In the last 48 hours, I came down with a bug. I get sick when I am going too fast, too far, too soon. I have historically been lacking in my self-care response to sickness, because when I begin to feel sick, I often only rest when I think that being sick will hinder my productivity. This is where I continually catch myself buying into the You-Are-Worth-Only-What-You-Accomplish lie, and participating in the unbalanced dominance of the male psyche in my world.
In our society, where the characteristics of the male psyche are valued far above any characteristics of the female psyche, we are constantly engaged in doing, thinking, logic, action, and productivity. The male psyche is associated with rationalizing, straight lines, physical strength, etc. Doesn’t that sound like exactly what everyone is supposed to embody? Men and women?
We praise productivity, and give little value to the feminine – being, feeling, curved lines, receiving, cooperation, emotions, intuition, rest, and the illogical mysteries that make us so uncomfortable. The feminine characteristics are misconceived as counterproductive, useless, and weak.
I remember my first uncontrollable, soul-wrenching revolt against this incredibly harmful imbalance. It was almost a year ago, when I was new(ish) in recovery, and I was just beginning to get better, and thus feel worse. Unfortunately and unfairly, this is sometimes a reality of recovery—as we being to recovery, our feelings come back, and sometimes they are very uncomfortable.
It was the end of the fall semester, and I was approaching finals. About four weeks before the end of the semester, I hit a wall. I just could not do it. I came up on a psychological barrier that floored me and I could not, no matter how much I wanted to, get past it. I could not bring myself to complete any schoolwork! It was the most inexplicable thing—yet true.
Of course I, finding temporary solace in perfectionism wherever I can, and largely in school (a topic for a different post), was horrified as time went on and I did not and could not complete any work. I would cry all day, I would not go to sleep at night because I didn’t want to deal with the next day of not being able to be “productive”. People would try to encourage me to do one page at a time, and that I only had a few more weeks until it was over. And yet, I couldn’t do it, and I felt like a complete idiot because I agreed with them! Yet the reality was, that I could not make myself complete the semester.
Finally, two days before finals, I emailed my professors, told them my situation, and, with my tail between my legs, asked for incomplete grades. Within a day, they had responded and given me what I had asked for. Immediately the mental barrier was gone. I felt good. I could sleep. I felt so relieved. I felt happy! And I knew why.
As I was beginning to recover and to move towards a way of existing that was balanced and centered on self-care (at the time I was far from living this reality, but I was beginning to move in that direction), my body/spirit/mind experienced my push for productivity-at-all-costs as abusive and completely unacceptable. My healthy-self revolted on a visceral, cellular level.
I view this experience as the second most significant act of true self-care in my life (the first being leaving an abusive relationship). The minute that I was honest, forthright, and asked for exactly what I needed, I was released from the self-imposed prison of productivity over health; the complete dominance of the male psyche over the female. The minute that I freed the feminine, I was liberated from self-inflicted abuse, annihilation, and immaterial slavery. I found that the feminine force in me is equally as strong as the masculine – that its power saved me from a burden that was too heavy.
In our culture, those things feminine are synonymous with weak. Think of the common phrases, “Don’t be a girl, “don’t be a vagina,” “you’re being a pussy,” “you throw like a girl,” and “grow some balls.” Everyday we accept the intertwining of feminine and weakness, masculine and strong, so much so that it is reflected in everyday, common sayings which are used by people as young as elementary school age!
This misconception is projected everywhere, our bodies being the perfect targets. Curved lines are not encouraged (unless they are in “all the right places”, as in, places that men find sexy). We strive for straight lines, narrow hips, flat stomachs, and defined muscles—a man’s body), and we are willing to go to all lengths to achieve them, even in the face of death. Our bodies become battlefields, and diet and exercise become conversations about willpower.
But, being female is not being weak, and being feminine does not exclusively mean being sexy. It means accepting and exemplifying the strength of the feminine force – the necessity of rest, gentleness, compassion, nurturing, and mothering that is imperative for mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
The feminine is not weak. I know many women in recovery, and all of them are complex, intelligent, sensitive, creative, perceptive, and resilient. Disordered eating is not a sign of weakness, maladjustment, or any character flaw. In reality, many of us have developed our disordered eating because, in whole or part, we discovered that our power, intellect, sexuality, emotions or perceptiveness was dangerous and/or unacceptable, and that we needed to dumb down or disconnect from those gifts in order to participate in our lives in the ways that we think we should.
No wonder we still feel hungry after we’ve eating a box of cookies, no wonder we feel full even when we have not eaten, no wonder we feel uncomfortable in our own bodies and attempt to change them to get some relief from our gnawing, incessant pain. No matter how much we eat, starve, or purge, our incomplete-ness still persists—we are longing to experience our whole selves, our feminine force included.
It may have been necessary to disconnect from these parts of ourselves at some point in our lives and whatever the reasons were, they must be recognized and appreciated.
I did not develop an eating disorder because I wanted to be skinny. That was the disguise. I developed an eating disorder because I felt unsafe and ashamed. I learned that in order to survive, be accepted, and be loved, I was required to be quiet, be compliant, not disrupt the “peace” with emotion or opinion, and that I was never allowed to say no (among many other reasons). I learned to starve my voice, my authenticity, my emotions, and my intuition. I learned to cope by changing the physical sensation of emotions in my body with food:
It is hard to feel the knot in our stomachs of anger, the hollowness of sadness, the flutter of anxiety, or the signal of inner guidance and intuition when we are in the numbness of starving, binging, or purging. What better way to silence our “gut instincts” and “gut feelings” than by forcing another feeling into our gut?
We are not weak. We are strong. We are resilient. We have been chosen to answer the call – to address the sickness and imbalance in our society. We are necessary. We have been given this battle because we have what it takes to free ourselves and bring freedom and health to others.
If I can ever help you with anything, my women-warriors, please contact me.