It is a lot of work. Vigilance is necessary if you are going to create and maintain boundaries for healthy living. As soon as you set some, you will be tested. The universe will want to know if you are serious about these boundaries you have put in place for yourself.
It is painful. Not all the time, but in order to get to a place where you can be courageous, confident, compassionate and calm, you have to go through some shit. You have to look at yourself in a way that can reveal weakness.
You have to be honest about your behavior, about your attitude, about how you treat yourself and others. It doesn't seem to end. You will learn the same lessons over and over again, until you become an expert.
I have worked out a lot in my 44 years, but just recently, it came to me once again that I am not asking for what I need. I really believed down to the thick rubber soles of my boots that I had learned this lesson several times. Unfortunately it turns out that I had not. Not enough, anyway. I began learning this lesson roughly 35 years ago.
When I was nine, my father told me on Christmas day that I was acting like a bitch. The details of this story are unimportant, except for the one that matters: he was right. I was deeply unhappy and feeling crazy about my parents divorce. I felt like I was losing them both. My face was already breaking out, I was mean much of the time, and I lied and acted out regularly.
The next day I decided I would change one thing. I would try to stop lying. Given the fact that I was nine, and trying to work on myself in an insane situation, you can imagine how well that went. But I tried.
I lived through my teen years along with most of my friends in an alcoholic stupor. I barely made it out of high school, and when I tried to go to college, my efforts were half-hearted at best. Then a miracle occurred. I started having horrible gut-wrenching pains every time I ate. At the age of 21, I could barely digest food anymore. After years of drinking alcohol and eating fried and overly-processed foods, my body decided to stop. My Naturopath told me I could choose one of three things: dietary changes, drugs, or surgery. Being a poor student and not having a good track record with drugs or surgery, I opted for dietary changes. I started eating Macrobiotically.
The reason I call that severe digestive problem a miracle, and why I have learned so much from it, is that I had a choice. I could engage in feeding myself, or, I could choose between two options that would ultimately take the control out of my hands and put it into the hands of others. This was a big turning point for me.
Macrobiotics is a simple way to eat; it consists mostly of vegetable protein, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and fermented foods. Unfortunately, while it is simple, it is also a huge task to undertake. For every meal you eat, there is at least an hour and a half of preparation involved. You have to eat in a certain order. You have to cut your food in specific ways. I spent a year doing that, and in the end my body worked reasonably well and I felt great. Better than I had since I was about three. I figured, problem solved, check that right off my list.
I wish I had been right about that. Over the course of my life, I have taken the opportunity to abuse my body in some way for long periods of time several times. Each time, it came from not listening to, or rather, blocking out what my body was telling me. There have been small, quiet warnings that I have noted and heeded, as well as times when I needed a kick in the ass and a punch in the gut as I was falling down the stairs to wake me to what I was doing to myself.
There is one common denominator that ties every one of these painful experiences together. The level of engagement in my life. That is it. It sounds simple, but when your life is painful, it is the most significant and terrifying thing you will ever do. Engagement.
Engagement means turning off the TV. It means putting the credit card away. It means putting down the bottle. It means putting the ice cream back in the freezer. It means focusing inward on what you are feeling. It is scary. It is powerful. It is challenging. But, it is the thing that ultimately frees you. Since making a commitment to myself to engage in my life, I have never been happier. In fact, there are times that I am so happy that I find it hard to believe.
I learn lessons over and over, and eventually, I will have new lessons. And I am free. I am free from blame, I am free from fear, and I am free from doubt on most days. Engaging in my life is very hard work, but I have never done anything that has paid such high dividends. I am confident, and my confidence comes from knowing that I can handle it, not from being perfect or in perfect harmony all the time. I have come to enjoy this engagement. I learn about myself constantly, and in so doing, am open to learning about others. It is a more amazing life than I could have imagined.
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