July marked my 10th anniversary at Structure House. That fact truly delights me – I love being part of this community – my colleagues and co-workers, on-campus participants, locally-residing participants, and the hundreds of alumni who have taken parts of Structure House into their lives. As I reflect on the decade that has passed (quickly, I might add), I offer thanks to all of you. For your thoughtful, engaging, vulnerable participation in my classes; for the spur-of-the-moment conversations when you share a new success or delight in your self-care journey; for your observations and wisdom about making our program even stronger; for your trust and openness and tears in the therapy room as you let me witness and guide you through the rough terrain of recovery. These experiences fulfill me in countless ways.
Taste that word – Fulfillment – for a moment, let it roll around on your tongue. Now, swallow that word, take it into the center of your body, let it settle there. What does that word feel like sitting in there? Does it resonate, fit with your experience? From which places in your life does the word Fulfillment capture how you feel? Or does it feel foreign, uncomfortable, or misaligned? Are there places in your life where this word has not fit for a long time?
If the latter applies to you – fulfillment has been absent or fleeting – don’t worry, you are in good company. There’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t feel fulfillment in many or all aspects of your life. But it is something to look at. We, as humans, have this strange task before us – to live well, we must both hold and allow the experience of unfulfillment (because it does and will occur), while also trying to build and live a life that nourishes, sustains, and fulfills.
When unfulfillment (or choose your own best word: emptiness, void, discontent) becomes too vast or too deep, humans can find incredible ways of sidestepping the pain of that chasm. One of the most common ways to do that is to seek it elsewhere – fill the void, feed the need, or at the very least, find a temporary balm in something that feels gratifying or fulfilling for the moment. For some, this is where overeating lives. Or, its inverse (and sometimes co-conspirator), restrictive dieting and intense preoccupation with weight loss. In the absence of the real thing, or when there is so much struggle against the reality that unfulfillment exists, your brain goes in search of…..excesses of food, intense taste stimulation, or the numbed out feeling that can happen after overeating. Or it seeks out the satisfaction of weight loss, or the sense of perceived control and virtue that can live inside of a strict diet.
By the way, there is nothing inherently wrong with either of those experiences. The critical piece is Intention – are your behaviors done in search of a type of fulfillment that is meant to replace the real thing? That is where we can get off-track, because these things cannot ultimately fulfill you. Have you taken time with yourself to reflect on fulfillment, void, and need within you? Start this dialogue with yourself. Consider journaling, or talking it through with a supportive person.
In my current life, where do I feel most fulfilled? Where do I feel least fulfilled?
What has helped build the fulfillment I do feel?
What is contributing to the unfulfilled areas? Is it something about my current circumstances, others in (or not in) my life, unresolved things I’m carrying from the past, or other barriers inside of myself?
If I were to try to meet the real need, where would I begin? What are the small movements toward that need fulfillment?
This is an invitation, perhaps a beginning of a new way of approaching overeating, or maybe just a reminder to notice and reflect on what’s really happening when you find yourself thinking about food, or saying things to yourself like “I just really need something.” It’s true, we do need something. What might that be?