Owning My Shadow of Food Addiction

This post is dedicated to my mentor and teacher Debbie Ford.

“Our shadow is all the aspects that we reject out of shame, fear or, disapproval. It is made up of any part of ourselves that we believe is unacceptable, will be met with disapproval by others, or that annoys, horrifies or disgusts us about other people or about ourselves.”

“Your Life will be transformed when you make peace with your Shadow” Debbie Ford

Photo by Nikki Deveau

Do you want to be cured? Do you want to be Free? How free do you want to be?” John O’Donohue

Food addiction is the hardest for most people to understand. Addiction of any kind is hard, and for those who don’t struggle with the same addiction, it is even harder to explain. Although this addiction has been a constant companion of mine for many years, I too, could not let myself believe it was a true addiction. That is part of the problem why I could not overcome this. This is silly in retrospect, for I have been obese most of my adult life despite mainly eating healthy. Addiction has more to do with finding ways to numb from emotions and feelings that seem vulnerable or weak, yet in reality, they are a necessary part of the human experience.

Debbie Ford suggested that those who were overweight may want to join a 12 step program during training. I thought to myself, “what does she know.” At that point, I was in training to become an Integrative Life Coach with her. I had already lost about 70 lbs and thought I had a handle on my overeating and did not need to join Overeaters Anonymous. How ironic, over fifteen years later, I am finally listening to her wise counsel. I am sure she is chuckling from heaven at my final surrender.

What you don’t own, owns you,” Debbie Ford.

Addiction takes many forms; it is not only food, alcohol, drugs, gambling, which are commonly known. Other forms are gossiping, being a work acholic, co-dependency, overly controlling, and the list goes on. We all have coping mechanisms that can be, at times, unhealthy, but if they are dominant, they can become destructive over time. If this starts at a very young age, it can become a hardwired default in our brain that can be tough but not impossible to reroute.

Eating when stressed started for me when I was a very little girl. Today I often turn to food, even for minor stressors, even with healthy foods. When more significant stressors happen, I often become stoic to survive then crash emotionally when I feel some relief; usually, this is when my compulsive overeating happens. It’s a delayed stress reaction. That was a survival coping mechanism that served me well as a young child living with a very unpredictable dad who could be violent at times. I had to hide and stay silent, barely breathing as not to be seen, and when the threat was over, I would eat something to calm myself down as an unconscious reflex. My brain created a strong neural pathway to food, not just for pleasure but emotional survival. I went into therapy for the abuse I witnessed as a child many years ago as a young adult. Later with shadow training, I uncovered many other parts that I learned to integrate and heal. But somehow, owning the food addiction part had alluded me until now. Oh, I would tell people I had a food addiction but did nothing to own it. Therefore I was not ready to do something about it. 

“Its only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of the events, by which the path to success may be recognized” Debbie Ford

Part of my illusion story as a food addict was I was mainly over it because I ate healthy 80% most of the time, and I had kept 50 pounds off all these years; I thought the rest would work out in time. The truth is, I did not want to truly admit this. The Pandemic revealed the truth to me after I gained 35-pounds. I did not want to own this because I coped well for most of the Pandemic, even losing some weight at first, but compulsive eating was obviously there. There it was, staring me in the face again, but I still was in denial. I did not want to be cured but it was getting exhausting to keeping it up.

By choosing not to allow parts of ourselves to exist, we are forced to expend huge amounts of psychic energy to keep them beneath the surface.” Debbie Ford

I finally was ready to own this shadow in March of this year; I joined an OA 12 step program; It’s been such a breath of fresh air. I have landed in a community that understands me in a way I only appreciate now. One thing I found interesting, is that some members have multiple addictions, and they say that food is the hardest. This is because the other addictions you can stop, such as smoking or consuming drugs or drinking alcohol; not an option with food.

So it begins a very layered, complex challenge to uncover. This is my newest journey of self-discovery, my dance with compulsive overeating, a food addiction, one day at a time.

On July 21st, I am sitting here after eating an entire 12-inch Greek pizza. I am uncomfortably full. I am disconnected but comfortably numb. I am not even sure that I enjoyed it, to be honest. My stomach is bloated and even a bit painful. I sit here trying to understand why I chose to do this after 54 days of abstinence from compulsive overeating. I fell over two weeks ago and have been in quite a bit of pain until yesterday. Yesterday I felt much better and ended up eating two massive plates of pasta instead of a regular serving and felt uncomfortable after. This was the beginning of the downward turn that ended in the next day eating a whole pizza. I knew something had shifted.

Ironically, I have learned it is not the act of compulsive eating that is most destructive; it’s the rabbit hole of getting lost in anger, frustration, self-pity, and disappointment after. At first, I am pissed at myself for a while, and then I realize this is futile. Instead of lamenting, I need to be compassionate to ask myself constructive questions to help figure this out. I have learned that getting angry with myself prolongs the agony. Self-deprecation is a form of self-sabotage. When I go there, I readily allow the default habit to give me more reason to continue overeating, thus the never-ending cycle of self-sabotage. Because I stopped beating myself up, sat in silence and meditated a bit, I remembered “delayed stress reaction of course!” This is the essential information and a way to prepare the next time after a significant stressor; I will need to reach out to my OA community more. 

“Remember, all the answers you need are inside of you; you only have to become quiet enough to hear them” Debbie Ford

Self-compassion, curiosity and honesty bring healing to me as I stay on this journey, and because I am human, I will create stories of self-pity from time to time; it’s the awareness that will and does save my a** every time.

I remind myself of the questions again by John O’Donohue

All these years of not admitting that I am powerless against this addiction without help has kept my cycle of denial and self-sabotage going. It’s a way of feeding the excuses to keep my addiction. I have owned and transformed so many other areas of my life, but this one has continued to haunt me. Do I want to be cured? Do I want to be free? I feel my body become defensive as I’m answering this in my mind, “OF COURSE I DO!” Then I am reminded by something else Debbie used to say 

“If we want to know what we’re really committed to, all we have to do is look at our lives.” Debbie Ford

I have been way more committed to keeping my addiction than being free of it all these years, so I kept lying to myself. Thank you, Debbie, for guiding me from beyond. It’s taken a long time, but I am ready to be free one day at a time. 

This understanding is a powerful awakening for me. It will take a lot of awareness to redirect each time this comes up again. Life will continue its ebb and flow of highs and lows, and I need to learn to gently cultivate healthier ways to release stress as it’s happening.

There is a delicate balance of allowing ourselves to be ok with feelings of vulnerability and fear without going completely numb or into a tailspin of unproductive projections that can also create a prison of the mind. When we are not taught as children to process huge emotions, we can lose the ability to cope as adults in healthier ways; usually with some form of addiction. We find ways to lock the stress away. Unfortunately, they do not go away without processing them just because we don’t allow ourselves to feel them. They stay locked away in our bodies, and when they are not expressed, over time, it can create havoc in the form of anxiety, anger, illness, exhaustion, burnout or depression. Denial is a great survival mechanism and sometimes necessary. Unfortunately, when it becomes automatic for all stressors, it does not allow us to live a fully expressed life. 

Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh say “Suffering and Happiness are not separate” Like the beautiful lotus flower which can only bloom when its roots are in the mud;

I have found this out the hard way. An old Robert Frost quote says, “the only way out is through” When I create a prison in my mind by staying numb, I keep myself from being truly free! When expressing my emotions in healthy ways, I can let them go, creating healing and relief.

If you have deep unexpressed abuse trauma, it’s essential to seek professional help with a therapist or counsellor. It was one of the greatest gifts that I gave myself and my loved ones when I did. I learned many coping and healing practices that I will be implementing again as I walk through this new journey with my OA community. We are not meant to explore our traumas alone, especially if we have abusive in our histories. But finding the right person and the right kind of therapy is important and can take time, but we are so worth the search. As Brene Brown reminds me

“We share with people who’ve earned the right to hear our story.”

I also love this quote by Anne Lamott.

‘”My mind is a neighbourhood I try not to go into alone.” 

These days, I explore my thoughts and emotions mainly with God through journaling, my hubby, a few close friends, a spiritual director, my OA sponsor and community, and a writers group that I share with at times’ All of these are soul connections whom I trust with this part of me now. I feel so loved and supported these days, it took me a long time to let people deep into my inner world, but I’m glad I did.

I will end this post with exquisite quotes from John O’Donohue’s audiobook called “The Invisible World.” It was a reminder to me that I have the key.

“A lot of people like have turned the wild mystery of their own mind, into a shabby cold negative little room where the windows are blocked, and where there is no door, and they live in there. And it isn’t like anyone else did that to them, they do that to themselves. So you should be aware that you are responsible for the prisons you that you create for yourselves. There is no one outside that can open the door of your inner prison, the person that has the key is you.” “You are the god or goddess of your own inner world. It’s artistic material in your hands, and you can shape it any way you want.”

Freedom comes with self-compassion and the curiosity to ask loving questions to ourselves when we mess up. One question Debbie Ford taught me is a start. This question will become my touchstone as I move forward, one day at a time.

“Is this an act of self-love or is it an act of self-sabotage?” 

Thank you Debbie 

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