When the Disordered Behavior Really Started

overwhelmedIt was four years ago this week that I realized I was losing control. Below the surface, beyond what I was willing (or able) to access, was terror. My life’s reality was more than overwhelming: I had a demanding toddler, a helpless infant, a sick grandmother, a crushing real estate sob story, pressure-building freelance work, a body I couldn’t accept…and I was responding to my circumstances by binge-eating, my mind’s default disaster-recovery setting. If I only knew then what I know now, I’d have accepted that I had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

I see this clearly now, but at the time, I was quite literally stuck in a hopeless place. I wore a veil of optimism, believing, rightfully so, that everything was going to be “ok” (and it was). I didn’t know that I had the option of looking at my life’s challenges and feeling something about them–without judgment. I believed that what I needed to do was count my blessings, show up for my family, count my blessings, finish my work, count my blessings, get enough sleep, and count my blessings. And lose weight, of course.

I didn’t give myself permission (because I didn’t believe I had permission) to acknowledge my thoughts or honor my emotions about any of the things that were happening in my life at the time:

  • My “lost” life as a non-mom. I always wanted a family, and knew that God blessed me with two adorable babies. But why was I mourning my old life and resenting my chosen life–feeling guilty about all-of-the-above? I despised sitting on the floor playing with toys or watching asinine cartoons. I hated myself for preferring to work, write, think, anything, but sit in this seemingly empty kid-space.
  • My financial failure. Earlier in this same year, my condo’s short-sale was completed. The beautiful condo I bought (financed) all by myself in 2005 was sold for under $40k–over $100,000 less than it was worth back in the good old days. I qualified for a hardship, thanks to the fact that I wasn’t working full-time after the f*cking real estate crash, and “couldn’t” make my payments. I literally couldn’t answer collections phone calls and my husband had to shield all financial documents from me because I was so vulnerable to a downward spiral–and I needed to be there for myself and the family. It was humiliating on so many levels.
  • My grandma’s health. My grandma, with whom I was closer than close, began to go downhill at a fast pace. Her mind, in particular, was failing her…and her body was following. My mom had to make the painful (excruciating, really) decision to place grandma in nursing home care. But first, she had to undergo a series of tests at the hospital, which led certain family members to begin planning her funeral. The pressure-cooker of pain and fear that overcame my entire extended family was basically too much. I don’t think I cried–I tried, but couldn’t.

I’ll add that in this year, my family had moved into our new house and I gave birth to my son. My working and childcare situations continued to shift around, and we were generally exhausted all of the time. Pretty typical stuff for people in my life stage! (All the more reason to beat myself up for not being “happy” all of the time.)

It’s really no wonder, then, that at some point (this week, 4 years ago) I started eating candy on auto-pilot. I was eating Oreos like they were potato chips. While I ate “normal” meals and stuck to a generally “healthy” daily diet, I couldn’t control what I was putting in my mouth once I took that first piece of candy or cookie. I was binge-eating–something that most people do at some time or another, right?–and I didn’t understand what was happening. I used to eat a few Oreos at a time, sure, but half a package?

While I was able to connect the dots between life stress and “stress eating,” I believed (at the time) that there was something wrong with me and I needed to be fixed. I believed that my food behaviors were the problem (driven, of course, by my insane mind) and that I just needed to get my junk food eating under control. As soon as I wasn’t binge-eating sweets and treats, I figured, I could carry on with my life.

It never occurred to me that food wasn’t the problem at all. Binge-eating was a symptom of my inability (giving myself a big hug as I write this) to fully experience what was happening in my life–to remove all judgment from every thought or feeling or behavior that wasn’t consistent with my desire to be a happy, blessed, capable person. I didn’t have the knowledge or skills, despite my ongoing self-help and talk therapy work, to take care of myself from the inside-out. If I was being honest with myself, I was kind of disgusted and disappointed in myself…so why take that trip deep inside?

Being inside of myself, you see, was (and sometimes still is) a painful place. My subconscious was a place where I felt like a failure and therefore unworthy of the “fixing” I needed. In my consciousness, however, I prided myself on my accomplishments! I was a great student! I was talented! I bought a condo! I earned an MBA! I was “funny” and people like me!

I didn’t understand how I could possibly fail to embrace my life as a mother, how I could possibly fail (yet again) to manage my finances, how I could possibly survive without my grandma. And how could I allow myself to have a fat body and lose control of the food I’m putting into my mouth?!

You can read back through the 4 years of blog posts to see what I tried to do to gain control of my eating–to “fix” this food problem. I was so sincere, yet so misguided. What I’ve learned recently about recovering into myself is so difficult to put into words (I’ll find them, someday). But if I could go back in time and do things differently, I wouldn’t be so quick to blame myself for the bad, sad feelings I wasn’t letting myself accept. I wouldn’t have dug myself deeper into the trenches of diet culture. I would have found God and faith and Lovingkindness in a way that didn’t require an admission of powerlessness. But hindsight is 20/20, and I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been there.

I’m still dealing with uncomfortable “mom” thoughts and feelings, and I’m still grappling with financial fears. My grandmother has reached the “other side” and I know she’s praying for me and supporting me from her sacred realm. She’s with my other grandparents, in fact, and I envision them looking down at their granddaughter and smiling, remembering what it was like to be a middle-aged adult with a worldly life filled with first-world problems. 😉 I think they’re helping me accept that I’m not defined by my thoughts and that my feelings are valid and that I’m really OK just as I am.

I’m happy that today, I’m receiving the support I need to put an end to the disordered eating (the disordered thinking, really!) and I’m inspired to put my insights to work outside of myself. I want to help others who feel hopeless and stuck–who feel like they’ve landed in a strange place without the understanding or tools they need to navigate safely.

Now let’s go forward, together, with a little less fear of that Halloween candy, ok?

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