Do you think that healing is a linear path? That once you start getting healthier, you’ll just keep getting healthier, with no backsliding?
Nope. Relapse is part of the process. If your buttons get pushed just a little too hard, if the pressures of the world become just a little too much, there’s a chance you may fall back into your old ways. What’s important is what you do after the fact. Let me repeat that, for all of you who are so black and white, so hard on yourselves, thinking that one wrong step means the whole shebang has gone to shit: what’s important is what you do after the fact.
And here’s a story from my own life to illustrate.
By November of 2008, I had been involved in some very intense emotional and spiritual healing work for several years. I was also midway through holistic nutrition school. I was much healthier than I ever had been, both psychologically and physically, and most days, I simply didn’t crave sugar like I used to.
November 11 marked my last day of working at a job that reflected my old way of being, and mirrored some of the dark and unhealthy dynamics I had grown up with.
I was also moving to Colorado three weeks after my last day at work. So two huge changes were on the horizon – changes that were significant steps away from dysfunction and towards health. Now, you’d think this was positive, right? And it was. But leaving dysfunction can also be terrifying. Taking responsibility for your life, making adult choices, deciding not to be a victim – those are all frightening for those of us who are used to reacting, to keeping our heads down, to medicating and numbing our feelings. We’re used to the crazy.
I had done a lot of emotional work to prepare for my departure, but I had no way of predicting how the actual day would go. Here’s what happened.
I ate a good breakfast and commuted for the last time to the dark, institutional building. As I sat for the last time in my office and began my morning, I suddenly became hyper-aware that the whole building was dotted with plastic mini jack o’lanterns full of crappy Halloween candy. Now, candy has never really tempted me at all. My kryptonite is baked goods. But on November 11, 2008, I could not stop eating those fun-sized packets of Reeses Pieces. By the end of the work day, I had probably consumed the equivalent of an entire bag of Reeses Pieces. (Can you relate to that – binging on a food that you don’t even like?!?)
At this point, you might be doing a couple of things. Your jaw might be on the floor, ’cause you couldn’t imagine me – holistic health champion, town crier of ‘feeling your feelings’, eating several pounds worth of fake chocolate candy. Believe it. You might be nodding your head in recognition. Yep, that’s how I know how to do the work I do – because I have been there.
You might also be wondering, “but why didn’t she use her tools to avoid the binge?” Sisters and brothers, I was in what I call the “red zone” (a term I borrow from Cesar Millan, who uses it to describe when a dog is out of control). If you’ve ever binged, or been compulsive about any other addictive behavior, you probably know what I’m talking about. I was in freight-train mode; there’s no way I could have stopped. It happens.
I finished the work day, went home, and treated myself to a nice sushi dinner. I then proceeded to prowl the streets, seeking a substance to soothe a feeling that I knew, dimly, could not be soothed with a substance. By the time the dust had settled, I had hit up two ice cream stores and the donut shop.
And by then I was in so much pain that I had to stop. I went home and crashed.
What I did was extreme and I have no desire to sensationalize it. The reason I’m revealing as much as I am is so that you can see two things. One, there is no explanation for this kind of insanity other than this: I was numbing out feelings that I could not bear to feel. Two, I had been on a serious healing path for a few years when this happened. Like I mentioned earlier, pile enough stress on and it’s possible that a slip-up may happen.
But here’s the important part, and again, the part I really want you to pay attention to. I woke up the next morning, and here’s what I didn’t do:
- I didn’t beat myself up for the binge.
- I didn’t skip breakfast to punish myself and somehow try to compensate for the calories.
- I didn’t pretend it had never happened, and rush off to distract myself.
And here’s what I did do:
- I looked rationally at the situation and saw the immense pressure I had been under. I spoke to myself kindly and soothingly and offered compassion and understanding. When my inner critic started to mock me, I stood up for myself and told her to shut up.
- Despite the fact that I wasn’t hungry, I ate a good, protein-rich breakfast.
- I took myself post-haste to the most nurturing place in my world at the time: the ocean. I lay there, first on my belly in the sand and then face-up, for hours. I breathed, looked inside, spent time with the feelings that were there, let memories run through my head and trickle out my eyes, and talked with myself. I breathed some more. I walked. I sat. I listened to what my body and my insides were asking for. And by late afternoon, I felt better.
- During the next few days, I put a laser focus on my needs. There were lots of cups of tea. There was more ocean time, lots of bath time and time curled up in bed. I cared for myself the way I would have cared for a loved one who was in pain.
That was the last bad binge I ever had. I don’t think I’ll have one like that again. I’ve had smaller ones since – these days, a binge looks very different for me – and so much of this healing process has come about because of the way I have chosen to interact with myself on an ongoing basis.
And here is what I hope you take from this: while healing is in part an organic process, some aspects of healing are about deliberate, empowered choice.
You will always reap the results of your choices. If you binge and allow your normal record of “what’s wrong with me, I suck, I’m going to pretend it didn’t happen but shame myself for it whenever I think about it and NOT explore the feelings that led to it”…not much is going to change. If you binge and make a conscious choice to explore what happened with compassion and curiosity, yeah, you’re going to feel some unpleasant feelings, but guess what: they’re in there anyway, and if you don’t deal with them, another binge is in store down the road.
My friends, good luck. Know that you can do it. If I could do it, you can do it.
If you can relate to this post and would like some assistance healing your relationship with food, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.