The Best Tool Treatment Gave Me
This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.
By Cami Applequist, a former client in recovery
Most people who know me will tell you that I’m funny. I have always been funny. I always assumed I was funny because that was my role as the fat person in the group.
Now I know that I am funny simply because I am funny. And also because I have had a lot of training. In the process of therapy and recovery, I discovered that I used humor and laughter to disguise difficult emotions.
Here is my old toolbox for things like sadness, grief, and anger:
Did grandma die? Cry for a bit then tell hilarious stories about her amazing ability to eat pork chops with no teeth.
Angry about a mean comment from a parent? Go on a funny rant about lame parental wardrobe choices.
Devastated about a college rejection letter? Make a paper airplane out of it and fly it around the room aiming for people’s heads.
And if no one is around to entertain with jokes and humor and when no one is looking: EAT.… it worked just as well… then when I was done I felt ashamed about having eaten too much, which is a much easier emotion to deal with. No one is laughing, but the bad, sad, angry, disappointed, feelings are gone.
I used those tools very successfully. With them, I built myself an eating disorder in which to house all of the difficult emotions that sat trapped inside of me for years. I laughed often and appeared happy but I often felt miserable.
Treatment for depression and my eating disorder has given me a much better tool for handling these emotions. I call it throwing a fit. It is the exact opposite of how I used to handle things.
Instead of looking like I am handling things well and feeling awful, using this tool looks like it feels awful but actually feels great.
My therapists may call throwing a fit something more clinical like ‘identifying my emotions and appropriately responding to them’ or even just ‘crying when sad and yelling when mad.’ This is how it works:
THROWING A FIT
- I have a difficult emotion.
- I feel it.
Sometimes this simply includes letting the tears come or stomping my foot. But often it includes one or more of the following:
- crying really loudly
- hitting pillows and beating the mattress
- throwing rocks at trees and fences
- stopping my car and beating the hell out of my steering wheel
- screaming so loud in my car I think the windows might break
- calling friends and swearing nonstop for 20 minutes, not even caring if they are listening (strangers work too if your friends are busy)
- crying more
- finally feeling very relieved and calm and tired and going to sleep
Although at times I might say something funny in the middle of my fit, it never includes a string of jokes or food to make it all go away. I don’t stop until I feel empty of the difficult emotion or until I feel finished, at least for the time being.
When I do feel finished I do not want to joke or eat. I want to rest. And usually, later I want to talk about it calmly with someone, to process it with a therapist or a close friend, and then sooner or later it’s over and done and it sort of feels like a miracle.
While in treatment I learned that not only did I need to throw fits about current emotional events – but I needed to revisit things in the past that I still held onto, the things I had laughed away or eaten over years ago.
Several things that “I had dealt with just fine” surfaced in therapy sessions buried in conversations about “feeling fat” or “eating too much” or “being a disgusting pig” and turned into life-changing fits: my dad’s parents dying before I was even born, a lifelong friendship gone awry in 1993, the death of a dear friend to AIDS, and an engagement ending after the wedding was partially planned, and even my favorite dog dying in 1984.
Some of my fits were public. (Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting the grocery store, I’m talking about group therapy.) I was scared at first of losing control and not being able to stop the tears once they started so I needed people I trusted to be present while I cried. Group therapy was safe. Other women there were in the same boat and no one judged.
No one said, “I can’t believe you’re crying about a damn dog that died 18 years ago!” or “You ate WHAT!?” They understood. And with the presence of a trained therapist, we had help helping each other. Which is needed. Beginning to really feel emotions was no easy task and it was often necessary to have a group like psychodrama therapy or simply hearing another woman’s story to help me discover my own buried emotions.
In these groups, we all learned how best to access and deal with our emotions. For me, the answer was “throwing a fit” as it was for many women I have met in recovery. We all reach them differently and “have fits” differently – some people can never cry in front of groups but have been successful alone or in one on one sessions. One thing I know that people who have successfully recovered share is the new ability to let our emotions flow uninterrupted by whatever our disordered food behavior (or joke-telling, or drinking, or exercising, or overachieving…) was in the past.
We all need space to let our emotions flow however they need to flow. Even if it’s in the car with people driving by looking at you thinking you are going to rip your steering wheel off. Just make sure you pull over and stop before you throw your fit in the car. I recommend throwing fits, but only if you are driving safely.
This is part of my personal recovery story. If something I have written affects you strongly in any way, be it negatively or positively, I urge you to take that to your therapist or process it however you see fit. Not everything will work the same for all of us! But SOMETHING WILL WORK and it will be wonderful. – Cami