“What was your greatest challenge?” asks Marsha. “How did it make you better?”
It might be hard to imagine I can answer, born into privilege as I was. Intelligently fed, beautifully housed, formally educated. What possible difficulties could I face?
But the Internet has convinced me that everyone struggles with something. We read of and from people who write, cook, paint beautifully Get to know them better, they’ve got their stuff. An editor with a great job? She’s confused and worried. The chemist? Might be angry. People’s lives surprise you.
So it was with privilege. Even abundance requires sorting out.
Between the ages of 20 and 23 I was bulemic. Imagine a blonde-haired Princeton girl, sneaking multiple Snickers from the candy bin at her eating club. Reads like a scene in a first novel, doesn’t it? We’ll avoid a description of the subsequent purges, they don’t make for good vignettes, and would never transfer to television very well. You see, even now I feel some disdain for my behavior.
I never consciously got over the eating disorder, just found myself one day at my lonely New York kitchen table thinking, “I’m going to eat whatever my body really wants. I bet that will work.”
I wrote recently about cutting back on alcohol. Moving from heavy to moderate drinking took much more effort than giving up milkshake prohibition, but in both cases I was well-served by paying attention to the needs of my body, and putting aside shame.
Neither of these behaviors comes naturally to the High WASP culture. I had to quiet some voices.
Often people are challenged by what they don’t have. That feels true and honest, to me. I’ve been challenged instead by my relationship with satisfiable wants. By the search for useful ways of dealing with anxiety and impulse. Where to go when the only limits are those you set yourself? And what to do about living up to your advantages?
So, at the highest level of abstraction, once you find abundance, you become your own challenge.
How so? Everyone will experience this differently, everyone will come to a different conclusion. But I do believe we all owe good manners and a promise to do better as we go. More than this, well, of such choices are life stories made.
One last question. Did learning to manage food and alcohol make me a better person? Oh jeez, I don’t know. We’d have to define “better,” of course. I know I’m not more Good – Good is big and hard and for the great of spirit. But I’m certainly happier. And happiness has brought some calm; calm has encouraged gratitude and generosity. For today, I’m going to hope that’s enough.
Photo via Flickr’s Creative Commons, the photostream of dolorix