Life happens, and I'm not a hero

Life is crazy. Or so it seems to me lately, even more than usual. And I thought I was used to the craziness. After all, I am a member of the Shortt family, a group of people who are synonymous with crazy (read some of my previous blogs for proof). However, the lesson I'm supposed to learn from this newly experienced level of insanity is to accept life on LIFE'S terms, not my own. I will be fifty years old on March 27th of this year, and it's taken this long for me to realize this. As a result of my sputtering but more and more diligent efforts to work my recovery program from food addiction, I continually receive major shocks to my system as I uncover more evidence that I know very little about how to live a healthy, well balanced life. This morning after prayers I read the following thoughts for the day from a meditation book called Twenty Four Hours A Day (Hazelden Press):

I know that my new life will not be immune from difficulties. (Angela's observation: What? I thought being abstinent from addictive eating and losing weight meant that my life would get better!) I know that serenity is the result of faithful, trusting acceptance of God's will, even in the midst of difficulties. Saint Paul said: "Our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."

I haven't paid close attention to the teachings of Saint Paul in the past (other than what I heard thundered from the pulpit in the Baptist churches of my youth), but this quote penetrated my thick skull. My light afflictions--the daily cravings for addictive food, the despair, anger and desire to close myself up in my bedroom and refuse to answer the door or the telephone, working my recovery tools through gritted, impatient teeth, having family and friends tell me that I seem to be coming from a different universe when I finally hazard conversation--all of this is for my "...exceeding and eternal weight of glory"? Well, if that is what my "light afflictions" do, then the people who must endure and overcome tragedy on a daily basis in places such as Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, Kenya and Darfur must have their places in eternal glory assured to them. Or so it seems to me right now. And as I said before, I know very little.

I may be three months shy of fifty, but I look out at life through the eyes of a very frightened, emotionally vulnerable five year old girl. I adopted coping mechanisms over the years that served to cover up that little girl, most notably addictive eating and the SBW (strong black woman) persona. Since most people didn't seem to look any further than the surface at me, these coping devices were somewhat successful, even though they nearly destroyed my physical and emotional health. But my recovery work has exposed that little Angela to the world, and she is not accustomed to dealing with life. It is almost like being born again, but this time as a five year old.

I'll do my best to explain. At some point between the time of my original birth and age five, I learned that the world around me felt very harsh. I was virtually a sponge soaking up all the emotional chaos around me from my parents, who continually argued about my father's drinking and compulsive spending habits (the same argument that they have now after 50 plus years of marriage), the neighbors who seemed to have similar arguments, and the kids in the neighborhood who seemed to be mean-spirited bullies to me. I even felt the pain of a nation in grief when President Kennedy was assassinated; every adult I saw on the streets seemed inconsolably heart-broken. With the self-centered naivety of a five year old, I decided that all of these events had something to do with me, and I had to find a way to solve everyone's problems so I could feel peaceful and happy again. I found the "solution" in cartoons.

Where else would a child of the early sixties find answers to life's puzzlements but in television, especially cartoons? I certainly wasn't going to ask my parents; they were part of the problem. And I didn't read or write well enough to get advice from "Dear Abby", who was my mother's solace. She read Abigail Van Buren's applicable columns out loud to my father along with verses from the Bible that I assume were supposed to invoke so much guilt and shame in him that he would change his ways. It never happened, even though she continues to practice the same "rehabilitation" methods today. And he still responds the same way he did back then, with complete inattention or angry defensiveness. ("What's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results each time.")

I wasn't like the sophisticated, media-savvy kids of today. I completely believed in the magic of television, despite my mother's admonishments that it was all imaginary nonsense. I refused to believe her because I had believe in something, or succumb to the condemning sadness that was always threatening to overwhelm me. So my role model became a scrawny, nerdy little mouse with the first name of "Mighty", who flew up in the air and came back down to earth big and strong, able to perform miraculous feats of courage and strength. That's what I wanted to do. If I could fly and become big and strong, that would solve everything.

I found out the hard way that the Earth's gravitational force prevents all non-mechanical attempts at flight. I'm lucky I was never seriously hurt, other than numerous cuts and bruises, which irritated my mother enormously. What logical reason would her first born child have to climb up on the roof or a tall tree and jump down? I didn't have one, of course. Still don't. I would have persisted in my mission to discover Mighty Mouse's flight secret if the spankings I received weren't so much more painfully humiliating than the falls to the ground.

So flying wasn't going to work for me. A reasonable child would have given up the fantasy, but reason has never stopped me from anything I've set out to do. Like I said, I'm a Shortt. My next step was to acquire Mighty Mouse's other supernatural abilities. Becoming big and strong with the ability to take on any bad guy or enormous family/community/national issue seemed to be more within my grasp. Again, television provided the answer--chewable children's vitamins. I convinced Mom to buy a huge bottle, and I downed half of them in one afternoon. I probably should have been very sick, but again, God and His very busy band of guardian angels came to my rescue. Nothing happened to me, except that a switch turned on in my head. More is better. Eat more, and become even bigger and stronger. Then nothing could ever hurt or bother you again.

Guess what? It worked. I did become bigger and stronger. Fearlessly, I took on all kinds of neighborhood bullies, soundly putting a hurtin' on them whenever they attacked the smaller, defenseless kids. Not only that, I loved the adrenaline rush I got from defeating my opponents. The voice in my head became stronger everyday: eat more, become bigger and stronger. That voice replaced Mighty Mouse as my guide. It didn't fail me the way Mighty Mouse did with the flying debacle. By the time I figured out that "eat more, become bigger and stronger" didn't work for my family, community or nation, it was too late. The voice made its home inside my brain, where it assured me on a daily basis that "more is better." Even when morbid obesity and its attending health risks became a real problem by age nine, I was completely powerless to resist the dictates of "eat more". The same is true today, except when I work my recovery program.

But it's process. I have a lot more time and experience being a slave to that voice than in recovery. And the scared five year old is quite unhappy about having to be re-born and learn how to live life without excess food. She has little experience with adult social behaviors, and she has no ability at all to handle emotionally charged situations. I have to constantly reassure this little girl that life is not scary, and she can survive it all without turning to addictive eating. She doesn't believe or trust this. The truth is, I don't really blame her. The only proof I can offer her is that there are many other food addicts who have recovered by working the steps of this program. I can also turn to the Writings of Baha'u'llah for reassurance that I am on the right path:

55. O SON OF BEING!
Busy not thyself with this world, for with fire We test the gold, and with gold We test Our servants.

(Baha'u'llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)

XIII.

Lauded be Thy name, O my God! Thou beholdest how the tempestuous winds of tests have caused the steadfast in faith to tremble, and how the breath of trials hath stirred up those whose hearts had been firmly established, except such as have partaken of the Wine that is life indeed from the hands of the Manifestation of Thy name, the Most Merciful. These are the ones whom no word except Thy most exalted word can move, whom nothing whatever save the sweet smelling fragrance of the robe of Thy remembrance can enrapture, O Thou Who art the Possessor of all names and the Maker of earth and heaven!

I implore Thee, O Thou Who art the beloved Companion of Baha, by Thy name, the All-Glorious, to keep safe these Thy servants under the shadow of the wings of Thine all-encompassing mercy, that the darts of the evil suggestions of the wicked doers among Thy creatures, who have disbelieved in Thy signs, may be kept back from them. No one on earth, O my Lord, can withstand Thy power, and none in all the kingdom of Thy names is able to frustrate Thy purpose. Show forth, then, the power of Thy sovereignty and of Thy dominion, and teach Thy loved ones what beseemeth them in Thy days.

Thou art, verily, the Almighty, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, the Most Great.

(Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah, p. 15)


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