Freedom Friday: The Authority to Let the Thoughts Go
Every day we fill our minds with thoughts-very few pleasant or self-affirming. With the anorexia, my mind was a mess of ugly obsessions and deplorable thoughts about myself. It was not a beautiful land of rainbows and flowers. It did not promote growth or beauty. It did not lead the way for hope and encouragement. The thoughts were designed to tear me down and make me lose faith in myself and recovery. They were meant to make me feel worthless and self-hate. Their mission was to leave me defeated and powerless so I succumb to them and let them rob me of life, to win the war and get to declare victory. Their job was to get me to the point of absolute exhaustion and aggravation to believe that nothing can be changed, that all the thoughts are truth, that I have no control over their presence. They wanted me to believe and accept that I do not possess the strength or capability to think differently nor am deserving of change that would result in self-love and care.
These thoughts come from a place within us that is filled with low self-esteem, that wants us to believe we deserve not to be happy, and to believe that we are worthless. They promote the beliefs convincing us we're stupid, unacceptable, worthless, ugly, a failure, a disgrace, unworthy of love and care, to engage in behaviors. They tell us "the world would be better without you." The thoughts are born from negativity and self-hate which encourage us to follow the commands of the eating disorder or whatever other force wants us gone and stay tight in its grasp. The thoughts feed into our belief that we do not deserve recovery, that we deserve a life of pain, that we are powerless to win against the demon. The thoughts reiterate our feeling of weakness, strengthening our hate for ourselves and solidifying our belief that we are unlovable. They harass us with guilt and shame. They serve as constant reminders that we are not good enough, that we are a lost cause, that we are nothing.
Often I will reflect on my thoughts. As painful as it can be, I stop and truly listen to what is going on in my head. I have realized that often I let them go ignored. I let them have their way in me and make their presence go undisturbed. It is me taking the easy way out, too exhausted to fight them. What more harm could they do? How much worse could it get if I let this one slide? Well, that one ignored thought has more power than I give it credit for. It sees me bowing to it and takes that as its opportunity to call in reinforcements to keep me down. It grabs on to the one quick second of my weakness to take over and grow in power. Twenty more thoughts come barreling in and before I know it, I am living in extreme negativity, unable to look at my reflection, struggling to sit with myself, debating whether or not to eat, comparing myself to people. The thoughts exercise great influence on me. My feelings are determined by the nature of my thoughts that I allow myself to dwell on and enter into my mind. The more self-defeating the thoughts are, the more depressed and anxious I will be. It begins a vicious cycle for then the emotions create more thoughts of worthlessness and shame. In the past, I would throw in eating disorder behaviors to try to numb the emotion and silence the thoughts by acting on them and I had a recipe for complete disaster. It destroyed my hope, my happiness, my health, and tried to obliterate from my mind any remembrance of times I have overcome to prove my strength and capabilities.
When I truly listen to them, it leaves me deeply saddened. I hear the things I tell myself, how much I put myself down, how demeaning I am, how much I judge and critique myself, how hard I am on myself. Imagine if I were to talk to someone like I do myself. I would have no friends. Imagine if I had a daughter and said all the things to her that I let enter into my mind. She would live in complete self-hate, too afraid to be herself and always self-conscious. How many tears would that little girl cry? Would she ever walk with her head held high? Would she ever let the world hear her voice? Would she ever allow herself to be happy? Would she struggle to give herself love and care after being told she didn’t deserve it? Never ever would I talk to my daughter like I do myself. Never would I let her hear those words from me or anybody else. So why do I accept it? I am no less treasured than anyone else in the world. I have no less to offer the world than others. I am just as wonderfully and beautifully made like every other individual in the world. Nobody deserves such thoughts. I should not be the exception to that yet I treat myself like I am. That needs to change if I ever want to be free.
I don’t think people realize how in charge of our thoughts we can be. We need to face them head on. When you are in danger, either you deal with it head on or you run. A negative thought, something very dangerous to our health and wellbeing, cannot be run from because it is inside your mind, and wherever you go, your mind follows. There is no escaping it. Some people find temporary relief through distraction but for me, personally, I would have to be attempting to create diversions in my mind every second. I would never be guaranteed a permanent escape from the negative thought. Your only option is to face it.
I was always taught in therapy to fight the thoughts which honestly left me completely overwhelmed. I was barely holding on to life and people were asking me to battle something that I encounter every second of the day. There was no way I could muster up that much energy to fight. When I tried, my attempts were halfhearted and therefore never stuck. The negative thoughts had no difficulty shoving out my positive ones and making them weaker, making them appear absolutely ridiculous. They weren’t welcome. After years and years of therapy attempting this fighting the thoughts method, I discovered a new approach. Fighting against something usually takes a lot more energy than avoiding a fight in the first place. I decided to do the latter approach.
My mind is now a scene straight from an Old Western movie. I am the sheriff, in control and protector of the town. Whenever an outlaw (a thought) comes strolling through with his guns loaded and ready to wreak havoc, I use my power to encourage him to keep on walking, right out of my peaceful town. I project confidence and stay calm, looking it square in the eye and telling it with authority what it needs to do. Instead of prying and forcefully pushing my thoughts out, I am acknowledging them and releasing them. When that outlaw comes back, which he will out of habit and persistence, I acknowledge he is still returning and release him again. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that I possess the ability to be the sheriff. I doubted the power I have over my mind, believing my negative thoughts were far stronger than I could ever be. I believed I was stuck with no way out. I was trapped in my own town by the outlaws taking over. I was wrong, and every day I am proving that to myself, one thought at a time.
By letting go instead of fighting, I have found my mind stays more relaxed and open. It is better able to receive new, positive thoughts which I create. With each outlaw that I ask to leave, I ask a pleasant bystander (a positive thought) to come for a visit. If I tell the outlaw of failure after making a mistake to leave, I welcome in the bystander who acknowledges a feat I overcame to come in. Even though they take a bit to make permanent residence in my Western town, they do eventually call it home. Even though I welcomed them in initially, I still worry they will not fit in considering the state of my past and still some current residents and fear their ability to change the town into a place different than I am used to. They have the potential to make it, dare I say, more beautiful, which would put me in a less familiar place. It takes patience and repetition to gradually introduce these “foreigners” into my town to generate more positivity.
That doesn’t mean I think that outlaws were never try to come into my town ever again. That would not be realistic. I know without a doubt they will but not as frequently or with as much vigor and force. The idea of letting go and thought replacement is to improve the ability to reduce the amount of negativity in my mind and decrease their frequency and intensity. I can’t make them go away forever but I can make them not show up every second, with every mistake, at every meal, at any moment of difficulty, or any time I look in the mirror.
It requires much work, a daily effort I am putting in every second. Unfortunately there is no Fairy Godmother with a magic wand to come to our rescue to give us a brain of only positivity and a life of no stress or problems to generate negativity. But in reality, you really do not need her. You have it already within you to improve the quality of your life. You hold the authority within you to stop letting negativity be in charge. It was a glorious discovery for me, and now, with each letting go, I feel myself gaining freedom and hope. I feel my power being restored. I feel myself strengthening. I see my life becoming more beautiful.
Love, light, and bravery, J.L.