2020 has been a year for the records. It has been an absolute roller coaster of emotions. Throughout my life, my means for dealing with those emotions has been a verb — an action to take in order to cope, bury or medicate them. If I’m being honest, I have “handled” my feelings in a variety of ways over the different seasons of my life that I am not always proud of.
I have poured wine from a box(es) at home alone after the kids are in bed. I have disengaged my brain in season after auto-play season of trashy Netflix shows. But mostly, I have eaten my way to comfort. The goal always was to drown or stuff the feelings down so far that they can be ignored. Then I could show the world, “I’m handling it.” “It’s fine.”
But it wasn’t fine.
And unlike someone who drinks too much or stays up until 4 am binge-watching shows, my coping mechanism of choice, food (or more specifically, refined sugar) after decades of abuse, couldn’t be covered up with a cold shower or evenly applied concealer. I wore my addiction like a thick, insulating coat for all the world to see. 100 pounds of depression, anxiety, stress, sadness, fear, panic and any other emotion that crossed my mind converted into excess weight. Each feeling smothered with sweets until the bulk accumulation of my inability to actually “deal” with anything was so evident, it physically restrained me from living my life on my terms.
Last month I wrote about the fact that in 2020, I lost 80 lbs and am still on a journey to recover my health. But that is only half the story. Yes, it is amazing to be free of that weight. But there is something even more valuable behind that single-chinned smile in the “after” picture. That is the knowledge and skills I have learned in 2020 that are the foundation of my weight loss success.
The most important skill I have learned on this journey is to just sit with my emotions. For the first time in my life, in a year like 2020 that has been fraught with BIG emotions, instead of drowning, dulling or feeding them, I experience them.
I have learned to sit with uncomfortable feelings and stare at them.
Sometimes against my will, squirming, hoping they will go away, but nonetheless allowing myself to be there and be present and to just let them settle over me. After a little time I am able to come to terms, to accept the discomfort. Then a realization washes over me and I can begin to process. Is this feeling nervousness? Anxiety? Unease? Boredom? Do I need something? Once these thoughts are allowed in, rather than being smothered, a light bulb will flash on and possible solutions I have devised for making myself feel better (my “emergency action plan”) in a more positive way may surface.
How do I want to deal with this feeling? Can I fix it? Is it out of my control? What would make me feel better now?
Should I journal about it?
Take a hot bath?
Do a meditation/breathing routine?
Make a cup of hot tea?
Should I go for a run?
Should I just go to bed?
Most days I find that whatever the emotion is, often there is not anything I can do about it, such as a friend’s recent cancer diagnosis. But stuffing half-eaten Christmas candies in my mouth that my kids left on the counter is not the answer for making me feel better. (If you have never struggled with this internal battle, it may seem crazy to you that any “self respecting,” independent adult would consider stuffing what even a toddler has determined to be “trash” down their throat and treating their stomach like a garbage disposal. But for those of you have navigated life deep down in this ditch for long periods of time, you know what I am talking about.)
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
You, too, can pull yourself back up from that place of self pity and build the skills you need to learn how to sit with your emotions. I’m not perfect and I am not a professional. It has taken a lot of trial and error. I know everyday I have to decide how I am going to respond to life’s challenging times. But I have faith in my ability to continue to chose health for myself on Bright days and Grace for the days I don’t.