With all due respect to FDR, I fear food more than I fear fear.
I had some high anxiety days this week. And while I am sure that my life would be more comfortable if I didn’t have moments of…well, discomfort…I won’t complain. It turns out that’s just not the way life goes. For anybody. And it was good to be reminded of some things.
Like that it’s nice to not only be able to feel, but also to be able to accurately recognize feelings. To be able to name them. I can say, “Hey! I’m feeling a little anxious today.” Which I couldn’t do when I was eating compulsively. Because I would eat my feelings before I knew what they were. I wouldn’t even recognize that I was having feelings, because everything masqueraded as hunger. I was well into adulthood before I realized that my yearning for food was really just yearning to get high. I just wanted to numb out.
When I stopped eating sugar and carbohydrates, and put boundaries around my food, one of the rules I took on was eating 3 meals a day. They are big, abundant, filling, and healthy meals. But there are exactly 3 of them. I do not snack. I do not save a little of a meal and put it aside for later. I do not graze. Three times a day, it is time for eating. And the rest of the time, it is not. The rest of the time it is time to do something else.
This is important because I cannot eat my feelings anymore. I may get to escape them for 20 minutes to an hour at any given meal time. But when dinner is done, and especially since there is no sugar in my meals to drug me, there is no getting away from myself. And that has proven to be a blessing.
Because it happens that you don’t get to pick and choose your feelings. You don’t get to feel and enjoy fun, joy and camaraderie if you insist on stuffing pain, anxiety and unhappiness.
It was actually something that surprised me when I stopped eating sugar. I found that I often wanted to eat because my happiness or excitement was overwhelming. It wasn’t just “bad” feelings that I found uncomfortable, it was all feelings.
So when I first stopped eating sugar and started only eating 3 times a day, I would think that I was hungry, but I wouldn’t eat. Because it wasn’t time. And then that hunger would grow and change. First into discomfort, and then into a feeling. A feeling I could grasp and name.
And none of those feelings ever killed me. Look! I’m still here! Breathing, even! And no longer afraid to feel things. Even yucky things. Like shame and jealousy and anger and embarrassment. I may not like those feelings, but I don’t have to fear them either. They always turn out to be paper tigers. Where as the food, the sugar and the constant eating and the obsession that I used to use to avoid those feelings, was killing me. Both physically and emotionally.
There is one other thing that my anxiety this week has me grateful for. It was good to remember that every feeling doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes feelings mean something. Many of my less pleasurable feelings have been signs that I needed to make some changes in my life.
But I don’t think I was learning any major life lessons this week. There was nothing in particular that triggered my mild panic. I don’t think recreational crocheting should make my heart race and fill me with dread. Which is what I was doing when I started to feel the impending doom. I think I am a person with a naturally anxious disposition. And it doesn’t mean anything about me.
I used to think that everything was a sign. That everything had a deeper, hidden meaning. That I was a puzzle that I was supposed to solve.
Now I suppose that may be true. But I stopped trying to solve the puzzle that is Kate. I stopped worrying about the hidden meaning. I figure that hormones and brain chemicals have a lot to do with my reactions to day to day experiences. That living in a body is complicated and strange no matter how healthy, sane, and well-balanced you are. And that if there is a major life lesson to learn, I will certainly learn it. It’s my experience that life is a strict schoolmaster. It doesn’t just let you off the hook. If there’s a lesson, there’s a test. And you will have to take that test as many times as it takes for you to ace it.
So for today I am grateful that my anxiety has passed. But more, that I know when I am afraid. And that I know better than to fear fear.