Back to school. When I was younger back to school was the best and the worst day of the year. Best, because I loved the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and new notebooks. Worst, because of the early morning after a summer of lazy sleeping in or, when I got a little older, working odd hours and earning enough money to shop as I wanted. Best, because of laying out and planning my first day outfit and anticipating how cool I would look (read: not cool. Marvin the martin on a t-shirt my first day of 8th grade was far from cool). Worst, because my locker was inevitably far from my classes and the lunch was worse than I remembered. Best, because of seeing my friends after a summer off and anticipating how great our friendships were going to be this year. Worst, because inevitably the friendships weren’t better than in the past, were sometimes worse, in fact, and people were all feeling each other out as the year began heightening that first day anxiety.
The possibility of a fresh start and a new year where anything could happen was so intoxicating and anxiety producing. There’s really nothing like it in adult life. There’s no optimistic restart quite like the start of a new school year. Which is also the best and the worst.
I hear it a lot from my clients, my diet starts today. I’m going to change my life starting today. Today, I’m going to feel different. I do it myself – today I’ll get myself back on track. We’re always hopeful that we can have a fresh start, just like we were on the first day of school, and we inevitably find that our fresh start has bits of our old start scattered throughout and is hampered by the people around us who aren’t also becoming all new on the same day we are. We’re all still feeling it out.
And yet. It’s the first day of school here for Number 71. She raced off, barely willing to stop and pose for her obligatory first day of school picture. There were eye rolls from the Dancer, who started last week, but was forced to pose with her sister for the combined first day picture. And here I sit, feeling optimistic and ready to start anew.
We love the idea of starting over and getting to clean the slate. I get it and do it too. But why are we so obsessed with leaving our pasts behind and being different?
My DBT skills group is working on radical acceptance and I think the start of the school year should be a time of radical acceptance. Radical acceptance in DBT means a soul-deep acceptance of the reality of your given situation. A decision to stop fighting reality. Easy to understand in concept, but truly hard to really practice in life.
I lost 80 pounds two years ago. I lost it through a combination of Weight Watchers and exercise. I’ve gained about 15 back because, well, life. I’ve gained it back because it’s hard to accept that I will have to track and pay attention to what I eat every day for the rest of my life if I want to keep the weight off for good. So often I’ve felt like I would lose weight and then be able to eat like a normal person. What that even means kind of escapes me. But radical acceptance tells me that I have to stop fighting the reality that my body will retain calories in a way that will cause it to gain weight and I need to count and pay attention.
This does NOT mean that I can’t eat ice cream or cake, but it does mean that I can’t eat all the ice cream and cake and I can’t eat ice cream and cake every day (hard when Number 71 and the Dancer have birthdays six days apart and require their own birthday rainbow cakes).
The other aspect to radical acceptance is that you have to keep turning the mind to acceptance because it wants to slip back into rejecting reality. I thought that I had accepted the idea that I can eat this way forever and it’s a lifestyle. I certainly said that in meetings and to friends. But over the last year or so my mind has periodically slipped away from this acceptance and turned towards eating all the cake or the pizza more often than not. I have to turn my mind back to my reality and focus it anew on my goals and ambitions.
That’s really hard. SO best and worst, I’m recommitted to it with the start of the school year, which means some more time during the day for myself, I’ll track and pay attention again and make choices with my goals in mind rather than just instant gratification.
I just have to make and eat one more rainbow cake first.