Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stopping the hurt

I've been hurting.  And I've been hurting myself.

The article "The Enemy Within" in the October, 2011, issue of Psychology Today got to me not because it addresses the issue of comfort eating (which it does), but because it addresses self-injury. 

I started scratching shortly after entering a weight loss contest in January, 2011.  By February, my shoulder and legs were covered in bloody scabs.  My primary care doctor prescribed some anti-itch medication, with instruction to stop back if it didn't get better.

Four months later I returned to my doctor because the itching and scratching had progressed, and now I'd scratched so severely that I'd caused a huge bruise on my thigh, as well as the cuts on my upper leg, hips, shoulder and neck.  I had to be sure during the hot summer that my shorts would cover the cuts.

I saw a dermatologist who shined a vitamin light on my skin, leaving me with a burn that lasted a while.  He also prescribed lotions and an antihistamine which, I learned when I looked it up online, treated anxiety. 

The antihistamine, the light therapy, all the lotion seemed to help.  The itching stop, the bruising went away, but only temporarily.

I was tested for food allergies (negative). 

I gave up and just gave in to the scratching and bleeding.

And I kept eating for comfort.  And I knew I was eating for comfort.

So I called a very dear Friend in the mental health field and asked for the name of someone good, someone to help me break the comfort eating addiction.

My first appointment with my counselor was very helpful and very exhausting.  My drive home was one long God Moment.  I knew I was on the right path.  During the days between appointments, I listened and listened and listened.  And while I began to get a grip on eating, the scratching and bleeding continued.

This Saturday in my counselor's waiting room I picked up that issue of Psychology Today.  Almost immediately it stunned me.
          "Comfort eating is a common form of self-sabotage, especially when a person has weight concerns.... Less common is self injury/cutting to escape painful emotions....  [T]hey seem helpful at the time but are actually harmful to us, especially when repeated.
          "In response to an upsetting event they become so focused on it that they work themselves into an intense, painful state of negative emotion.
          "They... deploy self-sabotaging behaviors to short-circuit the emotional cascade, in the hope that physical sensations from the destructive behavior - the taste of food, the pain from self-injury, or the high from the drug - will distract them from upsetting thoughts (p. 57)."

And I finally realized I  scratch myself because in a weird way it makes me feel better.  I bet you've had to sneeze, and felt so good when the sneeze was out.  Or had a mosquito bite which caused you to scratch even when you knew better.  That's what this scratching is like, but it's about an unscratchable itch.  It's about feelings of helplessness, anger, fear, and resentment which refuse to be ignored. 

As I worked so hard this summer to do well in the contest, time and again I beat myself up for being a failure.  Even though I was reshaping my body, enjoying fitness, and achieving all manner of stronger and leaner, deep down I was disappointed with myself, embarrassed by my myself, and hating myself.

And while I comforted myself with food, I punished myself with scratching till I bled.

And I learned that scratching offers relief.  "...[S]elf-sabotage (such as self-injury or physical aggression) often feel[s] right because [it] help[s] us escape intense and uncomfortable negative emotions (p. 58)."

When negative emotions arose, I'd supress them by scratching myself.

Now that I realize what I was doing, am I cured?  Am I all better?  No.  Last night I scratched and scratched, though I'd like to think it was with less aggression than before.  This morning as the demands of the day began, and as I worked to be able to write this, the itching began.  For now I'm trying to simply pat or rub the itch away, not use my nails to harm myself.

It'll take hard work to get through this, I know.  I don't know if the urge to eat or injure myself for comfort will ever go away, but I want to try to beat the urge.  I'm hoping that as I get a grip on what's eating away at me, I'll magically transform into who I long to be.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Work in progress

I  recently took the first baby steps of post-surgery fitness: going for long walks, bike rides, and my first trip back to the gym.  I've also begun really working on me.  I've begun working with a counselor and am being very gentle with my self.  Such internal work is not something I can write about, and there are very few people I'd be willing to discuss it with.  I'm learning a new way of thinking.

Of great help to me recently was an article I found in Psychology Today

I imagine this blog will be quiet for a while, as I continue the private work of healing.  But the mental and physical progress continue: walks, bikes, and (months ahead) swimming.  I can hardly wait for triathlon season as the new me, different inside and out.