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