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28 posts categorized "Addiction"


Five Things That Get in the Way of Your Spiritual Connection

This month we've been discussing the spiritual piece of the recovery puzzle. For some, spirituality is an untapped resource. Once you learn about ways of accessing your own spiritual connection and make a conscious effort to do that, a whole new world is opened for you.

Sometimes, though, the path to spiritual awareness can be blocked, and the door to that spiritual world might seem locked to you.

Here is a list of five things that may keep you from making a spiritual connection:

  1. Lack of sleep: Feeling tired can impair your judgement, shorten your temper and magnify your challenges so they seem impossible to overcome. In that state it's hard to remember that you have access to an inner source of wisdom, and harder still to listen to that quiet voice. Try getting to bed earlier and/or sleeping later, and practicing other good sleep hygiene habits.
  2. Obsession: When your mind is so busy turning over every detail about something in the past (what you should have done or what you wish you hadn't done) or the future (what you should do next, what you're afraid to do or what you hope will/won't happen), there's no room to be open to spiritual suggestions. It's a well-known paradox that sometimes the minute you stop thinking about yourself and your own problems, solutions can magically appear. Try doing something nice for someone else.
  3. Focusing on the negative: Another common theory, known as the Law of Attraction, says that whatever you focus on is what you will attract into your life. Try thinking about and showing appreciation for the positive people and things in your life.
  4. Strong feelings: In a similar way, strong feelings of resentment, fear, depression, anxiety or grief can all cloud your perception. You may be sure that you know what someone else is thinking or feeling or you may underestimate your own capability. You may lack the confidence to know the difference between your own negative thinking and a message that may be from your spiritual intuition. Try speaking about your feelings to a therapist or trusted friend, or writing in your journal.
  5. Using food in an addictive way: When you overeat, undereat, purge or over-exercise, it brings on all four of the previous situations, as well as many other problems. Food can create a false sense of connection, but for food addicts, anorexics, bulimics and compulsive overeaters, food actually drives a wedge between you and other people, and between you and yourself. The deeper into the addiction you sink, the farther away you feel from your spiritual connection. Getting a handle on your addictive behaviors should always be your first concern. We're here to help

If you've been trying different strategies to make a spiritual connection and you're still struggling, check which one of these five situations may be present in your life.


When People Are the Triggers

In the recovery process from an eating disorder, you'll probably start by focusing on the food and your eating patterns. Once you've worked on those things, it will be time to turn you attention to your relationships – your emotional triggers.

You may feel triggered when people start talking about weight, dieting, the newest exercise program or the foods they're eating or not eating. Well-meaning friends and relatives may ask questions about what YOU are eating or not eating, or they may comment on your appearance.

Shopping for groceries or clothing can trigger many different issues around food and weight, and food is on display pretty much everywhere you go at certain times of year like the winter holiday season. Just seeing those huge quantities of food all in one place can be terrifying for someone in recovery from food addition, emotional eating, anorexia or bulimia.

Relationship issues can pop up just as often, where TV commercials, books or other people in your life can remind you of painful situations that are still unresolved. Sometimes you can get caught off guard by a reaction that feels out of proportion, like getting really upset about someone you don't even know.

When someone triggers you, usually it's because somewhere deep down it reminds you of an interaction with your family of origin. This is another reason that we welcome triggers in the therapy process. This is a great opportunity to work through something that you wouldn't have otherwise. 

You don't have to be afraid of triggers. You can learn to understand them and deal with them – not eat over them.



Use a Pen to Fight Your Triggers

One of the most helpful tools in 12-step recovery programs is the daily written inventory of what you did well that day, where you could improve, and if there is anything you need to set right with an apology or other action.

This practice can be extremely useful when you're learning how to cope with "triggers" – people, situations or foods that create an emotional response. For people recovering from anorexia, bulimia, food addiction or emotional eating, the first response to being triggered is to use their unhealthy eating behaviors.

By keeping a written record of what triggers you and bringing that to a therapy session or group, you can ask for help to learn how to change your default response and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

A therapist can take you through a role play where you actually rehearse what you will say or do differently the next time that situation comes up. You may also spend time looking deeper into what it is that triggered you in the first place. That awareness can be an important element of the healing process.

Your therapist can help you create a physical symbol of recovery so you can focus on that object until the trigger passes. I've known people to use a picture created in a therapy session, a stone or shell, a word or quote, a medallion or jewelry or even a pen with their name on it. This transitional object can effectively bridge the gap between the work done with the therapist and the triggering stimuli that takes place in everyday life.

The scariest thing about triggers is anticipating them. The first step towards gaining control over them is to capture them on paper and bring them down to size. Right then – triggers begin to lose their power.


Let's Get Triggered

For people with an eating disorder, emotional eating or food addiction, the holidays can be like a minefield of "triggers" – situations or foods that bring heightened anxiety and awaken the compulsion to use unhealthy eating behaviors.

Earlier in my career, I had been trained from the perspective that we shouldn't mention triggers or specific foods in therapy, in case someone would leave their session and binge, purge or restrict themselves right into relapse. Today things are different. It's not that we would ever purposefully provoke someone, but we know that triggers happen out in the world we live in.

Now, if someone is triggered, we know that she or he can come back and discusses that in a future session with the therapist or group. That way we can equip the person with valuable tools for handling similar situations in the future.

By trying to protect my clients from their triggers, I was actually denying them that chance to grow beyond them. Research, as well as my own clinical experience, has taught me that it doesn't help to avoid the triggers in therapy – and it's certainly not therapeutic.

My approach has changed and grown, just as my clients have. It's okay to be triggered in group or in therapy, as long as you process it, like we do here at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center. Whether that happens immediately, or whether you need to think about it and come back, it's important to look at what is happening.

I would even say that today we welcome triggers, and that's because there are certainly going to be triggers out there, especially during the holidays – in the grocery store checkout line, at the gas station and in conversations with friends, family and co-workers. The goal is to not only tolerate these triggers but to embrace them with no thoughts or feelings of hurting yourself.



Identifying Your Addictive Foods

Similar to emotional eating, treating food addiction involves a therapeutic process of gaining insight and awareness into unresolved emotional issues. Besides that, the food addict must also identify and stop eating the foods he or she is addicted to.

A food journal can be a valuable tool in this process. Try writing down the foods you're eating, as well as your thoughts and feelings before and after eating. You'll also want to record your physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, hunger, pain, irritability and anxiety.

After a week or so, reading back over your answers is bound to reveal some patterns. For more clarity, support and guidance, bring your food journal to a therapy session or an appointment with a dietician who specializes in food addiction (contact us for referrals).

Here are three questions that may help you hone in on foods that are addictive for you:

  1. While I'm eating this food item, am I already thinking about the next time I will eat it?
  2. When I finish eating this food item, do I feel a sense of loss or panic because it's gone?
  3. Do I think about this food item many times through the day?

For a more comprehensive food addiction assessment, click here to take the Yale University Food Addiction Scale.


Jane's Story of Food Addiction

All her life, Jane noticed that other people around didn't seem to look at food the same way she did. While she waited all day for school to be over so she could come home and snack (usually right up until dinner), other kids hung out with friends, worked in the library or played sports.

While her sister would have her Halloween candy in her desk drawer for months (and Jane knew, because she would sneak in there and eat some – but never enough to be noticed), Jane's was usually gone in just a few days.

When she grew older and started to be more conscious of her weight and appearance, Jane tried diet after diet to slim down and get some control over her eating. She would diligently follow all the rules, and then after awhile she would reward herself with a treat for being so "good." That little taste of whatever it was would set off a whirlwind pattern: eating, hiding what she was eating, scheming about how she could eat more, and feeling a deep sense of shame for having blown another diet.

When one of her co-workers was hospitalized for medical complications due to alcoholism, Jane actually envied him, wishing someone would lock her up to keep her away from her "treats." She had no idea that she was dealing with a condition just as debilitating and pervasive as alcoholism. That, in fact, certain foods triggered an alcoholic response in her body – once she started with them, she couldn't stop. Jane was a food addict. Are you?


You Can't Heal Food Addiction by Treating Emotional Eating

Not everyone with a compulsive or emotional eating disorder is a food addict. There are many people who can heal their emotional issues with food without ever having to acknowledge or give up an unhealthy relationship with a specific food or type of food.

And for others, those foods can be as problematic as alcohol is to the alcoholic. Even one bite can set off a chain of physical, biochemical reactions in the brain and body.

While a food addict may have as many unresolved emotional issues to work through as the emotional eater, a food addict also has to deal with the physical dependence. Though some people (including professionals) are unsure or uninformed about the theory of food addiction, research has shown that some foods, including sugar, can be just as addictive and harmful as other serious drugs.

Dr. Mark Gold, head of psychiatry at University of Florida in Gainsville, has done a lot of work in food addiction research, along with many others.

It's not as simple of identifying yourself as either an emotional eater or a food addict. In some cases, you might not know the food addiction is there until you start to unravel the emotional problems. As a first step, you might review this self-assessment created at Yale University:

Another challenge is that while most therapists are equipped to deal with emotional eating, very few therapists have the training and understanding to treat food addiction. That is a specialty here at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, and we take a highly individualized approach to support people through the process of identifying the true nature of their food issues.

We are also beginning to train our interns in this area, as well as enlightening other students and therapists with our seminars and presentations.

It's not easy to face addiction – once you "put the food down" (stop eating the food you're addicted to), more emotions can come up and you may even feel a sense of loss from giving them up (you can contact us for more details about our "Grief, Loss and Food" workshop).

On the other hand, it can be validating to realize that your compulsion around food is not due to a lack of willpower; it's a chemical reaction that's the same as gluten or lactose intolerance. And that can be a real relief after struggling for so long.


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Tools only work if you're ready to use them

I've noticed a pattern in my therapy practice over the years, where there will be an influx of people flocking to the Center in search of tools – the right food plan, exercise plan, journaling method, etc. that's going to deliver freedom from food addiction and eating disorders.

"Just give me the answer!"

We understand and empathize with the desperation. Sometimes it comes from an imminent physical crisis, such as a doctor warning about diabetes, hip surgery, heart failure or other serious health effects of eating disorder behaviors. Other times there's an internal motivation to change, yet the strong desire for a quick and easy solution.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, food addiction and compulsive overeating, entering into therapy may open up a hidden wound or make you feel a little more vulnerable. Your emotional symptoms can even increase for a little while. This is the nature of recovery – it's an up and down process.

Using tools can bring up feelings or emotions or memories you may not have known were in there. And that can start a destructive cycle of wanting to use your eating disorder behaviors again to shut those feelings down.

Before you can make the best use of any tool, you need to want to and be able to change; there's a readiness level that has to be there. In the therapy process we work on the issues that are blocking that readiness, so we can clear them away and get to that "1st step" (admitting your powerlessness over your problem).

As we mentioned in a previous article about denial, one tool that we use is motivational interviewing. This is a form of questioning that challenges how you're thinking and introduces a new way of thinking. We know how difficult this can be, and we approach the process with much compassion.

When tools are presented as part of a therapy process, we can help people walk through these changes. Because we've had the experience of witnessing many people get through it, we can share those examples with you and reinforce the possibility of recovery.

It's also important that people learn how to apply specifically to their situation, rather than just take a tool and run with it. While one person may find relief by replacing their compulsive overeating with a new habit such as gardening, for someone else that wouldn't work at all.

Joining a therapy group is one of the most helpful ways to learn about tools because you hear other people's experiences and suggestions. And in turn, you can help someone else the same way. Plus, you'll have the support of the therapeutic process to help you address whatever may be blocking your readiness, and then to help personalize the tool to your specific situation.


Seeing The Truth

In previous articles, we've been looking at the issue of denial. Denial is one of several defense mechanisms we all find ourselves using, even if we're not aware of it. When we use a defense mechanism, we are trying to protect ourselves from unpleasant emotions and feelings.
Although on the surface this sounds like a good thing, this tactic works against us by keeping us from seeing things as they truly are, effectively addressing our problems and issues, and moving forward with our lives in a positive way.
Some of the most frequently used defense mechanisms in individuals with eating disorders are rationalization, projection and denial.
When we use rationalization in relation to food, we use a plausible excuse to justify our behavior. ("Although I planned it, I didn’t eat that snack because I knew I was going to eat again in three hours!")
Projection is when we assign our own thoughts, feelings or motives to another person, e.g., accusing a co-worker of being angry at you rather than recognizing your own anger.
Denial, the most common defense mechanism, is when we completely reject that we have a thought or feeling, or that we are engaging in a specific behavior. ("It wasn't me who ate all the ____________”! or “I am training for the triathlon only because I can have structured workouts with a group and not be exercising alone in my house”.)
Reducing the use of defense mechanisms helps us to engage in the process of personal growth. As we rely less on defense mechanisms, we become more in touch with ourselves. We begin to increase our awareness of our thoughts and feelings and develop a healthy acceptance of those thoughts and feelings. We become less critical and judgmental of ourselves, and learn to develop a repertoire of coping strategies that, in the long run, serve us much better than our defense mechanisms. Aside from connecting better with ourselves, we also connect more with others, and that's a very good thing! 


Who does your addiction hurt?

This month we're looking at denial, a big issue for people with all types of addictions, including food addiction and eating disorders.
Denial in relationships

Addicts often think their behavior is invisible to others. It's like how little kids play peek-a-boo. They think that as soon as they cover their eyes, we can't see them, either. Dogs will do the same thing – as soon as they turn away from you, they'll try and get away with stuff they shouldn't be doing because they think they've turned invisible.
There's an expression that food addicts and those with eating disorders "wear" their disease. Whether it's excess weight, dull eyes and complexion, swollen glands or a sad expression, there's not much about the effects of an eating disorder that are hidden – especially to the people closest to them.
Food addicts and emotional eaters may also be in denial about how their addiction impacts the other people in their lives. These disorders affect everyone in the family. And that's a sad fact to face.
Breaking through the denial
Overcoming denial is one of the first steps of recovery – sometimes people address it before they even make the call to come and see us. Yet breaking through denial is like peeling an onion.
For someone who's always been a "good girl," it can be shocking to realize that you're lying about what you're eating, how much you're eating, or what you're doing with food and exercise. Or maybe it's something else – like shopping, over-spending, or people-pleasing.
While only the person with the problem can face the denial and make that breakthrough, there are some strategies that we use in therapy to help make that happen.
Motivational interviewing is a form of questioning that confronts the way someone is thinking, and provides evidence for a new way of thinking. For example, addicts can easily get caught up in "all or nothing" thinking. In that case, the therapist can point out options in the middle area, which the person may not even have considered.
Groups are an excellent way to pierce the denial, because you'll hear other people say they have a problem. If you can relate to what they've shared, it may open your mind to acknowledging that you have the problem as well. You'll also be able to support other people and witness as they get through their denial as well.
Is there something you've been denying to yourself or others? Is it time to break through?


Are you lying to yourself?


Denial leads to relapse
Have you ever heard the expression, "Denial is not a river in Egypt"? It's also the name of a funny book of sayings for people in recovery, and denial is the theme of this month's blog posts.
Alcoholics will often minimize their consumption and say they're drinking less than they actually are. Meanwhile, because of the changes that happen in brain chemistry in addicts, the more they drink the more they need to drink in order to feel normal, let alone good.
The exact same thing happens in people with food and weight obsession. Whether it's how long they exercise or how much they eat (either restricting or overeating), they need more and more of the behavior – but will still under-report what they're actually doing. Tolerance continues to grow, and so does denial, until soon they're in full-blown food addiction. Usually, it's someone else who recognizes it before the person with the food addiction – a friend or counselor may be the one to point it out.
Complacency is a form of denial
People get excited and enthusiastic at the beginning of the recovery process. They're in therapy, a support group or a 12-step program, and they're taking actions. Inevitably, something happens in life, or they just wake up a little tired one day, or that "high" of early recovery wears off and they become complacent.
Complacency becomes a form of denial. In addiction recovery, we talk about something called euphoric recall – people dwell on remembering the "good old days" of indulging in their addiction, and completely deny that there were any harmful, unpleasant or life-threatening effects.
Being in recovery can seem boring compared to a fantasy of life with excess food. That's why in 12-step recovery, the first step is often to write out a history of all of the ways that food, weight obsession, over-exercising, etc. made your life unmanageable. Please contact us at White Picket Fence Counseling Center if you would like to try a journaling exercise like that.
Denial is a definite path to slips and relapse. Let's say someone has long-term abstinence from binge eating. She has a slip, one binge, but gets right back in the saddle. She may decide, "Hey, I can handle a binge once in awhile," and it happens again, and again, until all of a sudden (but it's really not) she's face down in the food again.

In the next post, we'll look at how denial can affect relationships, and some of the ways we address denial in the therapy process.



Where to learn more about Co-Dependency and Boundaries

Self Test for You

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see whether your “helping” behavior may actually be co-dependency:
  1. Do you have a hard time saying no to others, even when you are very busy, financially struggling, or completely exhausted?
  2. Are you always sacrificing your own needs for everyone else?
  3. Do you feel more worthy as a human being because you have taken on a helping role?
  4. If you stopped helping your friends, would you feel guilty or worthless?
  5. Would you know how to be in a friendship that doesn’t revolve around you being the “helper”?
  6. If your friends eventually didn’t need your help, would you still be friends with them? Or would you look around for someone else to help?
  7. Do you feel resentful when others are not grateful enough to you for your efforts at rescuing them or fixing their lives?
  8. Do you sometimes feel like more of a social worker than a friend in your relationships?
  9. Do you feel uncomfortable receiving help from other people? Is the role of helping others a much more natural role for you to play in your relationships?
  10. Does it seem as if many of your friends have particularly chaotic lives, with one crisis after another?
  11. Did you grow up in a family that had a lot of emotional chaos or addiction problems?
  12. Are many of your friends addicts, or do they have serious emotional and social problems?
  13. As you were growing up, did you think it was up to you to keep the family functioning?
  14. As an adult, is it important for you to be thought of as the “dependable one”?
If you answered “yes” to a lot of these questions, you may indeed have a problem with co-dependency. This does not mean that you are a flawed person. It means that you are spending a lot of energy on other people and very little on yourself. If it seems that a lot of your friendships are based on co-dependent rescuing behaviors, rather than on mutual liking and respect between equals, you may wish to step back and rethink your role in relationships.If you suspect that your helping behavior is a form of co-dependency, a good therapist or counselor can help you gain perspective on your actions and learn a more balanced way of relating to others.

Here is a list of books and resources about co-dependency and boundaries:

Co-dependent No More by Melanie Beattie
Co-dependent No More Workbook by Melanie Beattie
Co-dependents Guide to the Twelve Steps by Melanie Beattie
The New Codependency by Melanie Beattie
Language of Letting Go by Melanie Beattie
Where to Draw the Line by Anne Katherine, M.A.
Boundaries by Anne Katherine, M.A.
Codependence and the Power of Detachment by Karen Casey
Co-Dependence by Ann Wilson Schaef
Transforming the Co-Dependent Woman by Sandy Bierig

Internet Resources­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­:­
Co-Dependents Anonymous
Al-Anon Family Groups

Are you interested in coming to a workshop in June about Co-dependency and Boundaries? If so, get special e-flyer sent to you in advance so you can register early!  Contact me by email or call our office.