Tag Archive | self-care

To Believe or Not to Believe

This morning I got to share my faith with another human being. An opportunity within our work together allowed me to share these words. I asked for wisdom and courage and this is what came out. I share here that maybe it will resonate with someone else.

“The spiritual self-care. This is one of my favorite topics to talk with people about. I will share a little of my story here and you can take what resonates with you and feel free to dig deeper.

I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school 1st-8th grade. I was brought up with a faith in God, His Son and the Holy Spirit. But growing up I did not understand this faith because it was confusing as all hell. All I felt I was taught was to know all the things I should and should not do. And I was taught that God sees all and will punish me if I “sin”. Again, I had no idea what the heck that meant, so I learned to associate God with fear and shame.

But I remember as a child feeling God and knowing that what I was being taught contradicted the feeling I felt in my body and in my mind and in my soul. I remember questioning many parts of what I was being taught. I remember wanting to explore my faith deeper. But I was afraid and did not have the support. Most people thought it was crazy that I even cared.

So I went about my life without exploring this part of me. In my twenties I sought out therapy after almost dying from alcohol poisoning on my 21st birthday. Between counseling and my college classes in dysfunctional family therapy I came to learn that I was an “adult child”. So I started going to ALANON which is for family members of addicts. It was there that I began to rediscover God as my “Higher Power”. I studied the steps and grew to understand God in a much different way, as someone who could help me by leading and guiding me if I learned how to let go of the control I was trying to have over my life.

In my thirties I went through a huge mental breakdown and will not go into all the details because it is written in a book that you are welcome to read if you want (RENEWED: A Mind, Body, Spirit Approach to Self-Renewal). But anyhow, after this breakdown I began to turn to God even more and realized that the church I was attending was not where I belonged. I decided to explore churches because I wanted to get more involved and also wanted my children to know God. We found a non-denomenational church that we have been going to ever since and it has changed my life and my relationship with God completely.

I’m not saying your answer to life is to find a church, but I am saying that a huge piece to the healing puzzle is finding yourself spiritually. I do not believe all of our paths are the same, but I do believe that we all have a Higher Power that tries to guide us. I believe that God brings people onto my path for me to help with the gifts He has given me. I believe that my eating disorder was not a punishment or something God gave to me, but something God uses to help others and teach others about through me. I believe that God can guide you and has given you many gifts that He can help you to use to and pour into others.

I choose to call my Higher Power God. Maybe it’s because I grew up calling Him God. And to me that is okay. I believe God gave us nature as a gift and I feel closest to God when I am in nature. I see God in people sometimes, certainly not all of the time. I am grateful that I stepped out of my comfort zone and dug deeper into exploring my beliefs and my faith. I now have a relationship with God. I do go to church because I love connecting with God in this way and I learn a lot from it, but today I understand that churches are people and people are human. People are incredibly flawed. And even God’s church will hurt, reject and disappoint.

I share this with you not to convert you to believe in God or anything like that, but more because I want to challenge you to explore your spiritual beliefs. What do you know about God? Have you ever felt His presence? What keeps you from exploring your spirituality? I know mine was due to being hurt many times in a church and by people who claimed to follow God. Do you talk to God, and if not, would you ever ask Him to reveal Himself to you so you can learn about Him for yourself?

Anyhow, I am hoping this is okay that I shared this with you, but as I said, the spiritual self-care has become the biggest part of my healing journey and I find it the most exciting to talk about. I will be praying that you find yourself spiritually because it is awesome!!”

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. 

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.