Monday, July 25, 2016

Training on Empty: Chapter 19

Chapter 19 – Rest

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” – Ovid

When I first met Diane, I was in high school. She was someone I admired a great deal. It became known around town that I was actually following quite closely in her footsteps. Both of us were standout athletes, and not long before I set the record at the Pike's Peak Ascent, she had done the same. Our lives were nearly identical in many ways, a fact I soon discovered after she approached me in a futile attempt to prevent me from suffering the pain and discomfort of overtraining and under-eating that she herself had endured. It seemed that just as she was pulling out of her own illness, I was committed to stepping fully into mine. I felt invincible and was headstrong, and no amount of admonishment and concern on her part could dissuade me from careening toward self-destruction. However, much later, during one of the lowest points in my life, Diane was there to reach out to me yet again. This time I was ready to listen, and with her support I began a long, long journey toward improved health and increased self-awareness.

Diane began restricting her food intake at around age 14. She, like me, was facing puberty and a changing body. This caused an inner struggle, because she wanted, in effect, to keep herself from becoming a woman. Like my own father, her parents had undisguisedly wanted a boy, and she developed a lot of fear about becoming a woman. For her, food was something to control. In fact, it was one of the only things she felt she could completely control. She states:

Perfection is the core wound of anorexia. There is an underlying fear of failure that leads most addicts to seek control through other means. In addition, as our outer world spins more out of control, the desire is to grab control of our immediate surroundings. If we keep our central world predictable, even if it’s painful, it eliminates the fear of losing control. It may not be pleasant, but at least we know where we stand, where we exist.

For Diane, a turning point occurred when, after qualifying for the Jewish Olympics, she came to the realization that she was too thin. “There were times as an athlete where I would do well, but overall, I was too depleted to consistently do well,” she says. The day before the big race, she was so hungry that she ate a falafel sandwich. It didn’t sit well, and Diane just blew up in the race. She had stomach cramps and felt sick. Going in as the favorite and ending up with the Bronze medal was not only a disappointment but a slap in the face. It made her look at her life and realize that she had been living in a haze of hunger, her brain fuzzy and her body weak from insufficient nutrition. It was the first time that she was able to admit the truth: that she was killing herself. She states:

Sometimes the body, mind and spirit line up in ways we can’t explain. Often this occurs when we come close to death. Somehow coming close to the veil of death allows us to have these epiphanies. At these times there is an opening that we are finally able to allow, that can ultimately lead to inviting something else into our lives. For the addict, the tendency is to want to hold onto the addiction at all costs, so it’s essential to allow for the possibility of change when it presents itself, no matter how great the fear.

As most people know, recovery from this type of mental illness begins with the admission of being ill. Diane cautions that people have to admit the problem without judging the situation; to

become aware of where you are and from there allow for change. Don’t be hard on yourself. It’s important to start where you are, not from where you want to be or think you ‘should’ be. Act from the wisdom provided by nature, our ancestors and the world around you. The more you can flow with nature the better. I often compare myself to the weather, constantly changing and adapting. Learning to sit in the fire of whatever arises, be it fear, anger, or sadness is key to recovery. So often we want to numb out and avoid any pain, but ask yourself, ‘what is this offering me?’ How is this serving me? Addicts grow through the journey of addiction and through this journey we learn to discover ourselves and recognize more fully all the various parts of ourselves.

Both Diane and I are forced to live with great regret. Knowing that we missed opportunities and chances for success due to our addiction is hard to face, yet both of us are growing and adapting well into our forties. Our addictions still tend to rule our lives, but we move more and more toward freedom. Despite our compulsive nature, we function in the world and participate.

Diane believes that once a cognitive recognition of the disorder has occurred, it’s essential to take mindful action to get well. “It takes precise discipline to grow,” she says. “It’s a matter of allowing others in to help you take specific action, but at the same time relying on a return to the self. An important question to continually ask is, ‘how does this make me feel?’ As we age, we naturally move more toward self-love. This is helpful in stepping out of addiction. If the path you have chosen makes you unhappy, then the time for change has come.”

In terms of anorexia, it’s important to note that great fear underlies the refusal to eat. In Diane’s words:

In a sense, we become afraid of everything. We need to widen our lens of living and expand outside the box in which we have placed ourselves. It’s easy to stay in the addiction, but if you look deeply at the fears around the addiction, you will find it most often comes back to fear of failure. If we don’t have the excuse of addiction, we are forced to face our authentic selves. There is no guarantee of success even if we do everything right, so if we fail we must learn to accept that part of ourselves. Addiction keeps us stuck, yet it also offers us an excuse and a false sense of security.

As Diane spoke, I tried to imagine a life free of fear and free of my compulsive and obsessive ways. We put great limitations on ourselves. Self-sabotage and tripping ourselves up have become more common than not. I often wonder what accomplishments I would have achieved if I had avoided an eating disorder. Then again, I know that I have to take what I have learned from my situation and move forward. Perhaps the most thought-provoking statement that Diane uttered when I spoke with her for this book was at the end, when she looked at me and asked point-blank: “Who would you be without this?” Thoughts of infinite possibility flooded my brain, and I too had to wonder: Who would I be?

Diane Israel

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