I remember the first time my therapist told me to stock my pantry with binge foods—it felt so scary. It felt dangerous. It felt like I would never be able to stop eating. “I don’t know if you realize just how much I can eat. If I buy that much of all of that, I’ll...I’ll eat it ALL.” “Okay, then,” she said assuredly, “make sure to buy enough. Make sure to buy more than enough.”
With her help, I began experimenting. Challenging myself. Giving myself full permission to eat as much as my body needed and wanted. At first, I ate so much, I thought my belly might explode open. It hurt. I cried. A lot. I panicked. A lot. I thought “this will never get better.” “I’m so shameful for eating this much.” “What if others knew how much I eat.” “I am defective.” “I am wrong.”
I kept going. Experimenting with eating faster, slower, while telling myself “You get to set the pace.” With eating “forbidden” foods while telling myself “you are not bad.” With eating big portions while telling myself “it’s okay if you eat more than others around you.” With eating whatever I wanted to eat while telling myself “You get to choose what goes in your body and what stays out.” With staying connected to the present moment while telling myself “You don’t have to disappear from your body when eating.”
Gradually, something started to happen. As I slowly stopped dissociating while eating, I started noticing more about my body. About my hunger and fullness cues. About my emotions. About my needs and wants. I began to enjoy food without the aftermath of guilt, purging, restriction, or overexercise. I began to enjoy sex without any remnants of feeling that I was sinful or dirty. I began trusting myself. Not to do it all “right” but to be able to make my own autonomous decisions and live with the “mistakes” without feeling I had to atone for them.
I realized that sometimes when I thought I had eaten too much, I had really just eaten what my body needed. That sometimes when I had eaten in response to hunger, it was a different hunger than physical hunger, and that that was OKAY. That sometimes eating past fullness made me feel emptier than before. That sometimes when I restricted, binged, purged, or overexercised, the pros of how those behaviors protected me outweighed the cons of how those behaviors harmed me AND/BUT that I still needed to find a way to exist and persist without those behaviors.
The first time I came back and told my therapist that I had purged again after a long period of not doing so, I expected her to be disappointed. To scold me or tell me sternly not to do it again. She looked at me straight on, with no change in her intonation or posture and said “well, did it work?”
This threw me off course in the best possible way. It neutralized my shame with a zap of compassion and curiosity and permission and forgiveness. “No, it didn’t,” I sighed, “It’s not working like it used to.
Purging used to make me feel powerful. Like I had an escape hatch. Like a “Fuck You” to being forced to take in what my body hadn’t wanted or consented to. Purging stopped *working* for the same reason trying to be small stopped working. For the same reason pretending to be something I am not wasn’t sustainable or tenable. My body wanted to be here. It wanted to be. It didn’t want to be hidden or shrunk or controlled or contorted or contained. By others or by myself. And I wanted to be in my body. I no longer wanted to escape it. I liked how it felt to experience my body as home.
When doing my own complex trauma work, I used to cover my face with my hands and curl up into myself. I felt such deep toxic shame. I think I was both hiding myself from my therapist seeing me AND trying not to see her looking at me.
I wouldn’t usually be conscious that I was hiding my face until my therapist would gently say “Maria, you don’t have to hide your face in here if you don’t want to.” Being seen—fully, nonjudgmentally, and with compassion felt viscerally painful. I could feel it in my cells. And, it was so important in order for me to heal.
Sometimes my therapist would ask me after a difficult session if I wanted a hug. I almost always said no. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t want a hug Or because I didn’t feel I deserved one. Working on healing my complex trauma felt like a betrayal to my family. Each step I took a toward healing and integration and taking up space felt like a step away from them. I knew I needed to keep going toward healing if I wanted to survive, but I felt like I was abandoning them. My healing felt selfish even though I knew it was necessary.
If you are reading this, I want you to know that
you deserve healing.
That your body deserves healing. That therapy, healing, and recovery are hard and often come with losses and pain AND are worth it. That you are not wrong for doing what you need to survive. That your body is not wrong for following what its DNA laid out for it OR for how it responds to what it experienced around it. That it is possible to feel at home in your body again. That there is hope. That you are not bad for binging. That you can buy the food you crave. AND, eat it. That if your healing needs to be selfish, that is okay. And maybe necessary. That I believe in you. Yup—me, all the way over here across the internet. That, even if we never meet, that I’m putting energy out into this world cheering you on toward healing that returns you to your body and sets you free.