One Little Technique That Can Change Everything

This is Part 3 of a series on Healing Bulimia and Addictive Eating. Please click here to read Part 1. And click here to read Part 2.

I was originally going to continue this series with my next batch of Healing Ideas about bulimia. I’m still going to do that in the next post. However, this one idea, which had initially been part of the second batch, became more important as I wrote about it. It is an opening to major behavioral shifts in any addictive process.

Idea # 7: Ask, “What do I really need now?”

I have spent lots of time examining the behavior and energy of addictions, be they smoking, eating, drinking, or drug use. Each one of them has an element of what I call “stuffing.” Stuffing down the real issue. The activity is always a pushing downward. In smoking, you inhale. In eating, you chew and swallow (downward). In drinking, you gulp (downward). In the physical addictions of what we do to our bodies, it’s almost as if we’re pushing it deeper down, stuffing it, suppressing it. And as long as we’re still addicted, we’re never getting to know or see what IT is.

For instance, you get home from night class. You’re tired. You’ve had a long day. Your mom has been leaving you messages with increasing anger that you haven’t been in touch. There are emails to answer. And a friend’s wedding this weekend. You can hardly think. What you probably need at the moment is rest, self-care, quiet time, and a moment or two to just cry. Then you probably need to go to bed early. When you wake up and you feel clearer, you can sort out all that stuff.

Instead, what you do is ignore all that stuff. You go to the fridge and grab the left over cake from your friend’s birthday party, and so it begins. You fill up. And push it down. And then when that’s gone, you fill up more. In other words, you’re attempting to deny the real need. You’re suppressing it.

The only problem with this is that it’s like trying to push a beach ball down under the water and hold it there. It doesn’t want to stay. It’s not meant to stay. Your real needs, your real feelings aren’t meant to stay down. (My theory is that for those people who throw up their food, they get to have a manufactured, sometimes even violent release that temporarily makes their body feel like its needs were met. And of course, its needs haven’t been met at all.)

When you find yourself in this situation, even the slightest shift in behavior will begin a new pattern. This is not trying to stop the behavior or take anything away from you. But if you can take two minutes before launching in to the binge to ask yourself, “What is it I really need right now?” And just listen. Even if it’s something seemingly impossible like “I want to quit my job. I hate it there,” this is at least a start. You are at least shifting the pattern by listening to your heart or your body. It doesn’t mean you have to call anyone up and quit. It just means that you get to sit with that knowing. You are being radical here. You are honoring yourself. Yes, it can be scary.

If you want to follow it further, ask yourself, “What can I do for myself now? What do I need right at this moment?” The answer might be as simple as just going to bed even though it’s only 8:00. Or it might be that you want to lay in fetal position under your favorite comforter and watch “When Harry Met Sally.”

The point is this: if you can pause just for a moment and do something different, and then allow yourself the binge, if it’s still necessary (which it might be when you’re new to this), then please do it. The point is to begin to shift where you automatically go by default, which is straight to the stuffing. By asking the questions of yourself, you take even a little moment to breathe and get clear that there’s something deeper going on here. Take that one moment, even if you fail. Take it. Face the discomfort. Listen to your heart.

One final note that somehow parallels this thought: In his funny and provocative book Skipping Towards Gomorrah, Dan Savage explores, among many other things, the addiction of gambling. He writes about how bored we are as a society and how “films and television rub our noses in the exciting lives of people who almost never seem to be watching films or television.” After Savage loses three thousand dollars in three hours, he finally gets this idea of the deeper need below the gambling addiction. He writes, “Americans don’t gamble because we’re greedy for money, but because we’re greedy for reality, for a sensation that isn’t a palliative, for the real deal, a real risk, a risk that’s our own and not Brad Pitt’s. We gamble because we want a cliffhanger of our own.”

I definitely won’t be taking on gambling addiction, but it was interesting to read his take on this. What people often really need is to live a life that has meaning, risk, depth and authenticity. Begin creating this now with this tiny courageous step and listen to what your heart has to say.

16 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • Maria

    Hi CHristine,
    I am 29 years old and have been bulimic since I was 13. Like yourself I have been on quite the healing journey over the last 10 years and have truly felt that my bulimia has gone on many occasions – yet right now as I write this, I have just binged and vomited repeatedly and to be honest have done every night for the last 3 weeks. I do lead an extremely stressful and busy life like most of us. I travel all over the world with my husband and toddler. My husband is a profound healer and was the first one to really help me, but at this stage of my life I feel too terrified to tell him of my ‘problems’ because he feels that I am way too insightful, clear and powerful to allow something so destructive to take me over. So I guess I have sought out your sight because I really need to just share and confess my actions with someone whom I can trust won’t expose me in some way. In truth I feel desperate. My mind is going bonkers and I can see quite clearly how it is my mind chatter that seems to be causing pain and sorrow for me no matter where I am in the world – in other words no matter how hard I try, I can’t escape the pressure to be perfect. Can you shine any light on my circumstances – I need some help. Thank You so much.

    • Jewels

      Dear Maria,

      I am feeling like a kindred Spirit to you. I feel I have the same problem – most people around me feel I am too powerful, insightful and clear to have any problems, and that pedestal thing often makes it hard for me to be authentic and vulnerable. Of course, who puts me on the pedestal in the first place, hehehe? Me, of course.

      As a matter of fact, I am a life coach and teacher to many people who succesfully find clarity, peace and a wide open heart through my work. Yet, that often is the trap for me because I start expecting myself to be perfect and push down everything that’s less than powerful and clear.

      So yes… for me it’s a continues opening to more freedom, and as Carolyn said – more intimacy. I wish I had a powerful healer and partner by my side like your husband, Maria, with with whom I could be absolutely vulnerable, transparent and truly myself. I believe the healing for my bulimia lies in me allowing myself be absolutely utterly open, vulnerable and authentically me. The perfectionism is the driver for my bulimia. Vulnerably, intimacy and and authenticity are the healers. In other words – loving myself just as I am is the healer. Do you ever feel the same?

      blessings to all of us,
      Jewels

  • Carolyn

    Hi Christine. I have an eating disorder. I am a compulsive eater. Have been off and on for a great many years… It frightens me now, because of having had breast cancer.(Fat is bad for women at risk for breast cancer,since estrogen hangs out in fat cells after menopause, and estrogen fees the kind of cancer I had.) (I do intend to be here and to continue to be healthy, and I have some fear which I choose to release,to transform.) I just this moment before writing this let myself realize (the idea comes up from time to time and I usually “stuff” it) while reading your blog that one of my I think “core” issues that I really don’t want to admit to myself (because I think I should be “stronger” and “more enlightened” than that:~} duh..) is that I am lonely for more intimacy in my daily life, that I want to be “in relationship” with someone on some level that I haven’t experienced in many many years, beyond my exquisite relationships with my “sisters” and other friends which I treasure so much and want, along with my relationship with the creator within, to be “enough”. Anyway, I have been almost hopeless about it (eating) lately. I have had so much going on with work and with getting ready for our benefit for the past three or four months–I have let my old stand by for stress(and loneliness)”help” me avoid facing what is really going on with me. Anyway, I think I will start with just letting it be, letting myself actually feel what I feel, as non-judgmentally as I can muster…And move into setting my intention and praying and praying and praying. THANK YOU for sharing so generously of your story and our thoughts with others in this way. You are a very remarkable and deeply loving old soul. Blessings galore…. Carolyn.

  • christine

    Hello Nicole! Sheesh, I missed your comment from back in October. That’s right around when my computer melted and I lost my hard drive for quite some time. So I guess I have an excuse. Thanks so much for all of your insights, and for sharing your own experiences. It sounds like you’re really doing well!

    Hi Tamsin, (I love your name) and thanks for finding me and leaving a comment. I so appreciate your honesty. Here’s my theory: Whenever someone who has been bulimic “finds” me (by coming to a show or coming to a retreat or reading the blog), then that means they absolutely must be ready for healing. I don’t know how it works, but I am so completely aware that bulimia can be healed – I feel like I embody that belief – and I feel like I can hold that space for more people than just myself. And even just a little of my awareness can then “rub off” onto them. So, given all that, I’m going to just know that you’re on your way now. I’m so glad these blogs helped you…

  • Tamsin

    Dear Christine,

    I am a 27 year old doctor from the UK… I am currently working in psychiatry. Despite this I have had bulimia (with preceding anorexia) since the age of 13. I have had various ‘medical’ interventions with little success.. ad I have bascially adapted my life around bulimia – often to much detriment.

    I would just like to commend you on your thoughts, comments and experienced all documented on this blog.. much of what you say rings true.. and I hope that you continue to provide this very valuable resource.

    With Kind Regards

    Tamsin

  • nicole mcright

    I just stumbled on these entries from a couple weeks back and its nice to see people talk about something so real and significant. I recently just changed positions at work. I went from doing something I was utterly confident in and could write a “How To” on, to something that 1. scares me and 2. Requires me to ask other to “show me how to”. I did it b/c I wanted the challenge and the challenge brought me a whole new level of anxiety. I’ve been so overwhelmed over the last 4 months or so but I keep learning something new arround every corner. The”breaking things down into doable pieces” is soooo right on…I started giving myself a managable goal each day so that the night before if I started thinking on work rather than thinking “Oh…I have 90 people who need me now” and then becoming paralized which leads to accomplishing nothing which then leads to guilt then leading to over eating and so on…I think of my list of 5…which is far more managable…I had to admit I wasnt perfect and I wasnt superwoman and that that was ok…It was a great healing moment to learn I was not expected to be perfect …I also learned that excess sugar and caffeine were really enhancing the anxiety and cutting those two out provided me with some extra space to breathe. Every day is still tough but I’m celebrating the little things, making time for music, reminding myself that I have oodles of support and trying to see how I use what I’m learning now to help others… its very empowering…and it makes the tough stuff seem like a gift (later on of course:))
    much love,
    nicole

  • christine

    Hi Heidi. Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, “hungry” and “tired” are the two things we tend to ignore first. I fall prey to looking around and saying, “How can I be tired? None of these other people seem tired!” And so begins the cycle! Not questioning being tired, and just resting…that’s the key. Congrats on recovery… and thanks for adding to the conversation. This stuff applies to everyone really!

    Maya, Overwhelm is a huge issue for lots of women. From my own experience, I would add to Barb’s comments that the lesson is to learn how to think about things. To chunk them down. It sounds like you sit down and EVERYTHING shows up at once in your head. And it says, “This must be done now!” And the instant inclination is to run and hide. (“Get me back to where it’s comfortable!”) This may sound odd, but books like Getting Things Done have helped me learn how to handle that overwhelmed feeling. Breaking down the big picture into do-able pieces. (And yes, sometimes the voices pipe in and tell me how it’ll all never get done. And I just nod and say, Thanks for sharing.) Remember, part of what you’re managing here is your THOUGHTS about things… not just the things themselves!

    Barb, Thanks for adding to the discussion. Great ideas!

    Is there anyone else out there who has dealt with this?

  • Maya

    Thanks so much for your ideas, Barb! I’ll definitely try them out and list tasks/ tick off my accomplishments more systematically- it’s so easy to retrospectively forget or discredit how much we’ve actually achieved, isn’t it?

    Anyway, I’ll keep breathing and try to stay methodical. Thanks again,

    Maya

  • barb

    Maya, I found that when i get overwhelmed by stuff at home or when i was at a desk as an instructor, I would take a deep breath and make a list hopefully from most important to least. Like working in the yard, barn, park, read, poetry etc. i have also learned that I can only do so much in a day and so what if I can’t all the plants mulched or the entire lecture done in one sitting. then I take this list and tell myself that I have to get one on the list completely done before going to the next one. I learned a trick from an intern a long time ago, she put little boxes before each thing she had to do and then would check them off. I find this really rewarding to look back and see what I have gotten. i do this on my errand day because I can’t remember all the stuff I have to do so my list helps me stay with the program (and find the shortest path to cut down on driving). Then when I fade aout at noon, I look back and see how much I got done. I love those little boxes. Hope this helps some. barb

  • Maya

    One of my problems is that I often feel that overwhelmed feeling in work, from the first thing in the morning when I sit down at my desk, and I don’t know what to do with my feelings of inadequacy and fear and distress and despair other than stuff them down with snacks or with sugary drinks, as I feel physically trapped at my desk. I know that if I were at home I could self-soothe by going out into nature for a walk, or curling up in bed with a book, or having a bath or tinkering merrily away at a manicure, or indulging in a spot of cathartic cleaning, or distracting myself by watching a DVD. But I’m not at home. I’m at work, sitting at a desk with my head cluttered and sore with whirling thoughts and my stomach tight with anxiety. Does anyone have any tips about how to cope under those circumstances? Or to break the pattern?

    Christine, another fantastic and insightful post. Thank you so much for putting your thoughts, experiences and wisdom out there for us to read and benefit from. It helps so much.

    With love,

    Maya

  • Heidi

    Yes, addiction is about stuffing feelings, finding comfort to escape the chaos or conversely the emptiness inside. After my own recovery from drug addiction I have found several ways to self soothe when I am feeling vulnerable which occurs mostly when I am hungry, angry or tired. I take a hot bubble bath, I read a favorite book, I refuse to answer the phone, I get ultra comfy in sweats and hair up, no makeup. All these things make me feel good the way that drugs used to make me feel. I have choices today, healthy choices and self love, so I can pamper myself like a baby until I feel strong again. We are so hard on ourselves expecting to be perfect and productive all the time and when we fall short we can “punish” ourselves by being self destructive.

  • christine

    Thanks, Barb. Going to bed is so much better than sitting up and trying to work on something when you’re that tired. (I can spend a good hour just obsessing on why I’m so tired!)

  • barb

    have to chime in with taking a “minute to listen to yourself.” I know that when i get the urge to drink, I stop and ask myself what will be different the next day after I get sober. The answer is always “nothing” So I have to sit myself down and deal with the depression, having a shitty week at work or what ever. I have also learned, although still hard not to feel guilty, that it is okay to go to bed way early. (no laughs from retreaters). I was so tired last monday I went to bed at 730. I knew I was too tired to think, too tired to be constructive in poetry. I went to bed. I feel that when you are tired, you should listen to the tiredness and get the rest that will help you rejuvenate. So what if it is early. (of course my family is fourlegged). any way, listen to yourself. Always. thanks y’all. barb

  • christine

    Hi Caren! (yes, we’re all having great moments of technical prowess on these comments. I just made my first smiley face yesterday! 🙂 ) This is a great story. I appreciate your honesty. And you summed up that monkey-mind well! My acupuncturist helped me a lot with this food cravings thing this summer… cuz I went through lots of anxieties, especially when I was in the beginnings of going vegan, and he talked about how when stress comes up, we reach for our old comfort food. That’s how hooked in we are. So, that really helped me stick it out.

  • Caren

    Hey! My hyperlink *worked*! That’s my first time ever doing that! Woo-hoo!

  • Caren

    I’m reminded of a situation a few years ago… I had
    given up coffee
    (again), but one morning was feeling antsy and a little down, and wanted to go get a coffee. I didn’t want to spend any money on coffee… I couldn’t actually afford the $1.25 or whatever it would have been. I kept going back and forth… I’m going. No, I’m not. Yes, I am. I really want coffee. But I don’t REALLY want coffee. Yes, I do. But I shouldn’t spend the money. But I have $2 right here. I shouldn’t spend it. But I can, and I want to. No, I don’t. Etc., etc. My head on spin cycle with all that while I was trying to take care of stuff around the house. Finally, I decided: I’m going! Screw it! I’m just going! So, I took off to walk to the quickie-mart down the street. (fairly decent coffee) Along the way, I was still thinking “I don’t really want to be doing this. Not really. What am I doing?” I passed a small stand of trees, and thought, I’m just going to sit here a minute, and breathe. As soon as I sat down, I started crying. And crying, and crying… one of those I-think-I’m-stopping-but-no-here-come-more-sobs episodes of crying. I was vaguely concerned about what people in the passing cars thought, but not enough to move. I have no idea what the tears were for, or even what I was feeling — I just had to have a good cry. So I did that, then walked back home. Oh… THAT’s what I needed! Not coffee!

    Thank you for the suggestion to ask “What do I really need?” I forget that even if *I* don’t know in the moment, there’s a deeper wisdom that can come if I take the time to ask.

    Gassho –