I’m two-and-a-half years into recovery as a food addict. I haven’t eaten sugar or flour in all that time, but that doesn’t mean that my brain is fully healed and functioning optimally.
I’ve been having pain in my body for the better part of a year. Lower back, pelvis, shoulder, side. All on my right side. Different intensity day-to-day. Not every location each day. Occasionally, I am totally pain-free for a full twenty-four hours. Those are the best days.
To ease your mind, I’ll let you know that I am actively pursuing the cause of this pain in an effort to ease it. I’ve been on the trail for months, with very little progress.
This is the first time in my life I have dealt with chronic pain. Pain that demands attention. Pain that pokes and prods at me off and on throughout the day. Pain that requires a response. A repositioning. Stretching. Massage. Heat. Constant decisions and negotiations in the hopes of a few minutes or hours of focused concentration on something other than the pain.
On days when the pain is the worst, I am completely worn out by dinner at 5:30. I am irritable. I am incapable of making any decisions or engaging in even a slightly difficult conversation. I’m spent. Done. Caput.
A few months ago, I had a pain-induced epiphany. I had been managing pain all day. Sitting was uncomfortable. Standing hurt. Laying on my back with my feet on the wall was okay for a time, but I wasn’t getting anything done. I had been dealing with this higher level of pain for a few days in a row.
After dinner, I hand-washed my dishes, put them on the drying rack, and immediately wanted more food.
We don’t keep sugar in the house (thank God!) so that wasn’t an option.
I grabbed a handful of almonds and devoured them.
I needed more. Panic was setting in on a cellular level. A ravenous, animal-like drive … to avoid the pain. To soothe it.
I have learned enough about my brain, pain, and food to know I wasn’t actually hungry, and it wasn’t about the food. Typically I reach for food to soothe emotional pain. Or, more likely, to distract from it.
I needed support outside myself. I needed to vow that I wouldn’t eat over this!
I sent a Mayday text to my support chain: “Shoving the kitchen door closed. Not a bright day. My body is in so much pain!! After I ate my dinner, I had some almonds. I want to eat everything in my house. Furniture is not off limits! I am aware that bc I am in pain, I want comfort ... and some messaging in my brain says food can bring me that comfort. I feel like I want to crawl out of my skin! The kitchen is closed. I will not eat anymore today. I will cry. I will feel my feelings. I will live with the pain. I will not eat any more.”
After I sent this text, I sat on the couch with my husband, Judah, and cried, “I’m so tired. I’m tired of being in pain. I’m tired of searching for answers and feeling like no one can help me. I’m done. I feel so beat down. I’m so frustrated.”
Sending the text, saying this out loud, and crying lessened the primal grip on my soul. I still wanted out of my skin, but I no longer felt that life-and-death pull to end the discomfort and pain.
My body still hurt, but I felt heard. I felt held.
An hour later, I found myself in my bedroom, petting my cat Max. He’s an orange-and-white tabby and looks just like my cat (and best friend) growing up. I started crying again. I wanted to bury my face in his fur and weep, just like I did with my cat, Juliette, when I was a kid.
When I sat back on the couch with Judah, I said, “I found myself seeking comfort from Max. There is still a part of me that wants soothing. That isn’t settled.”
I was surprised by many things in looking back on the events of that night.
First off, had those exact events happened 3 years prior, I would have eaten anything and everything I could get my hands on, without question or awareness. I am thankful for the knowledge, experience, and healing to honestly identify what was going on and what I actually needed. Love. Care. Connection. Compassion. Not more food.
I am also struck by the desire to eat to address physical pain. Some of my physical pain was digestion-related. When food is the cause of my pain, I found it fascinating that my default response would be to use food. Logically, that makes no sense. But my baser instincts aren’t rooted in logic.
I am regularly amazed at the lengths we humans (I!) will go to in order to avoid pain and discomfort. Rather than spend a few moments of intense pain, I will do anything, no matter how destructive it may be to future me.
I can also see that my response was still based in avoiding emotions, even though physical pain was the trigger. The physical pain in my body culminated in my feeling out of control, angry, sad, defeated, hopeless, uncared about, un-fought for. Those are hard feelings to face. Risky. It can feel safer to sidestep them. To go around.
Unfortunately, they don’t leave if they are not felt or expressed. Interestingly when feeling out of control is on the line, ignoring the feeling is not actually exercising control, it is deferring the pain and allowing it to have control. If I had chosen to eat my feelings, rather than feel them, they would have won. They would have strong-armed control over me showing up in health and facing the reality I was living.
I can’t say I nail it every time. But I am learning. And growing.