Sunday, January 24, 2021

An Allegiance to Hunger: Education of a Therapist

April 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Eating Disorders

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

Be Free.

– 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.


2.  Grandmother

“Often I would stand at the window-

Your grandfather

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

Clearly tender-


Of course, of course. Except

It might as well have been

His hand over her mouth.


3.  Eros

To be male, always

To go to women

And be taken back

Into the pierced flesh:


I suppose

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.

photo courtesy of Pixomar

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