By: Staci Stallings
I told you last time that I’m on a journey about weight loss. Apparently this journey about a WHOLE lot more than calories and exercise. In the phenomenal book, “If I’m So Smart, Why Can’t I Lose Weight?” by Brooke Castillo, one of the things you learn is how anxiety is not about anxiety.
Let me say that again: Anxiety is not about anxiety.
Castillo says that anxiety is a mask for what’s really going on, and what’s really going on is that there are feelings coming up that you don’t want to feel. Since you don’t want to feel them, you get anxious which often (if you don’t know better, which I didn’t) leads to a Distraction Technique.
Interestingly, I have found this pattern to be very true in my books with my characters. I began to see a pattern of what is their Go-To Distraction to keep from feeling what they are feeling. With one it was drugs until he ran his life into a ditch and figured out that didn’t work. For another it was isolation–cutting himself off from the rest of the world. For another it was money and power–so long as he had those, he didn’t have to feel anything. For many of the girls, it’s trying to make everyone around them like them at the expense of what they really want in their life.
Some people call these addictions–money, sex, power, overeating, alcohol, work, drugs, smoking–and that is true. But that doesn’t help a person DEAL with them. It just gives a label to what’s going on.
Most of the time, society’s answer to these issues is willpower. Just throw out all of the alcohol. Stop doing drugs. Stop smoking. Don’t eat the candy or the chips or the triple-decker hamburger.
But I’m seeing that all of these are doomed to fail if you’re going on your own power. Here’s why: IT’S NOT ABOUT the smoking, the drinking, the drugs, or the food. It’s about you are not allowing yourself to FEEL the feelings that are coming up.
Here’s the downward progression to doing what you are trying to willpower yourself into not doing:
Something happens and it brings up feelings you do not want to feel or will not give yourself permission to feel.
Instantly, anxiety shows up. Why? Because the feeling is powerful, but there is discord in you because you won’t let yourself feel what you are feeling, but that doesn’t make the feeling go away. In fact, most of the time, ignoring it makes it STRONGER. It’s going to get your attention one way or the other. So half of you is trying to tell you something and the other half is going, “La la la la la la la… I’m not listening!” So the other half starts yelling LOUDER!
Now if you’ve ever been in a room with two children doing this, you KNOW how out of control the situation gets in a flat hurry. Same with inside of you. That’s why you feel the anxiety!
So what is our response to the anxiety?
Medicate it. Drown it in alcohol or drugs. Go out and have a good time, party until we can’t pick our heads up off the floor. Go out and have a smoke. Yell at someone. And for some of us, the answer is: eat something.
So let’s say we go with that last one, and we grab a bag of Doritos. But we find after a couple that this is not distracting us from the anxiety enough, so we turn on the television, sit on the couch and devour the whole bag mindlessly. At some point, we hit the bottom of the bag. We look down and realize what we have just done. Instantly, we feel extreme guilt and we start beating ourselves up… after all, three days ago we started this healthy diet and we were doing so good, now we’ve gone and blown it. So there’s only one thing left to do… grab the other bag of Doritos.
Now look how smart our brain is: it has completely and totally distracted us from that feeling we didn’t want to feel at first. It’s not even on the radar now. It’s bury beneath “how stupid could I be for being so weak?!”
Until it tries to come up again, and guess what? The process starts all over again.
Now maybe your Go-To Distraction isn’t eating. Maybe it’s smoking, and you’ve tried to quit, and you have for a week or even a month. Then something happens, something comes up, and you’ve just GOT to find something else to distract you. So maybe you turn to a cigarette or maybe you turn to your cabinet…
How do you stop this vicious cycle? You learn to feel what you are feeling to begin with.
Someone does something bad to you, and you feel anger. Feel the anger. That doesn’t mean bop the other person on the nose. Maybe it means screaming into a pillow, or writing it out in a journal, or talking with a friend about what’s going on. The key is to find a way to allow yourself to feel that anger.
If you don’t, if you stuff it, you will suddenly start feeling anxiety, which will lead you right back to your Go-To Distraction.
So if you have a Go-To Distraction that you are trying to break, learn to let yourself feel what you’re trying not to feel. In that way the anxiety becomes a gift to let you know, “Here’s a place I need to heal. Here’s a feeling I need to listen to.” Then be gentle with yourself and let your truth come to the surface. The more you do that, the less you will need that Go-To Distraction… and guess, what? You won’t even need willpower to do it!