Posted by mmorand on August 28, 2010What sense would it make if every time your alarm went off to wake you in the morning, you said “Oh, there’s my alarm. I guess that means I’ll go back to sleep?”
Not much sense in that at all.
Well, every time you notice you’re feeling anxious or depressed or starting to think about using food to cope and then actually restrict, binge, or purge, you are doing exactly that. You are, in essence, noticing the alarm (your anxiety, your depressed feelings, your thoughts of using a coping strategy) and then going back to sleep through numbing out and focusing on food.
Your emotions and your troubled thoughts are meant to bring your attention to something in your life that needs to be addressed. That something could be a past experience that is unhealed, it may be something in your present moment or something you’re imagining happening in your future.
When you notice those emotions arising in you, your job is really quite simple:
You are meant to respond to your emotions with interest and compassion. You are meant to acknowledge when you are feeling glad, sad, scared or angry. You are meant to celebrate and express gratitude for the glad feelings and to ask yourself for some information about what is troubling you if you are feeling sad, scared or angry. You have all the answers in you to what is upsetting you and you can even, right now, no matter how disconnected from yourself you might feel, answer the question:
“What needs to happen in this situation in order for me to feel completely peaceful?”
You can answer that question anytime if you simply take the time and make the commitment to stay present with yourself when feelings arise rather than pressing snooze and hoping the problem solves itself while you sleep-walk through your life.
You may need some support figuring out how to take the most simple and effective action to achieve your goal depending on what your answer to the “peaceful” question is. But that’s what we’re here for.
If you’re overeating, restricting or purging, it simply means that at some point in your life, you felt completely overwhelmed by your emotions, powerless to change a stressful or harmful situation and, for self-preservation, began to master the art of ignoring your emotions, seeing them as pointless and annoying instead of your key to true strength and happiness.
At whatever point you began your disconnect from your emotions, it is very likely that that was a necessary coping strategy (we therapists call the disconnect from emotions: Alexithymia. I have a handout on this I’d be happy to email to anyone who asks). When we are in a painful situation and we feel powerless to do anything about it, it is truly a life-saving skill to be able to disconnect from what you’re feeling. The only problem is that now you are old enough to establish power and control over your life (who’s in it, where you go, what you do, etc.) in a life-enhancing way but you’re not doing that. You don’t feel like an adult who’s in charge of his/her life. You feel like that kid who was scared to death to be in the present moment and feel their feelings because it was just too painful and pointless to do so.
You look like an adult. People around you are treating you like an adult (for the most part, unless they, too, struggle with their own emotional awareness). But you feel like a fraudulent child who will be told at any moment that they’re in big crap for something. Chronically anxious, worried that someone will be upset about something, that someone will judge you or criticize you or that you’ll get “it” wrong, you don’t feel capable of handling life head-on and taking good care of yourself. You feel capable only of ignoring yourself, judging yourself, putting your head down, barely keeping your façade together and getting through the day.
The only problem is, your feelings are your guide to what’s working and what’s not in your life.
Your feelings are an incredibly precious gift. What they are trying to communicate to you at every moment of every day is how close or how far you are to happiness and peace. Every time you ignore your feelings, shut them down, dismiss them, berate yourself for having them, toss them aside because someone else may judge them, etc., you are taking one step further off the path to happiness and peace and onto the road of chaos, depression and anxiety, and the use of food to cope.
There was a time when ignoring your feelings was fundamental to your survival. It is important for you to acknowledge that to yourself and to thank yourself for doing what you needed to do to keep yourself sane and as safe as possible given the situation in the past. There is no need for shame or judgement in realizing that you’ve been ignoring yourself and perpetuating old experiences. It wasn’t safe to be conscious until now.
Regardless of what is happening in your life now, if you’re an adult, that time of not being safe in the present has passed. Now you ignore your emotions and the messages they are sending you about your needs and your intuition about the people and things in your life at your peril. Harmful patterns repeat themselves, old dynamics in relationships don’t change, your feelings of stuckness and fatigue with life, hopelessness and despair grow and your need for food to numb out and focus elsewhere grows, too – all because you’re missing a key piece of information:
Your feelings are not bad or good, right or wrong, they just are.
They are signposts from within, designed to let you know when things are or aren’t working in your life, or in your perception of life. It is safe to be aware of what you’re feeling. Contrary to what most people feel when they begin to consider being present with their feelings, you will not be overwhelmed by them; you will not turn in to a pile of Jell-O on the floor; you will not fall into some dark feeling abyss, never to come back again. You will, I guarantee you, move through those feelings quickly and on to the most important piece of all which is: What do I want/need to do about the situation that is triggering those emotions?
Through The CEDRIC Centre, as well as certain friends, family or other community support, you have access to the resources you need to be able to safely explore your feelings and the key messages they are sending you about what you need and what’s working and what’s not in your life at this time. As an adult, you are now able (even if you don’t know how) to set boundaries, to leave situations that aren’t honoring of you, and to have courageous conversations to do your best to make a situation safe, respectful and fulfilling. You are able to do this now as an adult. There is no police force that is going to burst in the door and tell you you aren’t allowed to assert yourself or take care of yourself as you need to. And as soon as you stop ignoring your emotions and respond to them as the signals they are by learning to look a little deeper and uncover the message they are trying to send, you will immediately find yourself feeling stronger and more solid in yourself than ever before and you will witness your focus on food to cope naturally diminishing until is dissolves completely.
It makes no sense at all to hear your alarm going off in the morning, roll over and go back to sleep and then feel frustrated and annoyed and depressed and overwhelmed that you got fired.
Whether you feel like you have power over your life circumstances or not, the truth is you do. You can always take just a few seconds to tune in to yourself and identify what you’re feeling and what situation in your life (past, present or future) triggered that thought/feeling loop.
You can learn very quickly and simply to identify when your feelings have been triggered by old all-or-nothing bogus stories or when they’re actually indicating something that needs your attention in the here and now.
In 17 years as a specialist in this field, with my own longstanding complete recovery from overeating to boot, I have never, ever, had a client who wasn’t able to find a solution (and usually quite quickly and easily) to whatever problem had been triggering them to use food to cope on any given day. There is always a solution to real, day-to-day concerns, and usually it’s quite simple, easy to enact, and leads to a happier life and a stronger, more confident you.
It’s time to let go of that old fear-based approach to life. Catch up with the times. You are capable of creating the most amazing life for yourself right here right now. Start by simply taking a few seconds whenever you notice you’re feeling anxious or depressed or when you notice you’re using food to cope to simply state:
“I am feeling overwhelmed right now. What was I just thinking or what just happened that might have triggered me to feel anything other than peaceful?”
You’ll be surprised how often you know exactly what the answer is and how often you also know immediately what you need in order to feel better. The answers are within you, it’s just a matter of you feeling safe enough to listen.
Don’t sleep through the alarm anymore. It’s time to rise and shine. Your life is waiting.