Friday, February 17, 2012

Reflections & Musings: Could we be addicted to self-help?

"Gather in your resources, 
rally all your faculties,
marshal all your energies,
focus all your capacities upon master of at least 
one field of endeavor."
-John Haggai

For as long as I can remember, I've been dedicated to self-improvement. Once upon a time, it came from a feeling of being flawed and needing to "fix" something. At a certain point, this was true — I needed substantial help to get to a point where I could stop the compulsion to binge and purge on food — but it eventually evolved into a quest of learning how to become a better person to rewrite the story that was battered into my brain as a child: "You're not good enough. You're so selfish! Ungrateful girl! You are just worthless!"(My Chinese parents did not mince words in their attempts to teach me using their version of tough love.)

I love learning, and it may be stereotypically Asian of me, but I am truly a dork. I have applied for a library card in virtually every city I've lived in — and I've lived around the world. I will consume information to the nth degree, because I'm fascinated by most everything in the world and think that one life is just to short to consume it all! It's as though I want to wrap my mental arms around everything and bring it in closer to me. 

After many years of therapy and introspection, I realize that my previous binge/purge tendencies transferred to other areas of my life, or they were always present and the eating disorder was just one of the symptoms. After I finished my intensive eating disorder outpatient program, I met a friend who was in AA and we spoke of how similar our two addictions were. He is an extremely intelligent, creative, and charming individual, and it's amazing how easily we could feel defeated by diseases that were seemingly out of our control. 

Once I began pursuing a spiritual path, I fell in love with all of the learnings from around the world. It resonated with such a deeper part of me that I could not deny it as truth. But, like everything else I've approached in life, I tried to become "perfect" at it. Somehow, I make it so that anything that starts as enjoyable quickly becomes work — it's as though I feel too guilty to have fun! 

I feel that I've become addicted to "being better." This perpetually reinforces the belief that I'm not good enough just as I am. When my beau tells me that he loves me, all of me, without my having to do anything extra at all, I picture myself looking at him with my head cocked to the side, as though he's completely crazy. 'How could you love me for not doing and for just being? How could that ever be enough??' I want to ask him, but I refrain, because I'm training myself to believe that what he says is truly what he means. (I know him well enough now to understand that he will not say something just for the sake of being nice — he means the words that are coming out of his mouth.)

All of the self-help books, this constant drive to make it so that there is less "unknowing" in my life, I believe goes to the root of what my eating disorder was all about. I was simply trying to feel safe in my environment, to feel good in my skin, to feel LOVED. I was told, "If you do this, then you will get this" and I felt that what my parents were really saying was, "If you were better, then I would love you." In this state of conditional care, I never felt like I could be/do/say the right thing to get what my heart craved — affection in all of its forms.

I no longer want to be addicted to self-help. I would like to believe that I am whole, that I was born just right, and that I deserve to be loved. I would like to open my arms and envelop sweet care rather than harsh criticisms, to fill my consciousness with beautiful emotions rather than tips and how-to's and indifferent yet interesting knowledge.

One of the exercises I've been practicing lately is to have fun purely for the fun of it and not because I need to be better. To be absolutely present in whatever I'm doing or wherever I am. Instead of walking with headphones stuck in my ears, I let all of my senses be present. When hanging out with friends, especially my beau, I aim to put my phone far away, so that my attention is not distracted as to what's happening over there rather than over here. When cooking, I put on my favorite Anthropologie apron and play with the ingredients to create dishes from scratch. And, rather than pushing myself to get to a new growing edge, I learn to play in the parameters that I've created thus far and revel in it, to let myself be here, where I've already worked so hard to be, rather than arching over there. 

Recently, my beau asked if I wanted to have children. I told him that I don't know, that I would not want them to be raised in any sort of environment that resembled the one I grew up in. "I worry about screwing them up somehow," I told him. "I think that I'd like to get to this place where I feel I've grown enough as a person, but I realize that's never going to happen, that throughout our lives we'll constantly be growing, and children further emphasize that fact."And, just like that, he called out what I really meant, "I don't think that's what you're worried about — what you're really worried about is that they'll turn out fucked up like you. You're this amazingly beautiful person and you're worried about something that's not even true."

I will no longer place my contented place outside of myself. As Shawn Achor notes, I must stop moving my target for happiness. There's nothing I need to fix, because I'm simply not broken. Now, I can practice learning for the sake of learning, just for the enjoyment of it!

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