The Sweet Life

When we went around for highs and lows (where clients share their victories and challenges) at our program last month, I was struck by a theme.

We are helping our clients eat cake!

Two of clients shared HUGE victories. One, told us with a huge smile plastered across her face that she ate her son’s birthday cake for the first time EVER at his 3rd birthday.

Another, shyly exclaimed that she had eaten her very own birthday cake for the first time in years.

This might seem trivial, but for those of who have struggled with food or body image, you know how huge this is.

For years, I vacillated between being “good” and denying myself cake at a friend’s birthday, and being “bad” and just saying to heck with it and eating three pieces.

I was constantly calculating calories and heaping guilt and shame upon myself with each tick upwards on my food log.

Rock Recovery’s Bridge to Life program completely disintegrates this way of thinking. We believe that ALL foods fit, yes, even cake.

Today is National Cupcake Day, and we are celebrating by partnering with Red Velvet Cupcakery and Athleta (check out our events here), and also sharing stories and photos of the joys of eating cupcakes!

One of our program graduates shared a beautiful testimonial and shared the phrase, “How sweet life is on the other side of recovery.”

Recovery IS sweet. And not just because of the cake that is now on the table!

It is sweet because we are free from the constant doubt and shame that can comes with our food choices.

It is sweet because we can look in the mirror with self-love and acceptance, not self-hate.

It is sweet because we are free to be present with our friend at a coffee shop as we joyfully split a cupcake (or enjoy our very own!)

It is sweet because we can eat a piece of cake at our birthday, or our child’s birthday party, and enjoy the unity and joy of the moment

It is sweet because we can be FREE.

Wishing you a sweet life of freedom!

 

Click here to see how you can help someone find the freedom to eat cake today!

Where I Found My Voice

Food and body image ruled my life for over ten years. My eating disorder was a source of heartbreak, comfort, and control. I stuffed, starved, and obsessed as a way of coping with life. It became such a part of me I couldn’t imagine what freedom looked like. I never thought one day I would walk around not thinking “what will I eat, how many calories are in this, do I look as big as I feel, or what would people think if they saw the real me?”

In 2015 I hit an all-time low, crying to God as I tried to pick myself up off of the cold wooden floor after a binge. I barely recognized myself. I was disgusted and ashamed. I couldn’t do this anymore. I wasn’t living at all. I felt like I was slowly dying. I started looking up treatment facilities and programs that might be able to help me. I was overwhelmed; I didn’t even know what I was searching for. I wasn’t in a place financially to afford somewhere full time and I desperately needed something between residential and individual therapy. I found Rock online that night and emailed them right away. I believe it was God answering my cry for help. I entered Rock in a desperate state, longing for freedom, but skeptical if that was even possible. After my first meeting I was overwhelmed. I had never been in any type of treatment facility or therapy group. It was in our Sunday night groups that I finally felt safe and free to share my secrets and pain.

During my time at Rock I was able to not only find freedom from my eating disorder but also freedom from a life of bondage. I was surrounded by people who understood what it was like to feel isolated and trapped in your own mind and body. The volunteers at Rock both encouraged and challenged me. I walked away each Sunday a little bit stronger. Rock was where I found my voice. It was where God met me. It was where I found peace and acceptance that, despite my eating disorder, I was loved and cherished. I live now not defined by my past, my hurts or an eating disorder. I live knowing that my heavenly father calls me valuable, set free, accepted, holy, and loved. I know freedom is possible. My prayer is for all those suffering to find freedom and be able to live the life God has for them. 

Today, you will find me driving through all quadrants of The District as I fulfill my duties as a case manager. I work at a non-profit where I assist those experiencing homelessness find homes and regain stability. I’ve enjoyed the field of social work so much that I am pursuing my Masters of Social Work at Catholic University part-time. Without the tools I learned at Rock, I wouldn’t be able to handle the stress of my field and school. During my off hours, I enjoy time with friends, refinishing old furniture, and spending time with my fiance and his pup. Without food ruling my life, I am able breathe. I take the ups and downs as they come rather than stuff them. I have blissful days and awful ones but I am no longer controlled by food or body image. 

To those who support Rock, thank you for helping me find freedom.

And to all those still suffering, freedom is possible. You are stronger than you think. Hang in there! 

 

Since graduating from Rock Recovery’s Bridge to Life program, Jessie’s life has drastically changed. Her life is no longer about food, but rather enjoying the gifts that come with each day. You can help more people like Jessie find healing and freedom in the new year by donating to Rock Recovery today!


A Special Note From Our Chaplain: What Is Spirituality?

What is spirituality?

It’s the question I brought to treatment group a few weeks ago. One of the distinguishing features of Rock Recovery’s treatment program is the way we incorporate spirituality into the recovery process. And while we’ve addressed various spiritual topics in treatment group in the past (things like forgiveness, freedom, where our identity and value come from), I realized we’d never really defined “spirituality” in the group.

It’s a hard concept to pinpoint, especially when we’re considering it apart from ties to any particular religious tradition. But because, as a Christian organization, Rock Recovery believes that we are all spiritual people (regardless of whatever specific faith commitments we may have), I introduced our clients to this definition of spirituality:  

The experience of meaningful and positive connection within the self, with others, and with the transcendent. In other words, spirituality includes connecting inward (with the self), outward (with others), and upward (with the transcendent).*

We spent a while naming different elements of each of these dimensions of spirituality. Then I invited the clients to identify, for each dimension of their spirituality, one thing they felt good about; one way they’d like to grow; and one concrete thing they could do to foster that growth.

It doesn’t sound very exciting on paper, but it was actually one of the best (and longest!) discussions I’ve ever led for the treatment group. The clients at group that evening profess a number of different religious traditions (including none), but each of them described feeling encouraged and empowered as they described how they positively and meaningfully connect with themselves, with others, and with that which is greater than themselves—and how they would like to grow spiritually as well.

We are all spiritual people. And whether or not we struggle with disordered eating, we all have places in our hearts and our lives where we would like to grow into greater health and wholeness—emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Might this definition of spirituality as connecting inward, outward, and upward help you become more aware of the spiritual dimensions of your life? I hope that, like our clients, you find yourselves encouraged and empowered as you identify ways you would like to grow spiritually.

 

*This definition draws heavily from Alexandra Pittrock’s article, “How Are Anorexia Nervosa and Spirituality Related, and What Implications Does This Have for Treatment?” found at http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/Alexandra%20Pittock%20Anorexia%20Nervosa%20and%20Spirituality.pdf


A Special Note From our Chaplain: For Freedom Christ Has Set us Free

That’s what Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 5:1). It sounds like the most obvious statement ever. What else could we be set free for, if not freedom?

I think Paul was onto something, though—and not just for the Galatian church in the first century. It seems like we often struggle to fully live into the freedom that is available to us. Freedom is wonderful, but it’s also daunting. Freedom implies a release from confines and rules, from structures that keep us closed in. But those confines and rules and structures can also provide us with a sense of order and control. When they’re removed, we can feel like we’re flailing, insecure, out of control.

That’s why I think that one little preposition in Paul’s sentence is so important: for. Real freedom isn’t just freedom from something; it’s freedom for something. It’s not just being released from imprisonment of whatever kind; it’s being released for growth, life, and flourishing.

At Rock Recovery, we talk a lot about freedom. We talk about freedom from disordered eating. But what we want for our clients is more than just freedom from. We want them to experience freedom from disordered eating so that they can experience freedom for all that life has for them, and all that they have to bring to the world. We want them to experience freedom for enjoying the goodness of food as a source of pleasure and as fuel for their bodies to do all the wonderful things their bodies can do. We want them to experience freedom for healthy relationships. Freedom for meaningful work that utilizes their gifts and talents. Freedom for a joyful relationship with their Creator.

It’s for freedom that we’ve been set free. Where might you be experiencing an invitation to move into greater freedom—not just freedom from, but freedom for all that God has made you to be?

 


Every Dad, Every Day

by  Rick Deise, Past President/Board Member of The Eating Disorder Network of Maryland

I love Father’s Day because my father loved me every day. Growing up, there was never a doubt in my mind that my dad loved me wholeheartedly and unconditionally. Sure, there were moments when we disagreed but there was always a connection that seemed bendable and yet, unbreakable. He was my Hero – from his larger-than-life stories as a combat medic in the South Pacific Campaigns of World War II to the simple, humble way he served family and friends as the “handyman”. Preparing for this Father’s Day, my memory of his life and influence intersects with my memory as a father of two amazing young women; one who faced enormous challenges in a 4-year battle with an eating disorder.

Last month I had the opportunity and privilege to speak to the wonderful participants of the Rock Recovery “Building Bridges, Breaking Bread” event. That message was about my role as a dad who struggled to understand how this thing called Anorexia Nervosa had seemingly taken over my daughter Kristen’s life at the precious age of 15. And I spoke of my “natural instinct” to “fix” this problem because that’s just what dads do – we fix things. Well, clearly, that was one of many early mistakes that I made along the journey of the eating disorder (ED).

So, my story ultimately shifted to what I believe I did to make a positive difference in Kristen’s recovery. The essence of that story was about accepting that the eating disorder was bigger than any problem I had ever faced and required a set of solutions (and tools) that were greater than my understanding of the problem. The solution set really came down to remembering what life lessons my dad had given to me (be kind and gentle, help others whenever you can, always use the right tool for the task, and if you’re going to fix something, do it to the best of your abilities or get help – don’t half-a** the work). Renewing my courage through the memory of my dad led me to discern that his strengths were also my most dependable strengths: LOVE, HOPE, and FAITH.

Give LOVE. And not just any love – unconditional love! Love without any strings or condition is the most powerful antidote to the intolerable suffering imposed by ED. Your loved one has an eating disorder – she is not the eating disorder. Love them to reach tomorrow and give them a reason to love themselves even more. When you give love, you create the fertile space to receive love.

Give HOPE. Once you lay the groundwork of love, you can plant the seeds of hope. Those seeds have names like “Possibility”, “Opportunity”, and “Tomorrow”. They speak of what’s next and they can grow inside your loved one as they work their way to recovery. When you hold hope, you bring light into the dark spaces and that light can help guide your loved one even when she is not really sure how to take the next step.

Give FAITH. At its most fundamental meaning, faith simply believes without seeing. It does not matter what form it takes or what religion you practice, faith is about connecting that which is the greatest within you to something even greater outside of you. When you have faith, you create the sacred space where love and hope can grow.

Today, Kristen is a very healthy and vibrant 27-year old who is in her third year as a Registered Nurse with the University of Maryland Hospital System! As a dad of someone who has recovered from her eating disorder, I marvel how life had taken on new meaning and direction as I continued to “pay it forward” through my volunteer work with the Eating Disorder Network of Maryland and now in support of Rock Recovery.

So, I offer some additional words of wisdom to the dad and moms and siblings and supporters of someone who is currently struggling with an eating disorder. Even though my perspective is one from a dad’s point of view, I believe every heart has the capability to teach and connect with another heart that has the capacity to learn and grow and change the story:

Every heart is a mere 12-15 inches south of the brain so help your loved one keep the two connected by inspiring their thoughts with the safe feelings generated by love, hope, and faith.

Every heart relies on trust in a relationship; build that trust with your loved one by offering to share the truth in exchange for receiving the truth (because we know that eating disorders tell lies).

Every heart has the power to generate an attitude of gratitude; start today, share your gratitude right now. Build rituals that promote an attitude of gratitude at your waking, throughout your day, and at the closing of your evening.

Every heart has a capacity to hold hope – hope is a psychological investment in the future. The future is where your greatest life purpose unfolds. Hold fast to hope and hold hope up to your loved one every moment of every single day.

Every heart holds a story and the most important story you will ever tell about yourself is the story you tell to yourself: be courageous – it’s time to change your story to hope and recovery! 

In closing, I offer to you my Prayer for Recovery:

Have FAITH that your LOVE will sustain the HOPE in your loved one’s recovery. AMEN!


One Father’s Fight to Help His Daughter Heal

I remember the first meal I ate at Rock Recovery with my daughter.  It had been some time since I learned she had an eating disorder, and by now the illness was not as completely baffling to me as it had been at first.  I had started off as the Classic Clueless Dad, wondering what the problem could be, probably hurting more than helping with awkward comments and reactions.  At one level, I knew that eating disorders could be serious, even fatal:  Before any of our kids were born, my wife and I had known a woman who literally starved herself to death (massive kidney failure was the proximate cause) through anorexia.  But that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with my daughter.

For one thing, life couldn’t be that unfair.  It had hit her with leukemia when she was only four years old.  It had made her endure childhood trauma that we didn’t find out about for years afterward.  In her freshman year of college, fibromyalgia literally left her walking with a cane.

So when the reality was undeniable, I was angry, I was resentful, and I was probably very little help.

The meal was not, to be honest, the most comfortable experience I had ever had.  I was conscious that everyone was conscious of how everyone else was eating.  I was not sure how to proceed.  I slowed down, made vacuous comments about how good the food was, felt my face flush.

It was a little awkward.  And yet I was participating in a healing, through food.

Food fills life’s meaningful moments.  The wedding cake, the Thanksgiving spread, the covered dishes after the funeral.  We eat together when it matters most.

The world’s great faith traditions see food as a point of contact with the infinite.  Whether Seder, Eucharist or breaking the Ramadan fast, food has always informed faith.

Food even helps guide life decisions.  I can honestly say that one of the things that convinced me I was meant to marry my wife of (now) 33 years, and not the woman I had been dating seriously before I met her, was that the woman I would marry loved and enjoyed food, and my other girlfriend didn’t.

So although my primary worry about my daughter’s eating disorder was its effect on her physical and mental health and her relationships, there was always another source of pain and anxiety, just beneath the surface:  How sad that she can’t enjoy one of life’s greatest graces!

Rock Recovery brought her that grace, and more.

It was not her first treatment for eating disorder.  She had sought help once she recognized she had a problem, and I think she benefited from therapy and the friends she made there.  But I noticed a difference once she got involved with Rock Recovery – maybe a renewed sense of purpose, maybe a stronger determination to finish the work, maybe a lot of things. But whatever it was, it took her to a good place.

I always had the feeling that the faith dimension of Rock Recovery was the most important part.  Not that the group insisted on a particular religious approach or orientation; as far as I could tell, they didn’t.  I never had the impression they were preaching or proselytizing.  They just seemed to be putting into practice what they believed, without pretense or self-righteousness.  (The scripturally-inclined may consult James 2:14-18 as a good description of how I perceived Rock Recovery’s approach.)

My daughter is now married, working in health care policy and the caregiver of a good-sized dog.  She loves food and cooking for others and herself.  One of this summer’s rituals is having her younger siblings, home from college, over for dinner.  Her husband has supported her through everything.  The change in her is amazing and wonderful, and life-affirming.  The fearful young woman who stirred her food around the plate but didn’t eat it now loves eating good food.  (I might add that the suffering young woman who walked with a cane now runs marathons, literally.)

Now back to that first Rock Recovery meal.  Eventually, some time before dessert, I realized:  It’s stupid for me to feel self-conscious about how I’m eating.  Get a grip:  For everyone else at this table, this is not just eating.  It is work.  It is hard and necessary work.  It is important.

And so it remains.

Make a donation this Father’s Day & save more fathers from the pain of seeing their child struggle with an eating disorder.

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A Special Note From Our Chaplain: What is it About Forgiveness That Makes It So Vital to Recovery?

“We’re going to spend some time tonight talking about forgiveness,” I said to the clients at treatment group a few weeks ago. Eyes rolled—good-naturedly, I think—around the table. “Ugghh,” said one. “That’s what my therapist wants me to work on,” said another, as more heads nodded. The clients may not have been very excited about it, but at least I knew I’d hit on an important—and challenging—topic.

What is it about forgiveness that makes it so vital to recovery? I believe it’s so important because at its core, forgiveness is about freedom. It’s about the freedom that comes from not being bound by the harm that others have caused us. Disordered eating is in part a response to pain, an (ineffective) attempt to manage the hurt that we’ve experienced from the wrongs that others have done to us. As long as we hold onto those wrongs, we hold onto the pain as well. It isn’t until we let go of the wrongs that we can be let go of the pain and be free of the ineffective, harmful coping mechanisms we’ve used to try to deal with them.  

All of us—whether we struggle with disordered eating or not—have been hurt by someone else. That’s because we’re human, and humans are imperfect, and imperfection causes hurt, whether intended or unintended. No matter who we are or what our life has been like, we have all experienced being wronged by someone else. And when we’ve been wronged, we very naturally want the wrong to be rectified, to be made right. We feel the need for the harm that has been done to us to be accounted for, to be punished or at the very least to be acknowledged and apologized for.

We’re not wrong to feel that way; after all, justice is about the setting right of wrongs, and justice is a good thing. Ideally, wrongs should be set right. But often they aren’t, or they can’t be. And in those situations, if we continue to hold onto the wrong that’s been done to us, then we are in a way bound by it. If we can instead name the wrong and then choose to let it go, we can step into healing and freedom.

At treatment group that evening, we discussed some of the steps of forgiveness:

  1. Name the wrong that has been done. Acknowledge your pain and anger. Allow yourself to feel disrespected.
  2. Be specific about your future expectations and limits. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you’re giving that person permission to behave badly toward you.
  3. Let go of your right to “get even,” but insist on being treated better in the future.
  4. Work to let go of blame, resentment, and negativity toward the person who wronged you.
  5. If it is safe and appropriate to do so, communicate your act of forgiveness to the other person.
  6. If it is safe and appropriate to do so, work toward reconciliation with that person.

What we emphasized in our conversation that evening is true for all of us: that forgiveness is a process—one that takes time, and that we can only begin from where we actually are. For some of us, that means we’re just learning to embrace Step 1; we’re just beginning to be able to assert that what was done to us was wrong and to allow ourselves to feel angry about it. Or maybe we’re learning about Step 2 and how to set healthy boundaries with the person who’s hurt us. Whatever step we’re on, we need to give ourselves the time and grace to fully experience and work through that step.

Forgiveness is not something that can be rushed. Nor is it something that can be required or demanded. Forgiveness is real only when it is a gift that is freely offered. But the beautiful thing is that ultimately, forgiveness is a gift that we give ourselves, as well—the gift of stepping into healing and freedom.


My Hope for My Daughter (Special post by Communications Manager, Brittany Coleman)

Being a mother is a beautiful, challenging and unique experience. This year I celebrated my second Mother’s Day, and with each passing year, I start to think more about the values and life lessons I want to instill in my daughter. I know first hand, how the influences of society can impact a young girl’s self-esteem and view of themselves.

With social media, magazines and influential advertisements, I can’t imagine the kinds of societal pressures that young girls face today and will face in the future. Despite these societal pressures, I want my daughter to always remember these important lessons that I’ve learned throughout my life.

“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24  

The words we speak have so much power in our lives and affects us mentally, spiritually, and physically. Choose your words wisely and try not speak negatively about your perceived flaws, but to be kind to yourself and give yourself some grace.

Always Do Your Best…and accept that it is good enough.

Life isn’t perfect, and neither are you, and that in itself is perfectly imperfect. Even if things don’t turn out as planned, your mistakes and shortfalls allow you opportunities to learn and grow. Every day is a new beginning.

You Are Beautiful Just The Way You Are

You are beautifully and wonderfully made and there are so many people that love and accept you just the way you are. Know that beauty is found in not just your physical appearance or the number on the scale but in your kindness, your smile, and all of those special qualities that make you who you are.

It is my hope that these lessons that I share with my daughter will help her have a positive view of herself and her outlook on life. I hope that one day she will also be able to share these lessons with her own daughter.


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.