This post contains discussion about eating disorders and may be triggering for some individuals.
The theme for this year seems to be Authenticity. I see mentions of it all around me. Most of the books that I have picked up this year have been talking about “how to be your authentic self.” Luckily, they haven’t been talking about it in that holier-than-thou way that some self-help gurus come across to me. It has been more “this has been my experience on my path; maybe that experience can help you on yours.” I think that is a much healthier approach. My path to authenticity is not going to be the same as yours, and none of us is going to experience anything about our paths the same way. With that being said, however, there is some wisdom to listening to other people’s paths and gleaning knowledge from them to help you on your own way.
My own path started with the concept of unschooling. I have two kids, and each of them has had their struggles with school. With my second child, I opted to pull her out and homeschool her before the problems became as bad as they did with the first child. We all learn from our mistakes, right? When I pulled her out of school, I decided to unschool her for the first half of a year she was out. This process includes a period of time in the beginning where the child completely decompresses from the stress of school life, called deschooling. It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months, and requires that the child just spend time doing what they want to do. They may not even know what that is at first, because they have been told what to do every day for however long they have been in school. Now my daughter is doing a combination of unschooling and homeschooling. She has some schoolwork that she does, but it doesn’t take her all day and I’m not quite as strict about it as I would be if she were in an actual school.
While my daughter was going through the deschooling process and I was doing research on what all of this means, I began to look at myself. Deschooling as a term means looking at the things that you have learned, whether it is from school, your culture, or anywhere else you pick up beliefs, and question why you believe these things and whether or not they serve you. This is a deep process if you allow it to be, and it is where I started. I first started with my beliefs about my body and my eating habits. I have had an eating disorder for many years, and it had reared its ugly head in the midst of everything I went through with my daughter. I went through a process of examining why I ate the way I did, what emotional baggage I was suppressing that was causing me to binge eat the way I was, how purging contributed to feelings of being in control during times when my life felt out of control. I examined diet culture and how it contributed to these patterns as well, and how it also contributed to my feelings about my body. I looked at examinations of diet research by body positive contributors such as Linda Bacon and saw how much damage the diet industry does to our culture as a whole, with the cyclical nature of dieting and its contribution to eating disorders like mine. And after all of that work (which I’m still doing – I don’t think anyone can ever be done with self-reflective work like this) I am on a path to loving my body for what it is – a part of me that moves and breathes and keeps me alive. I am no longer punishing it for not being what our culture tells me it should be. And I say that I’m on a path because when you have been hating the way your body is for as long as I have (most of my life), it really is a process to learn to listen to it and trust it and give it love.
That one act of trying to achieve a better relationship with my body has opened the door to so many other avenues of authenticity for myself – from examining the clothing that makes me comfortable vs. what I feel our culture says I should wear, to whether or not I really want to wear makeup like our culture tells me I should to hide all of the blemishes that our culture seems to think I have, to what I believe on a spiritual level and how I express that in my life. In short, it has caused me to examine pretty much every area of my life and figure out how I feel about it. I’m nowhere near done with this process, either, as I continually examine aspects of my life and how they fit in with me, but I can tell you that I know who I am a lot better than I did when I started.
And that’s the key: developing a relationship with yourself. We spend so much time thinking about and worrying about our relationships with other people, but I don’t think we spend nearly enough time thinking about the relationship we have with our own selves. And that seems weird, because we are who we spend the most time with! But before I started this process I didn’t really think about what I like or what I am like on a deep level. I had my aspirations and I pushed myself and pushed myself toward those until I hit a breaking point, because I thought that those aspirations were what I wanted – what the self that I didn’t really know wanted. After I hit the breaking point and burnout set in, it became imperative that I learn about who I am so that I don’t have to go through that again. Burn out isn’t fun, and it is a hard thing to recover from. But learning about myself and who I am has helped in the recovery process, because I know that if I really honor myself and who I am, I will respect myself enough to not allow circumstances to get to the point where I will go through something like burn out again. It is so important that we learn about ourselves and who we are on a deep level, and I am going to talk more about that in my next post.
Breathe Through and Let It Go