What Do You Do When Numbing is Off the Table?

I often look back on my past selves and think “what the hell happened?”

What happened to make me gain so much weight?

What happened to make me lose so much weight?

Why did I continually eat until I was in physical pain?

Why did I continually starve until I couldn’t go on a simple walk?

When I think back to all of these times in my life, I’ve realized that they were all times of trauma. Often, extended trauma – not one-time events.

I had heard of emotional eating, and I knew that it was something I used to do. (Something I labeled as “BAD!”) But, I had never heard of “emotional restriction.” I had never considered that one might turn to restriction in the same way one might turn to a pint of ice cream for comfort. But, when I think about it now, it makes perfect sense.

When food is the first place you turn in every crisis you’ve experienced your entire life, it makes perfect sense that restricting food could become the place you turn.

I didn’t recognize this pattern in myself until very recently. But, looking back, even before the restrictive eating disorder, starting a “new diet” always brought up a bit of a rush — a sense of hope, new beginnings, and accomplishment. The promise of approval and love in times when I felt unlovable and unworthy.

I bring this up now, because I have spent the last 6 weeks in the worst restrictive relapse since I began recovering from my eating disorder. I’m telling you this because I always want to be honest about my weight loss. And, honestly, because I know my friends and family read this blog…and I need you to not complement me on my weight loss if you see me over the holidays & happen to notice. I need you to know that I did not lose this weight healthily — I lost it because I’ve been trying to numb myself and cope after dealing with a trauma.

Those close to me will know what happened. I don’t want to go into intimate details here, but to avoid speculation, I will say that it had to do with finding out someone close to me was actually a sociopath & reporting that person for abuse, which has been a year-long process that has finally concluded.

What I do want to talk about — even solicit from those who might still read this blog — are other ways to cope with trauma and overwhelming feelings when you’ve spent your entire life turning to either food or restriction to deal with these things.

What do you do? What do you do when you are so overwhelmed by feelings that it is intolerable? What do you do when you cannot wrap your mind around something traumatic that has happened? How do you cope?

I can’t turn to cake… and I can’t turn to starvation. What do you do when numbing is off the table?

Perhaps the answer is right in front of me — I do this.

I write a blog.

14 thoughts on “What Do You Do When Numbing is Off the Table?

  1. Thanks for sharing! I relate so much. I find myself having extended periods of time where numbing isn’t necessary, and then…BAM! Life happens again. One thing that has currently been helpful for me is to turn to music, which has been a lifelong love and gift for me. I haven’t used it as much in recent years and as I was praying one day for help, I realized that music is a special gift that my Heavenly Father has given to me, and I needed to use it more. Sometimes I listen to happy things to lift myself. Other times I listen to the saddest of the sad, to have a good cry. It does help me. It is not a panacea, but it has been a much-needed blessing to me.
    I look forward to hearing other people’s responses, as I still find myself with a desperate need to numb at times. I guess we’ll just have to keep being gentle with ourselves for being human, eh?

  2. You might try a writing exercise that I sometimes recommend to my clients: you write your feelings with your non dominant hand, and answer yourself with your dominant hand. Think of your non dominant hand as your emotional or child self, and your dominant hand as your adult, parental self. Remember how you love your own children when you are writing to your child self. You are just as worthy of love as your own children. 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

  3. So powerful, thank you for sharing!! I find myself in your words, as I often have. I know how hard it can be to be so vulnerable when coming out of trauma-induced restrictive cycles. Learning somatic tools has been incredible for me in dealing with my numbness. I also did 5 months of EMDR therapy this year and it’s been the biggest gamechanger. It allowed me to go into my distress, move through the numbness, and actually deal with the pain and the trauma in a really safe container. It’s been getting to the root of my pain in a way that no eating disorder treatment ever has before. The somatic tools I learned through the process of starting EMDR have now become part of my daily living. Also, I just want to say, I’m so sorry to hear what you’ve been going through, and I’m glad that you’ve been able to come through it enough to be able to share with us parts of it. Only knowing you from your writing, it’s obvious to me that you are an incredibly strong, resilient woman. You’ve got this!

  4. Beautiful post! I can relate completely. What I did was go to weekly psychotherapy and also write down my feelings, thoughts and vent on paper. Also, reading. Not books about health or weight loss, but books that bring me joy and let me escape for a little while. And learn about self care and emotional regulation through others methods (this took time though). And lastly, be aware that no matter what size, I’m still worthy of love and care (understanding that restriction and overeating isn’t about food itself in the end), but this reminder has helped me a lot.
    Hope this helps!

  5. Hug
    I am sober, so I don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb. I used to starve, and that absolutely comes up under duress.

    Last year when I got divorced I suffered extreme duress. I cried a lot. I had many baths. I practiced yoga. I read easy books. It was horrible and hard. Asking others to support me was vital.

    Trauma isn’t easy. Enduring it without negative coping is very hard. Gather support.


    • Thank you for sharing; I’m sorry you have been through so many difficult struggles. I definitely agree that asking for support is vital. I hope you are doing well & congrats on your sobriety!

  6. I also write. And read, of course, but that’s not always good in a crisis of emotion. I’m writing Natalie Goldberg’s Writing the Bones after decades of PLANNING to read it, and she talks about the daily writing practice, which I’ve never done. But I think maybe it’s a thing I should do. Especially in these “unprecedented” times, egads. Maybe writing just what comes to me is/will be a thing. And maybe since I do find writing helpful in processing my thoughts, maybe it can replace cake and things, too.

    I only offer that since you ask. Otherwise, please know that whenever you do write a post, I’m always so glad to get it. I always relate so much to that complicated struggle with food. I’m sorry we have this struggle, but it does help to be a we in some way. So, thank you. And I’m rooting for you and me.

  7. I actually started Tapping. I started Tapping to lose weight, but I found that it actually gets to the roots of this specific issue (and others) as well as drastically reduces my stress levels because I’m allowing myself to feel the “bad” emotions and let them go instead of stuffing them with food or numbing or restricting or… After I had been using the Tapping Solution app for a while, I read Jessica Ortner’s book The Tapping Solution for Weight Loss and Body Confidence, and while I went into the book purely with a desire to lose weight, I discovered so many golden nuggets about loving myself where I’m at, stopping the focus on weight and body and which diet is best, etc. (making myself crazy!) instead focusing on LIVING and loving fully in the moment I’m in. It’s definitely a daily process, I stumble regularly, there are days I don’t want to tap, and I don’t, and I can feel it when I don’t, but I don’t fall so far down I feel like I can’t get up anymore.

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