Mentoring

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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Animal Mentors

Animal Mentors Teach Us About Eating Disorders

In my last post, I shared in a broad-brush overview kind of way about a new favorite book find, "Zoobiquity." The more I ponder the book, the more I realize that what I find most intriguing about "Zoobiquity" is that it wasn't written earlier than it was (the book was published in 2012). It just seems so intuitive - so practical, logical - that we look to those we share this planet with, regardless of species, for insights into health conditions and other phenomena we are struggling to comprehend. In fact, as with most great ideas, there seems to exist as much ongoing resistance to this concept as there is acceptance. But luckily, some medical professionals are keen to collaborate on an interspecies level, which is where today's post comes from. In "Zoobiquity," co-authors Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, M.D., and Kathryn Bowers highlight many of today's most prevalent human health crises. Obesity, bulimia and anorexia all make the short list. But in examining how animals interact with food, we gain access to a deeper dimension of understanding, because we reconnect the human physical organism of body-mind-emotion back with the greater natural world where many species dwell together, and not always in harmony. In other words, as human beings, we have a strong tendency to forget that we both sit at the top of the food chain and have exempted ourselves from participating in that food chain in any meaningful or personally impactful way. For example, if we want something to eat, we zip through the closest drive-through window....or occasionally head out into the wilds well-equipped with all the latest heavy artillery, complete with a secure fort in which to hide as we wait for our lunch to wander by. Animals have no such luxury. In the non-human interspecies community, when food presents itself for the eating, you a) eat as much of it as you can pack in, and then b) attempt to securely hoard the rest in various locations known only to yourself. If a voracious predator is lurking near the food source that is most nutritious, you settle for your second choice, even if it is far less sustaining in terms of your long-term nourishment needs. If that predator decides you look like a good appetizer, you abandon ship if time permits. If time does not permit, you may instead do something called "defensive regurgitation" (basically, vomiting up everything you just consumed) to buy yourself a chance to escape. When times are lean (or predators are numerous, or both) you have two equally unattractive options: a) starve, or b) take your chances that today's meal will be your last. Not surprisingly, many prey animals opt for the former, and some eventually develop a syndrome veterinarians call "fear of feeding" as they slowly starve to death. As it turns out, the fear, anxiety and stressful nature of feeding in the wild can influence everything from what foods are chosen to when or even if those foods are consumed. Research biologists have termed this "the ecology of fear." One example of the ecology of fear at work is this: prey animals in the wild have been observed to opt for high-sugar, high-carb food options over high-protein, high-fiber food options when feeding in very dangerous circumstances. They choose the high-sugar/high-carb foods because the body can access their energy nearly instantly, permitting them to make a quick, energetic getaway if need be. Only when animals are feeling safe and protected are they observed to routinely select high-protein or high-fiber foods, which take longer for the body to break down into energy and require more energy to process. As I was reading the food chapters in "Zoobiquity," slowly a new picture began to form in my mind. The picture was of me, feeding in the wild as an active (if not particularly willing) participant in a very real food chain. What I saw myself doing is as follows: 
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Animal Mentors

What We Have in Common with Our Pets

I just finished (flew through, really) a fascinating book called "Zoobiquity." Co-writers Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, M.D., and Kathryn Bowers coined the term to denote the many surprising places where human and non-human health and disease meet and even overlap. These places are far more numerous than I could have ever imagined. But even more intriguingly, it would seem that in some ways, animal medicine is years if not decades ahead of our own. For instance, veterinarians knew about "broken heart syndrome," a stress-induced condition in animals that mimics cardiac arrest in humans, a full few decades before their human medicine counterparts (vets call it "takotsubo cardiomyopathy") discovered it. As well, from fainting to foreplay, drug abuse to eating disorders, self-injury to STDs, adolescent risk-taking to social bullying, a Zoobiquitous approach (another phrase coined by the co-authors) shows that we have a lot more in common with our fellow species than just our DNA. According to National Geographic, I share 24 percent of my DNA with the average wine grape ('nuff said). And my family's dachshund puppy and I share 84 percent of our DNA in common...for chimps and bonobos that percentage climbs to a jaw-dropping 99 percent. 
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Mentoring

Meditation in Times of Distress

I used to think meditation was something you would only want to do when times got tough. Like - "I'm feeling sad and lonely. I should meditate." Or - "I didn't get what I want and I'm bummed out. I should meditate." And I actually used to feel slightly embarrassed, or ashamed, or some combination thereof, when I would make time to meditate. As if - if I had "a life," I wouldn't even have time to pursue a solitary practice like meditation in the first place. Of course, these beliefs arose in me during the early 90's, when "meditation" wasn't a word you heard spoken in public very often (or at all). Today, the level of public openness to talking about and practicing meditation in its many wonderful forms has greatly expanded. Happily, my ability to meditate has also improved since those first awkward attempts back in 1990. More importantly, so has my perspective on where, how, when and why meditation fits so well into my daily life. Looking back now, I can see how there have been so many moments when my willingness and discipline to meditate in times of peace has come to my rescue in times of distress. 
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Mentoring

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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Emotions

The Bully in the Schoolyard

I love my neighborhood. Packed full of vintage charm, some of the houses (including the one I live in) have been in existence far longer than I have! My neighbors are friendly and we have a thriving online neighborhood message board to share news about safe and not-so-safe local happenings. One street over, there is a quiet little house with a yard sign posted out front. The sign reads: War is not the answer. I see it several times each week when I'm out walking, and I always find myself nodding as I read those words. And then I start to feel sad. And confused. And irked. 
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Good News

My Journey to Learn How to Hold Success

A few months ago, I finally published my second book. I was super excited.....at first. But once the book began selling well in earnest, I began to feel anxious. At this point I asked myself quite kindly, "What is the matter? Why are you so anxious when you could be enjoying your new book's success?" Very quickly from within I heard these shocking words, "Just wait until the book stops selling and the bottom falls out of all this - then see how cheery you will feel!" In other words, I was clearly having trouble adjusting to my own success. I had somehow become so accustomed to feeling like a failure that even when success came knocking and then let itself in, I refused to recognize or welcome it. I was too afraid of what would happen if it decided not to stay. I was SO afraid, in fact, that I was actively visualizing future failure in the midst of current success! It was at this point I realized that I lacked the strength to hold success.  
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Inspirational

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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Mentoring

Can’t We All Just Get Along (on Mars)?

Over the last year or two I've become most intrigued by news of NASA's plans for an upcoming mission to Mars. I still remember the first time I ever saw a reference to visiting Mars in the news. At first I thought it was the review of a new movie....or maybe a joke op ed piece. In fact, I even remember thinking, "Oh yah, right - sure we're planning to go to Mars." Then I kept reading and it slowly dawned on me that the writer was serious. And their intel appeared to be good. Since then, here and there I've continued to keep an ear to the ground for new news, which lately has been popping up everywhere. The latest? NASA just got a budgetary bonus along with some fairly unambiguous marching orders about producing a prototype habitation device for human deep space travel. Fabulous. But I've certainly never entertained the thought of vying for a spot on the team roster. To be honest, I get queasy unless I ride in the front seat of the car. And I really like my personal space. Plus if my parrot and my baby tortoise can't come with me, I'm not going either. So this week I've been asking myself, "Just what is it about this Mars thing that's got you so riveted?" Then a Facebook friend shared this article. As I read the four astronauts' comments on why they want to be astronauts and why they hope to be included in the initial Mars manned mission, it hit me. 
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