Trying on a New Label

I’ve been reading a book about first lady and humanitarian Eleanor Roosevelt and her transformation from a woman who lived life being tossed about by the whims of others to someone who became very sure of herself and the basic rights that she thought every citizen of the world should have access to. She changed, over the course of several decades, from a quiet, accommodating woman who was afraid of public speaking, to a woman who strained against the boundaries of the gender conventions of her day to pursue universal truths.

Roosevelt had many thoughts about how people should conduct themselves to act in the way that’s most respectful of others and our world (she has a greatest hits of quotes that you’ll likely encounter anytime you visit your Twitter timeline), but one thing she stressed is for individuals to take responsibility for improving the world wherever they can.

Her passion for an elevated quality of life for the world has gotten me to think about my own life, and places where I can do better. It’s made me think even more about places where food and thoughts collide for me.

A lot of the baggage I carry around has to do with acceptance and trust. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say my desire for acceptance is sometimes too high, and my level of trust is sometimes too low. When these conditions have collided in the past, it’s been a perfect storm for upset and heartbreak, and food has been my life jacket.

Some big upsets have shaped the course and quality of my life, and they have made me cautious and defensive about how I perceive and handle certain people and situations that I encounter. I desperately want to change my reactions, but I’m often stymied by how entrenched they are in my mind.

I had a conversation with someone recently about breaking out of a “victim” pattern when it comes to these feelings. I never thought of myself as a victim before, but I guess the label fits, if you look at the mildest form of victimhood described in the dictionary: “one that is subjected to…hardship or mistreatment.” In my case, “one that is tricked or duped” would also work, with me sometimes being the one who has tricked myself into believing certain things about others or myself. In a sense, I have been a victim of others’ negative thoughts and actions, but I have also been a victim of my own negative thoughts and actions.

If it’s true that I’ve been walking around for years with a victim mentality, reacting to past mistreatment, having been tricked into believing things that keep me in that narrow plane of existence, then yes, I do need to try on a new label for my life.

That label would be “free.” The applicable definition would be “not hampered or restricted in its normal operation.” If I am living like I’m free, it means I’m able to assume/resume the role that I’ve been assigned to play in life–in effect, operating normally, without restrictions of the doubt and fear that I’ve accumulated over the years from having been mistreated or tricked.

One Eleanor Roosevelt quote comes to mind for what it means to operate under this new label:

“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”

Freedom is absolutely the best condition to live in, but Roosevelt is right, that it does come with responsibility. For me in my life, it means taking charge of where my thoughts travel, and not comforting myself with food on a long, negative mental road trip. It actually means I should not be taking regular tours through the desolate, dark countryside of my past hurts. Rather, I should grab the wheel and steer myself down another highway when it feels like my thoughts are going into the old, familiar neighborhood of fear and resentment.

In some ways, I have been unwilling to grow up, unwilling to carry my own weight when it comes to being responsible for my thoughts. You could say that I carried my weight in a literal sense–on my body–rather than in a figurative sense, by being courageous and halting negativity from others (or myself) in its tracks once it starts.

Eleanor Roosevelt clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the current state of her world, and where she felt it could–and should–go. She made the changes that were in her power to make, and inspired others to do the same. In a similar fashion, we can focus on the changes that are in our power to make when it comes to how we eat, and how we react to the hurt and trickery that’s sometimes thrown our way by the world and by ourselves. (For those of us who believe in a higher power, we also have prayer and meditation as tools to transform our minds.) Freedom is a choice we can make now, and every day, if we are willing to roll up our sleeves and work for it.

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