When you’ve struggled with a coping strategy, like overeating, for a long time, and you’ve done a lot of inner work to try and help yourself, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by frustration, self attack, or despair, like ‘nothing’s changing.’ But what if something else is going on?
For the past fourteen years, I’ve had the honor to sit at the feet of our people, to receive their sacred stories with food, relationship, and connection.
Within these stories, I’ve heard a poignant, alive mix of feelings: hope, courage, persistence, yearning, and trust. And this, too: frustration, despair, hopelessness, and doubt.
This mix can sound like this:
- I’ve already done so much inner work. I’ve done 15 (or 20) years of therapy.
- Will anything help? Will this make a difference?
- Dare I try one more thing? Dare I hope?
- I want to be free from all this ‘food stuff!’
- If I didn’t worry so much about food, I’d have so much energy to put towards something else.
I imagine most of us have felt this way, at one time or another – whether about food or something else that we’re struggling with.
When we feel this way, it’s easy to throw in the towel and give up.
We may even say ‘what the hell’ and overeat!
And we can feel confused and uncertain – should I look for a therapist? Should I take a class? – leaving us paralyzed, unable to reach out for support.
Ahhhh! So frustrating!
Your yearning carries you
I’d love to share a perspective that can help.
First, your yearnings for healing – and all your frustrations about the ways it hasn’t worked out – are worthy of dignity and care.
There is no shame or judgment for any of your feelings, both your hopes and your fears.
I also want to say this: your yearning is here to help you. Let me explain a bit more.
The experience of breakthrough
You may have had the experience of break through – where it feels like something within you shatters, shifts, and rearranges itself.
Sometimes this happens in a class, or in therapy. But it can happen anywhere: when watching a movie, listening to a song, reading a book, creating art, or witnessing nature.
When we have these moments of insight, it often feels like turning on a light in a dark room. We feel the veil lift, the kink in the hose unknot itself, and the clogged drain flow again.
With this insight, a rush of emotion may arise in your body – you may notice waves of grief, rage, fear or sadness move through you. You may cry, shake, or tremble with anger.
Afterwards, you may feel really tired, but settled. You may feel more like ‘yourself.’
The healing process
This is the process of healing. Based on their modality, different people call this by different names. Trauma experts may say this is releasing trauma in the nervous system.
My mentor in developmental psychology, Dr. Neufeld, calls this the adaptive process.
Shamans call this the healing of ‘soul loss.’
But whatever the name, they’re all fingers pointing at the same moon, to healing.
In the wake of these shifts, you may notice changes in your behavior, like:
- saying no to requests that you used to say yes to out of fear or guilt
- setting boundaries and making requests
- more confidence in going after your dreams and goals
- feeling less driven to self soothe with food
- and feeling less afraid of difficult emotions, like anger or grief
When we feel like ‘nothing’s changing
If you’re like our other readers and students, you’ve explored lots of healing modalities. Personal development, spiritual growth, and healing may even be your personal calling or profession.
You’ve probably taken a lot of classes, done a lot of contemplative practice and meditation, and done a lot of therapy or ‘inner work.’
You’ve worked hard!
But if this effort hasn’t born fruit, you may feel like ‘nothing’s changing’ – that it’s been worthless, or for nought.
Or you may feel like you’re ‘on the outside looking in,’ where others are healing, but not you.
The building ocean wave
This is where it helps to pause and wonder: what if something else is going on?
What if all those experiences – all the books and classes and therapy – are like the small swells under an ocean wave, building and building over time until they become something larger?
In my experience, it’s only when the water coalesces into something tangible – into something we can sense and feel under our feet, something carrying us – that we can see the healing changes, and trust and ‘rest’ in them.
It may help to pause a moment, to reflect on your own journey. What are the bread crumbs along your path? Where do you see your ocean swells arising?
Nothing is wasted
It’s easy for us to dismiss all that we’ve done as ‘a waste’ – to see our past as a trail of broken dreams and broken promises, especially the broken promises we’ve made to ourselves.
This is another place where it can help to shift how we see.
Each night after dinner, as I wipe the counters down, I put the odds and ends into a white enamel bucket on my counter. This is our compost bin.
I fill the bin with tea bags, vegetable peelings and apple cores, cardboard toilet paper tubes and egg shells. When the bin overflows, I empty it outside in the compost can, which is often swarming with creepy crawly friends. (My kids hate doing this chore!)
Over time, this compost becomes the soil that feeds the garden in my backyard.
In this way, nothing goes to waste: everything is used. (I’d go even further and say nothing is ‘waste.’)
When we feel shame for working so hard on ourselves
It’s easy to feel shame for trying so hard – for buying so many books and trying so many diets and doing so much therapy. It’s easy to shame and judge ourselves: I did all of this, and still there’s no change?
I’m still overeating? What the ****?
Likewise, it’s easy for us to put those places or people where we finally feel a sense of ‘healing’ up on a pedestal, as the one place that healed us.
The places that we revere are often those places where the wave of healing coalesced into something tangible, into a presence we could see and feel. But it doesn’t mean that the other attempts were ‘failures.’
Every bit – every class and book and healer – has fed us in some way.
Your seeking was not in vain
Underneath, the water has always been there.
Your years of therapy, seeking, and searching were not in vain. Bit by bit, they’ve each brought more light and more understanding to places of loss, to the yawning holes and stagnant pools where we froze.
In looking back, we can see these places – the bits of help that supported us along the way – for what they are: the bread crumbs on our trail home, the string that led us away from the Minotaur and out of the labyrinth.
So I bow to every book and course you’ve bought, every therapist and healer you’ve been to see, every diet and food plan you’ve tried, every step you’ve taken to get help.
And I bow to every dream and hope and yearning – and frustration and doubt and grief – that has accompanied your path.
They’re all there, a part of the soil that nourishes your healing. They’re all there, supporting you.