This time last year, if you were to see my life on paper, you would’ve thought I had it all. I had a fancy title with a built-in promotion and a solid paycheck at a killer job in advertising. My 25-year-old skin glowed, tightly wrapped around lean muscle. I wore the right clothes, smiled and laughed appropriately, and made friends easily.
But beneath the surface, I was miserable. I had just reentered the agency world after three months of residential treatment for bulimia. I soon realized I wasn't ready, and the pressure to live up to my own unrealistic standards sent me into a gnarly relapse.
To maintain my self-imposed ideal of perfection, I suffered countless hours at the gym, adhered to a strict diet, then spent hours throwing it up. I usually went to bed without taking off my makeup because I was too weak to shower. In the mornings, I’d cake mascara on top of yesterday’s painted picture, douse myself with perfume, and drape myself in designer clothes I couldn’t afford. I smiled and laughed because my brain couldn’t compute a clever word to say, and I made many friends because I didn’t pose a threat.
Comparison dissolves contentment.
One year ago to the day I wrote this, I snapped. I couldn’t hold it together anymore. After ignoring all bodily instincts of hunger, pain, and suffering for three days, I found myself lost in the Skyway of downtown Minneapolis with mascara tears streaming down my blush-streaked cheeks, terrified of the robots that disguised themselves as human beings.
Numbly, I watched showy suits and leather loafers shuffle from one end of the Skyway to the other — faces stuck to screens, commuting from one important event to another.
As I emerged from the fog, still without any sense of time, I retraced my steps to work. I tried to engage in the conversations my co-workers were spilling at me, but all I could feel in my empty stomach was a knot of fear and inauthenticity. How could I know if anyone was real? I had played it off so well that even I believed my gimmick!
Pre-rehab, I had lived in denial for so long that I was familiar — almost comfortable — with masking and dancing around my disorder. After treatment, I knew too much to deny that the eating disorder was white-knuckling my life. I had no choice but surrender.
So, the day before Christmas break, I quit. I quit my job, I quit the lie I was living and telling, I quit displaying the pretend smile, and I quit playing the game. I moved out of the city and home to my parents’ farm. There, I reconnected with myself and with God. I found peace and contentment. I slowly regained life and nourishment. I learned to respect my body, my mind, and my energy.
I found my many gifts and reconciled with my many flaws. I turned my biggest weaknesses into my greatest strengths. I prevailed and have truly transformed.
Now, a year later, I still live with my parents while I work part-time as a yoga teacher. When I hear of my peers’ accomplishments and milestones — engagements, baby showers, promotions — I catch myself fantasizing about how my life would be better if… If I lived in the city. If I had my own space. If I had a boyfriend or if I hadn’t quit my job. That is the inevitable conclusion of comparing yourself to others. Comparison dissolves contentment.
But you can find contentment — even bliss — by imagining your heart as a garden and planting seeds of thankfulness there. Nourish them with love and gratitude, and they will continue to grow into a more abundant life. If a relationship you treasure begins to sour, focus your attention on the positive aspects of this person rather than letting their imperfections irritate you.
Reminding yourself by making a list or complimenting your loved one(s) is nourishing to the relationship, like watering a plant. Not communicating, shutting down, is like a drought that would cause any living thing to wither and die.
This holiday season, my life may not look that good on paper (and it certainly isn’t perfect), but I can tell you that I am truly content living the life that I have: Engaging in healthy relationships with self, food, others, and the world around me. Each day I count my blessings and when I feel the ifs creeping up, I remind myself that the grass is always greener where I've watered it.
Abundance in gratitude, my friends!
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