“Stay with me”

Healing my relationship with food after decades of disordered attachment and aversion.

Food is relational…..

Paradigm shift – “What if every meal is a date with God?” “What if I never had to feel lonely again at mealtime?” “What if food is a relationship, not an object?”

I have been experiencing a healing paradigm with food and eating. Every meal is a date with God… Eating is relational, not transnational.

The words that reach me in the midst of eating are “stay with me”.

“Stay with me” is a call to  presence: Mind, body, soul. Essentially a call back from a desolate dissociative place where I’ve been going since I was a kid. Imagine when a person is about to die…. paramedics are on their way and the loved one says “Don’t go to sleep, stay with me”. As morbid as this sounds, it is not. It is breakthrough… Read on. You’ll see.

I was not aware until doing some healing work that every eating experience was a trauma trigger… Imagine that… And since I was a child I formed a habit of dissociating at mealtime, any time I consume, prepare, or select food. Those 3 activities are trauma triggers.

Growing up, I rushed while eating to get away from the table as soon as possible. This came to me one day at a silent retreat.

The tension, the stress, fear, anxiety of living in that house. Meanwhile I was literally reformatting my brain, my hard drive, to escape into food over and over and over. To associate food with pain and pleasure, with escape and avoidance, with euphoria and suffering.

To heal from that many years of one way… a new paradigm is needed. And a new brain…

Also, loneliness and food had always commingled  for me. I was escaping into food, seeking comfort in it, seeking family in it, seeking friendship in it, seeking love in it, seeking companionship in it. And, at the same time, it was a wall between me and actual friendship, actual love, actual companionship. Where Jesus broke bread with disciples, I would break bread in the presence of others but my heart, soul, and body (and my brain – neurologically) would leave the table, checking out. People are in front of me and I am not with them.

In other words, eating was a double edged sword… Escaping into it as a habit to find solace, comfort, love, and friendship. And instead, I was always finding cold comfort, worse yet, finding cold comfort even when others are right in front of me perhaps offering the real thing. Years later, decades into adulthood. I was still that little girl at the table trying to escape into food and from the table, no matter who was in front of me. Food was a distraction… Love/hate, approach/avoid, no peace. It wasn’t part of being with people. It was my exit.

There is a solution, a way out of this. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Food as a new relationship, a date with God and eventually part of a date with others.

This means spiritual and emotional healing, also physical healing, neural pathway healing. If any one of those ideas puts you off, don’t worry. Take your pick. The experience works on all levels.

Now, these days, at mealtime (I have 3 meals … and 1 snack around 3pm, maybe another if needed, I am not rigid. I am honest and discerning about that), always inviting God into

1.  prep

2. food selection and

3. consumption.

That is 3 activities. And it’s not an idea. It’s a reality. T

his means… I am having a date with God. I never have to be lonely again at mealtime. It means I have gone from dreading meals as a cold comfort, a dissociative ritual and a love/hate relationship with something I have to do that I associate with counterfeit love…. to looking forward to meals instead… It is almost like a fun game. That game is healing my brain one meal at a time. And more than that. Soul healing too. Relational healing. An experience of not feeling lonely.

How does that work?

Meal time has become somewhat sacred. An intentional date. Not so much relying on God, although this is happening too in a way but it is more like communing with God. I literally think “wow, this is a date. The opposite of loneliness.” That thought does something in my brain… physically. It’s the opposite message that my brain got as early as I can remember. The old message was “I am in a burning building, about to die (table in my f’d up home) and I need to get out as soon as possible” This is the opposite. It is a corrective experience.

Another thing happens. That new presence of mind creates space for warmth and connection to happen. I eat slowly. I select slowly. I prepare slowly. While I am eating, this new world of being not lonely contrasts with decades prior and there is grieving that bubbles up and it happens and instead of the grieving feeling empty, it feels like a full experience of reality. This grieving needs to happen. It is healing. The measure of loss comes up for healing. The difference between mealing warmly on a date with a loving God and what it was like to meal as a child in an abusive home. There is a measure of loss. I am entering right into it rather than dissociating from it. This is transformative and life-changing, one day, one meal, one snack, one neural pathway at a time.

I am reminded of my ACA (Adult Children of Family Dysfunction) recovery. Over a period of 3 years, I was simultaneously working on a new healthier relationship with my mom in the present while that sort of exposure therapy of getting to know her as a friend was also triggering needed grieving. I didn’t have to expose her to that aspect. It would not be wise or helpful. I could simply feel that measure of loss from the past and maybe share it with others at times. She and I were becoming friends, non-codependent, no rescuing on either side, no fixing, no drama, sharing cat videos rather than stories, and at the same time, the little girl inside me was grieving never having had that mommy she craved day to day and the reality that she never will be able to have that. Never get those years back. That needed to be faced and felt fully. Both were happening at once. The new was forming in a better way and loss was being grieved all in the same events. Exposure therapy is the best analogue / paradigm to convey this. There is no working around grief. It has to come up. A life of denial, dissociation, and limitation in relationships is the only alternative to that.

Food is a great analogue. Very similar.

A relational paradigm has been healing me one meal at a time while the broken relationship of the past is being grieved. All the years I came home at 3pm as a kid… the one thing I had to look forward to was fruit roll ups in the cupboard. That was my 5 minutes of euphoria and excitement. The denial, indulging in the anticipation of relational needs being met in the eating experience. And then a hit followed by loneliness instead. An addictive relationship formed. Decades later, I still feel lonely at 3PM. I treat it with a walk or the best treatment is a walk with a friend. Relational needs are the ones I needed to be met and those are met in relationship. They never were met in that house. Now I have hope… Another fun game. Making my 3PM walk and snack not a lonely time. Not a time for dissociation, quick hits, and euphoria, followed by desolation. Something better. A true relational experience, an experience of connection. It also happens to be that I benefit from a metabolic snack around that time for a physical reason but that snack is different than a fruit roll up escape. A healthy intentional snack and a date with God, with the beautiful world, maybe a friend. a walk, photography, nature, a girlfriend. A corrective experience.

I always wanted food to be like other undesirables in life… Some people are addicted to cigarettes or alcohol. The answer is to quit…. I wanted it to be something I could just do away with because it felt like an enemy… And, food is not like that for obvious reasons. And then I just realized, this reality is a gift, a blessing. Eating is not a relationship I can run from. I used to run from the table at every meal… family time was awful. I used to run from the houses at holidays. My birthday was a great time for a fight, not a time to be celebrated. I would run crying from celebratory meals and I would run anxiously from any other meal. Running is not an option. I have to eat.

Why is this good?

Like I didn’t choose to run from my relationship with my mom with the help of friends who helped me to navigate a shift…. Instead I used it instead as a way of healing with her and healing myself through the exposure therapy… exposure to the new healthier relationship and exposure to the grieving of my past. Similarly, healing with food is something that has to be done using exposure therapy, not aversion. This, it turns out, is a blessing in disguise. So many meals and so many snacks. So many opportunities many times / day to enter into a date with God and a new relationship, a healthier one, and to grieve the measure of loss from the past where that relationship was broken.

Little bits of healing at every experience of selection, preparation, consumption. What a gift.

More to come soon…

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