Sometimes, other people’s criticism is the least of our problems.
“So what WOULD make you happy? What do you WANT?” Emily asked, finally.
I considered her question. Like, actually thought about it.
I looked her in the eyes.
“I want to be able to smoke, drink, and eat whatever I want, whenever I want, without anyone judging me and giving me shit for it,” I said. “Then I’d be happy.”
It felt true in that moment, and I was proud of myself for saying it (instead of something more goody-goody, like “I want to be a successful writer” or “I want a family,” both of which were sort of true, but not as true as wanting to slam delicious, mind-altering things into my pie hole without getting shit for it).
Total license to treat 3 myself without being made to feel badly about it felt like a lofty goal, especially since it felt like everyone – EVERYONE – was giving me grief for how I was living my life.
And then she asked me, “Who’s judging you again?” 4
Who WAS judging me?
My boss? Thanks to the damage I did to myself with drugs, alcohol, and/or food the night before, I woke up most mornings with a headache and a dry mouth and an axe to grind. I resented my boss for expecting me to not just show up to work, but to actually do the menial bullshit I’d been hired to do. Still, I went to work every morning and did my job, so my boss didn’t give me crap for the night before. If anything, she seemed to value me as an employee.
Drinking buddies? No matter how I felt when I woke up, by mid-afternoon I had something to prove and nothing to lose. I spent most evenings in bars and pubs. I resented the folks who left at a decent hour, since they reminded me that I didn’t have anything to leave for. Still, none of my barmates gave me shit for drinking, or even getting knee-walking drunk. If anything, they seemed impressed.
Friends? After a lifetime of losing and gaining up to 100 pounds, I was steadily gaining weight back – again – despite having had weight loss surgery. I resented my naturally thin friends for “effortlessly” maintaining their compact, adorable little bodies – let alone their active, peppy little lifestyles. Still, as my weight crept back on, none of my skinny friends said anything about my eating. If anything, they told me they loved me no matter what.
No, for the most part I wasn’t being judged by anyone. At least not to my face.
The “judgment” was coming from me 5.
By just interacting with me, the people in my life were making me more conscious of how much of a train wreck I was becoming. It wasn’t anything they said or did. There was just me, and my growing awareness of all the pain I was bringing on myself, night after night and day after day.
I was damaging myself – with food, with booze, with various and sundry substances and behaviors – and the gross feeling I was carrying around was the result of feedback I was getting from my own body, not from other people.
Shame, the notion that we are broken or fundamentally flawed in some way, is the number one reason we abuse and/or neglect ourselves and our bodies. Unhealthy reactions to the experience of shame include blaming others both for what we do and how we feel.
We blame our parents for our habits and addictions.
We blame our significant others for our inability to change – like lose weight or to keep it off.
We blame our bosses and jobs for our inability to eat foods that nourish us, or workout, or sleep well.
Then, self-sabotage — the soul-crushing habit of making choices that will bring us every single outcome but the one we want — makes us feel like crap, fueling pain, illness, and, eventually, madness.
Too often we imagine we feel like crap because the folks around us are judging us, or criticizing our choices.
And if that were true, it would be THEM that needed to change.
But the 6 truth is this:
If we want to feel better, 7 the change begins and ends with us.
Until I took responsibility for myself and my actions, for my health and how I was feeling, I was just going to keep eating and drinking myself sick, waking up hating how I felt, suffering through my to-do list until I could do it all again.
Everything changed the day I stopped wasting time trying to figure out who to blame for how I felt, and instead started making the most caring choice I could in every moment. Sometimes, that meant slamming a glass of water. Sometimes, it meant scrubbing my bathroom floor through hot, sloppy tears. Sometimes, it meant making out with someone I hardly knew. 8 Sometimes, it meant strapping on my sneakers and going to the damn gym.
Switching the focus from who might (or might not) be giving me shit for my life choices—and onto how I could show myself care— made me see what I really need to be happy:
Today, I unwind without drinking. I feel satisfied without bingeing. I feel peaceful without using.
The switch took time, patience, and practice. But the practice has brought me more pleasure than I ever got from those crutches, no contest.
Fourteen years ago a friend asked me what I wanted, what would make me happy. I’d like to change my answer.
What I want is to feel well, to feel cared for.
And that, friend, is 100% on me.
Odds are, what you want is to feel well, to feel cared for.
And that, friend, is 100% on you.
Let’s do this for ourselves, together.
- One after another after another… ↩
- Holes in the ceiling, holes in the windows, a heater that shook the whole place every time it kicked on… ↩
- Abuse. ↩
- Oh, Emily, you sly, self-reflection-fueling jerk. ↩
- The judgment was coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!! ↩
- …uncomfortable, inconvenient, crazy empowering… ↩
- And if you’re a hedonist like me, your #1 goal is to feel as good as possible for as long possible as often as possible, period. ↩
- This one seems questionable to me now, but I was in my 20s. You gotta start somewhere, you know? ↩