How to release the pain that you’ve carried
At the root of every eating disorder is loss. To heal the roots of a sugar compulsion, an eating disorder or food compulsion, this loss needs to be acknowledged – to come to light. It needs to be held in loving hands, grieved, and released.
Sy Safransky, editor and publisher of The Sun, says it like this:
“Just as the Inuit have different words for snow on the ground and snow in the air and snow that drifts, may be we could have different words for tears: tears we’ll forget by tomorrow, tears we never cried but should have, tears that fall from our children’s eyes, tears that fall too quickly to wipe away.”
The losses underneath an eating disorder are the tears that were never cried; the tears that fell too quickly to wipe away.
What is this loss?
Sometimes it’s a physical loss. But more often, these are the losses of childhood – the emotional losses, the intangible losses that leave marks on the psyche: the losses where a child felt a lack of belonging, of love, of mattering, of significance, of feeling known and understood. The losses of abandonment, of parental rejection, of feeling uninvited by those who matter most – a child’s caregivers.
The loss can be misplaced blame. When things didn’t work, the child may have taken it on themselves – “It’s all my fault (guilt and blame) or “I’m bad” (shame.)
The loss could have been interpreted by the child as, “I’m too much” or “I’m not enough.”
These losses can be perceived or real. What matters is how they impact the child.
These losses live in the body. They shape and influence present day beliefs, thoughts, emotions and ways of responding to your internal and external environment.
These losses also impact development. When there is too much loss, too much wounding, or when there is too much felt vulnerability, a child’s brain will erect defenses to protect the child and to preserve functioning. It works – it preserves functioning. But the cost is the development of the child.
As adults, when we act out eating disorder behavior, what we are acting out is the pain of childhood loss that has never been witnessed. In many ways, the behavior is a voice for the pain of the 3 or 5 or 10 year old child.
This pain needs to be expressed. It needs a witness. It needs a true witness to replace the witness of the binge, the purge, the skipped meal, the chronic diet, the sugar obsession, the weight obsession.
There is hope: eating disorders and food compulsions can be outgrown. Neuroplasticity is a form of grace, offering faith and hope that human development can occur at any age, no matter how much it’s gone awry.
To outgrow any pattern of wounding, including eating disorders and food compulsions, we must grieve the losses that were never grieved; we must cry the tears that were never cried.
When we mourn the losses of childhood, we “become changed by what we can’t change.” (The words are from Dr. Gordon Neufeld, my teacher in developmental science and whose teachings shape my work.) As we feel the futility of all our childhood beliefs and blame, as we feel the futility of all our food compulsions – “it didn’t work, it doesn’t work, it will never work” – we come to the still point of change.
Grieving – moving through futility – creates an internal boundary, where we can release what we’ve carried – all the beliefs and perceptions and shame that have kept us stuck. In feeling our tears of futility, we come to a new way of being and behaving and believing, where we no longer feel governed by our past; where we no longer need to use food to express what didn’t work.
For we have released the deepest level of what didn’t work.
For more hands on help, you may enjoy these pages on healing your relationship with sugar and healing your relationship with food. You’ll find lots of links to videos, blog posts, and an explanation of what drives food and sugar compulsions.
WOW! Incredible article that I shared on my Bariatric Girl Facebook page. I loved the way you explained the loss….I relate to the child who grew up into the adult that still feels “I’m not enough.” My favorite part… “There is hope: eating disorders and food compulsions can be outgrown. Neuroplasticity is a form of grace, offering faith and hope that human development can occur at any age, no matter how much it’s gone awry.” Thank you for explaining it SO perfectly. I’ll be sharing this post with as many people as possible in my weight loss surgery community.
How great to hear from you! I felt very touched by your note here – thank you for sharing this post on Facebook and with your community. That means so much to me, as my mission is to make sense of the emotional and psychological roots of eating disorders, food addiction, and food compulsion and to share this with as many as possible. You’re helping me do that, so thank you.
Oh, yes, Neuroplasticity affirms for me that we live in a merciful universe, where growth and new life are possible. I’m glad that resonated with you, too – it brings relief and hope to the soul!
In love and gratitude, Karly
I was recently at the Hay House Writers Workshop…..Karly, I resigned from my nursing job May 1, 2013 to heal my life. I used God as my healer. Hay House World Summit as my platform. And probably 40 more books after that. Losing the pounds of pain was the second to last mountain to go over. I just couldn’t take off that cloak of fat because I knew what it meant for the social side of my life. I had lost so much trust in others. Then God did something unusual….he asked me to write a book about what I learned during my healing. I stood up, with my self worth, took off the cloak of fat….and started writing. It WAS about , yes I do have something to share, something that can help future mothers and their children.
How I celebrate with you. I always find it interesting how our deepest vulnerabilities and pain can be transformed into new life, into something to offer hope and healing. I bow to your courage, to your willingness to feel all your vulnerability – to shed the cloak, to trust and open your heart. As I listen to your story, I sense that your desire to help others is what enabled you to do what felt so vulnerable and difficult. This deeper purpose enabled you to walk through the fire, to heal, to write and to share. How inspiring, and what a gift! In love and care, Karly
Thankyou so much for all your kind words of wisdom. I was lead to your blogs from a girl I met whilst in hospital for depression/eating disorder. I live in Australia so how do I make a donation in relation to the above – support our continued publishing Give to Growing Human(kind)ness?
I have printed out all your emails and kept them hidden away believing that I will look at them later but you know what later is now…..I know I am afraid because the thought of giving up sugar junk food and also tv (that has become an addiction that goes hand in hand with snacking) because I feel like it will be a loss, this impending lonliness. Even though I have so many other things that I actually love to do that I can fill in that time eg. playing guitar singing etc. I think tv replaces people whether it is a friend, flatmate or even a partner having a relationship.
I’m glad to hear that my work is helpful to you and that it’s being passed along. I feel honored by your offer of support – we do take donations to support the work we’re doing here to make sense of and heal the emotional roots of eating disorders. You can see a link to donate at the bottom of each blog post.
As for the fear of letting go of our compulsions and addictions, yes – the fear is great. Binge eating, overeating, food addiction, sugar, and all addictions are biochemical replacements for love, mattering, meaning and more – all our deepest relational and emotional needs that we have as human beings. So healing is not about cutting out these biochemical substitutes (which, if there is no replacement of true nourishment, can feel like a void that is too much to bear) but replacing them with what actually satiates our needs: loving connection and loving relationship. This loving relationship is with our own hearts, with others, and with Life or the Divine. We replace the false refuge of food with true refuge – what brings or seeking and searching for food, comfort, perfection, and more to rest.
Have you seen my webinar here, on When Food is Your Mother? It describes this process in more detail.
I’m cheering you on in your recovery! In love and care, Karly
How do I uncover the childhood wounds that led to my sugar addiction? I don’t want to go through months of expensive regression therapy. Do you know how I could unravel the deeply buried tangle to find the source of my wounds?
This is a great question. If you asked 10 psychologists or healers you would probably receive 10 different answers, for there is not 1 right or wrong way to do this. There are many different ways to access this pain, for I do believe it needs to be released from the body and psyche and heart. Here are a few ways that may resonate with you:
1. Somatic and body practices like yoga, many forms of massage and bodywork, tai chi, energy healing and more can release it. (This is often expressed as “the issues are in the tissues.”) If you spoke to any longtime yoga teacher or practitioner and asked them about emotional healing, they will tell you that releasing emotional pain and crying in yoga is very common, as certain poses touch deep hurts and emotions that have been stored in the body.
2. For some of the pain, we may never discover the source. It may be preverbal, it may not be accessible. That’s okay. Any time we can access our more vulnerable feelings – especially those vulnerable feelings of grief or futility – our brain learns that it can feel loss and sadness and survive. In feeling the sadness and allowing it to flow, we unclog some of the uncried tears. We don’t have to know to heal. In fact, healing, in my experience, is a heart based practice, not an intellectual one. It moves through the heart, not the head.
I hope that helps!
In love and care, Karly