Archives for Recovery


Feelings and How You Feel About Those Feelings

A few days ago, I posted some thoughts about a possible evolutionary basis for worries about whether or not we are "normal."

Surprisingly, this contemplation came out of a book called "Come As You Are," which is basically about, well, sex.

Author Emily Nagoski is a sex educator and researcher who has tackled (and, I would say, thoroughly knocked out) that age-old enduring myth that there is any kind of normal barometer by which to assess anyone's sex life.

But she accomplished this in a surprising and welcome way - by first knocking out the underlying myth that there is any kind of normal barometer to anyone's life, period.

Male or female, young or old, heavy or slim, tall or short, rich or of limited means, our individual biology can definitely differ significantly from one of us to the next (Darwin liked to call this variation "natural selection").

But our individual psychology can differ even more so.

In fact, our psychology is unique to us and is totally dependent upon our innate mood "set point" as well as who raised us, how well they did, the messages we accepted along the way, whether we were good at what others wanted us to be good at, how well our appearance fit in with cultural sex appeal standards during our lifetime, how we felt about all of this, and - most of all - how we felt about how we felt.

And how we feel today about how we feel.

In other words, we may not have chosen to have the feelings we have, but we are definitely choosing how we feel about our feelings!

Dr. Nagoski calls this phenomenon "the little monitor." 
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Animal Mentors

How Parrots Can Help People with PTSD

Out in California, something special is taking place.

At a sanctuary called Serenity Park, traumatized parrots and traumatized people are connecting for mutual healing.

What is interesting about this is, well, pretty much everything (of course, as a lifelong parrot lover, I may be just a touch biased here).

The people participants are formerly homeless veterans (both men and women) victimized by the many and varying traumas associated with wartime military service.

The parrot participants have been victimized by a different kind of war - mainly abuse by or loss of their human owners.

On both sides, there are emotional and mobility issues to contend with. But in all cases, it is clear that the interspecies participants' minds are still sharp and eager to heal.

Speaking of minds, there is no doubt in mine that the pioneering work of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her now-passed African Grey parrot, Alex, (two of my own most cherished mentors) are responsible for laying the foundation for what is going on at Serenity Park right now.

Thanks to Alex & Dr. Pepperberg, we know that parrots can display emotional and cognitive abilities to rival young humans. We know they feel deeply, form intense social bonds, understand abstract reasoning and have the capacity to develop complex and extensive vocabularies.

This means that, in some capacity, parrots may be even better suited than dogs to participate in animal-assisted therapy as service and support partners.

Perhaps this is what veteran volunteer Lilly Love meant when she told New York Times reporter Charles Siebert,

You can look in their eyes....any of these parrots’ eyes, and I myself see a soul. I see a light in there. And when they look at you, they see right into your soul. Look around. They’re all watching. They notice everything. It’s intense. 
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Frozen (A New Take on Fight or Flight)

A couple posts ago, I wrote about a neat and very effective new tactic I just learned for healing stress.

Oddly, I learned about this technique, called "completing the cycle," in a book called "Come As You Are:  the Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life" by Dr. Emily Nagoski.

As I've kept reading, I've kept learning more surprising new things. In fact, I just finished a section that describes how  our ancient reptilian limbic brains prefer to deal with stress.

I have always believed that when animals (human or non-human) feel threatened, our ancient limbic brain gives us two options: fight or flight.

But according to lots of science and Dr. Nagoski's book, we actually get three options: fight, flight, or FREEZE.

This makes a lot of much sense that I can't believe I didn't learn about this until age 45.

It also makes sense because I am now realizing that freezing is one of my threat-detection specialities.

Freezing is what baby deer do when they hear a nearby rustling in the grass (hoping that if the hungry predator does spy them, it will think "oh look a dead baby deer - that is not what I had in mind for lunch today").

For that matter, freezing is what adult deer do when caught in a set of car headlights....and likely for similar reasons.

Freezing is what my baby turtle, Malti, does whenever a shadow changes the light around her.

And freezing is what I do in nearly any context when I am startled out of whatever it was I was doing before the startling occurred.

For many of the memories I am now working towards completing, my threat-response option of choice has been to freeze. I have played dead. I have pretended I was part of the scenery (no matter how little I may have actually blended in).

I have dissociated my mind and frozen my body, a good trick that left the predator talking to empty air, however much I may have appeared to still be standing there.


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Healing Stress by Completing the Cycle

Although it is a very important topic, I seldom write about intimacy (aka s.e.x.) here...or anywhere.

It is a very personal thing to write about, or talk about, or even think about.

But I read about it more these days, in the sense of trying to figure out answers to questions I have and to find a barometer for where I "fit" in the spectrum of intimate interests and needs.

I mention this because recently I checked out a book from the local library called "Come As You Are: the Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life," by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

Now I should preface this by saying that books with titles like this one often make me feel irritable. This is because they make me uncomfortable. And the last thing I want to do late at night (which is usually when I have time for "free reading" that is not related to required work) is read something that makes me feel uncomfortable.

But since John Grisham isn't likely to have the answers to the questions I have in this particular area, I typically try to soldier on and get through whatever the book of the week happens to be.

In this particular book's case, I'm glad I chose to stick with it, because I may have finally discovered one of the biggest missing pieces that continues to hold me back in certain areas of my ongoing recovery journey.

This is called "completing the cycle."

To illustrate how it works, Dr. Nagoski gives an example from the animal world (see why I'm glad I stuck with it?).

To summarize -

Suppose you are a deer. You are placidly enjoying your lunch when suddenly a hungry lion decides you look like its lunch. You sound the alarm and start running very, very fast.

Here, there are two potential outcomes. Outcome A: you don't escape and the lion enjoys its lunch very much. Outcome B: you do escape.

Let's say you do escape. Whew.

This is great news, of course. But it is what you do next that can determine how that close call affects your life in the future.

Most human beings tend to move right away to take care of the issue causing the stress (this is called "dealing with the stressor" - in this particular scenario it would be outrunning the lion). When we are done with that task, we tell ourselves very grown-up-sounding unhelpful things like, "well, that is dealt with now so you can just get over it and move on."

And then we wonder why we can't sleep for nights or weeks or we turn to alcohol or food or other numbing behaviors to help us rest.

Animals, on the other hand, do things very differently. And what they do usually tends to work much better. 
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A Cultural Look at Body Bashing (guest post)

I am happy to share this guest post by Andrea Wachter, LMFT, who is the co-author of the new tween/teen book "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell. 

I wish this book had been available when I was 11 and starting to crumble inside from the pressure to get thinner. 

For that matter, it could have been helpful to me during any year of my struggles!

Andrea has been kind enough to share some insights from her research exploring the origins of body dislike and body dissatisfaction, thin versus fat, the media's influence, cultural programming and what is taking place today to restore us to body peace. 

I hope you enjoy her guest post! 

A Cultural Look at Body Bashing

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT*

I think it’s pretty accurate to say that most people in our culture are dissatisfied with their body. Many people even despise their body (or certain parts). And this epidemic has no age limit. In my psychotherapy practice I have worked with clients as young as six-years old who are already obsessed with calories, carbs and fat. I have treated people in their 70’s who have no memories of eating bread or dessert without guilt. And I have seen people of nearly every age in between who battle their body on some level. It’s like being a member of a club to trash and bash your body in our image-obsessed culture. Many people bond over what I call “Fat Chat” and many people spend enormous amounts of time trying to change their bodies.

Thanks to the media and the diet industry, we have all been set up to dislike our bodies. We are surrounded by unnatural images and unkind messages about how we should look, eat, exercise, think and feel. We are basically taught that if we alter our bodies and achieve the image we have been sold, we will be happy, loved and special.

But how did we get here? How did we get to where being thin is often valued more than being healthy? How did we get to a place where young children are counting calories and feeling fat? Why do we have senior citizens who have spent decades and sometimes their entire lives avoiding and fearing fats and carbs? Why are people of all ages devoting more of their precious lives to the pursuit of thinness than to all the other meaningful things they could be doing? Well, I’m glad you asked! 
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Mentoring for Everyone

This week is an important week for me.

It is an important week for many whose lives have been touched by body hate, fat (or thin) shaming, unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders.

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week didn't exist when I first got sick with anorexia in 1980.

But I recovered anyway, and today I am here to celebrate the wealth of supportive tools and resources now available to sufferers, carers, loved ones, professionals and the greater community.

I am also grateful to share that MentorCONNECT, the eating disorders nonprofit mentoring organization I founded in 2009, is one of those many communities.* NEDAW is a great week to celebrate your own successes and those of your mentors (after all, every mentor was once a struggling mentee!)

It is also a great week to acknowledge courage in all its many shapes and forms and sizes.

And I find it to be a particularly fabulous week to dig in and reinvest in moving beyond those oh-so-tempting artificial boundaries and walls we are so prone to set up - the ones that say "oh well you recovered from this and I recovered from that and so we really have nothing in common."

Truthfully, we have everything in common. 
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The Anatomy of Hope

"Hope" is not one of those words I've ever particularly resonated with.

This is probably because hope has always felt rather passive - like wishful thinking rather than wishful doing (which I much prefer).

Reframed in the context of "faith" (another process that remains very much a mystery), hope makes a bit more sense, since faith implies that at least someone or something else (assuming the entity or concept one has faith in) is taking action towards what is being hoped for.

But recently I read a brand new take on hope in Brene Brown's new book, "Rising Strong."

She writes:

Hope is not an emotion: It's a cognitive process - a thought process made up of what researcher C.R. Snyder called the trilogy of "Goals, pathways, and agency." Hope happens when we can set goals, have the tenacity and perseverance to pursue those goals, and believe in our own abilities to act.

Snyder also points out (as conveyed through Brown) that "hope is learned."

At this point it occurred to me that I probably haven't learned it.

But I do really like this new way of approaching hope - as an active process, not passive wishing or waiting.

Brown goes on to mention that the development of hope is a by-product of struggling in life. Adversity, failure - this is the stuff hope is born from.

Oddly, I have had plenty of both of these, and yet I didn't learn hope from them. 
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Good News

Choosing “Now” (and why it is worth it)

Right before I graduated from college, I got offered a job that paid quite a lot.
So of course I took it. Right away I paid off all my student loans and saved up a bundle of cash.
But even though I was raking in the green (in fact, I had more money at that time than I have ever had before or since!) I couldn't buy a cup of coffee without feeling guilty for spending what I felt sure I should be saving for later.
In short, I didn't feel I deserved the coffee now if it came at the expense of the later needs of my future self.
Unfortunately, I was also still really sick with my eating disorder in those first post-college years, so lots of other things besides my relationship with my own cash were still upside-down. Even worse, the job itself also made me sick - there were more than a few days when offing myself literally seemed preferable to another day spent all trussed up in hose and heels and, well, hell.
During those three extra-long years, pricey cups of coffee temporarily eased my angst. Thoughts of all the rest of my cash that my future self would have to spend during her retirement did not.
This was because I could barely myself imaging surviving the day I was in, let alone a day 30 or 50 years forward when I would finally have "enough" and wouldn't have to work anymore.
So I bought my little cups of coffee and worried, and saved the rest for my retirement and worried. 
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When Change Changes You

Suddenly it seems like everywhere I go online I'm reading about an app called Slack.

Apparently it is like Twitter + Facebook for office types.

Slack's goal - according to its CEO at least - is to eliminate email.

But his underlying goal is to get back to his family and his herd of alpacas (small furry camels, basically) by eliminating work...or at least some of it.

Stewart Butterfield, Slack's CEO, did exactly that after selling his first creation, Flickr, to Yahoo for an alleged $25 million.

But then he quickly came back...with Slack.

In a recent interview, Butterfield had this to share about why he feels it is important to reduce the time we spend working:

I think that we're as a species not quite equipped to deal with the power of this stuff just in the same way we weren't quite equipped to deal with infinite free calories. This is how people end up with diabetes...we will now have the cognitive emotional diabetes of over interacting with people who aren't physically present.

Butterfield thinks Slack can help with the tendency we seem to have to overwork ourselves, or (in some cases, most notably Japan's Karoshi) literally work ourselves to death.

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I Love My Body…Except When I Don’t

Recently I was chatting with a recovery friend about body acceptance.

All of a sudden it hit me.

Body acceptance is one thing.

Body love - body enjoyment - well, this is quite another.

For example, most days these days I am filled to the brim with body acceptance.

I also feel reliable amounts of body gratitude and appreciation (especially after my 2011 surgery, when I experienced just how much I rely on my healthy body to do just about everything).

But body love - well, this is still a work-in-progress.

I suppose I could even say that my relationship with my body is still evolving. We've gotten to the mutual respect thing - but the raw throw-the-doors-wide-open "I love you with my whole heart and nothing less!" stage is yet ahead.

Of course, I'm not complaining....precisely.

After spending nearly three decades immersed in all things body hate, body revulsion, body disownment, finally experiencing body acceptance is pretty great.

But still, I aspire to more. Much more. 
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