emotions

Thoughts on Vulnerability

SCULPTURE & ART (1)“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”

At least according to professional pseudoscientist Sigmund Freud, who is maybe not the best person to turn to for proverbial wisdom.

Freud, I call bullshit.

Just as I call bullshit on your theory of hysteria and your theory of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex as a scientific case study, though the whole field of modern psychology is more or less behind me on those.

On this one, I feel like I stand more alone.

We work hard to transform vulnerability into a virtue. Knowing your feelings. Being open. Letting others know the real you. Having honest, two-way relationships with people who know you and care about you.

That’s one thing, but it’s not the kind of vulnerability I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the vulnerability of sitting alone at your kitchen table late on a Sunday night, wondering whether you should take a shower or let yourself have a 45-minute cry, because both of those things need to get done before you go to sleep.

It’s not a question of “if,” but “which first.”

This openness wins you no friends. It gains you no applause in therapy or treatment programs. Dr. Phil does not celebrate sitting alone in your bedroom admitting to yourself that the reason you still haven’t done your dinner dishes yet is that the thought of standing up and turning on the sink just makes you crushingly sad.

I mean, true, if Dr. Phil celebrates something, that’s one of the best reasons in the world you can find for doing exactly the opposite. But I digress.

Sitting with this openness to feeling, I do not sense strength.

Out of my vulnerability comes fear.

The kind of fear takes one misstep and magnifies it into a colossal moral failing.

That looks at a week’s worth of thoughts and actions and reactions and levels a stringent, damning judgment.

That transforms a bag of candy corn purchased at the grocery store into Original Sin itself.

That spends the day dreaming about returning to bed, because at least the world cannot point out my failures from beneath the covers.

Sitting with my feelings means I ruminate about the worst events of the day — not Greek tragedies by any stretch of the imagination, but in this state, too much. I sit and reminisce about a botched customer service phone call, a terse rejection letter, catching someone talking about me behind my back. I mix these memories well, shake them into a highball glass, and nurse a sharp cocktail of self-doubt until morning.

I write in metaphors because that is easier than writing the honest truth.

Playing with words is easier than admitting the dull pressure-pain over my ribs is not because I am getting over a cold. It is because I am afraid of never being a better person than I am tonight, and spending the day being disappointed in the person I am.

That kind of vulnerability does not feel strong. It feels like saying that of course there are happy people in the world, this is the kind of world that requires happiness, but I will never be one of those people.

I can tell myself hundreds of times that I don’t believe this.

I’m not always sure that I don’t believe it.

Some nights, I cannot believe anything else.

Do I feel stronger, having admitted my vulnerability? Honestly, no. But sometimes pouring the words onto the screen gets them out of my head. I can look at them, move commas around, delete passive construction, dissect them under a microscope until they present the distilled version of the pain in my chest.

Like a scientist examining a virus, I may not know the cure, but I know the arrangement of the proteins, the reproductive strategies.

(Do viruses have proteins? A question from your friendly neighborhood English major.)

And like a scientist, I cling to whatever knowledge I grasp, hoping someday to find a use for it.

Maybe from vulnerability comes knowledge. And knowledge is strength, or so a slightly twisted proverb tells me.

As far as proverbs go, I will take what I can get.

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Recovering Like a Vulcan – Fighting Feeling with Logic

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Last week(end), for those interested, marked the 2014 iteration of the San Diego International Comic-Con. Given, this has a very minimal impact on my day-to-day life as a blogger living in Michigan who personally would welcome a decrease in superhero movies playing at the local multiplex. (Except for those with Loki in them. Because I don’t know if I’ve talked about my Loki feelings lately, but they are powerful, visceral, and 120% positive.) Anyway, what I’m getting at is that Comic-Con is an unapologetically cheap and easy segue into what I want to talk about today: rationalism and emotions.

Weight gain and recovery, in some manifestations of eating disorders, go troublingly hand-in-hand. It’s important to note that this isn’t always the case: EDs don’t always result in being dangerously underweight. There are many kinds of eating disorders, and you can’t tell who has one or who doesn’t just by looking at them. (Super-intentional link barrage is super-intentional.)

But for me, and for many readers I’ve chatted with, fear of weight gain is one of the reasons that resistance to recovery is so strong. Recovery is something like full-frontal exposure therapy in these cases. Throwing yourself straight into your worst fear on the word of friends, family, and support either IRL or online that everything will turn out for the best. Imagine a man terrified of sharks being told to watch Jaws in an underwater cage in the Pacific in the middle of Shark Week. It’s something like that. Only without the smell of chum.

Now, you ask, why the deuce did you bring up Comic-Con in that first paragraph, then segue into Jaws, and then somehow end up at recovery? Well, two reasons. One, because I mix metaphors like bartenders mix the ingredients for a Manhattan: into a delicious concoction that goes down smooth every time. And two, because my best strategy of coping with the difficulties of facing recovery’s weight-related fears is to think like a Vulcan.

I’m a little young for the Shatner series, but I’ve seen the more recent Star Trek films (because of Benedict Cumberbatch, and because my former roommate took to yelling “KHAAAAAAAAAN” every time our toilet failed to flush or our stove caught on fire again), so I think that basically makes me an expert in the Vulcan’s inability to process or express emotions. Life to the inestimable Mr. Spock is a math problem, a physics equation, a series of numbers and probabilities that can be followed to its natural and logical end. “Feeling fat” or “fearing weight gain” has no place in the Vulcan universe. You are what you are, logically, rationally, ipso facto. That’s it.

I’m the kind of person who bursts into tears at the smallest provocation, so clearly this isn’t a kind of lifestyle I’m apt to fall into particularly easily. But thinking about issues surrounding weight gain, I find it helpful during tough times – like now. A year and a half after I started blogging about the recovery process, I’m now at my highest weight to date. If you’d told me at the time I would be where I am, I imagine my swirling maelstrom of emotions would have had a thing or two to say about it.

But now, looking at it objectively from a much healthier, much more stable place, I can start to take it apart. The last few days have been a little rough, and I’m still not exactly comfortable moving around in my body the way it feels right now. If we’re being honest (a practice I favor, generally),  I wouldn’t mind losing xx pounds in a healthy, slow, and reasonable way. But when the going gets particularly bad, I’ve started to pull back and ask myself the important questions.

  • “What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen if I wasn’t able to lose weight from here?”
  • “What, really, is bad about the way I am right at this very moment?”
  • “If something happened and I was stuck at this weight forever, what would I lose that I could have had otherwise?”

Answer key, for those playing along at hime:

  • Well, I wouldn’t be able to wear those super-comfortable jeans from two years ago I bought on sale for $20. Which would be sad, but reasonably, I could always buy more jeans. Even if I do hate shopping, it would be about thirty unpleasant minutes. I sat through PompeiiI can handle more than thirty unpleasant minutes.
  • What’s bad about the way I am? Well, I’m not happy. It’s easier to work on being happy with the present than changing it into something it’s not meant to be.
  • What would I lose? Well, those pants. And the privilege of saying that I “got back to my high school weight,” which is apparently an important thing for some reason. Other than that? I’m having a tough time.

I’m not claiming that this exercise is always easy, or that it works every time. But it’s helped me through many a tough morning. For example, a few days ago was my monthly allotted trip to The Scale, when I learned that my newly instated exercise habit had failed to make an ounce (#RecoveryPuns) of difference. The emotional part of my brain was wildly disappointed with this, but after a few minutes, I tried to put my response into the same logical question format.

What exactly were you hoping to accomplish here? Have you accomplished it?

I exercise to feel powerful in my body. I exercise to take care of my heart and my legs and my muscles and my various other et caeteras. I exercise because it’s nice to start a morning with a jog and the chance to listen to the ever kick-ass John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman on The Bugle.

Why does weight logically need to come into that? I can be healthy and happy at any weight. Sure, there’s still that initial moment of “crap, I worked so hard and what do I have to show for it?” I don’t know if there’ll always be that moment, but for right now it’s pretty tough to deny it completely. But what’s important is to cut the thought process off as soon as is logistically possible and really, critically, think about it.

If you’re having a tough recovery day (and we all do), try sitting down for a few minutes, alone and away from distractions, and really asking yourself the question.

What’s the worst thing that could happen if I gain XX pounds? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I embrace recovery and the physical changes that come with it and after it?

Try as hard as you can not to let anything subjective or exaggerated enter this mental discussion. Be honest with yourself. Accept that “physical perfection” is a social construct that means objectively nothing. Be gentle on hard days and do something that makes you happy, because in recovery self-care is a radical and revolutionary choice.

And if you can figure out a way to beam me up somewhere, please drop me a line and let me know. I’m still operating without a car and it would be really lovely not to have to bum rides all the time. Thanks.