my space tracker

Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: February 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Safety in Numbers

In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week...and in honor of all who are swimming around in any one of many painful feelings. I just want to put out a reminder that there is safety in numbers. In the right kind of numbers.

Between ten and twenty-four million, to be vaguely exact, and according to recent stats on eating disorders, Americans have an eating disorder. And many more skirt the diagnostic criteria and "just" have issues with weight, food, and body image.

So here's how it goes, lots of the time, for lots of women (men too, but mostly women). We feel a feeling, a difficult one, a disturbing one, lets even say, an out of control one. Anger, frustration, pain, resentment, hate, love, whatever. Just one, or a stew of them, that seem too difficult to bear. Or to bear alone. And we feel it somewhere deep inside. It starts to gurgle in some unknown location in our psyche and we are fairly certain that we don't want it, anymore than we would want to stand in front of an oncoming train. Unless we are that low, which does happen to some, that we would consider this, too.

And we turn to the numbers. For some, the run to the count is deeply about the belief that the number on the scale is the ultimate key to a safe and happy life. To controlled, painless, protected, guaranteed peaceful living. Or to revenge, containment, blissful forever thinness and satisfaction. Whatever it is, some are deeply beholden to idea that there is safety from all ills, from fat bodies to fat emotions, that relief is found in the numbers.

We do not want to go it alone. So what happens? We turn again and again to the numbers. The numbers on the bathroom scale. The number of calories in a bag of Oreos. Or in a whole day's worth of meals. Or in a ginormous binge. Or in a cucumber slice. Only three calories. Ah. Some women I know get on and off the scale up to forty times an hour. This is not only mind numbing, it's also aerobic. This is where safety is sought. It is craved. It is absolutely necessary.

Many escape into the endless task of calculating calories, consumed or burned. How many miles run, at what speed, to burn off what bagel parts in how many minutes. How many sit-ups to cancel out how much fat free fro yo. Okay, you get the picture.

Right idea, I think. Wrong numbers. Temporary safety. Of course the scope and problem, the pain and process of eating disorders is far greater than my musings in this post. But the point for now is this. There is safety in numbers. These numbers: One good friend. Two people who understand your pain. Twelve Steps. One good therapist. Five good support group members. One journal, with one good writing pen. One hundred (thousand or more) words spoken to someone who just listens. Ten things you are grateful for. Two arms around you tight.

Safety in numbers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


"...Take away my difficulties that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help..." ~ Alcoholics Anonymous - from the Third Step Prayer

On the list of tools for helping to turn self attack around, keep on the road to recovery and wellness, I am adding toward the top: List Victories.

We hear often enough about gratitudes and successes and keeping track of things we do well. Always good to have perspective, and to take the time to note our perseverance, persistence and progress. To keep perspective and to remember the good in our lives. But I think victories are a category all their own.

Listing victories means that we are aware of our own internal challenges, and at least to some degree, our character defects, shortcomings, fears and faulty beliefs. Sometimes folks use these awarenesses as excuses to keep swimming in addiction or disorder. And sometimes people use them to assure hopelessness, despair and failure.

But then there are the folks who use them as stepping stones to progress. And here's where I think the victory part comes in. When we know what it is inside our own psyches that trips us up, and we make a different choice, take a new tact, or follow an alternative path. For this, we can declare victory.

And keeping track of our victories can help mend broken hearts, bruised egos and battered souls. If we can be both humble and honest about our defects and our victories over them, we can go a long way toward feeling better, being better and having better.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Hate that Keeps You Up at Night

"Over half the females between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five would prefer to be run over by a truck than be fat and two-thirds surveyed would rather be mean or stupid." ~ Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters

I just think this is telling. I think its one chunk of the problem. Our fear of fat, of the fat that represents so much. Of the symptom that eclipses our deeper fears. Over the years that I have worked with women and men, teen-agers and kids who are living with, battling, holding on to, trying to oust bulimia, anorexia, food addiction, compulsive eating, and all shades of food disorders, I have become acutely aware of how relentlessly those who suffer go after themselves. ED folks certainly don't hold the monopoly on self attack but it never ceases to amaze me how big the bat is for certain people.

A guest of mine recently told me that she was having trouble sleeping at night. The therapist in me went ahead asked what was keeping her up. She told me that she was busy hating herself for all the things that feel wrong about her. Not what she did, but for who she is. I hear about this often in my office. I hear about the hate after a binge, or a razor to the thigh. I hear about the hate after a fight with a parent, boyfriend, or friend. It starts off being about the action, (or the fat) and turns into being about the whole self. As if this is all there is to a person.

And often times, I hear this: "If I give up the hate, there will be nothing there. Nothing. And that will be worse than the hate." So then I think: following the hate is fear. It's always interesting how sufferers tell me that it is themselves that they hate, though. Not the one who they are really angry with. As if to say that they really do believe that they are at completely at fault. That when things go wrong in a relationship, including the relationship they have with themselves, that they are expected to have known better, or done better. So therefor they are hateful. Even if there is some truth to this (we can always own our part of things), the hate and blame go inward with a vengence.

Sure on the surface self harmers hate the disorder, or the symptoms, or the one who has hurt them, but peel back the layers, and (often) it's the self hate that is throbbing underneath.

There is some deep belief that mistakes are not allowed, that they are somehow deserving of all the suffering. Even that they bring it on themselves.

True its good to take a look at your own side of the street, but what of all this hate? What of this broken record of "I can't stand myself!"

I think there is a way out. Not that I want to interfere with someone's self hate if they really think its serving a good purpose. But I think it's worth a try. I won't say moving away from it is fast, or easy, but I do believe there is a door. I have seem many of my clients unpack the hate, stop the attack and drop their weapons. And sleep at night.

It begins with these questions: What purpose does the hate serve? What will happen if I stop? What's my philosophy on mistakes? Of course there may be a lot more to it after this, especially for those who are pummeling their bodies to save their souls, or caught in the spider web of addiction, but it's a start. It's one piece of the puzzle.