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Some may read the title of this blog appalled by the assumption that everyone is an addict. So let’s consider this statement from Christopher Kennedy Lawford, author of “What Addicts Know.”

As a culture we’ve become addicted not only to gambling, drugs, alcohol, sex, and other suspects, but also technology and the acquisition of material possessions and every conceivable promise of instant gratification: More is better has become society’s mantra. We eat more, spend more, take more risks, abuse more substances…only to feel more depressed, unsatisfied, discontented, and unhappy. You may know these symptoms firsthand, or recognize them in the lives of people you care about,” (www.Today.com, January 16, 2014).

Given the statement above, we may all be able to identify that we have, or have had at some point, some addictive behaviours. Merriam-Webster’s definition states: Addiction: a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble). The key word is harmful. In this light, one could even postulate (and we have) people can be addicted to arguing and fighting, thus, also to the chemicals released from the adrenal gland?

Did you know the actual term “addiction” was originally used in the slave trade? (see Drugs, Morality and the Law). When a slave was sold to the “owner”, they were said to be addicted to their master which meant “tied to”. Well, if you and I can be tied to something… yes… we can also be untied! 

When asked in counselling; What is an addiction?, we often respond anything (thoughts, emotions and behaviours) that significantly interrupts or gets in the way of an important area of your life. Harmful may mean persistent thoughts and behaviours “threatening” to healthy functioning in our vocational (work/school), social, emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, family, marital spheres. Of course, we may all have a different definition of what “threatening” is as well and the threat may not be immediately evident, recognized or acknowledged.


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Admitting our personal areas that are unhealthy can be difficult enough to do and others generally see the problem before we do.  Owning hurtful behaviour exposes the “dark side” of being human, something few of us are comfortable letting out about ourselves. Many who do admit openly and acknowledge their addictive behaviour, report feeling liberated, relieved and energized with a renewed sense of hope and joy.

This is most evident for those with addictions who go through the recovery process (a clearly defined step-by-step program with accountability measures built in). Those who were once showing characteristics those around them would call deviant, deceptive, manipulative, self-absorbed, and disrespectful can come out of recovery having rediscovered long lost gifts of self-awareness, honesty, integrity, grace and forgiveness. In addition, when we overcome a particular challenge, we gain greater understanding into human behaviour and change processes, also gaining an acquired skill set to become the greatest role models and teachers.

So do we all need to be in recovery?

Consider these questions, also suggested from Lawford:

  • Am I generally content with the way things are?
  • Are my emotions mostly on an even keel?
  • Are my personal relationships strong and supportive?
  • Is there enough joy in my life?

Careful before you answer: Those in self-absorbed, manipulative and deceptive modes of functioning even “swindle” themselves to believe they are content and happy with their lives. So another question may also be considered when this is the case:

  • If there is content and joy in your life, why do you have feelings of being depressed, unsatisfied, and empty? (What is fueling this is not always “biochemistry”)

Instant gratification, the main ingredient and greatest influence of our addictive behaviours refuses to remind us of the fact that the satisfaction we experience is only temporary. Short-term gain, long-term pain! If we can consider those questions on a grand scheme of our lives, we may come to realize that we are not truly happy. We have lost sincere human connections with others through a series of poor thoughts and choices. We have been selfish and have neglected the true meaning of love, trust and support for others and for ourselves. We do need help.


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Changing ourselves without input from others doesn’t work. This is the profession of counselling: assisting others to bring out their inherent skills and qualities and develop new ones to effectively improve their quality of life, overcome challenges faced and, thus, develop satisfying and caring relationships with others. We can also get good coaching advice from books and web resources to be used in concert with evidence-based therapeutic counselling.

We can all benefit from quality counselling to improve our lives. Contact us today.

 


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It almost goes without saying that media has a major impact on our perspective on many issues: mental illness, love and relationships, as well as body image, health and wealth. Here is one way in which the media can do some good for young girls and teenagers who are coming into their own bodies, adapting to hormone changes, and who are exposed to peer pressure.

The following link shares Lupita Nyongo’s acceptance speech at the Essence Magazine awards.

We are too often exposed to extremely thin waistlines, airbrushed faces, flawless skin, and long and flowing hair.  Little girls are growing up watching cosmetic commercials and teenagers are reading fashion magazines. As a result, their perception of beauty can become easily skewed by the media’s “acceptable” ideologies and portrayals of beauty.

This can, unfortunately, create inner turmoil in a preteen or teenager who does not resemble the bodies and faces seen on screen. Females, and even some males, may excessively strive to adjust their behaviours in hopes to eventually become the “beauties” they idolize in magazines and on television. These behaviours may include: restrictive eating, binge eating, vomiting, disordered eating, excessive dieting, manipulating medications (e.g. lower insulin dosing) and excessive exercising. These behaviours, when prolonged, have a severe impact on overall health (social, psychological and biological).

Fortunately, once in a while, we are able to hear celebrities comment on real beauty like Lupita did in her speech. However, is everyone listening to this message? Sometimes family support, well-intentioned comments and repeated requests just don’t seem to be enough. In fact, many common statements and approaches can actually, unintentionally, add to the problem. And it takes much effort and professional help to change disordered eating behaviours. Contact us today to get professional help!


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Narrative Approaches Help Conquer Disordered Eating

The approaches found most effective to recover from eating disorders and “disordered eating” behaviours include (but are not limited to) cognitive-behavioural, narrative, family systems and developmental theories. These knowledge bases help those struggling with body image issues and eating disorders to work alongside mental health therapists, dietitians and doctors to improve health outcomes. Today’s blog post provides a sample of the approach in one homework assignment completed by a teen girl. She was asked to first write from her perspective and then, second, re-write the story from the perspective of a five year old.

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1-      “Stinkin Thinkin”

Once there was a girl named Rae. She went into the front doors of the school and walked up the stairs alone. When she got to the hallway of her locker, she stared down it and looked behind her. ALONE, she thought. She turned the combination key until it was open, and began organizing her locker and getting the books that she needed.

People started filling into the halls, some would say hi but they would still leave. They don’t really want to be with me anyways, she thought. The halls were now crowded and she just wandered until the bell rang, When it did, she walked into class and sat down. She acted happy and engaged in conversation; meanwhile she was feeling like complete crap.

At lunch time she debated on eating. DON’T EAT, you’ll lose weight, she thought. But she was hungry, so she ate anyways. Don’t eat when you get home, she thought. But she did, and became into a binging session, which lead to purging. PurgepurgepurgepurgepurgepurgepurgePURGE. The voice inside her head was loud enough to make her listen. She didn’t eat for the rest of the night.

After her shower, she regretted glancing in the mirror because now she was sad and angry. She grabbed the fat on her stomach and began to cry. I hate my body, she thought. She looked away, put some pj’s on and cried herself to sleep. I can’t wait until the day that I can love myself, she thought.

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You can see here a small sample of how pervasive the thoughts can become underlying disordered eating patterns. Of course, the feelings of disgust, loneliness, anger, confusion, worry, anxiety, sadness and isolation will drive and increase the negative behaviours of over exercise, laxative use, food restriction, binging and purging. With these thoughts, feelings and behaviours the person’s story about themselves, their bodies and their options  for recovery, worsens.

When taking a narrative approach, combined with cognitive-behavioural strategies to change, people suffering are asked to consider the perspective from a five year old’s vantage point. In order to contemplate change and re-writing of the negative story, clients are to ask themselves; What would a five year old me say about eating, body, exercise, food etc.? The following is the second part of the teen girl’s homework; narrative “re-writing” of disordered eating from the five year old’s view;

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2-      “Five year old”

Once there was a girl named Rae. She went into the front doors of the school and walked up the stairs alone. When she got to the school, she looked around her and thought, people will be here soon, I’m just early. She played and waited for people to arrive.

People started arriving, some would say hi but they kept walking past her. They’re just busy, she thought. The halls were now crowded and she just wandered until the bell rang. When it did, she walked to class and sat down. She acted happy and engaged herself in conversation, meanwhile she was feeling pretty badly.

At lunch, she debated on eating, if you’re hungry eat, she thought. So she did. You can always have a snack when you get home too, she thought. She felt guilty for eating and was contemplating purging. Ew don’t do that, that’s gross, she thought, so she didn’t.

After her shower, she looked in the mirror and felt confused about her body. Every body is different and unique, she thought. She looked away, found some pj’s and went to sleep.

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Thanks to this courageous teen author for sharing her narrative homework above in her efforts toward a healthier and happier future.

For experienced, professional guidance in this area, book your appointment today.


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Many families will come to counselling as a sign of support to help a loved one through a difficult time (e.g. addiction, cooperative parenting, disordered eating, anxiety, depression, OCD, etc.). Sometimes families will provide financial support for a treatment program while others may attend sessions to improve overall teamwork. Still, other family members will change habits in the household to reduce the chance of addictive behaviours reoccurring.

How much family support is too much or not enough? This question is difficult to answer. As parents, we want to help our children (even if they are adults) to the best of our ability. However, sometimes this means we may be doing too much for them. Doing too much can often prevent individual growth and development. Parents may also want to take responsibility for the child/adult’s behaviour.

This is where family therapy helps, drawing upon family systems research and practice. It helps families clarify when to take responsibility or ownership and when not to, how to set clear boundaries and opportunities for change. Families can also establish new roles and expectations along with accountability measures for noncompliance and strategies for encouraging and increasing the behaviours desired.

Insufficient family support can be very debilitating for a person with mental health concerns and, thus, for the family as a whole. Strained and inconsistent communication is very common when there have been hurt feelings and years of promises broken.  As the support of loved ones grows thin, the person with mental health concerns can become even more distant and make even more harmful decisions. Balancing relationships within the family and keeping supportive connections while in treatment is a very important topic to discuss with a professional counsellor.

There are many ways in which a family can support one another through the difficult times. Start with this LISTEN acronym:

L: Learn to hear each other out more, increasing understanding and Love for one another.

I:  Inspire one another by having Integrity with your word and authenticity in your actions.

S: Solution-oriented state of mind helps focus on positive steps forward, finding solutions.

T: Treat others with respect, Teach caringly, Talk calmly and with Teamwork language.

E: Establish family goals together, Empower action and Encourage achievement.

N: Never give up on each other.

What a Puzzle

One of the most difficult puzzles to put together is how to best help a loved one suffering from an eating disorder. As their family, we want to support them, love them, and even help “cure” them. We watch them struggle and we too will struggle right along with them. We observe their weakness, their apparent helplessness, thus we often feel weak and helpless too.

“Snap out of it!” “You’re perfect the way you are!” “Why don’t you just stop?”

There are so many phrases that we might say to them to try to reach them, however it just doesn’t seem to be registering. One way to understand why is to sincerely believe that the “eating disorder” can take great power over an individual, their willpower and even their cognitive capacity. Just because it appears as though the person is giving in, this is not actually a realistic nor helpful perception for onlookers to adopt. They’re just not thinking clearly…

Anorexia’s spoken rules are those of self-denial. Anorexia promises to reward you for denying yourself anything and everything you need and desire. Anorexia tells you that denying all your needs and desires will make you strong, happy and free of pain. If you are tired, anorexia forbids you to sleep. If you are hungry, anorexia forbids you to eat. If you are cold, anorexia forbids you to turn up the heater or put on a sweater. Anorexia forbids you from enjoying your sexuality. The most important of Anorexia’s rules is that you must follow all the rules perfectly at all times” (Maisel, Epston, & Borden, 2004).

This description speaks to the dominance that the “voice” of an eating disorder can have over a person. Agreed, a supportive and loving family can help an individual in treatment, however, professional help is essential. With a structured treatment plan, training and clarity of roles, the dominance of an eating disorder may be tackled and overcome effectively. It takes much courage and intentional effort from all team members: family, friends, the individual with disordered eating and selected health care professionals to successfully implement the treatment plan.

For professional and confidential support to help you fight your battle with disordered eating, call us today.

Help For Eating Disorders Saves Lives – Durham Region

In a “sweeping” analysis of 77 studies, involving more than 15,000 subjects, University of Wisconsin researchers post-doctoral student Shelley Grabe and psychology professor Janet Hyde found that “exposure to media depicting ultra thin actresses and models significantly increased women’s concerns about their bodies, including how dissatisfied they felt and their likelihood of engaging in unhealthy eating behaviours such as excessive dieting.” (www.news.wisc.edu/15215)

My earliest memories about my appearance were of my mom and me (although I think I had insecurities about my appearance prior to these recollections). She would say that I would look prettier if I didn’t have my father’s nose. Absurd, I know now; however, that was a comment that stuck by me for the rest of my childhood and well into being a young adult.

So here’s how stinkin’ thinkin’ worked. It took that one silly comment from my mom and planted it into my head (like a seed being planted into the ground). Then, it would look at all my experiences to come and water the seed so that that one comment would grow and other related thoughts would sprout. Thoughts such as, “I’m ugly” “I’m not good enough” “I’m fat” “I don’t want to eat” “If only I was skinny like her.

Much of my experiences revolved around the media. Going to school and developing friendships, most of our conversations included the latest fashion trends, the hottest celebrity gossips or the fittest athletes. Body images were ingrained in me and consumed much of my eating, clothing, and activity choices.

I eventually became so tired of thinking about my body appearance. My body’s health and well-being now overshadow the superficial ideations exposed by the media. I’ve been blessed with education on disordered eating, self-esteem building, healthy body-image thought processes and family conflict and dynamics.  This has allowed me to discover that with healthy mind management, my external environment can have little to no control over who I am, what I look lik, and how I feel about myself. I learned that the cultural ideal of beauty is unrealistic and prejudice.

The authors of the study cited above emphatically conclude;

“We’ve demonstrated that it doesn’t matter what the exposure is, whether it’s general TV watching in the evening, or magazines or ads showing on a computer. If the image is appearance-focused and sends a clear message about a woman’s body as an object, then it’s going to affect women.” (Postdoctoral researcher Shelly Grabe)

For some of us, more help and assistance is required. And that’s perfectly OK! Some of us suffer from feeling powerless against our thoughts, images from the media, and difficult relationships in our lives. There are few safe outlets in our community that provide us with the strength to cope and heal. Disordered eating behaviours can develop unknowingly and unconsciously, often masquerading as our best and only way of coping within an unsafe and chaotic environment.

Disordered eating involves a wide range of abnormal eating behaviours, such as chronic restrained eating, compulsive eating and habitual eating. Eating patterns are chaotic and the physiological aspects of eating (like feeling hungry or full) are ignored (www.nedic.com).

Some people, even the ones who love us the most, have a difficult time understanding disordered eating or what is required to provide support during recovery. This is normal, however, the lack of understanding may create increased conflict and stress for the entire family. The process of overcoming disordered eating patterns takes a lot of work and a supportive and informed environment is essential for success.

Jeff Packer MSW & Associates, a registered, professional counselling service in Oshawa, Ontario, works with the individual engaging in abnormal eating and their family members. Treatment is catered to their individual needs and goals. It is important to include family doctors and registered dietitians in the recovery process. We also strongly encourage family members and loved ones to participate in family sessions.  This can help families improve and strengthen their relationships as well as learn to create loving and supportive environments for those in recovery.  To start your road to recovery, call us today.