The Hole in my Soul, With Which I Cannot Become Whole

Today’s picture is of a letter that was written by the renowned Psychiatrist and Doctor, Carl Gustaf Jung. He wrote it to the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, concerning a man they had both once worked with, named Rowland Hazzard. Rowland could not stop drinking, no matter what he tried. Born to a wealthy American family, they tried all means at their disposal to help Rowland, all to no avail. Rowland even went to Switzerland for an entire year, working with Dr. Jung in order to try and identify the source of his alcoholism so that he might be able to quit drinking.

He stayed sober for that year, but upon returning home to the States was drunk again in a short time. He returned to Dr. Jung, who pronounced him hopeless, unless he could find what Jung called a “vital spiritual experience.” Jung made it clear that this was no simple matter of just going to church. Rowland was already a church member in good standing. Jung instead suggested that this was about Rowland coming in to contact Rowland’s personal Ultimate Reality. He had to find something different, something that would change his thinking, his beliefs, and his very personality. He needed a complete rearrangement of his ideas and attitudes concerning alcohol, and concerning life itself.

Dr. Jung believed that every alcoholic had a thirst that ran much deeper than merely a thirst for alcohol. He believed instead that their thirst was for ultimate reality, whatever that may be for each person as an individual. AA learned from Dr. Jung, and out of their experiences grew a program wherein the active alcoholic stops drinking by coming in to contact with a “power greater than themselves.”

Now here is where some of you might choose to stop reading. You may think I’m going to start preaching about God, religion, etc., etc. Rest assured I won’t. If you’ve read through my website (www.fitin20.ca), then you’ve no doubt seen that I’m an ordained minister. But know that my ordination is with a denomination called Spiritualism, which means that you can believe anything you want, and that’s ok with us!

So why do I want to bring in talk about the spiritual? Because, quite frankly, I believe concerning food – as did Dr. Jung concerning alcoholism – that we who struggle with overeating are often trying to fill a “hole in our soul,” but we’re using the wrong stuff. Jung makes it clear in his letter here that there are two ways we can overcome this problem: either by finding a “Higher Power” we can rely on to change our thinking, or by reaching out to at least one other person – preferably an entire group of people – upon whom we can rely for support and encouragement. Dr. Jung was clear that he preferred the former option, but for some people that won’t work.

You who are atheist or agnostic, don’t sweat it. You don’t need to be afraid of this principle. You see, if you’ve been struggling with your weight and have been trying to fix the problem on your own with no success, then all this principle is suggesting is that you simply stop trying to do it on your own. It’s based on the belief that we cannot solve a problem at the same level of thinking at which the problem was created. We need to have someone else help us to rise to a higher level of thinking. In AA they state the problem, the solution, and how to bring that solution about in their first three steps:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable (the problem).
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity (the solution).
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of [a Higher Power] as we understood [Him/Her/It] (how to bring the solution about).

The remaining 9 steps in AA’s 12 step process outline how to actualize step 3.

So why am I talking about Carl Jung, AA and spirituality here? Because I think that we who struggle with our eating sometimes struggling with the same thing the alcoholic is, only we’re using a different substance, food, to numb out. If we in fact have a “hole in our soul,” then we need to find healthy ways of filling it. Most people have some sense of spirituality, God, or Ultimate Reality. If that’s you, then I encourage you to work on developing this relationship, and instead of using food to fill your innermost desires, turn to whatever your own personal Ultimate Reality is.

If you’re atheist or agnostic, reach out for help. Ask someone – and preferably get with a group of people as well – who can help you in your struggle. You’ve been trying it on your own, and it hasn’t worked. As one of my mentors, Harvey Brooker, likes to say, “If you could do it alone, you would have done it already.”

In AA, the oldtimers apparently sometimes tell program newcomers that if they don’t make a decision to turn their wills and lives over to the care of a Higher Power, then their lives are simply being left in the hands of an idiot (yes, they’re that blunt apparently: read Ernest Kurtz’ awesome book “The Spirituality of Imperfection” for more of these little gems :)). Maybe they’re being harsh, but they have a point. If I’ve tried over and over to fix the problem on my own and haven’t, then why would I keep trying? AA’s second step addresses this with the word “sanity,” suggesting that I have been somewhat “insane” (i.e. lacking wholeness of mind) in my stubborn attempts to fix my eating problem on my own.

Was it Einstein who claimed that “Insanity is repeating the same behaviours, and expecting different results?” If so, then my trying to solve the eating problem on my own was most certainly insane. It didn’t work, but for year after year I did it anyhow.

Today I am part of a peer-support group where I am open and honest about my eating struggles [yes folks, I still have them today: my coach Harvey Brooker had another gem he used to share, reminding me that I will always be a “fat man” (his words, not mine)]. Harvey warned me that my thinking concerning food would never be normal, and that I would always need to remember that fact in order to maintain my weight loss. He was right, and this is why I am part of this group. I also have an accountability person to whom I try to report my food every day. Yes, that’s right, I e-mail my food to her most mornings, listing clearly what I plan on eating and in what quantities. If there are any deviations, I tell her the next day.

You also can do these two things, and if you’re atheist or agnostic, that’s ok. These two things demonstrate clearly you’ve made a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of someone or a group of “someones” other than yourself. That’s all that’s needed to make an awesome start!

Do you have a hole in your soul? Are you trying to stuff it with food, when really you’re seeking something deeper to fulfill your innermost desires? Start out by reaching out for help. Next week we’ll look at how we can work at trying to figure out what it is that you’re really looking for in the food, and how you can then work towards achieving those things, instead of simply eating.

Keep on keeping on. It does get better, as long as you’re trying something different, just for today.