I sat at my friend’s dining room table this past Friday night staring at the array of sweets before me: carrot cake, strawberry cake, cherry pie, lemon bars, Texas sheet cake. For the first time in 20 years, I had no desire to eat any of them. I no longer craved the unhealthy relationship I had with food. I no longer felt like I would be disappointing people if I didn’t eat the food before me. I no longer craved something toxic for me…
At the age of 13, I went into the bathroom during lunch, ready to make myself throw up, tired of the constant ridicule and insults a boy kept spewing at me about my appearance and weight. As I bent over the toilet, I found $5. I went and bought a pack of chewy sprees instead. Some may laugh at that comment or say, “Yeah, more power to you.” But in that moment my unhealthy relationship with food began. Because of that moment, the one where I used food as an escape (and to clarify I am not saying my other option was a better solution. It wasn’t.), food became my solace from pain, comforter of misunderstandings, a negotiator for my self-worth.
Food was my way to numb myself. Numbing made me feel “happy” in the moment—whether that was binging on the giant bag of chips, eating the entire pint of ice cream, or eating that single pizza on my own. What I didn’t realize is this was a false happy I felt because when the moment passed, my problems were still there towering over me. The food was a fleeting relief, not meant to last. Food had become my unhealthy habit, and it reigned over my life into my 30s.
Here is the thing about unhealthy habits. We think we can control them, cut them off when we are ready to be done with it. It seems like a small habit, something that won’t affect the other areas of our lives. It does. It takes one tiny drop of an unhealthy habit for the infection to infiltrate the rest of our lives. I chose to cover up the problem. I chose to find ways to ignore my self-doubt, my pain, my insecurities, instead of choosing to face my brokenness. Initially, this sounds like a fantastic plan. If I do everything to avoid feeling the pain of a situation, I’ll be good, right? If I don’t feel the pain, I can be happy. I can focus on improving all the other areas of my life. What I didn’t realize is my unhealthy relationship with food not only seeped into unhealthy friendships and romantic relationships, but it erased my identity and hindered me from expressing my ideas, my emotions, my needs.
Up until recently in every situation when it came to people, I pushed pain aside, held it at arms-length, ignored my needs and emotions (fearful of how people would react if I tried to express them). My unhealthy habit with food (even though I finally addressed it) had created a new unhealthy habit. A habit that resulted in me relapsing into previous behaviors and refusing to see the damage and mess I was creating, especially with people. Most of my life I have experienced rejection or disappointment from people, specifically men that I feel drawn to know.
Because I avoided my pain from 20 years ago, I allowed my happiness to be buried deep under a wall of self-preservation I had built up around me. If I don’t let him in, he can’t hurt me, reject me, betray me. If I don’t take this risk, this chance, I’ll be safe. If I keep choosing the life I have become accustomed to, I won’t be bombarded with a new rejection. This wall of self-preservation, though, can lead to a pretty lonely life.
Loneliness does not let happiness thrive.
My wall of protection was actually stealing my opportunities to choose joy instead. As I continue on my fit, my healthy, my happy journey, I am becoming more aware of how important it is for me to break that wall down. At 32, It was surprisingly easy for me to finally remove toxic foods from my system and learn to live a fulfilling life without them, even with them still in my presence on occasion. This gave me a glimpse of having a joyful life. I finally discovered what it meant to have a healthy relationship with food. So, if we know what a joyful life can look like, why is it so difficult for us to remove ourselves from the people, situations, or lifestyle choice that have become toxic for us? Why won’t we put in the effort to change something when it no longer brings joy to our lives but actually deprives us of our happiness?
We fear the unknown. We fear the uncomfortable. We fear the pain that comes in the temporary wake of removing the toxin. But that’s just it. It’s temporary. Fear does not let happiness exist.
I’ve realized lately there are several habits that we allow to consume our lives that rob us of happiness. They create the foundation for our wall of “security”.
- Making unhealthy choices causes us to repeat patterns instead of repair our brokenness.
- Numbing the pain instead of acknowledging the pain will only sustain us until the next unhealthy choice.
- Over analyzing scenarios in our heads (asking the “What if this happened instead” or “What if I had done or said something differently”) will only increase our negative self-talk, driving us to make those unhealthy choices and pursue the numbing vices.
- Choosing the comfortable—the things, people, life we have become used to, even those detrimental to us—instead of taking a risk and stepping into the uncomfortable will only provide temporary contentment until we become aware once again of our choices, pain, and false results of our analysis.
- Focusing our time, energy, and emotions on people or situations that we know won’t return investment in us or fulfill us will only cause us to repeat our comfortable, unhealthy, pain-blanketing, over-analyzed decisions.
All of this deprives us of our happiness instead of being a catalyst for discovering our potential to thrive and have a joyful, truly happy heart. Sometimes we have to choose to break our pattern and actually feel the pain from a situation so we can experience the happiness that can come as a result.
I accomplished great strides in my fit and my healthy but avoided my happy because I wasn’t willing to put in the work to embrace what happiness could look like. I was so consumed with resorting back to responses I had when food was a comfort or continuing to feel like I had to invest in people that didn’t want to invest in me, hoping the outcome would be different each time. I over analyzed every thought and action when it came to a recent situation with a man in my life. I focused my energy and emotions on trying to understand rejection, instead of embracing the pain and allowing myself to heal. I used my fitness and health (something good) as a way to numb the other part of me. I thought that was the better option. Choosing to repair the brokenness and stepping away from what actually deprives me is the better option. The three components of fitness, health, and happiness fuel one another in our lives; we just have to be willing to work at every part. Otherwise, one will eventually tear down another. Repairing instead of numbing will allow true happiness.