Sharing with you information and other people's experiences of emotional loss.
"It's your fault I'm fat."
This Channel 5 documentary series takes a close and very honest look at why a handful of obese teenagers feel that food was the only way to cope, when they found themselves struggling with life, for whatever reason. This particular episode focussed on 18 year old Ellie, a very overweight and terribly unhappy teenager. She lives in Yorkshire with her mum Paula.
"I turned to food for comfort - it took away the hurt".
Ellie started 'stress eating' after her parents split when she was 12. And this is so common. This need for us to 'numb' our heartache (whatever the reason or cause).This need to 'bury' the pain with alcohol, drugs, retail therapy, keeping busy, self harm and in this case with FOOD.
In the Grief Recovery Method we call these 'coping' strategies STERBS - short term relieving behaviours. Short term these cruxes are necessary, we do need them to 'let off steam', to make the suffering 'manageable'. Long term though, as with Ellie they get out of hand. They can lead to addiction, to 'burn out', to a life of obesity and all the health (mental and physical) concerns that accompany it.
FOOD is a complex STERB as we either comfort eat, which can lead us down the path to obesity.
Or we can binge eat, which can lead us down the path of bulimia; Bulimia (or bulimia nervosa) is a serious mental illness. It can affect anyone of any age, gender, or background. People with bulimia are caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called bingeing), and then trying to compensate for that overeating by making themselves sick, using laxatives or diuretics, going long periods without food, or exercising excessively.
Or we can develop a negative relationship with it, which can lead us down the path of anorexia; Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is a serious mental illness where people are of low weight due to limiting their energy intake. Like any other eating disorder it can affect anyone of any age, gender, or background. As well as restricting the amount of food eaten, they may do lots of exercise to get rid of food eaten. Some people with anorexia may experience cycles of bingeing (eating large amounts of food at once) and then purging (exercising excessively).
With Ellie, like with most people, there is need to ask "What happened?" and she reveals that her struggles began with her mum and dad splitting 6 years earlier. The split hadn't affected her other siblings in the same way as it did Ellie and I often see this with clients. Because we are all individual, we all have different personalities, different needs, different coping strategies. We also all have unique relationships with the other person - even if Ellie had had a sister with the same parents, her relationship with her dad would have been different to the relationship between her sister and their dad. We frequently make the assumption that 'we know how you feel'. In reality it couldn't be further from the truth. No two relationships will ever be the same. Even twins wouldn't have the same relationship with a parent.
It was eye-opening too to hear Ellie say that even though her and her mum are close, they never have heart-to-heart discussions about her weight. And this got me thinking... I know as a parent and as someone who has had concerns and worries in the past, that most of us frequently avoid the ISSUE, 'the white elephant in the room' , but why do we do this? I know in the past I have felt over sensitive, anxious, embarrassed or afraid of upsetting the other person - but as this documentary demonstrates.... our concerns need to be aired, shared and listened to.
"I used to self harm because of the bullying and thoughts of suicide because of the pain I feel".
In her video Ellie made for her mum, she blames her for the lack of discipline, of not being able to cook, of her mum being far too soft on her. She also tells her mum, which was so devastating to hear, that she had self harmed and had even had suicidal thoughts. This was uncomfortable to hear and see, the shock and pain was raw, private. BUT it does open our eyes to the REALITY. That Ellie and other teenagers like her, are often battling in secret.
Ellie talks of 'bottling' up her emotions for far too long, and realising if she is to lose the weight and gain back some confidence something drastic has to be done. It was TIME to TALK. It was time to be truthful.
Her mum did take some responsibility but she also said that Ellie needed to take some responsibility too. And she was right. Ellie does need to take responsibility for her actions too. For her choices. For the food she eats and the exercise or lack of it. With the Grief Recovery Method we ask you to take at least 1% responsibility. Without that 1% you won't see change, you won't find a different future.
Ellie tells us how her weight and body image has led her to live a reclusive life. Again this is very common - to want isolation. She has heard critical remarks from people when out and about. If she isolates herself - she can't be seen - she can't hear these damming comments.
The documentary had genuine depth - they looked 'behind the mask', of food in this case and found heartache and the struggle that pursued Ellie's parents' split. They encouraged Paula to teach Ellie to cook (there has never been a more poignant and necessary time for cooking lessons to be compulsory in schools - surely the education system needs to take this fundamental life skill seriously). I was shocked to hear that Ellie was 18 and having her 1st ever cookery lesson. Ellie and Paula also both seek out the help of a personal trainer.
Finally there was another interesting twist to this documentary - Paula, Ellie's mum admitted that she used to eat everything in sight, when things got tough for her. " I used to reach for the bun or the chocolate bar". And a lot of the time our 'coping strategies' are learnt behaviour from our parents. We watch, we learn, we more often than not copy. Not always but frequently their coping strategies, the alcohol, the food, the retail therapy, the isolation, the hoarding etc become ours too.
If any of this content resonates with you or anyone close to you please do get in touch. The Grief Recovery Method enables you to revisit painful times and accept (as opposed to deny) the heartache they caused you. And then ..... there is this incredible opportunity to apologise and to forgive, to share your feelings in a safe 'space' where you will always be heard, without any judgement and in confidence too.
" And if you really want your mind blown? Ask any woman how old they were the very first time they felt objectified/sexualised by a man, or had something inappropriate said to them or had something'not quite right' happen to them. Most of us were children for the first time."
After reading the article by Julie Balsiger in yesterday's Elephant Journal (online - such a great site) There's so much to say and I don't know where to start. I'm also feeling extremely emotional as I type this . Because this article touches on so much that is wrong in our society and as Balsiger says -
It's got to change.
We have got to make sure it changes.
For the future of our children, our grandchildren and ourselves too.
This may shock a lot of people but so many of the wonderful women who seek support from me have been abused.
100% of those women when they were a child.
100% of those women have been haunted by the abuse/s all their adulthood.
As one woman comments on this particular article -
" I think I was around six or seven. Even at 70 years old, that experience and every detail of it is etched in my mind forever. I vividly remember it down to every last detail."
Sometimes we find the courage to tell someone, so we choose wisely, or so we think - hoping this person will listen, will care, will comfort, will not judge us. But this is so terribly heartbreaking too, because so many clients' experiences did not end as they had hoped. Instead when they told that 'someone', hoping for compassion they found themselves being ignored, the act never spoken about again and often they were blamed - " it must have been the way you looked".
Another woman who commented -
" Sadly, I'm sure many are/were in the resultant situation as I found myself in. When I told my mother what had happened, she refused to believe it!! You can imagine, I've lived with not just the act/acts, but I've also had to live with this on my own! I'm now 57years old and suffering from depression for some 30+ years. "
And sometimes these comments are coming from a place of ignorance, or of not wanting to admit or accept the enormity of such an act. But that doesn't make it right. This highlights two main issues for me -
1. That this kind of response from the person you confided in may say a lot about that person's own childhood experiences, about their own parent's/grandparents' take on inappropriate sexual advances, lewd comments etc. They may have felt neglected too , perhaps they were not comforted, so they just had to get on with it - therefore they feel you should do the same. They may have unresolved grief around abuse too. However this does not make their comments or actions right. Because they're not.
2. What really needs to happen is for us all to become OK with talking about sexual abuse; we need to be encouraged to do so, or it can drive us in to a really bad place - the place of shame - of feeling 'bad', of feeling unworthy, of feeling guilty. And this just won't do. Another string to this painful quandary is that of people feeling uncomfortable around our pain, our fears, our sadness so they try and 'fix' us, they want to 'treat' us, cheer us up. They suggest all sorts ; from taking a holiday, to going out on the town, to buying a new pair of shoes etc etc. But it's simple, what we really need is their time, their ears, their compassion.
Another comment -
"I was in first grade. Boy crept up and put his hand in my panties. I yelled out and the teacher put me outside as a lesson. I ran home."
And this sick story is another one that I hear from time to time, where teachers and other figures of authority, turn a blind eye to the abuse. They walk away, even close the door and leave the young girl with her abuser and then unbelievably go on to discipline her for the offence! Unbelievable right? Sadly it's not. This is real. This is happening right now. Too many blame the child. Too many blame the young girl.
So we need to empower the young girls of now, of the future but we need to also look at what we're teaching boys.
We need to be aware of how we talk to boys. We need to teach them to be Ok with sharing their feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness. Show them healthy ways to do this. Teach them what consent is. And isn't. Teach them that our body is our own, to respect it and the bodies of others.
"Only when women stand up and speak out, do we move forward and gain some rights over our own bodies.... Now for the first time in thousands of years, the door is ajar. We have an in. We are opening up about our own experiences publicly and realising that we are not alone. Thousands and thousands of women have been hiding this shame and allowing it to affect their lives and relationships for decades. How many men are still thinking about that incident - the one that you carry in your soul, that blackens your heart and makes you not trust others, or yourself?"
Wow, powerful words indeed. And that last sentence seemed to take a hit on me directly - as I often find myself saying something similar to my clients. You see the Grief Recovery Method is an incredible programme that looks at how messed up we are in society when it comes to grief, to loss, to being OK with NOT being OK. This programme provides you with the platform to share with me, in confidence and completely without judgement, those hurtful comments that still sting, and those acts of replacement when your pet rabbit or dog died or you were told 'there's more fish in the sea' after your first love broke your heart, but all you really wanted and needed was someone to sit with you, to listen, to care about how you felt.
The programme provides you with the opportunity to see your triggers, what was that early/first event that made you feel abandoned, betrayed? I talk about forgiveness - (the Grief Recovery Method definition of Forgiveness is - ' to cease to feel the pain that has been caused by an offender' - how wonderful is that? Forgiveness is actually a gift to ourselves!) I talk about the heartache, the guilt, the shame, the sadness etc that we often carry for many years and how 'lighter' we could feel, and less laden with the burdens of our past pressing down on our shoulders like a huge sack of bricks, if we were to 'let go ' and forgive. The offender is rarely holding on to any remorse or regret. But we however hold on to those feelings for far too long. It breathes with us, it follows us everywhere, with new relationships, with new homes, with new jobs, with new cities, new countries. But there is a way of 'leaving it all behind you'.. But it requires facing it to move through it. We need to move to the healing phase.
"Every day I tried to be good , to erase the past. But it still wouldn't go away"
Sundays' quote this week is from an old film that I re- watched on Friday night, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee starring Robin Wright Penn, Julianne Moore, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, based on the bestselling novel by Rebecca Miller. I decided to write this blog because the film brought up several key issues that are frequently raised by my clients; mainly that we don't talk about our feelings. We don't talk about upsetting events from the past because those around us really believe it will do no good. How big does 'the elephant in the room' have to get before we explode? Before the tsunami of emotions come pouring out?
In brief the plot focuses on what looks like to be a 'perfect - squeaky clean 'suburban life of Pippa Lee with frequent and disturbing flashbacks to her unstable and wild childhood/teenage years. She was the only daughter born after several sons, to her father, a vicar and Suky, her neurotic mother. Suky was obsessed with her daughter's beauty and even took up life drawing and photography courses to be able to 'capture' her daughter's looks. All Suky's children were badly neglected, for there was no nurturing, no unconditional love, no patience, no encouragement. Her obsession was Pippa, yes but her real first love, the most important thing in her life was actually her addiction to amphetamines. The family were all at the mercy of her extreme mood swings; laughter and dancing followed by extreme anger, unreasonable behaviour and long bouts of sobbing.
We never truly know what goes on behind closed doors. Tragically there are families where parents, grandparents, siblings etc are deemed socially to be pillars of the community and yet in reality family life is far from perfect.
"Every day I tried to be good , to erase the past. But it still wouldn't go away"
My take on this quote is that Pippa Lee felt suffocated and completely fixated by what she felt was her part in the death of Gigi, (Herb's ex-wife), rightly or wrongly. When Pippa was a young lady she met and fell in love with Herb Lee, a charismatic publisher, 30years her senior. But Herb never wanted to discuss the event, so he never allowed the topic to be aired; Pippa had no choice but to keep all her feelings of angst, regret and guilt buried deep inside.
Her true inner anxieties - the whole complicated concoction of them, began to outwardly surface when she and Herb moved in to a retirement home, where life was safe but dull. This is where we witness Pippa Lee 'loosing it'. She found footage of herself secretly binging on chocolate cake in the kitchen through the night, she found cigarettes stubs in the car yet she was unaware that she smoked. She became distant, detached, absent minded, fixated on her husband's failing health and extremely anxious.
She was living a life where she felt she had to be good, at all times, whatever the cost, never putting her feelings or wishes first, she wasn't living a life true to herself. She had to do good, she had to be good, she had to try and put right the wrong she felt she had done.
" I keep seeing her Herb...the past keeps caving in...I can't take it anymore."
And Herb's reply was "Maybe you should take antidepressants."
He felt uncomfortable talking about the past, digging it all up again. Maybe he didn't have the energy or the inclination - he thought antidepressants would make everything alright. But antidepressants aren't the answer - not long term anyway. They can be beneficial short term - they can be the difference between coping and not coping. The difference in going to work or not going to work. The difference in getting out of bed in the morning or not, but long term they're a plaster on a gaping wound. Most of us, in society are like Herb. we say things like "what's done is done." "Don't cry over spilt milk." "What good is talking anyway, it won't change anything."
But that's where most of us are getting it so wrong.
Talking can change things. We can apologise - such a powerful thing to do. We can forgive - let go of the painful memories, let go of the hatred that eats away at our hearts, let go of the disappointments, the shame, the guilt etc. To forgive is such a powerful thing to do. In fact apologizing to someone and forgiving another for painful wrongs have an incredibly profound impact upon you. They make you feel lighter, less 'heavy inside' - less laden with the burdens of the past. It's like starting all over again with a clean sheet.
What we all need to do is talk. Talk about what's on our minds, our feelings, our memories. Be listened to, be heard - share those feelings in this case of remorse, guilt, shame, sadness. There are two fundamental and key components of the Grief Recovery Method that I love and I know they have an incredibly profound effect upon us:
1. Is 'turning the light on' to us, to human beings, and recognising how our society doesn't cope with grief, with loss, with sadness, or any other negative feeling - we get it all so wrong. In our society, we don't cope well with feeling sad (we are frequently taught crying is futile, crying is for wimps etc) and those around us don't know what to do when we are sad (so they try and 'fix us', treat us, distract us). It's a vicious and destructive cycle. So we don't talk. We pretend we're Ok. We keep all the sad stuff buried deep inside. We try and block it out. We try all sorts of stuff to distract ourselves from the reality, to numb the pain. But it has to come out sometime and when it does it could be a tsunami of emotions , falling uncontrollably out of us.
2. The opportunity to apologise for anything we want to sorry for; things said or not said, things done or not done. We also get the opportunity to forgive anyone who has caused us mental, emotional, and or physical pain in the past. With the definition of forgiveness being - "to cease to feel the pain caused by an offender" you can see that it's a gift to us. Forgiveness enables us to stop carrying the hurt inside. Without forgiveness we just continue to feel heartbroken, cheated, guilty, angry, disappointed, ashamed. And some people carry this negativity inside them for years, even decades. When we apologise and we forgive our hearts get 'a new lease of life'. These profound actions enable us to make peace with the past. I can't change the past but with the support of the programme I can change how you feel about the past.
This film also touched upon another element - that of parenting styles and it was interesting to see how Pippa's conscious decision, to parent in a very different way, panned out. Of course there is the' nature versus nurture' argument but in this incident I feel the film is making a point of highlighting Pippa's own tumultuous childhood as the deciding factor for consciously providing Grace with the opposite - with so much 'space', the one thing that she never ever got but craved, from her own mother. So she gave Grace stability, a sense of personal freedom to be herself without restraints, without demands, no bargaining, no pressures. But Grace pushed Pippa away. And Pippa felt her daughter's hatred. Grace showed no outward affection to Pippa, she ignored her mother, spoke over her, spoke down to her. Grace was a daddy's girl and went to lengths to show her contempt for her mother Pippa Lee. As far as Grace was concerned Pippa felt she had failed, she felt she was a bad mother (though she knew she had a wonderfully close relationship with her oldest son Ben.)
And I think Pippa felt this way, allowed her daughter to treat her with contempt, because she felt she deserved it, it was all part of the guilt package, that initially stemmed from the horrors of that fateful afternoon dinner some 20 or so years before. I am a bad person therefore I deserve a difficult, unhappy life ...... I don't deserve to be happy. I am unworthy.
And this is another issue or concern that is frequently shared by my clients, where they still feel anxious, incredibly sad and in some way responsible over an incident or an event where the outcome was not as anticipated, where someone got hurt, usually children and they feel guilty. So they take the contempt, they take the lack of affection, the lack of tolerance, the lack of respect.
But it doesn't have to stay this way... If any of this article resonates with you or someone you know please do get in touch. Please note thought that this programme isn't easy. It's emotionally very tough and I always advise that you have a supportive partner, or friend/s to be there for you when I'm not. Many clients who complete the programme feel better; lighter, wiser, more aware, more tolerant. Some feel empowered too. The Grief Recovery Method could be just what you need to start again from a clean sheet.
Loss & Wellbeing Specialist
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