In late 2013 the unimaginable happened. My beautiful, 37 year old bestie lost her life to cancer. Breast cancer. The same hideous disease that bonded us so thoroughly two years previously as we navigated surgeries and treatments together.
The only way forward was to take things one day at a time. But there were so many fresh firsts without Nic to contend with, it's no suprise the emotions were challenging. I wasn't sure how to grieve this huge loss in a way that honored her and healed me.
Fortunately, her mother asked me to do a favor for the family. And this was very healing for me. But simultaneoulsy I was also self sabotaging, making myself feel miserable . It was only months later that I could clearly see what I had been doing to myself. This is not pretty, but I'm going to share both the good and bad in the hope of helping you make more conscious choices than I did.
I honored Nicole's life in many ways. The way that really felt the most important was a project I took on converting her Tumblr/blog into a book for her closest friends and family. This project gave me the gift of time with her as it took a few months and it allowed me to feel the depth of loss on a daily basis. And when it was finished, I was so proud of what I'd made for her. But I was also sad it was over. It meant it was time to let go at least a little. It was time to invest in myself a bit more again.
While I honored Nicole as I grieved her, I dishonored myself in many ways. Nicole was adored and amazing inside and out. She was also a little over weight. I added these two facts together and gave myself permission to comfort eat. For months I binged on her (and my) favorite foods. I became a regular at Pink Berry our favorite ice cream shop. And if I wasn't ducking in for a large take out pack there I was ordering in pizza or mexican and finishing it off with a pint of Ben and Jerry's. 6 months later I was 15 pounds / 7kg heavier. I felt uncomfortable in my body - not just how I looked but how I felt too. There was definitely some survivors guilt going on, I was punishing myself for being alive when she was not so fortunate.
Thankfully in time I hit a sort of rock bottom. I knew I needed help. And help came to me in the form of a book I'd bought and loaded onto my ipad years prior and never read. The book 'The Rules for Normal Eating' turned out to be the wake up call I needed, I completely connected with it's message. It got through to me. It changed me. The biggest lesson I learned was that the comfort binging on food was giving me was fleeting. Seconds worth even. But the repercussions lasted much longer. Not such a great comfort after all then.
These days I have a healthier relationship with food. I make better choices. Choices that nourish me physically and emotionally. When I was diagnosed with a desmoid tumor last year I did quite the opposite of binging. I thoroughly embraced a cleaner way of eating. And despite my medical challenges I feel good. Extra good!
Healing after trauma isnt easy but it is possible. Lessons I want to share:
- If you are grieving you are going through a loss (of something or someone). Respect your need for time to heal. Allow yourself to actively mourn in a way that honors it (or them). I'd go as far as to say this process is entirely good for you and critical for your long term health. But so is putting a time limit on it. Because along with grief there is a time for living the life that is uniquely yours. Being right here, right now with love and intention matters. Not just to you, but to your world. In fact, I'd say recovery from grief is unselfish. It gives you back to the present moment and all those around you to whom you mean so much.
- Comfort eating is uncomfortable. When you are suffering it's by no means the time to go on a diet. But, what will make you feel good from the inside out is focussing on more whole foods. Eating fresh and local produce. Limiting processed food. Drinking lots of water. Treating yourself with some dark chocolate. Yes I'm talking about taking extra special care of yourself. As much as you want that pint of ice cream, STEP AWAY. You deserve more than the guilt that lies at the bottom of the tub.
The message remains the same. Make an effort to choose the good stuff, the nourishing stuff, the self caring stuff. Even if you can only manage a little each day, it will help you heal.