2020 was a hard year for most of us and as I reflected on it, I realized I had picked up some unhelpful habits I didn’t want to bring into the new year.
In retrospect I see that for me (and many of us moms) the year was defined by a lot of overwhelm and attachment pain. The overwhelm piece is easier to recognize in the midst of our change of circumstances, but attachment pain may not be a familiar concept to you. Attachment pain is what we experience when we want connection with someone who is not available, whether through death, broken relationship, emotional unavailability, busyness – or lockdown restrictions! Attachment pain can be from present circumstances or it can be lurking under the surface from childhood pain (and often it is a combination of both!)
So how do we recognize attachment pain? This is where it gets even more complicated because the level of our brain when we feel this pain is below our conscious awareness, so we usually don’t have the thoughts, “I am missing time with my friends so I am sad.” We might instead feel, “I really need some ice cream tonight.” We have to learn to recognize the clues of our attachment pain.
When it comes to our kids, acting out or being grumpy and emotional are some of the most common signs of attachment pain and grief (check out an article on helping our kids navigate grief here), but as adults it can be even more subtle. Restlessness, cravings, a feeling of “I just need something” (a glass of wine, chocolate, sweets, comfort food, a new purse, a fun trip, sex, a romance novel, or even vegging out in front of a favorite show) are the most common signs of attachment pain. Attachment pain tends to push us out of relational mode and when we are relationally offline, our cravings get big and are hard to control. Attachment pain can be intense because the part of the brain that says we need connection is closely connected to the survival circuit – the part of our brain that says we need air to breathe and water to drink or we will die! This is why cravings can feel like life or death and to turn into addictions.
I’ve noticed my cravings growing in 2020 and they seemed harmless enough (a piece of chocolate, a few Twizzlers, a glass of wine or some dessert), but as I looked at the pattern, I realized that by early evening I was turning to one of these sources of “comfort” almost daily! As I prayed about it, I felt God challenge me to give up all of these sources of “comfort” for the month of January and remind me that I can live without them. I also felt His caution that I needed to be prepared to work through lots of emotions and grief if I was going to give up the “comforts” I was using to stuff down those feelings.
It has been an emotional month as I have said “no” to my comforts and I have worked through some of the feelings I was apparently stuffing down by giving into my cravings. While it has been difficult at times, it has also been freeing to have Jesus meet me in those emotions. Many of the feelings are rooted in pain from my childhood, but brought to the surface by things happening in the present. It is refreshing how much more relationally present I am when I don’t have to use my energies to keep the lid on my unprocessed feelings. This gives me room and to enjoy my family much more when I am not using so much energy to arm wrestle my cravings.
While my “fast” was only supposed to last the month of January, I know how easy it would be to fall into old patterns of giving into my cravings, so I am going to continue a little longer as I work on embracing my feelings rather than chocolate. 😉
Part of dealing with our cravings is learning to stay in our “relational sweet spot” as my husband calls it in his newest book The Joy Switch. Check it out for more on how to navigate living life in relational mode.