I don’t know how to approach writing this post, and have been anxious for a while even thinking about it. I think I even showed up here and tried a few times, only to get frustrated and quit. But a part of me wants to show up, to find a way to do it… so I’m going to honor that impulse, and just get started, and see where it goes.
I’m earnestly trying to overcome an addiction right now.
Which simultaneously means…
- I am coming to terms with the fact that my brain is severely addicted.
- I am putting effort towards trying to find another way.
- I am diving deep into the shadows of my life. Bringing light to places that want to stay in the dark…
And it’s the spirit of that process that I want to share. I want to share what it’s like to be in the middle of this. Not just looking back on it, saying “I’ve been through that journey” …. but from inside it.
I want to share what it’s like to find handholds in the dark. I want to share the small wins. I want to share the losses.
I want to paint a picture of what I think is the hardest thing I’ve ever summoned the will to attempt to do.
I want to do it honestly. I want to do my best not to whitewash it.
After all, I’m just a human. The parts that I don’t want to share only threaten my pride. But it’s not my pride that is driving this motion in my life, it’s my heart and soul.
My drug of choice has always been food.
I’ve always had the habits of overeating, and of emotional eating. For the past 10 years I’ve also struggled with a severe form of emotional eating, called binge eating.
To distinguish these terms, here’s how I’ve come to define them for myself:
- Overeating is what you do at mealtime when you eat past satiety level, to fullness, or beyond. The alternative to this is eating to an intuitive level of satiety, where you don’t feel bloated or weighed down or sleepy… just satisfied and just right. It’s extremely easy to overeat if you eat quickly, which most of us do. It’s also easier to overeat if you eat highly processed food, which is more calorically dense. And it’s easier to overeat if you multitask while eating, since you’ll miss the whole experience of eating and miss your body’s cues that you’ve had enough… not to mention missing out on the whole experience altogether. I’ve always been a fast eater, and I’ve always eaten to fullness rather than satiety. And I’ve always said yes to dessert, regardless of my body’s hunger. I would say my eating habits have not been directed by my body’s actual hunger cues, for the most part… I’ve just enjoyed the act of eating all my life, and done it robustly. I’ve taken joy in stuffing my face. Provided other people are doing it with me. If not, I feel like a fish out of water.
- Emotional eating is something that happens outside of mealtime, or outside of when you’re truly hungry. It can feel like it’s spurred by hunger, but it’s actually an urge created by the brain in response to an emotion. This is what we do when we eat chocolate because of PMS or anxiety. And it’s not entirely misguided – eating food can definitely have a calming effect on the system, in the moment. But it comes with its own set of consequences and does nothing to address the underlying issue that brought about the emotion.
- Binge eating is completely out-of-control eating, and is usually a pattern that is triggered by a brain in starvation mode, most often a reaction to dieting or other attempts to control your eating.
At the root of my relationship with food is a simple misunderstanding. I learned early on to attach more meaning to food than is actually helpful.
Unconscious associations, like… Food is love. Food is family. Food is safety. Food is comfort.
Those associations become beliefs, like “Food makes me feel better.” “Life is good when I am eating.” “Food is the best way to connect with people.”
I’ve really felt those things. Food has always been what I turn to when life starts feeling hard… and it’s been the thing I turn to in order to celebrate, when things are good. Because food is love. Food is safety. Food is comfort. Food is happiness.
Except it isn’t! Food is only, and only ever has been, nourishment for my body.
Yes, it also is one of many ways to experience pleasure in this world… but not the only way. And the pleasure of eating comes when food is in its proper place, used as nourishment… not when I’m hiding in a cabinet binge eating peanut butter hoping no one will walk in on me. Ashamed.
Food addiction is not full of pleasure, it is full of shame.
Structure Supports Change
Tomorrow is the start of Week 11 of a program I am in called ‘Rewired Eating’. It’s a neuroscience-backed approach to rewiring your brain and habits… to becoming not-addicted-anymore. For real. For good.
There is a small group of women in the program. We work with an amazing coach, as well as a nutritionist and some other professionals including a therapist and an absolutely magical woman who does emotional healing work using techniques like tapping and havening.
I’ll start tomorrow with a meditation. I’ll stop during the day many times to do a short mental rehearsal of a process my coach calls the “3 S’s – See, Sit, Shift” … which is a mindfulness-based approach to changing your addictive behaviors. It starts with SEEing when an addictive urge comes up… then you SIT with it, without reacting, in your own power… then you SHIFT your attention to something else, something that brings you joy, or that you are grateful for.
On good days I rehearse this 3S process several times. It only takes a few minutes, but it gets hard on busy days. Like today, I woke up in a hotel, and then I was dealing with car stuff, and then I was on the road, and then I was with people…. and the day went by. I didn’t do my work.
As part of this program we plan our food. If I was doing it 100% I would be planning my food COMPLETELY and not deviating from my plan… I resist this part of the program a lot, but I know it would be good for me to lean into it more. Sometimes I am better than other times. Sometimes I don’t plan, and my lower brain uses it as an opportunity to sneakily eat more than I know is good for me. The whole point of planning is to provoke the impulsive part of you to make a scene, in the moment – that way you can see it for what it is, and write down the things it says to try to get you to eat.
I’m scared to plan, because I’m still scared of facing that part of me, of telling it “No”. I keep failing, and feeling hurt by my failures.
Progress, not perfection…
The hardest part of the program is actually facing the imaginary monsters that come up during my day, every day. At some point I’ll be doing work and I’ll get frustrated… and it will manifest as the urge to eat more food. When it comes, it will feel uncomfortable. It might truly feel urgent, like something bad is going to happen if I don’t eat something. When it happens, I need to notice that it’s happening, and just be present with it for a moment. I need to breathe and be present, and then I can see it for what it is – just a thought, a pattern, an urge from my addicted brain – and I can also see what it isn’t, which would be genuine food-hunger coming from my body. I need to see it with compassion, and see myself with compassion, and know that I am something separate and bigger than my thoughts and impulses, that I don’t have to act at all to any thought or impulse that comes through me. In fact, if I sit and observe it – allow the urge to be, without resisting – it will actually dissipate all on its own! Amazing!
But it takes a certain kind of approach. Thoughts rely on our attention for their survival. So if you see the urge come and get afraid of it and try to fight it, you’ll only drain your own energy and, by giving it your attention, you will allow it to grow. You can’t brace yourself, put up a wall and hope the thoughts will bounce off… no, you have to be legitimately grounded in your own power. The kind of power that exudes a sense of peace. You have to find the still place inside where you are confident of your ability to make decisions. And from there, who cares what thoughts come along? You get to choose how to act. So an urge is coming, and it’s telling you that a snack will help you get through that problem you’re stuck on? That’s interesting. Not particularly helpful. I’ll pass. And you let it go.
When you get it right, it really is that level of zen. There is nothing like it. It’s absolute freedom. Real power.
And it’s a real skill that real people can learn. Anyone can operate on that level of consciousness. It just takes practice.
That’s why I’m here. Why I’m putting in the work. Even though it’s hard and I have to live through a million failures to get from point A to point B – because Point B is freedom and power. Point B is the reality of free will.
Point A is hiding in the cabinet eating chocolate bars, feeling ashamed and afraid of being seen. Hiding from the problems in my life. Being scared.
Point B is facing life head-on, feeling it all. Shining my light in the world, authentically. Point B is living intentionally, is being the person I want to be in the world and taking full responsibility over the choices that person makes.
Who would you rather be? The person at Point A or the person at Point B? Should be an easy answer, but still I find myself in the cabinet eating chocolate and peanut butter, or fighting to keep myself from doing it. I did it today, when I was trying to work up the courage to get into a writing flow here. A big wall of fear came to me and I wasn’t steady on my feet enough to laugh at it and let it go. No… I got scared and small, and I ate some chocolate. LOL! But then I did something different. I gave myself some love, and told myself it’s okay, and I reminded myself of the progress I am making. It’s so important to see the small progress you make along the way – because it doesn’t happen all at once. You don’t go from severely addicted to totally normal overnight. So you have to be gentle with yourself, and be curious. New habits take time to form. Emotional coping skills don’t get built overnight. It takes time and patience and love.
What is addiction, anyway? What is underneath it? Why are so many people struggling with addictions? These are really the questions I want to dive into as I share my own experience with it. Questions I hope other people are asking as well, in this so obviously sick and addicted modern world.
For me there is definitely unresolved emotional pain underneath my food addiction – some of which I’ve already worked through! And the floodgates are now open for more to come to the surface to be healed. That part of it is beautiful to watch unfold. It’s… getting to know myself better, in a really sweet and meaningful way. Learning to take care of myself. Learning to listen to my true needs, to make space for myself.
So much of what feels ‘hard’ about letting go of the food stuff is just feeling. I’ve long felt that emotions are a dimension of our reality that we don’t have a solid collective orientation towards. I doubt I am the only one who’s built a habit of suppressing my feelings instead of finding healthy ways to express them.
So I’m trying to learn to not just eat when I have confusing feelings inside me – and it’s scary. What else do I do, when it feels like a storm inside me? Do I start crying in public? Doesn’t that part of me not have a place in this world? Isn’t it too soft, won’t it make people upset?
Those are my fears speaking, fears I am sure I am not alone in experiencing. But the honest truth is that it’s SAFE to feel EVERYTHING, and that you don’t know the alternative options until you stand there naked, without hiding in your habit. I am going to prove it to myself, by letting go of the cheap way out and seeing what happens. My goal is to be an example of what it means to be an emotionally authentic human in the modern world.
For all the failures I’ve had so far during this process of change, I’ve had a few successes as well. Enough to see the beginnings of something beautiful – that when I don’t push my feelings away with food, I have an opportunity to see myself on a deeper level. To experience reality on a deeper level. To be more grounded in my truth and power, instead of pushing part of myself down to conform to how I think I am supposed to be. It’s so disempowering to suppress my emotions – it’s the active choice to disconnect myself from my real experience, and I didn’t even realize it but I’ve been doing that my whole life.
So I’m beginning to un-learn it. To find another way. A way that’s true to my soul, a soul that has a purpose here, a soul that speaks to me through feeling.
There’s a lot more to talk about, but I wanted to at least get the ball rolling on this as a topic on my blog. My intention is to post updates and let you know what’s going on, as I move through this program and towards a life with food freedom. Let me know in a comment below if anything in this post piqued your curiosity or interest, and I’ll use the feedback to help guide what I write about next.
Thank you for reading. Peace ❤