I am not hungry right now. But I desperately want to eat.
I’m a rational man and I understand this pattern. I understand a good bit about human psychology and much more about my own psychology. I’m not stupid. So I know what’s going on.
For hours now, though, I’ve been fighting the compulsion to eat. There’s nothing in particular I want. It could be a hamburger. It could be some chicken. A hunk of cheese would be fine. Maybe some fries or pizza. It doesn’t matter what it is.
I’m not the least bit hungry. I’m certain of that. But there’s a gnawing emptiness inside that something in my gut interprets as a craving to be filled. The rational part of me knows food wouldn’t make any difference, but some irrational part of my brain thinks food would make this emptiness go away.
That child-like core doesn’t listen when I whisper, “No, you’re not hungry. You just need to be loved.”
I don’t know how some of us build this odd connection between food and love, but it seems to be common. I’ve talked with others who experience it. I’ve read a lot about it and listened to interviews with experts. I have a tendency to intellectualize everything in my life. If I can understand something, I feel that I can control it.
But in this case, the conscious part of me understands the process. I’ve been here before. I’ve fought the battle a thousand times. But that needy child inside — that’s what it feels like — can’t listen to reason.
It’s like having multiple people inside of my brain, each with his own needs and priorities. This conscious part of me is the mature adult in the mix. I understand what’s going on. I try to react rationally. I try explaining to the rest of me what’s happening.
But this other part of me is like a scared child who feels abandoned. He’s too scared to listen. Or maybe it’s a better analogy to say he’s like a crying baby who doesn’t know what’s missing, so he cries for his mother to take care of him.
I know enough psychology to suspect a connection between this need and the mother who left me when I was young. It doesn’t take a genius to suspect that connection. I’ve discussed it with a psychologist. All the pieces fit. It makes sense.
Yet understanding this doesn’t help me. Intellectualizing it doesn’t help this time. Overanalyzing doesn’t somehow give me control. I still feel that this powerful need is stronger than my rational will.
I’ve been eating really well for some time now. I’ve shed some unwanted pounds — though not enough yet — and I’ve felt healthier by avoiding sugar and most other foods which I know trigger poor eating for me. But even with the need to continue down this path — like an alcoholic who’s stayed away from booze for months — the urge to eat to fill this need is overpowering.
I know there’s a common link between our unfilled needs when we were young and the patterns we establish with romantic love.
Someone who didn’t have his mother as a child might put himself into positions in which he again doesn’t have love — in the hopes that he will be rescued in a way that his mother never rescued him.
Someone who lost a father might put herself into positions in which she’s lost the love she craves and she can’t possibly have that love again — in the hopes that the death might not be final this time.
There are a million patterns, but those of us who faced some kind of separation — physical or emotional — from the love of a parent we needed can spend much of our lives recreating old traumas in the unconscious hope that our stories might finally have happy endings this time.
I could look to my past and find dozens of lessons I should learn. I could point to times when I’ve blown chances to have the love I needed and then make connections back to childhood trauma. It’s not difficult — and there are so many interesting theories to consider.
I’m doing it again. I’m intellectualizing this. That’s what I know how to do. I’m trying to give it rational structure to make it something I can understand. I’m asking you to understand, I suppose. I’m asking you to see the struggle and understand why it happens. My eagerness to be understood and known is part of the whole emptiness and need.
But beneath my efforts to intellectualize it, there’s only raw and naked need. There’s only a desperate child who still feels the emptiness of loss he wasn’t equipped to understand, because not feeling loved is too much hurt for a child’s heart to process without breaking.
This need isn’t rational. I know that. But until I find a way to find the love which I so strongly crave, I’ll continue to fight the compulsion to eat food which I’m not hungry for.
I’m still hungry for real love, but you can’t find that at a late-night drive-through.