Not long ago, I wrote about choice. I wrote about how each of us must make our own choices about our bodies, and about our health. We need to choose how much time and effort we will put into self-care, and decide how many of the “convenience” and “comfort” products we will consume and use, how much we will educate ourselves about nutrition and exercise, and how often we will act on that knowledge.
I also said it shouldn’t be any of my business what choices you make. We should each be allowed to make our own choices about our habits of self-care.
I suppose you won’t be surprised to learn that drew a lot of responses. One of the most touching came from a reader who calls herself Jonquil, and with her permission, I’ll quote her response:
“There is plenty of “awareness” out there, and yet people continue to abuse their minds and bodies in myriad ways. Surrounded by healthier choices, even people who “know better” choose to abuse themselves in the grip of habits they can’t or won’t break.
“But maybe if they thought a little more about the consequences of their actions, the material and psychic cost to everyone around them, they might have just that little bit of extra push to put down that Krispy Kreme or that cigarette. Or the bottle or the needle.
“This is not about hate, but it’s also not about giving people blanket permission to engage in self-destruction, because individual actions affect the happiness of all. Maybe people can’t think of these things in abstract political terms, so I’ll make it personal.
“If my relatives had put down the chicken-fried steak, heeding their doctors’ advice, they might not have died so young of diabetes and heart disease. My brothers and I might still have aunts, uncles, grandparents. My mother, a registered nurse and chain smoker, was fully aware of the consequences of her habit. She might have quit. Instead, she made her children orphans.
“Millions of people choose self-destructive paths like these every day. They know better, because we argue with them, we yell and plead and beg them, on our knees. But they do it anyway. Then they get sick, and then they die.
“We loved them, now they are dead. Their choice. Why couldn’t they love us enough to stay alive?”
I should let this note stand for itself. But of course, I can’t. The last line bears repeating… “Why couldn’t they love us enough to stay alive?”
I meet people every day who choose to devote every waking hour, every minute to their jobs and families and communities and causes. The pressure to perform this way comes from inside and outside. From their culture and from themselves, from family, from friends, from work, from church, from deep inside themselves. The same person who can’t find time to eat well or exercise will multi-task by eating fast food on the way to the next committee meeting. The over-extended woman will come home from work and without sitting for a moment to catch her breath, begin preparing the family meal, under pressures she feels coming from her family, her ancestors, her beliefs about herself and her identity and purpose. Under pressure to get a meal on the table quickly, of course she uses packaged foods that are high in calories and sodium and trans-fats, but low in fiber and nutrients. She’s in a hurry and pressured to produce.
As the pressure builds, so does the anger. So does frustration. So does despair. So does a sense that you really are not worth the effort or time to care for yourself.
Why do people engage in self-destructive behavior? One theory is, they don’t have selves they want to save. Even at the pleading of others, even at the pleading of friends and family, even with your children begging you to take care of yourself, if you don’t think you’re worth the effort, you’ll never make the best choices for you. And you’ll never make the connection that making the best choices for you is the same thing as making the best choices for them.
So. If you’re in that place, where you don’t think you’re worth the effort of making good choices, it’s time to get help. You need good counsel. Ask your doctor for a referral. Get help from a community counseling center. Use the counseling services offered by your employer. And please know, you can fix this. It’s possible to feel worthy. You can fix it. You can.