Wednesday, May 11, 2011

the 'Looking-Glass Self'

The past few weeks have been extremely challenging for me. It's around this point in recovery that a lot of my friends have had or are having relapses at this time. Each day it gets harder and harder, but each day I wake up and put one foot in front of the other and keep on chugging along.

Right now I'm taking a sociology psychology class that attempts to answer the question of why we are the way we are. Coming out of the Ranch, I've had a LOT of experience examining myself and digging deep into the underlying issues that have led to my disease. But one thing I haven't done is explore it from a scientific perspective. And that's the exact thing that this class has done.

I actually have an exam tomorrow, so maybe this is my attempt at studying, but I found this unit particularly thought provoking. The overarching questions of this unit is: why do we behave the way we do?

That's a BIG question, and one that provoked a bit of mental distress for me.

In sociology, there are theories of development that describe how we begin to form our values separate from those who raised us. In the beginning, kids are subjected to their parents as their 'significant others.' The first stage of their development involves the 'play' stage, where kids begin to take on roles, mimicking significant people in their lives. But the next stage is absolutely vital, which is the game stage. At this stage, children develop empathy, and are able to learn how there are different roles in the script of life, and that they all interconnect somehow. The third and final stage is of the "generalized other" -- the 'generalized other' is a set of values and attitudes that makes up society; in short, it is 'society.'

So what does this mean for who and what shapes us to become the people we are?

As individuals, the Generalized Other gets into our minds through social interaction; we are able to piece together the puzzles that make up society and know that there are certain rules that are necessary (for example, we know that it would be inappropriate to walk up to a handsome guy on the street, and kiss him passionately, even though we really want to!). But shaping us as individuals requires interaction from significant others in our lives, and reference groups. Reference groups are specific groups that we associate with, and whose values we try to live by (ie if you're Christian, you may try to live by the norms of Christianity, or Judaism or what have you). Both shape us; I will give a personal example below.

Significant others have a huge impact on ossifying our identity. If I have a particular person I really look up to, and they name and identify a behavior they see in me, I am more likely to begin to start identifying myself by that behavior, because I value the opinion of the other person. For example, if a professor told me I am a really good writer, I may start to pursue more writing, enter poetry contests, etc, until I identify myself as a writer. Following me?

Lastly, our behavior is shaped by how we think other people are responding to us. For example, say I go in to ask a professor to gain points back on an exam. Depending on the way she responds, I interpret her response in a specific way, internalize it, and judge myself based on her response. If she seems annoyed and frustrated, I may internalize that as embarrassment for asking such a question of her, and feel shame because of that.

Make sense?

So the big question is ... why does all this matter?!

As I was learning this, I took a really hard look at myself, and was able to connect some of my previous recovery work to a different and deeper level of understanding because of these concepts.

First off, the way that I grew up was centered around exercise, especially during the crucial high school years, when self esteem is a roller coaster, and where eating disorders run rampant, especially at an all girls Catholic private school. Probably the hardest part of all was the reference group I associated with -- CrossFit.

I love CrossFit to death; I think it's a great mode of fitness and has awesome concepts of working out. But for a girl predisposed to an eating disorder (perfectionism, etc), it was one of the worst things I could have done for myself.

CrossFit is all about the competitive nature. This is fantastic for most people, but for me it proved to be my downfall. I became obsessed with the competitiveness, not only of the times on our workouts, but of the bodies. I came to see CrossFit as THE reference group of all reference groups; all of my values were based on this group of people. That, combined with my perfectionism, meant that I had to be the best at EVERYTHING -- the best body, eat the most perfect diet, and be the best athlete. I needed it all.

I began to seek out those who I knew would reflect my newfound principles back. I sought those 'reflected appraisals' from people who began to solidify my identity as an athlete and a body. See where this is leading?

As this solidified my identity, I became more obsessed with perfection and athletic ability. My mentors and friends, my 'significant others,' had solidified my identity; there was no turning back. So I sought out more people who would reflect back what I wanted. But some of them were much harder on me than I could ever have imagined.

Since I had to be the best, if I get any reflections back at me that said otherwise, I beat myself up terribly. And that's just what happened. I received many a harsh comment, action, or word (or that's how I perceived them), which shot my self esteem further into the ground. I internalized those reactions and began to hate myself, despise myself because of these judgments I was laying on myself.

I became deeper entrenched in this cycle of self-hate; nothing was ever good enough now. I needed more and more exercise to feel accomplished; I was envious of the person I loved the most because of what he had and what I couldn't do. I saw reflected back from him everything that I wasn't, because of judgments that I had perceived before I even knew him.

And I further declined.

Because exercise took up my whole identity, I was nothing without it. When I hurt my shoulder in 2009 due to being pushed beyond my limits, I hated myself, my life, and those who had what I didn't. And I took it out again on the one I loved the most, which wasn't fair to him. But in my world it made perfect sense -- I saw in him everything that I couldn't be, everything that I had to be in order to be happy in this world.

This cycle continued to get worse and worse until I hit my absolute rock bottom this past December.

Now, when I was at the Ranch, I learned a lot about codependence, trauma, and the deep predispositions to addictions and disorders. And I hope you can see how much deeper this can go, completely based on our socialization as we grow up. If I had been brought up in a different 'world' in high school, would i be different right now? Would my identify have been solidified into something else besides what it is now? It's hard to say, but I have my beliefs that it very well could have been different. But at this point, I can't dwell on the could'ves, would'ves, should'ves. Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know whatchya gonna get, right?

If you've made it this far through my post, congrats! I know that all of us have our demons ... if anyone is up for a little reflecting time, I highly encourage you to think about these concepts. It's been extremely eye opening to me and informative on how and why I developed my disorder; it's just another piece to the puzzle.

Now all I have to do is learn to re-define myself ... ossify new identities ... and that's what my life in recovery is going to be!

In Loving Memory

I just wanted to insert a quick memorial. On May 6, 2006, my soccer team mate Maren took her own life by jumping off the Aurora Bridge. The anniversary was this past Friday, 5 years ago.

She was a beautiful, incredibly girl who had so much going for her. Her friends, family, and soccer team miss her very much.

We will always remember her for her beautiful smile, her amazing athletic ability, and the ribbon she always wore in her hair.

We will always miss and love you, forever and always.