You know the scene – life is moving along, things are okay, even good, you’re feeling all right and then slam, you’re faced with a crisis or even just a minor wrench thrown into your life. You get sucked in. There’s the drama, the upset, the fear. Do you long for the same voices of support each time the same type of crisis emerges? Do you mindlessly turn to the same vices – be it alcohol, sex (was it in Judy Blume’s Forever that we were first introduced to the idea of turning to sex in reaction to a person’s death?) or food? Some “lucky” people have exercise as their go-to for emotional escape. But don’t be fooled, if you are not consciously choosing to eat, drink, exercise, or be intimate with someone, then the behavior is running you.
Be it running until your legs are jelly, working overtime at the office or consuming Oreo after Oreo, they are each an escape tool we use when we are emotionally rocked. We use these to numb ourselves and avoid life in the moment.
I am currently in the throes of yet another round of a long-running saga in my life, years in the making and full of drama. I recognize that it is not truly MY drama, but it certainly falls close to me and impacts those who I love. When news came of an upcoming event that I have very little control over but which could change my and my son’s life immediately, I hurt. I cried. All the familiar pit-in-my-stomach feelings came up. I wanted to sink into a box of cookies. But no, my mind interrupted that thought before it was even complete. That’s not what I need right now. This wasn’t me telling me I didn’t need it, it was me hearing me know that I didn’t want that. I was taken aback at my internal dialogue.
So what do I do? I wondered. In the past I would have called those friends who were in the know about this personal drama and gone over and over the details of yet another piece I had no control over. I would have sat on the couch, making minimal efforts at dinner and letting my son watch TV (already teaching him a form of escape). I would have sat with my pint of ice cream or box of Oreos and felt justified in treating my body badly simply because my heart hurt.
I am proud to say that this time, I did not do any of those things. Well, I did call my boyfriend and told him what was happening, but he is not one to let me go on and wallow when there is nothing to be done. Instead, I picked up my son early from school, took him to our CSA Farm to pick up our veggies and let him leisurely visit the farm’s animals, rather than the rushed way we seem to go through there each week. I came home and made a healthy dinner, still filling my plate with more than half vegetables as my mind continued to feel distraught. And after dinner when the urge to raid the pantry came up, first I was so glad that I don’t have any really unhealthy food around, but I also felt that internal strength once again letting me know I would be okay and I didn’t need or actually even want to turn to food for solace.
So, what’s next once you overcome the emotional eating cycle but still have those emotional moments, as we all will? The answer will be different for us all, but as we grow and practice healthier behaviors more regularly, our new toolbox will be overflowing with options that we can consciously choose to help us feel better rather than feeding the pain. For me, this time I took some deep breaths, allowed myself to be thankful for my growth and consciously enjoyed a small square of dark chocolate in peace.