Saturday, November 7, 2009

Binge on rationalizations.

To tell you what I think of the "Emotional Eating" theory, I have to tell you what I think about "Germaphobia".

This is what happened to me.

I remember (when I say remember, I mean that going back in memory I have been able to analyze my feelings to some extent) as a child that certain things were "Yucky" to touch. I could feel every fiber or they seemed to cling to my fingers or I could continue to feel their touch after I let them go. So there were certain things I wouldn't touch, which caused a whole lot of social problems, partly because other people's hands were one of those things. I could feel the oils or sweat or anything that was on their hands, little callouses or cuts... and I kept on feeling them for several minutes to a half an hour.

This turns out, in my case to be an issue of hypersensitivity. I really can feel the small amount of oil on your hands and it really does leave a lingering touch on mine. But for the longest time I didn't know why I hated to touch other people when the other children seemed to enjoy holding hands with each other or their parents. Worse were certain things like cheap molded cut glass, knitted clothing, unpolished metals and woods and many of the coarser fabrics. I could feel them almost as intimately as tasting them. Many times the sensations got to be too much and I would either refuse to touch them or have to go soothe my sense of touch with a vigorous handwashing.

But when school started, that was not an option most of the time. I had to use crayons covered in cheap paper, handle craft materials like modeling clay and Popsicle sticks. The undersides of the desks were unpainted and the metal parts were paint over rust. The Catholic School I first attended even used unpainted pencils, which were just nasty to the touch.

MY father worked at a service station near the Catholic School, and I would go there after school and he would have me clean his tools for him in a big tub of gasoline. I used to love that because I would scrub the tools and then scrub my hands. Gasoline seemed to take the day's accumulation of sensations off my hands quite well. I know now it was the stiff bristle brush more than anything. But after the first year or so I got moved to a State School.

Suddenly, as a slightly older child, my behavior started to be noticed. Teachers would ask me why I was washing my hands so much and I had to have an answer. I would say things like "They got dirty", when really it was to randomize the sensations again because I could still feel the brushed stainless steel of the door knob. Eventually I learned about germs and convinced myself that what I was feeling was the sensation of germs moving around on my hands.

This has a dual effect, not only did it explain to me why I felt things long after I touched them, but it also gave me something to tell people who asked me. I no longer didn't want to touch things because they were "yucky", I didn't want to touch them because they "might have germs".

This was very liberating. Suddenly I had a rationalization that would work on a host of things. I hauled it out for just about anything I didn't want to touch and sometimes I would haul it out for other reasons. If I didn't want to play kickball because the kids would pick me last, the playground had too many germs. If I didn't want to go to a neighbors house for a birthday party, I thought their house was too dirty and might have germs. As a ten year old this was the perfect excuse. It would justify nearly anything, even though it made me seem peculiar and my parents worried.

But then I took a course in microbiology. It was an elective available to a few children who did really well in 9th grade "Biology". But I learned enough about "germs" to know that my sensations were not being caused by them. If that were true, then the smooth porcelain sinks in the high school bathrooms would be the worst, and I didn't mind them at all. Worse, I learned that every breath inhales dozen of types of viruses and bacteria by the thousands. I had to breathe!

My rationalization crumbled, but I now had real germaphobia. While I can look back on it now and know that it was hypersensitivity, at the time I really thought it was germs. I had convinced myself - but my new knowledge assured me that I was wrong. I believed I could actually feel something I knew wasn't true. I started down the path of being convinced that it was my emotions that led to the handwashing, not an actual sensation.

This lasted for decades. I tried various therapies, eventually went on drugs, learned self-hypnotism, meditation and even tried past life regression to alleviate this and some other symptoms, to no avail.

It was just a few years ago that I finally found something that helped. It's those new ultra-soft fabrics. I got a comforter made out of them for Christmas, packed in a clean plastic wrapper, opened it up and recoiled in horror at the first touch! It was the nastiest thing I had ever touched! I went through a whole series of mental steps that pretty much capsulized my whole childhood and adult life. The word "yucky" came out of my mouth without me even noticing it. I tried to convince myself that it was covered in germs. I started searching my ego for signs of sexual abuse or repressed memories or anger at my mother. But over it all was the certain knowledge that I could still feel it on my fingers after just one touch.

All this while my mother-in-law (whom I love) stood over me beaming because she was sure I would like her gift.

I had to force myself to touch it again, and say how nice it was. I tried to cover my "yucky" slip by saying, as if repeating, how "lucky" I was to have it. But I think she noticed my full body shudder when I put my hands back on it. This time I had to pay attention to my physical feelings. It clutched at me, each microfiber got hooked on every imperfection of my skin and tugged in different directions. I could almost feel it sucking moisture out of my hands and leaving a fine layer of dust or (as I know now) residual sensations. I don't think I hid my feelings very well, but I did try.

Because I had learned to avoid touching so many things since I was a child, I don't think I ever paid attention to exactly what I was feeling. I didn't have to, I could just not touch them. But now I was forced to and I later forced myself to feel other things I knew were "yucky". Because I thought I was on the track of something.

Maybe, just maybe, my sensations were real.

Not germs, not a phobia, not imagination. The sensations were real, the rationalizations were what were false. Now I could touch things (well it really took months and I still have to work on it) and just know that my hands would feel phantom sensations for a while and I could stop them by any of several randomization techniques, if I wanted to.... or not.

(I see my sensations as being an alignment or patterned stimulation of touch that leaves "echoes" for some length of time. These patterns can be disturbed by rubbing my skin in "randomizing" ways, such as washing, brushing or wiping.)

The point being that my rationalizations, engendered by my subconscious or barely conscious mind, hid me from the actual sensations, which I might otherwise have been able to work on 30-40 years ago. It might have saved my marriage.

So how does this all relate to "Emotional eating" and "Binge eating"?

Oh, that requires that I do my first "Two part" blog post. I'll try to get to it this afternoon.

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