Once upon a time, I thought parenthood was a fairly straightforward and linear process. I thought if the child was slow at something like completing potty training or letting go of their pacifier, it was basically because the parent wasn’t doing what they were supposed to be doing, usually according to the timeline some expert had written in a book.
Eighteen years ago I also thought recovery from an eating disorder would be a straightforward journey. If I could just get a handle on the food-thing, and the body-thing, that would be the end of it. Poof! Everything all better! (More on that later.)
Then I had a child that was unbelievably attached to his pacifier. If there were a pacifier anywhere within a two-block radius, he would find it. No matter if it was waaaaaaay under a couch or say, a monster truck, he would find it and it would be in his mouth before anyone had time to say, “Wait (let me at least rinse it off…)!” Other children choose the breast, the bottle, potty training, sleeping through the night, talking… to take their own sweet time in learning or letting go of. And, as every parent discovers, the way to make this holding on stronger is to fight for control. (Have you ever tried to force a toddler to poop in the potty? As Dr Phil would say “How’s that working for you?”)
So all this to say, my child chose to hang onto the pacifier. Or, as he named it “nukey” (nooh-key). As a parent and Psychologist, I went through all kinds of fretting over whether I was teaching stuffing/”pacifying” his feelings, ruining his teeth, delaying his speech, ruining future capacity to empathize due to blunted affect (I’m not kidding- there is research on this), etc… I made space for him to cry or have angry feelings in transition times. I consulted Pediatricians, Developmental Psychologists, and Dentists. (They all had different opinions). I was ready to be the one to initiate letting-go-of-nukey process many times. My husband said, “Nobody goes to college with their pacifier.” I believed this around nobody going to college in diapers. However, I really wasn’t sure it was gong to happen with nukey. I thought, you know our child MIGHT actually bring his to college.
One day my boy woke up and, in the middle of playing, said, “I’m ready to say bye to nukey.”
I said ‘What?!”
He repeated himself.
I asked him if he knew that would mean: all the nukies would go away and he wouldn’t ever have them again. We talked about the binky fairy bringing his nukies to new babies.
He said he understood. He then proceeded to say how he needed a box. We decorated it. We put all of his nukies in the box. We wrote a letter. And then we left the box for the binky fairy and went to bed without any nuksies.
I was ready for meltdowns. I was ready for the fall out. I was ready to pull out the one I had hidden in reserve. But there was no need; he was ready to let it go. He was ready to let it go, and so he did (which, for the record, is what the Developmental Psychologist said). Life soon rushed in with new challenges and opportunities.
So what the heck does all this have to do with eating disorder recovery?
Early in my recovery from an eating disorder seventeen years ago I thought I needed my eating disorder and other obstacles (depression, darkness, isolation, loneliness) to be “deep” and “creative.” I was literally and emotionally trapped in the myth of the starving (and restricting and bingeing and purging) artist. And yet very few paintings emerged when I was in the midst of my eating disorder. Nonetheless, I continued to hang on. I held on even as I was trying to let go. I held on for as long as I needed to hold on. And then, when I was ready, (with my own support team ready with metaphorical binky fairy boxes) I let go. I didn’t need it anymore. I had other tools. Not surprisingly, that year was my most prolific period of painting. This healing expression led me directly into pursuing a Master’s degree with a focus in art-as-healing and beginning to assist others in their recovery process. Later I was called to earn a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Though my plan (with the eating disorder) was to be a suffering artist, that was not the plan life called me to live my way into. When I lived my way into letting go of “this food-and body thing,” being a suffering artist was no longer the goal. Assisting others in letting go of the suffering was. My eating disorder actually led me directly INTO the freedom of recovery and living a depthful and creative life of meaning. But not in the way I had originally planned.
What’s in the way IS the way
I often work with my clients on what purpose their eating disorder is serving. Until that need is met, they’re usually not ready to let go. If the eating disorder is helping manage anxiety, other tools need to be added and practiced. If it is postponing grief, or helping comfort loneliness, grief and loneliness need to be allowed in. If it is helping in a scary or difficult transition (adolescence, motherhood, loss of relationship, marriage or divorce), other ways to walk into and through the unknown of becoming this new person need to be welcomed. I once had a client use the metaphor of her eating disorder being a “blankie,” a comfort blanket that had grown thorns and barbs. It started out as comforting and then turned into something that repeatedly harmed her, even as she turned to it for comfort. Facing the loneliness she had been avoiding was no longer as painful as holding onto the “comfort” of the eating disorder.
As you begin to look at what goals, intentions, visions you have for 2015, I would encourage you to invite creating WITH your obstacles on the way to letting them go. What obstacles would you like to “go away”? Invite support for letting go of the obstacles and consider “What’s in the way IS the way.” Miracles await. As Carl Jung has been quoted as saying “God enters through the wound.”
Or as Glenda the Good Witch (the adult version of the binky fairy?) said to Dorothy in the Wizard of oz when she asked “Why didn’t you tell me all I had to do was click my heels three times and say there’s no place like home?”
Glenda responded “Because you wouldn’t have believed me.”
(As always, the purpose of this blog is to be inspirational toward recovery, and not serve as psychological treatment.)
I’m guest blogging on what life is like “Before” and “After” children. To read, go here: http://mommifried.com/guest-post-bc-aka-before-children/
“When you focus on your weight and the rules you must follow to lose weight, something very important is lost: your life!” – The Diet Trap
Christmas cookies, Christmas cakes, Christmas turkey, egg nog, …I’ve been thinking about how compulsive eating, emotional eating, dieting, and disordered eating affect so many people this time of year, the stress and distress of it. I always feel sad when I hear Karen Carpenter singing Christmas carols, how her dying of an eating disorder is such a tragic backdrop to the gift of her voice. That is what happens in an eating disorder: your voice is lost.
It can be so tempting, during this time of year, to use food as a comfort for unmet feelings or to to diet/restrict food as a way to avoid or control uncomfortable feelings.
Diets don’t work
Here’s are some by now well-researched facts about how diets don’t work and yet how prevalent dieting and disordered eating continue to be:
- 95% of diets fail and most will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years
(Statistics on Weight Discrimination: A Waste of Talent, The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination, 2011)
- 75% of American women surveyed endorse unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies (Three Out Of Four American Women Have Disordered Eating, Survey Suggests, Science News, 2008)
In the book The Diet Trap (Lillis, Dahl, and Weineland, 2014), it is reiterated that our brains and bodies are set up to crave certain foods, and we crave them whether we eat too much or them or avoid them. People experience food as being pleasurable and when you deprive yourself of certain foods, they may actually become more rewarding (Saelens and Epstein, 1996). Eating sugary and fatty foods changes our brain chemistry in ways similar to taking addictive drugs (Volkow and Wise, 2005).
Myth: There is something wrong inside of you and once you fix it your life will be better. *
Have you ever told yourself that you’d initiate sex with your partner only if you felt freedom from all negative body image thoughts, that you’d go to a dance class once you lost weight, that you’d eat a healthy meal only if you didn’t feel deprived or you’d eat dessert only if you were guaranteed to not feel anxious and completely free of guilt?
What I love about the “acceptance and commitment therapy” approach that The Diet Trap uses is that it really nails your mind into acknowledging its own craziness without trying to “fix” it. Like Buddhism, it basically closes the option on any kind of fantasy that you will reach a point of no suffering, while also holding true that you are completely whole and do not need to continue to suffer, fix, or be fixed. Though this may sound like the bad news, it can also be quite relieving to realize, which some part of you has known all along: diets don’t work, your mind as actually the source of where the suffering is, there is no escape from your mind, and also there is nothing wrong with you.
Let’s look at a few more myths:
- If you lose weight you’ll be happy and think good thoughts.
- If you lose weight your life will automatically be better.
- The more disgusted you are with yourself, the more motivated you’ll be to change.
Nope. I can reliably say from my own experience and 15 years of working with recovering women that these truly are myths, not reality. So what to do; how to survive the holidays without resorting to using food?
Here are some simple-but-not-easy tips for navigating the holidays:
1) Breathe diaphragmatically
This sounds like a simple thing, but is not always easy to remember. By breathing into your belly (think Santa NOT on a diet) and expanding it like a balloon on the inhalation deflating it on the exhalation you shift from sympathetic (fight or flight) into parasympathetic nervous system. This allows you to relax, get a bit more perspective, digest food more easily, pause on impulsive urges, and decrease anxiety.
2) Detach with Love
If you notice your mind obsessing (about food, about presents, about relationships, about feelings), breathe and detach for a moment. Imagine that most outcomes about things the mind obsesses on turn out to be ok, even if they are not the scenarios your mind wanted. If you obsess about your mother making triggering food, your father making comments about needing to “exercise away his belly” after a meal, or you getting the wrong present for your mother in law, detach with love. You are powerless over changing other people. You can change you, not them. Practice distress tolerance for 24 hours, and know this, too, shall pass.
3) Do something you love that reminds you of contentedness or joy.
Whatever that something is, playing music, making a collage, practicing yoga, dancing, going to nature, do it! Even if it is just for a few minutes. Do it to remember the experience of peace and joy. If you have a part of the holiday, that you truly love (singing carols in candlelight, seeing the lights, helping others) then make an effort to do that yourself or invite others to do that with you.
4) Practice metta
Metta is a Buddhist practice of lovingkindness. You can practice sending lovingkindness to others as a way to help your own self. If you are feeling lonely, you can imagine all the other people in exactly the same feeling as you experiencing loneliness during this time. If you are with people but feeling not-belonging, you can imagine all the other people in exactly the same situation. If you are struggling with your eating disorder or alcohol, imagine all the other people that are struggling with this obsession. Practice sending lovingkindness to them as a way to bring compassion to yourself. You are not alone.
The Diet Trap: Feed Your psychological Needs and End the Weight Loss Struggle Uisng Acceptance and Commitment Therapy By Jason Lillis, PhD, Joanne Dahl, PhD, and Sandra M Weinland, PhD (New Harbinger Publications, 2014)
Yes, but not now:
I have something better (or different) in mind:
What are your visions for 2015? There is no wrong way to make a vision collage. Sometimes people I work with use all words, sometimes they use all pictures, sometimes they use a board and sometimes colored paper. Often they will choose magazine images that speak to them intuitively that they don’t necessarily know why. And sometimes they will choose very specific images. One of my favorite quotes is from Meister Eckart and says: