Adult Women with Eating Disorders: Going for Happiness
- Category: Psychotherapy and Recovery Work
In the midst of your efforts to heal from your eating disorder I ask you to take a few moments and answer this question: What is happiness to you?
Years ago I worked with a woman in my practice, 38 years old, struggling with binge eating and purging, married to an emotionally abusive man, mother of two small children. After a year of being in psychotherapy with me she said, since she had stopped purging she intended to stop her therapy. She wasn't in pain anymore.
I asked her, "Is absence of pain enough?" Three years later she came back. She said, "I remember what you asked me. I thought absence of pain was enough. And then the pain came back, and now it's worse than ever."
Ending your eating disorder behavior is only the beginning of your healing journey. The goal is not simply to put an end to your bulimia or anorexia or binge eating or compulsive eating. The goal is to honor and develop yourself as a full human being so you can recognize and go for what happiness means to you.
In the throes of an eating disorder, happiness might be getting through a day without acting out your eating disorder behaviors. Happiness might be having a few weeks or months of abstinence. These are joyous times of accomplishment that give you a sense of what freedom could be like.
With freedom comes space and the ability to make choices. With health comes energy that you can direct toward what honors your authentic desires.
Happiness is not absence of pain. Happiness is its own special state that is created differently by each of us. It's not a duplication of someone else's happiness. It's yours.
As part of your recovery work I invite you to explore what happiness means to you. My client learned that absence of abuse was good, but it was a milestone on her way to what happiness was for her. Happiness, when I last saw her, was sending her children off to school with a light heart and seeing them free of anxiety and eager to get into their day. It was doing some light gardening before she left for a job she enjoyed. It was sharing week ends with friends she liked. It was earning her own money and spending it as she chose. She was happy being her own woman.
What might happiness look like for you?
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But, like the client you mentioned above, I re-entered therapy this past summer more depressed and immersed in my eating disorder than ever before, because these issues were so stuffed, and resurfaced.
I always thought I couldn't be happy without the "absence of pain". It has always seemed like I could either have one or the other. I rarely see working through pain as a positive thing. Instead, I get too bogged down.
What does happiness mean to me? I would like to feel more confident and less scared. I would like to not be so hypervigilent. I would love to be authenic and genuine. I would love to love my job and the people I work with. I would love to be more organized and less hurried. How can I get happy? take my meds, work hard in therapy to deal with the issues that drive my eating disorder, work my journal and excercises from HHH.
I love to scrapbook. I started my kids a baby book when they first came to live with me, despite the fact that my eldest was seven at the time. I haven't worked on these in a while, and would love to get everything out and get creative. I know they will love and appreciate these when they are older. I haven't had the energy, but I do remember how centered it helped me feel. I think I will start working on these again this weekend.
I love to go to the beach. I haven't taken a mini vacation to the beach in over a year. I only live 90 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. I think I will take my girls and go for the weekend sometime very soon! I have a lot of catching up to do in the area of mommyhood. I have been quite selfish lately.
these are a couple of things that always made me happy. They are very doable, and better yet, I think I am moving in the direction of having the energy and motivation needed to enjoy them.