BITING THE HAND THAT STARVES YOU
A Conversation with Bridget
Richard Maisel, David Epston, Ali Borden
How does the “manner of speaking” and thinking about anorexia/bulimia introduced in the previous chapter translate into conversation between a therapist and client? In this chapter we wanted to present an actual conversation for you to get more of the ‘flavor’ of these conversations. The conversation below occurred between David Epston and a young woman, Bridget. This narrativezed transcript illustrates some of the ways in which the concepts presented in the previous chapter-externalizing, anti- languages, leagues, co-research can translate into actual conversation between a therapist and consultee. This meeting covered a lot of ground. Because of this, it serves not only to illustrates many of the conversational practices used in Narrative Therapy, but also to show these practices across several ‘phases’ or ‘currents’ of this work with people struggling with anorexia/bulimia. Initially, David is speaking to young woman who is very much captured by anorexia, in fact so much so that she is prevented by anorexia from perceiving her own incarceration. Further into the meeting, after the ‘spell’ of anorexia has been broken, David is able to co-research the tactics and strategies of anorexia with Bridget. Later still, he is able to explore with Bridget some of the ways in which she has begun to defy anorexia and construct an anti-anorexic lifestyle. In this respect, this conversation between David and Bridget introduces many themes that are taken up in much greater detail throughout the remainder of the book.
I could hear them coming long before they entered my premises. Plaintively, one voice wailed- “You are starving to death! Look at you!”, immediately followed by another voice snapping- “Why don’t you leave me alone! I have never felt better!” This went back and forth with little variation, becoming louder as they approached my office. I opened my door and welcomed Bridget, aged l5, her mother and father whom had separated when Bridget was 6, and Bridget’s cousin (aged 30) and her cousin’s partner.
After they were all seated, they began to explain the recent history of their current plight. I learned that Bridget’s family lived in a small city about three hours (by car) north of Auckland. After a short hospitalization which resulted in a disastrous weight loss, the hospital there prudently discharged her. She then moved between her respective parents’ homes. They told of their distress at their inability to provide any relief for Bridget, who, according to them, spent a great deal of her time rolled up in a ball screaming in agony. Finally, they had resorted to having Bridget live with her cousin in Auckland so that she might become eligible for public hospital admission here. They hoped that Bridget would fare better on the Eating Disorders unit at the Auckland hospital than she did at their local hospital.
However, before seeking admission from the hospital in Auckland, they had decided to meet with me. This decision had resulted from a chance meeting they had had with a mother and daughter who had, with my assistance, formed an anti-anorexic alliance that had assisted the 16 year old daughter in retrieving from anorexia much of her life and all of her loving relationship with her mother. Bridget and her mother were intrigued by this and wanted to look into it (what they referred to as “anti-anorexia”) further before embarking upon another hospitalisation.
I convened the meeting by asking everyone’s permission to forego any questions. Bridget looked up from her posture of dejection with mild curiosity. Before she could say anything, I proposed instead that I read from the archives of anti-anorexia. Although no one could possibly have guessed what that might entail, they seemed happy that the screaming match had ended, even if temporarily. It was not very long before Bridget started resonating with many of the documents, sitting bolt upright and forcefully exclaiming, “Yah, that’s right!’ On every such occasion, I would query her -”How was her experience of anorexia comparable to yours? How does that ring a bell for you? What do you make of that?” We commenced upon an enquiry into anorexia and the effects it was having over Bridget’s life and the lives of her parents, friends and relatives. We were all united by this means. In response to a document relating to mother-blaming, Bridget’s mother, without warning, collapsed onto the floor, sobbing convulsively. With time, she was able to tell us that she had always felt ‘Bridget’s anorexia was my fault” and that “every time I saw her in hospital, I thought it should be me in the bed and that I should die”. She told us of her relief to learn that mother-blaming was implicated here. We spoke of the ‘anorexic ruse’ and the means each and everyone of us might have to employ to undermine and counteract it. The question that was on all of our minds and in all of our hearts was this- “Why does anorexia choose the best women of their generation to devastate and destroy?”.
That evening, the family rang to inform me they decided against a hospital admission but instead consulted a doctor who agreed to take over Bridget’s care on two conditions- firstly, that they had to attend therapy every day and secondly, that Bridget had to have two ‘check-ups’ per day. He had adequately warned them that Bridget’s life was in peril.
We met the next day as agreed. Bridget’s mother took over the meeting to announce that from here on, Bridget’s body was of no concern to her; her only concern would be Bridget’s person. Bridget was upset by the prospect of her mother no longer considering her body of any interest and once again began to scream, this time in horror. Bridget’s mother maintained the courage of her convictions and over the hour we were able to reassure Bridget that her mother was taking a stand for Bridget but against anorexia. She was convinced beyond any doubt that from henceforth she would be dedicated to Bridget as a person, not as a body weight.
This meeting, the third in as many days, remains for me one of the most illuminating and inspiring discussions I have ever had about anorexia. Bridget’s parents unfortunately were unable to attend the meeting as they had to return to their homes and their jobs. However, they were sent a video-tape of the meeting which they subsequently viewed.
With concern in his voice, Gerald begins. “She’s just been to her doctor”.
“Do you want to fill me in on that? Did anything come out of that?”
“Yeah, just about her physical condition and how close she is to dying and all that.” He paused, bewildered, “But she still says that she feels fine and Dr. Jones was trying to explain to her…”
￼Not understanding what all their fuss is about, Bridget interrupts plaintively. “But I do feel fine!”
Gerald attempts again to explain to Bridget the danger she is in, “But what I’m saying is that…” but gives up, the sentence trailing off into a desperate silence.It is imperative that Bridget come to understand the peril her life is in. Yet, like Gerald, I too sense that it would be futile to continue to confront her with the dire medical facts. Anorexia’s voice, at this moment, is just too powerful. It will find a way of disqualifying anyone who contradicts its assertions, perhaps by maligning their competence (“they don’t know what they are talking about”), or impugning their motives (“they are jealous of you and just want you to be fat or ordinary”). While Bridget is under anorexia’s spell, I expect that the medical “truth” will roll off her like water off a duck’s back. Instead of arguing the “facts” of the matter, the futility of which Gerald and her physician have no doubt already discovered, I decide to shift the focus away from these facts and on to anorexia itself. I begin by asking Bridget questions which derived from our previous discussions about the ‘anorexic ruse’ and by doing so, contest the veracity and trustworthiness of anorexia. The previous debates that had occupied Bridget and her family for so long now have to be turned on their metaphorical head.
“Can I just ask you why you think it is that Anorexia tricks people into going to their death thinking they’re feeling fine? Why do you think that is? What purpose would it have in getting you to go to your death smiling? Most people go to their death upset or opposing it, especially when they are being murdered, don’t they?”
“I’ve wondered about this”. I turn to Diane and Gerald . “And you’re probably wondering about it too. Probably it is confusing all of us right now. How can anyone be on death row and not know it?” Turning again towards Bridget, I ask her, “How is Anorexia telling you that you’re feeling fine when, in fact, it could kill you at any moment?”
“Well, I’ve got energy.”
“How’s Anorexia fooling you into that? You’re on death row and everyone
knows that except you, although you know it sometimes when you take our word for it.” “Well, if I take your word for it that I’m there, yeah!”
I want to help Bridget attend to the consequences of whose “word” she chooses to believe. “If you didn’t take our word for it, would it kill you? Would it have killed you?” She nods her agreement. “It would have murdered you by now if you didn’t take our word for it. You’d be dead by now.”
Diana, sensing the significance of this last exchange, requests that the interview be videotaped, and I assured her that it was. “Good” , she said, “because this is actually something that she constantly says.”
“It is very important to undo the ruse. Remember the ruse, the trick?” We briefly reviewed what we had discovered about anorexia’s tricks during our first two meetings. I then go on to extend my moral indictment of anorexia. “This is a lethal trick. How do you trick a person into their own murder? This is very sinister. Most people have the chance to fight, protest, spit and scream – ‘Damn you…you can’t kill me..you will never kill my spirit’. Some people who are murdered, at least, can say that back, can’t they? Look what’s happening here now. It’s got you on death row. If it wasn’t for Diana and Gerald, you’d be dead. And I don’t know how you would imagine that – cremation or burial. Can you explain to us? I want to ask you to remember that you’re not only speaking to us, you are also speaking to other generations of women who will come after you and whose lives you may save. It may sound like a trivial thing but you could not only save your own life but many other peoples’ lives. One purpose of the video-taping is that it is for you, Bridget. But at some time in the future you may allow others to see it so they don’t have to die.
I return to my inquiry: “I think we have to understand it’s motives, it’s purposes. Why do you think it would do this – hurt a person and make them think they were happy to die with an anorexic smile on their face? What lethal practices does it use to confound and confuse you? Now you’re on death row but somehow Anorexia is keeping this from you and the more it keeps it from you, the more likely it is that it will kill you.”
With far less conviction, Bridget replies – “I’ve got energy.”
Diana ardently contests this. “You don’t have energy because you can’t walk to the letter box. Last night, you couldn’t move your body to play bowls ( a game commonly played in new Zealand). You don’t have energy.”
Bridget only partly concedes this. “I couldn’t move freely”.
“You really couldn’t move at all.”
Bridget, now more bewildered than emphatic adds “But I feel really energetic.” People in advanced states of starvation often experience a kind of euphoria attributed to the bodies release of endogenous chemicals known as endorphins. These substances help a person tolerate extreme pain and discomfort from trauma. But even if endorphin release is contributing to Bridget’s feeling of well-being, it in and of itself could not account for Bridget’s near obliviousness to the vast array of physical symptoms which inevitably accompany advanced states of starvation, e.g., muscle-cramping, dizziness, headaches, inability to concentrate, growth of hair on the torso and limbs of the body, irregular heartbeat, etc. I believe that it is largely anorexia’s spell which has Bridget focusing on her “energy” at the same time as having her ignore or dismiss any evidence of her rapid physical decline. I am persistently prodding Bridget to think outside of the narrow box in which anorexia has confined her mind. Unfortunately, one of the symptoms of starvation is difficulty with thinking and concentrating; I know that this, coupled with anorexia’s clever deceptions will make it difficult for Bridget to think past the anorexic “givens” of her experience. I am prepared to persist, even beyond her objections, given that her very life is at stake.
My tone become more emphatic. “Okay…okay…okay. If that’s how you’re feeling, how is Anorexia fooling you? Most people when they are near death know that, don’t they? If you know it’s making you feel good or telling you you’re feeling good, then I’d ask you to ask this question of anorexia – ‘Why are you telling me I’m feeling good?’ Why would it do this?! Why does it want to murder you? Why doesn’t it want you to protest or resist? Look, you’re going to you death like a sheep.”
Bridget’s bewilderment deepens and she repeats Anorexia’s line. “Well, I’m able and I’ve got energy. That’s all I know.”
Yet again, I implore her to reply to my question. “Can I ask you to think carefully about this? How does it make a young woman think they they’re fine when it’s murdering them? There was a time when you knew you were in danger, wasn’t there? Some months ago, you would have known that, wouldn’t you?”
To my relief, Bridget assures me with a simple, straight forward ‘Yeah!’
“You have no doubt about that? You would have gone to a doctor and said – ‘Please pay attention to me; I’m in trouble’.” She nods her agreement. I return to the very heart of the morality we are deliberating. “How does Anorexia fool young women so that they walk, smiling, into their execution chamber? How does it do it? Gerald and Diana don’t know, I don’t know. But you do. Tell other women how it happens because other women will walk after you. You have a chance to save their lives as well as your own. If you save your life, you will save others because this video-tape will be kept with your permission and be shown to others who will sit in your chair after you. How does it do it? How does it confuse your mind?
“By telling you you’re fat when you are thin. “
Bridget’s response indicates that, for the first time in the interview, she has achieved some detachment from anorexia and can now begin to articulate it’s messages to her. This detachment from anorexia will hopefully now enable us to engage in a process of co-research and critique of anorexia. This development is the first turning point of the meeting, and I am beginning to experience a sense of relief and excitement.
Bridget, uneasy with her response, inquires “Is that right?” Perhaps she distrusts her own account of her experience after having had anorexia put its stamp on it for so long. Perhaps she is eager to please me by producing an acceptable response. In any case, it is essential that I do not step in and assume the authority that anorexia once held for her. By doing so, I would be replicating in my relationship with her the very dominance anorexia depends upon. I am interested in assisting Bridget to reclaim her own authority.
“I don’t know. What do you think? Tell me..tell us. Is it telling you you are fat when you are thin?”
“Is it telling you that right now?”
She shakes her head in the affirmative and then adds, “No, I do know…I am too
“You know that?”
“Yeah, because that’s what everyone tells me”.
Bridget now returns to the theme of who can be trusted. Earlier, I introduced this theme in relation to the question of whether or not she is in physical peril. Now she herself returns to this theme in relation to her weight and appearance. Bridget, at this point, is still centrally concerned with her appearance, and she has not yet developed an enduring appreciation of her body nor trust in her own perception of it. Consequently, she defers to the opinion of others. Whose opinion she trusts may literally be a matter of life and death. Thus I am interested in asking questions which introduce distinctions which further assist Bridget in determining who is her friend and who is her enemy.
“Okay, there’s anorexia telling you you’re too fat and other people telling you you’re too thin?”
“Who are you believing…who cares about you the most?” Bridget nods towards Diana and Gerald – “Them”.
“Do you think Anorexia loves you?”
With a measure of force, Bridget replies – “No, it’s killing me now!”
“When did you first realize it was killing you? When did it come to you? How did it come to you, because anorexia had been keeping the ‘truth’ from you?”
Bridget gave this great thought before answering.
“When I went into hospital when I weighed * kilograms and I couldn’t stop exercising because the guilt was so bad. I went into hospital so that I wouldn’t ….” She interrupted herself with the revelation. “I tricked Anorexia by going into hospital.”
“Did Anorexia not want you to go into the hospital?”
She nods her agreement.
“What did it say…’they’re making it up’, ‘there’s nothing wrong with you’?”
“But I went into the hospital anyway.
“How did you have both the ability and courage to play that trick on Anorexia to
go into hospital?” Her reply was a kind of music to my anti-anorexic ears.
“Because I, BRIDGET, knew that was best for me.”
“I see. How did Bridget, the Bridget that I know and talk to at times – know what
was good for her? Why I ask is that I am guessing that Anorexia tells you it’s good for you.”
”I FOUGHT BACK”.
“You fought back! What was it like to fight against your murderer?” It’s hard to describe in words the extent to which Bridget has found herself in this conversation. There is confidence in her reply. “The same way it is now. It’s good. It’s fun. If
you think of Anorexia as someone who says things like ‘You’re fat’, you could say back – ‘Well, no, I’m not. Diana and everyone else say I’m not fat. They would know!’ And just play tricks like that.” Smiling light up Bridget’s face as she speaks.
Strongly suspecting that Anorexia wouldn’t just roll over and die at the expense of an anti-anorexic trick or two, I seek to know it’s counter-attack. “What does anorexia do when you out-trick it?”
“It pressures on and tries to say – ‘Well, never mind, go on, you do have the energy to exercise. You can do it!’. And I think I can. I feel like you’ve got all the energy in the world and it’s only when I start to feel my muscles cramp and tighten up that I realize I can’t.”
“What kind of friend is Anorexia to you that it would mislead you?” She replies without any hesitation “Ah, it’s not a friend, it’s an enemy!”
Because Bridget has seen through anorexia and identifies it as an enemy, it is possible to explore with her what anorexia is an enemy of. I know that Bridget, at this moment, perceives anorexia as a threat to the very fact of her life, my interest extends beyond this. I wish to know if, in addition, she perceives anorexia as a threat to the quality of her life as well, and if so, what would constitute a “quality” life for Bridget. If she intends to no longer allow her path in life to be guided by anorexia, I want to know what she would rather be guided by. This enquiry will take us into the realm of her most cherished values, dreams, hopes, and pleasures, the very things that anorexia most likely appealed to in the first place and by which it betrayed her. I am assuming that the more she can articulate and “flesh out” her own desires and preferences, the better able she will be to navigate by them, and the more motivated she will be to overcome whatever fears and obstacles might lay in the path to her “good life” without being waylaid by anorexia.
“There were some things you said yesterday that I thought were worth having on this tape. What were the things you said yesterday that you thought you might like to be doing in terms of this therapy and the rest of your life? You talked about creating a person, didn’t you?”
“Oh yeah, creating a person. I was listening to the audio-tape of our last meeting this morning. That’s what got me through today. That’s what I do when it tells me I’m bad for eating now. Oh, I use that tactic of Lee’s (a member of the Anti-Anorexia and Bulimia League ), I say to Anorexia – ‘Well, even if you don’t want me alive, everybody else does and I’m sorry but that’s the way I’m going to stay!”
“Great! That’s good to hear (glancing at Diana and Gerald), isn’t it?”
“And I’m going to start swimming and wearing all the nice clothes and creating a person who is beautiful. Well, not beautiful because I was never beautiful but I was good enough for me. And my mistake was that, at the time, I didn’t believe that. And so that’s what I’ve got to keep doing and it’s even fun. It’s fun defeating an enemy, when you give it a name.”
I am interested in knowing the history of this discovery. “When did you first realize Anorexia was your enemy rather than your friend? That’s quite an important distinction you know. After all, it’s hard to fight against your friend.”
Diana ventured a guess – “Well, I’d say it was yesterday after our second meeting with you. Last night to be exact.”
Bridget disputed this. “I must have realized it when I decided to go into hospital.”
I try and reconcile these different histories. “Oh, I think I see. Do you think some realizations that weren’t very strong before recently got ‘set in concrete’? You had the glimmer of it….”
Bridget interjects, “But then lost it again! Anorexia got too tough. And everything got too tough.” I commiserated with her.
Diana insisted on catching me up with more recent developments. “She’s actually playing a game with it now. We were all trying to find a name for anorexia last night, weren’t we, Bridget? She doesn’t like calling it Mr.Anorexia. That was my suggestion. So we were trying to find a specific name for it.”
“Yeah? Come up with anything.”
It was Bridget who replied. “No, but I wrote some things down this morning. You see I was lying in bed this morning. And I continued to lie in bed and anorexia said – ‘Get up and do some exercise’. So I said, ‘No!’ and I just laid in bed. Yeah, so that was fun! And I was just writing down things. On one side of the paper there is anorexia and the things associated with it like fear, hate..I’ve got in written down at home. I’ll bring it next time. And on the other ….”
“Is that the anti-anorexic side?” I ask. “Yeah”.
“What do you put on that side?”
“It’s creativity; it’s vitality; it’s flexibility; it’s happiness; it’s acceptance.” “Acceptance of self or acceptance of others?”
”Yah, both. It’s self-acceptance and other-acceptance.”
I was very enthusiastic about Bridget’s distinctions between the practices of anorexia and the counter-practices of ‘anti-anorexia’. For that reason, I asked -“So let’s go to the other side then. Anorexia would be feebleness. That’s the opposite of vitality, isn’t it?”
Bridget concurred and added – “Ah, strength on the ‘anti-anorexia’ side.” “Strength – moral strength, strength of purpose?
“And physical strength”. “Yeah!”
“Murder” , I proposed for the anorexia side
Diana joined in with “rituals”.
“That’s the opposite of creativity . Rituals, doing the same thing over and over
again, isn’t it?”, I observed.
“Yah, I’d say that’s true”, replied Bridget.
Diana urged Bridget to share a very recent anti-anorexic development related to rituals: “Why don’t you share with all of us what you did last night, Bridget?”
“Oh, got some good news?” I said, voicing my anticipation.
Diana hinted to Bridget – “Folding!”
Bridget immediately caught on – “Oh yeah, I folded clothes differently instead of
exactly the same way.”
I immediately extended my hand to Bridget, which she accepted for a
“There’s just all these little rituals. I was remembering back to some of of the
other one’s I’ve had. I realized how hard anorexia made it when I was away and couldn’t do them and how I’d developed new ones without realizing it.”
“I just think it’s wonderful that you’re starting to undermine anorexia.”
“Well, I started to when I was admitted to hospital but then I just got lost.” “Okay, okay. That’s okay.”
Gerald changed the subject at this point, telling me of how they had all watched
some videos of the Holocaust the previous night. Diana commented that “She’s actually thinner than a lot of women that were in those camps.”
“ I need to tell you Bridget, that what Diana said is true but I don’t like to tell you that. But that is the truth of the matter!”
“Yeah, that’s hard for me to comprehend.”
“It’s hard for us to comprehend sitting here. There are no Nazis around the place, no Hitler, but here it is still happening. I guess that’s something hard for us all to live with. Bridget, can you imagine how we feel sometimes when we see this happening to you?”
Diana reminded Bridget of an incident from the night before – “Well, that woman at bowls last night. She made that statement to you and you said she was angry. Maybe seeing you makes her angry. Maybe she doesn’t like seeing something like that.”
“What did she say to me? Oh yeah, ‘Was it worth it?’ Or something like that. And I kind of went – “What have I done wrong?”
I add “I think you might have to be a little prepared for this and a bit sympathetic to them. In the same way that Anorexia fools you, it fools them into thinking you’ve done this on purpose. And they think (and I hope you don’t mind me saying this), that you’re a little bitch. And if they knew you were in a ‘concentration camp’, they wouldn’t say that, would they? But they think you’re having a good time. Are you having a good time? Are
you having a good life? Did Heather have a good life? Did Lee? Everyone knows they’re in a ‘concentration camp’ sooner or later.”
I decided to see if there had been any more developments since our meeting yesterday, so that we might acknowledge, explore, and celebrate them. ”Did any other new things happen between when we parted company yesterday and today from your points of view, Diana and Gerald?”
Gerald commented that “We’re not having as much difficulty in the lead up to meals and during meals but probably Anorexia is creeping in post-meal…She did say something last night that’s probably worth mentioning. It’s the way the therapy is going. It’s like you’ve put her into a fantasy world where she can cope with it. You’ve taken her out of the anorexic realm and had her think of anorexia as a game where she can start to play against it.”
“Oh, I think that’s far better. What Heather ( a League member) had to say was really interesting. I had asked her how she started to oppose Anorexia. She said – “I’ve only been talking to anorexia all these years. In all the therapy I had, I just talked to and about Anorexia. I didn’t know you had to talk against it.”
“That’s right!” , Bridget exclaimed.
Heather’s comment obviously resonated with her so I asked her, “What do you think she meant by that, Bridget?”
“Well, Anorexia just says – ‘Don’t eat!’ and you don’t eat. And Anorexia says ‘Exercise’. You exercise. You kind of forget you can say “Hey look! I don’t want to’, I don’t have to’ or I just don’t feel like it’.” When you talk against anorexia you’re taking a stand for yourself. I found that other therapists and the hospital tend to put the blame on you. ‘Well you got yourself here so you get yourself out’. And that’s the way you see yourself, as somehow to blame for it. And so any guilt you have to go through is doubled. They will say things like, ‘Do you like having people in your life like this?’ ‘Do you like them worrying about you?” And what I’m feeling is, ’No, but I’m still too scared to eat. I’m still too scared to stop exercising because what if I get fat? You know I’m scared. I don’t want to get fat. I don’t want to lose control of my eating. I’m scared that I’m going to like this food too much and I’m going to want more and more. What if I can’t stop? Then I’ll get fat again and everyone will hate me. And then what will I do? But when you look at it and give it a name and when you play around with it and anorexia says – ‘Well, don’t eat that!’ and ‘You’re lazy!’ and ‘Do some exercise!’ you just say ‘Well, no. I don’t want to. I want to get better and when you say I’m fat everyone else says I’m thin so therefore I must be.”
Since Bridget is talking about the importance of being able to trust in and rely upon others’ caring and point of view in countering the voice of anorexia, I suspect that anorexia has attempted to deny her this support. I want to understand both sides of the “page”-the anorexia side and the anti-anorexia side with respect to the significant relationships in her life. Inquiring about this, I hope, will make both anorexia’s lines of attack and Bridget’s avenues of escape more apparent to her.
“Did you think at one time when things were at their worst that Anorexia had totally cut you off from listening to anyone else? Did it cut you off from your mum, your dad, Diana and Gerald, your friends?” She nods affirmatively.
“How did it do that? That’s another thing other women need to know because this seems to be the standard practice of Anorexia. You know what Lee said – ‘It gets you to block out positive messages or that people care about you’. How does it do that?”
Her reply was rather definitive. “It gives you the blame. And you feel bad and you feel guilty and you just withdraw. You feel you’re not good enough for the rest of the world anyway and you deserve to die.”
“I’ve got the sense Bridget that between 4:30pm yesterday and 3:00pm today, a lot has happened for you in terms of your ‘Anti-anorexia’.
Bridget grinned – “Yeah, a lot. I’ve just taken a stand. It’s fun you know.”
“Do you think over the last 18 months that the influence of Anorexia over your life has been increasing? That you’ve had more fun or less fun in that time?”
“Yeah. Until it gets worse and worse and worse. You can’t be happy because you can’t eat because you are too fat. And over Christmas, I found it difficult to eat. It’s like people were watching me and thinking: ‘See? She’s not anorexic. Look at her, she’s just wanting attention. Look at how much she is eating!”
“Do you remember what the woman said: ‘I really didn’t deserve therapy, because I wasn’t, I didn’t weigh less than *.’ So you don’t need to worry about things like that. I actually will take great pleasure in the fact that you get pleasure in your life and you don’t need to prove to me that anorexia has had a great influence over your life.
“Yeah, mine was * kilograms, I think. You don’t deserve counseling until you get to* kilograms.”
“Would it be worthwhile reviewing the beginning you made before we met. You were talking about how meeting Debbie and Kerry had sort of initiated your Anti- Anorexia. I know you got a little bit lost but can we talk a little about how that happened. I’d like to think that one day I could make a duplicate and send this to Debbie and Kerry if that was okay with you.
“She was brilliant. Debbie (Kerry’s mom) and Kerry (16) were the ones that changed my life for the first time over Christmas. I’d been kind of making a little bit of progress but then I just started slipping downhill through stress of school and everything.
“Yeah, right. That would have been hard. So tell me what Debbie and Kerry brought to you that helped you get on your first offensive against Anorexia”.
“They just reminded me of all the things that I could do for myself and the things that I was missing by being this way and the sooner I got there the better. You know, ‘why not start now; why keep going down?’ They kind of shook Anorexia which had such a big control. They reinforced Bridget as a person, whereas I’d been doing to counselors who put the blame on me.”
“I doubt if the counselors were doing that on purpose. A lot of these people wouldn’t know that was the outcome of their practices, right? They wouldn’t know that at all. They’d think they were doing good work. I’ve never met one that had a bad intention. Tell me. What would you tell a counselor not to do if that happened to you?”
“Don’t get mad with the person. Don’t say – ‘You’re selfish’. Don’t say – ‘It’s your fault, look at what you are doing to your family! Stop doing that and just get on with your life’. Don’t say things like that!”
“Do you think they located all the problem inside of you? Is that why they couldn’t distinguish between Bridget and anorexia?”
“You know what I’ve been doing ever since I learned this? I have been asking women this question – ‘Which way would you like to think about anorexia – as a problem inside of you…a psychiatric problem inside of you or an influence that effects many women that leads them into various forms of self-punishment, self-torture and self- execution?
“The second way is the easiest.” “Everyone has so far said the second.”
“That’s important. That’s why I would say these things when I met you.” “Okay”
And that was what Kerry and Debbie helped show me. They gave me hopes and
dreams which were things I had forgotten. I’d forgotten that. I had been so busy looking down that you kind of forget to look up. You forget that there is an up. And so through counseling, you look at the bright and positive things. It’s like Anorexia is negative; everything about it is negative. It’s the way you feel – weak – and it’s leading you into your grave and your grave is down and down is Hell, and Hell is the Devil. Everything about it is bad.
“You just need reminders of the opposite to negative. Your life doesn’t have to be this way. It can be positive, good, up. It can be Heaven. It can be creation. It can be beautiful. It can be all this and that’s the way to look at it.”
“Have you seen a little bit of beauty since yesterday? Have you been able to appreciate some things in the world that you’re living in?”
“Yeah, you do appreciate the beauty more. You appreciate things like sunny days even more. And you appreciate every little feeling so much more. You appreciate the joy of just being alive.”
“Have you been able to appreciate these people a bit more?”, extending my arm towards Gerald and Diana.
“I have always appreciated them except when anorexia was there. Anorexia was trying to divert my feelings.”
“Did it ever convince you that they weren’t good people?” “Never. “
“Ah, that’s good.”
“Shit, I’m not dumb you know!”
“Diana, is there anything you’d like to say to the people who might hear this tape on your experience of having been to Anorexia and back? If you’d like to use this as a platform for your own thoughts, feel free.”
Diana was more than willing to share her own hard won wisdom. “Yeah, I think it’s as Bridget has put across. You’ve got to constantly play games. I mean anorexia will never go away. It’s always there. You can push it to the back of your mind for a few years until something major happens in your life that really depresses or upsets you in some way or another. Then it reappears. The ‘voice’ is talking to you saying ‘You’re worthless. Nobody likes you. Do some thing about it. Physically you don’t look good right now.” Those kind of thoughts that always come back. I think the most important thing is to realize that you’ve got to build yourself up into a person that you do like and you do love.”
“Do you find now that when anorexia reasserts itself that you’re pretty on guard? I suppose anyone would get caught out the first couple of times.”
“Yeah, I’m very on guard.”
“What do you do when you start hearing Anorexia talking ‘rubbish’ about you?” “I sit down in the morning and ask ‘what am I upset about and why?’”
“You look beyond yourself, to your life?”
“I look beyond myself to the way I’m feeling about myself and what’s causing
that. You know, I eventually come to the conclusion – ‘Okay, it’s this here. That’s what is doing it. Let’s get rid of that.”
Yeah, yeah. I think I haven’t been cautious enough to say: “Hey look, under certain circumstances you know this could reassert itself. So be on guard. But each time take advantage of it and restrengthen yourself”.
“That’s right, yeah.”
“It’s just an opportunity. Many Anti-Anorexic veterans will ring me up and say: ‘It’s back. I can’t figure it out’. They’ll be quite upset, and I’ll say: “Well don’t worry”. They’ll say: “It’s terrible. I’m back to square one”. I say: “No, no, no, no we’ll get together and I’ll guarantee that in an hour you will know what it is, and you’ll get back on track, okay? I guarantee it. I’ll give you a money back guarantee”. I might sound a little bit overconfident, but there have been just so many times I’ve been through this with people. I have to say, I’ve never lost any money. “
I decide to extend my example. “ So we get to talking and somewhere along the way I’ll say; ‘Well look, what’s been happening in your life?’ and she’ll say ‘Oh right! I’ve got this new boyfriend. He lives in another town and I visit down there’. And I say: ‘Oh yeah. Tell me, when do you start having these bad feelings?’ ‘Well, when I leave him’. ‘Well, tell me, do you think he thinks of you only as a source of his pleasure or is he actually concerned about you as a person?’ She replies, ‘he doesn’t even know who I am’. I say, ’What do you mean?’ ‘He only expects me to serve him, he’s only interested in what I wear’. ‘I see! I see! Do you find that after the weekend you’re more of a person or less of a person?’ ‘Now that I think about it, I feel actually like a nothing. The more I think about it, the more I realise that when I’m there, I start reading junk books even though I usually read literature’. And I say, ‘Well, what kind of books does he have?’ ‘He doesn’t have any books. Oh, God. I see what I’ve been doing. I see what I’ve been doing. I’ve been degrading myself’. She comes back next time. ‘What’s happened to Anorexia?’, I ask. ‘Gone’. ‘What have you done?’ ‘I ended the relationship. I went back there and I started asking him if he was interested in anything I had to say and asked him to ask me some questions about me’. ‘Ah, so now you know. So now tell me, what has this taught you about what is a good relationship for you and what is a bad relationship for you?’ ‘Well, I know that wasn’t a good relationship for me. I want a relationship with a person who actually values me as a person, not as a pet’. I said: ‘What do you mean as a pet?’ She explained; ‘Well, I realized the relationship this person had planned for me was that I’d be a pretty dog that he would groom, and that I’d be taken down to the ..like a poodle…and get me..put little things in my hair and show me off to his friends at dog shows, and that he would be my master”. “I see, so you don’t think a pet and master relationship are good for you?” “No, no, no!”
“So that would be a typical meeting. People go away and I might see them three years later: ‘Hey, it’s happening again’. ‘Are you into a master-pet relationship?’ ‘Oh
damn, I hadn’t thought about that. Oh, in fact I’ve got this boss who treats me like..ahhh!’ ‘Well, let’s just talk a wee bit about that’”.
“So next time they come and anorexia’s gone again, or largely gone, so I ask what they did. “Oh, I arranged to have a meeting with this person and said, ‘If you want me to work here, don’t ever shout at me again, don’t call me names or I’m gone’. ‘What did he say?’ He said – ‘I really value you and I didn’t know I was doing it’. ‘Well you were doing it’. ‘Okay, I won’t do it anymore’.
Diane, reflecting on how the process of resisting anorexia had led to a strengthening of her own voice, proposed a very fascinating project: “I think it would be very interesting to actually sit down and maybe look at how people who have had anorexia relate to other people now. Because, as you were saying , their personalities come out a heck of a lot stronger afterwards. As I was saying, if they’re anything like me (laughing), they tend to be like that. If anyone’s bothering me at work, I either leave the job or make the person that is bothering me stop. I mean you do tend to get militant about it.”
With Diana having spoken so eloquently about the anti-anorexic wisdom of looking to ones life to understand the circumstances or events that can threaten one’s regard for oneself, I turn my attention to Bridget: “Did you get into a relationship with someone who was a problem for you?”
The similarity in her experience evokes a laugh. “Yeah, it was a clique! It was a boyfriend who was so obsessed with all the other girls. He’d constantly say, ‘Look at such and such, she has a perfect figure…such and such is so beautiful.’ It was kind of like…well, you know, I’m worthless.”
“Was he always measuring you against others?” “Yeah.”
“Are you now more able to discern what a good relationship is for you?”
“Yeah. Someone who loves you for who you are, not what you look like!”
“Is that something you might look for in your life – relationships with people who
accept you for you and don’t measure you up against anyone else?”
Bridget concludes, “Yeah,that’s how you end up seeing yourself through
“Is anorexia talking through your boyfriend and those values in society? Diana,
do you suspect Anorexia is the ‘voice’ of that emphasis on “the perfect figure”? “Yeah, I do agree”.
“Bridget, if anorexia speaks for that, does Diana speak for the power of women, the rights of women, the entitlement of women, and the ending of the abuses against women?”
Diana jumped in before Bridget had a chance to respond. “I was just thinking that for quite a few years after I came out from anorexia I went through a stage of total hatred towards fashion magazines. In fact, anything that had females’ bodies in it..you know, advertising or anything. I mean I still have fights about it, don’t I?”
Both Bridget and Gerald nodded in agreement.
“How long did anorexia have you in it’s grip, by the way? I never asked?”
“I spent four or five years in my late teens not eating. It was probably another
three years before I could finally eat without feeling bad about it.”
“Yeah, you get yourself out of danger, but there is still the anorexia lifestyle to dismantle. It’s a way of life you can survive physically, but your still in a prison.”
Diana agreed, and added, “I’m still vulnerable to it. You know, it took me seven years to get to the point where what anorexia said didn’t matter anymore; to go without being conscious of eating a doughnut and thinking, ‘Well, I’ve eaten a doughnut so now I have to skip dinner’.” She laughs at that now, looking back, seems like an absurdity.
Bridget looked at me and inquired, “Am I still in a concentration camp?” She was clearly distraught by the vision of herself continuing to be confined and imprisoned by anorexia.
“What do you think? It seems to me there are more and more moments when you are finding your way to the other side of the barbed wire. And I think there are times when you find yourself on the inside but increasingly looking out, and looking for a way out. You are starting to be more aware of where the guards are standing, and how you might slip by them. You’ve come a long way in a short amount of time. would you agree?”
“You’ve come a long way in a short time and it’s nice to have you here. When you are over there we can’t come to you. Do you know what I mean? We can’t go in with you and get you. We have to stand on anti-anorexic ground beckoning to you – ’Come! Come over here! Come across to us! We welcome you back here. That is not to say that it’s all over and done with. I think it would be really good, Diana, if you could have some good heart to heart woman talks, because it’s a struggle, right?
Diana readily assented and Bridget said,” I’d like that”.
I concluded, “Bridget, as you said, anorexia will try and blind you to your hopes and dreams. it will try and push you down and then there is only Hell, like you talked about. We are all here to keep helping you in your struggle. If Anorexia drives you back, we’ll be there to pick you up and remind you of what’s ahead of you…to remind you of your hopes and dreams. Do you think we should stop here for today?” They all agreed that this was a good point to end this anti-anorexic conversation.
There were three more to come.