Temperance is a struggle in our culture. We struggle to rightly order food, possessions, sex, money, etc. This is very true with food as is evidenced by the obesity epidemic, of which I am a part. The struggle with food usually has many root causes and is agitated by health issues or medications. For people with thyroid issues, diabetes, other diseases, or who are on medications that cause weight gain, this becomes an ever constant problem. I have found, however, that I use these things as an excuse for doing nothing and not moving towards temperance and a healthier lifestyle for myself and my family.
Three years ago I suffered my third miscarriage. It was a traumatic miscarriage and required emergency surgery. The post-partum depression that had been raging in me since I had my daughter, which was exacerbated by each miscarriage, switched into high gear. I developed debilitating anxiety and could barely function. I was running regularly at the time and training for a 5K, however, after the race I gave up completely. I had to go on an SSRI which was notorious for causing weight gain, as I learned when I was treated for service connected PTSD 10 years ago. This knowledge about the side effects let me off the hook as the numbers on the scale grew and the self-hatred deepened.
The reality of the situation is that I took the agonizing grief I felt at the loss of three babies and used food as a form of punishment. I am a Veteran, exercise and healthy eating used to be a part of my job description. I then found out that it was my extremely low hormones that caused the miscarriages and I began to hate my body even more. I could not figure out how to give this pain, anger, and frustration back to God. My husband would tell me over and over again to give it back. Those babies were always His and we can’t help how my body is designed or that post-partum depression is too great of a risk to play Russian roulette with my health. I know I am not the only person out there who is suffering great pain and has taken it out on their bodies. That is why I am writing this piece; to let you know that you are not alone.
Growing in virtue is a difficult process that requires fostering good habits while also relying on the grace and strength only Christ can provide. It means that in order for us to grow in temperance we must fall on prayer at every single temptation. It also means delving into the pain that is causing such vehement self-hatred to manifest into gluttony. This isn’t psychological self-help, it is to enter into the dark night of both the senses and the soul. It is a pruning process in which we come out able to bear and produce much fruit. In my own experience, I have had to confront the pain I feel at the loss of three babies and the reality that I will probably only have one biological child. I also have to learn to be thankful for the broken body that God has given me, which has born one child and which is serving His mission through unification with my soul. This is a process in which we cling to the Cross.
How do we live in temperance?
We cannot accomplish anything without prayer. We can go to the gym, hire a personal trainer, and a nutritionist, but if we do not ask Christ for strength we are bound to give up on those people by March. He is where our strength begins and He uses people like trainers to help us on the journey, but we begin with Him. Prayer is essential for moments of temptation. Learning to eat in a temperate manner comes with practice. It must become habitual and it is even more difficult if we face cravings from medications. Prayer helps us to focus on Christ, so that He can show us the beauty and joy of living in the virtues, even with the great struggles we face. Pray always.
What We Do with Our Bodies Matters
Human beings are “embodied spirits”, to borrow from St. Thomas Aquinas. We are not just spirit. That is heresy. We are the unification of the material and the immaterial, body and soul. That means what we do with our bodies matters, especially on our journey to conform to the Blessed Trinity. That is the journey we began at our Baptism. It is through our bodies that we receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We ingest Christ physically and our spirits receive an outpouring of grace. God reaches us in our material and immaterial existence, as He made us. We cannot give into the lie of our culture, which really is an ancient heresy seen in Gnosticism, that the body doesn’t matter. We will be resurrected with our bodies on the last day, albeit glorified bodies, but our bodies nonetheless. Now is the time we learn to take care of them by living the virtue of temperance.
Seek Spiritual and Psychological Help for Unresolved Suffering
This life comes with great pain and suffering. We lose ones we love, horrors abound, and illness, physical and mental, take their toll on us. It is important if we struggle with being overweight that we figure out if there is something deeper adding to the problem. For me it was grief and hatred over a body with a hormone and neurotransmitter disorder. Find a spiritual director, a trusted and orthodox person, usually a priest, to help you through your pain and suffering. If it has manifested into mental illness or you need someone neutral to talk to, then look for a psychologist as well to guide you in the process. Be careful in selecting a psychologist and make sure they will not work to contradict your Catholic faith.
Confession is where God gives us His unending mercy and binds our wounds. He teaches us our limitations and failures, so that He can give us the strength to grow in holiness. We will continue to fall as we battle concupiscence, but we are strengthened by frequent Confession. My husband and I found bi-weekly Confession has strengthened our marriage and shown us where we struggle most. We have been going for nearly 5 years now. It’s a place where we not only place our sins, but our burdens. The first thing I did after my last miscarriage was go to Confession. I sobbed the whole time, but Christ reached out to me and comforted me in that grief. You can never get too much grace.
Begin to Make Changes
In working on temperance, it’s important to will a change through action and begin. Make a plan that works best for you and begin. You don’t have to be a marathon runner at the end, but focus on the power of temperance and of taking care of the temple of the body that He gave you and me. Remember that this is a life-long process and will not happen overnight. In moments of discouragement, fall back on prayer and continue again. Remember, this too shall pass.
Have a Support Network
Whether it is your spouse, children, parents, or friends we must make sure that we have people in our lives who are cheering us on and who understand the great value of temperance. These are people we can call when we have a tough day or we make a mistake. They are the ones to remind us to get back up and keep going. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We were not made to go it alone.
I write this 1.5 months into my own journey. I am off the SSRI which exacerbated the problem and I have lost 20lbs. I started while I was still on it, because it was my unwillingness to try that was the real problem. I now feel like I have established better habits. The beginning was tough and I still have 45lbs to my goal weight. I did not select my goal in relation to my pant size. I chose the maximum healthy weight for my height and frame. I am more concerned about health and virtue than my jean size. I am not a success story, yet. I am trudging along on the way to temperance and a healthier life. I am still clinging to the Cross as waves of grief collide against me at unexpected moments. I am learning not to hate this body that God gave me that I may do good for His glory. The point is to begin. We cannot grow in virtue if we never start the habits needed. Most of us will make small steps at moments throughout the day. We won’t even notice it at first, but eventually they become habits which is the fountain of the virtues. For those of you who struggle with temperance as I do, let’s begin so that we may grow in virtue, holiness, and healing. St. Sebastian, ora pro nobis.