"You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens. " ~Louise L. Hay
I have talked a lot on this blog about having compassion for ourselves and my usual lack of it for myself. For a long time it’s been one of the missing pieces in my recovery, even more so in my life. It’s also been one of the hardest things to learn to adopt. It’s all about mindfulness and practice and I am working on it.
But the past few days have been different. It’s been easier. I have found myself being gentler and more understanding towards myself. Instead of criticizing, I have been questioning in a non-judgmental way. Instead of feeling shame, I have been accepting and really just owning my feelings, emotions, behaviors and even struggles. No apologies or justifications necessary. And it’s made a huge difference. Not only in my mood, but in how I feel about myself and my recovery. I feel this sense of relief and freedom and it’s pretty darn amazing. To me, this is what having compassion for yourself means in practice and real life.
I recently started exercising again. Although I am really hesitant to use the word “exercise” because it usually ends badly for me. So I will re-write that and say that I have been more active recently. Last week I got back in the pool for the first time in 8 months and it was quite a humbling experience. Before getting in the pool I was super nervous and anxious. I even hung out in the locker room for about 20 minutes debating whether swimming was the best idea.
I was worried. Worried about what those around me would think since I was pretty out of shape and hadn’t been in a pool in months. Worried about how I looked in my swim suit, since the last time that I was in one I weighed a good 20lbs less and was super tan. Worried that the people around me would all be so much better/faster/more in shape than me and think that I was a joke and question why I even bothered coming. Worried that I would let myself down and not be able to live up to the “swimmer” label that I have held on to for years. (Letting go of labels that I have adopted over the years has been a huge struggle for me and has been one of the biggest things holding me back from completely letting go.)
And then I got in the pool. And a few days later I went back. And a few days after that I went back again. And on the third day, all of those worries were gone.** And It wasn’t because I was magically the swimmer that I used to be or because I had lost weight or even because I was in better shape, because none of those are true, but instead because I let go of all of those insecurities. I let go of the shame that I was feeling and those expectations that I had for myself. I let go of the fear and doubts that were holding me back. I let go of all of the comparing that I had been doing and the narcissistic assumption that anyone swimming around me would even notice my abilities or really care. I let it all go and with that I was able to truly enjoy myself and continue to go back.
One thing that this experience taught me is that you can’t let go of something until you accept it for what it is. No more pretending or avoiding. I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t feel any of those things or have any of those doubts. I couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t angry or frustrated with myself either. I couldn’t pretend that my fears and feelings didn’t exist. I couldn’t just tell myself to ignore it or suck it up. If I did, I would have ended up in the same self-hatred cycle that I have been in many times before and I probably would have never gotten in the water or gone back again. In order to be able to move past this experience, I had to allow myself to accept and understand all of the above. I had to own it, embrace it and be ok with it.
And then let it go.
And I did. And believe it or not, it wasn’t as awful as I had pictured. I wasn’t greeted by butterflies or warm fuzzy feelings, but I felt relieved and authentic. It felt amazing and freeing all at the same time; like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders and I could finally breathe. I not only felt better about myself in the water while swimming, but I felt like I finally understood how
helpful necessary being compassionate towards yourself is.
So that brings me to tonight. Tonight something interesting happened; something confusing yet also pretty amazing and for once something that I am not one bit ashamed to share. John and I went to dinner, just like we do on most nights. He wanted Bento and I wanted soup from Panera. (I have been fighting a sore throat for the last few days) We decided that we would get both and then just eat together at one of the places. After some debate I decided to just get something from Bento because I figured it would be more filling then soup and it would be easier. I was hungry and I didn’t want to turn dinner into a fiasco.
Shortly after arriving home from dinner I found myself really hungry. I had eaten most of my meal from Bento so I was confused. In the past I would have completely ignored this and even made myself feel bad about it. (Because we have so much control over our bodies hunger right?) But I decided to let go of my past rules and beliefs (read as ED nonsense) and allow myself to honor my body/hunger and eat something. No questions, explanations or justifications necessary. I was hungry; therefore I was going to eat. A lot of the time I feel the need to justify my eating to myself and those around me, as if I actually need reasons other then being hungry to eat.
Earlier today I made some pretty amazing oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, so those were options. My roommate bought cupcakes from Publix that she had been talking about all day and had offered to me on many occasions, so those where there as well. I also recently bought strawberry preserves that I had been thinking about making into a delicious pbj sandwich for a few days now. They all sounded pretty amazing. I couldn’t decide.
So I didn’t. I had some of it all and ended up eating way more than I probably needed. I can honestly say that I enjoyed all of it, although could have probably had the same satisfaction with a little less.(I think my body would have liked a little less as well) After eating I felt a lot fuller then I am used to and a little uncomfortable.(A little background: One of my biggest struggles throughout my eating disorder and even times in my life when I have been eating semi-normally is the fear of overeating and the fear of being full. Even as far as I have come in recovery, I am still super hesitant about allowing myself to eat enough to feel the fullness that most people feel often and most of the time I barely eat enough, never anything close to overeating.) I started to panic a little. And then I stopped. Before the level of shame and guilt could overcome me I stopped. I didn’t question what I had done or make myself feel bad about it. I didn’t start to make promises about how I would restrict tomorrow to compensate or how I would never allow myself another cookie/cupcake again. I didn’t freak out and send an email of panic to my nutrition therapist or play the shame game. In fact, I didn’t feel bad about it at all. Instead I took a deep breath and let it go.
I was full. Maybe I overate. Maybe my body didn’t need both the cookies and the cupcakes. Maybe it did. Maybe my body is still making up for the restriction of the past few weeks or the extra activity that I have been doing. Maybe the food just tasted that amazing that it was worth stepping out of my comfort zone for. Maybe this was necessary or maybe it wasn't.
The point of the matter is, in both of these cases I reacted with compassion. And because of that I was able to let go and move on much sooner and learn about myself in the process. I didn't waste time dwelling on my mistakes or beating myself up for my feeling and this is a pretty new thing for me. Having compassion for myself is still a work in progress, but both of these examples are proof that it's possible.
**Funny side note: As soon as I wrote on the third day, I really wanted to write “he rose again”. Thank you Catholic upbringing.