Cathy is tired of binging and purging. She’s ready to stop draining her energy away in this exhausting cycle so that she can regain her joy and passion and share her unique gifts with the world. But she feels like there is a battle going on inside her, between the healthy adult self that knows what to do to be healthy, and the rebellious, sad child that is crying out in pain. In this moving session, Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, encourages Cathy to “come out of the closet,” set aside her shame, and tell the people closest to her about her eating disorder, because she has been dealing with her struggle in isolation for far too long. Tune in to this powerful session as Marc coaches her to finally share her story with the people that matter most.
Below is a transcript of this podcast episode:
Marc: Welcome, everybody. I’m Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. We’re back in the Eating Psychology Podcast. And I am with Cathy today. Welcome, Cathy.
Cathy: Thank you, Marc. Happy to be here.
Marc: Good. Me, too. And let me just say a few words to viewers and listeners in case they’re new to the podcast. Here’s the scoop. Here’s what we’re doing. Cathy and I are meeting for the first time now. And we’re going to have a session. And we’re going to try to do as much in one session as is humanly possible, to help move her forward, with food, body, health, whatever we’re going to be talking about today.
So based on that, Ms. Cathy, if you could wave your magic wand and get whatever in the universe you wanted from this session, what would that be for you?
Cathy: Okay, Marc. I’m diving right into the deep end. My challenge with food has been a history of bingeing and purging, which goes back to my college days. And what I would like from our session is, really a deeper understanding of what has been driving this behavior. But what I really need to do to heal this eating disorder and move forward in my life. Because my goal is to be binge free and take care of my body in the best way possible for me. So that’s what it is bottom-line.
Marc: So these days, are you bingeing or bingeing and purging?
Cathy: Well, bingeing and purging. And it has varied over all these years. There are times when I don’t have the behavior. But then there’s always has been a relapse.
So I would say a couple of times a week, I still do have a binge and purge episode.
Marc: Do you notice any particular reasons, days, times, situations that kind of spark that?
Cathy: Well, the time is usually in the later afternoon or in the evening. So 4-5 o’clock possibly or later in the evening after dinner, 8-9 o’clock, something like that. And it’s usually not in the early part of the day. Because I eat a really healthy diet for breakfast and lunch. And then around, like I said, the late afternoon, the evening is just when the really strong urge hits me.
Marc: So it’s just an urge? It’s just sort of, hey, I’ll go do this?
Cathy: Well, it’s more powerful than that really. And it’s become such an ingrained habit that it’s almost not unconscious but it’s almost like autopilot.
Marc: Sure. What do you usually binge on?
Cathy: Carbohydrates, dessert foods like ice-cream, doughnuts, cookies, chips, pizza, it varies. Usually a variety of different things.
Marc: Got it. And how old were you when you first started doing this?
Cathy: Probably about when I was in college.
Marc: How old are you now?
Cathy: I’m 65 now.
Marc: Okay. So a couple of years.
Cathy: So, it’s been really long. I’m really sick of it. And I’ve been wanting to heal it on my own but I feel like I need some kind of support. That’s why I’m reaching out to you and your organization. It’s possibly just some guidance to move ahead.
Marc: Have you ever done any kind of therapy or counseling?
Cathy: Well, at different times during the last 30-40 years, I have been doing some counseling. Maybe 20 years ago, for 3 or 4 years. Maybe another 10 years ago, for a year. And it hasn’t really made a permanent shift for me. But I’m sure it has been helpful. But it’s even hard to just really remember the effect that the therapy has had. I’m still involved in the bingeing.
Marc: So in your mind, have you ever said to yourself, oh, I think it’s connected to this. Or I wonder if it’s connected to that. Like, what if you had to come up with, here’s why I think I do this. And this doesn’t have to be right. I’m just wondering what the thoughts are in your head that you would say, I have this behavior.
Cathy: Well, I’ve thought a lot about that. And sometimes I come up with the answer like it’s to help fill an inner emptiness or an inner void that I feel. Or a way to avoid feeling a certain way, feeling down and depressed or bored. So there could be some emotional element like that. Or just as a way to compensate for areas of lack I feel are in my life. So I don’t know. I thought a lot about it.
Going way back in my history of my life, when I was 8 years old, my birth mother passed away. And that was a huge traumatic thing for me. My father remarried a year later to a woman who was naturally very slender, and attractive, and very outspoken, and kind of domineering.
And she really kind of conditioned my thinking that it was not okay to be overweight.
She was very concerned about appearances and she always watched what I ate. And thought I was too chubby when I came into her life.
So I think in my early days, I’ve had this conditioning around food and eating, that I have to really watch it and be careful about what I ate.
And I had to look a certain way. But I remember in college, there was a lot of fear about going out into the world and working and supporting myself. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And so I had a lot of fear. So I’m not exactly sure why the eating disorder manifested, but I guess it was my way of coping with a lot that was going on.
Marc: So, are you in a relationship?
Cathy: Yes. I am married. It’s my second marriage.
Marc: How long was your first marriage?
Cathy: Twenty-two years.
Marc: When did that finish?
Marc: 2005. Did you have kids?
Cathy: I had 2 kids. And they’re great. I have a daughter who is 23 and a son who is 26.
Marc: And where are they?
Cathy: One is in Seattle and one is in San Diego.
Marc: Yay, two really good places.
Cathy: Yeah, really good places.
Marc: And how long have you been in this current relationship?
Cathy: About 7 years. We were married almost 4 years ago. And I’m married to a wonderful, wonderful man, very warm, affectionate, communicative. And it’s a very nice relationship, much better than the first.
Marc: Does he know that you binge and purge?
Cathy: It’s pretty much a secret that I keep to myself. It’s very private. I feel a lot of shame around it.
Marc: Got it. What do you think would happen if you told him?
Cathy: I don’t really know. He probably would be very surprised. But he would be very supportive. And I don’t know what it would take for me, if I had to tell him someday, I probably would, but it would be very hard to do, I think.
Marc: Did your first husband know?
Cathy: No. A lot of the time during that marriage, as I recall, I was involved with raising my children. And it wasn’t as much of an occurrence in my life. It always there on the back burner, but I didn’t binge as much as when it first began in my 20s.
Marc: But you were still doing it in your first marriage?
Cathy: Yeah, I was still doing it and I don’t believe that he knew about it, no.
Marc: Do your kids know?
Marc: Does anybody know? Best friends?
Marc: And, is your dad or stepmom still alive?
Cathy: My stepmother is. My father is not.
Marc: When did he pass?
Cathy: About 4 years ago. He was almost 94.
Marc: Wow. Were you close?
Cathy: We had a good relationship, but we weren’t really super close. And they lived far away. So I didn’t see him all that much. But we were close and I saw him a couple of times a year, as much as possible.
Marc: And with your stepmom, did you ever get close to her?
Cathy: Well, I wouldn’t say we got really close. Our relationship now is much better than it was when I was growing up. It was very challenging for me when she first became my mother because I was very quiet and I was very withdrawn. And I was kind of like a clam, just enclosed in a shell, just a protective shell.
And because of her personality and my personality, we just clashed a lot. And I was not a person who would speak out against her. We wouldn’t have fights. I would just hold everything inside as I really didn’t feel comfortable arguing with her, things like that. But she was very controlling as a mother. So our relationship was challenging in my teenage years. And then I moved away and I really didn’t really deal with her all that much as I was in my adult years.
Marc: What gets you most angry?
Cathy: I think when I can’t do things that I want to do for lack of funds, lack of opportunity.
Marc: So that gets you angry or does it get you disappointed or a little upset? I’m talking of anger where you’re mad. That anger.
Cathy: Let’s see. I don’t know what gets me angry. I don’t get angry all that much. But I can’t think off the top of my head, what situations really stir up my anger. Yeah, when I can’t do something I want to do. I guess it’s just really feeling disappointed and frustrated, like that. But angry, I don’t know.
<h/3>Marc: So, if you didn’t have this eating challenge, if it was completely gone, and it was healed, how do you think you would be different?
How would life be different?
Cathy: I think I would feel better physically. Because I think this has a little bit of a drain on my energy. I would feel healthier and probably have a little bit more self-esteem and not feel as much guilt and shame. I wouldn’t have any guilt and shame, really. But I would basically be the same person. I would probably have still the same challenges in life.
But I would feel more authentic, just really in touch with what my real challenges are, not everything that’s covered up by this behavior of eating. Because it does take up a lot of time, and a lot of energy, and I often think, what would I do if I wasn’t doing this? So that would be a real challenge to deal with, in my life, if I wasn’t involved in this behavior.
Marc: So you’re kind of saying, I’m just trying to get this straight, if I didn’t have this behavior, whatever this behavior is masking like the real issues, I would be able to kind of work with that.
Cathy: Well, I would be forced to face that and deal with that. So I would basically be the same person and I would feel a little healthier and have more energy in dealing with it all, I think.
Marc: Got it, okay. Other than the eating challenge, what would you say are some of the bigger challenges in your life right now?
Cathy: In the area of finances and fulfillment in work.
Marc: What kind of work are you doing these days?
Cathy: Well, these days I’m working part-time doing bookkeeping work. I also have a massage therapy license. And I only work on the elderly. But I currently don’t have any clients. But the bookkeeping work that I do is, it’s satisfying to a certain degree but really not for my heart and soul. It really is not something I feel passionate about, something I do to make some money to pay the bills. But there’s a sense that I would like to find something that really feeds my soul more. In addition perhaps to what I’m doing. So there’s a sense of lack of fulfillment in terms of my work and also the finances are very limited.
Marc: Sure. Okay Ms. Cathy, I think I have some good information from you to give you what I think might be some helpful thoughts to move you forward. Let me start really big picture and we’ll see if we can just kind of slowly narrow down. Now, what’s interesting here is, you have a pretty longstanding, what would often be called, eating disorder. It’s been around a long time.
Now I’m going to tell you, I meet people in your age-group who are bingeing and purging, but not a lot. Bingeing and purging is often a behavior that falls away. It might be left behind and its place is bingeing. So, this one has had you for a while. So what I’m saying is that’s tough. That’s not easy. To be doing that with your body, your digestive system, your throat, the contents of your stomach, and the impact it has on your health, as you’re saying, it does drain energy, just on a physiologic level.
Bingeing and purging drains energy.
There’s a cost to it. I know you know that. I’m just saying that.
And you haven’t been able to get to the bottom of this. Therapy might have helped, might not. But here we are. So, I’m saying this because in my thinking then I’m sitting here going, okay, what is going to move you forward here? What piece might you have missed and what do we have to look at or look at differently in order so that we can land in a territory where you can begin to do some work, the real work here. Because whatever work you’ve been doing, hasn’t quite gotten to where you need to go. So, that we know.
So, here’s the first thing I want to say. First thing I want to say is, you need to re-context, to reimagine how this is going to heal itself, how this is going to transform and morph into you being the healthiest version of you? I asked you who you’re going to be when you don’t have this problem. How would life be? And it’s interesting one of the answers that you gave, one of the key answers that you gave was that, well, I would then be able to see the things that this is masking. So I could deal with them, if this was gone. Now, no, no, no.
You don’t need to get rid of it in order to deal with it. That’s kind of like putting the cart before the horse. You can go into it right now. In fact this is the only time you can go into what’s behind it, is while the behavior is here. It’s not that the behavior disappears and then I do the work on myself. It is I do the work on myself and I do the work on myself. And I do the work on myself while the behavior is there because that’s where the action is. The behavior will never go away and then let you have the benefit of figuring out why it was there.
Cathy: Yeah, it’s true.
Marc: You know what I’m saying?
Cathy: Yeah, exactly.
Marc: So just in case that’s a fantasy of yours, then I’m saying we’ve got to nip that in the bud really, really quickly. The next piece I want to say is that, how can I say this? Here’s what I would do if I was going to get $50 million to help you and $50 million to help you get rid of this in a sustainable way and to help you transform it in a sustainable way, in the shortest amount on time. I would push the pedal to the metal a little bit on the psychotherapy part of this experience. So I don’t know what your therapists were telling you or what they were doing. Here’s what I would say to you to really frame this in a way that I think really puts you in a workable place.
There is a part of you that has stayed that 8 year old girl, plain and simple.
When your mom passed, that was a traumatic event. I cannot imagine. You can imagine way better than I can, and still you might not be able to imagine how traumatic that was for you in terms of how it’s impacted you and your system. There is zero doubt in my mind that this is sort of the birthing grounds of the bingeing and purging experience. Might other things have supported it? Sure.
And here comes stepmom. And she’s controlling. And she doesn’t like the way you look. And she’s giving you certain messages. So truthfully, that behavior would eventually become reinforced because bingeing and purging is a good way to monitor one’s weight. A person can control his or her weight by eating food and then vomiting it up.
So, yeah you were given that message that, oh okay, this strategy is actually useful for this problem that I have, that I feel I have, that the world is telling me, that society is telling me, and that my stepmom is telling me. Let me stay there a minute.
So what I’m saying is that’s where the action is. And a lot of times when we do healing and transformation, it needs to happen in the present moment, and we need to work with what’s going on right now and move forward. For you it’s two pieces. For you, you’re going to have to do more of a strategic strike into the past. We’re not going to have, that’s a process, that’s a little bit of a journey. But what I’m saying is that that is ground zero because I think there’s a couple of things happening from that experience. So what I’m saying is there’s a part of you that is, the age that you’re at right now, tell me how old you are again.
Marc: Okay. So there’s a part of you that’s 65 for sure. And there’s a part of you that’s 8 years old. There’s probably a part of you that’s 21 years old, and 40, and 35. So we have a lot of people in there. We have a lot of personas. There’s Cathy the mother. There’s Cathy the daughter. There’s Cathy the bookkeeper. There’s Cathy the masseuse, you have a lot of identities. That’s all great. One of your identities is that 8-year-old girl who is, my guess is, stunned, caught like a deer in headlights, didn’t really have a chance to grieve.
Cathy: It’s true.
Marc: Those are 3 key pieces. Caught and stunned, and didn’t have a chance to grieve.
So, I’m outlining for you the major pieces that would have to happen, that have not happened for you, in order for this eating disorder to leave.
You need this eating disorder. You actually need it. Why do you need it? Because it’s raising its hand every day and letting you know, “Cathy, something’s up here. Cathy something’s up here.” And then it becomes our job to go, “Oh, my God, what’s up? What is this trying to tell me?” It is the wisdom of your body. It is the wisdom of life. It talks to us in this beautiful, metaphoric, symbolic, hidden language. It is a language.
We learn that language, we learn to decode it so we can understand it, and speak it, and then begin to resolve things. So what I’m doing over here, is I’m just using my experience listening to the language of food and body, and eating disorders, and eating concerns, and kind of decoding it for you.
So what I’m saying is, from my read on what you’ve told me, there is this huge pack of grieving that hasn’t happened for you. And it’s just pure grieving. You lost your mother and you had to go right into the next thing. And you probably got the message, “I have to be a good girl.”
And you were a good girl with your stepmother, and probably your dad, and probably your whole life. I asked you what gets you angry. You couldn’t tell me. Your first answer was what actually gets you disappointed. Very different from what gets you angry. To me, what’s happening here is that there’s a lot of grief in your system, understandably so.
There’s also a lot of anger in your system that you haven’t been taught how to express.
Anger towards your stepmom, anger towards losing your mom, anger towards your lot in life, and what happened. There is no judgment there when I say you have anger there. There is not an ounce of it. At some point, the proper response to what was happening to you was anger, at some point. And at some point you probably felt it because your stepmom was doing this, that, and the other thing. And you, in your words, became a clam. You clammed up.
And when we clam up and we withhold our voice and we withhold who we really are, one of the common eating challenges that is born from that is, is bingeing, something’s up, there’s this power. And all of a sudden you’re a wild animal. So the binge eating is, the binge part is your wealth, it’s your wild animal.
You portray a very controlled, sweet lady. That is a part of who you are. Another part of you is a wild animal that will kill, that will get angry, that will get upset. So, that part of you, I don’t think has ever gotten airtime as much as she should have. Has not gotten to express itself.
So many religions and spiritual systems aren’t good when it comes to anger. They’re good when it comes to the light. They are good when it comes to spirituality. They are good when it comes to transcending things. They are not necessarily good at teaching us how to work with the nitty-gritty, so to speak.
So what I’m saying is, that there’s work for you around anger. There’s work for you around grieving in a big way. And when we start to wrap those together, about the anger piece and the grieving piece, you then have a straight doorway into your eating concern.
Like I said, the bingeing part is this ravenous hunger where the wolf is taking over and your instinct is just saying, devouring part of you comes out. Because it can come out as, oh my god, I’m really angry at my life. I’m angry at what happened. I’m angry at my stepmom, she was so controlling. She did this, she did that. You adopted the strategy of, I’m going to be a good girl.
The reason you did that is because that is an excellent, excellent survival strategy because you’re this 8-year-old girl whose mother just died. And you’ve got to survive. And you’ve got a strange witch in your house now that your dad just married. Who is this lady? She ain’t your mother. You didn’t pop out of her womb. And she doesn’t exactly treat you like you’re her own. She treats you like you’re the step-daughter, which is very different from being the daughter.
So in order for you to survive psychically and emotionally, in order for you to feel you could even survive physically, as an 8 year old, your mind set out to be a good girl. “I have to behave. I have to be nice. I can’t upset the big people.” This is a very common strategy. So you become a good girl.
When you binge, you’re becoming the wolf that has a lot of emotions. When you purge, the purging is symbolic of letting it out.
Here is what I have to say. Now, I can’t quite say it because I don’t know what I have say. I don’t know the words. I don’t even know what’s going on in you because there’s so much going on. But it’s a lot of energy. And right now it looks and feels like ugh, like just this vomit that needs to happen. So your unconscious is giving you a rhythm, is giving you a behavior that symbolically tells us what’s going on deeper. What’s going on deeper is there’s a lot of energy, there’s a lot of emotion.
Taking in the binge, you’re enacting that. This is your world. You’re taking in the world. You’re trying to take in, and when you purge it is just, it’s you screaming, it’s you talking, it’s you yelling, it’s you being angry, it’s you saying I don’t like this, this is terrible, I lost my mother, I got this lady in my house now, I don’t like her. I don’t like any of you people. I want a different life. Whatever it is that 8 year old wants to say, that 10 year old wants to say. At every stage of the game, I don’t know that you’ve had permission in yourself to be yourself and to say your real voice.
So your task in general, from now until the day you die, is to stop being a good girl. And begin to be a real girl, good girl and real girl. I don’t need you to be a good girl. Life doesn’t need you to be a good girl. You’re a woman and you have successfully made it to this point, really bringing that little girl with you. You’ve brought that 8-year-old-girl with you. You’ve nurtured her. You’ve protected her. You’ve managed to have a good life. And there is this thing that’s also come along with you, which is the eating disorder to remind you that there is work to do.
So, as you know, I’m going to say this, now is the time. There is not a minute to waste on this. Because you don’t want to be on your deathbed talking about this. So this is something that will be a soul victory for you, for you to rise above this. And in order to rise above this, you have to go into it.
Now, here is a practical thing that I want you to do because I’m giving you more of the map right now. Now I’m going to tell you something extremely practical that you can start now. What I want to say is in an ideal universe, I would love for you to have a skilled counsellor or coach, who knows how to do grief work, and knows how to do anger work. I’m not interested in any other kind of coach for you. I don’t need for you to be with somebody that works with eating disorders at this point. You need to be with somebody that knows how to work with anger and grief, plain and simple. But here is your assignment. Do you know what I’m going to tell you to do?
Marc: I would love for you to guess. Let’s play. Based on this conversation that we’ve had, based on the things you’ve shared with me, think of some of the questions I asked you early on. And there is one particular topic I asked you a few questions about, that I might have been a little surprised but not really. What would I ask you to do that’s very practical, that might not be easy for you to do?
Cathy: Share this. Not keep it such a secret.
Marc: Bingo. Not keep it a secret. Number one, share with your husband, first and foremost. Share it with your husband. Find a time. Put on some music, put on some candles, I don’t care what you need to do. You might want to prep him. Maybe you send him an email. Maybe you let him know, honey, I got off the phone with this guy today and we were talking and I got some coaching and I realized that there is something about me that you don’t know about, that I’ve kept secret, that I really want to share with you. I’d like to have a conversation about this later on and I just want you to know that this is really vulnerable for me. So you might want to do that. If that feels good. To prep him or not. That’s up to you.
But either way, it’s you really making space for the conversation, and making sure that you tell him, in no uncertain terms, honey, this is maybe one of the harder things I’ve ever done. I have kept this a secret for, and you tell him how many years. And you don’t want to keep it a secret anymore and you want to start to share about it.
Because the other piece for you, other than anger and grief, is shame. And shame has got you by the ovaries right now. It’s gripping you. It has you paralyzed. I’m telling you that. The anger and the grief are actually secondary. The first piece is the shame because the shame will stop everything. The shame will stop you from talking about it. So it just kind of disappears. And nobody knows. How would you feel if your husband had this challenge, in exactly the same way you did. You didn’t have it, never existed for you. But he has it. And then he came to you one day and told you. What might your reaction be?
Cathy: I would be very surprised. But at the same time, I’m a very compassionate person and I would just be extremely supportive and want to support him in any way possible, to deal with it.
Marc: Yeah. My guess is that’s going to be his response. I’ll bet my money. And you’ll learn about your relationship. You’ll learn about yourself. And this is you going into your shame. Right now, what you’ve been doing is, you’ve been driving around it. You’ve been going all the way around. You’ve been taking these long detours. So, you said you have a son and a daughter?
Marc: Are you close with your daughter?
Marc: What do you think would happen if you told her about this?
Cathy: Wow. I think she’d probably react the same as I would, just with a lot of understanding and compassion.
Marc: I want you to talk to your husband first about this. And then after you’ve had a chance to speak with him, at some point, a day later, a week later, I want you to think about talking to your daughter about it. And just sharing with her. You’re not asking for her advice. You’re not asking her to be your therapist.
You’re just saying, “I just wanted to share this with you because this is an experience that I’m going through. I don’t even know if you go through anything similar. But you’re my daughter and we’re connected. And, gosh, I wonder if you even picked up any of this. If not, great, I’m so happy.”
But I just really want to come out of my shame. And coming to of my shame means letting people see me. And letting people see me means letting the people closest to me see me. And I’ve told my husband so far. You’re the second person I’ve told. So I really want you to think about that. Are there any good close friends that come to mind?
Cathy: Well, I’m in a women’s support group that we’ve been meeting for 3 years. We meet every other week. There’s 6 of us.
Marc: Wow. This is your coming out party.
Cathy: Yeah, coming out for sure.
Marc: Yeah. No this is. You are coming out of the closet lady. I mean that. You’ve got to come out of the closet. I’m sorry, you have to do it. You have to go into this. What a perfect setup for you. How fortunate you are to have the pieces in place here, at this time in your life when you’re now ready. You’re ready. You are in a good relationship. You have a good women’s support group. You have enough wisdom under your belt. You’re a smart lady. You’ve been around the corner a few times. So, you have what you need to do this.
It doesn’t mean you’re going to super confident. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to be scared like crazy.
Expect to be unbelievably frightened.
Expect to be peeing in your pants. Expect this to be really hard because it will be. And expect to cry. Expect to feel ashamed. And ask for support because I think you’re going to get it in a big way from the people in your life. I’m guessing that this is ringing true for you.
Cathy: Yeah, definitely.
Marc: So, Cathy, this is me over here nudging you very strongly. I’m not saying anything here out of judgment or out of anything other than I want to see you work this. And I want to see you get where you want to go. I really do. And I know you can do this. I know you can.
But you are going to have to dig deep inside yourself and find some new places. And the new places you’re finding is the place where you find your voice. Because that 8 year old girl didn’t have a voice that was able to be spoken and/or heard. You have carried that into these other aspects of your life, these other phases of your life. And the net result is a woman who is very quiet about what’s going on for her. Who hides what’s going on for her because of shame, or embarrassment, or guilt. And now, you know better.
So, expect this to be messy. And when I say messy, it means you will likely be emotionally messy. You will have ups and downs when you start to share about this. You might be crying unexpectedly at strange times. You might feel awful about yourself. You might feel so good about yourself. You might be feeling both at the same time. So this is in part about you learning how to be a little messy with your emotions and not have it be so neat and tidy because the good girl learns how to be neat and tidy. I’m okay. I’ll just be quiet and do what I’m supposed to do.
I have another assignment for you to do that I’d like to suggest, that is practical. That you can start to do now that will help you, perhaps. I would love for you to write a couple of letters. These letters don’t get sent. One letter is to your father. “Dear dad, wanted to give you an update. Dear dad on the other side, wanted to give you an update. So this is me at 65, your little girl. And I just want to tell you what I’m going through. I just want to tell you what I went through.”
And report to him as if he is a wise sage who can hear everything with compassion. Let him know, “Here’s your daughter. Here’s what’s happening to me. Here’s what I’m going through. Here’s what I went through. This was my challenge.” Just get it out on to the paper, on to the computer, however you write. Just write that letter to him.
Second letter, dear mom—this is biological mom—same thing, same exact thing. I wanted to give you an update. It’s me. When was the last time you communicated with your biological mother, meaning, like do you ever talk to her?
Cathy: Yeah, I have done a little bit of work where I imagine her and speak to her, in recent years. Not too much but a little bit.
Marc: Yeah. Write a letter to her. But I really want you to talk about your bingeing and purging. I really want you to talk about that and just to share about it as if she’s your mom. And your assumption is, she is this unbelievable wise sage who has spent lots of time on the other side, learning some things. So, wow is she going to hear you. You with me?
Marc: Now, for extra credit, you’re a good girl, so I know you’re going to do this. For extra credit, I want you to write 2 letters, one from your dad and one from your mother back to you.
Dear Cathy, so glad you shared this. Here’s what I want to say to you. And this is as if you’re channeling them, you’re being the mouthpiece for them talking to you.
And I want you to make sure that they know that even though you are 65, that they are talking to their daughter. And you’re still their daughter. So I want you to feel that as you channel them. What would they say to their daughter, who is going through this challenge? And you’re just channeling that, and see what happens. Okay?
So there’s 4 letters. Now, for extra, extra credit, and this comes after these other letters. Extra credit, dear stepmom. I know she’s alive so this is for your ears and eyes only. Dear stepmom, and then I want you to download for her everything you want to say to her. If you have some nice things to say to her, fine.
But I want you to focus on everything that would not be considered nice, meaning, what are your complaints? What are all the times that you bit your tongue and you didn’t say anything that you wanted to say something? I hate when you tell me that I’m chubby. I don’t like when you say this. I’m so angry at you for that. Why did you do this? Why didn’t you do that? How come this? How come that?
So, you’re not working this out with her in particular.
You’re working it out more with yourself but you’re writing as if you’re writing to her and you are not holding back your words.
So, I really want you to keep an eye on, in that letter your anger and your frustration, but particularly your anger. What you were angry about as you grew up, in relation to her. Because I think there’s a list. I think there’s a little bit of backlog of anger that’s in relation to her. And I’m not saying she’s a bad lady. I’m not putting blame on her. What I’m saying is, as situation was unbelievably hard for you, and it was hard for her, in her way, harder for you because you’re the 8 year old girl who lost her mother. So I’m acknowledging way harder for you, way harder. And I’m saying for her it was hard. For your stepmom it was also hard.
So this is not about blame, this is about you starting to contact and do a little bit of excavation because I think a little bit of anger is in there and is deep. And as that starts to come out, as the anger starts to come out a little more, as you start to let go of the shame and the secrecy, which happens by speaking about this to your loved ones, and as you begin to start to grieve a little bit more, you will be unbelievably well on your way to letting go of this behavior.
So what I’m saying is, you don’t need to look for the answers in a big way of why do I do this behavior. I believe I’m over here giving you some damn good answers. You can go into therapy and a good therapist will likely arrive at the same conclusions. I’m trying to get you to that conclusion fast. So there is no time wasted and so you can begin to focus very specifically. So is it something that’s doable for you these days, given time, energy, money, for you to look for support in a counsellor who can do grief work with you or anger work with you?
Cathy: I’m not exactly sure how to find a specialist in, other than just calling a lot of therapists in my area and just getting referrals and to see who does that kind of work. But it’s definitely doable. Yes.
Marc: So, many people specialize in grief work. That’s what I want to say. And it doesn’t even have to be in your area. If you’re willing to work with somebody over Skype, there’s plenty of people.
And grief work is beautiful work.
It’s powerful work. And it’s going to open up a big door for you. It’s going to open up a really, really, really big door. So, I’m a little on it about that for you because you’re going to need that kind of support, I believe, to move forward faster.
Could you do this with help from your women’s group and your husband, and speaking to other people? Sure. But it’s going to take longer as opposed to when you’re working with somebody who, this is their specialty. This is what they’re fanatic about. This is what they love to do. And this is a very good entry way to help you get where you want to go. So that’s why I’m speaking strongly about that. Because I feel it’s going to move you forward in the fastest way possible.
So this is a lot, Ms. Cathy. This is a lot. I don’t take anything that I’m saying for granted here. I’m speaking these things. I know they’re not easy, and I’ve just put a lot on your plate. Because that’s the setup here. You came to me with a very big and poignant challenge. I want to say that. If you were 22 years old, I’d be telling you, hey, this is going to take time to unwind. Because at 22 there’s a lot more work to do. And the waters are going to be rough and rocky. But you’re not 22 so it’s a different conversation. The conversation is, let’s get moving. Let’s make something happen here because now is the time. Let me ask you this question. Do you think you can get where you want to go?
Marc: Good for you. How are you doing right now with sort of everything that we’ve been talking about? Describe you right now and your experience in this moment.
Cathy: Well, it’s true. I feel panicked, and scared to death, and in terror about sharing this. But at the same time, I can see how it would free me from the prison that I feel that I’m in.
The coming out of hiding and being authentic about who I am and what I do, there’s something that draws me in that direction.
At the same time, like you say, it’s going to be so scary and hard. And I’m not afraid of messy emotions. I’m always a messy emotional person anyway. On my own, I’m not afraid of crying and people that love me, will love me in addition to knowing this about me. And that’s emotional to say that. But I think they’ll still love me and support me. And it’s so scary to think about it. But I’m so tired of living behind the secrecy and the shame and the behavior. And I just want to be real and I want to be free. I’ve felt like I’ve lived in a prison my whole life.
Marc: You have. There’s been a prison, and in part circumstances helped create that, and in part your own survival strategies, how do I be safe? How do I protect myself? So we do our best to protect ourselves. And you did your best to protect yourself. But that protection that we put around us, one day becomes a prison. It’s no longer literally protecting us. It’s actually locking us inside.
So I just want you to hear and really make sure that you get that the reason why that prison exists, the reason why this behavior exists, is it was the 100% correct survival strategy for that 8 year old girl. It’s 100% correct. Can’t think of a better one, quite frankly. There’s not many better survival strategies based on what an 8 year old can possibly come up with, if that makes any sense. So you did okay, be quiet, don’t say anything. Be a good girl because whoa, life just got crazy.
So you’re now learning how you’re not her anymore. You don’t live with your father and your stepmother as an 8 year old girl. That configuration of your life is gone. What happens is, we kind of pitch our tent there, and even though you’re not living with your dad and your stepmom, energetically, emotionally, psychologically, personally, you’re living with your dad and your stepmom.
“Better keep quiet. Better not say anything. Push down my emotions. I can’t get angry. I can’t grieve. I’m ashamed, but I’ve got to hide it. And I want to be the real me, but I really can’t.” So you don’t live there anymore, so now you’re going to get caught up to where you actually live.
You live with supportive people who can hear you, and love you, and who will be, my guess is, very happy to help.
And I want to say, Cathy, one last piece that you mentioned the word terror, like, “I feel terror.” I’m glad you said that because that is the appropriate response to what you’re about to. If you’re feeling terror then you know you are on the right track because that emotion called terror is one of the most deeply buried emotions that humans have because nobody in their right mind wants to experience terror. That sucks. Anger? I’ll do. Happiness? I’ll do. Depression? I will do. Terror? Terror means you could die right in that moment. Depression? Doesn’t really kill you unless you commit suicide.
So what I’m saying is, terror is arguably one of the most frightening emotions ever invented. And it’s terror that young person feels when her life gets turned upside down. We experience terror. So this is going to unearth that for you and it gives you the opportunity now to experience it, feel it, process it, digest it, assimilate it, metabolize it, and that will make it less necessary for you to try to symbolically do all that by bingeing and purging.
Bingeing and purging is the symbolic attempt to metabolize all of that. But it doesn’t work. Now, you’re going to actually do it by speaking it and then taking in the love, and the support and then speaking again and then taking in more love and support. You follow me?
Marc: Wow. What a conversation. Yeah, that’s a lot.
Cathy: Part of the terror or the thoughts that rise along with the terror, is that part of me that so hangs on to that behavior, that it’s like she’s saying, I might have to let that go, until she feels that incredible terror in having to let that go.
Marc: Yeah. Brilliant observation. And let me tell you why to me that’s very smart is because it’s kind of how we humans work even though we don’t always notice it. We like the security blanket. Meaning we need transitional objects that are comfortable and familiar. So first it’s mother who holds us and loves us. And then maybe you have a teddy bear, because teddy bear is like your little transition object. It’s comfortable. It’s my guy, my security blanket.
Oddly enough, our unwanted habits become our security blanket.
It’s very familiar to you. It’s an old friend, believe it or not because it’s been with you for so long. It’s faithful. You know how to do it. You know how to binge and purge, it happens naturally. And it does give this odd, weird, momentary relief in there somewhere because there is an enactment of, “Aargh!” There is a relief in devouring and finally getting into your primal emotion and then there is a relief going aargh. Got that out. So there’s a relief, but it’s very short lived. It’s a high and it’s very short lived. So in order to let that go, there is no security blanket for a moment. And it’s something you’ve been holding for many decades.
Cathy: It’s like a freefall.
Marc: Yeah. And it’s time because that’s the only way through here is to step into the abyss and just kind of drop and fall. And trust that the hands of life are going to catch you there young lady, because they will. Because you have all the tools. And this is your time now. Now is your time. And there’s no hiding anymore. You cannot hide. Not allowed. You’re too old for that. You’re too smart for that.
Cathy: Well, I trust your vision. I trust your guidance that this is going to open up a whole new world for me. The last chapter of my life, I want it to be filled with joy and fulfillment. I don’t want to live in the closet anymore.
Marc: Good for you. So thank you for trusting me and what I want to say is, I trust you as much, if not more. I trust that you can do this. And I trust in the wisdom of everything that you’ve told me because what I’m sharing with you, yeah, it’s based on my experience. But it’s also kind of based on what you’re telling me.
It’s based on the answers that you give me. It’s based on just how you’re communicating to me. And believe it or not, the wisdom that comes through that I pick out in your answers, and in just sort of the non-verbal kinds of things, so, it’s a two-way street in that way.
I’ve got a lot of trust in you, and I got a lot of trust in the wisdom that guides you.
That’s the bigger piece here. So there’s a guiding wisdom in your life and if you allow it, that guiding wisdom will now push the pedal to the metal more on this part of your life.
Previously, the guiding wisdom that can help you here, there hasn’t been enough of an opening for it to talk to you, just hasn’t been because you haven’t known which channel, which button to push. So what I’m guessing here is that you’ve opened the door now, to that wisdom speaking to you. So it’s going to pick you up and it’s going to show you some things. So I’m very hopeful, I’m very confident that you will get where you want to go. It’s going to be work, and you will do it.
Cathy: Yeah, I agree. Coming in touch with you and your teachings and all, have just been a blessing and I feel like you say, it’s been a piece coming from the wisdom of the universe to help move me forward.
Marc: Yay, Cathy. So, you and I will meet in a bunch of months and we will check in and see how you’re doing and I so, so, so appreciate you and your unbelievable willingness to keep growing and keep transforming yourself, and keep evolving even at the ripe young age of 65, you’re still making it happen. And that is just to me unbelievably amazing and honorable and just a beautiful example for all of us. So really thank you.
Cathy: Well, thank you and I really hope that this can help other people that may be struggling with the same type of issue.
Marc: Beautiful. Cathy, thank you so much.
Cathy: Thank you. Thank you, too.
Marc: All right. And thanks, everybody, for tuning in. Once again, I’m Marc David, and on behalf of the Psychology of Eating Podcast. Always more to come, my friends. Take care.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2016
P.S. If you haven’t had a chance to check out our FREE information-packed video series, The Dynamic Eating Psychology Breakthrough, you can sign up for it HERE. It’s a great way to get a better sense of the work we do here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. If you’re inspired by this work and want to learn about how you can become certified as an Eating Psychology Coach, please go HERE to learn more. And if you’re interested in working on your own personal relationship with food, check out our breakthrough 8-week program designed for the public, Transform Your Relationship with Food, HERE.