I’m trying to become a better person. Part of the reason is to atone. I spent a great many years being not a good person. It’s a feature of eating disorders. They make you selfish and insular and shortsighted. I regret, greatly, a great many of the things I said and did when my eating disorder was at my worst. I would like, very much, to be a better person in the future. So, I decided to actively work on it.
Trying to become a good person is also an end in itself. I don’t want to become a better person in order to get something. I don’t want a better job or a better car. I’m working on becoming a better person because I believe there is an intrinsic value in doing so. After my first philosophical readings, I realized something else. The learning I was undertaking could help my mental health.
It’s an interesting pursuit. It’s very quiet. I read and think and write and read some more in an effort to understand both myself and the kind of person I want to evolve into. It’s like a job. In terms of the hours, at any rate. But I enjoy it. I like getting enlightened. I like the thoughts I’m starting to think, the way my interactions are changing. I don’t remember the books chapter and verse. It’s more like an absorption of ideas. You take them and weave them into the tapestry that is you, and what you have learned then starts to inform the way you act from that point on.
It’s definitely helping with my recovery. I just want it for more than that now. Which is amazing to me. I didn’t use to look beyond recovery. Like, you hit recovery and just sort of coasted there forever. I didn’t think about growing beyond. About living a life.
There are a great many writers and thinkers in the world. A great many philosophies and spiritual traditions to choose from, and the ones you choose determine the path your life will take. I don’t suppose for a moment that there is only one true way; I expect that there are a variety of combinations that would be effective. Being introduced to Brené Brown helped me stumble across mine.
I encountered Brené’s writings at the tuck shop they ran at my last rehab. Among other things, they sold books. The books they had on offer were different than the self-help works I usually read. I started with I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t). She didn’t talk about dressing to look ten pounds thinner or figuring out what your colour palette was or the right exercises to whittle the waist. She was about inside stuff, about the feelings that live underneath our behaviours. She was about learning to accept them and move away from them. She was about learning to be vulnerable. About leaning into the discomfort, about being brave. She was about shame. And the eating disorder ensured I was wallowing in shame. Her books were revolutionary. I started to believe that maybe the way I thought wasn’t the way I had to think forever.
I read more about personal development after Brené, most of it focused on the psychological. Kristin Neff’s Self – Compassion. Glennon Doyle Melton. Elizabeth Gilbert. Mark Manson. Aimee Liu. Geneen Roth. Dan Harris.
From self-help, I branched into philosophy. Stoicism mostly though I did revisit Plato and Aristotle. I was inspired to check it out after reading an interesting quote on social media. What I liked about Stoicism was the simplicity of the philosophy. At the core it’s about two things: be a good person (be virtuous) and live a good life. It also provides a template or sorts which I like; it appeals to the organized bent of my nature. Be wise, courageous, temperate, and just. Accept that there are things in your control and things not in your control. What I really liked beyond the philosophy itself was the plethora of resources available. There are a lot of books and articles. And I like to feel competent.
One of the readings mentioned similarities between Buddhism and Stoicism; I decided to check the latter out. I’m enjoying much of what I’ve learned so far. I let my spiritual side languish for quite some time. When things were at their darkest, I lost my spiritual way. I’m working on getting it back and the ideas I’ve encountered so far in the Buddhist readings have helped. I started with Thich Nhat Hanh almost two years ago; he’s quite wonderful. I also enjoy Pema Chodron’s works.
What does it mean to be a better person, though? I mentioned the inner development. I mentioned the Stoic criteria. And being wise, courageous, temperate, and just are similar goals to those I’ve encountered with Buddhism, though there they are expressed as right thought, right action, and compassion for all. I want to live that way. I want to be an objectively good person. I’m trying to want that without feeling prideful about it as a goal. But I want it. Even striving for it is a calming way to live.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe one is necessarily at fault for the things one does when in the grip of addictive behaviour or mental illness but I do believe we’re responsible. Such a fine line, such an important distinction. I did a great many cringe-worthy things when my eating disorder was exceptionally active. Dangerous things, hurtful things, unkind things, deceitful things. I was horribly self-centered; one can’t help it when the eating disorder is in full swing.
Trying to become a better person appeals to my sense of symmetry; I’m working on being the opposite of what I was when my neuroses were in charge. And, in return, the pursuit helps me manage my neuroses somewhat, which is a goal worth pursuing in and of itself.