“There is a desire within each of us,
in the deep center of ourselves
that we call our heart.
We were born with it,
it is never completely satisfied,
and it never dies.
We are often unaware of it,
but it is always awake.
It is the Human desire for Love.
Every person in this Earth yearns to love,
to be loved, to know love.
Our true identity, our reason for being
is to be found in this desire…” Gerald May Living in Love
“A sense of balance within spaciousness remains within such people, like a window between infinity and the world of everyday experience. They are not only wiser and humbler because of their addictions; they are also more available. Through their spaciousness, they are continually invited homeward.” Gerald May Addiction & Grace
I’ve never gone back. At least not to that point. It seemed as if there would never be a new normal. Yet, when I began this journey, simultaneously, the spiritual journey as well, I weighed in at over 300 pounds. It makes me cringe to even type that and admit it at this point in my life. But I’ve also never gone back. Sure, there have been many plateaus and stumbles over the years, but now I find myself in a place with more than a hundred of it gone, for good. By the way, to get to this point has been now over twenty years. Almost half my life. Even that seems hard to believe.
I think, more than anything, it’s the reasons for doing it that change over time. There are, of course, health risks that come with obesity, that are beyond my understanding at times. Yet, like most, I didn’t like to be told I needed to lose the weight because of those reasons nor did it ever seem possible. Over time, some of those voices did win out and it became one reason to do it, but it was never the best reason to keep it off nor does it deal with the reasons as to why food and eating were so pleasurable or how it was actually feeding me. The thought of not having that defense mechanism, though, was too daunting. If there was one way to protect myself it was to put up a physical barrier around myself, preventing not only me but others from coming in. Health reasons are noble but not necessarily sustainable in the end.
Without a doubt, others, are a good motivating force and another reason for doing it, but like health, not always sustainable as a reason. The problem with building that defense mechanism is that it necessarily does more harm to me than others. It became a way to isolate myself, paradoxically, often from myself. The desire to please, fit in, be liked and noticed, or even attracted to, was a strong driving force for some time. Any desire around attraction and sexuality run deep. They are, though, double-edged swords more often than not. The more I wanted that to be my reason and my driving force only worked against me, wanting to eat all the more when that desire was not satisfied. What appeared to be as May writes, a desire for love, was never going to be fulfilled in such a way. It was looking for approval and acceptance from everyone but myself. I was convinced, an addiction to my own thoughts, that that was the answer. If I could only find love, in the way I thought, which was more about approval and acceptance, that would somehow solve the missing link in my life. That was the answer to the deeper hunger that food satiated, leaving the longing to grow even deeper and an endless pit and dump for more food. The defense mechanism, the exterior wall around myself, only grew sturdier.
That thinking did finally solidify for me and the defense mechanism, as a means for survival. It will, though, always mark a significant turning point, both physically and spiritually for me, October 2003. At that point I was six years into this journey and was at my best, up to that point. I was at my lowest weight in lived memory, and in an instant, it all fell apart. I quickly realized just how fragile this new-found way was for me when my life was almost cut short following a rafting accident. Life became much more about survival and questions that had no answers. It seemed that the only thing certain in my life was food, or least how I saw food. Those moments, that turned into months, solidified in a way that I never thought possible, how I felt about myself, projecting it all onto God, questioning why I was plucked from the raging river. It wasn’t as some would think, as to preferring death, but rather why I was pulled from “the belly of the whale”, as to what was being asked of me in this life and would I have it in me to do it! It all seemed daunting where all I wanted to do in those moments was crawl into a closet and hide, fearing life all the more, eating as a way to protect myself, when in reality, I was simply feeding the voices of shame and guilt. Yet, I never went back. It became an endless cycle of eating and exercising to the point of exhaustion, simply to stay where I was, at least knowing on some level that going back was not the answer. I knew that and know that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
If I could sum up the fifteen years since that moment, I’d say it was one of trying to crawl my way back to where I was and fighting all the way. I firmly believed that was the answer. If I could only return to the way life was before that day then all would be well. I can’t even begin to explain how many times I thought that and said that, thinking somehow I could turn back the clock and erase all that had happened. What I didn’t know, though, was just how much the “stinkin’ thinkin’” had held its grip on me. As much as clawing and fighting were the name of the game, there was a gradual process unfolding through it all that was unlearning what had been learned. It wasn’t, as May points out, the “spaciousness” of what was within that I feared the most, it was that feeling of being trapped, the weight of a raft, an other, atop me, drowning in my own feelings and desires and desiring the dark confines of that enclosed space to that spaciousness. There wasn’t even space for myself, let alone anyone else, in what I would describe now as some of the roughest seas of my life, often feeling like I was gasping for air. Fighting it all the way, of course. Wanting to go back and yet knowing that wasn’t the answer. The weight I carried on the exterior very much symbolized the weight I carried within my own heart and soul, a grief unlike any other.
Food, though, like alcohol, drugs, internet, or whatever the pleasure, is merely a symptom of something much deeper. That spaciousness only seemed to open up within me as I learned to write, page after page, writing to a God that I needed to listen. I needed someone that could know my deepest thoughts and desires without judgment. I had done enough of that myself and couldn’t handle a God doing the same. I was sick, in my own way, and didn’t have the ability to go to where I needed to in life, to the deepest recesses of my heart and soul that held the key to unlocking the secrets to the symptoms that plagued my life. There was nothing easy about any of it, quite frankly. At times I feared sharing these writings with anyone; the shame and guilt of who I thought I was ran deep. All I could imagine was myself hovering over me, stick in hand, ready to pounce. Eating became the solution. Eating became an escape from reality. It allowed me to create my own reality, one that would protect me from the pains of the world. Little did I know that it merely fed the deepest pains of my own life. The desire, as May points out, is to love and to be loved. I didn’t know what that meant, at least in my own life. I hadn’t even learned to love myself. How could I possibly love another?
Page after page and sentence after sentence, it seemed as if God was finally listening. I was falling less and less into eating. The more I became with the spaciousness as a new way of life, the more I had room “in the inn” for others who were hurting, and sometimes in similar ways. I learned to let go of unrealistic expectations, that somehow losing weight was the answer to all my problems. I’ve had to tell myself that one many times over. I could never quite understand what the deeper hunger was that was driving me to eat all the more. It was a hunger that never seemed to be satisfied. It was a hunger for connection. It was a hunger for intimacy. It was a hunger for love and to be loved. It felt, at times, like a freefall into the unknown, and with each fall God seemed to hoist me up all the quicker or I became more aware of the fall each time.
I’m not convinced that it ever goes away. I suppose that’s why addicts continue to claim that with each passing day. Yeah, it gets easier. I get that. But as much as I don’t like to admit it, I also believe that the fall is the key over and over again. It seems that with each fall it’s not into spaciousness at first. Rather, it leads me to that trapped space, the confines of the closet, that becomes the passage way each and every time. Every time I’m asked to give up a little more, surrender this way of thinking, because my thinking seems to be almost chameleon-like, changing with me and finding new ways to seduce me into believing that acceptance and approval are found beyond myself. As much as I try to turn it off myself, I know it’s only in the moment of surrender, when I stop clawing and fighting, when something bigger than myself takes hold.
Losing weight, or dealing with any addictive behavior or thinking, is never easy, but it holds the key to the life we desire and the deeper hungers that remind us of our humanity. At times I’ve said I’d rather be an alcoholic for at least I don’t need alcohol to live. I’ve learned to live without a great deal in the process and with that I am ok. All forms of addictive behavior or thinking was designed to protect us from hurt. We all have some tendencies. It’s manipulated in a consumer world convincing us that our deeper hungers, which are very much connected with our deepest hurts, can somehow be “taken care of” by something, whether it be food, alcohol, drugs, etc. Although in the past month or so I have surpassed that point of October 2003, finally, there were mixed emotions through that process of crossing a threshold I had placed for fifteen years.
The very fact that I sit here writing this now has taken a lot of coaxing because it’s very personal to me. It has been the loss of a great deal of who I thought I was over the years, and now, at times, as I step out of the confines, I’m left often wondering how to live my life. It’s no longer the question of survival, but about what truly feeds the deepest hungers in my life and how does that love manifest itself in the life God has given me. I’m left with trying to make sense out of what it all means in the days and months ahead. There is, if I am honest with myself, a sense of grief and dying that is taking place within myself that I myself am not even able to yet comprehend or even put into words. That’s not easy to admit. Everyone wants to assume I feel better and have more energy, and on a physical level that is very true. I have never been more active in my life. However, the certainty has vanished and the defense mechanism is no longer standing in the way of the mystery of life and relationship. I find myself looking for deeper meaning in my own life and in friendships. It’s caused me to pause and question who is in my life and are they in the realm of that space.
I guess the bottom line is, like the rafting accident, I find myself asking questions that there aren’t really answers to, or not as quickly as I’d like. But it’s different this time and the questions are open to possibility rather than shutting myself off, vulnerability rather than superficial, free rather than confining. You see, at some point I finally began to see that it wasn’t about health and it wasn’t about others, as much as I’m still driven to think so at times. Rather, it’s about me and the life entrusted to me by God. I needed to learn acceptance. I needed to learn love. I needed to learn to feel and express. I needed to be vulnerable. I needed to step out of my own box. I needed more than I could express and thankfully there have been people, friends, along the way who believed in me in that way. I needed to believe in myself.
The journey “homeward” is never an easy one. As a matter of fact, each time it appears you’re “getting there” new obstacles appear that open the door for deeper opportunity. Deep down I have always wanted to do this for myself. I believe that desire has always been there, that somehow I knew there was more to me than what I carried with me day in and day out. I was never satisfied, and quite frankly, not sure I will ever be satisfied. It’s in my DNA to question and to go deeper, either with others or within myself. With every bite I took I knew there was something that was trying to be revealed. The more I became aware, the more it was revealed. I’ve never gone back and never plan on going back, to that place, at least. When “home” is finally found nothing else satisfies the hunger. Food, eating, addiction, has something very profound to teach if we’re willing to believe, to unlearn the learned, and to be open to the pain of others to enter in and teach. The reasons change with age but so does what gives meaning and purpose. What doesn’t change, though, is that hunger to love and to be loved. When we recognize it as the eternal addiction we finally learn that nothing else satisfies and nothing will ever be enough except the utter abandonment of it all and a total trust in God as we fall into the mystery of our lives, broken and redeemed. For “God does not love us if we change; God loves us so we can change.”