Name It To Tame It
Updated: Mar 5, 2020
In May of 2018, after attending a three day writers conference wearing three different versions of the same dress - stretchy, concealing, down to my ankles, basically a socially appropriate nightgown - I stepped on the scale.
209 pounds. It was a surprising number. I knew since moving from Las Vegas to Chapel Hill, NC I had put on a few pounds. Afterall, packing up my family and moving to the opposite side of the country came with some discomfort. A lot of discomfort. And I found many delicious ways to deal with it!
This kind of discomfort was new for me. If I’m honest, I have always been a pretty sheltered young woman. I left my parent’s nest and flew directly into my sister’s. I lived with her for years while I went to college. I had my own room. My parents paid for my groceries and my giant Dell computer that I used to chat online with cute boys back when that was a thing. I did finally live with roommates after a while, but we moved into a nice, new track home that my best friend’s parents had bought for her. Even when I got married, we were close to family in a cozy little condo. I was safe under the wing of my sister, then my friends, then my husband. Truly, very little discomfort outside the stuff that happens to most college students.
Fifteen years into my marriage, we decided to move cross country away from every nest we’d ever settled in, it was hard. We sold my husband’s business and our home giving us a pocket full of cash, but because he wasn’t employed yet in North Carolina, we weren’t able to rent the home we wanted and ended up in an area we didn’t plan on and in a small, old house that had dog hair inside the fridge, on the ceiling and piled up in every corner.
It was the dead of summer and we didn’t yet know how to avoid the mosquito witching hour, so as we cleared the overgrowth and junk from the back yard, we all ended up with golf ball sized mosquito bites that kept the kids up crying and fevered our first night sleeping on the floor. I remember the first Sunday at church. I sat in the pew and cried for the entire sacrament meeting because I missed seeing the back of my best friend’s head in front of me. I missed the view of the mountains on the drive home. I missed my nest. I missed everything.
This missing was a powerful feeling, but I didn’t allow myself to say it out loud. Because if I said it out loud, it might mean that I talked my family into a terrible mistake. Instead it showed up in other ways. Addictive scrolling of social media to get a glimpse of my old friends and old life. Crying in the bathroom on Christmas Eve while shopping on Zillow for houses to move back home. Putting the kids to bed so I could crack the lid open on a fresh pint of Ben and Jerry’s and watch Gilmore Girls into the wee hours. Spending money on tons of outings and trips to try to find an experience or a place to justify our bold move or to just try to put down roots and make it feel like home.
Buffer, numb, ignore, deny, repeat. I was afraid to name the feeling that kept driving me to these behaviors that didn't serve me. I was afraid to name it because it might reveal that I did something wrong.
This pattern of ignoring and numbing uncomfortable emotions has been a lifelong struggle. I can remember coming home from school in fourth grade. My mom had to get a job and I didn’t like the feeling of an empty house. So I would throw down my school bag and go straight to the fridge. I’d melt cheese on a burrito and turn on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The distraction and the food was comforting. And I used food and distraction as a buffer for much of my life. Especially when I moved to North Carolina.
When I stepped on that scale in 2018 I knew something had to give. One of the tools I’ve used to lose 50 pounds has been to pause before eating and to name my feelings. I ask myself if it's truly time to eat. Do I have actual hunger or am I just overwhelmed? Am I keeping with the agreements I’ve made for myself to not eat in a rush? Or standing up? Many times I can identify that I am going to the pantry or the fridge because I am feeling discomfort, not because I’m hungry. I have to name it so I can tame it.
This principle can help with any buffering behavior. We simply cannot be afraid of our own emotions. When we name them, they lose their power and our head does this magical thing where we can think through what would truly be best for us and more often make that choice. We don't always employ this tool, but we can more often. And every little improvement counts! Over time we’ll see that we ARE changing, getting stronger and living more fully in the life we want to create!