Choosing Awareness Instead of Numbness
Food felt like my only friend when things were really unstable as a child. I knew that the peanut butter jar wasn’t going to forget about me or scream at me. It was always going to be there. I knew that it would give me sweet moments of comfort and care.
As I got older and I kept using food to reach that comfort place, all that food started to have a different effect. Now it created a sensation of deep numbness. The cycles were vicious. I would reach for the nearest food. I would eat it until it was gone, and keep reaching.
The more full that I would get, the more numb I would feel. The less I felt, the less I was present to experience all of the moments of life. Things would happen around me, and I would have a vague notion of emotion. Then I would stuff it down with the next round of mac n’ cheese.
Looking back, I now realize that another big reason why I numbed out with food is that it helped me to feel invisible. Using food this way made it so that I was unable to interact with people. I was either passed out in my room with a food coma, or I sat in a corner somewhere trying to not be noticed.
The self-judgment that I felt about “being fat” allowed me to check out even more. I would be disconnected (read last week’s post about Connection, instead of Secrecy) from the people around me and totally in my own world where I felt disconnected from everything, especially my body and mind.
Escaping from our physical bodies can be a powerful tool. In moments of incredible trauma, it can be a saving grace. However, prolonged self-inflicted numbness and dissociation is a recipe for a life that is deeply unfulfilling and unkind to our selves.
Now is the moment of choice. Once we recognize that we are numbing ourselves out in order to not experience the fullness of life, we have the opportunity to make different choices. I offer that creating deeper awareness is the key to overcoming numbness.
When we are aware, we start to learn what we need to satisfy the deeper hungers of our life. These are some of my deepest hungers of life fulfillment: love, care, creativity, exploration, learning, connection, etc. We each have our own idea of what fulfillment is, and when we choose awareness we begin to gain greater knowledge about our own personally fulfilling life. Identifying these deeper hungers is some of the most exciting work that I do with my clients.
Awareness can be uncovered in a myriad of ways. Today I am going to suggest
a super basic and simple awareness exercise that is an incredible way to choose more awareness in your life. It’s all about the micro-pause.
Micro-pauses. This is definitely one of my favorite tools. It doesn’t require a dedicated 20 minute meditation practice. All it requires is one moment in which you choose awareness. One pause, when you take a couple deep breaths, where you are able to come back to yourself and whatever you are experiencing in that moment.
One example of how this could work is to put a chair in front of the refrigerator and do an experiment with your self. Each time before you open the fridge, sit down and take a micro-pause.
Explore what it is like to sit down in that chair and take three conscious breaths. Where are you feeling the breath move through your body? What body sensations arise? What thoughts are present? Ask yourself: “What would really satisfy me right now?” After these three breaths, you can stand up and do whatever you want. Get more ice cream from the freezer. Go to the living room and read.
The more awareness we cultivate, the more we are able to choose our actions. The more we choose our actions, the more we are able to create our vivacious life from this moment. Micro-pauses are an awesome tool to begin to cultivate the sense of awareness and give us the knowledge we need to satisfy those deeper hungers.
Creating Practices instead of Feeling Out of Control
Those of us who have experienced extreme amounts of pain and trauma use the best tools that we have to avoid any more pain. Often the pain we are avoiding with such vehemence is not of the same severity as the original wounding, and still we desire to escape from it.
People cope in all kinds of different ways, whether or not the way they cope is effective. We can feel so out of control in our lives and what we eat can become one of the primary things that we can actually control. My go-to method was to eat as many chips and chocolate as I could.
I remember overwhelming feelings of getting in my car after work and feeling so panicked by all of the things over which I have no control. I would rush to the store and buy food so that I could go home and binge. While binging, I felt like I was the one making the decisions. No one else was telling me what to do or making me do anything.
I was still suffering when I binged. But at least it wasn’t the same kind of pain as before. At least I was in control of this pain. I did this to myself.
Paradoxically, over time, I realized that this way of eating actually made me feel incredibly out of control. While trying to control the effects of my emotions on myself, I ended up creating a “practice” of binging for myself that left me feeling totally crazy.
Instead of trying to create control, which is always an illusion, I offer that we are able to create practices for ourselves that help ground us. When we are grounded, we can feel incredibly resourceful and capable. I define a practice as a set of actions that one is committed to doing over a period of time in order to live a more fulfilling life.
Envision your ideal practice for yourself. What qualities will it have? I
personally wanted to create something that activated my body, my mind and my spirit. And I wanted to do it in the morning so that it would set the tone for my day.
At first, I envisioned a practice for myself that was incredibly intricate: 20 minutes of meditation, a half hour yoga practice and writing at least 750 words. And if I didn’t do it all then, it wasn’t worth doing any of it. If I didn’t have an hour and a half, then why bother.
This black and white thinking did not serve at all. Learn from my experience. Start small. Get down to the core of the practice. From there, explore what is the smallest action you can take to get to that core part of the experience.
I learned that taking a few conscious breaths, doing a downward dog and scribbling a few words of reflection could take me 5 minutes. Even if I just did the 5 minute version, the rest of my day felt more grounded. I felt more capable of making choices throughout the day that honored my intentions. The need to be in control dropped away because I was now choosing how to live my life.
Now that I have had this morning practice for years, I can tell you that it has been one of the single most important parts of recovering from the eating disorder. It has been the foundation upon which I have been able to grow this rocking life that I am now so grateful to live.
What might be the building blocks of your practice?
Look for next week’s installment where we will explore choosing fulfillment, instead of hopelessness, and love, instead of unworthiness.
If you are interested in learning more about my work where I support people to find freedom from the inner food battle, I would be honored to give you a complimentary Food Freedom Consultation. During this session, we will get crystal clear about where you are now, where you want to be and you walk away with some tailor-made suggestions and tools that you can implement immediately. Go here to schedule your session now.
If you are curious to find out more about what I do, check out my website at natalieforsythe.com.