Leaving Symptoms: Binge Eating and Fear of the Void

It’s nearly two weeks since I announced to my friends and family that I’m Leaving art of living. (See, I can play the Unnecessary Capitals Game too!). In addition to lots of emotional ups and downs that I can compare essentially to any breakup I’ve ever been through, there are symptoms occurring physically (and of course psychologically) that I was not expecting. The first and most noticeable has been binge eating.

I have never had this problem before, not like this. I sometimes overeat; I put too much on my plate and then I finish it because it’s there– I strategically avoid buffets because of this compulsion to “get my money’s worth” and “clean my plate!”. But in the last 10 days I have been eating and eating, not from hunger or even from boredom, but out of a nebulous anxiety and a deep fear of emptiness.

What this reminds me of most is my experience of marijuana. Now, as a young woman dedicated to my Hippie Heritage, I considered it a duty to my culture to experiment with pot when I was 18 and living with my first stoner roommate. I had never tried the stuff before because I was afraid of liking it too much and turning into a loser, but I had this intense conviction that I *should* like it. After all, I was a neohippie with a crazy name and crazy parents, a former vegan living with my pet rat and doing yoga and a massage certification course in an uber-hippie university town. How could I NOT like pot??

But the fact is, I can’t stand the stuff.

When I got high (I tried about 5 times in total, all without success) I experienced a total inability to engage mentally. I couldn’t join a thought to any logical next thought; I couldn’t follow a simple conversation or the plot of a cartoon. I felt anxious and disconnected and completely ungrounded; I felt unable to express myself, unable to think or feel, and unable to get away because it was all happening inside my head. I had no connection to anything sensual, no real feeling of having a body at all. But I ate. I ate and ate and ate, I stuffed my face with anything available, unable to taste it, unable to register any sensual experience in anything at all– but I ate because I was desperately trying to get grounded, to re-embody, to end the nightmarish resoundingly anxious emptiness I felt.

To be perfectly honest, that’s very much like why I have been binge eating this week. Giving up SSRS as my guru and Art of Living as my spiritual community and the ashram as my Home has left a horrible emptiness at the center of my internal life; that emptiness is one of the most frightening things I have ever faced. I wonder if this emptiness is akin to the silence he always praised– only when I practiced silence under his tutelage, he was always there in my heart, watching appraising applauding critiquing or Celebrating my “silence”; there was no silence in that silence.

Now, it feels empty and terrifyingly quiet. I believe this was the very emptiness I came running and screaming to Him from. I sometimes think that our primary mythologies function most beautifully when they function in terms of facing that Void. Now, I have nothing to replace him with. Now in my heart there’s “no there there”. It’s almost a malevolent emptiness– like The Nothing in “The Neverending Story”…

So, I’ve been binge eating; before I admitted to myself and my family I was leaving AoL, I also self-medicated my depression with quite a lot of alcohol. Thankfully I’m not drinking like that now, and I’m sure the overeating will pass soon, now that I understand it better. Ultimately I think if there is a cure or solution to this sensation (besides a subsequent experience of Sartre’s nausea, and developing an existential eating disorder) , it is in greeting that Nothing as mine, as my own playground and kingdom and temple. One day, soon I hope, I shall hold my head high as Queen of that Void. One day. Soon, I hope.

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About theartofleaving

Former devotee and member of The Art of Living organization reflecting on the process of joining and leaving cults, abusive relationships, and sundry obsessions. Trying to draw the line by connecting the dots.
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7 Responses to Leaving Symptoms: Binge Eating and Fear of the Void

  1. Pingback: Leaving Symptoms: Binge Eating and Fear of the Void | The Art of … | Untreated Info

  2. Blossom says:

    I found joining a group activity/class helped and occupied me. Also connecting more meaningfully with people – both online and in real life. As you take responsibility for all your actions, binge eating may also reduce and disappear. A loving higher power is still on the lookout for you, so don’t get rattled or feel lonely when you hit the next rough patch. Lots of love!

    • thank you for the loving helpful thoughts. I’m finding a very simple day job and cutting back on commitments and getting in touch with old friends very helpful. Also a woman i’ve been talking to who is a former cult member and now a sociologist with a PhD specializing in the field has a class I’m thinking about joining- what a great way to meet people outside a cult, a class on the sociology of cults! 😀

      I find that the eating problem has lessened over the last few days. Oddly enough, admitting it in this forum and really talking about it seemed to weaken the urge somehow. but I’m sure the Emptiness will take other forms while the joyful struggle to totally own my own life continues.

      Again, thank you for reading and reaching out. it really means the world. xx BW

  3. Prairie Princess says:

    Sounds like you are doing the right thing. Gentle exercise (even or especially yoga) can be helpful too. When I stopped participating in AoL I kept doing yoga. After all, I had done yoga before I did AoL. I had an issue with “communication withdrawal” because my phone was always ringing when I was a volunteer and after I pulled away the phone didn’t ring so much. It takes time to get used to the new reality. I also did some therapy about my own vulnerability to groups like that since I was brought up in a fundamentalist christian home. You’ll have great material for papers in your cult class. Be well.

    • You’re so kind and thoughtful 🙂

      Exercise is a godsend right now. I’ve been practicing at a bikram studio that’s nearby quite a lot for the last couple months, and it has seriously helped me stay embodied– but I need the group because doing yoga alone sets off too many things.

      Therapy is something I will definitely consider. I need to unpack a whole history of similar relationships– not all cultic per se, but similarly unhealthy in many ways.

      I wrote the professor last night–it’ll be fun to have assignments and do lots of reading on all this ! 🙂

      best and thanks for reading

      BW

      • Peaceful Warrior says:

        One of the good things I learned from AOL was the importance of actively working to make your environment calm and peaceful. I used to see these as minor insignificant things, but in fact, I now realize how they make such a big difference.

      • Blossom says:

        Yeah, exercise is good. I chose an aerobics like activity. Didn’t want yoga at least for now, to avoid comparing with or reminders of AOL. I don’t mind doing it on my own though, esp Suryanamaskars.

        I too had communication withdrawal! I actually sent out nice jokes/thoughts as bulk sms, a few times before I weaned off. I still get the odd call and it makes me uncomfortable. I am glad not to get more of them now. Anyway I am talking more to people who really matter in my life.

        The class on cults will be interesting and maybe difficult at times. Do post any good insights as you come across them.

        I may still respect the knowledge but the blind faith is gone!

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