The Gap Between Understanding and Acceptance

Being back in therapy this time around has been odd. On the one hand I kind of feel like that six-or-so year gap never even happened (despite all the things that happened to me) and on the other hand, I’m having trouble getting back into the groove. Or at least I think I am. I often wonder what we’ll talk about a couple of days before the appointment and feel a sudden urgent need to figure out what the hell I’ve been doing the last week and a half that I can share. Sometimes I don’t want to go, but not because I don’t want to work through stuff; sometimes I’m just tired from working and want to go home. I think it’s good to catalogue some of the things I never worry about: that it’s a waste of time, that I’m beyond help, that my problems are beyond my therapist’s expertise or experience.

I knew going into this round of therapy that while I was coming there ostensibly to talk about food, my issues don’t have anything to do with food. I knew after reading the overeating book that while it was probably worthwhile to explore the behavior of demand feeding to teach myself some valuable lessons, I was not going to be able to move past it until I figured out what the source of deprivation anxiety was. And I’m sitting here right now, shaking my head in wonder that I didn’t already know.

I went into therapy the first time because my life was imploding. Total crisis mode. My therapist helped me get through that and start the real work of untangling the Family of Origin (FOO) issues that led to my total and utter lack of self-esteem. I remember losing patience often with therapy that first time — it wasn’t working fast enough, I didn’t feel better, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing. Every time I tried to wrap things up I was — gently! — rebuffed by my therapist. I couldn’t have articulated what, precisely, we were doing, and so I never knew whether we were done or not. Eventually I quit trying to quit, and about a year later, my therapist initiated the close-out process herself. I agreed, we wrapped things up, and life went on.

It’s only in retrospect that I really understand what we did there. How I learned to let go of external validation and of trying to change my past. How my whole life changed for the better as a result of that long, hard, tearful, and frustrating process. When I really began to recognize that I had changed, I had been out of therapy for a pretty long time.

I went back once in 2010 when my father died. One session, very helpful, just to talk to someone who understood why my grieving process might not look the same as someone else’s or meet other people’s expectations.

The question of coming back for regular therapy, in my opinion, was closed. I was done. Then a waterfall of unfortunate events hit us in the late summer of 2012 and my husband suggested I make an appointment. I resisted. My “blues” lingered into the winter, but I resisted. All I needed, really, was to exercise more. Eat better. Lose weight. Take care of myself.

For a while that was working. I was “taking care of myself” for the first time in a way that I really deserved. I was losing weight. I felt strong. I fit into clothes I liked. I felt confident. Dieting can give you all that. For awhile, at least. But if you’re like me, and you use food for any other reason than to fuel your body, it’s not going to last. It’s just not. It’ll be easy, sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, to eat “normally”, but when the going gets tough, doesn’t really matter how tough you are, you’ll get eating. The more you’ve been depriving yourself, the more you’ll indulge. And when I realized all that “taking care of myself” wasn’t really doing anything to help me, that’s when I made the appointment.

And here I am about two months in, and we’ve just really started diving into what happens in those moments when I know there’s food in the kitchen at the office and even though I’m not actually hungry, every fiber of my being is screaming at me to get in there! And to get what’s mine! I deserve it! I’ve earned it!

Part of that is leftover from the binge/deprivation cycle I’d been living in for so long. A leftover mindset where food is a reward, a special occasion, and all my favorite things are forbidden. I know in my head none of that is true. I can pretty much have whatever I want whenever I want because hello, we live in civilization. I am the furthest from food-deprived any human being could possibly be. I don’t want to indulge in everything that is available to me, though, because it has negative consequences on my body, which I want to avoid for health and vanity reasons. I don’t feel good when I weigh more. I maybe can get over the body image issues with a lot more work, and certainly I want to move in a direction of acceptance of self. But more than anything, I want to not have this Fix Me relationship with Food. I want to stop using it to Make Me Feel Better. I fundamentally don’t want to live that way. And to get there, it was clear to me that I had to figure out what it is I really feel deprived of.

Most people who know me are not going to be the least bit surprised to learn that what I feel deprived of is a non-dysfunctional childhood. I was not even surprised by that, but to name, and say it out loud FRUSTRATED THE CRAP OUT OF ME. Didn’t I work through that already? Why is still hanging around? I accepted my childhood SIX YEAR AGO and I’M FINE WITH IT.

Deep breaths. Right?

Yeah, so. It’s one thing to see your childhood for what it really was and to understand why it was less than ideal. I am really working hard to avoid the word normal because I don’t believe in it, but it might slip out somewhere so forgive me in advance. I don’t really think anyone had a normal childhood. I do think other people had a better childhood than me. I think people who didn’t have addiction or abuse or mental illness in their family had a better childhood than me. I don’t resent those people, even though I don’t really believe they can understand what it’s like. I don’t want special consideration for what I went through, this is not a pity-me post. I own it. I’m proud to have survived. I don’t think I’m better than anyone else for having done so. It was a lot of hard work to see it, to recognize why it sucked, to understand the effects it had on my adult relationships, and to break free of those behaviors in order to have a better life. I did all that, and I reap the rewards of having done so in almost all aspects of my life today.

So, why then, am I still eating those feelings of deprivation and loss?

It turns out, it’s one thing to understand what didn’t have, and it’s quite another thing to grieve it. “Accepting” something, truly, in your deepest being, isn’t the same as saying “Yeah, my childhood sucked and I don’t have a lot family support in my life today that maybe other people, but it’s okay. I’m okay.” I’ve had a lot invested in being okay with things I haven’t had and don’t have. It’s been important to me to be okay with it. So much so that I’ve apparently skipped right over the part where I actually become okay with it. Accepting requires more than understanding, it requires feeling, and in my case, instead of feeling, I’ve been eating.

There’s a hole in my where a normal childhood should go. I’ve been pretending it wasn’t there and using food to fill it up, which doesn’t last. This is not a hole that can be filled. My life and my history had one shot to fill it and it is long past. Maybe the best I can hope for is for it not to feel so big anymore, to shrink it a little, and then learn to make space for it, just as it is. I know that doesn’t sound very hopeful, and yet I feel hopeful. Learning to live with something you never had, as backwards as that sounds, feels a lot better to me than trying to pretend you haven’t got this big hole in you. Maybe I’m wrong. I know I’m not anywhere near the end of this path, but maybe I’m out of the woods at least.

Stitch Fix review tomorrow or Wednesday, and definitely expect some anguish over whether or not I’ve gained too much weight to fit in the sizes currently listed in my Profile. Happy holidays, all!

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