Last week I invited you to explore a key piece of reconnaissance. The assignment was as follows:
Notice the different tone in your voice at different times, with different people, and around different topics.
Please review last week’s article if you missed it and give it a try this week, it will help immensely in your recovery.
If you gave the homework a go you likely noticed that your tone and body language changed radically depending on who you were talking to and where and what topic you were covering.
Some adjustment of tone is appropriate given the topic and the location and the person.
Ie. It wouldn’t be appropriate to speak to the bank teller in the same intimate tone that we use for our partner in a tender moment. At least not in most cultures that I know of.
This of course is not to say that we can’t feel love in our heart for everyone we meet and be warm and caring towards them. It is stating though that our emotions naturally come through in our tone.
Time for Some Disordered Eating Recovery Review:
Before we get into looking at a few things that people noticed last week, and dive fully into the next few months of reconnaissance, let me just offer you a brief CEDRIC Philosophy Overview. If you’re new to CEDRIC or even if you’ve been around for a while, in my own recovery experience, you can never be reminded of the basics enough! Another way of saying that is, “If you’re still struggling with food you haven’t yet really got the basics.”
So, here we go!
Our emotions are triggered by our thoughts aka perceptions of:
- The present situation; and
- Our past experiences; and
- Future worries/imaginings;
More specifically, our emotions are triggered by what we are telling ourselves that those past events meant:
- About Us;
- About our worth;
- About our deservedness;
- About our right to have needs;
- About our right to ask for our needs to be met;
- About our right to have and express our emotions; and
- About how we are telling ourselves that those past events are destined to be repeated in the future. I call this the: ‘Past-future loop.’
All of us who use food to cope were at some time in our past either:
- Shamed or berated for our natural expression of ourselves (too loud, too quiet, too emotional, too shy, drama queen, too sensitive, too moody, too angry, etc.); or
- Blamed for things that were either not of our doing (Ie. someone taking their bad mood or lack of planning or stress management skills out on us); or
- Shamed or berated or harmed for things that were purely part of natural learning and development (spilling a glass of juice, making the bed poorly, forgetting our homework etc.).
This sadly, is often a very common part of childhood and, regardless of how justified it may seem on the part of the adult or caregiver who is often the one dishing it out, this judgement and shaming, from the experience of the naturally dependent and powerless child, is truly traumatic.
It actually triggers the flight or fight part of our brain and puts us indefinitely on red-alert, which inside our little body’s and mind’s looks like this:
- Anxiety; and
- The belief that we need to be prepared for that painful event to happen again, only this time, this time we’ll be ready! We’ll get it right and we’ll make them happy and we’ll avoid that pain and we’ll be good boys and girls and perfect and safe and loved, right?
Well…if the problem actually were about a true problem with us, and the person/people on the other end actually were willing to take their share of the responsibility for the relationship, that actually might be true.
Unfortunately, for the most part, it wasn’t really anything “wrong” with you; it wasn’t your fault or your problem and so, sadly, you can’t fix it. No stifling of your true Self is going to make it better because it’s not about you.
But we don’t know that as kids. No one tells us that, typically, at least not until this current generation of little people and balanced parenting styles*, but even then it’s hit and miss because the tools are reliant, not on the kids, but on the adults actually getting them and using them properly and consistently.
As such we get confused and we take it personally. We get so self-conscious, we don’t even know who we are and we get stuck in that past-future loop. The past-future loop naturally, creates a “duck and cover” mentality that means we miss out on many present day circumstances that fly in the face of that old story because we’re so busy expecting the bomb to drop and looking for the bunker in which to hide so that we can avoid the repeat of the old painful experience that our brain (assuming the past is bound to repeat itself) has assured us is bound to come at any moment.
Thus we live in a constant state of hyper-vigilance; the assumption of rejection or betrayal coloring our perception of everything and everyone.
This creates 2 very detrimental outcomes:
- We miss out on life! It passes us by as we are furiously planning for what we’re going to do or not do in the future in our futile attempt to avoid the pain of the past. The reality is: The past has come and gone. What happens now is truly up to you. And if you’re an adult, the only way the past can be repeated is if you choose it, either through your “duck and cover” approach to life or through conscious choice.
- We live in a heightened state of anxiety where regular events of the day are enough to send us over the edge into an emotional overreaction (Please know that our reaction is always appropriate for what we’re thinking about the situation but remember, what we’re thinking isn’t entirely about what’s happening now, and therefore it’s not entirely rational, as people in our lives have likely pointed out, perhaps not so respectfully). This heightened state of anxiety and expectation of betrayal or abandonment is bloomin’ exhausting! You know it! You live it! As did I. And it is, without exception, this heightened stress and the “combat fatigue” that it generates in our daily lives that triggers our need to numb out by whatever source necessary regardless of how rational or effective those strategies might be.
Here’s where it can seem to make sense to handle the stress of that exam tomorrow by:
- Eating a ton of junk food and throwing it up; or
- By pigging out on the whole bucket of ice cream and then spending hours feeling gross and beating the crap out of ourselves mentally;
- By telling ourselves we don’t deserve to eat and getting pissed off at our body for being hungry and keeping us up with “its” hunger pangs;
- Getting drunk;
- Spending money we don’t have; or
- Calling that ex we know isn’t good for us….
In case you’ve forgotten, which if you’re using food to cope, you have:
You are your body, your body is you. You are not disconnected from it, nor can you be except emotionally and psychologically and even then through great energetic effort and at great cost to you.
When you’re using food to cope you’re harming yourself. You’re doing to yourself what was done to you in some way shape and form in the past, and in so doing, you’re keeping that anxiety and stress and that lack of safety alive, even if those people or circumstances are no longer present in your life.
So, we say it “seems to make sense” to binge, purge or restrict, but, well… of course, it doesn’t really make sense when you look at it in the light of day, with a rational mind.
It’s not rational to think stuffing yourself with food will solve the problem we’re having with our partner, our studies, our career or our children, and that’s clear.
But if we’re still doing it that means that at this point, it’s still the best immediate distraction tool we’ve got. And that’s why we’re in the pickle we’re in. We need to check out now, dammit! Fast! And, aside from drugs, alcohol, food addiction, gambling, sex and relationship addiction, extreme sports, and TV (even this needs a little extra something often), what is there that checks us out so quickly?
So if I need to check out now because I’m feeling exhausted and overwhelmed from my hyper-vigilance and “duck and cover” approach to life, and the self-judgement that I am heaping on myself 24/7 what am I supposed to do!!!?
Well, in the moment, all you can do is hang on and enjoy the ride. Or hate it. But hang on, either way. And then, when you’re done binging, purging or restricting try something different.
After the numbing/soothing behavior you can begin to use some new tools for thinking about life and about yourself in a rational, true, reality based way so that your stress level naturally dissipates and life becomes not just manageable but safe and pleasurable.
The main point here is that: It`s why you`re eating that`s important, not what you`re eating.
About the Tone:
One of the coping strategies we develop to manage stressful situations or unstable people in our lives is to become little chameleons; modifying our look, our likes and dislikes and even the tone with which we speak, so as to create the greatest likelihood of acceptance and minimize the risk of criticism or abandonment/rejection.
Therefore, as an adult, the tone that you use to speak with certain people and in certain situations tells you a great deal about the stories you’re telling yourself about them vs. you.
A baby tone says “if I ask directly for this you will refuse me, but you won’t be as likely to refuse me if I am a poor, defenseless, child, right?” I don’t know, what was your lived experience? Who else spoke that way and what did they get away with? How do you feel when people approach you that way? Do you feel respected or manipulated? Does it make you think more or less highly of them? How do you feel in yourself when you do that and what do you think it does to your relationship with that person? Does it engender trust and respect? Or does it create dysfunction and co-dependence (obligation rather than choice) or distance?
A meek/quiet tone says “I don’t want to be held accountable for what I say” and/or “I think you’re going to be mad so I’m going to say this in a way that leaves me room to say ‘I didn’t say that!’ or ‘You didn’t hear me correctly,’ or that demonstrates deference so you are not threatened by me.”
In this mindset, the belief I’m carrying is that if I try to communicate in a meek tone and you respond in anger or annoyance, that tells me it’s not safe to be more honest about what I think, feel and need right now. At least that’s the old co-dependent training.
The truth is, it is always the safest to be honest! In fact it’s your obligation to yourself and to everyone else that you relate to. No exceptions.
For starters, as an adult you have power you didn’t have as a child. As an adult you can leave, right!? You can walk away, end the conversation, go sleep at a friend’s or in the car for that matter! And if it’s a choice between having someone yell at you or harm you, any of those choices should come before staying or meeting the other person’s needs for dominance and dysfunctional connection.
It is safest to be honest regardless of the situation when you really take a realistic look at the consequences of dishonesty.
For starters you greatly diminish your self-esteem and your sense of trust in yourself to take care of yourself in the world. This only serves to maintain that sense of chronic anxiety and the need for harmful coping strategies to numb out fast!
You also create dishonesty between you and someone else, and regardless of whether they know it or not, the relationship is compromised, resentment and walls start to build and before long you’re so closed off that the relationship is done, when often, a simple direct, boundary setting conversation could have solved the problem completely.
There are many other tones we use to avoid being direct and honest and just asking for what we need. Let me know what you noticed and I’ll offer you a thought or two if you like.
Next week, more reconnaissance, so stay tuned.
And if you’re ready to find an answer to the question “Why am I doing this?”; I encourage you to take the plunge, contact us, and find out.
*My favorite parenting educator is Barbara Colorosso. I encourage you to read her book “Kids are Worth It!” if you’re the slightest bit interested in being the best parent you can be or if you just want to find out what the heck happens in a normal, functional family. It was sure enlightening and very transformative for me and the more I have, and continue to, practice her gentle but boundaried approach with my kids the more I see what healthy relationships and healthy boundaries are all about (and how sorely lacking them I was!). Thank you, Barbara!