My health journey begins now with one companion that has become my lifelong friend: Carolyn Coker Ross's Emotional Eating Workbook. Today, I have chosen to work my way all the way through this guide to end my battle with food once and for all. Come along with me to learn how I identified the emotional soup of my old life and began engaging in the very critical work of creating new core beliefs to underpin my new life as an empowered advocate and self-healer.
The emotional soup
The first time I learned to identify my emotions with any significance was in the summer of 2000 when I began a behavioral health day treatment and subsequent inpatient treatment program. Just weeks before, I had confided in a friend that I was seriously thinking about taking my life and that I had actually developed a plan. My friend tried her best to talk some sense into me, but with each passing day, the desire for me to end the pain only increased. It was then that I knew I needed professional help.
Growing up in home where my feelings and emotions were consistently invalidated taught me that my emotions didn't matter. I internalized messages that suggested I couldn't do or be anything I dreamed of being. I was not free to express internal experiences with any sense of safety, therefore, I held it all in until I found an acceptable outlet. I also learned that I was emotionally intense by nature due to extreme sensitivities to my surroundings and my perceptive qualities. I later found out that these innate qualities were characteristics of giftedness.
However, having never learned to properly identify what I was feeling caused me to be so overwhelmed by my emotions that I would just shut down. Eventually, I began to numb myself to the pain by using food. I found that food provided a sense of emotional safety, comfort, and solace that I never experienced growing up. One thing Dr. Ross noted in her book was that children who grow up in invalidating environments are more likely than those who don't grow in those types of settings to engage in disordered eating behaviors. Essentially, the invalidating home where I grew up created a traumatic experience that led to emotional eating and toxic stress. I believe the latter caused me to live in fear and to be distrustful of others for more than three fourths of my life.
Thirty years later
Today, at 38 years old, I now understand how past trauma impacted my body, and that has empowered me to take a holistic approach toward healing. As a result of my own adverse childhood experience and my work with other individuals with a traumatic background, I know that trauma effects the body directly. This means our bodies are the primary carriers of those past painful experiences we endured - the keeper of the memories that permeate all of our senses such that we cannot help but respond to what we see, hear, taste, touch, or smell with angst. But, healing comes by stepping out of that past and into the present moment.
Trauma kept me stuck in the past, where I made it all about the people who did me wrong. Healing, though, is an act in the present moment. My body is the key to my holistic health, but I first had to learn that it wanted my mind to catch up. Those traumatic memories that kept me stuck had to be moved to where they belonged - in the past, and I had to come to the present where my body was waiting to be healed. And now that the past pain is truly gone (but never forgotten), I have begun to live with clarity, purpose, and renewed energy. As Dr. Ross stated, "My body has become my friend." However, that doesn't mean that I don't still have struggles... More to come on that later.
Yet, here I am, a new creature in mind, body and soul, because I tapped into my body's wisdom by first understanding my emotions and how they came to be so erratic, and then I made the commitment to get healthy in life's most important domains: the physical, psycho-emotional, social, and spiritual. At this point, I'm continuing to listen to my body in the present moment, because it is this renewed body that propels me toward holistic health, happiness, and harmony.
To your health (pour ta santé)!
I've asked myself one question like a broken record for the last two years, "What makes me think I can teach anybody about conquering food and managing weight when I've been disastrous in doing both for twenty years?" So often, that question has been followed by a long stretch of silence as I sat, day after day, congealed in time and space thinking that I may never be able to overcome, let alone teach others how to overcome.
But then something struck me a year ago that I haven't been able to forget. I was watching a basketball game where my favorite player had just come back from an injury. It had been a few weeks since he had played an actual competitive game, so quite naturally, he was a bit rusty - an air ball 3-pointer, another missed 3, and another, and another.... At one point, he was 0-9 from behind the arc, but he kept fighting.
When the coach subbed him out for rest, he chose to ride the stationary bike instead of sit on the bench. He was building up for something, which was apparent in the way he stared at the players in active play while riding the bike. Once back on the floor, the atmosphere shifted. Suddenly, he returned to form - the form that had become his signature in the league, the form that produced one highlight reel after the next as he captivated the world with his game-changing style. Muscle memory kicked in and his body followed suit. He uncorked an offensive display that brought the arena to its knees. Even the opposing team's fans could be literally heard "oooohing and ahhhhing." He was back in a gritty show of resilience, putting his team on his back and willing them to victory.
One could only imagine how, at that moment, he might have come face to face with his history of recurring injury and how that experience had made it possible for him to know that he could bounce forward this time and show his full potential. It was glorious! As I watched him put on dizzying dribbling, shooting, and passing sequences that destroyed the defense time and time again, I saw the belief in his eyes. He was not going to let this game slip away. At that moment I whispered, "He believes."
When the final buzzer sounded, teammates rushed to him, patted him on the back, rubbed his head, and gave jubilant hi-fives in a great expression of joy that their leader had made it back just in time to save the day. Reporters and color commentators alike heaped praise upon him in terms only reserved for the greats. Not only had he overcome, but he also created an indelible moment in basketball history that set him apart from his peers in a league that was supposed to be out of his league.
It was then that I realized, no matter my history of personal struggle with food and weight, I still have the choice to believe in myself. Difficulty, although exasperating at times, does not negate choice. I could still choose the thing that could help me to overcome. I could believe in myself and then put in the work to achieve what might seem impossible.
The journey is ongoing, but I have won the battle because I have chosen to believe that I can do what once seemed out of reach. I have chosen to say "no" to the desire to eat and "yes" to the need to eat. "No" to a sedentary lifestyle, and "yes" to 30 minutes of walking every day, whether it's on the treadmill, the trail, or the track. I have chosen to expect holistic healing by putting in the work to rectify all the dysfunctional levels and layers that served to maintain my struggle with food and weight. I have done and am still doing this because I believe I am worth it.
Do you believe?
I am a healing artist, and I believe it is my mission to help other moms like me become masterful life synthesizers and empowered agents through the healing arts.