Saturday, January 19, 2013

How did you DO it? part two

My grandma loved to tell a story about me as a toddler.  She told it with a smile and affection in her voice, but when I grew up and realized what it meant, it hit me like a punch to the stomach.  She would tell of my little blonde-headed self bragging to anyone who would listen about how I was "finning" out.  Yes,"finning" out.  Apparently I meant to say "thinning".
I've been trying to "lose weight" since I was two.  I have valued being thin since before I was out of diapers.  

Yet that thing I spent so much of my time chasing after slipped through my fingers.  For three decades I tried everything the world of weight loss had to offer.  I even caught on eventually that one had to resolve their emotional/spiritual issues to gain true mastery over their weight.  I always knew I had issues with food.  I just couldn't figure out what those issues were!  I tried so very hard to unravel the mystery as I was told this was the only way to lasting weight loss.  I knew I wasn't using food as a friend like many people do.  I wasn't overeating to give myself a protective cloak of weight, although I understood why a lot of women do that.  It took me tuning into my pain to find the key to the door I had been slamming my head into for years.  The only way I have found to gain freedom, is by sitting in, soaking in, exploring deeply, and marinating in pure, unfiltered, pain.  Now you see why this isn't a popular diet plan.  It hurts.  To actually look at your pain, your really deep pain, and stare it in the face, and not take one of the thousands of free passes to escape it is hard.  It is really, really hard.  There is ugliness and shame and rejection that cannot be shaken until you actually look it in the eye and move through it.  And I've never met anyone who's instincts didn't tell them to run from that kind of threat.  When everything in you tells you to flea and you stand firm, and even move toward the danger, there you will find what you've been looking for.  
I didn't know that every time a hint of that pain would show itself, I could put it back in "it's place" with food.  I could distract, deny, rationalize, and just plain avoid by eating.  It was simple really.  And I was so good at it, I didn't even know I was doing it.  

This cartoon is meant for a laugh, but I stopped laughing after I realized how true it was. Eating a cookie is not a bad thing, but when the cookies take over your life and steal your freedom and you spend more time plotting how to get the cookies, and hide the cookies and consume the cookies without anyone seeing you, it is a very bad thing.  

There was a moment I engaged in a battle to look at my pain it turned out to be a defining moment in my life.  A friend of mine had hosted a bake sale.  I had attended the bake sale and purchased and eaten responsibly.  But the next day at my doorstep was a grocery bag filled with her leftovers-homemade cookies, brownies, and other treats.  My very favorite way to escape.  When I opened the bag my heart actually began to race.  My body tensed.  I felt panic.  I started to breathe heavy and I felt compelled to do what I have always done around sweets.  I needed to consume them all, and quickly.  I needed to make this intense discomfort stop.  And I felt there was only one way to do that.  I knew the routine, I had done it so many hundreds of times before.  My body didn't need a command from my brain.  But this time I stopped. I recognized the anxiety I was feeling.  I stopped.  I chose to feel the panic and not act on it.  I asked myself-"what is the worst thing that could happen if I just didn't eat these?"  I felt like I would die.  I really did.  I felt such palpable fear.  Of course my rational self knows that is ridiculous.  Of COURSE I wouldn't die.  I didn't need to eat anything to live another day, let alone a sugary pastry.  Clearly this was about more than caloric intake.  This was something far beyond a nutritional requirement.  This was a much deeper need.  I needed to feel safe.  I needed to feel in control.  I needed to stop feeling helpless.  And I could avoid all of those horrible feelings with just the consumption of some "treats".  It seemed like a worthwhile trade.  I had made that trade all my life.  The problem was, I wasn't just trading some of my time and a few pounds extra on my hips.  I was trading my life.  I was captive to this compulsion.  It gave the orders in my life.

I look back at my life and see that I was actually "out of my mind" when it came to food.  I did not see food as something to sustain life, a daily ritual to feed my body, or even something to be enjoyed.  I was anything but logical.  I ate out of big feelings and I ate to avoid big feelings.  I was desperate to consume more and I was desperate to quit.  Because these feelings were so deep, so strong, so powerful, I couldn't see.  I couldn't see what I was doing and therefore I couldn't see a way out.  The day I stopped in the face of a mountain of baked goods and breathed instead of mindlessly consuming,  was the day that changed my life.  I was alone and no one but my friend knew I had those cookies.  I could've eaten the entire pile and hidden all evidence.  I know I could've because I've done it so many times before.  But, because by the grace of God I leaned in to my pain, felt my fear, and still lived to tell about it, now I am free.  I still had a long road ahead as one hundred pounds did not fall off that day.  There was much work to be done and more discomfort to feel, but I knew things would never be the same.  And they never have been.

So you're probably left wondering, "What do I actually DO?"  How do I change without a plan, a diet, or a book? I would give anything to be able to give you what you want.  Sadly all I can do is invite you into your own pain.  All I can offer is asking you to find your place of fear; become a detective in your own life.  When do I overeat? How do I feel when I'm about to overeat?  How do I see food?  When is a time I have felt anxious or when I am out of control?  Once you find it, then I ask you to sit.  Sit and feel.  Sit and feel and breathe.  Breathe a lot.  Once you've started to recognize and feel and be present in the moment you will need to process.  The feelings need somewhere to go.  For me, I was able to do this with a weekly "meeting" online with friends exploring the same issues in addition to talking with my sister, husband, and best friend.  I think this could be done most effectively with a quality counselor.  Weekly.  If not, more frequently.  There is much to feel and much to reflect on and many connections to be made, but there is also much hope.  The beauty is, once these feelings are felt and released, they leave you alone; for good.  Like a counselor professor I once knew said "Things that are not completely dealt with in a horror movie, always return...and always at the worst possible times."  It my be more comfortable to "put these things down" with a cookie (or ten), but they will always, always, always come back.  Once we stop appeasing our hurt and bribing it to stay quiet, we are free.  Christ has come to set us free.  He bore our pain at great price and the least we can do is let him have it.

(I have one more post of practical "tips" that were helpful for me in the day to day.  But, I cannot emphasize how UNhelpful they will be without this critical step.  It IS what made this time around different.  I pray it will be different for you too)


Kami said...

It's really cool to read your story. Looking forward to talking with you more about it.

Carolyn said...

Wow, thanks for writing all this out. Makes me think about my various forms of escapism.