It’s not uncommon for me to feel overcome by my emotions. (I suppose this is the price that comes with being a cancer- lots of feelings, both good and bad.) Unfortunately my primary immediate response to this, the one I’ve unintentionally developed in the last 9 years, is to try to block out the sensation of any “negative” emotion as quickly as possible. I think this initially happened following my first breakup at age 16 (after a year long relationship). The first few days I didn’t stop crying, didn’t eat, didn’t get out of bed. Once I had to go back to school the pain of facing the unavoidable (our school had 200 students in the high school) required that I find a way to numb my feelings to make it through the day. It wasn’t long before I found my answer: eating. Food would become something I could turn to for both solace and pleasure, and by my senior year going to Stewarts’ for extra thick chocolate peanut butter cup milk shakes was a weekly activity. I switched from running track to managing the track team- preferring to abstain from trying to keep up with my peers and instead hanging out on the sidelines.
What I didn’t realize is that I had bought myself a first class ticket to the downward spiral that comes with eating your feelings while simultaneously accepting the message that only thin is beautiful.
I spent most of college alternating between binge eating and calorie counting, preferring to stay in while my friends went out to avoid the extra alcohol calories. Deep pain from my parents divorce at age 17 (something that was impending for most of my childhood but still devastated me) manifested itself with me throwing myself into a serious long distance relationship that helped me escape my day to day life and feelings. (Ah the things we figure out in therapy).
My junior year of college I joined a gym in London, and started going six days a week. I got into the best shape of my life and wasn’t obsessing over food- though even as a size 4/6 I never thought of myself as thin. Once I was back in the States and my schedule changed I slowly fell back into old habits, and the weight crept back on without me ever realizing it was happening.
Fast forward through some end of college relationship drama and you’ll find me post-college, hurtling head long into having a full blown binge eating disorder. I alternated between intense self-hate and intense apathy. When it came down to it, eating until I felt sick- and then focusing on feeling sick- was easier than feeling, or dealing with, whatever emotions were truly at hand. (Again- therapy.)
Shortly after turning 23 I decided it was time to really learn how to love and take care of myself. I ended an unhealthy (for me) relationship, started reading books on the topic, quit my job (and the toxic environment it had me in), started seeing a therapist, and sought out more enjoyable forms of exercise. I began confiding in friends who shared their own experience, making me feel like I wasn’t alone in my self-image hell. I’ll be grateful for and to these friends for the rest of my life.
Unfortunately like most startups, my progress hasn’t been the straight up and to the right graph we all hope for. Fortunately what I have learned is that life will never look like that graph. There will always be peaks and valleys- and you couldn’t truly appreciate one without the other (the goal is to learn how to move through both gracefully).
I’ve recently started putting more effort into meditation- the headspace app has been a godsend. The effort to be more mindful (and everything from here out is probably going to sound like what my sister would call “so California”) has been challenging, but I can already feel the effects after two weeks of daily mediation. The sneaky thing about being present is that it sounds easy in theory- but it’s freaking hard in practice. Sure I can take deep breaths and count to ten repeatedly while sitting on the floor of my bedroom. What’s harder is using mindfulness to forgive myself for binge eating, or accept the things in my life I can’t control in the moment.
But it’s definitely helping, and I feel good about the direction it’s taking me in.