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Ma'am, please put the self-help book DOWN.

Posted Jan 09 2012 12:00am

So, the other night in bed, while my husband and I were reading (hot, I know), he happened to glance over at the book I was sighing and "hmm"-ing about (I am one of those readers who can't resist out-loud commentary.  I do this even when I am alone.  I also involuntarily make all the faces that actors in whatever show or movie I am watching, make.  I am a full-body information in-taker. I can't help myself.)  Anyhow, he looks at my book, he looks at me, and then he says
"Are you sure you don't want to read a novel?"

I immediately get mock-offended, "Yes, I'm sure I don't want to read a novel.  I want to read this book. The one that I'm reading."

"What does that even mean," he asks, peering at the book's cover as I try to curl it closed around itself, "the Art of Manifestation?"

"It's about manifestation." I say, "Now can you please leave me alone?"

In the hubby's defense, he is not anti-books about manifestation.  He, not being steeped in the new-age literature soup that I am thoroughly boiled and braised in, actually thought that the "manifestation" being referenced was a much more esoteric and probably more nuanced thing than was actually being talked about in said book.  I don't think any part of him thought I was reading a book about how to manifest things.  I think he thought I was reading a book about, oh, the spiritual world versus the physical world, or some such lofty stuff.  No, unfortunately not.  I, sadly, just want to learn to manifest stuff.

His encouraging me to read a novel was not born of some distaste for non-fiction, it's just...I read a lot of self-help books.  And most of them, save a select few, just tend to make me anxious.  And, if you were married to me, you too would want to help me avoid excess anxiety, as I am very much that way wired.

I was 21 years old the first time I read a self-help book. I was trying to quit smoking.  I got myself a copy of The Easy Way to Quit Smoking, by Alan Carr, and I covered it in a brown paper bag, the way I'd learned to cover my textbooks in college, so no one could see what I was reading. (And, yes, I quit smoking.  And, yes, I attribute quite a lot of it to this book.)

The next self-help book I ever got was when I was 22 years old, and I was trying to recover from some crazy food issues.  I don't talk about this period of my life much on the blog, but I went through several years, when I was younger, of trying every which way possible not to eat food.  At my lowest point I was surviving on a diet of ephedrine, cigarettes, coffee, and one salad a day.  Anyhow.  No need for all the gory details...this is only to say that I had...some issues, around food.  And then, a sort of awakening, brought on by a real bottom-of-the-barrel moment, when I decided I needed to do something about it.  So...I went to the bookstore and apparently the book gods were smiling on me that day, because without really knowing what I was looking for, I picked up a copy of Geneen Roth's, Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating.

This was the first self-help book that really changed my life.

Geneen Roth had been a yo-yo dieter (to say the least) for most of her life.  She had been anorexic, she had been bulimic, she had been an overeater, an addictive eater, a no-carb girl, an all watermelon girl, a vegetarian, a protein-a-phile...you name it, she had done it.  And I, at this point in my life, really identified.  Because I was obsessed with food.  If you knew me during this period, you may not have known this, since, like any real (and dangerous) obsession, I kept it deeply packed and hidden away, but I, for several years of my life, spent nearly every waking hour thinking about what I could eat, what I had eaten, what I should be eating, how much I weighed, how much I should weigh...etc., etc..

So, when I started reading Ms. Roth's book, and she talked about her own mental and emotional burn-out, when it came to what she should be doing with food, I felt like I had found the right book.

Because she, Geneen--because she had literally tried every single diet and eating plan and eating disorder on the market, and all of them left her in exactly the same predicament, she made a really radical decision.  She decided that she would throw out all the prescriptions and just give her body, for once, exactly what it wanted.  Her hope was, that if she could just start listening to her own body...maybe IT would know what to do.  And because she had gained and lost weight a million times before, she knew that if the experiment failed, she could always go right back to The Zone Diet...or whatever was on her list at the moment.

So, she asked her body what it wanted.  And her body answered: chocolate chip cookies.

And for the next two weeks, Geneen Roth ate nothing but chocolate chip cookies.  She sat down at a table with a plate and fork and knife and ate plate-fuls of chocolate chip cookies.  She ate them for two weeks because for two weeks, every time she asked her body what it wanted, her body said: chocolate chip cookies.

Chocolate chip cookies were, it should come as no surprise, the food she had been denying herself for years. It was the food she loved, and feared, the most.

But, at the end of those two weeks, she asked her body again what it wanted, and her body said: baked potato.  And that was the beginning of her long walk back to herself.

It gets me a little choked up just writing about this, because, you have to understand, I was living in a head and a heart so full of prescriptions at that time, the idea that I could abandon them, AND that something more truthful and more sustainable might arise in their place...was a revelation to me.  And it not only started my journey away from being a food obsessed person, it, I think, started me on a spiritual path.  Though I would not have known that, at the time.

It's amazing to me when I look back, because, well...I rarely think about food in this way anymore.  Actually, I would say, I never think about food in this way anymore.  I never obsess about food or my weight.  Sure, I have days where I feel a little fatter or a little more slim, but for the most part, it's just not a part of my life in that same way.  And that is amazing to me, because at the time, if someone had told me that there was a future in which I never worried about my body in a way that ruined my day...I don't think I would have thought that was possible.

The power of manifestation, yo.

Okay, but I'm way off track.  The point of all of this is, the other night, when I was reading (yet another) book about what I should and should not be doing, spiritually, and Paul asked me if I wanted to read a novel instead, what it felt like he was asking me was
Are you sure you don't want a chocolate chip cookie?

Yes, I want to read a novel!  Yes!  Yes, I would like to put down this book.  Yes, I would like to put down all of the books and the practices that I use to reinforce the idea that I am broken and I need to be fixed.  Yes, please.  Yes, I would like to just give the big middle-finger to the salads of my internal life and I would like to eat a goddamn chocolate chip cookie, please.  Yes, I would like to, finally, for once, really believe that I already know all of the things I am trying to learn to remember.  Yes, I would like to read a novel.  Yes.

So, I did.

I put down the book on manifesting, and I picked up a another book--this one a story about a doctor in the far east in the early part of the century.  A fiction.  A novel. A big romantic epic of a book.  And, you know what?  It's delicious.
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