Sunday, September 27, 2009

Question # 6: Therapy's Role

Question # 6 is from Licketysplit. She actually asked me a few questions, but I’m going to answer them in separate posts, because my responses are rather long! :)

She asks: “What role did 1:1 therapy play (if any) when you were in active recovery, after you had the tools you needed and were utilizing them and rarely using behaviors but still not yet 'recovered'?”

I was in therapy with the same professional for several years. I started out hating it, grew to tolerate it, and eventually—to even be eager for it. While I was away at college in a different state, I still had phone sessions with her each week. I also saw a therapist on campus at the university’s counseling center. I also did group therapy. Sometimes I was therapy-ed out, but for the most part, I think I was collecting as many forms of therapy as I could in order to help pull myself out my hole.

But back to the question at hand—as I progressed to a place where I had the tools, used them and rarely used behaviors, but still was not “recovered,” one-on-one therapy was a way for me to know that I had an outlet. Once I was doing fairly well, I didn’t have therapy sessions once a week or even twice a week. I spaced them out to once per month, and sometimes with even longer spans in between. I knew that if I was having a rough time with something—a situation, a person, a behavior, etc.—I had an appointment in the future, however far away. It allowed me to breathe and find the balance between living completely independent of any help and being dependent on help. I was able to live on my own and take care of myself, but knew that if I needed some help, it was there.

One thing I learned from therapy that I will always take with me is this story (I call it My Claim to Shame):

Shame. It's a word that trembles with negative feeling. It's a word that has a lot of power. It's a word that I used to associate with my eating disorder.

I felt shame when I restricted, when I counted calories, when I fit into tiny clothes, when I threw away food that I couldn't bring myself to eat, when I worried my friends and family. But most of all, I felt shame when I cried.

When I cried, I felt so weak and so helpless and so out of control that I was absolutely disgusted with myself. I couldn't fathom someone being as stupid as I was. I couldn't understand how a girl with a brain could hurt her entire family and all her dear friends by continuing on a path of self destruction. It wasn't rational. It was shameful. At least in the eyes of a girl struggling with anorexia.

My shame when I cried overpowered me. I took to crying in private, waiting until doors were locked and my dorm room/apartment/bathroom where empty and I was the sole occupant. I cried in the shower. I cried in bed at night, in the dark, silently, when my room mate was but feet away in her own bed. But sometimes--when my life and my emotions and my pain became too much--I cried in front of someone. And that was when the shame flooded my face with heat and made me wish I were dead. If I cried in front of a friend, I would instantly apologize over and over again. I would shake my head and cover my face as though to say, "Don't look at me!" If I cried in front of my parents, it was worse still. I had to walk--no, run--away; the shame was just too great.

Once, I cried in front of my eating disorder therapy group. All eyes were on me. I was explaining something or telling some weekly tale, and out came the tears in a torrential cascade. I was mortified. And the therapists and participants alike were stunned--because they'd never seen me cry before. I couldn't SPEAK for the rest of the group session; I was so overcome with shame. Shame had in me in a fierce and unyielding grasp.

I'll never forget the time I cried in front of my former therapist. I had been going to her for about 2 years. One particular day, she was prodding me about something that was a tender point. I was getting angry. I was getting upset. I was getting... overwrought. I was becoming a mess. I let go. I cried. I bawled. I couldn't stop and I couldn't speak for a moment or two. I played my old game of covering my tear-sodden face with my hands and apologizing. When I looked at my therapist again, she was smiling. No, grinning. I was dumbstruck. But I'll never forget what she said to me: "I can finally see YOU. The real you." I questioned her with my disbelieving eyes and she said, "Finally you are giving me something. You're not closing off or holding it in. You're crying. Sometimes you need to cry." It had a real effect on me.

I've since transformed her words to mean: "Sometimes you need to cry in order to get better." I've learned that being ashamed of something real serves no purpose and will only keep you from gaining ground. I've also learned that by crying, you can get out some of the bad that's inside and make room for the good. I apply this whole concept and attitude to my eating disorder in general. So much shame enveloped me that I couldn't get past what was going on inside me. I had to come to terms with the shameful behaviors and feelings in order to move forward.

Shame is a dirty word. An anagram for shame is: has me. And have me it did. I think of that when I feel shame about something. I don't want to be had by anything. I want to turn it around. If eating disorder = shame, then it stands to reason that if you get rid of the shame, you are that much closer to getting rid of the eating disorder. It certainly was an important step for me.

5 comments: said...

I've heard about people feeling shameful about their ED. I never understood it. I thought, well, I never feel shameful about restricting. I like it. I want to restrict. Now that has changed and recently I have felt so, so, so ashamed of moments when I'm tempted to restrict. Just as I was walking back to my apartment tonight, I was wanting to return to restricting. I was thinkinga bout how I had just told my therapist that I was feeling stronger and more rooted and, consequentialy, more able to withstand temptations to engage in behaviors. I was thinking about how I don't want to be strong right now. I want to restrict. And I was so ashamed at that. I felt/feel so much shame. And then I read this post. What a good post to come home to. Thanks.

Arielle Bair (Becker) said... You're so welcome. I'm glad it made you feel better and less alone. Take care of yourself. These moments happen in recovery and they will pass. Thanks for reading!

Joy said...

SO TRUE.. when you finally realize that your ED is an illness.. and you start to figure out why you do it, you learn how much it hurts other people... when you want to act on symptoms again, you know it's not just about you.. that was the biggest source of shame for me. once you finally acknowledge that you're sick, you think you can just will yourself better.. and that kind of thinking definitely contributes to relapse. great post, this really got me to think!

licketysplit said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer, this has given me a lot to think about. :)

Arielle Bair (Becker) said...

So glad! :) More answers to come!