In January, I got an email from my friend Brad, inviting me to come and see his awesome wilderness program in Utah, Evoke Therapy Programs. "What a fun opportunity!" I thought to myself, and quickly, and rather impulsively, said yes.
A loud noise happens on a crowded street. Many people are startled for a moment and then, after recognizing that it was a car backfiring, they go on with their day. But there is a teenaged girl and a forty-year-old man who are having very different experiences. The loud noise initiated a startle response and then the re-experiencing of vivid memories. These two are transported to entirely different places and times that have become defining characteristics of their lives. They are trauma survivors, one of whom is remembering a gunshot and the other the slamming of a door.
Many people hear words like research, statistics, and outcome and quickly become disinterested or stare blankly into space! Others get excited to hear about MANOVAS or degrees of freedom or significance levels. Research in psychology tends to be a bit more interesting, especially since it relates to human conditions that many of us can identify with in our own lives.
A close friend of mine experienced intense body image and eating issues when we were teens. One day, years later, she confided in me how much it meant to her that I always saw her as a person, never as a disorder. She described our friendship as a lifeline that helped her survive those extremely difficult years. When everyone else was worried about how much she did or didn’t eat, or if she went to the bathroom soon after a meal, she knew that I would talk, play, and savor life’s adventure with her. Years later, after having read many books, attended the best seminars exploring everything from the biology of refeeding syndrome to sociological factors, and after working with many people who struggle with body image and eating issues, I still remind myself that I am interacting with a person, NOT a disorder.
One of Evoke Therapy Program’s founding principles is a commitment to being a conscientious company, making the health and well-being of our programs, employees, and communities a top priority. This commitment includes contributing to our local and larger communities via service projects, and encouraging our employees and clients to feel the value of giving back to others.
In substance abuse treatment circles, there is nothing that produces more of a reaction than talking about 12-step recovery. Some people are extreme advocates of 12-step programs with sayings like “It’s all in the book!” Others vilify Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as a cult using twisted religious ideologies to brainwash people. There are a few words like “powerlessness” and “God” that really get strong reactions. They are much more polarizing and stimulating than terms like “objectivity” and “spirituality” and thus oftentimes people desperately in need of help will reject 12-step support because they don’t believe in powerlessness or God.
I was once asked “How long does it take to understand the kind of childhood one has endured?” While this understanding comes at a different pace and with more or less clarity at times, one can hear the messages of a childhood by learning to hear our inner voices. The dialogue of self doubt; the justifications; the apologies; the “I hope you don’t think I am whining…” –all these offer glimpses into the spoken and unspoken messages of one’s childhood. The sometimes critical inner-voice can be recognized not just by listening to the negative thoughts, but also by listening to the qualifying comments. “I know this may sound selfish, but…” or “I don’t want this to seem…”
Winter weather, changing seasons, holidays, politics… what doesn’t create flux and a little chaos in our lives right now? It’s important to remember, whatever is cluttering our minds presently can also have an effect on our bodies. The gastrointestinal tract is especially susceptible to our stress levels and actually plays a role in our mental health.
I grew up in an ultra-orthodox Jewish home. My mother suffered from mental illness and my father dealt with it by being out of the house all day. As the oldest in a large family, I took responsibility of my parents and siblings from a very young age. I tried to protect my siblings from the discomfort I felt. I thought I was happy. I liked being in control. In hindsight, I was anxious, sad, scared, and controlling. I used food for comfort, being overweight most of my life. I married young, possibly, as an escape from my parents’ home, or just because it was culturally the right next thing to do. Within a short period of time our family grew. I continued behaving in the way that was familiar to me, keeping everyone safe, controlling, rescuing and enabling. My anxiety escalated. I isolated. I thought I was in control.
I am often asked about how one can get adolescent boys to buy into yoga. Good question. First, regardless if it’s yoga or if it’s adolescent boys specifically, the answer is the same: Meet them where they are.