By Melanie Balint Gray. I’ve been exploring deprivation as I walk through the twists and turns of my convoluted path from unconscious overeating to… to simple, joyful eating: eating that is easy, enjoyable, and restorative.
A sense of deprivation has been a core experience throughout this journey. It was what I told myself sometimes—since you can’t have such and such go eat because you can always have food.
But, an attitude of deprivation also informed my approach to food. Deprive yourself of sugar so that you don’t get fat from all those empty calories. You can substitute zero-calorie, artificial sweeteners instead. Deprive yourself of this fat, but allow yourself that kind of fat. Stop eating sugar and flour. And on and on and on.
I hoped that cleaning up what I ate would leave me feeling satiated after every meal. It did begin to physically satiate me.
But, this pesky deprivation kept creeping back in. I can’t have this. I can’t have that. I can’t do this. I can’t do that.
I sat with this gnawing deprivation awhile and memories floated upward into plain view; memories not of when I’d been deprived by my parents or by some circumstance, but memories of when I had deprived myself. Of what? Of allowing deprivation the room to fully express itself. Of squashing deprivation, making it wrong, alienating it.
I learned quite early that displays of emotions other than happiness were not welcome. I grew up with training from that song “Put on a Happy Face.” Even as a young child, no matter what feelings lurked beneath my façade, I was to smile, say I was fine and be cheery.
So, early on I received advanced training in keeping a cheery veneer. It’s as if there was a lockdown underway inside, disallowing any other feelings. If they did venture out, some feistiness or some sadness, a scolding resulted so I put them on lockdown again. I cheated myself of feeling them.
Deprivation keeps knocking on that thick, metal prison door these days. And now, I’m beginning to attend to it. It wants release and it wants to bring all of its prison mates along. A total breakout! The list of prisoners is long, too—spanning the spectrum of feelings from ecstasy to despair. You see, happy, is only one, small sliver of the spectrum of emotions. So many emotions were cut off then and are blunted these days out of habit when they do escape for a bit.
There is one night in my childhood that deprivation still inhabits and it has taken me back there few times lately. I’m beginning to feel into the depth of the aloneness I felt that night when there was no one to turn to for help, only myself. There is fuller understanding of how everyone involved was crippled by this “Put on a Happy Face” command, so that no one could begin to untangle how they felt, revise how they behaved or have any shred of a healing conversation about it. Deprived. We were all totally deprived of the capacity of allowing genuine feelings to emerge. Feelings that could open hearts and heal wounds. That was just how it was. It could not have been any other way.
So, this feeling of deprivation has kindly led me to compassion; compassion for all of us.
It seems that deprivation still has some life within me. I’m more ready to sink into it now. What else will it show me? What’s the next gift it holds?