“What will open the door is daily awareness and attention.”
Editor's Note: While this article is written about eating disorders, it applies just as well to any other secret, dis-order or imbalance in our life.
Wherever you are right now, if you can see these words, you are looking for your beginning place. The good news is that you can begin any time, at any stage in your life, and in any situation or circumstance. I’ve often wondered where my beginning place was. I’ve had many that qualify.
When I was still immersed in my secret bulimic way of living I attended a small dinner party at the home of my close friends, Lars and Ingeborg. That night I met a recovering alcoholic psychiatrist I’ll call Michael, who invited me to lead a guided imagery session, my specialty at the time, with his alcoholic patients.
I said I didn’t know if I could because I didn’t know anything about alcoholics. I didn’t know yet that I had had a long relationship with an alcoholic, or that some aspects of my bulimia had a great deal in common with alcoholism.
The Common Thread: A Life with Secret Issues
Michael took me to my first AA meeting. I listened to one young man open his heart and with raw honesty describe his daily physical and emotional life as an alcoholic. I was stunned as, for the first time, I heard my secret life described in detail. My life was exactly like his except my issue was food, not alcohol.
I said nothing to Michael but ventured into Overeaters Anonymous where, another first for me, I met a woman who was bulimic and told me so. This was another staggering experience. I whispered to her that I was, too. She nodded and swept away, but I didn’t feel rejected. I felt amazed that I wasn’t the only one and that I could speak of it.
Finding Acceptance in Ourselves and Others
I started psychotherapy. My clinical supervisor, Hedda Bolgar, agreed to accept me as her patient. I moved through massive fear to tell her I was bulimic. I was prepared for her to reject me and also tell me I could no longer be a psychotherapist. But her face was kind as she welcomed me and we began our journey.
At a private dinner I confessed to Michael that I was bulimic and starting recovery. I expected to see revulsion on his face. Instead, he smiled and wept. He put his hands together in a silent prayer and said, “It’s God’s grace.” He said my new beginning reinforced his own recovery. I cried too.
A few days later I spent a long Sunday with Lars and Ingeborg, who had given the dinner party where I met Michael. Finally, at a table in a darkened restaurant, I mustered enough courage to tell them I was bulimic. Ingeborg looked blank and asked me what that was. I breathed deeply and described my secret life. She took my hands in hers and said, “We love you, Joanna. How sad for you.” Lars smiled a little smile and said, “Joanna, you are the most interesting person.”
The Starting Point: Taking a Look at Where You Are and What You Want
Was this my starting point? I certainly thought so. But I had already chosen these people to be in my life. I created the opportunity for those events to happen long before I knew how they would turn out. In the film Field of Dreams, a voice says, “Build it, and they will come.” Buddhism says, “Create the right conditions.” Psychotherapy teaches, “Create a sturdy holding environment because we never know what will emerge during the course of treatment.”
What else do you need? Rather than decide intellectually at this point, take a look at where you are now and what you want. This creates the “right conditions” for your imagination, emotions, and thoughts to come together to make choices that serve you well in the here and now. Then, you can bring your energy to whatever task you decide to undertake.
This sounds vague because I’m not telling you what to choose. You choose. You are the only person who has accurate knowledge about your daily experiences and access to your own authentic visions for yourself. You can check in with your emotions, energy, and courage to start at your true beginning place.
The Challenge: Honoring and Nurturing Your Desire to be Free
You are reading this because somewhere inside of you, despite the grip of your eating disorder, you want to be free. Your challenge now is to honor and nurture that hopeful and healing spark of life calling from beneath the years and layers of your eating disorder.
Ask yourself: What is your eating disorder doing for you? Why is it necessary for that healing spark to work so hard to call out to you and be heard?
You may be using your eating disorder to keep yourself from knowing just how bad you believe life can get. You may be afraid to let people in your life know what you are going through and what you really want. So part of your eating disorder exists to keep the peace. It dulls you down so you are in a state of acceptance of the unacceptable.
People close to you believe you accept your way of life. In fact, you are (or were) resigned to live with an eating disorder that prevents you from becoming aware of more possibilities. You have been blocking what you fear to know in order to maintain peace in your life.
It may be against the law of the land to disturb the peace, but it’s not against the law to speak your truth and pursue your happiness. So here is where you begin. You need to know where you are standing before you can take your first step.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com.
©2011 by Joanna Poppink. All rights reserved.
Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder
by Joanna Poppink.
Psychotherapist Joanna Poppink offers a comprehensive and effective recovery program for women with eating disorders, based on her thirty-year professional practice treating adults with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. She shares her personal struggles with bulimia, along with stories from a wide-range of clients she has counseled. Poppink primarily addresses women who have been suffering with eating disorders for years while they manage their careers, marriages, and families.
About the Author
Joanna Poppink, MFT, is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in treating adults with eating disorders. She studied psychology at UCLA and the Saybrook Institute and received her master’s degree from Antioch University. Joanna focuses treatment on eating disorder recovery because, today, eating disorders are a major threat to a woman's attempts to lead a fulfilling life. In her practice Joanna incorporates the latest findings of brain development and mindfulness practices in order to help women evolve beyond their dependence on eating disorders and move into a life of freedom and health. Visit her website at http://eatingdisorderrecovery.com