Tuesday, September 30, 2014
There are many myths about recovery – and in this Blog I’d like to highlight one of them. The myth is: “If I recover, then all the people in my life will be different. Everyone will recover along with me. And I will never have to deal with difficult or dysfunctional people ever again.”
Oh if only that were true! I know that some families are motivated enough to do the deep difficult work to change along with their daughter or son who is recovering. But many families are not. Some will do some surface work and change a behavior or two – and some may even maintain those changes for a long while, maybe forever!
But many of my clients come from families that are resistant to change because their own Parts are so extreme and may not have the “Self-energy” to tolerate the discomfort necessary to make lasting changes.
So I tell my clients, “Your family may not recover along with you. They are who they are!” And then my clients have to do double work, they have to do the deep difficult work necessary to recover – and they have to find a way to maintain that recovery in a family that may stay as difficult and dysfunctional as ever.
Some clients resist accepting that their families will not change – and they may use a lot of time and energy to get their families to change. They may even put their own recovery on hold while they try and try and try and try, thinking, “If I try hard enough, then they will be different, and if they are different, then they will love me.”
I have an analogy that I give to illustrate the futile nature of this. Your friends go to a pet store and come home with kittens and puppies. You see them cuddling with and petting these pets and you want one too. So you go to the pet store and they hand you a box. You go home and open the box and find that it’s a hedgehog! You want to cuddle and pet the hedgehog, but when you try, you get hurt by the prickly spines.
There are some good things about having a hedgehog – they are unusual animals and I’m sure they do some fun things. But you have to be careful when you handle a hedgehog. You may need to wear special gloves and wrap the hedgehog in a protective towel.
No matter what you do, a hedgehog will not turn into a kitten or a puppy. If you are really nice, the hedgehog will still be a hedgehog. If you give it a lot of money, it still will be a hedgehog. If you lose weight, it’s still a hedgehog. If you are perfect, it’s still a hedgehog. It will never, ever turn into a kitten or puppy.
For those of you who come from difficult or dysfunctional families the same is true – we may not get the same things as our friends get from their families. There may be some unique things about our families that we can enjoy, but we may need to handle them in special ways – ways that our friends don’t have to do. And no matter what we do, they will always be the way they are. “They are who they are!”
When we can accept our families the way they are, when we stop spending so much time and energy trying to get them to change, then we can work on the “special ways to handle” our families so our recovery isn’t derailed every time we are with them.
I hope you ponder what “special ways” do you need to learn to handle your family? You may want to read another of my Blog articles: “Changing The Game” to learn a fun way to deal with your family: http://awakeningcenter.blogspot.com/2011_11_01_archive.html
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC is the Director of The Awakening Center. She established The Awakening Center 20 years ago! Yet, she feels like it was only yesterday!
Thursday, September 25, 2014
By Nancy Hall, M.A.
My son had a hard time adjusting to first grade. He’d come home tired and crabby, and the smallest provocation would trigger a full-blown meltdown. I’m talking nuclear. I had heard about other kids being very tired after a full school day, but I was not prepared for such hard-core trench warfare.
My dear friend Sue has kids older than mine, and she explained the dynamic perfectly. Imagine you start your day with an empty tray, like the ones servers carry in restaurants. Someone walks by and places a half-full glass of water on your tray. “No big deal,” you think. “I can handle just one glass.” Then another person places another glass on your tray; a third person does the same. “It’s just a few glasses. I can arrange them just so and everything is in balance.” Now imagine that throughout your whole day, people are adding to your tray. It gets fuller and fuller and harder and harder to keep steady. When you think you’ve got just about all you can handle, one more person comes by and puts a teeny-tiny Dixie cup of water on the tray and **KERPLOOSH!** Everything goes flying. Glasses. Water. The tray ends up on the ground. But it was just one teeny-tiny Dixie cup? How could it create such a calamity?
My insightful friend pointed out that this is what first grade is like. As my son went through his day, his metaphorical tray was getting loaded up. And all it took was me adding my little Dixie cup for him to buckle under all that pressure.
As we grow up, we get better at stacking things on our trays. But we can be so caught up in trying to balance and hold on to everything, that we don’t realize that we’re buckling under the pressure as well. Our arm and hand certainly send signals, but we ignore them, telling ourselves that we can handle the pressure and take on just a little bit more.
Our bodies are very good and sending messages to our brains when we’re in physical or emotional distress. Our stomachs tie up in knots; our heads pound. When we practice mindfulness, we can begin to pay attention to these important cues.
Meditation is a path to mindfulness. It allows us to take time to listen to our bodies so we can learn what we need to attend to. While meditation might seem passive, it is actually quite active. It is simultaneously a stillness and an awakening. Meditation does not have to be complicated but it requires a commitment.
So as you go through your day, make the commitment to becoming a bit more mindful. That way, you can adjust accordingly to avoid upending your tray.
Join me this Saturday, 9/27, noon-2pm, at The Awakening Center for a meditation workshop. Registration is required and the fee is $20. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.
Also, I will be starting a weekly meditation group in October. Visit and “Like” The Awakening Center’s Facebook page or check back here for details as they come!
Monday, September 15, 2014
As a famous Psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “When your only tool is a hammer, all problems start to look like nails.”
Imagine a carpenter who only had one tool – a hammer. If you hired this carpenter to hang pictures, the carpenter would pull out the hammer and do a fine job. But what if you asked the carpenter to shorten the legs of a table. When the carpenter pulled out the hammer, you would wonder why? And if you allowed the carpenter to use the hammer to shorten the table legs, the table would probably be ruined.
The same is true with our Eating Disorder. When our only tool is eating (or starving, purging, overexercising, counting calories etc etc etc ), we have to rely on this tool for everything that happens in our life. We get a promotion – Eat! Have a fight with your sister – Eat! Your cat dies – Eat! Nothing to do on a Friday night – Eat! I know you get the picture!
So what happened? Why do we only have 1 tool in our toolbox? There are four reasons why Eating (or starving etc) became our only tool.
1) If we continually use a tool, the tool stays at the top of the toolbox. After a while, we forget how to use the other tools we have. For example, you don’t have to risk asserting yourself if you continually numb out angry feelings by eating.
2) There may have been basic tools that we never learned – our families couldn’t teach us what they didn’t know. For example, if no one in your family ever spoke up and asserted themselves, you may not have learned how to do this.
3) On the other hand, our family may have taught us some pretty dysfunctional tools that don’t work very well at all. For example, if you learned that if people loved you they would just “know” what is bothering you , you would try to make people read your mind rather than telling them what you need or want.
4) This reason is going to contradict what I just said above. Even though I say Eating (starving, etc.) is our only tool – we actually have lots of tools. We are already good at problem solving, compassion, reassurance, kindness, and many, many others. It’s just that we use these tools for other people, and don’t use them for ourselves. We may say we don’t deserve to treat ourselves in a positive way.
It is possible to learn new tools and un-learn old dysfunctional tools. With practice the new tools will become familiar and become our “go to” coping tool. And if we stop using Eating (starving, etc) as a tool to deal with everything that happens in life, this tool with sift to the bottom of the toolbox. And if you don’t use this tool, eventually using Eating (starving, etc) will be foreign to us as well.
If you would like to learn 10 Recovery Tools to put in your Recovery Toolbox, please join Nutritionist Michel Harris and I on Saturday 9/20/14 from 12:300-4:30pm.
For more information, please click link below.
Amy is the Director of The Awakening Center – which she Founded 20 years ago! She has over 30 years of personal recovery experience!
For more information: http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=db1fc7da-7bdd-441e-bf4c-0a3a1319424c&c=8f179bf0-1f0a-11e3-85e8-d4ae527b8053&ch=4133a600-2994-11e4-9282-d4ae529cde13
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
In celebration of The Awakening Center’s 20th year, let’s take a look back at how the practice got started and how it’s grown over the decades.
In 1994, Amy Grabowski, LCPC, ATR, worried about a trend she saw in the Chicago area. Hospital eating disorder programs were shutting down, and as a practicing therapist, she was concerned about the lack of resources for clients. Amy was in recovery herself and felt tremendous gratitude for the lifesaving care she had received. Her goal was to pay it forward, but her options became limited as community resources were scarce. At that point, Amy decided to do something about the shortage of services, and in September 1994, The Awakening Center was born.
Inspired by Eastern philosophy, Amy wanted to create a therapeutic environment where clients could experience an awakening to their true selves. Amy opened a practice with a space that allowed for individual and group therapy, and she quickly added a nutritionist and other therapists who could complement her work. What she lacked in business acumen she made up for in passion. Her mission was clear—provide quality services to people struggling with eating disorders.
However, eating disorders do not exist in a vacuum and are often accompanied—or even triggered—by anxiety, depression, trauma, and other stressors or conditions. Additionally, the clients struggling with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder were no longer middle class, white, young women. Eating disorders had seeped into other communities, and Amy and her team had to learn about the dynamics involved in treating men, members of the LGBTQ community, and culturally diverse clients.
As the need for services increased, in 2007, The Awakening Center had quite a growth spurt. Amy hired additional staff, including a yoga therapist with more than 20 years’ experience. Amy did not lose sight of her original mission though—to provide quality care to those struggling with eating disorders—and her experience taught her that the best way to do this was to take a holistic approach, which included body-centered work. The therapists who joined The Awakening Center have varied yet complementary points of view and approaches, reflecting the diverse makeup of the clients. While each therapist sees her own clients, they are still a team and seek advice and counsel from one another to provide the best services possible.
The move to The Awakening Center’s current location in Lakeview also occurred in 2007. The building has been in the owner’s family for many years, and she treats it like an heirloom. Amy attributes much of The Awakening Center’s success to the positive energy in the building. The regard for and love of the physical space has permeated into the practice, and The Awakening Center has become Amy’s heirloom.
The practice has continued to grow—more therapists have joined while others have moved on. The Awakening Center has become the crown jewel for graduate interns. Amy and her staff facilitate workshops in the community and at universities. The Awakening Center is represented at college health and wellness fairs.
The team members continue to expand their knowledge and develop their individual skills. Amy likes to think of The Awakening Center’s staff as well-balanced orchestra. Each instrument adds depth and beauty to the whole without overshadowing the others. And like an orchestra that does not limit itself to only one particular type of work, The Awakening Center will continue to grow, embrace new challenges, and remain solidly rooted as a beacon of hope and reminder that recovery is possible. When it comes to treating eating disorders, anxiety, depression, or whatever brings someone through door, one size does not fit all. The Awakening Center’s staff will meet clients where they are and help them find their own awakening.
Written by Nancy Hall, MA. Nancy is the newest staff member to join The Awakening Center's team and will be hosting a meditation workshop on September 27. She will be starting a weekly meditation group October 21, 2014. To reserve a spot at the workshop, email email@example.com.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
There is a lot of sadness and a lot to be said with Robin Williams’ death. There is a lot of sadness with any actor or public figure’s death. These are the people who achieve a certain expertise that some of us do not give them credit for. They become the canvas for us to reflect our emotions and feelings. They are the people who remind us of our humanity in a way that no others can. The emotional catharsis that actors must be able to accomplish is a feat and I can only imagine how exhausting it can be having to know, understand, and hold so many feelings for the world to see. Many people rely on, and almost cling to that expression of emotion because we find ourselves incapable of it.
The tragic passing of Robin Williams has brought to light an issue that many of us deem necessary to talk about: open communication of mental and emotional health. Some people will not find this topic a necessary thing to discuss, even edging on the point of preferring not to associate themselves with the topic. The funny thing is that more people than we know struggle with these kinds of issues. It is only until they are open, and the stigma sets in, that mental and emotional health change one person’s perception of another. All of a sudden every action is irrational, every feeling imbalanced, and every word nonsense.
I have been struggling with Depression since I was seven, Bulimia and Overeating Disorder since I was seventeen, and was diagnosed with Anxiety and Alcohol Dependency just recently. It wasn’t until I was hospitalized three months ago for suicidal ideations that I started being open about the struggles in my life. Oddly enough, while I found that some people were adverse to my newfound honestly, a lot of people I know struggle with similar issues or know someone else who struggles with similar issues and I have found support in them.
While Robin Williams played many iconic roles, one in particular comes to mind. For some people it is the witty wish-granting Genie or the faithful father disguised as one Mrs. Doubtfire. Possibly you see him as a mentor and a friend who will push you to your potential like his portrayal of Sean Maguire. You may even see him as the man who would risk life, death, and dreams for love. These are but a few of the many great roles he portrayed and we all have our favorites. Not going to lie, I thought he was amazing in Insomnia. The role I am referring to though is John Keating from Dead Poets Society.
As Mr. Keating, Robin Williams taught audiences to love poetry, to love LOVE, and to seize the day. “Carpe Diem.” He inspired us to live extraordinary lives. But what is an extraordinary life without understanding and sympathizing with the plights of others? Why conform to the norm of today and only show the parts of yourself that you for some reason consider more worthy? We struggle enough with the masks that people put on us. We struggle with the limitations people set and the expectations people have of us. We are in a time where we have the tools at our disposal to create a positive environment to discuss these things, yet instead we choose to hide. We choose fear of rejection or embarrassment, over love. Carpe Diem. Seize the Day. Seize one another. Seize yourself.
The only people who know the intimate details of Robin Williams’ struggles are those closest to him. It still breaks the hearts of millions who felt close to him because his every performance transcended the screen or the stage and brought us honesty and clarity. We can honor him with quotes and sentiments, but we can also promise to be whoever we are, however we are, and embrace others. Actors adopt a type of honesty that few people understand. Considering in a way that we are all actors, now more than ever, we should listen more carefully for the things each of us are trying to convey and encourage free expression.
Rest in Peace, Robin Williams. You are a great man and truly an inspiration to many.
Reprinted with permission from http://murphygrace.tumblr.com/post/94517559389/i-still-dont-want-to-believe-it-thank-you-robin
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Nurturing the New You
by Dr. Mari Richko
If you are committed to change, replace the hard-headed discipline with self-compassion.
Yoga practitioners have been practicing self-compassion for some time, but psychologists have only begun to test the wisdom of this approach. The evidence, so far, is clear: self- compassion dramatically improves your chances of making a change for the good.
A self-critical approach to change – including self-judgment, fear, shame, and guilt – reflects what is called avidya “incorrect understanding” or asmita “false identification.” Basically, you are mistaking the behavior you want to change for who you are, rather than seeing it for what is it – a pattern or habit that is not serving you.
Think of the mind as a brilliant gem, a diamond. Over a lifetime, that shiny diamond gets dirty, dusty, coated over by conditional thoughts and the experiences we have. Yoga is the process of cleaning the mind and whatever is blocking the inner light – the part of you that does not need to be fixed, controlled, or perfected.
When your inner critic starts up while you’re holding a pose, notice how you feel in your body and mind. Then choose a more compassionate response. For example, if you are berating yourself for not being flexible enough in a pose, remember the pose is meant to gradually improve your flexibility, not force you into perfection overnight.
Unfortunately, there is a strong belief that we need self-criticism to motivate us. Meaning “If I am not hard on myself, I will let myself get away with everything.”
Think about self-compassion in a different way : being kind and supportive with yourself when you are confronting personal weaknesses, challenges, and setbacks.
Self-compassion goes beyond self-acceptance. It has an active element of caring, and wanting the best for yourself. It means saying to yourself “I want to heal, to be happy, to be healthy, and knowing that sometimes requires making a change”
The Bhagavad Gita, one of yoga’s most sacred scriptures, offers advice on how to stick to your resolve even when you efforts are less than perfect:
Actions truly born of one’s nature, even if they contain fault, should not be relinquished. For all undertakings are covered by some fault, just as fire is covered by smoke.
*at a deep level, even actions that are motivated by your best resolves are marred my imperfections, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. When you invest yourself in the actions you’re meant to perform, you are naturally more tolerant of your imperfections. Step by step, you recognize that you are making your way toward a clearer mind and more tranquil heart.
What’s the ultimate lesson here? When you think of changes you’d like to make in your life, think of them with self-compassion. Remember that being kind to yourself will give you the strength to change for the good.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Acceptance Does Not Mean Resignation
Every day, we are bombarded with messages that cultivate dissatisfaction with our lives and selves. Our culture valorizes a particular type of achievement, and we’re told not to “settle” for second best. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and being ambitious. But what do we do with ourselves in the meantime? Are we not OK until we have that prestigious job or perfect body?
We tend to confuse “acceptance” with “resignation.” Acceptance becomes equated with settling for less or giving up. “I’ll never stop eating.” “I’ll never find a partner.” “I’ll be alone forever.”
Acceptance means simply acknowledging the reality of a situation. Accepting the job you have today does not mean that your career has come to a screeching halt. Accepting that you’ve had to downsize to a small apartment does not mean that you’re stuck in your hovel forever. But why, then, does this all become so messy? Why do we resist? And why do we resort to self-blame or judgment?
Acceptance of Relationships
Think about your relationships with your family of origin, partner, friends, or coworkers. How much time do you spend wishing the relationships were different? How often are you disappointed or even heart-broken when the same scripts play over and over. By accepting the relationships as they are, we can calm this inner battle and alleviate some of our suffering. If your parent can be counted on to make a snide comment about your body, then you can plan and respond more effectively.
Acceptance does not mean we’re giving people permission to mistreat or abuse us. In fact, it’s just the opposite--we’re letting go of a fantasy and turning our energy inward toward self-protection and making decisions with clear eyes.
Most of our relationships are a mix of good and bad. Acceptance helps us put the “bad” in context so we can focus on the good aspects. We can also then set realistic expectations of our friends and family. If we accept that our mother loves to boil vegetables to within an inch of their lives, then we won’t be disappointed when she serves us pasty zucchini. Or perhaps we can offer to bring the side dish!
Acceptance of Our Bodies and Emotions
Given the messages we constantly receive about how our bodies “should” look, acceptance of our physical appearance can be tough. But it’s true--we don’t have to hate our bodies. We can accept our curves, our knobby knees, our weird toes no matter what the magazines say. When we don’t--when we tell ourselves we can’t be happy until we look a certain way--then we’re sending ourselves a message of self-hatred. If we need to make changes for our health, self-hatred does not help that process, in fact, it hinders it.
It can be difficult to let go of the fantasy of the “perfect body.” But genetics jumps in with its own plan, often conflicting with our ability to precisely sculpt ourselves. Accepting that our DNA has come together to form us as we are helps us appreciate all the intricacies of our body. Our form is the the visual representation of our family history. We carry the eyes, ears, noses, skin tones, hips, thighs, bellies, and so forth of generations that came before us, so our bodies are precious and deserve our tender loving care.
Emotions can be just as challenging to accept. We’re often told how we should feel and we can then become disconnected with our own emotional experience. We resist the tears that well up; we deny anger when our hands shake. We resist grief when we think we should just “get over” a painful loss.
We’re all born with a range of sensitivities and tender spots. Denying our vulnerabilities does not protect us from being hurt. And negating our strengths diminishes our spirits. The sadness, anger, or fears do not just go away quietly as we white knuckle through a difficult moment. The emotion inevitably returns with more intensity than before.
Acceptance is not a final destination but rather a process. When we connect with our own compassion and curiosity, we’re able to acknowledge an experience, thought, or feeling without judgment. We gain perspective and objectivity to see nuances previously hidden behind self-blame and resistance. Acknowledging that we’re stuck helps pry us loose.
So take a deep breath and dip a toe in the waters of acceptance. Pick something small and see how it feels to say “I accept ____ just as it is.” Once you’ve had some practice, move on to more vulnerable areas. Note emotions that churn and keep breathing. Let the judgmental thoughts float by like clouds, reminding yourself that your value remains constant no matter how much you weigh, where you work, or what your relationship status is.
Acceptance is a gift of kindness; take it in and enjoy!
Nancy is in the Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Northeastern IL University in Chicago. She is currently a graduate intern at The Awakening Center.