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Book Review: "Life Without Ed"

By Katy Martin, LPC

I believe that I have recommended the book, “Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence From Her Eating Disorder and How you Can Too” by Jenni Schaefer, more than any other since I have begun specializing in working with people struggling with disorder eating.

Jenni Schaefer is in recovery from her own eating disorder, and she is now a great advocate for those who continue to struggle with their own treatment and recovery.  It is written by herself, along with insight from the therapist who walked with her on this journey.  It is honest, and so very insightful.

Eating disorders do not make sense.  Just ask anyone struggling with one or who is living along side someone with one.  We need to eat to live, right?  Why manipulate a necessity?  They are so complex, involving societal, circumstantial, and physiological factors that are different for every single person.  I meet with clients, and families of clients, who cannot make sense of what is happening.

This book is gold in that it provides insight from the very depths of the struggle and gives hope for recovery.  If you are struggling with an eating disorder, if you have a family member or loved one struggling, or you work in a field that may encounter these struggles, please buy this book.  It is not a clinical book; it is this young woman’s story and it will captivate you.

What is Your Story? A Self Exploration Activity

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC 

Oftentimes it seems that whatever may lie in the past, we prefer to keep there. It seems so much simpler or safer or smarter to just pack up our past in a box and put it on a shelf in the storage room of our heart. It’s in the past, so what does it matter? Many of us wrestle with this very question.

I like to think of each life as a story that is being lived out. Just as in the stories we enjoy in the pages of books, each of our lives is filled with highs, lows, joys, sorrows, disappointments, dashed dreams, dreams come true, pain, and love, just to name a few. In order to grasp the fullness of the main character’s story in a book, we have to begin at the beginning. Picking up a novel and starting at Chapter 32 is going to not only rob us of the story’s depth, but would likely make for a confusing storyline. There is much to be gleaned from the parts of our lives we have already lived, as every step has gotten us to where we are today.

Below is an activity that can be helpful in beginning to search back into our life’s story to recapture the valuable pieces available to us there. Consider spending some time revisiting the previously aired episodes of your life. Ask someone, whether a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor, to begin this journey with you.

Activity:

Pick a milestone to write about using the chart below or divide your life up appropriately. Start with sentence: “This was a time in my life when….” and let the writing flow.

Use this outline:
1. Get a clean sheet of paper and date it.
2. Select the milestone that you wish to write about, and write it at the top of the paper.
3. Write down the five questions:
   a. Where was I living at this time in my life?
   b. Whom was I living with at this time in my life?
   c. What was important to me at this time in my life?
   d. What was I afraid of at this time in my life?
   e. Who were my friends at this time in my life?
4. Reflect for a moment on the milestone and the questions.
5. Begin to write, starting with the phrase “This was a time in my life when…”

Major Milestones:
0-10
11-20
20-30
30-40
40-50
50-60
70-80

I would like to introduce you to…



Lianne Johnson, LPC

As humans we struggle with many things.  Some struggles are easier to talk about, while others cause us to hide.  Mention the word sex and most of the time people shrink back from the conversation.  Mention the struggle of same-sex attraction or sexual addiction and more often than not, people will find another conversation of which to become a part. 
FirstLight is a not-for-profit ministry organization seeking to make these types of struggles and conversations better understood and easier to talk about.  They focus on walking alongside, those struggling with same-sex attractions and sexual addictions.  Recently they also began offering support groups for family members, spouses, and others walking intimately with an individual struggling in sexual ways. 
Sean Maney, the Director of FirstLight since 2010, has greatly expanded the ministry.  When he arrived, FirstLight had 2-3 volunteers with 2 groups, and now there are 20 volunteers who are running and developing 13 groups!
I had the opportunity to sit with down with him over a good cup of coffee and discuss the ministry of FirstLight.  I asked him some questions, which he kindly answered.  Here is what he had to say…

Q:  Lianne:  “Tell me about the ministry of FirstLight.”


A:  Sean:  “FirstLight ministries began a little over 10 years ago when a group of pastors and counselors saw a need for there to be a more compassionate response to homosexually within the church.  They desired to create a loving place for people struggling with homosexuality to be supported.  This group of pastors and counselors prayed for roughly 4 years about creating a ministry to support this identified need.  From this desire and faithful prayer came FirstLight. 
In 2003, FirstLight became a not-for-profit.  FirstLight desires to walk alongside the church and support its ministry to those struggling with homosexuality.  While initially FirstLight sought to solely address the struggle of homosexuality, now we have expanded our ministry to include sexual addictions, same-sex attraction, pornography addiction, and support for spouses & parents who have family members struggling with these issues.  Overall, our focus is to be a safe place for those in the community and in the church who are facing these types of issues. 
FirstLight also aims to teach and train within the community about these issues.”  

Q:  Lianne:  “What groups are you currently offering?”  


A:  Sean:  “Currently we are offering 6 groups for men with sex addictions, a group for men with same-sex attraction, a spouse & parent support group, and a group for women with same-sex attraction/addiction.”

Q:  Lianne:  “Are these groups confidential?”  

A:  Sean:  “Yes.  The groups are kept small and are led by trained facilitators.  We place a high priority on keeping identity and stories confidential.  We have had leaders in the church (including pastors) in the program and are very aware of the need to keep our work confidential.” 
Q:  Lianne:  “Are there areas of FirstLight’s ministry you hope to grow in the next year?”  


A:  Sean:  “Of course!  We would love to see all of our areas grow.  Specifically, we would like to see our ministry to women grow; our groups for women who are struggling with same-sex attraction and sexual addiction.  Statistics say 1 in 4 porn users are women.  In this next year we hope to raise enough funds to hire a female director to help me lead these ministries. 
Also, we would like to continue growing our partnerships with churches in the area.” 

Q:  Lianne:  “Does FirstLight have a ‘Wish List’?”  


A:  Sean:  “Our first and most immediate wish would be for us to raise enough funds that would enable us to hire a female director. 
At this time, our groups are held all around the St. Louis area in churches and counseling centers that partner with us.  Although we want to continue having our groups offered all throughout the St. Louis area, a wish is to have a ministry “house” that would allow for centralized offices and groups. 
A third wish is to have someone come on staff who can nurture our community contacts and donors.  Part of this is helping churches talk about these issues.  We are a voice for people who are struggling with these issues.  We have found the support we receive from the community, whether that be financial or prayers, to be a great source of encouragement for those we serve. 
Expanding our base of supporters is another big wish we have.  We need individuals and churches to financially support us, and to support our ministry within the community.  Frankly, we need many more people to give financially to our ministry.  FirstLight is a donation-based ministry; churches and individuals in the area support us.  We hope to be a blessing to people, and as they are able we hope that people are able to bless us in return.
We don’t want anyone in the church or our community who is struggling with these issues to not get the help they need.”

Q:  Lianne:  “How can someone find out more about FirstLight?”  


A:  Sean:  “The best way is to go to our website www.firstlightstlouis.org.”    



Video Games and the Art of Conversation with a 9 Year Old

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

As I was listening to the 45-minute symphonic sound track audio CD that came with one of the Wii games that my son received for Christmas, I thought, “Music for video games has come a long way from “Mario Brothers”.  the honking, hooting electronic melodies have been replaced by full orchestral productions and often accompany full chorus vocals and soloists.  Pong didn’t even *have* music.

The truth is, a lot of things in video games have come a long way.  Graphics engines and technology can paint lifelike and often breathtaking scenery and even weather, match body movements with environment and mouths with voices, simulate the passage of time and create a virtual world that is so realistic that it can pull you in.  There is some high-quality artwork being done for some of these games (and some of the work is crap, so don’t take this as a blanket statement!).

What becomes a challenge is when the realism of the games lines up with reality.  Many of the most popular games out right now (Modern Warfare, Battlefield, Skyrim, to name a few) are visually VERY realistic – and gory.  They are probably too intense for your grade-school or even your middle-school student.  R-rated movie language, blood splatters, and the psychological effect of “doing” the actions oneself earn these games a rating of “M”-for “Mature” or 17 years old and up.

I became sad and confused when my 9 year old came home from school sad and upset that when his friends were talking about these games, he had no frame of reference.  He felt left out and “lame”.  I wanted to help him, and I considered getting one of these games for him so he can be “cool” again.

And then I woke up.  There is no way I would let me son watch a violent action movie like “The Expendables”, so there is no way I am going to knowingly expose my son to the violence and blood of “Modern Warfare”.  He is not ready to interpret and process witnessing scenes like those, much less the mental and emotional training that enacting the scenes would create even if in a limited fashion. He’s 9.  He does not need to be knifing people or going for the “head shot”, even if they are “just” pixel people.  This ain’t “Super Smash Bros.” anymore.

We developed a compromise.  I sat and talked with my son about my concerns regarding the games, and explained why Mom and I wouldn’t allow him to play them.  We talked about the importance of “cool” and of feeling accepted or left out, and what it was like for him, and offered some ways to think about it differently. Then we talked about finding some “cool” games that he could play and not feel as left out when he was hanging with his buddies.  We looked online together and researched some newer games (within his age range), and then added them to the Christmas list.

We also talked about the differences between families.  Some families allow their 9 and 10 year olds to play these games, and some (like ours) don’t.  We can’t make anyone else do things differently, nor in this case is it our place to tell them what they should or shouldn’t be doing.  This subject is not a question of right and wrong, it’s a question of wisdom.  Mom and Dad are responsible to make wise decisions for our children, and to teach them how to make wise decisions for themselves.

We can only do this by modeling it and talking about it together.  We have to make the decisions, and explain the why behind it in a way that the kids can understand.  This takes (gasp) work.  It takes time. It takes Mom and Dad staying connected and involved with their kids.  We have to work at creating a language and a pattern (context) with our kids that makes reasonable conversations possible.  Training our kids takes more than “Because I said so!”.

So start small.  If you don’t have small conversations with your kids you won’t be able to have big ones.  Ask them questions that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”.  Practice really listening to them. Have a LOT of positive, interactive conversations about what seems like nothing.  Enter their world and be a part of it.  Be interested.  What their character did in “Zelda” might not matter to you, but it does to them.

If your kids get the feeling that you are just nodding and grunting a response at them but not really listening, the context for conversation will wither.  They will stop talking, and you will stop knowing them.  If they know you are interested in them (even when you’re not terribly interested in the subject), it will be easier to talk about the “heavier” subjects when the time comes.

So keep the conversation going with them, about them, on their level and about their thoughts, feelings, desires, and dreams.  And yes, about video games, too.

(For some more good thoughts on video games and compromises, check this out: http://www.allprodad.com/blog/2012/01/05/a-good-compromise-on-video-games/)

To Make a Resolution or Not to Make a Resolution; That is the Question

By: Katy Martin, LPC

Happy New Year!
Now is the time that we all look forward to a fresh start, new possibilities, new resolve to make changes, and try new things.
Popular resolutions tend to be: losing weight, working out, starting a new hobby, an attitude adjustment, starting therapy, organizing your living space, becoming less busy, having more fun, doing something new, stopping a current habit, etc.
Have you thought about yours?  Do you have actual resolutions or do you just feel like you SHOULD be doing something different?
It doesn’t help with media pumping out ad after ad of the latest weight-loss plans and gym membership deals.  Our Facebook newsfeed is overloaded with enough optimism about the new year and resolutions to sink a battleship.  Oh, and blogs.  How could we pass up blogs?  All of the blogs listing everyone’s fantastic resolutions and lists to accomplish over the next year.
Yes, this is dripping with sarcasm.
I really do love the idea of a fresh, new year.  I feel as if it’s a built-in opportunity to re-evaluate and make change that’s wanted but that we often feel too overwhelmed to do anything about. 
But what happens in February?  March?  When we haven’t done as well as we would have liked at keeping our resolutions?  How about October when we’ve totally forgotten about them?
Do you feel guilt?  Shame?  Does it feed into the lies that you can’t accomplish anything?  Do you feel even more like a failure? 
It’s these awful thoughts and attitudes that make me a little hesitant about resolutions.  I think this is why we should view the idea of New Year’s resolutions with care and concern.
Set your goals; strive for change.  But are you doing it within reason?  Are they attainable goals for your phase of life right now?  Are you setting your self up for success?  Do you need to seek out professional guidance?
Use this opportunity to focus on real things that you would like to change in your life.  Specifically, that in which can be realistically changed and is something you desire, not just something you SHOULD do.  Seek out appropriate means to accomplish this goal, and use the people closest to you for accountability in the process.
When someone decides to run a marathon, they aren’t going to just get off the couch and immediately run 26.2 miles.  They need a plan, time to train, encouragement, and enjoyment in the process.  I believe that we can be successful with our resolutions, with our desire for change, if we adapt the same process to our every day lives.

Microwave Restoration

Relationships and the Culture of Instant Gratification

by Jonathan Hart, LPC
As I write this, I have leftovers from last night’s dinner warming in the oven.  I am doing this because our microwave blew up a few days ago, and we have yet to replace it.  I am struck by how dependent we have become on the speed and convenience of the microwave.  This is going to take half an hour rather than two minutes.

Even trying to figure out how to do something as simple as warming leftovers feels like rubbing two sticks together to make a fire. I can’t put the plastic container in the oven, so what do I use?  Oh, yeah, that shiny metal paper stuff that we used to use all the time forever ago before microwaves!  It takes more planning and foresight this way as well.  I have to start thinking about making lunch earlier in order to have food ready when I am hungry.

As I stood pacing by the stove, I was struck by how this principle of having it done now invades everything from our kitchens to our relationships.  In life and relationships we want problems to be resolved, and quickly.  I see this frequently when I sit with a couple when there has been a breach of trust between the partners; anything from an exposed lie to an affair.  The offending partner, though they are often very sorry and working hard to rebuild trust, can become impatient when that trust is not rebuilt within a few weeks.  Because they are working hard, they begin to take offense when their mate has “bad days” when the hurt flashes back into their minds and the distrust resurfaces.

Our culture, and I think our human nature in general, has little patience for long-haul relationship maintenance. We have a tendency not to allow for the fact that we are all in process.  We expect that when we communicate to someone that they have hurt us, they should immediately be able to rectify their behavior.  We do not often leave room for the idea that the other person may need time to grow into a new way of being.  When they fail, as most people will when they are attempting to change significantly, we brand them as incapable or unwilling, and keep them at a distance.

We especially need this patience when we are helping our children grow up.  The way they learn how to be patient, responsible people is by seeing and living with patient and responsible adults.  They will of course demonstrate poor behavior.  Most often this is not because they are defiant or rebellious, but rather because they are trying to figure out how to manage in that circumstance.  They need a good model to learn a better way than what they can come up with as a child. And they need to see that good model over and over and over again before they can understand and implement it themselves.

Every relationship takes time and effort in order to maintain and grow it, whether with adults or children.  To get a tiny glimpse of what is required, try unplugging the microwave for a week.

Gloomy weather, gloomy mood

By: Katy Martin, LPC

Is it just me, or does it feel like it’s FINALLY Fall?  It IS November, after all.  The weather is cooler, the leaves are changing and dropping, and time has fallen back.  It’s great for backyard fires, football, walks outside, and playing in leaves.  Well, some of us look forward to these things.
Along with the crisp weather, can bring some gloominess.  A change in mood, along with a change in temperature.  Have you ever paid attention to how the changing seasons affect you?  Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, and I think it often gets overlooked with the distraction and excitement of the upcoming holidays.  Some characteristics include but are not limited to sadness, fatigue, and hopeless thoughts.  These depressive symptoms can feel as gray as the clouds outside.
We are all affected by change, some more than others.  I’d encourage you to explore the severity of your feelings and talk to someone.  There are simple things we can do to combat the winter blues: finding time to exercise, avoiding isolation by making plans with others, eating well, and exposure to sunlight when possible or even light therapy.  Some times it’s helpful to speak with your doctor or counselor if it’s affecting your daily life.
Don’t let the winter blues get the best of you!!

The Depths of Your Heart

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

I recently spent time at a lake suffering from significantly low water levels. The state in which I experienced the lake seemed to expose much of what is typically concealed. As I sat by the water’s edge, I observed large logs and rock formations often obscured below the muddled surface of the lake. Observing boats and jet skis avoid these perils while zipping to and fro, I reflected on how normally these dangers are lurking, unseen, just below the water level. This caused me to think of how many of us, myself included, tend to act as recreation seekers, skimming along the surface of our lives with little desire peer into the murkiness found in the depths.
Do you ever find yourself living your life as a recreation seeker? Do you feel as though you are skimming the surface of your life? Do you ever feel as though you keep to the shallows of your heart and story in avoidance?
I think we do this for a number of reasons. Perhaps we are scared of what we might find, or we believe ourselves to be too busy to engage it, or we have experienced others handling the treasures and terrors of our depths in careless or even harmful ways. Regardless of our reasoning, this recreational type of living (i.e. avoidance) causes us to be very susceptible to getting tripped up, stuck, or harmed by the substance of our depth. It is scary to put on your snorkel and mask and peer into the darkness, but I believe failing to do so not only makes us all susceptible to the dangers that may befall us, but it also keeps us (and those around us) from knowing the depth of ourselves.
What would it take to inspect the treasures and terrors of you? What would it be like to invite someone trustworthy and caring, to come along with you as you dive? What would it be like to take a deep breath, and plunge below the surface to see what there is to find?

The Cubs Killed my Fandom

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

I grew up in Chicago watching the Cubs play baseball.  As a kid, I remember hating the fact that baseball interrupted my afternoon cartoons all the time (this was before Wrigley had lights). I watched some of the games, and I remember sometimes getting excited when they would get ahead.  But inevitably, they blew it in the 8th or the 9th, and the disappointment was bitter.  In 1984 (Yes, I had to look that up: http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHC/), they came close to winning it all, but they blew that, too.  I haven’t “followed” them, or anyone else, since.

Because of recurring disappointment, I lost my enthusiasm for sports.  I do not consider myself a “fan” of any team.  There are few names and no stats that are readily recognizable to me.  The only reason I know Pujols plays first base is because I live in Saint Louis, and I went to a game once when my son won free tickets for us.  There are other factors that have influenced my lack of affiliation with the sporting world, but I credit the Cubs with most of it: one can only handle so much disappointment before shutting those feelings down.

The trouble is that I don’t experience the high of a close game, the joy of celebrating a victory pulled from the jaws of defeat.  When the Cards suddenly hit their hot streak this year and pulled out a win for the Wild Card slot (I confess that I don’t really know what that even means), I nodded and smiled.  When the Rays did the same (and I likewise confess that I didn’t know there was a major league baseball team named the Rays until earlier this year), I have friends in Tampa whose celebrations resounded on Facebook.  I nodded and smiled.

A basic principle that is demonstrated by this story is that risk and disappointment seem to be inseparable from joy.  We cannot shut down disappointment without likewise shutting down joy.  Joy and pain operate on the same switch. We tend to protect ourselves from hurt, which is natural and helpful in the short term.  When this shutting down becomes a way of life, however, it robs us of our joy in the long run.

People let us down.  People harm us.  Trusting others with our hearts and with our dreams often leads to pain.   We rightly withhold ourselves from those who recklessly and selfishly feed upon us.  When we generalize this distrust (“All men are predators.”, “All women are emasculating.”, “Trust no one.”, “Look out for number one because no one else will.”) we begin to lose our capacity to experience joy.   We lose out when we do not risk entrusting ourselves to anyone out of fear that they, too, will hurt us.

It seems like the greater risk, the longer wait, and the deeper disappointment all lead to a reciprocally greater joy. I think of the Red Sox when they finally broke the curse of the Bambino (and I don’t really know why he cursed them).  The fans spilled into the streets for hours and days.  Smiles, laughter, and an entire city’s communal joy resounded.  I can’t imagine what Chicago will look like if that ever happens for the Cubs.  It will be a madhouse.  I will likely smile and nod.

What parts of your heart are you withholding, and from whom?  Where is your joy deadened?  Is life kind of flat for you?  When was the last time a celebratory shout left your lips before you realized it?  When have you felt your pulse quicken, or realized that there was a goofy grin glued to your face? These are just some diagnostic questions to help you sort out the places you are hiding from risk and pain at the expense of your joy.

Will I ever be a fan again?  Maybe.  Honestly, it probably won’t be with the Cubs.  I might risk it for a team that won’t interrupt my cartoons, or one that wins more than once a century.  I do, however, envy those Die Hard Cubs fans if and when their curse is broken (or when the Illuminati finally decide to take pity and let them win, depending on your conspiracy theory subscription).  I envy them the exponential joy they will experience. They have been waiting and hoping faithfully for a long time.  The fans deserve it.  Some call them fools, but I laud them for their persistence and loyalty.  It will be a mind-bending ride.

Change and Loss

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
Every change involves a loss. While we tend to limit the extent to which we allow ourselves to grieve and process unwelcomed loss and change, even more often I think we deny ourselves the freedom to grieve the losses that accompany longed for or beneficial change. Even those welcomed and “good,” every change brings with it necessary and non-optional forfeitures. Preschool graduation lets go of toddlerhood. A new house forces goodbye to the home of many memories. A wedding signifies shifts in many relationships, not only one. Job transition causes competence to be compromised. Moving out of town sacrifices the security of the familiar.
 
There is comfort in consistency. There is safety in what is known. Feeling both “positive” and “negative” emotions simultaneously about one circumstance can be confusing and at times frustrating. It is much easier to stuff down or ignore away the less pleasant emotions than to allow the two to coexist. However, if we allow ourselves to embrace this tension and ambivalence, we will live more honestly, be more connected to our own hearts, and experience the full reality of what every change entails for us. How do we begin to we do this? By allowing ourselves to acknowledge the presence and the weight of the loss. What losses in your life story have brought ambivalent feelings? What good things have you had to let go of in the midst of attaining other good things?
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Anatole France