Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Toxic Friendship": A Poem by HJ

It's hard to understand how an eating disorder takes hold--how seductive it can be. One of our clients has written the following poem that beautifully describes how this "toxic friend" works its way into the heart. She has graciously given us permission to share. Special thanks to HJ.

Toxic Friendship

Lower and lower,
Into the abyss
Without even knowing.
Power and control--
All corrupt.
That's how it starts.
It feeds on insecurity.
An insidious disease
That pretends
To be your friend.
Its gift is the needlepoint pillow:
"You can never be too rich
Or too thin."

People reach out
To keep you from falling--
But you push them away.
You don't need them,
You already have a friend.
And so it goes,
This game of numbers.

One day you get up
Only to fall down.
The game is no longer fun.
So you grasp the hands
Reaching out to you--
As you realize
It was never your friend

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

TAC Book Review: Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

(2010 ISBN 9781439177785 Publisher Atria Books)

 By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

The first time I saw Portia de Rossi was on the TV show “Ally McBeal.” Wildly popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I never really got into it. None of the characters seemed real to me—everyone was kind of cartoonish. The addition of Portia de Rossi to the cast apparently sent shockwaves into the series. She played Nelle, a buttoned-up ice queen with her blonde hair squeezed up in a tight bun. But Nelle evolved and showed her sexier side, modeling underwear and freeing her tightly bound golden locks.

What viewers didn’t see was de Rossi’s off-screen suffering. Her anxiety about appearing on TV in just a bra and panties. Her panic about not fitting into the wardrobe provided. Unbearable Lightness reveals a life of struggles—from the loss of her father, to her battle with eating disorders, and shame over her sexual identity.

De Rossi’s memoir does not shield the readers from the details of her eating disorder behaviors. She graphically describes binges and purges. She talks candidly about her quest to eat as few calories as possible and her compensatory behaviors to offset what she did consume. This book is not for the squeamish or the easily triggered.

Eating disorder behavior is very isolating and shame-filled. Sufferers engage alone and then describe feeling “disgusting,” “ashamed,” “mortified,” and so forth. Because of de Rossi’s willingness to spell out it alarming detail the specifics of her behaviors, she confronts that shame and rejects isolation. It’s like she’s telling her readers, hey, I know what you do in the darkness and you’re not alone. I’ve done it too. It’s going to be OK.

As we so often tell our clients, eating disorders are not about food, exercise, and weight. And de Rossi’s story illustrates that as well. As a young adult, she knew she was a lesbian. But she could not come out and tried to bury her identity. Then, once she became famous in the U.S., she felt even more pressure to hide her true self. And this shame—this sense of feeling flawed and unnatural—provided fuel to the eating disorder fire.

Unbearable Lightness describes de Rossi’s eating disorder, but the real story is in how she connected with her true self—the person she was born to be. Through that exploration, she has been able to recover and find peace.

I recommend Unbearable Lightness if you are solid in your recovery. As noted earlier, the details could be triggering. If you’re just starting your journey, then perhaps you could read (or listen to the audiobook) with your therapist or support group.

Crisply written, de Rossi’s candor is oddly shocking and reassuring. She has crafted a memoir that offers hope without easy answers, inspiration without quick fixes.

Keep reading!

If you're interested in purchasing this book, visit Women and Children First Bookstore's website for details on how to order. A phenomenal Chicago independent bookstore, since 1979, W&CF has been been a great place to explore books from local writers, feminists, LGBT authors, and political activists. Their selection of children's books is unparalleled.  Next time you're in Chicago, head on up to Andersonville and tell them the staff at The Awakening Center sent you!

Nancy is a Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center. She sees clients individually and facilitates the DBT group, two meditation groups, and an ED therapy group. You can reach her at 773.929.6262 ext. 17 or at

Monday, June 20, 2016

Meditation Monday: Lessons from a Busted AC

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates two weekly meditation groups at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

The air conditioning at The Awakening Center has not been working for nearly two weeks. And when I say not working, I mean dead, kaput, get out the bugle and play “Taps.” And it’s been hot here in Chicago. Needless to say, my reaction to this hasn’t been the most gracious.

I actually like summer. But I do not like to be hot indoors. There is something about it that makes me feel sort of cornered. It’s hard to describe. I get antsy and distracted. I fantasize about driving around with the AC on max. I look for a reason to go to a grocery store so I can loiter in the frozen foods section. Being outside in hot weather is different from being inside. It just is.

I know—first-world problem. I have lived without AC and survived it just fine. But it took a recent group and time with my clients to help me gain some perspective and get my sweaty head out of my own…well, you know.

During the most recent meditation group, the window was open and fans were on high. Birds sang as I led the group through a progressive relaxation. As we processed the meditation, one participant noted how once her eyes were closed, she felt like a kid again. The gentle whirring of the fans and the street sounds took her back to summertime from her childhood. Days spent playing and then napping when the heat became overwhelming. She remembered lying on the couch, pulling her hair up off her neck, hoping for a little relief.

These were not days without stress or worry. But she was able to connect to moments of presence. When time seemed to stand still as the sweat rolled down her temple. To a time when acceptance was the only option when it came to summer heat.

I realized then that fighting the heat just made me feel more uncomfortable. The more I worried about my melting makeup, my sagging humidity-laden hair, or whether I put on enough deodorant, the more disconnected I became. Yes, it’s been hot and stuffy and sticky and stinky—all of that. But so what. It’s also been vibrant and alive—which is wonderful.

Oh, and a new AC is on its way thank goodness!

Enjoy your practice.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Meditation Monday: Accepting the Unexpected

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates two weekly meditation groups at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

We all know the stereotype of a meditation practice—sitting with pretzel legs, eyes closed, palms on knees with middle finger touching the thumb. And that is a perfectly fine way to meditate. But for those who don’t think they can sit too long in that position, there are plenty of other options. Take, for instance, a tea meditation.

A meditation focusing on tea can take many forms. The idea is to mindfully attend to each step along the way—boiling the water, listening to the sound the water makes as you pour it into the cup, feeling the warmth, watching the tea steep, inhaling the aroma, savoring the taste. Each step stimulates a different sense.

And you can have some fun with the tea options. In a recent meditation group at The Awakening Center, we sat and mindfully watched Peach Momotaro blossoming tea as it unfurled in hot water. Well, sort of.

As the group leader, I wanted the experience of watching the tea bloom to be awe-inspiring. I imagined the participants being moved by the display. Needless to say, my anxiety was triggered when the tea didn’t cooperate. The tea bundles floated for a while … kind of looking like dead fish. It took all my will power to not start poking at them or jostling the vessel.

Eventually, they began to painfully slowly open up. And they were pretty. Just not spectacular.

 And that was OK. The joy of the meditation was finding our patience and acceptance. The purpose was to provide a focal point and sensory experience for the participants—not to impress them with my miraculous tea display. The light fragrance was wonderful and the peach flavor was subtle but enjoyable.

Once I let go of my own expectations, I was able to admire the blossoms as they were. Experiences like a tea meditation help us let go and accept the beauty in how things are—not as we wish they would be.

Enjoy your practice.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Sowing the Seeds of Recovery

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

Gardening can be both extremely satisfying and utterly maddening. Seeds are sown with boundless hope. Sprouts are celebrated, nurtured, and tended. Exhaustive reading and research reveals how much sun is needed, when to water, when to transplant, how to protect against pests, when/if to fertilize. We can do everything according to the best gardening guides…and come up with nothing.

So why do we bother? Because we also might be rewarded with a bounty—herbs, berries, vegetables. So much, that we end up calling friends and family members: “Do you guys want some tomatoes?” “How about some cucumbers?” We then turn our researching skills to canning and preserves.

Even when our harvest is disappointing, though, gardening provides us with a chance to engage with our surroundings in a different way. The smell of the soil. The feeling of the soft earth. The tender way we handle seedlings.

Gardening can also help us learn to let go of expectations and control. We have to find satisfaction in each step along the way. We learn to tolerate disappointment and frustration. We also learn to receive and trust joy and satisfaction when efforts are rewarded.

The Awakening Center is starting a gardening group to help participants address their eating disorder recovery in an experiential and symbolic way. Each group session will center on a recovery theme that relates to the stage of our plants. For example, in our first meeting we will prepare our pots for planting. As we paint our pots, we will discuss what it means in our recovery to create a safe space for ourselves.

Other themes will include setting physical and emotional boundaries, nurturing our plants and ourselves, flexibility and patience as our plants and our recovery grows, and connection to the earth and to others. Through these topics, we hope to tap into meaningful processing and skill building.

If you’d like to join this group or if you want more information, you can contact Sheana Tobey at

Monday, April 18, 2016

Meditation Monday: The Toxic “What if?”

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates two weekly meditation groups at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

When my son was little, he was full of questions. Most of them started with “What if?” “What if dinosaurs could be brought back to life?” “What if trucks could fly?” “What if dogs could talk?” He asked these types of questions so often that the “What if?” became “Whuf?” “Whuf it snows tomorrow?” “Whuf worms had ears?”

I loved his unending sense of curiosity and wonder. As adults, we’re often inclined to ask our own “What if?” questions. But much of the time, we’re less curious and more worried or even accusatory. “What if I eat that cookie and can’t stop?” “What if I get fat?” “What if I am unlovable?”

Whereas my son’s “Whuf?” questions seemed contained and information driven (do worms actually have ears?), our “What ifs?” are more sinister. We don’t seem to be seeking an answer. Instead we’re going down the rabbit hole that gets darker and darker.

When a client starts down this path, I like to stop and actually try to answer the question. What if you can’t stop eating cookies? What does that really mean? Do you mean you might eat 2 instead of your carefully allotted 1? Who says you’re allowed only 1? What if you’re hungry for 2?

Or do you mean you’ll eat the whole package if you allow yourself just 1? If so, there is something to be explored there. No crime. Nothing to feel guilty about. But a signifier that pain is present. Does eating the package of cookies provide distraction from emotional suffering?

By answering the “What if?” question, we can get to the root of the fear that triggers the next “What if?”

The toxic “What ifs?” are usually asked by one of our Parts—the Bully who is preparing you for the worst-case scenario. Or the Exile who is simply terrified. But through the compassion and curiosity of Self, you will most likely find that the answer to the “What if?” is not nearly as scary as you thought.

Enjoy your practice.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Communing with Your Inner Wise One

"White Buddha Praying" by Laura Lian
 By Erin Stitzel Selover, MA, LPC

“Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior. You are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise. You are the love and joy beneath the pain”.—Eckhart Tolle
Imagine for a moment it is the night before a deadline, you didn’t set aside enough time to work on your project, and now you won’t be prepared in the way you would prefer. What thoughts do you experience as you consider this situation? Perhaps your inner Critic would very vocal: “You’re so lazy. How could you have done this? Well it’s pretty typical, actually. You are such a faker. You should just give up”.

If your Critic is loud enough, your inner Child might become engaged, spurring her into an anxious spin. She may think, “Oh no! What is going to happen? I am going to be the laughing stock! Everyone will see that I AM just a faker. I am so scared!”

Perhaps this provokes another part of you who wants to save the day but is out of balance so can’t suggest the most sound ideas. Perhaps this panicked Rescuer says, “Just call in sick! Don’t go! Make something up! Just save yourself!!” You can imagine how crippling these thoughts could be and how awful you could feel if you listen to them. When we get so caught up in the false messages we receive from different parts of ourselves, it is very difficult to center and move forward in the best way. 

Now imagine this same scenario, the eve of a presentation that you just did not sufficiently prepare for. However, this time you hear from your inner Wise One. What might this sound like? Perhaps your Wise One would say, “Well you definitely didn’t prepare as much as you could have, however, slow down and take a moment to review what you already know about this subject. Is there anything you can do to pull together some key ideas?” Perhaps your Critic is then more in balance and acts more as a Manager. It may say, “Is there a way to frame your presentation so that your audience is more involved and contributes their ideas? It may not be your best work, but moving forward you can manage your time differently.” Your Rescuer may then say, “Why don’t you shift this into a workshop format and have your participants map out solutions?” This could leave your Child part feeling safer, thinking “That could be great, and people could feel a part of the creative process!”

This would all feel a lot different from the situation described above. You would be just as prepared (or under-prepared), yet you would go into your presentation feeling far more grounded and stable, and you could even come out of it feeling inspired and successful. The difference? Your thoughts! Your inner dialogue can be just that powerful.   

This may sound great, and most likely anyone would prefer the second scenario. So, how does one go about it? How can you soften the messages you receive and center yourself in the space of your Wise One? One of the best ways is to simply commune daily with your Wise One.

All of your parts--the Critic/Manager, the Rescuer/Panic part, the Child--are like your own inner tribe. A tribe runs more smoothly and peacefully when a leader is present. The tribe needs to know and be familiar with the leader to trust their guidance. If the leader rarely shows up and is inconsistent, the tribe is less inclined to respond with respect and won’t particularly experience safety. When the leader is ever-present and provides guidance, instruction and comfort, then the tribe is going to respond in kind. Communing daily with your Wise One—your tribe leader—can help your parts begin to work together in harmony, instead of inadvertently wreaking havoc on your thoughts, system, and responses. 

A great way to start communing with your Wise One is to choose a time of day when you are already feeling calm. If you are a visual person, it can be helpful to assign an image to your Wise One. You may respond to sound or color and can think of your Wise One in this way. It could also be helpful to envision someone from your life as a stand-in for your Wise One. Do you have a relative, friend, or teacher who is very calming and grounding to you? Let them represent your Wise One! Really, whatever works for you and can help you connect to this concept of inner calm is perfect.

So take a moment, close your eyes, and picture this Wise One. Imagine that your Wise One exudes love and acceptance, believes in you, and wants you to be happy and to succeed. You could just sit and bask in this energy, or you could imagine yourself having a conversation with your Wise One. If you start to notice any of your parts getting activated in this exercise, just try to calmly acknowledge them and let them know you will get back to them after you spend a few minutes with this benevolent energy. This can be tricky in the beginning. Remember, your inner tribe may not yet trust this leader. Over time, the presence of your Wise One will feel more natural, and eventually all of your parts will be more willing to work with the system, for good.

Erin Stitzel Selover is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works with individuals and groups. She believes in helping clients access their own inner strength and wisdom and strives to accompany them on that journey of exploration and discovery.