Sugar and Dealing with Emotions

Sugar and Dealing with EmotionsIt’s so easy when I’m on a cleanse not to eat any sugar.

It’s a welcome reminder of how great I feel without it. I feel clearer, calmer and way more energetic. It’s not that I eat a lot of sugar either – especially not refined sugar. But when I don’t have a strong boundary around it, I have to admit that it sneaks it’s way in. A little raw honey in my tea here, maple syrup in my oatmeal there and then before you know it I’m treating myself to a cookie just because… it’s been one of those days :).

Dealing with Emotions when comfort food is off the menu.

One of the big things that comes up in the cleanse groups that I lead is how to deal with emotions when you can’t eat your normal comfort food to soothe those scary emotions away. The cleansing process tends to bring up emotions, so I give my cleansers lots of self-care tools they can use to make the process easier. These are the tools that I’ve learned that have helped me stop using food and substances to numb out and distract myself from my emotions.

Old Habits of Self-medicating with Sugar.

There are times that I still find myself turning to a chocolate chip cookie or ice-cream or some other sweet treat to help me feel better. Last week was one of those weeks. The death of a client as well as another tragic death in my community sent me reeling. I was having a hard time managing my emotions. I had a heavy work schedule and I couldn’t just completely lose it, so I found myself retreating back to my old ways of self-medicating in the form of sweets.

It can feel so comforting to bite into that chocolate chip cookie or fudge brownie ice-cream… and yet, when I finished it I didn’t feel better. Instead I felt worse – after the ice-cream I had a tummy ache, the chocolate chip cookie led to brain fog and the next day I found myself craving another chocolaty sugary treat. This went on for a few days… (5 to be exact). Sound familiar?

Slow Down and Pay Attention.

I decided to slow down and really pay attention to what was going on in my head before the craving occurred. I paid attention to my feelings and realized that I wasn’t just trying to numb out. I was trying to shift my emotional state. I was feeling upset and I was trying to relax – by eating sugar. Unfortunately it wasn’t having the desired effect. Really, it was only relaxing for the amount of time it took me to chew it (2 minutes max).

So in order to feel more relaxed, what else could I do? Just because I know what to do (and teach it to others) doesn’t mean I don’t need a reminder sometimes! Deep belly breathing was definitely helpful – when I caught myself in time! And yet – the grief was still there and I couldn’t quite access it – I felt dissociated from it, numbly going through the motions of my day.

Facing those Scary Emotions.

Night-time baths are my favorite place to feel and release emotions. In the bath, I began using the tonglen meditation which I learned from Pema Chodron in her brilliant book, “Start Where You Are.”

Tonglen is a practice where you breath in suffering and pain and breath out love and acceptance. It brings you right to the heart of your own pain. While this can seem scary, I knew it was exactly what I needed.

So I…

Breathed in the suffering of the women who died (and their families) and Breathed out Love and Acceptance.

Breathed in my own grief and loss and Breathed out Love and Acceptance.

Breathed in my own fears of death and loneliness and Breathed out Love and Acceptance.

Soon enough, I went from feeling numb to smack dab in my emotions. The tears came flooding forth. I kept breathing and filling my heart with love and sure enough the love became even stronger than the tears – or pain.

Allowing myself to Feel…

Sometimes when it seems too hard to feel my emotions, I need the reminder: when I allow myself to feel and release my emotions I can safely move through them without numbing or distracting myself. I don’t need the sugar (or any other substance) to feel better.

Want to know more about tonglen? http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/pema/tonglen1.php

Do you find yourself trying to numb out or relax with sugar? How do you deal with your emotions?