My way or the highway.

I am a serious fan of perspectives. I had a high school history teacher who was fond of saying that “truth is increasing complexity”, and in both my personal and professional lives, I have found this to be, well, true.

When a client presents me with a truth, about themselves, about an experience, we work to increase complexity. Are you sure that’s true? Has it always been true? What else might be true? What do others in your life believe to be true? Often, in this way, we are able to triangulate, and to move in the direction of deeper knowing, of more true, but also to open space for subjectivity, and breathe some light or humor or next questions into that space.

It is in the spirit of that kind of inquiry that I offer the following blog post by Holly Glenn Whitaker: http://www.hipsobriety.com/home/2015/2/18/why-aa-didnt-work-for-me-my-story-part-1

This is not a prescription. This is not an indictment of AA. It is also not an endorsement of Holly’s sobriety coaching program. It is, however, a perspective. There’s this Buddhist expression, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” It speaks to the dangers of making something or someone your god, which is easy to do when you feel as though you have been saved, but the reification of any one concept or any one guru or organization can be fraught with peril.

I work with a lot of clients who struggle with substance abuse because when the world offers you its misogyny, its transphobia, its racisim and its fat phobia (amongst others) to internalize, numbness and escape often sound like the loveliest of sirens. I have folks who come to my office who have found a sober life working an AA program, and it’s glorious. I also work with clients who have found that the language of powerlessness and surrender was inaccessible to them in the context of a history of sexual trauma or internalized hatred and disempowerment, and who echo Holly’s statement that in fact, making the choice to let go of alcohol because you can’t use it and be well is profoundly powerful, and profoundly empowering.

You can’t get sober by yourself, but you’re also the only one who can get you sober. The rooms of AA are one available community within which to do that work, but they are not the only one: could this be a truth?

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We’re clean eating our way to new eating disorders – Salon.com

“Because overdoing it is the American way, we’ve now managed to warp even healthy habits into a new form of eating disorders. Welcome to the era of orthorexia.

As Heather Hansman notes this week in Fast Company, orthorexia differs from other forms of disorders in that the obsessive focus is not on how much or how little one consumes, but the perceived virtue of the food itself. As she reports, “Nutritionists and psychologists say that they’re seeing it more often, especially in the face of restrictive food trends, like gluten-free, and growing information about where food comes from, and how it’s grown and processed.” Though the term has been in use since Dr. Steven Bratman coined it in 1997, the uptick in cases is leading to a new push to formally include it in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – aka the DSM 5.

Along with “gluten-free,” “juice fast” and other phrases, you may have been hearing “orthorexia” a lot more lately. Last summer, popular health and food blogger Jordan Younger made headlines – and faced intense criticism – when she announced that she was “transitioning away from veganism” as she realized that she had “started fearing a LOT of things when it came to food,” and had been struggling with orthorexia.”

via We’re clean eating our way to new eating disorders – Salon.com.

The Things People Say

My sweetheart and I were in a restaurant this weekend on our (isn’t this so cute?) Sunday night dinner date. I was eating my food, had recently checked in with myself to find out if I was feeling full, which I wasn’t yet, but was aware that given my level of impending satiation, I would probably be done before I had finished the portion on the plate. So far, so good. Just then, however, the waiter appeared, announced “There’s no shame in quitting, so if you need a to-go box, just let me know,” and zoomed off again on a water glass refilling mission.

I froze. A series of alluringly distorted thoughts flashed through my head, giving rise to a familiar dull ache in my chest that signals the arrival of shame, self-doubt and fear. Am I eating too much, so much that the waiter thinks I’m bad? Should I be full? Am I reading my appetite wrong? Does that mean I’ve been reading my appetite wrong for years and overeating without knowing it? AM I BAD!?!

Had I been alone, it would have been up to me to catch these thoughts and feelings in my mindfulness net, check them out, identify them as distorted and challenge them, but this time I got lucky. My partner took one look at me and my sad eyes, and said “Honey, he doesn’t know your history, he isn’t criticizing you, and everything is ok”. I calmed down, re-inhabited my body and reaffirmed my willingness to trust myself. With or without the support of an outside mind, I’ve been through that cycle more times than choose your cute saying.

But that’s all it takes. The wrong comment at the wrong moment and our little mind gerbils go galloping (do gerbils gallop?) down the paths of our particular brand of crazy. For me, some early physical trauma left me with the belief that my body is inherently bad and untrustworthy and inspires people to hurt me. I’ve sorted that one out, but if you believe something for long enough, even if it turns out it was wrong, it’s unfortunately easy to fall off the right thinking wagon if you read a person or event to be confirming the old belief. Which is why people should really try to avoid traumatizing other humans and teaching them sad thoughts about themselves, but I can’t fix that particular problem right now.

I’m telling you this whole restaurant story because I get the impression sometimes that the people I work with have the wrong idea about what “recovered” looks like. Folks don’t always come right out and say this, but it’s pretty clear that when I say I have recovered from my disordered eating and living patterns, they imagine me skipping down a sunny dirt road singing odes to my positive body image and picking strawberries. Which sounds pretty ok, although there might be a bunch of mosquitos, but is not a true truth.

What recovered means to me is that I actively, in real time and fairly accurately, can identify when a thought that I’m thinking is whole, and when it is distorted by the lens of history or culture or that thing that girl said to me that time in high school. And because I can identify it (I’m circling a theme here), I then have the power to challenge it, and to ease my way out of the uncomfortable emotions the distorted thought gave rise to. A previous therapist of mine noted that engaging in this process, over time, was much like a river flowing over rocks that have the distortions carved on them: the marks are still there, but they grow fainter with time and practice. I have also learned that I can stack the decks towards having more or fewer of these distorted thoughts emerge depending on the choices I make about what to let into my sphere in terms of toxic or empathic people, media, and how I treat myself.

Now. There is a whole huge controversy in the recovery world (eating disorders, substance abuse, other addictions) about if anyone is ever recovered, or if recovery is a process that’s always ongoing but has no stamp of “now you’re recovered, please exit stage left” available. So where do I fit into that debate? Depends on your definition. To me, recovered means not acting on the crazy anymore, and working your work to erode the crazy so it doesn’t pop up as frequently because as great as it feels to be all mindful and challenge your stuff and win, it can get a little old after awhile if it’s a main course at every meal. There are some who suggest that you’re not recovered until you don’t think the thoughts ever again anymore. Why that doesn’t work for me is that I have never, not once, met or read about or heard about or witnessed in any way a person who doesn’t ever think the thoughts anymore, but I have interacted with many people who are living whole and well lives who occasionally trip on their histories and then get back up with verve and aplomb.

My concern with the skipping down a sunny path carefree idea about “recovered” is that it’s totally bogus and gives people a false goal which is eventually very discouraging. Really, no one lives like that and no matter how well we become, our minds and hearts and bodies carry our history. There’s nothing more powerful, though, than becoming more powerful than your history. No matter what people say to you in restaurants.