The Challenges Of Privilege


“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.”

It did.

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


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  • That must have been a very difficult challenge to overcome and you must be praised for coming through it. I cannot imagine how difficult it was. Such an inspiring post and perfect for our BIO subject this month. XXXX

  • “True nobility isn’t about being better than someone else. It’s about being better than you used to be.” — Wayne Dyer

    Lisa, you are both noble and good.

    8:28 am
    Flo said...

    “Lisa, you are both noble and good.”

    Yes, you are.

    11:35 am
    Lisa said...

    You guys are too nice to me, but I take it as a sign of the wonderful crowd here. Thank you.

  • It’s amazing that you were able to recover independently from both your eating disorder and alcohol problem. Most people I know attend group meetings or therapy to get through those issues. Perhaps your high WASP discipline comes through in these ways as well ;)

    Anyway, you’re an inspiration.

  • Taming those dragons must have taken great courage.
    I read about one of the Kennedy’s that has been in the news lately as he wrote a book about his struggles with addiction. I thought to myself that money might make it easier to kick these bad habits but it would appear that it makes it more difficult.
    I applaud your discipline.
    I could use some in the exercise area of my life :-))

  • Privilege … what mixed blessings that state can bring…

    i admire your honesty Lisa… although I am not surprised… I read you often but don’t always comment..

    A thought provoking post… Thank you… xv

  • Inspiring, Twitter Mom. My IRL Mom just celebrated 17 years of sobriety. She had to go cold turkey, but I am in your boat about moderating things. I have, from time-to-time, caught myself being less healthy, and have learned where my personal limits are as well!


    11:37 am
    Lisa said...

    Congratulations again to your mom. Nice work her.

  • These are tough, tough battles, life-long for some. It takes guts to fight them under any circumstances.

  • That must have been really difficult. I applaud you for dealing with it, and for admitting to it. My sons tell me, although I still find this hard to believe, that these days most high-achieving young women go through a period of anorexia or bulimia. I guess it shows that we all have our demons.

    11:38 am
    Lisa said...

    I am so sorry, all the time, that we haven’t managed to address more of young women’s issues. Seems we should have made more progress, seems keeping on trying is the only thing to do.

  • “Always be kind…everyone carries a heavy burden” ~ my favorite quote of the moment and so perfect for all these “Invitation Only” posts. Privilege does bring it own set of challenges of which I’m very aware. You’re always very brave Lisa, and I commend you for it.

  • It is enough. It is you, it is honest. We’re none of us perfect. But if we try to do better, it’s good.

  • I once asked a team I was working with to write down the hardest thing they had ever done, that they were willing to share with those present. One young man, always at the ready, with a joke or a story, a man who had inherited enough money to not work, but did, someone who embodied “not a care in the world” to me, wrote: ” I buried my child.” Those four words.

    Your improved habits are for the best, in every way.

    11:38 am
    Lisa said...

    Oh gosh. There is nothing worse. So sorry.

  • a beautiful, articulate essay Lisa. You’ve expressed what I’ve always felt about the burden of people of privilege. “That feels true and honest, to me.”

  • Lisa

    Such a gutsy and honest posting (both this one and the previous one, linked). I have found that for me, the drink after work was becoming something of a habit – “want to have something in hand when I kick back to catch up on my shows/read a book” and I realized that a glass of cold ice water filled the same need (the need being “have to mindlessly eat/drink something while watching TV or reading a book”). I had realized that I was getting too comfortable with the habit of having a glass of wine every.single.night and wanted to see if I could dial it back. I didn’t want to go for hot chocolate or anything that would replace one problem with another so I went for ice water.

    11:43 am
    Lisa said...

    I am impressed.

  • I admire your candour and appreciate your honesty. Yes, we all absolutely have our own “stuff” we’re dealing with daily. We also make our own luck through hard work, good decisions and strength of character. That is what you’ve done throughout your battles. As for me, I’m trying to cut back on the drinking and not see it as me deserving a glass or three at the end of each day. I have so much to celebrate I could drink all day! So logic prevails, but effort is required.
    Love your blog! Ellie x

    11:45 am
    Lisa said...


  • Thank you for being so honest with us. Your blog is so interesting because it combines posts such as this one with posts about wearing motorcycle jackets! That, and how well written they are.

  • I so appreciate the candor about just stopping. While I definitely recognize that a lot of people need help with giving up dangerous or unhealthy habits just stopping *is* possible, and it’s how I’ve gotten through my most difficult things.

    It’s easy to view issues as smaller than they were because I was able to just stop without any dramatic intervention, but hearing this is almost like a validation, of sorts.

    11:47 am
    Lisa said...

    See, that’s why I post this stuff that’s not clothing. Because what’s the point of living several decades if you don’t get to contribute what you learn? Thank you.

  • Thank you for another thoughtful post Lisa. It doesn’t surprise me at all that privilege brings its own challenges. All of the money in the world cannot save you if you lose your way.

  • Ah Lisa, I hear you on both fronts.

    As you know I had to totally stop the alcohol.

    I have eaten to feel better and stopped eating to try to control something, anything, my emotions maybe.

    I’ve been taking care of myself during this breakup and feeding myself.

    Not large or complicated meals, but nourishing.

    I feel a post coming on.

    Thanks for the spark.

    xo Jane

  • The battleground of personal pain is a level playing field–perhaps the only place where no one is privileged–and no one wants to be. The guises of pain are personal, but the suffering of it seemingly universal.

    Among the things that privilege sometimes confers is a blight on the developing psyche: HWs are not allowed (by their parents, their peers, or the prevailing culture) to speak their pain–pain that is part and parcel of being alive. “You’re privileged, you have nothing to complain about, so don’t.” It’s as though the social and material benefits of privilege are supposed to somehow automatically nullify or anodyze (my word?) the psychospiritual rigors of simply being human. The psychic strain can become intolerable. No wonder HW pent-up emotions (indeed anyone’s choked-off emotions) so often find expression in disordered eating, drinking, and behavior.

    How brave of you to name your struggles, and braver still to confront them and stare them down. And oh what prizes–gratitude and generosity–you’ve earned, hard-won.

  • I agree, it’s a challenge to let yourself be happier. Habit has a strong pull. It is about being grateful that in one or two fleeting moments you had the insight to let go of something that wasn’t working and try something else. It’s not about willpower or discipline, it’s about letting go.

  • Yikes – working with both alcohol and bulemia issues – you are one tough cookie. And even braver to put it out there with honesty too. That is facing a challenge head on and dealing with it, with all the rewards of doing so justifiably deserved.

  • Another amazingly honest and open post from you. Goes to show that you just never know what other people have lived through. As to whether your challenge made you a better person – well, I am positive that you have always been pretty damn awesome.

  • Quieting the voices takes tremendous strength. I’m glad you are happy and at peace now. You are an amazing woman, Lisa, and we all love you.

  • I would never have thunk this. Not ever. So, you have had a few small challenges which you overcame, and you told us about them. You learned you liked yourself more, that’s a great outcome, I’d say. Good job, Lisa !!

  • Brilliantly written Lisa and I so love your honesty.
    Why do we hide so much, if only we could lay our cards on the table like you just have.

    I so admire you today. xxx Coty

    11:50 am
    Lisa said...

    Thanks. You are a remarkably talented person, and I appreciate your words very much.

  • I think you have done so well Lisa. Bulimia is no easy battle. I also love how open you have been with us about your issues.

    I re-read your alcohol post and was amazed by how vehement the comments got in regards to your alcohol use. I found it amazing that commenters felt you had a problem with one drink a day and that you were in denial and unable to control your drinking. My feeling from your post was that you were controlling the issue incredibly well and your drinking was within recommended guidelines. If you meet the criteria for alcoholism then any light drinker would. It was obviously an emotive issue that hit a nerve with many people. Interesting.

    Take care Lisa and I hope all is well in your world.

    11:50 am
    Lisa said...

    It surprised me to no end. Yes, I hope all is well in your world too.

  • I really love your thoughtfulness.

  • “Did learning to manage food and alcohol make me a better person?”

    I’m 99.9 % sure you are smarter than me, but that is a no brainier. When you made the choices to manage food and alcohol, you made the choices to give yourself so much more self respect. Respect that you (and all of us) deserve to give ourselves.

    I love how you share your life experiences, and make me think about my own.

    Thank you.

    12:01 pm
    Lisa said...

    Sounds extremely smart to me;).

  • Lisa, you are so amazing. Honest and raw post.

  • Lisa, such an interesting blog you write.

    I was 21 when I met my future husband. His father was a happy drunk, often times wrapping up and mailing precious family heirlooms to those he loved while under the influence. I was so jealous my boyfriend had a father whom was a happy drunk. My father was a mean drunk. It has forever left a lasting impression on me.

  • My greatest challenge is the propensity to pack on the pounds, a combination of a love of food and drink and the ready access to quantities of it. In another time this would be considered a genetic gift, as it ensures my ability to withstand long periods of famine. However, I face little risk of such deprivation in the world I am fortunate to live in, so this “blessing” is now more of a curse, at least for me. Ah well, how blessed am I that this is the greatest struggle I face! RD

  • Excellent posting, as always.

  • I love that you’re still writing here Lisa. I always love your posts, your voice and that you can write personal without being overly sentimental–such a gift.
    xo Mary Jo

  • What a thought-provoking post. I struggled with both issues (more anorexia than bulimia, though they are so related) for years, and, like you, slowly overcame each on my own. It wasn’t easy but as you suggest, it came with somehow realizing I needed to allow myself to love myself – then personal happiness and satisfaction, and all the things that flow from that (attracting people who are good for you, not the jerks; meeting Mr. Right; getting married, etc). Thanks for speaking so candidly about your journey. And I was just going to pop over and thank you, belatedly, for leaving a comment on my style blog! xoxo

  • I feel like I was on easy street before kids! Landon’s and Coco’s health issues (now Coco has a broken collar bone!!!) That and trying to work and have a family and do both WELL.

  • I have found that having a sweet dog and sitting, sleeping, walking with it, takes away so much of the tension of life’s travails. Whether rich or poor, thin or heavy in weight, it is all the same. We beat ourselves up and only true love for someone else and that love returned can get us through these difficulties.

    Good luck to all.

  • I am just now, at this quite mature stage in my life, sorting out my own food and weight issues. I have found that it takes some thought, perseverance, and courage. You accomplished a great deal in dealing with your issues. More than you know. It’s not easy for anyone.

    8:32 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you. I read your recent post, and I know what you mean.