My exercise program went away because I “didn’t feel like doing it.” Then I found myself eating a lot more cookies, desserts and nighttime ice cream.
I couldn’t figure out why I had slid into this overeating pattern.
My life seems fine right now, and I didn’t feel overly stressed. The weather’s been good, my home life is stable and I’ve had some good times lately with friends and family members. But I’ve been feeling off balance, and sort of “out of sync” with life.
When I described this feeling to my friend, she suddenly asked, “How old is your dog, Peppy?” I thought for a minute, then said, “She was born on March 31st so she’s almost seven years old.”
“That’s it!” my friend said quietly. “Remember what else happened that day? I think you’re having a body memory and it’s pulling you down, causing you to overeat.”
As soon as she said it, I knew! That was the day I got the dreaded call from my doctor telling me I had breast cancer. Tears slipped down my cheeks as I remembered that very difficult time in my life.
Memories flooded back about having a double mastectomy, seeing oncologists, and being on medications with terrible side effects.
Fortunately, I’ve made it past all of that, and this year, I’m celebrating seven years of being a breast cancer survivor. But I hadn’t realized that anticipation of that date had been leading me into the cupboards and the refrigerator.
Body memories happen all the time. You hear a song on the radio and suddenly remember your senior prom or the pain of divorce or other losses. Often, we don’t recognize we’re having a body memory. We just see the symptoms of overeating, not exercising and feeling out of sync.
Recognize body memories
Every year, around the end of February, Sheryl starts slipping into overeating and feeling depressed. This year, she realized it was her body memory of her 8 year-old daughter’s death from a congenital heart defect and a failed heart transplant.
Even though it’s been nine years since she lost her little girl, the weeks leading up to the anniversary of her death are still a very painful time.
Are you coming up on the anniversary of a traumatic time or a loss of someone you loved? Often body memories will remind you of the event long before your brain does. And many times, anticipation of the memory causes more struggle than the actual anniversary or event. Once you get past the date, you usually feel better and the memory fades away again.
When you notice a change in your eating and exercise patterns and can’t seem to figure out what’s causing it, look at the calendar or your journal. See if you can identify a body memory of an anniversary or other event that might be causing you sadness or anxiety. Once you recognize a body memory is causing your struggles, you’ll have a better chance of processing and working through your feelings.
I was amazed at how much the body memory of my breast cancer was affecting me. Even though I’m doing extremely well, and I’m happy to be a survivor, I still battle the fear of it coming back or doing some other harm in my life. When these thoughts rise up, I’ve learned to catch them quickly and remind myself that I am healthy and strong. Then I intentionally let the fears go and focus on finding joy in my day.
Staying Up When You Go Down
Taking care of yourself during a down time is a critical piece of preventing you from using food as your therapist. So any time you experience body memories that remind you of a loss or disappointment, go back to the skills you’ve learned for ultimate self-care.
Put on some music, make a cup of tea, read a few pages in a happy, uplifting book.
Look for the positive things around you. Find the windows in your life, throw them open, and let the sunshine in. It takes effort to create joy. But if you keep the windows closed, you simply allow the darkness of anger and hopelessness to remain inside your soul.
Instead of running to food to heal your pain, do the work necessary to find a sense of healing and peacefulness. Don’t settle for just “existing” while you keep your grief buried deep inside. To get to the sunshine, you have to stop holding on to the darkness. Even when a body memory sneaks in, you can still let the light shine through in your life.
I’m happy to tell you that I’m feeling much better and I’m back on track with my eating and exercise. Even though it’s still a couple weeks until my actual “anniversary,” recognizing the body memory gave me a chance to work on my thoughts and feelings.
Today, I feel great joy at being alive, and I know the best way to protect myself is by staying committed to doing ultimate self-care, nurturing and living healthy!