The holidays can be hard. They can be especially difficult for people recovering from disordered eating, alcoholism, depression, or anxiety. The intention of this blog is to help you be a bit more fierce with your own self-care and a bit more compassionate with yourself and others. This is not a list to use to beat up on yourself for not doing enough or being imperfect! May it be helpful, useful, and ease some of your suffering during this time.
Try not to let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Getting too tired, hungry/hypoglycemic, resentful, or isolating is a recipe for addictive behaviors and/or depression. Imagine yourself to be a little one (this will not be hard for you parents to imagine) who needs regular meals and snacks, regular emotional understanding, and regular sleep. If little ones get too tired/hungry/emotionally not heard, there will be meltdowns. Be a kind parent to yourself. Pack a self-care bag with protein snacks, water, get to bed on time, make plans with friends and/or providers that “get” you so you can feel nourished and grounded. Practice what a friend of mine calls “aggressive self-care.”
2. Keep 1 Thing Constant
Choose one thing – morning meditation, weekly support group, your meal plan, sobriety, journaling, daily inspirational reading. Whatever it is, just keep coming back to this.
A Word About Kindness and Self-Compassion
The intention here is to help you be a bit more fierce with your own self-care and a bit more compassionate with yourself and others… not to beat up on yourself for not doing enough or being imperfect. So if you HAVEN’T kept one thing constant, just restart it. And when you notice you haven’t kept your thing – whatever your thing is that keeps you grounded and sane – constant (We all fall off the wagon on this. It is part of being included in humanity.), notice with kindness and compassion. Imagine you are a puppy. Gently pick yourself up from the place where you are being unkind to yourself and bring yourself back to the place where you are being kind. Gently bring yourself back to the thing that helps you. Just keep coming back.
In the last blog, I introduced you to Lindsay Stenovec, Registered Dietician, and her experience healing disordered eating and becoming a dietician. Lindsay is now a Mom who works with women recovering from disordered eating. Here is some of the fabulous insight she shared with me during her interview:
What are some of the things you work with that are specific to moms recovering from eating disorders?
Something that has become more and more apparent to me is that there’s a lot of shame when a mom who’s in recovery has an increase in disordered eating. They could be in recovery for 2 years, 10 years, 15 years, but if they start to realize during their perinatal journey, they’re struggling, it brings up shame. They forget to take into account that this is actually one of the riskiest times for recovery. And a small or large amount of eating disorder behaviors or thoughts that can come back into the mind are not uncommon.
When I get initial calls for support, a lot of the self-talk I hear from recovering moms is “I feel so stupid,” or “This shouldn’t be happening,” or “I can’t believe this is happening again. I thought this was far behind me.”
I’m always really quick to say:
“This is actually something that a lot of women in recovery experience. It’s one of the riskiest times for recovery. And it doesn’t say anything about your recovery or how much work you put into it. And look here you are on the phone with me! You have totally recognized what’s going on. You’re getting support. That’s you taking care of yourself. This is exactly what you need to be doing: reaching for and getting support!”
Right off the bat it’s important to make sure that they know they didn’t do something wrong; that there is nothing wrong with them. A lot of the times disordered eating thoughts and behaviors come up as a result of the hormonal changes that women experience. And pregnancy/postpartum, are big life changes. It isn’t surprising that disordered eating “coping skills” come up.
I also see that there’s a lot of worry around body changes during pregnancy and postpartum. This is a big time of change, not just physically, but also emotionally. What I have noticed is, for women in recovery, it may take a little while to open up about that. I’ve notice a trend with not wanting to say out loud or fully express the distress around body changes, because they don’t want it to be there. They don’t want to be feeling this way about their bodies. They feel shame about feeling bad about the change in their body. And so keep that really close to their vest. But over time it starts to organically come out. For moms in recovery, just know that this could be a risky time, and seeking support can help.
(Side note: shame is such a big obstacle for recovering women. I tell my clients shame stands for the false message of SHAME= Should Have Already Mastered Everything. Let’s challenge that message, again and again. You get to be human and in-process, just like the rest of the world. And you deserve compassion, just like you offer your little one.)
How can pregnant and postpartum women sort through all the food recommendations that are in magazines, doctor’s offices, and diet-culture and find what works (and doesn’t) for them?
We do have some changing nutritional needs during the perinatal period. However, oftentimes they are presented in a way that reinforces diet culture. And so there’s some work to be done regarding how we consider nutrition. How do we incorporate that into our own bodies’ wisdom? For example, if I’m working with someone who is early in pregnancy, the first trimester is often survival mode for many women who have pregnancy nausea. The cues from your body are so strong, they are very chaotic, and they are not to be messed with. So if I were to say, as a dietician
“Hey you know you should really more broccoli during your first trimester because vitamin C is very important and broccoli has lots of vitamin C,”
and then you go home and you can’t even look at broccoli because you’re going to be sick, that nutrition information is not that helpful for you! You have to say to yourself:
“OK, vitamin C might be important, so I could probably take a vitamin supplement to help myself during this time.”
And then, in the meantime, you might be eating saltines and apples. It’s a really interesting time to explore, because the cues from your body are so strong. You have really very little choice other than to go with the flow of what your body is asking for. This level of intuitive eating- of listening to your body’s cues- can be very scary or it can be very empowering. I’ve seen it go both ways.
I believe it’s very helpful to have that dietitian with you to say something like this:
“Oh, you got this piece of nutrition information. Let’s look at whether it’s supportive or not supportive to you and how could we use it in a way that honors what your body is telling you right now.”
We really have to learn what intuitive eating calls gentle nutrition. We have to learn how we can incorporate that gentle nutrition into our lives. We have to think about the different stages someone’s at, and to realize that healthy eating doesn’t mean rigidity. Healthy eating doesn’t mean restriction or not allowing yourself to enjoy food. There is no such thing as a right way to intuitively eat. There’s only listening to your body and going by what it needs. Your body does have wisdom, and it is going to be giving you different information every day. The only way you’re going to know what it needs is to is to pay attention to it and just do the best that you can.
In conclusion? Pregnancy (and postpartum) are great times to practice:
*letting go of perfectionism and shame,
*eating intuitively and listening to your body’s needs,
*being present what what-is (rather than what your fantasy wants it to be) and
*receiving support and practice being good enough.
To connect with Lindsay’s Nurtured Mama podcast, Facebook group, and resources, click HERE
In continuing with the fabulous interviews for the forthcoming book Good Enough Mama: Taking Care of Yourself and Your Recovery During Pregnancy and Postpartum, today I want to introduce you to Lindsay Stenovak, Dietician, Mom, Recovery advocate, and host of The Nurtured Mama podcast
What made you want to become a dietician that specializes in eating disorder recovery?
My own journey definitely led me to this area of specialty. Having suffered from disordered eating and body image distress informed it. In college, as a nutrition major, thought I was doing the “right thing,” eating “healthily” when really it was diet mentality. I thought I was being a good nutrition major. I was following the rules that were given to me. I genuinely thought there was something inherently wrong with myself in my body for not being able to adhere to these recommendations that just weren’t realistic or appropriate for my body. And that would send me into these cycles of struggling with disordered eating. So, long story short, I hit this point in late in my senior year of college where I said:
“Enough is enough. I just I have to let myself eat enough food!”
I started to experiment with this, and realized I could relax around food! And I found it was actually not so scary. And shortly after that I was introduced to intuitive eating as well as the world of eating disorder treatment.
(Intuitive eating can be defined as a nutrition philosophy based on the premise that becoming more attuned to the body’s natural hunger signals is a more effective way to attain a healthy weight, rather than keeping track of the amounts of energy and fats in foods. For ten principles of intuitive eating from authors Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch, go to: Ten Principles )
Intuitive eating – and using this approach to eating disorder recovery – fit in very nicely with my own personal experience. I realized there was this whole world of people practicing intuitive eating and “Health At Every Size” (HAES) who were saying not only “It’s OK to eat,” but also “It’s ok to eat enough and enjoy it! You have permission to do this!” I realized, Oh these are my people and this is my jam! There was no going back.
What is diet-mentality and how did you break out of it?
Diet mentality says that a variety of body shapes and sizes are not OK and that you can’t trust yourself around portions. In my nutrition program at school, they were teaching us that you’re going to have to really work hard to help people not eat too much. It was fear-based: one wrong moved you are going to be out of control.
I remember having a discussion in my nutrition program about portion sizes and all of a sudden I realized “Oh my gosh, the ‘serving size’ on the box is just the unit of measure! Under no circumstances is this like the right amount for everyone to eat, every time they sit down to eat that food.” All of a sudden I had so much validation for myself in struggling with trying to stick with a cereal box recommendation, feeling so hungry, and thinking there was something wrong with me. I could eat more than one bowl of cereal because, even though it said one bowl was a “serving size,” one bowl didn’t fill me up!
I remember raising my hand in class and saying:
“I just realized that this is the unit of measure not the perfect amount everyone is supposed to eat! This is just a unit of measure that manufacturers picked and put on the boxes. It helps their product look good within diet culture, but it really has nothing to do with what you need in that moment.”
Everyone including the teacher just looked at me strangely, and went back to the lecture. But it was a revelation for me. Back in the day, they used to always say a bowl of cereal was part of a complete breakfast. Not your whole breakfast. And if you want to choose to have a cup of cereal, fine. But make sure to give yourself unconditional permission when you get hungry an hour later.
Stay tuned next for part two of this interview, when Lindsay discusses some of the ways she helps moms with the massive food and body changes during pregnancy and postpartum!
This week, I will share Part Two of Recovering Women and Advanced Maternal Age: A Story of Hope (and Grace, who you will meet at the end of this blog).
To read Part One of Sheira’s story, click here.
Last week, Sheira shared about some of the obstacles she worked through in order to have a baby at age 50. Here is the final excerpt of the interview in which she shares the obstacles she worked through, and the miracle that she birthed, at age 50:
There was all this evidence stacked up supporting the fearful belief that I couldn’t have a baby. It was important to go in there, make conscious those fearful beliefs, and express them. When I touched in those beliefs, I felt like throwing up. I had just tried an embryo donation that had fallen through. I touched into this very deep grief about my family life not working out. And I really felt like throwing up. That’s what my body really wanted to do. This sounds strange, but I let myself dry heave and tear up and cry all at the same time. And it was cathartic! It was a layer of grief that was so unconscious. It felt good for it to be out. So that was one of the turning points.
I had another turning point when I was deciding between two sets of embryos. I didn’t know if either one would work out. I had reason to believe I wouldn’t be able to carry a child. I was afraid there had been too much damage done. I was telling this to a friend who’s had three children. I was explaining how it doesn’t get to work out for me and I have evidence supporting this belief. She turned her around and she said:
“This sounds like depression.”
She had a word for it. It was a relief to name it as depression, as it had only ever been the truth to me. And then she said:
“Having children came really easily to me. Give your depression to me. I can help you with that.”
And she did. She put her hands out and we kind of held on each other’s forearms and I just closed my eyes and I said “OK, I’ll give it to you. I give you my depression about family.” And she just accepted it, and it ended in her unafraid psyche.
My fears finally had someplace safe to go. There was another human being who got in there with me. After, that I would still get fearful thoughts sometimes, but they just didn’t have the same hold. And then some events happened that went counter to the (fear-based) evidence.
After my second marriage ended, I knew I was going to have to do it on my own. So I got my mind around adopting the embryo and I went on an embryo donation web site. I knew two people who had embryos, and they both came forward and offered them to me. Then it became a question of what the requirements and wishes of the donating families, and which was a better fit. I decided on a certain set of embryos. Then there was a very expensive legal transfer of the embryos to my posession. There was no legal precedent for transferring embryos, so my lawyer had to do original scholarship on it. The lawyers fees and transferring the embryos from one physical location to another took a lot of time and money. But finally, I was able to move forward.
Happily (Mostly) Ever After
And then I met someone who basically was a much better suited partner for me than the other two I had chosen. For me that really settled and we entered into a long honeymoon period. I was having all this evidence that contradicted the fearful belief that I wouldn’t be able to have a family. (NOTE: Finding my partner was a very important piece, But I had already made the decision to have a baby. I know many single mothers, and anyone who wants to be a single mother, I would encourage you to do that. I made the decision to have a baby first, and then the right partner came.)
The embryos were transferred and then I began the medical procedures that I needed to do. I was in full menopause in 2009 and in 2014, I got pregnant.
I was 45 when I went to through menopause. I think it was related to my eating disorder. Eating Disorders mess up your hormones. That’s probably why I went into menopause early. My mother was 55 when she was in full menopause and I was 45. If you have had an eating disorder, the good news is you can have a baby. There’s so much help now, in so many ways, to get pregnant.
So once we had the embryos in the right place, I started doing the medical procedures. I got the green light from the head of the fertility department that we could implant. It was an amazingly easy procedure. I had a very mild dose of the pain medication and I was completely awake. There was a teeny tiny tube that had the embryo in it and they had to look at it with a magnifying glass to make sure the embryo was in it. And then they put it into me and checked with their magnifying glass that there was nothing in the tube. The they said:
“That’s great, it must be in there.”
What I want people to know is: it felt like a conception. One of the members of the embryo donation family was there, and my partner was there, and a very dedicated acupuncturist. It seems futuristic and scientific, but that’s how my baby got conceived! It was love. It was different, but it was still love. It was not anything like I pictured, but it was still great.
I was afraid to get my hopes up. My whole world had been turned around as far as what I thought I knew about finding a partner, the kind of partner that I thought would be a good partner, and what I thought I knew about how I would make my family. So I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Looking back, I realized that there was a knowing, but it wasn’t like fireworks at all. Then I went to the doctor for a real pregnancy test. And I was pregnant!
How was the pregnancy?
I have terrible insomnia and I have had terrible insomnia since I was born. I didn’t sleep through the night till I was three years old. When I was pregnant, I slept great. I could sleep anywhere. I could fall asleep in 10 seconds, get woken up, and go right back to sleep. My experience of being pregnant was I was never so calm. I still feel that way when I hold my daughter. My whole system just goes calm. And I feel her system going like that. You know we just got lucky on that.
But in other ways, the pregnancy was very difficult. One way I had recovered from my eating disorder was to learn to eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full. But I didn’t feel hungry. I actually lost weight in the first trimester. I was getting worried because I thought the baby wouldn’t get enough nutrition. People were saying I looked funny. I was at my goal weight of what I wanted to be when I was in high school. I was so skinny. Why did I ever think that was attractive? I had to require myself to eat. As the pregnancy progressed, people said the sickness was going to go away. It didn’t for me. It kept going. I was worried I was carrying small. I had an ultrasound and the technician stopped the appointment to call the doctor and say:
“We have a 6th percentile here.”
My baby was only in the in the sixth percentile of growth. I became very worried. I was instructed to stop working. I had to stay at home. I was instructed to stop exercising. Then I had to come in every week, just to make sure the baby was growing.
By about a week before she was born, my baby was in the normal range. It’s very unusual if you start out at the sixth percentile that you would get back into the normal range. I can’t say exactly what happened. The doctor thought it was because I was working at home and stopped exercising. Clearly that helped. But it’s still a mystery to me how she could have grown that much.
Labor and Delivery
10 days before the baby was born, I found a doula to interview. We met on a Friday and we planned to meet again on the following Monday. Well, on the Sunday night before I had to lay down for a nap. And I felt all this wetness. Throughout the night the fluid that was coming out was pink, and then it came out brown and the doula said:
“You have to go to the hospital now.”
My friend drove me and I got there and they wanted to give me pitocin. I had heard that there was a cascade of interventions that they give you from there. I wanted to have a childbirth with as few interventions as possible. But an hour later, I still wasn’t progressing and they gave me a drip of pitocin.
I dilated very, very quickly. I pushed with no pain medication, doing everything with the help of the doula. I pushed and her head crowned. I could feel her. I did tear, and it really hurt. I’m never going to forget how painful it was. It’s not fair to women that you don’t remember it. This should be remembered. My beautiful baby came out and she was strong. She was five pounds eight ounces at five pounds seven ounces, they take the baby into the NICU. She just made it. When they sewed me up, they were singing songs to her. It was very sweet.
The strange part was I thought I was going to have a completely empowered expansive experience when I was giving birth. I thought it was going to be like the earth mother would come through me and I would feel so competent. But it wasn’t like that. My inner critic was huge and loud every minute. It said I was doing it wrong. That’s the only voice I heard in my head. I was so surprised. I was so pissed off!
After the birth I heard them talking about me at the nurses station. They said “No pain medication?” Then the nurse came into my room and she said:
“You are my queen. I’m going to give you a tiara. All other all the other girls on this floor are 25 years old and they’re asking for epidurals. And you came in here with your doula and you did your thing.”
That was exactly what I needed to hear. I could not undo my own critic and this lovely nurse did it for me. It prompted a healing where I realized I am complete in all of my body. I can’t believe I ever rejected it. I realized I had thought the hardware was flawed. But the hardware was not flawed- it never was. The software was flawed. I had
believed that my body was incompetent and wrong. But It wasn’t my body. My body knew what to do. My actual body is like a strong and powerful tree, or a flower in its infinite wisdom.
Her name is Gracie. It’s my way of thanking the family who donated the embryos and thanking God for finally giving me what I what I had so much.
Sheira Kahn, MFT, is a marriage and family therapist in the bay area who gave birth to a beautiful baby girl at age 50. To read more about her professionally, you can visit her website here
I’m in the process of interviewing professionals and recovering women for my book, Good Enough Mama: Taking Care of Yourself and Your Recovery During Pregnancy and Postpartum. And I’m being blown away by the amazing women I am meeting. So I’ve decided to share some of the experience, strength, and hope they are offering in their stories.
But first, a bit on Advanced Maternal Age (and how it relates to eating disorders):
There are many reasons why women are delaying having a baby until later in life, including: effective contraception, gender equality, women reaching higher educational
levels, cultural value shifts, divorce or partnering later in life, lack of childcare support, an absence of supportive family policies in the workplace, economic hardship, job instability or work in male dominated fields that are not supportive of or understanding of motherhood.*
Along with reaching higher educational levels, many recovering women want to do personal growth work and solidify their eating disorder recovery prior to becoming a parent. However, delaying childbirth until after age 35 can further inhibit fertility for women that may already have fertility problems leftover from their eating disorder history.
Twenty million women and 10 million men have an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Fertility problems, though they can be overcome, are among the potential long-term consequences of such conditions, with some studies suggesting that eating disorders account for about 18 percent of patients seen in infertility clinics, says Dr. Leslie A. Appiah, associate professor in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. **
OK, enough with the stats. I’d like to get to the stories of hope because the purpose of this blog (and the upcoming book) is sharing hope: hope that recovery is possible, hope that motherhood is possible, hope in the knowledge that you are not alone.
So without further ado, let me introduce you to Sheira Kahn, MFT. Sheira is a marriage and family therapist in private practice with two decades of experience in treating eating disorders and three decades of her own recovery. For those of you struggling with hope that you can still be a mom later in life: She had a baby at age 50.
Here is her recovery story:
When I was a teenager and I was bulimic. The house where lived was filled with turmoil that I literally couldn’t stomach. Thankfully, when I moved out, I stopped purging. However, hatred of my self and my body persisted. I still hated my body and I hated every bite of food that I ate. The mental part of the disorder persisted. I was in pain and I knew that I didn’t want live that way. So I joined a meditation school where they taught us about how to work with the critic. And since my critic was always criticizing me about my body, I did what they said to reduce your critic. Every time my inner critic was loud and mean, I practiced. And my relationship with my body changed, because there was less hatred being channeled from a critic toward myself. Then, a book on hunger and fullness signals taught me how to listen to my stomach, not my critic, when making food decisions.
What inspired and motivated you to get into recovery?
I was in so much pain. I wanted the pain to be reduced. I think with some people, the coping mechanism (of the disordered eating) works to keep them numb to the pain, so they keep doing the coping mechanism. But for me I was in pain. It wasn’t a hard decision for me. I felt so bad. I thought recovery was going to make me feel better, so I threw I threw myself into it.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a mom or did that desire come later?
I always did growing up and then, in my 20s, I thought I didn’t. And then it came back. And then it came back very, very strongly. I assumed that would happen for me, as it seemed to happen so easily for other people. I had no idea that it that I would have to go through a lot actually to become a mom.
For me it was a combination of factors. I wanted to be partnered. I married someone that I had fallen in love with when I was 21. He wanted to have kids, and I didn’t. Then I changed my mind, but then he had changed his mind! That relationship wasn’t working out for several reasons. Then I got married again. I was in my I was 40’s when we started trying, so I was on the late side as far as far as fertility. It might have happened if I had felt safer in the relationship. However, I didn’t feel safe in the relationship to bring in a child. I believe this influenced my already shaky fertility. However, I knew I really wanted to have a baby, and I was ready to do whatever I needed to do. I was ready to have a baby or have a family, even without a partner who is willing to do it. I just knew that I had to go for it.
By that time there were some things in place that showed me I could be successful being a mom. I felt healed enough in myself. I had a sense of inner strength and I had support. I was making good livelihood on my own at that point, so I knew I’d be able to provide for a baby.
What happened in the decade between 40 and 50?
Three things during that decade: internal readiness, emotional clearing, and practical steps.
There was an internal readiness that I didn’t achieve until I was 48 years old. I came from a family where there was emotional trauma. There was extreme disconnection: fighting, antagonism, conflict, and fear between my parents. That set me up to have very few skills for building long term relationships. It gave me a layer of fear. When there are emotional injuries like this, it’s like a layer in your body. It felt like a layer of beliefs that went along with this fear. I thought that I would never be able to have a family. Or that it could happen for other people, but not me. I saw it happening for other people, and I believed it couldn’t exist for me. There was all this evidence that had confirmed the belief I held: Sheira doesn’t get to have family. I had been divorced once and then was getting divorced a second time. I had miscarried…
(Don’t worry! Remember this is about hope. The story doesn’t end here! Stay tuned next week for part two where we get to the Hope part of Experience, Strength, and Hope)
Sheira Kahn, MFT, is a marriage and family therapist in the bay area who gave birth to a beautiful baby girl at age 50. To read more about her professionally, you can visit her website here
*Mills M, Rindfuss, RR, McDonald P, Te Velde E,“Why do people postpone parenthood? Reasons and social policy incentives,” ESHRE Reproduction and Society Task Force: Hum Reprod Update, 17(6):848-60, Nov/Dec 2011.
** Medaris Miller, Anna “The Lasting Toll of An Eating Disorder: Fertility Issues,” US News and World Report, March 31, 2016.
(Reposting in honor of #Metoo)
It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. And the theme this year is “Let’s talk about it.” Talking about eating disorders isn’t necessarily comfortable. Or pretty. Last week I wrote about women having all of their feelings, including anger, and having the right to assert their boundaries. This means a woman has the right to say no. She has a right to say no to unsolicited comments about her appearance and her body size.
When women aren’t allowed to directly express these boundaries or when there is trauma such as sexual assault, an eating disorder can become unconscious expression. For example,
- Binge eating or starving can become I’m going to make my body sexually unattractive so I can be protected from ever having to go through the trauma of sexual abuse again.
- Bulimia can become I’m going to take this food in, in a violent, self-harming…
View original post 885 more words
Since I live in an area where wildfires have been devastating communities, this is some of what I’m hearing in therapy this week:
“I’m having trouble breathing.”
“Should I keep my child home from school or make them wear a face mask?”
“Three of my friends just lost their houses.”
“I can’t seem to focus.”
“I was just starting to get my head around the Las Vegas shooting and now this.”
“I don’t even know how to take care of myself right now.”
“Donating bags of supplies doesn’t seem like enough.”
“I’t’s just one disaster after another- I’m not sure I want to bring my children up in this world.”
These are from people living near the wildfires. Not the ones who directly lost their houses, schools, churches in the fire. So you can only imagine the trauma for those impacted even more directly.
A Little About Trauma:
What is trauma? According to the APA (American Psychological Association) trauma can be defined as:
“an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and… physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.”
Secondary trauma can be defined as “the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.” (Figley, C.R., Ed., 1995).
According to Secondarytrauma.org, some of the symptoms of secondary trauma include:
- intrusive thoughts
- chronic fatigue
- poor concentration
- second guessing
- emotional exhaustion
Many caregivers, therapists, nurses, firefighters, emergency providers, and what I call “senstives” or “empaths” experience secondary trauma. Secondary trauma can result from working directly with people who experienced trauma.
But what can we do about it?
If you are feeling the effects of trauma, here are some thoughts on self-care.
- Physical self-care
A friend of mine said recently, “I feel like a baby. I don’t even know how to take care of myself during this.” Actually, thinking of baby self-care is a good clue as to what you may need. Babies need physical care and tending. If you are able to, keep regular routines of sleep, meals/snacks, hygiene (showers and baths), and stay hydrated. Obviously, physical self-care also includes staying in a safe house or shelter. In the bay area, many hotels, air b and b’s, and nearby friends/family members/colleagues are offering shelter for those who have lost their house or residence due to the fires.
2. Emotional Self-Care
When thinking about a time when you have felt grounded, ask yourself what you were doing? It may have been journalling, meditating, or spending time with a dear friend. Although tempting to NOT do these things during times of crisis, it is actually even more important to do them. This is the directive of “put your own oxygen mask on first.” You cannot be of service to others of you are unable to breathe yourself.
3. Help others
Note this comes third on the list. After you make sure you are taken care of and resourced, then you can give, whether it be through providing housing, volunteering, donating supplies, or emotionally supporting people affected by the disaster.
If you are a parent:
Here’s a beautiful acronym/summary of ways to support your child during/after a disaster or emergency from Alberta Health Services:
Remove yourself and your loved ones from danger. During an emergency or disaster, finding shelter, water, and food is the first step. Staying safe and keeping calm is important in helping you and your child in an emergency.
Eat nutritious food and drink water.
Activity. Return to your normal routine as quickly and much as possible. Try to do what your family normally did before the event (e.g., eat meals together, walk together, play games, read).
Take care of yourself! One of the gifts of both recovery and of disasters is that it forces asking questions such as: What is most important? And what do I need to take care of myself right now? Here’s to living our way into those answers.
As always, this blog is not intended to provide or replace psychological treatment.
Mentis in Napa county is one of many mental health centers in the bay area providing mental health support at low fee currently for victims of the California wildfires. 707-255-0966 ext 132 http://mentisnapa.org/our-services/#mental
The National Center for PTSD is a good resource for information on trauma recovery: https://www.ptsd.va.gov
There is a scene in Moana in which she is trying to convince her friend the chicken that the ocean is not something scary. She says:
“Heihei, the ocean is your friend.”
The chicken (as you can imagine if you were a chicken in the middle of the ocean) was not convinced. My little one and I also learned this lesson about the ocean not always being your friend recently. We were boogie boarding in the ocean and my little one got pummeled by a wave. He stood up, crying, with a bloody nose. We got out of the water, rocked and cried in a beach towel for a bit, and then he was ready to go back in. I was surprised. What?! Already? My Mama Bear protective instinct was thinking:
Oh No. You are not going back out there. We are going to stay up here on the beach with SPF 50. Under an umbrella. Making sand castles safe from the ocean for the rest of the day.
Thankfully, he (and my husband) are more resilient than I. They went back in. Eventually, so did I. I even swam out past where the waves break and floated for a bit. For a few moments I was carried by the water. It felt good to let go.
Years ago I worked with a young woman who was recovering from bulimia that called the ocean her Higher Power. She was a surfer, and, like Moana, she knew both the power of the ocean and its capacity to carry her through difficulties. She knew it could carry her. And that she couldn’t do it herself.
Riding the Waves, Higher Powers, and Other Recovery Metaphors
There’s a reason why waves and the ocean are so often used as metaphors. Waves are both separate from, and inextricably connected with, the ocean (your Higher Power/Part-Of-You-That-Knows/Wise Self). “Riding the wave” of your feelings, without attaching to them, is a skill of recovery. In order to be at peace with having all kinds of feelings, you have to acknowledge your feelings, ride them out, and not get pummeled by them. (Or get back in the ocean with new humility after you get pummeled). Some waves are peaceful. Some are fun to surf; some are destructive. They all emerge from, and return to, the ocean. The ocean is vast. It can carry and hold almost everything. So can your Higher Power (Wise Self, Part-Of-You-That-Knows). It can help you let go. It can carry and guide you where you need to be. And, if you’re not respecting its power, it can turn you upside down and pummel you.
One thing I learned from my little one recently? Don’t let fear of the ocean’s power block you from connecting with it. You will get hurt in life. That is inescapable. Don’t let fear keep you from engaging with life on life’s terms. As the great poet Rumi said:
“Don’t move the way fear makes you move.”
Get back in the ocean. In imaginal Psychology they call the wise part of the Self, the part that is based on a vast expanse of compassionate objectivity, the Friend. In that sense, Moana was right. The ocean really is your Friend.
Eleanor Roosevelt had an idea. Pondering another communication breakdown, she could have been channeling our current dilemma when she said, in 1960(!):
“We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together. And if we are to live together, we will have to talk.”*
Last night I read this book to my little one:
“What is race?”
I had a simultaneous reaction of relief (many of his friends are of races, genders, and religions other than his, so hopefully he is choosing from heart-connection-similarities, rather than dividing-by-difference) and dread (my child is white. I’m almost entirely positive that if he were not white, he would know what race is. That is the invisible privilege he was born into).
My child looks at the police as his friends.
My child sees adults as people who are there to help him.
My child goes to school not questioning whether his teacher will be able to hear or see him.
My child believes that God is “a force of love that lives in everyone’s hearts,” regardless of their religion, ethnicity, or gender, and that “when you listen to that, you can always find love, not hate.”
When my child learns to drive, I will worry about him. But I will not worry about
him being shot if he is pulled over.
I will not worry about him being checked to see if he is undocumented.
My child has the freedom (aka privilege) to choose friends based on if he feels connected with them and not based on if it is safe/unsafe to be friends with them due to their skin color, ethnicity, religion, or gender.
My child lives in a world in which he doesn’t have to learn another’s language, religion, or culture to find belonging, to live safely, to have access to education, healthcare, approval, or belonging. That is part of the privilege he was born into. I will do my best to help him understand not everyone has that privilege. And that if you have it, it is your responsibility to understand it, and to share it.
This was my favorite part of the book:
“I want to tell you a story. But I need your help. Here’s what I want you to do:
Take your fingers and press softly against your skin right below your eyes. Be careful and don’t poke yourself in the eye. Okay. Now. Press gently until you feel the hard bone right beneath the surface.
Now, if your mom, dad, brother or sister or a friend is close by, ask them if you can touch them. If they say okay, take your fingers and press softly at the same place beneath their eyes. Press gently until you feel the hard bones right beneath the skin….
Beneath everyone’s skin are the same hard bones.
That’s right. The same hard bones. And, as my little one said “We have the same fingernails…and the same pupils inside our eyes.”
The same eyes. Eyes that are capable of seeing terror, horror, and redemption. Eyes that are capable of seeing, appreciating, protecting, and celebrating difference. Eyes that are capable of seeing through the eyes of compassion. Arms that are capable of doing the work of love instead of fear. Arms and feet that are working… working toward liberty and justice for all. There is work to be done. There is work to be done.
*”Why We Need to Talk About Race,” Oprah.com, Read more here
I had one of those moments today. As I was pulling on my jeans, I could feel they were too tight. My midriff was mid-drifting. And that first automatic thought – “I’ve gained weight!”- was quickly followed by a shitload of culturally conditioned fat-shaming judgements. The good news is that then I took a deep breath. And remembered this voice comes in when I am suffering in some way that needs tending. That I have over twenty years of eating disorder recovery behind my back (and in my stomach). That this fearful voice doesn’t pop up very much any more and I have another way of being with myself now. Compassionate-Curious-Recovery-voice kicked back in.
Might these jeans be tight because they just came out of the drier?
If you did gain weight, so what?
Here’s how the rest of that conversation went down:
Anxious-part-of-self: What do you mean so what? SO WHAT? My body is supposed to stay the same. This is my recovery body and it’s not supposed to change.
Compassionate-Curious-Recovery-Self: Interesting. Where did you hear that? Actually, your body has changed many times over the past two decades. Most people’s bodies do. Who told you your body is supposed to stay the same? I think I remember your very first recovery mentor telling you twenty years ago (when I was a young adult and she was middle-aged) two things:
1) The size of your body is not your business.
2) The only constant is change.
When I work with women on body image suffering, often there is a correlation with the uncertainty that come with the life-passage transformations such as young adulthood, marriage, pregnancy, postpartum, middle age, and elderhood- and body image. Life transitions can be challenging, and the culture we live in doesn’t have a container for women traveling through these rites of passage. We do have a body-shaming culture that tells us there is something wrong (with our bodies) and it is our responsibility to fix/change them (our bodies). In the absence of community, and of rituals that assist us in crossing these thresholds, a fearful body-shaming voice can come in to keep us “safe.” Safe from what? Safe from the scary changes of the unknown by assuring us that If you can keep your body from changing, then this (life-change) will not be distressing. Safe from having to go through it alone. Safe from facing all the mixed messages in a culture that feels ambivalent at best, and actively disdainful at worst, about supporting women through the rites of passage into adulthood, motherhood, middle age, and becoming a crone. But in practicing hating our bodies, we miss out on appreciating how wise they are in leading and guiding us through these life transformations.
Midlife Mid-Drift (and other women’s body/life changes)
In perimenopause, the ovaries produce less estrogen, which can cause the body to store extra fat (because fat cells can produce estrogen, which offers the body a safety net). Interesting. Thus the thickening around the middle. Pretty smart, body!
In adolescence, a hormone called GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) is released, and then forms two new hormones that signal the body to gain weight and become fertile. Smart body!
In pregnancy, weight gain is distributed in all kinds of useful ways, including: increased
blood, breast tissue, fat stores for future breast feeding, amniotic fluid, the placenta, oh, and the actual baby! Wise body.
Just like postpartum, when the stomach carries shapes and marks that show it grew to hold a child. Successful body!
My body is changing again. It’s what happens for women throughout the life cycle. By the way, when I was researching reasons why a woman’s body changes in adolescence, the perinatal period, and midlife, guess what popped up on Google? You got it: 10 Ways to Diet That Away. (“That” being the inevitable changes in your body.)
A Recovery Reminder
If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, or any form of body image hatred (aka if you live in this culture), DO NOT visit Dr. Google for your answers to questions about life transitions. Dr. Google will always tell you that losing weight is the answer to complex life problems. Stop dieting, start rioting, and find your people. Find your support team of friends, professional help, and spiritual sustenance to help midwife you through your life transitions. Listen to the wise, fiercely compassionate and sometimes as* kicking part-of-you-that-knows and act on that voice. Now is not the time to let the weight on your stomach go. Now is the time to let the weight of holding up unrealistic expectations of who-you-are-supposed-to-be vs. who-you-actually-are go. Or, as Brené Brown so eloquently states about midlife:
I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders (or your midriff), pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.