Falling back on the familiar

Tuesday, August 28, 2012 Permalink

Two separate incidents yesterday morning played on my mind all day.

Firstly I was walking behind a group of young people speaking in Spanish or Italian. I speak (very) basic Portuguese so listened-in, hoping to exercise my very rusty language skills. What occurred to me (as it did when I was living in Portuguese-speaking countries and exposed more often to the language) was how I tried to listen for familiar words… often making erroneous assumptions about a word because it sounded like an English word I recognised.

Then as I neared our office building I was behind a woman with long brown hair in a chic dress and very high heels. “Oh that’s Mary,” I thought to myself, even though the person wasn’t really the right height or shape for Mary.

I realised I actually knew it wasn’t Mary, but started wondering why I even entertained the idea it was her.

Given that I’d just had the language experience it occurred to me that I was trying to make sense of things by grasping at the familiar. I was viewing the world in a way I could relate to; in a way that made sense to me.

I’m pretty sure there’s some theory (and if I could remember developmental psychology and the like from my undergraduate degree I’d feel more confident about espousing this) about the fact that, the way we see the world is shaped by our own beliefs, attitudes and experiences.

It occurs to me that when I don’t understand something I try to use whatever frame of reference I have (in this morning’s case, my native language and people I know) to try to give it meaning.

I then realised I employ the same tools when I’m stressed or overwhelmed. I fall back on the familiar.

Sometimes the choices I make are healthy (I have certain ‘comfort’ TV shows, movies or books I tend to watch / read again and again); and sometimes they aren’t…

The last few weeks have felt a bit tumultuous… although I know that to most (normal) people my ups and downs pale in comparison. But to me, illness and some other stuff has meant that I’ve immediately given myself permission to venture back into familiar territory.

“I’m sick, so I’m allowed to eat whatever I want.”
“I had to fast before minor surgery so I’m allowed to have a bit of a treat now.”
“I’m feeling vulnerable and alone, so I can have THIS.”

I’ve most certainly done my share of binge-reading, binge-TV watching, as well as some binge-eating in recent weeks. And while I confess to feeling bad about all three, it’s the latter that most worries me.


I’m well aware that life isn’t going to suddenly become less stressful. We’re nearing the first anniversary of my father’s passing (and my nightly dreams in which he features are returning so it’s obviously playing on my mind!). And on top of this, I will supposedly know at the end of this month if I’ll continue to have a job or not. If I don’t, I’ll have some interesting times ahead of me as I make some key life decisions.

I don’t even know how I feel about that which is why I’ve barely talked about it here.

That aside, life is always going to be stressful and full of ups and downs.

We all have our ways of coping; we all have crutches. I tend to fall back on familiar forms of comfort.  However… some of those comfort mechanisms are (it must be said) a tad destructive, such as my binge-eating.

I’m realising that – while others may judge the amount of television I watch, or think I’m strange for my obsessive reading habits – these are things that comfort and nourish me. So my own focus over coming weeks (or months) will be to take comfort in the familiar when I need to; but perhaps I can be more conscious of the choices I’m making and make books or episodes of Buffy or West Wing my ‘go-to’ options rather than comfort eating and bingeing on corn chips.

I’m sure most of us have comfort-eaten at some point in our lives, but do you (like me) have other familiar habits you fall back on in times of need?


  • Eating as a Path to Yoga
    August 28, 2012

    I feel like my world is in upheaval because my familiar (food) no longer calls to me. So, I have all these emotions that exercise, yoga, television, & FB cannot cure.

    • Debbish
      August 28, 2012

      Is that a good thing though? (That you’re not hearing from your fave food?) Perhaps you’ve moved on and can find other things that offer comfort? (Not sure what though!!!)


  • Kek
    August 28, 2012

    I always battle the same “I’m sick, poor meeeee! I deserve something delicious to cheer myself up”. It’s a constant struggle. :s

    The good thing is, I see a some progress when it comes to how I “treat myself” if I’m feeling down. I recognise that exercise makes me feel better, and it seems to have become one of my go-to activities now. Even while I was sick recently and physically unable to follow my usual exercise regime, I did make an effort to get outdoors and walk, partly because I know that moving my body helps cheer me up, but also because a walk around the parkland is mentally calming.

    I’ve been combining that with my photography hobby, and together they’ve provided a welcome distraction from wondering what might be in the pantry. 🙂

    • Debbish
      August 28, 2012

      That’s it Kerryn. I’ve long struggled to find something that’s as much of a treat as my binge-foods, but it occurs to me that I get a lot of enjoyment out of other things (TV series on DVD and my comfort-movies and reading) that I need to think about how they nurture me as well.

      I did notice you’ve been doing a lot of photography recently and I think it’s great to have other passions!


  • Jo Tracey
    August 28, 2012

    Yep, I’m writing that chapter today actually- where we come undone or escape to. Binge reading & watching is, as you say, better than binge eating, but we all have to have some retreat. Unfortunately I swallow it too when I should be sweating it out.

    • Debbish
      August 28, 2012

      Even though I love certain types of exercise (my dance classes, for example) I must admit I don’t see them as a treat, or something I’d retreat to. I think it’s great people can get such enjoyment from exercise!

  • jules- big girl bombshell
    August 28, 2012

    Yes…we do fall back on the familiar often….

    the familiar is what we know to reduce the anxiety feelings….and that are body has been trained that makes us *feel* better

    • Debbish
      August 28, 2012

      True Jules. In this post I linked to an old post I read about my habit of rewatching the same things again and again… Movies or TV shows that almost immediately reduce my anxiety!


  • Liz@LastChanceTraining
    August 28, 2012

    Yes, but consciously try to put myself out of it 🙂

    • Debbish
      August 28, 2012

      Do you have any healthy / good crutches Liz? I’ve decided I could have worse ones than obsessively reading or watching too much TV!

  • Mel
    August 28, 2012

    Great post Deb – this really resonates with me. And I LOVE that quote “do not reward yourself with food – you are not a dog” GOLD!

  • Miz
    August 28, 2012

    I need to challenge myself with this question as I immediately thought NO I DONT.

    too much reading?
    escaping into books?

    • Debbish
      August 29, 2012

      Miz, I sometimes wonder if there’s such a thing as too much reading. For me it’s only detrimental in that I get overly absorbed and let other things slide AND I have to finish a book once I start so have late nights!

      Perhaps the things you fall back on are all healthy things – exercise, fun with the Tornado, yoga(!!!) etc


  • Satu
    August 28, 2012

    I definitely have my comfort things too. And I do eat whatever I want if I’m having a really bad time or a migraine (I get odd cravings if I have a migraine).

    Work-related things are certainly a biggie.

    • Debbish
      August 29, 2012

      Yes, it’s hard to have an outlet for work stuff. I often think that if I wasn’t single it would be easier as I could get home and talk to my partner about my day. Or if there was someone around I couldn’t ‘carry’ my work around with me all evening.


  • KCLAnderson (Karen)
    August 28, 2012

    Your post brought something up for me that was unexpected, but not really, given that you mention it yourself, sort of: calling my Dad was a comfort…I could rely on him to just listen to me about any old thing. I can also do this with my sister and my BFF, but it’s different.

    Just typing this out makes me miss him so much…tears. But it’s okay because I’ve learned that just letting myself feel it…acknowledging the sadness…crying…allows it to just pass on through. It’s kind of cool not to fear my feelings.

    That said, I would have to say that the Internet (FB, blogs, etc.) is something I fall back on regularly. It calls my name just as surely as Goldfish crackers in the cabinet used to.

    • Debbish
      August 29, 2012

      Sorry to bring up feelings about your dad Karen. My parents (now my mum) were / is my touchstone. I have some best friends with whom I’m very close but there are some things I’ll only talk to mum about. I suspect if I had a partner (who loved me unconditionally) then I could talk to them, but at the moment it’s mum. I’ll talk to her about my fears etc…

      I like that you don’t fear those feelings.

      And you reminded me, that I also use writing as a bit of an escape.

  • silver price
    September 14, 2012

    When we go through tough times it is all to easy to fall back into old familiar patterns of behaviour. We all get overwhelmed from time to time and it is important for you to stay mindful of this so as not to fall back into a pattern of self-harming.

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