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My Story Part 3

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Emotional Crisis
Throughout my childbearing years I worked as a clinical
social worker in the Children’s Department of a community mental health center. I was working toward my license part time. It was an amazing experience for me. I
worked in community mental health for ten years. During
those years I met a lot of clients. Some were as young as 5 and some were as old as 19. I could relate to their feelings of anxiety and depression. Because some of them were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I decided to diagnose myself with bipolar disorder. I can remember sharing with two different therapists that I thought I had bipolar. I don’t think they believed me.

A few years ago, during the time of Tyler’s surgery, I decided to see a psychiatrist to get some psychotropic relief for the anxiety I was feeling. What I really wanted was a pill to stop my compulsive eating. At this point I had given up on ever reaching my pre-baby weight; I just wanted to stay in the overweight category of the BMI (Body Mass Index) scale. The psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder and started me on minimal medications that had somewhat of a positive effect for a short period of time. After a few months the medications were increased by the psychiatrist and a year later I was being faced with a taking a second and third drug which was a pretty serious medication.
I was still overweight and completely obsessed with being a size 4 again. The medication wasn’t doing a thing as far as I was concerned. If anything it was causing me to binge eat more. But the doctor insisted that I needed the medication. I told him “Thank you very much but I don’t want it anymore.” I asked for his blessing to help me to wean off the medication. He was very sweet and kind and agreed to help me, but did not agree with my decision. My therapist was worried too. I could see it in her face, but she whole heartedly supported me through the entire process and told me to go with my instinct that was screaming for me to get off these medications. Yes, it was that voice again.
I did wean off the medication. It was complete and utter hell. It took 3-4 months to regain balance in my body, mind and spirit. Once again, I cannot believe my husband stayed with me through it all. I was an absolute mess through the whole process. I had severe panic and anxiety accompanied by insomnia for three months. I almost caved in and took a medication for the insomnia, but fought through it. This period of my life made the most impact on me. Surrendering to that experience truly changed my life forever. During that time I questioned everything I learned about mental health, physical health and spiritual health. It was my moment of complete surrender.

Finding Balance
Through that experience I developed a relationship with my aunt who was learning how to be a yoga teacher. She taught me how to breathe and how to connect with my body. She also taught me some gentle yoga postures to help me relax. I could only do these things for about two minutes at first. My mind would race, my heart would pound and I needed to get up and move. I felt like I could not breathe.
That summer I met two holistic nurse practitioners. One introduced me to vitamins that helped with anxiety and sleep. The other helped me learn about how food affected my mental health. She encouraged me to try an elimination diet for a few weeks. I was so desperate to feel better that I did it. I cut every single processed food, dairy, sugar, caffeine and gluten out of my diet for four weeks. Then I slowly added foods back in. It was the start of learning how to listen to my body.
I could not believe how sensitive my body was as I added the foods back in. I got headaches from certain foods and I noticed body pains from others. I noticed gas, bloating and digestive issues. It was eye opening. I didn’t stay on a clean diet for long because the desire to compulsively eat was stronger. Shortly after, I went back to my old ways of compulsive eating. I think I even purged a few times that year which was something I hadn‘t done since before I had children. But, I knew I was on the right path because I was sleeping better and feeling better.
That Fall I went on my first retreat to Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. It was a terrifying, but life changing experience. I took a workshop on anxiety that weekend and learned about the inner critic voice in our heads. I began to implement what I learned into my life. Being at Kripalu healed my anxiety. Overcoming my fears and trying new things, talking in small groups with people I didn’t know, crying in front of others, eating healthy food and practicing breathing and yoga techniques for the weekend all changed my life.
At Kripalu I learned how to take care of myself and more importantly why I need to take care of myself. I learned that weekend that I need to put myself first. So I began to do it. That year many things changed. I developed a very close relationship with God. My relationships with friends changed. I could not take care of my friends anymore because I did not have the physical or mental energy. I learned how to ask and accept help. I was not used to this and it was a challenge for me to accept help from others. But that voice and feeling in my heart told me that if I wanted to get better, then something needed to change.
Little by little my need to please others disappeared. Fear of people, criticism and judgment slowly faded. I opened a small private practice that grew quickly and left my job of almost 10 years. I lost friends in the process and fought with family that year, but I healed. All through this I continued to use food to cope with my feelings.
I recently decided to face the next challenge…my biggest challenge…my eating disorder. I call it my cross. My eating disorder has always been the cross I bear. I tried every diet out there. I tried Overeaters Anonymous and just recently was talked into trying a very expensive shake diet. I did lose weight for about 2 weeks, but gained 15 pounds back. I finally decided I needed to look at why I gained 15 pounds after all I had been through and all I had learned.
As my spiritual practices continued, the answers became clear as to why I was putting on the weight. About two years ago I lost a good friend. I considered her my best friend because she knew the deepest and darkest things about me. I shared my whole self with her. We shared our spiritual beliefs, our fears and our worries. She was my neighbor and dear friend. Our kids were friends and our husbands were friends. We vacationed together and even decided to do some spiritual healing work together. One day during her journey of growth she decided that she no longer wanted to be in a friendship with me. She refused to tell me why and abandoned the friendship without giving me a clear reason.
I tried several times to reach her, but failed. I spent two years of my life struggling with understanding why and how she could just get up and leave. I wondered why and how she could spend time with other women, but wanted nothing to do with me after all we had shared together. I questioned why I was so unlovable. I asked her for forgiveness; not understanding why I needed to be forgiven. I gave her the space she needed to figure things out.
I gained about 20 pounds while grieving the loss of our friendship. I became embarrassed and ashamed when I would run into her and drive by her house because it was noticeable that I was struggling with food by the amount of weight I gained. I wanted to hide. I knew it was time to go back to Kripalu for healing. I found a workshop by Geneen Roth on her latest book “Women, Food and God”. I felt that intuitive feeling again, so I bought the book, read it and began the process of implementing her principles and guidelines into my life. But, I gained a few more pounds.
Something inside me pulled at me to not give up and keep learning and going. I knew I had no other choice. Every single attempt to lose weight failed. So I did. I attended her workshop which was the most amazing of them all. She taught us about intuitive eating which is the process of listening to our mind, body and spirit regarding eating. I continue today with the process of intuitive eating. What does it feel like eating? Am I mentally hungry or physically hungry? Recognizing when I am full has been the biggest challenge of all. The process of intuitive eating led to my lifestyle of intuitive living.
True Surrender
It has been about a year and a half since attending that workshop and starting an intuitive living lifestyle. So much has changed for me. What started out as learning how to listen to my body, turned into listening to my body, mind and spirit. They are all part of the whole. I wrote my first book after that workshop. It was intended as a coaching tool for clients to help them begin to dialogue and process their food journey. That book evolved into this program.

My spiritual life grew quickly after that workshop. I started doing things I would have never done before. Once I could feel what was going on inside me, I could begin to listen. Soon after I learned how to listen, I started to take risks and began obeying my intuition. I learned one very simple thing; if I take the risk and obey my intuition, then I will not fail. But if I ignore it; then I will become anxious, imbalanced and eventually depressed.

I still encounter daily challenges. I mean come on now, I am a wife and mother of three very busy children. All three children have their challenges. I am constantly battling the education system which can be very stressful. My kids are involved in karate, hockey and football which involve a very busy practice and game schedule. I have two puppies I am trying to train which has been very overwhelming. I am a small business owner and I am in the process of writing this program so I can share it with many others. And I am very involved in my church. Life still gets overwhelming, but today I know how to recognize when I am stressed and I know what to do to re-balance myself before it turns into a chronic anxiety or depression.

Click here to read “My Story Part 4″….

My hope in telling you my story is to help you to uncover yours. My guess is that you can relate to some of the feelings I felt and the experiences I went through. To continue reading more about my journey with self-renewal, check out my book, “RENEWED:  A Mind, Body, Spirit Approach to Self-Renewal”.  If you would like to learn more about how I can help you to find peace and balance in your life, please visit my website at www.mindbodyspiritcounseling.net.  To join a RENEWED group or attend an upcoming 5 Week Transformational Workshop, please check out the Events at Mind, Body, Spirit Counseling. 

My Story Part 2

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Marriage
I graduated in the year 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and moved back home. That summer was a nightmare. My weight reached the lowest I’d ever been. Clothes were falling off of me. I think my parents were worried and felt helpless because they did not understand my disorder. For so long I wanted to stand out, but I can clearly remember the anxiety I felt when my parents started confronting me about my weight loss. It all finally came out and I openly said the word eating disorder out loud to them. It was as if they didn’t know I had one. They asked a few questions. You could see the anxiety in my mother. It radiated out of her. She immediately became defensive as if it was her fault that I developed an eating disorder.
That summer, questions were asked. I was grateful they were interested and happy they were trying to understand. But I felt like they did not like the answers I gave as to how I developed the eating disorder or why.

The energy in my house became unhealthy and I knew it. Intuitively I knew I needed to look for a “big girl” job so I could move out, so I applied for a counselor job at a psychiatric hospital on the children’s floor. That fall I moved into a single bedroom apartment alone. It was the best two years I’d ever had!

I loved living on my own. Because of how my parent’s raised me and the skills they taught me, I did well on my own. I worked full time and paid my bills. I loved working at the hospital with the kids. I was good at it and I felt like I was making a difference and giving back in some way. I learned so much during those two years.

Steve and I were engaged that year. He is an amazing man. He is kind and caring and would do absolutely anything to make me happy. Isn’t that the perfect man? I thought it was, until slowly I began to learn that he had a binge drinking problem. I can remember
cursing the classes I was taking at the time because I knew it was those classes that taught me this. I remember at one point swearing I didn’t want to learn anymore because the more I learned; the more it tore my life apart.

But something inside of me pulled at me to keep going. I learned more and more about binge drinking and binge eating. Soon they became intertwined. They seemed so similar.
I began to confront my husband about his drinking which caused problems in our relationship. I remember the day I told him that he needed to make a decision; binge drinking or me. It was devastating. I remember driving to a meeting that day sobbing and feeling completely hopeless and scared. Yet in the
bottom of my chest; deep inside my heart, I knew that I was going to be okay and that I was doing the right thing.

What the heck was that feeling though? I had no idea. However, I knew it was comforting and bright; warm and good.

I finally got to the meeting where they were talking about codependency. I can remember thinking, “Are you kidding me?” So I did what I always did when I learned a new word. First I researched it online, and then I went to the book store. The bookstore is one of my favorite places. We have a love/hate relationship. Education was the key to freedom, but it was also the key to my pain. The more I learned, the more I lost, or so I thought.

Learning about codependency changed my life. I began to learn that I cannot change or fix those around me; I can only change and fix myself. My relationship with my husband got much better once I stopped trying to control him. This change did not happen overnight. It took several years. But once again, there was a strong feeling in my heart that told me our relationship was worth it. So I listened to it once more and stayed in the relationship.
During this entire process I went through a period where I felt like I lost my family for a few years. I didn’t physically lose them, but emotionally I felt detached from them. Today I work with a lot of young adults and have learned that detaching is part of the normal process of becoming an independent adult. I just did not know how to do it in a healthy way. There was a lot of pain that came up while processing my childhood. There was so much anger and grief. Unfortunately my parents were not able to understand my feelings or this process. I can actually remember my grandmother telling me to “Stop reading so much!” My grandmother was a religious person, but far from a spiritual person. She used the name of God and Jesus to punish and shame me. This did not help at all. It just made me feel scared, ashamed and guilty.
I married Steve in 2002. My parents were so supportive and helped us to have the most beautiful wedding. My relationship with my family got much better, but my eating disorder continued. It got really bad through my first few years of marriage. But let me tell you, I looked amazing! I was probably the most miserable I’d ever been. We went to Hawaii for our honeymoon and I can remember sitting down with the travel agent to book the trip. The entire trip we planned revolved around where I was going to eat and if the hotel had a gym. At this time in my life I developed full blown OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) with food and my body. Meal times would cause panic and anxiety unless I had complete control over where we went and what we ate. I don’t remember how long this part of my life lasted, but my husband will tell you it was the most miserable. He was a people pleaser and would never challenge me or tell me how he was feeling. He simply went along for the ride.
I started graduate school in 2002. Keeping up with my eating disorder was not as easy. I could not exercise as much as I wanted due to time constraints. Because I was married and had my husband’s income, I was able to buy more of the foods I wanted. So overeating became easier. Also, there was more stress with trying to balance graduate work and my feelings of anxiety and depression. I became pregnant as planned with our first child in 2003. This was a very challenging and emotional time. I could not vomit, I could not use laxatives or diet pills and I was so big that over exercising was not an option. I was a mess.
Motherhood
I had my first son, Dylan in 2004. I began planning my diet for how I was going to lose the baby weight before he was even born. I did manage to lose most of the weight through Weight Watchers and exercise. But I can remember obsessing and feeling completely miserable through the whole thing; shaming and beating myself up for months and months. I really didn’t know any other way. It was the way I treated myself since I was seven or eight. Dylan was born with some minor challenges. He had sensory integration challenges at an early age. He wanted to be held constantly. He struggled with keeping clothing on, loud noises stressed him out, and he began having fears, phobias and night terrors by 9 months old. His first word was “dirty”. We thought it was cute at the time, but I knew “dirty” was not exactly a typical first word. That was the start of mothering a son with anxiety and OCD. But despite my education and personal experiences, I had no idea what was going on with him.
I got pregnant with my daughter, Hailey quickly after Dylan was born. She was rushed out of my arms at birth because she would randomly stop breathing. She was immediately taken that evening to Boston Children’s Hospital where she lived for the first two weeks of her life. Those two weeks were a blur. I don’t remember much about it except that I looked and felt like total crap. I also remember that food was still on my mind. My daughter was in the NICU at Boston Children’s Hospital and I did not miss one meal. In fact, I loved being there because they had these amazing chocolate chip cookies that were the size of my head. I ate one every day. I began to love hospitals after that because of those cookies. Little did I know that I would be spending much more time in them with my third child.
Hailey came home after 2 weeks with a prescription of caffeine and a heart monitor. The monitor would go off if she stopped breathing. We were instructed to conduct CPR after calling 911 if the monitor went off. This definitely raised my anxiety levels to an all-time high. But I didn’t really have a say in the situation. I was in complete survival mode, so I just went along with it and made sure to eat whenever I could to numb the feelings. For some reason that always helped.
Hailey slept in the bassinet beside my bed for three months. I was so exhausted one evening that I slept through the heart monitor alarm. My husband came running up more concerned about me because I did not wake up. And let me tell you that alarm is absolutely ear piercing. At three months old she was cleared of her sleep apnea.
We made it through the three months of Hailey’s sleep apnea and one RSV pneumonia hospitalization. Still in survival mode, I continued to make it through each day using food as my comfort. Dropping the baby weight was much harder at this point and I never made it down to my pre-baby weight. I did however; find a way to continue to make my way to the gym each day because the pain and guilt of not exercising was just too much to bear.
I got pregnant with Tyler in 2006 and he was born in August 2007. All I can say is OH MY GOSH! I thought I had seen it all. I had a three year old who was afraid to get dirty, touch anything, sleep alone, be in public places and wanted nothing to do with boy toys which is another story for another day. I got through the three months of apnea and one pneumonia hospitalization with Hailey. But then, Tyler was born. All of my children have changed me in some way, but my experience with Tyler changed me the most.
Tyler cried the minute he came into the world and didn’t stop for two years. He was my only child who had to sleep in the nursery at the hospital because I just couldn’t do anything to make him comfortable. Tyler was a very sick little boy. He had trouble swallowing and breathing and would often times choke on his own saliva. He developed nine pneumonias in four years that we know of and was hospitalized twice. I can remember once again feeling that feeling in my heart and hearing that voice in my head that would say, “Something is wrong!” I will not go into detail, but I went through years of constant confusion and questioning.
I read so much information online about what he was experiencing, but could not find someone to listen to me and help him. His doctor made me feel crazy even though I knew I wasn’t. I learned things about children no parent should have to learn unless they are a pediatrician or nurse. I can remember one time right before Tyler’s second hospitalization that I was told not to bring him back to the doctor office until it had been three days. On the second day he passed out at home from coughing. He was running a high fever for seven days and was struggling to keep his eyes open. I called the office and told them that if they would not see him, then I would call 911. They told me to bring him in and we saw a different doctor who was so concerned that she rushed him over to the hospital where he laid for two more days with yet another pneumonia.
I fought the fear to people please and decided to fire his doctor and see the doctor who took care of him during this hospital stay. We have been with her ever since. She listened to me and referred Tyler to several specialists. Long story short, that voice inside my head was right. There was something very wrong. Tyler was diagnosed with a laryngeal cleft that caused him to aspirate liquids and food causing his recurrent pneumonias and illness. It was repaired and he is doing very well. Tyler was also diagnosed with other developmental issues such as verbal apraxia and sensory processing disorder. We were able to get him help for these issues and he is functioning quite well in 3rd grade.

Click here to read “My Story Part 3″….

My hope in telling you my story is to help you to uncover yours. My guess is that you can relate to some of the feelings I felt and the experiences I went through. To continue reading more about my journey with self-renewal, check out my book, “RENEWED:  A Mind, Body, Spirit Approach to Self-Renewal”.  If you would like to learn more about how I can help you to find peace and balance in your life, please visit my website at www.mindbodyspiritcounseling.net.  To join a RENEWED group or attend an upcoming 5 Week Transformational Workshop, please check out the Events at Mind, Body, Spirit Counseling. 

My Story Part 1

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Do not let your past define who you are today, but allow it to help you to better understand who you want to be tomorrow.
Childhood
Like so many of you, my story starts at a young age. I was a very insecure and fearful little girl. I was raised in a home with my mother, father and two sisters. I was a middle child. My mother is a wonderful and caring woman who worked part-time as a registered nurse. She is an incredibly hard worker with a giant heart for people.

My father is a positive and happy man. He too is a very hard worker. My father became a successful business owner by taking a risk, leaving a job he was not happy in and opening a business of his own. He was rarely home, but when he was it was nice.

My parents were caring parents. They were very supportive of me and encouraged my education, my athletics, and me becoming an independent woman. They raised my sisters and me to become responsible young women, with a strong set of morals and values. Overall, they were very successful parents; the kind of
success I hope to achieve as a parent one day. I had a good relationship with my mother growing up and she is my best friend today. I have a father who I admire and respect and am able to have great conversations with today. I am who I am because of my parents. I learned what I learned because of my parents and today my parents are two of my greatest supports and encouragement.

Another person who greatly impacted my childhood was my grandmother. She was 100% Greek, was loud and loved food. She died in her seventies and suffered many medical conditions including obesity. She triggered a lot of my anxiety growing up. She was very rigid with her thinking. She was emotionally abusive and sometimes even physically. Her expectations of children were completely irrational. She controlled my mother; therefore, she controlled me.

I was afraid of my grandmother. I grew up secretly in fear. I was too afraid to talk about it; therefore, I did not allow myself to feel it. I began to numb my feelings and blocked everything out mostly with food. I started having panic attacks and anxiety by age 7 or 8. I would lie in bed the night before having to see my grandmother and I would panic and cry. My feelings were never validated and I was not taught how to cope with them. I was just told to stop feeling it.

Looking back into my childhood I can see now that I struggled with so many things. I was a sensitive child who was abnormally uncomfortable in loud and busy environments. I can also see now that I was very intuitive. I could and still can sense feelings and
emotions from peoples’ faces, body language and energy; things that most people can’t sense. This sensitivity contributed to me being anxious around people, places and things that were unknown. It also made it very hard to watch the way my mother was treated by my grandmother.

I learned at a young age to ignore my feelings. Like many of you, I learned to feel shame, guilt, fear and insecurity. I learned at a young age to become controlling to protect myself from being emotionally and physically hurt. I developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and social phobia by middle school. I will talk more about all of this in the next few chapters.

The interesting thing about my social phobia was that I was was extrovert with social phobia. I loved people and craved connection in relationships and fun, but inside I feared rejection and shame. I learned to use my extrovert personality to mask my anxiety. To this day people tell me they never would have guessed that I struggle with anxiety or social phobia.

By age 8 I began using food to mask and comfort my emotions. My eating disorder started out as overeating and comfort eating that quickly grew into binge eating. I was overweight by age 9 which impacted my body image and self- esteem. By age 11 I was dieting and restricting food and by age 15 using
laxatives and diet pills. At age 19 my eating disorder turned into full blown bulimia where I binged on food and purged it with exercise, diet pills and vomiting. I hated how I looked and how I felt. Today I can see that my eating disorder was triggered by my
OCD thinking. My OCD thinking was triggered by my social anxiety and generalized anxiety. It’s no wonder I struggled in and out of depression my whole life. The anxiety was just too much to handle.

I struggled in school socially. I did not struggle to make friends, but I struggled to keep them. I had difficulty trusting people, so I talked about them. I feared rejection, so I stayed emotionally as far away from them as I could. I became so anxious around people that I sat far away from my friends in class. I was still able to mask my anxiety and nobody ever knew.
High School/College
My teen years and twenties were an absolute mess which is where some personality stuff comes in. I learned to behave a certain way to get my needs met. Sometimes this meant seeking attention from others by lying and manipulating or even dressing a certain way. Sometimes it meant making a bigger deal out of something than it really was to get attention. I did not do these things to hurt others; I did them because I was hurting.

I met my husband Steve in high school. We were 15 years old. I couldn’t resist his cute smile and “Z. Cavaricci” pants. Plus he always had gum and bought me lots of food. I was a food addict so this worked very well for me. On a serious note, we fell in love freshman year of high school and spent the next four years together. Steve was and still is very good to me. I love him very much, but there was also a part of me that stayed in this relationship because it was comfortable. I feared men and talking to boys. My social anxiety kept me from being able to communicate with others. I hated myself and felt unworthy. I think part of me feared first dates and talking which made it very easy to stay in the relationship with Steve.

Steve and I parted ways our first year of college. That is when life really fell apart. I turned to partying, alcohol and sex to calm my social anxiety. I didn’t know how I felt and I certainly didn’t know how to deal with it. I just knew I didn’t want to feel it anymore. Drinking alcohol allowed me to let loose. Unfortunately I can’t say it allowed me to be myself because I was acting nothing like myself. Like food, I lost control when I drank alcohol. I did not know my limits and I drank way too much. I threw myself at whoever would give me attention. I was an active bulimic who hated herself. To this day I believe that I was in survival mode, desperately trying to make it in a world that I did not understand at all.

I got back together with Steve at age 20. I was in my third year of college at the University of New Hampshire. I was studying psychology. My goal was to become a clinical mental health counselor and own my own private practice one day. I was learning about addiction that year. That is when I realized I had a problem. I can remember it so vividly. I was taking a class on “Dysfunctional Family Therapy”. We watched a movie about an alcoholic father and our teacher taught us about the family systems theory. He taught us about what it means to be dysfunctional; he taught us the roles and stages of change in a family system. As I read the course material and watched the movies he showed, my affect got flatter and flatter. My mood got more depressed and eventually my eyes were opened and my denial was lifted. At age 20, in the middle of my junior year of college, my life came crashing down.

I met with my professor briefly that year to ask some questions about what he was teaching. I rarely spoke to men unless I was drunk because they intimidated me. But I was desperate to learn more and he was the only person who was able to break through my thick denial. I remember telling him about the feelings I experienced growing up in my home. I told him about the roles that we were playing out in my family and how it all made sense after watching the movie he showed.

For the first time, I cried. And I don’t mean I cried because I was hurt. I mean, I cried because I was devastated. I thought my family was perfect. That moment was the beginning of a long recovery. That moment was the beginning of the 15 years of grief that I was about to endure. That moment was the beginning of my spiritual journey.

My eating disorder became extremely compulsive that year. I was obsessive about what I ate and compulsively purged it. I would workout with fevers and no sleep. I lost weight and was praised for it by family and friends. On the outside I looked like a new person, but on the inside I was dying. On the eve of my 21st birthday the best and worst thing happened. I binge drank that night. I drank shot after shot until I was so intoxicated that Steve had to call 911. I was non-responsive to the world. After a terrifying ambulance ride to the hospital, I am grateful to say that I recovered; well, physically that is.

Four weeks later, I received a letter in the mail. It was my discharge summary. At the bottom was a recommendation for me to see a therapist. It made no sense to me at the time. I still didn’t get the big picture. I needed help, but I could not see it. I went to the University’s Counseling Center. They immediately sent me outside of the school for help. At the time I did not understand why, but now I can see that the issues I was dealing with were not academic. They were personal and they were much more complex and serious than the school counselor could handle.

That spring I started therapy with my first therapist. Her name was Jodi. She was sweet, kind and gentle. So much came to light for me. By working with Jodi in therapy, I was able to gain insight on my issues of anxiety and began to learn about how it impacted my eating disorder. I also disclosed another dark secret that spring; it was the first time I talked about the impact of being molested by a family friend.

I went home that summer and binged, purged and exercised my way through it. With my education as a resource, little things began to make sense. My family dysfunction became clearer. Only this dysfunction did not only exist in my family, but it also existed in my relationship with Steve.

I started a Twelve Step program that year. And it was not because it was suggested by my therapist. It was actually an assignment I was given my junior year of college during a class I was taking called, “Alcoholism and Addictions”. We were required to attend six AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings to learn more about addiction.
I love telling the story about my first meeting. I will never forget it. I showed up with a bag of chocolate chips to listen to addicts talk about their addiction to alcohol. I laugh every time I think about it. In all seriousness, there was something I fell in love with during those meetings. There was a presence there that was unexplainable. It was something I felt deep within my heart. I had a lot of social anxiety, so talking with others out loud in a group was not my thing. But I continued to go back because of the strong presence and connection I felt in the room. It was that year that I learned about a Higher Power whom I choose to call God. It was that moment of my life that I began a spiritual journey and the Twelve Steps became the foundation of my faith. So I was now seeing a therapist and attending Twelve Step meetings thinking to myself, “Man oh man, I am messed up”.

Click here for part 2…

My hope in telling you my story is to help you to uncover yours. My guess is that you can relate to some of the feelings I felt and the experiences I went through. To continue reading more about my journey with self-renewal, check out my book, “RENEWED:  A Mind, Body, Spirit Approach to Self-Renewal”.  If you would like to learn more about how I can help you to find peace and balance in your life, please visit my website at www.mindbodyspiritcounseling.net.  To join a RENEWED group or attend an upcoming 5 Week Transformational Workshop, please check out the Events at Mind, Body, Spirit Counseling. 

How to Discover Purpose and Meaning in Your Life and What You Need to Put it into Action

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Every Spring I go on a self-exploration and transformation retreat for 3 days.  This year I attended a workshop on how to create transformational workshops.  The purpose of this weekend was not only to rejuvenate, but also to help ignite my fire that would hopefully inspire my next project of putting RENEWED: A Mind, Body, Spirit Approach to Self-Renewal into a 3 day transformational workshop for clients.  My intention for the weekend was to leave with knowledge on how to structure my workshop and how to relay 15 chapters of information from my book to my participants in a 3 day time period without overwhelming or boring them.  So what does this have to do with you finding your purpose?  Bear with me a moment and I will explain.

Chapter 13 in my book talks about discovering our purposes and meanings in life.  I break it down into 3 different life purposes (Universal Purpose, Communal Purpose and Personal Purpose) and use the 5 W’s and 1 H (who, when, where, what, why and how) to help readers to discover their life purposes.

Our Universal Purpose is all the same and answers the what; it is to matter in this world and to those around us.  But our Communal and Personal Purposes are different.  Our Communal Purpose is the who, when and where we matter to.  Our Personal Purpose is the why and how.  It answers the questions of what gifts we will use to matter, where we got those gifts, why we use them and how we use them.  I explain that we can have one purpose or multiple purposes and that those purposes can evolve over time.

So let me get to the point of what I discovered last weekend and see if it can help you to uncover your life purposes.

I spent the first two days in this workshop struggling to figure out why I was there.   It started out pretty weird.  There were five leaders and they had us participate in some pretty uncomfortable and different activities that broke social norms.  They were activities that brought about group cohesion, comfort and safety through movement, music, meditation, laughter, drawing, storytelling, sharing, touching, etc.  You heard me…TOUCHING.  No, it was’t some perverse activity that we did.  It was gentle partner yoga, but it was weird and uncomfortable with a stranger.  

One of our group leaders kept telling us, “You have everything you need inside of you to create a transformational workshop.”   They would transition us from one activity to another with little explanation as to what the purpose of the activities were.  I had trouble making the connection between each activity and what I was supposed to be learning.  I am used to the traditional style of learning where the teacher talks and the student listens.  My expectation was that they were going to give us step by step instruction on what we need to do to create a workshop and ideas for what we can implement into them.  This did not happen as I expected.

I uncomfortably participated in all activities and grew more and more frustrated as the workshop got closer to an end.  Then, on the afternoon of the second day, something shifted.  It started with an activity where the group had to serve one another by helping and offering assistance, then switch off and receive help from another.  A second activity was called “mind-mapping” where we drew our vision onto paper.  Again, I was a bit frustrated because I already had my vision drawn out, I needed help to put it into action in an organized way.  So I quickly finished the activity and instead of using my turn to talk about my project, I listened to my partner and tried to help her with her brainstorming.  We ended that session with a mindful meditation and off I went to my room.  I took out my notebook and began writing everything that was flowing from my brain.  In 2 hours I had developed a vision statement and outline schedule for my workshop.

That evening we talked about the elements of personality and language and how each person learns and connects differently depending on which personality traits they have.  That night I wrote more and more.  The next morning we spent time having closure with our group.  Tears were shed as group participants shared about how they felt so safe in the room and how they were able to connect with each other in such a short period of time.  We processed the weekend events and how the group leaders helped us to connect to our vision.  I can remember smiling inside as the light bulb turned on and it became clear as to why I was there and how that particular workshop helped me.  It all began to make sense and the words I had flowing through my brain were, “You have everything you need inside of you to create a transformational workshop.”

You see, I went there with clear knowledge and vision as to what my purpose in life is.  But what I learned at that workshop has everything to do with you uncovering yours.  I learned that when we are in a safe environment with like-minded people, we are able to connect to our intuition that has everything you need to uncover and live out your life purpose.

The group leaders did not teach us anything I did not already know (although they did provide us with a wonderful manual and help me to put organization to it).  What they did was create an atmosphere that was safe with very few words and a whole lot of skill and wisdom.  They provided us with activities that stimulated our brains through movement, music, meditation, laughter, drawing, storytelling, sharing, touching, serving, etc.  These activities, combined with the safety in the room, allowed for a connection between the brain and soul.   And when that happens, our intuition is released uncovering our purposes.  It took me a little while to let down my guard and fully connect to my fellow group members, but once I did, my purpose that weekend flowed right out onto paper.

So my advice to you if you are feeling stuck with regard to who, when, where, why, what and how you are to matter in this life is to find like-minded people and connect with them.  You can do this by joining a group, spiritual study or taking a workshop with like-minded people.  You have everything you need inside of you, you just need to connect to it.

Keep connecting with those whom God puts on your path. Your fire will ignite and your purpose will become clear.

If you would like more support and guidance with regard to exploring your purposes, check out my RENEWED program at http://www.renewedmindbodyspirit.wordpress.com.

Peace and blessings,

Katie

The Number One All Natural Medicine for Anxiety and Depression that Every Doctor Should Prescribe

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Numbers are rising of those who are diagnosed each year with clinical anxiety and/or depression.  I recently wrote a book called RENEWED:  A Mind, Body, Spirit Approach to Self-Renewal that talks about how anxiety and depression develops over time as a result of unmanaged stress.  In this book I explain how stress impacts the brain and triggers the fight, flight or freeze response.  You see, when we encounter stress, our brains process the stress as a threat which naturally triggers the fight, flight or freeze response to danger otherwise known as survival.  Those responses can include verbal arguments, physical altercations, shutting down and isolating from people, places or things, avoiding stress by numbing ourselves with drugs, alcohol and/or food and avoiding work, school, friends, social events, etc.  Let’s face it…our lives are full of constant stress which means we are in constant survival.  And because our brains are constantly processing our stress as danger, then we are constantly fighting, flighting and/or freezing.  As a result of this need to constantly survive the threats our brains interpret, we can become physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually depleted over time.  This combination and depletion physically changes the amount of dopamine, serotonin, melatonin and cortisol our bodies produce among many other chemicals needed to balance our mood.

I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression, especially during the winter months.  I work with many people whose moods seem to dip in November and they don’t find relief until April/May when it gets lighter outside later and they are able to get outside and be exposed to sunshine.  This seems to be a common pattern I tend to come across and attribute it to many factors including a decrease in vitamin D from lack of sunlight, a decrease in getting fresh air from being outside and a decrease in movement from being cooped up during the winter months.  We also eat less fruits and vegetables in the winter because they are not in season and less available.  I often find that stress can also occur from an increase in stress due to greater expectations and demands at either work, school or family activities during winter months.  As a culture, we take more time off from work and routine during the summer months.  Do you see where I am going with this?

My family recently experienced a very stressful winter.  We are a very busy family to begin with.  Both my husband and I own businesses.  My husband works long, steady hours and I work part-time aside from being the primary caretaker at home.  We have 3 children who are actively involved in school and sports.  They participate in band, student council and peer mentoring activities.  My oldest son is involved in martial arts and my two younger children are both involved in hockey.  If you know anything about the sport of hockey, then you know it is year around and an intense commitment both economically and time wise.  Lastly, my family is very active in our church.  Our children participate in youth group regularly and both my husband and I volunteer and lead in church activities.  So you can see that just like you, we live very busy lives.  We have little free time and struggle to sit down as a family to eat dinner.

I am often asked how I manage to do all of the things I am doing.  The answer is very clear to me.  I make self-care my priority.  Not my husband.  Not my children.  Not my work. I make sure that I am fully cared for, balanced and recharged and as a result I am able to provide way more than I ever could not only for my immediate family, but for more and more people in my circle.  I am able to give more to my church.  I am able to give more to my clients.  I am able to give more to my family.

So let me get to the real answer to the question above:  what is the number one all natural medicine that a doctor should prescribe to treat anxiety and/or depression?

A VACATION.  That’s right!  A vacation.  I strategically planned a vacation for the time when I knew I would need it most.  Throughout my many years learning about the benefit of self-care through my own personal practice, I came to the conclusion that I struggle most during February/March.  So I strategically planned a family getaway for February, then a self-renewal weekend retreat for myself in March and another family getaway in April.  I know what you are thinking,  “Boy, don’t you have the life.”  I am not going to feel bad about it.  We work hard and that is what we’ve decided to put our money into, our family vacations and time off from work.  I also know what else you are thinking, “I can’t possibly take time off in February/March…my kids are in school or that is the busiest time of the year at work or my kids sports schedules won’t allow for it, etc”.  Trust me, I get it.  February is not the ideal time to get away in my line of work either and my kids play hockey so its not the ideal time for them and they are also in school.  But isn’t that exactly why it is so important to go away during that time?

That is exactly what I discovered and now prescribe to clients now; a vacation during the time when you know it is going to be the most busy and chaotic.  Why?  Because that is when you are most likely to fall into survival mode and get trapped in the cycle of fight, flight or freeze.  That is the time when you are most likely to shut down and isolate because you are exhausted and that is the time when you are most likely to get more unfocused at work and more sloppy as well.  That is the most likely time that you will go back to old habits such as emotional eating or using drugs or alcohol to get you through.  So be proactive like I was this year and plan your VACATION.  It doesn’t need to be extravagant.  But it does need to require you to get away from the daily life you are living; away from the cell phones, computers, drama at school or work, and every day busy schedules that you are living right now.  And if you are like me and live in a dark, cold, snowy area during the winter months, then yes, I highly recommend you consider planning a vacation to a warm, sunny place.  And yes, you may need to let go of some comforts during the year in order to include this vacation into your self-care practice.  And you will most likely find it helpful to plan it during a time of year that is least convenient and most stressful to take the time off.

This year I put my money into a VACATION during the month that was the least convenient for me and my family to get away.  And guess what!  I did not get depressed this winter.  I did not struggle with chronic clinical anxiety this winter and I did more things this year to serve in my home, work and community than I’ve ever done before.  Why?  Because I made self-care a priority and took time off to renew, rejuvenate and rebalance my body, mind and soul.  This has allowed me to stay focused throughout the year, especially during the months where I struggle most.  The number one natural medicine that all doctors need to prescribe is a vacation.  Consider this today.  You won’t be sorry.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can make self-care a priority, take a look at my RENEWED Program and visit my website at renewedmindbodyspirit.wordpress.com.

How to Find Purpose and Meaning in Your Life

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Often times people come to me with feelings of dissatisfaction and lack of fulfillment in their life. They express feeling like something is missing. The following is the most recent chapter in my guide, “Healing Your Relationship with Food and Breaking the Cycle in Your Home.” It explores finding your purpose in life.

Who knew that healing your relationship with food would lead to finding purpose in your life. I’ve talked about purpose throughout this guide. But what do I mean by purpose in life and how does one get there? Both are two very good questions. I believe each person’s purpose is very different. And I also believe each person finds their purpose in a different way and through different circumstances in their life. So how can this chapter help you if your purpose is different from mine? The answer is simple. Take everything you just learned in this guide and apply it to purpose and your purpose will come to you. In this chapter I will show you how I applied the guidelines in this book to help me uncover and live out my purpose.

1. Get real about your story. By writing out my life story I was able to identify my struggles. I was able to acknowledge where I came from and what I believed. I was able to be honest about things I’ve done and how those things impacted my life. But most importantly, I was able to recognize that my story is in the past and is not happening now. Therefore, I no longer need to abuse myself like I did in the past. My story has made me who I am today. I would not have the depth of knowledge regarding food issues if I did not have my story. I would not be able to come out of the mess I was in and I would not be writing this guide for you to read. My story brought me to my purposes in life. I’m not at all saying that everyone who has struggles with food will go on to write a book or work in a field to help others overcome their food issues. I am saying that your story makes you who you are today. It is the storm you have to go through to find strength, courage, wisdom, and faith. Your story is your testimony to others. Your testimony to others is part of your purpose.

2. Stop letting rules control your life and go for it! I lived my life with rule after rule. Rules controlled my eating. Rules controlled who I was. Rules controlled what I believed. Rules controlled how I did my job. Along my journey of healing and learning to live intuitively, I learned that life is not all about rules. I learned the difference between rules and boundaries. Boundaries are necessary to keep people safe and healthy. Boundaries are different for everyone. Rules assume that everyone is the same and that everyone’s body, mind and spirit work the same way. I learned that I need to incorporate healthy boundaries into my life and get rid of all the rules. For example, I used to work in a large mental health counseling agency. For 10 years I practiced counseling under the rules of the company and the code of ethics I was taught. I left my job in community mental health to open a small private practice where I could be free to express myself intuitively and help people the way my spirit was guiding me to . I have boundaries in my private practice that allow me to keep both myself and my clients safe, but they are not the same for every person. My boundaries differ from client to client. I started a life coaching program to allow these boundaries to be different and looser for those who needed different supports. I started writing about myself and my life experience to teach and help others. I started to express myself in ways I did not know existed for me.

3. Eat intuitively. Month three explored intuitive eating. I found that as I began to eat intuitively, I began to tap into my intuition. I learned how to listen to my body not only when it came to eating. I learned that my body, mind and spirit were also guiding me in other ways too. Intuitive eating led me to learn about intuitive living. When I eat certain foods, I do not feel well. When I move certain ways I do not feel well. I learned to eat and move in a way that feels good for my body, mind and spirit. I apply this theory to purpose as well. Before I opened up private practice I worked independently for a few months in an occupational therapy practice with kids. The kids were very young. Many of them were under 5. This made me very uncomfortable as it was just not my thing. The environment I was working in was not what I visioned either. It created a lot of anxiety for me and a bad feeling in my stomach. I was not feeling alive or full of life when I went to work. I was feeling anxious and stressed. I was beginning to doubt myself and talk down to myself. I learned that my intuition was trying to tell me through my feelings that this was not the place for me. I left there and shortly after had another vision to go out on my own an open my private practice. It has been the most amazing experience. The feelings I get each day are completely different. I feel alive and fulfilled most days. I feel right about where I am. My spirit feels bright. I’ve helped many women and men find their life purpose. The way I do that is by guiding them to tap into their intuition. Many of them have left their jobs to open practices of their own usually doing something that is helping others. One woman I worked with opened a health club to help other women learn how to take care of their bodies. One woman is currently working toward her vision of opening a sober house and putting together programs for families of addicts. She also has a vision of incorporating spiritual life coaching. Another woman is working toward opening a massage therapy practice and incorporating her skills in holistic health. One woman that came to me was already living out her passion regarding her job. She continued to do her job grooming animals, but was able to find purpose in other ways by becoming part of a new church environment and being a testimony for others. So you don’t have to leave your current job to find purpose. However, most people on this path do leave behind jobs they were not happy in and relationships that did not fulfill them.

4. Do not give the inner critic power. This is a big one. During my journey of learning to live intuitively, I battled a nasty inner critic. Infact, I think I learned that much of my problem came from this inner critic thinking. It took a few years to really learn how to coach myself. In the beginning of my journey the inner critic had much more power over me because it was all I knew. I did not know about the inner coach. But once I began practicing coaching myself I became more rational and much braver. I was able to let go of fear. The inner critic’s role is create fear to keep us from living out our purpose. Fear says, “What if I fail?” The coach says, “But what if you fly?” The biggest thing I learned and the most powerful thing I share with clients is that if you truly follow a path of intuitive living, you cannot and will not fail. There is one of two things that is true when faced with a vision of purpose. The first is that your spirit is guiding you to live out purpose and will provide you with all the knowledge and resources to carry that purpose out. The second is that you have a vision but you find that it was is not spirit led. If this is the case, you still cannot fail. I learned that God can turn anything and I mean anything into something for His greater good. I will give you an example. I was involved with a very codependent and unhealthy relationship. But at the time I did not know it was unhealthy. Infact, I thought for sure it was spirit led because we had so much in common spiritually. We were on similar paths. But there were some major red flags that warned me that it was unhealthy. A new direction and path evolved for me as this relationship fell apart. Lots of growth, wisdom, knowledge and this great loss led me spiritually down a completely different path that I would have never found if I did not know this person or have this pain of losing her. I do not believe that God wanted me to be hurt in this relationship, as He put many signs out there and my spirit warned me with my feelings many times that it felt bad. But He did turn my grief into an amazing path full of purpose. As I began to listen to my spirit guide, I began to let go of this relationship and build stronger healthier relationships. I was also led to my private practice and teaching self-care to women. Things are falling into place as I continue to follow my intuition.

5. Surrender your will and your life to God. This is another very difficult step to take. True surrender took me almost 15 years to understand. I was 21 years old when I began my spiritual journey. I studied step three in the twelve steps for 15 years. Step three says to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him. I prayed and beg to finally surrender my food issues to God. But I kept taking my will back. I just didn’t get it. One day I became completely powerless. It was the time in my life where I had nothing to give and nothing left in me. I was at my absolute bottom. It was in that moment that I had no choice but to surrender everything. I had no control and I knew it. I still try to take my will back today. But I am learning to be more aware of it when I do. I understand life on a whole new level today. I believe that my life is not mine. My body is not mine. My children and family are not really mine. They are gifts from a power greater than me. I was chosen to have these things in my life. My husband, my children, my house, my body, my private practice. They are all temporary and they are gifts and blessings I received. Each of them serve a purpose in my life to give me strength, hope, love, inspiration and so on. But they are not mine. They are mine temporarily for me to live in and live with. They are entrusted in me to take care of. They are resources I can use to live out my purpose. Looking at my life this way helps me to surrender each and every day. I do believe there is a much greater purpose in life. That purpose being eternal life after death. Eternal freedom in a world in which we cannot understand or begin to comprehend. But while we are here on earth, we have earthly purpose to do good and have an impact on the world and impact on what that eternal world will look like. During my prayer time, I tell God that I will do ANYTHING He asks of me. Being willing to do anything is true surrender. Through living out this prayer and surrendering my will to God, I am challenged to make changes that scare me, but I am blessed with more than I could ever want or imagine. I am blessed with true fulfillment and great peace and joy.

6. Practice Prayer, Meditation and Yoga. This one speaks for itself. Another mantra I live by today is “pray, listen, obey”. As I shared in the chapter on prayer, meditation and yoga, it was through these behaviors that I was able to connect with my intuition. It was through these actions that I was able to feel the light within. I am told by many that they are not able to hear their spirit speak to them. Many are confused about what it sounds like or what it feels like. Please do not misunderstand me. I do not hear voices in my head. It is not like that at all. Through prayer, meditation and yoga I am given thoughts and visions. When I get the thought or vision I pray and meditate more about them. Often times I will get feelings associated with these thoughts and visions. If it is a spirit led vision and I get a bright positive feeling. If it is not spirit led, then I usually get a dark yucky feeling. Sometimes I don’t get a feeling at all and the vision goes away. So I have two guidelines I follow when determining whether or not to act on a vision. The first is to assess whether it gives you a bright feeling or a dark feeling. And the second guideline is the 24 hour rule. When my son played football for the first time, his coach sat all the parents down and told them about the 24 hour rule. He explained that throughout the season there would be times when parents will get upset with how the games are going and will be tempted to gossip to each other or complain to the coaches. He discouraged the gossiping completely and asked that the parents give their thoughts and feelings 24 hours before sending out a nasty email to the coaches. This rule really hit home for me and helped me learn to sit with something for at least 24 hours. Today I may sit with something even longer. Often times my vision will go away and not come back. The visions that persist and get stronger are the ones to pursue.

7. Allow Yourself to Feel and Embrace Changes. If you are on a spiritual and intuitive path seeking purpose, you will find that change happens regularly and sometimes even rapidly. In month seven I spoke about the stages of change. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been through these stages, but I can tell you it happens a lot and very regularly. The biggest thing I learned regarding these stages is that I was not allowing myself to go through these stages before and I was therefore getting stuck. Once I began to allow myself to feel all the feelings associated with change, I was able to embrace them, feel them and move on. My path and purpose has changed and evolved so much over the years. My purpose 20 years ago was much different from my vision today. I do believe it was part of my purpose and plan to work in community mental health. I know this because I loved it. I felt fulfilled for 10 years. But eventually I began to crave more and that purpose changed. My feelings began to change at work and I began to have duller and darker feelings. It was then that I knew I needed to move on and seek fulfillment again. Your purpose will evolve if you allow it to. It will not be the same forever. I always tell my clients that today I am working in private practice and I absolutely love it. I have no idea where I will be in 1 year. But I do know that if I continue to live intuitively, my life will continue to evolve and I will be blessed more and more.

8. Practice Intuitive Movement to get positive energy flowing and unblock toxic negative energy. Movement has been a very important tool on my journey. For me my moments of intuitive movement have been some of my greatest moments of clarity. People have a hard time believing me when I share that I hear God the most when I am exercising at the gym. I truly believe that if we seek intuitive movement it will help us to unblock stagnant and toxic energies in our body, mind and spirit. I believe that intuitive movement helps my spirit guide to move freely through me. My movement has become part of my meditation. My movement is not always slow. I enjoy running, spinning and weight lifting. I do not do these things to lose weight, but more because it is what my body craves. Through these activities I am able to open my body mind and spirit and get positive energy flowing. My body works better with movement.

9. Build a spiritual and healthy support system. I shared in month 9 that I lost many relationships through my journey of learning how to live intuitively. But I also shared that I was able to build a support system full of spiritually wise men and women who encourage, support and challenge me to seek my purpose. Healthy support is necessary when seeking and living your life purpose. I realize now that although my friends and family love me, many of them are unfortunately not on a spiritual path. Many of them fear change and are very close minded. Those people were keeping my thoughts stuck. They were feeding my inner critic and keeping me from making changes in my life. It wasn’t until I let go of those people, places and things that I was able to fully embrace my purpose. I replaced negative relationships with positive ones that foster growth and change.

10. Clean up the amount of toxic chemicals in your life. The last chapter I spoke about was truly being honest with what I am putting into my body and letting go of toxic substances. This was very important for me especially since I failed so many times at achieving this goal. I looked at food as a good and bad and today I look at food as a fuel that has effects on my body, mind and spirit. Man has changed our food so much through the years. It is becoming more and more toxic and physically changes the brain. As I began to clean up my food by eating more and more whole natural foods, I began to think clearer. My body began to work better. My spirit began to connect more and on a deeper level. I believe that the chemicals in the foods we eat and the environment we live destroy not only our natural cues, but also creates a fog in us that keeps us blinded and living in the dark. The cleaner I eat, the less stagnant I feel and the more energy flows through me.

I am going to sum this chapter up into 10 guidelines for spiritual growth.

1. Your story is your testimony.
2. Boundaries not rules.
3. Your body is a vessel so take care of it.
4. If you listen to what everybody thinks you should do and do what everybody wants you to do, then you will stay stagnant.
5. Be willing to do anything.
6. Pray, listen, obey.
7. Embrace change.
8. Move your body to unblock negative energy and promote positive energy.
9. Surround yourself with positive people, places and things that encourage and support you and detach from negative ones.
10. Be one with nature.

Feel free to write them on an index card and put them in a place you will remember. You can apply them to your journey with intuitive eating and also with finding your life purpose. Remember, each person’s life purpose is different. And your purpose can evolve and change over time. What may have been your purpose 10 years ago may no longer be your purpose today. But know that you are here for a reason. Your passions are yours for a reason. You get bright feelings and dark feelings for a reason. When you are living your purpose you fill fulfilled and full of joy. You were chosen to be here and you are equipped with everything you need to seek and live out your life purpose. You cannot and will not fail.

If you would like to explore your purpose further or would like to learn more about how I can help you overcome your unhealthy relationship with food, please check out my website at http://www.mindbodyspiritcounseling.net. I offer a 12 week online program using my guide “Healing Your Relationship with Food” which can be purchased on Amazon.com. I also offer one on one life coaching and individual counseling services. Don’t forget to “LIKE” Mind, Body, Spirit Counseling on Facebook!!

12 Lifestyle Changes I Implemented into my Life to Overcome Anxiety Naturally

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I recently wrote an article about how to overcome anxiety with 4 steps:

1. Embrace the anxiety

2. Surrender the issue or situation

3. Trust that it will be dealt with

4. Let it go

I said that I would write a follow up article on what you can do to make this process easier and part of your every day life with each and every situation.

I know that it is easier said than done to simply embrace, surrender, trust and let go. And for most of us it does not come naturally. For me it took many years to understand how to truly surrender. I knew what it meant, but I had no idea how to do it. Same thing with trusting, embracing and letting go. I knew what they meant and I could tell someone else what they should do but I will be honest, I truly struggled in my own life with being able to do it.

It wasn’t until I got completely desperate to find alternative ways of coping; healthier ways of coping with stress and anxiety that I learned the meaning of those words. Understanding and doing did not happen over night. It happened as the result of several lifestyle changes that I slowly implemented into my life.

I am a very busy woman and it was very difficult for me to do at first, mostly because I did not want to put the time and effort into doing them. But what I found was that once I started implementing these things into my life, like anything, I couldn’t imagine my life without doing them. The following are lifestyle changes you can make to improve your ability to embrace your emotions, surrender your emotions, trust that they will be taken care of and lastly let go of the negative emotions.

1. Talk about what is going on with someone you trust. The first step I took was to open up and talk to someone about my worries, fears, concerns etc. I am not someone who likes to open up to others about my problems. I am not used to doing this. I am the one who listens to others and helps others. Reaching out and trusting another person with my emotions was very difficult. I feared judgment and criticism. I feared rejection. I found that some people did judge and criticize me and some even rejected me, but some did not. Judgment, criticism, and rejection hurt. But it was through this process that I learned who my real friends were vs. who weren’t. Also by talking about what was going on I was able to get some great feedback as well as someone bringing my thoughts back to reality. Often times anxiety is a cluster of irrational thoughts. Having a trusted person to talk to helped me to put the thoughts into perspective and be more realistic. This person can be a friend or it can be a professional or even both. The more supports you have to listen the better.

2. Meditate. This was a very hard lifestyle change for me to practice and learn. I am not someone who can sit still for long periods of time. My mind races fast and I am always on the go. I thought I did better that way. It wasn’t until I attended my first couple of yoga classes that I learned how to sit and be present in the moment. I learned how to sit with emotions. I learned how to be mindful in the moment. I learned how to train my brain to stay in the moment rather worry about the future. I learned how to be still. By practicing quiet meditation it allows for thoughts to come into the mind. Thoughts that promote change. Often times some of my best changes come from an idea I got during a quiet meditation time.

3. Practice Yoga. As I said above, yoga taught me how to sit and be present and still. It also taught me how to connect to my body not just my mind. It taught me how to recognize internal signs within my body such as when I am hungry, tired, thirsty, cold, hot, uncomfortable, etc. Yoga helped me to relax. There are specific positions in yoga which helped me to surrender and also to let go. Some yoga postures can make you feel vulnerable, but once I began practicing them in a class setting, I slowly learned how to overcome this fear of judgment and criticism. I learned how to sit with feeling vulnerable and I learned how to surrender and let go of those feelings in class.

4. Breathe. Such a simple technique to learn and do. Yet if you think about it, we do not breathe properly throughout the day. Our breaths are tense and shallow and rapid much of the time due to the busy demands of every day life. Learning how to really sit and breath properly changes brain chemistry and releases chemicals that promote relaxation.

5. Eat healthy foods that nourish your body and mind. I bet it sounds strange to think that eating healthy has anything to do with anxiety. Well I learned one summer that it does. During my most difficult time I experienced severe anxiety accompanied by panic and insomnia. I went to see a holistic doctor who encouraged me to go on a whole foods diet for 6 weeks then slowly incorporate the foods back into my diet. I did this and was absolutely amazed at the results. I learned so much about food and my body. Certain foods affected my mood. Certain foods triggered headaches and body aches. Certain foods made it difficult for me to sleep. I did incorporate all foods back into my diet, but I did change how I ate them, when I ate them and how much I ate them. I limit the foods that cause me problems. I am very aware of how I feel when I choose to eat them and I know that if I am feeling emotionally imbalanced it may mean that I need to clean up my food a bit.

6. Take vitamins and supplements. Certain vitamins can help with anxiety. I learned that B12, Calcium Magnesium, Vitamin D, Fish Oil, and a good whole foods multivitamin can be very beneficial to promoting stress relief and reducing cortisol levels. There are also several herbal supplements and teas on the market that can help as well. Consult with a holistic coach, nurse or doctor for more information on what is right for your body and mind.

7. Sleep. This is a tough one if you are struggling with anxiety and racing thoughts. The above lifestyle changes made it possible for me to be able to get the sleep I needed to stay balanced. I also learned that in order to ensure I get adequate sleep I needed to have a schedule. Our bodies are naturally programmed to settle down and unwind between the hours or 6 and 10pm. Our body produce chemicals such as melatonin in order to promote sleep. I now know that if I stay up too late or stimulate my mind later in the evening then I will not fall asleep at a decent time.

8. Pray. Yes Pray. I went through some very difficult moments in my life and am very blessed to have found a higher power through those challenges. Exploring spirituality was very difficult yet very awesome at the same time. People have different beliefs and thoughts about spirituality. I am not here to tell you what you should believe in, but I do want to say that by exploring spirituality and believing in something it can have a magnificent effect on how we manage and deal with emotions such as fear and anxiety. After exploring my spirituality I began to implement prayer into my life and it has completely changed my world. I no longer fear the unknown. I no longer need to control life. I can let it go knowing that there is something greater out there in control.

9. Focus on your purpose in life. I believe we all have purpose in this world. I learned that by trusting and focusing on that purpose is the key to finding a life of love and happiness. As I expressed above, I am not in control of the outcome. If I am anxious about something, I focus on my purpose. If my purpose is not clear, I go back to talking to someone I trust, meditation, yoga, breath, and prayer until the answer become clear. The answers always come in time. I learned that they may not always be what I want or how I want them or when I want them, but they do come and the outcome is always better than I ever imagined if I focus on my purpose rather control.

10. Journal or Write. I hated the idea of writing. I never had the time. Well I finally started doing it and I am addicted. I would write letters to the person I was struggling with (sometimes I gave them, sometimes I did not). I wrote answers to questions in self help workbooks or exercises. I wrote my thoughts and feelings in a journal. I even found people through self help programs that I could check in and write to daily. I did not do all of these every day. But I do write most days. This helps with the embrace, surrender and let go processes.

11. Listen to your body and mind and trust your instincts. The biggest challenge I faced and continue to struggle with today is listening to and trusting my instincts. I believe that we have the answers inside of us. Our body’s’ intuitively know what to do and how to do it. As a therapist and life coach my job is not to tell you how to live your life. My job is to help you connect with yourself because your answers are inside of you. I believe that our society and culture has taught us the opposite. It teaches us to resist our instincts and needs. Our culture encourages us to keep going when our instincts scream at us to stop. If you have anxiety, try asking yourself what is going on in your life? How does your body feel? Does your lifestyle allow for you to take care of your needs or does it encourage you to neglect them? If you answer yes to these questions, I am not surprised that you are experiencing anxiety. Listen to your body. Make the changes in your life you need to make.

12. Put healthy boundaries up with those who are not there to support you. This was another tough change I made. This was definitely a very painful process. I call it “cleaning out the closet”. I learned through this process of self care that there were some people in my life who were not capable of understanding, accepting and supporting me. I learned that in order for me to be able to move forward in my journey of health and wellness, I had to stop trying to please everyone around me. I learned that I had to believe in myself and keep going forward. I limited my time with unsupportive and toxic people. Doing this allowed more time and energy to spend with healthy more supportive individuals. Some of the people I set boundaries with remain in my life and others left. But once again, I learned who my real friends are. I also decided that I only want those real friends around. Friends and loved ones are supposed to make us feel good, not bad.

Try slowly practicing these skills and you will be amazed at how your life can change.

If you would like to explore your anxiety further with me or feel you would like more individual support check out my programs and services at http://www.mindbodyspiritcounseling.net. Don’t forget to “LIKE” https://www.facebook.com/mindbodyspiritcounseling on Facebook for daily tips and inspiration.

4 Steps to Dealing with Anxiety Naturally

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Everyone feels anxious at times. Anxiety can come out of nowhere. It can come when life is going well. It can come when times are tough. I would be lying if I said I don’t have anxiety. Because lets face it, most of us struggle with some form of anxiety. Just because I am a therapist doesn’t mean that I am not a human being. I always tell my clients that I am here in this line of work because I understand what it feels like to struggle.

I struggled my whole life with anxiety. I mostly struggled with social anxiety. I managed my anxiety with food and other obsessive compulsive behaviors. I developed a nasty inner critic that took over my thinking and impaired my relationships with myself and with others. I developed co-dependent relationships as a result of my anxiety.

It took me many years of therapy to understand my anxiety. In therapy I never really learned how to overcome the anxiety, how to think differently, how to make the negative thinking go away. I studied 6 years in college classes to learn about anxiety and other mental health disorders. I still didn’t know how to manage my anxiety. Maybe I wasn’t ready.

I tried medication for a couple of years. That was just a bandaid. The anxiety was still always there and when the medicine wore off doctors insisted on adding more medications.

A few years ago I decided that I was ready to do what it took to make the anxiety go away. It was at that time in my life that I discovered what the word “surrender” means. I am not talking religion here. I am talking about surrendering to things we have no control over. Letting them go.

After learning how to surrender, some amazing things started to happen. I began to implement a process into my life that would help me manage my anxiety. Little by little it melted away. What I found was that the anxiety did not disappear over night nor was it one specific behavior or thing that made it go away. It was a lifestyle change I made that slowly began to shift my thinking and my behavior.

Here are four things I do when I am feeling anxious.

1. Embrace the anxiety. “What!! Embrace it. Are you crazy?” No I am not crazy. Let the anxiety in. Feel it and embrace it. Your anxiety is there for a reason. It has a purpose. It is your mind and body telling you that there is something not working in your life; something not healthy perhaps. By embracing the anxiety I was able to explore and understand why it is there and what needs to change. In order to manage and rid the anxiety you need to make some changes. You can’t make changes if you don’t know what changes you are supposed to make. You can’t identify the changes you need to make if you don’t embrace the anxiety. Do you see? It is a vicious cycle.

2. Surrender. Once I was able to recognize, understand and feel the anxiety, I had to learn to surrender it. I found that the anxiety usually served a purpose in my life. It is almost always a sign that something is not working or something is not healthy for me. I struggled with surrender because to surrender means one must give up control. Well I finally decided that my way was not working anymore so I surrendered trying to control every little detail of my life. Surrender also meant having to change my way of doing or thinking. Many things changed as I implemented the word surrender into my life. My job changed, my relationships changed, my eating changed, my lifestyle changed. For me change is very uncomfortable and difficult. Now I enjoy change. Because I know that on the other side of the changes is a much brighter way of life.

3. Trust. Once you surrender what you are anxious about you must trust. This is where my faith was very helpful. You do not have to be a religious person to have faith and trust. Trust that the situation or problem will be naturally dealt with and trust that the way it will be dealt with will be better than your way. Because let’s face it…your way isn’t working so well if you are having anxiety. I find that every time I trust, the situation always turns out better than expected in the long run. I may not understand the whys and hows in the moment, but eventually it always makes sense in the end. I may not like the reasoning or the outcome, but I always, always, always find that there is a bigger picture.

4. Let Go. Lastly, I learned to let go. Trust that the situation will turn out the way it is supposed to in the end. Letting go of the fears, worries and anxiety was the last step in managing my anxiety. Once I let it go I was free to use my time and energy to focus on something else….something more purposeful.

This new way of thinking, behaving and living is not a one time thing for me. I have to do this on a daily basis with each and every situation I encounter. Sometimes I need to do it several times for the same situation. But it works!

I will address in a different article the types of things I implemented into my life to be able to do these four things each and every day with each and every situation.

If you would like to talk more about how I can help support you on your journey, please check out my website at http://www.mindbodyspiritcounseling.net. I offer small group coaching, individual coaching and professional counseling services. Don’t forget to “LIKE” https://www.facebook.com/mindbodyspiritcounseling on Facebook for daily tips and inspiration.

How to Get Started With a Yoga Practice

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Within the last few years I discovered the spiritual practice of yoga. I always wanted to incorporate it into my day, but it was so hard for me to find the time and the space to be able to sit in quiet. I am an active person and have much difficulty sitting still especially with my thoughts. Throughout my college days I often times remember thoughts of wanting to be more present. I came across a lot of yogis back in the day and there was something about them that I wanted. Something I yearned for. They had this peace and serenity about them…this calming aura. They were always smiling and most of the people I came across were vibrant and living with meaning and purpose.

The last 2 years challenged me mentally and emotionally. I felt forced to find an alternative way of coping. It was either find a way to relax or take medication for it. Although I tried yoga in the past I decided to take a class. At the time my aunt was studying yoga. She so generously offered a class to me. I accepted and attended. I am not going to lie…yoga was a very different lifestyle and practice than I am used to. I attended a gentle yoga class and shortly after a therapeutic yoga class. Both are very meditative and focus on breathing and body postures rather core strength and exercise.

After a few session I was amazed at the results. I was able to sit in quiet for longer periods of time without my mind racing or feeling the need to get up and move. I began to have better insight on my life. I felt more connected with my thoughts and began slowly trusting in myself rather depending upon others for guidance. I developed a relationship with myself where I began to accept and love myself and treat myself with respect. I began to sleep better.

My life changed when I discovered gentle yoga. Anxiety decreased and I began taking risks I never thought I would take. Social anxiety melted away. I slowly left my old life and began a new more healthy journey.

Below are a few tips to help you get started with yoga. These suggestions are based off my personal experience and my experience as a clinical therapist who works with both children and adults:

1. Make the decision to try yoga in a class setting rather at home. Life is busy. Whether you are a child, teen or adult, we all have things at home that deter us from staying focused. I tried yoga at home, but the phone would ring or the dryer would stop or there was cleaning to be done. Often times we push things off at home and say we will “do it later”.

2. Explore your yoga goals and expectations. Take some time to research on the internet what kinds of yoga there is. Talk to someone who knows yoga before signing up for a class. Really take the time to think about what you want to accomplish with your yoga practice. Do you want to strengthen your body? Are you looking to quiet the mind? Are you looking to calm your nerves? Are you seeking pain relief? Whatever your goals are there are lots of options available.

3. Pick a studio that has a calming atmosphere. This is very important especially if you are a sensitive person. When I choose a yoga studio, I look for a place that has calming lights, soft music and gentle assists. I also enjoy gentle guided meditation during yoga. Being sensitive can work against you or for you when it comes to yoga. If you are sensitive to sound, touch and sight, you will want to explore what kinds of senses are going to calm you and what kinds are going to cause more stress. I went to a yoga class that played soft calming music, had dim lighting and the teacher provided gentle assists. I loved this aspect of class. But parking at the studio was very stressful. I could never find a spot and when I did I had to walk in the dark alone in the city downtown (I am a country girl) to get to and from the class. Whatever stress relief I got from the class was often times compromised by my walk back to my car.

4. Shop Around. Finding a yoga studio, yoga practice and yoga teacher can be similar to finding a therapist or doctor. I often tell clients to shop around until you find the right fit. If you attend a yoga class and do not benefit from it know that it may not be the right kind of yoga for you. My first few experiences with yoga were more exercise based and I did not like them at all which is why it took me so long to incorporate yoga into my life. I enjoy physical exercise such as spinning and running. It took me years to discover a different form of yoga in which you are in resting poses and focusing more on meditation and breathing. This worked for me, but I do wish I learned about this kind of yoga years ago. Do not give up until you find what fits your body, mind and spirit.