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Obesity, Repression, and Addiction

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For many of us who struggle with excess body weight, "success" in losing weight is soon followed by regaining those pounds and then some. Just now, at the age of 64, I am recognizing why this has been happening to me and perhaps to many others. I have long suspected that the answer that would break me free of this yo-yo pattern is psychological rather than a matter of finding the right diet. We are told that fat serves as a protection. I found that it was not the fat that I was using to protect myself, but rather my food addictions were my method of protection. Obesity was a byproduct.

Since self-judgment only adds fuel to the fire, I choose to view this issue with curiosity and without judgment. To support myself in figuring out what I was doing to sabotage my ability to maintain a healthy weight, I have worked for 2.5 years with a practitioner of NET (Neuro-Emotional Technique). According to NETMindBody, "NET is a mind-body technique that uses a methodology of finding and removing neurological imbalances related to the physiology of unresolved stress." For me, NET offers an amazing way to bypass conscious and unconscious defense mechanisms to get at the originating cause of an issue that is currently manifesting in my body and my life.

I began working with NET for the sole purpose of finding out why I had been unable to remove and keep off my excess body weight. Essentially, what I found was that the repression of emotions is a survival mechanism held in place through addiction. In my case, since my addiction of unconscious choice was food, the byproduct of this pattern was obesity.

Here's how it worked for me. From my infancy until my father's death, the psychological message I consistently received from him and internalized was that I was somehow fundamentally unacceptable. This same message came from one of my siblings as well and continues to this day. As an adult, I have done everything possible to heal these relationships but whenever coming face to face with this rejection, and the absence of love from them, it hurt at the core of my being. While I am able to cope with the occasional, yet always unpleasant, encounter as an adult, as a child they were a devastating and constant barrage. As a matter of survival, I repressed my feelings and fears about being deemed essentially unworthy, unlovable, and unacceptable.

Over time, I accumulated an enormous reserve of repressed, unmanageable emotions. No matter how I worked on myself as an adult and how well I learned to cope with current encounters, I never recognized or acknowledged the emotional pain and stress I had been unable to endure as a child nor the fact that I was carrying this trauma around with me like a beach ball held under water. Apparently, not being aware of this nor feeling safe to feel what had been emotionally life-threatening to me as a child, I unconsciously held it below the surface. What I have come to realize is that I accomplished this in two important ways through my addictions.

2012-10-02-pandoraFirst, they were my way of numbing the pain and keeping it on an unconscious level until I was ready to deal with opening Pandora's box. No wonder I would regain the weight whenever I lost it; I had been depriving myself of my addictions, which were my protection -- my repression mechanism! Secondly, I had been embodying the message of my unworthiness through obesity -- perhaps the most shameful and socially visible of all unacceptable, albeit taboo, ways of being. Other addictions you can hide, while obesity is in your face.

So, here's an irony to this: If my sibling had not continued to treat me with such distain, I might never have put this pattern together and found my path to freedom. So, thank you to all those who have pushed this button to get me to this point of liberation!

You might wonder, how do I know I have broken free of this pattern? The answer is simple. First, for three months now, I have not experienced any food compulsions. I have been to a wedding reception attended by my sibling and on vacation for a week recently and neither one triggered the usual desires or excuses for "treating myself." Secondly, I am steadily and easily losing weight without the fear of regaining it. For the first time, I am confident that I will be able to sustain a healthy weight. Third, I am going through an emotional release very similar to grieving, where weeping simply rises to the surface and spills out of me seemingly unprovoked. The tension and stress of holding down this childhood trauma is finding expression and finally being replaced by a profound sense of inner peace.

If you can relate to my story and suspect that something similar might be going on inside of you with whatever your addiction(s) of choice might be, here are some suggestions:

  1. Set the intention of compassionately understanding and freeing yourself.
  2. Make time for introspection to explore your own situation and to get below your storyline. Be a non-judgmental, curious detective and ask yourself questions like: "What awful truth do I suspect is true about me?" and "How did I get the idea that that was true about me?" "How did I cope with this as a child?"
  3. Believe and affirm to yourself that it is possible for you to be free from your addictions. Don't tell yourself that you are an addictive personality, or that you are too far gone, but rather be open to the idea that your addictions have been serving and protecting you in some way until you can get to the place where you don't need them anymore. See them as a survival mechanism rather than as your downfall.
  4. Find someone wonderful to facilitate and bear witness to your journey. This might be a personal coach, therapist, NET practitioner, etc. Just be sure it is someone you feel emotionally safe with and whose skill impresses you.
  5. Be patient. This may take longer than you would like, but know that it is possible. On the way, avoid judging yourself and the ongoing expression of your addictions. The healing process can often be invisible at times, but trust that it is happening.

When we are children, we don't have the psychological resources to protect ourselves from the atrocities that others may inflict upon us. This trauma is often stored somehow in our bodies. Repression and other defense mechanisms help us to survive until we can hold our own in the world. However, the damage done to us while children must itself be healed and released in addition to understanding and freeing ourselves from the related difficulties experienced in adulthood.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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