Discover more from Autumn Diaries
Permission to soothe with food
When the anxieties are too high
This week I had my annual physical. An appointment I’d been anxious about for months, and even postponed a couple of times. Most people don’t like doctor’s visits and feel some anxiety around them. But I take it to the next level, it truly is one of my most dreaded things in life. And something I never talked about for decades, let alone shared so publicly. This is a big step for me, but I think it’s an important one for my healing process.
I’ve had this fear ever since I was a little girl. My first memory is of being 7 or 8 years old and my mom telling me at the beginning of summer that she had booked our annual kids’ physical for the fall. That was my summer ruined as a dark cloud descended upon me, whatever I did to enjoy the time off school was overshadowed by my anxiety over this upcoming appointment. Usually the week before the appointment I developed a bad stomachache, to the point where I could barely stand upright on the day of the actual visit.
My fear was never about the physical exam but about the doctor finding a terrible illness. So when I developed these stomachaches I immediately worried what it could mean. The actual appointments are a blur in my memory but I remember clearly how the stomachaches went away afterwards. Every time.
I never told anyone about any of this. My mom had no clue what was going on inside of me around these doctor’s appointment. For decades I kept those fears to myself, never understanding or even questioning why I had them, and never wanting to talk about them because that would make them real.
This changed about eight years ago, one year before my mom passed away. I mentioned to her that I just don’t understand why I am always so scared of doctors and hospitals. “I know why,” she said “when you were three months old I found a lump at the top of your neck and went to the doctor, and he immediately sent us to the hospital and they immediately took you in and operated. The tumor was benign but there were complications from the surgery and you spent the next three months in hospital. I was not allowed to see you, other than through the window at the nursery.” (This was how things were done in the 1960s).
I knew about the tumor which left a scar across the bottom of my skull, but I had no idea about the subsequent three-month hospital stay and that my mom was not allowed to be with me, no-one every told me that part.
The sequence of something’s wrong > doctor > hospital > abandonment by the most important person (through no fault of hers) is imprinted in my DNA forever. And how traumatizing this must have been for my mom, too. She was only 22 at the time, so young and helpless in a system that was not designed to support the important mother/baby bond in a situation like this.
There was another incident when I was six years old and sent away to a six-week summer camp before starting school. This was mandatory for new school kids in the 1960s. Towards the end I got sick with either measles or scarlet fever, and was put into quarantine for the last two weeks. They never informed my mom and I was pretty much left alone the whole time, except for meal deliveries. I do have some memory of the summer camp experience and it basically sealed the deal on my ‘illness = abandonment’ trauma.
Here is the thing: even knowing now what is at the root of my health anxieties has not eliminated them. The body memory is deep and food has always been the easiest and quickest method to soothe myself (also rooted in childhood events but that’s a story for another time).
This week was very interesting in this regard. I did some tapping, something I am still learning from my coach Joan, and on one occasion it brought up a lot of tears for the frightened, little girl who got stomachaches before doctor’s visits. This felt like a breakthrough of sorts, I could definitely feel something unclogging inside.
I also journaled a lot and my journal is slowly but surely becoming a trusted and supportive friend on this journey.
But about two days before the appointment the inner tension was rising to a level where I just wanted relief. So I gave myself permission to soothe with food and what can I say, it helped. I didn’t go crazy with it and I did not have any refined sugar! But I did overindulge on things like bread and cheese, and big bowls of greek yoghurt with honey & carob.
The appointment went better than expected (as an aside: my doc knows about my anxieties and he is always very supportive), and now I am just waiting for the blood test results, some of which won’t be great. I could happily continue with the comfort eating while I am waiting but I decided to not do that and to get back to my regular program this weekend: three healthy meals a day, two or three ‘No Dinner’ nights, 16:8 IF, and walking which we started up again last week.
Ultimately I want to get to a point where overeating isn’t my most effective tool for soothing these anxieties. What I am learning, actually, is that overeating is not even soothing as much as it is numbing. Just like Xanax (which I rarely use because I hate taking meds) which calms my mind but also numbs me.
I keep coming back to my word this year wich is FEEL. This week I’ve had glimpses of the power behind feeling our feelings, moments of aliveness and a sense of presence. Overeating and Xanax are about falling asleep to myself, whereas to FEEL is all about being awake for my life.
Which is why this journey is about so much more than losing weight, right?
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I want to conclude by saying that I often feel that my trauma is ‘nothing’ compared to what other people have been through, like victims of rape, abuse, neglect or war. I often think of refugees and women who were sexually abused as children, how do you ever get over something like that? I have no doubt that on some level most of us have experienced some kind of trauma in our lives, and how we deal with it depends on many factors, both externally and internally. I can never speak for others, I just know how my own experience - ‘small’ as it may be - has affected much of my life. And perhaps this will in some ways help others, too, whose trauma is maybe not so obvious but has impacted their lives as well. Let’s figure this out together, shall we?