Sunday, October 16, 2011

What Hole Are You Trying to Fill?

I woke up this morning writing a blog post in my head, word for word, including this very sentence.

What hole are you trying to fill with your eating?

I have always felt that when it came to binge eating, I was a bottomless pit that could never be filled. I used to eat and eat until I physically *could not* eat anymore and I'd still feel unsatisfied. How can one feel unsatisfied and "hungry" after eating a whole pizza, 2 cans of Coke and a box of cookies? Obviously, it is not a physical hunger. It never was. Physical hunger never drove me to eat like that. It is an emotional hunger... the subconscious desire to fill up a hole that otherwise gapes and leaves me feeling empty and vulnerable.

I think this is the case with many of us who have disordered eating. We eat because it provides not only a distraction but a literal filling sensation that draws our minds away from the very real fact that we are emotionally empty on some level. Binge eating fills a void. Instead of yearning and wanting and longing, we are indulging and being filled... but not fulfilled. It is a mirage, a sham, a pretense. Nothing is really getting filled but our stomachs and our fat cells. We are left with that void we had in the first place and wondering why the pain and aching is still there. So we eat some more.

We all have scars. We all have had gaping, painful wounds from various traumatic events in our lives, and these wounds are in various stages of healing. You can tell how healed or raw you are by how tender that wound is. Run your fingers over it. When you touch it, do you still wince? Can you imagine the raw tender edges, the bleeding, the vast emptiness inside that hole? Perhaps it is red and swollen and painful as if it were inflamed from infection. Or do you run your fingers across what used to seem like a wound that would never heal, and feel the gentle indentation of the scar where the hole has filled in and knit itself together again? Do not mistake your eating-to-fill behavior as pointing to one old, but nearly healed, scar when in fact it is about something more raw and festering. Finding which hole you are trying to fill is essential in allowing yourself to heal.

Think back. List, in your mind, the most tragic or painful events in your life. Usually these wounds involve losses of some type. Is the hole you are trying to fill in your soul from when your father left you when you were a child? Is it from some form of abuse you suffered long ago? Is the hole in your heart from someone you loved deeply who is now missing from your life? Is it your empty womb where a baby should be? Are you trying to fill a space where family should be, or perhaps it is a gaping financial wound that you are trying to recover from. There are many kinds of suffering. Yours in not wrong. It just is.

When I think personally of the traumas of my life, and sit with them and "feel" the wounds in their various stages of healing, I can tell that some things that hurt me the most are not what drives my eating behavior *now.* Pay attention; you may be surprised that what you are trying to fill is NOT what you have always thought it was.

I lost my doting, loving father decades ago. It was shocking to me and a great loss and I miss him terribly. It hurt me more deeply than anything had before. Yet that wound is not raw and gaping anymore. It is nearly completely healed, although I still miss him very much.

My mother caused many wounds to my soul in her life and more in her death. It's been a decade and some things she did still bother me, but when I feel that wound it, too, is in a stage of healing. This is a hole that drove me to eat for many years. In fact the worst, most dramatic binge in my life came shortly after her death as I tried desperately to fill that huge, frightening, life-threatening black abyss that was left when she died. Only in the past 3 years or so has the healing truly begun to close up that space. But I feel it; it is well. There will always be a scar, but it is not festering anymore. It is not the hole that needs filling.

The babies I lost left what felt like unhealable space in me. I felt as if part of my very soul was amputated when I lost those children. I thought it would never, ever heal... ever. Yet it has. Completely. What once tore me in pieces has become part of me in a natural and beautiful way. It no longer hurts. I'd never have believed it.

Many other things have happened that left me feeling wounded; much of it has healed. Only I know which wounds are still gaping. And I assure you I know what they are. Two things, two places that make me wince when I touch them. You can know yours, too. There is a difference between remembering something sorrowful and actually feeling pain when you 'go there' with an issue. Pay attention. Don't assume that your biggest sadness and sense of loss is that one big life issue that you keep replaying in your mind. That may just be a distraction from something else that you sweep under the carpet and don't want to deal with that is the *real* issue that needs healing.

And once we identify that hole, what to do? Well, this is where "not stuffing your feelings" comes in. It is painful for a reason. Perhaps it is time to put down the potato chips for a minute, lay down the diet book for a second, get off the computer for a day, and just sit with that pain and explore it. Wash it out. Understand it. Rip off the bandage, scream and cry if you need to, go through the painful cleaning-out process, and let the healing begin. I mean this in a very literal sense. Our bodies hang onto stress and sadness and the upsetting things we don't let go of. Once we stop eating to fill the hole, we can start to *truly* fill the hole, permanently, with fresh new healthy cells. It is painful to undertake, but in the long term, much less painful than sticking pizza in a gaping infected wound that really needs care and attention.

I wish nothing more than healing for each of us. I have come a long way from 3 years ago when I was still a train wreck of emotional damage that hadn't been dealt with. It takes time to pick apart the issues one by one and do what needs to be done to address them, but once such a wound has mended, life is so much more joyful.


Erin @ Glam,Glitz and Gut said...

Thank you SO much for this post! said...

Excellent post, thank you very much Lyn.

Lazy Madonna said...

Thanks for this post. Very topical for me this week. As a long-time reader but first-time commenter here, thanks also for the inspiration you provide.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. As I began to read this, i was going to say that, contrary to popular belief, not everyone binges to fill an empty soul. (An assumption that annoys me.)

As I read on--even tho that is what you said--I realized that is not exactly what you meant.

You moved past the "hole" analogy and began talking about eating to avoid feeling feelings from old wounds. Now that is a bit different. One does not have to feel empty to want to eat to avoid feelings.

As you said, food has that ability to numb, distract & soothe. Very helpful in avoiding hurts we don't want to face. Sort of.

Since youi asked... :) Personally, I binge in response mostly to strong "right now" feelings like anxiety or anger or hurt or regret re: my own poor action/choice rather than old stuff.

Eating to dull the ache of old wounds certainly works just as well. For a time. :} sigh.

Hugs, Lyn.

After some of the comments you've gotten lately, this was an extremely brave post.


Forty Pound Sack said...

I've got more holes than Swiss cheese. These days I'm not trying to leave my baggage behind, but rather to find a way to carry it all ~

Lori said...

All I can say is "WOW!" That was so insightful. I can express, how truly profound that was to read.

I am sure that everyone that reads that post will be better for it, if they follow your advice.

I know I am.

MargieAnne said...

I've been around long enough to not be surprised by coincidence. Never the less I found your post interesting as I face my own fresh look at why I need a fresh approach.


Marie said...

I appreciate your incisive thoughts.

But I don't think everyone eats because they are trying to fill an emotional void.

Lyn said...


I agree. That's why I said I think it is the case with *many* who have disordered eating. Surely there are other causes as well, and likely most who overeat do not have an eating disorder.

Deniz said...

Well said! There's not a thing I could add - thanks for this.

that TOPS lady said...


I have an emotional hole in me that has been empty for years. I would do the same thing---couldn't feel full.

Recently, unaware to them, someone has been meeting my emotional need and I have felt very happy and loved. It was at the same time that I realized I could BARELY get in 1900 calories without feeling completely stuffed. I was getting full easily and that was so unlike me. Having your need met can completely change your world.

Anonymous said...

Lyn, your posts are always so beautiful and moving. When I look deep into my heart, I know there are holes and wounds that haven't healed... I found that when I stopped eating for emotional reasons, that the wounds seemed to reopen, and there was nothing I could do to bandage them. It's taken me a long time to figure out what to do instead, to take care of myself and do what it takes for me to finally heal. I have been through therapy, and that helped. But overall, I am learning that it is so important to do what I need, to figure out what will help me, to heal my heart, rather than stuffing down the emotions with food. Easier said than done. ((HUGS)))) and welcome back to MF!

beerab said...

*hugs* I know part of my overeating also included trying to fill the gaps in my life, I now try to face my feelings rather than stuff them down with food.

Ron from NJ said...

Wow....thank you so much for this. You have managed to clarify something that I have been trying to understand for some time. For a long time I have wondered why I keep falling into the same old traps. I have thought I was doing the right things to prepare myself to lose weight. Now I know what I haven't done yet.

Thank you. Now I just need to figure it out.


The hole in your heart was what I googled came across this ...very healing words thank you for your wisdom

Alison said...

thank you so much for your insight and wisdom, i am slowly making my way through your blog and i have learned SO much about myself thanks to you! much appreciated.