I originally shared this post in the “Introductions” CARE Forum topic, visible only to current members. But these details shouldn’t be excluded from my “About” page. That timeline ends in 2011. I wrote the below in March of 2019; an update will be coming soon (the life raft I mentioned below was damaged over the summer). My experiences since 2011, both professionally and personally, with what it really looks like to make different lifestyle choices, every day/multiple times a day/every year, have challenged every belief I’ve held. I’ve doubted the ability for individual change within our culture of separateness, I’ve doubted the true value of even trying, and I’ve doubted my ability to be an effective guide. But the beautiful gift held within challenge and doubt is renewed strength and hope. Strength and hope needed to participate in this process with a sense of conviction, compassion, and community. And that’s what a therapeutic lifestyle is all about.
“Introductions” originally posted on March 19, 2019
I shared in another post that my personal value of ‘contribution’ is what helps keep me motivated to make therapeutic lifestyle choices (even though not always successfully). But what I haven’t shared yet is that it took several years of frustration, anxiety, and denial to get to the place where I even cared about aligning my values to my goals. It was weight loss that I needed, period. And once that is done, you carry on. Who needs long-term motivation for that? What requires motivation once the weight is lost??
This attitude was a luxury granted to me until I was formally introduced to the relentless genetic and developmental card I had been dealt: a susceptibility to anxiety, chemical dependency, and self-medicating with alcohol (or food if I didn’t drink).
Despite seeing patterns of self-medicating in immediate and extended family my entire life, I never saw myself vulnerable to the same tendencies. I felt my rebellion to my genetics (and my family) made me stronger – that was them, I will be different. I couldn’t connect the dots, that had already started showing in high school, of lifestyle choices to weight and mood, especially to mood. Drinking and going out to eat is just what a lot of kids do, right (especially kids from smaller towns surely)? And if you do this in high school without too much consequence, of course, you’d do in college. And then when you are just starting your ‘own life’ and career… etc, etc, etc….
Twenty years later, I can connect the dots. I understand my genetic susceptibility and how behaviors and patterns become entrenched habits through repetition, repetition that starts in childhood (infancy really). I now realize how I will always hold a valid ticket to the crippling emotional roller coaster of self-medicating.
But I also know now that we can influence genes and change learned habits, we can find nurturing alternatives to self-medicating through food, alcohol, and excess technology.
The pull genes and programmed habits have on us can make change more uncomfortable (much more uncomfortable) but we can influence both of them. I have lost the weight my previous eating and drinking lifestyle caused and I have kept it off.
But coming full circle to that need for long-term motivation, that is what I now understand, practice, and hold onto like a life raft some days.
I am only several short years into the continuous process of unraveling the patterns I witnessed growing up (and continue to witness in family). I wasn’t any different than them; I, too, had started playing Russian roulette with self-medicating. I reached for alcohol to relieve stress and anxiety before I even really understood what stress was. I indulged with friends in excess food because, like me, that was a primary ‘fun’ we all grew up knowing. And I still have the urge to do these things now when under stress or not prioritizing self-care (which includes capital ‘S’ Self-care). Though this journey of unraveling feels vulnerable, I never question if it’s worth it.
Each decision I make towards health keeps me one more step away from that roller coaster. And I’d like to reassure you that I don’t live motivated by this fear, that if I don’t eat right or move enough one day I’ll be doomed. It’s really not like that. When you first start and you are only a couple steps away then it is a little scarier because you can still feel the fury of wind as the roller coaster surges past you (but at least you aren’t on it). And each day, each step, you get further and further away allowing you to hear quiet and creativity instead of fear. This is the opportunity that sustainable change presents us, peacefulness.
I see the CARE community (each of you) as my fellow companions ready to walk away from these rides that no longer serve us… and how exciting to explore where that will lead us! Warmly, Teri
Holy crap, did I need to read this after spending a weekend with my family. Thank you Teri so much for sharing!
Carol, it’s interesting how spending time with family or visiting environments filled with the cues and behaviors that “started it all” can be both our biggest challenge and biggest mentor. Making our new choices within these situations is very reinforcing to our brains. And despite those decisions initially not being reinforced and supported by those around us, over time I am convinced that our new agency does influence and change those situations… in exactly the direction they were supposed to move in – towards health and healing. :)
Thank you so much for sharing.
Sheila- I apologize for my delayed response here and missing your comment. Thank you for reading this post, it is a very tender and important topic to me.
Always enjoy your insights and how you can articulate the vulnerabilities we all seem to share.
Thank you, Jennifer, for your note. I have so enjoyed our combined sharing as we go through this ‘process’ together. :)