at the beginning of january i made my list of resolutions, as i do every year. i felt the usual rush of inspiration over them, and then the inevitable disappointment over how impossible they seemed. this was confounded by the fact that most of them were resolutions that i make every year and never seem to keep. i decided then that i needed to slow my roll and figure out what made all of these things so attractive and yet so difficult for me to maintain. in order to gain some perspective i started keeping track of what i spent, ate, drank and bought every day. at first this was a really difficult thing to do, but after a couple of weeks i felt like i understood some things about myself.
i always think that it’s incredible how much of what we do is unconscious, or without presence. especially where food, alcohol and money are concerned. those are the big three for me, the ones that i tend to turn a blind eye to, the ones that i try not to look too closely at. keeping an honest account of these things was really powerful. at first it put me on my best behavior, as if being watched. this caused me to actually pay attention to the things that i typically just did, impulsively. it made me stop and put back the things that i would normally buy in secret, and eat in my car or bury in my closet. what this did was show me how painfully attractive things that i cannot have are to me. it showed me what power the word “no” has, and how i react to it, which is to say: “i want it yes i can yes i can.”
my three year old son who has autism has behavioral therapy, and one of the things that his therapists work on is diversion. the idea is that you don’t want to give negative attention to or discourage a behavior but introduce and encourage other behavior. i decided to look at my list of resolutions and see if i could apply this. for example: instead of saying, “no more clothes shopping” i decided that if i am going to buy something new, i have to sell something in my closet first. if i’m going to bring something new into my house, i have to make room for it. instead of telling myself i am not allowed to drink alcohol, i changed that to: if i’m going to drink alcohol, i have to keep track of how i feel the next day, of how it affects my energy and mood and my day. the same applies to eating sugar, or food that i’m allergic to or that is not healthy. how did that make me feel? what was the aftermath of that?
the goal of this was to get an honest, real picture of what is realistic for me (alcohol once a month? a seasonal shopping trip?). but something that simple brought a new awareness and a consciousness to what i did: it made me pause while i was doing something and think about it. just that moment of pause was enormous. it made me stop feeling like i had to eat drink or buy something as if i was about to be busted. in a roundabout way i gave myself permission to do whatever the fuq i wanted to do, instead of telling myself “this is what you cannot do” and then saying to myself, “you are a failure” when i did it. because in some way i feel that i need to set rules for myself to keep myself in line. the idea of just allowing myself to eat drink or buy without a set budget or diet or some mandate felt like i would quickly sink into psychological anarchy and wind up on lying drunk in a gutter wearing head to toe gucci with a box of donuts.
what i’m figuring out is that there’s a whole world of pressure built in to the standards that i hold myself to. just getting honest with myself was incredibly liberating. i think that i always felt that if i really looked at what i ate or spent or consumed or did or didn’t do i would discover that i was some kind of monster. but what happened was something else, just keeping track of all of these things brought them out into the light and that took a lot of their power away, sort of like diffusing a bomb. that awareness opened up all of this space inside of my head that had always felt very overfilled with chaos. i realize that the things that i was beating myself up over were not terrible things or particularly great things, just things. things that i did to entertain myself or tune out or even just to keep myself going.
this week i have been thinking about this quote from tara brach: “feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance.”