Complete Recovery: Step 4 Befriending The Drill Sgt.

This post is part of a series about Complete Recovery. If you’d like to read all of the blog posts in the series, see The Three Steps to Complete Recovery1, 2, 3 and 3 1/2. So, who couldn’t relate to Maryanne and her all-or-nothing thinking from last week’s article? And that was just the first part of her day!  If you use food to cope, the chances are very, very good that you experience constant 24/7 chatter in your head about everything you’ve ever done, are doing, and are even possibly thinking of doing from the perspective of the all-or-nothing Drill Sgt. This chatter isn’t warm, fuzzy, self-loving, reassuring chatter just to keep you company as you move through your day. No. Unfortunately this chatter is loud, nasty, critical, constantly assuming the very worst about you and your capabilities and encouraging you to compromise your authentic feelings and needs so as not to stand out, attract attention, hurt anyone’s feelings, etc. This voice that I refer to as The Drill Sgt., is doing its very, very best to try to keep you out of harm’s way. It does this, unfortunately, by both ruminating on every little thing you’ve ever done that didn’t (seemingly) go perfectly, and by obsessing about everything that might possibly go wrong in the future.  The underlying belief that he’s operating from is that if he can consistently remind you of everything you’ve done “wrong” and everything you might do “wrong” you will be safe and never, ever make a mistake again. Thus you will be safe, you will be perfect, you will be loved, and life will be one long blissful ride. Well…..maybe in Hollywood movies but in reality mistakes are for learning, second chances must be given by ourselves to ourselves in order for us to learn and to grow. It is inappropriate and abusive to expect anyone to be perfect. It is inappropriate and abusive to not allow people to make mistakes and learn from them. Your Drill Sgt. was raised in an environment where the models also believed in this rigid, right/wrong, all/nothing, no-second-chances approach to life and love. He’s just doing exactly what he was taught to, bless his little well-intentioned heart. Now, consider Georgette. Georgette is your “friend.” You’ve known her since you were infants. You’ve grown up together, and though there are times you might like to, you can’t really even imagine life without Georgette. Georgette isn’t a very open-minded, forward-thinking, positive person. She’s had some painful experiences in her life and she continuously defaults to looking on the dark side and worst case scenario of everything. She’s a bit of a drag. Georgette is constantly reminding you, every time you spend time with her, of all the things you didn’t do perfectly and of the choices you made that didn’t meet needs for her. She refers to them as your mistakes and failures. Every single one you’ve ever made comes up again and again, a la Georgette. She seems to delight in telling you about all the things that you’re likely to do wrong in the future or that others are going to think and feel and do in relation to you, as well as sending you little “warning” and “reminder” emails, texts, voicemails, tweets, Facebook messages, and notes, so that every where you go, you are reminded about all the things that haven’t worked perfectly in your life (from your Georgette’s perspective). To put it mildly, Georgette is a drag. And she definitely needs help to begin to see the world in a more positive light, or at least to keep her ruminations and worries to herself. If Georgette were an ex-partner you’d have called the police and got a restraining order (hopefully). If she were a sibling or a parent you’d have created your life in such a way that you spent little or no time with them. You’d have blocked her #, blocked her emails, taken her off your twitter and Facebook friends, and you might even have another friend cruise the house for the little notes so you don’t have to see them. Well, if you use food to cope, Georgette is alive and well, 24/7 in your head. And she needs a wee talking to. Georgette (ie. Your Drill Sgt.) needs to hear that the way she’s speaking to you does nothing to help you in any way, shape or form. It doesn’t prepare you, it undermines you. It doesn’t strengthen you and toughen your skin. It wears you down, makes you insecure and makes you easy prey for bullies and creeps, and passive-aggressive meanies.  In other words, it creates a greater likelihood that those old painful and harmful situations will be repeated and that you’ll be even less able to protect and care for yourself in ways that honor you and maintain your dignity. Thank you, Georgette! The 24/7 reminders of what you’ve done “wrong” and of what is therefore “wrong” with you are simply your own inner personification of your primary role models for nurturing and care. Think about it. Who were the key people in your life and how did they express their concern about you and your behaviours? How did they educate and guide you when they saw you making a mistake or struggling in some way? Did they criticize you? Did they judge you? Did they shame or ridicule you? Did they neglect you, give you the silent treatment; withhold love and affection? How well did they let you know that mistakes are a part of life, a part of learning? Did they make sure you knew that they loved you and that you were perfect just as you were? Did they reassure you that you were competent, capable, intelligent, lovable, worthy of care and affection? The way that the key people in your life ‘cared’ for you, naturally becomes internalized by us as the vulnerable little people in their care, as “what we deserve,” “what is true,” and therefore “what we must just continue to accept in the form of treatment from others and from ourselves.”  Thus your inner Drill Sgt. (your own Georgette), springs to life. Your Drill Sgt. speaks with great power and authority. You likely never even question the validity or necessity of his perspective and ramblings. You’ve been trained for many years to accept that kind of talk and the chronic anxiety and depressed feelings it triggers. You’ve developed a fairly ingenious coping strategy (a few of them likely) to find a way to have a moment or two, here and there, of “peace” from the Drill Sgt.’s negative judgements and ruminations:
  • You’ll focus on food;
  • You’ll isolate from others (the Drill Sgt. is less triggered when the threat of another’s judgement isn’t as great);
  • You’ll procrastinate on doing tasks that the Drill Sgt. will judge you for or that he has said you won’t likely do well on;
  • You’ll perhaps use alcohol or certain prescription or illegal drugs to distance from the anxiety and depression that his negative rantings trigger;
  • You’ll avoid certain events or situations that some part of you thinks might be fun or really wants to try (because you can’t guarantee you’ll be perfect at them and you don’t want to hear from the Drill Sgt. and feel the anxiety and sadness his rantings trigger);
  • You’ll spend money you don’t have or buy things you don’t need (or both) just to keep you occupied;
  • You’ll preoccupy yourself with other people’s thoughts, feelings and needs and compromise your own needs for self-care and consideration in order to make others happy, or to avoid upsetting them. 
These are just a few of the common coping strategies that you might use. Most humans will use some of these, here and there, throughout their lives when they feel anxious or overwhelmed in a certain situation. It’s when the overwhelm and anxiety never stops that we begin to rely on these ways of being more and more and they begin to take over as our only way of getting through the day. This is when we would be labeled as having an addiction. And we do it, all of us, with no exceptions, to try and shut out the 24/7 chatter of the Drill Sgt. and his negative all-or-nothing, judgemental thinking. His chatter makes us so anxious, depressed and overwhelmed that we need to find a way to tune him out. We don’t know any other way than to numb or distract ourselves. Hence, we end up with two problems instead of one. Now we have a harmful coping strategy that we default to whenever we feel at all anxious or unsettled, even if appropriately so, and we still have the nasty inner chatter of the Drill Sgt. and those harmful old core beliefs that he keeps on feeding us minute after minute. The good news is, you can take care of both pieces simultaneously. The Drill Sgt. dialogue is your tool for attending to the Drill Sgt. chatter in your noggin. And the List of Stressors is your tool for attending to the urgent desire for the use of food to cope or any other of your coping strategies. Let’s explore the Drill Sgt. dialogue today and we’ll look at the List of Stressors next week. The Drill Sgt. dialogue is a very simply, super quick tool that does two things simultaneously:
  1. It proves to you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that regardless of how it seems on the surface, the Drill Sgt.’s intention is always, always, no exceptions, positive.  He means well. He’s just very dysfunctional in his delivery of his message of caring and concern and support. Trust me.
  2. It also is the fastest and easiest way to educate that critical voice in your head on a more effective approach to supporting and encouraging you, and therefore, serves to integrate the Drill Sgt., in his more positive and supportive approach, into the rest of your being. This means you no longer feel fragmented, broken, small, fraudulent, bad, wrong, flawed, etc.
The strength you will feel when you integrate your Drill Sgt. and truly feel whole, perhaps for the first time, in your conscious awareness, is amazing. It creates a sense of safety and peace within the core of your being that cannot be shaken by anything that happens outside of you regardless of what or who it is doing or saying whatever. The Drill Sgt. dialogue goes like this:
  1. You hear your Drill Sgt. saying something critical about what you have done, what you are doing or thinking, or what you might do or think.
  2. You say: “What is your intention in saying that?” or “Help me to understand what is it you’re seeking to achieve in saying that?” (whichever one suits you best)
  3. Your Drill Sgt. responds with his rationale for making that comment. And to whatever he says you say:  “What is important about that?”
  4. He responds.  And you say, to whatever he responds: “And what is important about that?”
  5. He responds.  And you say, to whatever he responds: “And what is important about that?”
  6. He responds.  And you say, to whatever he responds: “And what is important about that?”
  7. He responds.  And you say, to whatever he responds: “And what is important about that?”
  8. Are you getting the picture? You just keep saying “And what is important about that?” until you feel a shift within you. You will know it when you feel it. You will experience a sense of release within and an “ah-ha” in your being. You get it! You understand! You understand what the Drill Sgt. was really trying to say, what he was really trying to achieve in his criticism and judgement and because you understand you don’t feel angry, you don’t feel hurt, you don’t feel shut down or anxious, you don’t want to eat. You simply want to say: “I appreciate your intention, thank you, and saying that to me isn’t a helpful or constructive way of achieving that goal. Next time how about just saying….”
  9. Your Drill Sgt. says, “Okay,” and you move on until the next Drill Sgt. comment, and you repeat. The more diligently you attend to the Drill Sgt. in this way, the faster he gets it and the faster you get to that place of true integration, strength and confidence.
Here’s an example for you: Maryanne hears her Drill Sgt. saying: “You can’t even think of looking for another job until you lose weight.” She asks him: “What is your intention in saying that?” He replies: “Well, no one is going to hire you until you lose weight, you’re too fat.” She asks: “What is important about me not being fat?” He replies: “You look bad.” She asks: “What is important about me not looking bad?” He replies: “People will judge you.” She asks: “What is important about people not judging me?” He replies: “If people judge you, you will be rejected.” She asks: “What is important about me not being rejected?” He replies: “If you get rejected you’ll feel bad.” She asks: “What is important about me not feeling bad?” He replies: “You won’t be happy.” She asks: “What is important about me being happy?” He replies: “Well, then you’ll feel good about yourself.” At which point you authentically say something like: “Wait a minute. You’re telling me that every time you tell me I can’t do something because I’m “too fat” you’re really just wanting to protect me from rejection so I’ll feel happy and good about myself?” Your Drill Sgt. says: “Yes” You say: “I appreciate your intention is to make me feel happy, but the way you’re going about doing that makes me feel worse and it makes me want to numb out with food which makes me even less happy. Next time you want me to be happy and you’re concerned I’m about to do something that might lead to a painful situation, can you just say: ‘I’m worried that you might get hurt, I want you to be happy.’” D.S.: “Okay – no problem.” You: “Thank you.” Big sigh of relief and relaxation. Have a great week, enjoy experimenting with this fabulous tool for integration and self-awareness. Love The CEDRIC Centre - Michelle Morand Whether you prefer one-on-one counselling (in-person, by phone, or email), our intensive and transformative workshops, the self-help approach with the book, or our Food is Not the Problem Online Membership Program, take action today to have a stress-free relationship with food. Sign up for our free newsletter today (see the left top side of your screen). Newsletter subscribers receive exclusive product discounts and are first in line to get on all the latest new at CEDRIC. © Michelle Morand, 2010

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