Tag Archives: recovery

alcoholism and everyday addictions

the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous are sometimes summarized in these seven words:

i can’t
god can
i better let god

these pithy words come from the first three steps:

1. we admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable
2. we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves would restore us to sanity.
3. we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him.

depending on one’s interpretation, that can sound quite defeatist (“i can’t / i’m powerless”) and cultish (“i better let god / turn over our will”).

in my occasional musings on how the 12 steps can be used outside of traditional addiction recovery (for example, here are some thoughts on step 3) i’d like to propose that these seven pithy words and these three steps can be useful for anyone as a guide in their lives.

we admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.

it may not be alcohol, it may not be drugs, food, work, cigarettes or caffeine – but the truth is that there are a lot of things inside and outside of ourselves that we are powerless over, and that feel totally overwhelming. i have no power over the traffic, you have no power over your boss, joe has no power over politics. but it goes deeper than that – it is our reactions to these things that truly trouble us – the feelings of helplessness, the endless worry, the anger. we hate these feelings, so we run to do something about them – TV, romance novels, potato chips, blackjack chips. at the root of that are fear and pain and avoidance of fear and pain through escape into instant gratification. so how about:

step 1: we are run by fear and pain and avoidance of them, and that the endless cycling between those two is exhausting and overwhelming – it is insanity.

we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves would restore us to sanity.

is there something greater than fear and avoidance of fear? god? maybe for some. how about for those uncomfortable with or plainly disinterested in the idea of god? the 12 steps are informed by underlying principles such as honesty, hope, courage, integrity, love, justice and service – all positive, life-affirming, values that are greater than our little egos and ids, our inner factories that constantly crank out more fear and fear avoidance. here is my proposition, then:

step 2: we remind ourselves that by holding on to our values, we can rise above fear and instant gratification and leave insanity behind.

we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him.

the awareness that there is an alternative to fear, pain and instant gratification is a good start but it is not enough. a lot of us are aware that there are problems. we need to make a decision to do something with that awareness. this decision, by the way, needs to happen on a daily, hourly, sometimes minute-by-minute basis. fear and pain and our desire to escape them are incredibly strong; if we want to let go of them as prime motivators for our lives, we need to counter them with our values, virtues and beliefs on an almost constant basis. one of my favourite quotes is freud’s about us having but a “thin veneer of civilization”. i firmly believe if we are to keep this world going, maybe even make it a better place, we need to do everything we can to make this veneer stronger and thicker. we literally need to become more civil. isn’t that one of the main goals of democracry (a concept deeply informed by civility): to create and nurture an environment where citizens need not be governed by fear? just as we need to keep working on and fighting for democracy, we need to keep building our own personal virtues and values. here is my suggestion for step 3:

step 3: we decided to lead our lives by our virtues and values.

i would be very interested in hearing your thoughts about this.

how to create a heaven on earth

aaaah, book reviews. let’s start with the bad parts: how to achieve a heaven on earth is full of conservative christian overtones, quite a few of the articles have a bit of “chicken soup for the soul” feel, and at times i thought i was dealing with an aborted e-book. but there were clearly good intentions behind the book, and if you’re looking at “101 insightful essays from the world’s greatest thinkers, leaders and writers”, you’re bound to come across some good stuff.  for example

changing the game at work by christine barnes

don’t wait for the CEO to build a culture of engagement but begin by creating heaven on earth for your employees now. ask questions such as

  • do you know what’s expected of you at work?
  • do you have the materials you need to do your work?
  • do you have the opportunity to do what you’re best at, every day?
  • in the past seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?

i’m very happy to say that my part time work at mcc gives me all of this. what about you?

maida rogerson, who talks about many mothers

imagine. you’ve just had your first baby. your husband is in a new job and doesn’t have a lot of time for you. you’ve moved away from your extended family. suddenly, there you are, you and your beautiful baby, home, alone. your baby starts to cry, and you’re dead tired and all you want to do is cry yourself, and you have no one to turn to.

the idea behind many mothers is that it takes a community to raise a child well. a great idea, presented with lovely words.

perfectly broken by mark lundholm

i have a chemically challenged anatomy, a drug-resistant soul and a penchant for guessing incorrectly when it comes to the betterment of others. … because i am terminally self-centered, i am spiritually retarted, emotionally invisible, financially irresponsible, socially phobic and almost pathological when it comes to lying. … i have been liberated by the knowledge that my liabiliities as a practicing addict can now become finely tuned assets that allow to deftly navigate the foreign terrain of relationships, employment, success and excellence.

this is a language i understand.

would i buy this book?  probably not, for the above reasons.  but it’s a nice gift idea for someone who likes to be inspired by people who do something, rather than sit around complaining.

self esteem: the thread in the quilt of recovery

a quilt in the makinghere is another interview with someone recovering from an eating disorder. this person used to eat too much, and has been and still is dealing with it by going to overeaters anonymous.

isabella: “you’ve come a long way, baby” – how long HAVE you come? what’s changed?

OA person: how long have i come? i would say the longest i have come is out of isolation. i am very aware of the benefits of talking/writing/meeting with others to discuss what is a core weakness in my life with people who understand. i carried the burden alone in my childhood. i am no longer a silent-suffering victim. i am an active participant in my recovery. so i am greatly empowered.

isabella: what’s the most important thing in your recovery?

OA person: the most important thing in my recovery is: hmm…self love

isabella: how would you characterize your relationship with your body?

OA person: my relationship with my body is greatly healed but there is still some ‘disconnect’ and i still need to ‘care more’ for self (especially losing weight). i am grateful for my body. it is relatively healthy. again, it is an improved relationship, big time.

isabella: self esteem – how does it fit into the quilt of your recovery?

OA person: self esteem is like the threads in the quilt of my recovery. i have to think i am worthy of a better life before i can embark on one. the more i use and grow the threads, the bigger and stronger the quilt!

isabella: any other comments or suggestions for someone with a story similar to yours?

OA person: just keep coming back. don’t give up. try something new in recovery. allow yourself to feel like crap if you do. but then move on. feel the feelings and then let them go. break out of isolation and start talking to people, sharing at meetings, phoning or emailing or whatever you can do today to get out of yourself. my biggest ‘trap’ is self.

——–

a note from isabella: “keep coming back” is a phrase often used in 12-step meetings. it means don’t give up, keep trying. it can also carry the meaning of “keep remembering who you truly are, in all your beauty and health.”

image by open threads

recovery

happiness - what recovery looks likehere is the last instalment of my conversation with joanna poppink. this is part of a series of interviews about different topics in eating disorders.

originally, i was going to tack the answer to my last question on to the second part of the interview. however, i realized that the answer to this question is applicable to a much wider range of audience than “just” people with eating disorders, so i decided it deserved its own entry. here it is.

isabella: in your replies, you have often used the term “recovery”. what is your definition of recovery?

joanna: recovery is a noun that describes a continuing process. to start recovery is to start a journey.

to be on that journey is to be on your path to health and emotional and intellectual
development. the path leads to your true self, to your inner resources of courage, creativity, self respect, strength and ability to be committed and dedicated.

recovery from bulimia or anorexia or binge eating or compulsive eating is not just about making peace with food and developing healthy eating habits. recovery is not just about developing or forcing yourself into living with a realistic sense of your body.

recovery involves living a balanced life. it means feeling all you can feel and digesting your feelings so they inform and enrich your entire personhood. they don’t spill out for others to take care of. they don’t create such distress that you need to use food or drugs or sex or shopping or high drama or manipulations or dissociation to get relief.

recovery is about being real in the real world. it is about having the ability to live, cope, adapt, work, love, play in freedom. it means being responsible for yourself and your actions. it means respecting and honoring boundaries so you can truly take care of yourself while respecting and being in relationship with others.

it means more serenity, joy and smiles in your life. and it means being able to eat and enjoy food in freedom.

recovery is an endless journey where life continues to get better as you go.

image by tarzan

carnival of eating disorders, august 2008 edition

welcome to the august 2008 edition of the carnival of eating disorders! there is a lot of interesting material, so i’ll do the same that i do with the buddhist carnival and present the articles in two different posts. this first post will deal with anorexia. the second will deal with body image and overeating.

exorcism for anorexia?
good news – a religious cult which was curing anorexia with exorcism is in serious trouble. here are some of the strange goings-on at mercy ministries:

“the counsellor gave me a list of different demons – demon of anger, demon of unforgiveness, demon of pride, there were lots of them and i was told to go away and circle the demons i had in me or around me,” said smith.”i was really scared… they cast demons out of me, one by one, and they became quite excited and animated during the process, and spoke in tongues.

“it was the counsellors and myself and they put their hands on me and started praying one by one for each of the demons that were on the list to be cast out of me.

“after each demon was cast out i had to say ‘i confirm the demon of x has been cast out of me in the name of jesus and is unwelcome to return.’

“the whole time i was there, all i heard was that i’m demonic.

“even after the exorcism, when i had the next anxiety attack, i was told that they had already cast the demons out, so therefore i was obviously either faking it, or i had chosen to let the demons come back, in which case i was not serious about getting better.

anorexia and bulimia on social media
this post refers to an article that appeared last year but it’s probably even more important today than 12 months ago. eating disorders are rampant on social media, it says. that’s true. but so is the opposite. here on this blog, for example, we have the anorexia recovery forum where people speak actively against “the voice of ana”. for those of you unfamiliar with the term, “ana” is a sort of pet name for anorexia, as is “mia” for bulimia).

a drug for anorexia?
medusa reports on canadian research on a drug that might help some people with anorexia

a drug used to treat schizophrenia may be a new tool to help patients with anorexia gain weight and control their obsessive thoughts about food.

new canadian research has found that when anorexia patients take olanzapine, they gain weight, feel calmer and do not have the obsessive thoughts about weight and food that characterize the debilitating condition.

recovery milestones
angel has a beautiful post where she envisions recovery from eating disorders:

we have binged, starved, purged, and obsessed in an effort to manage unwelcome emotions. the solution to an eating disorder has to do with accepting our thoughts and feelings, and finding safe and responsible ways to express them. there is no magic about recovery. recovery means rebuilding trust with ourselves and others, taking careful risks to learn what is safe and good for us. when we can take responsibility for understanding our needs, and getting them met, then we will walk free.

from overeating to anorexia
in his article paul mckenna owes courtney love an apology, joshua seth says, “yes, it is possible to lose too much weight. there is such a thing as a healthy range. and unfortunately singer courtney love seems to have taken weight loss hypnosis a bit too far.” this is interesting because it brings up a host of misconceptions about eating disorders and specifically about anorexia. this is such an important topic that i’ll talk about that in a future article, some time before the next carnival of eating disorders.

i’ll post part 2 tomorrow, september 1. in the meantime, if you have an article you’d like to see here, please let me know, using this submission form.

recovering from anorexia: a treasure trove of wisdom

last year, i had a post entitled recovering from anorexia: 10 activities. over the months, we’ve had some important conversations on that post and a lot of wisdom from people who are overcoming anorexia. i’d like to present this wisdom here in a somewhat organized and easy-to-read format. these are all things that have helped people who are in recovery from anorexia. none of these ideas and activities were “invented” by a therapist – they’re all tried and true.

i’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to this so far. none of this was written by me – i’m just the person who gathered it all together.

relationships
1. constant reassurance- often when eating, i repeatedly ask those around me (parents, my partner) whether it is “okay” for me to be eating what i’m eating, whether it’s “okay” to gain the weight… i know what their answers will always be, but it helps to hear it repeated.
2. engaging in healthy relationships: a form of distraction, this makes me feel loved, special and takes my mind away from the negative thoughts.
3. honesty: when i have the strength to do this one, it does help… but it’s a matter of me not wanting to ‘burden’ people with my rubbish.
4. try not to get caught up in the social network around you if it entices unhealthy habits.
5. not isolating myself from loved ones, i.e. going out to dinner with them and truly enjoying the company and food too

getting in touch with your body
6. for me it’s been a discovery of what my body actually likes and wants. it’s matter of listening to yourself and feeling ok in your own flesh.
7. the best thing is to try to learn yourself- when you’re hungry- how long you should work out, etc.
8. working hard to have the mindset that i can trust my body to balance if i eat a little too much one day.

motivation
9. i also use to keep a post-it note on my desk that read “some things just aren’t worth it” and it would remind me when i wanted to restrict that i wasn’t hurting anyone but myself.
10. personal achievement- doing things like short courses and working really helps, i focus my energy on achieving something else other than weight-loss and see positive results at the end.
11. fortunately, my parents noticed my sudden “healthy” eating habits and got me a wonderful team of therapists to treat it. it takes your body a little boost to get out of that dangerous underweight range, so when it was taking a long time for me to gain weight they told me i might not be able to go back to college. i realized my school, friends, and life were more important than something as silly as calories in food and i just had to try harder, every meal eating more.

discipline
12. i know it always helps me when i have schedule- so if it helps to plan out what your eating or when you can eat in between studying, socializing and classes definitely do that.
13. it seems somewhat extreme but every night before bed i would plan out my next day on a post it note bit by bit, when i should eat lunch and dinner in between my five classes, gym time and meetings… it kept me sane even through the tough times that i knew i had a plan.
14. walking away from unhealthy eating: i’m not always good at this and do slip up and purge, etc. but walking away definitely does help at times.

writing and art
15. spending quiet time with your feelings: writing is a huge helper, art and music too. i would recommend any of these, almost above everything else, to people trying to recover.
16. writing does help but it feels pointless but good for me at the same time

self empowerment
17. i have taken things into my own hands and am doing much better than anyone thought possible.
18. find your own ways to cope. for me, it’s reading research articles through our school library on the long term effects of eating disorders. from my readings i have found that sure, you can take calcium pills, but they won’t do much if you’re deteriorating your body, which isn’t just fat. it’s muscle and bone too.

eating differently
19. sometimes i eat a lot in the day, sometimes i eat a little bit less…it all balances out. now that i’m nourishing myself extra i can exercise, but i take days off and just hang out with friends. i also eat something after i workout, i.e. fruit with peanut butter.
20. i also don’t drink coffee or diet soda to limit my appetite. in my research i found that the phosphoric acid (found in pop) and caffeine (found in coffee and usually pop too) are no no’s for bone health.

body image
21. i realized my worth is not a number on a jean take, especially such a small one. plus, curves are beautiful. it’s normal to have relapses in thinking, but you just need to keep eating normally. it’s so much better to prevent an eating disorder or prevent relapse.
22. it’s kind of nice feeling “above” the whole propaganda that thin is in. notice that most with people with eating disorders are women? hmm…i know with mine it was also a control thing, but i have to admit the media was a part of too.

understanding the disease
23. every time i want to restrict i look up research on the effects of eating disorders and osteoporosis (especially because i know i have that), ones that are credible. it scares me so much that i never skip a meal anymore because malnutrition is so harmful to the bones.
24. people with anorexia are bound to get cravings when they start eating, and chances are, they are going to last for quite some time.

made a decision
25. i too one day just decided that i was going to eat, because i wanted to get better and also because i love food so much.
26. it took me about two months to finally decide that i was sick of controlling every mouthful so one day i just decided to buy a huge box of chocolates after dinner one night and i finished the whole lot, enjoying every second of it. now that was a turning point. i began looking forward to my after-dinner treats, and now i eat a lot. i have just reached my minimum target weight, but i’ve yet to get my periods. so, that is my motivation to keep up my weight.

mindset
27. i also stay away from calorie counting or anything that would lead to me ocd about food.

be gentle with yourself
28. try to be gentle with yourself. know that there will be some nights where you should have ate more, or should have not eaten so much- and know that it takes time to get over this problem. know that if there is a time where you eat too much- it’s only a few minutes of your life, you aren’t a bad person, and forgive yourself and move on.

share your story

journallinghave you experienced recovery and healing in your life? goodtherapy, a great new resource for people who believe in affirmative therapy, therapy that is non-pathologizing, empowering, collaborative is starting a healing story collection. if you have something to share, go here.

the first contribution you’ll find starts like this:

once upon a time there was a wonderful little girl, sensitive, intelligent, gifted. she was so sensitive that it was easy for her to see words that weren’t spoken. words that other people did not speak swirled through the air but ended up inside of her.

when she was not very old, and couldn’t even describe it with words, she noticed that there was a shadow on her father.

when she grew old enough to express the feelings (though only in her own quiet little mind), these were her words: “i am not sure that my father loves me. sometimes he seems to love me. but i’m not sure that he really loves me. he is so far away. his eyes are heavy and sometimes when he looks at me it’s as if he doesn’t even see me, or he sees me from a long distance. i think his smile looks so watered down because it has to travel so far to come from him to me.”

for the rest, read on at little lil – a story about trying to be perfect