Sitting here at home, I’m leafing through my favorite author’s books rapidly, trying to find some golden nuggets of wisdom that will make me feel better. Something that will get me out of my negative space. Something that will help me deal constructively with this strange mix of anxiety, anger, pain and insecurity I’m sitting with.
I am a very positive, happy person most of the time. Typically, if I feel a negative emotion, it’s fleeting, or I can redirect myself quickly by feeling gratitude for some things. Occasionally I slip into a negative space that is hard to climb out of. Usually it only lasts a couple hours, at the most, and I’m grateful for that. When it lasts longer than a day, or comes up more frequently, I am obsessed with getting rid of it.
Many people know that I used to be an emotional eater. When I felt any strong emotion, positive or negative, I ate. Sweets and carbs in excess. It felt good, and then gross. I did emotional eating for 20-some years. Miraculously, it rarely happens anymore, because I’ve put so much effort into dealing with it. Sometimes, though, I still get a reminder from my brain that I used to reach for food to comfort myself, to escape from my feelings.
Years ago, I made a firm decision to create a better relationship with food and eating. I was sick of hiding how I felt with food. I was tired of trying to create good, happy, positive feelings by eating something delicious. I didn’t want to use food to comfort myself. No more escaping. No more numbing.
That conviction meant it was time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable; to sit in a negative, uncomfortable space like I am right now, without escaping. Without going to the kitchen and opening all the cabinets and the refrigerator. Becoming more comfortable with discomfort is confrontation with myself. It leads to self-examination, self-forgiveness, and constantly reminding myself that, as Brene Brown says, “I am imperfect and I am enough.”
Brene Brown, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, refers to it as “leaning into discomfort.” She called herself a take-the-edge-off-aholic. She didn’t have a full blown addiction to one thing. She did a little bit of everything to numb her emotions. A little drinking, a little smoking, comfort eating, perfectionism, staying busy, and working and worrying excessively.
When you distract yourself from what’s bothering you, you’re making the problem worse. You know that, right? If you give up distraction ( via excessive eating, shopping, working, or drinking, etc), then you come face-to-face with some issues that need to be addressed. Personal and spiritual growth.
It can be incredibly uncomfortable to do without comfort eating and face your feelings directly. I have a list of things that make me feel better without turning to food. Most of them involve self-care. It’s the opposite of whatever vice you are numbing with, because eating chips and cheese for dinner when you’re upset is the opposite of self-care.
Here’s what IS better AND feels better to me:
sitting on the porch by myself, when it’s quiet
writing a gratitude list
reading old cards
looking at old photos
talking with a friend on the phone
reading something inspirational
being near water, in general
unplugging from electronics
keeping my phone on “silent”
making a vision board
doing something generous for a friend
Keep in mind, if you make your own list, be aware of putting anything on it that is actually numbing/escapist. This includes going shopping, checking e-mail, having a glass of wine, and anything else you’d describe as a distraction. The point is to stay in the present moment and process what is uncomfortable.
If you want to read more on this topic, there’s a post I wrote several months ago called “Everyone Numbs Negative Feelings.”