Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Does Pleasure Come with a Price Tag?

from Boaz Yiftach at FreeDigitalPhotos

 I don't look like a terrorist on the outside, but I've behaved like one to my own soul.

I've acted sometimes, as if I emotionally sacrifice myself enough (whatever that means,) earn some kind of psychic "Martyr Chits" I will earn a big, big pay-off at some point in the future.  If not 72 virgins (virgin girls aren't my type, and 72 virgin boys sound like waaaaay too much work), then some other, indescribable pleasure or reward will await me, either in this life or the next.

I've been secretly afraid that if I enjoy too much pleasure now, it'll all be taken away from me, and I will end up living in a refrigerator box on the sidewalk.

I find I totally relate to Liz Gilbert's take on pleasure in Eat - Pray - Love.  (Yes, I know I'm late coming to the party, that "everybody else" read this book when it came out four years ago, and/or saw the movie two years ago.  So, sue me.)  In case you, too, are lagging in your reading, or you've forgotten, here's a couple of bits I totally related to:
My mother's family were Swedish immigrant farmers, who look in their photographs like, if they'd ever seen something pleasurable, they might have stomped on it with their hobnailed boots.
My people were German, but same concept.  You got your work done first, and then, and only then, if everything was done, you could play.  Like Cinderella going to the ball - theoretically, it's possible, but not really expected to happen.  Also from E-P-L:
Generally speaking, though, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure.  Ours is an entertainment-seeeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one.  Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that's not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment.  Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today.  But as Luca Spaghetti pointed out, we seem to like it.  Alarming statistics back this observation up, showing that many Americans feel more happy and fulfilled in their offices than they are in their own homes.  Of course, we all inevitably work too hard, then we get burned out and have to spend the whole weekend in our pajamas, eating cereal straight out of the box and staring at the TV in a mild coma (which is the opposite of working, yes, but not exactly the same thing as pleasure).  Americans don't really know how to do nothing.  This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype - the overstressed executive who goes on vacation, but who cannot relax.
Now, I think a piece of the "more relaxed in the office" than at home may have to do with the fact that too many people are, like I used to be, feeling trapped in a dysfunctional relationship.  "Having to work" lots and lots of hours is a socially acceptable excuse in America for staying away from the home war zone, while going to play volleyball or hang out with friends or take an art class... not so much. 

I can also testify to the fact that mindless eating - whether of cereal straight from the box or an entire cheesecake - may not be working, but isn't really pleasure, either, except for the first few bites.  Just kicking back and chillin'... I have a hard time with it.  I feel like I must be doing something productive.

This is part of the Self-Disovery,
Word by Word Series.
FMI, click HERE
I realize I've internalized the distorted thinking that pleasure cannot simply be savored, but must be paid for in some way.  That if I: 
  • give blood regularly
  • work out religiously
  • always say yes when people ask favors
  • always put the other person's needs first
  • keep my home clean and tidy
  • eat foods I loathe "because they're good for me"
  • put in a little extra time off the clock at work every day
  • volunteer for charitable organizations
  • and about twenty other self-sacrificing things

Then, and only then, will I have earned the right to relax and enjoy pleasure.  (You'll notice, too, many of my "goals" are in fact, impossible, co-dependent and downright unhealthy, so I would never be able to meet all of them anyway.  I'm rigging the game against myself!)

Even if I could "earn the right" to pleasure... life doesn't work that way.  It's true that some pleasure may come about as a result of hard work - for instance, we dig up a patch of soil in the back yard, weed, plant some seeds and tend the plants, and later we can enjoy some delicious fresh homegrown tomatoes.  And that can be extremely satisfying.

Photo from Clare Bloomfield on FreeDigitalPhotos

But there are no guarantees.  We could put in all that work, and bugs or fungus or weather spoil the crop.  Sometimes, no matter how hard we've worked or planned or sacrificed, the results aren't "what we deserve."  (All who have ever strenuously dieted or exercised, only to see cellulite still clinging to our thighs like dried bird crap on a windshield, know this story quite well.)

If you love fresh, organic tomatoes, by all means plant your own - if you enjoy the gardening work.  Many people do.  If you aren't one of them - Farmers' Market, baby!  (I think I'm meandering off here because I need to put gorgeous red tomatoes like the ones above on my shopping list, lol!)

Pleasure just is.  No strings attached.  We can enjoy pleasure on vacation, sure, but it's all around us, all the time.  How does anyone earn the pleasure of running fingers through a rabbit's soft fur?  The smell of fresh baked cinnamon rolls? The brilliant colored beauty of a maple leaf in the autumn?  The loud rumbling purr of a happy kitty, the comfort of a sun-warmed towel after a refreshing dip in a pool, the crisp juicy tanginess of an apple slice?

We can mindfully recognize a pleasure, enjoy it, be grateful for it, but we can't earn any of the above.

Yes, there are things we all must do.  I don't enjoy every single minute of the professional work that I must do, in order to buy my tomatoes and apples and keep a roof over my cat's head.  But I can focus on appreciating the many parts of the job, and fabulous co-workers in whom I do take pleasure every day, or focus on the parts I don't like.  Guess which choice makes the workday go faster?

I can look at my body and find umpteen jillion things to dislike and feel upset about.  Or, I can be grateful for my fast-typing fingers, my shiny hair and frequently complimented smile, and find just as many reasons to be grateful for the pleasure my strong, healthy body brings me every day.

(There's amazing pleasure in enjoying sex, too, but I'm not going there now.  Figuratively or literally, since I'm choosing a year of celibacy as I get my head together.)

Being with good friends is a pleasure.  Letting them know that I find pleasure in their company is a much better way of ensuring the healthy future - and continued mutual pleasure - in our friendship, rather than co-dependently fretting about what they must think of me or trying to make myself indispensable to them in the hopes that they will continue the friendship out of... ?guilt?  ?obligation? 

If we keep our eyes mindfully open for pleasure opportunities, we will find them all around us, all the time.  IMO, people who are pleasure-oriented (I'm not talking "unleash the MasterCard" types,) people mindful and appreciative of the many small and large pleasures of life are much more pleasant to be around than those searching for the nearest rain cloud to drag over their heads.

Katie at Health for the Whole Self posted a little while ago that we don't need an excuse to eat.  I agree - and we don't need an excuse to recognize and enjoy pleasure, either.

Are there pleasures you've denied yourself because you haven't "earned" them?
Tell me about it in the Comments.