This topic has been on my mind for quite a while now but I hadn’t yet figured out how I could put it into words (my own words) until this moment. In 12 step groups, a common phrase we use is that “expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” At first listen, I addictively and arrogantly snapped back at the notion like a rubber band. “No way,” I thought. “That is a bunch of bullshit. Everyone knows that we can expect something, have it not happen, and move on. What am I, 12? I don’t think I’ll be coming back to these meetings.” Oh, dear dear small-inexperience-minded Stephie.
Addiction is fierce. It holds your mind hostage in such a way that you become convinced it is the end all be all to the entire truth of the universe. I have yet to meet someone who truly understands the beastly insensible nature of this besides another addict. It’s something so utterly confusing to the outsider that we can’t feasibly explain it in an orderly way. Many addicts are intelligent, educated, even well-decorated individuals. They somehow get lost in the short circuited synapse and need help finding their way back to center. We get so fixated that what is upstairs running around in the attic of our heads is more trustworthy than things that may be outside of us and then we become crippled with fear when faced with the prospect of thinking anything different.
Fear is at the crux of continued use and abuse of substances/thoughts/behaviors. Fear and, you guessed it, resentment. Resentment is simply a branch of fear and anyone who identifies as being human has undoubtedly felt it. For addicts, resentments are poisonous to us and the entire lifeblood of our sobriety depends on our ability to arrest these resentments and let go of them freely and regularly. Again, this is easier to read on paper than it is to act out in real life. And how do we let go of our resentments? I mean, how do we REALLY honestly let them out of our minds and bodies so that they no longer hurt us and we no longer hurt ourselves? The answer is simple but not easy: we must first release our expectations. All of them. In every realm.
Bulimia is an addiction. I realize that phrase will be met with argument. But, for me, and for much of the eating disordered world, bulimia is no less an addiction than crack or heroin or alcohol is an addiction. Bulimia is not an addiction to food, or to sugar, or to flour, or to quantities. It is an addiction to control and to physical behaviors that are exercised as means to exude that control. When you think about it, addiction is all about expectations. We expect something to go our way, it doesn’t, shit gets uncomfortable, we don’t like that, we use, we expect the original feelings we were trying to escape by using to disappear, they don’t, we use again, they may disappear for a couple moments but less than we expect, we develop resentments of this that and the other trying to blame outside forces for our inside thoughts and ultimate behaviors, and the cycle goes on and on. There is no actual answer. In active addiction there is no end result of “wow! I have finally reached euphoric peace and my life is alright!” when we are active in our diseases. There is also, I have terrifyingly experimented with and subsequently learned, no rock bottom. Each bottom gets lower and lower until either A. you decide to stop digging or, B. you die. It really is that simple. But our minds teach us to expect the aforementioned “wow!” someday. We are obsessed with believing that it is possible to eventually find a balance between our using and the rest of our lives. So we wait. And we continue to experiment and use. “Well, maybe if I just purge on Saturdays, or if I only eat ice cream in the morning, or if I just starve on the odd days of the month…maybe then (I can expect) I’ll be able to find a balance and life will be enjoyable.” We plan these things, based on our arbitrary expectations, over and over and over until the pain of staying stuck finally (hopefully) becomes greater than the fear of what we must do to become UN-stuck. We continue down this path becoming more embroiled in the consequences of our choices. But our thoughts dare us to trust them, telling us that the outside world “doesn’t understand,” branding us as “unique,” so we go on in our self-pitying ways that justify the behaviors we are using that ultimately hurt us and those to whom we are closest.
For me, “using” means purging. Mostly by induced vomiting up to 50 times a day, sometimes by exercise but not really anymore (though as a young person I exercised about 6 hours a day, sometimes more), sometimes by starvation. I’d like to note that recovery is taking a hold on me as of late and I have not used any behaviors is nearly a month. Pretty rad after 27 years of pure hell. I know that I don’t have much time left here as a human lifeblood if I keep the bulimia up, and I have 3 kids that I am determined to finish raising. Using also means staying in my head and listening to that ‘Ed’ (a pen name for the awful world in which eating disorders can keep us tortured and trapped) voice over and over even when different scenarios have proven that he is lying to me.
**Side note: I got the idea to personify my eating disorder from a book I’ve been reading called, “Life Without Ed,” by Jenni Schaefer. It is completely changing my life and my recovery. End side note. **
And so I am pummeled back to center here with my initial point of this post: expectations. The Webster Dictionary definition of the word ‘expect’ is “to look forward.” We look forward with both our eyes and our minds. With the former, I can expect to put my feet where I believe my next step will go on the sidewalk. I can expect the raindrop I see to fall and hit the ground. I can look forward. With the latter, it starts to get more complex. My expectations are born of my prior life experiences. Simple as that. A brand new baby that has just been born has zero expectations because he or she has had zero experience of life outside the womb. But when its mother feeds it for the first time, it learns. It learns that, due to this experience, this warm soft creature that smells like heaven will make its belly stop hurting. So it learns to expect milk from its mother, and it takes actions based on that expectation. It never expects the milk to not be there. Until one day it isn’t. It cries. It resents, thought not knowing this. This is biology. This is how fear can be healthy so we can survive. The scenario crawls up the rungs of the human existence ladder in any and all parts of a person’s life. We expect all kinds of things: that job promotion, that relationship working out, that birthday greeting, that car braking at the red light, that president to make the right decisions, that drug to end our discomfort, the amount of time that drug will keep our discomfort at bay…the list is exhaustive as you can imagine if you sit and think about any number of your expectations in a given day. It’s fine to have them, sure. Goals are born from expectations and goals are met by exceeding expectations. That is how we progress in life. My question that I pose to you is this: What is born of your UNMET expectations? When we aren’t looking, when we really aren’t being careful with ourselves, we can slowly open the door for resentment to set in. And boy, does it build a big fucking bean bag chair right in the middle of your heart while it eats greasy popcorn in front of your life screen and laughs at the pain it begins to cause you. It thrives on that pain (sprinkles that shit all over its popcorn, in fact) and, if you let it, it starts to slowly destroy you.
With addicts, this process is never-ending. It is what keeps the addictions alive. Somehow, in a way, I can find myself tying my resentments to my self worth and that gets me into trouble. If I am to stay sober, I must release my resentments and believe I am worthy of a recovered life. How do I do that? Well, I write this blog for one thing. I talk about them, I pray about them, I see two therapists twice a week about them, I exercise over them, and I DON’T let Ed tell me what to do over them. That’s the deal. We let them come, in and out, like a slow breath and sever their ability to stay. We empty the bean bag chair and break the popcorn machine. Again, easy on paper. But I have found that my resentments are directly proportional to my level of expectations. When I release my expectations around something, I really don’t resent that something if it doesn’t happen the way I had planned. And, I’d have to say, 90% of my life does not go as planned.
This all sounds romantic and beautiful and, “Oh, I’ve already read so many self help books about that,” and just SO easy, right? If only the human experience were such! I recently saw a Mark Twain quote that said, “Experience comes from bad decisions. Good decisions come from experience.” When we decide to lower our expectations because our experience has taught us that higher ones can lead to resentments and resentments lead us to the drug, then we slowly learn how to build our lives upon one good decision after another–aka the “next right thing.” I’ve been hung up on a few things lately simply because I expected them to go one way and they instead went another. This didn’t just upset me but it embarrassed me. I don’t like being wrong. Newsflash: no one does. So I’ve been sitting with this and asking myself questions like: “What did I expect? What is bothering me about how the situation actually turned out? What, or whom, do I resent? How is that resentment serving me?” Shit, does anyone have some ice cream? This is where the discomfort sets in. I don’t want to answer any of those stupid fucking questions. I want to escape the feelings that might come up if I do answer them. But I can finally honestly say that I’d rather feel those feelings that go back to my bulimic Ed-fueled world. Every time I attempt to answer any of those questions, Ed’s voice gets quieter and my wise self gets louder.
And herein lies the heart and soul of recovery. “It works if you work it” is another popular 12 step adage. Work. Work. Work. We don’t want to hear it. We don’t want to do it. We want things to be easy. We EXPECT things to be easy (easier) and when they aren’t we feel shame and self pity and look for something to resent so we feel better about ourselves. It’s silent self-bullying in a nutshell! I want to ask when the hell did any of us get smart enough to actually KNOW what to expect all the time? But we still do it, don’t we? My job as an addict in recovery is to change the conversation. It is to no longer engage in that which doesn’t serve me in my mind so that I may then go out into the world and present myself from a place of action. And then, the other side of the coin, I must TAKE action. Yeah, that’s the hard part. What exactly IS the action? The action is to learn how to untrust the once pseudo-trustworthy thoughts that fueled my stepping through this world. My job now is to look outside myself. To have faith that I am being led where I need to be led, instead of to expect that I know where I need to go. And this, my friends, is the bread and butter. When we finally learn to release our expectations and, in turn, release our inherent resentments as a result of holding on to those expectations, entire worlds open up for us that we never thought were possible.
I encourage you to identify your hungry ghosts (yeah, I stole it from Tara Brach because she’s awesome and I like awesome) and figure out what your conversation needs to be so that you don’t get caught up in the big miserable lonely spaces of the wild mind, so that you can be free to broaden your faith and open your eyes to big things that really NEED your attention. The world is waiting. There is no rush. Everything in time happens on time. Be gentle. Be well. And I’ll see you up where the clouds stay pink.