Thursday, February 25, 2010

Clear Skies

I was so inspired today by Chris’ post on her blog The Deliberate Life (great title by the way) that I needed to respond to it in length. In it she talked about the buried feelings that keep us stuck in our self -destructive behaviors, namely, overeating. She also talked about how we can get really close to our dreams, only to find ourselves self-sabotaging, and not even understanding why.
Like many compulsive overeaters, I was sexually abused as a child; I was also raised by alcoholic parents who reversed the nurturing roles, so that from an early age, I was taught that taking care of others was more important than taking care of me. That kind of thinking, is hardwired into the brain, and very hard to overcome.
My knee-jerk response to emotional pain, my whole life, has been to stuff the feelings with food. It was modeled for me by the adults around me, and in fact, even encouraged, to a certain degree; then, at which point, it became the focus of ‘what was wrong with Jackie’, and everyone then began a campaign to ‘fix’ me. The result of which, was only to layer on more damage, because the over-riding message was, that I wasn’t OK the way I was, and I interpreted that, as: I wasn’t lovable the way I was. Therefore, in my mind: Thinness = Love, Fat=Rejection.
Now this would be complicated enough, in and of, itself, but when you add the fact that “love” as I knew it, was often a betrayal of trust, and simply an excuse to hurt me, then understandably, love became a double-sided sword: something that I very much longed-for, but also feared.
So it makes sense that although on one hand I would dream of being pretty and svelte like the young girls in the magazines, but when I did come close to that, I attracted all the wrong sort of people (because way-back-when my Geiger counter for such things had been thrown way out of whack.)
It didn’t help matters that when I was heavy, I was all but invisible to the boys, but when I got thinner, they were very enthusiastically seeking my attention. This made me feel hurt and confused; I couldn’t help thinking, “Wait, I’m the same person I was 6 months ago, why, now, am I worthy of your attention, when before I was completely ignored?” It made me suspicious of their motives; and seeing as my ability to trust had already been deeply damaged, this was only reinforced.
It was only after years of therapy, and years of recovery in a number of 12-Step programs, that I began to understand the intricate and complex workings of the human mind, and that mysterious phenomenon of unconscious motivation. This is a very complex affair: I can be going along, feeling everything is just fine (after all, I am well-practiced at this; I have been fine-tuning the ability to stuff my feelings, and convince myself that everything is just fine, my whole life) when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a thought or feeling is triggered, and I’m off, lost in a downward spiral of something-else-again.
At best, it can cause a bad day, or grumpy, sad, angry, etc., unexplainable, feelings; but at its worst, it can be on-going, resulting in a months-long depression that comes with other behaviors, such as over-eating and weight gain, that only worsen the situation, and the vicious cycle of self-hatred re: the state of my body.
In her post today, Chris talks about the miracle of getting an insight into the cause of the behavior, and that is the biggest kind of miracle that can occur. When we are able to short-circuit the behavior, cut it off at the pass; understand the motivation behind the behavior, before we act, then half of the battle is won.
Little by little, as we move down this road of recovery, we acquire a box of tools that help us deal with these old triggers: building a strong support system, learning how to self-nurture; learning how to love ourselves; learning how to forgive; and as we do, we become better equipped to handle, what can sometimes feel, like a tsunami of emotion.
Remember Marc from Biggest Loser a season or two back? He started out all tough, and the more he lost, the more he cried. Fat is armor. In a way, it does feel like it keeps us safe.
But I've also felt the profound beauty and depth of letting the feelings come; they feel like they will overwhelm us, and swallow us up, but they don't; some how miraculously, we come through the other side, freer and happier than ever before.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we live happily ever after; the layers of the onion continually need to be peeled. We face one challenge, come through it, and then a little way down the road, there is another one behind it. One old feeling comes up, maybe it feels like it will swallow us up for sure, but instead of running to the pantry to make it go away, we share it with a trusted friend, we journal, we scream, we cry, or all of the above.
But when we dry our eyes, we suddenly realize that we have come through it, without doing the old standard behavior, of reaching for something to make it go away. We rode it out, and when the thunderstorms clear, the sky is a deep, clear blue, full of promise for a new day.


  1. Awesome post!! :) I just commented on Chris' post too. This subject affects me personally being a girl who has ALWAYS been 'fat'. Thanks and hugs to you!!!

  2. Lots of layers and much to think about. "Fat" is seldom just "fat". You certainly have a good, pragmatic attitude about the events of your life. Thanks for sharing.


    I blogged about this in January...actually I have kind of been blogging about this from the get go.
    I knew it was mental...but before I was unwilling to face chip away at the mounds of crap that had covered everything.
    The feelings will come. I think I wrote at one point...It's okay...though you may think they will, your feelings won't kill you.
    That link is to a post that was all about shoving down my emotions with food. I think you and I have alot in common.
    Physical, emotional and in one instance sexual abuse...I know where your coming from.

  4. ugh,i'm sorry to hear about your past. must have been really rough for you. kudos for the great job you are doing overcoming it.
    i can't wait to read that blog, thanks, jackie!

  5. Jackie, you are doing awesome. I love this post.

  6. I just read this post. It's so "coincidental" that I was thinking the exact same things yesterday. I am not overweight and never been. But I overeat from time to time. But emotional issues were my focus and you being that open and honest helped me a bit. Thanks for the post!