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The Labyrinth of Recovery: An Ancient and Mysterious Archetype in “Eating in the Light of the Moon”

“In surrendering to the winding path, the soul finds wholeness.”

As I embark upon research and reading for my presentation at Friday’s Conscious Living Book Club event, I have come across the metaphor of the labyrinth.  This metaphor is truly speaking to me at this moment.  In Eating in the Light of the Moon, by Anita Johnston, PhD, the symbol of the labyrinth highlights each of the chapters as Dr. Johnston explores how metaphors, stories, and fables can describe our relationships with food and can help us understand and heal from disordered patterns of eating and experiencing our bodies.

“The labyrinth walk is a request to nature for harmony.”

A labyrinth is a pathway that loops back repeatedly upon itself, reaches the center, and then winds its way back out again.  It’s different from a maze in that there are no barriers, false turns, or dead ends.  You cannot do anything wrong.  There’s only one path to the labyrinth, and you have no choice but to follow it.  The labyrinth is typically in the form of a circle, with a meandering but purposeful path, from the edge to the center and back out again.  On the spiritual journey we meet fellow travelers, obstacles and unexpected turns. The labyrinth walk is a process meditation that seems to suspend time as well as judgment and invites us to embody our experience in a completely new way.

Many see the labyrinth as a symbol of the journey of life, death, and rebirth and our journey through life.  In recovery from disordered eating or from any other type of addictive behavior, says Dr. Johnston, the journey requires you to follow a twisting, turning, winding path to your center.  You must leave behind perceptions of yourself that you have adopted from others and you must reclaim your own inner authority.

On your path, listen to your inner voice and allow it to offer guidance and support as you search for true thoughts, feelings, and desires.  Let go of linear expectation of progress, disengage the rational mind, embrace the power of emotion and intuition.  When you are able to do this, you can find freedom from behaviors and compulsions that have seemed to be holding you hostage, and your inner voice can guide you to nourish the TRUE hunger that you are feeling.

One of the cool things that I love about the labyrinth is that you can actually, physically, take this walk.  There are hundreds of labyrinths dotting our earth, many ancient and naturally born.  They have been healing tools for us for thousands of years!

As you wander the maze either literally or figuratively, imagine that you are wandering to the true center of yourself, you inner voice, your pure soul.  However, when you get to the center, when you find the essence of who you truly are, this is not the end of your journey — your task then becomes to find your way back out again and exit the labyrinth, and as you do so, integrate this new vision or understanding of yourself with a new way of being in the world.  This is the most pure definition of eating disorder recovery.

A mentor of mine uses the labyrinth concept regularly with the clients she helps, and envisions someday creating a real labyrinth for them to follow as they are working through healing issues in their own lives.  She had the idea that as they wandered through the labyrinth they could share all of the worries, anxieties, doubts, or negative self talk that plague them every day, and offer space to these feelings.  But once they reach the center and turn to find their way back out, they will come up against these feelings again on the path and this time they must offer them compassion, hope, and grace.  This exercise allows our FULL experience to be accepted and all feelings we might have, but as we integrate a new worldview on our way out of the labyrinth (or on our way in recovery) we can show ourselves that we are able to fully experience joy, peace, and love as well as the “negative” feelings.

Tell me:

  • How do you think the labyrinth could be a rich tool for eating disorder recovery?
  • How could it help you heal parts of yourself and discover what you are TRULY hungry for?
  • How does the metaphor of the labyrinth fit in with your own life journey and soul searching?
  • What other metaphors can be used in recovery?

Leave a comment with your own thoughts on this concept and any other ideas for how it can be healing!


Addictions as metaphor: What are you TRULY hungering for??

closeupofdancingitlotmI thrive on being inspired. Experiencing others’ wisdom feeds my soul.  Today I am particularly inspired by two amazing women: Chela Davison and Anita Johnston.  These two women are writers, healers, and visionaries.  Chela writes in poetic prose on her blog, words that we can all relate to: “Our addictions keep us all wrapped up, entangled in the illusion of release”.

When we become addicted to something — alcohol, food, sex, gambling, drugs, work — this forms a way of coping with a particular sensation that is uncomfortable.  “But it’s not the vice that we crave”, writes Chela, “it’s the relief from the arising sensation.”  What if we found a way to eliminate the suffering that can come with pushing away uncomfortable feelings, and instead found a way of being with them in an accepting way?  

Dr. Johnston is a clinical psychologist and the author of one of the all-time flagship books of my own journey to recovery and ultimately helping others, Eating in the Light of the Moon.  I am fortunate enough to be invited as the guest speaker at the Conscious Living Book Club on June 14, and I have chosen this book as a spark for discussion and deep meditation.  Why? Because it invites us to explore, through storytelling, myth and metaphor, our relationships with food and emotions, where “stories help us connect with our inner world, to the natural rhythms and cycles of the earth, and to the power of our intuitive wisdom.”

Chela and Anita both draw us deeper — they invite us to truly meditate on what nourishes us and how food or other “things” can become ploys for trying to meet some deeper need.  Can we find what we are truly looking for and stop the seemingly endless race (sometimes in a hamster wheel, spinning, spinning) to avoid what we are feeling?  What if we already have everything that we will ever NEED?

I invite you to begin a meditation on what your “drug of choice” — whether it be food, alcohol, sex, relationships, shopping, exercise — truly does for you (or used to help you with, but doesn’t work so well any more).  What’s your metaphor?  What are you truly hungry for?  Could it be love?  Attention?  Self-acceptance?  Companionship? What is its symbol?

We are taught from a young age that pain is something that is bad to feel.  That we shouldn’t feel it.  That we should do everything we can to change it.  This might involve eating, drinking, or taking drugs as a way to try to change that feeling.  However, pain is a normal, human feeling that we all feel.  It’s okay to feel it.  The true struggle comes when we exert endless amounts of energy to try to avoid it, and then we develop eating disorders and other addictions because it doesn’t work.  Food, at that point, is not what we’re truly hungry for.   

As infants, we eat intuitively.  We don’t want to eat when we’re not hungry.  Sometimes, as a way to try to meet selfLoveFortune-500x375our needs, our caregivers may feed us when we actually are tired, lonely, in pain.  Thus begins the cycle of trying to soothe an emotional need with a physical thing.  Food can take on a whole other role: companion, soother, nurturer.

How do we free ourselves from these struggles?  First, we must understand what we are truly hungering for.  Then, we must find a way of connecting with our bodies and our emotions (ALL of our emotions, even the scary ones) in a healthy, accepting way.  At this point, we are able to shift the way we experience our emotions and find a way of being with them that is nurturing, not self-destructive.  Your need to use food or other substances in unhealthy ways will no longer be so forceful!

So what’s your story?  How does food talk to you?  Eating in the Light of the Moon uses a metaphor of an old woman in Japan who followed her hunger to a dark cave filled with scary creatures who tried to keep her captive.  Only by finding a way to give them what they TRULY needed, was she able to escape.  Reading this, and other stories in the book, can help us sort out what’s going on under the surface in a fanciful, endearing and enlightening way.

Interested in learning more?  Attend the Book Club on June 14, or email me for your own FREE copy of Eating in the Light of the Moon. I would love to hear your own thoughts and musings!

Tell me: What are you TRULY hungry for? And how can you nourish that hunger in a compassionate, accepting way?

 


What Would it Be Like to Accept Your Emotions Instead of Fight Them? An ACT Approach to Mindful Recovery

images-11 copyI don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to change something.  When I was a teenager, the focal point of the thing I wanted to change was myself.  This dissatisfaction with myself, or parts of myself, spiraled into an exhaustive effort and cycle of “if only I looked like…if only I could do…THEN, I’d be happy”.  Let me tell you how that ended up: in an eating disorder.  Only when I was able to accept myself, ALL of myself, and the range of emotions I experienced on a daily basis, was I able to stop destructive behaviors and lead a value-driven life.  I know that I am not unique in the way I was thinking; I believed that my emotions were the problem and that my thoughts were “bad” and that I needed to change all of it.  When I stopped struggling with all of those beliefs, I was free.  That didn’t mean accepting the negative beliefs and talk I was saying to myself, but stopping the struggle with my emotions, as I learned that it is not the emotions themselves that create dis-stress or dis-orders, it is the struggle, or attempted control, over the emotions that is the problem.

Eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, compulsive over-exercising and other types of disordered eating behaviors as well as body image struggles can be borne out of a desire to find happiness and peace — but somewhere that mission gets diverted into destructive behaviors that lead to suffering.  It seems that there is a call to find a way to “be with” our emotions in non-destructive ways.

I am currently getting trained in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, an empirically-based therapy that “makes no attempt to reduce symptoms, but gets symptom reduction as a by-product”, writes one of its founders, Russell Harris.  This approach is rooted in values, forgiveness, mindfulness, acceptance, compassion, living in the present moment, and accessing a transcendent sense of self, a therapy that encourages us to accept what is without judgment, and to be find some peace in our struggle (while acknowledging that some type of suffering is part of the human experience).  ACT has been clinically proven to effectively treat eating disorders and other types of conditions such as OCD, anxiety, chronic pain, and stress, amongst many others.

ACT uses six core principles to help people develop more psychological flexibility and to get out of some of the rigid patterns that keep us stuck in self-destructive pattens:

  • Cognitive defusion: when we are able to ‘step back’ and observe language without being caught up in it.  We can notice our thoughts at a distance, release some ownership of them, and tell our minds “thanks, mind, for that thought” instead of automatically believing it to be true or a real part of ourselves.  As we defuse our thoughts, they have much less influence.  This can be very effective with negative self-talk or eating disordered thoughts that could lead to destructive behaviors.
  • Acceptance:  making space for unpleasant or uncomfortable feelings, emotions, sensations, urges, and allowing them to come and go without struggling with them, running from them, or letting them “drive the bus” (a metaphor in ACT where emotions may feel overwhelming but you can still take charge of driving the bus of your life).  I find this to be quite powerful in eating disorder recovery because it allows us to be with our emotions and to find a way of accepting themimages-12 copy (even if we don’t necessarily like them) so that they don’t feel like big scary monsters that we need to flee from.
  • Contact with the present moment:   the practice of bringing full awareness to your here-and-now experiences with openness, interest and receptiveness.  This is akin to mindfulness, where we are able to engage fully in our present moment and be open to all that it has to offer without trying to change any of it or judge it.  The key here is: not trying to change anything.  Yes, we have painful experiences that we would perhaps like to change or erase.  The goal of mindfulness, which in this way is helpful to recovery, is to be in the present with openness so that we can feel our emotions and hear our thoughts but have some space from them so that we can make a choice about what type of behavior is associated with this experience.  This can lead to choosing less-destructive behaviors as a way of relating to the emotional experience we have.
  • The Observing Self: a way of experiencing directly that you are not your thoughts, feelings, memories, roles, sensations, etc.  In eating disorder recovery, this means disconnecting from the eating disorder and seeing who you are separate from the ED and empowering that self to heal, soothe, and find balance in accepting ways.
  • Values:  clarifying what is most important to you, deep in your heart what gives you energy, joy, purpose.  What sort of person you want to be, what is meaningful and significant to you, and what you stand for.  Finding and focusing on your personal values can facilitate the process of accepting your emotions and can be a motivation for sitting with uncomfortable feelings in pursuit of a value-driven life.  Values are what come after an eating disorder; our values are the parts of us that were suffocated by the ED and are powerful and eager to be free.
  • Committed Action:   This is the “action” piece; setting goals, guided by your values and taking effective action to achieve them.  This makes it all worth it!  This is the behavioral part of recovery where destructive behaviors become extinct and value-driven choices and actions replace them.

I’m eager to utilize this approach with clients and am excited about the way that it encourages us to be ourselves, knowing that we are okay just as we are.  To me, this is a big sigh of relief!

Are you interested in  applying some of these principles in a hands-on experiential way?  Are you ready to cultivate a more peaceful, accepting relationship with food and yourself?  Join me and colleague (and ACT expert) Christine Allison, MA, LPC on March 2nd, 2013 for a workshop where we will practice all of this!

Early bird special ends on 2/15 so ACT now!!!

Held at my office, 709 Clarkson St, Denver, on 2/3 from 10am-2:30pm, the early bird rate is $65, and after 2/15 it will go up to $85.

Contact me to sign up TODAY — seats are filling up!

See the flyer here:

Cultivating a Peaceful Relationship with Food

Read more about ACT: Embrace Your Demons by Russ Harris


Nourishing Growth and Giving Breath to my Hungry Private Practice

I’m very excited to be selected and featured on the Inaugural Private Practice From the Inside Out Blog Carnival!  Private Practice From the Inside Out (PPIO) is a blog and professional resource center created in 2003 by Tamara Suttle, M.Ed, LPC, and is “designed to help [therapists in private practice] cultivate an openness to new and different ways of developing your practice into a vibrant story of possibilities”.  She has been an invaluable resource to me as I build and nurture my own private practice and I encourage you to sign up for her weekly blog posts of you are thinking of starting your own practice!

The theme for this blog carnival was “Creative Responses in Building a Private Practice”.  Below you will find my reflections on tending to my hungry practice and “feeding” its needs.  Please note the links at the end of the article to posts by my colleagues who were also featured in the blog carnival.  I’m so grateful to be among such talented, creative, and dedicated colleagues.

Nourishing Growth and Giving Breath to My Hungry Private Practice

 

The day I founded my private practice, Kate Daigle Counseling, I breathed life into a dream I’ve always held.  Today, more than two years later, my practice can breathe on its own, as I continue to tend to its hunger, its fullness, its voice, its energy.

I have imagined my journey to developing my private practice as akin to nourishing a living being.  My practice grows; my practice breathes; my practice slows its steps and stops for reflection.  I find I can best support my practice by not only becoming informed in business-building skills, networking opportunities and clinical best practices, but by also approaching my practice as a creative and unique entity whose needs are always evolving.  By relating to my practice in this way, I am also able to tune into my own needs in my personal, clinical, and professional life and notice where I am starved, where I am satisfied, where I am growing my branches to connect with others.

Developing a successful private practice involves embodying multiple roles, some of which might feel out-of-sync with our clinical therapist training.  Therapists, myself included, can feel uncomfortable standing up for the financial needs of their practices and shy away from the business side of this career.  Networking with large groups of other professionals might feel intimidating to a therapist who thrives in small one-on-one environments.  At times, the work involved in this journey can feel exhausting and overwhelming and might dry up our internal resources.  When this occurs, I try to tune into what my practice is asking for.  As I use body-centered techniques in my work with clients to try to heal the mind-body connection, I similarly need to support my practice and myself in the healthiest and most authentic way so that my business can grow deep roots and I can maintain energy to breathe into it.

What do living things need?  How do trees grow deep and sustainable roots so that they may provide clean air and shade to those in need?  How can I tend to my practice so that I can continue to offer support to clients and take care of my own personal needs, allowing me to be as present, open, and connected as possible?

Wearing my “new” therapist shoes  – I am of the mindset that I will always be learning and growing throughout my career – I have settled with a few observations as to how I can support the authentic, creative, and organic growth of my private practice.

  • When it’s thirsty, give it water.  This might mean different things for each practice, but I know that my practice needs to be watered in several ways.  I try to make time for writing, both personal writing and business-related writing such as blogging; I make time to read articles related to clinical practices as well as business-building; and I plan days that are not too demanding on me so that I can have energy available for my clients, who are the most important part of my practice.  I also must schedule in self-care and make it just as significant as anything else.
  • Help it to connect to others so that it may grow, learn, and rejuvenate.  One of the most nourishing things for my practice is its connection to other therapists, practices, and other health professionals.  As my practice extends its branches all over this city and into other cities, I am able to deepen my knowledge, identify referral sources, and find solace that there is always support out there if I need it.  This, in turn, helps me identify my ideal client, refer out when a client’s issues are out of my competency, and support my clients in a comprehensive and complete manner.
  • If your practice seems under the weather, there’s always a remedy (even if it’s the one you’d least expect).  One of the things I love most about having a private practice is its uniqueness wherein I am able to have creative freedom in how I structure my approach.  In this way, when I come upon a problem or feel stuck, there are numerous possibilities to try to attend to it.  This might feel overwhelming at times, but I remind myself to reframe and become open to alternatives.  A hard-learned lesson about supporting my practice has been allowing my business to digest, breathe and settle.  Why is this challenging?  Because there is a feeling that I “need to always be working on something related to my business” and that “it won’t succeed unless I’m meeting my daily goals”.  Well, these goals have led me to feel burnt out and drained at times, and by stepping back and taking a day off, I am able to truly give back to my practice in a refreshed, mindful way.

By approaching my private practice as a living, breathing being who has needs and hungers, its heartbeat enables me to offer compassion and space for it to grow.  In this way, I can creatively plan ahead for how my practice might look as it matures over the years, and how I can continue nurture this meaningful dream.

 

Don’t forget to continue your ride at the PPIO Blog Carnival!  Other informative and interesting submissions include:

Please feel free to comment on my post and any of these unique posts and begin a discussion about your own creative responses to building a private practice!

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Welcome, autumn! Loss and re-birth as a new season emerges

As we welcomed the arrival of autumn on September 22nd, we opened a new chapter of crisp fall air, changing colors, brisk mornings, and harvest dinners.  This is what fall is all about and for many, it brings an inner comfort and a desire to snuggle under the blankets with a big cup of hot tea.  What else does autumn represent?  As each season passes, I am always mindful of the gifts from the outgoing season and the promises of the one yet to come.  As nature cycles through her natural patterns, humans and all animals alike take notice of this change.

Change is embraced by some and feared by others.  When one is in recovery from an eating disorder such as bulimia, binge eating, anorexia, or any other type of disordered eating, change can bring overwhelming anxiety as it suggests a shift in an all-too-familiar routine.  I often sit with clients and hold space for them to share these anxieties, excitements, worries, and anticipations of upcoming changes in their lives.  I like to remember that with every change comes a loss as well as a new birth.  Moving into a new home is a significant change in someone’s life, bringing new things to adjust to, new neighbors, new routines.  Going back to school similarly offers some “unknowns”, some uncertainties of what is yet to come which might feel unsettling for some.  A birth of a new child is a huge shift in a family, as the child is welcomed into the fold and the parents adjust to new responsibilities, expectations, and roles.

If you feel stuck in a destructive cycle of bingeing and purging, negative self talk that devastates your self-esteem, or any other type of harmful behavior, you might be ready to make a change in your life.  Clients bring with them this hope for change, for a life without self-destructive behaviors or thoughts, and with a hope for accepting and loving themselves.  They can also admit to some fears about what they might have to “give up” or “confront” when making this change.  This is completely normal!  Just as fall eventually turns into winter, a time of hibernation and reflection, change is inevitable — and it can feel simple to slip into a mindset of “dreading” or “avoiding” change.

I try to remind my clients (and myself, if I find myself getting stuck), that winter has its own gifts to offer and that spring will come again.  While some may see winter as a time of cold and darkness, you also might approach winter as a time of rejuvenation, slowing down, resting, and preparing for the birth of spring.  A new routine, a different way of approaching and caring for yourself, trying to accept your feelings instead of push them away — these all represent change in our lives.  And instead of focusing on what is wrong about them, perhaps we could ask ourselves to notice the benefits of this change and remind ourselves that a re-birth is yet to come, whatever that looks like for each of us.

Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself about your relationship to change in your life:

— What am I losing in this change, and how can I offer myself kindness and compassion around this?

—  What am I gaining with this change in terms of growth, healing, and self-care?

—  How can I be mindful about this change, and check in with myself daily around my feelings about it and try to remind myself of the gifts of the present moment?

Don’t forget to turn your attention inward and notice your emotions around this transition.  New beginnings, like autumn or any new beginning in your life, might bring up unresolved feelings or issues from previous life cycles.  Perhaps autumn reminds you of a friendship that was lost last autumn which you haven’t allowed yourself to feel in some time.  Maybe autumn brings the birthday of a child and each year you are reminded of the pure joy you felt the day he or she was born.

allow yourself to feel.  Journal about what you feel, draw what you feel, sing what you feel, dance what you feel.  There are no “good” or “bad” feelings, and like a wave in the ocean, each feeling will eventually ride out.

Nature allows us endless opportunities for healing, re-birth, renewal, and getting back in touch with ourselves.  How are you going to embrace this new season in your life?


Dishonesty in treatment and recovery: working the stages of change in eating disorder recovery

Recovery from an eating disorder is a complex and difficult process.  I believe that it takes a combination of several factors to fully recover:  honesty, accountability, compassion, and determination.   Treating eating disorders is also challenging because treatment may require holding all of those factors all at once and finding a balance with them in the therapeutic process.

Many people enter counseling because they want to create a new way of living their lives.  They have a desire to change.  The readiness to change, I think, it probably the single most determining factor in actually creating a change.  There are several stages of readiness to change, and clients may show up in any of these stages.

The stages of readiness to change are:

1.) Precontemplation – at this stage, almost all of the desire to change is external to the client, meaning they might be forced to come to therapy, they might be ambivalent about it, they may change only if the external pressure is significant enough — but this type of change is typically short-lived if not internalized.  People in the precontemplation stage might feel ‘demoralized and don’t want to think about their problem because they feel that the situation is hopeless. “There is certain comfort in recognizing that demoralization is a natural feeling that accompanies this stage-and in realizing that if you take yourself systematically through all the stages of change, you can change.”‘

2.) Contemplation.  People in this stage realize they might be stuck and desire for things to be different.  “People acknowledge that they have a problem and begin to think seriously about solving it. Contemplators struggle to understand their problem, see its causes, and begin to wonder about possible solutions.”  Often, people in this stage are not quite ready to risk taking action, and as a result can stay in this stage for a very long period of time.

3.) Preparation.  This is the stage where people begin to make changes — within the next few weeks or a month.  This intention is made public, perhaps by involving loved ones or support systems.  It is important to feel solid in this stage and to develop a foundational plan for how to follow-through with the change; moving too quickly through it might decrease the person’s chances for success.

4.) Action. This is a ‘busy’ period where behavior is overtly changed and modified.  These changes may be more visible to other people (for example quitting smoking or decreasing eating disorder behaviors), but some of the internal work of this stage and prior stages might not be as overtly visible.

5.) Maintenance.  This stage is where changes and steps taken up until this point are consolidated and continually reintroduced to the client.  These might be solidifying new coping mechanisms and preventing relapses.  This is the longest stage of change and requires commitment and ‘active alertness’.

6.)  Termination:  The final goal!  This is where prior issues or struggles are no longer present and recovery feels solid.  In eating disorder recovery, this may mean that behaviors have been eliminated for a long period of time (years) but that alertness is still required to take care of oneself and prohibit a relapse.

Change involves not only modifying behaviors but learning to cope with and manage  emotions in a healthier way.  Lying and dishonesty in treatment and recovery from an eating disorder can come up commonly in several stages of change.  Those where the most committed action is involved — Preparation and Action stages — can create confusing and conflicting emotions.  When the eating disorder is directly confronted and perhaps threatened, it can try to take back control in such a direct way that it may manipulate the client into being dishonest or lying to their therapist or support system.  This is an attempt to remain ‘safe’, even though it may be maladaptive.

Why is this?  There are a few reasons why dishonesty creeps up in recovery.  It may be that the client wants to be “perfect” at recovery, or to please their therapist or loved ones because external validation may feel like the primary form of inner comfort.  If they are struggling, they may feel like they are disappointing those who are supporting them.

It also may come up as the client begins to realize the enormous loss that is felt when an eating disorder is taken away.  This change requires forming new relationships with the self and learning to cope in healthier, more fulfilling ways.  If the client has used the eating disorder to cope with an inner hunger or emptiness, thinking that this needs to be let go can be terrifying.  It is when the client has ‘fed’ that inner hunger in a more loving way that the eating disorder loses its power.

It is important for clinicians to recognize the signs of dishonesty in recovery.  This is a great time to enact change in the eating disorder behavioral process and to show compassion for the struggle that the client is experiencing.  Holding clients accountable and challenging them is a crucial part of the recovery process.  Parents and loved ones can learn more about their role in this process in an article written for parents called Your Role.

It is possible to fully recover from an eating disorder.  Sometimes this might mean going through a few of the stages of change several times, or staying in one for a period of time before you are ready to move on.  If you feel like you or someone you know is ready to make a healthy change in your life, please feel free to contact me for a free consultation at 720-340-1443.


Indicators of Eating Disorder Recovery: Where Are You on the Journey to Recovery?

A few weeks ago, I went to a panel of eating disorder professionals in Boulder, Colorado, which was the final event in the “Journey to Wholeness: From Anorexia to Addiction, Bipolar Disorder and Recovery” series sponsored by the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness and featuring renowned author Marya Hornbacher (author of such groundbreaking books as Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, and  Madness: A Bipolar Life, among many others).

The panel, featuring local eating disorder psychotherapist Isabelle Tierney and Toni Saiber, executive board member of the Eating Disorder Foundation, was truly inspiring to me as a mental health professional working with eating disorders, as well as someone who has recovered from my own eating disorder.  The panel members had all recovered themselves from eating disorders as well, and I appreciated the candidness about what it is like for them to pursue the passion in life of helping others find recovery.

A resounding theme of the event was HOPE.  What place does hope have in eating disorder recovery?  How does it support people in their journeys towards wholeness?  All panel members agreed that their own personal experiences have influenced and informed their practice today in a way that makes them, resoundingly, human.  I was inspired by the authenticity of panel members:  “sometimes, when I’ve had a challenging week, I still have to notice how I try to use food to cope”; “recovery is a lifetime process, always evolving, always present”; “I’ve learned that when I said no to my eating disorder, there were things I then had to say yes to, which was challenging at first”.  These are the voices of recovery, spoken by those who are so inspired by this journey that they now make it their life’s work to help others.

I left with a renewed spirit, a passionate drive, a dedication to commit myself to my own life’s path: to help others find their recovery, too.

I was given a handout at the panel, one so useful that I have shared it with many of my clients.  It’s entitled “Indicators of Recovery” and I have attached it as a pdf at the end of this post.  One of the things I love about this handout is that NONE of the indicators have to do with food, weight, or appearance.  There is no counting or numbers.  These are indicators to a healthy and balanced life, and can be applied to anyone and everyone — not just those with an ED.  I like going through this with clients so that, on the sometimes tough days of recovery, they can see where they are and what they’ve already done in terms of recovery.  The first step is asking for help and that’s a HUGE one — maybe the most important one of all.

I want to point out a few of these indicators that really stand out to me, as a possible jump-off point to further discussion and reflection:

  • Learning “slips” and “relapses” are signs that something else is really going on and forgiving yourself while investigating the cause.  This is one of the more challenging tasks in recovery but one that is essential in embracing the process of the recovery roller coaster.  Just because you might have a slip does not mean that you have gone backwards.  Slips are opportunities to learn and to practice compassion.
  • Possessing a desire to change.  So simple sounding, yet so complex.  A client’s readiness to change indicates where they are on the journey to recovery and what challenges and what tasks he/she may find as they move forward.  I believe that this factor, as well as asking for help, are the two most essential factors to defining recovery.
  • Feeling negative emotions (or “challenging”) and knowing it is possible to live through them without needing to numb them.  This concept is one of the core concepts of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a therapeutic approach that I use in my practice.  Learning to sit with feelings, believe that they will pass, and not allowing them to overpower other emotions or desires is an integral part of recovery.  We all have feelings, some more challenging than others, and we do not have to allow them to control our experiences.
  • Becoming autonomous and not comparing yourself to others.  We are all beautiful and unique in our own ways.  Finding and relishing in that inner beauty is the antidote to eating disorder behavior.  
Many more Indicators to Recovery are found in the pdf: Indicators of Recovery
Whether you are a professional, a person who is trying to recover from an eating disorder, or a loved one of someone with an eating disorder, I hope you find this pdf helpful.
Which of these indicators are you embracing in your life today?  Which are you working on now?  Which are goals you have for your recovery?
For more support or resources about eating disorders and recovery, contact Kate at kate@katedaiglecounseling.com, or view her website at www.katedaiglecounseling.com.  Further resources: www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org.

 


So…I’m in recovery from my eating disorder; what do I do now?: Strategies to fully embrace life after ED

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.


Eating disorders and holiday anxiety: 8 tips for finding peace with food

The holidays are upon us and while they are meant for celebrations of family, friends, and love, they also can be full of stress and anxiety about food and weight.  What should I eat?  What should I NOT eat?  How do I avoid guilt about eating a big meal on Thanksgiving??  How do I release the anxiety so I can actually enjoy eating delicious holiday food with my loved ones?

These are choruses that may ring familiar to you.  Does this tape run through your head as you think about the upcoming family gatherings, holiday parties, pot-lucks, and holiday bake sales?  It’s hard to resist the temptation to dig into all of the delicious offerings.  It’s also challenging to let go of the fear of food that many of us identify with.  If you have struggled with an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or if you have experienced emotional stress over eating during the holidays, do not fear.  You can still enjoy the holidays AND enjoy the food!

I have struggled with eating disorders and know all too well the anxiety about what types of foods will be at holiday events and not being able to trust myself to healthily enjoy them.  I have been able to find peace with the season, and can enjoy in moderation all of the foods that I love!  For me, one of the biggest keys to this freedom is self-compassion — allowing myself to be present, find joy, and not dwell in self-judgment or guilt.

Here are ten tips for getting what you want out of the holiday season, keeping the food anxiety at bay, and truly enjoying the value of this special time of year.

Eight Tips for Overcoming Food Anxiety During the Holidays:

1.)  Don’t go to any gathering too hungry.  If you have a few stops to make at holiday events in an evening, have a little something to eat before you go so that you are not starving when you arrive amidst all of the delicious food.  When you arrive, check out all of the options and then decide which ones will make you feel good, satisfied, and happy.  Eat those in moderation.

2.)  Have a buddy in the know.  Whether it is a partner, family member, friend, or colleague, find someone who you can feel comfortable sharing your anxious feelings with.  Let them know what you hope to accomplish during the event and let them know what your worries are about.  Have them be a buddy for you as you focus your attention on enjoyment and not on fear.

3.)  Try not to label foods “good” or “bad”.  Labels are not healthy for any of us, as they can confine us into a place where we might not feel free to be who we are.  Foods feel the same way!  Sure, there are some foods that are healthier for you than others, but to truly overcome food anxiety it is important to not separate foods into groups.  You can eat anything in moderation.  If there is a food that you really love that you might label “bad”, try it anyway.  Try to have a small portion and eat it without judging yourself or the food.  See what happens!

4.)  Know where you can go and what you can do to release holiday anxiety in a healthy way.  Keeping active is an easy way to help your mind and your body feel in sync and energized.  Go to the park and take a walk around the lake.  Practice mindfulness or meditation.  Breathe.  Or perhaps you find peace listening to music or talking with a friend.  Before you enter a potentially stressful situation, identify your personal outlets for stress that you have known to be effective before.  Keep those close and plan them into your schedule.

5.) Give yourself a BREAK!  The holidays are meant to be enjoyed and to be a break from your regular routine.  Allow yourself to ease up on rules or expectations and try to truly be in the moment.  Family might be in town that you have not seen for a while.  Be present with them and don’t let food take that precious time away from you.  The same thing goes for work:  leave it at the office!

6.)  Come prepared with what you need in order to feel at peace.  At some family gatherings, family members may pressure you to “just eat!”, or “don’t you want more??”.  Before you enter this atmosphere, know what your personal goals are.  Perhaps they are to eat until you are satisfied and then stop.  Don’t feel pressured to eat more than you want or need to, despite what others say.  Etiquette experts say that it is ok to say no, so follow what your intuition tells you.

7.)  Ask for support.  If you are struggling with an eating disorder or with any form of emotional eating, there are many places you can go to find others who understand what you are feeling.  There are numerous local support groups for eating disorders (local Denver ones are found here), or you can reach out to a therapist or friend who can provide empathy, understanding, and supportive tools for helping you get through the stressful times.

8.) Don’t focus on numbers.  I don’t like numbers.  They can “tell” us what to feel about ourselves.  In terms of weight and food amounts and calories, numbers can be quite damaging.  During the holidays, try to feel what your body needs through its internal signals to you, not through counting calories or fat grams.  Your body has a voice and it wants to tell you exactly what it needs.  It intuitively will guide you to eat until you are satisfied physically and emotionally.  So leave the calculators at home and go out with a mission to eat intuitively, to enjoy the food, and to not control it.  Don’t allow the word ‘diet’ into your vocabulary!  The intuitive eating approach is guaranteed to help you overcome struggles with holiday food anxiety, eating disorders, and emotional stress.

I am hosting a workshop:  “Are you WEIGHTING for freedom from holiday emotional eating?” at my office on Tuesday, December 13th at 5:30pm.  Contact me for more information!

Have a happy, healthy, and stress-free holiday season!


Don’t let yourself go down in ashes! Top eight signs you are approaching burnout

Do you ever have those days where you’re exhausted before you have even gotten up from bed?  Does your list of tasks on your to-do list outnumber the time you have in the day?  We are all busy people, with many opportunities and priorities continually being juggled.  But how do you know when you just can’t keep all of those balls in the air anymore?  What I am referring to is possibly “burnout” and it affects all of us to some degree at varying points in our lives.  And trust me — it is both preventable and curable.  Burnout is commonly defined as “the experience of long-term exhaustion or diminished interest.”  I call it emotional exhaustion.

Burnout is not recognized as an official mental health condition in the DSM, but it has the power to impact every aspect of our daily lives if we do not recognize when it is creeping up.  Burnout is most commonly thought to occur in occupational or educational spheres (such as working too hard or too long), but I believe that it also can occur in our personal, social, and familial lives as well.  Humans need a break from consistent tasks or stimulation — and “too much of a good (or not so good) thing” can lead to burnout.  And allowing burnout to intrude too deeply in your life can significantly impact relationships with others as well as with yourself.  It can also lead to more serious conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Have you ever said to yourself “oh, I am so burned out by this assignment…I can’t even think anymore”, or “I am so exhausted that I can’t imagine going into work and sitting at that computer for one more day”?  We all can relate.  Here are eight signs that you might be approaching burnout and some tips for putting a halt to it before it turns you to ash:

Eight Signs You are Approaching Burnout:

1.)  You dread doing things that you normally love to do.  Now this may sound also like a symptom of depression, which it could be and that is why I noted that severe burnout can lead to other issues.  Burnout can take energy away from your career or favorite past-time, and it may be difficult to cut back on tasks because they are where you typically find joy and fulfillment.

2.)  You are emotionally unbalanced.  What does this mean?  It could mean a variety of things and only you can be the judge for your own emotions.  For some, it could mean that things that typically don’t upset you or impact you very much are somehow having a greater effect on your emotional state.  For example, a minor conflict with a co-worker can create a heated discussion and cause one of you to leave in tears.

3.)  You have trouble saying “no”. Now this is a tough one.  How many of us have trouble saying no?  I certainly do.  This one incorporates #1 and #2 — if you are feeling emotionally unbalanced and lacking motivation to do things you normally love but continue to say yes to events or commitments that intensify the symptoms, this may lead to burnout.  This takes a keen ability to sense your own limits and know when you need a break, which can only occur with practice and compassion for yourself.

4.)  You avoid loved ones. Isolation is an indicator of many types of mental issues — depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and domestic violence to name a few.  Sometimes this can mean physically avoiding loved ones, or it can mean (and more devastatingly so) emotionally withdrawing from them.  Burnout can lead to feeling hopeless and overwhelmed and closing those feelings in yourself so that others do not have to bear them.  In actuality, opening up and sharing the burden of the feelings can help heal burnout.

5.)  You are making mistakes or consistently forgetting things. When we are filled to the brim with tasks and responsibilities, it can be difficult to make room for new learning and memories.  Feeling burned out can appear in ways that might look like “I don’t care anymore” and lead to mistakes in paperwork or being short with co-workers.  In reality, you really do care but are emotionally exhausted and cannot fit any more stimulation into your emotional and cognitive brain until you clear out some of the “junk” – or factors that are keeping you stuck.

6.)  You become sick more often and to greater degrees. As I talk about often on my blog, the mind and the body are strongly connected.  When one hurts, so does the other (and vice versa – when one is joyful, so is the other).  When you are emotionally exhausted and spent, your body will feel it.  Stress affects mind, body, and spirit.  This could affect energy levels as well as physical symptoms.  I have had clients who have developed hives as a way to avoid work (without their conscious knowing) because they are burned out.  Listen to what your body is telling you.

7.)  You are neglecting your own needs. This relates back to #3, but goes deeper than saying no.  This can turn into assertively denying your own needs to meet a higher demand (or so the burnout wants you to do!).  Working late or adding hours to your schedule that take away from personal time are indicators of this type of burnout.  It is almost as if your own needs lose value and the influence of others’ needs (bosses, family, children, etc) make them appear to be more important.  Nothing is further from the truth and this is an important lesson in avoiding burnout: never let your needs go unmet for long periods of time, and give them the same values as other needs in your life.

8.)  You are reading this blog post.  You wouldn’t be so curious about what leads to burnout if you didn’t feel some of the symptoms, now would you? 🙂  Like I said earlier, we all have experienced some form of burnout and I encourage you to listen to your inner voice that may be asking for a break.  Running yourself into the group with work, relationship dynamics, personal obligations, or other stressful situations will only hurt you in the long run and defeat the purpose of trying so hard in the first place.  Notice that burnout is normal and universal and that it can be absolved.

Want to know how?  Read my blog post later in the week to learn techniques for breaking free of burnout – and how to keep yourself in a balanced and healthy state.   Further tips: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/burnout_signs_symptoms.htm