Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Surviving the Holidays: Part 1
Every holiday season has its ups and downs. However, sometimes we find ourselves wondering how we ever got through this year's season? The Awakening Center has some tips to help you survive the holidays.
Reclaiming the Holidays
The falling temperatures, crowded malls, long to-do lists mean only one thing—the holiday season is upon us. Some cannot wait for this time of year, and they relish each and every tradition. Others see the holidays as a time of stress, pressure, or loneliness and grit their teeth until January arrives. Most of us end up somewhere in the middle. Wherever you fall on this continuum, having your toolbox filled with holiday self-care resources is essential.
Remember, your holiday survival toolbox will be most effective if it is customized to your particular needs. You might need to carve out alone time to regroup and re-energize; or, you might need to connect with trusted friends or support people. Be compassionate about what you need—‘tis the season for acceptance not judgment.
Just as you need to be mindful of which tools you need during the holidays, pay attention to your triggers as well. Being clear and nonjudgmental about our challenges helps keep us in recovery.
There is no one-size-fits-all way to enjoy the season. Just because some love the hustle and bustle of the department store does not mean that your preference for quiet contemplation makes you a Grinch. And if you feel energized and connected by shopping with friends or going to holiday parties, don’t let anyone tell you you’re forgetting the “reason for the season.”
Ask for Help
If you’re unsure what your toolbox needs, sit with a friend, partner, family member, therapist, or anyone you trust and brainstorm 10 self-care activities. Think of what will help you stay mindful and connected to your inner self. Some ideas include:
--Taking a leisurely walk
--Reaching out to someone on the phone or in person
Having a plan when heading into holiday events can be your best resource. Many families and friends have traditions we can anticipate each year. With this in mind, we can schedule alone time amid all the activities. Or, we can choose to take care of ourselves by sitting out anything that we know will trigger us. For some, this may be honoring that we don't like a particular dish our aunt serves or spending more time with a friend or family member we are more comfortable with. Remember, you are the expert of you. When we listen to what our body wants and needs with a calm, compassionate mind we have the ability to make the decisions that are right for us.
It may be helpful to set alerts on your phone to remind you to slow down and check in with yourself. Do you need to take a moment away from all the hubbub? Are you hungry? Are you full? How are you feeling in this moment? This season can be hectic for all of us, but many times we can hit pause and enter a place of clarity. This can be helpful during times of scrambling to finish last minute shopping or during a party. Set a reminder to check in with how you're feeling during this rush, and have a few close places in mind that can provide an enjoyable break. It may be a small boutique with fun gadgets, a park down the street from the mall, or simply taking a moment to enjoy the holiday decorations.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
…..If we get rid of the Bully, we would also get rid of the Mentor. Often when the Bully is dominant loud and nasty, you may not be aware of the Mentor. In her positive role, the Mentor manages, organizes and plans our day-to-day life. Think about all the different tasks that the Mentor does: paying bills, organizing schedules, planning social events, managing multiple project deadlines, figuring out finances, and juggling the upkeep of our cars, houses, possessions and our bodies. The list goes on. When something goes wrong, the Mentors tap into their creative thinking skills and take on the role of problem solver, in a non-judgmental non-critical way. In addition, the Mentors want to motivate us; they push us to learn, grow and to move forward in our lives. The Mentor helps us to live our lives with integrity and values. Their goal is for us to be the best we can be. In the long run, the Mentors want us to find fulfillment and meaning in our life.
Sometimes, when picturing the Mentor, a client will take the “non-judgmental non-critical” aspects to extreme as well. Imagine an ideal “Fairy Godmother” who would always let you off the hook, no matter what, without any responsibility or remorse, “That’s OK. You couldn’t help it. Don’t worry about it. You poor thing.” In comparison to the Bully, our first reaction again might be one of relief. But if we never took responsibility for anything, what would go awry? We’d never change, forever doomed to repeating our mistakes over and over. That is not the Mentor.
If you have ever had an actual Mentor in your life, a good Mentor will not make excuses for you. She would not overly coddle you. The Mentor challenges us to be the best we can be, while still allowing us to be imperfect and human. She encourages you to learn from your mistakes and figure out how not to repeat the mistake in the future. She might get firm with you, but in a respectful and caring way….
Here’s an example to illustrate the relationship you would have with your Mentor. Let’s say that you forget to set your alarm clock and you miss an important meeting at work. Your boss is angry and sends you a heated voicemail. How would your Mentor deal with this? In a serious tone she would say something like, “So, you overslept. This is not OK. We need to find a way to make sure this doesn’t happen again. If we put the alarm clock on our pillow in the morning, we will have to set it before we go to sleep. We had better call our boss and apologize right away. Let’s also talk with Pat to get the notes from the meeting.” Notice that the Mentor often uses the pronoun “we”; this implies that you and she are working together cooperatively. She does not attack you or your personality. Mistakes are viewed as, well, mistakes – a temporary unfortunately event, not as a permanent character flaw.
The Mentor speaks in a respectful tone. You can easily find what I call “the nugget of truth” in what she wants to tell you. In this case the nugget of truth is “Acting in this way goes against our basic values of respect for others and living with integrity. We need to act in a professional way and take responsibility for our mistake.” The Mentor, when necessary, slips into problem solving mode and helps you to see the steps to learn from and correct the mistake. You walk away from this encounter feeling like you are still a worthwhile human.
As the Part moves towards the middle of the continuum, let’s call her The Critic. The Critic has difficulty seeing events objectively, and her behavior, thoughts and attitudes are less balanced. The Critic may be still able to see that mistakes happen but she probably would speak to you roughly, “That was a dumb thing to do! You’d better shape up or all your coworkers will think you’re stupid! You’re lucky that your boss doesn’t fire you.” The Critic uses colorful dramatic language and talks about “you”. Notice in the example above, she uses all-or-nothing thinking, lumping all your coworkers together as a mass entity with only one mind. She immediately runs to the worst-case scenario but does not offer an actual solution other than to vaguely demand, “Shape up”. The same nugget of truth is hidden, but with a bit of sifting we can find it.
If the Part does not get what she needs to stay in balance, she will become more and more extreme in her thinking, acting and attitudes. In this extreme state I call her The Bully. “Oh My God! What the #$%&* is wrong with you! You are completely hopeless! You don’t even deserve this job! I don’t know why your boss puts up with you. If they knew the real you, none of your coworkers would ever talk to you again. If you weren’t so fat, this would never have happened. You can’t eat today…” I’m sure you can fill in the rest. The Bully is abusive, punitive and shaming; she uses humiliation and name-calling as punishments. She will use swearing and profanity even if you normally don’t. The nugget of truth is buried deep beneath layers of shame and judgment. It takes a lot of digging to find it.
The Bully is locked into very distorted perfectionistic black-and-white thinking: If you’re not perfect, you are a Failure! If you made a mistake, you are complete Loser! If one person doesn’t like you, then everybody HATES you! If you are not faultless, then you are Worthless! Through her eyes you don’t make mistakes, you ARE a mistake. You didn’t fail at something, you ARE a failure. She also goes off on a tangent blaming your mistake on your eating or weight – even if there is no logical tie. The punishment does not fit the crime!
Because the Bully talks to you this way over and over, day after day, your younger parts, the Kids, believe her down deep inside, feeling more hopeless, anxious and worthless after each encounter. Each time the Bully criticizes, a core of shame is reawakened. Not to be left out, the Rebels, Distracters, Numb-ers get involved…. Do-si-do, around we go, in this never-ending cycle. The Bully never looks at her role in this cycle, she projects all the blame outward: she is not the problem! You are. She is not responsible! You are. She has to talk to you this way, because you are hopeless! As the Kids feel more hopeless, the Bully yells louder, the Rebels act out, the Bully yells louder…
You would think that after a while the Parts would see that this cycle doesn’t work. But no, in their extreme state they are unable to do this. They are locked into this cycle and cannot get out of it. Since they are unable to do anything else, and are afraid of what would happen if they did nothing, they continue to repeat this cycle forever.
So how do we stop this cycle? How do we get the Bully to stay as the Mentor? Your first reaction is to shut her up, push her away, get rid of her, to hate her. This actually makes the cycle worse. All of the Parts need the same things: They need to know that you won’t try to get rid of them. They want you to listen to what they have to say; they need to feel heard. They want you to appreciate what they are trying to do for you. Lastly, they want you to take care of their needs. Sounds simple? No, this is a slow and difficult process – but I will walk you through it.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Inviting Self in the Face of the Four "F's" of the Holidays!
I can't believe it's the week of Thanksgiving! Where did September and October go!?! When time slips away like it always does, I try to find something that makes everyday special. It can just be a little thing - like seeing a balloon on a neighbors lawn. Or noticing the bird's nests which are now visible in the bare autumn trees.
Linda Winter, a counselor at The Awakening Center, has written a blog about the 4 F's of the Holidays - just in time for Thanksgiving! I hope you find it helpful!
Inviting Self in the Face of the Four “F’s” of the Holidays
I was speaking with a colleague at TAC about the stress many of us experience during the holidays, and she responded, “Oh, yes the four “F’s” of the holidays – Food, Family, Frenetic activity, and Finances.” Wow! I thought that summed it up very well, and I asked if I could borrow her observation. What a difficult combo those four “F’s” are. Each can be emotionally charged in and of its self. And for many of us they all coincide 2 or 3 times in the 6 week period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. How can we prepare and repair our Selves? Let’s talk about it.
I want you to note that I see these four “F’s” as something all of us deal with, not just clients with a history of eating disordered behaviors or a history of depression or anxiety. I believe these stresses are present for all of us on a continuum from severely impacting our lives to disturbances to our inner balance. So, these paragraphs are addressed to us all as we work toward staying present to Self – our inner truth, our calm and balanced way of being, our True Self – especially during the holidays.
#1 Food: Special foods and large quantities of foods are often featured for Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. How do we not get triggered? How do we manage the rollercoaster of anxiety and other emotions? How do we avoid engaging in behaviors? These are our big fears. Self invites us to be Curious. Could we be curious about our traditions? Each family, each ethnic group or national group, each religious group has its food traditions. What are your traditions? Will there be an older family member present that you could ask about your family’s traditions? Or ask about other remembrances they may have of the holiday? Our curiosity can help to broaden or shift our perspective from the specific food or meal to a more general perspective of the food or holiday traditions in one’s family. What if it’s not about the food?
#2 Family: How often have we been surprised by our return to an old way of being with our family when we do not act like that with friends and colleagues? We promised ourselves XYZ would not trigger us again, and then, bam! Welcome to the mysteries of family and of our role in our family. Few if any of us knowingly volunteered for our role. And it can take years of practice to create a new role for ourselves in our family. Self invites us to be Compassionate. All of the inner work you have been doing is not lost because of one incident or one day in which you fell short of who you wanted to be. Be intentional about your self-care – go for a walk alone, take a nap, don’t have that last drink and go to bed early. Work toward regaining your access to Self. Be compassionate and kind toward your Self and others – they are possibly more confused and stuck than you.
#3 Frenetic Activity: The pace of activity around the holidays can be beyond frenetic, surreal at moments. So much shopping to do, organizing, cleaning, and then there are all the concerts, plays and special events. (And, for those still in school the holidays often coincide with final exams and papers.) Finding just the right gift. Wanting the house and food to be magnificent, stunning. Let’s look at the Parts that are driving this level of activity. “I can’t disappoint XYZ!” “It needs to be perfect!” “I need to do a more spectacular job than others have done!” Do you hear perfectionist Parts? Do you hear Parts that focus on accomplishment and appearances only? So let’s ask, what do those Parts want for us? When all is said and done, and we separate the Parts’ methods from their intentions, what do they want for us? Before you read further spend a moment with that question. What if they want us to enjoy ourselves, enjoy others, and have others enjoy us? Self invites us to be Present. In the face of frenetic activity can we shift our perspective from being a human Doing to becoming a human Being? Be intentional about shifting your perspective as many times a day as it takes!
#4 Finances: While daily life has its financial stresses, and especially this year, holidays amplify this stress. Again, just the right gift for everyone – and don’t leave anyone out! Just the right platter for the meal, more candles and flowers, the greatest shoes and jewelry for the outfit! And that does not even include the ticket to return home or the extra gas that will be needed for the drive. So many financial expectations, so many financial pressures, so much anxiety! Self invites us to be Clear and Creative. Be honest with yourself about how much money you have to spend and what your priorities are in spending it. Be clear about the decisions to be made and the process for making them. Being clear about your finances is another form of self-care, like getting enough sleep and exercise. Invite in “Creativity” – creative ways to look at the choices and make the choices. Anyone with unlimited funds can purchase for themselves and others everything they want. What is so special about that? But to be able to share meaningfully with others while on a budget – now that takes creativity!
For those of you not going home or seeing family over the holidays – whether you are working, unable to afford the trip, or chose to not attend because it was not welcoming or safe, Self invites us to be Connected. Make the intention to be connected with yourself. Make the time to be connected with others whose company you value and enjoy. Some families are given, other families are made through connection.
I hope these thoughts help you prepare and repair, as we all work toward staying present to Self – our inner truth, our calm and balanced way of being, our True Self – during this holiday season.
Wishing you a Self-led and Self-filled holiday season.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Recovering The Sense of Self
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
Editor's Note: Amy is in the process of writing a book about recovering from eating disorders. Occasionally we have printed excerpts from it. This is the beginning of a chapter about finding the sense of Self. You may want to read some previous excerpts on our website.
"Over the weekend, I went to an office party with my new boyfriend. It was the first time that he was introducing me to his friends and boss. He seemed really nervous and kept going into other rooms, just leaving me sitting there all alone. The critic in my head kept screaming at me, 'You're so fat that he can't stand to be seen with you! You are such a loser that he's embarrassed to be with you.' I could hear it but something different happened this time. Deep inside I felt something, not a voice but just a sense of knowing that the critic was wrong. I felt OK. I knew that he was just nervous and it wasn't because of me."Ann
Describing the Self is like trying to describe a beautiful color. It is difficult to put into words. But like recognizing the beautiful color once you've seen it, when you recover your sense of Self, it will feel familiar. Amanda described it well, "It's like trying to remember a song you've heard only once. But if you hear it again you remember it. And if you hear it again and again, over time you can sing it to yourself whenever you want."
The familiarity is because you were born with a sense of Self, and you were very expressive of your Self from age two or three on. Now, your Self is there hidden away below the surface; it may be covered in layers of defenses and "old trash", but it's there. Remember the analogy from chapter 2 about the President of the US being hidden away if the country were in attack? For whatever reason, in your personal history, it was not safe for you to be in your Self and your Self was hidden away for safekeeping. For some of you it was a constant gradual daily wearing away of your Self. For others it may have felt more like an explosion!
Some of you remember feeling good about yourself until puberty, and others say they felt bad before they even entered preschool. It doesn't really matter how or when it happened, the effect was the same.
Speaking of puberty, there have been a number of studies and books written about the dramatic change and loss of self-esteem when girls reach early adolescence. As Mary Pipher writes in her book, Reviving Ophelia: "Just as planes and ships disappear mysteriously into the Bermuda Triangle, so do the selves of girls go down in droves. The crash and burn in a social and developmental Bermuda Triangle." Many of my clients have talked about Junior High School as being the most painful time of their life, like Rachel,"In third or fourth grade, I felt really confident, I liked myself a lot. I was comfortable in my body. I remember having eating contests. Who could eat the most? And standing up on the table and winning the eating contest. And it wasn't a binge! Oh no! I would eat and just forgot about it. I lost her in Junior High School. I wonder where is that person? Where did she go?"
I know what you are thinking, "Yeah, right. Everyone else who reads this book has a Self hidden away, but not me. I'm defective, I'm hopeless." That is just a Bully talking. As you will learn in the next chapter, the Bully is just trying to protect you from being disappointed. For years the parts have organized around a system based on the lack of Self and they are suspicious of any change to this system. They will try to protect the system because they don't trust that the Self will really stay and be there for them. Like the members of an orchestra whose conductor has been absent for a long time, it would take time for them to be assured that she will not leave again. Some of the parts may actually feel relieved that the Self is coming back, but other parts may feel threatened. They may actively try to sabotage this work we are trying to accomplish. (This is another reason to be working with a therapist.)
One of the problems that people encounter when trying to find their sense of Self is that the Self is physically subtle and verbally very quiet - and the parts are physically intense and verbally LOUD! The Self is easily out-shouted by the chattering and clamoring of the parts. As we all know, the squeaky wheel gets the grease - we give our attention to the parts who are the loudest. Often times also, because one or more of the parts are LOUD and very outspoken, they are the ones who you may identify with as being your "self". Because this false-self does not have the qualities of the Self, the mistaken thought of allowing this part to take over and be in charge, may be horrifying.
Sometimes people confuse what I mean by the sense of Self. They think of it as being "in control" or an optimistic cheerleader quality of confidence. While feeling in control and being confident are qualities of your Self, the Self is deeper than that. It is a deep-seated feeling of inner strength and wisdom within. When you are in your Self, you know that no matter what happens you can handle it, you have all the resources you need within you. And from this strength and knowledge, you calmly feel in control and confident.
Almost without exception, when someone doesn't have a sense of Self, they describe an inner emptiness that is very frightening. There is a deep profound sense that something is missing! The emptiness is where your Self is supposed to be. For example if I want to plant a rose bush I have to dig a hole. The hole is where the rose bush will be, the potential for the rose bush. But until the rose bush is planted, it's just a hole. The hole, the emptiness inside us, is the potential where you will experience the Self again. It was there, but now it's concealed and we're going to bring it out of hiding and put it back. One of the best side effects of recovering your sense of Self, is that the inner emptiness disappears! It gets filled, just as the hole disappeared as soon as you put the rose bush into it.
Our goal is to live our life in a state that Dr. Schwartz calls Self Leadership. It would be almost impossible to live our life in our Self perfectly all of the time. When life throws us a zinger, and it will, not because we are weak or defective - but because we are humans living in a human world - a part may react and need help. The Self will compassionately notice, and take the time to attend to her needs. This may mean pulling resources from other parts or from other people who can be trusted. The parts and Self can then return to its healthy new system.
Once you know what it feels like to be in your Self, you will be able to consciously "breathe into" that feeling again and again. It will not come naturally at first. Like learning a new language, at first it will feel foreign, but the more you use it the more comfortable and familiar it will feel. With practice you can become completely fluent. I encourage my clients to practice every day, perhaps starting with a morning ritual that includes intentionally getting in touch with their sense of Self.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Catching the "Uh Oh's"
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
When "Lisa" came into my office I could tell she was very upset. "I don't know what happened. All of a sudden I started eating and I couldn't stop! I just can't control my eating. There must be something wrong with me. My body just can't handle food like normal people do. I need to watch everything I eat. I'm so scared to lose control like that."
Lisa's torment may sound familiar to you. I know that when I was in my eating disorder, I too described binges very similarly. I remember telling my therapist that it was like a wave that just came over me, out of the blue. I was sure that my body was somehow to blame.
Lisa's reaction is typical too. Since she can't figure out what brought on the binge to begin with, she can only try to fix what she is aware of: the food. But becoming more controlling with food and more restrictive in her eating doesn't work; it only makes the problem worse.
So if trying to control the food isn't the answer, if restricting her eating only makes it worse, then what is Lisa to do? Sometimes we have to admit that doing more of the same is not the answer, especially when it always results in the same outcome. In the words of Monty Python, "And now for something completely different.!"
Focusing our attention on what foods Lisa binges on is not helpful. Becoming aware of what happened before the binge is much more constructive. When a client comes to me and says she binged, I help her to understand that the binge is just an opportunity to learn about her self and to become aware of what is going on inside. Most women who have eating disorders are not very mindful of what is happening within themselves in the moment. Most of the time, they are ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. But the present moment is a blank, they are unaware of what they are experiencing in the moment.
To become aware of what led up to a binge I often will help a client "dissect" the binge. I ask them to talk about the 24 to 36 hours before the binge began. We try to recreate what happened in detail: who she interacted with, what she ate, what she was thinking, what she was feeling. I often ask clients, "When did you know you were going to binge? What was the first sign that you were headed for trouble?" Not surprisingly, the majority of the time, clients had an inkling of a sign in advance of the binge. I used to call these signs the "Uh Ohs".
Does this sound familiar? A tiny voice in the back of my head would be saying "uh oh something's wrong" hours before the binge even began. If I didn't pay attention, I would miss it. The voice would then just get louder, "Uh Oh! Something is definitely not OK." If I continued to ignore it or not pay attention it would turn into "UH OH! Do something quick!" But if my unawareness continued, it would soon be, " UH OH! Oh forget it! Too late! Let's eat!"
If my clients become more aware, more mindful they are more able to catch the "uh ohs" as soon as possible, when they are still very quiet voices. When the uh ohs are small, they can be handled more easily than if they are loud and extreme. When I described this to Lisa, she came up with a wonderful analogy that helped her to "see" what she needed to do. (And you know how I love analogies.)
She said bingeing was like going over a waterfall in a small boat. If she was far back upstream on the river and she paid attention to quiet signs (the sound of the waterfall, the mist of the waterfall in the distance, the acceleration of the current of the stream) she would become aware that "uh oh", there was a waterfall ahead. She would be able to paddle to shore to not go over the waterfall. If she was not paying attention or ignored the quiet signs, she would be closer to the waterfall and it may be hard for her to get to shore by herself. When she became aware that "Uh Oh!" there's a waterfall ahead, she would have to ask for help from someone who could help her bring her boat to the shore. But if she still did not pay attention or continued to ignore the signs (which by the way are becoming ever louder and more apparent - UH OH!) she would be so close to the falls that it would be inevitable that she would go over - " UH OH , too late! Let's Eat!!!"
By dissecting a binge we learn what our "uh oh's" are for us: what emotions, relationships, feelings, body sensations, thoughts and events are likely to cause us distress and if not taken care of can trigger a binge. Let's go back and look at what Lisa was dealing with on the day before her binge.
At first Lisa focused on the food aspect of the binge. "I had such a craving for sweets and on my way home I kept fighting off the urge to pull into every convenience store. Finally I broke down and bought a huge bag of cookies and since I knew I was going to get rid of it, I bought some cake and ice cream too." I asked her to think of any associations to the sweets, what they meant to her at that particular day.
"Well, it could be that at a meeting at work today someone brought in a tray of sweets. I wouldn't let myself have one even though I really wanted one." I commented, "I think we just found an "uh oh". But I'm sure there's more to this."
Lisa reflected, "I was really hungry when I binged, because I hadn't eaten much that day. I usually only have coffee for breakfast and a salad for lunch." (Did you just hear another "uh oh"?)
"Tell me about how you were feeling during the day?" I asked. Lisa related, "For some reason, I was a bit on edge ("uh oh") and I'm not sure why. Nothing really happened at work." She had been at a meeting led by her supervisor with seven of her coworkers. She just happened to be the only female at the meeting. At one point in the meeting her supervisor asked Lisa to make some copies even though she was not sitting by the door. "As I maneuvered my way around everyone else's chair to get to the door, I was annoyed that he asked me, a female, to make the copies. The guys who were closer to the door know how to make copies. Why didn't he ask one of them? But I know I shouldn't let it bother me, it's such a little thing." ("UH OH!")
"But it did bother you," I prompted. Lisa's face lit up as she realized, "Yeah! I was mad and felt belittled by him! I tried to make myself feel superior by turning down the sweets in the meeting. But I kept yelling at myself for letting it bother me at all (UH OH!) !"
"Is this the first time something like this has happened at work?" I asked.
"Oh no. He does things like this all the time at work. I tried to talk to him about it, but he dismissed my concerns," she replied. Her face became downcast as she realized, "I think I'm going to have to find a new job and I'm scared."
"Lisa, I think we found the biggest UH OH of them all."
As you can see by this example, if Lisa just focused on the cookies she would be missing what really was wrong. She learned how to pick up subtle signals that she was experiencing an emotion that she needed to deal with. Eventually with practice she became more mindful of her internal reactions to what was going on around her. She started making connections between these reactions and feelings and her cravings for binges. Working hard over time, she was able to learn how to handle these events without resorting to food.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Mentors, Kids and Advocates
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
A Note From Amy: As I’ve mentioned in the newsletter before I’m writing a book about recovery from eating disorders. The following is another excerpt. You can read previous excerpts on our website.
….We all have a Self, a capable conductor, within us. The Self is the part I refer to as “Wisdom”. When we are in our Self, we feel centered and grounded. It is because of this centered and grounded state that we can feel calm and peaceful. An important aspect of the Self is compassion, a loving, empathic nurturance towards ourselves, the parts and others. The Self also feels courage and confidence, and possesses the clarity needed to handle whatever life gives us. Using its qualities of curiosity and creativity, the Self helps the parts resolve any problems that may arise. We are able to be current, to stay in the present when we are in our Self. And through the Self we connect to who we are, to our parts, to other people and to our place in the bigger picture of life. When we are in our Self, we have the capacity for objectivity – the ability to step back and observe our parts, other people, or ourselves, without criticism or judgment.
The second premise is that each of the parts has a positive role in the system. In an orchestra, the tuba’s role is to add depth by contributing low bass notes to the music. Another role of the tuba is to emphasize the beat. While other instruments may also have similar roles, only the tuba can do it in its own unique way. Our parts also have a positive intention behind all that they do. When the parts are cooperative and working together, it’s easy to imagine what the intention is. If we asked the tuba what it is trying to do for the orchestra, the musician would answer, “My bass notes add depth and rhythm to the music. I’m trying to help the orchestra as a whole sound as wonderful as possible so that the audience thinks highly of us.” It’s when the parts are not cooperative and are not working together, or when the conductor isn’t present that the positive role and intention may be harder to find.
Just as musicians are organized into identifiable sections of the orchestra, our parts can be organized into groups as well. It is entirely possible for you to experience one, two, or several parts in each group with slightly different roles. For example, in the Mentor group you may have one who manages your finances, while another monitors your career path.
One of the difficulties of describing each group of parts is making it easy enough to understand without oversimplifying the parts’ complexities. When you read about the different groups of parts, please trust your own inner wisdom. If I say Mentors often feel adult in age, but one of your Mentors feels young to you, so be it – have faith in your own experience. You don’t have to force your parts to fit my description. The descriptions that I give are rough guidelines, not rigid rules.
I’ll start with the parts I call the Mentors. These parts often feel adult in age and are often experienced as cognitions, or thoughts. Their positive role is to manage our day-to-day life while motivating us to learn, grow and to be the best we can be. They possess the ability to organize, plan and problem solve. These parts are very productive and promote “doing”. In the long run, the Mentors want us to find fulfillment and meaning in our life.
But, all work and no play make Jill a dull girl, right? While the Mentors keep us moving forward in life, the Kids make life enjoyable along the way. You know by their very name, Kid parts usually feel young. More often than not, these parts are experienced as emotions and sensations in the body. When in balance and in harmony with the other parts, they feel fun and playful. Your sense of humor comes from the Kid parts. They possess an awe and wonder of life. A deep sense of self-worth, contentment and a love of life can come from the Kid parts.
The last group of parts is the Advocates. The Advocates remind me of adolescents; they bring an enjoyable kind of “spunk” and energy into the mix. These parts can speak to us through our thoughts as well as through our body. The Advocates push us to take care of ourselves, to stand up for ourselves, and to protect ourselves. They remind us to have balance in our lives and encourage our parts to be in balance as well. Remember “all work and no play”? The Advocates also remind us that “all play and no work” doesn’t feel well either. The many roles of the Advocates can be as varied as reminding us to rest when tired or to speak up when someone takes advantage of us.
There is an openness to the relationship between the different parts. The parts communicate freely with each other and with the Self. The parts want the Self to listen to them, it’s important that they feel heard. They want the Self to appreciate what they do for the system as a whole. And the parts want the Self and the other parts to take care of them when they need it.
When the system works it’s wonderful! But when the system doesn’t work, when there is no sense of Self and the parts leap in to fill the void, it’s painful, chaotic and frantic!
Notice I said, “no sense of Self” instead of “no Self”. It’s not that the Self is entirely absent; it’s just hidden away. In another of Dr. Schwartz’s analogies, the Self is like the President of the United States. If the United States were under attack, the President would be whisked away to a safe place for his or her own protection. After the crisis, he or she would return to his or her leadership role and everything would return to normal. So your Self is there somewhere, hidden away for it’s own protection.
Returning to the orchestra analogy, if the conductor of the Chicago Symphony didn’t show up for a performance one day, the musicians probably would perform as professionally as usual. The audience most likely wouldn’t be able to hear any difference. When the conductor returned, the musicians would be concerned and would want an explanation. The relationship between the conductor and musicians would be back to normal quickly.
If the conductor started to miss performances sporadically and was inconsistent at attending rehearsals, the trust between the musicians and the conductor would break down. Some animosity would begin to develop. In the conductor’s absence, sooner or later one of the musicians would take over, “Okay, I think we should all turn to page 34 and start from measure 178. Let’s play it a little jazzier.” Because the musician is not trained to be a conductor and does not have the qualities needed to be the conductor, eventually another musician is going to say, “Why are you conductor? Why aren’t I conductor? I don’t want to play it jazzy, I think it should be more formal!” Since more than one musician may rebel against the pseudo-conductor, we’ve got chaos and anarchy.
When I describe an orchestra without a conductor, in my mind I picture Junior High School band. Without the teacher, some bully will grab the piccolo and throw it in the tuba. There will be some anxious kid saying, “Oh, we should keep practicing anyway. We’re going to get in trouble!” Another student shouts, “Who cares! I never liked you anyway, get out of here!” Then the drums will play as loud at it can to drown out everyone else.
What happened to the beautiful music that the orchestra is capable of playing? It’s lost! They stopped working together; they each have their own agenda that they feel is more important than any other musician’s agenda. They need the conductor, just as our parts need a capable leader to keep them working together. They need the Self.
Without a sense of Self, we feel hollow and empty, directionless and lost. The connection with our parts and with others is gone. This is the void that Emily described so vividly in chapter 1. I’ll talk about what causes the Self to get hidden away in the next chapter. I want to describe briefly what happens to the parts when the Self is missing. It helps if you think of the parts as existing on a continuum, with being in balance (I may even assert that the part is in it’s “self”) on one end of the continuum and becoming more and more extreme in it’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors as it moves away from the Self, towards the other end of the continuum.
For the sake of simplicity I’m going to start with the Kid parts. Since our parts act just like their “real life” counterparts it helps to imagine how real kids think, feel and react. Let’s imagine that something happens that is upsetting, someone gets mad at you over a misunderstanding. Without the Self’s soothing reassuring presence, the Kids feel frightened. Realizing they are alone, that there is no one to take care of them, they become anxious. They don’t know how to handle the situation because they are young and inexperienced. They begin to doubt themselves and feel worthless, “What’s wrong with me? I’m not good enough.”
When the Kids are more extreme, I call them the Exiles. This is because the more frightened and helpless they become, the more the other parts push them away in an attempt to help you to not feel these uncomfortably intense emotions. The Exiles also hold our memories from our past. The more traumatic the memories, the more the other parts try to lock the Exiles away in order to not face the feelings that arise when the Exiles get close to a memory.
Usually the anxiety felt by the Exiles will activate the Mentors who rush in to try to take care of the situation. Because they do not possess the soothing reassuring wisdom of the Self, their care taking is often not what the Exiles need or want. Mentors, when they become extreme, can become the Bullies. As they become more extreme, their behavior and thoughts become more and more critical and judgmental. “Stop being such a baby! No one else is acting like this. What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you just get over it?” They can become perfectionistic, punitive and loud. Again I will remind you that our parts act and react like their real life counterparts. The Exiles, looking for soothing and reassurance, become more agitated and fearful as the Bullies start yelling at them. The Bullies react to this with more perfectionism, which elicits more anxiety, which elicits more perfectionism… Round and round they go.
Finally, the Advocates step in. As extreme as the other two parts have gotten, the Advocates become extreme as well. Advocates often take on two extreme roles, one of which is the Rebel. They rebel against the Bullies. “If you can’t be perfect, then why bother! Who cares? It won’t make any difference anyway.” Their other extreme role is the Numb-er (as in Numbing). The Numb-er says, “I can take all the feelings away. I’ll make it all better. You deserve to eat this (or starve, or purge, etc. etc.).”
And you know what happens next. The Bullies jump in and berate you for eating (starving, purging, etc.). The Exiles feel even more anxious and worthless. The Rebels and Numb-ers convince you to eat (starve, purge) even more….
The relationship between the parts become rigid and inflexible. When their words and behavior doesn’t elicit the result they want, the parts get locked into just doing more and more of the same. They become even more extreme. They seem incapable of trying anything different.
Establishing a firm sense of Self and getting the parts back in balance, back in their part-self, is the goal of recovery.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Putting Recovery on Your Hands
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
If you don't count calories, exercise or focus on your appearance, what do you do? How does one actually recover? You can't just go out and buy a "self". Many years ago a client asked me to come up with my top 10 recovery tips "a la David Letterman". When I describe total recovery to a client I use the ten fingers to illustrate needing both halves to recover fully. Each finger represents a different aspect needed for recovery.
The first five points, the fingers on the left hand, will sound very familiar and you may have a reaction very similar to Maureen, "When I read all this stuff about eating when you're hungry, I want to scream! If I could eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full I wouldn't need the book! I have no idea anymore when I'm hungry and I'm petrified if I let myself eat what I want because I won't be able to stop. I just don't have that kind of trust in my body. After so many years of denying my hunger, I don't even know what hunger is anymore. I haven't a clue what genuine fullness feels like either. The whole relearning to eat experience is very frightening!"
I assure you that I know what you are talking about, when I was in the depths of my eating disorder I probably was more able to sprout wings and fly than eat normally. And that's the point I am trying to make, you need the second half before you can do the first. So that is why I am writing the second half of the book, the sense of Self half, first. Because you have to resolve these issues first, otherwise your eating will always be tense. When you have a sense of Self, the eating half can relax and fall into place.
Other people have the opposite reaction. As Michelle put it, "When I hear 'Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full' I have mixed feelings. My initial thought is "Yea right, as if it's that simple!". But, in the same token it's very comforting because it is that simple. It all comes down to learning to listen to my body. As challenging as that can be in the grip of an eating disorder, it really does become simple upon recovery." I want to point out that simple is not the same as easy. At times, simple instructions can elicit feelings of guilt, fear, shame, and failure– "Why can't I just stop this?!" Our inner critic reminds us what we "should" eat and then yells at us when we can't do it. This is because it doesn't acknowledge that the eating is a symptom of the deeper problem. As long as the deeper problem remains, eating will be a battleground.
So hang in there reading through points one through five because I assure you that in future chapters you will learn how to do points six through ten. But if you feel like Maureen and have to skip ahead, I understand.
Starting with the food, eating, weight and body hand, the thumb represents "I eat when I am hungry". (See I told you that it would sound familiar…) That's the shorthand version. But it's much deeper than that. When we analyze it, this point implies that you are able to slow down enough to listen to your body and recognizing your body's signals for hunger. These signals are different for everybody, for every body. These signals are going to be different for every situation, for every day. It also suggests being comfortable with having hunger, with your body's nutritional needs, and allowing yourself to eat each and every time your body becomes hungry.
The second finger represents "I eat a wide variety of foods." This means that you are able to ask your body what it wants to eat, and then choose foods that would be a good match for what your body asked for. You are also able to give yourself permission to choose from any food at all. All foods are equal, there are no "bad" foods and there are no "good" foods.
The third finger represents, "I stop when I am full." You already have heard this one – it's the one that makes everyone say, "I can't do it! I just can't stop eating once I start. I have no control! That's why I have to monitor myself so closely." In a way this sounds harder than it is. I want to reiterate that if you only work on the food half then this aspect will always be a struggle. Stopping when you are full implies that you are able to slow down your eating and listen to your body's signals for fullness. Also, you need to eat mindfully, eating in ways that heighten your feelings of satisfaction. Consistently clients have found that being satisfied is more important than being full.
If the third point sounds harder than it is, then the fourth point "I forget about it afterwards and get on with my life!" is harder than it sounds. "Normal" eaters don't think about what they've eaten, even if they've eaten too much. They may rub their stomachs and moan, "Oh I ate too much!" But then they go cut the grass, work on the computer, whatever. How are they able to do this? They have what I call body trust. They know their body, they know that their body will digest whatever they've eaten and eventually get back to hunger again. If they have overeaten, they know that it just takes longer for their body to get back to hunger. And while they are waiting to get back to hunger, they don't think about it, they don't beat themselves up! You too, can learn how to trust your body.
The last point on this hand is a big job for such a small finger. The pinky finger represents "I accept, love and appropriately move the body I was given genetically". I feel that this is such a large aspect of recovery that I have devoted a whole section of the book to it. This is very difficult to do in our society where we are constantly bombarded with messages that no matter what you look like, it isn't good enough. Our culture is working towards acceptance of diversity of race, ethnicity, and color. But it still does not accept that people come in a wide variety of body types and sizes.
This aspect of recovery means living outside of societal norms. It means refusing to listen to messages about what your body "should" look like. It means stopping every negative thought about your body and learning to accept it as it is. When we can learn to listen to our body's signals for hunger and fullness, we also start to hear its signals for movement and rest. My clients are often surprised at how often their bodies want to move, to dance, jump, skip, swim. When they stop and listen to their bodies, they may become aware of "antsy–ness" when they are zoning out in front of the TV. They also learn to respect the body's need for rest and rejuvenation.
Okay for those of you who skipped ahead you can start reading now. The second half, the right hand is symbolizes the primary issues to work on, the ones that if lacking make the other half always tense. These next five points are what I consider the essential emotional and spiritual aspects of recovery.
The thumb of the right hand represents "I know who I am". The tag line for The Awakening Center is "Discover who you were meant to be." This is the sense of Self I mentioned earlier. In the next chapter I will describe this sense of Self in depth, but briefly it is a deep–seated calm feeling of personal strength that is always with you, no matter what.
The next finger is "I like who I am". This means being at peace with all your various parts. Living each day in harmony and cooperation with your Self. I often say to my clients that the most important part of recovery is answering two questions "Who am I?" and "Am I OK?" Once you have the answer to the first question, you realize the answer to the second one is, "Yes". Since all babies are born pure and innocent, the answer is always, "Yes". But you have to come to that answer yourself.
The third finger on this hand represents: "I have a direction and a purpose for my life". This point is about finding meaning in one's life. Being able to put life in perspective, knowing what is important and what really is trivial. Learning to live life with our values and ethics in a fulfilling manner.
The ring finger is "I have the confidence and the tools to get there". Having a direction and purpose isn't enough, because life isn't always going to cooperate. Sometimes it will and things will fall right into our laps. But many times we really have to work for something. This point includes learning coping mechanisms, tools, skills and resources that we may not have learned when we were younger.
Again the last finger has such a big job "I have healthy relationships". This point is about learning to relate to others through your Self and relating in a way that brings out the Self in others as well. If the person can only relate through their parts, it means that you stay in your Self as much as possible anyway. Being able to connect to others, both give and take, in a meaningful and reciprocal way.
I think of the two halves complimenting each other like a three dimensional yin–yang. Just like the two hands, when we put all the points of the two halves together our life can be at peace. Every once in a while you have to work on something, to take care of problems. Afterwards life becomes calm again.
So you can see the answer lies in finding your Self. I encourage you to keep reading and "Discover who you were meant to be."