From Both Sides of the Couch

A therapist reflects on her time with patients, and her time as a patient.

Denying Ourselves the Greatest Pleasures of Life

What causes us to under or over-indulge so we are unable to experience joy?

When I was struggling with anorexia, my psychiatrist, Dr. Adena* used to tell me that I was not allowing myself to enjoy what most people take for granted as some of the best aspects of life—one being the desire and ability to savor food. Not just delicacies found in fine dining like filet mignon or perhaps a tempting piece of strawberry cheesecake, but just to be able to walk down the street licking an ice cream cone on a summer day.

She also used to add that I was completely denying myself a second delight in life, that being sex. Up until a little over a year ago, several months into my 51st year, I had remained a virgin. The reason this shameful (at least I considered it shameful) situation had come to be was complicated, but the primary cause was the extremely conflicted relationship with my father that had begun when I was a young girl.

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Being an alcoholic, he hadn’t been able to provide a portrait of what a relationship with a man should look like. I was fearful of his drunken wrath and I grew to be fearful of men in general. The anorexia produced a skeletal body which protected me from men—protruding bones jutted out and stabbed anyone who came close.

When I became severely ill, I had an excuse not to have to eat, not to have to be with people, not to have to function as a healthy person would. It was easy and convenient and I colluded with my illness for a long time. I wasted a great deal of my life being ill when I could have been working towards contentment and joy.

My patients also don't allow themselves to experience some of the great joys of life by either under or over indulging. Binging on something, be it food or sex or drugs or the Internet, also denies them pleasure because he or she is so intent on acquiring as much as is possible as quickly as possible. Any joy is destroyed.

As with many substances and/or activities balance and moderation are the keys. Everyone needs to over or under-do it occasionally because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human, and without highs and lows, there would be nothing against which to measure a middle range.

This concept is what I try to impart to my patients continually for it has meaning in much that affects them. I find that be it a substance or activity—which they may be aware that they are engaging in, or not—they are most likely using participating to avoid looking at themselves and exploring why they need this substitute.

I have expanded my menu exponentially, trying and eating foods that I never would have just a year ago. I am now enjoying foods that were not part of my “safe list” back then. This is progress.

I have also had an intimate relationship with a man I met online. We didn’t work out as a couple but we have maintained a friendship—with benefits. Let’s just say I have a lot of catching up to do.

 

 

*Names have been changed

 

Gerri Luce is a licensed clinical social worker who publishes under a pseudonym.

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