Telling Your Mind from Anorexia’s Mind and the Kind of Death that’s Required of You
LUCY AND DAVID EPSTON
DATE: 21ST SEPTEMBER, 1993
David: Lucy, I thought this would be a good occasion to review this ‘anti-anorexic therapy’ of ours. I’d like your thoughts and advice about that. What struck you as novel or different about this kind of ‘anti-anorexic’ therapy than those therapists and hospital treatments you have had in the past?
Lucy: The thing I definitely recall is that I would ask you things like this- “I wont’ allow myself to buy something for $5 but if I am bulimic, I’ll end up blowing $40 anyways!” And I would have said that to lots and lots of psychologists. Most of them would sit there and sympathize, at times like cocker spaniels. And I would really be saying to them “why?”…”why?”. And you would say- “Why do you think anorexia is getting you to do that?” You put it back on me to answer the question. Instead of learning helplessness- because those psychologists did not know why- you’d ask me and I didn’t like it when you asked me that.
David: Why didn’t you like that? Were you waiting for the miracle?
Lucy: Definitely!!! I eventually said to her- “Why as I coming along after two years? When is it going to happen?” I was going along thinking they held the ‘cure’.
David: Was it a frustration initially that I disowned the possibility that the ‘cure’ would emanate from my knowledges? That somehow or other it would come from somewhere apart from that.
Lucy: It was pretty irritating!
David: I think you were pretty doubtful until between the third and fourth meeting we had…
David: What were you think and feeling? What was the nature of your doubts?
Lucy: I think I had learned to go to psychologists and psychiatrists and be very resentful at them because they were normal and didn’t have the problem. I would tell them what it was like. But because you weren’t interpreting it…you weren’t trying to analyze it by telling me the answer back. Because you weren’t even doing that. I didn’t even try to tell you what it was like because there was no reason to do that.
David: Did you think I was unsympathetic?
Lucy: No, I didn’t!
David: Could I have been? Do you think someone else could have thought that?
Lucy: When you read me the ‘letter’ to Fran, you used the analogy of the ‘concentration camp’. That was probably the most sympathetic response I had ever received. Yah I would go to psychologists and ask- “Why do I do it?”. They would give me advice like- ‘Do you think you should go for a walk?’ In a way that was a lot more unsympathetic. Like it was my responsibility and if I only took responsibility, I wouldn’t have got it in the first place. So that made me really feel like ‘you just don’t know what it is!’.
David: Was it because their nostrums or prescriptions were so simplistic that it was insulting to you?
Lucy: If they say that to you, you feel as if ‘I could’. I suppose you would have said to me indirectly that ‘Why is anorexia speaking to you that way?’ ‘Why does anorexia not want you to have $40 to buy a dress for yourself?”
David: Look, you actually labelled this in a way I have really appreciated. You referred to this practice as ‘anorexia-blaming’. Can you speak to what you meant by this and how this changes your experience or relationship to anorexia?
Lucy: You called it that, David. I said I feel so useless. It has been going on for years and years and years. And you said- “How about anorexia-blaming?” How can you be responsible for so many deaths all around the world that have been attributed to anorexia? You gave me the idea of blaming anorexia and I wrote it down. It would have been significant in detaching from it.
David: The detaching from it rather than being split by it seems very significant. What do you think was behind your separating from anorexia or detaching from it? How did that become possible for you?
Lucy: When I first came here, I would have been frustrated because I remember you said to me- “What does anorexia say to you?” and I said- “Eat but don’t eat!!!” I didn’t really know. And you said: “What if you spoke back to it?” How can I do that, I thought? That is psychosis. All I am is IT! Then when you mentioned ‘anorexia-blame’ and one description I read. She said it was “a ceaseless taxing of your flesh, energy and self-love”. To me that was apt because I started then to hear the ‘voice’. It was ‘ceaseless’- it goes on and on and on. It also referred to it as “a cruel, merciless bitch!’ It was the objectification of it, I suppose. It is a ceaseless condemnation of me.
David: If that is how you now started hearing it, how had you heard it before? As a kindly coach?
Lucy: No as ME! Previously, I would just try to use my mind and say- ‘Go away! Go away!’ And I would really try to concentrate on a line I was reading and try to overpower it that way. But really what I was doing was only entering another faculty. I was, in fact, running away from it.
David: Do you think you were just side-stepping it?
Lucy: Yah but I felt I was running away from myself. I definitely identified it as me.
David: How have you been advantaged in terms of your anti-anorexia and your freedom to detach and separate from it? What possibilities has that admitted to you and your life?
Lucy: POWER..HOPE. Let me give you an example. I said to you on Monday that I was afraid my father was coming here. You said that I might detach from that…a bit of irony. I must admit all week that I was scared that my father was coming. The minute I said that I thought- “that’s bulimia!” There is no law I have to be bulimic. I reckon it is a monumental testimony to my anti-bulimia that the whole time he has been here, I haven’t been bulimic. Usually, I’ve got to be bulimic..I’ve just got to do it. Just being aware, now at the same time that that’s bulimia!
David: Did you hold on to your own power?
Lucy: Yah…it was a fine edge. I never thought I would. I was just positive that I would be bulimic when they came. He called my thesis “Commie bunk!”, a total put-down, so much ridicule so I was pretty sure I would do it. When those thoughts came, I said “Bulimia”. And a part of me would determine not to gratify that.
David: Did you feel that you were standing up for yourself, for Lucy’s sake?
Lucy: That’s bulimia and as you asked- “Are you going to execute yourself for the sake of your father’s impairment?” Bulimia wants me to disrespect myself and attack myself. For what? I was more able to say- “I don’t want to do it for that!” For any other reason but not for that. I will fight it like death.
David: Has this detachment allowed you to attach a lot more contexts in your life to bulimia? Before we met, what was bulimia about to you?
Lucy: That I was permanently in a state of fear of losing control. I was constantly running away from myself. It was always with me. I’m bulimic. I’m a person that the minute they start to eat, they lose control.
David: Do you now feel that you are more embracing of yourself and finding yourself?
Lucy: Yah, definitely!
David: Is that a pretty new experience for you?
Lucy: Here’s an example from this weekend. I needed some batteries for my ‘walkman’. I went into a panic because they cost $6 and I can’t spend that on myself. And then saying- “That’s bulimia again!” I went and bought three packages just to make sure. That’s like discovering my POWER. I just do it even though I feel very nervous. But afterwards, you know you have affirmed something about yourself against it.
David: Before we met, what percentage do you think bulimia had occupied you and how much territory of your life were you holding on to?
Lucy: I would say about 99%.
David: What do you think it is now? How much territory have you reclaimed?
Lucy: Mmh…about 70%.
David: Not bad in three or four months?
Lucy: Compared to what I was, it’s amazing for me. Why I hesitate is because when it does take over, that day is devastating but the next day I don’t do it and that’s the good thing about it.
David: Can you know take a loss graciously?
Lucy: That is one thing I reckon is important about your kind of therapy is that to start off with, I was really embarrassed to say that I’d been bulimic and that because so much responsibility has been put on me to get better. Now it doesn’t matter- if I was bulimic, I’d stop because it doesn’t matter. Before it would go on and on. Now if I am doing it, it hasn’t got control over me.
David: Of that 70% of your life that you have reclaimed, what have you been filling your life up with that you wouldn’t have been able to express previously? There just wouldn’t have been the room for it?
Lucy: Being more open with people..being able to not fear people dropping around. Being able to walk along the street, not feeling guilty.
David: Is that kind of like pride, or is that too strong a word for it..perhaps self-respect?
Lucy: RESPECT..EQUALITY. That is the part about feeling you are a member of the human race; that is the most joyous part, just being able to walk down the street and to think that I’m not doing anything wrong.
David: Have you been able to take back any pleasures that were rules out by bulimia?
Lucy: I have especially noted that with my cat. I just have time to be giving to it.
David: It’s really an anti-anorexic cat, isn’t it?
Lucy: I now have concern for its feelings. When you are bulimic, you are so devastated that you can’t feel like that. The good thing about detaching from it compared to the other therapies that say- ‘Can’t you take a bath or something?”. After all, bulimia doesn’t take a bath!!!
David: Have you found yourself able to express some abilities that had always been latent but bulimia forbade you to express them?
Lucy: I suppose in my work- reading and writing.
David: Do you now see yourself as a producer of ideas rather than just a reader of other peoples’ ideas?
Lucy: Like yesterday, I was sure when my father got on the plane I would vomit. When he did, I went to university instead to talk to people and to be reaffirmed I think.
David: Do you now feel more at home in the community of scholars?
Lucy: Yah. Bulimia had had enough. Yah, my father and people had had enough.
David: That is a pretty new thing, isn’t it? When I first met you, you were afraid to go to university, weren’t you? When you did seek out the affirmation of your community of scholars, did you strategize about that or did you just find yourself moving in that direction?
Lucy: It was half-conscious because I was very aware that I was so vulnerable. I was very conscious that I had- for three days- been plotting. I was thinking of coming here today. And I said to myself- “why does bulimia want to stop you doing that?” So I had been fighting all weekend. Sort of anticipating its moves. On the other hand, I found myself heading towards university. It was half intuitive.
David: When you got to university, did you feel more powerful or weaker?
Lucy: More powerful. I went to my supervisor and we talked about it. I mentioned a few things my father had said and we laughed about it.
David: In the past, you wouldn’t have talked about your father, would you?
Lucy: I still worry about it. Should I have not said anything? Should I have not been more restrained? But even when my father was here, I said more things….
David: You spoke out for yourself?
David: Do you think he would have been aware that there is more resistance in you…or in fact just more of you? Was he shaking his head? Did he appreciate that or what?
Lucy: Normally he calls me a ‘bloody idiot’ quite a lot. He didn’t do that at all.
David: Do you think there is some respect for you sneaking into him?
David: And how do you think that happened?
Lucy: Maybe men like him seek out vulnerability but also know what they can’t get away with. Before he would have said- ‘bloody rubbish!’ about my abuser and tell me to ‘shut up’. Maybe he know that ever for him, I put myself first. But going into the university, I wouldn’t have done that before. Now, even if I had been bulimic-you know I think this therapy has taken away the need to feel ashamed- I would have been able to there the next day. I wouldn’t have written myself off.
David: Has all this had any effect on your thesis writing?
Lucy: I typed 40 pages and felt I was losing control of it. Even that feeling of losing control, I could say to myself- “This is anorexia’s territory!’
David: Did you step back and have a look at that?
Lucy: Yah, I kept reassuring myself that I wasn’t losing control.
David: You talked in your notes about your ‘unshakeable faith’ in yourself. Anorexia really hasn’t been able to shake it much lately, has it?
David: When you say- ‘unshakeable faith’, does that mean more or less the same thing as personal power?
Lucy: Yah, I suppose so. It is knowing unshakably that you haven’t done anything wrong. You feel guilty but you shouldn’t. You know, David, I have always evaluated myself against others. It has literally incapacitated me to be in the company of other people.
David: Why do you think the metaphor of the ‘concentration camp’ was so important to you in indicating the League’s compassion and understanding of your experience. You are not the first person to say this.
Lucy: I think because when you are in the prison of anorexia and bulimia, you feel that you have lost everything. These are times when you are inside, you get the idea that happiness is for other people but not for you. It is like you have lost all your dreams about life and all that you thought it would be like. And all you thought that people were. It’s not like that. It would have been like that for Jewish people. They wouldn’t have been able to absorb their experience. It wouldn’t have made sense. Your whole life taken over…and gone. every day, you have to question why you keep living. I lost all my faith. I was very cynical.
David: Have you had any further contact with your sister and your mother?
Lucy: Yah. Both of them. My mum has rung a couple of times and I have rung her. It’s really good with them. You can feel genuine love.
David: Do you feel that you can accept their love for you? We talked about how anorexia had gulled you into rejecting your mother’s love?
Lucy: I notice that with my mother. I didn’t want to take anything from her. Not wanting to share emotions. I found myself, when I wasn’t feeling so good, talking to her. I just fired questions at her and hung up. I realized there was something I needed then but I denied it to myself.
David: Do you think she would have been aware that you were running away from the relationship a bit? and her love for you?
Lucy: I don’t know because I wondered and I rang her up a couple of days later. More mother-daughterly.
David: It is common in the history of an anti-anorexic struggle that the reunion of mother and daughter is a relationship of women-respect. Are you finding that you are coming to find things to respect about your mother that before you would have been blind to?
Lucy: Oh yeah. This time when I saw my father, I actually felt sorry for him, thinking that he has missed out on my sister and me (her parents had separated when Lucy was 3). That we could both be good friends and have a laugh and he’s just been so critical. He’s got himself into a corner really.
David: When I first met you, you felt something to the effect that you had lost him and now you are turning it around and saying- “He’s lost us because of his shortcomings.”
Lucy: Also because of his wife because she is an anorexic woman. She has given up her professional career to clean my father’s rich, chauvinist pig’s socks. She is bored. My mother rang me by the way to say that my father would be scared of me now because I am more intelligent than he is. I guess I have picked that up a bit. All my life I thought- “I don’t want to be female!. If you are a male, you get to have fun, money and power. I am now coming to call upon my mother more. She loves her work and would have loved to have done a degree but she supported my father to do his degree because that’s the way it was then.
David: Do you remember taking off a ring you were wearing between the second and third meeting we had? And that was a ring from your father?
Lucy: I mentioned that in a letter to my mother. She said that he had got a lot of mileage out of a $l2 ring. And more and more, I have been realizing that when my father comes to New Zealand I thought of your question- “Did you use your imagination to think up a nice, caring father that would protect and love you?” And when I got that in a letter from you, I wrote- YES, beside it. The reality is that I must have imagined someone who really didn’t exist. My father isn’t capable of protecting or caring and he was sitting over there in Europe thinking of me. And he doesn’t even know me. Taking off this ring was a bit like this weekend when I refused to go and see ‘Rocky” with his children.
David: Do you think he is having second thoughts about you as a person?
Lucy: I think he is having second thoughts about his whole life actually. I think he is realizing that me and sister aren’t that bad. He’s had this attitude that she and I aren’t good enough for him like I had that attitude that my mother wasn’t good enough for me. I think he is realizing more and more that me and my sister are okay. I really like my sister. She’s got heaps of personality. Her job also makes her interesting. Literally every moment this week, I have been fighting bulimia partly because of feeling the panic associated with my father and losing control of my work. But really thinking now- the bulimia is what I said. Every time I am paying for my abuser’s guilt, I have been thinking when I have been fighting bulimia and not wanting to do it because I don’t want to carry the guilt for my father or for my abuser. That helps me fight it. I still feel guilt for my abuse but I now know that that’s unjustified.
David: For some time, you had been living guilt and now you can stand back and critique it. And now that you are doing that, you can apply your own moralities to that. Is the case for guilt getting cut to shreds?
Lucy: I hope so. It’s bad luck what happened but the dynamics of what happened are terrible.
David: It doesn’t have to effect your future. Anything else you’d like to say as history?
Lucy: When I first came, you asked me- “why does anorexia get you to make your appearance in life by disappearing?” I thought about that a lot which totally recast the problem from me going to someone telling them ‘this is what it’s like being anorexia’ and that was it. By saying ‘this is what it does’, you can reply- ‘yes, that is what it does!’. That’s another way of wording that. Then you ask- “why would it do that?” So you start to critique it. The same with when I would say to you, “If I am not thin and young, my father won’t love me any more”. I can imagine the women psychologists I saw- they were trying to be nice but they would go ‘tsk…tsk’. “I am sorry you have a dad like that”. So let’s all learn learned helplessness because you did have a dad like that. So I’d go there and learn helplessness really. But you fired a question and it was in that letter- “are you going to execute yourself for your father’s impairment?” So that was the question. I suppose we co;could have bemoaned what a bad father I drew in the lottery of life. But when it comes right down to it, the question is- “are you going to sacrifice your life for that?” If you think its worth it, fine. It was my choice. I could have agreed to sacrifice y life to that because it is easier. This therapy gets you to be real. You know I had lots of power when I was 8. My power got appropriated by anorexia. I’ve now got war fatigue and what good is that really.
David: Even though your power got appropriated by anorexia and used for its purposes, it is such power.
Lucy: I feel that when I have looked b back, one question you asked was- “how could you be anorexia and have such anti-anorexic thoughts?”. The more I look back to my history of resistance to anorexia, it annoys me to see how often I was giving my power away to the wrong people. Power, but it wasn’t giving it to them that produced that power. It is what I am now doing, spending all this time taking it back. I think I would have rather had it for the past 20 years.
David: I sure wish you had. That’s for sure!