My drive for emotional safety overpowered care for my body.
We have many words to describe the very common dissociation of ourselves from our bodies. “She’s stuck in her head.” “I live from the neck up.” We feel like we are at war with the drives and compulsions in our body. We numb out and act out.
These are trauma responses. The result of traumatic experiences (including emotional neglect) is that we disconnect from ourselves, our sense of value and from the present moment. When we are overwhelmed and feel powerless, we do our best to escape.
We disconnect because it is too painful to stay.
We daydream and live in a world of fantasy of “some day”. We escape into video games, the world online and into the second-hand emotional connection of books, shows and movies. Alcohol and other drugs do it for us. Until they don’t. Gambling. Sex and porn addiction. Or the more socially approved escape hatch of overwork or shoe shopping. This becomes our normal way to experience life.
Unresolved trauma is stored in the tissues of the body and it takes a lot to keep it repressed. Many of us know from direct experience the sweet freedom of attending to the feelings, energy and sensations in our bodies. The need to escape dissolves as we connect again. We realize the painful sensations in our body are actually here as a protection. To let us know something needs our attention. We begin to welcome everything in our experience with compassion and kind eyes.
I too have let my body “take one for the team”. I have eaten ice cream and watched endless feel-good movies. As ultimately unsatisfying as that is, it got me through to deeper healing and I appreciate that.
For the past few months I have been experimenting with intermittent fasting. Google Dr Jason Fung for the science behind it. There are many levels to work with intermittent fasting and I have been keeping an attitude of mindful observation and kindness.
What is so interesting to me is my fear of the sensation of hunger. The emptiness in my stomach. As humans, we all associate hunger with danger. We could literally die of starvation. So the primitive brain isn’t going to be happy about fasting. We are masters of association – this equals danger so the brain warns us through a flood of hormones and chemicals in our body. That intuitively makes sense.
When I was a teenager, I used food to repress traumatic responses in my body. It wasn’t perfect but it worked to numb out for awhile. Combined with books and movies, I could escape into some comfort. Now however, I don’t need to escape. I am familiar with my body and I’m no longer at war with my feelings. What I’m left with is to work with the old associations of: a full stomach feels safe, and an empty stomach feels unsafe. My body well remembers that desperate need to repress loneliness, isolation, and shame! When that is associated with that empty feeling in my stomach, I understand why I will do almost anything to avoid it. I have felt I literally cannot stand that feeling and sometimes I would preemptively eat when I’m not even hungry “just in case”.
I have been tuning in to the feelings and sensations in my stomach, on fasting days and on regular eating days.
Where do I feel it? Is it painful? Hot and burning? Tight and contracted? Where does the sensation end? I notice the space all around the sensation. I see that it comes and goes. I’ll feel a hunger sensation for awhile then I tune in half an hour later and realize it is long gone.
I love that this is healthier for my body. My liver is no longer being overtaxed with too much food too often. I’m discovering I can survive feeling hunger. What a journey! What is it like for you?