Seeking Safety

How much of our relationship to food is about seeking safety? I’d like to know the answer to this question. I also understand that the answer is variable and individual and therefore impossible to answer in an objective way. 

Since Abraham Maslow proposed the idea of a hierarchy of needs in the 1940s, we have generally had a picture of physiological needs as the basis of a pyramid. That means physiological needs are the priority. After that, comes the need for safety, then the need for love and belonging, etc.

But it’s really not that simple. We aren’t a perfect pyramid built one layer at a time. We need to feel safe or we may throw up any nourishment that’s available. We need love and belonging to feel safe so it’s impossible to meet our physiological or safety needs without incorporating that next layer of love and belonging. If this were not true, it would be the norm for babies to thrive whether or not they recieve love and attention.

Perhaps it would be more helpful to view ourselves as layer cakes. The layers support each other. Each is the same size. Each is equally important. When tasted together, the flavors enhance each other. 

A layer cake is a stable tower when the layers are securely held together. In a cake, we use frosting as the glue that both sweetens the tower and keeps the layers connected. In people, the frosting is attachment. 

Secure attachment looks like frosting applied with a steady hand. It has uniform thickness across the layer. The amount is perfectly matched to the thickness of the layers. Secure attachment feels safe. 

When our attachment style develops as avoidant, dismissive, ambivalent, anxious, or disorganized, we may not always feel safe in our relationships. This can affect any or everything in our lives and may manifest in our relationship to food.

Sometimes, we will need a full pantry to feel safe. Sometimes, the urge to eat or not eat will be about the feeling in our stomach. Sometimes, we need to feel soothed by the act of swallowing.  

Most often, overeating or binging and purging are characterized as attempts to fill a void. Again, that seems like an oversimplification. If a person to whom I felt anxiously attached withheld food from me during my developing years, I may feel a need to protect myself from starvation any time a similar feeling appears. That feeling may be triggered by an event that looks situationally different, but feels the same. 

If I eat during an emotional flashback (heightened sensation moment), I’m not really trying to regain attachment. My lower brain is signaling me to survive. I have to calm the lower brain before I can begin to consider repairing attachment. That means getting past the feeling and/or subconscious belief that I won’t survive. 

Once I am able to recognize what’s happening in the moment, I can explore the food and eating choices I make any time I experience this trigger. Without this recognition, the subconscious will continue to sabotage well-intended eating plans. 

We often feel guilt or shame when we fail to follow an eating plan. Understanding that your body may be seeking safety without your conscious knowledge can help alleviate guilt and give you a beginning point for exploring how this affects your relationship with food.

With insight and exploration, it’s possible to move the subconscious to the conscious. From there, all change is possible.

There is no Permanent Record

Life is a process and there is no permanent record. This year has shined a bright light on the US culture. One of the things I’ve noticed is that we seem to view what happens right this minute as determinative of everything that follows. This is hobbling our thinking at a time when pivoting needs to be swift and nimble.

It is absolutely responsible and important to carefully consider decisions. But if we don’t empty our mind of expectations, assumptions, conventional wisdom, and trending topics first, we both limit ourselves and create undue pressure at a time when we need less.

Rather than recognizing that uncertainty is always with us, some have responded to this year of swift change by further entrenching themselves in ideas or behaviors that do not serve well. Many times, it comes down to the idea that if we do something unconventional, or different than our family or friends, and it doesn’t turn out well, it will go on our permanent record.

There is no permanent record. If someone holds a long-time grudge, that’s on them, not you. If someone continues to judge you for a mistake you have acknowledged in spite of it being a one-time error, that’s on them. If your parents disagree with your decision, but you’re okay with the consequences, it’s their problem, not yours. If everyone in your Facebook group disagrees with you, it doesn’t mean you’re misguided.

I understand it doesn’t always feel good to stand alone. I left high school a year early. My dad thought that was a mistake. I had the credits to graduate and went to straight to college with a scholarship in hand. In spite of this, and the fact that I received my high school diploma the following year along with my class, he still believed it was a mistake.

Ten years later, although I had no regrets about the decision, he scored it as an error on his version of my permanent record. I could have accepted his view and let it create doubt or I could feel confident that I had researched my options and was willing to continue to move toward my goals.

Were there failures along the way? Of course. But failing in an endeavor does not make me a failure because I know I don’t have to become mired in that glitch. I can view it as a chance for improvement. To remain inspired, I keep these words from a 1910 speech by Theodore Roosevelt in my head at all times:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

If there were a permanent record, I would want it to reflect me as a contender in the arena rather than someone who always towed a line drawn by others. I’d want it to show that my decisions were well thought and carefully made. I’d want to be seen as a problem solver who moved past obstacles. And I would hope to be judged on more than appearance or net worth.

If you are a student whose grades are suffering during the pandemic, it is not a life ruining experience. Learn the life lessons in front of you. Those are more valuable than any letter grade.

If you are a parent struggling to be productive while also minding the kids, cut yourself some slack when you don’t perform at your 2019 level. Not all productivity can be measured in immediate output. Ask any strategic planner.

If you are a child who cannot visit an elderly parent in long-term care, just do what you can to stay connected. The separation does not mean your relationship has ended. It just means it has had to shift.

If you are feeling frustrated, sad, and angry because you cannot safely attend a wedding, funeral, graduation, performance, or family reunion, those feelings are normal. You may need to designate some time for self-care to grieve the loss.

If you are having to ask for help, it doesn’t mean you aren’t capable. We all need assistance under certain circumstances.

If you are a frontline or essential worker, thank you! Collectively, we have placed an undue burden on you. It will take a toll. That is not because you are weak. It is because you are a human tasked with superhuman expectations.

There’s lots of catastrophizing going on right now. The news and social media are filled with hyperbole. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that our lives are falling apart. Some are suffering devastating pain and loss. Others are suffering a change in routine. Many of us fall somewhere in between.

But before we decide that we can’t bounce back from the setbacks of 2020 and 2021, let’s remember that we can adapt when needed. We can see ourselves as the man in the arena and use challenges as motivation to be better. We can shift priorities and make better choices. And we can evaluate, reevaluate, and leave our mistakes in the past because there is no permanent record.

Finding Peace in Every Day

Peace and healing go hand in hand. In war torn countries, health initiatives can be used for peace building. In our homes, something similar can happen when we make healing a priority.

Times of illness or recovery can put a strain on families. Exhaustion, shock, sadness, pain, and discomfort make it difficult to be at our best. But finding peace in every day can help create an environment that encourages healing.

After six months of improving health, we recently learned that my 18-month-old granddaughter has developed a quick growing muscle that is obstructing the flow of blood from her aorta. Removal and repair will require another open-heart surgery (her third). If we’re lucky, this will take place in about six months. If she gets sick this cold and flu season, the surgery may need to happen sooner. It will be more difficult than her previous surgeries and will threaten the still fragile heart repairs made last year.

From April 2018 to April 2019, she was hospitalized six times for an amount of time equaling six months. At the time, she had one sibling. Next time around, she’ll have two and one will be a newborn. That means it will take all of us to keep things going. We know what it’s like. We just lived through a similar year.

After trying unsuccessfully to hold onto some semblance of my previous normal, gone are my plans to move to another state. Gone are vacations. I just managed a trip to see my other new grandson, but lying on the beach, a cruise, the NCAA tournament, or a week at a spa are beyond reach for now.

Letting go of some positive activities has been a necessity. I prioritize getting enough sleep, eating reasonably well, working out 150 minutes per week, and grouping work into efficient batches. Most weeks meeting these goals plus family care duties puts me at capacity.

With waves of added responsibility arriving over the past three years, I am beginning to recognize new effects of the relentlessness. I’ve noticed when I feel any slight hint of relaxing into the warm feeling of a beautiful day or happy anticipation of the future, I immediately tamp it down. Then I feel sad, perhaps from a sense of loss.

At this point I’m not able to slow the process down enough to figure out the exact order in which the emotions arrive. Do I feel sad and that makes me pull back happiness, or do I feel happy and that triggers the sadness of loss? I don’t know. Maybe I don’t need to. I’m aware of the problem and sometimes that’s all that’s needed to find a solution.
sink
What remains when life gets tough are the everyday tasks-finding food, taking a shower, throwing out the trash, putting gas in the car, and choosing clothes to wear. In fact, the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows that most of our time outside of work and sleep is spent on everyday tasks.

It’s so easy to dread doing the laundry or the dishes or mowing the lawn, especially when we’re exhausted and stressed. And yet those tasks remain. Even if we hire someone to cook, clean, and mow, we still must bathe ourselves and brush our teeth occasionally.

Logic tells me that when most of the time available is filled with the tasks of everyday living, then that is the place in which I must find peace. I’m not exactly there yet, but I can visualize it-relaxing into the comfort of routine, not wondering what to do next, relying on muscle memory and allowing the mind to drift and quiet.

If you’re concerned that your mind will twist with worry instead, you have not yet experienced the state I’m describing. Neither had I prior to the past year. There is a point at which all energy has been harnessed to deal with the decisions and tasks of a given moment. In other words, the present is too absorbing to allow for speculation.

I wish you the chance to avoid reaching this point in your lifetime, but for some it will be unavoidable. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 16,000 infants per year have surgery for congenital heart defects and an estimated 80,000 to 85,000 aortic valve replacements are done on aortic stenosis patients in the US each year.

As I embark upon this next difficult journey through childcare and family support, here is how I will seek peace in every day:

I will create a list for my day of things I hope to do. I will set the intention to feel good about any and everything I accomplish. If I don’t get to something, I will move it to tomorrow’s list, next week’s list, or let it go.

When I wash dishes, I will notice the warmth of the water, the lemony smell of the dishwashing liquid, and the green plants outside the window. I’ll feel my feet solidly planted on the floor. I’ll let thoughts and feelings flow and go.

When I do laundry, I’ll take a moment to bury my face in the warm towels from the dryer and breathe in their fresh scent.

I’ll make sure to breathe when I’m on my yoga mat and consciously relax large muscle groups in order to stretch my fascia.

When I water the plants, I will savor the smell of rosemary and mint.

I will wear clothes that feel good.

I will lean into hugs.

I will say yes to help when it’s sincerely offered.

I will absorb comfort and compliments.

I will cut short phone calls or visits that do not feel supportive and will be willing to put friendships on hold or let them go when they feel draining.

While I may not take the time to record gratitude, I will take note each time I feel grateful.

I will count progress toward a goal as accomplishment.

I will trust myself, my judgment, and my shifting priorities.

I will let myself change.

Significant life events may mean we are never again the person we once were. This can feel like loss. That loss must be grieved. But all loss is also gain of something new and different. What we make of that gain can mean peace or turmoil. I may not get there immediately, but I am committed to using hard lessons as steps on a path toward peace.

This moment is all we know we have. If this is as good as it gets, then I have to let it be good enough. I will begin with finding peace in every day and trust that peace can lead me to joy.

I wish you both peace and joy in life’s easiest and most difficult moments.

https://www.nursingcenter.com/journalarticle?Article_ID=1580903&Journal_ID=54009&Issue_ID=1580838

https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/atus.pdf

https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.105.592089

Cheri ThriverPosted on Categories UncategorizedTags , , , , Leave a comment on Finding Peace in Every Day

Can You Pivot?

When things don’t turn out as planned, can you pivot? Today, I thought I was going to make enchilada sauce. Over an hour into the process, I realized there was no way my combination of ancho and pasilla chiles, charred vegetables, marjoram and Mexican oregano was going to turn out like any enchilada sauce I’ve ever tasted or hoped to make. The flavors had potential, but not as the end product I’d planned.
pivot
I face similar situations regularly. No matter how meticulously I plan, things change. I can either let that throw me, or I can pivot. At those moments, I usually remember my grandmother saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Hearing that over and over let me know that it was not unusual to have to look for another solution.

Changing course is not always easy. Sometimes it requires significant physical, mental, or emotional effort. But with life throwing challenges my way, the ability to pivot has made me less wasteful, more efficient, more creative, more knowledgeable, more confident, and infinitely more resilient. This is true when I’m developing recipes, but it is also true throughout all areas of my life.

Pivoting requires engagement, flexibility and decision making. If I had been determined to end up with enchilada sauce, my efforts would have been wasted. An hour of wasted time with my current schedule can mean I must say no to lunch with a friend or rearrange anticipated down time. That would feel discouraging.

Being able to see potential in the work I’d done allowed me to make a subtle shift that turned the effort into an acceptable mole sauce that can be easily tweaked into perfection. Visualizing a different outcome is one component of a graceful pivot.

Recognizing I’m in a moment that could benefit from a shift comes even before visualization. That was pretty clear to me when adding salt didn’t head the sauce in the right direction. My taste buds called for sweet and something to mellow the bitter overtones. Honey, anise, and chocolate all fit that bill.

Connecting my taste instincts with my food knowledge led to an immediate association of the sauce on my stove and mole sauce. Exploring that thought excited me because most of the jarred mole sauce I’ve found in stores contains crackers or bread. I added a few ingredients to see if my visualized flavor profile would work as I anticipated. It did!

I recorded the changes in the recipe plus a few that I think will improve it next time. Of course, I also had to revise the dish I had planned for dinner. My enchilada pie turned into enmolada pie. It wasn’t that much of a shift and didn’t require a trip to the store.

The pivot, which included recognition of my dilemma, connection to a possible change, exploration of that change, visualization of a new end product, and implementation of the new plan, allowed me to turn a kitchen failure into a successful recipe albeit not the anticipated one.

Imagine what that did for my mood, energy level, and motivation! Instead of feeling defeated or discouraged, I felt excited about all the dishes I can make with mole. Woohoo, my mind is now moving full speed ahead!

The ability to absorb, process, and turn unfortunate events into positive momentum is what allowed a pharmacist I know to purchase and grow his pharmacy into the largest in the county seat, marry and have two beautiful children, and become a pillar of the community in spite of having had polio as a child that rendered him minimal use of his legs.

Instead of viewing his disability as something to hide, he chose to showcase his amazing upper body strength — a pivot that clearly fed positive momentum into the rest of his life. I think of his example each time I walk into his pharmacy.

A willingness to pivot is important for businesses too. If Anheuser-Busch had not reimagined its end product during Prohibition, there would most likely be no Bud Light, Franziskaner, Natty Daddy, or Rolling Rock today. Someone at Molex had to envision a future beyond flower pots and salt tablet dispensers for the company to begin to manufacture electrical appliances. We don’t always notice when a business innovates, but we certainly notice when it doesn’t. We soon become dissatisfied and move on.

It’s common to resist change. But things change whether or not we’re resistant. Hurricanes, floods, fire, and tornadoes reshape communities. Acute or chronic health problems arrive. Spouses leave. Jobs are lost. Violence touches our families. Any of these things can happen at a moment’s notice when we have done nothing wrong. It is at those moments that pivoting becomes a critical skill.

We all want to emerge from shock, trauma, loss, and grief feeling optimistic, energetic, positive, and poised for joy. We all can, but some of us don’t know that we can or don’t know how to get from A to B. That path starts with a simple pivot away from the devastation and toward the possibilities created by that devastation.

I feel fortunate that I can pivot both in and out of the kitchen, but the ability was hard earned. Some tough circumstances early in my life led me to hone this skill. While I’m not all that grateful for some of those circumstances, I am grateful for the resulting resilience. Enough so that I would encourage you to develop this skill even if you don’t see its merits right now.

Sometimes the stakes are much higher than enchilada sauce vs mole.