Monday, January 18, 2016

Meditation Monday: Your Authentic Self

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

In helping clients find their core, inner wisdom, we often start by taking an inventory of their values. What matters to them? How do they define “right” and “wrong”? In listening for the answers, some discover their values do not align with their parents’ or upbringing. This can be disconcerting but at the same time freeing.

Meditation allows you to reflect upon whether what you’ve been told you think, feel, or believe actually meshes with your true self. By quieting the chatter in your mind, you can begin to connect more fully with what you know to be true about yourself.

Many who struggle with eating disorders grew up in or currently live in invalidating environments. If you feel that there is something deeply wrong with you, then to fit in—or remain part of the pack—you might try to change yourself. Or, to cope with the shame, you might seek numbing or distracting behaviors.

The road out of that suffering, is to learn to validate yourself. And to validate yourself, you have to know yourself. And to know yourself, you have to listen to what your inner wisdom tells you about how you think or feel or what you believe.

A helpful visualization is to imagine you’re standing in an open room and that all of the masks you wear or defenses you carry are stripped away one by one. Who is left standing? What does that person value? What is that person like?

You might begin by being an outside observer of yourself. With compassion and curiosity, see if you can notice what motivates you? What inspires you? Then, invite yourself to step into this person—what does it feel like to be present without the masks? What does it feel like to embody your values?

You might not feel safe taking this embodiment out into the real world, but using meditation to get to know your true inner self will move your journey forward.

Enjoy your practice.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Finding Your Tribe

Originally published on 12/10/2014

By Erin Diedling, M.Ed, LCPC

Recently, I was invited to a retreat. I didn't know anyone attending, including the hosts who invited me. I knew very few of the details, and after I booked my travel arrangements the dates were changed. It was getting weird. At that point, I thought about not going. But my gut said “GO.” I checked in again and considered the outcome of going versus not going. It still said “GO GO GO!” Now I know why. Something about this group of strangers gathering to focus upon spirit and to heal together pulled at me.
            This group of healers were from around the globe, and each brought a special unique healing gift. All the gifts were different. We exchanged modalities and taught each other. At the meditation center, we sat under the majestic redwood trees and exchanged stories until late at night. It’s still unfolding. The relationships, transformation, and the experiences that were shared. The sense of belonging and connectedness. It was profound. My spirit got giddy to be around this group. We stay in touch and feed each other with strength and connection. It’s like push pins on a globe that light up when we video chat.
            Then I came home and was so excited to share the transformation with my colleagues and clients. I realized I had a work tribe. I get to work with a crew of unbelievably talented practitioners. We get excited to see each other in the halls and trade stories and support each other’s work. It’s kinda magical.
            I’m blessed. I have a tribe. I have many tribes.
            So often in our work at The Awakening Center with complex trauma, eating disorders, high anxiety, and so forth, clients are isolated. The biggest difficulties many of my clients face are loneliness and isolation. People can experience that in a crowd or at home alone. I know that seeking company is risky for some. It can be uncomfortable. And I’ll admit, I can be an extrovert when I want to (or when I need to be). Introverts can have a tough time taking advice from an extrovert because their fear is overlooked. I want to acknowledge your fear. It’s risky. You can get hurt. There’s a deep longing to connect without the means or the understanding of how.
            So I will ask, where are the invites? Is there an interest you have that pulls at you. Is there and alumni organization, cultural club, business group, and on and on?
            I urge clients and friends to seek out their tribes when they’re feeling lost. Author and spiritual leader Rob Bell said, “If you’re feeling your world is too small or if you’re feeling stuck, then make your world bigger.”
            Is there a tribe that is inviting you? Is there a tribe that calls you? If you have to convince or campaign for it, it’s probably not your tribe.
            Or, consider the tribes that are inviting you. Are they appealing to you? Do they freak you out and make you want to run? Probably not your tribe. Sometimes it’s like the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the Ugly Duckling. He can’t see its own beauty. He thinks he’s a duck who looks different from other ducks. It takes a couple of mated beautiful swans to initiate the naïve swan into the tribe. “Look at you at your grace and talent, where have you been, we’ve missed you, come swim with us.”
            Sometimes our biological families are our tribes. Other times we create a family out of friends, coworkers, places of common interest, the art studio, volunteer organizations, places of worship, or institutions of learning.
            Please respond, and let people reading this blog know where you find and have found your tribe. Where do you get a sense of belonging? And how do you invite others to join in? Thanks for reading this. I’m grateful for your participation.

Erin is Director of Trauma Healing and Sr. Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center. She completed an advanced 3 year training with Somatic Experience Trauma Institute (SETI). She does body-centered psychotherapy, teaches meditation, and leads the Somatic Experience–informed trauma group at The Awakening Center. She periodically teaches her signature Design Your Life Workshop. She specializes in treating complex trauma, eating/anxiety disorders as well performers and artists. Erin dances, paints, and writes in Chicago. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Meditation Monday: A Story Left

 By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

In the Tuesday night meditation group, I like ending the practice with a poem. I feel like this gives the right brain a little bit extra to chew on even when the meditation is over. In the most recent group, I shared the poem “Deciphering the Alphabet” by Francine Sterle. Descriptions of animal tracks, weather, and terrain remind us that our lives are always changing. This is the good news and the bad news. Whatever is happening now—joy, suffering, pain, happiness—only exists in the present and will eventually become something different. Perhaps the joy will become deeper. Or hopefully the pain will subside. But the sweet may turn bitter.

This is the double-edged sword that can both encourage and undermine hope. We do have a say in this process though. We are not simply passively waiting to see what shape our experience will take. Our suffering can either deepen or be relieved because of our choices.

About halfway in the poem is this stanza that I was particularly struck by: 
Everything that moves leaves a story. No story
            can exist by itself.
 Upon the first reading, I misread the first sentence as “Everything that moves has a story.” But notice Sterle uses the word leaves.

This critical stanza places the impermanence of nature within a context—we are not alone. Everything that moves—which is, well, everything—leaves traces or remnants. Our actions affect others—thus the importance of the word leaves.

Our experience of meditation parallels this poem. It differs each time we close our eyes and begin deeply breathing; and the practice may change from moment to moment. But with it, we also create and then leave a story.

As you move through our life, what story do you wish to leave?

Enjoy your practice.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What is Recovery? Part 1

by Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

I am often asked by my clients, “Is an eating disorder a lifelong illness? Will I ever be better? Will I ever stop thinking about food, eating and weight?”

When I first started my recovery from eating disorders more than 30 years ago, I read everything I could get on the subject. Often, I came across the opinion that eating disorders were lifelong illnesses that could only be controlled and not cured. I went to a 12-step support group that preached that I was ill and would have this illness for the rest of my life; my only hope was lifelong abstinence. This made me feel hopeless and I would think, “Well why bother even trying to recover if I am going to have this for the rest of my life?”

(I have to admit that I didn’t meet another person who had recovered from an eating disorder for several years after I started my struggle to recover. The whole time there was a nagging feeling that I was trying to buck the odds.)

There are two halves to recovery: one half represents making peace with food, eating, weight and the body; the other half represents finding your Self and making peace with your Parts. Having completely recovered from my eating disorder, I can now say that it is possible to recover fully if (and this is a big “IF”) the underlying issues that caused the eating disorder to begin with are addressed and resolved through therapy.

Now there’s the hurdle! Some people get to the point where their food is under “control” and decide that they are recovered, even though they have to “control” it each and every day. They may or may not be aware of some vague feeling of not being at ease with themselves: inner emptiness; lack of sense of identity (“Who am I?”); a feeling of being directionless and lost in life; unresolved anger, anxiety, depression; or a deep unrelenting loneliness and despair that they cover up with their new “control” over food. If one considers this to be “recovered” then yes, eating disorders are lifelong illnesses.

If you fix only one half of your recovery--the eating, food, and weight half--then you will always be tense, on edge, rigid, strained, and uncomfortable. Eating will always be a struggle. To feel what I mean, put your hands together so that your fingertips are touching and your fingers are curved, like you are holding a large softball. (See Figure 1-1.) Pay attention to how this feels. How long could you hold your hands like this? Most people find it comfortable, fairly easy to do. Both hands can relax because they support each other.
Figure 1-1

Now, keeping your left hand in the same curved position, take the right hand away (Figure 1-2). Now what do you notice? Without the support of the right hand, your left hand must tense to keep its position. The fingers may start to shake. Are you feeling pressure in your hand or wrist? Tingling? It would be uncomfortable to hold your hand like this for too long.

Figure 1-2
Bring your hands back together again (Figure 1-3). Notice what happens. The left hand instantly relaxes. It becomes easy again because the two hands balance and support each other.

Figure 1-3
The same is true with the two halves of recovery. If you only fix the eating, food, and weight half, you will be tense and uncomfortable. When your Self and your Parts are at peace then eating, food, and weight can be easy and in balance as well. You need both halves of recovery to relax and feel complete.

“But what about relapsing? Don’t I have to be constantly on the lookout for relapsing? Aren’t I at risk for a relapse if something ‘bad’ happens to me?” Well, that’s a good question and one that again does not have a definite answer. Sometimes I compare having an eating disorder to having a broken leg. If I broke my leg I would have a cast put on it until it healed. At that point the cast would be taken off; the bone would be healed. However if the weather was bad, the bone may ache, but I certainly would not put another cast on it. I would probably just be gentle with it, and take care of it.

Because I have discovered my Self and my Parts are at peace, I consider myself totally recovered from my eating disorder. I do not have to think about my food or eating to maintain my weight. If I find myself thinking about these things, I consider it a red flag and I stop and think to myself, “What needs taking care of that I am not taking care of?”

These food thoughts are a friendly reminder that I am not tending to myself. But because I have learned healthy new ways to cope with life’s ups and downs, I care for myself on a regular basis and so food thoughts are rare. Just like my analogy of the broken leg, there are times when the “weather is bad,” and I have to be gentle with myself. I keep a lookout for what I need and find ways to take care of my needs. But I don’t put the “cast” back on and say I have an eating disorder!

“Have you ever been tempted to revert back to old behaviors?” Well to be perfectly honest yes. Since my recovery I have had fleeting thoughts, but I have not acted on them nor have I wanted to. Even when something terrible happened to me, it was not a struggle to maintain my recovery. Why? Because the underlying issues that caused my eating disorder have been resolved. Inside I no longer feel like the same person I was when I had the eating disorder.

In therapy, if you take a good hard look at what those underlying issues are all about and learn to endure the scariness, discomfort, and anguish of resolving these feelings, then you do not have to use food to cover up these issues. Food becomes, well, food, a non-issue. Food becomes something you eat to fuel your body, nothing more and nothing less. You can enjoy food and eating without being wracked with guilt and self-hatred afterwards. You can eat when you are hungry, eat what you are hungry for, and stop when you are no longer hungry. If one considers this to be recovered then no, eating disorders are not lifelong illnesses.

I will leave it up to you as to whether you consider this a lifelong illness or not. Because ultimately it is up to you as to how far you are willing to take your own recovery. Are you going to stop when your eating is under “control,” or are you going to find the courage to continue until you find your Self and all of the underlying issues are resolved? That will then give you the answer.

If you have comments or questions about this article I would love to hear from you--please make a comment below.

Next week, I’ll write more about the two halves of recovery.

*My thanks to Danielle Meyer, MA in Art Therapy, who posed for these pictures.

Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC is the Founder and Director of The Awakening Center, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. She can be reached at (773) 929-6262 x11 or

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Understanding Diabulimia

By Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN, CDE
Imagine a mother watching her five-year-old daughter (we'll call her Lisa) wasting away, despite eating larger than usual amounts of food, and experiencing frequent urination. Unfortunately, those were symptoms of undiagnosed Type I diabetes. While this was not desirable, after receiving education, Lisa was able to return to a healthy state because of daily, multiple insulin injections, a well-balanced meal plan, and participation in sports activities.

Ten years later, Mom noticed that once again, Lisa was consuming larger than usual amounts of food, but she assumed it was just a growth spurt. However, when Mom was changing the sheets on Lisa's bed one morning, she found several vials of unused insulin under the mattress. At this point in time, Lisa had been fully responsible for administering her daily insulin injections and monitoring blood glucose levels. When Mom approached Lisa, she got very defensive but then broke down in tears and admitted that she was only taking one-fourth her usual amount of insulin, and sometimes skipping it altogether.

People with diabetes experience burnout in performing daily self-care to manage their condition. But after much discussion, Lisa admitted that she was not taking her insulin to help control her weight. As a teenager, not only was Lisa having to deal with a chronic condition that required a significant amount of attention each day, but she was also faced with the discomfort of normal weight increases during puberty and the pressure to be thin.

You may have heard of bulimia, a condition in which one eats large quantities of food, then purges the calories via self-induced vomiting, laxative use, excessive exercise, and/or diuretics. Lisa is suffering from a form of bulimia called Diabulimia, and her chosen method of purging is controlling her insulin doses. Without going into too much detail, insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is vital in shuttling glucose (sugar) from the blood into body cells after nutrients are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream. Those with Type I diabetes must inject insulin at meals, snacks, and on occasions when their blood glucose levels may be too high. Failure to do so results in weight loss because the cells cannot use glucose for energy and other vital body functions; that excess of glucose is eliminated in the urine and also builds up to potentially life-threatening levels in the blood.

Diabulimia is a serious condition that requires a treatment team including a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, registered dietitian, medical doctor, and endocrinologist. Symptoms to be aware of are

  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss despite eating large quantities of food
  • Abnormally high blood glucose levels
  • Excessive thirst
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Hiding insulin/purposely not taking insulin

In severe cases, the person may develop diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition in which blood glucose levels become dangerously high. People with Type I diabetes are already at risk for several long-term complications that include neuropathy (numbness and tingling of the extremities), cardiovascular disease, retinopathy, kidney disease, and gastroparesis. Since Diabulimia elevates blood glucose levels, this further increases the risk of developing these complications if treatment is not immediately sought.

While most therapists who specialize in eating disorder treatment are equipped to deal with the behaviors associated with Diabulimia, a registered dietitian with eating disorder experience, and who is also a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), should be sought after as part of the treatment team.

Michel Harris is the nutritionist at The Awakening Center and believes in the mindful approach to develop a peaceful relationship with food and exercise in the recovery process of eating disorders.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Meditation Monday: Opening the Heart

 By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

Meditation often brings relaxation to the body. Jaws and fists unclench; brows become smooth. And something new experiences can happen when the shoulders loosen--the heart opens up.

We often carry our burdens in our shoulders. Without even realizing it, they creep closer and closer to the ears. This tension-related shrugging also pulls the shoulders forward, drawing the area around the heart back. The shoulders bear our burdens and protect the heart.

At the weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center, before embarking on any guided imagery, I take participants through a progressive relaxation of the body. This is so important because if the body is held in a state of “readiness” and hypervigilance, the meditation experience becomes very narrow. We cannot allow our awareness to expand if we’re in a defended posture. Additionally, important information can be gathered by noticing which body parts don’t soften so easily. What is being communicated? What needs extra kind attention?

When we get to the shoulders, I usually instruct participants to allow them to gently drop down and back. Allowing the shoulders to loosen down releases the burden. Slightly back opens the heart area. While this opening of the heart might be challenging and sometimes downright unsafe in the “real” world, I hope that the group is a safe place to experiment with the experience.

Folks who have experienced hurt and trauma heal through building a sense of safety. Within the group, they can practice opening the heart—even just a little bit—without worrying that it will be stomped. They learn to trust their instincts and can begin opening the heart to loved ones—and even to themselves.

Enjoy your practice.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Meditation Monday: Listening

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

The human brain is a wonder. With it, we can do algebra, learn to drive, and figure out how to make cauliflower palatable. But so much of our energy is taken up by the thinking part of the brain. Rumination. Worry. Obsession. Thinking becomes a dream-like state. A trance.

This trance can become a barrier that isolates. Our ability to take in data becomes impeded. Our bodies from the neck down seem separate from our minds.

Meditation can help us awaken from that trance. By breathing and intentionally connecting to the sensations in the body, we begin to gather new information. Your thinking part may tell you that going on that second date is a good idea, but in the meantime, your stomach is in knots.

Psychologist and meditation leader Tara Brach teaches that the first step in opening up the experience is to listen. Listen not only with the ears but with the whole body. Allow yourself to receive the information that is churning through your body from the inside out. 
  • Listen to sensations: Is there twisting, tightening, loosening, fluttering, and so forth?
  • Listen to emotions: Happy, sad, afraid, angry? How are these emotions expressed in the body?
  • Listen to the sounds actually present: What sounds are in the room? Outside the room? Notice the space between sounds. Receive sounds that are actually present instead of listening to the chatter in your head. 

We have so much information available to us if we just listen fully. This is not easy, I know. Thinking and ruminating can be a defense mechanism for some. Trauma or intense emotions can make listening to the body feel unsafe. It’s OK to go at your own pace—start small by checking in with one neutral part of your body. Feel your feet against the floor. Listen to the sounds outside for 60 seconds.

Take these steps with gratitude.

Enjoy your practice.