A former client of mine sent me an unexpected email recently. She had struggled with binge eating and restriction (bulimia) many years ago when I knew her. A graduate student in law at the time, she had never really known anything in relation to food that made her believe she could trust her body to eat well. Either she was monitoring every mouthful, or eating everything in sight. It was seemingly an impossible thing to trust herself to make healthful, self-caring food choices that allowed for both joy of taste and nutritive value. The idea she had always believed: left to her own devices, she would binge on forbidden foods forever and never stop. This fear was central to our work together in therapy. Without understanding what other truths might be possible, there was no way she could create lasting change. The stakes were simply too high. Even though she knew that restriction and dieting were in fact central causes of bingeing, there appeared to be no option better than forever trying to keep the “binger” at bay. She would eventually fail to be able to stop the ever growing “drive” to binge (as anyone would), but it was better than simply giving in. Right?
My client (let’s call her Kathy) was emailing to let me know a couple of important things in her life: first, she really had come to feel fully recovered from her eating disorder, had felt so for years, and no longer even thought much about food or weight. Second, and perhaps even more exciting, Kathy had left law practice some time ago and had accepted a dream job as curator for a large modern art museum. Kathy has loved art her whole life, but feared that if she followed her passion, she would be unable to find stable work, and ultimately be unable to provide for herself because she had devoted her life to something she was told was “too risky”, “too fluffy”, a “hobby”perhaps, not a career. But somehow, she had managed since I had seen her to find her way in the art world, to come to trust that she would land where she needed to be if she left law practice. How did she know this? Where did this wisdom come from? I asked her to tell me something about her journey of recovery since she and I had talked. Her answer prompted me to start this blog; it is the type of story from the journey that we all have, stories of discovering we are indeed wiser and stronger than we ever knew possible.
Following her passion about art, Kathy told me, had been a direct outgrowth of her recovery work in our therapy together. Kathy came to understand that the “binger” part of her and the “restrictor” were inexorably linked in a dance of distrust and fear that the other one would take over. In therapy, Kathy came to learn that the binger really didn’t want to binge; it simply didn’t want to be controlled or shamed for having desires. The restrictor did not want to be restricted either; it wanted to be able to achieve the life goals Kathy really held dear. Over time, Kathy learned to trust that she could mediate these two internal energies and be able to hear the best of each of them. It was this work that allowed her to discover that her adult self could indeed be trusted all along. This newfound wisdom allowed Kathy to go back to school to study art. She realized that her greatest strength was indeed the bringing together of her creative, passionate part (once a binger) and the part that can set goals and make things happen (once a restrictor).
I was reminded how true it is that each client I see, with very rare exception, has the inner wisdom and strength to recover from an eating disorder. It may take time, dedication, finding the right treatment team, good support and profound courage. The only one of these we cannot make is courage. Thankfully, it is there for us all. Where ever you may be in your own journey, I invite you to consider Kathy’s recovery work: the thing she feared most (being out of control) felt true not because it was, but because the restriction itself made the binger have to be that much louder to be heard at all.
Where ever you may be in your own journey, know that eating disorder recovery is very possible if we can just listen to our inner world with compassion for what we may hear.
Thank you for reading. Until next time,