I open my office to welcome her. A warm transparent smile draws attention away from the sad expression that adorns her hazel eyes as she extends her hand toward me. She has shoulder length auburn hair with several wisps of grey interwoven around her face, as well as the back of her head. I take notice of it as we enter the office where we will spend the next 90 or so minutes talking about her relationship with food and how it influences her daily life choices.
Her mouth and her eyes tell me two different stories. This much is already clear to me. She tells me that she is, “58 years old and does not have a comfortable relationship with her age, her body, or her food choices.” She adds that this has been, “going on for close to twenty years to varying degrees of severity.” Upon further questioning, I learn that the past five years had been “extremely difficult” for her.
When I ask her what she did to manage the life triggers that lead her to feel that she needs to act out with food, she just stares at me with huge tears in her eyes and says nothing.
“I have no control over anything that goes on in my life, that’s part of the problem. I just go along with everything that is said and done to me and around me even though I don’t agree with any of it. I feel stuck and trapped in my life as well as my body. I hate it all. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m a mom, I would have found a way to finish myself off a long time ago.”
Well… that was one hell of an opening statement for a woman that I just met less than 15 minutes ago. I understand that she feels very helpless and angry at herself and the people around her. She perceives herself to be drowning in the shape that her body of life has formed. When I ask why she reached out to me, tears begin to flow like a faucet.
“I want to feel happy with myself and I’m not. I want to have some control of my daily life and I feel as though I don’t. I hate the way that I feel inside my body so I use food to numb what hurts me so much. I just don’t understand why I keep doing this to myself day after day.”
She is hurting badly. I can just see the emotional pain oozing from her pores as she shares her story with me. The veins on the side of her temples are bulging around her drawn pale complexion. I reach my hands out toward her and she latches on to them ever so quickly as though she is dangling from a steep mountain’s edge. I sense her desperation and have a clear sense that she needs to feel connection and support with someone who is not here to judge her or challenge her in any way.
All I did was listen, reflect, and re-frame some of the things that she feels
like sharing in a less dark, yet supportive and hopeful way. After about forty minutes pass, she suddenly stops talking. I ask her to try and draw in a deep breath and let it out very slowly. What emerges along with her exhale is a smile – the first one I have seen since we met about one hour ago.
“I feel better and a little stronger as though you gave me a vitamin injection.”
I can’t help but smile right back at her.
I ask, “And what kind of vitamin might that be?”
She squeezes my hands and chokes on her tears. I sense that she needs to hold on a bit longer, so I stay put right where I am with her. Something shifts for her inside and she is able to let go of one of my hands and draw another deep breath.
“Talking to you gives me hope that I don’t have to drown in this mess. I can also feel and see that you are not judging me and that you understand what I’m feeling.”
“Yes, Liv, I understand how you feel and I hear the pain and the suffering that you are experiencing in your daily life. I understand why you turn to food in the hopes of drowning your pain and sorrow, I truly do. I understand that the momentary pleasure and relief that you think you are getting seems worth it in that moment. I get that. I also hear that the emotional consequence of anger and depression far outweighs any pleasure that you may derive from acting upon that impulse that seems so alluring at that particular moment. And it causes you so much anguish after you do that to yourself. That is what I am seeing today. You feel helpless at that moment as though there is nothing else for you to do with those emotions accept to eat them in this way so that you won’t have to feel them.
“Yes that’s exactly it.”
We talk awhile longer and make another appointment to continue our discussions and formulate a plan of action.
Liv wants me to share this little snippet of our talk because she hope that it might, “…Touch someone who is suffering today as I was when I came in to see you. You helped me to find my center of gravity again and accept me as I am. You also give me some perspective about what I am doing to myself that I didn’t have before. It felt kind of like I crawled out my skin for a little while and observed myself along with you much different way than before.”
“Well I hope that it was in a more caring way, Liv. If you can learn one solid thing to take away with you today, it’s that it is so critical to consider having compassion for yourself and your current situation. Compassion for yourself gives you honor and respect for who you simply are right this very minute… Even when everything looks bleak and out of control.”
“I feel like I can breath right now, Vida. For the longest time, it’s felt as though something was pinching my airways.”
She reaches her arms out to me as we approach the doorway and I offer her a big supportive hug before she leaves, hoping that the comfort and relief that she has found for herself that day will linger on for at least a little while as she re-enters her home and life space.
Self-destructive behaviors are so hard to change until we are able to understand the reason for their existence in our lives and then find the courage to learn how to replace them with nurturing habits that will eventually heal our wounds if we tend to them with compassion and respect that we so deserve.