Undigested grief and loss are often what lie underneath stuck patterns of overeating. These losses can stem from childhood or adulthood. These losses can also arise from our greater culture or family lineage – what we hold in our bodies from the collective whole.
In listening to people’s hearts over the years, some of the most common losses I’ve heard are:
- the death, divorce, or separation from a parent, grandparent, or other caregiving figure
- the rejection or “outcasting” of a family member (this can be you or another in your family)
- unhealed grief, guilt, or shame about an unplanned pregnancy, adoption or abortion
- sexual trauma
- the loss of a spouse or child
- the loss of a community or village
- the losses of poverty
- isolation and trauma from addiction or illness – a sick sibling, parent, or grandparent
In a recent Q&A session about my When Food Is Your Mother course, a woman shared how a lifelong pattern of eating in the afternoon for comfort arose from the death of her mother as a child.
You may find my reply helpful if you recognize why you overeat – but this awareness is not enough to shift the pattern.
“How do I get past this? When my mom died, I was 13, she’d been sick for quite some time. When school started in September after her death in July, I was always alone. My dad went back to his business, my brother ran away, my baby sister was with relatives. An empty apartment. It was always cold, and I ate as soon as I walked in the door. 45 years later and it’s still my problem today. I’m fine all day and even in the evening, but that time from 3:00 to 5:00 is still a killer time for me. I recognize it but can’t get past it. Help.”
I imagine there are so many stories like this from so many of you. Many of you have been emailing me, sharing your stories, because even the title of this program, “When Food is Your Mother,” resonated with so many of you.
Oh, my friend. The short answer to your question – first of all, I just want to say I can only imagine how painful that was. You were very alone. You were, it sounds like not just alone physically, but alone emotionally. I imagine even before your mom died, there was so much alarm for you in knowing that she was sick and seeing her being sick.
If we go back to the engine of maturation as laid out by Dr. Gordon Neufeld, the three engines of maturation are emergence, adaptation, and integrative functioning. Adaptation is all about how we heal trauma. How we recover from what didn’t work.
This is so important, because not all of us had families where all our needs were met. I know for myself and for — even if you had a very, very loving family, attachment does not mean that you didn’t have a loving family. But situations like losing a parent, like a divorce, you may have just simply been a child who was super, super sensitive, and that wasn’t acknowledged or validated. There are all kinds of things that can affect that early attachment. Certainly childhood trauma can be a big part of that.
It’s not just saying that we can only grow if all our needs as children were met. There’s a back door. The back door is grief, and thank goodness. Because what would life be like if only those of us who had everything we need could grow, and could outgrow painful patterns like overeating and could fully have what we need?
How unkind would life be if that were the case?
Grief is how we come to terms with what we can’t change. It’s “how we become changed by what we can’t change.” It’s how we move forward from those losses and pain in our life, and how we recover from trauma.
The other side of grief is emergence, is how we find new life. It’s adaptation, how we stop doing what isn’t working. Again, this isn’t about knowledge or knowing. It’s about feeling. I would say that for myself, my growth has always been precipitated by just huge bouts of grief. Just grief, that deep, deep, deep grief.
To feel deep grief, we need someone by our side. That’s attachment. Having someone by our side. It doesn’t have to be a love relationship. It can be a therapist or a counselor or a pastor or a friend or God. Because otherwise, the grief and the pain is too much to bear on our own. We need someone by our side. That’s the short answer for that. Again, it’s adaptation. It’s not recognizing or seeing it, but fully feeling that it didn’t work. That it didn’t work after your mom died and you were all alone. That it didn’t even sound like you had your siblings or your dad, and it was empty.
I can just see all that pain there. The other side is emergence for that. I’d also say for myself, a trauma therapy that I found very helpful for myself was EMDR. If you Google “EMDR,” you can learn more about that modality. That’s something that I found helpful for myself.
Tears, healing. Healing pain I found is through tears. Then finding that new life on the other side. If you think of grief as the winter, what follows winter is spring, is new life.
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