I’m invested in my first online writing course with renowned Denver writing, creativity coach and mentor Cynthia Morris. Her business, Original Impulse helps writers just like me find their “writing juju”. This is the first week of the course “Make Writing a Happy Habit” and I was struck today by Cynthia’s coaching question: “How can you be more honest about your relationship with time?”. She asked us to list our five top priorities and denote how they take up our time every day (along with other things that take up time but aren’t top priorities). Here’s a sneak peek as to how I answered this question:
” I think that I try to set too high of expectations for my time. I also allow myself to get distracted easily by technology, animals, noises, the internet. I think that if I scaled back what I expect of myself every day, then I would be able to feel more productive with my time. This also goes the other way: if I don’t have a lot planned that day, I’d like to enjoy my free time instead of feel like I “should be doing something”, as commonly occurs. I would describe my relationship with time as circumstantial. I think it’s common to feel that time speeds up when I am enjoying it (ie: weekends), and it slows down on days where it feels like I am bogged down in work or when I am bored. Unstructured time has felt exceptionally anxious at times in my life and it has typically been something that I avoid. “
I wanted to pose to you this same question. In my work with people recovering from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, I often process with clients this very same issue:
Sometimes we uncover deeper roadblocks to scheduling time; perhaps over-scheduling one’s day can also be a way to avoid being alone with thoughts or emotions. Often, we forget or neglect to schedule in time for daily self care. Don’t allow a day to go by without doing some form of self care, and make this a priority — a minimum of 15 minutes a day! What do you do that gives you joy?
Signing up for this writing workshop was a form of self-care for me personally, as well as productive for my business and my writing goals.
I came across another great blog post about self care and self-love today. Tara Sophia Mohr writes on her blog wise living about how to actually foster and develop self-love in tangible steps. Sometimes this is easier said than done, as Tara writes: “How we feel about ourselves is like the color of our inner skies. If we could just change the color to a prettier one, we would.” Check out her post to learn how to make self-love a daily practice in your life.
How can you be more honest about your relationship with time? And how can you approach that relationship to help you deepen self-love? I’d love your comments and feedback!
I’ve talked to a fair share of people — those who have been to counseling before and those who have never set foot in a therapist’s office — who break into a cold sweat when thinking about talking with a therapist. I have been in the client’s chair myself, and my experiences in counseling deeply inspired me to want to help others by becoming a therapist. I believe in the power of therapeutic change and benefit and I’ve also “been there” and empathize with how daunting it might seem to enact change in one’s life.
Anxiety and nervousness can precede a therapy appointment. They can cause you to drive around the block a few times before finally parking and walking into the office. I know that sometimes it can feel worse after the appointment, instead of better. I know that discomfort might be part of the protocol. I understand that talking about personal matters can feel foreign, vulnerable, and risky.
So why do it?? Because change can happen. Steps can be taken, with the trust and security of a therapeutic relationship, to achieve personal goals that bring peace, happiness, and clarity to one’s life. This is absolutely possible. But, you may wonder, what do I have to risk in order to achieve that change? These common fears may keep some folks from calling a therapist and today I wanted to “normalize” those fears — and talk about what to do to overcome them. Because everyone deserves a fair shot at a balanced and healthy life.
In working with clients in recovery from eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder, I often encounter some anxiety around change. Through my own recovery from an eating disorder, I went through various stages of change and different levels of readiness for change. I discovered that I needed to follow my own path, and it may take me up hills and down valleys; most significantly I found out that therapy, while terrifying at times, helped me make the changes that got me to the place I am today — healthy and fully in recovery!
Here are three of the biggest fears that those with an eating disorder who are contemplating therapy may experience. These can also be widened to anyone who is approaching the decision to pursue therapy:
Three Big Fears About Going to Therapy – and how to conquer them:
1.) My therapist is going to force me to change. This is not only a fear about therapy, but also a misconception. A therapist will never (should never) force someone to change. We cannot. It is your life and you make your own choices. Sometimes when health issues are highly concerning, a client may enter a treatment center where he/she must follow certain rules. These rules are for the therapeutic benefit of the client, and while the rules may limit behaviors that are self-destructive, it is ultimately up to the client to open his/herself up to changing thoughts, behaviors, and ways of relating to self and others. If you enter therapy, you are in charge. This isn’t to say that your therapist is not going to challenge some things you do or say, but confrontation is a therapeutic tool that is also for the good of the client. Therapists point out what we sometimes cannot admit to ourselves.
2.) If I open up and am honest, my therapist is going to judge me. Honesty is one of the biggest risks in therapy — because being honest makes us vulnerable, possibly subject to judgment. Honesty is also a vehicle of change, as it allows us to connect with how we truly feel and explore those feelings. A trusting, solid, connected therapeutic relationship can foster a healing and safe space for honesty and this is one of the cornerstones of therapy. A therapist’s job is to be a non-judgemental and non-biased professional whom you can feel comfortable talking with about personal and sometimes painful subjects. If you have concerns about judgment in the therapy room, this is certainly a topic that should be discussed.
3.) If I go to therapy, I will have to keep going for the rest of my life. Sometimes people are afraid of “opening a can of worms”, and feel it’s safer to keep the genie in the bottle. I can relate to this. When I share some of my personal therapy experiences with clients, they sometimes ask me how long it took me in therapy to feel healthy and stable enough to go out on my own. As everyone’s path is different, the length of therapy might be conditional based on each person’s needs and goals. For some, a few sessions might alleviate some presenting symptoms. For others, a few weeks, or months. In the initial few sessions, I go over goals with my clients and we keep track of how progress is going as we move on. The goal of therapy is to help you find tools and strengths that you can utilize whenever you need them, and to empower you to know that you can walk on your own two feet. So, while I empathize with the fear of “being in therapy forever”, this is not ultimately healthy, and an experienced therapist should continue the conversation with you about how you are feeling as therapy moves forward.
Do you relate to any of these common therapy worries? Entering into therapy is an investment in yourself — your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. To find balance and health, this may involve talking about uncomfortable things and confronting destructive coping mechanisms. As someone who has gone through therapy and sometimes still checks in with my therapist, I can attest to the benefits of this process. You are worth the investment!
If you or anyone you know is thinking about “dipping your toe” into therapy, please contact me and I’d be happy to tell you more about the process and what to expect: 720-340-1443 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week I had several colleagues suggest to me that I read the article “The ‘Busy’ Trap” in the New York Times. ‘Oh, yes’, I responded to them. ‘I noticed that…but I was too busy today to take a look at it. I’ll try to put it on my list for tomorrow.” Ironic, right? When I finally sat down today to read the piece, I was left with tears in my eyes by the end of it. The message of this article speaks so true to me, as well as to many others, which is why it was posted all over social media; I am guessing I was not the only one who was ‘too busy’ to read it. Trust me, allow yourself the several minutes out of your day to read this piece; it will take you by the shoulders as well, shake you, and ask ‘why do you feel the need to be so BUSY all the time?’.
Several points struck me about this piece: one, that we ‘choose’ to be busy. It’s almost a distraction, a buffer, from our raw, naked selves. The author, Mr. Kreider, points out that those who work three jobs and don’t have a spare minute to sit on the couch because they need to provide for their families are busy….but mostly really tired. They don’t have a choice. The rest of us are busy because it can make us feel important, worthy, useful, productive. But if we are too busy to slow down and truly live our lives, to allow ourselves to do activities that feed our souls instead of drain them, then we are losing a part of ourselves and not gaining anything.
I am one of the busy ones. Mr. Kreider speaks of fleeing the city to an ‘Undisclosed Location’ where he could write in the morning and play in the afternoon, but where he had no phone or internet and he ‘remembered buttercups, stink bugs, and the stars’. Being a business owner, a perfectionist, and a recipient of society’s pressures and expectations to SUCCEED, I often feel like I should be busy.
When I went on vacation in June, a whole week was spent in the countryside with no phone, no internet, no television, and only the canal, the cows, the sheep, and the birds to provide distractions. It was incredibly difficult for me to sit and be idle. I realize now, after being back in the busy-ness of work, that idleness is not just challenging for me. Mr. Kreider realized that “idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”
I am blessed to be given the gift of providing support to those who are struggling with eating disorders and I am grateful that I am allowed to be a witness of their journey towards wholeness and recovery. I have learned from my own recovery as well as from supporting the recovery of my clients that sitting with idleness is a challenge. We feel we should be busy, doing something, or distracted in order to be at peace or of worth. At the end of the day, it feels good to say ‘I did this today’. It is a great feeling to accomplish a goal, but I am reflective now of how I define these goals. I would like to place as much value on reading a book in the hammock as I do on ‘getting tasks done’ from my to-do list. Shifting this perspective replenishes my vital energy and supports my life-long recovery. Sitting with myself in an idle space is not a piece of cake, but it is the pathway to embracing all parts of myself and finding value in the simplest things.
An article in the April 22, 2012 New York Times entitled: “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already” did its job and caused me to reflect on my career, my personal journey, and the complexity of the therapeutic process. I ended up evoking an audible “hmmmmm.”
Some of my therapist colleagues and I meditated on the clinical and ethical reasons for working with clients and wondered how we know when our clients can ‘graduate’ from therapy. The article, written by New York psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert, is not anti-therapy. It’s mostly a conversation-starter about why clients seek therapy and the reasons that they stay in it. I strongly encourage you to read the article and come up with your own thoughts and opinions about it — as it is a very personal subject.
Therapy, in general, is very personal. This is why I don’t think there is a black-and-white answer to the question of “when is enough, enough?”. When are we ever finished evolving and changing as human beings?
I was motivated to reflect on my own personal philosophy about therapy as I read the article, both as a client of therapy myself and as a clinician. As I work often with eating disorders (bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, binge eating), I contemplated an additional factor of readiness for change in the therapeutic process. I am blessed with encountering clients who are at every stage of the change process….for some, this means coming once or twice and then taking their own journey, perhaps, to decide how and when they are ready to commit to recovery.
Recovery in and of itself is fluid and ambiguous. Some clients come for a while, take some time off, and then return when they feel they need some accountability, some support, some insight. When I was struggling with my own eating disorder, I was in and out of therapy many times — “tasting” it a bit, smelling it, figuring out if it was what felt right at the time. I had to do a lot of soul searching before I committed to therapy, and I credit my experience in therapy as my saving grace and the avenue I chose to get to my own recovery. Since that time, I have gone back to therapy several times, as a way of checking in and tuning up any loose ends. I believe that therapy will be an essential tool for my mental health for decades to come. I also believe it helps me grow as a mental health professional, as I am able to know and understand the benefits of working with a therapist whom I wish to emulate myself.
What struck me about the article was the way the author looked at different therapeutic orientations and how (he felt) some are more effective than others. For example, Mr. Alpert states: “there’s a difference between feeling good and changing your life; feeling accepted and validated by your therapist doesn’t push you to reach your goals. It might even encourage you to stay mired in dysfunction.” Herein lies the debate between supporting and enabling a client: how do we know when to encourage a client to try to spread their wings and fly, and how do we know if it would be harmful (ethically, therapeutically) to do so? This caused me to consider three of the foundations of therapy: unconditional positive regard, empathy, and non-judgment.
Are these enough and sufficient to help clients create the change they wish to see in their lives? Or do clients need something more?
I believe that the answers depend on each unique client and the therapist with whom they commit to working with. Not every client and therapist are going to be a perfect fit at the perfect time. This is why it is important for clients to get to know a therapist, see if they connect, decide if the therapeutic relationship will be strong enough to create a framework for healing and change. I feel that when the relationship is based on trust, safety and honesty, change can happen. What is said or not said can be secondary.
I am still reflecting on the complexity of therapy and the players that it involves. Client needs and goals are the focus of the process, but these can be met in so many different ways. Just as every human is different, there is no one “perfect” or “right” way to engage in therapy…and that’s the beauty of it!
I am often asked: “What is recovery? How do I know when I am recovered from my eating disorder?”. With these perplexing concepts, there is no single correct answer. Recovery from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or any other type of disordered eating is individualized and unique for each person. This special journey is what makes recovery from eating disorders both challenging and rewarding: during recovery, we each learn tools and embellish our strengths that will guide us to a life of balance and wellness for many years to come. We also may slip and stumble a few times during this journey. But staying the course is the key to sustained recovery.
Today, I’d like to shed some light on what to do once you have come to realize that you are “recovered” or “in recovery” from an eating disorder. Again, this is my perception — my feelings about my own recovery. They may help others, they may not. Take what helps. I am safe in assuming that the majority of those in recovery will agree that eliminating destructive and self-harming behaviors is a central key to recovery (behaviors such as bingeing, purging, restricting, over-exercising, cutting, and others). While it is normal to have occasional slip-ups of behaviors while working to find security in recovery, the true definition of recovery must involve a cessation of behaviors. Behaviors such as those listed above are symptoms of a deeper psychological issue. When working to find peace and wellness from behaviors, the root of the issue must be defined and nourished. When this is done, or is “in the process” of being uncovered, harmful behaviors will naturally cease because they will not be needed as a coping mechanism any longer.
One of my favorite quotes I heard recently by Cheri Huber reminded me of the complexity of recovery:
“Having an attachment ripped from deep in our being does not feel kind. Yet when it is gone, when the wound is healing, we can see that the process was one of pure compassion.” ~Cheri Huber
Eating disorders are like an attachment. They are like a relationship. They will never abandon us, deny us, leave us, or disagree with us. We can always rely on them. This is why it is so challenging to let them go — for all of the pain they have caused us, they have also satiated an inherently untended need. I interpreted this quote to mean that when we have our eating disorder taken away from us — whether it was of our own initiative or not — there is pain. The beginning stages of recovery are often the most excruciating; it can feel like ripping off a band-aid and exposing an open wound. Sometimes, it is too painful to bear, and we feel we need to continue using our behaviors until we are stronger in coping. When we sit with the feelings under the eating disorder, when we begin to heal, we can notice that giving ourselves compassion is one of the biggest keys in maintaining a solid recovery.
Here are a few ideas that might help in continuing to deepen your commitment to recovery:
1.) Define what the underlying struggles are, and always keep those in your awareness. This may come in the form of anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties or remnants from a traumatic event. You do not need to focus your awareness on these directly all the time, but tuck them into your consciousness so that you can be notified when you might need to cope with them in a healthier way.
2.) Remember what you have achieved. Again, this needs to be in balance — don’t re-traumatize yourself by vividly placing yourself back into what it was like to be in the eating disorder, but reflect on the steps you have taken, the victories you have obtained, and the strength you have deepened within yourself. Sometimes when I am feeling down, I summon up my gratitude for my own recovery and that I got myself there.
3.) Connect with community. It is always therapeutic to be part of a community that understands and supports you through your recovery. Recovery can be a life-long process in stages, and you may have different needs as you take steps down the road. This can come in the form of joining writing or poetry groups, if it is healing for you to write about your recovery. You also might participate in volunteer activities with local eating disorder support centers. In Denver, the Eating Disorder Foundation offers many volunteer opportunities or classes you can take and expand your horizons in their new support center “A Place of Our Own”.
This is only the beginning of a list of ideas to maintain recovery. What are some of your ideas? Remember always that the journey is challenging at times, but there is hope for a full, sustained, and healthy recovery from anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.
What does recovery mean to you? If you have struggled with an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder or if you struggle with body image issues, you may think about the term ‘recovery’ often. My own recovery from bulimia was not a straight, neat line. It went up and down and every which way before I finally secured a lasting and healthy recovery. As the year 2011 draws to an end, I am reflective about what the start of a new year brings to us in terms of self-care and intuitive healing.
A new year brings a fresh start, or the possibility of one. I find this to be hopeful, but I also am worried about the message that the holidays can send to those struggling with eating and weight issues (and even to those who aren’t). We are a ‘diet-minded society’ in the United States and I find that this can be harmful to those who are striving to create a unique and personal sense of inner peace with food. I heard an advertisement on the radio the other day that said something like “Indulge now, because you know that there will only be celery sticks after the new year”. This persuasive advertising was meant to sell me some type of food that tastes “really good” but is “really bad” for me — and then it kicks in a nice helping of guilt at the end. Does expecting to feel guilty and needing to ‘compensate’ for eating delicious food lead to a balanced relationship with food? I am struggling with the message that this concept sends to us all.
So, what does a balanced and healthy recovery mean to you? I want to be careful to not fall into the dominant mindset that suggests a new year’s resolution should be “to recover”; don’t get me wrong, I think that embracing recovery, if it is the right time for you to do so, can be a life-changing commitment. However, feeling forced to do so, or guilt-tripped into it, as advertisements want us to feel, is not the way to a lasting and comprehensive recovery from bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder. The new year is simply a new opportunity to make a change, to know that your life is worth it, that you deserve to live free of eating disorders and in peace with yourself. Recovery must come from within you. Only you can decide when and how you want your recovery from eating disorders to be.
For me, the end of the year is a time of reflection, goal-setting, and personal development. I have been practicing this for many years, all the way through my own recovery and beyond. If you or someone you know is contemplating making a stride towards recovery, I encourage you to embrace some of these same practices. Here are a few questions to set your recovery wheels in motion:
-Why choose recovery now? What do you have to gain? What do you have to lose?
-What risks are involved in choosing recovery from an eating disorder?
-What fears do you have about recovery? (weight gain, uncomfortable feelings, etc.) What hopes do you have about recovery? (positive thoughts, self-acceptance, healthy relationship with food, etc.)
-What support systems do you have available to you? Who can help you? (more on this below)
-Draw a picture or write a short story about what your life could be like if you lived in freedom from the eating disorder. Who are you and what are your strengths?
-How will you know when you have made some steps towards helping yourself? What will be different?
Sitting down with a pen and paper (or a computer) and really concentrating on these questions can give you a sense of direction and can bring some clarity towards your motivations for change. Sometimes you may only feel in 5% of yourself that you want to recovery. That is okay. Know where you stand today and think about some goals (even if some feel far-fetched right now!) to help yourself start to picture what your life would be like without guilt, shame, and the confinement of an eating disorder. You deserve this freedom!