This is the final post in The Year of the Quitter, a five-part series on how quitting paved the way to better living for me in 2018. Previously, I’ve covered quitting self-sabotage, comparison, coloring my hair and ignoring my health.
I have a confession to make: I don’t like to feel. Touch isn’t my problem. It’s emotions.
Unlike the other things I’ve quit this year, numbing my feelings wasn’t discovered to be a problem in 2016. It’s a very recent discovery. So recent that I’m processing it as I write, which is risky. What if I post this today and regret it later? What if time changes my perspective? What if, what if, what if? I could spend months spinning all sorts of worst-case scenarios in my brain that are planted firmly in the future. But the future is not the present. And today, this is what I believe to be true. Today’s truth is the only certainty I have.
How did I discover this problem of mine? It was both slow and sudden. The progression of the problem was gradual. The realization of the problem, however, was as sudden as a heart attack – quick, painful and life-altering.
As I mentioned in prior posts in this series, I was on a downward spiral in health and well-being in 2016. I was juggling extreme fatigue, chest pains, stomach upset, anxiety and a laundry list of other ailments with negative effects on all aspects of my life. I started to play around with my own homegrown remedies. What would happen if I eliminated “x” or added “y”?
I went the easy route first and focused on beverages. I cut out coffee. No change. Then I cut out alcohol. That was socially difficult but worth it. No more stomach upset, no more anxiousness. Wine was the devil. Problem solved.
Or maybe not.
My cravings for other things began to soar. I don’t love cake. It’s normal for me to be at a party and eat two bites of icing, one bite of cake and be done with it. But not this year. I’d eat cake because it was there. Rather than a bite of a cookie from Brian or the girls, I’d eat two of my own. I went from black coffee to flavored mochas and lattes. Brian introduced me to Vietnamese iced coffee – an intense brewed mix of coffee, espresso and chicory with a generous dose of sweetened condensed milk added for balance. You read that right. I recommend never finding out whether you love it as much as I do. I don’t even want to talk pie and candy. Some skeletons belong in the closet.
My tummy woes continued and worsened. It wasn’t until the holiday season, though, that I decided enough was enough. It didn’t take long to realize these behaviors were the result of emotional triggers:
- Emotional discomfort is debilitating for me – I have often joked about feeding my feelings, but I discovered I was eating to numb my feelings.
- Tension and conflict between other people makes me uncomfortable – Intellectually, I know I am not responsible for other people’s feelings or actions, but I don’t like tension. It makes me feel weak and vulnerable.
Here’s my 11th-hour 2017 realization about the whole deal: There is not enough food or drink in the world to make bad feelings go away. The wine, the latte, or the cookie bring an immediate but short-lived sense of calm. They take the edge off the sharp corners of my emotions. But they never take away my emotions, and they have no power over the cause of my emotions. The problem remains the problem. The only difference is whether I’m equipped to deal with the problem after the wine, the latte or the cookie, and I wasn’t.
To quote my favorite philosopher, Capt. Jack Sparrow, “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”
And my attitude in 2017 has been that problems must be solved, and I’m the only person up for the task – even if the problems aren’t mine to begin with. It’s overwhelming to be the end-all-be-all, especially if you’re self-appointed. Who is there to set term limits? Nobody. That’s why it’s so important for us to set limits ourselves when we see the problem.
So that’s what I did.
I have set personal boundaries and encouraged others to do the same. In the words of Capt. Jack, I would stop focusing on the problem and instead, change my attitude about the problem. I’m no boundary expert, but here is where I’ve begun:
- I own my time. I wear many hats that come with obligations, but it’s up to me to determine how I allocate time to those obligations. I will not apologize for prioritizing my time within the scope of my control.
- I own my routine. A morning routine and evening routine help my home life run smoothly. I’m applying the same techniques to my work life.
- I own my body and mind. As with anything, I need to be a responsible steward of my resources and my possessions. That includes the body I live in. Daily movement and self-care are part of being a good owner.
Notice, none of my boundaries involve anyone else. I am not taking ownership over others, and I’m not releasing self-ownership to others. The result, so far, has been a greater sense of emotional well-being. It’s not easy to retrain those around me, but being true to my own needs makes it easier to be consistent in my responses.
Now it’s your turn. The Year of the Quitter has come to a close. We’re putting a cork in 2017 and looking ahead to 2018. Though the year is over, it holds a major influence on the future. What are you walking away from this year? What is it you plan to walk toward next year? Share with me in the comments or by email. I’d love to hear from you.
Tonya Kubo is co-director of the Clutter Free Academy Facebook group, founded by author/speaker Kathi Lipp and based on her best-selling book, Clutter Free. Tonya and her husband, Brian, are raising two spirited girls in the agricultural heart of California. By day, she cultivates community in digital spaces for a public university. At night, you can find her either cooking, cuddling or helping others to fight the demons of comparison, clutter and compulsion.