Do you have a trigger? No, the better question is, “What is your trigger?” I can’t imagine anyone NOT having some sore spot that opens wide when the perfect storm of circumstance fires an arrow fast through all those layers of self-protection and hits a hard-core bulls-eye, as if the armor didn’t even exist. Has that ever happened to you? It has to me. In fact, it’s happening right now.
I’m writing this post at Bernice’s coffee shop, seven hours after my trigger hit. I still feel a residual burning in my stomach. I’ve tried all my go-to work-arounds: talking it out, deep breathing, asking for hugs, fresh-squeezed juice, looking at the big picture, exercising into exhaustion. Yet, I have a cup of coffee and a cream cheese Danish next to my computer. Hold on a sec… just took another gooey bite.
Damn, that tastes good.
This is my world of emotional eating. This time, I’ve not quite descended into the gorging nightmare that used to be my stress response, as I have collected some back pocket understanding along this journey For example, I know I’m a “sensual” comfort personality type; meaning, when I stress out, physical comforts like food or massage can chaperone me back to sanity. Knowing this, my danish doesn’t have near as much guilt sprinkled on top.
Hours before, however, I got a big bite of stress. I knew pulling out the get-er-done stick wouldn’t work because that’s what caused my panic in the first place. There was too much to get done already. Too many people wanting too much time. I couldn’t keep all my commitments, let alone the promises I’ve made to myself. No time to work out. No time to write. No time to do the things I know to do in order to shape my dreams into reality. My brain went flat line, overheated by the pressurized push and pull between responsibility and desire. My body kicked into fight or flight, and I couldn’t do either. I spent the day stewing in a toxic brew of cortisol, which – I also know – is the ideal way to stay fat (learn more at my post, Chronic Stress and Weight Gain).
This I know for sure: if I want to outgrow my emotional eating — learn, heal, or do anything worth doing — all I need to do is begin to desire. I’m not talking about craving a danish. I’m talkin’ Big D Desire. I’m unpacking that secret box, the one we all keep buried in our heart’s closet of best intentions, collecting dust like unused sports equipment. Desire laden with regret as hard and cold as a bowling ball. For years, I moth-balled my desires. Then I decided to lose 100 pounds in one year. That was a big deal for me. Surrendering to this desire was scary, vulnerable, and very, very brave. Desiring is a courageous thing to do. To understand why, all I need is to notice how much I distract myself from doing exactly that. In my worst years, I chose denial over desire because I thought that would keep me from my pain. On most days, though, it’s much easier to ignore Desire and stay too busy with everyday life. That’s why Desire is enough to get the healing process started. I don’t have to go diggin’ and scrubbin’ for something to fix inside. Keeping myself in that desirous space will bring plenty of opportunity for profound work.
Most of my life, in order to keep me too busy, I’ve used my Story. Just like everyone has a trigger, everyone has a Story. It’s the play of thoughts and emotions we act out, sometimes knowing what we’re doing, sometimes not. In our Story, we are — at once — the lead, the audience, and the critic. The stage is our life. The circumstances may change, like this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park players, but the script reads the same. This morning, my Story had me as its captured audience. It would have had you hustling to the popcorn machine during intermission. Would you have ordered extra butter?
As I was getting ready for the day, familiar thoughts appeared like titles for each act.
Act 1: There’s too much to do.
Act 2: I can’t do it all.
Act 3: I am not enough.
I can slather a balm of sooth-sayings atop those cutting thoughts. There’s lots of understanding responses to every Story. The problem is, a Story must stick to the Story. Caring words are often rewritten to bring the play back ‘round to plot. It’s like having an OCD automaton for a script writer. For example, if I believe I’m not enough, then I’ll edit the kindest thought and boomerang it around in my head until it establishes that, once again, I am not enough. I’ll prove my point, even to my own detriment.
How does this relate to pounds on the scale? Consider, if I believe I am not enough, plus I’m a sensual comfort personality type, then I’ve got two options when it comes to my relationship with food
- Eat until I’m stuffed, creating a physical sensation of more than enough
- Keep weight on, building an actual barrier of body fat between me and the world, thereby making up for the weakness of my lack
There’s only one way I know to short-circuit my Story. Compassion. Self-understanding is a form of forgiveness which can disarm the toughest triggers. Ironically, it’s also one of the last tools we think of when it comes to weight loss. Jean Fain, a psychotherapist at Harvard Medical School instructor, talks about the importance of compassion in her book, “The Self-Compassion Diet.” She explains, “Most plans revolve around self-discipline, deprivation and neglect. Self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet and weight-loss plan,” OK, Jean, I’m going to experiment with compassion right now, in this coffee shop, with this post. Here goes…
First, compassion begins by asking me to resist the temptation to label my Story as a villain. “Why not choose gratitude?” it suggests. I can thank my Story for serving a needed purpose. O.K. I’ll try it out…
I want to be enough. I can see how my Story of “I am not enough” holds the promise that someday – maybe even this time – I will be enough. Thank you, Story, for keeping that desire alive.
O.K. So far, so good. Next, compassion dares me to believe that I already have my deepest desire. This is hard to see. No, actually, it blows chunks. Here’s what I want to say to that lovely nugget of wisdom…
Don’t tell me I am enough when, obviously, I’m not. You can’t tell me what to do. Everyone is telling me what to do.
Compassion isn’t putting up a fight. It’s just there, quiet, letting me rant. I’m staying angry. I’m imagining a backstory of tiny offenses to support my victim identity. I’ll do this until I’m ready to not do it anymore.
After all that, compassion still won’t condemn me for my tantrum. This level of unconditional acceptance calms my defenses, and I feel safe enough to look deeper. At these depths, stuff just seems to leak out unguarded, like it almost wants to be seen. If I’m honest with myself…
I want to be not enough.
It’s what I’m used to.
It’s what I’ve always known.
If it wasn’t this stress today, I would find something else tomorrow.
I think I am addicted to my Story.
Compassion is nodding, not with condemnation but with caring. I hear, in a soft, motherly voice, “That’s not all you are.”
I want to lean in. If compassion had a shoulder, I would rest on it. Finally, the acid in my veins is disintegrating. I can take a deep breath. This time, each expanding inhale reminds me that compassion is right; there is more to me than this. I am looking around. I remember my day. I see a new reality…
I did get a workout in today.
I am writing, right here, right now.
I will encounter understanding when I explain why I had to ditch out.
While I’m being honest…you should know that I just deleted two paragraphs that I had spent 15 minutes writing. At this point, I’m tempted to lift my struggle up into a hopeful, insightful bundle of lessons learned and bridges crossed. If I could send this post to you via snail mail, I would wrap it in a pretty bow. That’s what I was doing with those paragraphs. Then, I thought…does it have to always end on an up note? Sometimes, sure, yeah. This time, though, I would be cheating you and me both out of a truer truth.
No matter how stressed I feel, how enlightened I might sound, or how messy the space between those two extremes becomes, one thing remains: I am. I am not enough, or I am enough. But I always am. I am stressed, or I am at peace. Still, I am. What if I am is the point of it all? What if I don’t just set the standard in my life, but I am the standard? If that could be true, then there is no such thing as falling short or not being enough. Neither is there such a thing as wanting too much or being too this or too that. I am is the benchmark. I am is flexible, too. It measures exactly enough while still holding limitless potential. When I start arguing with that paradox, or devising a method to skip over it, then I get into trouble.
My methods usually depend on judging some part of me “good” or “bad,” then making adjustments from there. In contrast, compassion refrains from judging. It sees me as whole, even as I birth another sub-species of angst in the diverse ecosystem called “me.”
Where do I want to end this? No bows in sight, so I’ll just say that I am. There is no right me. There is no wrong me. Sure, I can gain more traction with some choices more than others, but always, I am. What I really desire, what I truly want, if for this I am to taste sweeter than any cream cheese danish.
This I know for sure: if I want to grow, learn, heal, or do anything worth doing, all I need go do is desire.
Enjoy more Vision Boards at pinterest.com/100Pounds/lose-100-pounds-in-1-year/
Shelby is on her most revealing and thrilling adventure yet: to find out what it’s like to lose 100 pounds in 1 year. She began on Thanksgiving 2011. Will she make it? Find out by joining Shelby on this journey, not only of the body, but of the soul and mind. Shelby lives in Missoula, Montana where she works out at The Women’s Club Health and Fitness Center. She also writes a blog about what it means to be true to ourselves at RadicallyAuthentic.wordpress.com.