What does it take for the shift to occur?

1 Sep

I remember a time when I was lost. No navigation system. No way to tell what direction I needed to go in. Just lost.

When I was 19 and a sophomore in college I developed some extreme eating habits.I had gained weight my first year and I can vividly recall the moment when I decided that I could starve myself. I could, I thought. Finally, after years of asking why I couldn’t be more like my sister and my mom, I could do something about it. I’d be thin like they were, and have a nonchalant relationship with food.

I was lying on the couch with a mouthful of gauze, my gums swollen from the excavation work done on them the day prior, and swallowing was barely possible without severe pain. I was getting in some food through liquids- broths mainly. I remember having a milk shake and relishing in the gloriously refreshing feel of the frigid liquid washing over my pillaged flesh. But the pleasure was short lived. All I could think about was how I’d just consumed however many calories and was going to get fatter.

I was home on break and fortunate enough to have my wisdom teeth pulled while I was there. My mom took good care of me. And now I had an excuse to not eat. I was in pain. And I really just couldn’t as easily as normal. Cheetos, one of my favorite snacks, were the first thing to go on the banished list. I didn’t like Cheetos anymore. That was my strategy. The foods I felt like I couldn’t stop eating– I just wasn’t interested in.

And so it progressed.

I went back to school, I went from 130 lbs to 96, and I looked like I was wearing a bowling ball atop my shoulders. I was a starving, overexercising bobble head. I was miserable.

I’d cry in class. I was a zombie. I couldn’t pay attention. Food. Food. Food.  That was the word I saw behind my eyes. Pretty normal for someone who is starving to be preoccupied by food.

No looks from my mom, no unabashedly rude but unknowingly hurtful words, no stares, no moment to moment inner turmoil, no job denials due to my emaciated appearance….nothing would convince me that I was doing anything wrong. Nothing.

Until one day when I went to Student Health for my yearly exam.

The doctor, whom I had no prior relationship with, assessed my vitals. She glanced at my blood pressure reading, my heart rate, my blood sugar from the chem panel I’d had done the week before….but all she really needed to see was me. My tiny body there in front of her, slumped over on the edge of the hard, paper covered exam table with a flat affect and shallow breathing. It was like she was practicing her approach in her mind before she opened her mouth. I could see her gears churning. What would she say that I hadn’t heard before, I thought.

“You’re dying.”

Did she see the stunned look on my face?

“You’re killing yourself,” she said. Only I don’t think those words came out of her mouth. But they are what I heard.

And then the sadness, remorse, guilt, embarrassment, shame, confusion…..they tossed and turned and toppled one over the other like bubbles in a black boiling cauldron until I burst through the door of the building to the outside, to freedom, and they splashed violently over the side, cleansing the pavement beneath my feet.

I don’t remember my walk home. It may not have been a walk but more a hobbling, crippled, wretching climb. All I know is that it was those two words that began the epiphany. You’re. Dying. Those two words gave me the incentive to claw my way back to health. Those two words.

This week I was met with the words of two clients that brought me right back to my two words. “I woke up one day and made the decision…” she said.  I wanted to say, “Really? Just like that? Nothing beforehand? No, ‘I’m sick of x,y,z?”

Another client wrote, “Right before I moved back up here I had an enlightening moment…as simple as it is, I realized that I’m in control of everything I do and how other people perceive me is based on how I show myself.  With so much in life that’s out of our hands, I’m the one with the complete power over myself.”

What does it take for these shifts to occur? For the dam to break? For the clouds to part and the sun to break through? Just like these ladies described, it was like lightning for me also. I was struck with awakeness. I was demanding a new level of personal responsibility.

That day marked a new commitment to myself.

To Recognizing. To Acknowledging. To Defining. To Assessing. To Responding. And to Reflecting. I had to turn the R.A.D.A.R.R. on and not just let it hum silently in the background. I would have to religiously tune into it, find the clearest frequency, and pay attention.

Over and over and over and over and over again.

Fifteen  years have passed since that time. The R.A.D.A.R.R. is on. Sometimes I notice it has gone to static and I have to consciously dial it back in so I can hear its clear murmurs. It often blips out things I’d rather not hear, and when I notice I’m turning the volume down, it’s my signal to tune in even more. I don’t struggle with food. I help those who do. I’m comfortable in my skin. I help those who aren’t. I’m committed to  being as real and vulnerable and genuine as I can be. And I help others who want the same.

Those moments of enlightenment like my client described, the awakenings…..those are big blips on the R.A.D.A.R.R. But there are hundreds and thousands of smaller ones that we could be listening to. They often show us the way, even if we don’t want to go that way. We all have a personal R.A.D.A.R.R. — it’s our compass. And all of us have to learn how to use it.

(In my next post I will break down the acronym, describe what each aspect of your R.A.D.A.R.R. can reveal, and how you can use it to become your best, most authentic self.)


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