In April 2018 I decided to set myself a challenge and in so doing put an old haunt to bed. It is hard knowing where to start as this topic is so huge for me. There has been a lot of unconsciousness around it being in origin a key coping mechanism that came into being from year dot, it would seem. The decision I made was to not emotionally eat: to release the need to. Like I said, not a straight forward need to release as it covers up a whole host of old unmet needs, some of which still lingers. So trying to unpick it here is going to take some doing, but needs must.
So let’s go back to the root. In my childhood I was not attended to emotionally; not by a single soul, if my memory serves me right. Much have been written and researched on this topic, especially with the human species being dependent for the longest, compared to other warm blooded mammals. To summarise, some of the development needs of the developing child is the need for security, stability, consistency, emotional support, love, education, positive role models, and structure.
As a child I had none of those needs adequately met, hence the hole that needed to be filled by ‘any means necessary,’ for the sake of survival. The human organism has to find ways to adapt to the many situations s/he can find themselves in, even if that has to be by a process of maladjustment. From very young- primary school age, food and sweets attempted to fill that situation vacant parenting gap. This is the bare bones of it, and I am not blaming here- though I can. Just lying out clearly that certain reality the foundation of my psyche and physiologically was built upon. And when foundations aren’t sturdy and strong -however spectacularly looking, when shaken and/or stirred, at some point they can come tumbling down.
As a child I grew up quickly. I had to take on the role of “looking out for myself” because no one else was. I also had to look out for myself for the bare necessity of trying to bring some kind of order, peace and structure to my days, for the 18 years childhood term: that was quite clear. I remember being in primary school, unable to focus on learning, with my mind instead being totally taken with how to get money to eat; to buy some sweets, and buy myself more dolls, and doll’s clothes. Near where I lived there was this huge toy shop that I would spend many hours in; being there filled me with such joy.
These preoccupations truly helped me to survive, as well as to have something in my life, in my day, to look forward to. I also had to create my own entertainment: television filled a lot of that space, and is still very much an escape for me today.
Oftentimes there was no food at home; oftentimes there was the long wait to eat. I always felt hungry: hungry for food, hungry for love; never feeling full-enough when food was for that moment forthcoming. I was also unable to experience fully being at peace and ease, even when good moments came knocking. They never lasted for long, so I learned not to build any hopes upon them. It all became quite a pattern.
It was of no surprise, looking back, that I went on to develop an eating disorder at 13 years old; Bulimia. Dolls begun to do very little for me around that time, so I needed to find me something else to fill my time and to cope with this incredible painful feelings of utter neediness. I needed to externalise it all; unconsciously creating a behavioural problem, to act as a dustbin to dump all my angst in. And though Bulimia cost me in certain respects- as do all substitutes for love, attention, comfort and support, it also served me: it helped me to self-soothe and emotionally regulate, much needed for psychological survival.
As children we learn to do these important things, to self-soothe and emotional & self-regulate, by our parents and caregivers; in time internalising that nurturing and care afforded us, taking over in time our own self- regulation. In the absence of this humanisation, what gets internalised instead, is an inner pain-filled emptiness of nothingness. This is how it works.
When we miss out on this nurturing, we miss an important education in (inner) life and are set up to find other less desirable ways to emotional regulate, which then turns into a ‘self-medication.’ This can be observed at the extreme end within all addictions- alcohol, drugs, sex, eating disorders, bad relationships; and at the other more “socially accepted” end of being a workaholic, self-distracting busyness, and the constant striving to be and do bigger, better, best: all inner complexes that the world of advertisement and its father capitalism lives and breathes to feed.
I am no longer Bulimic, and have not been for over 30 years, but I would say that in my head, when stressed, my over preoccupation with food, eating and weight, still remained. When I am feeling emotional alone without the comforting presence of another soul, the need to comfort eat, peaks. I still do not feel I have that certain someone to turn to and get some of my emotional needs met. Outside of personal therapy, which has emotionally corrected a lot that had gone awry within my young life/me, in this regard, I still feel starved.
Maybe in learning to be with myself, with the full range of my angst when it presents, without distracting and escaping through preoccupation with food and being consumed with what & when I will eat, next, maybe I will find other things besides food and the same old, to help pick me up and have to look forward to..
To my mind, releasing the need to emotionally eat is a renewal of the commitment I made to myself in 1986. Now I am being called to a deeper self intimacy, which I do not take lightly, as on some days, and at certain times of the day, bearing these “difficult” “impossible” “needy” feeling states, that emotional eating used to help me escape, takes some doing; the sheer intensity of those feeling! Sometimes it feels like I am in actual physical labour, deep in at the place where one experiences the greatest pain, just before the sweetest (bundle of) joy…
Still waiting, and trying to trust in the process, of having more lasting peace and joy reside inside me…
watch this space..
Peace & Love,