Family & Friends as Allies

Family and friends are so important in walking alongside people who struggle with both disordered eating and substance misuse practices.  They are the memory keepers and supports. The following is re-printed with permission from David Epston.  The original account can be found at http://www.narrativeapproaches.com/antianorexia%20folder/christmas.htm

It describes how Mandy, aged 23, is meeting with David along with her mother, Donna (late 40s) and her father, Jack (early 50s) early in the new year and are reviewing what is being referred to as 'an anti-anorexic Christmas'.

DE: You were telling me about your Anti-Anorexic Christmas and we decided to record this for the League. You told me that 'Thou Shalt Not Relax or Enjoy The People Around You' was one of Anorexia's requirements for an Anorexia-Christmas. And Mandy, you went on to tell me that Anorexia prefers to isolate and seclude you. And we worked out that 'Thou Shalt Be Imprisoned By Unworthiness'. How else would Anorexia drive you into the prison of unworthiness, Mandy, and keep you from connecting with your family and friends?

Mandy
By not indulging in the festivities and celebrations of Christmas, the eating and drinking and all that sort of thing.

DE:
And how would Anorexia convince you that you were unworthy of participating in the family joys and rituals?

Mandy
I guess by telling me that I don't deserve it.

DE:
And if you said to Anorexia: 'Anorexia, I've heard this for a long time now. I've formed an idea of late that I am worthy. I do deserve sharing with my family." What would it say back to counter your new found Anti-anorexic attitudes?

Mandy
I guess if I did indulge and become social and eat and drink with others, it would try and hit back and make me feel guilty - "You don't deserve that! How dare you!" That sort of thing.

DE:
Say you possessed a rigorous Anti-Anorexia on this occasion, the zealousness of a Joan of Arc. And you said: "I am not guilty. I am innocent!" How would it argue its case against you for your punishment and torture?

Mandy
Isolation. That would be the quickest way to crack me.

DE:
Okay, Anorexia knows a fair bit about physical as well as psychological torture. If you were to oppose it, how would you form your argument that you were innocent of its charges against you?

Mandy
Well, I wouldn't do it by myself. I would call on other people - recruit allies - to convince me.

DE:
How did you go about inviting them to take your side rather than Anorexia's side this Christmas past?

Mandy
When they saw me having a slightly anti-anorexic attitude, they would acknowledge it by putting some little heart stickers on a poster in my bedroom. It was for any anti-anorexic episode or stint, even if it was brief. The poster was at the end of my bed on the window. And I'd come in and there might be two more hearts than there were the day before. It used to give me little bit of a boost. There were just little ....it was just little. It was an acknowledgment.

Donna:
It was just a heart to say we noticed something that maybe she hadn't been aware of. And you said that when you were going to bed at night, that it would make you feel all warm and fuzzy.

Mandy
Yeah!

DE:
Did it warm the anti-anorexic cockles of your heart?

Mandy
Yeah, well that was what we did. That was the project over Christmas. That helped me get through. Anorexia would hit back at that telling me mum was being over generous and made me wonder why she put so many on.

DE:
I suppose it would probably say.

Mandy
(takes over) She only is doing it to make me feel good.

DE:
What did you do then when Anorexia tried to betray your anti-anorexic allies? How did you undermine its tactics to erase their acknowledgement of your anti-anorexia?

Mandy
Oh, I just tried to ignore it, I guess.

DE:
You ignored Anorexia's efforts to misinform you?

Mandy
Yeah, I tried to. Or, I got mum and asked her what each heart was for so I could try to relate the incident or episode back to me. Sometimes I hadn't been aware of being anti-anorexic.

Donna:
(laughing) And sometimes mum couldn't remember why the heart had gone there anyway!

DE:
Do you think your mother is becoming a very astute observer of anti-anorexia?

Mandy
Oh, she has been for ages.

DE:
Just give me one example of an Anti-anorexic activity that she observed about you that you wouldn't have observed about yourself if left to Anorexia's devices?

Mandy
David, I'm prettied worried about the present situation.

DE:
I may be wrong so I'll seek your opinion here. If you could revitalise Christmas into an anti-anorexic one, could those ideas go forwards into the present? After all anti-anorexia isn't restricted to Christmas?

Mandy
It can continue! If it can be done once, it can be done again.

DE:
Do you mind my enthusiasm for such a prospect?

Mandy
NO! (emphatically)

DE:
Just before we proceed, what other 'Thou Shalt' would have operated if you had an anorexic Christmas rather than the anti-anorexic Christmas you did develop? Can you go back to December 24th or 25th?

Mandy
What else? Can you remember, mum?

DE:
Here is one Julia told me - 'Thou Shalt get up at 5am on the morning of the 25th, clean the stove, labour all day long and act as a serving girl?' Did anorexia require that of you - 'Thou Shalt No Sit At The Table - Thou Shalt Serve Others'?

Mandy
Yah, wait on people. 'Thou Shalt Not Sit and Relax and Read but DO!' Thou Shalt not rest the body and mind!'

Jack:
'ThouShalt Continually Think About What The Next Meal Preparation Is Going To Be!'

Donna:
In other words, 'Thou shalt not allow others to enjoy your company'.

Mandy
Yeah! What else did you have on the list Mandy?

DE:
It certainly sounds like an interesting anti-anorexic document.

Mandy
Yeah, we'll bring it in next time we come...

DE:
Do you think it is significant that on the occasion of Christmas that you put up such resistance? It's the most unlikely time, I would have thought.

Donna:
You're right.

DE:
Did either you, Jack or you Donna get a bit Anti-anorexic over Christmas by any chance?

Jack:
I think that's part of the answer. Perhaps there was a supportiveness that made it a bit easier for Mandy.

Donna:
For all of us. I think we supported each other. There was nothing that was like 'Thou shalt always preplan, try and control what's in the environment'. That was another thing we all opposed. Mandy likes to have everything in a box, like what we are going to do every five minutes of the day. She wanted to know everything exactly....nothing could sort of be spontaneous. And we tried to turn it around and every time she started to do this...this control, I'd say - 'I'm not interested. We'll just let it go and when it happens, it happens".

DE:
What did you think when your mother sided with spontaneity, play and delight rather than schedule and boring-ness?

Mandy
Well, anorexically, I didn't appreciate it. I used to find it really hard but did deal with it.

DE:
If you just imagine you were having that conversation in your mind and the voice of anorexia was speaking to you and told you to tell your mum - 'Look, we've got to have the recipe and the menu all sorted out. And we have to eat at exactly six o'clock and the potatoes have to be ready at 6:15 and the pudding has to be done by 7:30". And your mum replied - "I just think things will get done when they get done. And I don't really want to live according to a schedule. I want to live according to fun". What would anorexia say about your mother on such an occasion?

Mandy
Oh probably she was an enemy.

DE:
And you should do what to her?

Mandy
Oh, get angry and resentful, I guess. Try to make her feel guilty or something.

DE:
If Anorexia was operating through you, would it say something like - 'Mum, you know you can't do this. It's just not right. This is improper. This won't be a PERFECT Christmas?"

Jack:
No, it wouldn't encourage Mandy to say that. It would be through her actions, wouldn't it?

Donna:
Probably.

Jack:
It would say to her - "Look, your mother is not conforming to having everything done on time. You'd better go and start peeling the potatoes."

Jack:
Normally, in that scenario Mandy would race off and start doing these things.

DE:
And would she then withdraw and make you very aware that she's upset doing your work?

Donna:
Oh yes.

DE:
Can I ask, Mandy - what do you think people at your Christmas would have preferred - to talk with you or be served by you?

Mandy
Oh, talk with me, I think.

DE:
Why would they want to talk with you?

Mandy
Because people feel unrelaxed about me getting up and doing all the work when they are sitting around doing nothing.

DE:
Do you think they feel guilty?

Mandy
Yeah.

DE:
Donna and Jack, do you have to compete with her to do more labour...?

Donna:
To stop her doing it and making her weigh less.

DE:
Is that how Anorexia operates here? I"m just trying to see through it.

Mandy
Yeah.