My radio partner posed a question to me last week about a possible topic on our show. Several years ago, he gave up watching sports for a year, saying he wanted to see how it would affect his life. Now, he’s thinking about doing it again; giving up something else for a year and he asked if maybe I would like to participate in the experiment. I thought about it for a minute and realized that for me, I am already doing it. I’m giving up, giving things up.
I have spent most of my adult life swinging between completely out of control and rigidly in control; the out of control times were when I was drinking and in order to stop abusing alcohol, I felt like I had to put myself on a strict regimen, so as not to not slip back across the border into booze town. I kept a very strict schedule/diet/fitness program. If it was 2 pm, I was napping. 3:30 meant a workout. Dinner by 5 and bedtime by 9 and up in the morning at 3:35 a.m. Gotta watch the ‘socializing’ as it was too easy to let down my guard and have a drink. I was white knuckling my way through life because I just couldn’t allow myself to loosen my grip or I’d slip up. Which is exactly why I ended up living back in booze town..as the mayor.
I recently read a book by Geneen Roth, called “Women, Food and God”, which is about our relationship with food, diets and body image. Many of us go through life with a love/hate relationship with food. I’ve never had a major eating disorder, although I have watched people that I love struggle with life-threatening eating issues. My problem is with trying to control other behaviors. I read the book on kind of a whim, but the concepts and issues that she spells out have resulted in a major shift in how I see my own life.
Roth breaks us gals down into two categories: restrictors and permitters. In a nutshell, permitters have given up control over their eating and in most cases, their lives, while restrictors try to control their lives and emotions by denying themselves food or whatever. Both are miserable and are suspicious of the others because of such opposite ways of coping, which is interesting since both sides are fighting the same war.
A giant buzzer went off in my head when I read this, since I’m a classic restrictor. I have put myself through tons of rigid eating plans over the years, most recently the whole low carb deal. My life became a litany of what I can’t eat and what I’m not allowed to consume and although it can be brutal, I took pleasure in knowing that I was ‘in control’ of myself and my eating and that I was so much better than the ‘permitters’ among us. As long as I was in complete control over my behavior, I would be just fine; all was right on Planet Jane.
One of the lines in her book was a pure revelation to me: You eat the way you live. It’s true. I restrict myself in so many areas: emotions, fun, being open to new experiences, food. My therapist told me a couple of weeks ago when I was explaining why I couldn’t do something, “Jane, there’s a lot of “can’ts” in there.” Yep, because I must be in control of everything, otherwise I could spin out of control at any moment and hit the bottle again.
So, I restrict, punish, deny, control and congratulate myself on my ‘self-discipline’. I’m so controlled, so noble, so superior to everyone else. Well, no more. It’s time to loosen the reigns on Planet Jane. Time to realize that one can truly live a life of moderation. I can have a cupcake when I crave one. I can miss a workout once in a while, if I’m not feelin’ it. I can reject feeling guilty about not living up to someone else’s expectations. I can do all of these things and others that I haven’t even thought of and KNOW that it doesn’t mean I’ll start drinking again. The problem with keeping yourself on such a short leash is that eventually, you’ll snap it and go right back to the behavior you’ve been rigidly, vigilantly trying to avoid. Too much control, too much denial, too much ‘giving things up’ can result in a stilted, unfulfilling, robotic life.
Nope, I’m not giving anything up. I’m done with restricting and will now work on adding things to my life. More joy, more wonder, more music, more living in the moment, more dining out, more, more more! Not hedonism; I’ve been there, but I’ve also lived at the other end of the spectrum, in the “no fun” zone. I will now dwell happily in the middle, which is far, far away from booze town.