Here’s an embarrassing and true story: when I was in graduate school I went on an interview for my internship; it wasn’t until more than halfway through the interview that I realized I was at a facility that specialized in treating substance use disorders!
I will never forget the look on my (soon to be) supervisor’s face when she told me that 75% of the population they served were teens trying to get sober and that she was surprised I didn’t already know this.
It was one of those moments where a million thoughts raced through my head in a matter of half a second. My first thought was “did I not read the fine print on the website like an idiot?” My second thought was “well now I look unprepared and I’m definitely not getting this internship,”
my third thought was “working with teenagers with substance use disorders? I don’t THINK SO!”
Let me tell you a bit about my personal history with addiction as it started many years prior to this interview. When I was a kid my older sister started experimenting with drugs at a young age. By the time she was in high school and I was in middle school she was already in full blown addiction; she was in and out of rehab several times and my family was a chaotic mess. Being the youngest child, I didn’t quite understand what was going on- I knew my sister was doing drugs and that my mom and dad were in a constant state of emotional distress- but the impact that this had on me and my family was something I would not process until years later.
My sister’s drug abuse continued for many (10+) years with short periods of sobriety here and there. I remember periods of time when we would have minimal contact with her, times when she was doing well, and the in-between. Her last stint in rehab was in 2010- and she hasn’t touched an opiate since then. She is now a healthy and productive member of society; she works full time, is a homeowner, and has a 5 year old son!
It would be easy to say that the story ended there, but anyone who has experienced addiction personally, or had a family member go through it, knows this is the furthest thing from the truth. Flash forward to my interview for my internship in grad school- I thought, Why would I want to put myself through that trauma again? Why would I want to be triggered on a daily basis by teenage addicts and their families, the very thing I experienced as a child?
When I explained this to my supervisor, she looked at me with a very straight face and said “this is exactly where you need to be.”
I know now that landing that internship was no coincidence. I needed to heal from the past and the only way to do that was to face my own unresolved feelings toward addiction. The thing about addiction is that it does not exist in a vacuum. People with substance use disorders have families, relationships, children, jobs, dreams, pasts, and hopefully futures. Part of my healing process was to recognize how patterns of enabling, codependency, and poor communication skills impacted my current relationships and way of being.
Since that internship years ago I have consistently worked with those with substance use disorders. I have worked in outpatient centers, Partial hospital programs, Intensive outpatient programs, and now in a private practice. Some of the things I have learned about myself and the disease of addiction from a family systems perspective are:
Looking back on my career and life up until this point, I cannot imagine working with a different population and feeling fulfilled. However, I needed to work on myself and heal my own past before I could help anyone else!
One of the most important things I did for my healing was go to therapy and talk about what happened. I am grateful to be able to hold space for others now and to be able to empathize with family members dealing with addiction. Whether it’s you who are struggling, a family member, or someone you are in a relationship with, I’m here to help.
Intuitive exercise can mean many things, from dancing in your kitchen, taking an exercise class or flipping upside down in public place, just wash your hands after okay?
Start with these principles and questions to discover how to move in a way that FEELS good! ⠀
1. How do YOU want to FEEL in your body?⠀Get specific! -Open, lengthened, stretched
-Strong, grounded, stabilized ⠀
-Free, liberated, flowing⠀
-Calm, relaxed, centered
2. Impact on Body. Do you have any injuries or is there anything you need to be aware of in terms of impact on your body?
- High impact activity includes- running, jumping, dancing, especially on a hard floor or concrete
- Low impact includes- weight lifting, yoga, swimming, cycling (where there is no impact on the body)
- Aerobic- do you want to/ can you safely increase your heart rate so your movement becomes aerobic and you are out of breath? Does this feel good in your body or would you prefer to have an even heart rate.
3. Environment ⠀
-What temp feels good to move in
-What light would feel good? (bright, dark, disco, candle-lit)⠀
-Inside or outside?
-Music, motivation or silence? ⠀
-Home, gym, studio, open space
- Are mirrors something you’d like to avoid or embrace?⠀
How connected do you want to be?
-Do you wanna be with others or want time alone?⠀
-Led by an instructor, guided or do your own thing? ⠀
- Do you want to feel like you’re on a team? Or independent?⠀
If you’re new to exercise this may feel like a mind boggling list of questions to ask yourself! I get it! Start easy and simple, listen to your bod and try different things! ⠀
Since starting something takes way MORE energy than continuing (hello activation energy), I recommend going through these prompts, writing down ideas and start experimenting!🧪 ⠀
There’s no right way to this, nor is there a specific end goal! Your wants and needs will evolve. Eventually you will learn what works for you and what things in your life lead you to crave certain types of movement. ⠀
HAPPY MOVING! Comment below and tell me your fave type of exercise!
I grew up as a figure skater from the age of 9. Though it absolutely became fuel for my eating disorder, for a great deal of the time, skating was simply an authentic expression of movement that felt good in my body.
I loved the feeling of ice under my skates. I loved that skating combined a flexible/ artistic component with athleticism It felt like the perfect combination of both aspects of movement for me. Stretching, jumping, gliding and strengthening all felt really good.... until my eating disorder entered the picture.
Like most good things in our lives, my eating disorder hijacked my relationship with my body, movement and of course, food. Movement now became about how my body looked rather than how it felt, and calculating calories in versus calories out. This resulted in me being obsessed with going to the gym.
I was a slave to the elliptical and the bright red numbers running across the screen.
Eventually my eating disorder led to full blown addiction to drugs and alcohol so exercise took a back seat. Throughout most of college, I was too busy trying to control my body weight and shape through alcohol and adderall to bother going to the gym.
Though I dabbled with yoga the summer before my senior year in college, it was not until a year later, when I got into recovery from my eating disorder, that I experienced the true power of it. As part of my recovery, it was recommended to me to not exercise by running, going to the gym or do anything that I used to do in my active eating disorder. Instead, I was encouraged to move mindfully, and do something where I had NO idea how many calories I was burning. Although this was difficult for me to do at the time, it was so important and I learned so much about my motivation for moving my body.
I was able to see clearly how I would use exercise as a way to justify or compensate for what I had eaten, rather than moving my body in a way that felt good.
Enter yoga. Yoga first and foremost taught me how to breathe. Part of what my eating disorder robbed me of was my ability to take a full, deep, belly breath. I hated the idea of my stomach expanding and would only take shallow chest breaths. The yoga classes I took also had no music, which was so important for me in the beginning because it forced me to be present, and tune into my surroundings rather than zoning out.
Yoga also taught me how to tune in to what my body wanted and needed through stretching and movement. I was able to discover how different yoga poses felt in my body.
As one of my first yoga teachers stated, "your mat is your laboratory."
I was able to notice, if I bent this knee slightly, it would create a different sensation in my body and if I tried this alignment, the strength shifted from my core to my legs. I became interested in the way body felt rather than how it looked. My relationship with my body began to change. Through this physical movement, I began to understand viscerally that I was NOT my thoughts. This was a breakthrough moment for me that completely changed my healing .
Soon after, I went on to become a yoga teacher and practiced and taught consistently for 5 years. A year and a half ago, I got burned out from yoga and took an 8 month break from teaching and practicing. Although it was scary and rocked a huge part of my identity, it was one of the best things that I ever did for myself. I discovered other ways to move my body that feel REALLY good and have been able to exercise intuitively. I've discovered how if I bring principles of yoga, such as: mindfulness, breath, gaze and alignment many things can be "yoga". It just looks differently.
My relationship with my exercise has transformed in the past few years and looks very different. I believe our relationships with our bodies and our habits should change and evolve as we do. We need different things at different times of our lives and seasons. I love that And it has continued to evolve and change and I continue to listen throughout my recovery journey. This has led to the creation of intuitive exercise.
Lately, I've been back in a yoga kick, although these days I really love practicing on my own, sometimes with my eyes closed to really tune in. I've discovered how to notice what my body needs and craves through looking at components like : environment, intensity, type of movement and instruction.
Check back on the blog tomorrow for the nitty gritty details of exactly "How to Exercise Intuitively."
YOUR BRAIN IS NOT WIRED TO MAKE YOU HAPPY. YOUR BRAIN IS WIRED TO SURVIVE.
Here's the deal.... Our society teaches us that being happy all the time is “normal” and that should be our baseline. This is something called the "happiness trap" (coined by Russ Harris). But this notion is radically incorrect. There is literally no survival value in being happy. You aren’t more likely to have kids if you’re happy. You aren’t even more likely to be successful if you're happy. Sometimes our anxiety and fear can actually drive us to get things done. (Isn't that crazy?!) And in evolutionary terms, all your brain cares about is surviving and reproducing so its genes can be passed on.
So over the millions of years of evolution, the people that were careful, likely to hesitate when they saw something in the bushes were the ones more likely to SURVIVE. Even if they were only right 1% of the time, that gene got passed down and was compounded.
The more careful our ancestors were and the more they were driven to never be satisfied (more food, stronger shelters, more children) the more successful they and their genes 🧬 were.). Which is why all of us that exist at this moment in history are HARDWIRED to be careful. We come from a long lineage of ancestors who were careful and made calculated risks. Ancestors who constantly surveyed their surroundings to make sure they were safe, while also trying to get as many resources as possible.
Fast forward to us living in a modern society and our “threats” are typically not life threatening. We no longer are in danger of being eaten by a bear, we are in danger of being called out at work, feeling rejected by friends or being ghosted by a partner. Now, being careful hurts us. Constantly worrying about outcomes that are not going to happen makes us less productive and happy. It's no wonder so many people have anxiety.
Unlike other animals, who can have a fear about something (say, a dog had a traumatic instance with almost drowning), we can literally imagine being around water and being scared 24 hours a day. A dog lives his life and doesn't think about the traumatic incident unless he is immediately exposed to water. Through the part of our brain that developed to plan, reason and imagine, though this initially helped us survive, it now allows us to replay unhappy events all day long as if we are still in the situation! Again, no wonder so many of us struggle with feeling happy.
I share this because important information about being happy because before I knew this, I would berate myself and get mad at myself for not being happy. I thought something was wrong with me and that I was a bad person because I had so much. You may feel this way too because of what our society teaches us. I’m here to set the record straight.
YOU CAN BE GRATEFUL AND BE UNHAPPY.
YOU CAN HAVE EVERYTHING YOU COULD EVER WANT AND NOT BE HAPPY.
YOU CAN STILL FEEL LIKE YOU WANT MORE & THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU.
That's just the way you were wired- your brain was wired to want more and not be satisfied, no matter what you have. You're not ungrateful, you're a human being!
Once you learn about the happiness trap and the way your brain was wired, you can stop torturing yourself and start offering yourself compassion for the human being that you are. When you have this information, you gain the ability to stop the self-loathing, stop berating yourself and start acting differently. With this knowledge you now have the power to stop listening to your thoughts and start choosing something different!
I was raped.”
I uttered these words as I fell forward, head in my hands, shaking on my therapist’s couch It took me a long to time to utter these words, let alone accept them. The word rape feels dirty. Like we are damaged, like there is something wrong with us that we would allow this to happen.
For so long I justified the situation to myself in order to deny what happened I compared myself to all the other images of society of someone who is raped. I believed for many years that it was my fault. I was the one that invited him to the party, I was the one that was so drunk and high. If I hadn’t let myself get so wasted this wouldn’t have happened. Is this true? Maybe... we could even say probably. And that still doesn’t mean that it’s my FAULT. There may be something for me to be responsible for.. but we can take responsibility for our part in a situation and not be to blame. Blame and responsibility are two very different things that are often collapsed in our culture and minds.
When working with clients, I often talk about this concept. It’s a tricky line to walk, one that must be done carefully and diligently. Not everyone is ready to have this conversation. Those of us that are not in the acceptance stage are not ready to have this conversation. People who are actively in a traumatizing situation are also not in the space to have this conversation. You cannot safety process a situation you are currently being traumatized by. Safety must come first and you must be out of that situation before healing can begin.
However, for my friends that are ready, I encourage you to look at this with an open mind. It’s actually very empowering to take responsibility for your part in a situation. To be clear, for many of us, the ONLY responsibility we may have is that we allowed it to keep us small and control our lives for so long. This is also NOT to say that we were wrong because of this. We did what we needed to do to survive. And thank god for that. Of course a child that was molested was severely negatively impacted. It isn’t her fault, but with knowledge now it becomes her responsibility to heal. Now taking that on, that’s real power.
This leads me to one of my favorite quotes,
“Your wound is probably not your fault, but your healing is your responsibility.”
- Denice Frohman
Whether we have trauma or not, taking responsibility for our life and healing our wounds is an empowering context to live our lives. It shifts us out of searching for others to blame, and we start to feel empowered by ourselves and what we can accomplish. I know this is a heavy topic, so for my friends that read all the way to the bottom of this post I appreciate you sticking in this. I would love to know your thoughts!