On my way up to Blowing Rock last weekend, I was talking to my ex, Dawn, on the phone. She is also a psychotherapist and so we often delve into the deeper waters of personal experience and growth. We were discussing my particular issue of overusing food as a means to self-soothe or cope, a life-long pattern I learned at a very early age. Thankfully I no longer overeat as I used to, but the habits of ruminating about what I’m going to have at my next meal or emotionally eating at times of anxiety or loneliness still linger. The challenge is being able to distinguish the difference between when it is benign or a healthy celebration of a pleasant experience versus when I am in a more compulsive or avoidant frame of mind and therefore using food ineffectively and beyond its scope or purpose. I’m also prone to being harsh with myself after I do turn to food for comfort, which only adds a punishing and unhelpful layer of shame.
Dawn knows me well and was offering me the suggestion of simply naming this inclination as a basic need and intentionally connecting more with the origin of it. In stepping back through my history of how the habit all started, my acknowledgement of a legitimate unmet need can help take the power out of the pattern. The less reactive I am, the more easily I can reset to neutral and not reinforce what doesn’t work. The real message of our conversation came down to me wanting to understand why I do what I do, but more importantly, for that understanding to foster an attitude of compassion towards myself. There is a tenderness that is inherently missing from my experience because perhaps the absence of this very ingredient is what caused the whole pattern to get fixated in the first place. When I float back through time, I see myself as a baby, a vulnerable and sensitive little girl, an awkward adolescent or an adult that simply needed, and still needs, love, a bit of support, or maybe a kind word. I felt hopeful at the end of our conversation and in a light-hearted mood.
I picked a good weekend to go for a hike: sunny but not hot, a slight breeze and a crisp snap in the air. I was surprised at the abundance of flowers still in bloom, happy yellow petals on tall stems and lower carpets of purple thistles and clover growing in every direction off of the trails around Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. I started at Flat Top Manor and walked up to the gravesite of Moses Cone, which is surrounded by a large open field. There were tall grasses on this part of the path, as well as the clusters of yellow flowers, and the crickets were loudly chirping away, providing a surround sound of audio. It all swayed and bobbed to life, back and forth in concert with the breeze. The hike cuts through the field and then connects to Flat Top Mountain Trail. This is a delightful carriage road that zigs and zags up through the woods to a tower, where you can take in a panoramic view of the whole area around the park. There are charming stone walls scattered along the trail and several places that open out to beautiful vistas. I had just started my ascent and had stopped to drink some water when I noticed some movement off in the rhododendrons and trees. I locked eyes with a young doe and froze, not wanting to scare her away. I could see her nose twitching, sniffing me out and trying to determine whether or not I was a threat. To my utter delight, a little fawn felt safe enough to come bounding out of the brush around the doe and eagerly started to nurse!
Being trusted to witness to this tender moment in nature would have been special to me on any day. But the synchronicity of seeing this very scene within an hour of my conversation about need, being fed, and longing to be nurtured when vulnerable created a heightened sense of connection within me. The easy joy that was bubbling up flowed right into compassion. It was a gentle and powerful oracle all in one, an affirmation and encouragement to relax into the felt belief that I am deeply cared about.
The doe turned her head and she and her fawn slowly walked back into the woods. I could no longer see either of them, but could hear her munching on leaves and pulling at grass, the loud eating like an exclamation point to the sermon.
I am grateful for the infinite ways nature teaches me simple but profound messages. May I continue to let kindness melt away remnants of misunderstanding and judgment within, and instead follow internal and external trails that speak of love.