Forgive me for being macabre for a moment but…I am going to die. One day.
Could be 5 minutes from now, 5 days, one year, 20, 50, 75 years…..
I have very little control over when that happens or how. I may have lots of notice and have time to fulfill my own, personal “bucket list” or it may be sudden death – my death.
Despite the drama with which I’m putting this notion forth, these thoughts don’t depress or overwhelm me or trigger mortal dread: Unlike when, as a child, I first realized with abject terror that my parents were going to die one day – that their continued presence in my life was beyond my control – and was then also struck by the realization that I too would one day cease to exist.
No, these thoughts do not create distress for me, or sadness, or longing. Rather, they motivate me to live this moment as best I can. These thoughts motivate me to grow and to be the best that I can be in every moment. I know that in being the best that I can be in every moment I am doing my best to make the world a better place for however long I have the privilege of being able to contribute in mortal form.
Being the best I can be does not in any way mean perfect. I am far from that, as my son, friends, family and ex-boyfriends will attest to. It means honoring my values to the very best of my physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological ability every moment of every day.
I know that when I live with my values front and centre and prioritize my time and choices based on my core values, I feel peaceful. I feel grounded and solid.
Living in accordance with my values there is no niggling inner judgement; no Drill Sgt. in my head telling me I should be doing something other than I am; that I am undeserving of what I’m doing or what I have; that I’m bad or wrong; that bad things are going to happen etc. etc.
I am living in integrity when I honor my values, thus I am at peace. I feel safe and I trust myself to handle anything that life throws my way from a place of dignity and respect for me and for all involved. I live in the flow of life, I can feel it and it tells me I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing in my life at that moment.
These days, if I even contemplate doing something that has the potential to compromise my values I immediately feel a tension in my stomach and have a sense of resistance to that choice that life experience has shown me I would be extremely foolish to ignore.
That subtle indicator of honoring choices vs. dishonoring ones has always been alive in me. I just had to learn to ignore it in order to survive.
As a child I witnessed many acts of violence at the hands of my father towards my brother (almost daily beating and verbal humiliation); our family pets (he shot them when he grew tired of them or when they angered him by being animals and having needs for attention or care); and towards myself in the form of verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
We were taught, my brother and I, not to tell anyone what was happening in our home – to put on a smiley face and pretend we didn’t have welts on our bodies or fear, grief and anger within.
The “choice” was to shut-up or leave and at the age of 5 or 10 or 12 leaving isn’t really a viable option. Not to mention the fact that I lived in an extremely remote area accessible only be ferry boat and so not so easily “escaped” from. For the record, I did try twice to run away from my home and the threat of more abuse but was found each time, dragged home and beaten for my efforts.
Yes, the training in my home was to ignore my inner sense of right and wrong; to tune out to the voice that spoke of a need for safety and love, nurturing and respect, dignity and family in the true sense of the word.
I mastered that lesson. I learned to ignore my inner voice so well that I could withstand extreme feelings of fear, grief, anger and repulsion and not even know I was feeling anything. I learned to value meeting other people’s needs way above my own because my life training was to believe that what I felt and needed was bad, wrong, and pointless at best. Therefore, my child’s logic deduced: whatever I’m feeling must be wrong and I should ignore it and do the opposite and then I’ll surely be fine, safe…loved.
Not quite, unfortunately.
What actually happened was that because of my profound mastery of co-dependence and self-deprecation I continued to abuse myself and to allow / choose abusive situations long after I was free from my parent’s home and my dad’s harmful behaviour.
I had no idea that I could choose to listen to and respect my inner self; my true self. It felt bad and wrong to even contemplate respecting myself if it meant that someone else might not get what they want, regardless of what that might be or what it might cost me to provide it.
I was 15 when I left home believing that fear, shame and resistance were normal every day feelings that everyone felt 24/7. They were my companions through life.
When, years later, I first began to learn that, rather than being a normal sensation that everyone experienced, my chronic anxiety was actually an indicator that I felt unsafe or insecure in some aspect of my life, it was as though I was awakened from the deepest of nightmarish sleeps.
And what freedom that awakening brought me. I no longer had to be unconscious to survive. I could be safe being completely conscious and connected to my feelings and needs, in fact that was the only way to truly be safe.
I could trust my inner voice and know that if I felt anxious it was for a valid reason and, even more fabulous, I learned that I could always come up with some honoring, life enhancing (ie. not food!!) solution to meet the need / solve the problem that had triggered my anxiety in the first place.
It was at this point I began to understand the fundamental association between honoring one’s values and being at peace.
My true self had always had values around treating myself and others with dignity and respect. She always valued honesty, reliability, family and integrity and my anxiety was simply an indicator from my true self of how far away I was from my values at any given time.
The same is true for you. If you’re reaching for food to cope you are trying to numb your feelings of anxiety. Your feelings of anxiety are in direct proportion to how much you are compromising your values at that time in your life. The irony of course, is that eating when you’re not hungry; purging; and restricting are behaviours that fly in face on anyone’s personal values. They dishonor you; they embody a belief that you deserve to be harmed and that your needs are too big, too much and can’t possibly be met by honoring means. I suspect that you use food to cope because you’re out of integrity with your values in some aspect of your life and the act of using food to cope compromises you even more.
Overeating or purging or restricting won’t diminish your anxiety in any lasting way because it doesn’t honor your core values and it does nothing at all to solve the problem that has undermined your values in the first place.
I guarantee you that if you take the energy you’re putting into your focus on food and body image and instead place it on identifying and honoring your core values you will cease to use food to cope. You will feel peaceful and strong and life will have a sense of ease and flow the likes of which you’ve never known. Even in difficult times you will feel the strength that comes from knowing that you are a person of integrity who is doing the best you can every moment of every day; imperfect but honorable, beautiful, real.
Food is not the problem. Neither is your anxiety or depressed feelings. Challenge yourself to get clear on what is truly most important to you. I guarantee you it isn’t what you look like or what other people think of you. At your core there are things of great value just waiting to be expressed and honored. The world is waiting for you to step fully into yourself and to be the very best that you can be.
After all, we can only be sure about now. Tomorrow might be too late.
If you feel at all triggered by my sharing of some of the events of my childhood, stop now and take 3 deep breaths. Just take a moment to breathe. Then ask yourself: Where in my life, in the present, do I feel unsafe or insecure? Where and with what person/people do I not trust myself to assert myself with dignity and respect if I feel compromised or at all unsafe?
It is these situations that trigger you to feel anxious (and ultimately to use food to cope) and rightly so. Just as it was for me, your anxiety and distress is appropriately occurring. It is your inner self trying to get your attention the only way it can (aside from generating physical illness) and just like me, instead of honoring and respectfully responding to those cues you were taught to ignore them, to judge yourself for having them and to push them far away and behave as though they aren’t there.
In order to do this you had to develop ways of distancing from your emotions and from the situations that they were trying to alert you to. Enter food! Glorious food! Yay for food, for drugs, for alcohol, for sex, for shopping, for cutting, for picking, for relationship addiction, whatever your primary coping strategy of choice. It’s only in your life because you’ve mastered the art of judging and ignoring your emotions and thus you’re trying to feel peaceful and safe in situations that aren’t safe or respectful of your true self and your true potential.
When you identify the situations in which you’re feeling compromised (or obligated to meet other’s needs at your expense) and begin to take action to change your role in those situations, then I predict that you will see an immediate decrease in your need to use food to cope and an immediate increase in your sense of peace and inner strength and trust.
I’m here to help if you want support on your journey.
Want to stay connected for more articles on recovery and healing? Sign up for our free newsletter and get tools for recovery and hear the stories of others on the path. http://www.cedriccentre.com/free-newsletter