Looking back can be really helpful sometimes, because you can see how far you’ve come…
I’ve sometimes heard people say you shouldn’t dwell on the past. Sure, some people do dwell on it far too much and it can be unhealthy. But now and again, looking back can be just what you need in order to get a good sense of perspective.
If you keep comparing how you’re doing with how others around you are doing, or with how you think you should be doing, or even just with how you were doing last week, you can sometimes get really despondent. But remembering what things were like ten years ago, twenty years ago – this can be really encouraging.
This is what I found when I had a friend round yesterday and we got onto the subject of eating chocolates and sweet things – something she and I both like, and we both have the plumpness to show for it. Now I don’t beat myself over the head about this most of the time, but now and again I do, and generally I feel this is an area that could do with improvement. (And it could, but that’s not my point here.)
What came up in our conversation was this: I had forgotten how far I’d come with this issue. It used to be much much much much worse, and, thank God, it is not as it was. There’s a level of freedom I got which I haven’t lost, it’s still there. I am not in the prison that I inhabited up to… when was it that those people prayed for me? 1999? 2000? some time around then.
Up to that point I was in a really horrible prison, one that I was too embarrassed to ever tell anyone about. It feels really horrible when I think back to those times, and yet I know that there are lots of people who live in that prison.
People who have not experienced compulsive behaviour at its worst sometimes make joking comments like: oh, if it’s there I have to eat it; or: I just can’t resist cake; or: I’m addicted to chocolate.
It’s okay, I don’t hold it against anyone for making these jokes. I’m really pleased for those who don’t know from their own experience how it can feel to really be addicted, to really feel unable to resist. To keep eating that cake even when you’re not enjoying it any more. To have another slice and another slice even though you’re feeling nauseous. To loosen your trousers because your tummy is uncomfortably full (no, you’re not worrying about anyone seeing you, you’d only be doing this when you’re on your own anyway, because the whole eating-too-much thing is something you wouldn’t do if someone else was watching). To ask people to hide things from you for your own good, and then when you’re feeling really low, go and hunt for the hidden chocolates or beg and grovel for them to bring them out of hiding for you. And throughout all that, to feel really really ashamed and disgusted with yourself.
That’s what my prison was like. I thank Jesus for breaking down the prison bars and setting me free to make choices about what I eat. Yes, I do sometimes make stupid choices. But they are my choices, made freely.
I can now have chocolates or cake in the house without demolishing the whole lot in one go. We have a biscuit tin, and there are always biscuits in that tin, which are mainly for my husband’s consumption (he’s thin, he can afford it) or for guests, and once in a while I decide to have one and that’s that.
And back then, after those people prayed for me and Jesus set me free from the compulsion, I went home and bought a cake on the way, one of my favourites, a kind of fruit cake. A few days later, I discovered something: I discovered that if you slice a cake and leave the rest without packaging it well, the edge of the cake can dry up.
I had never before got to that point. I used to get that cake only rarely because I knew what would happen – I’d slice a slice, put it on a little plate, go to the other room and sit down and eat it; then I’d get up and go back to the kitchen, slice another slice… and so on until the cake was all gone, and I was feeling horrible.
Looking back can be good sometimes. It gives you a sense of perspective, reminds you how far you’ve come. And it can help you stop beating yourself over the head so much.