Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Toxic Friendship": A Poem by HJ

It's hard to understand how an eating disorder takes hold--how seductive it can be. One of our clients has written the following poem that beautifully describes how this "toxic friend" works its way into the heart. She has graciously given us permission to share. Special thanks to HJ.

Toxic Friendship

Lower and lower,
Into the abyss
Without even knowing.
Power and control--
All corrupt.
That's how it starts.
It feeds on insecurity.
An insidious disease
That pretends
To be your friend.
Its gift is the needlepoint pillow:
"You can never be too rich
Or too thin."

People reach out
To keep you from falling--
But you push them away.
You don't need them,
You already have a friend.
And so it goes,
This game of numbers.

One day you get up
Only to fall down.
The game is no longer fun.
So you grasp the hands
Reaching out to you--
As you realize
It was never your friend

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

TAC Book Review: Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

(2010 ISBN 9781439177785 Publisher Atria Books)

 By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

The first time I saw Portia de Rossi was on the TV show “Ally McBeal.” Wildly popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I never really got into it. None of the characters seemed real to me—everyone was kind of cartoonish. The addition of Portia de Rossi to the cast apparently sent shockwaves into the series. She played Nelle, a buttoned-up ice queen with her blonde hair squeezed up in a tight bun. But Nelle evolved and showed her sexier side, modeling underwear and freeing her tightly bound golden locks.

What viewers didn’t see was de Rossi’s off-screen suffering. Her anxiety about appearing on TV in just a bra and panties. Her panic about not fitting into the wardrobe provided. Unbearable Lightness reveals a life of struggles—from the loss of her father, to her battle with eating disorders, and shame over her sexual identity.

De Rossi’s memoir does not shield the readers from the details of her eating disorder behaviors. She graphically describes binges and purges. She talks candidly about her quest to eat as few calories as possible and her compensatory behaviors to offset what she did consume. This book is not for the squeamish or the easily triggered.

Eating disorder behavior is very isolating and shame-filled. Sufferers engage alone and then describe feeling “disgusting,” “ashamed,” “mortified,” and so forth. Because of de Rossi’s willingness to spell out it alarming detail the specifics of her behaviors, she confronts that shame and rejects isolation. It’s like she’s telling her readers, hey, I know what you do in the darkness and you’re not alone. I’ve done it too. It’s going to be OK.

As we so often tell our clients, eating disorders are not about food, exercise, and weight. And de Rossi’s story illustrates that as well. As a young adult, she knew she was a lesbian. But she could not come out and tried to bury her identity. Then, once she became famous in the U.S., she felt even more pressure to hide her true self. And this shame—this sense of feeling flawed and unnatural—provided fuel to the eating disorder fire.

Unbearable Lightness describes de Rossi’s eating disorder, but the real story is in how she connected with her true self—the person she was born to be. Through that exploration, she has been able to recover and find peace.

I recommend Unbearable Lightness if you are solid in your recovery. As noted earlier, the details could be triggering. If you’re just starting your journey, then perhaps you could read (or listen to the audiobook) with your therapist or support group.

Crisply written, de Rossi’s candor is oddly shocking and reassuring. She has crafted a memoir that offers hope without easy answers, inspiration without quick fixes.

Keep reading!

If you're interested in purchasing this book, visit Women and Children First Bookstore's website for details on how to order. A phenomenal Chicago independent bookstore, since 1979, W&CF has been been a great place to explore books from local writers, feminists, LGBT authors, and political activists. Their selection of children's books is unparalleled.  Next time you're in Chicago, head on up to Andersonville and tell them the staff at The Awakening Center sent you!

Nancy is a Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center. She sees clients individually and facilitates the DBT group, two meditation groups, and an ED therapy group. You can reach her at 773.929.6262 ext. 17 or at

Monday, June 20, 2016

Meditation Monday: Lessons from a Busted AC

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

The air conditioning at The Awakening Center has not been working for nearly two weeks. And when I say not working, I mean dead, kaput, get out the bugle and play “Taps.” And it’s been hot here in Chicago. Needless to say, my reaction to this hasn’t been the most gracious.

I actually like summer. But I do not like to be hot indoors. There is something about it that makes me feel sort of cornered. It’s hard to describe. I get antsy and distracted. I fantasize about driving around with the AC on max. I look for a reason to go to a grocery store so I can loiter in the frozen foods section. Being outside in hot weather is different from being inside. It just is.

I know—first-world problem. I have lived without AC and survived it just fine. But it took a recent group and time with my clients to help me gain some perspective and get my sweaty head out of my own…well, you know.

During the most recent meditation group, the window was open and fans were on high. Birds sang as I led the group through a progressive relaxation. As we processed the meditation, one participant noted how once her eyes were closed, she felt like a kid again. The gentle whirring of the fans and the street sounds took her back to summertime from her childhood. Days spent playing and then napping when the heat became overwhelming. She remembered lying on the couch, pulling her hair up off her neck, hoping for a little relief.

These were not days without stress or worry. But she was able to connect to moments of presence. When time seemed to stand still as the sweat rolled down her temple. To a time when acceptance was the only option when it came to summer heat.

I realized then that fighting the heat just made me feel more uncomfortable. The more I worried about my melting makeup, my sagging humidity-laden hair, or whether I put on enough deodorant, the more disconnected I became. Yes, it’s been hot and stuffy and sticky and stinky—all of that. But so what. It’s also been vibrant and alive—which is wonderful.

Oh, and a new AC is on its way thank goodness!

Enjoy your practice.