Why I Need a Higher Purpose than Pleasure

February 21, 2011

I’m not an ascetic. I enjoy an expensive steak, a sparkly piece of jewelry, and an intimate moment with my husband as much as the next gal.

I do, however, abstain from a number of foods that many people find pleasurable. Chocolate, for instance. Spaghetti. A nice bottle of wine.

A lot of people in my life don’t get it. “Everything in moderation,” they say, shaking their heads, incredulous that I haven’t allowed myself the “pleasure” of eating these foods in more than 11 years.

They don’t understand that, for me, although the actual act of tasting the food might give me pleasure, it’s the same kind of pleasure a heroin addict feels as she pushes a needle into her vein.

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More on Suffering and Creativity

January 22, 2011

I’m reading a fabulous book right now called THE MAGICIANS, which is about a young man who’s recruited to attend a college for magicians. Not magicians as we know them—sleight of hand, illusionists, and all that—but real, honest-to-God, spellcasting magicians.

When our young hero graduates from the magic school, the dean addresses the class and explains why he thinks people become magicians.

As I was reading it, it struck me that it’s very similar to why a lot of people become writers or painters or singers. Changing the word “magician” to “artist,” here’s the dean’s monologue:

I have a little theory I’d like to air here, if I may. What is it that makes you artists? Is it because you are intelligent? Is it because you are brave and good? Is it because you’re special?

Maybe. Who know. But I’ll tell you something: I think you’re artists because you’re unhappy. An artist is strong because he feels pain. He feels the difference between what the world is and what he would make of it. Or what did you think that stuff in chest was? An artist is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength.

Most people carry that pain around inside them their whole lives, until they kill the pain by other means, or until it kills them. But you, my friends, you found another way: a way to use the pain. To burn it as fuel, for light and warmth. You have learned to break the world that has tried to break you.

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Authenticity vs. Anonymity

December 13, 2010

When I was a teenager, all I wanted to do was blend in with the crowd. I never raised my hand in class, I never raised my voice.

When I went away to college, I’d wander off the small, safe campus of my liberal arts college and walk aimlessly around the mall to avoid seeing people I knew.

I sat in dark movie theaters by myself for hours at a time bingeing, because eating while watching other people’s lives unfold onscreen was safe. It required nothing from me.

Bingeing in anonymity meant I didn’t have to know who I was, and I didn’t have to explain myself to anyone.

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Why Community Can Be More Healing Than Therapy

December 2, 2010

I love therapy. Truly, I do.

My husband and I have been seeing a therapist since he came out of the hospital two years ago. She’s great, and going to see her has improved our communication by leaps and bounds.

John also sees a therapist on an individual basis, and honestly, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with him coming home from the hospital if he hadn’t been willing to go. Seeing his therapist has helped John come to terms with his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and it’s given him the tools he needs to cope with it.

That said, though, I haven’t always derived great benefits from therapy, and there have been times when having the support of a community of my peers has been way more transformative than participating in therapy ever could be.

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How Much Is Good Enough? Work’s Role in My Relapse

November 4, 2010

One of the first things I learned when I joined my Twelve Step program back in 1999 was that when it comes to figuring out how to live my life, I have to consider my recovery first, my family second, and my job third.

When I’m in the grip of addictive eating, I’d way rather hang out on the couch with a pile of food than with my friends or family. (Eating in isolation was so easy; hanging out with people when I was feeling crummy about myself was so much work.)

When I’m eating addictively, I’m too distracted at work to do a good job. And I can bet you good money that, as I did through high school and half of college, I’d be spending a lot of time in a toilet stall, stuffing down candy bars before throwing them back up.

So for a long time, for five and a half years, I put my recovery first. But once I entered the work world in 2004, keeping that order of priorities became a bit more difficult.

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What My Husband’s Bipolar Breakdown Taught Me about Bulimia

October 14, 2010

Seeing my husband suffer from a severe psychotic episode gave me a new appreciation of the fact that when I was binging and purging, I had truly been mentally ill.

This may sound strange. After all, bulimia is classified as a mental illness in the DSM-IV, and for six years (1993-1999) I binged and purged as many as four times a day. I saw nutritionists. I saw therapists. I wasn’t stupid; I knew something was wrong.

But here’s the thing: I always understood why I was engaging in insane behavior like sticking my fingers down my throat, sitting in freezing cold baths, and trying to burn off my tastebuds.

It made sense to me to ingest fake Russian steroids, stick a weight-loss patch on my arm, and spend four hours a day at the gym. I was under the impression that when I got thin, my life would be perfect, so everything I did was designed to help me lose weight.

My actions always seemed perfectly logical to me.

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Angry = Ugly, and Other Myths We Learn

October 6, 2010

I came across my elementary school diary the other day. Leafing through it, I found one entry that’s both funny and sad. It reads:

Dumb old Mom! She’s so idiotic! She hit me on the leg and told my brother not to come near me for calling her a meanie! Because she took me away from my book and I’m a bookworm! Meanie, meanie, meanie, stupid, dumb!

P.S. I’m ugly!

I have to laugh a little at my younger self’s temper tantrum (and my mom, by the way, wasn’t abusive. She spanked us from time to time when we were misbehaving, but it was never vicious or cruel), but the postscript is what makes me sad. At ten-years-old I had clearly learned that negative emotions are unattractive.

And I took that quite literally: Negative emotions make me physically unattractive. No matter what I look like, if I can’t control my thoughts and emotions, I won’t be pretty, or happy, or liked.

No wonder I spent my teenage years depressed, lonely, and obsessed with my weight. I had a lot of feelings. And I had no safe place to let them out.

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