A Special Note from Our Chaplain: Life Gets Better With Recovery

If you’ve ever cleaned out a closet or reorganized your kitchen cabinets or (worst of all) packed for a move, then you’ve no doubt experienced the truth of this little maxim: It gets worse before it gets better.

It gets worse before it gets better because all of the stuff that used to be contained behind closed doors or in drawers or stashed away in the attic is now out in full view. Stuff you use every day. Stuff you hadn’t looked at or thought about in years. Stuff you kind of knew was there but didn’t really want to deal with. And now, because it’s been brought out into the open, you’ve got to figure out what to do with it. Keep it? Throw it away? Give it to someone else? Find some new use for it? Making all of those decisions can be exhausting. And inevitably there are piles and messes as you sort through everything. Eventually you’ll get through it all, get everything where it needs to go, and end up with a pristinely organized closet or kitchen or house. But until then, it’s a mess. It gets worse before it gets better.

Recovering from an eating disorder can feel similar. As we journey into recovery, lots of thoughts and feelings, questions and memories start to emerge—the emotional “stuff” that we had stashed away or covered up with food and disordered eating behaviors. And sorting through all of that stuff is hard. Really hard. We have to decide what to do with it all: what of those things we’ve always thought or felt is actually true, and what isn’t? What patterns of behavior are worth keeping—and what do we want to get rid of for good? Which people in our lives are supportive of our recovery and freedom, and which relationships do we need change or end? Working through all of these questions (and others) is difficult and exhausting. Sometimes it even feels more difficult and exhausting than the eating disorder did. In the journey through recovery, sometimes it feels like it gets worse before it gets better.

There’s good news, though—and that good news is why Rock Recovery exists. The good news is that it actually does get better. We really can sort out all of that emotional stuff, hang on to what is good, and get rid of what we don’t need. We really can enjoy the lasting freedom of recovery. It can be hard for a long time—but it gets better.

And there’s more. The good news is also that it’s in community that it gets better. Whether that’s experienced in the support a fellow client offers in treatment group, the patient understanding a friend offers someone who’s struggling, or the prayer and financial support that you offer Rock Recovery—it’s in honest and caring community that it gets better.

And finally, the good news is that God helps it get better. God doesn’t leave us on our own in the recovery journey; he doesn’t come in, look at the mess of our emotional “stuff,” and tell us to call when we’ve gotten it all put away. God promises to walk with us through all of it, and God is far more committed to its getting better—to our getting better—than we ever could be.

For those struggling with disordered eating, sometimes recovery feels like everything is just getting worse. But it does get better. It gets better in community. And God helps it get better. That’s good news indeed.

Client Spotlight: Pasta & The Power of Recovery

unnamedRecovery is a journey, one that may begin with a single step but requires many more.  There are steps backwards, hours spent standing perfectly still, and days on your knees praying for the strength not to simply give up and lie down.  In the span of that time, for me there are two moments that define my journey.

The first moment occurred on February 14, 2009.  I had begun treatment for anorexia the week before and my then boyfriend, now husband, had come down to visit and celebrate Valentine’s Day.  We arrived at the Italian restaurant where I had made a reservation for a romantic dinner.  What they hadn’t told me when I made the reservation was that they were serving a fixed, four course menu for the holiday.  I still remember sitting at the table, sobbing over my salad as my husband held my hand and reassured me that the two following courses would be okay.  We would get through this together.  He meant the meal, but the same was true of the work in recovery that had to occur over the next few years.

Between that moment, when what should have been a lovely night turned into a catastrophe, and this, where I consider myself fully recovered, are countless hours of therapy, many more tears shed over dozens of plates, months and even years spent “in recovery.”  I had never learned how to enjoy food or how to eat to fuel my body to go through life.  One of the most powerful experiences in my recovery was attending group meals at Rock Recovery.  Eating in community was a new experience; learning the things food could do to make my body strong and healthy was a revelation.

I don’t know the date or time when I crossed from “in recovery” to “recovered” but I do know what it means to be recovered.  It means that instead of crying over a salad, my husband and I sit down one night to gleefully watch a cooking show.  We see a recipe that captivates us and decide to try our own hand at it.  That weekend we spend hours talking about our future and our dreams as we fold small ravioli.  Then we sit and smile at each other as we devour the delicious fruits of our labor, hearts untinged by old fears and full only of joy and gratitude.

Breaking Bread & Opening Eyes

“Then they told what had happened on the road, and how [Jesus] had  been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” – Luke 24:35 (NRSV)

breaking bread

Every Rock Recovery treatment group begins with a shared meal. There are several reasons for that. For someone struggling with disordered eating, completing a normal meal without engaging in eating disorder behaviors can be a huge challenge; the presence and support of a therapist, a dietitian, and others in recovery can make a huge difference in that person’s ability to overcome that challenge. Then there’s the fact that both professional and social events often revolve around food (the business lunch, the holiday meal with family). Sharing a meal in the safe environment of treatment group serves as practice for clients, helping them develop confidence in their ability to navigate the complex emotions that eating in a public environment can create.


But in addition to these clinical rationales for sharing a meal, I think there’s a spiritual one too: breaking bread (or eating pasta or cheeseburgers or pizza) together helps us to know each other and be known in a deep and enduring way.


Luke’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’, after his resurrection, appearing to two of his disciples as they were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. But the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus. He talked with them as they walked, discussing everything that had happened in Jerusalem: Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and burial. Throughout it all, the disciples had no idea who this person walking with them was. It wasn’t until they ate together that Jesus’ identity became clear to them; as Luke puts it, Jesus was “made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”


Clearly there’s a reference here to Communion, the Christian celebration of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples before his crucifixion. But I think there’s also a broader truth that Luke’s words express: that we can become known to each other in a unique and profound way by sharing a meal together. When we eat together, we acknowledge our common vulnerability—that our lives depend on our bodies’ being regularly nourished with food. But when we eat together, we also acknowledge our common strength—that when we do feed our bodies well, we can use them to accomplish all kinds of remarkable things. That combination of vulnerability and strength lies at the heart of what makes us human. And so when we share that vulnerability and strength by eating together, we come to know in an experiential way how much we have in common. We come to know that we belong to one another.


That’s why I believe that breaking bread together is such an important part of Rock Recovery’s treatment program. And it’s why this year, for the first time, our annual fundraiser will center around sharing a meal together. At Building Bridges—Breaking Bread, you’ll do more than have the chance to learn about and support the work that Rock Recovery does throughout the DC area. You’ll get to experience the hope and freedom that can come when we become known to each other in the breaking of bread.


It’s a joy and a privilege to break bread with Rock Recovery’s clients each month, and it will be a joy and privilege to do the same with you at Building Bridges—Breaking Bread. I hope to see you on May 7!

Volunteer Spotlight: Carly’s Story – Finally Free



I felt trapped. In my own body. I would look in the mirror and see all of the things wrong with the girl standing there in front of me, no matter how thin I became. I would go to the grocery store and become dizzy and stressed from staring at all of the nutrition facts before I put a food item in my cart. I would go to bed hungry as long as it meant I could feel my rib cage − and to think this all started when I was just 9 years old…

When I think about my struggle with anorexia and disordered eating, I recognize that it has been a constant battle for half of my life. I am not completely sure why it started exactly; I think it was a combination of things, but I can honestly tell you that I never thought I would be able to overcome it. It was just part of who Carly was and always would be.

My senior year of high school was the hardest year for me because this is when I struggled the most. I remember when I lost a drastic amount of weight, my dad was sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. “What can I do to help you Carly? Please tell me. I can’t stand seeing you this sick.” I never saw my dad look that sad or defeated in my entire life and it made my heart ache because he is my rock and my hero. However, I did not know what to tell him. I thought I looked fine; in fact, I thought I could lose more weight. How I looked still wasn’t good enough…

My teachers and friends at school became worried too, but it didn’t matter to me at the time. All I thought about was losing more and more weight until I was satisfied with my appearance, whenever that would be.

Then, college came around and I realized my college career and life could go down two very different roads. I could continue heading down the dangerous, destructive path I was already on and become even sicker (my doctor told me that if I continued I would cause my body permanent damage and wouldn’t be able to have children in the future, and as a result of my current eating behaviors, I had already become severely anemic and developed a thyroid disorder), or I could try and overcome this once and for all and let it go. Let myself be free… To everyone else’s surprise, and mine, I did just that.

I remember coming back home for the first time since I left for college, and my dad had tears in his eyes. But this time, it wasn’t because he was worried or scared – but because he was happy. I had overcome what had eaten away at me for so long and finally could eat something without feeling guilty or sick. I was finally free…

People frequently ask me how I overcame my eating disorder and there were several factors that led to my recovery. But the driving one was I decided on my own and for myself that this was not the way I wanted to live my life anymore – I didn’t want to go through life constantly worried about what I was eating and how many calories I was taking in each day. Even though I lived this way for so long, I always thought that there had to be a better, happier, freer life waiting for me and now that I am ED free, I realize that I was right.  

Ultimately, my struggle with an eating disorder is why I now volunteer at Rock Recovery. I truly want to help other men and women who are struggling with disorder eating. More specifically, I want to let them know that they are not alone and that freedom and recovery are possible. Posting motivational messages, testimonials and creative recovery campaigns on Rock Recovery’s social media handles helps me achieve just that.

In closing, I once heard this quote when I was struggling with my eating disorder that I never thought I could achieve. It goes like this, “And I said to my body, softly ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.” Each and every day, I now try to live by this quote. Although it’s not always easy and I do still struggle at times, I now actively choose to love my body and be its friend. Thank you for letting me share my story with you.

Your friend in recovery,



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.