by Theresa Gottschall
Note: This piece originally appeared in the Many Peaces Magazine and has been cross-posted with permission.
Who am I (to write about healing if I myself am not healed yet)? – This question has accompanied me since I decided to engage with the significance of rhythm in healing processes within the frame of my master thesis. Ultimately, I realized that I wanted to dedicate my research to this topic precisely because of my personal process, which has been characterized by a constant back and forth between my desire to heal and my resistance to let go of my well-known suffering. Wolfgang Dietrich mentioned this expression during his introductory lecture of my first term and it has remained present in me since then.
My well-known suffering is mainly connected to the fact that I have been struggling with an eating disorder for the last thirteen years. In simple words, this means that I became accustomed to regulating every sensation I have with food. The scope of my eating behavior ranges from starving to overeating, but my principal disorder is classified as bulimia, primarily characterized by binge eating and vomiting. In this context, I am dependent on a system of extremely restricting and irrational rules and thoughts that accompany me each and every day. These highly addictive ‘coping strategies’ have been my way of dealing with feelings and difficulties in daily life, and relearning to express them differently is one of my biggest challenges.
Although my personal struggle is certainly not an aspect of my life I am particularly proud of, I have developed a considerable openness with regards to this topic for several reasons. Besides others, I came to realize that authenticity also means to me to confront myself and others with my shadows. Most importantly, I am tired of hiding an aspect that has had a deep impact on factors like my self-perception and self-esteem, the way I treat myself and others, and my social life. This article, however, is not about eating disorders, although I could easily write a book about this subject. Rather, I want to reflect on a question that popped up in the frame of Wolfgang Dietrich’s introductory lecture and has become something I frequently chew on without finding a definite answer.
Do I prefer my well-known suffering (over the risk of transformation)?
I continue to feel stuck in this struggle between the wish to heal and the inability to do so, between the desire to let go of certain behavior patterns that do not serve me anymore and the need to hold on to them. There are periods in my life where I can hardly remember anything which is not connected to my well-known suffering. After so many years, I do not see any sense in sticking to it anymore. Stop. Is this the absolute truth? In the first place, there is of course no such thing as an absolute truth. Although I perceive my behavior patterns as mainly hampering and restricting, a part of me actually does not want to let go, resists to transform. My well-known suffering has also become my comfort zone, which I do not necessarily like but I know how it ‘works’. In a way, it is a seemingly safe space wherein I know every corner.
I came to realize that authenticity also means to me to confront myself and others with my shadows.
I cannot grasp the particular reasons for my resistance to let go, but I believe that it is connected to a lot of fear. Maybe I am scared of the unknown – a lot of space has been occupied by my behavior patterns and the circle of thoughts linked to them. In my perception, the process of letting go of my supposed comfort zone is also connected to the transformation of this occupied space. This involves potential for something new, which might be more fulfilling than my well-known suffering. Still, at this point, it remains unknown. And this is scary.
I think that this fear of the unknown is also linked to the fact that I consider myself to be a ‘creature of habit’ (I personally prefer the German expression Gewohnheitstier). This in turn is linked to a certain degree of laziness when it comes to taking another path than the one I know best. Although I do not like my coping strategies and seriously question their ‘functionality’, I have applied them countless times. They seem like an one-way street with hardly any junctions or alternative paths. Luckily, there are moments where I am able to put my blinkers aside and perceive other options. Sometimes, I even make the conscious decision to explore these unknown directions when I am not too lazy.
My resistance, my fear and my laziness in relation to my well-known suffering – all are aspects that are not easy to look at without judging them. I cannot deny that they cause a high level of frustration, exacerbated by the fact that I am aware of them and simultaneously feel stuck and unable to transform. Nevertheless, I believe that awareness is one of the keys to transformation. Thanks to the experiences made in the MA Program in Peace Studies at the University of Innsbruck, I came to trust in myself and my process, even though it has its ups and downs.
Why do I write about my struggles (instead of something less intimate)?
I believe that my decision to share my personal struggles has two main reasons. On the one hand, I perceive writing as a useful tool to release my thoughts and to reflect on a different level about my inner turmoil. Sharing my story within the framework of this magazine, instead of writing in my diary, adds another dimension. Besides making myself vulnerable, I am able to acknowledge and look at myself in a more holistic manner than I usually do. Indeed, I generally tend to divide myself and my actions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘strong’ and ‘weak’, to name but a few dualistic judgmental concepts.
My resistance, my fear and my laziness in relation to my well-known suffering – all are aspects that are not easy to look at without judging them.
On the other hand, I hope to inspire you, the reader, to look at yourself. Is there something in your life that you want to let go of but still hold on to? Here, I mainly refer to repetitive thoughts, beliefs, relationships, habits, patterns, concepts – anything that you perceive to be hampering, as something ‘useless’ or as something which is not serving you anymore at this point of your life? If you detect something, I invite you to explore the possible reasons why it is still present in your life. Here, I am reminded of words frequently mentioned during my psychotherapy: schonunglose Ehrlichkeit, which can be translated into ‘unsparing honesty’. Looking at yourself with such honesty might not yet solve anything, but it is a step to become more aware of who you are.
I relate healing to a holistic perception of oneself, where all aspects of the self are integrated and acknowledged. With this thought that I presented in my master thesis, I want to end this reflection. Looking at this idea at the present moment strengthens my conviction that becoming aware and acknowledging all aspects of oneself, including those which on the surface prevent one from letting go, is actually part of the healing process. I can wholeheartedly say that this process takes time, energy and courage, but I firmly believe that it is worth it.