About every ten years, medical studies cause the medical community to change what they consider good and bad for us. The second time I went on a diet, it was commonly accepted that beef and cheese were two of the worst foods for anyone trying to lose weight, and that they were high in cholesterol, therefore 'bad' food for everyone. At the time I was highly sensitive to fish and chicken. I could not eat either one without serious side effects. (The sensitivity was caused by exposure to a particular substance, and eventually subsided over the years.) The point is, I lost 48 pounds with beef, eggs and cheese as my only sources of protein.
You can choke on a bite of baked, skinless chicken but that does not make the chicken 'bad' food. The truth is that an excess of one thing to the exclusion of all others is usually not the best thing for anyone. And in my case, my food cravings were usually indicators that something was out of balance in some other area of my life.
While it is generally accepted that being employed and earning enough money to comfortably support yourself is a 'good' thing, I had one job that nearly put me in a hospital. And it was a toss-up as to whether it would be a medical hospital or a psychiatric one. The job required enormous numbers of work hours and the stress that came along with the work was crushing. It was not feeding me on any level except financially. It felt like a 'bad' thing.
In fact, it was a job. Period. I had to make choices with regard to the job. I had to learn to either set limits on the time and energy I was willing to give to it, or look for a different job. When I realized my health was suffering because of the work I did every day, I knew the time had come to make some difficult, life-altering decisions. The decisions I made were eventually life-affirming for me. On the surface, they might not have looked like the best choices financially, but they brought balance back into my life. The choices I made at that time in my life are still feeding me, emotionally, mentally, financially, physically and spiritually.
It feels like they were 'good' choices, when in fact they were just choices. The potential results of those choices were many and varied. I was prepared to live with the consequences of my choices and to keep making choices as I found my way back to balance. I kept 'feeding' myself, without judgment. As long as I cherished my intrinsic value as a human being, just for the fact of my existence, I knew the choices I made could never do anything except make me happier.
Singing for My Supper - 2013
It's funny the way things we thought were UNIVERSAL TRUTH change over time. Back in my dieting days, I remember how I used to watch the clock to see if enough time had passed so I could have my next meal or snack. I had a schedule down so that every four hours I could have either a meal or a snack. As I approached the four hour mark, I would be ravenous, and very often the meal or snack I had planned did not come close satisfying my hunger.
Also, the size of the portions and total content of the meal had to have enough volume for me to feel full. On the diet I chose to follow there was a whole group of 'free foods' so I could fill upon those, while getting smaller portions of the things I really wanted to eat. I could never understand the people who went on a diet that substituted some kind of shake or drink for a meal. I would never get through on just that! Or so I thought at the time.
And forget about the people who said they skipped a meal, or forgot to eat. That was crazy talk! Who ever forgets to eat? Well actually, I do now. Sometimes when I'm caught up in doing something I love, or being with people I love, eating has no place or time in my life. That's particularly true on Tuesday evenings these days.
Since I returned to California, I have joined a choir and we rehearse on Tuesday evenings. Now it's true that I would prefer not to have eaten a large meal before singing, but I also don't want to go to rehearsal feeling really hungry. So most of the time, I will either eat my lunch late in the day, or get a very light snack between work and rehearsal.
But sometimes, I just forget to eat. Sometimes, in going through my usual routine after work, of walking the dog, checking email and Facebook, and changing clothes, I head out the door without having given food a single thought. Those are the nights I'm singing for my supper. It tastes really good and satisfies my hunger.
The Yo-Yo Effect - 2013
I was always taught it is better to give than to receive. I should sacrifice what I wanted to do in favor of what my friends wanted to do. If there was ever a conflict, I should be the peacemaker, the ultimate negotiator of compromise, and it was clear that I should be the one who gives in first.
I took those lessons to heart because they seemed like good things to do, and that seemed to be a way to live with generosity and integrity. It felt like a noble way to try and live my life. And in many ways, those lessons have served me well. However, they were only one course in the main meal of how to live a balanced life.
What I didn't learn was how to nourish myself so that when I gave something to others, it had substance and value. My idea of giving and sacrificing led me to completely deplete my own resources. Eventually, I met people who were more than willing to take what I had to offer, and then to ask for more, and then to lay on a guilt trip when I tried to set a limit.
In the novel Testimony of Two Men, Taylor Caldwell discusses the relationship between parasite and host. She talks about the parasite feeding from the host, because that is the only way it knows to survive. But then she goes on to say that the host has a responsibility to set the parasite aside and refuse to feed it. Back when I read this (a million years ago it seems) it opened my eyes. For the first time I understood that I had a responsibility to maintain my own life, and my own energy, and my own integrity. If I allowed myself to be depleted, then what I offered to others was of no value.
I used to be embarrassed when someone complimented me, and I would try to deny what they were saying. I needed to be the one giving compliments, not the one receiving them. I was also so insecure within myself that I couldn't accept my own worth and value. One of the things I learned along the way was that there is a certain grace in being able to accept a gift or a compliment and say, 'thank you.'
I came to understand that generosity and caring are two way streets. I had to be able to receive what was being offered to me, and not always be the grand giver of gifts and compliments. Honesty demanded that I be honest with myself. Only when I could allow and accept my own goodness, my own accomplishments, my own value, would I be truly able to be generous with others. Then it would be sincere. Then it would not be something I was doing to try to be noble.
There were many years of trial and error with these concepts. After coming out of a painful friendship or relationship, I would retreat within myself and try to figure out how to do it differently the next time. I would find my joy again, pick myself up and start over, and recreate the same situations all over again. I was an emotional yo-yo, but each time to a lesser degree.
With time, patience with myself, and with the love of close friends and family, I have balanced the habit of giving and compromising, with the habit of receiving and of affirming my own worth. They go together like potatoes and gravy, like salad and dressing, like meat and vegetables, like pie and ice cream. You can't have one without the other.