The armor of fear

Thank the heavens that I have a pellet stove to sit next to while I write during these cold spring mornings. If you know me, you know that I am often cold. It takes me a while to warm up and the wind doesn’t just bother me; it scares me. I’m often at the mercy of the elements which are constantly changing so I travel with provisions: long sleeve t-shirts, sweat pants, hoodies, jackets AND coats (you never know when you’ll need the fur lined hood). If I catch a chill from any of the said elements (yes, this even can happen in the summer for me) I will not be able to regain my warmth until I come inside and actually sit next to a burning fire. If I am out, that is, I remain cold and chilly for the remainder of the day. I do, however, have some idea of why I’m like this. Chinese medicine would point to a diagnosis of weak Wei Qi (which is the floating qi at the surface of our bodies that keeps us warm and armored against pathogens–aka our immune system) caused by a weak Spleen (which makes the Wei Qi) and a deficient Kidney Yang (which is the body’s innate metabolic warmth that the spleen uses, along with the food we eat, as fuel in order to manufacture qi). ‘What the hell, Steph? I’m not reading this blog to try and figure out this Chinese nonsense. What are you getting at, here?’ (Note: I think I just pulled a ‘Jim Gaffigan’ in my writing style. Proud.) Well, reader, I’ll tell you what I’m getting at, besides almost ending this sentence with a preposition. Over the years, I have weakened my ‘kidney yang (which is responsible for body warmth).’ When the Chinese were creating their medical model 2500 years ago, they didn’t realize the adrenal glands (which sit directly atop the kidneys) were indeed separate organs from the kidneys themselves. They felt a profound disrespect in the act of human disection, so they didn’t do it. They therefore used kidney/adrenal synonymously. So kidney yang literally translates to adrenal function. We have another term (kidney YIN) which translates to adrenal substance. This refers to the actual hormones (namely epinephrine, norepinephrine, erythropoetin, etc.) that the adrenals produce and use to basically build the ENTIRE body from the bones out. My yin is pretty well in tact, but my yang needs a boost. So I’m always cold. I attribute this, most likely, to nearly 30 years of starving myself, purging everything I ate, and denying my body of basic nutrients and hydration in an effort to exhume some sort of what I perceived as control over the uncontrollable things in my life. And here is where I arrive at my point of this post. Fear. Fear of loss of control is the quintessential quality of every.single.person with an eating disorder. The definition of control varies, but the fear of losing it is a constant and relatable fact. Anorexia and Bulimia are not about wanting to be thin. Let me repeat that: Anorexia and Bulimia are not about wanting to be thin. It is insulting to those who suffer from these horrific conditions when the laity describes them in this way. Saying things to us like, “I don’t know why you have to do that, I think your body looks fine or thin enough, or too thin” is just never ever helpful for us. For us, control is the drug. Simple as that. Control.Is.The.Drug. We are addicted to having a sense of control over our lives as much as we are addicted to the fear of losing it. Sitting us down and really ASKING us, “What do you really FEAR you will lose if you give this up? What is your idea of control?” is ironically what will get us thinking and, if we aren’t ready to embrace recovery yet, push us further into a hole of despair, doubt, insecurity, all the damn things. It’s a very tricky line to walk. And (here is where I circle back. Yes, that’s right. I wasn’t going to leave you hanging.) fear is the emotion of the–you guessed it–kidneys. The kidneys (adrenals) are responsible for the adrenaline surge we feel when we are, say, running from a grizzly bear. ACTH (you can look that up), more specifically, is produced and released from these organs so that we have enough power to get away. This hormone leads to cortisol release which temporarily shuts down the things we do at rest, like sleep, digest, repair muscles etc. in order to shift the energy that would be otherwise used for those things to our muscles and nervous system while running away. But this mechanism is meant to be a TEMPORARY boost with the expectation that, when we get away from the bear, our system returns to normal. That is how fear protects us. That is how it armors us. And it works quite well, in fact. But in modern day society, there are no grizzly bears (well, mostly). For anorexics and bulimics, the fear is always ON. Did I eat too much? How many calories were in that? Should I eat again? Should I skip the second meal? How much energy does this class burn? Where is the nearest fucking toilet? Do you think they heard me? Is she looking at me AGAIN? Where is the scale? Am I enough? Is this enough? Did I do enough? Am I thin enough, perfect enough, tired enough, loveable enough, sad enough, happy enough, smart enough, athletic enough, hungry enough, full enough, empty enough, IN.CONTROL.ENOUGH??? When the fear is always on, the adrenals don’t have a chance to rest. So they begin to weaken. Sometimes, if we aren’t careful, they begin to shut down. And this is why I’m cold all the time. My adrenal system is so used to secreting these stress hormones that they are running out of energy and my circulation and metabolism are behaving like they should slow down. They are so used to being under nourished, that they don’t believe they will ever have the proper nutrients again so, in an effort to simply keep my body functioning at baseline and alive for as long as possible, everything gets slower. And I get cold. However, today, I choose recovery. And my body will slowly learn this. It will be a long road teaching my body to trust me, as it has been nearly 3 decades of lying to it and denying it the basic sustenance it deserves. But it may come around. Today, my fear (though still very difficult) does not lie in the prospect of losing control, but in a healthy outlook at the prospect of losing recovery. I know I do not want to return to where I’ve been. That is a fact. And I am using this healthy fear to construct my latest armor suit as I practice, now, being authentic and living in integrity. In my active disease, I was not authentic. I did not have integrity. I lied, stole, pretended to be someone I wasn’t, manipulated others and myself, and myriad other things that we addicts do to procure our drug…and harness control. I don’t want to be that person anymore. I don’t want to hurt myself anymore. And I’m certainly tired of being cold all the time! Today I choose to keep my fear in check. I mean, really really LOOK at whether or not it is warranted. If it’s not, I process it and move through it. After all, it is just a feeling. Feelings are not facts. They are fleeting little messengers that allow us windows into a bigger picture of ourselves if we are willing to look. They can teach us so much. ESPECIALLY fear. Do me a favor today and find your fear. Yeah, that’s right (David Puddy voice). Really find it. Feel it. See if it is welcome. If it is, thank it and figure out the lesson. If it’s not, give yourself permission to release it with open arms where it may be welcome another day. It can really be a beautiful armor if we let it be what it is meant to be. I can’t decipher the quality and point of my fears without God in my life. Plain and simple. My mind is only my mind and, as an addict, I can’t (I really SHOULDN’T) trust it. I have to be brave enough to not only admit that, but to go beyond my mind and find the messages that a greater force will send me. I’m confident that this dialogue will grow as long as I put one foot in front of the other in recovery. And I’m confident that you, too, can find your footing amid your fears and let them take you to your new expanded authentic beautiful only-you-in-the-world self. Be brave. Be blessed. Go on.

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