I’m a master of denial. For one reason or another, I’ve become accustomed to disappointments over the last decade or so. Maybe longer. Denial has become my way of dealing with things I didn’t think I could control.
I was reminded of that again Friday evening when I unintentionally recorded some video of myself from the side. My MacBook was recording and Lucy wanted to jump into my lap for attention. I turned to let her jump up while she happily licked my face. I thought the video of her might be cute. But then I looked at it.
I know I need to shed some weight right now, but I walk around in denial about it most of the time. I’m about 25 pounds less than the worst I’d let myself get — maybe 35 pounds now that I think about it — but I still need to get rid of about 80 pounds of excess fat.
When I looked at that video of Lucy and me, every one of those 80 pounds seemed to be visible — and every one of them seemed to be taunting me.
There was a time when my reaction to such a realization was to scream at myself. On the inside, at least. But I’ve realized that’s counterproductive. Self-loathing only makes the problem worse.
The frustrating thing about denial is that it all stems from the fear of not being good enough and the terror that someone won’t love us if we can’t fix a problem. This quickly becomes counterproductive because the denial that allows us to avoid the fear also makes it easier to pretend the problem doesn’t exist — which makes it easier to allow the problem to continue.
People who don’t deal with a weight issue assume that the problem is about food. It’s not.
If you have an issue with eating too much and becoming overweight, the food is merely a delivery mechanism for the self-soothing “drug” you’re using to take the place of whatever you need to fill your unfilled emotional needs. It’s not rocket science once you finally understand that, but until you get it — and especially if this isn’t one of your issues — you focus on plan after plan to force yourself to eat differently.
I know the things I need and I know from experience which changes in my life change the way I eat. You would think knowing that would be enough to change my behavior, but it doesn’t work that way.
Here’s the weird thing.
I seem to be most aware of this problem — the most able to see through my fog of denial — when I’m poised at a watershed moment in my life. Those are the moments when you can clearly see two very different paths and you know that one simple decision will set in motion a chain of events that will leave you in one of two entirely different places. (To oversimplify it, the term comes from the point in terrain where the water on land flows one way here and in an entirely different direction starting a few inches away.)
When I’m at my most unhealthy, I can’t even look at the things about which I’m in denial. But when I’m at one of those moments when things could go one of two (or more) different ways, I start seeing clearly which things will change depending on which way I go. In a way that’s hard to explain, I’m at one of those moments lately.
I turn to denial when things hurt me the most. It’s easy to face reality about things that don’t hurt. But some things take a long time to accept, because they cut to the core of our emotional needs.
It hurts to accept that someone you want to love will never change and become emotionally healthy enough to be in your life.
It hurts to accept that someone you love will never love you enough to choose you.
It hurts to accept that you will never be good enough or successful enough or talented enough for everyone to love you.
It hurts to accept that a relationship will never been what you wanted it to be — and others will see you as a failure when you do something about it.
It hurts to accept that you will never be exactly what you hoped to become — that you will never become good enough to win the love of the people you don’t even realizing you’re still trying to win.
The list could go on. The specifics differ for all of us — and how we handle them differs in just as many ways.
Some people turn to alcohol and other recreational drugs. Some people turn to hedonistic forms of sex. Others turn to gambling or a thousand other things. Some people become addicted to making other people believe they’re successful. I turn to the drug called sugar.
The last time I thought I’d found love — about three years ago — I suddenly quit eating badly and I quickly started shedding excess weight. When that ended, the craving returned and the problem returned. Since then, there have been short times when I’ve been able to keep it under control for short periods of time through sheer willpower, but that’s something that will never last.
The only thing that really changes things for me is having the love and emotional security to begin making changes in my life that I know I need to make.
It’s not difficult to know what to do. The process isn’t a secret. It doesn’t require a special diet. But everything — for me, at least — hinges on the elusive elixir called love.
At this particular watershed moment, I could go one of several different directions. One thing that keeps appealing to me is to just delete every public presence I have in the world and to move somewhere far away without explaining where I’m going or why. Another direction is to stay where I am and live a more conventional life long enough to become wealthy — and then decide where to go. There are others. I don’t know what all my options are, but I know something has to change.
When I’m in denial, I allow things to drag along without change. When I allow myself glimpses of the realities I deny, I know that I have to make massive change. That’s why denial is so dangerous to me.
There’s a part of me that likes denial. I can pretend I’m going to have who and what I need. I can pretend that people love me and understand me. I can pretend all sorts of things.
But denial keeps me from changing reality. It’s not healthy. It leads to continued stagnation. It leads to even more hurt when the inevitable tortured hopes end up shattered.
I can’t promise myself that I’ll end the denial right now. I don’t know how to force it. I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work. I just know that I have to step away from it completely if I’m ever to have any of the things I need — and it’s in these moments of painful reality that I have some chance of changing things that need to be changed.
The idea of doing that is scary, though, because it means giving up on people and plans that are still painfully alive and very real in my heart.