Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Break the Cycle By Using an Alternate Exit

By Annie Felice, MA, LPC
Have you ever felt trapped in a cycle of behaviors? You know the pattern all too well, but you somehow can't find the "exit" and you just keep going round and round. Perhaps you can relate to the following example.
            Jane comes home from a stressful day at work. Her boss had reprimanded her for making a mistake in a meeting with a new client, and Jane had felt embarrassed and ashamed for the rest of the work day. The Distractor Part of Jane recognizes her need for relief from these emotions and turns to binge eating within minutes of walking through her apartment door. Bingeing provides a temporary distraction, until the Critical Part of Jane scolds her: "What's wrong with you? Don't you have any self-control? It's only 6pm, and you've already ruined the night!" 
            How do you think Jane's embarrassment and shame are doing following that criticism? Not so great—in fact, they feel even bigger! Jane's own Critical Part actually exacerbated the emotions that were triggered at work by producing even more embarrassment and shame. Remember that Distractor Part who helped Jane earlier? Well, it now senses that Jane feels even worse. To relieve her from the double dose of embarrassment and shame, the Distractor Part engages in binge eating a second time, which once again infuriates Jane's Critical Part.
            See the cycle? It really can be hard to find the exit. Here's where the concept of Opposite Action, taken from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, can be helpful. Opposite Action means intentionally choosing to act and think in a way that is opposite of your emotionally driven response or impulse.
            It's understandable for Jane to feel upset with herself after she binges because she knows that there are other ways of coping that are healthier and more effective. However, if Jane responds from the place of criticism, she intensifies her original emotions of embarrassment and shame. So, what would it be like if Jane used the tool of Opposite Action?
            After her first binge, Jane notices that her Critical Part is active, and then she thinks about what usually happens when she operates from that place. Historically, it has led Jane to punish herself after a night of binge eating, telling her to spend the rest of the evening in the gym and to avoid eating in the morning. The Critical Part tells her that she might as well just wear her pajamas the next day because there's no way she could look nice!
            Jane identifies that compassion is the opposite of her usual criticism. After bingeing, Jane moves from compassion, instead of criticism, and says to herself, "I know that I was trying to help myself feel better by bingeing. Just because I binged, it doesn't mean the night is ruined. I am going to think about other ways to help myself feel better." 
            Not only does Jane think differently, but she acts differently, too. Jane decides that spending the rest of the night in the gym is not what she needs after a difficult work day. She takes a short walk around her neighborhood to get a little fresh air and to reflect upon what would truly be nurturing and relaxing for her. She decides to take a long bath when she returns home. The next morning, Jane eats a breakfast that will both fill and satisfy her. Scanning her closet, Jane decides to put on her pretty new scarf that she has been looking forward to wearing.
            Did you notice how Opposite Action prevented a second binge? There was no need for it because there was no second layer of embarrassment and shame, and Jane continued to nurture herself in other ways that night and the following morning. Even more powerful is the message Jane sent to her system—despite her mistake at work and her binge, she is still worthy of compassion. When might it be useful for you to "act opposite"? It could be the exit that you’ve been searching for!
Annie is a staff therapist and the intake coordinator at TAC. She also leads the Monday night Eating Disorders Therapy Group. She can be reached

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Project Be(You)tiful

By The Awakening Center’s Graduate Interns

What do you like most about your body? We recently posed this question to the students attending Loyola University’s Wellness Fair. Once the students decided what they liked most, we asked them to write it on a sticky note and place it on a poster of a blank outline of the human body. Gradually, the body began to take on a form, created by sticky notes. “My hair.” “My smile.” “My boobs.” “My strong legs.” “My unclogged arteries.” “My forearms—they’re jacked.” “My skin.”
            Unlike the photos of the body that we see daily in the media—which represent an “ideal” body that excludes almost everyone—our Post-it person was created through shared affirmation. It was amazing to see how students who were reluctant to participate, or groaned that there was nothing they liked about their bodies, embraced the activity once they saw how many other people had chosen to affirm something they liked about their body. The students created a new, ideal representation of the body that included all sizes, races, genders, and sexual orientations. It was a body that represented both the dignity of the individual and the joy of community. By choosing to love their own bodies, the students contributed towards creating a new ideal.
            We invite you to answer this question for yourself today. What do you like most about your body? What could change if you took a moment every day to remind yourself of your answer?

All the spots for our Body Image Workshop scheduled for October 25 from 1pm to 3pm have been filled; if you’d like to be added to the waitlist you can contact Adriana Speiker at Or, Follow The Awakening Center on Facebook or Twitter to find out about all of our upcoming workshops, groups, and events.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dog Walkers and Dialectics: A Lesson in Acceptance

by Annie Felice, MA, LPC

As many dog owners likely experience, I run into the same people over and over again while I am walking my dog, Brandy. There are two people whom I particularly enjoy seeing--an elderly couple who are the parents of an adorable Cairn Terrier named Brynne. I don't know their names, as the dogs were the only ones who were introduced, so I'll refer to them as Mary and John.
            The first time I saw Mary and John walking on the lake path, it was technically spring, but it still felt like winter, quite chilly and very windy. Mary and John greeted me with a "good morning," and we chatted a little as Brandy and Brynne exchanged their dog greetings. Although our interaction was brief, Mary and John left a lasting impression. Mary used a cane to walk, and one side of her back was noticeably stooped. She and John walked at a slower pace, yet they had ventured quite far on the lake path on this blustery day. I was struck by the couple's patience, determination, and companionship.
            Last week, I was happy to bump into Mary and John after not seeing them for a few months. I asked how they were, and John replied, "Oh we've been good. My wife has been having bad back problems, as you can see." Mary added with a smile, "Yes, it would be nice if I could stand up straight, and I can't right now." John then concluded, "We like our walks, so here we are!"
            Walking home from the lake that day, I realized how simply and beautifully Mary and John exemplified the dialectic of acceptance and change. A dialectic is the holding together or synthesizing of two seemingly contradictory or opposing ideas. Thinking dialectically is the opposite of either-or or black-or-white thinking.
            From my experience, the hardest dialectic for my clients to grasp is that of acceptance and change. Many of my clients, and many people in general, believe that we either accept something or we change it. I invite my clients to consider that we can both accept something while also working towards changing it. In fact, acceptance is a prerequisite for meaningful change to occur!
            Acceptance does not mean that you are giving up or giving in, nor does it mean that you love something the way that it is in this moment. It does mean, however, that you accept or acknowledge the reality of a situation. You are recognizing what is. Acceptance allows us to move on, while non-acceptance keeps us stuck in place. For example, Mary could have said, "I refuse to accept that I'm having back problems; I can't stand that my body is different than it used to be." That response would have left her stuck with no new options. Not only would she have experienced the physical pain and disappointment of her back problems, but she would have also been faced with the psychological pain of anger or denial.
            Remember what Mary told me earlier? She said, "Yes, it would be nice if I could stand up straight, and I can't right now." Because she accepted her reality (having back problems), she could literally and figuratively move on! Acceptance allowed her to explore other options, one of which was using a cane for her ease and safety. Mary could've refused to accept using a cane. She might have said, "I simply can't accept walking with a cane! I've never had to use one before." However, she accepted that a cane was now helpful for her. This acceptance then created additional alternatives for her, such as walking the lake path with her husband and dog, which she couldn't have accomplished without using her cane.

            Even if you don't love everything about your body today, you can still accept it for how it is in this moment. Accepting your body leads to making choices for your body that are compassionate and mindful. And guess what making compassionate and mindful choices leads to? Change!

Annie is a staff therapist and the intake coordinator at TAC. She also leads the Monday night Eating Disorders Therapy Group. She can be reached

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Myths of Recovery - #1

There are many myths about recovery – and in this Blog I’d like to highlight one of them.  The myth is: “If I recover, then all the people in my life will be different.  Everyone will recover along with me.  And I will never have to deal with difficult or dysfunctional people ever again.”
Oh if only that were true!  I know that some families are motivated enough to do the deep difficult work to change along with their daughter or son who is recovering.  But many families are not.  Some will do some surface work and change a behavior or two – and some may even maintain those changes for a long while, maybe forever! 
But many of my clients come from families that are resistant to change because their own Parts are so extreme and may not have the “Self-energy” to tolerate the discomfort necessary to make lasting changes. 
So I tell my clients, “Your family may not recover along with you.  They are who they are!”  And then my clients have to do double work, they have to do the deep difficult work necessary to recover – and they have to find a way to maintain that recovery in a family that may stay as difficult and dysfunctional as ever. 
Some clients resist accepting that their families will not change – and they may use a lot of time and energy to get their families to change.  They may even put their own recovery on hold while they try and try and try and try, thinking, “If I try hard enough, then they will be different, and if they are different, then they will love me.” 
I have an analogy that I give to illustrate the futile nature of this.  Your friends go to a pet store and come home with kittens and puppies.  You see them cuddling with and petting these pets and you want one too.  So you go to the pet store and they hand you a box.  You go home and open the box and find that it’s a hedgehog!  You want to cuddle and pet the hedgehog, but when you try, you get hurt by the prickly spines. 
There are some good things about having a hedgehog – they are unusual animals and I’m sure they do some fun things.  But you have to be careful when you handle a hedgehog.  You may need to wear special gloves and wrap the hedgehog in a protective towel.
No matter what you do, a hedgehog will not turn into a kitten or a puppy.  If you are really nice, the hedgehog will still be a hedgehog.  If you give it a lot of money, it still will be a hedgehog.  If you lose weight, it’s still a hedgehog.  If you are perfect, it’s still a hedgehog.  It will never, ever turn into a kitten or puppy.
For those of you who come from difficult or dysfunctional families the same is true – we may not get the same things as our friends get from their families.  There may be some unique things about our families that we can enjoy, but we may need to handle them in special ways – ways that our friends don’t have to do. And no matter what we do, they will always be the way they are.  “They are who they are!”
When we can accept our families the way they are, when we stop spending so much time and energy trying to get them to change, then we can work on the “special ways to handle” our families so our recovery isn’t derailed every time we are with them.
I hope you ponder what “special ways” do you need to learn to handle your family?   You may want to read another of my Blog articles: “Changing The Game” to learn a fun way to deal with your family:
Amy Grabowski

Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC is the Director of The Awakening Center.  She established The Awakening Center 20 years ago!  Yet, she feels like it was only yesterday!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Trance of Keeping It All Together

By Nancy Hall, M.A.

My son had a hard time adjusting to first grade. He’d come home tired and crabby, and the smallest provocation would trigger a full-blown meltdown. I’m talking nuclear. I had heard about other kids being very tired after a full school day, but I was not prepared for such hard-core trench warfare.

My dear friend Sue has kids older than mine, and she explained the dynamic perfectly. Imagine you start your day with an empty tray, like the ones servers carry in restaurants. Someone walks by and places a half-full glass of water on your tray. “No big deal,” you think. “I can handle just one glass.” Then another person places another glass on your tray; a third person does the same. “It’s just a few glasses. I can arrange them just so and everything is in balance.” Now imagine that throughout your whole day, people are adding to your tray. It gets fuller and fuller and harder and harder to keep steady. When you think you’ve got just about all you can handle, one more person comes by and puts a teeny-tiny Dixie cup of water on the tray and **KERPLOOSH!** Everything goes flying. Glasses. Water. The tray ends up on the ground. But it was just one teeny-tiny Dixie cup? How could it create such a calamity?

My insightful friend pointed out that this is what first grade is like. As my son went through his day, his metaphorical tray was getting loaded up. And all it took was me adding my little Dixie cup for him to buckle under all that pressure.

As we grow up, we get better at stacking things on our trays. But we can be so caught up in trying to balance and hold on to everything, that we don’t realize that we’re buckling under the pressure as well. Our arm and hand certainly send signals, but we ignore them, telling ourselves that we can handle the pressure and take on just a little bit more.

Our bodies are very good and sending messages to our brains when we’re in physical or emotional distress. Our stomachs tie up in knots; our heads pound. When we practice mindfulness, we can begin to pay attention to these important cues.

Meditation is a path to mindfulness. It allows us to take time to listen to our bodies so we can learn what we need to attend to. While meditation might seem passive, it is actually quite active. It is simultaneously a stillness and an awakening. Meditation does not have to be complicated but it requires a commitment.

So as you go through your day, make the commitment to becoming a bit more mindful. That way, you can adjust accordingly to avoid upending your tray.

Join me this Saturday, 9/27, noon-2pm, at The Awakening Center for a meditation workshop. Registration is required and the fee is $20. Contact me at to sign up.

Also, I will be starting a weekly meditation group in October. Visit and “Like” The Awakening Center’s Facebook page or check back here for details as they come!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tools for Our Recovery Toolbox

As a famous Psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “When your only tool is a hammer, all problems start to look like nails.”

Imagine a carpenter who only had one tool – a hammer.  If you hired this carpenter to hang pictures, the carpenter would pull out the hammer and do a fine job.  But what if you asked the carpenter to shorten the legs of a table.  When the carpenter pulled out the hammer, you would wonder why?  And if you allowed the carpenter to use the hammer to shorten the table legs, the table would probably be ruined.   

The same is true with our Eating Disorder.  When our only tool is eating (or starving, purging, overexercising, counting calories etc etc etc ), we have to rely on this tool for everything that happens in our life.  We get a promotion – Eat!  Have a fight with your sister – Eat!   Your cat dies – Eat!   Nothing to do on a Friday night – Eat!  I know you get the picture! 

So what happened?  Why do we only have 1 tool in our toolbox?    There are four reasons why Eating (or starving etc) became our only tool. 

1)      If we continually use a tool, the tool stays at the top of the toolbox.  After a while, we forget how to use the other tools we have.  For example, you don’t have to risk asserting yourself if you continually numb out angry feelings by eating.
2)      There may have been basic tools that we never learned – our families couldn’t teach us what they didn’t know.  For example, if no one in your family ever spoke up and asserted themselves, you may not have learned how to do this.
3)      On the other hand, our family may have taught us some pretty dysfunctional tools that don’t work very well at all.  For example, if you learned that if people loved you they would just “know” what is bothering you , you would try to make people read your mind rather than telling them what you need or want.
4)      This reason is going to contradict what I just said above.  Even though I say Eating (starving, etc.) is our only tool – we actually have lots of tools.  We are already good at problem solving, compassion, reassurance, kindness, and many, many others.  It’s just that we use these tools for other people, and don’t use them for ourselves.   We may say we don’t deserve to treat ourselves in a positive way.

It is possible to learn new tools and un-learn old dysfunctional tools.  With practice the new tools will become familiar and become our “go to” coping tool.   And if we stop using Eating (starving, etc) as a tool to deal with everything that happens in life, this tool with sift to the bottom of the toolbox.   And if you don’t use this tool, eventually using Eating (starving, etc) will be foreign to us as well.  

If you would like to learn 10 Recovery Tools to put in your Recovery Toolbox, please join Nutritionist Michel Harris and I on Saturday 9/20/14 from 12:300-4:30pm. 

For more information, please click link below.
Amy Grabowski

Amy is the Director of The Awakening Center – which she Founded 20 years ago!  She has over 30 years of personal recovery experience!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Celebrating Our 20th Year!

In celebration of The Awakening Center’s 20th year, let’s take a look back at how the practice got started and how it’s grown over the decades.
            In 1994, Amy Grabowski, LCPC, ATR, worried about a trend she saw in the Chicago area. Hospital eating disorder programs were shutting down, and as a practicing therapist, she was concerned about the lack of resources for clients. Amy was in recovery herself and felt tremendous gratitude for the lifesaving care she had received. Her goal was to pay it forward, but her options became limited as community resources were scarce. At that point, Amy decided to do something about the shortage of services, and in September 1994, The Awakening Center was born.
            Inspired by Eastern philosophy, Amy wanted to create a therapeutic environment where clients could experience an awakening to their true selves. Amy opened a practice with a space that allowed for individual and group therapy, and she quickly added a nutritionist and other therapists who could complement her work. What she lacked in business acumen she made up for in passion. Her mission was clear—provide quality services to people struggling with eating disorders.
            However, eating disorders do not exist in a vacuum and are often accompanied—or even triggered—by anxiety, depression, trauma, and other stressors or conditions. Additionally, the clients struggling with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder were no longer middle class, white, young women. Eating disorders had seeped into other communities, and Amy and her team had to learn about the dynamics involved in treating men, members of the LGBTQ community, and culturally diverse clients.
            As the need for services increased, in 2007, The Awakening Center had quite a growth spurt. Amy hired additional staff, including a yoga therapist with more than 20 years’ experience. Amy did not lose sight of her original mission though—to provide quality care to those struggling with eating disorders—and her experience taught her that the best way to do this was to take a holistic approach, which included body-centered work. The therapists who joined The Awakening Center have varied yet complementary points of view and approaches, reflecting the diverse makeup of the clients. While each therapist sees her own clients, they are still a team and seek advice and counsel from one another to provide the best services possible.
            The move to The Awakening Center’s current location in Lakeview also occurred in 2007. The building has been in the owner’s family for many years, and she treats it like an heirloom. Amy attributes much of The Awakening Center’s success to the positive energy in the building. The regard for and love of the physical space has permeated into the practice, and The Awakening Center has become Amy’s heirloom.
            The practice has continued to grow—more therapists have joined while others have moved on. The Awakening Center has become the crown jewel for graduate interns. Amy and her staff facilitate workshops in the community and at universities. The Awakening Center is represented at college health and wellness fairs.
            The team members continue to expand their knowledge and develop their individual skills. Amy likes to think of The Awakening Center’s staff as well-balanced orchestra. Each instrument adds depth and beauty to the whole without overshadowing the others. And like an orchestra that does not limit itself to only one particular type of work, The Awakening Center will continue to grow, embrace new challenges, and remain solidly rooted as a beacon of hope and reminder that recovery is possible. When it comes to treating eating disorders, anxiety, depression, or whatever brings someone through door, one size does not fit all. The Awakening Center’s staff will meet clients where they are and help them find their own awakening.
Written by Nancy Hall, MA. Nancy is the newest staff member to join The Awakening Center's team and will be hosting a meditation workshop on September 27. She will be starting a weekly meditation group October 21, 2014. To reserve a spot at the workshop, email