I, like many of us I am learning, was never taught how to cope as a child. I was not taught how to process my emotions or how to handle a trauma in a healthy way. Lacking actual education on the subject I learned through example. My example taught that when you are upset you do one of two things. You can lash out and put all of your emotions onto someone else or you can bottle it up and swallow it down with a big helping of dessert. In my early twenties I learned that lashing out is not beneficial to anyone and gained better control of how I displayed my emotions outwardly. I thought that was all the work I had to do, if my emotions weren’t effecting anyone else then how I’m coping is not a problem, right? It took until a couple months ago to even realize the other method was a coping mechanism I relied on heavily.
Binge Eating Disorder is thought to be the most common eating disorder. It can be simply defined as Eating-Your-Feelings-On-Steroids. Links at the end of this blog can provide you with more information. Many people don’t know that this is a diagnose-able and treatable condition. I know I didn’t. After opening my eyes to the fact that this disorder has been my main coping mechanism since my teenage years I had an irrational amount of shame to work through. The perfectionism that comes with my anxiety makes me hard on myself, and this was no exception. Why had I not seen it previously? Why was I able to spot and steer clear of other destructive behaviors I witnessed in childhood, but not able to see this one? I would think back on particularly stressful moments in life and could remember the binge episodes that followed. I beat myself up for each and every one. How could I not see it?
Here is where I could get on a soap box for a while, I’m not going to, but I have to make one point. When we are inundated with a culture that encourages you to eat your grief and markets things like a “chocolate hug” for those single on Valentines day it’s easy to see why someone who struggles with the actual disorder would not notice their disordered eating. It’s hard to see the line between what society says is “normal emotional eating” and what is actually disordered eating.
Since seeing my disordered eating for what it is I have taken steps to minimize my use of this coping mechanism and began learning new, healthy ways to cope. I cleared my home of all foods that I would binge on, I set my finances up so I would not be able to swipe for fast food without my husband seeing it (and helping keep me accountable), and I began to write. Writing is quickly becoming the best coping mechanism I have ever used. I can write out my feelings and read them back to myself so I can easily spot what is rational and what is irrational. I can write out traumatic memories and read them back to myself to desensitize the impact they have. I can write out my successes and read them back to myself to remind myself what I am capable of when I have a low moment.
In addition to writing I practice mindfulness and meditation. Forcing myself to be fully in the moment helps keep me out of my head and lessens my anxiety in day to day situations. Meditating on specific triggers, traumatic memories, or overwhelming situations helps me to fully process my emotions and get to the root cause of them so my emotions do not effect my behaviors.
Developing healthy coping mechanisms is something that is not easy as an adult. Unlearning what you have learned, breaking bad habits, working through long buried traumas is extremely difficult work. It is work worth doing. For every moment that you feel raw and exposed you will have a moment of relief and peace. Every overwhelming memory, every emotion you felt but never processed, every grudge you don’t even know you are holding do not have to burden you forever. You can process them now. You can feel them now. You can work through them in a healthy way and find peace now. I strongly recommend doing this work with a qualified therapist to guide you as I am. But, if you walk away from this post with nothing else I want you to know this: There is no shame in having unhealthy coping mechanisms. It is not too late to learn how to cope. Peace of mind is possible, learning healthy coping is the road to healing.
Visit the Binge Eating Disorder Association’s website for more information on diagnosing, treating, and supporting loved ones with the disorder. http://bedaonline.com/