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
We all know how easy this was in our former lives. Just hop in! At any time! With no interruptions and for as long as you want! This is no longer the case. However, a shower can make a world of difference. It is actually one of the main action steps I encourage not only new moms, but also clients recovering from depression to take. Cleaning your body helps your mind. It has the capacity to wash away some of the sleep deprivation and frustration. And it has the added benefit of cleaning away stinky-ness having old milk, snot, and poo that your little one may have generously shared. For at least one moment, your body can be clean, and all your own.
Don’t stop reading yet! I know, if one more person tells you “sleep when the baby sleeps,” you are going to punch them. So I’m not going to tell you that. However, I want to encourage you to carve out in whatever way works for you and your family, a good chunk of sleep for yourself. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Sleep deprivation can cause difficulties in concentrating, irritability, problems with reading, speaking, and an increase in appetite. If the deprivation continues, disorientation, visual hallucinations, social withdrawal and/or challenges, memory lapses, and breaks in reality occur.[i] One of the main treatments for moms recovering from perinatal mood disorders (anxiety, depression, psychosis), along with therapy and medication, is sleep. And the sleep needs to be for prolonged period of uninterrupted time. (Disrupted sleep is as bad as no sleep – more on this
in upcoming sleep blog).
Here some ideas: hire a night doula, have your partner or grandma take over night feedings for one night, ask your partner to do the middle-of-the-night feeds, or do modified sleep training. Preserve and protect your sleep, however you can. Don’t succumb to the temptation for late night Facebook/Online shopping/Great-ideas-planning-your-new-business-vnture-as-a-mommypreneur. If these are still appealing when you are rested, you will know they are coming from a true need. Otherwise, it’s adrenaline-fueled exhaustion that would be better fed with restoring your sleep.
Did you know that vitamin D is one of the best antidepressant vitamins? Low vitamin D has been linked not only with postpartum depression for the mother[ii] but also increased risk of eating disorders in female offspring.[iii] Getting out of the house can be one of the best ways to bring new perspective to what can feel like drudgery of new motherhood. So pack up all your new accoutrements – diaper bag, pacifiers, bottles, snacks, diapers, etc.- and get out into the sun. It may just be to walk around the block. It may be an adventure like getting to the playground or the coffee shop. You may even coordinate this adventure with another new mom, which leads to the next tip…
It is a recent cultural phenomenon that moms are trying to care for their babies alone, at home, by themselves without a “village” of support. This used to be the extended family, or way, way back in human experience, the tribe. Humans thrive on attachment. Without it, we wither. There is no wrong way to have support as a new mom, other than to not have support as a new mom. Your support could be a mom’s group. It could be your partner. It could be your therapist. It could be YOUR mom. It could be your non-mom friend. It could be your friend who is also a mom. It could be your doula, lactation consultant, or mother-in-law. It could be all of these or some combination of these. But having none of these is a recipe for trying to be Supermom (who doesn’t exist, and lives in the isolated perfectionist imaginations of moms who have no support), which can to Postpartum Depression. I love this quote from Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of emotionally focused therapy:
“Being the “best you can be” is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people.”
If you are providing attachment to your new little one, YOU need to be strongly attached.
Trying to hold, provide food, and give emotional sustenance to your baby without support yourself is like being a tree without roots. You will fall over, you will wilt, you will not thrive. An then this will happen to your baby, too… It is not only okay, but also essential that you have support! Put on your oxygen masks first, Mama.
- Spiritual practice
Last but not least, having a mindfulness practice can be a helpful tool for tolerating the distress and practicing acceptance with all the learnings of new parenthood. This may be 5 minutes of meditation per day. Or it may be one bite of mindful eating during a lunch otherwise filled with Cheerios being thrown on the floor. It may be a yoga class or writing 1 page in your journal every day. You could practice deep breathing every time you hear your baby cry and your stomach tenses up with anxiety or discomfort. For new moms, it is important to Keep It Simple. Remember: the Buddha was NOT a parent when he became enlightened. Unlike him, you don’t have seven days to sit under a tree uninterrupted. You may have seven minutes. Take it. A good practice is to breath in the suffering of all new moms all around the earth and breathe out loving-kindness to all the new moms all around the earth. I used this practice when I was a new mom. It made me feel so much less alone at 3am.
You are not alone, Mama. Keep going. Keep practicing any and all of these self-care practices as much as you can for as long as it takes. You are NOT allowed to use this blog to beat up on yourself for what you are not doing. If you are doing that, stop now. Thousands of other moms are struggling right along with you, trying to sleep, shower, get support, see the sunshine, and do spiritual practice! Try, to the best of your ability one moment at a time, to find the kind mother inside yourself for yourself. This kindness is where the real strength of motherhood is: it is this place that is rooted and flexible, fierce and tender. It is the one that defends her right to practice her own self-care as a way to then be able to care for others. It is the mother putting her own oxygen mask on first. In the words of Sue Monk Kidd:
“You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside.”
You can do it mama. If you can’t find her, keep looking. You may need to grow your capacity to be a good mom to yourself along with learning to be a good one to your baby. That is okay. She is there, waiting for you to feed, nurture, forgive, and grow her. Oh, and shower her, too!
Linda Shanti McCabe is a Mom and Licensed Clinical Psychologist in San Francisco.As always, this blog is written to provide experience, inspiration, and hope – not to provide psychological treatment. If you are struggling with a perinatal mood disorder, a good resource is Postpartum Support International.
All original art images copyright Linda Shanti McCabe
[i] Bulkeley, Kelly, “Why Sleep Deprivation is Torture” Psychology Today, December 15, 2014.
[ii] Robinson et al. Low maternal serum vitamin D during pregnancy and the risk for postpartum depression symptoms, Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 2014.
[iii] Allen KL, Byrne SM, Kusel MM, Hart PH, Whitehouse AJ. Maternal vitamin D levels during pregnancy and offspring eating disorder risk in adolescence. International Journal of Eating Disorders. Jun 26, 2013.
“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.