I am currently re-reading ‘The Gift Of Our Compulsions’ by Mary O’Malley. In a nutshell the book encourages us to see our compulsions as Gifts; gifts because if we can stay still enough to understand them, we would find that at the heart and bottom of compulsion is a deep Wellspring waiting to fulfil and nourish us as no external thing ever truly can. No compulsion can give us the relief that we deep down need; nor even the relief we initially experienced when we first engaged in the compulsive behaviour. And it is this very inability that makes the activity compulsive as it can never reach the underlying legitimate need.
Finding relief in compulsions is a bit like expecting eating a banana to quench your thirst when it is a drink that the body needs: the banana quenching your thirst is never going to happen. Indeed, the only thing the banana can do is temporarily distract you from how thirsty you are. You can’t fool the body, though we can spend our whole lifetime trying. The body knows what it needs and will come back to get it. The body is well equipped at doing its job, and is as equally committed. And its job? Keeping us well and strong, across the board. We give the body very little credit for this. Both we and the world very easily turn the body into ‘enemy’ then go on to treat it pretty badly, like it’s a robot without feeling and need.
In Mary O’Malley’s book we are also encouraged to not only change the way we view compulsions, but also to change the way we relate to them, bringing the light of much needed understanding and compassion to them, seen as they initially came into being to help us deal with and manage some great big difficult something. So there’s a way in which compulsions could be more readily resolved simply by seeing compulsions as more friend than foe- a treatment that also takes the sting out of them.
Compulsions come to go, being set up to serve us at one time, not for all our lifetime. The process of allowing them to pass is not an easy one considering the condition of compulsion’s ferocious and desolate heart. Not easy, though possible.
Compulsive behaviours are all kinds of addictions, like gambling, alcohol & substance misuse, compulsive eating – and all other forms of eating disorders; overworking, keeping busy, surfing the net, social media, shopping, gambling, pornography, gaming: the list is exhaustive.
In the book the author offers many simple suggestions and exercises. The exercise I will share here with you is her idea of keeping a self-awareness diary.
A self-awareness diary.
Get yourself a diary and divide the page into 3 columns. At the top of the first column write: What is taking place now? In the second column write: what is happening with my compulsion, and on the top of the third column write: What am I experiencing inside?
My compulsive behaviour (of choice) from my early teens to mid-twenties was comforting eating which developed into Bulimia. My healing journey began when I went into therapy for the eating disorder. Currently I am not bulimic and do not compulsively eat so much. What I can still do is emotionally eat, sometimes eating foods that have no real nutritional content and value, but in the moment attempts to rescue me from difficult situations and feelings- and/or compensating myself for doing too much at the expense of my own life energy.
This feeling of too much comes up often in my demanding job, as well as being within a role that is one also of emotionally giving out: emotionally giving out and therapeutically holding survivors of traumatising domestic violence. Outside of work, I also have a couple of other challenges on my plate that takes from me in similar ways.
It is a testimony of how far I have come in my general healing journey, as well as in my recovery from disordered eating, that I have not fallen back into bulimia’s misguided & crippling embrace, because currently (and ongoing for a good few years now) there is good enough reason to fall back into struggles with food. In the old eating disorder days I would have binged and purged for much less. Anyway, with the current, on occasion, emotional eating I sometimes engage in, overall- and if I do say so myself, I have a good handle on it. However, this past week at work my self-awareness diary entry would have gone like this:
First column: The Situation- the pressures of work, especially after working with a highly anxious and traumatised client.
Second column: After meeting with this client I notice the need for something sweet, reassuring, and rewarding; I felt an ancient hungering and need for compensation. Indeed, an absent colleague had left a packet of sweet oat biscuits on her desk right beside me, and I felt those biscuits taunting me with it wiles and false promises of comforting “there, there, there”😊 Within the light of self-awareness, I consciously felt- and in so doing, released- the temptation to emotionally eat. I am now more able to sit with compulsion without, in reactivity, and immediately, taking the decision to act on it.
Third column: I can sit with the feeling of emotional drain, coupled with the feelings of tired and overwhelm, feelings already in the counselling room belonging to the client and being experienced by me in counter-transference. Similar feelings I am also currently experiencing in my own ongoing and challenging life situations. I can now sit with these feeling states, as well as with the ‘sucked dry’ bodily sensation of exhausted inner tensions.
And being, like I have already mentioned, well on the recovery road, I can tolerate and contain that kind of internal angst, and delay- and/or not engage, those inner compulsive drives in a way I never could at the beginning of giving bulimia up. I know that these difficult and painful feeling states can and do pass and I am now more familiar with the felt experience of their transmutation. So I no longer stand in Process’ way because the reward and relief gained from this level of self-acceptance feeds and sustains me better than compulsively acting out ever did, or ever could.
I am currently re-reading this book because I am feeling challenged on a number of fronts and I want to ensure that compulsion don’t try to sneak in through internal, unconscious, back doors. I want to keep that bolt on, as my suffering does not need, or deserve, more suffering added on!
And in regards to self-care, I do all those mind body spiritual things to keep me well- exercise, meditation, healthier eating, living more in the moment and having greater self-appreciation and Presence. I have also taken to, these past 6 weeks, gifting myself with a ‘PJ- stay in bed all day- Saturdays.‘ Even this is an achievement in and off itself as another one of my compulsions has been ‘overdoing and busy.’ Initially I had found taking this particular monkey off my back, and simply being and relaxing, painstakingly angst-filled and mind-numbingly boring. Now that “Insperience’ too has been mostly transformed.
All is a Process and takes time. It’s taken me 33 years to be where I am, as well as to more fully realise that The Nourishment and The Joy is in the journey itself, not the destination. So try not to worry yourself too much, because as such, we already have all the time in the world that we need and don’t have to wait ‘until’ some future date to truly In Joy our lives and Being. To quote the author,
“I am not offering you a cure. that is the old style of thinking in which your healing happens sometime in the future. This process is about inviting you into relationship with what is right now, (difficult or otherwise), for that is where true healing lies.”
So, for those of you reading this blog and being not too long on Transformative Road, try keeping a self-awareness diary and see the lessons and wisdom it draws to you. Keep the diary somewhere you can make notes of what is happening both inside your body and out, throughout the day. For example, if your compulsion is with eating, keep the diary on the table in the kitchen. This exercise- and all good attention given to ourselves in this more compassionate & curious way, is exactly what is needed in the very moment we reach for our particular compulsions.
Much like a child reaching to be picked up by her mummy and be given ‘lap-time,’ which probably was the kind of thing that was missing and/or lacking when compulsion first entered the picture, just like that mother we need to reach down in those moments, pick ourselves up, and respond to our needs in more loving & appropriate self-soothing ways.
Indeed, think about that day when you first engaged the now problem behaviour… What did you really need at that time? What were you hoping the behaviour could give you…that you wasn’t getting? Is the penny dropping…?
Nothing has changed in the sense that these unmet needs are still t/here, in need of the right attention and care. And when you start giving attention to yourself in this more self-caring way, the self-awareness diary will help to shed light on the things in your life causing ongoing unhappiness and struggle. And in bringing all what ails you to attention, we are then called to do what needs being done to remedy the situation…even if that is simple acceptance: Acceptance of the truth of how situations in our lives currently are …
Discovering new ways to better change and lovingly rock & hold, those things in our lives that make us truly uncomfortable.
And as we do so, may we live more assuredly In Peace, as we walk, more reassured, to the land of our- Sweet with Milk & Honey, Dreams..
Peace & Love,