Awareness doesn't deserve a medal: Brene Brown's eCOURSE

As you may recall, I enrolled in Brene Brown’s encore eCOURSE to accompany her book The Gifts of Imperfection late in 2013. The class is currently in week 6, and I’ll be honest: many times I thought to myself, I don’t feel like I’m getting much out of this. But I know deep down that you only get out of something what you put in, and as I was 2 weeks behind in the exercises and had only skimmed some of her messages on the group portal page, it’s no surprise I felt like I should never enroll in another eCOURSE again. Until today.

The Week 4 lesson is on Numbing. As in, what we do to not feel what we don’t want to feel. Like, smoking. Drinking. Gambling. Addiction to anything, diagnosed or not, be it food, sex, drugs or rock & roll. I think my relationship to numbing, up until this point, went something like this:

Yes, I know I’m numbing right now with a mini muffin because it’s there and I feel empty and I know I’m doing it so at least I’m aware.

Yes, I know I’ve been snacking all day long because I feel bored and I’m doing all this stuff I don’t want to do, but the food is right in front of me. I’m going to eat it. Maybe next time I just won’t bring food with me. At least I know I’m doing it.

I can go on and on and on like that, as if I should get a medal because “at least I know I’m doing it.” But like a slap in my own face, I think I’m ready to declare that AWARENESS DOESN’T DESERVE A MEDAL. Yes, it’s a critical first step (and is one of the foundations of any good 12-step program). But if all you’re doing is consistently patting yourself on the back for “being aware,” your awareness has some severe limitations! I’m looking right at myself when I say, “Just because you’re aware doesn’t mean you’re enlightened.” And I know this — I know that the muffins and the pasta and the pies don’t serve my highest good. But I don’t think I knew the extent to which I had made numbing my friend.

The questions on the eCOURSE page went something like this:

  1. What makes you engage in numbing?
  2. What do you use to numb?
  3. How do you personally engage in numbing?

My spitfire answers came out plain as day:

  1. Anger at my own shortcomings, like giving in and buying junk food for the kids again, or eating something I shouldn’t have and feeling bad after, or not being an effective communicator with my husband when it comes to what our kids eat, how much TV they watch, etc
  2. Food, controlling behavior (yelling, ordering around the kids and spouse, snapping at them and swearing things will change/I’ll never do this again) and more food
  3. I eat past hunger; I eat when I’m not hungry; I eat just because the clock says it’s “dinner time” or “lunch time”; I eat just because it’s there; I eat it because otherwise it will end up in the garbage; I eat because it’s a special occasion; I eat because I need the energy for my workout; I eat because I know if I don’t eat it now I’ll just eat later anyways — oh, and I can also turn into a COMPLETE CONTROL FREAK and whip out the nasty switch like nobody’s business.

It was like when someone asks you to describe your favorite movie, the one you’ve watched 77 times and know all the lines to, and you could sell this movie to anyone because you know so much about it and have so much to say. My Words On Numbing were fast and furious.

But when I got to the next set of questions, I stumbled.

  1. What’s the difference between numbing and comfort?
  2. How do you comfort yourself (not numb yourself)?


You see, this is when I imagine all-those-things-they-say-you-should-do-but-I-don’t-do-them, like Get A Pedicure! Call A Trusted Friend! Write In Your Journal! Take A Walk! Snuggle With Your Kids! and I flop down, flustered, unimpressed again at my lack of self-care follow-through. Okay, yes, sure. I snuggle with my kids every day (probably too much, if that’s possible). But that’s not enough. It’s not enough to get you through those moments that kids can’t understand or that you don’t want them to see.

The a-ha moment came when I finally realized that the same things that drive me to numb — not feeling like I’m eating healthy enough, not feeling like my kids are well-enough-behaved, not feeling like my house is clean enough, not feeling like my marriage is good enough — are basically the same things I turn to to numb: Food and trying to control. And — get this — they’re also the things I try to turn to for comfort when I do actually catch myself in the act of numbing! My “comfort” collage has images and words like these: “Energy and health. Sometimes we just need a recipe. Eat clean. Follow your bliss. The calm you crave.” It felt like a bizarre love triangle. How could I drive myself crazy with the same things that I then use to try to numb the crazy and think that they’ll also work to comfort the crazy instead???

I had to really, really sift through the words and pictures I had pulled and search my heart to figure out what truly — easily and effortlessly, without conflicting emotions — brings me joy. What are those things? For me, they are:

  • Giggling with the kids — story time! tickle time!! — with no agenda. Being completely present.
  • Listening to good music — certain songs by Mumford & Sons, Beethoven and Laurent Korcia really take me to that place of peace and calm
  • Meditation, stretching, uplifting audio recordings
  • Reading a good book (preferably in bed!)
  • Doing something for someone else — an anonymous favor, something charitable or just being present to lend an ear
  • Really taking care of ME — a hot shower, a tall glass of cool water, relaxing without multitasking

I had been doing it all wrong. I had been trying to comfort my addiction to numbing with food, WITH FOOD! But you can’t comfort yourself with a Morning Glory Sunrise juice one day if the next day it gives you a guilt trip because you didn’t have time to prepare one. You cannot think that meal planning and swearing off sugar will comfort you in your time of need if every time you cave it feels like the walls are crumbling around you. Maybe it’s not that I haven’t been following through with my self-care plan — it’s simply that my self-care plan was just another ideal that I felt I wasn’t living up to.

Now I know. Now I really get it. And I don’t expect a medal for this shocking new awareness, but I do expect change. “Joy is a light that fills you” — not something that leaves you feeling high one day and depleted the next.

Do you do this too? Do you find yourself trying to self-soothe with food, even if you also use it to numb? I’d love to hear.

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