Since childhood, I have stuffed my emotions and memories down with food. The more they would try to surface, the more I ate. I didn’t just eat – I inhaled my food. I shoved it down as fast as I could, barely chewing and hardly tasting it.
For decades, I have lived my life numb, dissociated from my feelings. I’ve felt no love, no joy, no sadness, no emotional pain other than with the loss of unhealthy romantic relationships. But I have recently had an epiphany – it’s not that I can’t feel emotion, it’s that I won’t allow myself to feel emotion. This might be obvious to some, but for me, I couldn’t see what was right in front of me.
As a survivor of family violence, incest, and rape, my survival instinct created in me a split from my emotional self as a means of protecting my psyche from experiencing overwhelming pain from the trauma. This split is what has allowed me to function in the world. It is also what has kept me from truly enjoying life.
About fourteen months ago, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Two months ago, she went into hospice because the chemo treatments were no longer working. On Wednesday, March 21, 2018, she passed away. During this time, I have told people and myself that I don’t feel anything. It has been my belief that I feel no sadness, no sense of grief. I have shed no tears. My emotional eating, though, has been out of control.
At some point during her illness, I stopped eating healthy things like fish and fruit, whole grains and vegetables. I’ve been drinking a minimal amount of water and a lot of caffeine. I have been existing on microwave dinners, croissants, frozen waffles, peanut butter crackers, Greek yogurt, lattés, and Forbidden Chocolate ice cream.
After having gained five pounds, I stopped getting on the scale. I know I’ve gained more weight, but that hasn’t stopped me from shoving food in my mouth. I’ve chosen to be gentle with myself, telling myself that this is how I need to handle things right now. But I have also been concerned with my weight gain, saying to myself, I hope at some point I will be able to get control of myself and return to healthy eating.
My friend pointed out to me that it has nothing to do with hoping that I will stop. It has to do with my making a choice. She pointed out to me that I have chosen to use stuffing unhealthy food as my way of grieving. It is up to me to decide to stop and to allow the emotions to surface. I hadn’t realized it, but she is right. It is all up to me. I must make the conscious decision to stop bingeing on food that does not nourish my body and soul.
This applies to all areas of my life as it pertains to my emotions. When I was younger, my psyche chose for me. It chose numbness as a means of self-preservation. But I am much stronger now. I have the tools to be able to process any emotions which I allow to surface.
In my last post, How Do I Heal from Trauma, I wrote that I need to delve into my past and revisit the traumatic events which led to my dissociation. But maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe revisiting my past isn’t necessary. The emotions are there, just below the surface. I have been making a choice to keep them at bay with food. What if all it takes is to stop stuffing food?
For years, I have attempted to live healthily. I have been able to eat well and in healthy proportions for short periods of time, but it wouldn’t take long for me to return to unhealthy eating and overeating. I think that might be because, once I stopped stuffing food, feelings got closer to the surface. Perhaps I have simply been too frightened to allow myself to feel them. What would happen if I allow myself to experience my emotions?
I know what will happen – I will be set free. Perhaps it is this freedom that scares me the most. I have been numb for so long that it has become my safety net. My dissociation has protected me from the pain of life’s trials and tribulations. But it has also kept me from experiencing all the joy life has to offer. It has kept me from truly knowing how it feels to love my friends and family. Perhaps it is time to simply let go.
So, here and now, I make the decision to stop shoving unhealthy food into my body and to claim my right to be healthy. I might falter at times. I might become so overwhelmed by my feelings that I return to shoving them back down with food. But starting today I will do my best to eat foods that nourish my body, mind, and Spirit.