What does success look like? Is there a point that I’m striving to reach, and then I’ll know that I’m “there”? Are there a list of characteristics that I need to have, and then I’ll consider myself “complete”? Or is it about what I don’t do? Is there a list of behaviours somewhere in the recesses of my mind, and if I abolish those, then I will finally be a good person, the person that I’m striving to reach.
I don’t know the answer to this question, of course. I’ve noticed my attitude to things changing so much on the inside in the past few years, and yet relatively little appears to have changed on the outside. When my doctor first recommended seeing someone for therapy, about 18 months ago, I definitely had fixed notions about what that would be like and what I would get out of it.
I thought that it would be a little bit like a “course”. I thought there would be tasks I’d be set to do (much like CBT, I guess?) for homework, and during the course of the therapy itself. I thought I’d be asked to fill out questionnaires and all that sort of thing.
I expected it to be more like definable work. I was expecting to find some tasks difficult to do, but then to gunboat and get through to the other side, having excised some difficult and undesirable behaviours cleanly and accurately.
I thought that I’d get to a place where I was “done” and I’d know it.
I thought I’d nearly immediately stop drinking. I thought I’d nearly immediately start to lose weight.
But it’s way more complicated and (less complicated too!) than all that. The solutions for me have been so simple on one hand: be mindful, be truthful, stick with yourself and accept your true self when you find it – and so incredibly difficult on the other. The ability of parts of myself to hide from me is phenomenal. And I also struggle with a very active part of me that doesn’t even want to change.
Outwardly I would claim that I’m all about change and self-growth and self-improvement. I could certainly make a list as long as your arm of all the things I’m less than content about in my life and in my actions. But it turns out that – as much as anybody else in the world – I’m a big scaredy cat proponent of “better the devil you know”.
I am slowly slowly excavating myself and discovering what I actually believe and feel about any number of things, and then slowly slowly doing the work of accepting that.
For instance – I now know that dieting triggers huge obsession with food for me, and is completely counter-productive to health and weight loss. I will even end up gorging on foods I don’t particularly like just because they were banned by a diet. I’m now on a really long journey of trying to work out what I do like to eat and what it feels like for me to be full (coz I’ve completely fucked up that messaging system through years of “finishing what’s on my plate” and eating on a schedule rather than when I’m hungry).
Here too I run up against the familiar old road block of not even wanting to change. I want the familiar comfort of relaxing with a tv show and some snacks. Or of gobbling down a full take-away meal, even though I know I’ll feel overfull and uncomfortable after it. I’ll even eat more quickly on purpose in order to bypass the messages telling me it’s too much, just so that I can get everything into me.
It’s taken this long for me to start recognising this behaviour – that doesn’t mean I’m able to completely change it yet. For me, the work starts by seeing it, and then trying to ask the question “why?”. Because clearly some part of me thinks there’s an advantage in what I’m doing – whether it’s to gain something or avoid something. Or maybe a bit of both. And I get evenings when I feel blocked from even asking that gentle “why?” because I’m afraid that when I get the answer that will mean I need to stop what I’m doing. And what I’m doing is comforting me on some level. So I’m scared that change will be uncomfortable.
But how could the change be any more uncomfortable than feeling disappointed in the physical projection of yourself into the world?
I don’t know the answers yet. I don’t even know all the questions yet! But I’m going to keep sweeping away with my archaeologist’s brush and see what I find in here.