I’m pleased to present the first podcast for the blog, the No More Cast! I hope to do more interviews with people involved in eating disorder activism and awareness. I hope the audio sounds OK – it wasn’t an ideal setup and we had some white noise, but I mixed most of it out. Let me know what you think, and if you’d like to see/hear more posts like this! It is the product of much time and editing, so I hope you enjoy it. You can stream it by pressing the Play button, or download it directly via the link.
Full transcript is below.
I recently spoke with Karen Morris, an eating disorder survivor who now treats eating disorders with her unique approach of massage therapy.
My name is Karen Morris, I work at A Karen Touch Therapeutic Massage and Body Work, which is a company or business I started a year and half ago, or about. Massage was a major healing modality with me overcoming my eating disorder. It was helping me get reacquainted with my body, because for over 30 years I had an eating disorder, I’m in recovery.
Massage made me become aware back into my body. It made me feel my feelings. I had been disassociated from my head and my body for so long.
‘How did things start? When do you think that you had a full-blown ED and were living with it?’
Back when I was 12 years old, I remember distinctly trying to lost weight. Thinking I was fat, I was ugly, thinking I was not worthy. Going through puberty, all that. I was at a catholic school, lots of peer pressure. We all wore uniforms, but it got to where I would wear a sweater in the middle of summer to hide my body because I felt like I was too heavy. Through a lot of therapy we’ve figured it out, as to why I was thinking that.
I can remember distinctly pitching on a softball mound at P.E. and passing out. “Oh, I was sick,” or whatever, and I’d just shove it under the carpet. I didn’t let anyone know, if they asked me questions I’d get around it. It wasn’t very well known back then, I guess.
‘Sure, it’s hard enough screening for them now, and expecting people to understand them. I can’t imagine 30 years ago.’
Exactly. We weren’t really a sit-down-to-dinner family. A lot of coming and going. So I was able to miss a dinner here and there, and no one would question it. I could not eat lunch because I was outside or doing other activities.
‘So this defined a lot of your life on through your marriage.’
Yeah. Been married 23 years in October. And again with Ken, he at times would question me, but at the same time I would somehow get around it, and he wouldn’t second-guess me. And I DID exercise a lot. I ran a lot. I was always at the gym.
There were times where, I don’t want to say I was… ‘normal’. But I’d eat normal, I’d gain weight, and it would be a hard transition. I’d be OK for 6 months and then I’d fall right back into it.
After three decades of going back and forth with the eating disorder, a series of events occurred in Karen’s life which delivered the wake-up call she needed.
I got laid off, around the same time my grandmother who pretty much raised me was having a hard time. Lots of surgeries, and she wasn’t healing like she should. She ended up passing away, and it all came to a head all at the same time. My grandmother stopped eating, 18 days in a 10×10 hospital room with my mother and grandmother, watching my grandmother pass away and her body shut down from not eating. It was very eye-opening. It was very real. I still think she did that to me in a way to open my eyes. Like a last-ditch, ‘look what you’re doing to yourself.’
‘Someone recently told me a story about a friend dying of cancer, and she was losing weight. She got constant compliments and it was the most ironic way, that people were complimenting her on the way her body was changing, but she was literally dying. And she enjoyed it, until, as my friend said, she became skeletal and she died. And it’s a very interesting juxtaposition to see what people value compared to what’s really happening.’
Exactly. It’s the cosmetic, what’s outside, then you start feeling good about the compliments and the attention, and it’s a spiral, it gets totally out of control. So to be in a 10×10 hospital room with them and watching her shut down… it was very, very tragic.
Karen’s grandmother wasn’t the only family member who could see what was happening. After an unexpected encounter with her daughter, she could no longer run away or hide from the fact that she needed help.
I was in the kitchen of all places and my 18 year old daughter was in there getting ready to fix something to eat, or not eat, probably. And I was asking her about her eating habits, and she turned around and just shocked me out of my wits. She said, ‘Mom, you’re a hypocrite, until you get yourself straight, don’t hound in on me and my habits.’
And I was dumb-founded, didn’t know what she meant, total denial. Deep down I knew exactly what she meant. But it was something I had never expressed in an emotion, let alone having someone else call me out right then and there. It was scary.
‘How did you come into doing massage? I know you told me a story before about when you started, you were still apprehensive?’
When I was laid off, and had nothing going on, all these things were in my head. I had always been intrigued by massage, and I don’t know why. It was just always – the human touch, the caring, loving, safe touch. I guess I craved it, and didn’t really have it, and wanted to get it, and to share it. So I looked into massage school.
I went through my files from different careers I’d looked at and, probably going back ten years, I’d looked up info on massage schools. So when I was laid off, I pulled out that file and started going through it, and called. It was odd, I think everything happens for a reason. I was on my way to see my dietician. Called the school, down the street, and Joseph (one of the instructors) was there on a Friday even though he normally isn’t supposed to be. It was all just lining up at the right time. I went by after my appointments, talked to him, looked at the school and curriculum, and it just felt right. That was a Friday, the following Tuesday I started class. They only start two classes a year, so I just said, “Ok, this must be what I’m supposed to be doing.”
As Karen continued doing things for herself and taking back control of her life, massage class presented another challenge, as well as an unexpected opportunity for personal growth which got her doing the work she does today.
Kinda funny, as I started class, it happened so fast, which was good so I couldn’t analyze it and think myself out of it. Sitting in class, the way you’re taught massage, it’s a lecture and then hands on, so you give the massage and receive the massage. And it hit me all at once – ‘Oh my god, I’m getting massages? I’m here to learn how to give them, not get them!’ And I totally freaked out. So I’m in this class, maybe 23 of us, and I looked around thinking these people are going to touch me, see me, intimately know me? It was OK for the class but not on the physical level. It was really hard for me to get past.
I gravitated towards one person, she was wonderful. We traded back and forth the first few times for me to get my feet wet, and it transformed everything from the safe, sacred touch. It was OK to be touched, caressed. To feel my toes while someone else touched them. Just a matter of getting into that relaxed state, out of my head and back into my body, and FEELING it. It was euphoric, amazing to know and learn my body, even through anatomy. We learned everything about the body inside and out, and I had a whole new appreciation for my own body. I was experiencing it, feeling it, learning it, touching it, and being touched, as I was going through class. It was such an eye-opening moment, I just knew it was right for me, that it was what I was supposed to be doing.
‘So you’re interest in massage was a general one. You had no interest in treating eating disorders specifically through massage therapy?’
No. Not at all. I just wanted to do it, and one thing led to another. It was such a huge part of my own rediscovery of my mind and body, I wanted to share it with everyone, because it’s been an absolutely amazing experience. I know for me personally, I was given a day at the spa 15-20 years ago, and I never used it. I could not imagine going in and taking my clothes off and laying on a table, even being covered, knowing what it consisted of, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
‘So what about the transformation for you personally? A lot of people, either during or after getting in a good place with their recovery, they don’t want the subject to consume their lives. They don’t want to write a book or talk about it all the time, they just want to move on with their lives. How is that different for you?’
It consumed my life for so long, I tell people it’s like going through puberty again. I feel like I’m blossoming and becoming a person. I’m seeing the trees, smelling the flowers. I’m living my life. I want people to know it’s possible. So I really want, especially young people suffering in it, not to waste a day or a minute. It’s been such a part of my life for so long, I want others to know that they don’t have to be there. It’s not a way of life, you aren’t living, you’re living a lie. It’s time to get out and live your life. I don’t mind talking about it, working with anyone, because it’s such a passion of mine. I want people to know they don’t have to suffer with it, to stay in silence.
‘You said something really great last time we did something together, and you kind of said it just now, about living in your head vs. your body, and that a lot of people in recovery work out their head but still don’t feel comfortable in their own body. Could you talk about that?’
It goes back to getting into, feeling your body. The twitches, tingles, just like if your arm goes to sleep and wakes back up. It’s almost uncomfortable, that’s what it is when you rediscover your body. It’s an uncomfortable twinge, it’s like, what IS this thing my head is attached to? It’s a matter of feeling it, embracing it, thanking it for life. A new appreciation of it. I explain to people at a first appointment, if I’m working on your head or scalp, I might touch a spot on your head that will send a tingle down to your big toe. A lot of people ask, how does that work? And to explain the whole concept – your body is one piece, it’s all connected. Your feelings, blood, oxygen, from your head to your toes. So to feel that tingle in your toes when I’m touching your head, most people say ‘Wow, what’s happening here?’ as it awakens them back into feeling, experiencing. To be back IN their body, out of their head where they analyze everything.
Even the breath, at first I have clients take their right hand over their heart and left hand on their stomach, and do deep belly breathes. I say try to get your belly button to touch the ceiling. It gets the O2 to the fingers and toes, to the bottom of the lungs, so the whole body can feel and breathe. It’s like feeling an ocean wave ripple down over your toes, and ripple out, coming back out like your breathe. And after a few times, it’s almost like on a subconscious level, our brain takes over and our bodies breathe for us. But as we get caught up in our thoughts and anxieties, our bodies breathe just enough to survive.
So the breath doesn’t go all the way down in our lungs. Like during an anxiety attack, short breathes don’t get enough oxygen and there’s tingling in the fingers. So with a deep belly breathe, you get it all the way down, which helps the body relax, and then you can feel each piece of your body, each sensation. Everything.
As clients do that, I say, while you think about whatever else you have to do later that day, have one hand over your heart and one on your stomach, and have your belly button rise up to the ceiling, and you have to think about breathing that way, so as you think about breathing you get back in your body so your head can’t think about this or that or whatever.
Karen also spoke about the progress she’s seen in patients through massage therapy, and the trust they develop through her personable approach.
Once they come in and they hear my story, people agree to try it. I did a case study, per se, of girls who were all in our treatment team here. I did massage on them and they journaled before, during, and after. The entries were mind-blowing. One, to the point where (before treatment) she couldn’t even write about it, let alone do it. She wasn’t willing at all. But when they finally knew me and were comfortable, it changed their life. It’s amazing. As I’ve said, it’s getting out of their head and into their bodies. The rest of their treatment here was cognitive therapy, and I’m doing the physical therapy.
‘What you just said speaks a lot to establishing trust in general, for people in recovery to trust counselors and professionals to establish a relationship with them.’
Trust is huge, and that’s where you have to jump in. It’s a matter of trusting your (treatment) team. This is their job, their passion, and they know what works and doesn’t work. If you’re new at (recovery), they’re seasoned in it, you have to trust them. If they recommend something, just try it. What’s it going to hurt? It’s going to hurt not to try it. The eating disorder isn’t serving you well. But by trying new things, it can open you up to a whole other world
With determination, a strong eating disorder treatment te and the support of her family, Karen is finally living her life for herself. Through her practice, she hopes to help more people achieve this end.
If I could say one thing to people, I would say to live and be your authentic self. Not to be or think you have to be something else for somebody else. That’s where I’ve discovered and can now say, wow, it’s an amazing feeling. To help facilitate and help someone realize that, be it by just sitting and holding their hand, sitting and talking, sharing my story, massage, it’s an amazing gift. I enjoy what I wake up and do every day.
You can read more about Karen and her practice at www.akarentouch.info.
Feel free to post questions for her and I will direct her to this page so she can respond!