Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Putting Recovery in Your Own Hands

Putting Recovery on Your Hands
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."

Amy Grabowski

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