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The Starting Point - Filling the Emptiness

Dave Barry wrote: “My psychologist tells me it is more satisfying to finish what I’ve started. He’s right. Today I’ve finished two bags of M&M’s and a chocolate cake, and I feel better already.”

If you are a person who regularly goes for a “chocolate fix”, this quote could make you chuckle. However, it also points out our love/hate relationship with food, especially when we’re grieving.

When you feel that familiar gnawing pain in your gut - that unsettled empty void - it is so easy to go for the comfort foods – ice cream, chocolate, biscuits and gravy, a juicy steak – anything that seems like it will “fill up” the emptiness or “stuff down” those pesky emotions that keep welling up.  Perhaps instead you go for a glass of wine (or two or three), a few beers, or a good martini. Another common alternative is drowning out the pain with work or busyness.

But none of these things work for long. You aren’t really longing for chocolate or hungry for food. Alcohol only covers up the pain temporarily. After the work or the frenzied activity is done, the grief awaits you.

Pushing down the grief, denying it, or covering it up will not make it go away. In fact, grief that is suppressed simply festers inside and waits to an opportunity to show itself. It may come out in physical ways – headaches, neck-aches, backaches, or stomachaches. It may come out in psychological ways like outbursts of anger, impatience with    people who don’t deserve it, depression, or suicidal thoughts.  Perhaps the saddest way it gets manifested is a life that is never truly joyful again and the inability to deeply love again, because there is so much repressed grief and hurt lurking inside.

It is certainly a lot more difficult to confront the loss than to indulge in a hot fudge sundae. Yet in order to heal, you need to avoid that temptation to cover it up, push it down, deny its existence, or pretend it is something that it’s not. Instead, we hope you can find the courage to express the sadness, remember  their name, tell someone about the void, cry whenever you feel the need, and write or pound nails or find a way to express and process what you are experiencing.

When you face the pain honestly and work through it with the help of supportive people, you will eventually heal. You may also find that as you quit substituting false fixes, a hot fudge sundae can be even more enjoyable because then it truly is a treat and not a leaky bandage.

Can you trust the process more than you trust in your favorite comfort foods?  Can you avoid the phony, temporary illusive solutions in favor of those that will bring lasting healing and happiness?  And along the way, you can still have a few M&M’s. 

© 2011, Amy Florian.  Used by permission

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