Staying sober with Rumi

In the book “Teachings of Rumi” by Andrew Harvey, there is this following story.

“A self-styled dragon hunter went into the mountains to trap a dragon. He searched all over the mountains and at last discovered the frozen body of an enormous dragon in a cave high up on one of the tallest peaks. The hunter brought the body to Baghdad. He claimed that he had slaughtered it single-handedly and exhibited it on the bank of the Euphrates. Thousands of people turned out to see the Dragon. The heat of the Baghdad sun started to warm up the dragon’s frozen body and it began to stir, slowly awakening from its winter hibernation. People screened and stampeded, and many were killed. The hunter stood frozen in terror and the dragon devoured him in a single gulp.

Your lower self is like that dragon, a savage tyrant. Never believe it’s dead: it’s only frozen. Always keep your dragon in the snow of self-discipline. Never carry it into the heat of the Baghdad sun. Let that dragon of yours stay always dormant. If it’s freed it’ll devour you in one gulp.”

Whatever you did to get sober is whatever you’re going have to keep doing to stay sober. The work isn’t over. Discipline is the only thing that keeps your sobriety going. There is no letting up. The same is true for staying fit. You can’t diet and lose weight and then start eating whatever you want again. It has to be a lifetime change.

Food abuse

I see obesity as a symptom of food abuse. It is the same as alcoholism and drug abuse. It is a sign of an abuse or mis-use of food.

I used to be obese. I’ve had to work hard on relearning what (and how much) is healthy to eat and how to incorporate more movement and exercise into my life. But I’ve also had to work hard on addressing the root cause of why I wasn’t taking care of my body and my soul.

The problem is, we have to eat. We can’t just stop eating food. We can’t drop it like we can alcohol or cigarettes or any other addictive substance.

So we all need to develop a healthy relationship with food – and to address the issues that are causing us to use food to (not) solve our problems. Food can heal us, but it can also harm us if we use it improperly. It can be too much of a good thing, but it can also be the wrong thing.

Food wasn’t the only substance I had a wrong relationship with. Back when I smoked pot, I would smoke it to feel better. I’d have a bad day at work, or my family was hassling me, or there was some other stress to deal with. I’d smoke pot to numb the pain. It would ease the pain long enough that I’d forget about it, until I’d sober up again and the problems would come back. The thing is, the problems never went away in the first place. I just anesthetized myself to them. Instead of dealing with them, I ran away from them in my head. When I got sober, I’d still have those problems, and I’d still reach for pot to “fix” them.

It was a terrible cycle of stupid.

Plenty of people do the same thing with food. Because food isn’t seen as a drug, and because it is not only socially acceptable but normal to eat, food abuse is an easy addiction to pick up. And it isn’t like our society in general has a healthy relationship with food. Everything is super sized and fried. It is too much of a bad thing.

Is this fat shaming? No. Not any more than pointing out that someone who drinks to solve their problems is an alcoholic. This isn’t “blaming the victim” either. It is pointing out that when we use food to solve our problems, we are creating our own problems.

Victims are people who have things done to them. They are passive agents in the story. A person who gets hit by a car, or lightning, or something falling out of the sky is a victim.

If you hurt yourself, you aren’t a victim. You have done it to yourself. Thinking about why you do it is the wrong direction of thought. Blaming your parents or society or your friends for your action is self-defeating. You choose your life and your actions. You have control of what you do. You can also make a choice to change.

We need to start naming our demons so we can slay them. If we pretend like everything is fine then we will continue to kill ourselves bit by bit and bite by bite.

Food won’t fix our problems. Facing them will. No, it isn’t easy.

We have gotten into the habit of shoving our feelings and anxieties down, ramming them into our mouths with food. We have to learn how to let them out rather than shove them down. We have to learn that it is OK to speak up and be heard.

What is the goal? On diet and deity.

Say you have a friend who wants you to do things their way. They want you to eat only raw foods, or no carbohydrates, or a macrobiotic diet.

What is the goal? The goal is health, and they think they have the path that is right for you because it worked for them.

But say you already are healthy. Your weight is good. Your cholesterol is fine. You are sleeping well. You don’t need to do things their way because the way you have been doing it has worked for you.

It isn’t the path. It is the goal.

The same is true of faith.

So many people will try to convince you that you have to go to their church, be a part of their denomination, or read this book by this religious author.

What they are saying is that they think you aren’t well, but you know you are.

You have to do what is right for you, and only you will know that.

Don’t let someone try to put something into you that isn’t right for you.

Understand that they mean well, but when they try to force-feed their diet or their deity to you, it doesn’t reflect on your lack or need. It reflects on theirs.

Southern fried pride

More meat, less vegetables – that’s the Southern way. More obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, that is also the Southern way. It is as if we make it a cultural thing to be fat. It is as if we are proud of how out of shape we are.

We are proud of our fried food and our fatback and our meat-centric meals. We have made our stunningly unhealthy food an essential part of our culture. To drop the food is to deny our Southernness. It is time to redefine what it means to be Southern, because right now it means that we are killing ourselves.

There is a certain amount of shaming that occurs for those who take care of themselves. I’ve been told “you suck” for my efforts to get in shape – like this is a game of musical chairs and I got the last one. Just because I’ve decided to get healthy doesn’t mean that others can’t. There is room for us all.

This isn’t the only time I’ve gotten attitude for getting healthy. I wonder how many people decide to quit because of this social shaming. The weird part is when people say “Oh, you’re still skinny.” Of course I am. I’m still exercising and eating well. I want to say “Oh, you’re still fat.” But that isn’t nice.

It isn’t easy to get healthy. There are a lot of adjustments. There is a lot I’ve given up. I don’t have anywhere near the time I used to have to read. I don’t like exercising, but I like how I feel afterwards. I’m not a fan of having to think before everything I eat as to whether it is healthy or not, but I like how my clothes fit and how clear headed I am.

This isn’t a whim. This is a lifestyle change. I decided I wanted to live a long healthy life. I decided to be intentional about my health. I quit a lot of bad things and started doing a lot of good things. Plus, I don’t have any children, so nobody is going to be around to take care of me when I get older. So I have to do it myself.

In the South, we don’t have any idea what “normal” looks like. We see someone who weighs 200 pounds and we think he is just fat. No – that is obese. Then we see someone who is 300 pounds, but because she is larger than us, we think we are fine.

Nope. We are all out of shape.

We’ve come to think of “exercise” as a dirty word. We see it as a punishment. We see it like physical therapy – it is something you do for a little while, under doctor’s orders, and then you can quit.

How have we gotten so far off the path?

We act like eating whatever we want is our cultural right. We’ve clawed our way to the top of the food chain and we are going to prove it by taking ourselves to our graves.

We act like being lazy is a good thing. We act like we’ve proven we are number one by the fact that we can sit around all day. We don’t have to work all day long, finding or harvesting our food. We don’t have to walk three miles with a bucket on our heads to bring water back. We don’t have to walk four miles one way with no shoes to go to school.

Maybe it would be a good idea if we did these things.

Then maybe we wouldn’t take them for granted.

I’ve noticed that parents from foreign countries consistently get educational books for their children. They work really hard with them to get them to work hard on their education. Meanwhile, American parents let their kids get whatever they want. They get comic books and cartoons.

Consequently, the ESL kids consistently do better than the American kids. Children who were born into an English-speaking family consistently read and think at a lower level than children who are born into other families. It is because of the parents. The foreign parents don’t let the kids pick what they are going to read. These parents expect their kids to work hard and they don’t take “I don’t want to” for an answer.

I wonder how much of our Southern Fried Pride comes from habit? I knew a guy who was at least 500 pounds. His skin was grey, he was so unhealthy. He said that everybody in his family was as large as he was. I have a strong suspicion it has more to do with what is in their recipe books than what is in their genes.

Our pride is killing us.