Spare Change? A True Story:

Spare Change?

When I was the Director of the Expressive Arts Therapy Department at a Psychiatric Hospital in the Bay Area, there were many ways we categorized our patients.  One way was to separate the voluntary admissions from the involuntary admissions.  Along with the label voluntary admit, came an assumption that this patient was ready to change.  Conversely, the involuntary admits, were being forced to change.  In both cases, change was an elusive goal. In both cases resistance was a formidable barrier to actualizing change.  Even the voluntary patients with the internal desire to change bumped up against the walls of resistance.

Change is hard.  Think about it… Paper money is squishable, foldable, and malleable.  Change?  Metal, un-yielding, rigid.

The only thing easy about change is not changing.

When a person embarks on the road of size-acceptance which may or may not include changing their ways of eating or their relationship with food, it is often as a result of external pressure to be different from what they are.  They are being told over and over to change. “Change your diet. Change your body. Change your behavior. Change your appearance.”  The over-riding message is, “You are not ok.”

I worked with a patient once who told me, “If I ever kill myself tell people it was because I couldn’t stand facing another day looking in the mirror and starting the day off hating myself.” She felt like a failure, every morning, because she couldn’t change herself in the way that others wanted her to change.  The only definition of change she could articulate or imagine was to change the way she looked to please her family.

We worked on re-defining her criteria for change.  We looked at why others had the authority to prescribe her Change Menu. We looked at what she would change about herself if no one else had a say and she could just change what she wanted.  We explored her resistance to change, inside and out.

One day in our Drama Therapy group she announced that she was doing a scene about the two things she wanted to change about herself more than anything.

The group waited….would it be her butt? Her thighs?  Her upper arms?

Her scene was enthralling, powerful, humorous, and poignant. As the scene ended, she was in a restaurant.  She ordered her selections from the Change Menu, “For my main course, I’ll have the not giving my power of self-acceptance away to my family.  And for dessert, I’ll have the learning to speak Spanish fluently please.”

It’s been a while since I’ve heard from this patient. But from time to time I like to think of her sitting in a restaurant in Barcelona, speaking perfect Spanish and loving herself as she is. 

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