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Compulsion: Week 5
"This week I didn't try not to eat chocolate ..."

A reminder: these articles document one individual case history. Some so-called 'eating disorders' have aspects in common, as have some addictions, but their source - and solution - will be different for everyone.

Fifth session. Sam starts by apologising. "I was going to keep a chocolate diary. I failed. But this week I didn't try not to eat chocolate." He seems to think this is a sign of progress. I hope he's right. At least he is not giving himself a hard time for his addiction, and that's new. Sam is realizing that the part-self responsible for the compulsive eating has somehow helped him survive all these years. A couple of weeks ago it was craving acknowledgment for the job it has been doing. Now it wants more than acknowledgment, it wants loving. Many of us find it difficult to love the parts we hate, but we can't move on until we do. So where does Sam go now? During the addiction audit it transpired that his desire for chocolate came not while he was working, but when work had stopped. He needed a reward. Sam has a clear understanding of his shame=hard work=reward pattern, albeit at a conceptual level, but then came up with another pattern - an unconscious symbolic one around string - guns on string, cakes on string. The string developed into sewing thread. Which "seems very fragile but has amazing strength, and it's to sew up clothes". What is it that connects these patterns?

The ambiguity of 'seems' catches my attention. The sewing thread ..."seems very fragile but has amazing strength, and it's to sew up clothes." Clothes with 'seams'? The English word ambiguity comes from the Old French ambigu - 'a banquet at which a medley of dishes are set on together'. I sense a feast.

Towards the end of the last session I asked Sam, "What kind of 'seems' is a thread to sew up clothes?" and he went into a deep trance where things were happening at a level beyond words. After a few minutes he had asked me to repeat the question, and later reported that it had sent him "on a weird journey ... with a sense of dislocation .. I lost everything except what was in my brain ... I threw out a line in the hope that you'd get hold of it - I was drowning in a sea of my own images ..."

After that session and before this one I analysed my question, "What kind of 'seems' is a thread to sew up clothes?", and it is of course a crazy question. If I were to ask you a question like that in normal conversation you might legitimately wonder who was the therapist and who was the client. In the context of Sam's process, however, it constitutes legitimate clean language. It makes no suppositions, it honours Sam's unique metaphor and is transparently logical.

My guess is that something about the ambiguity of 'seems/seams' sent Sam off on his weird journey. I can't begin to speculate what 'seems/seams' might mean for him, but I decide to draw his attention to it again while at the same time attempting to give my tone of voice a take-it-or-leave-it quality. If the question is meaningful at an unconscious level, Sam will go with it. If it isn't he won't and we'll go somewhere else.

"What kind of 'seems' are 'seams' like that?" As I ask this I attempt the impossible - to draw Sam's attention to the alternative spellings and to remind him of the alternative meanings ... There is a pause. His system allows the question in. His unconscious processes the information the question prompts. "It's like everything is connected," he says eventually. "The thin acquamarine thread seems (?) to connect everyone together."

"And then what happens?"

"A stage. Something spinning in the background. A Victorian fireplace, toys, little seals. Not thread, but rope for picking up this soft toy. A smiling face, eyes that seem alive. A young woman standing by a swimming pool that's like an enormous sheet of A4 paper. A little square on the paper divided into boxes. I'm ticking off the boxes. Ah, I need just one page. How many boxes must I tick off? Look at me, I'm ticking off the boxes. There's a sprig of cherry blossom on the page. Five empty boxes in a row. The whole page has five rows of five boxes. Now I see a window open, the sun shining through - a breath of fresh air!"

Phew. A lot of information there, finishing on that 'breath of fresh air'. Several weeks ago Sam learnt that his compulsion for chocolate wanted him "To get my breath back after struggling". Has the client got what he came for? Has the information in the pattern suddenly been released and the problem transformed? What should my next question be? Should I intervene at all?

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