This past winter I experienced a clearinghouse of death. I lost everything from my confidante Hector the Beta fish, to my first love and that five-year friendship to my confidence in what I believed to be true. I had no job, very few friends in San Diego, my Life Coach business was winding down on clients, and the abyss opened up. Most of these endings happened within a weeks’ time the end of December to the first few days of January.
What’s a girl to do? I pulled my skirt out of my back pocket and manned up. But I did that in a very different way than I had in the past. Instead sucking it up and blocking out the pain I let myself feel my feelings. I kept going to yoga. And I cried while doing my Vinyasa’s. I kept walking and running and cried during that. I cried when writing and reading and in dark movie theaters during comedies. I was a soggy mess. Hey I’m a girl for the love of god we cry. The point is I felt my emotions but I did not become them, which means they did not overwhelmed me for the first time in my life. I did not define myself by my wounds, my sadness or my loss. They were a part of me, a part of my life in that moment but not the whole of me nor would they be anything but transitory. Like life, they’re here and then they’re gone.
I knew to do this because of Weight Watchers. I have been in Weight Watchers for about 9 years on and off. Prior to that I have tried every diet I came across from the Suzanne Sommers diet, Atkins, The Zone, the Color diet where I ate only green food one day, red food the next which incidentally covers Twizzlers nicely. Nothing worked. I got a personal trainer, saw a nutritionist, fell on and off every routine I ever started. I would wait till the next Monday, month or bathing suit season to get back on again. I hated myself and did not believe anyone who said or showed they loved me. How could they? I was fat. That sole fact, defined all of who I was. I knew I would have a better life when I was fit, thin and no longer huffed and puffed going up stairs.
I was not fat because I loved food; I was fat because what I used food for. Food was love, food was comfort and food was a way to numb. It was a way to stuff and not feel my emotions. Food was my drug of choice. Not till I learned the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger did I start to get on the right track. I learned some of that at Weight Watchers who teach that it’s a life style change not a diet. They helped me find concrete tools to work with to figure out what was going on. I played with those tools for years before actually using them, much less understanding how they related to me.
There are different levels of knowing. The first level is intellectual. You understand a concept. For me it was understanding that I am an emotional eater. That meant I ate when I was not physically hungry but in times of stress, anger, sadness, anxiety, boredom, you name it I ate it. The second level of knowledge is the emotional, heart level; here I learned to connect the dots to how I felt when I ate during times of high emotional content. I learned to feel the difference in my body between emotional and physical hunger. I found that my mood worsened after eating for any other reason than physical hunger. The last level is to the bone, soul knowledge. Here I came to understand that eating not only made it worse it did not fill that void, the need, or sooth what was ailing but other things did. I learned to find better tools to self- sooth.
This progression is what took years. I don’t think that this would take years for everyone but I was hugely resistant to looking at where the problem really lived, which was in my tiny little bird like skull. I was holding on to the idea of being happier with numb on the surface and self-loathing at the core. What can I say I am somewhat a nitwit.
It is like peeling an onion, one translucent layer at a time. None of this was about weight loss it was about finding self-worth from within not from an external source. Carl Jung said, “Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens. I did just that. I looked at all the ways I dealt with loss, insecurity, anger, sadness, even joy. When I felt a flash of an emotion I stuffed it down with food. The feeling were too big, I didn’t want that tidal wave to crash over me and sweep me out to sea. And being a big girl I knew I could eat them and I did. I did it three pieces of pizza, 4 donuts and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s at a time. I know it seems odd to have joy listed there, right? But really it makes sense, if I had something good I knew it was going to end or be taken away from me. What was the point of the high if the low was right behind it? I wanted numb, no highs, no lows, no emotions to tip the scales on either side. Since I have a pulse I have emotions, so this was a shitty way of managing my life.
By using small steps I found better coping mechanisms than eating to self- sooth. When I took a walk I felt better, especially when the emotion was along the lines of anxiety or anger. Movement seemed to disperse them faster than writing in my journal (which was another coping mechanism). Especially walking at the beach– a place that was big enough to hold all the emotion I was feeling–was the best. My dear friend Suzanne taught me about beach walks in terms of bringing your “bad” there. My move to San Diego made beach walks a viable option and I used them as often as I needed. Besides walking I learned that yoga, journaling or talking to someone I love who made me laugh always made me feel better. Eating did not; in fact it consistently made it worse.
I don’t want you to get the idea I stopped running to food to sooth me. I did not and still do occasionally. It took me about 2 years to really see that eating when I was trying to negotiate my emotions was like hitting myself in the head with a 2×4 it never made me feel better and never would. Sometimes when things were very bad I would have to use more than one good coping skill to right myself. I would string them together by taking a walk then sitting in a café and journaling, which would help tip me upright.
Being reluctant, a slow learner and not a fan of emotions the next step was excruciating. I had to learn how to feel my emotion without having them take me over, drag me under, and become all of me. The hardest part was to do nothing. To stand still and just feel, not judge, not think, not run, and just be in whatever I was feeling. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the waves. They thudded into me, rocked me and made me stumble. But then they left as waves do; they receded slowly and gently. It turns out the fear of what would be, was far worse than what is.
So I went along like this every day until one of those messy emotions came popping up and I had another damn growth opportunity. Some I took, some I ate. Over time I choose better and tackled bigger emotionally charged situations without losing myself in the process. I felt stronger, more solid in who I was and I really started to love myself. The cellulite, the bumps, lumps and beauty that was all of who I was. I found out I was worth it the whole time, that weight had nothing to do with me being worthy or lovable and I believed that for the first time ever.
The real test came this past winter when the bottom fell out of my life and rocked everything I had known and challenged everything I’d learned. This is how the Universe works, as your skill progresses so do the opportunities to test them. As it turned out I could still use all those coping skills while crying, while feeling like someone eviscerated me, while mourning. I could continue to go forward while feeling like at any moment I would break apart. I did. I didn’t give up on what I had learned, or more aptly, I just kept trying. I knew if I kept taking small steps they would take me away from the scene of the crash. I also had to acknowledge I had made all the decisions that put me at the site of that crash. So there were more fucking growth opportunities and I took them with a vengeance. Taking them with a vengeance meant I really looked at my poor choices, beliefs I held that no longer served me and generally kicked around the ugly things in my head that had landed me where I was.
Having navigated that emotional wreckage I came out knowing that I was never going to make those same choices again. Not with food, not with my heart. I am happy to say I have hit my healthy weight and am at goal in Weight Watchers; in fact I am a week away from earning Lifetime. On the other hand I still have a pulse and being me that means I will be screwing up on a daily basis. But I’ve learned some lessons and I’m ready to move down the road to new mistakes. This is my job as I see it in being human. It is also my job to take care of my body, my mind, and my spirit and nobody else’s. I own my reactions to what happens around me and will forever work at trying to achieve and maintain balance, in knowing my worth and my heart despite those around me reaching for a zebra cake or a tart.