Wouldn’t it be great if we could take shortcuts – if we could get where we wanted to go with a click of our fingers or make things happen with a twitch of our nose (anyone remember Bewitched from years ago?), without having to go on what can often be a lengthy, painful and circuitous journey first or put in lots of time-consuming effort?
So we could have the book written and displayed on our bookshelf without actually having to sit down for hours, days, weeks, months or even years to write it.
Or we could have that amazing, loving relationship we’ve always wanted without having to do loads of work on ourselves first to break our self-defeating, self-sabotaging patterns or to build our self-worth. Or without having to go through that tricky “ordeal” stage of negotiating boundaries, making compromises and confronting our fear of commitment, pain and potential loss. (I’ve linked before to Recovery and The Couple Relationship - a talk in which psychotherapist Paul Sunderland describes the three stages of a relationship: the ideal, the ordeal and then the real deal. Or in some cases, the no deal!).
Or we could have a strong, supple and pain-free back and legs that will carry us as far as we want to go without having to work out to strengthen our muscles or doing four hours of Pilates a week (which I’m doing right now) to resolve problems we’ve ignored and allowed to get worse over years.
Or we could have a mind that’s free – at least for a small part of the day – of worry, stress and anxiety, without having to learn the difficult art of meditation, be that mindfulness or some other form.
Or we could have the body we’ve always wanted and be the weight we’ve always dreamed of without having to limit our food intake or deal with the underlying reasons why we’re overeating in the first place.
This was my story. In fact, the other stories are mine too, but for now I’ll focus on food.
Following on from my previous posts – Food is my friend and Finding my way back – I wanted to share something of the shortcuts I endeavoured to take before realising that I couldn’t resolve my issues with food, eating, body and weight simply by trimming stuff off the surface. I had to go to the root.
I’ll begin with the diets – the two that stick out are the egg diet (eat loads of eggs and little else) and the cabbage diet (lots of cabbage soup – yuk). I did both in my teens and no doubt repeated them later in life. The promise was that you could lose a stone in a week. Then there was the straightforward starvation diet – try really hard not to eat anything all day, except perhaps for a few apples. Diets always backfired because I’d end up ravenous and unable to stop eating once I inevitably began again – and because I didn’t understand why I was overeating in the first place.
But I’ll be here all day if I recount all the ways I tried to resolve my food issues by just focusing on the food. And I’ve mentioned all the running I did already, so I won’t go on about that.
I will mention the diet pills, though, partly because I feel sad that I took them, and that they were given to me without any health checks or questions about my emotional wellbeing.
I remember rocking up at a private doctor’s surgery in Mexico, handing over a cheque or some cash (I can’t recall) and receiving in return a small tub of pills, unlabelled if I remember correctly. I’ll never know what was in them, but some form of speed wouldn’t be a bad guess.
The idea was to speed up my metabolism so I could lose weight, even though I only had a stone or so to lose. They worked, to a degree, on the outside at least – although I put some of the weight back on again pretty soon (and no, I’m not recommending them to anyone!).
I did the same once I got to Brazil. I went to a private doctor and was prescribed a different set of diet pills – again, I couldn’t tell you what they were. And these magic pills, together with periodic starvation and plenty of running and spinning classes, helped me to get down to a weight I deemed acceptable, perhaps even the weight I’d always thought I’d wanted to be.
But – surprise, surprise – once I’d got there, I wasn’t happy. I was still miserable and still obsessed with food, diets, my body and my weight.
So the problem, actually, wasn’t on the outside and it couldn’t be addressed by focusing on what I put in my mouth. It was only by going right to the core, addressing the root, exploring why I felt the need to use food as a crutch to cope with low self-esteem, low self-worth, fear and pain that I could find any peace. And that journey has taken years – maybe a decade – and it continues today.
In my case, there was no magic pill and there was no foolproof diet. The journey has been long and arduous at times but, right now, I wouldn’t change it for anything.
And I’m reluctant to admit it but I guess shortcuts won’t work in other areas of my life either – the book, the relationships, the Pilates. I need to do the work, build solid foundations, strengthen my core. Bewitched, after all, was a “fantasy sitcom”. It’d be nice to twitch our nose and just make stuff happen, but that’s not reality.
There’s a line in the literature from the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowships that talks about how members “trudge the road of happy destiny”. Now, “trudge” may not sound a particularly appealing way to journey but as well as “plod” or “walk laboriously”, it’s also understood as “to march steadily” or “to walk with purpose”.
But the key to this phrase for me is “the road OF happy destiny” rather than “the road TO happy destiny”.
As a compulsive achiever, I’ve always wanted to get somewhere, to arrive, to reach a set point. Or I’ve always wanted to sort things out, to fix myself, to get things right as quickly as I could.
And I’ve always thought happiness was over there.
But actually, the journey continues and will always continue until I’m no longer around – and the joy is found along the way – on the journey, not at the destination (although we hope there’ll be some joy there too if we ever get where we think we’re going!).
With that in mind, I’m happy to keep on trudging.