Hoarding and overeating are the same things. They are both ways of trying to protect yourself from “out there”. More significantly, they are also ways of trying to protect yourself from “in here”. Both build up defenses against the outside world by creating a wall between you and it. Meanwhile what you are really running away from is something that is irritating you inside.
In hoarding, you believe that you need more stuff to feel safe. You keep four of something even if you only need two. You’ll pack five pairs of shoes on a three day trip, because you aren’t sure what you might need. You’ll keep twelve outfits that don’t fit that you haven’t worn in years “just in case”. You’ll keep things that are broken or were given to you and you’ve never used because you think you might have a need for them.
This is all a sign that you don’t believe that your needs will be taken care of. You feel that you are all on your own, alone, and it is all up to you to make sure that you are happy. Meanwhile you can’t even find what you need under the pile of stuff you don’t need. You’ve built up a wall, a fortress, between you and the world.
Overeating works the same way. You feel that your needs aren’t being met, so you try to fix them with food. If a little cake is a good thing, a lot must be great, right? That boss didn’t respect you – eat a cookie or twelve. Your wife is always angry at you – have another plate at the buffet. They can’t tell you not to. It is the one thing you can control – what goes into your mouth. And yet it is out of control. You don’t have control at all. You can’t make them stop being angry or randomly changing the rules, but you can eat something. You’ll show them. Instead of speaking up, you make yourself be quiet by shoving food into your mouth.
This is how children behave. Sadly, sometimes adults are just children in older bodies.
Consider the oyster. A little irritant gets into it. A piece of sand, a bit of shell – something inedible and foreign gets inside. It doesn’t know how to get it out. The oyster’s inner parts are soft and this foreign thing hurts. The oyster puts a protective layer around that irritant to make it smooth. The only problem is that now that irritant is bigger and presses up against more of the oyster. So it puts another layer around it. And it gets bigger. So it puts another layer around it. And on, and on, and on. Eventually the pearl that has been created is so big there is no way that the oyster could get it out without being cracked open.
We are like that. We build up these walls inside us against minor injustices and slights, and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Instead of getting it out or letting it pass through us, it gets stuck inside us, making the situation worse. Eventually the only way to get it out is to be cracked open.
Sometimes being cracked open is literal – we develop a tumor from our worries, and it has to be removed by surgery. Or sometimes we have a heart attack that slows us down and makes us reassess our priorities. Sometimes everything is stripped away from us in a natural disaster. Or a divorce. Or a house fire. Sometimes our need to control is taken out of our control, and all we have left is ourselves. Then we are faced with the question – what now?
Sometimes what we are most running away from is what we need to sit with. Often the best way to heal is to not run away from our pain but to look at it and process it. Let it pass through. We run away when we drink or smoke or do drugs. But we also run away when we fill all of our time with things and events and noise. A busy life isn’t always a happy life. Silence and emptiness can be frightening at first, but they are very healing.