A Snapshot of Your Daily Life (And What to do to Make it Better)
We’ve all been there! You wake up feeling that same old anxiety begin to wash over you. Then you become conscious of your thoughts and they’re a churning blend of everything you need to do that day, all that you didn’t do (or didn’t do right) yesterday, and of food and of your body.
Even if you had a ‘good’ day yesterday and ate what you were ‘supposed’ to, that voice in your head is telling you: “You’re still not there yet! You’d better not screw up today!” And even if you somehow managed to get ‘there’ and you’re the weight and body size you’ve always told yourself you’re supposed to be, because you got there through restriction and behaviours that are neither life-enhancing nor sustainable, that voice in the back of your head is saying “It won’t last!”
And you haven’t even made it out of bed yet.
You still have to get showered, do something with your hair, and find something in your closet that you like the look of yourself in. Given that since you opened your eyes this morning, and likely since you lay your head on your pillow last night, your conscious thoughts have been a similar putrid blend to those you woke up to, it’s likely that getting dressed is not something you’re really looking forward to.
Likely your clothes don’t fit comfortably, or they don’t fit right. Maybe certain parts stick out a bit more than others or are accentuated in a way that someone once told you was unflattering and so, it bothers you today.
Maybe, like me in the last stages of my binge eating craze, you don’t even really see or acknowledge that you have a body. It’s ‘the’ body, not your body and you’re managing just fine living from the neck up and paying little attention to those arms, legs and torso that are always following you around.
Either way, you’re dressed now.
Maybe you’re hungry. Maybe you’re not. If you binged last night, you’re likely not hungry. But you’re probably trying to figure out what to eat. Either way, you’re probably not focussing exclusively on whether or not you’re truly physically hungry, but rather what time it is and therefore what that means about what you’re ‘supposed’ to do with food.
Maybe you have breakfast. Maybe you don’t. Either way it’s not likely to be a relaxed, enjoyable experience where you truly feel the pleasure of the tastes and textures of the food and of demonstrating great self-care in nourishing your body and setting yourself up well for the day.
Now, likely you don’t make a lunch – maybe you’ll be able to make it through today without caving and grabbing something carby from the shop down the street from the office. Not likely if history is any indicator, but what the hell! It’s a good plan, right?
So, off you go! You’re ready for your day out there in the world with people! You’re feeling anxious and awkward in your body, you haven’t listened to your body’s cues of hunger and fullness and you’re planning a day of ignoring anything that body has to say and instead imposing your will and only having what your latest plan says is acceptable.
Sound familiar? You haven’t even left the house yet and already you’re stressed out and tuned out to your feelings and to the legitimate needs of your body. How do you think today is really going to go?
In my experience, if the start of your day is anything at all like the one I’ve described above, you’re absolutely, 100% guaranteed to eat something that is either not on the list of ‘acceptable’ choices and/or far more than you told yourself you would when you were making your game plan for that day. And you’ll fall asleep with that voice in the back of your head ruminating on what you did ‘wrong’ that day and what you have to do differently tomorrow in order to be happy and to finally be okay.
This day-after-day hell has absolutely nothing to do with willpower or laziness. You spend most moments of most days thinking about what you want and how important it is. There is no doubt that you want control over food; you want that body; you want that peace that you’re sure is going to come when you get there; and you spend a great deal of time and effort trying to make it happen. The only problem is you’re not focussed on the real problem.
Imagine you’re a little kid. You have just innocently run out in the street to grab your ball which accidentally landed in Mrs. Smith’s yard. You didn’t watch for cars before you ran out and you just about got creamed! Your heart is pounding. You’re scared and need a rest and some reassurance. However, your caregiver has just yelled at you, loud! Maybe they even gave you a good shake or a swat or cuff or something similarly degrading. They told you how stupid you were, how you could have got killed, how you almost gave them a heart attack, what a bad kid you are, how you are not going to have to have a time out etc. etc. The one thing they didn’t tell you was what to do the next time your ball goes into Mrs. Smith’s yard.
You’re now filled with anxiety and shame and a good solid sense of your ‘badness’ but you’ve learned absolutely nothing about how to solve the problem that you tried your best to solve when the car almost creamed you. The next time the ball heads across the street you’ll be feeling anxious as hell and you’ll make sure no one is watching when you run out into the road to retrieve it.
This is a perfect example of what all of us who use food to cope (this means those of us who may binge / overeat, restrict (diet, or struggle with anorexia), or purge (use bulimic behaviours like laxative use, vomiting or overexercise to manage weight and stress), experienced growing up. I don’t mean we were all verbally abused and/or physically abused. What I mean is, whenever we did something that was potentially harmful or simply could have been done more effectively,
or, conversely, was done just fine but simply different from how the people around us might do it, we were told in no uncertain terms that we had screwed up but not taught how to solve the problem effectively.
These situations as a child led to the development of this little voice in the back of your head that I call The Drill Sgt. The Drill Sgt. is looking out for you; desperate for you to be safe and happy and accepted and safe and secure, and did I mention safe? His confused interpretation of the ball/Mrs. Smith’s yard event and many other like it have led him to believe, with all his heart that you’re just stupid and bad and unacceptable and that people are going to judge you unless you’re absolutely perfect. And since his mandate, his most fervent wish, is for you to feel safe and happy in the world, he’s constantly riding you – I mean 24/7 – telling you what’s wrong with you or what might be wrong with you someday if you don’t X, and just generally making you feel chronically anxious, overwhelmed and depressed with everything. Taking out the garbage becomes a stressor – Who’s going to see me? Am I using the right bags? Did any recyclables slip in there? Can anyone see them? Should I take them out? What kind of a person am I? What are they going to think?….. And that’s just the garbage!
That’s the Drill Sgt.; the voice that puts you to bed with scary tales of what will be because of all the mistakes you made today, and wakes you up with horror stories of what is to be.
It may seem like a tall order to get to a place in a short while from now where you don’t hear that voice any more: A place where you go to sleep feeling peaceful and wake up feeling excited and safe and happy. No stories of doom and gloom, no anxiety, and no quaaludes! A place where you naturally eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re comfortably full; you eat anything you like in moderation and you’re a natural weight for your body without dieting or rigorous exercise. You don’t need alcohol or isolation or T.V. or shopping to cope with life either. You’re just happy.
That place exists, and it isn’t years away. You just need someone to help you learn what you didn’t get to learn as a little person, because the folks who were raising you didn’t know it either: How to think!
You’ve been trained well in how to do what you’re told; how to react against things and people; how to avoid judgment (co-dependence, isolation, T.V., food, alcohol…) and how to numb yourself to your feelings and needs.
What you haven’t been taught (or you wouldn’t be stuck in your food/weight/body image rut) is how to reason; how to think things through in a simple, structured, rational way; how to identify the true problem at hand and how to find a solution to it that demonstrates respect for you and all concerned.
Without that skill you, and everyone else around you, are doomed to continue to repeat the same old patterns with yourself and with others and miss out on truly living.
The place to start learning how to think clearly and rationally is with that Drill Sgt. in your noggin. Learning how to communicate with him and to quickly identify what’s concerning him is fundamental to you being able to take simple and quick steps to solving the problem at hand.
So, if you want to try this out on your own for a bit simply notice when you’re feeling anxious or focusing on your body in a stressful/judgemental way, think about what you just heard that voice in the back of your head say and ask him:
“Drill Sgt. what’s your intention in saying that?”
And to whatever he responds, simply say:
“And what’s important about that?”
Repeat the “What’s important about that?” question a total of 4 times and see what you end up with. You’ll be surprised and it will be a powerful lesson in both why you feel anxious and need harmful coping strategies so much of the time and in what is really going on behind the scenes.
You’ll feel reassured and motivated to learn more. And when you do, I’m here for you and so is my team. We’ll help you learn how to truly solve the problems that cause you stress so you can get on with life.
Have a great week!