New Year’s Freedoms

woman-sunlight-hopeI’ll confess: I’m not a big New Year’s person. September has always felt like more of a turning point for me than January. Come midnight on December 31, I’d rather be home with a few friends than out with a crowd watching the ball drop in Times Square. I resist resolutions like the plague.

And yet there’s still something appealing to me about the idea of a new chapter, a fresh start. Especially if it comes not with a list of expectations but with a promise of freedom. New Year’s freedoms—now that’s a January 1st tradition I could get behind.

The idea of stepping into freedom lay behind an activity that I led Rock Recovery’s clients in just before the new year. I knew that many of them would have spend time over the holidays with their families of origin. And while some experience their families of origin as sources of love, safety, and support, others find them to be extremely challenging. When we’re with our parents and siblings, we very easily slip back into the patterns and roles that shaped our childhood identities. No matter how hard we may have worked to shed them, the labels and behaviors that our families of origin used to identify us have a way of glomming back onto us when we spend time with them—especially during times as emotionally laden as the holidays. And those labels and behaviors have a way of restricting us, capturing us in ways of being that are at odds with how we would like to live in the world.

So for our New Year’s activity, I gave each of our clients a piece of waxed paper and a magic marker. I invited them to write on the waxed paper the untrue labels or identities others had given them—or they had given themselves—that they wanted to let go of. Quickly, they filled their pieces of waxed paper with words like crazy, stubborn, sick, selfish. I then invited them to take their piece of waxed paper and dip it in a pan of water, watching as all of those untrue labels dissolved into the water. When they retrieved their piece of waxed paper, it was new and clean. And then—this time with a permanent marker—they wrote on their paper the labels and identities that were true about themselves. Things like loved, whole, beautiful, valuable, worthy.

What are the false labels or identities that you are holding onto, that keep you from living into the freedom and wholeness that God intends for you? What truths might you replace them with?

The scriptures are full of these truths:
I am a child of God. (John 1:12)
God’s love for me is great! It reaches to the heavens. (Psalm 58:10)
I have been made complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:9-10)
I am a friend of Jesus. (John 15.15)
I have been set free in Christ. (Galatians 5:1)

As you enter 2017, I invite you to consider what New Year’s freedoms God might be inviting you into. I am confident that you will find life and peace in them.


Waiting to Hear the Songs – Special Guest Post

It’s hard for me to write this. But every Psalm seems to say, If You save me, I will sing of it, and I’ve been saved—so here is my song.

I was never supposed to have an eating disorder. I’m male, I had self-control, and I had friends. They were in the next room, even—the first time that I purged—but they’d never thought it possible. Neither had I.

And I still didn’t think so the next time, or the times after that, and I didn’t care that my self-control had turned against me or that I’d been avoiding those friends or that my thoughts didn’t feel like mine anymore, because I’d forgotten there was any other way to feel.

By the time I found Rock Recovery it was too late: they had a waiting list. But I had no other options. The months I spent on that list were the worst of my life.

Then, I got in. And on that first night, after 3 years of pain, something changed. I never purged again.

The group met on Sundays, but during the week I’d think of the people there. They weren’t supposed to have eating disorders either. But they did, and now they were looking at my life for proof that recovery was possible—that we didn’t have to be this way forever—and I was looking at them. What I saw saved me.

It’s hard for me to write this, but there were 17 people on that waiting list. Now that list has almost doubled. I know what their lives look like, and that is why I write: they aren’t supposed to be this way. They don’t have to be. I can’t wait to hear their songs.

Tim, former client

You can help write more songs of recovery. Support Rock Recovery and donate today!


The Gift of “I Get It”

vjz7tkhncfk-ben-white She wiped the tears away from her black-lined eyes. “It’s just so hard. It’s my friend’s wedding and I’m excited about it, but I hate how I’m going to look in my bridesmaid’s dress. And those are pictures people are going to keep, going to look at. And I hate how I know I’m going to look.” A pause, and more tears. “There’s nowhere else I can say that. No one else who gets it. But you get it.”

Around the table, heads nod in agreement. “We get it.”

They get it. That’s the beauty of the Rock Recovery treatment group: each week, a group of women and men who get the complex battle of eating disorder recovery gather around the table to share the support, love, and encouragement that only come from a shared struggle. For those wrestling with disordered eating, which can be incredibly isolating, being in a room with others who really do get it can be life-changing.

While we may not all struggle with disordered eating, we all have points of pain and brokenness in our lives where we long for someone else who gets it. Whatever the causes of our hurts, disappointments, and frustrations, feeling alone only makes them worse. We want people who can nod their heads and with love and compassion say, “We get it.”

The great good news of Christmas is that God, in Jesus, has offered us the ultimate “I get it.” In choosing to be born as a helpless baby to ostracized parents who lived in a forgotten town under imperial oppression, the Creator of the universe chose to subject himself to the pain and brokenness of the world as we all experience it. In being fully human, Jesus can say, with profound truth, “I get it.”

And in being fully God, Jesus can also say, “I’ve overcome it.” The story of Christmas is incomplete without the story of Easter as well. In rising from the grave, Jesus demonstrated that none of our pain and brokenness will ultimately have the last word; instead, life and freedom and wholeness will. God identifies with us and has compassion for us in our struggles. At the same time, God is committed to helping us triumph over the forces of bondage and death that try to keep us in those struggles. Because of Christmas and Easter, we know that God says to us, “I get it. And this is not the end of the story.”

In this Christmas season, may you know the comfort of the presence of a God who gets it, and the hope of the power of a God who has overcome it.

 

erin headshot (1)

Erin Bair joined the Rock Recovery team as its first chaplain in the fall of 2015. She is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and has previously served in parish ministry and hospital chaplaincy. Having known many people affected by disordered eating, Erin is grateful to get to support Rock Recovery’s clients, helping them to know the freedom that God’s love and grace offers them. Erin grew up in Georgia and attended college and divinity school in Boston. Nine years into living in the DC area, she’s convinced she’s found the best of both worlds. In addition to working with Rock Recovery, Erin is a speaker and retreat leader and is training to be a spiritual director. In her free time, she loves to read, cook, hike, and spend as much time as possible in Arizona with her nieces and nephew.


A Special Check-in – Beyond Food to Spiritual Fullness

A key feature of Rock Recovery’s treatment group each week is the check-in: after eating dinner together, the clients go around the table and each share a high and a low from the previous week. I am consistently moved by the clients’ honesty in their sharing, and even more by the way support each other. They celebrate each other’s highs and encourage each other in their lows. They help each other make connections from what was shared in past weeks to what is shared this week. They remind each other that the recovery journey can be bumpy, but progress is real and freedom is possible.

cookies-and-flowersThis check-in process—the identifying of highs and lows—bears a strong resemblance to an ancient Christian spiritual practice called the examen (or “examination of consciousness”). Created by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century, the examen (pronounced like “examine”) is a way to increase our awareness of God’s presence and invitations in our daily lives. Where is God inviting us to move toward freedom, love, and abundance of life for ourselves and others? Where are we feeling the pull to move away from those things? In the language of the examen, the former are called “consolations,” and the latter are called “desolations.”

The examen is simple, something you can do each day in just a few moments:

  • First, find a quiet place where you can reflect, and then quiet your mind and your heart (some deep breathing can help with this). Remember that God is with you and God loves you.
  • Second, review your day in your mind, noticing what comes to your attention.
  • Third, identify the consolation and desolation of your day. The simplest way to do this is to ask yourself a set of two questions, such as:
    • What was I most grateful for today (consolation)? What was I least grateful for (desolation)?
    • When did I give and receive the most love today (consolation)? When did I give and receive the least love today (desolation)?
    • What gave me the most life today (consolation)? What took the most life from me today (desolation)?
    • When did I have the deepest sense of connection to God, others, and myself today (consolation)? When did I have the least sense of connection (desolation)?
    • Where was I aware of the presence of the fruit of the Spirit* in my life today (consolation)? When was I aware of its absence (desolation)?
  • Finally, give thanks for what God has shown you in your reflection. Consider whether today’s consolation and desolation might hold an invitation for you for how you want to experience tomorrow.

As you practice the examen over time, you will likely notice themes—experiences or situations that are frequently the source of your consolations or your desolations. Paying attention to those themes can help you can make decisions (about work, relationships, how you spend your time and your resources) that move you more and more in the direction of freedom, love, and abundance of life for ourselves and others–decisions that move you more and more toward God.

Is the spiritual “check-in” of the examen a practice that might help you move deeper into your life with God?

*The “fruit of the Spirit” is a term from the New Testament; described in Galatians 5:22-23, it includes “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Sources: Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, IVP Books 2005. “The Daily Examen,” http://jesuits.org/spirituality?PAGE=DTN-20130520125910.

erin headshot (1)

Erin Bair joined the Rock Recovery team as its first chaplain in the fall of 2015. She is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and has previously served in parish ministry and hospital chaplaincy. Having known many people affected by disordered eating, Erin is grateful to get to support Rock Recovery’s clients, helping them to know the freedom that God’s love and grace offers them. Erin grew up in Georgia and attended college and divinity school in Boston. Nine years into living in the DC area, she’s convinced she’s found the best of both worlds. In addition to working with Rock Recovery, Erin is a speaker and retreat leader and is training to be a spiritual director. In her free time, she loves to read, cook, hike, and spend as much time as possible in Arizona with her nieces and nephew.


Discovering Our True Identity

One of the small victories I love to see our clients celebrate is the discovery of something they enjoy. A favorite museum, a new band, a great coffee shop—they may seem like small things, but for someone in recovery from disordered eating, they can be huge.

That’s because an eating disorder tends to take over your sense of identity. It so occupies your thoughts, so demands your energies, that eventually there’s little space left in you for you. So every time our clients can discover and claim something as a source of enjoyment and delight, it represents a small but significant victory in pushing back against their eating disorder, of developing and asserting a sense of who they are that’s not determined by their illness.

While those who don’t struggle with disordered eating may not have much trouble naming their favorite color or identifying what kinds of books they like to read, the question of identity is one that, at some level, we all struggle to answer. Who am I? What makes me unique? Where does my value come from?

The Christian tradition teaches us that the answers to those questions are both the same and different for each of us. Our fundamental identity comes from the fact that we are each created by God and bear God’s image—that is the basic identity that we all share, and because of it, all of us have value and worth that cannot be taken away. At the same time, our God is infinitely creative, and so we each bear his image in a unique way. Our individual passions and preferences, the things that spark our interest and give us joy, are more than just quirks of our personalities; they are reflections of our Creator and evidence of his personal love for each of us.

As Rock Recovery’s clients journey along the path to recovery, my hope and prayer for them is that their growing sense of their own identity would be rooted in the truth that they are the image-bearers and beloved children of God. It is my hope and prayer for each of you as well.

erin headshot (1)

Erin Bair joined the Rock Recovery team as its first chaplain in the fall of 2015. She is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and has previously served in parish ministry and hospital chaplaincy. Having known many people affected by disordered eating, Erin is grateful to get to support Rock Recovery’s clients, helping them to know the freedom that God’s love and grace offers them. Erin grew up in Georgia and attended college and divinity school in Boston. Nine years into living in the DC area, she’s convinced she’s found the best of both worlds. In addition to working with Rock Recovery, Erin is a speaker and retreat leader and is training to be a spiritual director. In her free time, she loves to read, cook, hike, and spend as much time as possible in Arizona with her nieces and nephew.


Choose Compassion in Recovery

amy-klimekBy Amy M. Klimek, MA. LCPC
Director of Program Development, Eating Disorder Program Coordinator, Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

People are often their own worst critics. In a culture that breeds competition to be the best, we live to measure up to those around us, often feeling less-than, judgmental, and blind to our own accomplishments.

We compare ourselves to others from how many “friends” we have on Facebook or followers on Twitter, to our career choices and incomes; from the size of our house (while not mentioning the cost), to the size of our pants.

These comparisons usually leave us feeling shame from our inability to reach this “unachievable” status in this world and self-conscious to share our successes with others fearing it will not measure up.

Shame is a powerful self-conscious emotion, making us think we are inherently flawed. Our conversations have moved away from listening, engaging or celebrating ourselves and others, to an internal self-dialogue noting the messages of the “should haves”, “not good enough”, and “I need to change” talk. This self shaming is an all too familiar, and strangely comforting feeling to an individual suffering from an eating disorder.

Self-criticism and shame during periods of illness and recovery have a similar tone. The process of recovery is long and challenging, leaving the individual to believe recovery is impossible. Set-backs, lapses, and relapses are the harsh reminders of the suffering an individual experiences when struggling with an eating disorder.

From the self-hatred messages about their bodies, to the questions of how many calories can I have or how many calories did I just have, to the internal agony of wanting to be invisible, damaging, and lost to the eating disorder thoughts. The ever-present societal message that no matter ones physical, mental, or emotional state, they are not good enough becomes even more pronounced as individuals struggle through recovery. These social cues often drive an internal message board of criticism and shaming which perpetuate the illness.

Now is the time to respond with compassion to our internal struggles, with our bodies, and our overall internal well-being. Recovery comes with choices, choices to return to old behaviors and unfamiliar choices that leave individuals feeling vulnerable to something and everything different. Choices are made every minute of every day in eating disorder recovery. Sometimes it’s living one minute at a time, inviting the choice to be mindful and accepting of our present moment.

Choose appreciation instead of indifference. Choose connection in place of isolation. Choose honesty when faced with uncertainty. Lastly, choose compassion to practice kindness to yourself and your journey.

Mistakes will be made. Uncertainty is unsettling. Listen generously to your healing in both mind and body, hearing the truth within yourself. Practice presence to the life around you and within you. When you are truly present, you are already experiencing compassion.

Begin to learn to love, care for yourself again. We live in a culture driving messages of inadequacy, but we also live in a culture of resiliency with individuals on the road to recovery fighting every day for their life back. Show up to your life, learn to live again and share with the world around you, who you truly are, resilient, present, and compassionate.


Rest for Recovery

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to rest? Not just a 20-minute power nap or a night of zoning out in front of Netflix, but an intentionally chosen time of setting aside your list of obligations and responsibilities, unplugging from technology, and letting yourself really rest—the kind of rest that involves body, mind, and spirit?

We Americans are not a people who are good at rest. We seem to define ourselves by how busy we are, and we tend to equate resting with laziness. Most of us can’t even leave our work email behind on whatever vacations we manage to squeeze in. Between back-to-school and back-to-Congress and the end of the marginally slower pace of summer, September is perhaps one of the least restful months of the year.

leavesBut rest is vital. I would even argue that human beings were created to rest. In the Genesis account of creation, Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day, and the seventh day was a day of rest. So the very first thing human beings did was rest. The were created, they rested—and then they worked. The work flowed out of the rest; the rest wasn’t an escape from the work. And this wasn’t just a one-time deal; God commanded his people to observe this weekly day of rest, a reminder that we are creatures who don’t have to find our worth through our work but can rest in the worth given to us by our loving God.

Regular rhythms of rest are vital to our spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. But sometimes, even those rhythms aren’t enough. Sometimes we need more. I was reminded of this during a Rock Recovery group session recently. One of the clients was sharing about how tired she had been recently. She wasn’t feeling depressed; she was going to work and school and meeting her other obligations, and she was excited about things that were happening in her life. She was just tired. It was beautiful to see the other clients affirm her in her need for rest, for extra sleep, for the things that would be rejuvenating for her.  They pointed out that she was experiencing a lot of transition in her life—and they acknowledged that transition is tiring. Their encouragement helped her extend to herself the grace she needed to honor her body’s need for rest.

People in the midst of recovery from disordered eating are constantly in a state of transition as they leave behind their old ways of dealing with food and life and begin to embrace new, healthier ones. Learning to rest thus becomes a key element in their journey to freedom.

The importance of rest for the journey to freedom isn’t true only for those in recovery, though; it’s true for all of us. We all have habits, behaviors, and beliefs that hinder us from experiencing the fullness of the freedom God offers to us. The journey toward embracing more of that freedom can be a tiring one. But if we learn to accept the gift of rest, we’ll find that we have more than just added strength for the journey. We’ll have the chance, again and again, to remember that freedom isn’t something we have to earn or accomplish; it’s a gift, freely given by the God who created us for rest.

erin headshot (1)

Erin Bair joined the Rock Recovery team as its first chaplain in the fall of 2015. She is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and has previously served in parish ministry and hospital chaplaincy. Having known many people affected by disordered eating, Erin is grateful to get to support Rock Recovery’s clients, helping them to know the freedom that God’s love and grace offers them. Erin grew up in Georgia and attended college and divinity school in Boston. Nine years into living in the DC area, she’s convinced she’s found the best of both worlds. In addition to working with Rock Recovery, Erin is a speaker and retreat leader and is training to be a spiritual director. In her free time, she loves to read, cook, hike, and spend as much time as possible in Arizona with her nieces and nephew.


Grace As Unearned Love

“Grace…is unearned love.”

That was the statement—part of a quote from Anne Lamott’s book Traveling Mercies—that caught the attention of several of Rock Recovery’s clients at a recent group session. “I don’t think I ever really knew what ‘grace’ meant,” said one client. Another marveled at the idea that there really might be love available that didn’t have to be earned.

That evening, I was leading the clients through a version of a practice called lectio divina, or “divine reading.” Lectio divina is a way of reflectively meditating on scripture that traces its roots back to St. Benedict in the 6th century CE. Because Rock Recovery serves clients of many faith traditions, we used the practice to reflect on a text that didn’t come from the bible but that spoke to longing we all experience for the freedom that comes from being loved just as we are.

As a Christian organization, Rock Recovery includes among its core values the conviction that faith is the foundation for complete freedom from disordered eating. As chaplain, my role is to support clients in integrating their faith into their recovery journey. I believe that the path to freedom wends its way through some of the deepest questions that we all ask—questions about identity, purpose, and where our worth and value come from. Through group activities and discussions, individual conversations, and prayer, it’s my privilege to walk with clients as they wrestle with those questions and celebrate with them as they begin to glimpse the answers.

“Grace…is unearned love,” Lamott writes. And here’s the rest of the quote that we reflected on that evening:

[It’s] the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.

This captures so much of my heart for all of the Rock Recovery community, clients and partners alike. I pray that all of us would experience more and more grace—the unearned love of God that lifts us out of our isolation and restores us to the community of broken, beautiful people living in joyful dependence on the God who rescues, restores, and delights in us.

erin headshot (1)

Erin Bair joined the Rock Recovery team as its first chaplain in the fall of 2015. She is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and has previously served in parish ministry and hospital chaplaincy. Having known many people affected by disordered eating, Erin is grateful to get to support Rock Recovery’s clients, helping them to know the freedom that God’s love and grace offers them. Erin grew up in Georgia and attended college and divinity school in Boston. Nine years into living in the DC area, she’s convinced she’s found the best of both worlds. In addition to working with Rock Recovery, Erin is a speaker and retreat leader and is training to be a spiritual director. In her free time, she loves to read, cook, hike, and spend as much time as possible in Arizona with her nieces and nephew.