Planting Seeds of Connection
I started writing this with the intention of exploring eating disorders and the connection, or in many cases disconnection, with the body.
And yet sitting in Reykjavik airport waiting for a flight back to the UK, one week away from Christmas, I find myself fixated on the word connection in a much broader, more holistic sense. I’ve just finished meditating, sat on my suitcase surrounded by tired-looking tourists waiting to check in, so my temptation is to write about how tools such as yoga, meditation and EFT (emotional freedom technique) can be life-changing for the eating disorder sufferer.
And don’t get me wrong, these modalities can be incredibly beneficial in restoring one’s basic sense of friendliness to the self. In the span of a 24-hour day, just 30 seconds of breath awareness in an otherwise food and/or body-consumed headspace may plant a tiny seed of hope in the restricting anorexic’s life. One yoga asana (posture) that the binge eater thought they could never achieve may serve to challenge their strongly held assumption that recovery will never be possible for them. In short, connecting to the body can help, hold and heal.
However, what I propose is that these tools cannot and should not exist in a silo in one’s recovery journey. An “easy” and thus tempting choice for the sufferer, whose illness already wants them to resist connecting with others and all of the delicious temptations that come with doing so, might be to spend hours meditating, stretching, finding this technique or that technique in an attempt to become the perfect “recovered” person. And yet, in doing so, what they may be doing is perpetuating the underlying symptoms of the eating disorder and simply placing its well-established traits on a (granted, “healthier”) alternative.
The Buddhist concept of “triple gem” speaks of three components that the spiritual seeker takes refuge in - the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. To explore this in-depth is out of the scope of this article, but I wish to touch ever so lightly on the latter. The concept of Sangha means community, or a group of people on a similar path. Full of Beans, and all that Hannah has created in this virtual space, is Sangha. A group of yoga practitioners, chess players, and Friday night pub-goers, could be considered Sangha. The “thing”, the anchor, isn’t what makes something spiritual. Rather, it is the intention behind the “thing” and its potentiality to bear fruits of compassion.
So, in returning to the idea of connection, what I am proposing is that there comes a point where connecting to one’s own body in eating disorder recovery may not be enough. That what is truly healing is the connection to Sangha, with others. And this can be terrifying for the sufferer. What could feel more dangerous than allowing others in when that may feel like the exact thing that made them unwell in the first place? What could be more daunting than allowing someone to see your rawness, vulnerability, and just how poorly you still are, when all you want to do is reassure loved ones that you are absolutely FINE?
My advice? Start small. Where the body is concerned, find a teacher to guide you on the path, and be utterly honest with them if no one else. Where thoughts and relationships are concerned, find a counsellor or psychotherapist. They can hold you and your eating disorder with pure acceptance. If they can’t, find one who can.
As a trainee psychodynamic psychotherapist I work with clients to explore how unconscious thoughts and beliefs developed in infancy are at the root of our experiences as adults. The idea is that together, in a safe and supported environment (preferably in person but also online), we might bring the unconscious dark “stuff” into the light and play with different ways of being in the world. We focus on the therapeutic relationship itself, and use this as a test case of sorts, whereby this human, sometimes messy and flawed, connection can be the very water and nutrients that cause the aforementioned seed planted in the body to thrive.
My approach is therefore one of top down (thoughts, language, dreams and perception) and bottom up (using body based modalities that feel most appealing to the client). I am also interested in exploring how connecting with nature, be it animals, trees, the ocean and the soil, can also form part of the therapeutic process. In summary, it is my view and experience that connection is not connection if it doesn’t include another. That to include another can be petrifying, which is why it may be easier to do so with someone who has experience and is at a degree of distance to your family, work and social life.
Self-compassion is possible, it won’t be clean and perfect and linear, but it starts with those little seeds of connection.
Kate Winter is a trainee Psychodynamic Counsellor studying at The University of Brighton and a student member of the BACP. She also has a 500 hour Yoga Teacher Training certification with the Yoga Alliance. Kate works with clients on a long or short-term basis and, whilst still in training, is able to offer counselling at a reduced cost.
You can contact her via email on K.Winter2@uni.brighton.ac.uk or on Twitter/Instagram @BimsWinter.