An Allegiance to Hunger: Education of a Therapist
Hungry bird tell me why
I pray and pray and pray that I turn to see
One thing that confounds me and why I just
Can’t let myself
– K.D. Lang, Hungry Bird
I have accumulated understanding, knowledge, and experience for the treatment of eating disorders, self-injury, and compulsive shopping in a conventional sense. I attended college and graduate school. I worked as a trainee and an intern. I studied for and passed my exams. I collect continuing education hours. I have been supervised, and I consult with those who’ve worked longer than me, colleagues I admire and whose thinking I align with. However, my greatest education derives not from a textbook or the latest Psychology Today issue; it is born in the room with those individuals who have called me their therapist.
From each person who talks with me, openly, candidly, resistantly, and fearfully, I am taught about hunger. Hunger is physical. Hunger is emotional. Hunger is psychological. Hunger is biological. Hunger is incurable. It comes over and over and over again. Each person seeks satiation through the body, because how else would it be done? Hunger cannot be sated by a thought. I have been told this repeatedly in so many different words and through so many stories about people trying to find their way, understand their defenses and why they self-sabotage. Perhaps just the use of words, finding the meaning for the hunger, however it exists within oneself, is just part of the process. A quick fix just doesn’t seem to fill the void, remove the dreaded hunger, or end the battle, once and for all. Accepting the hunger, feeling and knowing that it will exist, that it must exist, is so very important.
But this is different than maintaining an allegiance to hunger. Sustaining a loyalty to hunger can result in deprivation emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. I am not only alluding to restricting food; I am addressing the deeper thread that weaves through hunger diseases and infects a person’s whole way of being, with food and with love, with people and with words. In my quest to write blogs that emphasize the significance of finding words, I was fortunate to discover Louis Gluck when I was reading “Going Hungry: writers on desire, self-denial and overcoming anorexia.” Her essay, “Education of the Poet,” describes her struggle with anorexia. I later read Gregory Orr’s book, Poetry as Survival, in which Orr wrote that if he had had an eating disorder, he would want to read “Dedication to Hunger” by Louise Gluck, because he would feel understood, held, by her words.
With respect and with inspiration to discover our words, I offer, Louise Gluck’s
“Dedication To Hunger.”
1. From The Suburbs
They cross the yard
And at the back door
The mother sees with pleasure
How alike they are, father and daughter –
I know something of that time.
The little girl purposefully
Swinging her arms, laughing
Her stark laugh.
It should be kept secret, that sound.
It means she’s realized
That he never touches her.
She is a child; he could touch her
If he wanted to.
“Often I would stand at the window-
Was a young man then-
Waiting, in the early evening.”
That is what marriage is.
I watch the tiny figure
Changing to a man
As he moves toward her,
The last light rings in his hair.
I do not question
Their happiness. And he rushes in
With his young man’s hunger,
So proud to have taught her that:
His kiss would have been
Of course, of course. Except
It might as well have been
His hand over her mouth.
To be male, always
To go to women
And be taken back
Into the pierced flesh:
Memory is stirred.
And the girl child who wills herself
Into her fathers arms
Likewise loved him
Second. Nor is she told what need to express.
There is a look one sees,
The mouth somehow desperate-
Because the bond
Cannot be proven.
4. The Deviation
It begins quietly
In certain female children:
The fear of death, taking as its form
Dedication to hunger,
Because a woman’s body
Is a grave; it will accept
Anything. I remember
Lying in bed at night
Touching the soft, digressive breasts,
Touching, at fifteen,
The interfering flesh
That I would sacrifice
Until the limbs were free
Of blossom and subterfuge: I felt
What I feel now, aligning these words-
It is the same need to perfect,
Of which death is the mere byproduct.
5. Sacred Objects
Today in the field I saw
The hard, active buds of the dogwood
And wanted, as we say, to capture them,
To make them eternal. That is the premise
Of renunciation: the child,
Having no self to speak of
Comes to life in denial-
I stood apart in that achievement,
In that power to expose
The underlying body, like a god
For whose deed
There is no parallel in the natural world.
This guest post graciously submitted from Angela R. Wurtzel, MA, MFT, CEDS — a psychotherapist in Santa Barbara, CA, specializing in the treatment of “hunger diseases:” eating disorders, self injury, and compulsive shopping. She believes that helping people find their words through the process of therapy allows them to know themselves more deeply and compassionately, while living more fully. www.angelawurtzelmft.com
photo courtesy of Pixomar