Melanie’s story – a therapy case study
A young mother struggled to balance the needs of her two children; her relationship with her husband and her own fears of inadequacy. She was self-medicating daily with food and alcohol to swallow down the secret negative judgements she made about herself.
Here's the story of how she transformed her life and using the insights she made from her therapy sessions with me to make the all important changes to halt a pattern of behaviour that no longer served her or her family. Details and names have been changed to protect her anonymity.
At thirty-five Melanie was the heaviest she had ever been. The previous five roller-coaster years had taken its toll on her waistline, and her confidence. As she and her husband celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary, they tucked up in bed their children age four, and two before slumping onto the sofa with yet another takeaway, and bottle of wine.
‘Sometimes I wonder where that ambitious young woman who had her career all mapped out, and her life under control went. It’s as though I’ve lost sight of her under all the effort of working full time, and taking care of my girls.’ She said as she began to explain her feelings.
‘Everyone thinks I’ve made a great success of my life. A wonderful husband, beautiful children, and I’m respected at work,’ she paused, ‘That’s everyone except me. I’m terrified they’ll find out I’m not as capable as they think I am, and my daughters will grow up to realise I’m a rubbish mum. or my husband will lose patience waiting for us to have some quality time together and go off looking elsewhere.'
Her eye’s filled with tears as she continued, “Especially as I’m four stone (56 lb.) heavier than when we got married, and I can’t bear to have him touch me anymore.’
Gently we began to unpick what was happening in her life, and what was happening for Melanie around food. She talked about her comfort eating in her break times at work and eating sweets every evening in the car travelling to collect the children from their childminder. ‘I just crave sweet things. It’s the only thing that keeps me going’.
Working through the Time Line Protocol Melanie identified her reliance on sugary treats began when she was thirteen years old when her family moved house, and she moved from a small, rural school where she knew everyone to being the new girl at a much larger city school.
‘I’ve always been a bit of a swot. I loved learning, and putting my hand up in class to answer questions made me the target for a group of girls who made my life a total misery. I remember going home unhappy every day for what felt like ages, and my mum being off-hand with me. She said I was attention seeking, and causing her and Dad more trouble.'
She explained that her Dad had lost his job through ill-health which is why they had moved and she had no real idea what effect that was having on their lives.
'Now when I look back I realise they must have been worried sick about money plus my Dad who never really showed his feelings had depression around that time too which made things even harder for my mum.’
‘Pretty soon I realised I was on my own. I became a bit of a chameleon at school. I remember making a conscious decision to fit in. I even trained myself out of my country accent. I stopped being a goody two shoes at school, and learnt to out-bully the bullies. I made myself fit it. Inside I still felt lonely, but I just kept that to myself. I started spending my lunch money on sweets, and cigarettes with the other girls. If my mum, or dad noticed any difference in me, they never said. When I noticed I was getting fatter, I began messing about with laxatives, and bingeing and sometimes purging just like the other girls did who were now my friends. I carried on with that all the way through university.’
‘Oh yes, I made it to University. Right at the last minute I knuckled down and passed my exams. Inside I was still the girl who loved learning. I had just learnt to keep that a secret too.’
‘My boyfriend and I had only been going out together for about four months when I fell pregnant with our first child. We didn’t have to get married we just chose to. The way it worked out for us meant we didn’t even live together before the wedding. I suppose that was harder than I imagined. He wasn’t brilliant at sharing how he felt. I used to joke with him that he was even quieter than my Dad. We were only just getting used to each other when shortly afterwards we were getting used to being parents. It felt like we hadn’t had a moment to find out about each other, especially when I got pregnant with our second child so quickly.’
‘My secret eating, and bingeing kicked off again after our second child was born. After six months I went back to work full time with a brand new promotion as head of department at an inner-city college. I thought I could manage everything and keep all the plates spinning. I never told my husband Vic how overwhelmed I felt, I just hid it all. I was worried that he might be under pressure as he had changed from being a single man to married man, and father of two in just a couple of years. I was also afraid that if I told him how I felt he might think I was unnecessarily dramatic just like my mum had.’
‘So I just carried on with all the old coping strategies I’d developed when I was at school and university. I just kept all my emotions inside me and drank way too much, and binged in secret whenever I had the chance. My mum broached the subject with me during a shopping trip together with me being under a lot of pressure. I must have been in a pretty bad way for her to risk saying anything to me,’ she paused and momentarily laughed before becoming very serious again.
‘Everything that should have given me so much joy just felt hollow. Even my boys, who I adored, would be hustled through bath time and bedtime with me in a bad temper so that I could get them out of the way, and open a bottle of wine.
I think my mum could finally see how unhappy I was. She had picked up a leaflet for Sally's therapy practice, and she said she would pay for the sessions. I didn’t even try to put on a brave face or deny anything. I think I knew I couldn’t keep going on as I was which is why I knew I had to see someone and sort myself out. It’s quite telling that although I could admit to her that I needed help, I still kept the sessions secret from my husband for the first few weeks.’
‘Learning to use EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) I realised how high I had set the bar for myself with the type of job I was doing while at the same time taking care of two young children. Initially, it felt like a big deal for me to consider the possibility that I couldn’t do it all. I also learnt in therapy how little of my fears, and doubts I had even admitted to myself, let alone shared with my husband. PSTEC (Percussive suggestion Technique was brilliant in helping to free me from all those horrible old memories of being bullied at school especially when no one at home wanted to listen to me. It was those early fears that I might not be heard again when I needed help that kept me from sharing how I felt with Vic.
Melanie smiled broadly, ‘I may have married Vic, but in all honesty, I had never really allowed myself to rely on him. When I was able to say to him that my life was all a bit too much for me he understood and heard me.” Melanie’s face softened, ‘I think our marriage properly began from around that time when I dared to share my real feelings with him.’
She continued, ‘In therapy, I forgave myself for not being a super-mum and for relying on booze and rubbishy sweet stuff to keep myself going. Free from all that guilt I was able to go to my Head Teacher to speak with her about reducing some of my responsibilities.
Now almost a year later even more changes have taken place. ‘I’m back to my pre-marriage weight. I’ve lost over four stone (56+ lbs), and I’ve cut my work down to three days a week.
Vic and I have monthly date nights when my mum and dad take the girls for a sleep-over at their house. I don’t drink at all during the week, and I don’t even miss it!’
She continued,’I thought admitting to my boss that I couldn’t cope would be the end of my career but that hasn’t been the case. I’m still ambitious, but I’m willing to take things more slowly now and enjoy these precious years with our daughters too. I’ve also learnt that it’s OK to ask for help. Vic is not my dad, and I’m not that young girl anymore who has to get by on her own. By asking for what I need I gave myself the opportunity to be heard instead of stuffing it all down with crappy food, and I’ve also got closer to Vic as he gets to know the real me. I feel fortunate. I could scare myself if I dwelt for too long on how things might have turned out but I’m too busy being happier to do that.
Contact me if you feel powerless in your life hiding behind drinking too much, eating junk food or carrying excess weight. You might need some outside help to transform your life from overwhelming to a life you can be proud of. It's worth a chat. Just click the button at the top of the page.
Sally Baker is Senior Therapist, published Author and Speaker in private practice in London for face to face sessions and the world over via the internet.
With almost twenty years of professional experience, she employs cutting-edge therapeutic approaches to help one person at a time to transform their lives.
She has extensive experience working with people to alleviate their anxiety, depression, anger issues, eating disorders as well as conflicts within relationships and the family.
To find out more about Sally Baker, her books and her work visit her website, www.workingonthebody.com