food is not the answer

I've used food to numb and medicate my emotions for so long I don't have much of a handle on how to deal with my feelings without food.

Right now I should be writing a document. Arguably it’s not a hard document and yet I’m struggling. I've turned it into a big monster I don't want to look at for fear of it biting me. I just can’t get a handle on what to write, so in my head I’ve decided that if I can’t write it well (read “perfectly “) I can’t write it at all. I’m sitting here spinning, avoiding what I should be doing by surfing. Achieving nothing except increasing the possibility of getting into hot water when someone starts wondering why this document hasn’t been delivered to the client yet. Logically I know I need to just crack on. Knuckle down and write the darn thing, sentence by sentence, knowing each one won’t be perfect but I’ll have a chance to redraft each and every word all over again if really necessary. But no. I’m not finding any traction, my brain’s not engaging, the wheels are just spinning and I’m getting nowhere fast.

This is a familiar story. This is the point where I’d normally head out for a binge. Food numbs out all the noise. It doesn’t get the document written but it takes the focus away from the anxiety and somehow lets me breathe. My head gets let off from processing the emotion and instead my body’s now left with the job of processing the food. Very soon it will become fat and account for all the weight I’ve gained. The weight in turn then adds to my stress and anxiety levels – a perfect circle. It’s no magic disappearing act for the original problem either. Whatever was making me anxious in the first place is still there and is more than likely to bubble over into a level of stress food can’t numb.... eventually.

So having established the long term effectiveness of this strategy is seriously flawed and the side effects undoubtedly not worth it. How did it ever become my default position? It’s the only way I knew to feel instantly better. I've spent more of my life coping in this way than without it.

I can't remember how old I was when I first started bingeing, I remember doing so by the time I was 12 but not when or how it started. By the time I was 14 or 15 I was taking whole packets of cakes and biscuits from the larder, then icecream and family sized frozen cheesecakes from my parent's chest freezer. This was the time when I should have been emotionally developing into an adult, but instead I'd found the cheatsheets. If something was too difficult to face, I simply didn't have to process it. I could just numb it all away. Of course, as we’ve already established, the long term effect of this tactic only served to increase the angst and not make it go away. But by the time I realised the folly of my ways, the tracks set by my behaviour were deep and no alternative route seemed available.

There have been times when the emotion I’ve had to face has been just so huge that food wasn’t the answer. Times of bereavement, where there was clearly no running away from the pain, times when I’ve simply cried and let myself really FEEL. In my memory these times are characterised by calmness. They weren’t angst and anxiety ridden, they were horrific and painful but they were real.

So if I can face up to the worst life has to offer, why can’t I face up to the more everyday issues? What am I so afraid of? I build everything up to be so big. This isn't just a document it's failure at work, it's exposure for being useless and incapable. Yet somewhere deep down I know I am capable. How's that message going to get airplay?

None of this is getting my document written, but the good news is that right about now my resolve not to see bingeing as the answer is pretty strong. Without turning to food though, the problem is I don’t have the tools at my disposal to know how to deal with what I’m feeling. I'm just hoping that by stopping and taking a moment to identify what’s going on I can learn to recognise it again in the future and intercept when my instincts take me down the wrong path. And in time, I hope, learn how to set the foundations for the right path. I’ve been here before, I’ve found alternative ways to cope without food but I didn’t write it down, I didn’t leave a map and I don’t know how to get back there and make it stick this time.

By 'eck this is all just a bit too deep for a Thursday afternoon at work. If those around me knew what I was actually typing – or that I was even stressed at all – I’d be so embarrassed. I’d best sign off on this lengthy naval gazing but I’d be really interested to hear from anyone who’s been here themselves.


Hanlie said...

Ah, you've just given me an insight into my own behavior! Even though I don't binge anymore, I still "treat" myself regularly to food that is not good for me. Why? I'm after all not unhappy or frustrated. You've just made me realize that it's my way of dodging responsibility and avoiding doing things I don't particularly feel like doing at that moment! It's almost as if I'm blackmailing myself. "I'll do this if you give me a treat!" Behavior I would most certainly discourage in my child, but I've been practising myself! Truly a lightbulb moment for me! Thanks!

This growing up thing can be hard, right?

ani pesto said...

Hanlie - glad to have been of help. I get so many lightbulb moments from other people's blogs, it's such a fantastic resource - only wish I had more time to read more of them.