Let me admit to you that sometimes, I find people (and I am also talking about a certain person, in particular) difficult to deal with.
A part of me just wants everybody to like me – wouldn’t that be so much easier? – and so I work to make that the case. I try to be pleasant, acquiescent, perky, and attentive. But inevitably these efforts will fail to work on someone: I will feel dejected, and look for ways that I can do better. Couldn’t I just smile a little more, remember another detail about that person, do her one more favor? I run through my repertoire with difficult people, but what makes them difficult is that none of these tricks work with them. I just can’t crack them with my charm, my compassion, or my competence. And this I find so, so frustrating, coming against a place where I cannot move, where there is nothing left but resignation and acceptance.
There is a person at work that is playing out this routine with me. I smile at her, she frowns at me. I do her a favor, she criticizes my work. I come in early, she asks me to stay late. I cannot seem to win. I have come to dread going to work, and all because of this one person! More than anything, I want her to like me, to accept me, to treat me like a friend or colleague. Instead, I get blank stares and sarcastic comments from her. She hurts me, and I can’t seem to do anything about it. All of my active striving to improve the relationship hasn’t helped, and I am at a loss for what to do next.
My Buddhist teacher would probably say that this is what Zen practice is for – through meditation, we learn to stick with the discomfort just a second longer than we are used to doing; we allow ourselves to acknowledged the icky-ness, the feelings of rejection and longing, and by noticing them, they become less powerful in our imaginations. Eventually, visiting them day after day, we wear them down, like a rubbing stone. They cease to “catch” us in their grip, and become like any other problem that we have relinquished: just a part of life, not good or bad.
I suspect that this process of wearing down and letting go of our problems is especially difficult for people with eating disorders, because first we have to admit that there is a problem, and next we have to avoid turning away from it. Eating disorders (and other addictions) help us cover up those feelings of anguish and rejection and anger and fear that we cannot stand, the feelings that we have never learned to face, for whatever reasons.
These days I feel raw and vulnerable again, like I did in the early days of my recovery, when I realized that I didn’t have the shield of food or hunger to hide behind anymore. Life felt brighter around the edges, but my problems should out in sharper focus, too, and threatened to overwhelm me at times. I am still making up for the years of subterfuge that my eating disorder allowed me. Now, or never, I have to learn to take in all of the feelings that frighten me, acknowledge them, and carry them in such a way that they do not shatter this fragile sense of self.