It is funny how things work out but I have been reflecting for a few days about this concept of our own inner goodness, and the fact that so many of us, well most in fact, have forgotten this, or forget it when things get tough.
I have also been re-reading this fabulous book by Caroline Myss called “Why people don’t heal and how they can” and last night, I was sitting up on our bed watching (umm, dare I admit to this!!) EastEnders on BBC iplayer (ok I admit it, I LOVE EastEnders…) after a late yoga class and I shared a quote from this book on the Beinspired facebook page, all about self-love and what this really means.
And then it suddenly struck me, I don’t binge eat anymore. Not at all, no relapses, no urge, no drive, no nothing to tempt me back down that old path. It was such a huge part of what I did for so long, so exhausting on so many levels, but essentially all about my distinct lack of love for myself.
It made me reflect a little.
I was 17 when I developed an eating disorder. Until that point I had a perfectly normal attitude towards food and my body. I ate when I was hungry, I exercised because I loved playing sport and surfing, not because I wanted to lose weight, and I was unaware of the size of clothes I was wearing, I wore that ones that fitted, simple as that really!
And then I went on a school field trip to France and all of a sudden, spending time with other girls who were more conscious of their bodies, I started to become a little more conscious myself, but more so that my body was okay as it was. And then a few months later I went on a geography field trip and I started becoming conscious that my waist was not as skinny as one of the other girls who were also on the trip and had a boyfriend (which I didn’t!).
Then probably one of the greatest influences. I was a dedicated surfer back in those days and I developed a crush on a surfer boy a few older than me, you know the obsessive crush, which would find me regularly cycling past his house, dragging my brother along with me come rain or shine, or telephoning the house on the off chance that he may pick up the telephone and then putting it down (this is normal behaviour right?!). I was absolutely obsessed, he was all I thought about, I was IN LOVE with this guy (not that I had ever talked to him or anything like that you understand!).
Anyhow I still remember the moment. It was a Monday and I was at home sick and one of my friend’s telephoned me from school (this was in the days of pay phones and – if you were really lucky – telephones in your bedroom so that you could come home from school and continue talking to your friends for the whole evening, about what I have no idea, seeing as we had spent all day chatting at school too, but you know how it is!) to tell me that this boy, surfer boy, was now going out with the most popular girl in our year, let’s call her Lara.
So Lara was one of those girls that just got right under your skin and just made you feel really rubbish about yourself. She was a twin and she was pretty and popular and slim and the boys called her a princess and she was just brilliant at everything and got all this attention and everyone knew her and all the boys fancied her and all the girls were in awe or jealous of her. And now, lo and behold surfer boy and Lara were an item. And not just any old item but a very dedicated item or so it would unfold.
Lara lost a lot of weight and appeared to exist on diet coke alone. This made me consider that if I lived on diet coke alone perhaps I would be as beautiful and gifted and lovely as Lara and perhaps I would end up with surfer boy instead – the mind is crazy huh, that whole thing of “when I do this or that, this or that will happen when I stop doing this or that, then this and that will happen”, it shows up all over the place right, this is the stuff of diet industry dreams, and new year detox retreats and "healthy" juicing companies, there is a whole heap of people making a ton of money out of us for this very (nuts) reasoning...
Anyhow so this whole Lara diet coke/surfer boy thing also coincided with a particularly stressful time in my life, namely studying for A-Levels and applying for University. I was a conscientious and hard worker and I was failing at French which I feared and dreaded and loathed all in one go, plus I was scared of leaving the Island and going to University. My life felt a little out of control, so I guess it was no surprise that I developed an eating disorder to try to bring some (false) sense of control in my life.
So I lost weight, I calorie counted to extreme, I deprived myself of food, so that I wasn’t just controlling things but I was also harming myself really. My parents grew increasingly concerned and there were visits to the doctor and an attempt at seeing a psychologist, and endless dinner time rows as I became increasingly sneaky about how I disposed of food to make sure it did not enter my mouth. It was all very tiring and very silly I now realise and I feel very sorry for all the heartache I created for my parents and indeed the stress for my poor younger brother living in such a fraught environment for that year of his life.
Fortunately I could not sustain this way of living and that fact my periods stopped kind of made me wake up a little and realise that this was not a good way to live. But the damage was done and every day, every meal involved a lot of mental energy and every time I ate more than I thought I should I would berate myself and be hard on myself. I would look at my naked body and be cruel to that too, this was too big, or this was not big enough, endlessly comparing myself to others and considering I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
It was like a mantra. I am not good enough. I am not good enough. I am not good enough. Imagine how that felt over time, being so cruel and nasty to myself all the time.
Interestingly, a good many years ago now after an intensive few months of practicing yoga in Australia I lost weight and my periods stopped – this says a lot about how even yoga, to extreme is not healthy, how we can in fact use yoga to promote our imbalances rather than ease them, but that is another story. So my Reiki Master is also a hormone specialist and back then she lived in Guernsey and she ran some saliva hormone testing for me, which indicated a hormonal imbalance but also suggested that I had cysts on my ovaries.
I went to the doctor who said she very much doubted this diagnosis as I did not look like a lady who had cysts on her ovaries, I was not over weight, I did not have excessive hair on my face etc, but she sent me for a scan nonetheless and lo and behold the scan showed that I had a whole heap of tiny cysts covering both of my ovaries. The doctor was surprised and said that there was little that could be done, if I wanted children then they may need to intervene then but other than that, well you just carried on.
I wasn’t very comfortable about this and being very much into the alternative healing world by then, a Reiki practitioner myself in fact, I came across Brandon Bay’s “The Journey” and before I knew it I had booked a session with a practitioner in Jersey and was on the boat for a day trip. From what I can recall, essentially, the practitioner takes you on a journey into your body and to the area of dis-ease.
So we journeyed to my ovaries and can you believe it, lo and behold, covering my ovaries was all the emotion, the anger and resentment and envy I felt about Lara and her relationship all those years ago with lover boy. Seriously! All that inadequacy I felt, all the self-loathing, all the comparison with Lara, all the pain and all the stuff I had carried and sat on all these years, on my ovaries, can you believe that?! On my ovaries. This was a huge lesson for me, a huge realisation that it is true, unexpressed and unprocessed emotions do really sit in our physical bodies causing energy blocks and dis-ease.
So we worked it through, I went back into all that pain and suffering (created by me may I add, my reaction to, and perception of, Lara and the whole broken dream with surfer boy – I was so angry and heartbroken) and I felt it and I processed it…You have to go back into it sometimes to truly let it out. That is the reason healing is often painful, true healing that is, because you have to release that which is trapped inside, the emotions have to find their way out be that through tears, an anger outburst or a momentary depression, it has to come out, be processed, all gone.
In any event at the next scan, no more cysts. And when I thought of Lara, there was no emotion attached, no comparison, no feeling that she is better than me…I moved on. The body is quite amazing!
Anyhow back to the story. So at University I developed bulimia and would starve, binge and take laxatives, starve, binge and take laxatives, starve, binge and take laxatives….I discovered alcohol and cannabis too, which helped enormously in numbing my pain and I learned to smoke cigarettes, which certainly helped with the starving bit – I’d live on cigarettes and black coffee and I loved nothing more than smoking cannabis, listening to Deep Forest or Pink Floyd and writing poetry, “We are all lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year”. That was me. The lost soul.
A few weeks after I graduated I ended up spending the summer in and out of hospital with gallstones, most unusual for someone of my age, and I ended up having to have my gallbladder removed in the end and there were complications so I was really rather poorly for a while. The gallbladder is representative of bitterness and I recognised years later that I had been carrying a huge amount of bitterness within me due to an event in my late childhood and no doubt towards Lara too! If only I had been into the alternative world back then I may still have a gallbladder!
Still it was a wake-up call about the eating disorder and I dropped the laxatives immediately and I started to try and try and try again to sort this all out. But the thing is, it was all so deeply ingrained. So deeply ingrained. That actually the eating disorder was with me until only a few years ago really. Things started to improve when I first discovered Reiki and yoga and I visited Carol Champion to see if she could help me manage my depression through diet. She was incredibly helpful and this was the first time I had considered that we are what we eat. That food is for nurturing and healing and energising, rather than something to be feared.
It amazes me now that I used to live my life so ignorant to the power and importance of good nutrition. My Mum is a fabulous cook and she made incredibly healthy and balanced food for us growing up but when I went to University and had to fend for myself it all went wrong. I would live on super noodles with peas, diet yoghurts, jelly tots, pick and mix, crumpets and baked beans. It was not healthy in the slightest. Especially not with the cigarettes, black coffee and cider!
Back here in Guernsey I did eat much better, fortunately when I was not living with my parents I loved with my brother who is also an amazing cook. So we ate well, but I still used to consider the calorie and fat content of food rather than considering whether it was actually any good for me, you know how those diet foods are actually full of so much rubbish really, insane that we all fall for it!
So yoga helped to wake me up to eating better but it also helped to promote my eating disorder in those early years. I would spend a few months away at a time indulging in anywhere between 2 and 6 hours of asana practice a day and so inevitably this would tone my body somewhat but I would also skip meals and as I started to lose weight I would get hooked into the feeling of being in control again and I would skip even more meals and put myself under a ton of pressure to sustain the new, somewhat unsustainable weight, at least unsustainable back home in Guernsey where I wasn’t practicing 2-6 hours of asana each day in Australia or Nepal or any of those warmer places I happened to be.
It was not healthy but sadly the yoga word is rife with it. Yoga, especially the more active or heated forms of yoga will always attract women who have body issues and especially those with eating disorders and sometimes it can actually provide them with an excuse for eating as they do – “I don’t eat dairy, sugar, wheat, meat blah blah blah”, and not because they have insensitivities but because it means they can mask their disorder more easily amongst friends and family. You probably know someone yourself, there are a ton of yoga teachers out there who feel they have to be skinny to be deemed to be doing it right and a whole ton of yoga practitioners who feel that they are not good enough because they are not as skinny as their yoga teacher. Bah!
As to my eating disorder, well it is like everything in life, the pendulum swings one way and then it swings another and it can be very challenging finding the middle ground. Which is the reason I really like the teachings of the Buddha, because it is all about the middle path, the middle way, not too loose and not too tight, and for those of us who have a tendency for perfection, the classic A-type personality, well it cuts you some slack, gives you a place to settle, and asks you to forgive and live with compassion. What is not to like about that?
It also teaches goodness. That at our core, we are all filled with goodness. But on the whole most of us have forgotten our own goodness. We think other people are full of goodness but we fail to recognise it in ourselves. We do not feel we are worthy. Of life, of love, of peace, of happiness. This shows up time and time again in our habitual patterns, which take us further away from this place. The things (lies) we tell ourselves, the negative thoughts we have about ourselves and the choices we make. The patterns we create from our sense that we are not good enough in the first place.
This shows up in healing time and time again. Anxiety, depression, a lot of it created by the self, we allow that little inner voice, the negative one to run rife, telling us time and time again that there is something wrong with us, we are not pretty enough, we are not good enough at this or at that, we are not deserving, so that we lose all sense of connection with the joy and strength of the Universe and the Earth, so that we lose out stability, our clarity, our grounding, our sanity and we become anxious and our spirit becomes depressed and we wear black to fit in (not stand out, must not stand out, nor embrace the colour and brightness in life) and we lower our gaze when we walk because we are not worthy enough or too self-conscious and self-loathing to look anyone else in the eyes, so that over time our heart well and truly collapses in on itself and our posture shifts so that our upper back rounds and we can’t open our chest in yoga so well and our neck hurts and our spirit sinks and our shoulders are tight and our stomachs feel empty on the inside.
There is a fabulous quote in Caroline Myss’ book which reads, “Our belief that we are damaged at our core is accompanied by the belief that we are not worthy of any kind of help, human or Divine, or of acting on any of the help offered to us. Cutting loose from this emotional anchor takes real effort….Don’t fear the despair or exhaustion that you will inevitably feel along the way. No one can remain positive and strong all the time, not even under the best of circumstances. Books can make healing sound as if there’s nothing to it – just change your mind, get positive, get active, and eat right. Would that it were that simple! But it is not. Again and again, you need to look inside, confront the myths in which you believe, and clear out your fears and negative patterns. You need to continue to practice this even after you heal…In truth, we have no choice but to move even more closely into ourselves – the only way out, as the expression goes, is to go in”.
And that is all we can do really. Go inside. Practice. Go inside. Practice. Notice. Pay attention. Go inside. Stay still. Don’t run. Stay awake. Don’t go back to sleep…it is too painful staying all tight inside…compassion, forgiveness, compassion, forgiveness, compassion forgiveness, self-acceptance, self-acceptance, self-acceptance….letting go, letting go, letting God (The Universe, the Angels, Mother Goddess…) in. Open hearts. Open minds. Love.
So through our practice, day in and day out on our mats and cushions, we start to get familiar with our tendencies - we notice our hooks, the things that draw us away from our own goodness, the habits, the recurring story lines, the things we tell ourselves, the trigger of our fears and self-doubt, how everything arises, abides and dissolves again (like a vinyasa), the impermanence of everything, our attachments, our aversion, our ignorance.
It is only in getting more familiar with our tendencies - increasing our awareness and learning how our mind works - that we can move from negative habits and seeds, letting these go, and move towards accumulating positivity and going back to a place of recognising our own goodness. It is only in recognising our own goodness that we recognise the goodness in another person.
It really is up to us, people can guide us sure, but we have to do the work. No drama. Just practice in a grounded, sane and ordinary manner. Breathe in and breathe out, breath in and breathe out and listen and pay attention. And ask yourself, can you be in your practice without wanting it to be different or without losing awareness and drifting off with your thoughts reflecting on the past or planning into the future. And can you be ok with yourself. As you are. Now.
And you know what, give yourself a break. Social media and the “I” generation that we find ourselves living in have a lot to answer for. All the time we are bombarded with messages and images of who we need to be and what we need to look like to be “successful”. Everyone wants to be someone – look at the names children are given these days, everyone wants to stand out, or for their children to stand out. But with that comes a huge insecurity and sense of failure and loss of connection with our inner goodness.
So when you identify the triggers, be it the toxic “friends” on facebook, or facebook itself, or celebrity magazines, or whatever and whomever it may be who makes you feel inadequate, well then drop that from your life. You have a choice. You want things in your life that remind you of your own inner goodness, people and environments which promote this…have a read of this fabulous extract from Caroline Myss’ book:
“Self-love is a relatively new and much misunderstood concept...At its best, self-love is the capacity to take care of ourselves, to make choices within our present lifestyle that nurtures us and renews our vitality. For some of us, that may mean maintaining a steady exercise routine, while for others it may mean taking off for the country every so often. Still others need the regular healing touch of a massage treatment, a monthly facial, or something more social. You may require the company of an entirely new social group – for instance, people who are dedicated to maintaining the environment, living organically, or maintaining a spiritual practice of some kind. Or you may find that you need the freedom to live alone and to get to know yourself apart from ordinary social pressures. In some cases you may express your self-love by making a vow never again to allow abuse to come into your life. “
I am not perfect, not by a long shot. But I also don’t strive to be perfect. I embrace the middle path. And my yoga and meditation practice help me to do this. And over the years, bit by bit, the practice has chipped off quite a few of the jagged bits and its smoothed a few of the ridges, those well-trodden paths, the same dipositive behaviors patterns and negative tendencies which found me going around in circles, like the eating disorder that never seemed to go away…
…but over time it eased, it transformed and then it went away. But I have to work hard. I have had to practice and face many a dark night of the soul. And there will be more I am sure. But it has been worth it because life is lighter and brighter and there is more awareness and freedom and joy and peace. I can recommend it. It is time to embrace your inherent goodness, you have made it this far. Practice. Show up. Breathe in, breathe out. And pay attention. And Love Thy Self.