Twenty years ago, I vision-ed what it would be like to no longer have an eating disorder. I wasn’t sure it would be possible for me. But I was ready to vision the possibility. I discovered, by visioning the possibility, and then taking the actions steps into that vision, that it was possible. Every year since then I have made a vision board. Fifteen years ago, I started facilitating others in this process.
What is a Vision board?
Vision boards (also called vision collages or treasure maps) are just what they sound like: a collage of your vision! The word “board” is used when you make it on cardboard or other thick material for backing. You can also use paper or posterboard. When making this collage, you can be very specific with putting what you want 1-year-from-now as well as choosing images that make you appeal to you without knowing why. You can make sections of your collage for different areas of your life such as family, health, career, and spirituality. You can also have a “theme” for the year. For example, the theme of the year for the collage on the left was “Flow.” My most favorite option is to just glue your images on the paper as you go. As one client of mine stated “you can just slap images on the paper and trust that it’s going to mean something.” Here are some more specific suggestions.
Pick the right images (only you know what they are)
You do not need to know why an image speaks to you. Listen to your gut. Trust what wants to stay on your vision board and what doesn’t make the cut. Years ago, I had an image of a sacred family and a pregnant woman on my vision board. At that point, I was still in the “no kids” camp, and it was a metaphor for other aspects of my life wanting and needing to be born. In addition, it was an image of family healing that I needed.
However, the beauty of images is that they can hold multiple meanings. A newborn baby can mean taking good care of yourself and your new recovery, giving birth to a new business/creative endeavor, grieving the loss of a child, the desire to have a baby, or all of these.
I have had people come back, year after year, again and again, saying “I don’t know why I put that image (of Italy, or a Balinese woman, or a Hawaiian flower, or…) on my collage last year but guess what happened?” and then telling me about the synchronicities that emerged.
The person who made this collage went to Hawaii and got engaged after image-ing this on her vision board.
Make it In Real Life. With Real Supplies
For your vision collage, use actual paper, actual scissors, and actual images. Pinterest is great, but it is not a vision board. You need to be a be able to move things around, use your hands, and decide what feels right on your collage. The boundaries of your paper/board are important. You want your vision to be clear. Some things will not make the cut to being on your vision board this year. That is important to honor. Holding those boundaries for your board, (and in your life), will create the space you need for your vision. (Also, notice if you have trouble leaving any space on your board- is this true in your life? There is usually a parallel process with how you make your board and how you live your life.) Post your vision board on your actual wall, so you can see it in your actual life. Look at it throughout the year, so your body and mind can take in your vision. This will help you make it real!
Make it with Other People.
In my experience, vision boards are best made with other people. Just like recovery and motherhood, you don’t have to do it alone, and it is easier if you do it together. When you do it with other like-minded people, the experience has the opportunity to become much more ease-full and meaningful. When you run into obstacles (as happens in recovery, motherhood, and vision board making), it can be helpful to have support around you. When I facilitate the process for groups, we give each other feedback on what we see in their vision collages. Often, you are so in-the-thicket-of-your-own-trees (or your collage/life), you can’t see the beautiful forest you are in! Having other people reflect back to you what they see can be eye-opening. Ten people looking at the same images see ten different things. That can feel abundant! Remember, you as the artist of your vision board and of your life always get to decide what it means to you.
Include specific goals and intentions
(AND surrender the timeline and the way these come to fruition)
It is ok, even fabulous, to have specific goals and intentions for the year ahead. A goal is a realistic, tangible and measurable outcome. An intention is a desire and a deep orienting of the self toward a direction. Both are important. When I was pregnant and approaching my first year of motherhood, I had a “comfy, dry and sleeping like a champion” baby displayed largely on my vision collage. This was an intention. This didn’t happen for either myself or my baby very frequently the first year.
If you, like me, have a left-brain that is a bit obsessed with accomplishing goals, by all means put them on your vision board. (Important side note: Diets are not allowed in any of my vision board workshops. Diets don’t work. Diets suck your energy away from your real visions. This is not a die-t. This is a live-it.) If you struggle with impatience or perfectionism, you may need to give your self more time than originally planned to accomplish your goals and intentions. I had the goal completing the doctorate and getting licensed as a Psychologist on my vision boards for many years. It was important to keep setting the goal, again and again, with patience and perseverance.
In addition, vision boards often manifest your visions in Soul-time, which can be nonlinear and surprising in how they come to fruition. Sometimes an image you originally thought meant one thing when you put it on your collage, becomes something else entirely. That is part of the magic. Which leads to a question I often get asked:
Isn’t it magical thinking to make a collage and then expect these visions to happen in your life?
No. Let yourself dream big. And then, TAKE ACTION on it!
There is a famous quote attributed to Goethe, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” I like how the words dream and do are both here. Dream, and then DO. Obviously you have to take action to make your visions come true. But image-in-ing it is often the first step. What is most threatening, fearful and truly exciting to imagine yourself accomplishing, having, being? You have to imagine it is possible before you walk your way into it.
Because the truth is, it’s not about the collage. It’s about you letting your vision turn into the imperfectly beautiful surprise of your life. YOU are the vision you are creating.
What’s your vision? If you haven’t made your 2018 Vision Board yet, now is the time!
Dr Linda will be facilitating a Vision Collage workshop in San Francisco on January 7, 2018. For more information, go to DrLindaShanti.com or email Linda@DrLindaShanti.com
“The body holds meaning…when we probe beneath the surface of our obsession with weight, we will find that a woman obsessed with her body is also obsessed with the limitations of her emotional life. Through her concern with her body she is expressing a serious concern about the star of her soul.
-Kim Chernin, Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness
The holidays can be hard. Disordered eating, binge drinking, and depression are all common during this time. Here are some ways that recovering women – whether it be from disordered eating, alcohol, anxiety, or depression – can tend to themselves during this time.
- Do a daily spiritual practice, no matter how small
This can be a daily reader or affirmation, journal-ling, sitting meditation, a walk. 1 small daily action that connects you with the-part-of-you-that-knows, or your soul self. (Please insert the word or phrase that works for you.) One definition of soul self, from Carolyn Costin (8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, W.W. Norton and Company, 2012), is:
Your soul self is your essence…connected to the essence of all others and the world. Your soul self practices…pay(ing) attention to what is meaningful, has no judgement, and is not attached to results…Your Soul is the ‘being’ part of human being.
Do your spiritual practice religiously (pun intended) to stay connected with your soul self. Don’t worry about if you feel like it or not- most days you probably won’t. Do it anyway. Do it for all the times over the years that you didn’t listen to your soul-self, that other people didn’t listen to it, or for all the times it got run over with busy-ness, disordered eating, alcohol, criticism or judgement. Just make a space daily- however small- so your soul self can know and trust it is welcome.
2. Approach each day, 1 day at a time, with radical acceptance.
Approach each day as both miraculous, and just another day. By all means enjoy Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s…but try not to make it better or worse than any other. Do not elevate it; do not de-value it. Greet each day with equanimity, another 24 hours of darkness and light revolving and rotating around the sun. There will be aspects you like, aspects you don’t like. There will be pain and joy. It is what it is and just like every other day it will pass.
3. Connect with right kind of support.
Sometimes our families of origin are helpful recovery support, sometimes they are not helpful, and often they are some of both. It can be supportive to have a recovery buddy or team that you talk/email/text with throughout holiday times to help provide the empathy of someone who has “been there” or “is there” with you on the same journey. Set up support phone calls with each other, go for walks together, text each other before and after Christmas dinner, or whatever event you foresee might be challenging for you. It’s ok to need help and support. Treat yourself and your recovery as if you are a new little baby. Be a good parent to this baby and her needs. Stay with her and surround her with others that are kind and supportive. Protect her as best you can from your and other’s critical voices. Let her know you are here to support her in any and all feelings she is having, unconditionally.
4. Create rituals that have meaning for you
What makes YOU happy? Twenty years ago, when I was in the first few years of my recovery, one of my best friends was from England. Being English, she didn’t even celebrate Thanksgiving 🙂 We both lived in San Francisco, far from our families and didn’t really want to celebrate Thanksgiving with a “culturally acceptable” binge. We decided that we would have a yearly ritual: every Thanksgiving we would have dinner and go see a movie together. And we did!
I have a friend in recovery that does gratitude jars with her family- filling them with papers of what each of them are grateful for.
Glennon Doyle Melton (Momastery.com), recovered from “food, booze, and drugs” and now a mother of three, uses this poem to guide her holiday shopping. We ask each kiddo to make a list of:
Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.
5. Be curious about difference, look for underlying similarities, and take action.
Many years ago when I was dating my husband, I expressed concern to a mentor of mine about how important spirituality was to me and how he is an atheist. She said to me something that has always stayed with me: What do his actions reflect about his values? Do you feel a connection there? There was no doubt in my mind about his integrity, the generosity of his heart, his commitment to being of service. I saw that in his actions every day, with me, with his friends, with his colleagues, and in his community. I looked to spirituality to find guidance on being of service, ethics, and finding peace amidst fear. He found this guidance other ways. But his actions reflected values in which I believed.
As one spiritual teacher put it,
“The test of faith is’t what you believe- it’s what you DO because of what you believe.”
The implications of this are as small as valuing yourself and your recovery in your breakfast choices, to helping a person in your daily life such as returning a grocery cart for a mom who is trying to get her baby into the car seat, to as global as treating someone from a different belief system (whether it be 12-step spirituality, Atheism and Empiricism, Catholicism, Judism, or Islam) with the same kindness and respect that you would a friend.
6. Help Thanks Wow
Anne Lamott (author of Help, Thanks, Wow, The Three Essential Prayers, New York: Penguin, 2012) inspirational recovery author, writes how these three prayers- Ask for assistance, Appreciate the good, and Experience awe in the world- make up the foundation of staying spiritually connected.
She has a lovely sense of humor about “God”:
“Let’s not get bogged down on whom or what we pray to. Let’s just say prayer is communication from our hearts to the great mystery, or Goodness, or Howard; to the animating energy of love…something unimaginably big, and not us. We could call this force Not Me, or Not Preachers Onstage with a choir of 800. Or for convenience we could just say ‘God.'”
Last but not least, she speaks to the importance of genuine, authenticity when talking to God:
My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real- really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.
AMEN. And Women. Definitely Us Too.
Identifying, Naming, and Taming the inner critic
Many women compare themselves to others. Women recovering from food, weight, and body image issues and, often, new mothers, have often honed this skill to an excruciatingly sharp pointed edge that goes right back into the self. As a colleague of mine has put it “an eating disorder is an over-developed superego,” and “Supermom doesn’t exist, but we all keep desperately trying to be her.”
Some common self-judgments for women in eating disorder recovery that I often hear include:
- If [insert body part such as stomach, thighs, or arms here] was different, I would be more successful in my career, lovable in romantic relationships, and not have these feelings (ex: anxiety, depression, anger, sadness, shame).
- If I were not eating this [insert “bad food” here], then I would be “better,” “good,” not feel this way (see above list).
- “She’s thinner, and therefore more attractive, lovable, worthy, than me.”
- “She’s sicker than me, and therefore deserves treatment/to get better more than me.”
- “She has a real/valid reason for an eating disorder (ex history of abuse) and I don’t.”
- “There is something wrong with me that can never be fixed or healed.”
- “She’s in a romantic relationship and therefore more lovable than me.”
- “None of my romantic relationships have worked, so none will ever work.”
- Her eating disorder (whether it be starving, bingeing, or purging) is more dangerous than mine. I don’t deserve to tend to my recovery and self-care because it’s not that dire or important.
- I’ll never be a Mom if I can’t even take care of myself.
OUCH! Obviously they all fall into the categories of Great-Palace-Lies and Cognitive Distortions such as personalizing, emotional reasoning, and globalizing. New moms, like women in early eating disorder recovery, are also in the terrain of developing a new self identity. Growth periods such as these are often when the critical voice is loudest. Below, I have named a few of the many critics that attack many moms internally:
- The ecological critic: That mom has never used any kind of plastic in her child’s lunch, even if it is BPA free. All her food has been made from scratch and the vegetables have been grown in her organic backyard garden. If I use plastic, have anything not made from scratch in my child’s lunch, I suck as a Mom.
- The Body-image critic: She lost the baby weight sooner (or at all) and is therefore a more attractive, functional, lovable successful career woman/mom/wife.
- The stay-at-home-mom critic: I am mommy-tracked and my skills are not valuable/outdated/my sleep-deprived brain-body doesn’t remember how to have a career. I can’t move ahead with my career, because people won’t take me seriously anymore.
- The work-outside-the-home-mom critic: My kid(s) are more attached to the nanny than me. I should start saving for therapy now, as I’ve probably already damaged them with abandonment issues/insecure attachment.
- The Attachment-parenting critic: I stopped wearing and co-sleeping with my baby, and therefore they feel traumatized and insecure. I should breastfeed at all costs for the first three years. Moms who leave their kids in daycare are bad.
- The Feminist Mom critic: I should be able to bring home the (vegan organic) bacon, fry it up in a pan, while simultaneously playing with my non-screen watching child after writing an updated introduction and research study on The Second Shift and presenting it to the National Association of Feminist Sociology conference.
OK, so I have an overdeveloped Superego (Critic). What do I DO about it?
Here are some strategies for combatting the critic and assist yourself in arresting the Compare and Despair Trap.
- NOTICE IT.
In eating disorder treatment, it is often encouraged to notice “ED” (the voice of the eating disorder). You can also think of this as “Inner Critic.” Although this can be painful (it is not a kind voice), it is important to notice that this part of your self is just that- PART of you, not all of you. And as you start to notice it is not all of you, you can then begin to cultivate other parts of you that are more fiercely kind and compassionate rather than shaming and harmful toward you.
- NAME IT.
Naming the “ED” or “Critic” voice can be helpful in continuing to separate and dis-identify from it. It can be fun to make a collage, picture, or funny character name for it. Though this may sound silly, it can actually help take some of the power away from it. Sometimes I think of my critic as a Spikey haired teenager: it looks fierce, but really it is a soft mollusk inside and the spikes are trying to protect its vulnerability. This allows me to invite the scary-looking critic back into my larger Self rather than try to cut off from it.
- GET SUPPORT
It can be hard to develop a fiercely compassionate voice within yourself to assist in combatting the critical voice and making peace with/tolerating distressing emotions. Sometimes a wise therapist, person further along in recovery or motherhood can be helpful to verbalize kind, discerning support until you can cultivate strengthening this voice within yourself.
- IF YOU ARE GOING TO COMPARE, BE FAIR.
For example, if you are a newly postpartum mom, when you wear a bathing suit, it is NOT fair to compare yourself to an airbrushed image in a magazine or even a woman’s body who hasn’t given birth. Your body is different. If you MUST compare, then compare to another newly postpartum mom (though my recommendation would be to talk about what is really going on regarding the stress of being a new mom!)
- FIND AND CULTIVATE A REGULAR CREATIVE AND/OR OR SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
Fighting the critic needs to include rather than cuting off from your feelings and your body. This can be sitting meditation, moving meditation, writing, collage-ing, art-making. It is usually an activity that includes the right (creative) brain and somatic (body) awareness such as movement or following the breath. You will know that you have found a practice that works for you when you discover (usually after the fact when it returns) that your inner critic was quiet for a time. Cultivate that activity, whatever it is for you. Keep returning to that Big Mind, Big Self, Coonected-ness again and again. Your critic will start to lose its power when it is invited into a larger, more spacious creative and enticing place to be. I will end with an affirmation borrowed from 12-step program reading: Just for today, I will not compare myself to others. I will accept myself and live to the best of my ability. Don’t compare—identify. Don’t intellectualize—utilize. To keep it, you have to give it away. You can’t give away what you don’t have. May the growth continue!
Self-Help: Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way By Rick Carson 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder By Carolyn Costin and Gwen Schubert Grabb Creativity and Spiritual Practice: Women, Food and God By Geneen Roth The Artists’ Way and The Artist’s Way for Parents By Julia Cameron Soulcollage Evolving: An Intuitive Collage Process for Self Discovery and Community By Seena Frost Sweat Your Prayers By Gabriel Roth Buddha Mom: The Path of Mindful Mothering By Jacqueline Kramer Humour: Shitty Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us By Laurie Kilmartin, Karen Moline, Alicia Ybarbo and Mary Ann Zoellner Ketchup is a vegetable and other lies moms tell themselves Robin O’Bryant
Recovery Mama’s sole purpose is to provide inspiration and hope to women recovering from Eating Disorders, Body Image difficulty, Postpartum Depression/Anxiety, and “New Mommy boot camp.” In celebration of all mothers, your mother, you as a mother, you re-mothering yourself, I am offering the following affirmation for anyone that signs up to follow this blog! Please email your snail mail address (contact form below) so I can send you (and/or your mother) a hand-made customized affirmation card. It is ok to request a card for yourself, even if you haven’t given birth. We all have the Great and Good-Enough Mother archetypes within us.
I listen to my intuition.
There is a still, small light in me. It is the part of me that knows. It has always been there and is an intuitive awareness. It doesn’t come from books. It is inside me. I have a Mommy-intuition. It is based on connection with myself, with the part-of-me-that-knows. When I listen deeply to that connection, I know. I know what to do and not to do. I know the next right step.
I listen to my intuition.
When filling out the form below, Please write which image you would like
(Heart-Mother, Light, or Blue-Mother) and if you would prefer I write “Happy Mother’s Day” instead of the affirmation.