A couple of days ago, I noticed a wasp had found its way onto my screen door. I didn't notice it until the door was already shut for the evening, meaning the poor wasp was now trapped. The next morning, I opened the glass door back up thinking the wasp would realize he was free and fly away to safety--back to his life of doing wasp-y type things...but that night, when I closed up again for the evening, I saw that he was still there. It was almost as if he didn't realize he was free.
And that is how I've spent the past thirty-four years of my life.
Living in a glass house, a prison of my own mind--a place in which I believe certain things about myself. A place in which I try to control what other people think of me, do everything in my power to never let anyone down and constantly strive for perfection by way of hugely unrealistic expectations...the kind no one, not even Wonder Woman, could attain.
I've been living in a room with a transparent door--a door that opened to freedom, one that never locked, but one that I failed to see. Just like this wasp. If he just scooted over a tiny bit, he'd find that he could escape, but he doesn't. He stays right where he is...maybe because it's safe there? Maybe because it's what he's come to know? But he doesn't realize that staying where he's at is killing him.
And that is what I've come to realize after reading Women, Food & God by Geneen Roth.
Last week, one of my blog readers mentioned this book to me. I'd never heard of it. When I got an email from another person who read my blog, mentioning the same thing, I thought I'd better check it out. I picked it up the next day and spent Saturday morning and part of Sunday reading it. I finished it in two days--which is a record for this here slow reader! Oprah says she read it in one big gulp--I've decided there is no other way to read this book.
Given that the front cover is pretty unassuming, I didn't know what to expect. I have read everything there is to read about dieting and weight loss. I've tried to pigeon hole my story--one of disordered eating, restriction, failure and success--into the stories of other people, looking for anyone, anywhere that would make me feel normal.
Geneen Roth makes me feel normal. But she also made me realize that just because there's a reason I'm loathing myself or hating a number on the scale, that doesn't mean it's okay.
For years, people have been telling me I just need to love myself. You can't really tell someone with an eating disorder to love themself. They don't think anything is wrong with them that a little weight loss can't fix. You can't tell the wasp to leave the glass house...he has to find the door for himself. But through the pages of this book, I finally discovered that loving and accepting my body doesn't mean I'm waving the white flag of surrender. It doesn't mean I'm going to sit around and eat brownies all day all in the name of acceptance. Quite the contrary. Loving myself and respecting this body mean looking at all its given me--all God's given me through this body--and giving back to it. Taking care of it. Accepting that it's not perfect, but it's mine.
One thing that I have struggled with is feeling like I have a place here on this planet. I noticed it on the Interstate yesterday. I was constantly checking my rear view mirror to make sure I wasn't holding anyone up. If someone came along zipping down the highway doing 80, I made sure to get out of their way. Don't want to slow them down. Don't want them to be upset with the lady in the red Camry.
We spend our lives worrying about everyone else...but I'm starting to think it's true...that I really am the most important person in my life. (Even as I write that, I imagine how it sounds. I imagine how self absorbed you all must think I am for considering that I am the most important person in my life... Is it selfish? Who do I think I am anyway?)
But let me explain.
I believe in being selfless. In loving selflessly. But I also believe that I can't do anyone a bit of good if I don't first take care of myself. My needs. My body. My spirit. Without these things, I am dead. And I've been pushing them aside.
Geneen is not a fan of organized weight loss plans, of diets...they fail you. They set you up to fail. How do you maintain that for the rest of your life? This terrifies me. To imagine that I could decide--based on my own body--what I need to eat and drink without the guidelines and rules I've grown accustomed to? Crazy! I'm still having a hard time letting that go. I assume, like she says in the book, that if left to my own devices I will spiral out of control.
Women, Food & God doesn't look like a self help book, and in my mind, Geneen doesn't look like someone you talk to while laying on a couch:
For years, people--namely my husband--have been telling me to "love myself." Accept my body. Be happy with who I am, but for so many reasons and in so many ways, that wasn't possible. After reading this book, I realize, it's because I didn't know who I was--I've been too busy trying to be who I thought I was supposed to be.
Do you know how freeing it is to say "No, I can't do that. It's not good for me. It's not good for my family?" I never used to say "No." In the process, I lost any sense of self that I ever had.
Women, Food and God is broken down into three sections. Principles. Practices. Eating. In a most conversational and easy to read tone, Geneen lays out the foundation--explains why we need to end this war with our body--why it's not about weight--how to view yourself with loveliness. Then she explains, in the same easy to read, easy to understand way, how to go about doing this... and finally, gives you some important lessons about the act of eating itself.
In a word, this book is life-changing. It helped me explore so many of the past hurts I've been carrying. I've spent my adult life looking to other people for happiness, or to come to my defense, not realizing I am an adult now myself. And I can strap on the big girl panties and attack life like a grown up.
It's embarrassing to say you have a food issue. A compulsion. An obsession. It's embarrassing to admit you binge, purge, restrict, obsess. It's embarrassing to think that at this age--the age where you're supposed to have it all together, you're just starting to realize how broken you truly are.
But it's so freeing to discover you don't have to stay in your brokenness.
Here's a clip of Geneen talking a little about the book:
For me, this book forced me to think about how I use food as a substitute for God. (And this isn't a Christian book--Geneen has a more new agey approach than I do, but it's so easy to apply it based on your own set of religious/spiritual beliefs...I don't get hung up on labels...) I don't allow myself to feel anything if I'm constantly turning to or controlling food. I don't allow God to have any part of my emotional journey if I'm not going to him with my hurts, questions, fears, etc.
It's huge, the magnitude of this journey.
And it's about more--so much more--than food and how it functions in my life. Thanks to this book, I now feel like someone took a can of spray paint and shot it all over the glass door, showing me the handle, giving me the key... the funny thing is, it was there all along.
I am really still processing this book, so I don't even think this is a coherent explanation of all that I learned through it, but I truly, truly believe if you struggle in any way with emotional eating, eating disorders, your relationship with food...this book will challenge you, open your eyes and help you discover that there is a better way.
...and it's been there all along.