Life is hard: How are you coping?

Does hidden chocolate in your desk or purse mean you're addicted or does it mean you are looking for comfort and a way to cope? Is it time to go on a diet or is it time to ask the reason why. Learn about finding your happy place in a healthy way.

Life is hard: How are you coping?

Does hidden chocolate in your desk or purse mean you're addicted or does it mean you are looking for comfort and a way to cope? Is it time to go on a diet or is it time to ask the reason why. Learn about finding your happy place in a healthy way.
  • After a grueling day you find yourself alone, eating chocolate, your love. Do you stand in the open fridge door greeting your friends and asking which food is going to comfort you, make you all warm and happy inside? Only to end up late at night with empty bowls, dirty dishes, hating yourself one more time. Tomorrow, you think, tomorrow will be better.

  • Maybe your friend is alcohol or just a little something to help you sleep. Perhaps it is a long, slow smoke outside, away from everything demanding your attention.

  • Whoever your friend is, you plan to quit tomorrow. Then tomorrow comes and you lose your job or relationship and there you go again, standing in the freezer looking for love.

  • You are not alone in your daily battle and endless search for comfort. There are many ways to find comfort and calm feelings of fear, stress, loneliness or abandonment.

  • We all have stress. But there are those of us who have landed face down in Satan's front room and lived to tell about it. Amazingly, as human beings, we are able to pick ourselves up and continue living.

  • Maxine Harris in, “Trauma Recovery and Empowerment: A Clinician’s Guide for Working with Women,” shares core assumptions about trauma.

    • Some current destructive behaviors may have originated as legitimate coping responses to trauma.

    • Women who experienced repeated trauma in childhood didn't learn to develop certain skills necessary for adult coping.

  • High cost or low cost

  • Trauma survivors choose coping methods to self-sooth. These methods may be high cost or low cost. For example, illegal drugs can come with the high cost of jail. Overeating can cost your health. Reading a book in a bubble bath will only cost the price of the book.

  • How can you stop using high-cost coping skills?

  • Step 1

  • Explore the reasons you hide chocolate under your pillow or a flask in your desk. When listening to trauma survivors, I hear things like, "the first time I used a drug was after I was raped," or "the first time I had a drink was after my boyfriend hit me and I broke into my father’s liquor cabinet." Traumatic events can be large or small, but it is important to try to understand what triggered the coping behaviors in the first place.

  • Step 2

  • Forgive yourself and understand that eating chocolate, or another high-cost coping skill, may have served you well in the past. It comforted you when you were in pain or lonely, in a way that allowed you to survive. You are still alive, proof that you did a good job of coping and now you can move ahead.

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  • Step 3

  • Understand that you can't just stop a high-cost coping skill, you need to replace it with lower-cost coping skills. Make a list of low-cost ways you can use to cope. Look for new things that you have always wanted to try.

  • As you look at your list, remember that low cost can become high cost if overused. I will never forget a woman I saw regularly, with her nose buried in a book as she walked, children in tow. I marveled that she didn’t trip or fall as she walked while reading. The children tried to get her attention but she was totally checked out of life. That book was as good as any bottle of wine, totally taking her away from stress or pain and carrying her to someplace without worry. Her coping skill had gone from a low-cost method of comfort to one with the high cost of physical danger and potentially losing a relationship with her children.

  • Step 4

  • Make a place for low-cost coping methods in your life. If you choose to take up swimming, trade what you spend on high-cost addictions and buy a new suit. You will be more likely to actually try it if you are invested.

  • I remember the first time I found my low-cost method of coping. After a divorce, I was poor and had five small children. I remember standing in the dark, staring into the freezer and finally recognizing that chocolate was not going to make me happy. I realized it was like saying, here let me make myself fat and miserable to make myself feel better — ridiculous. My heart was aching and I was looking for a new distraction.

  • I closed the fridge and sat at the table. I calculated the cost of chocolate. I took that amount of money and hired a sitter for an hour every day. I went running. I have never felt more joy than I did running toward the sun, the warmth on my face. I knew I was not only going to survive, I was going to thrive.

  • The unexpected bonus: the babysitter lined me up with her brother. We have been married over 20 years and I am still running.

  • If you are hanging on to high-cost coping behaviors, you can change. If you have a traumatic incident that is driving you to drink or any other harmful behavior, find a counselor who is trauma informed. You can find a way to be happy without addictions. You can find your happy place in a healthy way.

Shannon Symonds, Author of Safe House due to be released July 2017 by Cedar Fort, has 15 years experience working as an Advocate for victims of domestic and sexual violence while raising 6 children in Seaside Oregon. She loves to write, run and Laugh


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