Cravings and binges are simply cries for connection.
Yesterday, as I sat down to write, I noticed that I was feeling off. The words weren’t flowing, and I felt dry. Quickly, an impulse popped into my head – “Go and check Facebook.” I found myself opening the web browser, and just as quickly, I knew: it wasn’t Facebook that I was needing.
So I closed the computer, closed my eyes, and put my hand on my heart. I felt what was there: nervousness. Apprehension. Fatigue. And a small voice: “I feel scared and uncertain. Help!”
My heart was crying out for tending. So I leaned in. I felt the coils of fear and uncertainty in my belly, the tightness in my chest. I imagined holding this fear as a mother holds a babe: “Sh, sh. There, there. You’re safe with me.”
Slowly, I felt the vise around my heart loosen, and a small movement, a glimmer of courage. I realized: it was not the time to write. I shut the computer down and began cooking dinner instead, knowing the blog post could wait until tomorrow.
These feelings of uncertainty arise regularly – when I’m venturing forth and trying something new, facing something particularly difficult, or feeling intense or uncomfortable feelings.
During these times, these thoughts tend to arise alongside: “I want a kombucha.” “I wonder what’s new at the store?” “Something’s missing – I should go and read that guy’s book that I heard about the other day.”
If I follow these threads, I can get lost in pursuit for minutes or hours or even days, like a dog chasing its tail. But when I pause, slow down, and sit with these feelings and the impulses that arise around them, I find something very simple underneath: this cry for connection.
Where do cravings come from?
People often wonder, and ask – where do cravings come from? The most popular response is that cravings are physiological – that they’re driven by biology, neurotransmitters, and the brain.
I see it differently. It’s not that this physiological perspective is wrong, merely that it’s incomplete. (For a detailed reason why, I invite you to explore the work of addiction expert Dr. Gabor Maté, as he explains this process in much further detail, and more than I can do in this article.)
As I see it, the more helpful question is not: what’s the physiology? But what’s the physiology pointing to?
The physiology of craving is pointing to our basic, human need for connection, and the vulnerability that arises when we feel disconnected. (To learn more about the link between human vulnerability, attachment, and growth, I invite you to explore the work of my mentor, developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld.)
For underneath all cravings, and underneath all the intense emotions that drive them, you’ll find a common expression: a cry for help.
Binges are a cry for help
If impulses and binges had a voice, they’d say: “Help! I’m scared or overwhelmed and I don’t know what to do.”
That’s why I say cravings are prayers in disguise. For they’re attachment cries, arising out of disconnection: please help me, please see me, please love me, please care for me, please hear me.
When we feel disconnected, we can feel powerless, needy, helpless, alone, isolated, frustrated, scared, uncertain, nervous, shy, or ashamed. All these things arise out of this felt experience of separation.
So we pursue substances or experiences that, in our minds, will resolve these feelings of disconnection and transform them into feelings of connection.
We’re seeking out a connection substitute.
Substances (like food) and activities (like shopping or internet surfing) temporarily create these feelings of connection, soften feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, and bring rest and ease to the body.
And they do this both through the physiological changes that they arouse in the body, and the feelings of connection and ease that they bring to the heart and mind: things like warmth, mattering, significance, meaning, closeness, love, nurturing, understanding, empowerment, strength, resilience, capability and courage.
Where the physiology and psychology of craving intersect
Unfortunately, when we seek connection from substances, they’re physiologically, emotionally and spiritually fleeting. For they’re just that – temporary objects – and do not bring the lasting rest that we hope they’ll bring. They aren’t designed to.
Where the physiology and psychology of craving meet is this: what we’re seeking in food, or sugar, or shopping is a physiological substitute for what we’re meant to find in loving relationship. The true rest and ease we’re longing for is much deeper: a connection to life, a connection to ourselves, and a connection to each other. That’s where feelings of connection can “sink in” and we can cease our pursuit.
The human vulnerability underneath
The challenge with this perspective is that we tend to view these feelings of disconnection as wrong. We often close down in the face of them, rather than inviting them in. We may feel ashamed and use control strategies – spiritualizing, intellectualizing, minimizing, controlling, and more – to either suppress these feelings or eradicate them.
In doing so, the very path to healing – connection – is blocked.
But what if we expand the field of inclusion? What if everything belongs? What if feeling afraid or disconnected or craving relief is a part of the normal ebb and flow of being human, and not an indictment against us, or against life?
What if, underneath this craving, there is a tremendous mercy, a simple thirst for connection? What if it’s simply your heart calling, “connect,” and not proof that there’s anything wrong with you?
Healing the pain of disconnection
People often speak of the disconnection that feeds addiction. I wonder – perhaps that disconnection is something very simple and immediate: the disconnection we feel from ourselves – from our lived, present moment experience – and the disconnection we feel from the Love that holds it.
Perhaps this disconnection is the core shame we feel for being human: for needing, for longing, for seeking connection. And perhaps it is this disconnection that is arising, through addiction, through craving, to be healed. What a thought.
Viewing your impulses, cravings and binges as a cry for help can move you out of the void of shame and into a field of inclusion. Rather than “there’s something wrong with me because I’m fantasizing about chocolate, or celebrity gossip, or the latest finds at the store,” you realize: ah, this is simply my human vulnerability speaking. This is love calling.
You realize: this can belong. I can work with these feelings. This is doable.
You might even feel inspired – what a prime opportunity to deepen and connect! Here, in this moment, I have an opportunity for intimacy, an opportunity for courage – to meet this cry for help with a warm embrace – and an opportunity to find rest.