by Carmen Cool, MA, LPC
I have a client who has been working for a long time on learning to listen to herself, attend to her needs, have more ease with food, and feel at home in her body. After months of bravery, she sits in front of me, her eyes light up, her shoulders drop, and she exhales: “I think I finally get it. After all the times we’ve talked about self-acceptance and how to trust myself, I feel like there is no drama around food. Now, how do I stay here?”
I smile and think, Darn good question.
I remember the first time I went to Mexico. The air was thick with humidity, and the palm trees whipped back and forth with the wind. As if the salt water, white sand, and a week without e-mails weren’t enough, when I arrived at the resort, someone walked up to me, handed me a glass of champagne and a warm chocolate chip cookie, and said, “Welcome home.”
I was having a similar experience to my client’s—“I love it here, and I never want to leave.”
As time, money, and life events allow, I can go back to that place. And if not in person, I can go back in my own body, welcoming me home to myself.
I once took lessons in the Alexander Technique, which is a way of relearning movement habits so there is less muscular tension. I remember a moment of finally feeling more freedom and ease in my neck, and saying, “I want to stay here forever. How do I stay here?” I felt like I wanted to walk around so carefully so that I’d never lose the position I was in. Which, of course, just produced tension. The point wasn’t to keep this perfect posture forever. As my teacher gently reminded me, the point was to move away from it and know how to come back.
The definition of the word welcome that I love the most is: “I will gladly receive you.”
When we literally or symbolically put out the welcome mat, we are extending kindness and feeling receptive to whoever wants to enter. Of course, it usually feels much easier to receive someone else warmly than ourselves.
When I think of recovery, I don’t think of it in terms of “what” but “how.”
It’s not where we get to—but how we get there. It’s not so much an outcome or event, but a path we walk. And more important, what is the relationship with ourselves as we walk that path?
How much of our experience can we welcome?
Sometimes we feel like we’ve “got this”—we haven’t binged in weeks, or we’re taking in the nourishment that we need, we’re not body-checking or comparing—and then before we know it, we’re right back there again, along with the disappointment, the hopelessness, the “Why bother?”
I had a teacher who would say to me, “Recognize and relax.” My tendency had been more like: recognize what I’m doing, then beat myself up for it, or fall into the oven of shame, or get really tight and constricted, or try to fix myself once and for all and as soon as possible.
It’s not about “I’m going to stop hating myself forever”—but rather, “I want to learn more about what loving myself really means.”
As we are in the process of recovering, it does not mean we stop engaging in eating-disordered strategies hereafter. It does not mean we never wander into the territory of judging someone’s body or turning our back on our own. We will find ourselves sometimes forgetting what we know. What matters is how we bring ourselves back. What bread crumbs can you leave out so that you can find your way back to yourself?
In this process, we will be coming home—again and again—to the wholeness and wisdom of our bodies.
Your body is your home—where you will live out your life. To recover means to return. Journey well, and welcome home.
About the author –
Carmen Cool, MA, LPC is a psychotherapist in Boulder, CO, specializing in binge eating disorder. Having worked for over 15 years in the field of eating disorders/disordered eating, both in private practice and in treatment centers, she has been moving more into advocacy work. She has run youth programs since 2004, championing them to raise their voice and create new cultural norms around body image, and is a frequent presenter, locally and nationally on Health At Every Size®. She was named “Most Inspiring Individual” in Boulder County, and was the recipient of the Excellence in Eating Disorder Advocacy Award in Washington, DC.