Showing Compassion

The other day, I read an article regarding etiquette on social media etiquette around death. I’ve studied a lot about death and dying in my undergrad days, but so much has changed technology wise within that period of time. As I was reading, I felt a deep sense of guilt for how I handled a situation a few years ago. I posted something earlier than, in hindsight, I wish I had. I was sad, and in disbelief at the time. I wanted to grieve, but felt removed from the situation due to distance. My post didn’t go well with some. For others, it granted them permission to start posting the same sort of thoughts and feelings I had. Still, I wish I had waited… and I know now, how to navigate similar situations in the future. 

This situation got me thinking… All we want from others when we screw up is to be shown compassion… even if we feel like this is the last thing we deserve or dare to hope for, on some level we still want it. Yet, we are the last ones to show compassion to ourselves.  We beat ourselves up for our humanness, yet generously extend it to others*. We need others in our journey towards health and wellness... but we also need it from ourselves towards ourselves. You cut yourself short in your journey by not doing so! 

If time travel was a reality, I’m sure there would be things I would go back and change… but I can’t. I can fight hard against this reality, however it won’t get me anywhere positive.  The times I fought back against acceptance, I usually ended up in more pain. All I can do, all you can do, is learn from it and try do better next time. Maybe it means needing to go through the same situation ten times before making a change… but it’s still a change. In the meantime, grant yourself some compassion.

*I want to add that not everyone shows compassion to others. I can think of many reasons for why this is and am not going to get into them today. My point is, when we don’t show compassion to ourselves, or others, we end up hurting ourselves due to the heaviness that comes from holding onto it.

A Farmer Had a Horse

I came across this fable the other day as I was reading Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix’s book, The Mindfulness Solution to Pain. The title is the perfect description of the essence of the book. Whether one is experiencing chronic pain or emotional pain, mindfulness has been a proven resource to help manage, tolerate and in many cases reduce pain. What I also appreciated from this read, is that it falls in line with the evidence based therapy for eating disorders, DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy). 

Radical acceptance, a skill from DBT, is all about accepting a situation, as it is, without judgment. Stuck in traffic? Getting ticked off and inpatient you are not where you want/need to be will not change the reality that you are not moving as fast as you would like. It is what it is. Might as well, in this situation that you can’t change, use another DBT skills: intentionally creating positive experiences. Turn on the radio to your favourite station and rock out (safely of course) while you wait. Did you just binge or engage in an ED symptom? Accept it without judgement. Remind yourself that shame and guilt will only make you further engage in ED symptoms. Accept that it happened, without judgment towards yourself or the situation, and forge on. 

I digress… what I like about radical acceptance, and other DBT skills, is that it encourages one to go with the flow and be more flexible in thinking and behaving, a sign of health and wellness. As the fable will show, and is an important reminder, things may not always be what they seem, nor have the costs or benefits initially mourned or celebrated. Therefore, take each moment as it is and not get ahead of ourselves. 

Check it out:

“A farmer had a horse. One day, his horse ran away.

All the neighbours came by saying, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses. The man and his son corralled all 21 horses.

All the neighbours came by saying, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

One of the wild horses kicked the man’s only son, breaking both his legs.

All the neighbours came by saying, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We’ll see.”

The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer’s son was spared, since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted.

All the neighbours came by saying, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We’ll see.”’

- Unknown

Ah! My Therapist is Going On Vacation...

I used to hate when my therapist would go on vacation. It disrupted my routine and familiarity of our weekly sessions. I felt like I had to keep everything in until they returned. I became fearful my recovery would go down the tube as if they were the one that magically kept it all together. At times, I felt a little abandoned. Funny though, I didn’t really think this way when I was the one going on vacation. I know not all clients feel this way, but I was one of the one’s who did. The ironies and insights of now being a therapist, as well as having grown as a person and in recovery. Here’s why your therapist going on vacation is a good thing:

  • It Models Self-Care. Therapy is hard work. Breaks allow both parties to return refreshed and re-focused. By going on vacation, l am also modelling self-care to my clients. Just as I have needs, so do you and it is okay to meet them.
  • It Breaks Patterns. I think it is healthy for clients to feel a little planned chaos every now and then. All to often it is easy to fall into patterns and routines that do not address current or future needs. By entering planned chaos, one can learn how to navigate these times a little more successfully, giving one a foundation for when they occur without warning. Maybe this time is a good time to try knock off some of those items on your bucket list you've been meaning to get to. Don't just sit back counting down the days, try doing some safe activities to help pass them time as well as engages you in life.
  • Assesses and Puts Into Use Other Available Resources. It is important to have a variety of resources established within one’s recovery. No single person is the key that will make or break one’s recovery. Each has a part to contribute and play. When one resources is not available, it is important to know who else is available for support. You also don’t have to keep everything in when your therapist goes away. Talk with a friend or fellow support group member. Call a distress line if need be. Sure it may not be the same, but it can be good enough in the interim. Remember, It is important to not throw all your eggs in one basket. 
  • Assesses Strengths and Weaknesses. Vacations can be viewed as ‘test runs’. It allows for clients to see which areas they have progressed in, and which areas need a little more attention. However it goes, It is all information that will aid in strengthening your recovery. 
  • Opportunity to Build Self-Trust. This is a big one. It is important, along the way, to build self-trust in your recovery. To know and realize, you have the ability and skills to tolerate your emotions and get through the situation as best you can. If we are never put into situations that foster self-trust and confidence, it is hard to fully believe and know YOU CAN DO IT!
  • Challenges Abandonment and Reaffirms Object Constancy. Remember the peek-a-boo game.  Really young children have difficulty knowing that you are still there even though they cannot see your face behind your hands. As their brain develops, they start to realize that you are still behind ‘there’ and in fact, aren’t ‘gone’. Just because your therapist goes on vacation, they are still rooting, supporting and caring for you. Just because they are not available, does not mean what they represent disappears as well. Unless something tragic happens, therapists return from vacation, challenging in smalls ways, the thoughts/feelings of abandonment. 

So, this time when your therapist preps you for their vacation, check in with your feelings.  Remember that you can tolerate whatever uncomfortable feelings that arise, and remind yourselfthat it can be opportunity for skill building and implementation. You will get through it :)

Art Therapy for Clients with an Eating Disorder

Last winter, Eve Tesluk and I ran our first art therapy class, focusing on topics related to eating disorders recovery. It was such an amazing experience to see transformation in one's recovery through art. I completely agree that words fail us from time to time, and that another medium is needed to help communicate, express and be heard. 

We are running two sessions, starting Sept. 9th, 2015 and the second on November 4th. The first session focuses on identity and emotional expression, while the second session looks at body-image and self-acceptance. There is no session order in which one needs to complete before doing the other. Sign up today as spaces are limited. We like to keep the group small to increase intimacy and allow time for more sharing, etc.