What keeps you safe?

I had an epiphany yesterday and I’d like to to share. It’s been brewing for a while, but yesterday, a truth to help me came into clear focus. No angels sang or shafts of golden light embraced me, but I felt a weight lifting as I leaned into it fully.

I won’t bore you with all the gory details but my epiphany related to food and how it has been a constant in supporting me when life hasn’t. This may seem like an indulgent post, but writing to you every day means that sometimes you get what’s in my head as well as my heart. There is something in here for you, I promise! It’s not actually about food or weight either. Thanks for reading if you do.

As a child, I was exposed to someone who sent my head and heart in a constant spin, and left me with no doubt that I wasn’t worthy or wanted. Food became a way to fill the hole within, and I hoped many times it would help me feel whole, but it was not to be.

Being nearly 6ft in the 1980s made me almost Greatest Showman worthy in terms of freakery. The language used around me – big, large, and never tall or other factual or positive terms – gave me an alternative and incorrect view of myself and reinforced the feeling I was being given by my aggressor – wrong, wrong, wrong. Looking back at photos, I was a standard size. There was nothing freaky about me. But I felt it, and sugar and spice and all things nice gave me comfort when I didn’t and couldn’t face the things going on in my world.

Diet and exercise regimes came and went, and as I steeled myself for yet another ‘start’,  a chance conversation with a friend brought together all the threads I’d been considering since my daughter got ill, about my worth and value and being enough.

My friend is a psychologist, and she mentioned she’d been speaking to a psychiatrist about people who struggle to manage their weight. He said that of course they know all the diet plans and exercise regimens, but that wasn’t relevant because being overweight was a way to show the world they are in pain, and if the pain wasn’t addressed, they’d keep going back to being overweight.

I’m not sure how or why but that really struck something in me. Does this body remain this way to show the world it is in pain?

Days passed and I pondered on it. I wasn’t sure it was. I’m aware of the psychology behind sexual abuse and assault victims ‘holding on’ to weight as a safety mechanism, and I’ve worked through this concept in an attempt to free myself from that possibility. It was something else.

And then yesterday, I was listening to Neuromania on Radio 4 ( worth a listen) and something clicked in my head. I’d been using food to keep myself safe. Not to keep myself unattractive so I wouldn’t be approached, but to keep myself safe when the environment around me didn’t.

So, every time I was invalidated, humiliated, or beaten, I would fill the hole I was so desperate to feel with food. Food loved me. It gave me the feelings I was hoping to get from the person who couldn’t or didn’t give me them. And the choice to eat was a mini revolution against cruelty and a lack of care.

Once I’d realised that food was the replacement for the kind of love and support I was seeking, everything became clear. Ta da!

But I’ve been here before. I’ve been in a place where my conscious mind arrogantly believes that knowing why is enough to change things. And so, the next part of the epiphany is the key for me.

Each time I used food in my past, and today, I have been trying to feel safe. I have been seeking out certainty and security. I have been looking for acceptance. And food was the only thing that gave me the dopamine hit that being loved and secure gives.

So, now I understand why, how do I move forward?

Stepping out of my safe space – consumption – is the way forward. Being brave about feeling everything I feel and confronting the hole so I can move towards whole has to be my new way of being.

Bravery is the antidote for me.

Being conscious and present is my responsibility.

And being kind to myself is the supercharger.

Appreciating that I have got this in every sense and in every situation offers me an opportunity to reflect without judgement on my behaviour and to be brave when I would reach for a snack. To be in the moment and know I am enough. I used to think I was filling the hole to feel whole, and now I see filling the hole made me unable to feel. And feeling the feelings is the key to understanding and to growth. I know I’ll mess up but that’s ok, because I’m going to ask myself to try to be brave.

My safe space – even though it has hurt me and kept me believing small, while becoming big – has been food.

What about you?

What do you use as your safe space?

Is it helpful or harmful for you?

It might be food, or shopping, or intense rules or routines. Maybe you isolate yourself, coronavirus notwithstanding. Maybe you laugh off possibility or change.

How is that safety working for you? Is it keeping you safe or small? If it’s not working for you and the upsides are outweighed by the downsides, are you ready to step outside of that comfort in search of peace?

Being brave and making choices around how we care for ourselves, reward ourselves, and punish ourselves is the first step to acceptance of ourselves, in our perfectly imperfect and beautiful flawed state.

My first steps today are to be brave and sit with how I feel when I reach for food as a way to bat away my feelings and emotions. I’m unsure where I’m headed with it, but I’m looking forward to uncovering my brave self that is prepared to say it’s ok to really feel all of this and express it.

My daughter’s mental illness brought me close to the infinite darkness. It has taken a few years to overcome the impacts of it. But if I can survive that, I can survive anything. And so can you.

That sense of being able to cope whatever happens is bolstering my bravery.

Let’s commit to giving ourselves what we need, not necessarily what we want. Are you in?

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