If you're in therapy enough years you will occasionally have some insights, and if your therapist's office has a window you may even occasionally see the sun break through clouds within the same half hour as your mental breakthrough – pretty darn cool.
In my session today we endeavored to find some new approaches to my spending, my compulsive behaviors…if not stopping, at least trying to get inside my compulsion to buy so much art so fast. We made some real progress in exploring how negative self-talk, anti-Sarah thought patterns, contribute to the urges to have something external that I consider beautiful, or at least more valuable and attractive than myself.
My behaviors are strong and my motivations are complex. One of my favorite things about Dr. Sally is that she does not try to simplify me. I have always hated that – in all people, and certainly in a therapist. I am complicated, damn it! Dr. Sally can even outthink, out-insight me, and that's why I pay her and why I go to see her.
Last night I was thinking (kind of a night-before-therapy thought), when you stop compulsive or addictive behavior the key is to get at the pre-thought thought. It's not just willpower to stop the finger from pushing Purchase (I had to laugh when Dr. Sally imitated me doing the finger click, which was almost as funny as my friend Henry commenting on Facebook, “Sarah will stop buying when they pry her cold dead finger off the Pay Pal button”)...beyond willpower, it's how to stop the negative pressures from building up and the thoughts and urges escalating and taking me to a place where I create more negativity for myself by buying.
Yep, it’s so easy to ignore those yellow-triangle warning signs saying HALT (a mainstay of 12-step and self-help programs): Don’t let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. If I made a bar graph of those 4 bad things, mine would be maxed out a lot of the day, every day.
There are many stages where I could fight the buying – and they are all resistant to lasting change. The "just one more" seems like an obvious danger point – you should stop before the last purchase, the last glass of wine that makes too much. But really you should, could, try not to open the bottle of wine or get on the art website...and really you could go back and get at the earlier thinking and living that made you crave satisfaction, attention, ____? in the first place.
(Notice how I changed from the me to you pronoun? That makes this only slightly less embarrassing to write about.)
Behavior changes – so difficult. Not easy.
No magic pill for it. In fact my anxiety pills may contribute to all the purchases – I have a little less guilt and anxiety than I would have had pre-pill. Back then I bought too much stuff but I felt almost constantly horrid about it. Now, chemically enhanced, I buy even more/much stuff but it is easier to let go of the anxiety for chunks of time (during which I buy more).
Many years ago I bought a diet book in the grocery store checkout line, a 1980s version of self-published, displayed next to the pamphlets of vitamin cures and baby names. The author was not a nutritionist or personal trainer but simply someone who had figured out and stuck to behavior adaptations that helped her lose weight and keep it off. Portion control was key – control in general.
She talked about how during traumatic times like having a family member in the hospital she had figured out that by sticking to her diet, she felt more in control of the situation, and therefore better. She was able to reprogram her brain from, Daddy is having surgery and a cheeseburger would make me feel better to, I can't control what the doctors are doing to Daddy in the OR suite but I can control whether I eat healthy meals today. The feel-good feeling of staying on her diet kept her at a better place than a cheeseburger would have gotten her to.
Well…let me state for the record that I have never managed to not eat during stressful times with this kind of rationale. During my semi-anorexic phases I did control (many uses, some different meanings, of that same word in this post) the food I put into my mouth, but anorexia is in a bigger way about a loss of control. Sometimes I wish I could transition myself back to those anorexic days (last such phase was in my 30s) but it seems that in one's 40s the mental and physical mechanics that trigger that kind of eating are almost impossible to summon. (Which is a good thing, riiiiight?)
When I started reading that diet book I was eating something like a Sonic steak sandwich – I came home loaded up/down with the book, whatever trashy groceries accompanied it (probably Pop Tarts and Coke), and a Sonic lunch. I remember so clearly reading, "Don't start your diet this weekend, or after you finish the next big meal – start it now." Literally the words in the book said to me, "Put the sandwich down." And I did.
I thought that was brilliant advice and I believed I could intervene my cravings for deep-fried breaded stuff, I would throw away the 2nd half of that lunch and move forward to skinny glory.
But that was not an anorexic phase, just a plain old diet attempt, and I only lost a few pounds before I binged on a streusel poundcake. How do I remember this 1982 stuff so vividly...a new type of streusel cake mix had just come on the market, very moist, evil science at its best. After eating half a cake my diet seemed irrelevant somehow.
Of course that was many years and many weight changes ago.
It’s amazing what our brains and bodies store.
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- ► 2010 (38)