Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stuffed to the Gills


Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the relationship between being stuffed and having a lot of stuff.

For various reasons, many of us struggle with over-eating and over-amassing.  Sometimes, concurrently.  I remember hearing a celebrity on television speaking about her on-going battle with overeating.  She described how she felt it impossible to go to sleep at night without her stomach feeling full.  Not just the absence of feeling hungry, but actually feeling full.  She would eat several bowls of cereal or ice cream or a sandwich just before heading to bed so that she would be able to feel that full feeling, knowing that it would allow her to easily fall asleep.  She realized this need to feel full had its roots in her childhood of poverty, where she would often go to bed hungry.  One of her realizations of her own success was when she was able to not just eat three meals each day, but also “splurge” on an extra one at bedtime.  This became a comforting thing for her, as well as a tangible badge of her success, and most likely represented fulfilling a host of perceived emotional voids as well (funny how the emotion-related word “fulfilling” is so similar to a word describing a physical state:  “full feeling”).  This celebrity now battles health issues resulting from being overweight, as well as some new emotional issues related to her weight, yet according to the interview, she now feels powerless to overcome this condition.

Likewise, I know of people to over-amass.  Granted, this condition is easier to hide than that of overeating (you simply don’t invite people into your home), but its origins and effects can be just as potent, if not more, than over-eating.  I know of people who can’t bear to part with items long past their potential for value or benefit.  Some of these things hold sentimental value – a time the holder wishes to be able to recreate, others represent the security of “what if” – what if I need this random object that has not been touched during this decade to complete a very important home repair/thesis project/life-saving MacGyver-style procedure.  Like filling a childhood void of not enough food, being able to surround yourself with stuff feels like being fulfilled in ways other than through your stomach.  It is a visual reminder of “feeling full” in some way. 

Like an over-eater creating an insulating sense of self-protection through weight gain, the over-amasser creates an insulating boundary much like a child burying themselves in sand – packing it in layers and layers around themselves until it is impossible to see the real them in the midst of all of their stuff.  And in much the same way the over-eater sabotages their health by not wanting to feel they are going “without” – getting bigger and bigger, reactionarily responding to their cravings, at the mercy of low-energy levels; the hoarder of stuff is held captive by the weight and clutter of all of their things, craving more, not being able to bear the thought of lightening up their load, sabotaging their lives by not being able to fully live and experience life because they have simply run out of room or are embarrassed for others to see what is really beyond their front doors.  Like an over-eater, over-stuffers have many excuses/reasons for needing to be the way they are:  “when I was a kid, we didn’t have…”, “when I got married, we couldn’t afford to buy…”, or “when my parents were young they didn’t have enough…” so they stuff and stuff themselves looking to “feel full”.  Both camps end up hurting themselves in an attempt to NOT re-experience the “without” times, regardless of origin.  Both camps, unfortunately, perpetuate more “without” times by their misguided self-protecting actions.

Just as we cheer for someone when they’ve undergone a major weight-loss, we should root for those who go through a major stuff-loss.  When weight comes on, we are unaware of its full effects because it is a gradual shift:  gradually we lose lung capacity and optimal cardiac function so we become sedentary; gradually we become limited in our mobility; gradually our energy levels decrease so we crave foods that give us a quick boost, but those are often the worst foods for us.  We find ourselves in a never-ending spiral.  When these things are reversed through getting healthier, it is as if we have gone through a renewal - a new lease on life.  This can also happen with the over-amassers:  gradually we lose space to entertain and we withdraw, socially; gradually we have less and less room to practice our creative pursuits so we look for other ways to fill the void by often buying more stuff; gradually the kitchen counters become too cluttered to cook and the dining room table too full to host our meals, so mealtimes and eating become a source of discomfort – something we’d rather avoid.  See the spiral?  Making a radical change in how we choose to take care of ourselves can affect us multi-dementionally.  Whether we are losing 100lbs of our bodies or of our belongings, highs and lows, victories and traumas are to be expected throughout the process.  It will be uncomfortable.  Both of these conditions deserve delving into.  Both of these conditions are limiting to a full and productive life. 

Each of these conditions can be overcome through patience, value and support for yourself.  If that’s not enough, consider hiring a professional!

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