Several years ago, a few months into a long Montana winter, my friend Rob taught me how to play cribbage. Cribbage was a tradition at our small town’s coffee shop, a way to enjoy the cold winter days, and Rob taught everyone who walked through the doors who wanted to learn.
When I first started playing, I was confused by the game – how to score, what to discard, and how to count your points. When I felt lost, we had a code word – “I need a cribbage angel!” At this announcement, someone in the coffee shop would come around next to me, peek at my hand and help me strategize which cards to hold and which to throw in the kitty.
This week, I have three children in new schools, one in a new high school sport, and another has moved into her first apartment. The changes are disorienting, and there is much “newness” for my heart to process. I long for a “cribbage angel” – someone to come alongside and help orient me to all the changes. I find myself asking lots of questions of veteran parents, those who’ve walked this path before me, and leaning on loved ones when I need a good cry – or, conversely, when I want to share my joy.
This is coming to mind because I’m thinking about how I approached my 20 years of eating disorders. How I could’ve used a “cribbage angel!” But I felt so ashamed of my binge eating and overeating that it was difficult for me to share my struggles, pain and vulnerability with others. I felt like I should’ve known or done better. I felt guilty and embarrassed, especially as the years stretched on and my eating disorders and depression continued.
And so I suffered, isolated and alone.
If you were to ask me today, “What’s the one thing I should do if I’m stuck in overeating?” I would answer – find some cribbage angels, and lean on them. Ask for help and support. Let trusted others know you’re hurting, and receive their care and love.
You may need someone to be with you and to listen as you empty your heart of strong feelings.
You may need someone to sit with you for the 20 minutes it takes for the urge to binge to pass.
You may need to connect with others who’ve struggled with food, to know that your pain is collective, merely a part of our shared humanity, and not a personal fault.
Here’s a thought: what if needing help with food was no different than needing help to learn how to play a card game, like cribbage?
Here’s another: what if your courage, willingness, and vulnerability to ask for love and support is what is trying to be born through your food struggles?
And another: What if these painful feelings of shame or embarrassment for needing help are arising to be healed through this beautiful angel, this beautiful messenger called overeating?
And what if you could bless this birthing by your willingness to receive the love, support, witnessing, and community that your heart’s yearning for?
My friend Rob, who taught me how to play cribbage, is a medical miracle. I met him 14 years ago at a community Halloween party, organized to raise money for medical bills he’d incurred after a sudden brain aneurysm that could’ve killed him – but didn’t. Rob has taught me many things, foremost among them how much this human life is about a giving and receiving, an exchange of love.
Sometimes we’re in the hot seat; we’re the one around which Love organizes its giving beams. Love longs to give to us, and sings so sweetly.
Sometimes it’s another who is the receiver, and we’re the giver and bestower, shining our hearts towards theirs.
Either role is sacred, and both will be asked and required of us in our living and dying times.
In both cases, ours or another’s neediness is the village green, our shared commons. It’s the center around which a village organizes, and what brings people together: this giving and taking, this offering and receiving.
It’s through our need for help, and through our human vulnerability – not via our strength, self reliance, or toughing it out – that community is born, and that belonging is bestowed. It is through our neediness that we find connection, ease, and hope – and heal the shame and isolation of struggling alone.