One of the most startling ideas presented to me as part of the Green Mountain at Fox Run program was that I should be grateful to my fat, and to my overeating, for taking care of me all those years. Obviously it did something positive for me, by way of comfort and/or protection, at some point in my life. Certainly, food equals comfort for many of us, beginning with our time as infants when all of life is either eating or sleeping. In my own history, I have used food to stuff down grief and anger, and I've used my fat both as a buffer against a notion of femininity which was totally foreign to me and a grand gesture of defiance, daring the world to see me for the beautiful, sensual, sensitive woman I am.
I've never drunk alcohol, smoked, or used recreational pharmaceuticals, but I've used food the way an addict shoots up, seeking numbness and calm. During the difficult, painful days of my youth and young adulthood, the oblivion came quickly and worked well, and for that I am grateful. As I've grown older and wiser, and as my life has gotten easier and more satisfying, the triggers that have sent me back to my habitual comforts have gotten smaller and more subtle. Instead of eating to numb myself against crushing grief, I now eat to allay the momentary anxieties of a difficult task or a deadline; instead of tamping down anger with calories, I now use them as others might use a sleeping pill, to help my mind grow calm enough for sleep. Food is my oldest and most trusted friend, celebrating the good times and helping me through the bad.
So what do I do when my old friend lets me down?
Twice since I've gotten back from Hawaii, I've deliberately turned to food to help me deal with some discomfort and disappointment (see yesterday's post on Expectations for a discussion of one episode), and twice it has not helped. Not even a little. Maybe it's because I'm more mindful of how I really feel and what I really need, but when I ate the last chip or put away the bag of cookies, I was an anxious, agitated and uncomfortable as I was when I started. And unlike the addict seeking ever larger doses in pursuit of the high, I knew that eating more would only make me feel worse.
Those of you who have never struggled with food in this way probably won't understand how totally, devastatingly shocking this was. Obviously, in the great scheme of life, the eating never really helps and in fact contributes to my problems; nevertheless, in the moment, it has always seemed to calm me down and make it possible for me to take the next step. Even though I have been actively working to learn other tools to deal with the feelings and situations that have always led me to food, I guess it had never occurred to me that at some point my standby would cease to function. I thought that foresaking food would be my choice, not a necessity.
Unfortunately, now that that day seems to have arrived, I don't yet feel equipped to deal with this new reality. I don't have my new arsenal in place; while I've come up with a list of lots of possibilities, so far nothing has resonated for me with the same calming effects as eating. And that scares me. I feel abandoned, bereft, and extremely vulnerable.
And yet maybe that vulnerability is a good thing. Perhaps if I sit with the fear and the grief at having lost my old friend, I'll be able to reach out in other directions, to healthier and more supportive companions.
Wish me luck!
A hui hou.