There is the famous quote that ‘Knowledge is Power’. When I used to hear that, I used to find it a frightening, almost threatening statement – someone knowing something about you made you vulnerable; telling people things made you weak. (As with most other negative thoughts I had, this only ever applied to me. I didn’t think anyone else was weak, or use my knowledge of others to control or manipulate them).
Now I think of that phrase entirely differently: the words haven’t changed a bit, but my perspective has shifted completely. I hear the words ‘Knowledge is Power’ and it reminds me of my own strength and my responsibility to learn how best to take care of myself.
The more you know about your eating disorder (or anxiety disorder, or depression, etc etc), the better equipped you will be to handle it. It can be complicated at first. I remember my therapist asking me every week how I felt about this or that, what I thought my triggers might be, how I could avoid repeating mistakes, and I would always reply, disconsolately, I don’t know – not to be deliberately awkward, but because I genuinely had no clue. I didn’t know what my problem was, I didn’t know why my issues had started and I definitely didn’t know how to fix them.
You might need to try different therapies or therapists until you find the one that works for you, but in my opinion, therapy is the best thing you can do in terms of arming yourself with the knowledge you need to be able to truly recover. Good therapists know how to work with you to help you uncover the answers you need. They also know that this may take a lot of time and a lot of patience and can reassure you of this when you feel like you’re not making progress or backpedalling. Good therapists know when to push and when to back off. What questions to ask and when to ask them. They can make suggestions you’d never have thought of, lead you to conclusions you may never have otherwise found.
I tried Interpersonal Therapy, and twice went through a 20 session Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course. Both types of therapy helped, but ultimately, after each, I relapsed. This last time, I worked with a therapist who specialised in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, so we focused largely on that, with sprinklings of CBT and interpersonal therapies as and when needed.
DBT isn’t the kind of therapy where you talk a lot about your past. It’s about finding effective ways to cope with your present. How to challenge thoughts, how to nurture and self-soothe, how to tolerate distress, how to create a life that you want to live. Which sounds like every self-help book ever written, I know, but it’s actually very practical – and it works. For the first time, I felt like I could actually learn to live with myself: I wasn’t doing homework exercises just because my therapist had asked me to. I actually looked forward to doing them, and learning from them, and their lessons have been lasting.
DBT also introduced me to the concept of Mindfulness. I’d heard the word before but only had the vaguest notion of what it was – something to do with meditation, I thought; sitting cross-legged on a purple cushion, chanting
It isn’t. It’s about learning to be in the moment rather than worrying about
the past or fretting about the future. And that sounds incredibly broad, and
when my therapist first explained it to me, I thought, oh it’s one of those blanket-statements they use to make you feel
better – ‘live in the moment’, that kind of thing. It’s not like it’s something
that will ever be of any practical use; it doesn’t really MEAN anything.
I couldn’t have been more wrong…hence the mention in practically every blog post I’ve ever written about some aspect of Mindfulness. I’ve become a Mindfulness bore. But it’s astounding how, when you are making the conscious effort to be conscious, you realise how preoccupied and blinkered and consumed you are most of the time.
As well as learning as much as you can from your therapist, I think it helps to help yourself as much as possible, too. Read around the things that interest you. It might be your particular kind of therapy, it might be about eating disorders or depression in general. You might find that something comes up that just seems immediately right for you, as Mindfulness did for me, and read as much as you can about that. You might just like learning and decide to use it as a distraction technique in itself. Learning a new language, for example, gives you something to do, something to achieve, and something to occupy your time with that doesn’t involve food.
As with everything in your recovery, it’s your own personal path, your own personal choice. Everyone’s path will be different. The important thing is to keep building on what you know. Keep educating yourself. Keep learning. The more knowledge you have, the more power you have to help yourself, and the more power you have, the less likely you are to feel helpless and lapse back into old, unhelpful behaviours to give you a false sense of control.