Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dealing with Disappointment and Grief

How do I deal with disappointment and grief? Used to be I ate my way through it, cookie after cookie, chocolate after chocolate.

I have a very vague memory of when the pattern started. When my biological father died just before I turned five and my mother immediately decided to return to college, my brother and I were dispatched to live with our grandparents for two years. In my family, crying was definitely not OK. Daddy and Mommy were gone, but I was not to cry. One time at the breakfast table, when I started to cry, my grandmother tried to make it all better by pouring syrup on my waffle, noting that she was filling every hole. I actually recall looking at that delicious-smelling, thick, rich maple syrup, my tears evaporating as she filled all the holes with it.

How poignant! Filling every hole, indeed! Not filling any of the deep holes in little me, crying in disappointment or grief or loneliness. Yet, hmmm, she's paying attention to me, giving me something to fix my woes, sugar pops into my mouth bite after bite and guess what? I start to feel better. I learn that sugar fills my holes. NOT!

Indeed, she didn't know any better and I unconditionally forgive her. Yet, there began a life-time pattern of trying to fill grief holes with sugar. My OA sponsor says this is very common with women who overeat. She believes, when doing Step 4 (listing defects of character), that more of women's defects stem from grief than from resentment, which is common for men. She encourages me to look at how I've handled grief and disappointment in my life, at how pacifying with eating sugar may negatively affect my character and behaviours.

OK, I was 5 or so when the syrup incident happened and 67 when I stopped eating sugar as a solution. So for 62 years, I more or less unknowingly smothered my grief in sugar consumption. That's a long time.

What happens when I eat a lot of sugar is that I get cranky, really nasty sometimes. I can recall yelling at my parents, at my siblings, at girlfriends, at boyfriends, at co-workers and often at my poor husband after overdosing on sugar. Lots of mean spirited yelling over trivial things.

Interesting, isn't it, that this character defect, the yelling, is an indirect result of not dealing directly with grief and disappointment. I've doubtless harmed others, at least harmed my relationships with them, with my angry yelling, never even considering for a moment that the basis might be my own unexpressed grief rather than something they did to cause me irritation.

For the past seven months sugar has not been an option. Did I have disappointments and grief during that time? Yes. And I note that the anger response is still in me, even without the sugar to trigger mood swings. It's habitual. I need to change this. Awareness is the first step. Notice grief. Notice disappointment. Name it. Sit with it. When anger wells up in me, ask myself, what is making me feel sad.

Not OK to be on the pity pot? Nope, it's not. Yet, unfortunate, unplanned, unwanted, sad things happen. I must learn to recognize and allow grief into my life, and not just the big things like death of a loved one or pet, but also the day-to-day disappointments, even the ones that seem trivial. Not pity pot, but to be mindful of sadness, that is my journey now.

7 comments:

  1. Very strong words!
    And healing thoughts.
    Glad you are here, and glad you share.

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  2. I have been thinking I should start a "journal" about what I am feeling, particularly as it relates to making me want to eat. Wonder what connections I would discover.

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  3. I followed Anne H over from her blog. I'm not a member of OA but have been on a spiritual journey while recovering from compulsive overeating. I didn't seek it. It came to me, sheer grace, when one day I realized that I was doing something I had not been able to do before...I just *knew* something greater than myself was at work, not my own will power, not my control. I am grateful for every day of not overeating. I hesitate to say "abstinance" because I don't feel that it is something *I* choose. It happened and I can only be thankful for the mystery and the new life.

    Bless you.

    -Robin

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  4. So much truth here! Many of our "normal" solutions to life's disappointments only complicate the problem. As far as I know, feeling disappointed or sad hasn't been fatal to anyone, yet we immediately try to squelch these feelings. Allowing ourselves to accept them quite often leads to a means of releasing them, one that doesn't involve chocolate. :)

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  5. It started with the holes being filled with sugar, and now it's become our "learned response" to any of those negative emotions. A distraction and diversion that forges brain-havoc down another path.

    Classical conditioning; isn't that what it's called?

    I am so totally with you in that the connections were made in our early years. I can see clearly now, it's just that deeper hole question of what to do about it?

    You always make me THINK, PB. Yes, you do.

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  6. Yes, it starts early on..for me, it was noticing that i carried on the disappointment, the pain, the.???? by living by those old behaviors, habits that were survival back then.....

    My answers really started to come when I slowly started the process to get connected with my body...hence the blank wall.. the anger, grief, disappointment ALONG with good things, joy, serenity..none of the feelings can settle until I connect with my body...that is my journey

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