Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fear and Faith

It's been longer than usual since I posted because we had company over the weekend. My brother's family came to visit for several days, and I had some much-needed time with "my people". I guess I shouldn't complain when I get homesick. At least I have people I love (and like!) enough to get homesick FOR, right?

There have been a few things circling in my head for the past week or two. One in particular centers around this quote in The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie: "To be who we are means we accept our physical selves, as well as our mental, emotional, and spiritual selves, for now... Being who we are, loving and accepting ourselves, is not a limiting attitude. Accepting and loving ourselves is how we enable growth and change."

I have had a difficult time with the seeming paradox of this concept. On the one hand, if I accept and love myself exactly the way I am right now, what is to say that I will ever be motivated to improve? There's a significant part of me that is afraid that loving and accepting myself as I am right now means I will be sentenced to an unchanging existence that is full of exactly the same struggles and imperfections I currently have.  Yet the author is telling me that this is simply not true. She is saying that this is the path to healthy growth in our lives physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

I discussed this concept with my sister-in-law while they were visiting. She reminded me of this quote from a recent General Conference talk by Elder Russell M. Nelson: "Your yearnings to grow and change come from a divinely instilled striving for eternal progression."

My first response was a frustrated one. "So I'm supposed to just believe that if I accept myself 'as-is' then I'm going to be motivated to improve? I'm afraid it won't happen, and I don't know how to change that!"

As soon as I said it, I realized I did know the answer: fear and faith cannot coexist. I can choose to live a life of fear that things will never get better if I accept who I am right now... OR... or what?

I knew I needed to build my faith if I were going to be able to make the shift, so I went looking for more talks from church leaders that address this issue of fear and faith. I found an excellent talk given by Elder Neil L. Anderson (full text here) called "You Know Enough". In it he uttered these profound words:

"Faith is not only a feeling; it is a decision."

He goes on to say, "Challenges, difficulties, questions, doubts—these are part of our mortality. But we are not alone. As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have enormous spiritual reservoirs of light and truth available to us. Fear and faith cannot coexist in our hearts at the same time. In our days of difficulty, we choose the road of faith. Jesus said, 'Be not afraid, only believe.' (Mark 5:36)"

Be Not AfraidI believe in Christ. I know He has blessed me and my family with very specific, needed things. I know he has guided and directed my life when I have struggled with big decisions. So why is it that I am having such a hard time believing that He will not abandon or condemn me if I let go of the fear of failure that dominates my life. This fear is not a motivating force for me to change. It's an inhibitor that discourages me when I am faced with my weakness. Yet despite it all I am clinging to fear because it's comfortable. It's what I know.

No more. I am choosing to let go of my fear.  I am choosing to accept myself as I am right now, warts and all. I envision myself standing on my well-worn path, and I see a road branching off to the right. Do I have the faith to take a different road? When I catch myself judging and criticizing what I do and don't do, will I make a conscious decision take the negative words out of my mind and replace them with words of kindness, of acceptance, and love?

Yes, I will walk by faith.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Saying Goodbye to the Checklist

About halfway through last week, my anxiety started to grow. And grow. And grow. 

I had set myself several objectives last week that I was supposed to accomplish each day that would help me achieve my long-term vision of nourishing my body and spirit. I thought with the system I had in place, I would be much more inclined to succeed and feel less pressure.

Umm... no.

Apparently, I need some coaching in what realistic success looks like. I talked with my counselor, Amy, today about the whole thing. She pointed out that success is improvement over a period or time, not just on a daily basis.  For example, one of my commitments last week was to be in bed with lights out by 10:30 p.m. All it took was one night of stress where I chose to goof off on the computer until 11:30 instead of sleep, and my week was shot. I lost focus and didn't follow through with my system for the rest of the week. As Sunday rolled around again, I felt like I had failed, despite the fact that I actually did go to bed early several nights last week. That's not reality.

I think the problem comes down to this: I can't use a checklist to change my life.

I love to have a checklist. A checklist makes me feel like I am accomplishing something, and like I am in control of my life. Prayers? Check! Exercise? Check! Read to the kids? Check! Drink water? Check! Check!

Unfortunately, most of our daily activities don't fit (and shouldn't be) on a checklist. A checklist might help me read to my kids once a day, but what about sincere, unscripted conversation with them? Which one means more? I might read my scriptures, but do I "feast on the word of God"? While a checklist can serve a good purpose for managing household tasks, that which is most precious, most valuable to me in my life cannot be quantified by a checklist. 

How does this relate to my desires to nourish myself? Living by a checklist also doesn't allow for my personal needs to be met. Needs are not always constant. There are days I need rest more than I need exercise. Or perhaps I need special time with Ben more than I need to go to bed early. How can I nourish myself if I am not in tune with what I need? 

It's simple. I can't.

So I'm going to throw out my list of what I think I should be doing. Right now, I need to learn how to be. 

I am not changing my long-term vision of living a life of spiritual, physical, and emotional nourishment. But I am throwing away the checklist and discarding the system I put in place last week. Instead of trying to go from 0 to 60 in a day, I'm getting out of the car and learning to walk.

Picture of Country Roads is a delightful image to free download

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Curse of Perfectionism

Image from here

One of the quotes I hear a lot from "motivational" speakers, is this one by Les Brown:

"Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you will land among the stars."

For someone like me, this is excruciating.

I am a perfectionist. 
That means there is a part of me that really feels like I should be able to get everything done right in a single day.

I should have a clean kitchen.
I should be nice to my family.
I should cook every meal - from scratch.
I should budget and save.
I should eat healthy.
I should exercise for 30 minutes.
I should be able to beautify and decorate my home.
I should have a nice yard.
I should say my prayers.
I should read my scriptures for 30 minutes.
I should stay on top of the laundry.
I should have a tidy home.
I should be organized and efficient in running my home.
I should have a well-stocked pantry and fridge.
I should serve others outside of my family.
I should help my kids with their homework,
I should read with my children.
I should have a nighttime routine with my kids.
I should...
           I should...
                     I should...

And if I aim for the moon and I miss, I am a failure.

At some point, it doesn't matter what I should do.
I am simply... exhausted.

As my life falls apart around me (or so I think), I suffer and I eat and I become unable to accomplish much of anything except the essentials. And sometimes I really struggle with even those.

Recently I heard this said at a church conference: 

The joyful news for anyone who desires to be rid of the consequences of past poor choices is that the Lord sees weaknesses differently than He does rebellion... when the Lord speaks of weaknesses, it is always with mercy.
~ Richard G. Scott

(For full text of the talk, click here.)

For obvious reasons, this quote really stuck with me. If the Lord views my weakness with mercy, shouldn't I? It was like I was given permission to be... human.

And so I've decided not to "shoot for the moon" anymore. I hope and pray that I'm not using this as an excuse to be mediocre in my efforts. I really feel that I need to visualize a healthy, happy, and realistic me, and then set objectives each week that will bring me closer to that person. I'm not working on an accomplishment. 

I'm on a journey of discovery. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The System

There are a few words I'm avoiding here. "Goals" is one of them. Although I believe in - and have used successfully - a system of setting smaller goals to achieve a big result, I think the word has been overused and lost a lot of it's meaning. Besides, I don't want to be a cliche'. You know what I mean - that person who sets a goal in January and falls off the wagon before February has come around. I don't want to be "that person." I'd like to believe it's a coincidence that I am starting this journey in January. (Maybe it's not, but humor me.)

I recently read this article by James Clear that discusses the difference between goals and systems. If I want to reach an objective, then I need to have a system in place to accomplish it. Period. So what system am I putting into place?

  1. I will write down my objectives for the week in a journal each Sunday. Every morning I will say the objectives out loud in an "I will" statement.
  2. I will seek the Lord daily through personal study and prayer.
  3. I will actively seek inspiration to help me continue on this path of wellness.
  4. I will attend the temple the first weekend of every month.
  5. I will continue to nourish my emotional health through counseling for as long as needful.
  6. I will seek opportunities to have special time with my children and Ben.

Tonight I heard a quote that really resonated with me:

"Hard times will consistently be there; but so will Christ." ~ Al Fox (aka "the tattooed Mormon")

Positive change is always hard. It involves overcoming bad habits and creating new ones. Sometimes it means letting go of unhealthy emotional attachments to behaviors and food and people. But that's okay. It's okay to be uncomfortable and to hurt and even to cry. And I hate crying. But I have faith that as I get closer to where I want to be, the journey will be easier and more rewarding.

Beginning Again

My "after" picture
6 1/2 years ago
Once upon a time I was physically healthy. Although I had been morbidly obese for years, a good friend of mine offered to be my lifestyle coach. Over the next year I lost over 100 pounds. For the first time in my adult life, I wasn't shopping in the plus size section. I was strong, I was a runner, and I felt like my life had unfolded before me.

But it didn't last. Two children and four years later, I had regained that hundred pounds - plus forty. I tried to motivate myself by reading my old journals, and I was shocked at what I saw there. Unbeknownst to everyone - including my friend/coach - I had criticized myself in private the entire time I was losing weight. Every time I wrote in my journal, it wasn't to give an update on my progress, it was to berate myself for making a mistake and going "off plan". While my friends and associates considered me "the incredible shrinking woman", inside I felt like a failure and like my success was a fraud. And so I spent the next two years afraid to try again. Afraid of failure, afraid of success, and feeling trapped by my fears.

This past year has been an incredible emotional journey for me. I started participating in a weekly study group for Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA). I didn't know whether I was co-dependent when I started, but I had recognized many unhealthy behavior patterns in myself that were mentioned in the CoDA literature. (Click here for the list I'm talking about.) After about 9 months in CoDA, I realized I needed more help, and I began seeing a counselor back in August. Without going into the details, let me just say that I have been able to do more healing in the last 12 months of my life than I had in the previous 30+ years. I am so grateful for the people that have been brought into my circle - both throughout my life and recently - that have helped me heal from some very painful childhood experiences. Through their help and the Lord's strength I have been able to come to a place where I am ready to love myself.

And so begins the next phase of my journey. I am ready to begin again. But this time, I am not focusing just on physical health. Because of my personal history, I will only see permanent change if I focus on three specific areas:

Spiritual Nourishment
Emotional Nourishment (i.e. my relationships with others)
Physical Nourishment

This blog will give me a place to share my hopes, my inspiration, my progress, and anything else that I feel like sharing that relates to nourishing myself. It is a personal journey, and therefore not really something I want to put on our family's webpage.

As I came up with the title of this post, the following poem came to mind.

The Land of Beginning Again
by Louisa Fletcher

I wish that there were some wonderful place
In the Land of Beginning Again.
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
and never put on again.

I wish we could come on it all unaware,
Like the hunter who finds a lost trail;
And I wish that the one whom our blindness had done
The greatest injustice of all
Could be there at the gates
like an old friend that waits
For the comrade he's gladdest to hail.

We would find all the things we intended to do
But forgot, and remembered too late,
Little praises unspoken, little promises broken,
And all the thousand and one
Little duties neglected that might have perfected
The day for one less fortunate.

It wouldn't be possible not to be kind
In the Land of Beginning Again,
And the ones we misjudged
and the ones whom we grudged
their moments of victory here,
Would find in the grasp of our loving hand-clasp
More than penitent lips could explain...

So I wish that there were some wonderful place
Called the Land of Beginning Again,
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches,
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never put on again.

Though it is not possible to start life over and undo all of my past mistakes, I believe in grace that comes through Jesus Christ. All the therapy in the world can only take me so far. Without Him, I am broken. With Him, I can progress and change and become something better than I was before. 

"And all [my] mistakes and all [my] heartaches, 
[Can] be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never put on again."