Accomplishments, oh me, oh my! I What a beautiful thing to celebrate. I discovered this beauty at Oliver Pyatt, my treatment center in Florida (from which I discharged early, against medical advice). With the help of my therapist Cece, I began a nightly gratitude practice accompanied by an “Achievement Journal.” Each night I’d list 3 things I was grateful for as well as 3 deeds I felt proud of. But as soon as I discharged I stopped: not because I’m lazy, but because the concept of an “accomplishment journal” conflicted with my new values. Allow me to explain:
For the bulk of my life, I’ve thought in black and white and acted in extremes. I’m what you call “all or nothing.” If I set a goal, I commit to it 100%, and if I screw up once? it’s over. Say I set the intention to keep a daily gratitude journal: if I miss one entry, I’ll abort it completely. I feel like I’ve failed and all is lost. Once I’m off track it’s too late to go back.
Between ages 12 and 16, I had binge eating disorder. And I mean, bad. If something went wrong, I binged. If something went right, I binged. I was addicted to sugar and addicted to carbs. Once I got chomping, I just couldn’t stop. Of course I had to stop eventually, once I’d reached the point of popping, at which time I’d lie in bed sobbing, hating my fat self. But one day I flipped: I became anorexic. I was FINALLY out of the binging woods. You see, this is how I would operate, seesaw-ing between two extremes. I knew no middle ground. That’s why, today, I struggle with balance, especially balance around food.
Fullness is the enemy. When I become full–uncomfortably full–I become depressed–SO depressed–depressed to the point where I want to disappear. I lose the motivation to do anything but lie in bed. In reality, the fix is simple: all I have to do to relieve myself is to put the energy to use, by socializing or engaging in an activity. For the love of god, that’s what food is for! But in my black-and-white mind, I’m too far gone.
My all-or-nothing attitude is not limited to food; it manifests itself in every area of my life. I become married to expectations, and when things don’t go as planned, I break. Here’s an example: During my freshman year of high school, I struggled in math. First semester saw lots of B’s, even some C’s, which was a heartbreaking first for me. But I worked my ass off, going to “extra help” every day, and second semester brought consistent A’s. My teacher, Mr. L, told me he would average my two semesters so that my year-end grade came out to an A; I deserved it for my “relentless effort.” But then I bombed the exam, and I finished with a B+. Oh the groveling…oh the tears! I went to this man on my knees, BEGGING him to adjust my grade. But he wouldn’t do it; the administration would find it “questionable.”
Now, I found this unfair. As far I knew, teachers had autonomy over how they weighed their grades, and this man certainly engaged in more questionable behaviors than that. He once threatened to set me on fire, and when I showed up to class, there was a lighter on my desk. But that’s beside the point. On the last day of school, while I bawled my eyes out, he told me that this was a “fucking hard class” and that I was putting “too much pressure on (myself), Sweetheart.” “Sweetie,” he said, “this can’t be good long term.” He was right: it wasn’t. He *left* school just before I developed my eating disorder, but if he could’ve seen what I turned into…well, it probably wouldn’t have been a surprise.
At Oliver Pyatt, when somebody discharges, that person enjoys a “closing circle.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: everyone sits in a circle and takes turns showering the honoree with wisdom, memories, and love. It’s nice. During my closing circle, the head nurse, Julia, who I swear resembles an angel, reminded me that “it’s okay to not do anything.” And with that I left, returning to the real world and the pressures it possessed.
I knew Julia was right; bombarding myself with goals and expectations led to feelings of pressure, inadequacy, and intense self-abuse. So I channeled her advice: I did nothing. I set no more goals, I shirked all intentions, I surrendered all “should’s,” and I tracked no accomplishments. In my mind, setting an intention meant I was trying to manipulate an outcome, when I what I wanted to do was let go. I thought I was doing the right thing; I thought I was being healthy. But in reality, I was repeating a cycle. Eliminating words from my vocabulary was just another form of restriction. That’s Bella for ya! If it’s not food, it’s something else. (In fact, I just attended my first Debtors Anonymous meeting to address my resistance to abundance–but that’s another story.)
Like I’d once developed fear foods, I developed fear words, among which are “goal” and “accomplishment.” I’m afraid that if I set a goal and don’t achieve it, I’ll relapse; thus, it’s easiest and safest to abstain. But it’s not working. For one, it’s a bullshit system: I’m still setting goals, I’m just using different language. For two, I feel like I’m floating; I feel apathetic. It’s true that I have issues with control, but surely the way to resolve these isn’t to limit myself; the key is finding balance.
Goals and intentions exist for a reason, to help us manifest our highest selves. We each decide what they mean to us; thus, I’m the one who has given them a negative connotation.
There must be a way to set an intention without setting a standard.
There must be a way to create a goal without creating pressure.
There must be a way to make peace with failure.
If I can do that, I can do anything.
Take a look at the serenity prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Clearly, there are things I can control, and that’s okay. Control, like anything else, is fine in moderation. Likewise, accomplishment is a basic human need; just ask Maslow. Tracking accomplishments is an opportunity for self-love. And since I define accomplishment for myself, I can reward myself for whatever I want, even something as simple as putting on pants. I recently read a post called “Don’t Skip What Works.” For me, celebrating accomplishments works. So I’m recommitting to this practice, starting right now:
Today, I’m proud of myself for sleeping till 8. I’m proud of myself for petting my dog. I’m proud of myself for making plans with my dad. I’m proud of myself for opening a savings account. I’m proud of myself for applying for a credit card. I’m proud of myself for making business a card. I’m proud of myself for going to work. I’m proud of myself for babysitting three boys. I’m proud of myself for trying 12-Step Recovery. I’m proud of myself for writing this post. I’m proud of myself for saving money. I’m proud of myself for practicing yoga last night before bed. I’m proud of myself for doing my laundry, and manifesting a clean living space for myself. I’m proud of myself for lighting candles in my room. I’m proud of myself for good self-care. And with that, I’ll sign off, knowing I am enough.