This is a picture of a tree that I came across on a hike in the Georgia woods earlier this spring.
Rather than growing upwards, towards the sun, it grew across the forest, horizontally, bending itself across a hiking path to reach more sunshine. In the density of the forest, the only way this tree could receive the sunlight it needed was to grow sideways.
By contrast, there’s a gorgeous crepe myrtle down the street from my home. Due to some recent rain, the trees’ branches are filled with bright pink flowers even now, in the heat of July.
The other day, as we drove by this tree, my husband said to me, “When trees have what they need, they grow.”
I thought to myself – yes. And not just trees.
When we have what we need, we grow
For any living thing, this is true: when we have what we need, we thrive, and we grow. And like trees, when some essential nutrient is missing or lacking, we adapt to our environment and circumstances.
We bend ourselves and develop strategies – like overeating sugar – to self soothe, numb, and care for ourselves.
These strategies are often messy and don’t feel very good over the long term. And at their core, these strategies arise from the same impulse as that tree bending horizontally in the Georgia forest.
Judging ourselves for our coping strategies
When we look at a tree, it’s easy to put aside any judgment about how the tree ‘should’ be different. But when it comes to our own attempts to meet our needs, those ‘shoulds’ can arise so strongly. We can be full of judgment about how we ‘should know or do better.’
We can feel so stuck and feel like we are ‘bad,’ in the way our habits our ‘bad.’
Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.
Self compassion changes how we help ourselves
This is where self compassion helps, for it meets us exactly where we are. It’s only when we can see ourselves honestly, and with exquisite tenderness that we have the safety we need to heal and grow.
This ground floor level of acceptance restores us to a sense of connection, and restores us to our worth and wholeness.
Then healing is not about trying to be a better person, or working hard, or shoulding on ourselves, but rather, a desire to care for ourselves with less pain, and to help ourselves hurt less.
Healing is possible
This spring, I led a class where people were learning how to use self compassion to change their habit of meeting their needs with sugar. It was a rich, empowering, moving experience for the group!
Beginning August 5th, I’ll be leading another group through this class, Emerge: Create a New Habit. (Follow the link to learn all the details.)
If you overrely on sugar to care for stress or to self soothe, and you’d like to learn how to gently change this habit in a safe, warm group setting, then this class may be for you.
You may be interested in hearing Josephine’s story. Josephine is a deeply caring woman, an intuitive, smart, highly sensitive business owner who was struggling with eating too much sugar to care for stress and overwhelm.
After taking the May class, this is what she had to say about what changed for her:
“The biggest benefit for me has been allowing myself to slow down, rest, and play (rather than working 24/7). I didn’t realize how much I was pushing myself to be productive 100% of the time, especially as a small business owner.
The course materials have created more of a sense of spaciousness and rest in my life which is so welcome and needed. My pattern of moving quickly, always rushing, and always needing to be productive was draining my energy and it was not going to be sustainable in the long-term.”
Before the class, she felt pressure that she could never eat sugar again. But now, she has more confidence that as she builds a more conscious relationship with sugar she can enjoy it mindfully, as a treat.
How we cope with shame
I can relate to Josephine’s story. As I shared here, being productive is how I’ve coped with the shame I’ve felt about my sensitivity, struggles with depression, and trauma history. Trying really, really hard was how I was trying to feel ‘strong’ or enough when I felt so overwhelmed, weak, or collapsed.
Whew, I carried a lot on my shoulders!
Like Josephine, my drive to overdo then left me feeling overwhelmed, depleted, and exhausted – which I would then care for with sugar and food.
Changing your relationship to your needs
I see versions of Josephine’s and my story over and over in my classes.
One of the most powerful shifts that helps us eat less sugar is changing our relationship to our needs – softening our expectations and bringing in more ease, rest, and gentleness – especially to those parts of us that have experienced trauma or wounding.
It’s so empowering when we learn how to turn towards ourselves and offer those parts of us care rather than numbing out with sugar, driving ourselves hard, or feeling ashamed for being tender and sensitive.
Looking at our expectations for ourselves can help us face our pain and realize: hmmm, I think these expectations are impossible! I want to ask a lot less of myself.
As our expectations soften, and as our overdoing softens, we may feel more playful, less overresponsible, and less driven. We feel less angry at our pain, and more self accepting.
And sugar starts to feel more like a nice treat rather than the ‘one place’ where we rest, care for ourselves, or receive pleasure.
Needing is not pathology
Every living thing needs. Like trees, we thrive with warmth, sunlight, water, air, and good soil. And like trees, these needs aren’t pathology or a source of shame, but a part of our nature.
Self compassion – cultivating an attitude of reverence and kindness towards ourselves – is a beautiful compost, what enriches the soil for healing, and what embraces our needs in wholeness.