One of my friends is working with a blind student at her university – she goes to lectures and tutorials with her, copies all the notes down, and types them onto a computer that actually speaks! Awesome isn’t it? My friend is really enjoying meeting her friend’s guide dog, a cute, intelligent, amazing Labrador, and also getting to learn a subject for free. Her student is doing a Criminology course – so fascinating!
We both have anorexia, so we talk about things that we might find helpful. My friend’s student took a counselling elective, and I thought I would share this with my readers. I think it could be quite helpful, and enable us to stand back as an observer of ourselves for a while.
Find a partner to work in pairs, and take turns to play the roles of an externalised problem and a reporter who is interviewing the problem. If you are working alone, pretend that someone has asked these questions and write your answers as the externalised problem.
The person playing the role of the externalised problem has to think of a single identifiable problem which has previously restricted their life. e.g. fear, nightmares, tardiness, procrastination, alcoholism, laziness, anxiety, depression, guilt, rage. Take on the role of the problem and speak as the problem using “I” statements.
The reporter interviews the problem about its relationship with the person, as in a TV interview, which treats the problem as an ageing guest or celebrity who has been influential in the person’s life but is now past its prime and wonders what the future holds for it.
Be sure to end the interview with the Stage 2 questions.
Here we go!!!!
STAGE 1: (The problem’s successes)
Thank you for talking to me, Eating disorder. Now, when and how did you first gain a foothold in Fiona’s life?
I crept in from as early as she can remember. When she was four, I was cajouling her to hide her food, to spoon it surreptiously onto the plates of others, and dictating that she was not to give into her hunger. I made her feel nauseous at the thought of drinking.
When her mother was making her go hungry as a punishment, or force-feeding Fiona awful, bad food – “want not, waste not” – I crept in and whispered to her, “This is what you deserve.” And her mother backed me up in her actions.
What is the most satisfying memory you have of derailing Fiona’s life?
When the pretty castles she had built in the sky all fell down around her. She’d built up such hopes and dreams! She’d worked so hard, achieved so much! And all that time I had been chipping away at the very foundations – her healthy body. When life got too much, down she fell. She lost the lot. Ballet, education, people, life.. everything. And there was I, to comfort her in the wake of it all.
What have you managed to do in order to keep your foothold? Can you give some examples?
My success has been about working with the people around Fiona. Every time something has happened that is negative, I grab that and run with it. Someone says something hurtful? I make sure Fiona knows that it’s TRUE, not just that, but EVERYONE thinks that about her. Everything positive, I find a way to turn it around so she really sees and hears it in a negative way. The more she is hurting, the more she needs me to cope with that, to remind her that she’ll always be a failure without me.
I also forced her to push away her friends. Without them, she’s alone and far more vulnerable.
Have you found ways to punish Fiona if she tries to escape?
Oh there are many! Too many to list them all. My favourites are to constantly tell her she’s bad, she’s greedy, she’s wrong, wrong wrong.. and that she will have to PAY. There are consequences, and I make her pay. Eaten breakfast? You better get your shoes on and go for a long, long fast walk. Had too much at this snack? Lunchtime you PAY. You take the value of that snack OUT of your lunch, double that. THAT will teach you.
I have so many ways to punish her. Cold showers. Self harm. Exercise. Restricting. Purging. Endless yelling and screaming at her. No sleep. I could go on and on. But basically, she has learnt that it’s not worth disobeying me.
How have you learnt to identify Fiona’s most vulnerable moments? At these times what tone of voice did you use in speaking to her? What kind of things did you actually say?
Fiona is most vulnerable when she’s down and tired. I never relent, so that I make SURE she is ALWAYS down and tired. Also, when things are not going right for her, when someone has been unkind to her, I have to chip in and make sure she KNOWS they are right and that bad things are all she deserves.
Most of the time I yell at her - drill sergeant style – a tone that brooks no disobedience. But when I sense she’s at the end of her tether, had enough, I switch to cajouling, coercion – “Yes, yes, that’s right, you are doing the right thing, keep on going…” Of course, any sign of defiance and the yelling would be back again!
What kinds of allies have you been able to recruit to aid your cause? (e.g. other problems, habits, beliefs, values, cultural assumptions).
Fiona’s family have been my greatest allies – they have pretty much done my work for me a lot of the time. So have the bullies in school.
Members of the public help my cause by staring at Fiona, by even spitting at her, by making sure she knows that she’s a creature not worth sharing the sidewalk with them (when she was emaciated).
Reading the opinions of others in society, how society has grown more and more fat-phobic and cruel towards others who are different has also made Fiona far more aware of the fact that she is inferior and needs to work hard to go unnoticed.
I managed to suck so much hope away from Fiona, that she stopped believing that God existed, or that if He did, she must be so evil, that He had turned away from her. She stopped believing in ‘hope’.
Looking back, when did your influence over Fiona reach its zenith or high water mark?
My glory was when Fiona was in hospital – emaciated, dying, restrained to the bed, unable to keep anything down – spewing over herself. She hated herself. She’d lost everything. People were disgusted with her because of the spewing and the fact that she was blatantly refusing to help herself. Frustrated with her. I had won.
STAGE TWO: (The problem falls on hard times)
Can you recall some notable occasions when Fiona has frustrated your plan, dreams and schemes?
Fiona allied with the very people I have told her all along are her enemies! The little brown-nosed sneak, she asked the treatment people for HELP. She was HONEST with them! How could she? And then she sneaks around behind my back, tries to trick me. Finds way to sneak food that isn’t right into her meals. Switches skim milk for full cream and sweetener for sugar, without telling me. Adds oil and makes things bigger.
And she eats out! In restaurants of all places! How can you know what’s in the food there? And yet she eats it all, she matches her friends bite for bite. Her friends are leading her astray! And then she hangs around with them afterwards. She has told them about the purging, and they stay with her and help her get through the hours so that it’s too late. How dare she?
The worst thing she has done, for which I still have not forgiven her, was ask to PUT ON WEIGHT. And she did it. Not only that, she has blatantly refused to lose it again. I am SO disgusted with her. Traitor.
How did Fiona frustrate you and restrict your influence on these occasions?
She ignores me. Not just that, she virtually “lalala’s” at me. Bombards herself with things to do and read and watch and surrounds herself with people, to shut me out. So rude.
She’s openly defiant. She answers back! Dares to tell me I’m wrong! As if she would know anything.
She’s blocked my chances of having her binge by removing binge food and planning her shops, using support people to shop with. For the same reasons. I can’t even force her to shoplift food any more, which always made her feel rotten and burdened with guilt.
She’s gone back to church and God – and made more friends there – more people to foil my plans. More faith and hope to use against me.
She shuts me down when I bark at her to exercise more. I get her doing more, more, more, and what does she do? She stops doing it completely! The fool!
She refuses to read the calorie information on packets. She refuses to let me starve her completely. She refuses to get on the scales for me, or look at her body so I can show her how disgusting it is.
What are you noticing about Fiona that has made you start worrying about your future?
I am worried – Fiona has gained so much self confidence in a short time. She’s started being more comfortable with other people, and no longer gives into shyness. She speaks from her heart now, and she is able to listen to her heart more instead of ME.
She’s passionate. I managed to strip all passion from her life, ruin her hopes and dreams – and somehow she’s gotten a hold of HOPE and PASSION and most of all, BELIEF. There was no reason for her to live for so many years – and now there is EVERY reason. This is a disaster – my life is in danger.
What retaliatory measures could you use to try to put Fiona back in his place?
Every trick in the book, I will use against Fiona. I will not go down without a fight. I will bombard her with self hatred. I will twist her self-perspective so that she sees herself as obese and feels herself wobbling and crashing about. I will twist her thoughts so that she hears hatefulness in what other people say instead of the truth. I will cloud her hopefulness with fears of failure, fears of the future, fears of everything, hopefully make her too fearful to venture away from the safety I’ve provided her with. And I’ll make her ravenously needy and hungry. I’ll drive her to binge like never before, so that she feels so out of control, so fat and disgusting and ashamed that she has to admit that without me, she’s lost. She NEEDS me. Only I can keep her safe and starving.
She’ll come back, snivelling and repentant. Begging me to starve her again.
If Fiona continues to become stronger and more independent, what would you do as a last desperate measure?
I’m capable of driving her to kill herself. That is a last resort though – because if she dies, so do I, and I want to go out in a blaze of glory. I will sabotage her so much that she falls down lower than she has ever been before. Sabotage her hopes and dreams so she comes crawling back to me to survive.
At what point do you think you would come to accept that your time is up in terms of controlling the relationship?
I will never, ever, let her go free. She is mine.
If Fiona ended up by insisting that your relationship be permanently changed and you had the choice of either beginning a more respectful and cooperative relationship, or else leaving his life all together, what would you choose?
Respect and Cooperation? They are not in my vocabulary. I do not want to be a bit part player. This is MY show. She is MINE. At this time, I will not even consider handing her the reigns.
Doing this has given me a lot to work with, especially noting how self destructive my ED voice is.
- What about you? Are you game to interview your problem?