What are we running from?

I've just finished reading Geneen Roth's book Lost and Found. It's ostensibly about her experience of losing all of her life savings through investments with Bernie Madoff but it's really about unconscious behavior, whether it's the way we eat or the way we relate to money. She says many interesting things in the book but this one has stayed with me because it resonated so deeply:

When we engage in numbing behaviors, we are trying to prevent the things that have already happened to us. We are hoping that if we drink enough or eat enough or spend enough, we won't have had that damaged childhood or dysfunctional mother or painful love affair. That if we numb out, somehow that will all go away.

The truth of that for me is astounding. Intellectually I pretend that I'm eating to deal with painful feelings that might arise in the future but what I really want is not to have experienced what I have already experienced in terms of shame and sadness and fear. I want the alcohol or ice cream or Internet shopping to keep those things from happening then. The marvelous illogic of this has stopped in me in my tracks. Because if this is really why I am eating or drinking or spending, it will never work. My behavior today cannot change that past. I can pretend that I'm dealing with the present moment, but it is a pretense.

When I add this idea to my diagnosis of free-floating anxiety, anxiety that doesn't have a cause except in my wiring or my biochemistry, then eating makes even less sense. This is feeling like a big breakthrough for me.


Angela Ursery said…
Jill, thank you for this post. The idea that I'm engaging in numbing behaviors to escape parts of my past--well, that has never occurred to me. The few opportunities I've made to reflect on the behaviors usually find me reflecting on, as you note, the fears of what the future might bring, not numbing/avoidance as a way to erase the past. Now that, as my mother used to say, "is a whole 'nother Rikki Lake."
sorella said…
Dear Jill,

This is huge! Trying to erase the pain of the past -- this resonates for me, too!


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