When Your Therapist Says "Tell Me More" – Don’t Run
By McCall Dempsey
After months of barely floating above water, I am finally finding my footing on life’s uneven shores. Last week I had a therapy session, and as much as I adore my therapist, I was simply not "in the mood" to go.
The appointment was at 2 p.m., and I was having a really productive day in my office – a rarity since my kids are with me all.day.long. Nonetheless, I pulled into the parking lot and thought to myself, "I don’t have much to report compared to our sessions these past few months. I’m fine."
Being the Type-A, scratch-that-stuff-off-the-to-do-list type of woman, I always feel the need to walk into each session with a bullet point rundown of therapeutic problems and leave with action items and goals. My former therapist once said that therapy does not always have to have an agenda. Since then it NEVER fails that my "I’m doing fine" sessions leave me with a spinning head. So as you might guess, last Monday’s session inevitably turned into an all night reflection (and blog, of course).
Halfway through the session, after a standard therapeutic pause, my therapist took a breath and said, “I want to go back to something you said earlier…”
The "let’s go back to something" therapy red flag number one. "Great," I thought. "What’s coming?"
“You mentioned your eating disorder feeding off what is going on in your life right now. Tell me more.”
Now the "tell me more" therapy red flag number two.
My go-to eating disorder recovery speaker phrases immediately began dribbling out of my mouth. Then I stopped, took a deep breath and said, "Can I please take off my eating disorder speaker hat?"
“Please. Please take it off,” she replied without hesitation.
“I am not naïve to think I am immune from my eating disorder returning. There isn’t a magic pill that cures my eating disorder forever. And I work hard every day to stay in recovery.”
“Look,” I continued, “I’m the first one to write about my insecurities, flaws and imperfections. Hell, it’s the name of my blog. I have made it through Manning’s birth, countless moves, Marjorie’s early birth and cancer; I know I can make it through this. But this feels different. Because this, right now, is about me.”
Pause. Let me rewind.
Life has been hard – like really hard these past few months: COVID, homeschool, kids 24/7, losing Claire and a host of other utterly devastating events that are completely out of my control. While my past is full of things out of my control, they were about my children – Marjorie, mainly.
I was able to take care of myself so I could help her. She was my motivation. My main motivation to recover in the first place was to have children. Now I have two healthy and amazing kids who demand a lot, including asking 39,475 questions per day and breaking up their MMA-style fights.
With life more hectic and confined to home now than ever, my body and mental state have taken a serious beating. No, I’m not back in my eating disorder. Yes, I have struggled with major anxiety and, well, really tough cards. All that combines to grasping at straws to make it through the day.
When I open my eyes in the morning, my heart immediately starts beating fast and furious with anxiety, worried about the days to do list:
feeding munchkins, work, clothing kids, breaking up fights, bills, worrying about their screen time, emails, house, caring for others, keeping my family safe from COVID and counting down the hours until Jordan gets home from work to relieve me…
I realized last week that if Jordan does not make breakfast (which he usually does), I would find myself two cups of coffee into my day at 11 a.m. without breakfast. No bueno for my recovery and most of all for my overall health and wellbeing. I always tout my motto: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” And while my coffee cup was overflowing, my self-care cup was empty.
I quickly corrected my recovery oversight and immediately began my mornings with breakfast first and then coffee (all the coffee). To someone else, a skipped breakfast here or there might be insignificant. But to me, it was a red flag that my self-care was falling off my radar.
But like every post I write, I process through what I’m thinking privately first. I want to wholeheartedly understand it. I’ve taken this week to journal, reflect and now write in hopes this will help you dig a little deeper next time your "insignificant" skipped meal happens.
I am nearly 10 years into recovery, and it is still not perfect. Spoiler alert: It isn’t supposed to be. When life is out of control, that is when the eating disorder’s door can creep open a little wider. Speaking out, sharing the shame is how we shut that door back and lock it.
Trust me, it was not easy to talk about. I have an uncanny ability to toss on my "recovery hat" and march on, but I work to stay mindful, be vulnerable and dig a little deeper. Thankfully, I have yet another therapist in my corner who has an incredible sixth sense when there is something stirring a bit deeper, which of course is followed by the inevitable, "Tell me more."
So what would have happened if I cancelled the session or she had not said the proverbial "tell me more"?
Would I have hit the pause button and slowed down? Probably not. Would I have fallen into a huge relapse? Probably not. Prior to our session I had already listened to my recovery’s gift of awareness and corrected the skipped breakfast. But this was so much more than a skipped breakfast here and there; it was giving space and quiet to really listen to my body, and it was telling me to slow down before my train completely derails.
Whether it is 10 years, 10 months or 10 minutes of recovery, the golden ticket is not a cure – it is awareness. Real recovery is about being aware of where you are in life, time and space. Are you taking care of yourself? Are you moving too fast? Are you fueling your body, resting your body, moving your body?
Monday was my STOP sign to slow down, fuel up, find some quiet and get outside…alone (no tiny humans hanging on me).
It is easy as someone in long-term recovery to continue with the motions and not stop to examine those little nuances. Early in recovery, this could have really catapulted into something bigger. But now this is what my therapist calls a "growth edge" – such a therapeutic term and I could not love it more. My growth edge will forever be slowing down to fill my cup. I do not, nor will I ever, use productivity or denying my needs as a badge of honor. My superpower comes in my recovery’s self-awareness; noticing that I am depleted and stopping to make sure I fill back up.
I cannot pour from an empty cup and neither can you. The world is hard right now – really hard. But we can do hard things (thanks, Glennon). Whether it is a skipped breakfast or falling fast into relapse, there is no shame in reaching out for help or hitting the pause button in life to take care of yourself and fill up your cup.
Cheers to filling our cups and taking a minute to quiet our minds and listen to what our bodies are telling us: smash the shame, reach out for help and never be afraid of that "tell me more."
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