I am not entirely sure what “coming home to myself” actually means. Who is this person I have dumped off somewhere for the majority of my life in search of some great meaning or a better body, personality, relationship, financial situation, etc? What have I found? What have I done? Who is the person I have pushed away for so long? What am I coming home to? What is the shape of who I am coming home to?
I like to liken it to being in the wilderness. On the Appalachian Trail, to be exact. I have never hiked any of it, but a few years ago, I read several accounts about the trail, and something said about it has stuck with me. The trail is about 2200 miles long, from Georgia to Maine, and the majority of it is enveloped in dense forests of a variety of plants and trees. For days, weeks, months, all you see can see is trees. You feel like you must be going in circles because nothing changes. You hike up, down, and around and everything you see makes you feel like you are walking in place.
In January, I started career counseling in Atlanta. I wanted to know, after 16 years of office jobs then 18 months of food service jobs, what do I really want to do? What will fulfill me? How can I use my strengths to better the lives of others and give my life meaning while also paying my bills? What are my strengths? Do I even have any? Am I a just a giant, mediocre nobody?
Also in January, thanks to my best friend Christina, I started an online course called No More Weighting. It was about learning to trust my body and hunger and seeking satisfaction in my food and life and joy in movement without a focus on weight loss or dieting. My body has felt like an uncontrollable, unruly child my whole life and I have felt like the parent who can’t understand where I went wrong. Or maybe the truth is I know exactly where it went wrong and I have played a heavy, no pun intended, role in that misdirection.
Working with my career counselor, I have learned that I am an expressive, outgoing introvert. I am also reliant on what I can physically sense around me though I am also pretty intuitive. I am methodical and organized. I don’t like surprises. I am good at seeing the whole picture but also handling details, though I struggle with details when there is pressure or criticism from others. I am definitely a last-minute person when it comes to actual implementation, but am the queen of planning and daydreaming. The assessments also revealed that I need a job that is social (as long as I get time to myself), artistic/creative (allows me to use my writing/reading/editing skills), conventional (organized, mostly), and allows me to help others. I like working with a team that is encouraging and supportive, but I also need to be able to work independently. I also work best when I feel supported, recognized, and affirmed in my role.
I am a stickler for the rules, but if pushed to follow them too often or too rigidly, I will rebel or completely stop giving a shit.
Between the Body Trust course and Intuitive Eating podcasts I have listened to, I learned that deprivation is a huge cause of binge eating and what is deemed a “food/sugar addiction.” Thinking back over my life, I realized I lost so much of my sense of enjoyment around food as a child. I was told I could not have certain snacks or desserts because I was getting too fat, so I learned how to hold the cellophane of a Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie (my favorite) to my leg to silence its crinkling while I walked in the darkness from the kitchen to the bathroom to shove the whole cookie in my mouth and eat it without tasting it as a giant “fuck you” to my mom, dad, brothers, and anyone else who told me I did not deserve food because of my unacceptable body or weight. This went on through college as I went back and forth from eating one “Last Supper” after another before starting some new diet on Monday.
With my career counselor, I was assigned to ask five people in my life to tell me five strengths they believe I have. Those five people each said something along the lines of me being friendly, patient, creative, sincere, and easy to know. I told my career counselor that in no other way would I have ever asked anyone for their perception of me because I allowed that Critical Voice in my head to tell me it was self-absorbed to ask and any nice thing they ever said would be a lie. He created a word graphic with each keyword they used, with the words used most frequently in bigger sized text. I stared at it for a minute straight as I tried to orient my brain with the words in front of me because they were so opposite of what my Critical Voice screams at me constantly.
I did an experiment in February where I bought myself ice cream and said to my body, “I will never deprive you of ice cream. You don’t have to eat all of this at once because it is going nowhere. If you want more, I will buy more. This is no last supper. Ice cream is allowed. You are allowed to sit down and enjoy every bit of this. Take your time.” It was and is a struggle. It was an exercise in trusting my own body and it trusting me. Like, did I really mean I would not take the ice cream away or start thinking I had to eat it all right now to “get rid of it”? Sometimes, I had to say out loud, “You can have more tomorrow. Enjoy this now.”
In late February, I was hired as an admin/customer service person for a law firm. My boss and coworkers are so kind, patient, and supportive. I feel like I can be myself around them and my boss is always willing to listen to me and guide me and help me learn her expectations of me without making me feel stupid or inadequate. My heart goes out to the clients we work with, and I want to help them through their really difficult times. Two days into the job, I said, “I feel like I am finally starting to learn [the database we use],” and my boss said, “Amy, you’ve been here two days! Give yourself a break!”
Since October, I have gained about 25-30 pounds. I try to play it off by buying bigger sized clothing to accommodate my now larger belly (because that’s where all of my weight gain ever goes), but I am so surprised when John wants to have sex with the lights on and wants to touch me and see me, like how is he not grossed out by me?
My belly sticks out and droops down like either a pregnant person about to give birth or a middle-aged man with a big beer gut. Allowing myself to eat what I want is nice, but at the same time, it is terrifying because my old ways of eating foods like pizza and ice cream were unbridled, eat til it’s gone, don’t taste it, go completely numb and dive in. It is so ingrained in me to just shove food in my mouth while mentally checked out because I am still ashamed of my desire and physical hunger for food when I am in a body that I have felt and been told is undeserving of food, especially food that I really enjoy.
I am in the forest. Day after day after day. All I want to see is a job I love, am good at, and feel meaningful in, debt paid off, and a body I can trust, accept, and appreciate at. Day after day, I hike through all of the doubt, frustration, confusion, shame, and unknown in my head and in my life and wonder, Am I actually making any progress? Can I trust that I am in the right place and that I am not lost and hopeless and that I am not going to die feeling unfulfilled and like I never got to truly enjoy my life?
Hikers of the AT say finally, after about 3 months on the trail, you reach Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley and there is this clearing. Finally. After weeks and weeks of trees and trudging up mountain after mountain, you see sky in front of you.
You walk closer and closer to that break and when you reach the edge of the ground beneath you and look up, the view is breathtaking. You can see for miles. Nothing looks like where you started because it is all new to you. You have made progress. Your journey has not been in vain. You have not walked in circles or in place for what feels like forever. Your hard work, sweat, tears, skinned knees, twisted ankles, sore muscles, and that overbearing sense of boredom, frustration, and loneliness actually got you somewhere. For just a few minutes, before you descend down into the valley and back into the forests for more weeks of feeling all of those feelings again, you can relax and enjoy the view and feel so goddamn proud of yourself.
It is nearly mid-March in my year of wandering this year of wilderness I have put myself in. The devil you know is always easier than the one you don’t, but the one I know has made me so fucking miserable my entire life. I
hate fear the unknown so much, but what I know causes greater pain than change and so, I must let go of its light and step into the darkness and loosen my grip on my need for control.
This home, this me, I am coming home to needs a lot of TLC. Not just a fresh coat of paint and a few new pieces of furniture. Not just to look good. It needs to feel sturdy, safe, and comfortable.
When I look at my face, all I see is how tired and beaten down I feel. I need less of the Critical Voice and more of the Compassionate Voice. I need my body to trust me and I need to trust it even as I let go of a lifetime of deprivation and “waiting til…” and try to live in and accept it in the Now. I want to stop feeling so strangled by my debt and fears of being inadequate and keeping myself from a meaningful life.
I want to be able to trust that I am moving in the right direction and that I am becoming every day who I am meant to be.
Most of all, to go back to the house analogy, I want to go through the attic and toss out all of the old notions of who I am, notions given to me out of others’ fears and insecurities, notions given to me by a society that banks on my fears and insecurities. I want to know who it is I want to be. Me. 35-year-old me. I am fond of the goals that 6, 15, and 29-year-old me had. Even ones 34-year-old me had. Those are like the old family photos you find, dust off, and place in a bag or box for safekeeping. The rest, I want to let go of, bag up, and throw away. Those are not me and do not serve me. Many never did.
So here I am trudging through the forest, seeing nothing but trees, feeling little more than exhausted and aching all the way to center of my bones. I am weary and impatient for rest and some sort of breakthrough, some magic moment or clearing that lets me know I am doing something, anything. I want sunshine and fresh air.
I also don’t want to be so wrapped up in where I am going that I don’t appreciate where I am each step along the way. To acknowledge my process and progress.
To truly know who I am coming home to.