The spiral of change
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Picture a spiral, then picture yourself moving along it. Imagine the point at which you start is the beginning of your work on a particular issue.
For me, the issue I'm working on is how I use unhealthy actions like overeating to try to cope with stressful emotions. It's been a long journey, and many, many times I've backslid.
When I overeat to soothe my emotions, that's a single point on the spiral. I work on it, think about it, talk about it, try new techniques, and then something tumultuous happens in my life and I often go back to using food to try to cope. Sometimes when I emotionally overeat I feel like I'm trapped in the same deep, dark hole that I've been hiding in for years.
But it's not true. In between the tumult, I have moved along the spiral of my life. It may feel like nothing's changed. It may feel hopeless, but it's not. I have visited this same point on the spiral over and over, but in between, I am moving and growing and changing. I'm not stuck, and things have changed; I have changed.
I used to overeat every night, in secret -- rich, sugary foods and crunchy, salty, greasy foods. I used to eat until I felt sick. I used to eat and then I would be ashamed -- so ashamed I hated myself. I didn't know how to stop. I didn't know precisely why I did it; I just knew that I was unhappy and I ate. Even though I knew it didn't bring happiness, in the moment I always felt like it would ease things. I felt so trapped in my behaviour, so lonely and isolated.
So I reached out and asked for help. I got counselling and joined a support group and learned some cognitive techniques and some mindfulness techniques, and slowly, bit by bit, year after year, I turned to food less frequently.
I still eat for comfort sometimes, but not in the same way I did before. When I eat for comfort, I often become aware of new trigger thoughts. In this last bout, I watched myself eat in anger, and my trigger thought was 'nobody understands me.' I laughed and laughed when I realized that was the thought that preceded several bouts of emotional eating. After all, I'm on Spark, where PEOPLE REALLY DO UNDERSTAND!
Now when I eat emotionally, I don't eat as much as I used to. I don't eat until it hurts. I don't eat rich foods like I used to. Rich foods can leave me feeling quite sick, and I don't do that kind of self-harming anymore either.
I could despair and moan and wonder whether I'll ever be truly healed. But I got this far in part by learning to accept my imperfections and see my life as it really is. Emotional overeating is something that I do. It's not even rare; lots of people do it.
The upside is that when I make strides in my progress, I feel so proud. I have a goal and am moving towards it. When I feel like I'm not moving, I remind myself of where I began, long ago, on the spiral of change.