I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure
the darkness for it shows me the stars.
We are in a dark time of the year. There is a reason why there has always been a light-in-the-darkness time, and not just for those needing light in recovering from depression. Historically, in an agricultural society, December was a time when the harvest was done and therefore it was a time to rest, turn inward and reflect. With the days being darker, and Winter Solstice being the shortest day of the year, bringing and celebrating light is a natural response to, well, not going mad in the darkness. We need light. Not only does the vitamin D literally stave off depression, but symbolically we need to know there is light in the dark.
One theory of the origins of December 25 as the date chosen for the birth of Jesus is that it was originally the pagan festival in Rome celebrating “the birth of the unconquered sun,” celebrating the sun-god and the solstice. Hanukkah is also known as “the Festival of Lights,” Kwanzaa ritual include lighting special candle holders called kinaras, and in the December Hindu festival Pancha Ganapati, a shrine with Ganesha (the Hindu elephant god who clears away obstacles) is lit. Shabe Yaldā or Shabe Chelle, held on the Winter solstice, isan Iranian festival celebrating the victory of light and goodness over darkness and evil, and Chahar Shanbeh Sure, the Iranian “festival of Fire” celebrates light over darkness on the last Tuesday night of the year.
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”
-Elizabeth Kubler Ross
For recovering people, this can be particularly challenging to remember the light: the light of hope, the light of “this too, shall pass,” the light of love. It can be difficult to remember you have an inner light to which you can listen.
There is a lot to be concerned with in the world right now. So much suffering. Holding the light of hope can be hard. So many religions and cultures have this light in the darkness in their symbolism for this very reason. It is a human need; an archetypal commonality we share. Remember that you are only responsible for your light, your candle in the darkness. Light your candle. Revisit, hold onto, re-light this light. In the words of Anne Frank,
“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
Light your candle. The world needs it. The world needs you.
Last week we looked at HALT (Don’t get too Hungry Angry Lonely or Tired), Keeping Consistency, Taking a Social Media Break, Introversion Recovery Time, and Looking for Similarities. This week, here are 5 more ways to be mindful of your self-care over the holidays. Remember, the intent is to lean toward kindness to yourself. You are explicitly forbidden to use any of this to beat up on yourself for not doing or being enough.
(And, as I say to my new mom clients, the caveat/abbreviated version for Moms is: Take a Shower, Get Support.)
- Practice Loving Kindness
Lovingkindness is both a Buddhist and Hebrew term that is associated with mercy, dignity, compassion, and benevolent affection. Practice this kindness and softening of judgment with yourself and others. I was recently at Mindful Self-Compassion training with Kristin Neff, PhD, author of Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself (HarperCollins, 2011). She led us through a meditation in which we imagined a person who we easily love such as a young child, a pet, or a spiritual teacher. We sat with sending them love for a moment. Then we took a posture in our body-imagination of sending and feeling love such as holding this person in a hug or putting your hands on your heart. Then we transitioned to sending that love to ourselves. Try this. Try sending the love you give freely to others to yourself. In the lovingkindness practice, there are also components of sending the wish to be happy and healthy, free from suffering to a person with whom you feel neutral and with whom you feel hostile. Feel free to try this as well. If you feel your heart closes at this prospect, stay with yourself. You yourself most need your own lovingkindness. If you feel resistance toward self-compassion, watch Dr. Neff’s TED talk: Overcoming Objections to Self Compassion.
2. Practice Gratitude
I just finished reading the book The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan (Dutton, 2015). In it, she interviews Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, who states:
“Of all the positive strengths we’ve looked at, people who are highest in gratitude are also highest in well-being.”
It was also shared that if you don’t come by gratitude naturally, “gratitude interventions” can have a big effect. I love that. The founder of positive psychology has a brain that doesn’t naturally turn toward gratitude! Can you relate? It’s ok to have a mind that keeps going back to “bad alleyways.” The work is to train it differently, with compassion and perseverance, like you are training a puppy.
Gratitude interventions include: keeping a daily gratitude journal, writing a letter of gratitude to a friend or loved one and reading it to them, taking pictures of things you are grateful for throughout your day. I’m not talking being Pollyanna here. It has to be authentic or it has no effect or meaning. But it can be simple. Some of my recent examples include: being warm and dry out of the rain, making paper snowflakes with my little one (turn toward the fun and away from the scraps all over the floor), talking with a friend.
3. Be of Service
Being of service can be one of the most benevolent AND personally rewarding things you can do. If you can do something big, by all means DO IT NOW. But it doesn’t have to be big. Mother Teresa said:
“There are no great acts. There are small acts done with Great Love.”
Many, many, many people took very small steps (and many took very large ones as well) together to preserve Missouri river at Standing Rock recently. You may find that healing others with similar struggles helps heal your own. If you are a person recovering from an eating disorder or alcoholism, you have the unique gift of being able to understand someone else struggling with the early stages of healing in an empathic, helpful, and non-condescending way. (Keep in mind that you can’t keep it unless you give it away but you can’t give it away unless you have it. So if you are struggling with your own recovery, find another way to be of service right now and let others be of service to you for your recovery.) The feeling of doing something helpful for someone else has a way of providing meaning that no other gift can.
Here a few other examples:
- Return a grocery cart or pay the bridge toll for someone in the car behind you.
- Smile or make eye contact with someone you wouldn’t normally.
- Let someone else get on the train/bus first.
- Open the door for someone with a stroller.
4. Practice Radical Acceptance.
Carl Rogers said:
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I can change.”
This is a beautiful quote that sums up the environment within yourself that can help ease suffering and, if you want, create change. For the holidays, try practicing “It is what it is.” Look around you, notice and describe what you see, what you smell. Use your senses to bring yourself directly into the present moment. If you can be with that, you will most likely be okay. It is just this moment. Try practicing adding “right now” to aspects that you find difficult to accept and see if that helps soften the suffering of wanting it to be different. This is my body right now. This is my family right now. This is the cabinet of the President elect right now. You don’t have to like it. And accepting is not the same thing as agreeing with or condoning. It is acknowledging that this is what it is right now. The artist Richard Stine is attributed to saying:
“It’s simple. We are where we should be, doing what we should be doing. Otherwise we would be somewhere else, doing something else.”
There can be great relief, power, and spaciousness is the right now. You are right where you are supposed to be. Right Now.
5. Ask yourself what you need.
Only you know what you truly need. Ask the part-of-you-that-knows. Listen and respond.
What do I Need right now? (Only YOU know!)
Whatever it is, be kind with yourself. “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha
Amen (and Women)!
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… To read more, go to EDBlogs
Just as a reminder, 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.
Stay tuned for part two next week!
I wrote this post a while back for people recovering from disordered eating and/or new parenthood. What I have heard in the past few weeks is how many people are struggling with sleep post-election. Insomnia can be a trauma response. It is your body’s way of trying to keep you safe by not shifting into parasympathetic nervous system’s “rest and digest” mode when you may need to “fight or flight” at any moment. There is a lot of fear within and among people right now. It is real. I also know, as a Psychologist and recovering person, how important sleep is in your own healing and in resource-ing your body and mind enough to be able to function and take the next right action(s) in your daily life.
To continue reading this guest post, please go to EatingDisordersBlogs
It can be easy to feel despair and fear in your body, in your recovery, in your parenting work right now. I am turning to the Wise Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, to help keep hope in the face of despair.
My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times.
Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.
I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.
Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy turmoil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.
We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.
There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., Jungian Psychologist and Author of Women Who Run With the Wolves
What I heard in the therapy office (paraphrased to protect confidentiality) and in life the first three days after Donald Trump was announced to be the President elect:
(Statements in red are symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD)*
“I can’t come to therapy today because I feel sick. I don’t think I can go to work today- how will I get any work done?”
(You may keep very busy or avoid seeking help because it keeps you from having to think or talk about the event.)
“I lay wide awake in bed next to my sleeping child thinking ‘how will I keep her safe? How am I going to keep her safe?’”
“I couldn’t get to sleep and then I kept waking up in the middle of the night feeling like I was in a nightmare.”
“I was very short with my children this week. I knew it was because of the anger/sadness/grief that I hadn’t processed, but it kept coming up suddenly in a huge wave, like a tsunami.”
(You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. You might suddenly become angry or irritable. You may have a hard time sleeping.)
“I watched as more and more states kept bleeding. I kept seeing the image of this over and over in my mind.”
“Every time I see his face or hear a news report with his name, I leave my body.”
“I tried to go for a walk to ground my self, but there was a man right next to me on the sidewalk and I was afraid to walk in front of him. I was afraid of being grabbed or attacked from behind.”
(You may have nightmares. You may feel like you are going through the event again. This is called a flashback. You may see, hear, or smell something that causes you to relive the event. This is called a trigger. News reports or hearing someone’s name are examples of triggers. Memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time. You may feel the same fear and horror you did when the event took place.)
“I really thought we were going to shatter a glass ceiling, but apparently the only vaginas allowed in the white house are the ones being f*cked.”
“I feel so angry, but I find myself apologizing all the time. I’m afraid of how angry I am.”
“I thought slavery was over, but apparently it is not. I thought this was a land of diversity, but apparently this is the land of white-ness.”
“When we recited the pledge of allegiance at my son’s school, I started sobbing: One Nation? With Liberty and Justice for All?”
“As I ride the bus, I look around and I wonder: can any of these people be trusted? Are their hearts breaking, too? Are they afraid of being deported?”
“My daughter came home from school asking if her Spanish speaking teacher was going to have to leave the country.”
(The way you think about yourself and others change because of the trauma. This symptom has many aspects, including the following:
- You may not have positive or loving feelings toward other people and may stay away from relationships.
- You may think the world is completely dangerous, and no one can be trusted.)
*From the PTSD VA website:
There is a lot of healing to be done. Many people in this country are starting to dive into finding common ground or looking for ways to “decrease the splitting.” Because I work primarily with women, many of them sexual assault survivors (one in three women in this country has been sexually assaulted or raped), their voices, bodies, and experiences need to be heard, believed and validated as they are right now. That is part of the healing. Anger is valid. Rage and terror are valid. Fear is valid. Shame is valid. Sadness and pain are valid. In my experience of recovery, bypassing the feelings doesn’t do anyone any good. If you don’t feel, you can’t heal. I will get back into inspiration and action soon, but right now, if you are still struggling and wrestling with emotions, I am with you.
In the meantime, here are some grounding practices that can help when you are experiencing anxiety/fear/PTSD:
Mindfulness practices such as deep, diaphragmatic breathing, counting your breaths, can help bring your nervous system out of “fight or flight” and back into your parasympathetic nervous system. It is from this place that you can “rest and digest.”
- Somatic awareness practices
Soma refers to the body. Practices such as pushing weight into your feet on the floor (if you are sitting) or progressively tensing and relaxing muscles in your body (ex: tense your facial muscles, then relax, tense your shoulders, then relax, tense your hands, then relax, and so on through your whole body) can help bring you back into your body if you dissociate. Walking can also help your psyche and your emotions “move” out of feeling stuck and into processing and beginning to heal.
- Talk to a Safe Person
If you are struggling with PTSD, professional counselor/therapist/Psychologist can help you. If you are feeling trauma (but may or may not have PTSD), a friend, colleague, family member or support group can help you feel less alone.
Many people have been struggling with overwhelming feelings this week. You are not alone.
I have been following and quietly cheerleading the work of The Body Positive for years. Created by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, LCSW, in 1996, The Body Positive is a community offering freedom from societal messages that keep people in a struggle with their bodies. Connie’s experience with an eating disorder in her teen years and the death of her sister Stephanie inspired her life’s work to improve the self-image of youth and adults. She founded The Body Positive in honor of her sister, and to ensure that her daughter Carmen and other children would grow up in a new world—one where people focus on changing the world, not their bodies.
Like Connie, my work is inspired from the desire to break the intergenerational legacy of eating disorders. I want eating disorders to stop with me, and I want my child to be free.
So it was with great pleasure that I read Connie’s book, Embody (Gurze books, 2014), which outlines the work of body positivity beautifully. Early in the book, Connie outlines how the Body Positive model differs drastically from not only dieting, but also a self-help model or cultural message around “arriving” at a static end point in order to be “done” (and therefore not need to grow, feel, work or explore anymore).
Body Positive: Not Body Positive:
|Tools for a lifetime of exploration||A static goal-oriented view of life|
|A definition of health that is based on balanced self-care and self-love||An idealized external image of a ‘healthy’ person|
|No Double binds||Conflicting messages that leave people confused or frustrated|
|Attuned self-care||“Rules” about eating and exercise|
|A foundation of self-love and forgiveness||“Shoulds” and punishment|
|A celebration of diversity as beauty||A limited definition of “ideal” beauty|
|The development of positive communities||Connecting with others through negative self-talk|
There are so many things that stood out for me in this book. Here are a few that I celebrated in particular:
* Exploring your Body Story through creatively using expressive arts and writing
*Turning your critical eyes toward discernment of negative messages you may have received from your family of origin (without blaming your mother) and culture rather than turning them against yourself.
*Defining and supporting Intuitive eating
*Re-defining exercise as a way to have fun and pleasure in your life (walking, dancing) and release brain chemicals to keep our moods stable rather than a way to punish ourselves or shape our bodies differently
* Including tools for quieting the Critical Voice
*Declaring your Authentic Beauty
Throughout the book, personal stories from Connie, Elizabeth, and people who have participated in Body Positive community are shared. There is a feeling that you are not alone in the struggle, and your are not alone in your journey to re-find (or find in the first place) joy and peace in your body and your life.
It isn’t often that I would recommend a book to friends, colleagues, and my clients! This is that book.
Sometimes S’mores are Dinner and You Have to Let the Bad Feelings Out Before the Good Feelings Can Come in
Like many mothers, one of my fears is that my child will eat only sugar and therefore not grow (have deficits in attention, develop an eating disorder, etc.). When moms have this fear, what do they do? Often, they swoop in and try to control. Here’s what it has looked like in our house:
Me: “Eat your broccoli.”
Little one: “No.”
Me: “Eat your broccoli or no dessert.” (Yes, I am ashamed to admit I have resorted to this in my not-so-enlightened moments as RecoveryMama)
Little one: Takes tiny bite of broccoli floret- like half of a child’s pinky fingernail size- runs around making a horrible face as if being tortured while chewing, swallows, says “Done. Where’s my dessert?”
So, as you can see, my child now loves eating vegetables and we are living happily-ever-after on an organic broccoli farm. The End.
(Just kidding. This is the beginning. The rest is guest blog on on RecoveryWarriors, a fabulous eating disorder recovery resource. Click Here to continue reading)
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!