I’ve been procrastinating on this one. Partly planned—I wanted to give myself a full week of post Whole30 observation—and partly plain ol’ chickenshit.
Full disclosure? Two sentences in, and I just spent 30 minutes dawdling on Facebook. Eyes forward! I’m back.
I was surprised and overwhelmed by the incredible response to my Surviving the Whole30 experience. You answered my call of real and raw with long, hard mirror-gazes and uncomfortably familiar personal histories. So first, thank you for seeing me. And next, for letting me see you, too. This, friends, is called connection, and we are starved for it.
I am, anyway.
Honestly, though? It scared me half to death. For someone who labors under a ‘do I matter?’ fog, it was shocking to get any answer, let alone a *yes*. Anyone else recognize the subtext in that question: ‘do I matter [to anyone else]?’.
Funny thing, I didn’t write about surviving the Whole30 for anyone other than me. This was new. ‘Being seen as‘ is the long-reigning, harsh dictator in my life. ‘Being seen as is‘ points to a completely different, and welcome, type of leadership.
Old patterns die hard…gimme a stick
Still, as someone who gets daily smack downs from my critic, the worthiness question is a tricky and persistent phantom. Once my post was out there, anxiety started to creep in and I felt a familiar tension. The dictator hissed, ‘but, what will people think?’ As you shared your stories, discomfort, and addiction confessionals in the comments, I started to struggle with a sense of responsibility. To get this right for you guys, to prove I could do this. You know, so you’d all keep liking me [again with this, love?]. Except:
Vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you, and the last thing I want you to see in me. ~Brené Brown
What sparked the response was my willingness to embrace imperfection, to show up in my full topographical crazy. It’s not about you, as a reader, acting as voyeur to my suffering. From what I gathered, maybe I helped pry open a portal into your own shadowy place. With addiction. With perfectionism. With something you recognize but aren’t quite ready to name.
Something has been permanently pried open inside me, too, and it started with that post. Around day 28, things started looking clear—so gorgeously clear—and I took to setting it down. I didn’t know what I was going to say. But what came out was writing very different from what I usually produced. This hardly mattered at the time.
For months, I had been needling myself to get back to writing, but I could never do it. There was the spell when I just got [just made myself] too busy, committees and meetings and such. Then the time where I spent reading a ton, and became convinced I was never going to have anything that important to say. Who would possibly care, anyway?
Finally, there was a period several weeks ago when I became sure that, if I started writing, all that would come out would be sadness. And it would never, ever end. It was like the first tears of grief that you beat back viciously, terrified you might cry forever, that you might fall down a hole from which you will never return. It felt like a pushing up from within, something that needed saying. But I was too fragile to do much right then about it, besides wring my hands and mutter a stream of expletives.
But later, the well of sadness didn’t seem so threatening. The sensation of something pushing up from within was still there, but it wasn’t pocked with as much sadness. I felt a sort of, what? reorientation take hold.
Daybreak, day 31 and some context
Through some kind of astrological alignment, prescient calendar foresight or dumb luck, I had an appointment with my therapist the day after finishing my Whole30.
If you read Part 2 of my first week post-30, you’ll learn how the food side shook out. That first day, I decided to delay the treat train, have a normal breakfast, go see my guy, and see what else I might learn about my new and tender state.
Early in our body-work-meets-talk-therapy visits, I could not even breathe deeply without bursting into tears. Talking about something difficult [which was, quite often, anything], my speech would start speeding up faster and faster until I was breathless, frightened and desperate to escape. It became hard to sit still, and I would flap around and go bug eyed, trying to beat back what was happening. What was happening was feeling.
No. This would not do at all.
If you lived in your body, you’d be home by now
Sometimes my therapist gave me a heavy chunk of pyrite to hold. Fool’s gold, lest I float away, or leap right out of my skin, leaving it behind in the chair to tend my errand. I chased thoughts down at a reckless pace, lined them up neatly, then set to stitching them into place, frantically closing up the holes where the feelings leaked out.
Tears bubbled up at the weirdest times. No memory, or anything specific associated. You know the feeling, when you burst into tears and immediately it’s ‘sorry! I dunno what’s wrong with me!’ You sit there trying to piece it together, you know, logically. As if it were possible. Nothing is wrong, love. This is simply sadness without content, or, as I like to call it, what happens when you stuff your feelings for 35 years.
Give me another option?
Most of that time I was hiding out in my head. Every bit of emotional energy went to analyzing everything, and selecting the right constellation of potential outcomes. They were always delivered as a trio of negativity, each more terrible than the last. My husband loved—just loved—this psychological tic of mine.
‘So, from what you’ve just said, I can glean only a few choices. Either you can’t stand to hear me speak, you think I’m wrong to have this perspective, or you wonder if you even love me anymore. Right?’
Recently, I slipped up and did something like this to my brother. It was not a particularly charged topic, but still in the multiple choice framework. He sort of paused and said ‘um, huh? Can I get another option?’
Anyway, there I was trying to predict my own demise, pinpoint it exactly that it might be avoided. Or at least, I might get to scream, ‘I fucking *knew* it!’ once things finally hit the fan. Like they always did.
This kind of madness takes a toll. And. It requires [an illusion of] complete control.
Oh, I so like to think I have this shit covered. No one will see the tangled chaos of nubbly frayed yarn underneath this silk cloak, right? Text.book.perfectionistic.control.freak, pleased to meet you.
Until I sat in that chair at therapy. A feeling, some feeling, would rush over me, and I would panic, sure it was going to last forever. We worked on this gently. Venturing out from my head, I would have to breathe into it, and let the waves overtake me. They’d wash over, then pass. The goal was to get down past the incredibly stubborn lump in my throat, down into my diaphragm, and finally into my belly, without tensing, hiding or sobbing. This has taken over 2 years.
I liken it to natural child birth. During the contraction, you are sure you will die, but you don’t, and then it’s gone. Until the next. Unlike child birth, though, the waves of pain/feeling grow farther and farther apart, until the water is still again. It’s quite lovely actually. I mean, once the idea of surrendering doesn’t spark a spectacular case of hives.
Um. This relates to the Whole30 how…?
My therapist commented on my unusual sense of calm and groundedness last Thursday morning, day 31. New revelations spilled forth naturally, without me grappling to make the connection or nail down the reason. I gave over to talking about my struggle with joy, and gave myself permission to go ahead and cry without panicking, or beating back the feeling. I didn’t flap, bug or spaz. It washed over, it passed. And the water lay even more calm.
At one point he said that my windshield seemed to have been wiped clean [he’s a writer too. Our sessions are absolutely bursting with metaphors.]. There was a clarity, but without the desperation for logic and a reason. I was simply seeing connections, not racing to make them. We were both a little surprised, I think.
Prying open the portal
But the main thing that came out of that session was a nonchalant connection I made some time near the end. Isn’t it interesting that, 30 days off sugar, and all of a sudden I am writing again?
I have been writing non-stop since day 28, my first Whole30 post. Some kind of creative portal has gone loose and movable on its rusty hinges. It is coming easily, and freely. I am wading further into my own vulnerability than I have ever ventured before. And it actually feels good, powerful. There is sadness, yes, but at a safe distance. And with purpose, not distraction.
My Whole30 forced me to sit with feelings. To not numb out with sugar. To notice feeling. To endure it. To survive it. And when they didn’t kill me, it occurred to me to just go ahead and embrace it. Write it down.
Irony, or propping open the portal
Most of my college years, I feared the title of writer. Spending any time with Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas, Ernest Hemingway will do that to you. Being a writer meant that I must embrace 1) either mental illness, or 2) some kind of chemical dependency. You know, to unleash the creative juices. To be any good at it.
Um, can I get another option?
I would have never expected that it would take me *getting sober* to be able to finally be able to create. Elizabeth Gilbert has wonderful insights for creatives, and the dangers we face. Addiction. Depression. Suicide. Where our art comes from, and how we best get out of our own way.
Sugar sobriety has opened a door I have been bashing myself up against in despair. The sugar off :: writing on connection is one of those things I can’t unsee, and it’s made my commitment to stay off sugar a more purposeful one. When choosing to give up something I love, if all I feel is lack and want, how long can that last? But, if by sacrificing something I enjoy, I get something better in return? I’d be stupid [or self-sabotaging, yet again] to not take that deal.
It starts with food, but it ends with sanity
I tell you all this because, more than the 9 pounds I lost, more than the tasty new recipes I tried, more than the sense of keeping my word to myself, and actually finishing the damn thing, my Whole30 experience threw me a curveball.
Maybe this portal wasn’t a rusted door at all, but a dunk tank. That curveball hit the target, and finally released me into a new space. Shocking and chilly at first. But also, I am weightless, held. Jungians talk about water in dreams: it’s all about emotions. It’s work, yes, to keep a head above water some days, but I no longer feel like I am drowning.
Upshot? Feelings won’t kill me, and sugar won’t save me from feeling them. The only way to manage my feelings, now, is to own them. And for me, to write them.
Think about arriving on the shores of that truth. What does the door to your portal look like? What’s keeping it rusted into place? Most importantly, what might be on the other side?
It may be nothing you can predict. But it may just be the very thing that will save you.