It’s been a tough month. Between a triple whammy of hurricanes, multiple earthquakes in Mexico, and the mass shooting in Las Vegas (not to mention ongoing issues with racism, an escalating situation with North Korea, and, you know, the usual issues of hunger, poverty, abuse, disease, etc.), it’s not exactly an easy time to be alive on Planet Earth. Especially for those of us who are sensitive.
The never-ending tragedies have me wondering about lots of things.
I wonder if the world as we know it will soon be a thing of the past.
I wonder if I have a role to play in healing all of the hurt out there.
And also: I wonder how many people are eating to numb right now.
There are certainly good reasons to do so. For many of us, feeling all of this is just too much. We suspect that if we allowed ourselves to connect with so much pain, we’d slip into a black hole of despair, a hole that we just might end up stuck in forever.
So naturally, we protect ourselves from the black hole by eating. (Or dieting. Or drinking. Or shopping. Or watching mindless TV. Or staying super-busy. Or obsessing over the cellulite on our thighs).
The coping mechanism is largely irrelevant. No matter what it looks like, our motivation is the same:
To. Not. Feel.
In Geneen Roth’s brilliant book Women, Food, and God, she writes:
“If compulsive eating is anything, it’s a way we leave ourselves when life gets hard. When we don’t want to notice what is going on. Compulsive eating is a way we distance ourselves from the way things are when they are not how we want them to be.”
Does this ring a chord for you? It certainly does for me. It describes exactly what I did for years, although I didn’t know it at the time. I thought my binge-eating happened because I lacked willpower – but the truth is, it happened because I didn’t know how to feel my feelings.
“Obsession [with food] gives you something to do besides having your heart shattered by heart-shattering events…Obsession gives you a plane ticket out of a particular kind of heartbreak…It creates a parallel world, a hologram of emotions, passions, breathtaking reversals. It gives you the illusion of feeling everything without having to be vulnerable to anything…There is madness in obsession, yes, but its value is that it drowns out the madness of life.”
If you’ve been eating to numb as a response to world events this past month, I don’t blame you.
And at the same time, I suspect that it’s not something you’re happy about.
Because somewhere deep down inside, you know that life – even its pain – is meant to be lived. Not numbed.
As I slowly realized this in my own journey, and started practicing being present with my feelings, a whole new world opened up.
I learned that I’m capable of holding space for pain – both my own and the world’s. I learned that yes, it’s difficult to BE with tough feelings – but the reward is that it opens up a new kind of aliveness.
As Geneen writes:
“When you don’t leave yourself, a different life is lived. One that includes vulnerability and tenderness and fragility and changes the landscape – makes it verdant, wider, breathtaking – of life as you know it.”
Here’s what I want you to know: there is life beyond numbing with food. And it starts with your willingness to stay with yourself, even when you’re feeling the pain of natural disasters and mass shootings and you fear it will break you into a million pieces.
It won’t. Stick with it all the way through, and eventually you’ll realize that feeling the pain doesn’t mean breaking down – it means breaking through.
A few things to keep in mind:
1) Feeling is not the same thing as getting caught up in your mind’s crazy stories. How can you tell the difference between the two?
You feel here and now – you can only feel your feelings in the present moment. It largely happens without thought; instead it’s something you, well, FEEL. Once thoughts enter the picture, you’re thinking, not feeling, and you’re in the past or future, not the present.
So as you sit with your feelings, notice if thoughts try to hijack your experience (they will), and practice coming back, again and again, to your breath or your heartbeat or the sensation of clothes on your skin.
Your mind is full of crazy, fear-based stories (so is mine, so is everyone’s) – but we can create space between us and the stories by recognizing that the stories are like clouds floating in the sky – and we are the sky itself. We are so much more than our stories. When we recognize that we don’t HAVE to buy into them, we allow in a new level of freedom.
2) Feeling is not the same as wallowing. As above, wallowing comes from the mind’s stories.
3) Be very, very kind, gentle, and compassionate with yourself as you feel your feelings. Don’t judge or shame yourself for anything that comes up. Practice extreme self-care – i.e. – do LOTS of things that nourish you. One of my clients shared that for her, nourishing herself through this week has looked like extra sleep, quiet baths, gentle movement, and even giving extra care to daily activities like making her bed. It may look different for you; do what feels right.
4) This is not easy. It takes courage. And you can do it. In fact, it is what you were born to do, because our pain is a doorway to our awakening.
Sending you unconditional love and holding space for your breakthrough,
P.S. – Are you intrigued by these quotes from Women, Food, and God? I’m happy to report that it’s the book we’ll be reading in the next round of Food Freedom Book Club! Stay tuned for details.