Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW

Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Becoming Me Through Social Work, Food and Love

“Food and Love are the essence of the soul and the moderator of personality.”
I said something similar to that to a friend the other day, and I’ve been reflecting on it since. Hunger and want for love and food drives many to illness, depression, and violence where as fulfillment of those needs seems to leave us contented and fulfilled. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs both food and love and included, scratch that, are essential to development into a self-actualized being, a being capable of acceptance, creativity, and thinking beyond judgement and prejudice. They are not the only needs that must be met, but they are key pieces. Maslow’s Hierarchy is only one way of looking at what we need to grow, but to me it’s very rational and for me love and food seem to be the biggest needs to have met, the hurdles to jump and the keys to finding me.

There is something so particular about the way your life turns out, verses the way you assumed it would. I never had a vision of my life like many people, I often felt like a blank slate with no direction even when I was making progress. One thing was for sure though (or so I thought):  I was always on top of what I needed to do, enjoyed it to an extent and got the work done, but there was always something that seemed missing, something that made me seem less whole .I often viewed myself as a loner who was happy and surrounded herself with friends and family but was in reality rather disinterested in most things, and certainly not one to marry. But, that wasn’t in the cards, so many things are different than this vague assumption and many of them are thanks to social work, food and love.

Food was my enemy for so long that I never really drew any pleasure from it, never really accepted it as anything other than something I needed to survive. Because so much made me sick we were disjointed, food and I. Therefore, I couldn’t connect food to my ‘soul’, not only as a means of making it happy but also nurturing it effectively through the obvious and through new experiences. It wasn’t until we realized that food was the cause of that sickness, and my diet became restricted, that I recognized that bond. Food was, in essence poisoning my body, soul, and personality, but it was also through food that I healed. It was through managing my diet that I came to know food, find pleasure in the simple colors, scents, textures and tastes, and become creative in the kitchen. I nurture my soul now with tastes that are distinct from one another, and experiences that are rejuvenating, vibrant , and unique. I’ve come to love food, and want to share that love with others. And then there’s love itself…

Love was something I was always surrounded by, but something I never accepted internally. I was never good enough, never worthy for whatever reason. I had a joyful and playful personality, but was internally guarded. I hid myself from the true vulnerability of being genuinely loved, even at a friend level, because being that open and raw was just too painful especially when knocked down. But I always got up, and then I met Mike in the most unexpected of circumstances. I tried my best to allow him to love me, and I knew I loved him dearly, but I never felt fully there. I still didn’t feel worthwhile, I second guessed everything and wasn’t allowing myself to be loved or love entirely.

Social work school coincided with my Celiac Disease Diagnosis. As a result, it taught me to see the world in a new light, to view even the hardest of times as building resiliency, and to truly come to love the human race for all it’s wonder, diversity and flaws. I was opening up more, becoming less critical, letting the little things go, and realizing my full potential. I could love each person for being unique and distinct from one another, and I came to understand the value in even the smallest of steps forward. As my gut healed, my mind healed and I got more comfortable with the idea of love but not entirely.

Then, a year and a half ago in my final semester of graduate school for social welfare we discussed Dr. Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability. She speaks about the importance of letting down your guard, of becoming vulnerable, and discusses that this is the truest way to learn to love and enjoy yourself, your relationships and your life. She also explained that you must accept and treat yourself as you would others, rather than being your own harshest critic. She was not only a fellow social worker, but also a researcher, and her words resonated to my core. I felt jolted, uncomfortable, and completely raw. To put it bluntly my world was shattered and it was exactly what I needed. I was not loving myself, I was not truly loving others, all simply because I didn’t want to feel vulnerable.

Since then I’ve struggled to change that, with lots of pain, tears, and discomfort. I’ve taken and left a job in New York City that required a four hour commute per day, I went through a phase of hating myself and others, I took up volunteering and self reflection, I traveled, I had fun, I was published as an editor, I went to an event in DC with members of Congress, I was open and honest with others, I started a new job, I put myself out there, I took and passed the licensing exam to become a licensed social worker, and above all else I planned a wedding and got married to the love of my life.

I feel myself happier today than I ever have. There might be struggles, and things might not be ideal at times, but I am more fully connected to myself and those around me and I know what makes me happy or not. I won’t settle for less anymore, I won’t hide. Ultimately, I never thought I would fall into illness, or into love really, and climb my way back out with the aid of love and food. I never believed I would find anything close to my contented self, that I could discover what it was like to love myself, my life, and feel confident in my work and my decisions. Now, through opening myself to vulnerability, here I am immersed in food, community, social work, research, nature, volunteering, love, writing and editing, helping others and so much more.

And I couldn’t be happier.
Written by Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW
SJS Staffwriter

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