When I started therapy in my mid-20s to heal from my eating disorder, the psychologists often told me, "Here's another tool you can add to your tool belt," as they shared ways in which I could think/be/do that were different from what I'd thought/been/done.
These tools included taking deep breaths, journaling, putting on music, beating pillows, going for a walk, calling a friend, and attending support groups. Yet, after being on a constant healing quest since completing that program, one that's included a slew of traditional and non-traditional modalities, here's what I've learned:
Sometimes, all the tools in the world simply don't work — and, that's okay.
During one of my yoga teacher trainings, Kathryn Budig said, "A pose will come to you when it's ready."
That simple statement has proven true in much of my life. I've learned that when my soul is ready, it'll let something go or open up to something new; when it's not, it won't.
All of the therapy in the world was not enough when my will to overeat took hold.
I tried taping the fridge shut, hiding food, throwing it all away. But, if I wanted to binge, so that I could avoid feeling something or seek comfort, then I wouldn't hesitate to rifle through the trash and find some temporary salvation. But no one tells you this in therapy, that there are moments when no amount of rationalization or coping will help.
Sure, I'd call a friend, because that's what we were told to do. And, while chatting with her, I'd shove food into my mouth, talking long enough to finish compulsively eating before hanging up, eating some more, then feeling like a failure. I went for walks, danced in my living room, watched TV, read a book. I did EVERYTHING and still, sometimes I binged. Big time. Big, big time.
I’m here to say that sometimes, everything we know just doesn’t work. But, the fact that we keep going, that we still claw our way forward in our personal battles — this is victory. Because something changes every time and we don’t know what good feels like without knowing how bad hurts.
Healing isn't about a perfect process. It's rife with missteps, with learning what serves us and what doesn’t through the falls we take. As hard as it is to understand, for some of us, hitting rock bottom is imperative to get to a point where we’re truly ready to stop, shift and change.
I'm not an expert in psychotherapy. I'm speaking from experience, because I believe that by living through something, it often trumps anything we learn in philosophies, books, or hearsay. When we personally live it, the lesson becomes real.
Applying our higher understandings may benefit us in one moment and prove completely ineffective the moment just after that. That even throughout my years upon years of devoted yogic learnings, healing programs, and interactions with leading luminaries, I may still revert to the thing that no longer serves me, because truth be told, in a dysfunctional way, it still does, otherwise I wouldn't do it anymore.
Welcome to the human experience.
So, what can we do?
We can remove the guilt and shame associated with feeling like we're failing. Whenever we compare ourselves to this perfect ideal of who we think we should be and hold ourselves against a template of how we think healing should look, then we just continue to spiral downward into self-loathing.
Let's talk about things, like how we're not failing at being good people, but that we're just being human. Let's understand that for as many people as there are on this planet, there are that many ways towards enlightenment.
Because even when we know better, and we still choose the short-term relief and long-term grief option, our souls are still trying to love us in ways that simply aren't effective anymore. And that's a kindness we are doing for ourselves. This is how we're letting the pose come to us when we're ready.
I'm not making excuses. I'm not saying we throw our hands up in the air and give up. I'm saying that we take a deep breath in, then a deeper breath out and do our best to let it go, so that we can move forward. The one constant we can count on is change. Nothing will be like this forever. Even if all the tools don't work right now, maybe in the next moment, something new will.
One of the other lessons I gained in therapy is, "You can never go back to square one."
Once you're on the path towards healing, your eyes are open and even if it looks the same on the outside, it never feels quite the same on the inside.
So maybe one of the tools did work after all...