by Ditto Nowakoski
The Fall, 1978, issue of The Journal of Primal Therapy, contained an article, A Case of Anorexia authored by Ditto Nowakoski. As webmeister, I thought it might be productive to contact the author to learn if the primal therapy treatment she had received at the Primal Institute in Los Angeles had been effective in treating her anorexia. Ditto agreed and sent in her commentary
-- John A. Speyrer, Webmeister, The Primal Psychotherapy Page.
Review of Introduction:
The original article began with comments from the journal's editor, Bill van Doren explaining that anorexics, who are usually young women, refuse food, some to the point of dangerous self-starvation. In milder cases of anorexia, van Doren pointed out, on occasion, after the anorexia symptoms have lessened, simple encouragement to eat can be an effective remedy. Otherwise, when the client begins regressing to the time of the origins of the early trauma, which is its source, encouragement to eat suffices to alleviate the symptoms of anorexia. He cautioned, however, that in severe cases, simple encouragement to consume food will not be successful until the client has access to deep early feelings in primal therapy relating to the client's anorexia.
The author shares that she had been actively anorexic for a period of half a dozen years. Feelings of being satiated brought on symptoms of feeling "crazy." She admits that even from an early age she had begun considering food in a different way than had others.
Ditto felt that she had more or less systematically starved herself and had rationalized her behavior of not eating as simply wanting to be thin, although her goal was of actually wanting to appear consumptive. She had envied those who were so ill they had to be fed intravenously and sometimes felt excitement thinking how that might be a really effective way to lose weight. She had never been fat, although she had never felt that she was thin enough either. Curiously, she felt a need to be empty. She had reasoned, "I got 'crazy' if I felt full" and needed to throw up when I she felt satiated. This was despite the physical pain she had felt when pangs of hunger would appear.
Neurologist, E. Michael Holden, the Primal Institute's medical director, suggested to her that she make a conscious effort to consume food throughout the day even though the servings were small. Holden had mentioned that those who are deprived -- of food, of love, or warmth -- most of them continue to "remain in touch, on a physical level, with that deprivation." They feel a need, Dr. Holden believed, almost an addictive need, to act out satisfying that symbolic need in a physical way.
As a result of his advice, Ditto began a regimen of activally eating small amounts of food throughout the day. This resulted in progressive feelings of weakness, helplessness and being teary-eyed. More than being simply teary-eyed, she had begun occasional crying. She was also bothered by physical pains and felt disoriented at times. Even moving her body had become painful.
In therapy groups, she began describing what was happening. "I feel empty... lonely," etc. But nothing else was happening. She cried but continued to hurt, And then she saw an image of a baby smiling, standing up in her crib. At the same time, she felt herself to be physically small. Ditto felt that, as a baby, she was not to bother her mother in any way and especially not to make any demands of her.
The author closed her article,
As a baby, she had kept 'in' all of her needs and had never asked for anything. Her mind no longer responded to what her body needed. She stuffed her feelings of wanting to be held and of wanting to be fed. Crying merely resulted in Mama feeling that her baby had become a nuisance. Fewer and fewer "need messages" were being processed. She felt It had become a choice of either not having any needs or of having further emotional suffering. It was one or the other. She had chosen the former. She progressed to a state when she was no longer able to call her mother to express what she required; soon she arrived at a point when she no longer felt she had any needs at all.
"The main insight for me from the feeling I had and my new diet is that an important part of this therapy involves learning how to take care of yourself. The better I treat myself, the more I can feel, and the better I feel. It's hard to give myself anything, because being nice to myself means I'll feel the old neglect, but it's harder to deny myself what I need. To make it before, I withdrew from the world, and starved myself. It was a way to keep the Pain at bay and there was always also the slim chance that my mother would notice I was dying, and take care of me. Being empty doesn't protect me any more; in fact, my body has started to demand food, and the best thing is, I can hear it." [ibid., p. 117]
Ditto Nowakoski comments:
August 26, 2010
Many years have gone by. Many worlds, many lifetimes, have gone by since I wrote the article. I read my article now with a sense of amazement at how much I have changed, and yet how truly the voice is the same. I wonder why we can't just use our voices, our essences, to just jump ahead and heal. That I can write this commentary now, thirty odd years later, seems as instantaneous as if I just did indeed leap over the intervening years.
And in fact, we can use our voices, our essences, to jump ahead and heal.
I don't credit Primal Therapy with healing me. I don't credit my awareness of the connection to my infantile self with healing me. I don't credit "Feeling my Pain" with healing me. Now I regard the Primal single-focus on "Pain" as self-defeating. Still, I know the therapy helped me, and I know the relationships I forged with especially my two main therapists, Jean Jackson and Tracee Sheppard, helped me a lot.
But what really healed me, and what has always healed me, was my own strong intention to heal. I chose to no longer be anorexic. I am grateful to Dr. Michael Holden for his wisdom in recommending that I EAT in small doses, because this was the polarity of my illness. To heal something you have to take the risk of asking for the opposite of what you have, and in a determined way act accordingly. In eating small servings, I was asking myself to receive nourishment, the opposite of starvation. As I did so, the buried and frozen emotion and physical symptoms were given space to release.
I had many successful sessions. I learned a lot, and was greatly helped by my work in Primal Therapy. I would just say that my self-healing has evolved out of accessing consciousness through the reliving of traumatic events, into accessing consciousness through being true to myself, in a soul way. Being true to my soul...which of course when you're shut down, you can't do.
The healing wasn't about how I had been deprived, nor about who deprived me, but rather about that strong, alive part of myself that wanted more strength and more aliveness. Oftentimes I feel that a therapeutic approach subtly supports the weaker, victimized, self-pitying part of ourselves by encouraging us to revisit again and again "what happened" to us. In my experience, though I benefited from my increased consciousness through therapy, the moment that made the difference was always the moment that I chose to look beyond my distress into my unformed, indefinite beautiful possibility, and reach for it, regardless.
I healed my anorexia. Everything can be healed.
I'm very grateful to Primal therapy, and to Jean and Tracee in particular, for helping me on my journey. It's just that therapy only takes you part of the way.
The Primal Psychotherapy Page's editor comments:
The advice which Ditto received from Dr. Holden, Jean Jackson and Tracee Sheppard as well as the therapy she received at the Primal Institute, combined with her own efforts were sufficient to cure her anorexia problem. She remains cured!
However, Ditto feels that primal therapy has limitations in that "it only takes you part of the way" towards attaining your goals in life. She explained to me that one must apply what they have learned in the therapy to make one's life more complete and fulfilling. I needed more information and clarification, so I asked Ditto to expand on her explanation. She wrote:
"Reliving past trauma is not going to transform your life for you. You have to choose to create a new life, using the consciousness and awareness gained through therapy. The therapy takes you to a place of awareness. Then, you have to BUILD something.... An adult, conscious, aware, beautiful life has to be created."
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Ditto.
John A. Speyrer