Author Archive: recoverymama

Me too: Feminism and Eating Disorders, No Means No

#Me too

recoverymama

(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…

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Wildfires, trauma, and self-care

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?”

image from NBC bay area

Photo image from NBC bay area

“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
  • sadness
  • anger
  • poor concentration
  • second guessing
  • detachment
  • emotional exhaustion
  • fearfulness

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.

  1. 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:

R.E.A.C.T.

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).

In Conclusion:

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.

Resources:

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

3 Lessons From Writing That Help With Motherhood and Recovery

When I was pregnant, I was convinced that I was having a girl, and had already started planning accordingly. Of course I found out:

“Guess What? It’s a boy!”

Oh, Okay. I thought. Hmmm… Time to reset the expectations. Or better yet, let’s just allow what is being grown to emerge as it (or He) needs. 

1. Expectations are Resentments Waiting to Happen.

That is a recovery quote from Alcoholics Anonymous. Another is “Resentments are like eating rat poison yourself and then waiting for the rat to die.” A bit harsh, but applicable. Pregnancy, motherhood, and writing are all about letting go of your expectations and allowing what needs to emerge come forth in its own way.

My book is in that place. As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in her fabulous book, Big Magic:

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I had this plan: the title, the table of contents, the “target audience.” And now something else is emerging. The ideas come, and I channel them onto the paper. I have a plan, and then I chuck it (or the part that’s not working) out the window, as something else emerges. Writing a book is like birthing a baby.

I’m not talking about an epidural or 48 hours of convulsing with medication-free pain so intense you thought you were dying. That is reserved for actual labor and delivery. Motherhood, however, along with the creative process (and, of course, recovery), do share some similarities with the birth process.

2. You get to show up for the work, You don’t get to decide the timeline.

I have been writing a book since my little one was 3 months old (little one is now six. Years.) And, even though I would really like to be in control of the process, it is taking on a life of its own. It is emerging in its own timeline. The plan was finish the book when baby was 1 year. Ha! Just like the “birth plan” (note the quotes) for labor and delivery, the plan needs to change as needed. (Who wouldn’t love to have a three – or even six – hour labor and delivery experience? Pain-free with no complications? But that’s not how it works. We all have a birth plan, and then we all go through actual labor and delivery. It is rare that the two exactly match up.)

Your job is to show up for the process, one moment at a time and give your best effort. That’s it. That’s true in writing a book, birthing a baby, and the long journey of motherhood ahead. The thing I remember most about labor experience, despite the altar I had set up, the music, the doula, the whole rainbow-and-flowers plan I had, is the clock on the wall. Watching the second hands tick on the clock on the wall got me through every contraction. I didn’t have “look at the clock ticking” on my birth plan. But that is what helped me stay present, 1 second, 1 moment, 1 hour at a time.

 3. Don’t Let Fear Run the Show.

Here’s another great quote from Elizabeth Gilbert:
“Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone “safe.”

My little one and I often play a game called “walk through the fear.” Like many little ones, he’s afraid of the dark. So we set up one dark room (it may need a night-light on 🙂 ) and one light room. Then we walk through the dark room back into the light. Again and again. Fear is not allowed to run the show. It can join in and participate as we move. But it is not allowed to keep us paralyzed. In writing, that translates to keep writing. Write a lot of (what Anne Lamott calls) “shitty first drafts.” But keep writing. (Or working on our recovery or traveling through pregnancy, labor, delivery, and motherhood).

Also, when fear pops up (as in recently when a great idea emerged about a new direction that this book I’m writing probably needs to take), notice it. Fear has two jobs:  1) protect vulnerability and 2) prevent change. So whenever it arises, you can notice it, thank it, and continue moving in exactly that direction. That’s right: continue moving in the direction that fear is trying to get you to avoid. Let fear be your guide instead of your road block. What’s in the way is the way.  I will be with you in this walking-through-fear journey. And this new version of my book, which I thought was a “girl,” but apparently wants to be a “boy”!

The ocean is not always your friend (and other recovery metaphors)

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.”

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Moana, 2016 copyright Walt Disney Studios

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. 

Surrender 

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.

What we’re reading at home

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:

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image from Let’s Talk About Race By Julius Lester, illustrated by Karen Barbour (HarperCollins, 2005)

He said:

“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

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“None of these stories are true. Are they?” from Let’s Talk about Race by Julius Lester, Illustrated by Karen Barbour

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:

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image from Let’s Talk About Race By Julius Lester, illustrated by Karen Barbour (HarperCollins, 2005)

“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

 

 

 

Midlife Mid-Drift

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

jadebeall mothers belly

Photo by Jade Beall, A Beautiful Body Project, http://www.jadebeall.com

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.
That about sums it up: Show up and be seen, midlife midriff mid-drift-ing over your jeans and all.

How introverts experience extroverts

…and how we can survive when the world feels loud.

I took my (slow-to-warm-up, introverted) child to camp this week. You know how you can get a feel for something as you are approaching it? We could feel this camp from as far away as the parking lot. The music, the activities, the EXUBERANT counselors. I could feel my introverted little one holding my hand tighter and tighter as we approached. We cringed along together as the extroverts welcomed us.

How introverts experience extroverts:

Thankfully, I know that they break the camp into smaller, quieter groups after the morning welcome. My little one and I also did some preparation: putting his pokémon cards in his backpack so he could trade 1-on-1 during choice time with his friend, adding a (quiet) cheerleading note to his snack, arriving early so we could find a counselor and 1-on-1 connections together to help him feel grounded.

Introverts actually enjoy social interactions as much as extroverts. It’s more a sensitivity to prolonged social interaction and stimulation that introverts experience.* Prolonged social interaction and/or sensory stimulation (noises, smells, textures) are what drain an introvert. Introverts need “down time” to recover from this kind of activity/stimulation. A grad school professor of mine used to reserve 5 minutes of  meditation time for the whole class before starting a new class (we had back-to-back interactive weekend classes) for “introversion recovery time.”

What Can Be Helpful With Kids:

After a day of camp, school, or other prolonged time of stimulation, I try to take off my Super Inquiring Mama Hat (“How was your day? Tell me everything!”) and instead take a Sit-Down-At-The-Quiet-Pond-To-Go-Fishing approach. I let my little one be quiet, gaze out the window, have a snack in quiet-ness. Instead of prodding, I wait. I take his lead on what we should do for special time before dinner. I sit at the pond and I wait for him to offer the fishes from his day. Often, they don’t emerge until right before bedtime, when we are snuggling:

“Mama, my friend said this to me today”

“This happened on the playground…”

“I made this thing with magnets and it’s really cool. want to hear about it?”

It’s hard not to deluge him with questions, but as a fellow introvert, I know this just contributes to more overwhelm. So here’s to quiet, pond sitting.

 

Resources:

I’d like to make a special (quiet) shout out to Susan Cain and her work on de-stigmatizing introversion! Her two books are: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking (Random House: 2012) and Quiet Power: A Guide for Kids and Teens (Penguin Random House: 2016).

*Thanks to Quiet Ambassador Adam Grant and his article “5 Myths about Introverts and Extroverts”

Here’s a beautiful/funny/true way that you can explain introversion to a non-introvert: 9 Ways to Explain Your Introversion

And here is a beautiful article on How to Help Your Introverted Child Practice Self-Advocacy

 

Butterflies, Recovery, and The Stages of Change

Do you ever wonder if change is possible for you? If you’re just going to have to be stuck in despair, your eating disorder, depression, alcoholism, or feeling not-good-enough forever?

I have this posted on my office door:

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Butterflies have long been a metaphor for recovery for me. Butterflies (the eggs they start as, the caterpillars they become, the cocoons they build, and the butterflies they emerge into) embody the miracle of transformation that happens in recovery.

In recovery, one model for  change, called the Stages of Change,* divides the gap between thinking-about-change and implementing it into 5 Stages. This model was developed from addiction recovery, but can be used for eating disorder or postpartum depression recovery, or another vision you thought was not possible for your life. As an example (because it clearly embodies tangible hope, which can be hard to do in eating disorder or postpartum depression recovery), I’ll take you through my butterfly garden stages of change. As you are reading, you can fill in whatever vision of yours that you think is not-yet-possible.

  • Stage 1: Precontemplation or The Hopeless-Caterpillar Stage (Not thinking about changing, Do not want to change, or Feel change is hopeless/not possible. This is the stage in which disordered eating, drinking, or depression feels “normal” and/or there is a feeling of resigned this-is-the-way-it-is-and-will-always-be.)

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So with my butterfly garden vision, there were years of thinking about this. (“Oh! I should do this! Oooh what a great way to practice ecological conservation in my own backyard! I love butterflies! I used to study butterflies! What a great idea! Butterflies are deeply symbolic of the transformation that happens in recovery and motherhood!!”etc, etc.)

Clearly, as evidenced by the exclamation points, they were excited, visionary thoughts. They were so excited that they tired me out even thinking them. I went back to changing diapers, trying to survive early motherhood, engaging with my professional work, and maintaining my own recovery self-care.

  • Stage 2: Contemplation or The Asking-Friends-About-Their-Cocoon-Experience Stage (Considering there is a problem, Still ambivalent about changing but willing to become educated about alcoholism/eating disorders)

When I was in the contemplation stage, I would pay attention when my little one and I visited butterfly exhibits in museums or the 12185061_10153638687100120_4790037831536255808_oinsect house at the zoo. I would talk to the butterfly curators. I would get inspired by people planting gardens. I read one blog about a guy who re-introduced an endangered butterfly species just by creating a native garden for their caterpillars. I read educational signs at the museum and zoo and thought “Oh! They’re endangered! I could plant a butterfly garden to help! I could do that thing I’ve been thinking about!” Then I went back to my life and didn’t take any action about it.

  • Stage 3: Determination or The I’m-Not-Always-Going-To-Stay-A-Caterpillar-Because-I-Know-There’s-Something-More Stage (Deciding to stop the behavior such as drinking or disordered eating, deciding to seek postpartum depression support. Beginning to make a plan.)

So in this stage, I was thinking “Well, even though I’m not much of a gardener, I could do this. I could get a book. I could go to the local garden store and talk to the people there. I could start a list of native plants that attract and feed larva, caterpillars and butterflies…” I was deciding that I was going to take action. I was envisioning how I was going to take action. I was less tired about the ideas, more determined, and getting ready to take action. I saved money to buy plants for my future butterfly garden.

  • Stage 4: Action or The Building-Your-Cocoon-Of-TransFormation Stage (Beginning to take actions such as announcing to loved ones they are going to change, seeking support of a therapist or treatment program, beginning to attend eating disorder or postpartum depression recovery support groups or 12 step program)

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    Little one helping me. “Mama, this is actually MORE FUN than screen time!”

So at this point, I told my family I would like a butterfly garden book for Christmas. I started actually writing (instead of thinking about) a list of plants. I bought a guide to local butterflies. I made a place on a shelf for my butterfly-garden materials. I posed on a neighborhood list serve about local butterfly plants. I made a special pile of materials that was designated butterfly-garden research. I looked into local gardening stores.

  • Stage 5: Maintenance  or The I-Now-Know-It-Is-Possible Stage  (An alcohol, disordered-eating, or depression-free life is becoming “normal,” and the threat of old patterns becomes less intense/frequent. Relapse prevention skills and support systems are established.)

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This is the stage that my garden is in now. Though this may sound like an end-point, (Ta Da! We’re Done! Now everyone lives Happily-Ever-After, The End), it’s actually a beginning.  Now I have to water the plants. My husband (who is more of a seasoned gardener) helped to replant some of the plants in wire baskets under the soil so they would be protected from gophers, and in full sun (important for butterflies).

People in this stage of recovery CAN have the luxury of resting somewhat, having done some tough work digging in the soil (therapy, treatment, etc) of planting their garden of transformation. However, the work of continued action is crucial in maintenance. If I don’t water my plants, they might not survive. If you don’t go to your recovery support meetings, or practice the self-care skills you cultivated in your recovery from PPD or an ED, you are at risk of relapse. One of the best ways to prevent relapse/stay in the butterfly stage is to connect with a caterpillar. That is why I work in recovery. So I can remember the darkness of the cocoon AND stay in the sunlight of the spirit.

Here’s to your garden, your butterfly-ness, your recovery. Whatever stage it (You) are in.

*Researchers, Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska, introduced a five-stage model of change to help professionals understand their clients with addiction problems and motivate them to change. Here is one summary article that I referenced in this blog: “Stages of Change” by Mark S, Gold, MD

Guest Posting for Scary Mommy!

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For years I have been following this blog, and the founder, Jill Smokler, who paved the way for moms to be their gloriously imperfect, irreverent, non-glowing selves.

I’m happy to now be contributing to the blog! Today I write about the importance of (Tim Gunn style) self-care for moms and, despite sleep deprivation and new mommy boot camp, making it work. To see the post “Make it Work”, pease click here.

Get your (skinny clothing) skeletons OUT of the closet

“It is true that there are skeletons hiding in our closet, but there is treasure

hiding there, too.” -Teal Swan

OK moms and recovering women, as we all know, bathing suit season is fast approaching. In my work as a therapist for moms and women recovering from eating disorders, sessions are starting to revolve around:

  1. How to hide body parts while wearing summer clothing
  2. How to avoid wearing a bathing suit
  3. Comparing and Despairing

I encourage moms, and anyone with body image issues (so basically everyone) to let that shit go. Of course I mean emotionally (I’m a therapist 🙂 ) But I also mean literally: Bring in the old bathing-suit/pair-of-short-shorts/sleeveless-little-red-dress and we will have a goodbye ritual.

Marie Kondo, in her famous (and clearly written BC: Before Child), The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2014) writes:

The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in hand and ask Does this spark joy? If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.

Although easy-sounding, this can be tricky. When I ask my clients to bring in their clothes from their pre-pregnancy or pre eating disorder recovery days and ask,

“Does this [shirt/dress/pair-of-jeans] give you joy?” they almost always say unequivocally,

“YES.”

And then I ask “Is it REALLY the [shirt/dress/pair-of-jeans]?”

To which they say “YES.”

Then we sit there and look at each other in a staring contest. However, since therapy is expensive, this usually only lasts a few minutes at most. Then they might say something like:

“Well, maybe it’s the memory if wearing this pair of jeans and feeling confidant.”

Or

“I wore this dress on my first date with my husband.”

Or

“When I was [this size], I didn’t ever feel anxious.”

Or

“I was happy when I wore this.”

Then I ask them where the happiness came from.

“The shirt/dress/pair of jeans” they say.

“No,” I say. “From you. The happiness came from inside of you.”

Them: “No, it was the dress.”

Me (Their Best-Self): “Go buy another.”

Them: “I’m not the right size.”

Me (Their Best-Self):

“You are the right size. You are the right size. Right now. Your stomach is the right size. Your thighs are the right size. Your arms are the right size. Your JEANS may be the wrong size, your DRESS or your BATHING SUIT or THE CLOTHING INDUSTRY may be the wrong size, but not you.”

“But what about the happiness I felt when I wore these jeans (dress/bathing-suit)?”

More staring, but with compassion and softening. And then we cut up the clothes. Sometimes we make them into journal covers. Or toddler clothes (because that is who size zero is made for).

Then we get to the tears and the grief. Because motherhood, and eating disorder recovery, is not only a whole new body. It is a whole new life. Do you really want the life you had when you were wearing that dress/bathing suit/jeans? You may have had more freedom (moms), or you may have had a thinner body, but were you really happy? Were you not just as- if not more- obsessed about food or worried about somebody finding out or seeing “the real you” (because under the dress you were feeling anxious, insecure, and lonely)? So your tummy was smaller. Did you wake up in the morning filled with joy about everything in your life, your relationships, your career, and your connection with meaningful purpose because your stomach was free of stretch marks or your arms were thin? I doubt it.

Happiness, in my opinion, is more about being in acceptance with what-is rather than what-you-would-like-to-be. If you have a little red dress that you used to wear in your pre-mommy or pre-recovery days that doesn’t fit (and never will because spanxs-are-for-women-who-willingly-subject-themselves-to-torture-and-isn’t motherhood-already-hard-enough), let that shit go. Is it really making you happy hanging there in your closet? Or is it looking at you every day saying:

“You used to wear me. Now you are a hippo-that-wears-sweat-pants.”

That doesn’t sound like it’s sparking joy. That sounds like a shaming, mean voice that should not be allowed in your house and definitely not in your closet.

Saying goodbye to the illusion of happiness being tied to an unattainable body shape/size can often bring up grief…which then can lead to freedom, which feels like, yes, you guessed it, happiness. Maybe not full-on joyful euphoria, more like self-accepting contentment. But isn’t that good-enough? Isn’t that what you wanted all along?

Oh, and more space in your closet for new clothes.

how to dress for your shape

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