I guess this post deserves a trigger warning. I’m going to talk about my recent experience of emotional eating, something that I have never consciously recognized as a thing I did until the last few weeks. I want to explore what I am perceiving inside me as I address these feelings and “urges” explicitly. I am bringing to this discussion my experience as a therapist and client in therapy for many years. Your mileage may vary. If you don’t agree with what I say, you may feel free to say so but I’m asking you, reader, to be kind because the events that have led me here are painful and personal.
Challenges, I’m having them, the kind that impose themselves unwanted, unbidden and undeserved. That’s okay, it’s part of life. Over all, I’m doing really well. After a few days of anxious dissociation, followed by disembodied calm, I have settled into a proto-new-normal. I’m stabilizing things, mobilizing others and realizing that I am absolutely going to be totally fine no matter how this all shakes out at the end. (Yes, I’m deliberately vague, but pick your major life issue, any would really fit here)
On the activity end, I am being vigilant about getting outside every day with the dog and doing yoga about twice a week. This is for my mental health and to keep my body moving. I’ve also gone to get body work done because as soon as this stress hit, every chronic thing regressed at lightening speed to it’s preferred natural state. My left side body likes to collapse in on itself setting off a whole bunch of issues everywhere. So, resources are going there. I love Osteopathy personally for that sort of thing but in the state I’m in any thing from Reiki to a Swedish Massage with a giant man named “Bjorn” would have been fine. Just the presence of another human whose nervous system is something below full throttle saying they will take care of me is probably a benefit. I just described over a quarter of the reason therapy works in that last sentence. Sitting in front of a person with their own feet on the ground who cares is a real life line in these terrible times.
Anyway, back to eating. The last time I was this stressed were events around my divorce around 13 years ago. It was a much worse situation then. My kids were younger and I didn’t have a job. I was desperate and dependant on people who didn’t have my best interests necessarily in mind. I couldn’t eat and I lost a scary amount of weight. I did not want that to replicate itself in this current situation. I have a lot more to hang onto and also a lot more to lose. I have to be present for clients and students in demanding environments. Having a starving brain is not optimal. So I went to the doctor and explained that I didn’t want to get addicted to Ativan, what other options were there? She suggested Remeron, an atypical anti-depressant, because it made a person sleepy, quelled nighttime anxiety and boosted appetite. Cool, all that currently ails me.
Now many of you probably have experienced the fact that anti-depressant medication doesn’t fix the things that you don’t have control over. All it does is settle down or level up some inner physiology, allowing you to stay in a “window of tolerance” of your emotions more easily. Amongst many other things, that means I could continue to think and make decisions without the dissociation or extreme numbing. I was also more rested, which contributes to resilience. I could hang on to all the things that I know about me. And then there it was, this new thing.
How curious. At night, after all my work was done (oh work, you great distracter), I felt a pull to the kitchen. Now it’s not like I’ve never snacked at night. If I stay up really late, I actually get hungry and can eat another meal. But this was a decidedly different feeling. It was new, a yearning. I was not hungry. I was not even peckish. I was certainly sad and. . .empty, not overwhelmingly so, but clearly and emphatically so. That emptiness declared to me, “Eat.” So I did. The first time I really mindfully paid attention to the phenomenon was about three days into the behaviour. That time, when my body said, “Eat.” I chose home made chocolate chip cookies and went about noticing what happened when I ate them. I found that the particular sad that was this empty feeling was not just filled, but actually comforted. It was like I was interacting with a person who was giving me a little love. It was, in fact, regulating.
Now people, I’m sure you are going to have feelings about this. I ate two more cookies and was comforted. I let that comfort wash over me in all it’s sugar-butter-egg-flour-chocolate glory and I was not sorry. I was not, in that moment going to deny the pleasure and peace I was experiencing. Then I took my Remeron and went to bed.
I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do with all this knowing. I know that “emotional eating” is a real experience that many people struggle with. Yet there is no denying that eating is not merely a function of the body. It represents many things according to context including pleasure, expression, connection, memory, hope, fun and satisfaction. I am not going to be sad forever. I also think that by allowing the empty space to be filled up just a little by a cookie, I am not doing myself any great disservice or starting down the road to hell. It took up a cookie sized space and the rest of the pain is still there to work through. I’m not going to, nor would I every be able to, plaster it over with cookies and I don’t think I have to try. So is this what I’m doing? Mindfully emotionally eating? Letting the comfort in for what it is and tending to myself in all the ways. I guess that’s what I’m doing.