love and support while growing up.  I figured since I didn’t have that, I could never be that content with life.  I was adopted as an infant and didn’t bond with my adoptive mom.  I felt like I missed out on this important love and support and used it as my excuse for not being able to sustain my own happiness.

But something kept me searching for that elusive happiness, anyway.  I eventually realized that I didn’t need an excuse to be happy or unhappy.  In other words, I didn’t have to have everything going my way to be content.  I didn’t need to have been born happy. I didn’t need a loving and supportive parent while growing up to make me happy.  In fact, I didn’t need anything in particular, I just had to have the desire to be at peace wherever I was at this point in my life, and I could choose to be happy for no other reason than just because I wanted to be.

hAPPINESS

That fact that happiness doesn’t have to be sought after is not obvious or popular.  For years I thought happy people were either born that way or had a perfect life that made them happy.  And that could be the case, but the reason someone else is happy has no bearing on my life.  It doesn’t mean I can’t be happy right where I am now.  It took time and effort to learn, but I am glad I stuck with it.  The secret to happiness is, well, there is no secret.

The erroneous thought that I had to do something to earn my happiness is gone.  I no longer feel like I have to wait for a time when I feel worthy, like when I’m thinner or more accomplished, or when things are just right in my life.  And since I decided to be happy regardless of my circumstances, I have developed a foundation of joy inside.  I no longer feel like I have a hole in my core. (which I used to try to fill up with food) This core of joy is what sustains me when bad things happen around me.  I’m not giddy or bubbling over all the time, and things happen around me that are troublesome.  But I do smile a lot, and regardless of what happens around me, I have an inner peace and an optimism that things will always work out.

To be happy and at peace, you don’t need to be thin or rich or possess any certain characteristics or personal qualities.  You don’t need to have everything just the way you think life should be.  I challenge you to figure out a way to say, “I am the happiest person I know.”  Take the risk and watch your life change.

More info on Ward Foley- Scarman.

The picture inside this article is a work by artist Rodney White called ‘The Hardest of Easy Choices’ .  For information on his art and other works, click here.

Sunset image from pixabay.

brake-clipart-13309573511112670181decorative-lines-2_large-hi“Instead of trying to find the thing that makes you happy, be happy and you will do what you are meant to do.” MD

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