There are a few key ‘gates of healing’ that are necessary to walk through in order to grow out of food compulsions like overeating, sugar obsessing, or binge eating.
I wrote about two of these gates – healing your relationship to vulnerability and healing your relationship to power and sovereignty – here.
Today I’d like to share more about healing your relationship to your vulnerability – for it’s something that’s coming up for a lot of folks right now.
Feeling like a ‘broken self’
Whenever we struggle with something – like food – it can alter our sense of self. Struggling with food can create an impression in our hearts that we’re inherently ‘broken’ – a sense of being damaged and ‘unfixable.’
This impression filters how we see ourselves. It’s as if we become fused with the struggle itself – and that struggle becomes our very identity. Our relationship with food becomes the lens through which we view our entire being.
I remember when I first became conscious of feeling ‘damaged.’ I was a sophomore in college, lonely, struggling to fit it, and coping with the wake of a major episode of depression. I was also caught in bulimia, torn between two opposing needs: my desire for belonging – which meant controlling my food so I could obtain the thinner body I thought I needed to be loved – and my desire for care and nurturing – which I found in binge eating.
So much vulnerability. So tender.
Over time, this impression of being a ‘damaged self’ can lead to other feelings – frustration, fear, overwhelm, and anger. We may blame ourselves for not doing better. Our thoughts may tell us things like – “You should be able to control this. You should be able to get this together. This is all your fault.”
Or, we may feel caught in a ‘freeze’ state where we feel powerless, helpless, and hopeless.
Ouch, so painful.
Moving into the heart
When we move through the gate of vulnerability, we move from the mind – the place of judgment and shoulds – and into the heart. We turn towards our pain to offer it tenderness, compassion and understanding.
There are many ways to do this. Any contemplative, expressive, mindfulness or ‘body based’ practice can help – like yoga, meditation, spiritual practices, movement, art, and creativity – because they move us out of the head and into our bodies, where our experience lies.
We can physically move our energy and attention into the area around the heart. When you feel into your heart, how does your perception of your journey with food change? Do you feel or see yourself differently?
Where everything belongs
When we move into the heart, there’s a warm space for our experience, and our emotions. I think of it as the archetype of the Divine Feminine – a cradle for our being, where we are deeply invited to exist.
This shift fosters several key shifts:
- There’s more ease and less anxiety. We move out of a space of overcontrolling – trying to control our food, our pain and the situation – and into a place of surrendered care. Our energy shifts from frustration, anger and shoulds to an embrace of, “Ouch. This really hurts.”
- There’s room for all aspects of ourselves, an invitation for our wholeness. Rather than feeling like our struggles with food are an outcast – something we need to control, contain, or fix – they become something we move to care for, with tenderness, compassion and wisdom. Our vulnerability and struggles are included in the great web of our life and can even be a part of our health, not outside it.
- There’s a restfulness, a quieting of the internal arguing of all the ways our mind can tell us that we should be different – all the ways we argue with our experience and try to make it better.
The counterintuitive turn towards pain
It sounds counterintuitive, but the place where we feel most vulnerable – the place where we feel like we’ve most screwed up with food – is the very ground of our healing.
It may feel too vulnerable to touch this grief directly at first, especially if there’s been trauma. (Having the help of a therapist, healer, or support group can be crucial when there’s so much vulnerability.)
But with support, presence, and patience these ‘soft spots’ are gently, tenderly faced and felt.
In many ways, moving into the heart is a grieving process. For when we grieve, we’re turning towards our heartache without adding on a layer of self blame, guilt, anger, or shame.
As we grieve, a natural compassion arises towards ourselves. Food transforms into something we’re relating to, rather than stuck in or identified with.
How compassion leads to changes in how you eat
This holy grieving is what helps us unhook from the belief of being a ‘broken self’ and touch the ground of our wholeness. Out of this wholeness arises new ways of seeing ourselves, a greater compassion and tenderness towards our vulnerability, growth, and new life.
This lays the foundation for outward behavioral change – differences in what and how you eat, in how you use food to self soothe or to care for stress, in how you respond to cravings and impulses, and in how you relate to your emotional, physical and spiritual needs. You feel more resilient and capable, and less stuck in the ‘freeze’ state of helplessness or despair.
And in this place, new ideas arise. We can ask for help. We can embrace ourselves and others. And we can face our humaniy with honesty, compassion, and deep, abiding love.
The ‘marvel of what you carry’
In my own life, I’ve traveled through many rounds of grieving, of facing the pain that lay underneath my eating disorders and depression. The more I grieve, the more tender I feel towards myself, and towards others.
Grieving softens my defenses: my overresponsibility, my trying to be good, my trying to do everything ‘right,’ my trying to be better than others, my anger and righteousness – all the ways I’ve tried to protect the soft shell of my heart, all the ways I’ve tried to hold love close.
Grieving asks me to let go of these strategies and simply feel the vulnerability that lies underneath. It asks me to see – truly see – the love and tenderness that lies in my own heart, and in others’.
In grieving, we embrace our wholeness and imperfection. Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who works alongside gang members in Los Angeles, put it this way: ‘rather than criticizing ourselves for how we carry our pain, we can simply marvel at what we carry.’
I’ll close with a poem from Jeanie Greensfelder.
A Love Story
Gather your selves:
critical and kind,
scared and brave,
thoughtless and hurt.
Mistakes and failures
Like loss and love,
they are a package.
Embrace it all.
Such a coming together
is what we came for.