The power in powerlessness

Oh, Monday. You are raining on my head today. Pouring, actually. I walked outside this morning around 5 because we needed milk for the morning crush with what I knew would be three hungry little girls come 6:30. It was raining. Hard. On the way out the door, I had a small tiff with my husband, Jack, and I walked to my car in angst. First I cursed the rain, then the dark (why is it STILL dark, I wondered.), then I looked down at the huge mud puddles I had to navigate to get to my car. I was humphinig and grumphing all over the damn place. Until, right before I got to my car door, I actually remembered something I have learned over the years. I remembered to find gratitude in that moment. I switched my thinking. I got out of the negative self-pity-tiny-corner-room of my brain that has no windows and no doors–a prison, really–and entered the mansion of grace and thankfulness that is the rest of my mind but that often goes abandoned or unnoticed. It is a small act that can have incredible results. I was able find gratitude for having a car, a gas station that was close by, money to buy milk, children to feed, rain to fall, and on and on and on. I surrendered to the morning. I hadn’t planned on the milk being gone. So I surrendered to the fact and changed what I had pictured to be my morning plan. The ability for me to do this is actually a miracle. Often people talk about miracles and they are members of one of two camps. They either believe in them or they don’t. There is no third camp. Because miracles don’t “sort of” happen. They either do or they don’t. There are no “sort of” believers that I’ve met. Certainly, how we define miracles is up to us and our own experiences. For me, getting out of the fiery hell that is self pity and anger and disgust and self-criticism and all the things (I know you know them because you’re human, like me) is a miracle. And, boy, can I spiral down that path quickly! My brain has become wired for this over the years and I’m working terribly hard to change the synapse. You see, I’m an addict. I know this about myself, thank the good Lord. I can be addicted to anything. Drugs, alcohol, facebook, worry, anger, food, sugar, exercise, soda, coffee, not-enoughness, people, isolation, fear (good grief, the FEAR) and on and on. But my most powerful drug, the one that has kicked me on my ass more than any of the others, and hard, is the 27 year old eating disorder that I developed as a kid. I’m bulimic. I’m in recovery. But saying I’m a bulimic in recovery does not mean that I am no longer bulimic, nor does it mean that each day is perfectly perfect and that I’m cured and “oh isn’t it great that Steph got over that—thing?” Bulimia (all eating disorders, really) is so taboo in our culture. People are so uncomfortable talking about it, so they don’t. And that is what we, the afflicted, like. Because then we can keep our secret, and the addiction begins until it becomes so strong that we are then enmeshed so deeply in our behaviors that we can’t get out of them without help. What kind of help? It’s different for everyone. And one doesn’t just “get help.” No matter how much someone NEEDS help, they have to WANT it first. And for someone with an eating disorder which has become a core part of their identity, that is very hard to come by. For me, I have found solace in the 12 steps of AA. I’ve been practicing them in different forms for the past 6 and a half years. I’ve grown and slipped and slid and climbed through the absolute hell that is an eating disorder. Recently, over the past year and a half, I relapsed. HARD. So hard that, even after a stay in treatment (my first after all these decades) and religiously working a 12 step program that I thought was right for me, I was at the point where I just thought I’d give up the fight and let this disease slowly (or quickly) continue to kill me. I was in bad shape. Bingeing my face off and vomiting upwards of 50 times a day. 30,000 calories in a sitting. A SITTING. And then the rest of the day in the bathroom. I did nothing else. I COULDN’T do anything else. I was under such tight control. I simply could.not.stop. I try to harness the shame and catapult it out of me for the universe to scoop up and change its energetic form, but it runs deep. Very deep. And it stays the night, whether I ask it to or not. It offers to make breakfast, which is always cold and bland. And it even tries the pillow talk. I’m reluctant to let it go because it gives me more of a reason to stay stuck, where things feel safe and a little more comfortable than the wacky emotions I’m trying to avoid. And sometimes, if I’m not careful, I can become addicted to that whole process, that shame in–shame out bullshit that allows bulimia to stay alive. But the morning I got out of bed, hung over, completely weak, chest sore, heart palpitating, cold sweaty head, bedroom in complete disarray, dizzy and fainting left and right, and said that “I give up,” I wasn’t realizing what that actually meant. In my mind, I wanted to give up all the work I was doing in recovery because it felt ineffective. I wanted to give up the hope I once had that one day I could lead a normal life and give my kids the mom they deserve. But what really happened was something much more profound. I gave up the fight, alright. But it was a different fight. You see, as addicts, we are fighters. The strength of our addictions as they grow, and time passes, is directly proportional to our fight to get them to stop or to entertain our denial about how bad it is or to actually ADMIT that we are powerless against them without help. The more we fight against it as though we are thinking we still have some sort of control or power over it, the stronger it fights back and takes hold of our souls by the throat. Herein lies the title of this post. I am powerless over my bulimia and my life has become unmanageable. That is Step 1. Such a simple statement. But people (myself included) can take years in the rooms before they arrive at Step 1. We are obsessed with trying to figure out a way to do it ourselves or to deny how bad it is or to not have to admit that we are “like one of them.” “Surely I’m powerless over “this thing,” but I can still control “that one” so maybe I can do this my way still.” Boy do we spend a lot of time trying to find our uniqueness instead of realizing that the people who have been there longer and have had more experience are still there because something I’m not doing yet is working for them. Addiction is sick and twisted. It’s really like that. Nothing makes sense. Ever. I have been able to put any and all of my other addictions down, but bulimia was simply kicking my ass. I HAD to give up. I had to give up the notion that I maybe had a little control. That I could pick what I liked about bulimia that worked for me and just put down the things that didn’t. But it’s a whole package. And admission of powerlessness is a whole big deal. When I finally realized that giving up the fight actually was synonymous with my powerlessness over my disease, I was able to finally step back and put the struggle into someone else’s hands. For me, I call that someone else God. There are a whole bunch of semantics that people get caught up in for fear that they are conforming to some societal notion of what God is, or the universe, or source. Today’s culture is obsessed with “I won’t let YOU tell me what to believe in! That’s bullshit!” dialogue. I invite you to get over that. Get over it. Be done with you. It won’t serve you as an individual or as a member of humanity. There is always something that is more powerful than you. We are tiny humans. Tiny miniscule little nothings that are floating around in vast space. You REALLY think there isn’t something that has more power than you? Pray to a waterfall if you feel that’s all you can believe in. Give your struggles to the stars. Lord knows they will burn them up. Hell, turn your shit over to a bucket of bleach and light it on fire. Whatever WORKS. Because choosing something to believe in simply means choosing life. Choosing addiction, well, eventually that ALWAYS means death. Always. That’s bold, right? Well, it’s fucking true. The whole point is that in that admission of powerlessness, in that handing over of something that is too big for me to handle on my own, I can finally breathe. There is power in powerlessness. Last night, I was in a 12 step meeting and we talked about Step One at length. We discussed not only ADMISSION of this powerlessness, but ACCEPTANCE of it. Admission is only the first part. It isn’t until I can ACCEPT this fact that I can finally begin the journey toward recovery. I think I’m there. I have been schooled by this disease and I know I’m always one bite, one putrid thought, away from it. So I build the mind muscle. I build the spirit muscle. Just as I build the physical muscle that is this body that I’m so enamored still works for me after all I’ve put it through. I’m in constant practice at keeping these thoughts and behaviors at bay. So I ritualize parts of my day to keep my addictive mind in check. I meditate every morning (my very own coffee date with God, my wise self, my high priestess, and my spirit guides right there in my inner temple. I call it my “midnight room.”), I read books that both help me and interest me (including the incredible words found in the textbook of AA), I exercise to move my body, I pray, I nap (yes. I schedule a non-negotiable one hour nap every single day of the week. It’s actually permanently in my calendar and is the best decision I’ve ever made for myself). I go to meetings. I call people like me. I mean, REALLY like me. People who truly understand what it means to search your car for change to buy one last hit at the gas station. When I don’t do these things, when I slack a bit, or get tired, or entertain anger, or any of that, my addictive mind (which is always ONE simple thought away) engages and most of the day becomes a battle to quell it. I am powerless. That is true. I am powerless over my disease, my old thinking, what happens to my life when I entertain old behaviors. I am powerless over the first thought that my eating disorder compulsively tells me to follow. But I’m not powerless over the second thought. Or the third. Or the fourth. I have a choice when it comes to those. It is up to me which direction I want my mind to travel. Lately I have been yelling at the first thought. Like a grunt before a big lift. I plant my feet wherever I’m standing and grunt as though I’m performing the heaviest snatch in the world. It works. It’s visceral, which is what I need in order to be less cerebral. Powerlessness is about knowing ourselves in a way that allows us to move to the side and take ACTION. We must get out of our own selves because, clearly, listening to myself really hasn’t done much for me in the recovery department. Everyone, addicts and non addicts alike, has things over which they are powerless. That traffic jam that made us late for work, that fire drill at school, that bully’s words, the fucking weather, etcetera, etcetera. We can be upset for a minute, and then we get back up, find the gratitude, look the fear in the eye and change the synapse. I intend to spend the rest of my life changing the synapse. And one day my brain will be barely recognizable to my eating disordered self. What a glorious journey that will be.

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