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*well-meaning swear words follow.
Opening my eyes to the sunlight just starting to soften the room, I roll over to my right and look at the table next to me and let out a deep sigh as my eyes blur with tears, I see them.
The wrappers and packaging from another late-night binge.
The first words out of my mouth weren’t “good morning Dear World, we have another glorious day ahead of us,” and they weren’t “good morning Lila, let’s a have a cuddle then go for a hike.”
The first words drowning inside a deep exhale, steeped in disappointment and real confusion, were “what the fuck Jules.”
As I sat up, shooting angry looks at the plastic and the packaging littering the wooden chair that I’ve repurposed as a night table, I also had the thought, “Well, at least we aren’t hiding them anymore…progress?”
And with that somewhat positive spin, I got up, got dressed, and moved on.
But that’s not really how the story went. I did get up and get dressed, but I didn’t move on. The shame and guilt and confusion were draped on my shoulders, weighing me down (along with the weeks’ worth of calories I consumed in less than an hour that night).
Even years later…decades later, I still binge. But, I really have come far. I know that and I’m proud of my emotional growth and figuring shit out. My binging episodes are more “evolved” now and I understand them, mostly.
I’ve figured out what triggers most of them and have put some safeguards and awareness roadblocks in the way to at least slow them down. Slow them down enough to be able to insert a decision-making process in the spoke and try to stop the spinning wheels.
I no longer allow any type of sugary anything in my house. I wasn’t born with an “in moderation” setting in my body and if the item appears, it will be consumed, rapidly. Knowing this, I have to have the full-on decision to get up, get dressed, and walk to the local market to get my binge accoutrement. The village where I currently live only has one such market and having to go night-after-night to the same man and buy the same things would have been impossible for me before.
Now, I don’t feel the shame around that and don’t really care what this man thinks, mostly. Of course, I buy lots of other things so it’s not so obvious. And I used to make a sport out of hiding the packaging directly after binging. Even though I live alone, I still hid them in shame and fear. Now, as I type, I have a few plastic wrappers next to the keyboard. They don’t bother me so much. The plastic does. I try not to involve single-use plastic in my life but that’s another article.
But in the past few weeks, I haven’t had any of the triggers that would send me running to the market as soon as the sun sets or it’s dinner time here and fewer people would be at the shop.
Actually, things have been going quite well recently. So, what the fuck Jules?
Why self-sabotage now?
The closest idea I have, is that it’s scary when things go right. I don’t have the experience and comfort level to know what to do when things start going my way. I’ve failed a thousand times and I know how to pull myself up, pick the gravel out of my skinned knees, and limp on. That’s easy. Been there, done that…probably have a few T-shirts from it too.
I read something about a year ago that rebel empaths like me, we need to know that something will certainly work out before we’ll even attempt it. That’s been 100 percent true throughout my life. It has to make sense to me, and I have to have some proof that it will work, otherwise I will protest and just not do the thing.
So I did that. Last year, exactly at this time, I declared that I’m going to do one full year with no sugar. None, nothing even sweet tasting: no fruit, no processed sugars, no fake sugars. Just give my body, my PCOS and insulin resistance, and my moods a break. I did it too. Well, mostly. I made it eight months sugar sober. In those eight months, I also developed a discipline habit, worked my way up to walking 10,000 steps every morning, and I lost 25 kgs (over 50 lbs). It worked. I was able to do this because I remembered the times when I’d do a month or a few weeks without sugar and how successful that was. So I took that experience and repeated daily. Until one day I stopped and started eating “just a little” sugar.
So here I am, five months later and still binging. Still causing my insulin resistant cells to create chaos in my body. Why? Am I trying to self-soothe?
Addictions are mind fucks. And body fucks. Using any substance or action to escape feeling what you don’t want to feel, thinking what you don’t want to think about, and generally just numbing the pain…is what keeps us stuck in these addictive patterns. I really thought I had worked through this. I did the journaling and the meditating. I talked with friends and read the books. And yet, here I am. The first sign of things being scary or unsettled and I run, like a thief in the night, to self-medicate with the only thing that is still legal and available (while the market is open).
Usually when I get that need-to-numb feeling, I check the clock. The store closes at 9 p.m. and I just need to get one minute past that and tomorrow will be another day to conquer. So I read, or dance, or write, do the dishes, or scroll mindlessly online. Anything to escape.
So often when our bodies get overwhelmed, we go into freeze mode. Freeze is that awkward AF, wide-eyed cousin of fight-or-flight modes. Maybe it’s that. Maybe it’s the overwhelm and that I finally have good ideas for my future. Maybe it’s that I have a future? I never thought I would have one. I’m shocked and a little bit confused of how I made it this far.
Maybe seeing that my future plans are cool, the goals are reachable, and that I have it in me…maybe that’s what’s scaring me into freeze mode. Maybe the idea that I can be successful is still too scary to process and I need to escape and stick something else in the spoke. Just to slow life down and sit with these feelings a little longer.
Maybe breaking my magical future plans down into palatable bites, knowing that each bite-size goal is attainable because I’ve done those things before, I’ve been slightly successful here and there before. Maybe that’s the key to shifting out of freeze, numb, escape, binge mode?
The saying “if you want it bad enough, you’ll make it happen. If you don’t, you’ll make excuses,” well that’s always felt logical but I don’t think for a moment anyone struggling with an addiction doesn’t “want’ to be sober bad enough. It’s these voids inside that feel so comfortable I guess. In the moment it feels good to escape. It’s what I know; I know what that feels like and it’s safe. For a minute or two.
The biological process that happens after my binge should be enough to stop the next one, or at least send me to another type of escape. Having insulin resistance and binging on sugar is probably the worst thing I could do to my body. I don’t even get “high” from the sugar anymore. I just feel the hangover right after: headache, tummy ache, fatigue, and the gross, sweaty, clammy skin. And then the mood swings happen.
So, with all this logic and doing the work and feeling the feels and making the plans that aren’t so scary—when do the binges end? Are they always going to be a part of my life, like grief…just feel a bit different and visit me when I’m least expecting it? Is it my body’s way of reminding me that I need to slow down, pay attention to some random thing, or some other invisible visitor waving a huge flag where I still need to heal? I hope to figure this out, mostly.
If you’re stuck in a freeze mode or finding yourself clinging to old ways that no longer serve you, and if you also need to make it to 9:01 p.m., I hope these tools can help you, too:
Dancing. I have a playlist on Spotify for every mood. Not necessarily the mood I’m currently in, the mood I want to be in. Music just gets me there, every time. Certain songs and lyrics make me wiggle with delight.
Reach out to a friend. Whatsapp has this amazing voice message feature where you can just hit record and chat forever…it’s a one-sided chat, but it’s a good way to work out feelings and just connect with another. No need to hold the microphone icon down each time for a minute. It’s freestyle chatting for good friends. And I add “good” friends because being on the receiving end of a 27-minute voice message is not for everyone. I’m not a phone person and definitely not a video person. This way, the introvert in me can communicate on my own terms.
Walking. I’m a nature person and I have a dog. Right now we also have ridiculous heatwaves and lockdowns so the walking has been hit or miss lately. But in the right season, walking in nature is the balm to my soul. I’ve also learned to forage and delight in bringing home the fixings for a salad or tea.
Water. Just dipping my head under water, whether in the shower or pool or lake or sea, there’s no better feeling than rising up to break the surface of the water, like emerging from the womb for your first breath. It’s when I feel the safest and most okay with the world and myself.
Nourish your body. Have healthy, delicious foods that are nourishing to your cells available and prepared. If you’re heading into the emotional deep end, stock up and get prepared. Seasonal smoothies with fresh fruits and veggies are excellent to satisfy a sweet tooth. Eating a hearty soup or spicy meal is a yummy way to give the body some extra, tasty love.
Anything that makes you feel safe. Makes you not feel the need to run, hide, escape. What are your go-to ways to soothe your fears and feelings?