Monday, 21 July 2008

feeling my feelings

I've been listening to Stephen Cope's "Yoga for Emotional Flow" today, and my mind, she is blown. To be honest, I've been listening to, reading and meditating on a number of things for some time which have related to this, but this just drew it all together and suddenly things seem...well, clear.

The nutshell of what really struck me is the radical notion of actually feeling your feelings. Whatever they are, however they feel, just be with them. Don't try to change them, or make them go away. Just let them be and be with them. And particularly of interest is the fact that he says that this is the point of yoga - to bring you to feeling what you're feeling as you do it. Not losing weight, not being physically stretchier, none of the things that most people seem to put into yoga. It's to help you feel what you feel.

This is incredibly difficult for me. I don't do anger, for example - I repress, I intellectualise, I push it far away and try to smooth it out because part of me is convinced that my anger could destroy the world. I don't feel my feelings about eating either - I dive into the food, always with some distraction to prevent me from feeling it or thinking about it.

There's a whole bunch of psychological stuff I could go on about, which I'm not going to get into, but I have had a frustrating, boring and stressful day, and at the end of the day, I just wanted to eat. I left work thinking "I want to go buy Mars Bars and chicken nuggets and just STUFF MY FUCKING FACE".

But since I was listening to this CD, I thought, "well, till I get to the shops, I'll just feel this desire. I won't fight it, I won't try to repress it. I won't ignore it. I'll just feel it.

I will feel all the wanting for that volume of food that will choke down all my frustration and fury over being so frustrated.

I'll just be here.

I want to eat. I'm wanting to eat."

It was overwhelming. I walked down the street choking on sobs, really allowing myself to feel that wanting, that desperation and that feeling of eternal judgement on myself for having that wanting.

And then it left me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still sobbing like a baby - everything is making me cry - so there's clearly a lot of emotion that wants to be felt right now.

But that feeling, that desperate, repressed, frantic feeling that I had to eat right then, I had to binge, all the self-loathing I felt for having that feeling, it all went away. I mean, within a few minutes, it just...went.

And this is what is clear, all of a sudden, which I have understood in part before: maybe the largest part of my problems with eating have to do with not feeling what I'm feeling. It's not really about a war with my mother on the battleground of my body. It's certainly not about feeling bad about myself because I wasn't physically sufficient when I was younger. It's all a massive created problem around avoiding feeling undesirable feelings.

I grew up in a religious household where certain types of emotion weren't really considered appropriate. Things happened in my early childhood as a result of my own anger which completely shattered my world. And for all of my life, I have wanted to just sustain some kind of "okay" feeling. Any time something goes wrong, I'm just so desperate to get back to "okay" because I don't know how to sit down and be with what I'm feeling. I try to distract myself like waving a toy in front of a crying baby.

So this is a whole new and, today, painful experience, and a liberating one. I really felt my desperate wanting for food, I was overwhelmed by it, and it was okay. It was okay, and because I didn't try to push it away, it left by itself. I am, right now, genuinely hungry, but all that desperation and panic and hateful fear are gone. Because I said, okay, since you're here, let's just be here.

Suddenly...a lot of things make more sense.


Anonymous said...

You've touched on something I've been considering for a while - sometimes it's less about the why (the mother battleground... I won't claim to share your experience or its severity, but this component of the issue is all to familiar to me) and more about the how. I've used extreme hunger to hide the feelings and for fear of that road again, I go to the other end of the spectrum and use food. I've always just wanted to be happy with a happy medium.

Anyhoo, thanks for sharing the tip on Stephen Cope's work. I've been reading about it this morning and just may get the CDs. I'm glad you've found some clarity.

Maddie said...

Yes, I think that's true, Charlee. It's frustrated me for some time - I can tell you exactly why I have the problems I have, but that hasn't solved the problem. Understanding isn't sufficient. It's helpful, but it's not the whole story. And at this point, I've done the understanding - and it's not enough. And I've done the forgiving - and it's not enough. I've even spent time feeling the anger, and that wasn't the whole story either. I think at this point, I have to actually entertain the feelings I have when I want to binge. And that is hard. But maybe not so hard as ignoring them, bingeing and then beating myself up endlessly.

I'd recommend the CDs. It's quite a short audiobook and some meditations, but it's been quite an eye-opener for me.

Thanks for commenting. :)

Hope said...

Maddie, you wrote that maybe the largest part of your problem with eating has to do with not feeling what you're feeling and that it is all a massive problem created to avoid feeling undesirable feelings. This really hit home for me because I've recently had similar thoughts. When I can just feel whatever comes up without trying to change or manage my feelings, even though whatever I'm feeling may be awful, at least the internal struggle to avoid experiencing what I'm actually experiencing is gone. If I just say to whatever feeling it is (or they are), "Okay, you can stay here. You can stay forever if you want," then I start to feel a sense of peace even in the presence of painful feelings.

Lately I've found that when I start to freak out about food (e.g., "I want to eat." "You shouldn't eat that." Etc.) if I just stop and let those thoughts be there, but at the same time start to pay attention to my feelings, then the food stops being an issue. It's weird because my food problem is something I've worked directly on for so many years and now I'm beginning to wonder if I just need to turn away from it and focus inward. Anyway, I learn a lot reading your blog and look forward to hearing how things go for you.

Maddie said...

Hope, yes, that's exactly how it was. "Hello feelings, feel free to hang, really, it's cool...what, you're leaving already? Seriously?"

Of course, the challenge is continuing to do it, because the habit of stuffing things down with food is so strong, and not trying to rush through it or make it a new way to get past things.

But yeah, increasingly, I'm thinking that the eating disorder itself is a symptom, not the disease, and that the real way to get past it is to stop trying to make it go away by "working on it" (because I'm like you, I've been working on it for decades), and start really knowing it from the inside, and knowing what's underneath it, and underneath that, and just letting them be there, if that's what's necessary. The intellectual understanding, the "working on it", isn't really working. I mean, I'm better than I was in my teens, sure, but it's been thirteen years since I was in my teens, and I'm not actually better.

Seems like it's time to stop working and stop seeking the recovery, and just see what's here in the disorder, since it's hanging on so tightly. To stop trying, I suppose, to even get past it, and to know that it's okay for it to be here. So much of the time, I'm trying to get past or get over or just plain avoid things, and it's been an abject failure. On the rare occasions that I've really managed to get over things - such as being angry with my mother over the eating problems - it's been because I decided it was okay to be just as angry as I damn well wanted to be. And I was. And then I wasn't any more, without trying not to be, without putting any effort into getting over that. And now I can honestly say I bear no grudge about it. I said that for a long time, because I understood where she was coming from, but it wasn't true until I let myself hold the grudge.

I hope this helps both of us.