Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Capturing Recovery Moments

Capturing Recovery Moments
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

This is the time of the year when most clients reflect upon the past year and make plans for where they want to be in the coming year.  Unfortunately, most clients find themselves feeling discouraged because they aren’t where they think they “should” be in their recovery.  Their critical ‘Part’ tells them they aren’t far enough along or that their progress is too slow.  The Critic, stuck in its all-or-nothing thinking, often sets them up for failure by demanding huge “Momma may I Giant Leaps” of progress: “Starting today we will never make any mistakes and always say the right thing.”  “We will never overeat and will always stick to our diet.”  “We will never leave the house unless we are impeccably groomed and dressed.”  

Clients then complain in therapy, “I don’t think this is working.  I’ve been coming here for two months and I’m still overeating.  In fact talking about all the other stuff seems to be making the eating worse.”  Their Critic says “If you are not completely binge and purge free without effort then you are not recovering.”  The Critic discounts all the small steps of progress towards recovery. 

I encourage my clients at this time to “Capture Recovery Moments” every day.  Greeted with a quizzical look, I explain that every day we are given opportunities to learn about ourselves and about our body and to make small changes that add up to steps of recovery progress.  If we look for and capture these moments our recovery moves forward at a faster pace.  But at the same time I remind my clients, “You can only go as fast as your slowest Part.  Your recovery will take as long as it needs to take.”

I also have to remind them that there are two halves of recovery – the food/eating/ weight half and the thoughts/feelings/moods half.  Both of these halves are important and you cannot make progress in only one without making progress in the other.  This would be like walking using only one foot – you don’t get very far unless the other foot takes steps too.  (Editors note: See Article: “Both Halves of Recovery” from Vol 8 #3, September-December 2002 on our website: 
Capturing recovery moments can be as structured or unstructured as you want it to be.  You can set aside specific time, say an hour before bedtime, to writing in a journal as you reflect upon your day.  Or you could use little “snatches” of time already in your schedule, for example simply practicing relaxation and deep breathing while riding the bus.

One of the goals of capturing recovery moments is to become more mindful and to increase awareness of your body sensations, thoughts and emotions – something I like to call “Noticing the Noticing.”  A simple example: While riding the L home from work, Ellen noticed her shoulders were tense.  While she was noticing her tense shoulders she then noticed that a critical voice yelled at her, “What do you have to be tense about?!  Don’t be such a wimp!”  Usually she would begin to feel worthless at this point but instead she felt surprised at how quickly the yelling began, “I never noticed before that I yell at myself for such inconsequential incidents.”  She wrote this down in her calendar as a reminder to discuss this in her next therapy session.  Even though on the surface it did not appear to be a “Giant Leap” she somehow knew this was a major “A-ha!” moment in her recovery. 

Another goal of capturing recovery moments is to use every difficult situation and every “slip” as an opportunity to learn.  If something happens and you just yell at yourself, learning becomes blocked.  If you can suspend all judgments and criticisms, and allow yourself to step back from the situation or slip, and observe yourself objectively you can learn vast amounts about your Self, body, emotions and relationships.  Once you step back you can ponder, “What was I feeling or thinking before the slip up?  What was I looking for in the moment?  What could I have done differently?  What suggestions would I give to a friend from the ANAD support group?”  You can then apply that learning to the next time a similar situation arises.  If you have trouble or slip up, you simply step back and observe and learn once again. 

Ellen often became anxious in the grocery store and impulsively bought extra food that she didn’t need.  Usually she would get very stern with herself, “You are NOT going to buy any sweets or junk food!  What is wrong with you?!”  Rather than curbing the overbuying, she then bought even more.  

I encouraged Ellen to learn from this difficult situation and look at it not as a failure, but rather an opportunity to learn about herself and grow.  Imagining herself in the grocery store, she described the point at which she noticed the anxiety start.  We were able to connect the anxiety to a young Part of herself who was afraid she was not going to be fed.  This reminded Ellen of times in her childhood when her parents left the children home alone to fend for themselves.  Ellen resorted to eating raw foods because she was too young to cook.  When Ellen yelled at herself for buying sweets, her young Part panicked even more, fearing that her foods were going to be taken from her thus causing the overbuying. 

By looking at the situation without judgment or criticism, Ellen gained compassion for the young Part of herself.  She realized she needed to remind herself that she was no longer a child dependent upon others who were not there for her.  She promised the young Part there would be food for her to eat and she did not need to overbuy.  If in the future she slipped by yelling and overbuying, she knew it to be a reminder to take time before shopping to reassure the young Part again. 


  1. Since writing this blog originally, I have discovered "Mindfulness Bell" an app for your phone. It rings a lovely zen gong randomly - you can set how often you want, even how early or late you want - and when you hear the gong it reminds you to be mindful of the moment - take a breath, relax your body and your mind. This would be a nice reminder to do a recovery moment!

  2. My Thanks to Master's level Intern Jess Heurta for posting articles to the blog!