Day 269

11:30AM:

Started this new stage on Day 241 – four weeks ago.  They say it “should” take three weeks to break a bad habit, but this is a giant one and so it might be a little longer, especially because there have been slips and there have been trips and there have been mistakes and there have been falls.

But we’ve dusted ourselves off, picked ourselves up, looked the lines over and adjusted them to fit my colour.  Falling down is a mandatory aspect of life. Getting back up is living.  For instance, the five-day resting experiment is going well.  I have stuck to two things a day and it is allowing me to sit down for longer periods of time (more when I don’t do the two things back-to-back and have an extra-long period of sitting/resting, because that seems to perk up the “move your ass” shaming blackness-voice, and yesterday’s exhaustion might have been due to skirting the rules a LITTLE bit).  It might be the new way of doing things, a new way of establishing a routine for me that does not exhaust me, one that allows me to be vivid, beautifully and perfectly imperfect.

I am still tense, acceptably so though.  I am anxious, acceptably so though.  I am uncertain, acceptably so though.  I am tense and anxious because I am trying to find certainty in an uncertain world.  I am trying to know where I need to trust: in me, in my wife, in my support system, in my recovery.  There is no know of the future, but I am tense and anxious as preparation.  To not be tense and anxious in the face of this – the proverbial bear in the woods (not the one that greets you with Hunny or helps fight off your demons with a sword) – would lead me, lead us, lead us all susceptible to a mauling of epic proportions.  A mauling that we would not see coming because that natural fight-or-flight response would not flutter in our hearts, that mauling is something to be tense and anxious about.

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled.  For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers” – M. Scott Peck.

So as we walk through the woods of recovery, I worry about my ability to put one foot in front of the other (being strong enough to fight off my blackness’ bad habits and ill-intentioned flaws, and wise enough to know what to do when I cannot), I worry about my wife not always holding my hand (being intentional and aware with her love, being caring and listening to her beautiful, amazing and loving strength) and I worry about my support system being there out of love (and not out of obligation) when we call in the cavalry.  I worry because even after four weeks, I am still inclined to eat less than more or skip the occasional meal or let my hunger get in the way of my gentleness.  I worry because of the obsessive feeling I still get of loose stomach skin and what that feels like when I am riding my bike.  I worry because of that voice in my head when I sit for a lot (not too) long.  I worry because recovery is uncertain.  All we can do is be ready (AKA strong, respectful and wise) if and when the beast emerges from the woods.

Day 261

4PM:

I am still trying to break through the facade of nobility around being exhausted.  It is a flaw in me right now.  Busy is fine, that is the imperfection version of this, but exhausted leads to blackness.  I spent three of the last four days “off” doing chores – inside the house, errands outside the house, things I’ve wanted to get done for the 30/29 working month of July (and no, that does not mean bonus marks).  Yesterday afternoon I sat, thinking I could do so without the demons running through my skull, shaming me, yelling at me, telling me I will put on weight for doing something that my body needs.  I was so very wrong.  I collapsed; I didn’t rest.  I collapsed both mentally and physically and I’m not better for it, because my head, my soul took a beating.  It was a struggle to rest, but does it have to be this way?  What if I had taken the four days and spread the chores among them?  Or what if I prioritized resting above snaking the toilet or cleaning the floors, either of which could have waited a week?

I am spending today helping friends move, exhausted.  I will spend much of next week helping my grandparents prepare their basement for moving, exhausted.  There is an opportunity afterwards: five days.  Five days that I could use to prioritize rest.

As we have seen, I cannot fully rest without being at least a little busy, it is not good for me personally, for the now version of me.  Right now, I can no longer sit and veg in front of the TV for a day, watching movie after movie or reading book after book (maybe someday, if this is my nature, my trueness).  Forcing myself to be someone I am not, even if that is just the version of me (in the present stage of recovery), that is giving the blackness strength.  I have already written about the Tao of Pooh‘s caution of fighting against one’s nature.  Benjamin Hoff also writes about this in reference to people trying (or being forced to try) to be someone they are not:

  • “Let’s start with the first part: ‘A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.’  Very simple. … And yet, you’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.  We will let a selection from the writings of Chuang-tse illustrate: Hui-tse said to Chuang-tse, ‘I have a large tree which no carpenter can cut into lumber.  Its branches and trunk are crooked and tough, covered with bumps and depressions.  No builder would turn his head to look at it.  Your teachings are the same – useless, without value. … [Chuang-tse replied,] a huge yak is not easily caught or overcome.  It stands like a stone, or a cloud in the sky.  But for all its strength, it cannot catch a mouse.  You complain that your tree is not valuable, as lumber.  But you could make use of the shade it provides, rest under its sheltering branches, and stroll beneath it, admiring its character and appearance. … It is useless to you only because you want to make it into something else and do not use it in its proper way.’  In other words, everything has its own place and function” (39-40).
  • “‘A fish can’t whistle and neither can I.’ … There’s nothing wrong with not being able to whistle, especially if you’re a fish.  But there can be lots of things wrong with blindly trying to do what you aren’t designed for.  Fish don’t live in trees, and birds don’t spend too much time underwater if they can help it.  Unfortunately, some people – who always seem to think they’re smarter than fish and birds, somehow – aren’t so wise, and end up causing big trouble for themselves and others” (43).
  • “That doesn’t mean that we need to stop changing and improving.  It just means that we need to recognize What’s There” (43).

I like being busy and being useful, but I cannot do either of those things if I am lying to my Mom and friends about how exhausted I am, grinning and bearing it.  There is no nobility in letting people down, and just because I’ve been able to do it up to this point, I have also seen that doing so strips pieces of my soul away, causes me to regress into the blackness.  Perhaps experimentation is needed…

What if I used these five days to break through the nobility of exhaustion?  What if I did prioritize resting on the “to do” list?  The old way isn’t working, so we must find a new one.  This is a bad habit, one which we must recover from to survive the oncoming: two jobs in September, working weekends and weekdays and the days in between; starting my Masters at the same time; going back to a frosty work environment.

This is our time to find a new way, perhaps a way that works best for the me version of me.  So during this experiment, I limit myself to two things per day out of an active (running, biking, working out), an outdoor chore (groceries), a house chore (mowing the lawn, vacuuming, laundry).  The rest of the day must prioritize rest and see if this drives me nuts.  Five days, that’s all.  I was able to stop portion counting (ok, still eating flawed and I am having a hard time being back at home and listening to my nature, but to stop counting was a giant step).  I and my support system (I will need them to “pick up the slack,” to be kind and patient with my discomfort and to be loving) are strong enough to do this.  We are wise enough to know that this is doable, one day at a time.  The blackness shouldn’t be too bad, should it…?

Day 260

3PM:

In keeping with the last few days’ posts about reclaiming my beautiful imperfections, breaking bad habits (ok, so yesterday and the day before and the day before and today up until now are BAD examples), I will look up for the rest of today.  I will enjoy like Pooh Bear enjoys living in the now: “‘Owl, you’re just confusing things,’ I said.  ‘This is the day after Tuesday, and it’s not Thirds – I mean, Thursday.’  ‘Then what is it?’ asked Owl.  ‘It’s Today!‘ squeaked Piglet.  ‘My favorite day,’ said Pooh” (27-28).

Pooh recognizes that the best day is the one you are in.  I will try to live one of those days today and relax.

And I will do so by both literally and metaphorically respecting the simple phrase on the outside of the Mennonite Church yesterday.  One that I have found wisdom in before, their weekly message to the drivers going by, the parishioners going in and all those who need the IAN:

BE STILL

Day 259

7:30PM:

Today was not good, not a good step.  The sun was shining, birds chirping and the blackness sucked it all down a hole.  I have worked 30 out of the last 29 days (how’s that you ask?: three days off, but four days of working two jobs), and yet the longest I spent sitting down today was in a dentist’s chair.  I have become so immune to the fatigue, or I should say, immune to feeling the fatigue.  Maybe that isn’t even true.  I’ll explain:

I am not eating until I’m at an 8 or 9 out of ten, not resting until I fall down or until “everything” is done (both of which I did yesterday, thus the blackness).  As I pointed out before, fucking with my nature to this degree does have impacts later in the day (i.e. not being physically hungry for dinner, even though after one drink I clearly don’t have enough in my system to temper the effects), but I continue.  I am going past the point of actually feeling hungry (traditionally, physically recognized hunger) to having signs of hunger be light-headedness, dizziness, being wobbly – only at this point do I say, “ok body, message received, (but not lesson learned, still steps ahead of me on the path of recovery,” because these signs are unambiguously clear.  These have become the signs of hunger or fatigue for me, as opposed to being self-aware of the 1-7 out of ten, not acting out of fear of eating too much or not being active enough.

In doing these things, regularly, continuously, too fucking much, it desensitizes my cognizance to stress, to (as naturopaths call it) adrenal fatigue.  These are bad habits that the blackness has solidified, because although my stubbornness and strength and ability to withstand hell are imperfections, beautiful facets of the me version of me, the blackness has revealed their flawed potential.  Because while I have become desensitized to the stress, this does not make my body, my mind, my soul immune to the fatigue, stress, hunger.  This constant state of stress is still toxic to those things, even if I am too stupid to realize it.

Bad habits these are, break them I must.  I need to be strong and loving and wise.  I can only do that if I rest.  I can do that tomorrow, do that one day at a time.

Day 258

11AM:

The bad experiences don’t help break bad habits, bad habits that are brought on by the blackness, bad habits that the blackness uses to turn beautiful imperfections into cancerous, soul-eating flaws.  To clarify this latter poetic ramble, my thoughtfulness and desire to be active have been warped by my blackness into bad habits: obsessing over counting portions and calories, not being able to sit down without shame and getting into the habit of working through meals.  My blackness distorts my thoughtfulness into over-thinking, hyper-vigilance and thoughts of self-harm to stop thinking so fucking much.  These bad habits are reflections of these flaws, distorting the “me” version of me and taking me away from my trueness and nature, my ease, making it harder to breath.  I am not the only one who struggles with this, finds it hard to reclaim imperfections from the blackness.

Regaining these from the blackness, breaking these bad habits by regaining our imperfections, there is a section in Tao of Pooh about it.  About imperfections v. flaws: “Sooner or later, we are bound to discover some things about ourselves that we don’t like.  But once we see they’re there, we can decide what we want to do with them.  Do we want to get rid of them completely, change them into other things, or use them in beneficial ways?  The last two approaches are often especially Useful, … they allow those transformed characteristics to be added to the list of things we have that help us out” (58-59).  My thoughtfulness is an imperfection, in so much as it causes me to over-think sometimes.  I accept this part of me and I love it.  But the blackness dug deep inside to screw these imperfections into flaws, turning this over-thinking into something self-harming and abusive and reinforcing bad habits to make for damn sure that they stayed.  Breaking these bad habits – therefore – is not just about reclaiming healthy, regaining your imperfections, but also about accepting these imperfections as beautiful parts of you.

But back to my point, while bad experiences may be the impetus or the motivation (that one-too-many, the fight, the doctor’s scare, the crying husband), breaking bad habits is about the good experiences.  Good experiences keep you going along the path, that light up the darkness ahead.  Saying, “I’m doing this,” is Day 0.  It is the bad experience impetus, the second before the starter’s pistol, the (to abuse a metaphor from Lao Tzu, the Taoist philosopher) moment right before you look down at your feet, deciding to take the “one step” that will begin the “journey of a thousand miles.”  Day 1 is getting past the bad experience and taking the first step in that thousand mile recovery journey: the first uncounted portion of food; the first snack indulged in (even if it is two apples, to quiet the obvious mental hunger); the first night drinking socially, not emotionally; the first “smoke break” that is not taken; the first time you come home to worrisome husband and calm his nerves.  These are steps on the path.

So while my recovery stems from the guilt, the weight loss, the isolation, the mental and psychological anguish, these are not steps, they are bad experiences, they happen on Day 0.  They are not going to break my bad habits, but motivations they are.  Steps for me (aside from the obvious aforementioned ones) are being able to gloat about an awesome vegan lunch, looking in the mirror and realizing I don’t care or that I don’t want to run to the scale to “check” (still waiting for these), tasting food innocently given to me by a child or made by a loved one.  These are the good experiences that keep me going along the path, these are steps on the path to reclaiming my imperfections from the blackness by breaking the bad habits is has bestowed upon me.

Breaking bad habits, one day at a time, reclaiming beautiful imperfections from the blackness, they do not start at the bad experience, the impetus, the Day 0.  Breaking bad habits starts here – with action and care and try and courage.