Realizing that I couldn't control everything felt crushing, but it opened the space to embark on the true process of growing.
Moving away from expectations and control
I spent my young adulthood absorbing the unfolding story of how our daily food and lifestyle choices can manipulate who we are.
Hard to pronounce superfoods could guarantee our perfect health and ensure we avoid disease. If I had any pain in my body, I just had to change what I was eating. If I wasn’t producing enough at work or feeling creative, I must have eaten something wrong. If I felt like withdrawing or turtling into a protective shell, I must not have gotten enough exercise to avoid feeling isolated.
Of course, this isn’t true. How we ‘feel’ is much more complex than this. How we feel is an elaborate result determined by the relationship between mind, body, and spirit. In short, food doesn’t fix everything.
No one is to blame for me believing this story. I self-selected the pieces of health information (including graduate-level coursework) that kept this story, and all of its expectations, alive.
I was so hopeful for all of us that this was true. If only we perfectly controlled our daily choices, we would unlock all of our creative potentials! We would secure the quality of life we long for but don’t see around us. We would live free from pain and disease. We would value and be valued. We would love and be loved. We would trust and be trusted. It was all within our control.
I pushed so hard in my early nutrition training for this belief to be true because I needed it to be true. I grew up (and continue to witness) the effects that self-medicating has on families, the bullish ways it captures parents and prevents children from learning how to establish self-value, safe love, and unguarded trust.
I remember being tiny, younger than five or six years old, and being aware of how people were different when they made different choices. The days that didn’t include self-medicating were quieter… for me. The parent being bullied by self-medicating seemed more peaceful… to me.
So, to tiny me, making different choices made us different people… happier more peaceful people. So why in the world wouldn’t we make those choices all the time?
Culturally, we get short-lived self-medicating behaviors all tangled up with long-term medicinal and healing behaviors.
'Medicating' vs Medicinal
- Short-lived medicating behaviors provide temporary relief, escape, and distraction from our emotions and current situation.
- Long-term medicinal behaviors heal and provide the comforting, nurturing support we rightly need to navigate our life and support our health.
We are all vulnerable to self-medicating, and we have all experienced the consequences of self-medicating within our lives. We all have experience with attachments that keep us misaligned from where we know we can be, where we hope someone we love can be, and where we wish our community could be.
There is a continuum that self-medicating behavior falls on. Severe and crippling on one end is drug addiction and harmful actions. As we move down the scale from here though, we quickly need asterisks beside our individual lists denoting that the severity of that behavior for the one medicating, as well as, for those around them, *depends.
Overeating, being consumed with perfect eating, having that extra drink, distracting yourself through overworking, or spending too much time on social media… these are all on our continuum of culturally accepted self-medicating behaviors. The conflict any one of them has on us *depends.
In our heart of hearts, we all know when our internal voice tells us that our choices are truly OK and part of our stress recovery and nurturing; versus when our choices serve as the perfect mini-trampoline used to give us immediate distance from leaning into tougher emotions.
This is why our daily choices do still matter… they help us reduce the internal static so we can hear this internal voice. Hearing and listening to this voice is what gives us a chance against avoiding the mini-trampoline used to distract, numb, ignore, or substitute.
Why lifestyle choices still matter
Moving towards quiet and trust
My matured relationship with nutrition allowed me to avoid throwing away the science on how we should take care of ourselves with my once underdeveloped expectations. Taking care of ourselves is still (very much) worth it.
Now, rather than controlling, pushing, and manipulating my cells with the expectation that they fix everything, I welcome the responsibility I have been given to simply care for them.
Caring for cells does reduce the disease-causing physiological static caused by erratic blood sugar levels, inflammation, excess chemical intake, and the like.
Reducing this static is also essential for accessing the space within us to do something different, to avoid the mini-trampoline. It is within this space that all the good stuff happens (even if it feels nearly unbearable at first). It is within this quiet that we hear the invitations to look differently at what is really needed to resolve our restlessness. Invitations also come to connect with others excited to affirm our value and teach us safe love and unguarded trust. Learning and experiencing this was never promised only to children. This ability is always there to be developed.
This access to quiet is what I now need from lifestyle choices.
Making different choices does make us different people
Tiny me was right that making different choices does make us different people. But the wisdom that guides me through midlife has allowed me to experience being on both sides of the self-medicating bully. Not doing a self-medicating behavior, even for just one day, actually makes the static louder inside… at first.
But over time, lifestyle choices do help calm the internal furry and allow internal space to open; space where the good, true, and beautiful transformation and growth happens. This is where we become different people.
Please let me know what you think. When do you use the mini-trampoline to try and avoid leaning into more difficult feelings? How were you different when you made a medicinal choice instead?
Teri Rose, CARE Nutritionist and Program Creator
(photo: Sven Brandsma, Unsplash)