Wednesday, December 23, 2009

“Your Holiday Toolbox”

So here we are, smack in the middle of the holiday season- that 6-week period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. How are you doing in this stressful time? Are you reeling from that Thanksgiving dinner and hoping to make it through Christmas unscathed? Are you counting down to when life returns to normalcy? Or are you embracing each challenge that this holiday season brings with quiet determination and clarity of thought?

The New York Times published an article entitled “Duck! It’s the holidays” (by Joyce Walder, Nov 18, 2009) that relates the story of Eric Marcus, a 51-year-old NYC writer who invited his mother to Thanksgiving dinner at his home. Despite the wide array of food prepared by professional cooks that were also guests at this gathering, she complained loudly about the lack of a sweet potato dish. Marcus felt that this was just typical behavior on her part as she often found a way to be disappointed no matter the situation.

“Suddenly I’m 12 years old and we are someplace when she says something inappropriate and embarrassing yet again,” Mr. Marcus said in the article. “All her life, she has a habit of saying negative things.”

Does this sound oh so familiar to you? The holidays, with all their revelry and celebration, are often a minefield of negativity for many families. By merely bringing so many family members together, the holidays often trigger age-old family dynamics that have their roots in childhood. No matter if you are 50 or 15, you might find yourself in that caretaker or mediator or rebel or parent role just one more time.

If you have an eating disorder, the holidays might be so distressing to you that you might find yourself resorting to old and destructive ways of relating to food. There is just something about the magnetic pull of family dynamics that sees many of us engaging in old and unhealthy coping mechanisms that we thought we had grown out of.

For me, I know that whenever I face an interaction with my family, be it a mere phone call, a casual dinner or a Christmas party, I have found it useful to take some active steps to ensure that I can take care of myself should the old triggers reappear. Some steps include:

1) Plan, plan, plan: Prepare for potentially triggering situations by talking about your fears and insecurities with a therapist or with a good friend. You might want to draw up a game plan with several constructive things you can do if a distressing situation occurs. If you have an open and cooperative relationship with your family, you might want to send them an email in advance to politely request that they avoid talking about or doing certain things that might distress you.

2) Fill up your toolbox: You want to bring a variety of coping skills to the family dinner table so that you have healthy alternatives other than what you are so used to doing. You might want to write down several self-care activities that you know will be effective in soothing you- walking a walk, bringing a good book, updating your playlist with your favorite music are all good options. Sometimes, when these aren’t possible (maybe you can’t walk away from the dinner table) taking a good, deep breath helps a ton.

3) Lastly, be kind to yourself. If you do find yourself engaging in old patterns of behavior, try to really let it go and forgive yourself. It is important, when you fall, to recognize the fact that your past efforts and that the holidays are a really difficult time for almost everyone.

So for this holiday season, I wish you a time of healthy eating and healthy thought, and a time of non-judgment and self-acceptance.

Jolene Hwee is a master's level practicum intern from Northwestern University.

* The NYT article can be found at!%20its%20the%20holidays&st=cse&scp=1

Monday, December 14, 2009


What dreary weather! How hectic the stores! And don't even mention traffic! Anne Riley, the art therapy practicum student from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, has hit it right on the head with her blog article: "Un-inspired." Let's see if we can find a little Inspiration to help carry us through the rest of the year.


Amy Grabowski


Un-inspired. How many times has this occurred in one’s life? How is one able to see a way to alter this feeling? How might one’s viewpoint change if un-inspiration takes place? What does the word uninspired even mean? Has all passion been lost when one gets to this point? What is it that makes one un-inspired?
So many questions come to mind; thoughts go circling around and around and still….nothing. How might we come to this place of not having inspiration to do what may be asked of us to do? Could it be pressures in life or stress to find perfection? It seems as though we are searching too hard to find the solution or that “right “ thing that needs to be created or thought of. A strong sense of being stuck comes to our attention and then, more questions arise. It seems as though it is a vicious cycle. We take a walk, we search for answers in the wind, we seek friends and family, we look for signs that could change our behavior or thoughts of being in a lull.
The emotions that come up once we fall from being inspired, are one’s of hopelessness, wonder, and disappointment (along with many others not mentioned). To many of us, it can be a scary thing to have to sit and wonder what could possibly be holding us back from showing our creativity or intelligence or enthusiasm for a particular answer. We tend to beat ourselves up for not having the capability to come up with an explanation for the way in which we go through being un-inspired. When we have needed inspiration, where is that we typically look? Is it others whom we look to or other outside forces besides our self? Whatever or wherever these “answers” to our inspiration may be hiding it makes no difference we just want to know what it is that we may do to find them.
Maybe the reason for being un-inspired to what we would like or need is so we may find ourselves alone. This place isn’t always the top on our list to be, especially a way to find a solution. It is not often that we neither have nor even want the time to simply sit with ourselves; to just be, to just listen to what it is we need. Many times the lack of inspiration comes from us getting out of touch with ourselves. This isn’t always the case, but many times if we look a little bit deeper and sit with ourselves a little bit longer, we find what it is we were looking for.

On the other hand, letting ourselves just be lost in the un-inspired moment is an all right place to be. It isn’t as though we have “thrown in the cards” or given up, but it’s a way to let us see that we will not always have what we need or are looking for and that this may arise from losing touch with our selves. If we could take the pressure off and just sit with whatever it is we need or are feeling, we may be able to find our selves again. The inspiration to achieve what it is we want may take time; sometimes all we need is a little bit of patience to be able to see what it is we really are searching for. Our un-inspired selves will slowly transform back into the creativity and thought that we are capable of having. It is a matter of knowing that we may not always have this at the tip of our fingers (or toes), but to look within ourselves for inspiration to come, no matter the situation.

Anne Riley

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Vision of Healthy Eating

Often times in my sessions with clients I spend a lot of time talking about the idea of normal eating. Everyone has their unique idea of what normal eating is but often times they have a hard time articulating what “normal” looks like. A client of mine who has been trapped in a vicious cycle of eating disorder behaviors for several years felt inspired one evening and wrote the following piece “Vision of Healthy Eating”. When I read this piece for the first time I was taken aback by how vivid her vision is and I felt that many of our clients at The Awakening Center would benefit from her story.

I want to thank this client, who will remain anonymous, for her insight, strength and willingness to share her vision of Healthy Eating.

Thank you,
Jennifer Reiner MS, RD, LD

A Vision of Healthy Eating: A Vision of Fullness

In this vision, my life is full of color and stimulation from people, from my job, from art, from God. In my vision, I feel full, full of fire, full of peace, full of love. I wake up in the mornings rested and hungry for new experiences. I am hungry for love, sex, music, nature, dancing, laughing, crying, hugging, stretching, plunging into water, turning my face toward the sunlight, letting my voice flow out of my mouth joining the music that my friends and I are making. I am full of quiet, full of breath as I look at people I love. My body feels hungry too. I honor my body’s hunger for food--sometimes sweet, salty, sometimes bitter and sharp. I taste green growing things. I sink my teeth into rich grains and meats. I listen to my body as I eat, feel my stomach expand, pay attention to flavors and textures on my tongue. When I eat, I am at home with friends, at the park, sitting at a café. I thank God for sustaining me as I eat. I recognize that just like my life is not perfect, my food will never be perfect. I am honest with myself about what I need when different kinds of needs arise. Sometimes I may eat with exuberance with friends--sometimes I may choose a food simply because it comforts me or reminds me of something or sometime worth remembering. In my vision of healthy eating my body is an equal partner with my soul and I strive to make them work in concert. This is a vision that I am excited to work for day by day.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Holding Hope

Sometimes it is hard to feel hopeful. And when we feel this way, we often only want two things. We want to know that someone in the world knows what's going on in our lives and that they care that this is going on in our lives - in other words, when we feel hopeless they can hold hope for us. Jen Schurman, a Marraige and Family Therapist at The Awakening Center has written a wonderful article, "Holding Hope" that describes this process.

First I want to thank all of you who contributed to the Paulina Station Food Drive last month. We collected 1,600 pounds of food for the Lakeview Pantry. What a caring way to show the hungry people of Chicago that we know what's going on and we care enough to do something about it!

If you didn't have time to contribute, you can simply make a virtual contribution on their website:


Amy Grabowski

Holding Hope
So often the journey I take with clients comes down to the question of hope. There are many times in life when it begins to feel as if things are stacking against us and we begin to question the possibilities of what we truly desire. We find that we are seemingly stuck in the same cycle of dissatisfaction with how our life is going, how we are feeling, the monotony of our days and what we see as our future. We begin to feel trapped in our days rather than anticipating our days. We look at life as just getting through, surviving, or making the best of the situation. This is surely not what is intended for us.
Hope is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “trust, to cherish a desire with anticipation, to desire with expectation of obtainment, to expect with confidence.” In abandoning our sense of hope for ourselves we lose a sense of connection with the driving force leading us to what we long for. In losing hope we lose trust, anticipation, confidence, and a sense of cherishing our lives. If all of these elements are connected to hope how imperative it is that we not only hold it but embrace, seize, and cling to it.
There are certainly times when we seem to be far from the vision we had for ourselves and how easy it can be to resign ourselves to something far less than what was planned for us. I will frequently explore a client’s level of hope and their ability to hold the hope for themselves. Sometimes it is challenging and perhaps I will carry the dream for them for a bit. I cling to the hope that there are great things that await each and every one of us and there are many hopes I fully anticipate my clients finding. So many gifts are waiting: people destined to meet us, work created to fascinate us, passions to explore and countless simple moments to savor.
Embracing hope means holding onto what we desire; not settling, giving in or giving up. Rather giving yourself the permission to hold onto your dreams and anticipate them. Often we are in such a hurry to arrive and experience what we value. We miss the many experiences in the anticipation phase and all that we can learn during this time of waiting. This waiting phase is often characterized as passing the time or just being anxious, while it can really allow us to appreciate the experience even more. It also allows us to realize the importance, significance, and blessings once we finally achieve our hopes.
Realizing our hopes requires us to be open to the opportunities and being courageous enough to trust in the steps along the way. As we move towards our desires we are also frequently given the opportunity to help another fulfill their hope. As we experience our aspirations we can also be an integral part of another’s journey. What was intended for us and our commitment to that then not only affects us but also those around us.
I choose then to cling, cleave and embrace all the hopes I have. “Wouldn’t it be great to find work that uses my talents and interests me?” “Wouldn’t it be amazing to find a connection and relationship that is fulfilling?” “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a family member live around the block?” “Wouldn’t it be fun to have children?” It has been and will be beyond amazing and I only hold the hope for more.
My wish for you this holiday season is that you have the chance to look back on this past year and see what hopes you have realized and continue to cling to the ones that are still in the works. May you have the opportunity to celebrate and delight in all the gifts that were intended and delivered to you this year.
Jennifer Schurman, MA, LPC
(773) 929-6262 x 20

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reversing Self-Abuse

These grey and gloomy days of mid-November can make us prone to a lot of negative self-talk. Erin Diedling, a therapist at The Awakening Center who specializes in the treatment of trauma and abuse has written a very stirring article which she calls "Reversing Self-Abuse". I hope you find it informative and motivating.

Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC


Reversing Self-Abuse
My first passion for psychology stemmed out of an interest in trauma work. And I’m partial to treating adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I have seen an influx of clients lately who are healing from this type of early abuse. When I get an influx of clients handling a particular issue or a particular aspect of a trauma, it can usually indicate that I have something very specific to learn about the bigger picture.

I recently had a realization in working with trauma clients who survived childhood sexual abuse that there is an insidious thing that happens – especially if the perpetrator was any good at what they did. In witnessing the stories and personality cadences of my clients, I saw that the perpetrator’s talent was in teaching the child how to continue to perpetrate the abuse upon herself. It shows up as self-hatred, self-flagellation, criticism, insecurity, self-rejection, self-deprecation and just down right ugly self-talk.

For me, this was a key. The wonderful thing about finding such a maladaptive pattern is that there is a way to work WITH the client to help her to protect herself. The deeper the wounding or abuse (which considers DIF - duration, intensity and frequency) the more likely the survivor of abuse would coil into a pattern of self-abuse through how she perceived herself, talked to herself, and related to others. The deeper the wounding, the more likely my survivor client would continue to abuse herself – behavior taught by the original abuse and the original abuser.

So now I ask a client to look at her negative self talk as it relates to the original abuse and abuser. I am able to gently challenge the client to be in alignment with who she truly is at her core. I often find that she does not want to be in agreement with the original abuser who taught her to turn on herself. If she can begin to see that she has aligned with the abuse and the abuser and begun to turn on herself, may begin to be in a greater place of choice and freedom. She can choose to align with the abuser, to re-abuse herself and become a metaphorical suicide bomber OR she can decide to switch teams from terrorist squad to gentle and benevolent squad or even self-protection squad. Once she makes the link that the trauma taught her to turn the abuse upon herself I find that she is usually more willing to make a new alignment with her child-self. Instead of colluding with the abuser and putting herself down, she may defy the abuser and protect her child-self who was not allowed protection.

At every turn I try to make a game out of it. “Oh, OK, so your outfit looks lame? Is that the abuser re-abusing you or is that your authentic YOU?”
“So you say you’re not an interesting conversationalist? No one likes you? That’s funny because I find you very likeable and you have compelling stories to tell?”
From there I may ask, “Who decided you were a poor conversationalist or were unlikable? Would that be YOU or the abuser?”

I’m careful not to force the choice. Instead, I can invite my client to advocate for herself. Once she sees the pattern of self-abuse, she can decide if she wants to do things differently. She may not have had a choice in the past. The joy of seeing a maladaptive pattern is that it brings her freedom to remain in the pattern or to step in a different direction. I find that she almost always does want to advocate for herself. She can end the pattern of abuse here and begin to validate the child who was silenced.

I applaud my clients and all individuals who courageously move forward after sexual abuse. My hope is that when they have the choice to see themselves as deserving compassion they can see the beauty and light that I am able to see in them. It is truly a joy and a privilege to do this kind of work.

Erin Diedling, MEd, LPC
Erin has been on a number of blogs and blog-radio shows lately. The first link is a response to her workshop: "Healing for the Healers".
Here are a couple other links:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Food Drive to Benefit The Lakeview Pantry

The Paulina Station Merchants Association is holding a food drive from November 9 through November 22nd, to benefit The Lakeview Pantry. Many businesses in the Paulina Station neighborhood have bins available for food donations and are offering rewards to customers who bring donations. You can also "donate" thru a virtual food drive by clicking on the shopping cart at: Winter Coats are also accepted at Fizz Bar & Grill.

Sam & Willy's 3405 N Paulina, Chicago: Free 5# bag of Prairie

The Awakening Center, 3523 N Lincoln, Chicago
Black Hearts Hair House 3535 N Lincoln, Chicago: $5 off service

Eye Spy Optical 3350 N Lincoln, Chicago: $25 off prescription eyeware

Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar 3348 N Paulina, Chicago: Free taster of wine

Lynn's Hallmark 3353 N Lincoln, Chicago: 10% off purchase

Finley Dunnes 3458 N Lincoln, Chicago: $5 Ryan Burger on Wednesdays

Fizz Bar & Grill 3220 N Lincoln, Chicago: Accepting Winter Coats

Caravan Beads 3361 N Lincoln, Chicago: Free tube of beads

The Pleasure Chest 3436 N Lincoln, Chicago: 10% off purchase

Lindsay Station Hair Stop 3510 N Lincoln, Chicago: $5 off service

Jazze Junque 3419 N Lincoln, Chicago: Free Vintage Postcard
Additional sponsors: Scooter's Frozen Custard, Su Van's Bake Shoppe & Cafe, ProACTIVE Chiropracic & Physiotherapy, Gerard Haderlein Attorney, Armanetti's, Tree Studio Art & Antiques

Most needed items:
Jelly, Juices, Soups, Stews, Canned Meats, Canned Tuna, Peanut Butter, Canned Fruit, Canned Beans/Chili, Winter Coats (coats accepted at Fizz Bar & Grill).


Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC, Director

The Awakening Center

3523 N Lincoln Ave

Chicago, IL 60657

(773) 929-6262

Friday, October 30, 2009

Self-Care: Taking Time For Yourself

Here in Chicago, it has been raining for the umpteenth day in a row! The sky is grey and the weather is cold and windy. What a great day to stay inside and relax! We often don’t give ourselves permission to relax or take care of ourselves. Kristy Hatch, a counseling intern currently at The Awakening Center has written an article about the benefits of taking time for yourself.

While you are considering taking time for yourself, you might appreciate what you have in your life. There are many people who go hungry and need help feeding their families. The Awakening Center is participating in The Paulina Station Food Drive to benefit the Lakeview Food Pantry. This food drive will start November 9th through November 22nd. We will have a drop off bin in our entry way at our office (3523 N Lincoln, Chicago, IL 60657). Please bring some non-perishable food items the next time you visit.
Amy Grabowski

Self-Care: Taking Time For Yourself

I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “I don’t have time to… (fill in blank).” I believe this is especially the case when it comes to taking time for ourselves. I am always curious to ask people “What do you like to do?” “What do you do to decompress?” “What are ways you take care of yourself?” “What does ‘self-care’ mean to you?” Some people say they enjoy yoga, to sit outside or to go for a long ride in the car. Many people know what they like to do, but they struggle to find the time to participate in the activities they enjoy. I believe the benefits of taking time for yourself are endless.

It Can Be A Refreshing Experience.
Many of us lead very busy lives. We can barely find time to eat, sleep, and shower. How is a person supposed to take time for herself while trying to juggle career, school, family, etc.? I have to remind myself that taking time for myself refreshes me when facing life struggles. When I am faced with a challenge, that is probably when I need self-care the most. There are times I feel I do not have time for yoga or to read for relaxation. But I have discovered if I do make the time for these activities I feel rejuvenated and able to face the next event on my schedule. Not only do I feel better, but I also have more energy.

Being a Positive Role Model
My parents started encouraging my sister and me at a young age to engage in activities that we enjoyed. I believe teachers, mental health professionals, coaches, mentors, and managers can also be this type of role model for their clients, students, employees, etc. They can encourage us to take time for ourselves and also provide examples of how they practice self-care. My parent’s message influenced me at a young age to understand that it is okay to take time for myself and to engage in activities that I enjoy, even if I am busy. I was able to apply their message throughout my life and into adulthood. I will admit this is not always easy for me, but spending time with my parents is a reminder of the long-term benefits of taking time for ourselves. This is one aspect (of many) in my life where I feel fortunate to have both of them as role models.

Increase Self-Awareness
Many of us may have noticed that as we get older our interests have changed, the activities we enjoyed at age sixteen differs compared to what we like to do as adults. I believe taking time for ourselves allows us a chance to explore various activities to find out what we enjoy. This can help to increase our self-awareness. What do we find relaxing? What helps us to reflect on the day’s activities? What helps us to focus on ourselves?

There are many reasons to practice self-care and many ways to practice in addition to the above suggestions. I believe taking time for ourselves can help us to enhance our life experiences. This is one way for us to feel cared for and refreshed. I encourage you take time out of your busy schedule to do something for yourself even if is a five minute walk around the block. Find out what you are craving and give it a try. You may discover a new life-long hobby.

Kristy D. Hatch

Thursday, October 22, 2009



Jolene Hwee, a Practicum Student from Northwestern University, has written the next blog article called “Pause”. Her article reminds me that we live in such a busy world that we don’t often take the time to “Pause” and take care of ourselves for all the little things we need to do, but also all the little things that we know we should do. But it is in those little “Pauses” that can change our lives. October is Breast Cancer awareness month. I encourage all of you, both women and men, to “Pause” and check your breasts. While 80% of all breast lumps are benign, it is with early detection that Breast Cancer is most beatable.

My niece Morgen Paul is doing the AvonWalk for Breast Cancer in Washington DC in memory of my sister Terri who died in 2003 after a courageous 10 year battle. If you would like to help find a cure for Breast Cancer, please consider donating to a member of her team: “Terri’s TaTa’s”. Click on this link:
AvonWalk for Breast Cancer: Terri's TaTa's

Amy Grabowski


This summer I became a mother.

My life changed in every way possible. I was thrust from a world of books and clinical training to one filled with diaper changes, burp cloths and 3am feeds. Overnight, I became severely sleep deprived, physically exhausted and mentally overwhelmed. I was suddenly responsible for a tiny human being who was dependent on me for her every need, and although this responsibility was often a joy, it also filled me with wordless anxiety.

Maybe you have also experienced a change in your life- the loss of a friend, a new job, moving cities, marriage, graduation, a change that fills you with a kind of suffocating, racing anxiety that you can’t get away from. Maybe you experience sleepless nights, hectic days, and a constant wondering “How can I stop feeling so anxious? When will I ever stop worrying?”

I have found that it is precisely during these intense, anxiety-filled days that being mindful is necessary, but oh so difficult.

Mindfulness is “awareness without judgment of what is, via direct and immediate experience” (Cindy Sanderson, PhD). You are being mindful when you listen to a song and experience every note, when you make some tea and take time to smell its aroma, when you dance without self-consciousness and when you notice the colors of the sky during sunset.

Mindfulness is meeting every moment of life in the present, with complete awareness, and suspending our judgments, whether positive or negative. Unfortunately, the world we live in does not encourage mindfulness; we are expected to be multi-taskers, to do two or three or four things all at the same time. Most of us have two or more pressing responsibilities, work, school, family, friends, that constantly demand our attention. We admonish ourselves for not doing what we ‘should’ and doing what we ‘should not’. We often spend our time planning the future or ruminating about the past, rarely appreciating the present. We move through life with breakneck speed, asking, “What’s next?” instead of savoring what is now.

When anxiety overtakes us, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should-nots’ may seem even louder. They can easily drown out our sense of self, rock our sense of equilibrium and steal whatever sense of peace we may feel. It becomes easier is do things on auto-pilot, to stomp through life, to hastily tick things off our lists, and hope that somehow, someday, that anxiety will go away.

But will it?

This is what I want to suggest; instead of hitting the fast-forward button, why don’t we try to hit pause.

Pause, and breathe. Pause, and feel. Pause, and savor.

Maybe, just maybe, if we slow down and take the time to live in this present moment, life and all its demands will be that much more manageable.

For me, being mindful is learning to be with my daughter without thinking about my work; and to be at work without worrying about my daughter.

What does being mindful mean to you?

Jolene Hwee

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Many shades of Blue"

It’s that time of year when the days are getting shorter and the skies get gray. You may be like many other people who find your energy level drops, your thoughts become sluggish and your mood feels depressed. You may have Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD.
The problem is the lack of exposure to sunlight. In earlier times, humans would wake at dawn. Sunlight hitting our eyelids and passing to our retinas triggers our brains to stop producing melatonin, the chemical which makes us sleepy, and to begin producing serotonin, the chemical that makes us feel good. But 20th Century humans have become disconnected from our ties to nature. We push our bodies to get out of bed in the dark; we surround ourselves with artificial lighting; we breathe re-circulated air. And we wonder what’s wrong with ourselves when we feel “blue”.

One treatment for SAD is light therapy. If you think you have SAD*, you can buy light therapy boxes online. Personally, I have found that exposure to bright light before I get out of bed has a profound effect upon my mood for the day. I have placed a small reading lamp on top of the headboard of my bed. I bought a full-spectrum light bulb (available at holistic health stores) and put the lamp on a timer. It clicks on an hour before I need to get out of bed. Rather than dragging myself out of bed in the dark, I feel rested and alert this way. I also have a full-spectrum light bulb in the lamp on my desk. If it is a particularly overcast day, I will shine the light upon my face for a few minutes in the early afternoon; this also energizes me.
Other ways to beat SAD is to get exercise and fresh air. Even a short walk around the block, particularly in the morning, can raise your serotonin levels. You may want to try it as a “science experiment” for one week – see if it makes a difference in your energy level and mood. Even in the winter, I now enjoy bundling up and going for a brisk walk with my dog every morning. It is amazing to me how beautiful the world can be in the quiet of the morning. If mornings are too hectic for you, get off the “L” one stop early and walk the extra two blocks to work.
Speaking of ‘Blue’… Anne Riley, an Art Therapy Practicum Student from the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, has written a Blog article about ‘Blueness.’

Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

Many Shades of Blue
It’s been just “one of those days.” A blueness that has the ability to linger around, possibly couple days, weeks, months, or year. Whatever the length, sometimes we may just feel blue. Blue can be both dark and light, even with shades of grey. Our lives everyday can be a challenge on how we want to look at life; what outlook we have on events or experiences that bring us to that blueness.

The blueness or periods in our lives that aren’t filled with laughter and joy are often uncomfortable. The blue aura that seems to surround us can be far from pleasant and we may wonder with what to do next. Is music the answer? Maybe taking a walk and smiling at people we pass? How about reading a favorite quote or calling a friend? Still, sometimes nothing can shake the feeling of sadness. The question arises and is scary at that; will I ever feel happy again?

It is pertinent to experience life in all its hues, even the crummy, not so awesome curve balls that life throws in our direction. Many changes and decisions are made for us that lead us to this blue state. It isn’t always a matter of what we are faced with, but rather our reactions to negative experiences or a bad chain of circumstances. The options of how to respond are never written out for us in a book; there is no book that guides or leads us toward the end to this sadness.

The blue feeling hangs out, sticks around like it is going to stay and starts to camp out within our Self. What now? Remain in this poignant and uneasy state? We can stay in this condition and go through life sad, possibly angry, or we can hide the feelings altogether and “brush them under the rug.”

Some may find it easier to not look where the blue aura is stemming from. By sitting back and letting sadness fill our lives, anger has the strength to come in and alter our view towards life; the once sad time now somehow becomes bitter. Life being viewed in this way is rarely enjoyable. The “brushing it under the rug” tactic appears nice to those around you, but isn’t necessarily genuine. This too, doesn’t sit so well with us after a while.

Another alternative is choosing to be happy. Yes, this may seem far-fetched, but we can choose and seek out happiness. The option of happiness, true joy of looking at life with it’s fullest potential seems inconceivable when we are in our blue-grey stage, but it’s possible to obtain. The happiness will come. Like many things, it is a matter of time. It may only take just that single day to choose a happier lifestyle, but it can take a long time to figure what is really behind all of the sadness.

The process has no time limit and there is no race to the finish. We can go at our own pace; the important thing is to just wait, ponder, and accept that we have times in our lives when we are just going through a funk. An answer is never out there on a billboard or written in the advertisements on the bus; advice from people we trust isn’t always the key either.

The underlying truth to all the blueness may not have a definite starting point. The important thing is to just be and not rush the process. Instead validate that we have these gloomy feelings. Once we’ve sat with it, we then have a decision to make: wallow in our sadness, or find what makes us smile, makes us happy, makes us be Real and in our Self. When we find little things that tend to be positive, our attitude begins to shift and we’ve gotten back to where there is no blue aura around us and the glow that is in all of us really starts to shine again.

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed. -Carl Gustav Jung

Choosing happiness over sadness is a very conscious effort that we can make. Being happy and being sad hold great advantages in our lives. With the sadness, we can then appreciate the happy side of life that much more. We become more aware that it is a choice that we are granted. In choosing happiness, we gain fulfillment of life.

Anne Riley
During her internship at The Awakening Center, Anne leads an Expressive Therapy Group on Thursday evenings. If you would like explore the many colors of your Self using non-verbal forms of therapy, please call Anne at (773) 929-6262 x 13.

*If you suspect that you have SAD, we recommend you see a medical doctor before attempting to treat the condition yourself. The ideas in this article are merely suggestions, not medical advice.

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Are You An Intuititve Eater?"

Are you an Intuitive Eater?

Intuitive eaters eat when they are hungry and stop when they feel satisfied. Small children are usually quite good at letting us know when they are hungry and when they are full. We all had that ability at one time. The good news is that we can relearn how to become an intuitive eater.

Intuitive eating or normal eating is not based on deprivation, calorie counting or making foods forbidden. It is based on making peace with food, making eating pleasurable, and being in tune with your mind and body.

Becoming an Intuitive Eater

Enjoy your food. Don't stop eating because you think you should but rather because you are satisfied. This does require being present while you eat and using all your senses.

Look at the variety of colors, shapes and sizes on the plate.
With your eyes closed, deeply breathe in the aromas.
Savor each taste sensation in the food: sweet, sour, salty, bitter.
Feel the textures and temperatures: crunchy, soft, creamy, hot.
Listen to the sound the food makes if it is a food that you chew.

Eat slowly. A general guideline is to let 20 minutes lapse from the time you start eating until you want to serve yourself more food. This is because it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you have eaten enough. If you eat slowly, that 20 minutes comes naturally.

Use moderation. Make choices to get a variety of healthful foods, yet don't be so restrictive you eliminate foods you enjoy.

Recognize that everyone overeats sometimes and under-eats at other times. Your body can balance meals over time. Each meal and each day not need to be perfect.

Trust your body. Your body will give you signals when it is hungry and full. Listen to what it is saying. Also, your body can make up for some mistakes in eating. Eating is one of life's great pleasures - enjoy eating guilt-free.

Try it out! The Hershey Kiss Experience…
1 Do not eat the kiss right away!
2 First, admire the shape and color.
3 Anticipate how the kiss will taste.
4 Slowly unwrap the chocolate and place in your mouth.
6 Let the candy melt slowly in your mouth.
7 Savor the flavor and texture.

Jennifer Reiner, MS, RD, LD – Jennifer is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian who practices out of The Awakening Center. She can be reached by calling (773) 929-6262 x16.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Believing in Your Own Ability to Recover"

For many years, The Awakening Center has been a practicum site for several of the Universities in the Chicago Area. This is a “win-win-win” situation for The Awakening Center (having a background in Education, I love teaching practicum students the "art" being a counselor), for the practicum students (they get a well-rounded schedule of training and experience), and for the clients (who otherwise would not be able to afford therapy). This Blog article is written by Christine McRice, a senior at DePaul University who is doing a bachelor’s level internship at The Awakening Center.

For more information about The Awakening Center as a practicum site, please visit:

Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

“Believing in Your Own Ability to Recover”

Since this internship is my first experience in the field, I wanted to be sure to find a site where I felt true compassion for the clients, and which had a mission I could stand behind. In my search I visited several other treatment centers, but I did not feel the warmth and empowerment that I found at The Awakening Center.

The Awakening Center understands that eating disorders involve more than the client’s relationship with food, but more importantly it is the relationship with self. Learning who you are, and learning to accept and love that person, will bring you a happiness no one could give you. YOU have the ability, YOU have the power, and YOU have the strength that some day you will gain full recovery and fulfillment in life.

At The Awakening Center, I have been lucky enough to co-lead an ANAD support group for those with eating disorders, regardless of your stage in recovery on Tuesday evenings. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but have been pleasantly surprised by the respect and emotional support our members provide one another. ANAD provides a safe environment where judgment is suspended and you are free to discuss issues relating to your ED and learn that you are not alone in your struggles. Many of our members have very inspiring stories about their own recovery and can offer sympathy and understanding to others. Other members are just beginning their journey on the path to recovery. Taking the first step of admitting you need help out loud to those who understand (and to yourself) can be a very relieving leap!

Christine McRice

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Delighting in Fall"

Besides Psychotherapy, another passion of mine is astronomy! We just experienced the Autumnal Equinox – the day when the Sun crosses the equator and the day and night are equal in length. Whenever we experience an astronomical event, I think about early humans. I wonder what they were thinking when the sun was lower in the sky and the days were shorter. Were they frightened of the changes they couldn’t understand? Even modern humans have fears of change, especially of the unknown. Jen Schurman helps clients explore the dynamics that lead to a greater sense of self-awareness. You’ll hear this self-awareness in her Blog article as she “notices” the changing seasons.


Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

“Delighting in the Fall”

I’m a summer girl. I love the lake, the sand, the sun, the warm weather and flip flops. So I got to thinking as I found myself ignoring the signs that fall is surely on its way. What is it about the change in this season that is so difficult? Surely there is something nice about the changing colors on the trees, a brisk breeze while on a walk, apple cider and even football games. But appreciating the fall means letting go of all I love about the summer and looking forward to what lies ahead. The changing seasons is a reminder of the endless changes that we face in our lives.

I often encourage clients to think about changes in their lives. We talk about preparing for change, observing change, and even delighting in change. But it often takes quite some time before the process of change actually begins. So often we say things like, “But I’m comfortable here,” or “I can’t wait for this part of my life to just be over so I can get where I want to be” or “It’s impossible to make sense of what this time is really for.” Although the season ahead may be what we truly desire, many things are required to be left behind. In order to savor the present season we need to leave the comfort, safety, and familiarity of the previous season behind. No wonder it’s difficult to get moving. The shifting from one season to the next requires a belief that the coming season has exciting, fulfilling, challenging, and new purposes for us.

The movement from one season to the next dares us to let go of the old and welcome the new. It challenges us to trust that regardless of where we are in life or what situations may be happening, there is something essential for us about this time. Savoring each season involves us being in the present moment and not living for yesterday or tomorrow but right now. I know that when I remind myself to be mindful and pay attention there are so many things I notice that typically get overlooked. I notice a child’s carefree laughter, I notice the stranger that just gave me a warm smile, I notice how difficult the moment is and that I’m actually getting through it, I notice what I love about this time in my life, I notice what I need…I notice. So often all of these little moments in life get disregarded and we feel like we are just rushing through the days.

The challenge of being present for each season in our lives does not discount the fact that there are some that are more pleasant than others. There are seasons we will look back on with lovely memories and seasons we will long to put behind us. The importance is being able to fall away from the safety of the last season and eagerly anticipate what lies ahead, for this is how we truly grow. There is a great transformation that occurs in our lives as we realize that regardless of the season we can handle it. That in each season there is something intended for us, something for us to know, learn, challenge or even a joy to simply revel in. In each and every season we have the gift of the strength within us.

So as I pack my beach bag and flip flops I am challenging myself to enjoy the bright red hues of the changing leaves and get comfortable in my favorite sweater. I know that although it can be difficult to move from a season I love, surely the one to come has much potential and promise. Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson says it best, “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside you.”

Jen Schurman, MA, LPC

(773) 929-6262 x 20

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Working Through Energy Blocks" - In today’s article, Erin Diedling explores the energy and emotional blocks that clients encounter during their recovery process. Erin has extensive experience working with survivors of trauma – she co-led a healing weekend retreat for flight attendants who were supposed to be on the doomed flights of September 11, 2001. Can you believe it was 8 years ago last week? I’m sure you can still remember that day like it was yesterday! It’s like our whole nation has an emotional energy block.
(For more about that weekend retreat, please read her article “Healing from Trauma” on our website: )

When these energy and emotional blocks get in the way of moving forward in our life, we often need a safe, validating and supportive environment in which to look at the very issues that our Parts resist allowing us to see. But deep inside there is a Wise One Within who has the strength to find the truth within.

Amy Grabowski

“Working Through Energy Blocks”

What I enjoy so much about being part of the Awakening Center is that I work in a community of professionals who believe in the client's ability to guide herself to wellness. In order for a client to bring about her own healing, a validating and compassionate holding environment is key for her to feel safe enough to explore what isn't working. The client truly has her own information about how to bring in her wellness, to heal herself. Oftentimes, that means looking at the very thing that is hardest to address.

Even though I have years of experience doing trauma work, my counseling style changed drastically since I began to study energy work and energy healing. I'm better prepared to pull what the client needs to heal that particular day. Our appointments are never the same.

The work I do with clients is much like being a magician with a bag of tricks. Each client has a different need and a different area they wish to work at each of their appointments. Occasionally there is an urgent life crisis and the client just needs a bit of extra care and communication with me. Other times there is a pressing request to work on a certain area of the client's life. When the appointments are more laid back, the client is able to explore areas where she wishes to be more joyful or masterful.

What is so rewarding is taking the client through a guided imagery to establish safety and groundedness (providing a safe and holding environment) and then working directly with the blocks and impasses she is experiencing. Often she will be able to identify an image, a time, or a memory and work with that directly. Within the guided imagery I will guide her to clear the impasse using various therapeutic techniques, tools and imagery.

Sometimes there is a blind spot that does not allow the client to be consciously aware of the impasse. Using an awareness of energetic dynamics, I gently point out the thing or phenomenon that she needs to find but was unable to see. Once it is brought into her conscious awareness we can work with it. This is an amazing thing to see a client clear the patterns behind a binge-purge cycle, procrastination around a job search, lack of fulfillment in her love relationships, etc. It is even more gratifying to me when the client can do the healing work for herself.

The Awakening Center is a special place that believes in an individual's ability to unearth her identity, truth and beauty that is already within her. Besides engaging logical thought processes, behavioral components, we also work with the individuals body, mind AND spirit. I witness miraculous change on a daily basis. Daily miracles! What a gift!

Erin Diedling, MEd, LPC

(773) 929-6262 x 19

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Discover Your ‘Self’ – The Person You Were Meant To Be!"

Welcome to The Awakening Center’s new Blog: “Inner Wisdom.” We started this Blog to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of The Awakening Center! We would love to hear your comments, thoughts, feedback, questions, suggestions and reactions to our new Blog. Please visit often – we plan to have two or more new Blog entries per week.

The Blog’s title “Inner Wisdom” refers to The Awakening Center’s philosophy that deep inside each and everyone of us is an inner feeling of strength, peace and wisdom; a place of peace that knows what’s right for you – not a thinking kind of knowing, but a ‘gut wisdom’ kind of knowing. This is your ‘Self’ – this is the person you were meant to be!

Your Self is who you are, your identity. If you are like many of our clients, your Self may have been sacrificed years ago – for many reasons personal to your individual history. It may feel as if there is nothing on the inside of you, you may experience an inner emptiness so profound and deep that it’s frightening. Without a Self you may not know who you are; you may feel as if you have no control over what happens to you or how you react to things. Without a Self, you may feel powerless.

The therapists at The Awakening Center believe that with therapy you can recover your Self – and get to know yourself all over again. You are not the person others told you that you were – oh no, that was just other people’s opinions of you – but that is not who your Self is. Their opinions often say more about them than it does about you. (Hmmm, there’s another subject for the Blog!)

So if you are not who others told you that you were, then who are you? That is one of the big questions of therapy. It is always exciting to me when a client finally begins to ask this question for themselves. To find the answer, I teach them to get to know themselves through what is known as ‘Beginners Mind.’

Beginners Mind is like coming to earth from another planet (like the television show “Third Rock From The Sun”) and not knowing anything about being human, in a human body, living with other humans in the world. Every experience would be totally new – you would not have any opinion, judgment or criticism about it. You would need to stop a moment, go inside and figure out for if the experience is pleasant, neutral or unpleasant for you.

I encourage clients to start with something very small. In my office I point to the various pillows sitting on my couch and ask, “Which of these pillows do you like the most?” When they give an answer, “The purple one” I ask, “What is it about the purple pillow that you like the most?”
Let’s say they answer, “I like the color; it’s calming. The fabric is smooth. The pattern on the other pillow looks too busy.”

I then encourage them to ‘put that inside and own it.’ By that I mean, you acknowledge that you know something about yourself, “I, Sally, like calming colors and smooth fabrics. I, Sally, do not like busy patterns on pillows.” Like I said, we start with something very small.

I give them the assignment to use Beginners Mind about everything for the time between sessions, “Drive yourself nuts asking questions about everyday things. Do you like tea or coffee? Do you prefer brown shoes or black with blue jeans? Do you like to wear blue jeans? Is a walk in the park a pleasant, neutral or unpleasant experience for you? When you hear a song playing over the radio listen to it as if you never heard music before in your life. How does it feel to be with other people? Whatever you notice, put it inside and own it.”

I remember when I did this exercise during my own recovery. I had an experience that opened a whole new door for me, literally. I lived in a large apartment building with many doors opening up to the courtyard. One day when I opened the front door it made a sound like a little horse whinny! And I noticed it, as if for the first time! I felt a sense of delight deep inside me, like a child laughing and clapping her hands. I realized that “I, Amy Grabowski, like doors which make whinny sounds.”

I also realized that the maintenance man probably hated the whinny sound of the door – since I had seen him on a ladder by that door many times and had not even paid attention to why. What made it profound for me was that I also gave myself permission to like something that I knew someone else did NOT like. I was giving myself permission to have my own opinion based on my experience, not on the opinion of others. (Wow! That could be another Blog as well!)

So I encourage you to slow down and look at your life through Beginners Mind. Allow yourself to feel that delighted child inside you. Own your own feelings and opinions as you get to know yourself, the person you were meant to be!

Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

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