How to release the pain that you’ve carried
At the root of every eating disorder is loss. To heal the roots of a sugar compulsion, an eating disorder or food compulsion, this loss needs to be acknowledged – to come to light. It needs to be held in loving hands, grieved, and released.
Sy Safransky, editor and publisher of The Sun, says it like this:
“Just as the Inuit have different words for snow on the ground and snow in the air and snow that drifts, may be we could have different words for tears: tears we’ll forget by tomorrow, tears we never cried but should have, tears that fall from our children’s eyes, tears that fall too quickly to wipe away.”
The losses underneath an eating disorder are the tears that were never cried; the tears that fell too quickly to wipe away.
What is this loss?
Sometimes it’s a physical loss. But more often, these are the losses of childhood – the emotional losses, the intangible losses that leave marks on the psyche: the losses where a child felt a lack of belonging, of love, of mattering, of significance, of feeling known and understood. The losses of abandonment, of parental rejection, of feeling uninvited by those who matter most – a child’s caregivers.
The loss can be misplaced blame. When things didn’t work, the child may have taken it on themselves – “It’s all my fault (guilt and blame) or “I’m bad” (shame.)
The loss could have been interpreted by the child as, “I’m too much” or “I’m not enough.”
These losses can be perceived or real. What matters is how they impact the child.
These losses live in the body. They shape and influence present day beliefs, thoughts, emotions and ways of responding to your internal and external environment.
These losses also impact development. When there is too much loss, too much wounding, or when there is too much felt vulnerability, a child’s brain will erect defenses to protect the child and to preserve functioning. It works – it preserves functioning. But the cost is the development of the child.
As adults, when we act out eating disorder behavior, what we are acting out is the pain of childhood loss that has never been witnessed. In many ways, the behavior is a voice for the pain of the 3 or 5 or 10 year old child.
This pain needs to be expressed. It needs a witness. It needs a true witness to replace the witness of the binge, the purge, the skipped meal, the chronic diet, the sugar obsession, the weight obsession.
There is hope: eating disorders and food compulsions can be outgrown. Neuroplasticity is a form of grace, offering faith and hope that human development can occur at any age, no matter how much it’s gone awry.
To outgrow any pattern of wounding, including eating disorders and food compulsions, we must grieve the losses that were never grieved; we must cry the tears that were never cried.
When we mourn the losses of childhood, we “become changed by what we can’t change.” (The words are from Dr. Gordon Neufeld, my teacher in developmental science and whose teachings shape my work.) As we feel the futility of all our childhood beliefs and blame, as we feel the futility of all our food compulsions – “it didn’t work, it doesn’t work, it will never work” – we come to the still point of change.
Grieving – moving through futility – creates an internal boundary, where we can release what we’ve carried – all the beliefs and perceptions and shame that have kept us stuck. In feeling our tears of futility, we come to a new way of being and behaving and believing, where we no longer feel governed by our past; where we no longer need to use food to express what didn’t work.
For we have released the deepest level of what didn’t work.
For more hands on help, you may enjoy these pages on healing your relationship with sugar and healing your relationship with food. You’ll find lots of links to videos, blog posts, and an explanation of what drives food and sugar compulsions.