An eating disorder forces a person into the body. The sensations of eating, starving, purging, exercising, chewing on sweet or salt, pull a person away from internal experiences of emotion and thought. The person plunges into raw sensation or keeps that plunge in reserve, always knowing the plunge will take her away from what she can’t bear to experience.
Choices of how she will use her time are based on the sensational needs of the body to thwart awareness.
Yet she will despair over her behavior, her body and the quality of her life. She wants happiness.
Facts based on reality, not preferred reality, but actual reality, become difficult to grasp. Happiness is fleeting, sporadic and often not recognized when it occurs. Recogning what is meaningful grounds her in reality and can provide satisfaction throughout her life.
Walt Disney made a delightful cartoon about Huey, Dewy and Louie, Donald Duck’s nephews, who got their wish to have Christmas every day. The first few days were joyous. But every day, the same old Christmas, became tedious, a bore and then dismal and horrible. They had to learn and find meaning before happiness arrived.We humans need more than living from moment to moment, demanding happiness. Living with this expectation puts the power of joy out in the world to act on us while we wait to receive the happiness we crave. We feel and then become powerless. We lose or never develop our abilities to follow and honor what is meaningful to us.
Awakening our consciousness to our personal identify and position in the world with the capabilities and potential we have gives us a chance to find and create meaning in our lives.
Living a life of meaning gives us the will to live. It gives us the energy to strive, to continue through hardship, to have certainty in our commitments and steadfastness in our relationships.
The wisdom to recognize a life of meaning doesn’t burst forth in a moment. We develop that wisdom as we live through our life experiences starting in early childhood. Christmas every day is not satisfying.
Intense sensation creates numbness as thrill seekers turn up the engine to take ever increasing risks for a high.
Recognizing meaning develops as we develop psychological maturity. Understanding ourselves guides us to quality choices plus helps us to understand others.
Emerging from the self-centeredness of childhood into a more expansive world while being aware of the importance of meaning in our lives, brings us a desire to contribute to a greater whole.
This does not mean, necessarily, that we live a life of sacrifice, although that could be a choice.
If meaning to you means bringing more beauty into the world, then perhaps you will find satisfaction in creating art. But bringing more beauty into the world could mean helping to eradicate ugliness, like poverty, disease, injustice.
Or perhaps you find that you have a love of learning and find satisfaction in playing a large or small role in bringing education to others. That doesn't mean you need to be a teacher, although that could be an option. Volunteering as an assistant, fund raising, setting example by reding in front of others, dusting the library, being a docent at a public learning facility, reading stories aloud ito others n the setting of your choice, from a library or retirement home or park to your own living room.
Other people may notice that you seem to live a happy life. You, over time, might be surprised to find that you are happy living the way you do. You might even shake your head in wonder because you didn’t set out to find happiness. You set out to find meaning. Happiness just came along.
Often people come to my practice because they are unhappy. That’s understandable. They want psychotherapy to produce or create happiness for them. That’s understandable too, but what they get, if all goes well, is a life of meaning.
And then, as time proceeds and they honor what they find meaningful based on their authenticity, they may discover that they are happy.
Joanna Poppink, MFT, e-mail for free telephone consultation:
Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder