If we are experiencing disordered eating, maybe we feel we are lacking something.
Maybe we feel that we’re lacking the willpower to stop eating, to stick to the diet, to follow the food plan, to do some exercise.
Mind over matter – that’s what we’ve been told time and again.
If we could only comply a bit more – a bit less rebellious, a bit less wayward…
We use moralistic language all the time when we talk about eating. “I’ve been a good girl today… so I deserve…” or I’ve been naughty today, so I mustn’t…”. It’s pervasive.
I often wondered what was lacking in me. Why couldn’t I spend a night alone with myself? Why did I eat when I felt unsettled, untethered? When I felt the empty space arising – nothing to do, nowhere to go – why did my mind travel so effortlessly towards eating as the space filler, the anchoring force, the hand-holder in those quiet moments?
What I’m suggesting is that we lack nothing. There’s nothing missing. But we may want to grow our capacity – not for compliance, or willpower. We want to grow our capacity for being with the empty moments. We want to become more comfortable with the stillness, the silence, and the solitude.
Stillness and silence are deep needs of the soul. John O’Donohue refers to silence as the womb of the word. It is where language and communication are born. We cannot have genuine connection with others without an appreciation of where we are connecting from – the quiet space within us all. Does our culture, our society, value stillness? Haven’t we come to believe that every single waking moment of our lives must be filled with doing, achieving, entertaining…? When we have not been shown how to reside in our inner stillness, and find comfort there, nights alone become a torturous exercise of avoidance and numbing. Food and TV… Food and TV… Food and TV…
Many of us have come to realise that we eat very differently in company than when we are alone. Solitude becomes the space we reserve for processing our lives. It has not been deemed acceptable to express your struggles and growing edges within your group. So we retreat into ourselves, into secret and shameful coping mechanisms, ways of eating that would never occur within a group setting. Eating fast and hard, hurrying to the shops before they close, grabbing the forbidden fruits we have resisted for so long, we were trying so hard to be “good”. The blessed relief when we finally give in. The momentary release – ahhh, I’m no longer here. I’m gone, and the food is here. I don’t need to occupy the painful spaces of my life, the undercurrents of discontent that are calling to me.
But then the painful return to consciousness. The distended belly calling us home. Hiding the evidence. And then the creeping fear – what does this mean for future me? This means fatness, for sure. More fatness. And we all know what society says about fatness. Fat is just about the worst thing a person could be in a culture that values one body-type as the holy grail above all other things.
How do we come to reside in solitude with a sense of ease and comfort? How do we spend time alone, with the gnawing sense of discomfort, without turning to food?
We grow our capacity for stillness by being still, and feeling into ourselves.
We grow our capacity for silence by being quiet, and feeling into ourselves.
We grow our capacity for solitude by being alone, and feeling into ourselves.
Feeling into ourselves means breathing. It means lying on the floor. It means turning off the radio, the TV, the phone. It means putting on a jumper when you’re cold. Drinking a warm tea when your throat is dry. Crawling into bed, finding comfort, and allowing yourself to feel what is arising in your inner spaces.
If you are a secret eater, you’re not alone.
If you’re lonely, you’re not alone.
If you’re eating in ways that hurt you, you’re not alone.
If you can’t be with yourself, and need to escape, you’re not alone.
We are not growing our capacity to comply, to follow rules, to rigidly beat ourselves into healthy minds and bodies.
We are growing our capacity to hold our own experience.
If I want to learn to be alone and feel safe and spacious, I must be alone, and meet myself as I am, now, today.
If I want to learn to not resort to food and TV to process my experience, I must try turning off the TV and just being with myself. Even just for a moment. Just to notice what exactly I’m avoiding.
What are you so afraid of, my beloved? Why is it so hard for you to just be with you? You’re so beloved. I wish you could feel that in the empty spaces of your life. If you exist, the earth agreed to your existence. If you’re here, it’s because you’re wanted here. You have so much to offer this life. And so much to feel here. I know we haven’t been taught this – how to be still, and quiet, and alone. How to go inside and be with what is. But we can learn. I’m learning.
I love spaciousness. This is what lies on the other side of feeling what I didn’t want to feel. Open space, full of possibility, open to life.
Courage, my love. Courage to feel what you feel. Poco a poco, bit by bit, you can stay alongside yourself. You have all the time in the world. Come home to yourself. It’s not so bad, being you, after all. No need to fear what’s inside you. You are so deeply good.