Recovering from an eating disorder is hard work. It requires challengingpatterns of behavior, ways of thinking, and even re-conditioning the way that we experience emotions. In treatment clients are asked to do many things that are outside their comfort zone. This is the only way that they can challenge the self-destructive elements of their eating disorder and establish new ways of living. Even if someone is really motivated to leave behind the Eating Disorder, the tasks involved in doing so are difficult enough to make anyone shy away from them. The central tasks involved in even disorder recovery I classify into two categories:“THIS” and “THAT”.
When presented with the various recovery challenges, clients will often say,“OK I’ll do this,” and, “I can take on this challenge,” and “I’m OK with this…but, I won’t do THAT.” “Sure, I will give up excessively exercising, (it really wasn’t bringing me enjoyment anyways). I’ll give up socially isolating myself, I miss the connections I had with people. Sure, I will try eating foods that I used to not eat, but… I won’t gain weight or I don’t want to experience my feelings or I don’t want to confront my traumas, I won’t do THAT”.
There is an important time and place for working on THIS in recovery. In early stages of recovery, the THIS challenges are so significant a person needs to devote all their energy and focus to those. In the early stages, they may not have access to anything deeper than the THIS level, and it’s OK, good work can still be done at this stage. However, in recovery theTHIS will only get you so far, but the THAT is really where it’s at. THAT is often the area whereby if a person did do work on it, would propel them so far forward in their recovery. If they were willing to work on the THAT, they could have a sustainable recovery, where they were not just chasing symptoms, but getting to the root of what drives the whole machine. The THATis so challenging because it brings up lots of deep underlying issues, mostly painful ones, and nobody really looks forward to such a process.
In order to get to the THAT in recovery, it’s important to create an environment in which someone feels safe to do so. It’s important to encourage them, and remind them the THIS is important, but there’s also something deeper at work for them. The only way to get to the THAT is by talking about and doing the THIS, which allows them to realize those things are only a fraction of the deeper work. At Cielo House we are committed to creating that sense of safety, which gives our clients courage to really work on a deeper level. There’s a tremendous upside to working on the underlying issues associated with eating disorder. Once clients are able to get to that level, it all makes so much more sense to them. They understand what drives the behaviors they understand that they don’t need the behaviors. They can look at the big scary monster right in the eye and say I can handle that so I don’t need this anymore.
Matt Keck, MFT is Co-founder and CEO of Cielo House Comprehensive Eating Disorder Treatment programs. He is happy to work with clients on this and that, but knows the THAT is where it’s at.