Before I blog about Lent, which starts tomorrow, a note on my last post. Has anybody noticed I’m a bit of an extremist? Maybe I shouldn’t blog when I get the urge after all – maybe I should actually wait a few days until the feelings subside. But then what’s the point of blogging if it’s not immediate and from the heart? Unsurprisingly, though, I have a little more perspective on my feelings a few days on. Yes, I’m still going to explore alternative careers but I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. Writing is part of me and probably always will be, in some shape or form. Maybe I just need to combine it with something else, something that’s more co-operative and less solitary. And my feature on infertility and friendship, despite my ambivalence because of it’s rather negative slant and severe headline, got great feedback on infertility forums, while ITV Daybreak brought in a mum and a counsellor from my story to discuss the same topic this morning (It’s at 0615 on ITVPlayer). Women seem to be grateful that such a difficult subject is being openly discussed – and that has to be a good thing.
Also, the irony is that only hours after blogging about my embarrassment for wanting to see my name in lights, I was trying to manoeuvre myself onto a breakfast television sofa to discuss anything from eating disorders (it’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week by the way) to being 40 and single. Am I a walking contradiction? Perhaps. But while there’s part of me that wants attention, there’s another, large part of me that feels passionate about sharing my own experience to help others – I think and hope that’s my driving force, rather than the neon.
On the topic of eating disorders, I’ve written a blog for The Huffington Post in response to Alastair Campbell’s BBC Panorama programme “Britain’s Hidden Alcoholics” that aired last night. Hopefully they’ll publish it by tomorrow – if not, I’ll post it here. To sum up, though, the crux of it is that putting down alcohol or abstaining from binge foods only scratches the surface of addiction recovery. The key is to explore the deep, often painful feelings that triggered the compulsive behaviours in the first place. My binge eating, starving, dieting and compulsive exercising began as a survival tool – a coping mechanism to distract me from feelings of sadness, grief, anger and loss that I didn’t want to feel. That coping mechanism developed into a deeply ingrained habit and I had to get to the root of it in order to resolve it. It’s an ongoing process that requires filling the emotional and spiritual hole from the inside, rather than the outside. In the meantime, there’s a good blog on the Huffington Post by Jonathan Rowson, director of the Social Brain Centre at the Royal Society of the Arts, that also asks the question: why do we drink?
Which leads me, finally, to today’s post. Lent begins tomorrow: the Christian festival that traditionally involves 40 days (or 46 days to be precise – we don’t count the Sundays when, in theory, we get a day off) of self-denial and abstinence with the ultimate goal of getting closer to God. In today’s times, many of us like to give up alcohol, bread, crisps or chocolate and, in my eating disorder days, I generally used Lent as a weight-loss strategy, often unsuccessfully.
Last year, however, I decided to abstain for 40 days from negative thinking about my body, appearance and achievements, and blog about it throughout Lent. The result was Just As I Am – An Experiment in Self Acceptance - a compendium of my daily battles against deeply rooted habits of self-criticism about my looks, my work or my behaviours, combined with snippets about other individuals or organisations that are fighting a worrying rise in body obsession and eating disorders.
Of course, the idea of my experiment was that it would be for life, not just for Lent. But easier said than done. My inner critic has been alive and kicking since my childhood days so she was always going to fight for her right to put me down and beat me up whenever she saw a window of opportunity. That said, I do feel there’s been progress on the body image front. I seem to be more accepting and less critical of my body (I’m hoping that isn’t linked to losing a few pounds through stress in the past few weeks).
Where I haven’t made much progress, however, is in the area of negative thinking around my achievements. It’s been a real struggle to be more accepting of myself, of my imperfections, of my humanity. So that’s what the next 40 days is going to be about. And I’ve realised that if I want to rid myself of a negative, I’m wise to replace it with a positive. If not, another negative will jump in to fill the gap.
So this Lent, for me, is going to be all about love, receiving it and spreading it. Over the next 40 days, I’m going to do my best to do something loving for myself and for another person every day. Acts of self-love could involve anything from going for a swim, steam and jacuzzi, having a massage, buying flowers for myself, sitting still, taking it easy, refusing to beat myself up about something I have or haven’t done, having a lie in, reading a book, going for a cycle, cooking a nice meal, laughing with a friend, going to the movies, buying flowers for myself … you get the picture.
Now, I realise this doesn’t sound much like self-denial or abstinence but, believe me, I really don’t need any more self-denial in my life. What I do need is more lightness, more joy and more fun – in short, more love. And from that place of joy, fun and love, I can hopefully spread love to others. So this Lent, I’ll also try to bring a little bit of love to the lives of others every day, perhaps by calling or texting someone to see how they are, buying gifts for friends, writing letters to family, opening doors for others, buying a coffee, giving to a homeless person, offering support, stopping to chat or being neighbourly to my neighbours. On the one hand, it sounds like something I should be doing without thinking. On the other, it sounds like quite a feat – but then I’ve always liked a challenge.
I’m excited. This Lent is going to be lovely. Why not join me?