The Corner: Clients who inspired you
Journal of Systemic Therapies, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2011, pp. 84–96
Last time, I proposed, thanks to a chance comment of Peggy Sax that “some clients bring out the best in us,” that perhaps someone might be interested in contributing a story or two along such lines. Since I haven’t yet received a response, I thought it pertinent to not let this matter rest. I had such a “tale” on my computer that Julie King and I decided to edit and publish in this context.
“Unsuffering” is taken from an email conversation that took place between 2007-2009 between myself writing from Auckland, New Zealand and Julie King writing from Melbourne, Australia. Over this period of time, Julie, who had suffered from anorexia/bulimia for over 35 years was dismayed to find that her daughter, Sophie, between the ages of 13 and 17 was similarly afflicted. However, unlike Julie, Sophie’s life was in peril requiring 40 hospitalizations. Sophie is now living away from home and studying at art school and according to Julie, “happier than I have ever known her to be.” Julie and I previously published: “Cracks—unsuffering myself and my daughter: a conversation with anti-anorexia/ bulimia,” Context: the magazine of The Association of Family Therapy (UK), Oct. 2009, pps. 9–13 (1).
Unsuffering: Julie King and David Epston
Relatively early on in our conversations David introduced me to a neologism of his—“unsuffering.” He acknowledged his source was a song with which he was familiar, written and sung by Lucinda Williams (2). But he had translated it from being “unsuffered” to “unsuffering oneself.” He was interested if this neologism might resonate with me, and enquired:
Are you “unsuffering” your life through your thoughts and deeds? Should we introduce “unsuffer” into the discourse of anti-anorexia/anti-bulimia (anti-a/b) and the world at large? I am very intrigued by such a prospect. Are you?
I was intrigued by this word. It challenged my thinking that had been haunted for so long by my suffering and that of my daughter, and my family. To contemplate the potential “undoing” of this suffering stirred my imagination and my hope. Its introduction into my vocabulary marked another conceptual turning point; it raised the possibility that I didn’t have to remain “stuck” in the quicksand of anorexia/ bulimia (a/b)—induced suffering—but that I could begin “unsuffering” my life through my thoughts and my actions. By introducing the word into the discourse of anti a/b, I wondered if it was a word that could both signify grim resistance and defiance of a/b at the same time as a movement toward joy and celebration.
This word also disturbed me. It brought my awareness to a discomforting conflict I experienced: was it wrong of me to think about “unsuffering” myself while my daughter was so obviously suffering? This was one of the major challenges I faced in relation to the suffering my daughter so obviously endured. Should I feel guilty in the quest for “unsuffering” on anyone’s behalf, including my own? Or was free- ing myself from guilt fundamental to such a quest? In time I came to believe that “unsuffering” myself was possibly the most precious gift I could give my daughter. I could demonstrate to her that “unsuffering” was possible by steadfastly defying a/b’s attempts to rob me of joy. And so this term became a constant, comforting yet stirring companion. It roused me to keep subverting a/b’s slash and burn policy of obliterating all joy, love, and playful abandonment from our family, leaving behind it only ashes of despair. I realized that the word “unsuffering” was also invaluable in an anti-a/b discourse because it didn’t dismiss what is very real suffering. It offered a counter to it. It is a word that can encompass and acknowledge both suf- fering and its undoing. This word continues to bring new meanings to me but the following thoughts were my initial response when I answered David’s questions: How am I “unsuffering” my life? What does “unsuffering” mean to me? I realized that David’s questions often didn’t invite easy answers, but acted as a stimulus to contemplate and come to new ways of seeing and thinking. This was an exciting and empowering process for me.
The concept of “unsuffering my life” appealed to me as a poetic way of being. Some lines from Lucinda Williams’ song—“undo my logic, undo my fear, unsuf- fer Me’’ inspired me to contemplate the undoing of a/b’s logic and a/b’s noose of fear. I noticed moments of “unsuffering” emerging alongside suffering—ephemeral in the beginning like wildflowers suddenly appearing after a rainfall that has just broken a drought. I thought of it as a different attitude towards myself: this attitude allowed for me to receive instead of withholding; it gently opened me up instead of being clenched tight; it sanctioned the taking of deep and full breaths instead of holding that breath in; it nourished instead of starved me; it made visible to me breathtaking beauty that was spiritually sustaining.
As my mind explored the possible and endless meanings of this word, it allowed me to acknowledge my own beauty and wisdom rather than my perceived failings. It allowed me a quiet hope and excitement that my path might be different now; that maybe all my bridges weren’t burned after all. It allowed me to trust that I had companions who knew and respected my wisdom and treasured me.
I also reconsidered some new activities I had been involved in; these activities were those I had desired to involve myself with for many years, but had always deferred. I wondered if they could be considered as acts of “unsuffering.” In early 2007, I went hang-gliding over the ocean, then later that year had a surfing lesson with my kids. I went ocean kayaking with my son, observing the magnificence of whales in the distance and the playfulness of dolphins riding the waves. They were all exhilarating experiences. Were these my acts of “unsuffering” that had been previously ineffable or indefinable?
DAVID: These sure sound like defiant acts of anti-anorexic “unsuffering” of yourself and your kids. I wonder too if the winds that circulated around those cliffs knew that you were “unsuffering” yourself. And if they had, what might they have done to celebrate your “unsuffering” with you? Can you imagine it? I wonder too if the surf that rose and crashed down on that beach that day knew you were “unsuffering” yourself? And if it had, what might it have done to celebrate your “unsuffering” with you?
Our family went on holiday following one of my daughter’s hospitalizations. I wanted to do something that had nothing to do with the treatment of anorexia: the treatment can quickly dominate the life of your family, leaving little time or energy for anything else. Sophie had always loved the beach and so I made a conscious determination to keep moving towards what I felt to be life affirming. I wanted to defy anorexia and take my daughter for a beach holiday because that was one of the only things she was still able to say she desired. The more anorexia took from my child, the more determined I was to defy it. Although a concern existed that we should save all money for “treatment,” I decided that I didn’t want our family’s life to be limited and defined by treatment.
DAVID: Given the above, the fact that you are now “unsuffering” your life and the lives of those in your life, does this constitute something of a revision of your morality, that is what is good? what is bad? how does one lead a good life? Have you in the recent past devised new ethics to lead your life by? If so, can you bring them into text so we can appreciate such counter-ethics to those that anorexia would have you bound to?
This question about ethics was surprising to me and I needed some time to think about it. After reflection I responded that my new ethics included the unapologetic decision to gladly reclaim all that anorexia had denied me: joy, vitality, compassion (including for myself), imperfection, nurturance, tolerance, forgiveness, self-love, and humor. It included the freedom to choose to contribute rather than to sacrifice myself, and a rejec- tion of the belief that to suffer myself would lessen the burden of others. This allowed me a sense of the freedom to both open to and receive new possibilities for my life.
In my experience, an integral part of “unsuffering” myself was the capacity for self-love. Ironically, I had to find this love in a hurry when my daughter was first hospitalized in very poor physical and emotional health. As I was struck with overwhelming guilt and self-blame about her condition, I realized that my own recovery was not complete and I had to fight back again. I knew that if I didn’t resist anorexia with all my strength, I might become inadvertently complicit with it. The only way I could harness that strength was to love myself.
DAVID: Julie, had you realized just what an impregnable force your mother love for Sophie is? Did anorexia ever try to have Sophie die? If it had, would your mother love for Sophie have refuted anorexia with ease or with some difficulty?
If you mean what I think (and I’m not exactly sure) then yes, it did try to have Sophie die. The first time she was in hospital, she was on the verge of being taken into intensive care—her potassium levels were so low that she was at risk of heart attack and they couldn’t get the potassium into her through the drip because her veins had collapsed. At that time it was difficult to refute anorexia; I was so numb, not really comprehending what was going on medically. It was only later that the full extent of the emotional trauma from that day emerged.
DAVID: Did knowing that anorexia had tried to take your daughter’s life “turn” you against anorexia in a way that had never happened before? That you were now “fighting for her life” and your own at the very same time; and that by saving her life, you would in tandem save your own life?
It certainly turned me against a/b in a way that had never happened before. I had never before witnessed its violence so undeniably. It forced me to see what I had been blinded to in my own life. It was indeed the truth—I was fighting for both of us. I realized too that I had still been living a fettered life, somewhat un- aware of the cruel damage a/b continually inflicted on me. My very life had never been physically threatened as my daughter’s was but now I became aware that I needed to acknowledge and fight the more invisible nature of the imprisonment I had experienced for 30 years. I asked myself how I could expect Sophie to resist if I couldn’t. And so I fought. As it was love that impelled me to fight for Sophie, I finally realized that I needed some of my own love too. It was probably the big- gest anti-anorexic leap I’ve ever made, only I hadn’t heard of anti-anorexia then.
Julie, I would have to agree with you that from what you tell me, that surely would have been an “anti-anorexic leap.” You couldn’ t have leapt much further if you had leapt over the Sydney harbor bridge. Did self-love become an urgent necessity rather than what you might have previously considered to be a luxury (after you had satisfied anorexia’s requirements of you)?
Self-love did become an urgent necessity. Until then self-love was a vague con- cept, almost a cliché, something other people spoke of and I wanted, but also an idea I ridiculed and dismissed. The vocabulary of a/b had, until then, only contained the polar opposites—“selfish” or “selfless”; “selfless” was the state to which I aspired whereas “selfish” was an accusatory label a/b applied to me in such a multitude of circumstances that it created the illusion of a constant backdrop—anywhere I looked I would find myself mirrored back as inherently “selfish” and in need of “betterment.” Prior to this, a concept such as “self-love” incited a/b into such vicious and convincing recriminations; any other possibilities I might choose to consider for my preferred self were savagely obliterated. I realized that a/b thrived on dichotomous thinking. David introduced me to another neologism—“self-fullness”(3) that in a very similar way to to “self-love” challenged such dichotomous thinking by providing a mediating term, e.g., self-fulness.
DAVID: Julie, do you self think anti-anorexia needs a term like “self-fullness” to live in between the anorexic poles of selfless and selfish? Without it, will a young woman be batted backwards and forwards between selflessness and selfishness like a ping-pong ball that finally bangs her brains out?
A/b abhorred such concepts, existing as they did between the anorexic poles referred to by David. A/b does not abide the concept of “fullness” in any form and would refute it on the grounds that it meant being “full of yourself,” thereby aligning it with the “selfish” pole as something objectionable and consequently to be rejected. The only way a/b used such concepts as “self-love” and “self-fullness” were to dangle them as carrots, always just beyond my reach until as David put it the “ifs” and “whens” of anorexia’s demands were satisfied, which of course they never were nor could be. In the urgency of those perilous time, self-love became imperative—required right at that moment despite all the accusations of imper- fection a/b charged me with. For the life of my daughter, I had to refuse anorexia placing any conditions whatsoever on my self-love.
DAVID: Julie, are you referring here to some sort of “species” of unconditional self-love? If so, how far does that go to unsuffer you from all the suffering over the course of your life that anorexia has inflicted upon you and your beloved daughter, Sophie?
In those moments it was unconditional!
DAVID: Surely that is a remarkable experience to love yourself unconditionally. Would you consider that the most remarkable achievement of your life so far? After all, anorexia demands unconditional self-hatred and self-abuse, does it not?
It did feel like the most significant achievement of my life. It was something I had previously considered impossible or taboo: I had previously believed self-love to be fuelled by conceit and arrogance. Achieving some species of self-love meant I could finally live without the ever grinding and exhausting guilt associated with feeling unworthy of, and unacceptable to life. It was a huge relief. It was a sig- nificant yet paradoxical achievement, because there was a kind of unravelling of achievement in its making. Previously achievement had been about unattainability, inadequacy, and impossibility. In that way it implicated failure—any movement towards achieve was accompanied by the inevitability of failure.
DAVID: Julie, that is well put, don’t you think?
Yes, as I was writing, it helped me understand the sense of failure that has constantly plagued me in my life, no matter how extreme the efforts I made.
DAVID: Julie, did that understanding you acquired by doing so “unsuffer” you in any way?
Yes, it allowed me to see the impossible snare I was in and to let myself “off the hook.” This new found awareness of the inevitability of failure that was embed- ded in my striving for achievement “unsuffered” me because I could live now live without such a paralyzing fear of failure.
DAVID: Julie,what do you consider you live by now if not with out that paralyzing fear of failure? What would you consider the moral basis to be for the living of your life?
I think the moral basis for the living of my life is compassion for myself, others, and life and a belief in justice. It includes love, forgiveness, imperfection, and the aspiration not to harm others or myself.
DAVID: Julie, what an inspiring moral code! Julie, is a vital aspect of the “unsuf- fering” of yourself and Sophie the convincing of yourself or being convinced of your “goodness”?
I’m not sure if I am convinced of my goodness in an absolute sense. In “unsuf- fering” myself it became vital for me to recognize and experience the disarming beauty, humor, and human-ness of imperfection.
DAVID: Julie: I find the above so beautifully put that it produced a kind of joy in me as your reader. Would you mind, if you have the requisite time and energy, to tell me in some detail how you go about “accessing that unconditional love,” the times you do so even if it is not all the time?
Sometimes I generate all the feelings of love I have for my children then direct that loving energy to myself.
DAVID: Julie, how in the world did you come up with that infusion, if I can call it that? How do you go about generating first the feelings of love you have for your children? And even more significantly from an anti-anorexic perspective, how do you then infuse that into yourself? Does it go straight to your heart? Does it circulate around your body like your blood or oxygen? Does this have to do with some martial or yogic art? Or what?
I started by visualizing the people in my life who it was easy for me to love—in my case, it has to do with my children (Ewan, 20, Sophie, 17, Jules, 12, and Lily, 10. I then generate and hold those loving feelings in my heart. I can then direct that loving energy where I choose. If I had difficulty directing love toward myself, I would imagine myself as a child needing that love. For some reason, it was easier for me to do it this way. Because the love I held for my children appeared to be immune from attack by a/b, I could also immunize myself from such attack if I related to myself as a child deserving of love and protection. It allowed me to bypass a/b’s rhetoric of hate. It was unusual to imagine myself as a child in order to feel worthy of love as it felt like I was separating myself from myself; but really I was only separating from or externalizing the self as a/b had defined it. I could then direct feelings of love toward myself so that I could let them take root in my own heart—experiencing love as a recipient not just a giver. It was unusual to imagine myself as a child in order to feel worthy of love as it required me to separate from or externalize the identity a/b had fixed on me.
DAVID: Julie, I hope you don’t mind me saying this but I find that particularly interesting. That is directing feelings of love towards yourself so that “I can feel them in my own heart.” Would you consider writing about this at some length so others might consider trying it out on themselves? Or is it too difficult for words?
I’m not sure if it’s too difficult for words. It is quite simple yet I suppose it’s dif- ficult to really describe the experience. I close my eyes and visualize my children in my mind and allow myself to feel all the love that I have for them. I let that accumulate until it becomes a tangible force of love in my heart. I imagine anyone can do this by visualizing someone they love or care about. When that feeling is quite strong, I imagine that love, as well as going out to my children, is also coming back to me like a love boomerang.
DAVID: Julie, that notion of a love boomerang made me laugh and cry at the very same time!
It feels unfamiliar and strange to do this and I have to suspend my thoughts and judgment, if only for a few moments and just focus on the feeling of love. I know that this would be very difficult to do with anorexia screaming at you, and it’s something I have only learned to do in the past few years. In some ways I am mothering myself and seeing myself as the same as my children—as equally deserving of love. To access this feeling, I seem to do some kind of conceptual flip by detaching myself from the familiar anorexic driven version of myself. It does feel weird—almost that I’m doing something forbidden—but I just do it regardless of the consequences.
DAVID: Julie, if anorexia would forbid it, you can safely assume you are on very safe anti-anorexic ground here! When all that love for your children is transfused into you I can imagine it must be like something so deliciously sweet . . . maple syrup comes to mind . . . or bottled peaches with the syrup scented with the memory of peach blossoms. Can you describe it for me?
It is mostly an experience of warmth like sitting on a hearth of an open fire warming myself after I had been freezing for a long time. Or basking in gentle sunshine. It is an experience of yielding, softening and welcoming to something forgotten perhaps like opening the door to a long lost friend and having the most heart-nourishing hug. It is something so completely new and unknown to me. It makes me feel that I am like an innocent child who deserves all the love in the world.
DAVID: Julie, what wonderfully evocative descriptions. By the way I am sure you deserve “all the love in the world “that any innocent child deserves.
Another way I accessed “unconditional love” for myself was during an experi- ence with my therapist.
DAVID: Julie, did he tell you how to practice self-love or did you just stumble upon your own Julie-practice of self-love?
He didn’t tell me how to practice self-love—we stumbled on it during a session. I will try and explain it in more detail. It is difficult because it was what I can only describe as a spiritual experience, even though it didn’t occur in a religious context. Because it sounds esoteric, I am embarrassed speaking of it as I am unsure how others will or might receive it.
It was like stumbling onto a life-giving spring of water that was the main source from which my experience of self-love flowed. It gave me a different experience of myself—which I didn’t know was possible until then. I guess it is difficult to believe in self-love unless you experience that very possibility; otherwise it sounds like such a cliché. Many people have claimed over the years that you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else but I never understood what this meant. At the time, such counsel sounded vacuous to me.
What I refer to a religious experience happened early in my time seeing a new therapist. I had been on a range of antidepressants and been seeing a psychiatrist for years but nothing was really helping. I determined to seek out a different psychologist who apparently did bodywork as well as counseling. I was at the point where I wanted to try new approaches.
During the therapy I started experiencing an enormous amount of pain in my body that became overwhelming. Because I felt so supported, I was able to express the pain in quite a cathartic way, though probably not very prettily because I was crying, even screaming at times. It felt that all there was inside of me was excruciating pain. Then I made eye contact with the therapist. That was really difficult for me and I had to resist the urge to shy away. All I could see in his eyes was a gentle and steady compassion. It felt that someone was seeing me for the first time. I felt scared and exposed. Something inside me released and surrendered, then it seemed that all the pain dissolved into nothing and I entered into a spiritual experience of some kind, which I still don’t really understand. I could see the therapist, others and myself from a spiritual perspective—not as bodies as we know them but as bodies of light. It was a place where there was no judgment at all—and absolutely no badness. I found a few words I wrote in a letter to my therapist following that experience. “Something released in me—I resisted the urge to look away. Instead I surrendered and experienced pure love. There was no doubt, no question, only love. I wasn’t the one loving, I wasn’t the one being loved. I was love itself. I could see how beautiful I was from a spiritual perspective . . . a knowing of unconditional love and bliss—freedom—no fear—just light and love . . .”
The therapist acknowledged that I had experienced something profound and although I attributed it to him, he responded that it wasn’t due to anything he had done. I had this experience a few years ago and it has sustained me through dark times. I know now that there is no “badness” in me and that I am an expression of love and consequently worthy of it.
DAVID: Julie, that is truly the most wonderful story I have heard of for a long time and I appreciate the modesty of the therapist concerned. But he did play some part in having compassionate eye for you to reflect yourself in and to see yourself compassionately. Julie, do you think now knowing you were an expression of love, you no longer had to seek others’ love to “unsuffer” yourself? That you now could in a manner of speaking, “unsuffer” yourself as you have so obviously done over the last few years if I am any judge?
I always felt the therapist had a big part to play. He is a wonderful man whom I still see. I trust him. You are right that after experiencing myself as love I didn’t need to seek the love of others to convince me I was worthy of such love. I no longer believed I was “bad” and could therefore “unsuffer” myself. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life that continues to sustain me.
DAVID: Julie, would you say that was an unadulterated anti-anorexic epiphany? I say that because from what I have been told, anorexia sponsors only hate and envy?
I can consider it now as an anti-anorexic epiphany—there was definitely no judgement, hatred, or badness, nor even any question of their existence at that time. Anorexia couldn’t survive in such an environment.
DAVID: Julie, do you consider it a miracle to have known anything devoid of judgment or hatred of you? Given that it was, was it a miracle fashioned by yourself? Was it a kind of “unsuffering” of yourself?
It felt like a miracle to experience this and the effects are far-reaching. I’m not sure if I can say it was actually fashioned by myself because it was an experience I couldn’t have foreseen in order to shape it. It did feel like an “unsuffering” of myself. It was a messy kind of miracle, borne from tears and pain and the courage to confront what was destroying me. I was fortunate to have the support of someone who was unafraid and willing to really witness what I was experiencing and be present. It was quite unexpected.
DAVID: Julie, do you wonder if such miracles, the messy ones, are the best of all possible miracles rather than the antiseptic ones?
It certainly felt like the best of all miracles, despite being messy. It allowed me to experience my life potent with new possibilities, including joy.
DAVID: Julie, are you telling me you are experiencing or have experienced joy? Why I ask is that from what I have been told for many years and around the world, joy is absolutely forbidden by anorexia? In fact, anorexia would try to have you believe joy is dangerous to your “health”?
I do experience moments of joy after so many years of being denied it. I love to dance, usually in the kitchen, and when I do, I feel a kind of joy. Sometimes I grab Sophie and dance with her and she likes it even though anorexia doesn’t often allow her to move her own body much, and so I just hold her and let her move with me.
DAVID: Julie, do you cherish those dancing moments with Sophie in her mother’s arms being danced?
If she’s enjoying it, I do cherish it. I love to see her dance. It also reminds me of when she was much younger and we used to often dance together.
DAVID: Julie, when you dance in this fashion, are you dancing your mother- daughter love? If so, at times can you see such a mother-daughter love taking shape before your and Sophie’s eyes?
As well as being a dancing of mother-daughter love, it is a dancing of mother- daughter joy—celebrating and inviting freedom and abandonment of bounds and strictures, if only momentarily. My children are a constant inspiration for me to practice self-love—to model it for them.
DAVID: Julie, how do you go about loving yourself on behalf of your children’s loving of themselves? Can you give me an example or two so I can form some sort of picture of that in my mind’s eye?
I aspire to loving myself on behalf of my children’s loving of themselves by modeling imperfection and “unblaming.” There is no expectation (I hope) of per- fection in our home. I increasingly let myself off the hook and am becoming less apologetic. We enjoy many pleasures and although I am on a low income, we live in a manner where I try and demonstrate that we are deserving of good things. We have adventures and fun. I am not pushy in terms of achievement. We live with lots of affection and expressions of love that have no conditions. I show kindness toward myself. I give myself time for the activities that help me access my pilgrim- age to self-love.
DAVID: Would you call this a kind of “anti-perfection mothering” in order to shower anti-perfection over your children’s heads?
I had never thought about it this way, but it is a beautiful vision—to imagine anti-perfection showering over my children’s heads. It makes me smile.
DAVID: Julie, how did you design the experience of self-love so there “was no possibility of failure”? This is an important enquiry, don’t you think?
In my experience, self-love remained an experience, not a thought, and was therefore not a target for “failure.”
DAVID: Does this seem as significant to you as it seems to me? If so, can you tell me how you retained self-love as an experience and forbade it to proceed to a thought? I hope you don’t mind me finding this excessively interesting!
I didn’t consciously design it this way. I imagine it could start as a thought in terms of a reminder to myself to practice self-love; but then it changes into an ex- perience or feeling that has a different quality to thought, or at least to my familiar thought patterns. I was able to bypass those patterns because I learned to practice self-love regardless of what was going on in my head. Sometimes it felt like I was going against a gravitational pull toward the spin in my head.
DAVID: I’ll bet!
It’s not necessarily that I forbid it to proceed to thought. It is more a matter that self-love and thought just don’t seem to co-exist. It’s a bit like having the thought that I am going to practice my musical instrument now, or I’m going to sing, and then the experience of that takes over from thinking. The experience of self-love can have visual, sensory, and feeling aspects to it though. When I am feeling love for my children, I am not really thinking about or questioning that love for them, I am just feeling it. It is akin to that.
DAVID: Julie, by preserving self-love in certain domains of experience, did you protect it from a/b trying to talk you out of it, say for example anorexia might allege that are are unworthy of it?
Because I experienced it in different domains than the places I had previously sought it, it was somehow protected as if surrounded by a magical shield. I didn’t even have to attempt to protect it from a/b. I know this is might sound odd. A/b can try and talk me out of accessing it by somehow making me forget about it and by trying to make me believe again in my unworthiness. At such times, the experience of self-love can seem more distant and unreal. But if I have a pathway back to the place of self-love, and when I return to that place, it’s as if a/b can’t operate at all—it’s the wrong atmosphere for it and it can’t survive, as if it has no oxygen. Here a/b that has no power of speech—it’s like turning the tables on a/b. I just realized what a wonderful thing this is!
DAVID: Julie, are you trying to tell me that you “shut up” anorexia or even rendered it speechless?
A/b can render you voiceless for so long but when you experience self-love an- orexia is the one who no longer has any power or voice. A/b will keep trying to sneak in—in between the moments—because it is hard to access self-love continuously. For me the crucial need is to have a route I can follow to self-love—like Hansel and Gretel leaving the trail of bread crumbs to find their way back home. This is the hardest part for me. There is such a strong habit of self-loathing that I need that path and lots of reminders to follow it. To regard and treasure self-love as an achievement required the unraveling of what I previously thought was an achieve- ment. Self-love was an experience that couldn’t really be measured, numbered, or graded. If you feel love there is no grading system, no pass or fail. I suppose anorexia could say, “you have failed at self-love, you are so pathetic! Or pah! Self-love is a ‘wanky’ new age idea that only people who are really ‘up themselves’ talk about.” I think those voices were there before I really experienced self-love. But when you are actually experiencing self-love or love for your family, those voices fall silent.
DAVID: Does self-love and children-love trump anorexia-hatred?
Children-love always triumphs. Self-love mostly triumphs. I don’t question my love for my children; it is immutable and incorruptible. While I haven’t regarded love for my children as an achievement because it seemed such a given, self-love was something previously absent so its advent was an achievement that undermined, unraveled and subverted what was previously an impossibility for me.
DAVID: Then Hear, hear! for both children-love and self-love, don’t you think?
Yeah!! “Love’s the only engine of survival” (Leonard Cohen).
DAVID: Like you, I have said that line to myself many, many times. And I never tire of hearing Leonard sing it! (3)
Due to the length of this story, I have reserved more general comments to the next time round The Corner.
(1) This conversation took place between Julie King (Melbourne, Australia) and David Epston (Auckland, New Zealand) between May 26, 2007 and August 22, 2010.
(2) Lucinda Williams, West, www.losthighwayrecords.com. Warner-Tamarlane Publish- ing Company (BMI).
(3) For further discussions of this “manner of speaking,” see: Maisel, R., Epston, D. and Borden, A. (2004), Biting The Hand That Starves You: Inspiring Resistance to An- orexia/Bulimia, New York, W.W, Norton; Epston, D. and Maisel, R., (2009), Anti-Anorexia/ Anti-Bulimia: A Polemics of Life and Death in H. Malson, and M. Burns (Eds.), Critical Feminist Approaches to Dis-ordered Eating, London, Routlege, pp. 363–385; Epston, D. (2008), Anti-anorexia/anti-bulimia: Bearing witness in Down Under and Up Over: Travels with Narrative Therapy, Warrington, UK, AFT Publishing Company.