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What's your baseline

Using titration to fast from doing


“For those who have lived by control, it can be frightening when fasting removes the option of forcing ourselves into action. It feels like life is over. Titration is the answer - baby steps.” Janyne McConnaughey


In case you’re wondering if I’m talking about some kind of diet, fasting in this case is a spiritual discipline or practice that many Christians make a part of their lives as a means to grow closer to God. 


I have never been able to fast, at least in the traditional sense. I have had various food allergies over the years, making proper nutrition challenging. Not eating for 24 hrs as some suggest, wasn’t good for my health and I already felt deprived pretty much all the time. I have fasted from social media before. I ‘gave it up for Lent’ a number of years ago. I started two weeks in (Lent is six weeks long) and took a break on Sundays because according to the Jewish tradition, fasting is work and you shouldn’t work on the Sabbath. Truth is, I didn’t want to fast at all but I was still trying to be “a good Christian” in those days. Giving up social media didn’t make me feel like life was over, but it did feel a bit like quitting smoking cold turkey. Harder than it needed to be or should have been. I’ve never been sure if what I did really qualified as fasting, but I also don’t know who’s keeping scores either. It didn’t make me feel closer to God.


Curious to know, I looked up titration in the dictionary, which says:


A titration is a technique where a solution of known concentration is used to determine the concentration of an unknown solution. Typically, the titrant (the known solution) is added from a buret to a known quantity of the analyte (the unknown solution) until the reaction is complete.


Those of you who have taken any kind of chemistry or biology training might be familiar with this. Science and math were never my strengths because I can’t memorize to save my life. I couldn’t have imagined applying science at this level to spiritual practices, but neither did I think neurobiology and theology could belong in the same camp either. Yet here we are.


Funny thing, very soon after I read this chapter, I was at my local clinic getting my allergy shot, a weekly routine I have been doing for the past six months. The nurse described the process and used the word titrate and titration multiple times helping me to understand what we were trying to accomplish. With allergy shots, the point is to desensitize someone to known allergens. For environmental allergies, that means in a few weeks when birch trees are budding and pollen starts to fill the air, if I have been adequately desensitized to it, I will simply enjoy the season as everything turns green again. 


Every week they established a new baseline. If they increased the dose and I reacted, depending on the severity of the reaction, the following week, they would either go down to the last amount I didn’t react to or repeat the dose. No reaction means the variables are once again known, which in turn creates a new baseline. 


Even if you don’t know a lot about science, another form of titration you might be familiar with is the elimination diet. A lot of people who have experienced trauma, in their childhood especially, will also have challenges with digestion. Food intolerances and allergies are common. With the elimination diet, you cut out all suspect food for a time and then gradually reintroduce them, one at a time, to see what, if anything, happens. You’re establishing a baseline. We titrate with babies too when they begin to eat solid food. The baby reaches a certain level of development (the baseline) and we know from time and experience, what foods are safe at that stage to introduce, titration.

Fasting in the traditional sense is like a backward titration. Rather than gradually adding to a known baseline, fasting aims to remove things to reinforce complete dependence on God for sustenance and strength.


The first account of fasting in the bible is of Moses who went into the mountains for forty days and forty nights to pray and fast "without eating bread or drinking water" before receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). From that, I found a common (Christian) understanding of the purpose of fasting on the C.S. Lewis Institute website. They describe the practice of fasting as, “showing God that we are desperate for His help and seeking His attention by the extraordinary measure of forsaking our necessary food, so that our voice might be heard on high. When we come to God in this way, privately and out of public notice, fully aware that we deserve nothing from Him and can earn nothing by fasting, but that He is a gracious, generous, and loving Father who cares about us, we can be sure that God does indeed hear (Matt. 6:16–18). Of course, this does not guarantee that He will grant exactly what we seek; He may or may not. Ultimately, in His wisdom, He will give us what He knows is best for us in the situation.”


This is not the way I know God. The God I know doesn’t require me to beg and plead to receive His generosity or love. That description seems a bit manipulative to me, even though God can’t be manipulated. Even more so, it gives me a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach to read “desperate for His help and seeking His attention by the extraordinary measure of forsaking our necessary food, so that our voice might be heard on high.” That to me describes God as a neglectful, detached, uninterested, maybe even abusive, Father. Those who have experienced childhood trauma already feel like they have to go to extraordinary measures to be seen and heard. Thinking they have to go to extremes to get God’s attention becomes an unconscious drive that leads to unhealthy behaviours as they work to earn God’s love. 


“For the exhausted adult who experienced childhood trauma, fasting can become another forced act of doing.” I can see how this same thing can be applied to any spiritual practice, especially if we have learned them to be more prescriptive than freeing. Healing doesn’t happen through an act of control. For many, controlling oneself can lead to dissociation - an unconscious detachment from thinking and feeling. This reinforces unhealthy patterns rather than establishing a healthy spiritual practice. At worst, it can create a whole other set of traumatic effects that will require some untangling.


Since I took a deep dive into my own trauma work, I wasn’t far along the path when I realized I needed to “fast from doing.” Some of the things I was involved with were actively triggering me, and in some cases were plainly hurting me to continue. Avoidance isn’t always an unhealthy practice. Sometimes we have to take a step away from known triggers to regain a sense of emotional safety and secure footing. I know “trigger” can be a triggering word, I’m not a fan of it either. I sometimes use the word dis-regulated or activated to describe when I’m outside of my window of tolerance. 


When people get to this point, the point where they just can’t take “it” anymore, generally that’s because a boundary has been crossed or a need hasn’t been met, or both. Have you ever felt so exasperated you just gave up? Have you ever abruptly stopped doing a thing, quit a job, or yelled at someone because they’re pushing too far? Or you can’t find what you’re looking for and you become so angry you start throwing things? I watched a TikTok about a kid who played an April Fools joke on her mom by taping a poster to her car telling people to honk at her and flip her off. The video shows the mom absolutely losing her mind. Every honk escalated the mom’s reaction. I’m not sure how the daughter sat in the car with her without reacting to her over-the-top behaviour. At first, it was kinda funny but within 5 seconds, she was swearing, by 10 seconds she was calling strangers bad names, by 20 seconds she was losing her shtuff yelling profanities at strangers who couldn’t hear her, to the point she was ready to just turn around and go home. That’s probably exactly what she needed to do.


When we’re outside of what is referred to as the “window of tolerance” we’re not thinking anymore. Instincts kick in, survival mode is turned on. All our energy is directed away from the brain and into our body as it prepares to fight, run away, or play dead, all happening at an unconscious level. I think people are functioning outside their window of tolerance more frequently than it may appear (or that we’re willing to admit) because the baseline is so convoluted and obscured we don’t know it’s missing. Buried under a heap of social/family/religious obligations and to-do lists a mile long.


How do you know what the boundaries are if you don’t know what your baseline is? If you don’t know where your baseline is, it’s also likely you don’t know what you need either. This is especially difficult if you have grown up with the message your needs don’t matter. If that’s part of your story, I have news for you. Your needs DO matter and you have what it takes to meet those needs. I also believe your needs matter to God and that you don’t need to deprive or torture yourself in order to get His attention. But He’s not a magician. There is no magic wand or prayer or petition you can sign that will make it all better. But you know what is available? YOU have the freedom to make choices to help yourself. You are the expert of your own life.


Last September I started looking for my baseline. By the middle of November, I was beginning to recognize it for the first time in my life. It took me a little bit of time to give myself permission to have a low threshold, recognizing my window of tolerance had gotten very small, in part because of my lack of boundaries, not recognizing my needs, and other circumstances that simply wore me out. Remember, your baseline is a place of emotional/spiritual/relational safety. A place of secure footing, a real sense of equilibrium. Now that I have a better idea of what that looks like, I have given myself the freedom to set boundaries, exercise that under-used no muscle, and have the freedom to make decisions without the weight of obligation, guilt, fear of criticism, or consequence. For the most part, I have handed that over to God. If He loves me and cares about my needs, none of this offends Him. He is full of compassion and grace and is meeting me where I am and how I can. He is not concerned about my church attendance or whether I read scripture every day or fast for 24 hours. He only cares about me, and He cares about you too.


In February, I started studying again. Before that? I read half a dozen romance novels and other fiction that required no critical thinking, in fact, quite the opposite. I’ve been slowly titrating, introducing different things back into my daily life. Just a couple of weeks ago, with the help of a good friend, I caught myself just about to jump right back into a rat race that was wrought with anxiety. My friend recognized my nervous energy and helped me to see it too. I was able to quickly take it back a few steps and get myself back on track. I was reminded that I still need more time to mull things over and not act as quickly as I once did. I’m sure that won’t be the last time, but the fact I was able to recognize and change my pace is something to celebrate!


Everyone’s baseline will look different, I can share with you my experience, but I can’t tell you what a fast from doing would look like in your life. What I can tell you is that God is closer to your baseline than you might think, in fact, He’s always been there.


Until next time.


à Dieu,


Christina


P.S. I've started a Substack to open up more possibilities for community through my writing. For now, there will be an overlap in content between this platform and Substack. If you subscribe now you will have the added convenience of listening to my posts (only available on Substack!) Eventually, there will be content that will only be available to paid subscribers to ensure I can create a safe online space for conversation and connection.



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