I started this post Sunday evening, then abandoned it when I began feeling ill. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say I’ve lost 6 pounds in less than 12 hours.
This past week I’ve been focusing on feeling what’s going on in my body (south of my brain) and trusting to my intuition rather than just my intellect. Being ill all night has been a very interesting experience in that light. My default when I’m ill is to torture myself by tracing back every little thing I’ve eaten for the past week, reviewing past illnesses, and then chastising myself for the supposed wrongs I’ve perpetrated against my body and devising a draconian plan to atone for these wrongs. The belief behind all of this is that I can control everything that goes on in my body. As a result, illness is a personal failing; if I’d just done the exact right thing, I would not be ill.
Last night I started doing this. I noted that, in celebration of my mother’s visit (she arrived on Saturday morning), I consumed gluten, dairy, alcohol, and sugar yesterday. I began analyzing each of these substances and trying to attribute an individual symptom to each. Then I reminded myself that I don’t need to use my intellect to get to the bottom of an illness. When I found my brain spinning its wheels, I counted my breaths. Once calm, I scanned my body and simply noted the sensations I felt. I still felt crappy physically, but the anxiety that generally accompanies my illnesses was largely diminished. A tiny miracle, in my opinion.
This morning I tried to go back to sleep while my mom played with the kids outside. Unable to fall asleep, I picked up the book I’m currently reading, Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride by Marion Woodman. Woodman is a Jungian analyst who writes about how the incongruities between our insides and the external world necessarily manifest themselves in our relationship to food. She writes of the “false values” we’ve adopted at the urging of our society and of our closest relationships, particularly the idolizing of the masculine qualities over the feminine. It’s not that one is better than the other, but rather that we experience discord if they are out of balance. “Food embodies the false values that their own bodies refuse to assimilate, by which I mean that their bodies become edemic, bloated, allergic, or resort to vomiting the poison out,” Woodman writes.
I’ve read about the relationship between the psyche and food issues such as anorexia and obesity. I’ve recognized patterns of controlling behavior in myself around food that seem similar to the obsessions and compulsions experienced by those with anorexia and obesity, but I never thought they applied to me because I’m neither anorexic nor obese. The inclusion of “allergic” in Woodman’s list set off a little spark in my brain. I’ve long wondered what relationship might exist between my psychological health (particularly unresolved or unassimilated inconsistencies in my life) and the seemingly overly sensitive way my body responds to food, and this passage gives me a little glimpse of what that connection might be. I’m very excited to read more of Woodman’s book.
In the meantime, I’m going to try to reframe the way I look at eating. While I do think that last night’s illness is directly related to consuming “off-limits” foods yesterday, I don’t want to respond to this with the typical blaming-and-controlling pattern I usually follow. With my “sick soup” simmering on the stove, I’m trying to focus on nurturing my body and being gentle to it with wholesome foods. The end result will likely be the same (no alcohol, gluten, dairy, or sugar), but I hope to get there by focusing on what will help my body feel good and run well rather than on what I should avoid to keep from feeling bad.
This week I’ve done a fair amount of decluttering. I’ve gone through the kids’ toys and clothes and most of the kitchen and dropped off two car-loads of stuff to the thrift store. My emotions dropping off the items included embarrassment that I had so much to give away, relief that I was getting rid of so much stuff, and fear that I was giving away something vitally important. I’m now wondering what physical effect this emotional purging process may have had vis-à-vis my recent illness.