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Season of Connection

Season of Connection

The holiday season is a season of connection. Time spent with family and friends celebrating with both seasoned traditions and new experiences. Because connection can feel vulnerable in a period of distress, you may find yourself wanting to disconnect to protect your eating disorder and the comfort that vulnerability avoidance brings. However, it is your eating disorder that wants you to avoid things that you previously loved to engage in for fear of growth and recovery outside of your current disordered behaviors.

Being truly connected means being seen, heard, and valued for where you are presently. Without being vulnerable and welcoming connection into your life, you are avoiding a crucial piece of the recovery puzzle. Vulnerability in regards to connection can mean different things at different points within recovery. Whether that means being honest with yourself about your eating concerns, being open with your treatment team, reaching out to your support system for help, or challenging yourself to engage in various types of connection that once brought you joy. These steps will aid you in growth towards recovery and a life without restraint.

Remember that your eating disorder is trying to take over. Don’t allow it to diminish the joy and connection you are capable of experiencing this holiday season. Eating disorders thrive in periods of disconnect and solitude. Lean into your ability to connect with your body, your values, and others throughout this holiday season. 

Aging

Aging

Anti Anti-aging Advocacy 

We live in a world that is obsessed with preventing aging. Ponce de Leon, a 16th century Spanish explorer, set sail in search of the fountain of youth- a legendary magical spring of water that would restore youth. While he failed to accomplish that lofty goal, he was onto something – people will go to the ends of the earth to prevent the natural course of aging.  

Everything has a lifetime

Nearly ten years ago, I gave birth to my fourth child, a beautiful baby boy who would only live four months. In the aftermath of losing my son, Atticus, I was also faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of mothering three children mourning the loss of their beloved baby brother.  

While trying to explain death to children in developmentally appropriate ways (and trying to understand it myself, frankly), we began to talk about the concept of “lifetimes”.  

Everything has a lifetime. Some things live for a long time, like giant tortoises that can live nearly 200 years. Some things live for only a short time, like mayflies that only live 24 hours.  

Acceptance of lifetimes is important, as we are truly powerless to change the lifetime of anything. I can’t do anything to change a mayfly’s lifetime to two days. I could spend a lot of energy and emotion trying- but it’s not changing. The mayfly has a lifetime. Giant tortoises have their own lifetime. My sweet baby boy had an entire lifetime. I have a lifetime.  

The gift of aging 

As I worked to process my own grief and make sense of what had happened, I found myself having a strange sense of awe in ordinary places. The first time this happened, I was at the swimming pool with my children. They took turns jumping off a diving board and asked me to join them. Begrudgingly, foggy with my despair, I stepped onto the board to join my children in their play. As I jumped, the thought came to me- “Atticus never got to jump off a diving board”. We took turns jumping again, and as I went into the water next, I felt overwhelmed by the sensations of plunging into the deep end- the feeling of being fully immersed in water, followed by the feeling of buoyancy in my body as I kicked to the surface, and finally, experiencing the sensory rush as I broke the surface and heard the squeals of children playing and felt the hot sun on my face. Atticus didn’t get to experience a diving board in his lifetime. In my lifetime, I have. We jumped and jumped that afternoon, and I began to savor the experience for myself and my son. I was filled with the sense that I was showing respect and gratitude for his lifetime by fully embracing my own.  

That feeling has kept me company since then- my lifetime experiences are a gift. I get to have them. I’ve gotten to experience 40 years so far in my lifetime, and I want to experience that not only for my own enjoyment but also with a deep gratitude, knowing that not every lifetime includes 40 years. Those 40 years have been a gift. If I get 40 more, I want to spend them fully embodied, with gratitude that I get to experience aging.  

Anti-anti-aging

I’ve embraced aging in a world obsessed with the mythical fountain of youth. After all, the fountain of youth is a myth! The alternative to aging is having a shorter lifetime. And I want my own entire lifetime, wrinkles and all.  

 

Ask For What You Need

Ask For What You Need

 

When I was a teenager, I had a therapist who shared an insight that has stuck with me. She said, “Healthy people ask for what they need.” For 17-year-old me, this felt like a revelation, as I was accustomed to trying to do most things in my life independently. I tried as hard as I could to get through the hard parts of my life without asking anything of anyone for fear of being a burden. It had never occurred to me that it might be healthy to ask for what I needed.

As life has gone on, I’ve seen the benefits of having the courage to speak up for my own needs. I also get to see my therapy clients experience change and healing as they step into advocating for their needs in their relationships. Even after years of experiencing and witnessing the benefits of asking in healthy ways to have needs met, I’ll admit that this principle is still really difficult for me. I still tend to be overly independent, and I still often struggle to ask for what I need. It’s not easy!

Many of the clients I meet with who are working through recovery from eating concerns can relate to the struggle of asking for what they need. Asking to have needs met can be incredibly vulnerable. It can feel scary and overwhelming to fear being a burden to others, to worry that your needs are not actually valid, or to doubt that your needs will be met by the people in your life. Despite all of these vulnerabilities, asking for what you need is still an essential part of finding success in eating recovery. Here are a few insights that might help you if you are struggling to ask for what you need:

  1. Remember that having needs is part of being human. There are zero people on this planet who don’t have needs and who don’t need help getting those needs met. Having needs doesn’t make you selfish, weak, or broken.
  2. Being straightforward when you ask for what you need is healthy. Clear, open, and specific statements of your needs can help build your relationships and increase the likelihood that your needs will be met. Don’t get me wrong, there are unhealthy ways to ask to have your needs met. These less healthy ways usually involve indirect communication and can end up being received as passive-aggressive, manipulative, or confusing. Being direct and open about what you need can feel vulnerable, but it allows for honest and effective communication. You can be both assertive and respectful of others’ needs as you advocate for yourself. Some examples of healthy, straightforward statements of needs:
    1. “I need you to support my recovery by not discussing your diet around me.”
    2. “I need help sticking to my meal plan today. Are you able to help me by eating dinner with me tonight?”
    3. “This conversation is important to me. I need you to set your phone down while we talk so I know you’re hearing me.”
  3. Asking for help when you need it will actually help you be more self-sufficient in the long run. Our needs usually don’t go away when we ignore or hide them. They stick around, and if we don’t ask for help in getting them met, we can soon deal with a pile of needs that feel impossible to meet. If you ask for what you need early on, your needs will likely feel more manageable as you move forward.

Having needs is human, and so is needing help meeting your needs! Especially as we approach a time of year when we spend more time around our loved ones, I hope we’ll all feel able to speak up and ask for what we need.

The AND in Body Acceptance

The AND in Body Acceptance

As a woman, my relationship with my body is ever changing. Each new decade brings new experiences and new ways my body asks me to accept her.

In my early 20s, in recovery from my eating disorder, I worked proactively to accept my body for who and how she is. This journey continued through pregnancies and postpartum, and the chaos of raising little kids, and now in my wisened 40 years on earth, I am confronting the “joys“ of aging and perimenopause.

I know my clients have wondered if true body acceptance is actually a “thing.” I am here to say emphatically, “Yes! It is!”

And

That doesn’t mean the work is over for me.

Sometimes body acceptance is a soft landing spot where I enjoy months, or even years, of emotional freedom to live my life according to my values, enjoying my body as a companion along the way. And sometimes my body acceptance slips and old, critical patterns rear their heads. Yes, sometimes I am “triggered” and have to re-commit myself and put in deliberate work to accept my ever-changing-body.

This happened to me just a few months ago.

This summer, my best friend and I went on an epic trip to Switzerland to celebrate our 40th birthdays. We filled this trip with incredible adventures. Our craziest adventure was jumping off a 295-foot cliff, free falling until we were caught by the rope that swung us over 70 miles per hour above a white-capped river between narrow canyon walls.

We began this adventure meeting with our guides and about 14 other humans, who were just as crazy and excited as we were, to make this jump. Before we drove to the jump site, we had to get our harnesses secured. Unexpectedly, we all also lined up to get weighed. I should say here and I have not weighed myself in years as I do not own a scale. This has been part of protecting my long-term eating recovery, as well as my larger stand against diet culture.

I was initially more confused than bothered about why we were each getting weighed. My confusion became annoyance when, after weighing us, the guide wrote our weights on the back of our hands in large black marker. Our numbers were all easily visible to each other.

I made a point not to look the weights on everyone’s hands but couldn’t help but notice the number on my friend’s hand. Her number was significantly less than mine. I knew my friend was smaller (and taller) than me, but that size difference had never been overtly quantified before. I was surprised at how big the discrepancy was between our weights. I immediately felt uncomfortable in my body.

I tried not to think anymore about this and instead focused on the adventure ahead. Our group drove up to the cliff and walked to the platform where we would throw ourselves off. Upon arrival and after instructions, our guide asked a volunteer to go first. This volunteer needed to be in a certain weight range. Only myself and one other group member (a male) qualified. I asked for her rationale and our guide told us someone in the “mid-weight” range needed to jump first to test the rope. I made a joke about the first jumper being a sacrificial offering and was glad that, between the two of us, the male was happy to jump first. As I got back in line, I reflexively started looking at all the weights marked on everyone’s hands. I felt even more uncomfortable in my body as I realized I was the heaviest female in the group.

My mind began warring against itself. I was upset for how uncomfortable I felt. I was embarrassed that I was singled out as different from the other women in the group. I felt embarrassed that I was different, even in such an inconsequential way as weight. I felt less than by being bigger than all the women. I also hated that this derailed me in such a moment as a once-in-a-lifetime jump into a beautiful canyon. I told myself things I know to be true, which include, “Weight and size don’t matter. That isn’t what gives me worth,” and my favorite grounding mantra, “This isn’t how I want to spend my energy.” While these thoughts were helpful, this moment was still really hard and painful for me.

Before jumping off the cliff, I was able to reground myself in the present moment. But honestly, I think standing on the precipice of such a high cliff, knowing I was about to jump, would clear anyone’s thoughts, as my legs felt weak and my heart raced with adrenaline. The jump, fall, and swing, was the most thrilling thing I’ve done in my life. It was so crazy that my brain struggled to process it in the moment and I didn’t fully catch my breath until long after my feet were back on solid ground. My friend and I giggled uncontrollably at our own insanity and had huge smiles on our faces for the rest of the day. I want to tell you, that was the end of that trigger, and I went on my merry way. 

But it wasn’t. 

I wrestled with discomfort in my body and negative thoughts for several weeks afterwards. I also felt ashamed for struggling with my body image after so many years of acceptance and resiliency.

There was no magic bullet that made this experience better overnight. For several weeks I worked hard to regain peace in my body. I had to dust off and use more tools in my toolkit than I have had to in years. I was intentional and practiced mindfulness, grounded myself in my values and personal truths, distracted myself when necessary, and practiced self-care. I also extended myself compassion for being so thrown off balance by this experience. Slowly and deliberately, this burden lifted and I am re-grounded in my own body acceptance. So here in my truth: I have peace and acceptance in my body. AND sometimes this peace needs to be actively fought for.

Finally, I want to acknowledge that while my own body acceptance has been hard fought, I also enjoy body privilege. The experience I had at the canyon swing raised my own awareness at how I never experience weight stigma because I live in a “normal” sized body.

This experience was so benign compared to the experiences others face on a regular basis and knowing how much this distressed me, raises my anger and advocacy. I want to live in a world where everyone enjoys body privilege because every body is valued and seen as good and I commit to doing my part to making such a world a reality.

Comparison and Social Media

Comparison and Social Media

We live in a world where validation from others is consistent. Instead of forming an opinion of ourselves based on our own sense of worth and value, we look to outsiders in hopes of feeling assured. Social media has created a space where praise and accolades are given and ultimately expected with each individual post and interaction. 

One of my favorite quotes by Lindsay Kite reads, “When your empowerment is based on others’ physical appraisal of you, it can be taken away as freely as it was given.” (Lindsay Kite, 2020). Whether it’s Tik Tok, Instagram, or any other form of social media, we often rely on others to define our worth, and we then use it to decipher how capable we are in the real world.

Give yourself permission to set boundaries surrounding social media use and consider how each of the following may encourage you to take back your power:

  • Mute or Unfollow- Instead of following pages or individuals who hinder your growth in recovery, you deserve the right to unfollow or mute free of guilt. 
  • Take time off- If you find yourself mindlessly scrolling, comparing yourself to others, or relying on outsiders to decipher your worth, it may be time for a social media break. 
  • Post without alterations- Your body is worthy of acceptance without any photoshop or editing. 
  • Delete comments- You have control over your own page. If someone makes a comment that objectifies you, makes you feel uncomfortable, or discusses your body in any way, you have the power to delete said comment.
  • Post without limitation- Challenge yourself to post pictures for your own enjoyment and because you want to savor the memories, not for the recognition of others. 

Comparison through social media is harmful and unreliable. We are comparing others’ best moments to what may feel like are our worst. Comparison consists of dwelling on the past or encourages anxiety as we think about the future. With so little time to be present, we begin focusing on others’ lives more than our own. When in recovery, we owe it to ourselves to look beyond comparison and take into consideration how social media is impacting beliefs we have about ourselves and the world around us. As we look inward and differentiate between what is helpful and what is not, we reclaim the power that is often given to others.

Seasons of Eating Recovery

Seasons of Eating Recovery

Each fall, I love watching the world around me color into brilliant autumnal tones. Plants change color before my eyes, revealing bright hidden hues right before winter frosts come and take the plants into dormancy. It’s one last golden hurrah before succumbing to the sleep of winter.  

You may have heard that trees lose their leaves in preparation for spring when growth gives the plant a new beginning. It’s a familiar cycle of loss and renewal that is analogous to life. Recently, I was selecting some shrubbery that will add to the fall color in our garden, and I read more about the mechanism that allows plants to change color when they sense the dormancy of winter is approaching. And it fascinated me!

Plants can sense the seasonal changes are coming through the subtle shifts in light and temperature as fall approaches. Temperatures cool, daylight shortens. The goals of the plant then shift: no longer is the focus on growth, but survival. The long summer days allow a plant to absorb seemingly endless sunlight through its leaves, carrying nutrients that allow for growth and root development. The plant thrives, grows to new heights, stretches into previously unknown territory. 

As the seasons begin to change, the plant can sense that this type of ongoing rapid development would be ill-timed, and energy is then redirected into surviving the coming winter. Green leaves are no longer an asset but a liability. And so the plant stops sending water into them, allowing them to dry (and providing us with a magnificent fall show!) In many plants, a swelling will occur where next spring’s new growth will be the mechanism that pushes the dried-up leaf off the tree and into the wind. 

Learning about this caused me to consider how shifting priorities and the need to make room for new growth impact our own lives. Many times, eating recovery clients will recognize that their current habits are no longer serving them well, and priorities must change. It can be a painful time, with fear of letting go, uncertainty, and difficulty trusting that there is life beyond what is so familiar and known. It may even cause you to cling to the old habits and priorities that keep you from progressing to a new season of your life, scared of what might happen were you to allow those things to fall away, trusting in the pattern of rebirth.  

But it can also be a brilliantly alive time- full of new color, new possibilities, and hope for ongoing, continued growth and development. Letting go can actually be a brilliantly alive and beautiful time in your life.  

The question: “can I really live a life free of obsessional thoughts about food and my body?” can be answered over and over again as you observe the falling leaves this autumn. Just as spring comes, eating recovery is possible.

Leaps of Faith in Recovery

Leaps of Faith in Recovery

In one of my all-time favorite films, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the hero, the rugged adventurer-professor Indiana Jones, is faced with a set of tasks he must complete in order to find the Holy Grail and save his father’s life. In one task, deep inside an ancient canyon, his path leads him to a statue of a lion, which stands at the edge of a wide, seemingly bottomless abyss. Across the chasm, he can see that the path continues toward his destination. A clue tells him, “Only in a leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.” Leaping from the lion to the other side of the abyss is impossible–the distance is far too wide for any person to jump without falling to their doom. Indiana Jones realizes that the only way forward is to take a leap of faith–to step away from the safety of solid ground and toward the void.

Talk about a recovery metaphor, right? 

There are so many points in recovery when a leap of faith is required. Stepping away from the familiarity of your eating disorder and into the vulnerable space of recovery can feel like standing at the edge of an abyss–terrifying. But, just like it was for Indiana Jones, the way forward often requires just such a step. Staying in your eating disorder ultimately keeps you stuck and barred from the rest of the journey ahead. 

So how do you take that leap of faith? What does that look like in real life?

First, you need to be honest with yourself. There is likely a part of you that knows what your next recovery leap of faith needs to be. Maybe the leap is starting therapy to get help with your eating disorder. Maybe the leap is being honest with your dietitian about eating disorder behaviors. Maybe the leap is getting rid of your scale, or deciding to commit to not counting calories. Whatever that next step iis, it’s probably something challenging, even intimidating or frightening–otherwise it wouldn’t require a leap of faith! If you can be honest with yourself about what your next step in recovery is, you’re that much closer to being able to progress. On the other hand, if you’re not being honest with yourself, you’re likely to stay stuck.

After honesty comes action. In The Last Crusade, Indiana Jones decides that in order to save his father, he has no choice but to take the leap of faith and step from the lion’s head towards the dizzyingly deep abyss. He gathers his courage, closes his eyes, and takes a deliberate step forward off the edge of the cliff, not knowing what will happen next. It is only then that he discovers that there was a bridge over the chasm after all, a bridge invisible to him until he took a step forward and found his footing. Without that step of action, the way forward would have remained unseen. In order for you to find your footing in recovery, you have to take action. 

Once you’ve been honest with yourself about what your next recovery step is, that next step needs to become a reality, not just a good idea. Remind yourself that you only need to take one step at a time. You don’t have to get through recovery in one flying leap; in fact, you can’t. That seemingly impossible leap of faith is actually a series of steps that must be taken one at a time. With each step in recovery, you can gain confidence that making it to your goal is possible, even if it seemed impossible before.

So, two invitations for you. 1) Go watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s just a dang good movie. If you know, you know. 2) Do a bit of soul-searching, and get honest with yourself about what your next “leap of faith” in recovery is. As scary as that honesty might feel right now, it will help you find the path forward toward the life you deserve.

A voice From the Circle

A voice From the Circle

Anna Packard PhD and contribution from a group psychotherapy client

When my clients graduate therapy, I always ask them to write a “This I believe essay” as a final assignment. The purpose of this assignment is to put into words their healing transformations or pivotal changes in their journey. I want them to explore what they now believe about themselves, in recovery, as they move forward with their lives. One of my former group clients gave me permission to share her, This I believe Essay, on our blog. I hope you will take a few minutes to read this journey in her words:

I Believe in the Power of My Voice

Being diagnosed with an eating disorder was one of the most painful moments of my life. With the diagnosis came an end to my life as I knew it. Within a few days I was on a plane headed home and sent right to therapy. “My mind was sick,” they said. My voice was drowned out by the competing voices of my therapist and my eating disorder. I felt broken, shameful, and alone.

As part of my treatment, I joined an eating disorder process group. My first day of group was overwhelming, to say the least. I did my best to memorize names and piece together the lives of my new friends. They all looked so comfortable, and I felt terrified. I didn’t want to speak. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to do it wrong. The words that came out of my mouth felt insincere and forced.

That feeling lingered for a while as I adjusted to life with therapy.

As the weeks went by I settled into my new group persona. I sat on the edge of the circle and listened intently. I’ve always been told that I’m a good listener. I could easily spend most of the time silent, and that didn’t bother me. While my mouth might have been quiet, my mind was always racing. I think deeply and I feel deeply, but that’s a side of me many aren’t privileged enough to see.

Whenever I would share something, everyone seemed so interested. I remember one of my first groups I broke down in tears, and when I looked up I saw faces full of emotion and love staring back at me. These people really cared. I knew this was a safe place if I wanted to open up. Although, it would usually take others asking me questions and pushing me to share more before I would tell my story. To be honest I was usually surprised that people wanted to hear more from me. I wasn’t sure I had much more to give.

Years later I sat in my same chair on the edge of the circle. We were processing something, I don’t even remember what, and soon it was my turn to share. I had been reflecting on my experience in group and I found myself saying, “I’m just not comfortable staying quiet anymore.” It wasn’t until someone pointed it out that I saw the power in my statement. I repeated, “I just don’t want to sit here silent.”

Of all the powerful moments I’ve had in therapy this was one of the most profound. I had found my voice. I didn’t want to be the quiet one all the time. I had learned that there was value in what I was feeling and there was power when I spoke about it. I could express love and compassion, sadness and pain, or happiness and excitement. It was freeing. Finding my voice didn’t change who I was. I still listened deeply, and thought intently, but I didn’t have to do it all alone. Group gave me belonging, and with that belonging I found my voice. I believe in the power of my voice.

From Anna: As a group psychotherapist, I love how group helped facilitate her healing journey and also served as a bigger metaphor on her path. I love how her healing involved showing up for herself, taking up more space, and finding her voice, inside and outside of group.

Group is a passionate part of my work as a clinician and at Balance Health and Healing. We currently offer three eating disorder process groups for those seeking recovery from ages 14 to 60+. I am excited to announce that we will soon offer a new experiential group focused on body acceptance! This group will start this fall. If you have questions about group or believe group may help facilitate your journey, please contact us! I am happy to geek out about all things group and hope I and group can join you on your journey.

Reference link: https://thisibelieve.org/guidelines/