Thursday, December 31, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Finding Your Tribe

Originally published on 12/10/2014

By Erin Diedling, M.Ed, LCPC

Recently, I was invited to a retreat. I didn't know anyone attending, including the hosts who invited me. I knew very few of the details, and after I booked my travel arrangements the dates were changed. It was getting weird. At that point, I thought about not going. But my gut said “GO.” I checked in again and considered the outcome of going versus not going. It still said “GO GO GO!” Now I know why. Something about this group of strangers gathering to focus upon spirit and to heal together pulled at me.
            This group of healers were from around the globe, and each brought a special unique healing gift. All the gifts were different. We exchanged modalities and taught each other. At the meditation center, we sat under the majestic redwood trees and exchanged stories until late at night. It’s still unfolding. The relationships, transformation, and the experiences that were shared. The sense of belonging and connectedness. It was profound. My spirit got giddy to be around this group. We stay in touch and feed each other with strength and connection. It’s like push pins on a globe that light up when we video chat.
            Then I came home and was so excited to share the transformation with my colleagues and clients. I realized I had a work tribe. I get to work with a crew of unbelievably talented practitioners. We get excited to see each other in the halls and trade stories and support each other’s work. It’s kinda magical.
            I’m blessed. I have a tribe. I have many tribes.
            So often in our work at The Awakening Center with complex trauma, eating disorders, high anxiety, and so forth, clients are isolated. The biggest difficulties many of my clients face are loneliness and isolation. People can experience that in a crowd or at home alone. I know that seeking company is risky for some. It can be uncomfortable. And I’ll admit, I can be an extrovert when I want to (or when I need to be). Introverts can have a tough time taking advice from an extrovert because their fear is overlooked. I want to acknowledge your fear. It’s risky. You can get hurt. There’s a deep longing to connect without the means or the understanding of how.
            So I will ask, where are the invites? Is there an interest you have that pulls at you. Is there and alumni organization, cultural club, business group, and on and on?
            I urge clients and friends to seek out their tribes when they’re feeling lost. Author and spiritual leader Rob Bell said, “If you’re feeling your world is too small or if you’re feeling stuck, then make your world bigger.”
            Is there a tribe that is inviting you? Is there a tribe that calls you? If you have to convince or campaign for it, it’s probably not your tribe.
            Or, consider the tribes that are inviting you. Are they appealing to you? Do they freak you out and make you want to run? Probably not your tribe. Sometimes it’s like the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the Ugly Duckling. He can’t see its own beauty. He thinks he’s a duck who looks different from other ducks. It takes a couple of mated beautiful swans to initiate the naïve swan into the tribe. “Look at you at your grace and talent, where have you been, we’ve missed you, come swim with us.”
            Sometimes our biological families are our tribes. Other times we create a family out of friends, coworkers, places of common interest, the art studio, volunteer organizations, places of worship, or institutions of learning.
            Please respond, and let people reading this blog know where you find and have found your tribe. Where do you get a sense of belonging? And how do you invite others to join in? Thanks for reading this. I’m grateful for your participation.

Erin is Director of Trauma Healing and Sr. Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center. She completed an advanced 3 year training with Somatic Experience Trauma Institute (SETI). She does body-centered psychotherapy, teaches meditation, and leads the Somatic Experience–informed trauma group at The Awakening Center. She periodically teaches her signature Design Your Life Workshop. She specializes in treating complex trauma, eating/anxiety disorders as well performers and artists. Erin dances, paints, and writes in Chicago. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Meditation Monday: A Story Left

 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 a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

In the Tuesday night meditation group, I like ending the practice with a poem. I feel like this gives the right brain a little bit extra to chew on even when the meditation is over. In the most recent group, I shared the poem “Deciphering the Alphabet” by Francine Sterle. Descriptions of animal tracks, weather, and terrain remind us that our lives are always changing. This is the good news and the bad news. Whatever is happening now—joy, suffering, pain, happiness—only exists in the present and will eventually become something different. Perhaps the joy will become deeper. Or hopefully the pain will subside. But the sweet may turn bitter.

This is the double-edged sword that can both encourage and undermine hope. We do have a say in this process though. We are not simply passively waiting to see what shape our experience will take. Our suffering can either deepen or be relieved because of our choices.

About halfway in the poem is this stanza that I was particularly struck by: 
Everything that moves leaves a story. No story
            can exist by itself.
 Upon the first reading, I misread the first sentence as “Everything that moves has a story.” But notice Sterle uses the word leaves.

This critical stanza places the impermanence of nature within a context—we are not alone. Everything that moves—which is, well, everything—leaves traces or remnants. Our actions affect others—thus the importance of the word leaves.

Our experience of meditation parallels this poem. It differs each time we close our eyes and begin deeply breathing; and the practice may change from moment to moment. But with it, we also create and then leave a story.

As you move through our life, what story do you wish to leave?

Enjoy your practice.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What is Recovery? Part 1

by Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

I am often asked by my clients, “Is an eating disorder a lifelong illness? Will I ever be better? Will I ever stop thinking about food, eating and weight?”

When I first started my recovery from eating disorders more than 30 years ago, I read everything I could get on the subject. Often, I came across the opinion that eating disorders were lifelong illnesses that could only be controlled and not cured. I went to a 12-step support group that preached that I was ill and would have this illness for the rest of my life; my only hope was lifelong abstinence. This made me feel hopeless and I would think, “Well why bother even trying to recover if I am going to have this for the rest of my life?”

(I have to admit that I didn’t meet another person who had recovered from an eating disorder for several years after I started my struggle to recover. The whole time there was a nagging feeling that I was trying to buck the odds.)

There are two halves to recovery: one half represents making peace with food, eating, weight and the body; the other half represents finding your Self and making peace with your Parts. Having completely recovered from my eating disorder, I can now say that it is possible to recover fully if (and this is a big “IF”) the underlying issues that caused the eating disorder to begin with are addressed and resolved through therapy.

Now there’s the hurdle! Some people get to the point where their food is under “control” and decide that they are recovered, even though they have to “control” it each and every day. They may or may not be aware of some vague feeling of not being at ease with themselves: inner emptiness; lack of sense of identity (“Who am I?”); a feeling of being directionless and lost in life; unresolved anger, anxiety, depression; or a deep unrelenting loneliness and despair that they cover up with their new “control” over food. If one considers this to be “recovered” then yes, eating disorders are lifelong illnesses.

If you fix only one half of your recovery--the eating, food, and weight half--then you will always be tense, on edge, rigid, strained, and uncomfortable. Eating will always be a struggle. To feel what I mean, put your hands together so that your fingertips are touching and your fingers are curved, like you are holding a large softball. (See Figure 1-1.) Pay attention to how this feels. How long could you hold your hands like this? Most people find it comfortable, fairly easy to do. Both hands can relax because they support each other.
Figure 1-1

Now, keeping your left hand in the same curved position, take the right hand away (Figure 1-2). Now what do you notice? Without the support of the right hand, your left hand must tense to keep its position. The fingers may start to shake. Are you feeling pressure in your hand or wrist? Tingling? It would be uncomfortable to hold your hand like this for too long.

Figure 1-2
Bring your hands back together again (Figure 1-3). Notice what happens. The left hand instantly relaxes. It becomes easy again because the two hands balance and support each other.

Figure 1-3
The same is true with the two halves of recovery. If you only fix the eating, food, and weight half, you will be tense and uncomfortable. When your Self and your Parts are at peace then eating, food, and weight can be easy and in balance as well. You need both halves of recovery to relax and feel complete.

“But what about relapsing? Don’t I have to be constantly on the lookout for relapsing? Aren’t I at risk for a relapse if something ‘bad’ happens to me?” Well, that’s a good question and one that again does not have a definite answer. Sometimes I compare having an eating disorder to having a broken leg. If I broke my leg I would have a cast put on it until it healed. At that point the cast would be taken off; the bone would be healed. However if the weather was bad, the bone may ache, but I certainly would not put another cast on it. I would probably just be gentle with it, and take care of it.

Because I have discovered my Self and my Parts are at peace, I consider myself totally recovered from my eating disorder. I do not have to think about my food or eating to maintain my weight. If I find myself thinking about these things, I consider it a red flag and I stop and think to myself, “What needs taking care of that I am not taking care of?”

These food thoughts are a friendly reminder that I am not tending to myself. But because I have learned healthy new ways to cope with life’s ups and downs, I care for myself on a regular basis and so food thoughts are rare. Just like my analogy of the broken leg, there are times when the “weather is bad,” and I have to be gentle with myself. I keep a lookout for what I need and find ways to take care of my needs. But I don’t put the “cast” back on and say I have an eating disorder!

“Have you ever been tempted to revert back to old behaviors?” Well to be perfectly honest yes. Since my recovery I have had fleeting thoughts, but I have not acted on them nor have I wanted to. Even when something terrible happened to me, it was not a struggle to maintain my recovery. Why? Because the underlying issues that caused my eating disorder have been resolved. Inside I no longer feel like the same person I was when I had the eating disorder.

In therapy, if you take a good hard look at what those underlying issues are all about and learn to endure the scariness, discomfort, and anguish of resolving these feelings, then you do not have to use food to cover up these issues. Food becomes, well, food, a non-issue. Food becomes something you eat to fuel your body, nothing more and nothing less. You can enjoy food and eating without being wracked with guilt and self-hatred afterwards. You can eat when you are hungry, eat what you are hungry for, and stop when you are no longer hungry. If one considers this to be recovered then no, eating disorders are not lifelong illnesses.

I will leave it up to you as to whether you consider this a lifelong illness or not. Because ultimately it is up to you as to how far you are willing to take your own recovery. Are you going to stop when your eating is under “control,” or are you going to find the courage to continue until you find your Self and all of the underlying issues are resolved? That will then give you the answer.

If you have comments or questions about this article I would love to hear from you--please make a comment below.

Next week, I’ll write more about the two halves of recovery.

*My thanks to Danielle Meyer, MA in Art Therapy, who posed for these pictures.

Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC is the Founder and Director of The Awakening Center, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. She can be reached at (773) 929-6262 x11 or