Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of the hardest things about feeling stuck in painful sugar habits is that we can’t force ourselves to change. We can only grow out of them.
This is incredibly humbling and vulnerable, one of the most tender things about being a human being. It’s painful to be in that space of wishing we were different and feeling caught by what we wish we wouldn’t/didn’t do. It’s humbling to be with our own immaturity.
It’s often so vulnerable that we try as fast as we can to move out of it.
Change vs. maturation
We like to think we can demand change. That we can force or coerce it or move it along. And, sure, we ask ourselves to change all the time. Frankly, we sometimes demand it – we may feel totally fed up: “I’m so sick of this and this needs to stop right now!!”
When we ask or demand that we change, sometimes we can change for a while, and then the changes peter out. But whenever we’re able to make lasting changes, we’re doing something much deeper than mere change: we’re maturing. What we think of as change – stopping a habit of overeating, easing our sugar intake, or stopping an addictive habit – is actually growth, the natural byproduct of maturation.
We live in a mechanistic, product focused, behavior oriented culture. Because of this, we tend to focus on what we’re doing. This is even true in many spiritual or personal development circles. A lot of personal coaching is oriented towards change – changes in how or what you do, changes in your patterns, changes in your personal beliefs.
While this kind of work can be helpful and has a place, it’s not necessarily the same thing as maturation. To really see changes that stick, we need to soften our focus on our behavior and changing, and instead, support ourselves to grow. What might that look like?
A personal story of supporting growth
To answer, I’ll share a story from my own life. For over a decade, I absolutely knew that I had a compulsive, addictive relationship with sugar. I knew that I binged on sugar for reasons that had nothing to do with the food itself. Yet no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop bingeing on sugar or obsessing about it.
I absolutely knew that what I was doing wasn’t working. But the key word here is “knew.” I knew it on an intellectual level, but I didn’t feel it on a heart level.
Feeling the futility to grow
To truly grow and transform, I needed to move into my heart and feel the futility that this is not working: that I needed to change my relationship to sugar. And to feel that futility, I needed to feel all the pain and hurt and loss around sugar. Only by grieving and feeling it deeply could I let it go, grow and be able to do differently next time.
Only by grieving and feeling my pain could I be “transformed by what I couldn’t change.” (The words are Dr. Gordon Neufeld‘s, one of my mentors.) Only by grieving could I move forward and shift my behavior.
Why it’s not about knowing what to do
I see similar stories from people I work with. They know that what they’re doing isn’t working – like trying to “white knuckle” their overeating. They know what to do instead. They have a plan. They get it.
They feel so frustrated because they know better and yet aren’t able to do better. A lot of us know, and about a lot of things. If you’ve been studying personal development, spirituality, nutrition, healing, or psychology, you know what to do, and may feel so frustrated that you can’t just do it.
But, my friends, it’s not about knowledge. It’s not about experience, either. It’s not about knowing better to do better.
Transformation is about fully feeling the futility that what we’re doing isn’t working and getting this truth, in every cell of our being. That’s what finally stops us: what keeps us from simply trying harder and harder to make things work.
When you’re longing for change
So what do you do when you’re stuck in painful patterns with food and are longing for change?
You surrender. You open. You feel your longing.
In the words of Dr. Neufeld, you yearn for it. In the words of Tara Brach, you open your heart to the possibility of change, with your intention and attention. You ask for the miracle of growth. You yearn and long.
And in that yearning and longing, a space opens. We soften. We stop trying to do it all on our own and open to the idea of depending on something greater than ourselves – the powerful message of surrendering to a higher power in 12 step groups. In that state of dependence, ironically, we’re led to growth.
In depending on something greater than ourselves, we find faith.
It’s said so beautifully in this poem by Lezlie Oachs:
The miracle –
real and right and raw –
is welcoming the Mystery,
I’m sowing uncertainty,
waiting without reaching.
Someday something green
will sprout in this place.
Something small and moist and soft,
open to the sky.