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An All-or-Nothing Learned Helplessness Story

Well, this was a pretty cool week for me, I must say (despite my example of poor parenting as outlined in my article this week: Reaction vs. Action). It all started with a big load of snow in Vancouver and in Victoria, and I got to play in it, shovel it, scrape it off the car and watch it falling from the warmth and comfort of my front room (with the fireplace all aglow).  Then, among other things, I went to the most gigantic Christmas craft fair I’ve ever attended, and I’m a total xmas craft fair junkie! It’s called “Circle Crafts” and it was held at the beautiful new convention centre at the Pan Pacific Hotel in downtown Vancouver. It was so busy you had to wait and signal before crossing the aisle and there were 20 aisles!

My son, who was with me, totally touched my heart by using his allowance to buy an ornament for my husband, his sister and I. When he showed it to me I said, “Sweetheart, that’s so generous, thank you. Why are there only 3 little snow people on the ornament when there are 4 people in our family?” (He had had each of our names printed on it too – how sweet is that!) And he said, “I only had enough money for the one with 3 people so I didn’t put myself on it.” Awwww. Now that’s the Christmas spirit isn’t it? So, I’m in Christmas Craft Fair bliss. And then as I wandered up and down the aisles, I started to notice something. There truly was nothing that I needed.  There were lots of cool things and fun things and things I thought others might like, but I wanted for nothing.

That realization took me back, way back, to my early 20’s and a time when I felt so fat and frumpy and alone and isolated. I lived in an ugly little basement suite with bright – and I mean bright – blue carpet, no insulation in the walls, and yes, it even had dark faux wood panelling and a 70s wallpaper mural of the woods – brown and orange. Ahhh, it was lovely! Not!

But I digress, at that time in my life, I met a woman who changed my life. Her name was Marie Cochrane, and for almost 6 months, she was my counsellor.

Read the rest of this story of Michelle’s journey to recovery here

She was the one who helped me name my sexual abuse as having had an impact on me. Prior to that, I truly believed it didn’t; that I was over it simply because it wasn’t happening any more – let me tell you, survival does not mean recovery. She helped me to realize that I binged my face off every day and every night because I was anxious. Prior to that, I never even realized I was feeling anxious 24/7. No wonder I felt so stuck and was spinning my wheels trying to make myself stop eating and to have the body I thought would make me happy and liked and popular and, most of all, safe.

But the reason I mention her here isn’t so much because of the amazing gift she was to me as a therapist and, years later, a mentor, it’s because every time I saw her, I felt impressed and a little envious (in a good way). She had this great, and I mean great, wardrobe, and lovely jewellery, and a nice car, and a loving partner and a cool job! She had it all (as far as I was concerned). And when I saw her, aside from feeling very supported and aided in my journey, I felt a sense of admiration for what she had achieved in her life and simultaneously, a sense of despair – despair because I felt such a very, very, very, very, very looooooooong way from being that together myself. It felt absolutely unattainable to me that I could ever be “together.” I also remember, a few years later, completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology – 1995 – and wanting to get started seeing individual clients and saving the bingers of the world. Imagine my incredible disappointment and frustration when I called the Clinical Counsellors Association about becoming a member and was told, quite abruptly, that I couldn’t join until I had a Master’s Degree and some additional training. Ugh! That was at least 2 years more school!!! Well, alright then! I dug in, started offering classes and groups for compulsive eaters and started the application process for a Master’s program. I’m realizing that this could be a very long story, so I’ll cut to the chase.

It is now over 15 years later.  I have a beautiful son and step-daughter who love to gang up and play jokes on me – isn’t that…. darling. I have a truly amazing husband with whom I feel completely accepted and loved. I have some amazing friends who love me to bits. I have this incredible job and courageous, intelligent clients who trust me to guide them to happiness. I have a great connection with my mom, who at that time I was struggling, I was estranged from. And, I must say, I have, over the years, accumulated a pretty smokin’ wardrobe and some sweet pieces of jewellery. Oh, and did I mention the best part of all? I feel good about myself. I love me. I am open to growing and to continuing to learn to be the best I can be and, while I’m at it, I feel very content in my own skin and very much like my body. I trust that I have worth and that people love me, and I can truly be vulnerable and cry and get angry and express fear and open my heart to others and reach out and not worry about rejection but instead just focus on loving.

Had you told me when I was in my early 20s that I was going to be living my dream and that each day between then and now would just get better and better and better, I would have told you to stop yanking my chain. But the truth is, one foot in front of the other, step-by-step, life experience-by-life experience, I grew and I learned and matured, and I learned and grew some more. Had I sat in my dingy, blue-carpeted, vinyl-panelled basement suite and binged for 18 years, I wouldn’t be here in this predominantly blissful state. I’d be fat. I’d be depressed. I’d be anxious. I’d be insecure, and I’d be feeling completely hopeless that anything could change: In other words, I’d be feeling exactly as I did 18 years ago.

Getting here wasn’t perfect folks. And it sure as hell wasn’t a straight line. I think you’d say it was actually more like the kind of trail a pair of drunken ants might leave in the sand! Lots of dead ends (or so they seemed at the time) and lots of doubling back and lurching forward and sudden stops and sideways jaunts, but truly, through the sheer act of trying and continuing to come back to some basic principles that, even if I couldn’t embody them “perfectly” or at all sometimes, I knew in my heart to be true and right for me, things started to turn around and things got easier and easier. I veered less and less off the path and came back to center more and more quickly each time. I began to trust that it was okay to feel what I felt and need what I needed, regardless of how it impacted others and regardless of whether anyone agreed with me or not. My gut knew. It always knew what was right for me and what was me trying to make myself okay with things that I just wasn’t okay with.

The truth is, something in your life has to change in order for you to be free of binging, purging, restricting, dieting in order for you to truly feel comfortable in your own skin and know that you are the best that you can be. Something has to change. If you tell yourself that you’ll never be able to get where you want to go or have what you desire, you’ll wake up 10 years from now and get to feel the incredibly awesome power of being right! Congratulations!! But do you actually want to be right about that? Wouldn’t it be better to be wrong about that? Even ½ wrong or a ¼ wrong has got to be better.

Ten years are going to pass between now and 2020. It’s going to happen. You have the power to decide whether you want to begin to put one foot in front of the other and see what you can accomplish and the freedom and self-esteem you can experience with some sound principles, some simple tools and some consistent effort. I know what I can accomplish when I’m just consistent in my effort and honouring my gut. Yes, it takes some time, but the truth is, time is going to pass regardless and with effort, I can be moving towards the achievement of my goals; with no effort, or with sporadic or half-hearted effort, I am bound to feel frustrated, hopeless and stuck.

I am confident that if you don’t allow yourself to stay stuck in that old all-or-nothing learned helplessness story: “Despite what I’ve tried so far, I’m still struggling with my food and that means I always will,” you can and absolutely, without exception, will achieve a life that is happy, peaceful, and so very fulfilling.

Love

The CEDRIC Centre - Michelle Morand

Posted in: 2010, CEDRIC Centre, newsletter

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2 Comments

  1. Julie November 27, 2010

    Good morning Michelle. Your articles have helped me so much and it’s been a great gift to have found your website. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your honesty and experience in your articles and the fact that you share them freely online. Thank you! I’m learning to take each day as it comes and communicate what I need to those in my life I’ve tried to fit in a mold for. For me it came out of an instance lately when a boundary I have felt unable to communicate well got crossed big time. Something inside me said no more and I’ve felt compelled to move forward in a more honest truthful way with the people in my life that I’ve allowed to press to close or expect too much. The mental battle has been tough but I know my needs are important so I press on. Just wanted to thank you for being a part of me forming a course correct. Julie

    reply
    • Michelle Morand November 27, 2010

      Julie! That’s so great to hear! Way to go!!! It is such a challenge to begin to think and behave in a way that is contrary to our old co-dependent training and its best buddy, all or nothing thinking, but it gets easier and easier each time so hang in there! I just love hearing that you’re feeling compelled from within to be more authenic with the people in your lives – that’s how we get to see who really loves us for who we are and who only loves us when we are willing to compromise ourselves. That’s key information in order for you to feel peaceful and safe and free to just be you in all your relationships. So again, way to go! Love Michelle

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