Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.
Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email firstname.lastname@example.org.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by author Kim Kankiewicz.
Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.
I am struggling and would love your insight.
I would love nothing more than to find my purpose, get in tune with who I really am in the universe and find a way to love myself but feel drowned in the demands of every day life. Between my job (teacher for kids with special needs) my husband, my two kids, and my animal rescue work, it is all I can do to stay afloat emotionally. I am grateful to have so many opportunities every day to nurture others but there are those times that all I want to do is curl up in a corner, close my eyes, plug my ears, and just float away somewhere where I don’t need to give any more. Is that sefish? Is that wrong?
My solace is food, but in the opposite way that it was when Jen Pastiloff wrote about her anorexic years. I cannot control my eating. When I eat, I don’t have to think or give. Eating is something just for me, something safe, something that fills me. I now have passed the dreaded 200 lb. mark and the shame is overwhelming. I have tried every diet known to man and nothing works long term.
I struggle with my spirituality and my belief in who God is, what my life means, what my purpose is in this world. I want to have some solid ground under my feet, to not question whether my life is good enough, whether I am fulfilling my purpose. I have loved the few yoga classes I have taken, but going to classes is hard, as my husband and I work full time and with the kids, homework, sports, etc. it seems there is no time.
I know I need to make a change but have no idea where to start. I don’t know how to learn to love myself when all I feel is shame in my appearance, and resentment that I don’t have the ability to travel to different places, to learn the things I want to learn about, and to take the time to figure out my “higher self”.
Please know that I love my family, my career, and my rescue work dearly but I am emotionally out of steam. I need to recharge my batteries in a serious way and take charge of my inner and outer health. As I said though, I have no idea how to begin.
Any advice would be extremely helpful…
I reserved a day last weekend to reply to your letter. Instead, I left my husband and children at home, drove to a grocery store outside my neighborhood, and bought a dozen buttercream-frosted brownie bites which I ate while cruising unfamiliar side streets and listening to an audiobook.
You may conclude that I am woefully unqualified to offer you advice. Literally, you would be correct. I lack credentials as a therapist or nutritionist or any other –ist you might consult. Having recovered from bulimia, I can write from experience about overcoming compulsive eating. But you may question how a person who binges on brownies can claim to have overcome at all.
So why admit my behavior? Why not share what I know is true without revealing my failure to apply the truth? This letter is about you, not me, so why confess that I’ve reverted to emotional eating more this past year than any year in the previous decade?
I write with candor because overcoming overeating means overcoming shame. My impulse is to hide what I’ve done, but hiding reinforces the feelings that cause binge eating in the first place. You mention shame twice: overwhelming shame over your weight and pervasive shame over your appearance. Your pain is palpable in those two statements. I feel the shame along with you, just as I have felt it increasingly on my own behalf. But we both need to know: Shame is not inevitable.
It is possible to feel concerned about our health and aware that our behavior needs adjustment without feeling humiliated. Weight and body size are not inherently shameful. Why, then, do they trigger such awful feelings? I think it’s because we’ve bought the wrong metaphor.
Our culture regards fat as a metaphor for laziness, lack of willpower, incompetence, low intelligence, and a host of other negative qualities. If weight gain triggers self-loathing, it means to some degree we’ve accepted those analogies.
What if we accepted our bodies as they actually are instead of lamenting what they symbolize? We could then focus our attention on another symbolic relationship: The emotional significance of food, hunger, and eating in our individual lives.
You already know you’re using food to fill an emotional void. You’re using food to stay afloat when you feel like you’re drowning. To find solace from your demanding schedule. To nurture yourself when you have nothing left to give. You wonder where to begin making a change, but I believe you have already begun by acknowledging the emotions you’ve attached to food. You are ready to stop dieting and address the deeper issues behind your eating behavior.
So what should you do next? I think the next step is not to do anything. You’re drowning in what you are doing already. I think the next step is to surrender.
Surrender your shame first and foremost. Surrender your self-improvement timeline. Surrender the idea that you are responsible for meeting everyone else’s needs. Surrender something from your schedule, even if that “something” is a good thing. We stuff our schedules with good things just as we stuff our bodies with good food. Surrender the idea that you have to figure everything out on your own. Confide in a trustworthy friend, a support group, a counselor—someone who’ll offer encouragement and a sounding board.
And finally, surrender to the still, small voice that will gradually become audible as the distractions fall away. This is the voice that knows your true hunger. It knows that you may overeat when you feel insubstantial. It knows your purpose and your place in the world.
I understand this as the voice of God. I don’t know your religious background and can only guess why you’re struggling with your beliefs about God, but I wonder whether shame plays a role here too. It seems the most vocal representatives of organized religion are moralists who emphasize guilt and shame. That’s a tragedy. By substituting humiliation for humility, these voices distort a message of hope. For me, healing began when I accepted myself as a beloved child of God freed from shame by grace.
If you’re looking for a concrete action to complement the abstract concept of surrender, walking is a good choice. Walking literally puts solid ground beneath your feet. Physical movement improves mood and fosters respect for our bodies. You may not be able to travel the globe, but walking is a form of local travel that promotes contemplation and a new perspective on the world. Try going for a walk the next time you’re tempted to overeat. Let your mind wander while you walk, and watch for new insights to form.
Because here’s the thing: Deep down, you know the way forward. You’re temporarily stuck beneath a burden too heavy to carry. Set down the weight and walk freely. I’ll join you.
Kim Kankiewicz has written about motherhood and self-image for publications like Brain, Child Magazine and ParentMap and on her languishing blog, the Nesting Doll Project. She is a freelance journalist and book reviewer with a novel in progress. A transplant to the Seattle area from the Midwest, Kim lives on a mountain with her husband, two kids, and a dog who resents the rain. She’s a co-founder of the literary arts organization Eastside Writes. Find her on Twitter at @kimprobable.
Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.