Have you ever found yourself dazed and wondering “how did I get here?” or “is this really even happening?” Life has a way of spinning around and turning everything upside down when we least expect it. Sometimes despite our every effort to perfectly craft a life exactly the way we think it should be, it does not work. So how do you handle it when it feels like the world around you is crumbling down?
Years ago I sat on a lumpy couch at a treatment center for eating disorders. Tears streamed down my face as the group leader facilitated a simple therapeutic activity. I had already spent a week in the program, doubting if I “needed” or even “deserved” recovery.
Completely disconnected from my feelings, I was stunned and embarrassed by the overflow of unwanted emotion. No matter how hard I tried, I could not keep the tears from pouring down. I didn’t want to talk, but the therapist prodded. Sobbing I mumbled quietly to the group,
This is not how my life was supposed to be.
When the world is crumbling down
No matter how hard we try to carefully construct our lives, there is an element that is out of our control.
Eating disorders thrive on the idea of control. When we are sick, we operate under the assumption that if we can just get our bodies small enough, our lives will be “better.” As if a perfect life is the result of a perfect body. (Spoiler alert- it isn’t).
There is no such thing as a perfect body. Just like there is no such thing as a perfect life.
Perfectly laid plans…
As a young adult, I had my “perfect” life all planned out. It went something like this: graduate college at 22, get a master’s degree at 24, get married by 25, and have kids by 30. 2 girls and a boy. Then: live happily ever after. And my life was “on track” and lining up exactly according to my plans. Until it suddenly wasn’t.
Approaching my 30th birthday, instead of planning for a baby, I was going through a divorce. And the eating disorder that had been slowly simmering in the undertones of my life was now boiling over into a full blown disease. It had taken over my life. Again.
Instead of living the “perfect” life I had authored in my head, I was emaciated, unable to focus on work, and sinking lower than ever before. My vision of how life was supposed to be had come crumbling down along with my marriage, my mental health, and my desire to live.
When expectations come crumbling down
I spent a long time trying to put my shattered world back together. As if the life that had been torn apart could be taped or glued back in place. By trying to reconstruct the world that was crumbling around me, I only increased my suffering.
When we deny what is actually happening because it does not fit into our plan, we waste time, energy, and head space.
When I wasn’t able to put my failed marriage back together, I turned to “fixing” something else. I focused on shrinking my body, again avoiding the reality that my life was not how “it was supposed to be.”
Just like I wasted years of my life trying to make my body fit within a certain size and shape, I also spent years trying to create the life I thought I was supposed to have.
And just like my body size is not entirely in my control, neither is the world around me.
The irony is- when you cling too tightly to how things are “supposed to be”, you end up suffering more. Yes- going through a divorce is inherently painful. It is a tremendous loss. And healing takes time. It takes going through the feelings and experiencing them.
The thing is, sometimes the world around you will crumble down. And sometime life is incredibly painful. This is universally true for all human beings. The disordered mind tells us that if we control our body we can control our life. We can somehow avoid pain, rejection, loss, and perceived failures. But the truth is: we will all suffer loss. It is a part of being human.
But the good news is- in letting go of the expectations for a perfect life, we open ourselves up to the beauty and pain that encompasses the human experience.
Letting go of how we think things should be is a huge step in recovery.
It allows us to release feelings of resistance to what our current situation is- no matter how much our world is crumbling down. When we let go of rejecting what actually is, we are able to experience the uncomfortable feelings and go through them. The goal is not to spiritually bypass the feelings; we must experience them to grow from them. But getting stuck in the thought, “This is not how it was supposed to be” only prolongs feelings of shame, anger, self-loathing, and self blame.
Accepting that pain, suffering, and loss are all a part of the human experience also allows us to release feeling that there is “something wrong with me.” Blaming our bodies, our imperfections, or anything else about ourselves for our pain once again only increases suffering.
Recognizing that everyone suffers and we are not being punished can free us from guilt and shame.
Cycles in Nature
When you look around in nature, it is apparent that cycles are a natural part of life. Cycles includes growth, beauty, and change. They also includes discomfort and struggle. Dark nights cycle into bright days. Cold months merge into warmer months. Barren trees display new growth in the spring time. The glow of the moon ebbs and flows through out each cycle. Nothing in nature stays the same. And we are no exception.
All parts of the cycle have a purpose. Even the ones that include difficulty, discomfort, and a breaking down. As the leaves on the forest ground compost, they create fertile soil for new growth. The caterpillar must struggle through its transformation into a butterfly. In fact, without wrestling through the hole in it’s cocoon, a butterfly’s wings are not strengthened enough for it to fly.
Cycles in our lives
As humans, we also cannot avoid the breaking down, discomfort, and pain.
We cannot avoid change. And luckily, along with change comes growth.
It is all a part of the process. Remember- resisting what is only increases suffering. But when we choose to embrace the process, we can soar. When we are feeling at our lowest, perhaps we are in that part of the cycle where we are breaking down, in order to create space for new growth.
One could argue that the systems in our world today go through the same cycles of breaking down, ending, and decomposing. When I look at what is happening out there right now, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the chaos, stress, and unknown that lies ahead. It definitely feels like the world is crumbling down.
Racism, diet culture, politics, and the patriarchy seem to invade every inch of our world. But as chaos abounds outside, I cling to hope. Perhaps the thought that world is crumbling around me can be re-framed. What if it is actually the systems of oppression that are crashing down.
When one thing is torn down, it creates the space for something new to be built.
Perhaps we are in that part of the cycle right now- just before the new growth. The coldest part of winter before the new sprouts appear on the trees.
Bringing it back
When I sat on that couch, stuck in the thought, “this was not how it was supposed to be,” I was resisting the inevitable changes in my life. I had no idea that ten years later I would be remarried to an amazing man, and raising a family of our own. I couldn’t see past the crumbling of my world.
At the time, I could not see the gifts in my suffering. I was blind to the ways that my journey through recovery (struggles and all) would strengthen me as a human.
Recovery not only freed me from the prison of an eating disorder, but it has added to my life in every single way.
No, my life did not go according to the timeline I planned. I was a mother at 35 instead of 25, I have been married twice, and I am raising three wild and amazing little boys. And I live in a body that is much larger than I ever thought I could handle living in. But when I look at my life, I know it is all worth it. I know that the struggles turned me into the woman, writer, wife, and mother that I am today. I am living connected to my true values and purpose, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Cycles and all.