Independence: Be Free or Not too Free!
Is the American Way of freedom the right to indulge our cravings?
“Hey!” we might say, “I work hard, I’ve had a hard day and I deserve it!” “I can spend money on what I want, eat until I bust, drink until I’m numb, and take whoever I want to bed!” And as we think about and do it, we feel exhilarated and free …
Until later, when we feel broke, fat, hung over, and have damaged our relationships beyond repair, how free do we feel? Free?
Living to indulge is not freedom.
Although we can give ourselves the freedom to indulge our cravings, this type of freedom doesn’t last and leaves us feeling worthless. This is the illusion of freedom. Instead of making us free, it makes us slaves to what we want–and have. How many of us slave all day at work just to pay for our “stuff?” How many of us are such slaves to our cravings for food and drugs that we think about them all day? And how many of us fulfill our cravings instead of taking good care of our family, friends, jobs, health, homes and life?
“That’s just the way it is.”
All too often, we feel defeated and accept that this type of illusory freedom is “all there is,” that it’s “good enough” because “everyone else is doing it” and that it’s “the best that life has to offer” because it’s “just the way it is.”
If this were true, then there would be no happy children. Look at children. They don’t need sex, drugs, alcohol, porn, tattoos, the latest fashions, fastest cars or much food to break out in joyful laughter and song! We were all children once. If we can be free as children, we can also be free as adults. It is possible. There is a way, actually, there are many more ways than any of us can count, because each of us can discover our own, best way out of the slavery trap.
My way to freedom.
My way out of indulgent slavery was counterintuitive. It turned out that I didn’t need fewer rules, but meaningful rules, ones I set for myself. I discovered that rules are like hands. They could be used to beat me lifeless or to caress and nurture my growth. The point is, I could choose meaningful rules and a meaningful life.
It’s only natural that I would rebel against rules that were senseless and intended to repress me. Why can’t I wear white before Memorial Day? Silly! Sure, there are lots of silly rules. But that doesn’t mean I should throw out all the rules with the bathwater.
True freedom is a choice, not forced.
True freedom requires setting personal rules, boundaries, standards (or whatever you want to call them) that encourage us to be and become who we want to be. Good, constructive rules. The trick for me is, I can’t force myself to set or keep my own rules, I need to willingly choose to set and keep them. Forcing myself made it not fun, and when it wasn’t fun for long enough, I failed.
So how did I set meaningful rules that I wanted to follow and would make me feel free?
These are the six steps I took:
1. I took time to reflect on my life, ask:
2. what don’t I like? and accept that
3. now, what do I want to become?
Then I wrote down:
4. Words that reflected what I wanted to become. For me, that was healthy and patient.
Then I asked:
5. What am I doing that gets in the way of becoming those things? For me, eating from fear and anxiety kept me from health, and expecting others to have thought deeply kept me from being patient.
Then I set limits (rules).
6. For me, I needed to be more aware of when I felt fear and anxiety, so I could avoid eating. So, I chose to have a mantra, and asked myself “How do I feel?” as often as I could remember to do so. You can discover what will work for you.
How I got my rules to stick
After saying my mantra and accepting how I felt, if I became aware of feeling anxious or afraid, my rule was to immediately do something healthy that made me feel loved. Sometimes it was as simple as phoning a friend, praying or taking a walk. Other times, it was as intimate as making love with someone wonderful or planning a do something fun like go to a concert, hiking, dancing or watching a movie. This met my need in a healthy way, so that I could avoid unhealthy eating.
My mantra, “How do I feel?” also helped me to become more patient. Every time I became aware of feeling impatient, my rule was to take a deep breath and remind myself that I was not wasting time by patiently doing whatever I was doing, even if it took longer–I would be better off in the long run and everyone would be happier. Seeing how much better people responded to me also helped.
Bad deeds breed like rabbits. Choose a punishment to keep you honest, write it down and enforce it.
Although I am more motivated by reward than I am avoidant of punishment, I set a punishment that grated on me like a discordant symphony. For me, that was reading mathematics, watching a half hour of idiocy on television or weeding my yard every time I binge-ate something unhealthy. Another option is to volunteer time to a worthy cause or person. Think of your own, worst punishment.
Rewards work better
I chose a daily, healthy reward for accomplishing my goals to be healthy and patient. Rewards are something healthy that also makes me feel proud of myself (not food or drugs for example). Healthy rewards also add to my self-worth, which is long-lasting and doubles the reward!
My rewards included: time in nature, fresh and sweet smelling flowers, hot baths, massages, kissing, creating art, being with animals (and friends), hosting parties, baking and swimming.
Sometimes limits are not enough.
Sometimes we are so trapped in our patterns and habits that we can’t do less of our habitual craving, we have to go cold turkey. How do you know?
Take a good, sober, responsible inventory of what you can and cannot handle wisely.
For me, after having a food addiction to sweets for many years, I could not eat “just one” of anything. It was the whole box. As someone I know once said, “If you can’t have just one, you better not have any.”
In my case, I had to go cold turkey on sweets, and I found that at first it was super hard, but each time I said no, after years of saying yes, I took back a little more control. It felt really good to say no to something that I had allowed to control me and bring out the worst in me.
Don’t Buy into Mediocrity
If you take anything from reading this, I hope that you will believe that change is possible. Don’t buy into the fact that you are “just the way you are,” a mass of hopeless clay that cannot change. You can. I did, and continue to. Take a look around. There are also lots of other people who are changing too. Maybe they are not in your same room or circle of friends, but they exist. Find them. Don’t settle, don’t give up or in to status quo because your parents or the Jones’ do it. Choose to set rules that free you to make life good, and whatever else you decide it to be.