Image Credit: Michele Bergami
Welcome to my guest blogger series on women and the body.
This post about is by counsellor and psychotherapist Miranda Egan . Miranda is a Master’s Qualified Integrative Psychotherapist. She is passionate about working with adults and young adults in her private practice in Lane Cove in Sydney, Australia. Miranda works with clients regarding issues to do with the loss of self and connection to others. She sees people in person and via Skype.
Here Miranda shares with us her own struggle with an eating disorder and how therapy, self-care and mindfulness are crucial to recovery.
The Wounded Healer: How one therapist uses therapy, self-care and mindfulness in her own eating disorder recovery.
The job, ‘psychotherapist’, is often met with the presumption that we are completely sorted as human beings; in fact, most of us are wounded healers.
We all have vulnerabilities – it’s what makes us human.
I have a long and troubled relationship with my body, as the majority of women do. My eating disorder was hidden and undisclosed. When I did talk about it, people often replied, ‘you have nothing to worry about’ or ‘there is nothing wrong with you’, which pushed my shame and my inner voice further into the shadows.
I have always been complimented for my figure – ‘Oh you are so tall and thin, lucky you!’ I would accept this compliment and thought nothing of it until I had a period in my life which caused me to feel very out of control of events and people. The more I tried to have influence in my life, the more helpless I felt. I found my way to have influence; to stop eating, to get thin.
Control is something most of us want in life, or at least a degree of influence. This is why we write lists, plan and seek structure. It manifests itself in whatever way it can. Sometimes this appears in healthy ways and others not so healthy. Either way, I am clear it is in response to the need to self soothe and cope with life.
When I was in my eating disorder – I starved myself and ate so little I could just about get through the day. I became addicted to the dizzy spells, to the stomach cramps and the fight with my will power to withhold food. After a while I moved from feelings of empowerment, to a connection with my own self–destruction. I started to believe my own ‘hype’ – thoughts such as, ‘you do not deserve food, or nurturing’ and ‘you can just waste away’. These voices became louder and clearer to me. I learnt through my eating disorder that I could live and die at the same time, undercover. I was just existing.
When I look back on this stage of my life, I am horrified at how unkind, and uncompassionate I was to myself.
However, what an insight into my own psyche I was given during this time. As I have healed, I know now when I am feeling vulnerable, I now have a choice; I can either choose to starve myself, denigrate myself, reduce myself or I can make the choice to talk about my fears, my vulnerabilities, look for influence and take up space in positive ways.
I now know that in order for me to heal from my eating disorder, I need to eat mindfully and choose food that I love and which nurtures me through nourishment.
I may always have the shadow of this attachment to restricting myself or a propulsion to revert to old behaviours should I feel as though I am losing control. However, I am now kinder to myself and if I fall into restricting food on occasion, I accept that there may be something I am struggling to control in my life, thus an inner conversation takes place about what is missing or what can I do differently to help me deal with what is going on externally in my life. This acceptance allows me to be okay with myself without chastising or criticizing the part of me who feels small and vulnerable.
I learnt how to be in dialogue with myself in this kind and caring way with the help of a good therapist. I learnt that I needed to nurture a new relationship with food. I did this by planting vegetables and tending to them as they grew. I took joy in offering them to others and slowly I felt able to connect with food as nourishment again. This mindful activity helped me to understand it takes work to create food; it is an act of love and toil. So should be the relationship with myself.
Although I perceive this time as passed, it is sometimes a struggle for me that people close to me still refuse to acknowledge that period of my life as an eating disorder. Almost like it is shunned or not considered as dangerous as someone who was hospitalized with acute Anorexia. Many clients feel like this if they don’t fit the DSM criteria. In addition, I am facing a new time in my life where I am needing to take medication with side effects which have altered my body shape and I am back in a phase of not being in control of how I look right now. It is a constant open dialogue I have with my body, mind and heart. One that offers acceptance of the vessel I inhabit, the relationship with food that I love and a good relationship with myself. There will always be judgments from external sources, they do not know my story, and they have their own narrative.
Self-care, as a daily practice, is essential at times of darkness and vulnerability.
The practice of keeping an open dialogue with myself about what I want and need is crucial, for example, ‘what needs to happen for me to feel okay?’ And the reminder to just ‘be’ is often considered new and alien. Gentle reminders that I am important via myself, loved ones and in therapy, present a wondrous opportunity of building a good quality relationship with self and others.
I have travelled this stormy journey of eating disorder recovery and I now work with others to help them recover their loss of self.