When You Can’t Fix Your Family

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Sometimes the people in our life who should love us the most and treat us with the most care, actually treat us with the most indifference. Or worse… inflict the most harm on us. It’s awful and it’s not fair, because we don’t get to pick our family. The good news is that as we get older, we get to decide how close we will be, emotionally and physically, to those family members. (See my previous post about How You Can (Finally!) Disengage from a Toxic Parent.)

A lady I used to do therapy with has a very dysfunctional family she struggled to detach from, even though their toxic behavior and comments provoked disabling anxiety for her, as well as profound feelings of shame and isolation. At 61-years-old, this woman was still trying to earn their approval and acceptance, and blaming herself for their maltreatment, thinking on a subconscious level that if she could just do things ‘right’, they’d finally love her.

Once, she described a vivid dream that she had when she was just four years old: “I was on a battlefield in the middle of a war and there was shooting and bombs were going off. I was lost and terrified at all the chaos and violence, when my parents and brothers and sisters drove up in a Jeep. I thought I was being rescued, but they looked at me, and then just drove off, leaving me there. I remember I woke up bawling, I was so scared and hurt that they left me.”

I asked if her if that little four-year-old girl deserved to be rescued, if she deserved more love and protection from her family than she got—not just in the dream but in real life.

“Yes!” my client almost shouted, angry tears welling up in her eyes as she grieved for that little girl.

“You are that little girl still. You’re just older. But there wasn’t a point, a specific age, when you stopped deserving those things.”

Friends, it’s so tempting for us, especially when we’re children trying to make sense of a confusing world, to believe that our family’s chaos or the abuse or neglect we suffer at their hands is our fault. Because if it’s our fault, then we can fix it, right? If it’s not our fault, and it is actually theirs… well, then that means we have no control over their behavior and that is scary—again, especially when we’re vulnerable children dependent on those very people.

Now you are grown up. And you still can’t fix them. And you can’t change them by ‘fixing’ yourself. But you can put in boundaries to minimize the degree to which they continue to rob you of joy, peace, and self-esteem. You get to decide now what you will and will not accept. And I hope you’ll stop accepting anything that is wounding your heart and soul. Believe it yet or not, you do deserve better.

Much love,
Cherie Signature

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

How to Love a Porcupine

Dare2Hope_Hug a Porcupine

At an eating disorder support group I led recently, a mom said the one “gift” her daughter could give her was to try and recover from her anorexia. She was struggling with understanding how her daughter could see the damage her eating disorder was doing to their family and still refuse to even try recovery. Without saying these exact words, I believe her feelings were akin to, “If you loved me, you would stop.”

Anyone who has been in a relationship with someone with an eating disorder or substance addiction can probably relate to that. In your head, you might know it has nothing to do with you, but it feels like it does. And often, when you push people to get better before they are ready, they will act in pretty unloving ways to defend themselves. It can be be like trying to hug a porcupine…the more you try to help, the more you get hurt. This frustrating cycle usually leads to feelings of resentment and maybe even pretty strong anger—on both sides.  So how do you get out of the cycle without giving up on the other person? Here are some tips on how to love a porcupine (i.e. someone not ready to recover).

#1. Realize how difficult it is to even choose recovery, much less walk through it. Another girl in the group who has an eating disorder told that mom that her own mother had expressed similar things to her in the past before she started into recovery. “I love my mom so much. I felt like I would do anything for her… but she was literally asking me to do the one thing I couldn’t do at the time.” This brave young woman went on to explain that the fear was overwhelming, even to the point of overwhelming her love for others. “I was absolutely terrified at the thought of treatment and gaining weight.”

#2. Be a learner. Unless you have an eating disorder, you can never fully understand what it is like to have one, but you can educate yourself to become more sensitive and knowledgeable. There are a lot of books on the subject (see recommended reading at the end), online resources like NEDA and ANAD, and possibly some support groups local to you. If your loved one is willing to share about their experience, that is of course, an ideal place to learn. Eating disorders by nature tend to be surrounded by secrecy and shame, but there are things you can to make it more or less likely he or she will open up. Which leads to #3…

#3. Work on being a safe person. As you learn more about eating disorders, you’ll be more attune to things that could be detrimental for your loved one. Even with the best of intentions, people often say or suggest things that are triggering or insulting. Oversimplifying their struggles by telling them to just eat or to just stop throwing up, assuring them they look great, or suggesting diet plans are examples of common but counter-productive attempts to help.

In general, taking a non-judgmental approach that doesn’t shame, scold, or criticize the other person is more likely to foster open communication. Assure him or her that you want to understand better than you do now and that you’re ready to listen… and then really listen. At times, it will be appropriate to encourage them to get help, but if you jump to that too quickly, the other person is more often than not going to feel misunderstood. Check out this article from NEDA for more detailed tips on talking to a loved one about his or her eating disorder.

#4. Draw appropriate boundaries. This is a tricky one that could probably be its own blog post. Basically, you have to figure out where the line is between supporting someone and not trying to control them. Trying to control others doesn’t usually work and can even make them more resistant to change (thanks to that rebellious nature in all of us). For example, unless they’ve asked you to provide some accountability, comments about what they are or are not eating will likely backfire. Pushing someone to recover before they’re ready usually means recovery won’t be successful, even if they appear to be going through the motions. The person’s own motivation is key.

There are some exceptions to these principles. One is in cases where the eating disorder is so severe that medical care is necessary and then yes, intervention could mean life or death. If you’re not sure whether you’re in such a situation, talk to a medical doctor or therapist who is familiar with eating disorders.

The other exception is if you are the parent of a child or teenager. Naturally, your boundaries with that person are already different because they are under your care and you are responsible for their physical and emotional well-being. In that case, I believe forcing a child into treatment might make sense. But keep in mind the same caveat about personal motivation applies… recovery won’t happen until that person, regardless of age, decides for themselves to really try.

Following all these steps won’t guarantee you don’t get “poked” while trying to help. Believe it or not, people with eating disorders feel like they have a lot of reasons to stay sick and the thought of recovery can be, as that young woman said, absolutely terrifying. The fear and shame that accompany eating disorders make recovery hard to consider. Take care of yourself and resist the temptation to take on “fixing” them. Offer patience, support, and honesty, and by all means, seek out help and support for yourself! It’s not easy to love a porcupine.

Much love,
Cherie Signature

Recommended Reading:

Brave Girl Eating

Surviving an Eating Disorder: Strategies for Family and Friends

Life Without Ed

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

I Want to Be Happier… Now What?

Dare2Hope_Work of Art

Image credit: Daniel Posthuma on unsplash.com.

Last post, I talked about how becoming happier starts with a decision to choose happiness. Maybe it sounds lame and you’re thinking, who wouldn’t choose to be happy? But there are a lot of reasons we choose to be miserable instead… denying responsibility, side-stepping the discomfort of change, avoiding the anxiety of the unknown, being unwilling to make the sacrifices that might be required, etc. etc. etc.

Ok, but what if we do choose to be happy… what’s next?

Well, I wish I could give a formula, but it isn’t quite that simple. I know, I’d love a formula too! I like things very cut-and-dry. But living life isn’t like following a recipe. It’s more like creating a unique work of art, and that’s just what your life is: a work of art.

That being said, I do have some suggestions that might be helpful. Honestly, I could (and likely will at some point) do entire posts on each of these topics, but it would be overwhelming to try and cover it all here. So this 5-point list is a starting point and my best attempt at creating a “formula” for happiness.

#1. Practice Gratitude
It is easy to focus on the negative, on what is not going right and what we don’t have. It takes intentional effort to look for and focus on the positives. But doing so reminds us of all the good we take for granted and leads to more positive emotions. I agree with Melody Beattie: “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

#2. Create Soul Moments
Think about moments when you have felt peace or joy. Maybe it is being outside and soaking in nature, or reading a good book with a warm cup of coffee in hand. Perhaps it’s making connections with others through deep conversation, or cooking a delicious meal, or family game night and lots of laughter with your kids. Is it creating beauty through painting or planting beautiful flowers? Whether it’s playing tennis or playing Bunko (don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone), make a list of what makes you feel happy and do more of that.

#3. Release Expectations
Consider if your expectations of yourself, others, and perhaps even life, are realistic. Do you expect a toxic mother to treat you with respect and kindness? Do you expect your spouse to read your mind, or life to be fair, or you to be perfect all the time? Lowering your expectations is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s appropriate and incredibly freeing. Unrealistic expectations are a set-up for failure and hangover frustration, shame, or discontentment always follow.

#4. Live Your Values
What are your passions in life? For some, it’s family or friends. It might be spirituality. It could be humor, kindness, learning, service or wealth. Likely, you have a few top values and then secondary ones beneath those. But does your life reflect those values? If your highest value is family, but you’re working excessive hours, you’re not living within your values. Those long hours might be fine if your top value is wealth, but when our lives are incongruent with what is actually most important to us, we will usually feel frustrated and unhappy. Sometimes that’s unavoidable because there are bills to paid or other factors out of our control, but as much as you can take steps to bring your values and your life in parallel, the more fulfilled you will be.

#5. Take Care of Yourself
This is so common sense, but it’s completely not common. We are terrible at taking care of ourselves! Evaluate each of these areas in your own life and determine which ones need some improvement:

  • Are you getting enough rest and sleep? For most people that means at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night as well as time for relaxation.
  • Do you move your body? It doesn’t have to be 45 minutes at the gym; a 10-minute walk outside counts (and gives the extra benefit of a vitamin D boost from the sunshine!).
  • Are you eating a balanced diet and not over- or under-eating? It is impossible to feel good if we aren’t nourishing ourselves or if we are abusing our bodies with food.
  • Do you address any medical conditions with the proper care and medication? Do you even go to the doctor regularly to know if you have any medical conditions needing treatment? And yes, that includes treating mental health issues too!

Can you think of other ideas that cultivate happiness? Let me know what’s been helpful for you!

Much love,
Cherie Signature

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

The First Step to Being Happy

Dare 2 Hope_chasing joy

Photo Credit: Psychology Today

Some of us just never really seem to find or hang on to happiness for long. And yet there are some people who are happy even when life is really hard. During our lifetime, we will, without question, experience heartbreak or undeserved tragedies. No one is immune; suffering is an unavoidable part of the human condition. So how do some some people manage to stay relatively happy or more quickly recapture their happiness after devestation?

Those types of people take responsibility for their own happiness, and that starts with choosing to be happy.  It is always a choice to be made—and not just once, but daily, maybe minute by minute—even as we are bombarded with reasons not to be happy.

It can be tempting to abdicate our happiness responsibility by blaming our circumstances or others, and sometimes, it would even be perfectly understandable given what’s going on in our lives. But that leaves us helpless. Helplessness is scary because it means we will be stuck and miserable until something or someone else changes. When we realize we can take control of our happiness and are brave enough to own that process, joy becomes possible again, whether or not other things change. Taking responsibility means we are powerful instead of powerless. It’s not easy at all, but it is life-changing.

Ask yourself what keeps you from choosing to be happy. Does taking personal responsiblity for your feelings seem too hard? Does it feel like letting people who have hurt you off the hook? Make a list of all the ways that believing you have no control over your happiness prevents you from having the life you want. Now, make a list of the ways your life would be different if you could cultivate more happiness for yourself instead of waiting for it to happen to you.

After creating each list, consider making a commitment to start choosing happiness and learning how to live that out. Go ahead, it’s okay to chase joy! If you’re a reader like me, a fun book on the topic is The Happiness Dare by Jennifer Dukes Lee.

P.S. Depression can be a biological condition, not just an emotional one, needing medical treatment such as medication so please don’t think I’m saying depression can be cured by thinking happy thoughts! Sadness and depression are not only unavoidable at times, I don’t even think we should try to always avoid them. Though painful (I know from personal experience), they can serve a purpose by adding meaning and depth to our lives. They can grow us and teach us important lessons, like how to reach out for connection or to slow down and take care of ourselves. The point is just DON’T STAY STUCK there longer than you need to!

Be well,
Cherie Signature

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

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What Are You Losing?

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Often, after having an eating disorder for a while, it becomes part of your identity. The problem is that eating disorders are jealous things—they don’t like to share you with anyone or anything else. Your disorder doesn’t want to just be a part of your identity, it wants to be your whole identity. Before you know it, you’re wondering what happened to all the other parts of you…or maybe you’re noticing those parts slowly slip away and it scares you.

I hope it does. Because you are not your eating disorder. There’s much more to you and so many more—better—things that make you special.

I was chatting with a girl the other day who was feeling a lot of anxiety after eating an entire meal for the first time in a long time, and she said she felt like she’d betrayed her eating disorder. I reminded her that she is not her eating disorder, but she said it feels like they are the same. I asked if she is also a dancer (her passion in life!) and she said yes. But the sad truth is, she can’t dance right now because she isn’t healthy enough. Her eating disorder is consuming that part of her. She is also a mother and wife who desperately loves her family, but she’s away from them so much because of all the treatment she’s been in for years… Another part of her lost to an eating disorder that promises so much, but in reality gives so little when you really weigh the costs.

What if she looked at recovery differently…not as betraying the eating disorder or the eating disordered part of herself, but instead, saw it as nurturing the dancer, the mother, and the wife parts of her? Those parts need to be well fed, emotionally and physically, to thrive.

What about you? What parts of yourself are being sacrificed to your eating disorder and which are most important—which are you most willing to fight for?

much love,

Cherie_signature

 

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

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Recovery Takes Time

Recovery is Hard // Dare 2 Hope Blog

When I’m reading a really good book, I can’t wait to get to the ending. Sometimes I have to stop myself from peeking.  I enjoy the whole book, but the end of the story is the satisfying part because whatever struggle and suffering the characters endured, things are finally resolved and they are going to be happy ever-after. (Insert wistful sigh here…)

Recovering from an eating disorder is like that. Recovery—the end of the story—is the awesome part. Recovery-in-process is a bit less glamorous, and we might want to hit the Fast Forward button.

Or maybe the Stop button…and give up entirely.

The thing about healing and recovering is that it’s not a linear path. It’s more like a spiral at times, marked by setbacks, doubt, confusion and of course, pain. And it’s usually slower progress than we want it to be. We want the mountain-top experience, but we only get there by climbing the mountain and that’s not a quick trip. Accustomed to an instant-everything society, we want fast fixes. This is especially true for perfectionists like me who think that we should do everything perfectly—including healing. “I should not still be struggling with this!” is our mantra. Sure, other people might take awhile to work through their issues, but we shouldn’t.

The truth is, deep change takes time. Just like it takes time for a serious physical wound to heal properly. You can get it stitched and do everything right to speed up the healing, and you can cuss and kick yourself for not being able to make your skin close back up faster, but none of that will make it happen overnight. Careful wound care is required, but time is also a necessary ingredient.

Our soul care is no different. You did not develop an eating disorder over a few weeks, so why would you be able to recover from one so quickly? Stop beating yourself up for how long it’s taking you to heal.

And whatever you do, DON’T GIVE UP.

Remember that you may not be where you want to be, but you’re not where you were. Progress, not perfection, dear one.

Take some time to acknowledge how important some of the steps you’ve taken recently to recover, heal, or grow are, and how much courage and strength they took. Celebrate that by journaling or talking with someone supportive.

much love,
Cherie_signature

 

 

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

 

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Maybe It’s Time to Break Up

Mirror Fasting - Dare 2 Hope Blog

Last week we talked about the importance of paying attention to and guarding against things that work against eating disorder recovery (or recovery from anything for that matter!). Today I want to talk specifically about our time in front of the mirror.

Ah, the mirror. So many have a love-hate relationship with it. We often dislike what we see, but we can’t seem to go without it either. Many people with eating disorders and body image issues spend a lot of time body checking in the mirror. There is nothing about standing in front of a mirror for long periods of time or multiple times a day and inspecting your appearance that is helpful. If you spend a significant amount of energy focusing on the things about your body that you wish you could change, you will inevitably feel bad about yourself.

One of the sad things about that is that no one is perfect, and each one of us could find flaws to obsess over. I read an article a while back in which Jillian  Michaels admitted that she has cellulite on her rear, and there’s nothing she can do to change that. Considering that 100% of the human population is physically imperfect, how sad is it that we can become convinced that our individual flaws mean we’re not beautiful? And even worse… our self-perception is often spoiled by flaws that aren’t even there.

See, that’s the problem with mirrors. They are not accurate reflections because it’s all about how our eye, and ultimately our brain, perceive an image. And that is highly subjective. Ever met someone that you thought was plain looking but after you got to like them, found them attractive? Or on the flip side, met someone attractive and then after discovering an atrocious personality, didn’t find them so physically appealing anymore? Our perceptions—even the ones that seem trustworthy, like our eyesight—can be very skewed based on our emotions and attitudes.

Body checking in the mirror is about more than just seeing if you look okay. You’re wondering on a deeper level if you’re okay. But a mirror can’t tell you that. If it can’t give you an accurate reflection of your physical self, it certainly can’t give you a reflection of your inner self worth.

So I’m throwing out a challenge to stop believing what the mirror tells you. Commit to reducing the time you spend body checking, and no matter how strong the urge to, definitely don’t stand there and pick apart your appearance. Decide there are more important things that you’d rather spend your time and energy on. How about doing something fun instead? What about doing something kind for someone else who needs it?

And here’s an even bigger challenge…consider getting rid of your body checking mirror altogether. You don’t necessarily need to fast from all mirrors, but I’m guessing you might have a full-length one that you use for body checking and not just doing your makeup and hair. It sounds impossible, I know. I did it when I was in recovery, and I thought I wouldn’t make it. My anxiety was sky-high at first because I’d become addicted to the mirror. But after a week or two, I adjusted…and actually felt freer than I’d felt in a long time. I also realized how much more time I had because I wasn’t wasting it searching for answers that a piece of glass could never really give me anyway.

Go for it! Break up with your body checking mirror, even for just a month, and see what a difference it makes in how you feel! I know you can do it.

much love,

Cherie_signature

We Are What We…

You Are What You Think - Part 2 - Dare 2 Hope Blog

We’ve all heard the expression, you are what you eat. I think something else is much more defining for us…and we’re actually a product of what we think.  Earl Nightingale said, “We become what we think about most,” and the Bible teaches us to “Keep vigilant watch over your heart because that’s where life starts” (Proverbs 4:23 MSG). This is an overlooked truth for people with eating disorders that can make a big difference in achieving and maintaining recovery. If you continue to obsess over things that reinforce eating disorder thoughts and behaviors, then you’re climbing a very steep uphill battle!

That means raising your awareness about what you think about and putting up some boundaries against things that aren’t constructive. Fashion and fitness magazines are one of the biggest offenders. I have a background in marketing and using Photoshop, so I thought understanding that the images were airbrushed made me immune to their power…but I eventually had to be honest and admit they affected me negatively. I still compared, still wished, still felt not-good-enough after looking at them. Pinterest fitness pins can be another serious problem. So can all the pins of ridiculously good-looking foods. And honestly, Facebook can be pretty triggering too.

If you’re serious about recovering, it’s time to take stock of the things you surround yourself with that are undermining all the hard work you’re doing to get healthy and get rid of them. It’s hard at first, but after awhile, you’ll be so amazed at how much freer you feel! Wouldn’t it be so much better to read a book or talk with a friend or do something else pleasant that makes you feel happy and peaceful inside?

But there’s one more thing…these messages don’t just come from the outside. They also come from within, and those need to be guarded against as well. Standing in front of the mirror for long periods of time and picking apart your body fills your mind and heart with destructive thoughts that feed the eating disorder. Next week, I want to talk more about that, and to give you a challenge. Until then…start noticing all the obsessing you might be doing that is completely counterproductive.

What are the worst offenders for you that work against your recovery? Could you possibly quit them cold turkey or start weaning off of them?

Much love,

Cherie_signature