Rosie had Bulimia since she could remember. This is why she was thrilled when she was free from it, finally! She loved the feeling of being in control, something she hasn’t experienced for a long time. You saved my live, she said to me in the last session, it feels so new to me, I want to run outside and just do things! she shouted. Her energy was palpable. I knew exactly what she was experiencing. This surge of energy always comes when we genuinely let go. She wasn’t used to it and it still felt like an exaggerated sense of vitality, something she could hardly contain.
And then she rang me a year later, sounding distressed and weary. Her bulimia was back and she wasn’t sure what to do. She sounded frightened and resigned. I asked her to think about what might be the trigger, before i saw her again.
I knew that Rosie understood the mechanism behind her bingeing well enough to find the answer. After all, she worked with me only a year earlier and she new exactly what to do if things go ‘wobbly’. She knew that it was her emotional equilibrium that kept her bulimia-free. And she knew how to take care of her emotional balance, no matter what.
And indeed, it didn’t take Rosie that long to work it out. She rang again and told me that because she was getting married and about to start a family, they were thinking of buying a house. The income from the business she started recently (which I knew was her dream for a long time) was not enough to satisfy the banks and back up the mortgage. So she decided to go back to her ‘old’ career and was looking for jobs. But… every time she was called for an interview, she felt an urge to binge she couldn’t control. And it really frightened her.
Someone may say that it was ‘a sign’; a sign not to go back, a sign not to give up on her business, or a reminder how much he hated what she did before (and yes, she did!). That it was a warning not to go back.
On the other hand, her desire for a stable environment for her family and children was very real for her too. Giving up on the house would not be an easy option, she wanted it and that’s why she was prepared to do whatever it takes. But of course she didn’t want to pay a price of having to go back to old habits of bingeing.
Having it back was certainly telling her something. But what exactly was it? That she was in a difficult situation? That she had to compromise and can’t get what she wants without giving up on something? That life is not as smooth as she would like it to be? I didn’t think the answer was that easy.
But how could she find the real ‘message’ if there was one? The starting point, as always, was for Rosie to remember that it is not the situation that made her binge, but her interpretation of the situation, her perspective on things. This is an important point. Because if the situation is to blame and you can’t do anything to change it quickly, there was no chance of improving or resolving things, was there?
On the other hand, her mental perspective was something she could easily change. While the situation seemed negative, if not grim to her at the moment, and both of the choices uninspiring to say the least, it was possible to look at her situation with a kinder eye. It was possible to see things from a different angle, in a way that was creating less emotional discomfort.
But what exactly Rosie found in her internal dialogues – the very thing that brought her old habits back – is likely to surprise you.
Yes, she exaggerated the situation in her mind in a negative way (because the job was really a temporary thing and not the end of the world and she was still able to work on her business, maybe with less hands-on involvement but with the same passion). But changing the view of the situation wasn’t enough.
What really needed to change, and what drove her back to bingeing, was something other that negative assessment of her situation. It was her negative assessment of herself. It was harsh criticism, thoughts of self blame and regret, ‘I should be in a different situation by now, I should be doing better that this, I should be happier with this choice’. It was this subtle ammunition she had been gathering each day, blaming herself for this situation.
Judgement directed at oneself cuts deep. When others criticise you, you can dismiss it, at least potentially. But how do you dismiss your own cruel ruling that you didn’t do well enough, that your past decisions suck, that it is unforgivable who you are, how you are, and where you are in your life right now. How do you dismiss the rejection that hurts so deeply?
As Rosie’s old habits of battling against herself reared their ugly head, she felt the uncontrollable urge to binge. To sooth, to punish, to take her mind off critical thoughts. Who knows?
If we want to believe that return of bulimia was a sign, it was indicating to her to stop doing things to herself that hurt. To change her inner dialogues and to shift her perception on things. Rather than see situation as wrong, and everything that lead to it as a mistake, she chose to look at things in a more accepting way.
Maybe it was just time to step up, to rethink her earlier decisions, to make new decisions, to have a closer look at hr priorities? A new life, new openings, new paths? She wanted to have a baby, to have a family, to have a stability – and after all she wanted this for herself. Even if it meant getting a less exciting job for a year or two. Even if it meant making adjustments. She wanted this for herself and she was happy to do whatever it takes. As soon as she started thinking of her situation with an attitude of self love rather than blame, things turn around quickly.
This cruel judgement is such a common behaviour among binge eaters, I believe it is always a part that drives women to such extreme behaviours. This turning against the self when things get tough. But I want you to know that it comes from a sense of responsibility and from a desire to be in control of one’s life. It is a part of drive towards mastery of life, towards owning one’s life. It comes with deep wanting to feel in control, but often with a deep seated fear that this wanting may never be realised.
The good news? Rosie didn’t even need to come for another session. she managed to resolve it herself. After all, she had all the tools and understanding she needed.