For years it felt as though something was missing in my life. I couldn’t quite pinpoint it as a child, but I knew something didn’t feel right. Growing up with a hard-working, single Dutch mother, I relied on her for everything: food, shelter, clothes on my back; and even deeper: love, safety, nurturing and comfort.
Growing up, we were very close. Since I am an only child and she a single parent, I felt like it was us against the world. We watched out for each other. From early on, I felt it was my duty to take care of her just as much as it was her duty to take care of me.
She was a very strict mother and quite particular in how she wanted things done. Her way was the only way. I was often faulted when something in the house went missing, and it seemed like I was always the offender to break things. I felt as though my feelings were always less important than hers. I recall many occasions when we fought, even if I was the one upset, I’d learned to swallow my tears and apologize. I was afraid that if I didn’t make amends, I would lose her. I needed her.
She was one to criticize easily. Her intention was merely to teach me the “right way”, but instead it left me with a message that I repeatedly heard: “I’m not good enough”. This belief in myself was formed not only from the interactions I had with my mother, but in my early school years when I was picked last, ignored, or not affirmed by my insights from the teachers I looked up to.
I learned that whenever I needed answers, my mother would always have one. Whenever I was unsure of what to do next, she would point in the direction she thought was best for me. Our relationship was very hot and cold, but she was still my rock. She was the only person I turned to to soothe the pain after a break up. She was the only person I truly felt I could count on when I felt like giving up on life. But as time moves forward and I realized that I had to grow up, I was worried that my neediness for her was actually hindering my own progression in becoming a strong, self-sufficient woman.
I had followed a direction that I thought was right for me, but it lead me to a life I was so deeply unsatisfied in. I was unhappy in my work environment, in my relationship, and with the people I called “close friends”. I grew up with a lot of self-doubt and not trusting my own instincts because I had learned in childhood to rely on others instead.
Over time, that lurking feeling as though something was missing became more apparent with each year and no matter how hard I tried to fill it, I couldn’t. This lead to many years of emotional eating and serial dating one man after another in hopes to find answers to the piece that was missing inside me. I wanted to feel whole.
Compulsion and Intimacy
We all have this need to feel whole. The moment we feel a lack in our life—like there’s something missing—we begin a slow panic to the floor and seek out whatever can fill us as quickly as possible.
One of my favorite authors, Geneen Roth, who speaks on becoming whole through emotional eating writes: “if we feel that something or someone can make right what is wrong, then we will become compulsive about always having it.” This is what a bad habit had become for me over the years: a compulsion to always have it.
Think about the last time you were in the middle of an uncomfortable emotion. Maybe you felt overwhelmed, stressed, worried, sad, disappointed or regretful. How did you handle it? Did you eat away your feelings with a box of delivery pizza? Did you try to press it down and ignore it?
There were two avenues of my bingeing: Food and Men.
I turned to food to self-soothe. For many of us, food is a crutch to keep us upright in times of discomfort. It is something we can always depend on when we’re feeling things we don’t want to feel. And why shouldn’t we depend on food? Food has never objected us, nor has it ever talked back or disappointed us. We can always count on food to be there. It’s a quick fix for us to avoid pain and gain temporary pleasure. I knew that if I continued through life bingeing on sugars, cheese and breads every time an uncomfortable emotion surfaced, I would end up causing complications to my health, body image, self-esteem and overall wellness. I knew I didn’t want to go down that path.
Oftentimes the pang of hunger for something more in life is mistaken for the pang of physical hunger. We open the refrigerator looking for companionship and instead find a slice of chocolate cake. Each time we reach for food instead of reaching within to see what we’re really hungry for, is a missed opportunity to really connect with ourselves on an intimate level.
When I wasn’t turning to food it was because I was getting my fill from my romantic partner. Being in the arms of a man gave me the affection, attention and acknowledgement I searched for in life. But I found that whenever I wasn’t receiving this from him, I would get very angry, feeling almost betrayed and think, “How dare he not love me.” This was by no means a healthy relationship. I relied solely on this new person in my life to fill, protect, and care for me. I became some sort of parasite that could only survive in the presence of its host.
The more love we receive the more we crave. And just like food, we don’t know when we’ve had enough. We think that this man is the answer to what we’ve been searching for and we unknowingly begin to wrap our lives around them. We make the drive to their place. We break plans with our own friends to see theirs. We lose sight of our own dreams. We begin to follow a path that is not ours but theirs.
During childhood we rely on our mothers and fathers for a healthy sense of attachment, where we feel safe, affirmed and unconditionally loved no matter the mistakes we make along the way. Eventually though, we must learn to walk on our own and become reliant on our own inner mothering. The search for something outside of ourselves to fill the emptiness from within implies that somehow, we believe we aren’t capable of filling it ourselves. When it comes to bingeing on food or bingeing on men, we feel “full” in someway and mistake this feeling as being whole. This ‘full’ feeling is only temporarily because the moment we’re alone the emptiness becomes apparent again. Instead of leaning into our own power as fierce and feminine women, we turn to other, more easily-accessible feel-good sources like food, sex, alcohol, drugs, and shopping to numb ourselves from the pain (or at least distract us). What it really comes down to is that we lack trust in ourselves to make ourselves feel good again.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I relied on my mother for all my needs to be filled, but the more I relied on her guidance for my life, the less I could hear my own intuition and guidance. We can fool ourselves into doing things that are against our values or beliefs in order to keep us safe. Even more, we can fool ourselves into believing we are happy, when it’s really to avoid pain. For example, we can stay in relationships for far longer than its expiration. In the same way that we can stay in a career or a school program even when on some level we know we it won’t make us happy.
It’s not easy sitting with uncomfortable emotions. When something in our life is no longer in alignment with what makes us happy, we pretend it’s not there. But in this, we lose connection to our most valuable guidance system: our intuition. Our intuition gives us instant answer if we learned to ask ourselves. And our hearts know what path we’re really meant to follow. Neither food or another person can give us this sacred knowledge of what’s best for us. Learning how to trust yourself again starts with reconnecting back to yourself.
Reconnecting to You
If you try to fill this hole inside you without asking what it truly needs, then you won’t be able to fill it. When we lean into our own power of self-soothing and self-nurturing, we can become more self-reliant. We shift from Bingeing to Being. We acknowledge and utilize the resources that we’ve always had within us. But how does one do this after so many years of relying on external validation and guidance?
- The next time you feel the urge to reach for food or turn to your partner, friend or family member for their help… STOP! Pause. Tune into your body right now and feel into where you might be feeling some anxiousness, or tightness, or discomfort. Place your hand over this area (stomach, head, heart, chest) and ask it “What is it that you are really wanting right now? What are you missing?”
- If you don’t hear anything back, that’s okay. It takes practise to tune in to your body’s whispers. Usually it’s your first response; whatever pops into your mind first. That’s intuition.
- When you’ve gotten some insight into what this part of you is really craving, ask yourself: “If I were living from my deepest and truest part of myself, what would I do in this situation?”
- Listen, give this part of you thanks for communicating this to you and go and take on this action!
Becoming whole is not something that can happen overnight, but it can happen wonderfully if you’re committed to trusting yourself. It takes practise to create new neuropathways and trust that you can do it! What you are doing in this simple process is changing your behavior one problem at a time.
I’d love to hear your experiences with this! Share with me your wins and your insights 😊