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.
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.
Like many recovering women and moms, “fun” often falls to the bottom of the to do list for me (if it’s even on there). Who has time for fun? I’m WORKING! I’m working being a mom, I’m working being a Psychologist, I’m working running a household!
However, all work and no fun makes … NO FUN! And when there is no fun, this is a set up: for burn-out, depression, relapse, cross addiction, cynicism, unhappy marriages, cranky kids, and wistful fantasizing about times when play included things other than matchbox cars and dressing up like Elsa for the five hundredth time.
Here are some FUN ideas that have worked in our house:
- Get Creative in Your Child’s Play by Being Silly Yourself.
(And create a Halloween costume other than Elsa or Star Wars)
If your child likes to dress up like Elsa, and you feel like you are going to throw up if you have to be her sister, Anna, one more time, be something YOU want to be! Put on black clothes, cut out little green dots and be a Black-Eyed Pea! (That is a free Halloween costume idea. You’re welcome. You can now have fun being something-other-than- yet-another-Star-Wars-Princess-Zombie-Superhero walking down the block on October 31st). You can now dance around singing “I’ve Got a Feeling…”
If YOU are having fun, your child will, as well. If they are laughing, that is the goal. Little ones laughing are the equivalent of liquid gold. And who says Elsa can’t play with a singing, hipster vegetable?
2. Have Fun with Literal and Non Literal
My husband came up with this one when he couldn’t take another 2 hours of matchbox cars racing around:
It’s a Traffic Jam 🙂
Another thing my little one and I have done is put letters around the house on things that start with that letter. You can play with puns like the letter “T” on the Tea box, and the letter “P” on the potty where your little one goes “Pee.” This can be fun for a few minutes during the witching hours. Every little bit helps.
3. Create a Weekly Ritual
Our family has movie night every friday. I know some moms that have actually created theme-meals to go with the movie: “poison” (caramel) apples with Snow White or Pumpkin cake with Cinderella. Olaf eggs for Frozen. (More ideas. You’re welcome.)
I myself am too f-ing tired by friday to do this. We order out and have it delivered. Permission to do this. And if you are in recovery and not a Mom, if you have a fabulous (or good enough) babysitter, then by all means go OUT to a movie!
4. Find a Special Place to Visit Regularly.
It could be a redwood forest or a tree near your house. Whatever this place is, visit it regularly to connect with the-part-of-you-that-knows. This may not be fun in the traditional “Hey, let’s have some fun!” light-hearted kind of way. However, it is the ground from which all creative and fun energy arises. Your Soul/Wise-Mind/Intuition will appreciate having a regular place where you breathe, rest, and reflect. Find a Grandmother tree or create an altar in your home where you can be still. This is that quiet place that is under all the noise of Busy-ness. It is the ocean that all the waves crash back into. Let your mind rest there.
5. Connect with a Friend to Do the Fun Thing You Never Let Yourself Do
Take a moment to ask yourself what you really like doing, but never allow yourself to do. Now: create a date with a friend to do that. Whether it be collage-ing, making art, painting, dancing, yoga, or getting a pedicure, making a date with a friend will make you more likely to actually do it. This accountability can help give you both permission to take having fun more seriously 🙂 Do it before you reach this place, because when you reach this place, you are no fun:
Many Blessings and Have Fun!
So I haven’t been blogging here. I do have three blogs coming out soon (stay tuned!) on eating disorder recovery sites. However, in reflecting on my 12-month Butterfly Project for the year, I’m coming back to the intention of: Stay engaged with the process.
In other words, as they say in recovery, don’t quit before the miracle. Or, as Dr. Brene Brown says,
“Stay in the arena!”
I need to remind myself of again and again: in therapy with my clients, in parenting, and in the life-long process of growth.
With my clients, who often struggle with shame if they slip in their eating disorder recovery, we constantly need to re-frame slips as part of the process. Slips are not a detour. As they say in my little one’s school, Mistakes are how we learn.
In our house, when someone drops/spills something by accident or my little one (who has just started writing) makes a “d” instead of a “b,” we say “Hooray! I made a mistake!”
It sounds so easy, but it is not. Simple, but not easy. Re-engage-ing with the process, again and again. I love how Glennon Doyle Melton, mom, recovering bulimic/alcoholic, and author of two memoirs and the blog Momastery has this motto in her household:
“We can do hard things.”
And another relevent peice for recovery and parenting:
“Most of life is boring. What are you going to do/make of that?”
If you have an answer for you, please feel free to leave a comment. I welcome them. And stay tuned as I re-engage with the process!
I stole the Opposite Land game from the most time-honored parenting resource of all: another mom. Here’s how it works: When you are going somewhere or doing something that requires a certain kind of behavior, visit opposite land first. So for example, before we go to the regular grocery store, we go to the opposite land one. In opposite land grocery stores, all the kids ride on the carts flinging their legs and feet into the aisles, toppling cans and boxes off the shelves. They race around banging into people, don’t say excuse me, and throw eggs out of the carton. They fill the cart up with cookies, chocolate, rainbow sprinkle doughnuts and NO GREEN VEGETABLES. Never. Not Ever.
This technique works if you really get into it and are silly, authentic, and loving. Then your kid knows your intention is to connect and stay connected with them. Kids are right brained and have not yet left the land of implicit knowledge, of being deeply connected with their bodies and felt-sense of another person. So if you’re not authentic and silly with opposite land, they will see right through you and know you are just trying to get them to behave in the grocery store (which, of course, you are, but in a child friendly and respecting-ly, playful way).
A Random Confession related to Opposite Land and Never Eating Tomatoes:
My child is a picky eater. Even though I am a HUGE advocate for the intuitive eating, there-are-no-bad-foods, philosophy, I still relapse into encouraging, bordering on nagging, my child to eat vegetables. As you can imagine, sometimes I “win” a particular battle, but I never (Never, Not Ever 🙂 ) win the war. My little one is all over implicit knowing on that. I know you are trying to get me to do what you want, but I am not going to leave what I know to be true in my body and my preferences. So I keep returning to presenting the food, being playful with it, model-ing eating vegetables, but not forcing them.
I recently was given a book in another great chain of motherhood wisdom (also known as passing-along-stuff-please-help-me-clear-a-little-space-in-my-house). It is fabulous. In it, Lola, the younger sister of Charlie, states that she won’t eat carrots (they are for rabbits), peas (too small and green), and:
“I absolutely will never Not Ever eat a tomato.”
Her older brother, well versed in opposite land and creative, playful parenting, assures Lola that they are not eating carrots, potatoes, peas, or fish sticks. They are eating “orange twiglets from Jupiter, cloud fluff, green drops from Greenland, ocean nibbles from the supermarket under the sea…” You get the idea.
As you can imagine, by the end of the book, Lola is experimenting with trying all kinds of new foods, including the dreaded Never Not Ever (re-named moon-squirters) tomatoes.
How does this apply to You?
(Parents, Non-parents, and people recovering from Eating Disorders, Depression, Anxiety or General Self-Hatred)
Opposite Land looks different for adults. It includes such blasphemous ideas as:
“You ARE good enough.”
“All foods are possible to eat without guilt, including chocolate cake.”
“Recovery from an Eating Disorder (Depression, Anxiety, General Self-Hatred) is possible.”
“Mistakes are allowed.”
“You can be loved the way you are.”
“There is nothing wrong with you.”
“What happened in your family of origin was not your fault.”
“It is okay to feel angry, sad, ashamed, or insecure.”
“You are not bad.”
I get it- these may seem to live in a fantasy world if you are accustomed to believing the opposite. They may seem even more preposterous than eating cloud fluff or orange twig-lets from Jupiter. But considering the possibility can be the beginning of believing it. Having a trusted loved one (spouse, therapist, supportive peer) help you in this process can be the most healing. You may even, like Lola, decide that you can sometimes, Not Always but Not Never, have the experience of being Good Enough. And that can be even more phenomenal than eating a moon-squirter.
Special thanks to Lauren Child and Candlewick Press for permission to reprint the beautiful images from:
I WILL NEVER NOT EVER EAT A TOMATO. Copyright © 2000 by Lauren Child. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Summer vacation is ending. People are coming back from traveling; kids are starting school. What makes summer vacation special? My childhood memories include: painting on the back porch, watermelon and roasted corn on the cob, laying on the beach (back in the day when SPF meant Super Powerful Fantastic tan). Coming back from vacation is like the “Monday” of the Dieting world: I’ll start again on Monday. I’ll get back on track on Monday. I have to go back to work on Monday, Mondays suck.
We just got back from vacation. It is interesting being a parent navigating food treat-land with a kid on vacation (and in life). In my private practice, I see many adult clients struggling with disordered eating and body image distress. But their childhood food experiences differ. Some only got food-treats on vacation, some were never allowed food-treats, some only ever ate sugar cereal, whether at home or on vacation. However, in eating disorder recovery, as in life, It’s not about the food. Let me re-phrase: it’s partially about the food. It’s more about the context of the food than the content. In other words, if you were always forced to clean your plate, were never allowed to eat treats, were never served a vegetable, or were forced to eat all your vegetables even if you had to choke to get them down, that is obviously going to influence your experience regarding food and eating as an adult! However, even more important than the content (whether it be Vegetables or Cap’n Crunch), is the message about food and listening to your body. What were you told about the context of food, eating and your body? Were you allowed to listen to and trust your body and your hunger cues? Were you able to have some choice about what, when and how much you ate? Were you listened to? Were you therefore able to learn to listen to yourself?
Intuitive vs. Controlled Eating
As someone who struggled to re-learn intuitive eating in my adulthood and is a bit anxious as a parent that my child get the right nutrition, it is a serious spiritual practice to keep my “eat your vegetables” and “do NOT give him any more sugar, Papa” tendencies in check. However, I know in my very Being, in the-Part-of-Me-That-Knows, that intuitive eating works. And I know that the more I can foster as well as not inhibit that innate knowing in my child, the more of a protective factor I create around future disordered eating (depression, anxiety, body and self loathing…)
Birch et al. (2001) outlined particular “controlling feeding practices” that parents tend to do with children:
*Pressure to eat, as a means to increase the amount of foods a child consumes.
*Restricting access to certain foods, as a means to decrease the amount of “unhealthy” foods a child consumes.
*Monitoring food intake, as a means to track the amount of “unhealthy” foods a child consumes.
Controlling feeding practices, though often done with the best of intentions by parents, often lead to interrupting a child’s food selection by either increasing or decreasing the desire for the “controlled” food item and disrupting the internal compass for hunger and satiety. (Batsell, Brown, Ansfield, & Paschall, 2002; Birch & Fisher 1998; Fisher & Birch 1999: Galloway, Farrow, & Martz, 2009: Joyce & Zimmer-Gembeck, 2009 )
So. Back to Summer vacation. We were at a lodge with a coffeeshop this past week that had every possible kind of croissant you could imagine: spinach and cheese, sausage and bacon, apple, marmalade, chocolate, nutella. My little one heard chocolate (even though I offered it as last choice hoping another would stand out and sound appealing…spinach? There’s always hope) and pounced: Chocolate! So the second day we were there, still Chocolate! On the third day, he chose something else. Direct quote:
“I’m done with that Mama.”
He chose a banana, ate it, and moved on. He listened to his body, his cues and preferences, and he had enough of the chocolate. My husband ate the croissant. I don’t know why, but I continue to be astounded at how just not interfering with the process of trusting one’s body is so profound. Bless Evelyn Tribole, Elyses Resch (Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works,1995), and Rosanna Franklin (You are what your mother eats: maternal intuitive eating and perceptions of child’s eating, Dissertation Defense, Alliant University, 2016) for articulating what the body, psyche, and emotions know as well as providing the research to prove it.
Here are some guidelines for intuitive eating:
- Relying on internal cues for hunger and satiety
- Eat for physiological rather than emotional reasons
- Have no dietary restrictions/unconditional permission to eat
- Practice body size acceptance
(I’m Guest blogging for a San Francisco therapist’s site! Here is the beginning of the article, then click on the link below to continue reading)
Last weekend I went to the movies with my preschooler. It was a special theater adventure into which we snuck in a large purse full of popcorn. As the lights dimmed and the light-up crocks flashed, we heard lots of excited children exclaiming “It’s starting!!!” and some not-so-happy babies sharing in their preverbal-but-very-easily-interpreted sounds.
I have to say I think I enjoyed the movie much more than my child. The Psychologist part of me was impressed with the ways they imaged memory consolidation in the brain and characterized feelings. Here are a couple of things that stood out as ways to practice emotional understanding either as a parent to your inner child, your external child/ren, or both.
1. Externalizing and characterizing parts of the self makes them less scary
The other night I lost it with my preschooler after 9,003 (ok it cold have been 9,002) attempts to get teeth brushed before bed and yelled “BRUSH YOUR TEETH RIGHT NOW!” (I do not recommend this). After taking a deep breath, I was able to soften my own guilt for yelling and make it less scary/ more able to be released for my child by stating,
We then talked about “the angry flame-guy” and how sometimes t is helpful to shoot out flames (like when you are trying to get the window open for your friends joy and sadness) and sometimes it is not helpful to shoot out flames (like when you are trying to get your child to brush their teeth) but it’s just the angry flame-guy, and we all have an angry flame-guy part of our self. We also all have a sad, crumpled-on-the-floor-have-to-drag-me-around part, a green, disdainful-condescending-mean-girl part, a pixie fly-around-in-joy-reframing-everything-as-a-growth-opportunity part, etc. They are just parts of the self, not ALL of the self. When we remember that, we can stay an integrated whole Self. And when we forget, that, we become dis-integrated, overwhelmed self.
I recently was assisting at my child’s pre-school and two of the children invented a game called “sugar hoarding.” It entailed filling a dump truck with sand (sugar) and bringing it to the “red castle made of all lollipops with no sticks.” (The sticks were deemed useless as they didn’t have sugar).
Why are kids (and many adults) obsessed with sugar?
Sugar tastes good and sugar affects the brain.
Dr. Nicole Avena, neuroscientist researcher, author of Why Diets Fail, as well as many other neuroscientists, have discovered sugar causes levels of dopamine to surge in our brains. Dopamine is considered the “reward center” in our brain, and is associated with feelings of pleasure.
Knowing this, as a person who likes sweets, as a Mom of a child who loves sweets, and as a Psychologist who assists clients recover from disordered eating, helps me bring objective awareness to where and why we get “hooked” on sugar. There is nothing morally weak about liking sugar or eating sugar- our brains are wired to enjoy it, crave it, and, according to some, become addicted to it.
Having this awareness does not mean I have joined the “No Sugar” brigade. Nor will I join any other Diet camp that promotes a certain way of eating other than moderation, three meals a day, snacks as needed, and variety. It’s just too crazy-making. For people who like sweets and anxious (Super) Moms, this is unsustainable and a recipe for failure. For people who are already prone to black-and-white thinking in order to manage the complexity of life, going extreme with no sugar often becomes a disaster, an eating disorder, or an unending roller coaster of obsession, perfectionism, and unsustainable attempts to feel okay with one’s self by imposing an external solution on an internal problem.
However, that does not mean I give my child ice-cream for breakfast or marshmallows on demand!
There was a classic study in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University in which young children were offered one marshmallow right away or two marshmallows if they waited 15 minutes. You can watch a painful and endearing video of children participating in this study here:
In follow-up studies, researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the rewards tended to have better life outcomes, according to test scores, educational attainment, and other life measures. This ability to wait, although it may seem an easy task, is quite the challenge for children who do not yet have the executive function (the front part of the brain that regulates the ability to see cause and effect) developed.
I just finished reading The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD in which this executive function and other parts of the brain are likened to the “unfinished upstairs” part. They state “Just imagine the downstairs of a house that is complete and fully furnished, but when you look up at the second floor, you see that it is unfinished and littered with construction tools. You can even see patches of the sky where the roof hasn’t been completed yet. That’s your child’s upstairs brain – a work in progress.” They write:
Your upstairs brain…is made up of the cerebral cortex and its various parts…Unlike your more basic downstairs brain, the upstairs brain is more evolved and can give you a fuller perspective on your world…This is where more intricate mental processes take place, like thinking, imagining, and planning…it is responsible for producing characteristics we hope to see in our kids: Sound decision-making and planning, Control over emotions and body, Self-understanding, Empathy, and Morality. 1
So how do we help our children (and ourselves) wait before eating the marshmallow (chocolate cake, ice-cream)? How do we develop and cultivate this part of the brain so our impulse for pleasure (sugar, sex, alcohol) can be moderated with our big picture vision of what we value for ourselves, our bodies, our relationships, and our life?
Mr. Mischel (the “Marshmallow man”) says:
…there are two warring parts of the brain: a hot part demanding immediate gratification (the limbic system), and a cool, goal-oriented part (the prefrontal cortex). The secret of self-control, he says, is to train the prefrontal cortex to kick in first.
To do this, use specific if-then plans, like ‘If it’s before noon, I won’t check email’ or ‘If I feel angry, I will count backward from 10.’ Done repeatedly, this buys a few seconds to at least consider your options. The point isn’t to be robotic and never eat chocolate mousse again. It’s to summon self-control when you want it, and be able to carry out long-term plans. We don’t need to be victims of our emotions, we have a prefrontal cortex that allows us to evaluate whether or not we like the emotions that are running us.’
Simple, but not easy! Doctors Siegel and Payne Bryson offer a couple of child friendly strategies that are excellent practice for adults as well:
1. Play the tape out and exercise your upstairs brain
Instead of giving in to the immediate answer, exercise the upstairs brain. For example, if your child finds a snuggly stuffed animal on the floor of the library, instead of saying “No, that’s not yours,” try saying “Hmmm… I wonder where that came from? Do you think someone dropped it and forgot it here? How would you feel if you left your stuffed animal at the library by mistake? Shall we see if there is a lost-and-found and then we can check back in a week if no-one comes back for it?”
Or, if you are struggling with recovering from bingeing on sugary food, instead of acting out of impulsive habit and eating a whole box of cookies, play the tape out (for those of us who still remember cassettes 🙂 ) and say to yourself
“What happens when I eat all those cookies?”
Hmmm… I feel guilty.
“And then what?”
Then I feel sleepy and depressed.
“And then what?”
Then I feel ashamed and don’t want to go out with my friends or show up to work.
“Ahhhhh, ok, so it’s not going to really give you the sweetness that you want right now- it’s actually going to give you a bitter experience of self-loathing. How else can I help you find sweetness and comfort right now?”
2. Move your body
Another way to bring in the upstairs part of your brain is to move your body. This helps your downstairs brain re-find a place of willingness and flexibility when you are feeling rigid and resistant. For example, when your child is saying “I don’t want to put my socks on!” and you want to wrestle them to just get the freakin socks on their feet, you can instead say “Let’s go all the wiggles out of your feet first!” and then jump around for a few minutes. This allows them to calm their “downstairs” brain from flooding the upstairs enough to allow some willingness back in.
In the urge-to-binge scenario, it might be to leave the kitchen and take a walk around the block or dance around your house and move the feelings of anger, fear, or anxiety. Though this may sound silly, moving your body can help your amygdala (the part of the brain that is super activated in fear and anger) calm back down enough for you to access your “upstairs” brain again.
- 1. Sugar is not morally bad- there is a reason why we and/or our children want it.
- 2. We can teach ourselves and our children moderation and pausing on impulsivity in order to become and be the balanced, moral, ethical, empathic people we want to be.
- 3. It is never too early or too late to cultivate neural pathways in your (and your child’s brain) that can help integrate the upstairs and downstairs of your “house!”
1. Siegel, Daniel J, MD and and Payne Bryson,PhD Tina, The Whole Brain Child, New York: Delacorte Random House, 2011.
2. Drukerman, Pamela, “Learning How to Exert Self-Control,” NYT Sunday Book Review, SEPT. 12, 2014.
NPR “Why Sugar Makes us Feel So Good” http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/01/15/262741403/why-sugar-makes-us-feel-so-good
Urist, Jacoba, “What the Marshmallow Test Really Teaches About Self-Control,” The Atlantic, Sept 24, 2014.
Stanford Marshmallow experiment, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment
Before I had a child, and before recovery, I was someone who ALWAYS finished books. Even if I didn’t like them. If it was nonfiction, there was something to be learned by the end of the book, and I might miss it. It might be the secret instruction in the manual of life that would turn the key to (insert topic here: being a better therapist, being more recovered, learning how to deepen spiritual practice, understand theories of psychology or physics…) If it was fiction, again even if I didn’t like it, I might end up liking the character by the end of the book. There might me some redemption or twist that turned the story…
Sometimes, in my life, I struggled with finishing other things or being with endings, knowing when it was time to hold on and stay with and when it was time to let go and release: funerals, graduate school, the dissertation process, relationship endings.
This past week, for I believe the first time ever, I returned a library book UNFINISHED. It was actually a good book, a parenting book that I would recommend to parents, to colleagues, to clients. And yet the book was something else I needed to get done that never got done. And I thought, hmmm, is this something I would regret not finishing if I were dying? And the answer was, No. Is it something that is giving me pleasure or assisting me in reducing my or other’s suffering? Is it helping me be a better parent, therapist, wife, person? No, not really. It has some good advice, but it’s not anything that I haven’t already been exposed to in other early childhood trainings. So on our weekly trip to the library, along with my son’s books he was returning, I put it in the slot. And the weight of relief was immediate.
There are other things in my life I would rather not finish or show up for that I need and actually want to now: endings, difficulties that lead to growth, showing up for greater connection and competence on the other side of fear. Those are opposite action practice. Those are important. The library book? Nope. That is not one of them. Halleluiah for letting go.
Where do you need to hold on and stay with; where would you like to give yourself permission to let go?