Recovery is a Journey – Resolving Old Wounds

Resolving Old Wounds

I gave a presentation on Codependency to a small group last Saturday. The event was held in an elegantly appointed retreat house hidden away. From the back of the room, leaning across a granite countertop, eyes shining and fixed attentively, a man asked me how his sourness and disappointments of the past had so happily disappeared? I know a little of his story. He is a survivor of a fiery, crushing accident which caused the amputation of his legs as a child. He uses prosthetics to walk, remarkable to be sure, but his heart and mind have made the greater recovery. He didn’t disclose the nature of the disappointments mentioned above, but any poisonous resentment from the past appears long resolved. So, I answered his question. “Because of the hard, emotional work you have done, my friend.” He then asked, “Then why did it take so long?”

When Nothing Seems to Change

Although circumstances don’t always change, our attitude toward those situations can be modified. We can choose to have a positive perspective on a difficult situation. You can choose to move forward in bitterness, resentment, and negativity, or you can move forward in healing, health, and forgiveness, focused on the positive future rather than the dissatisfactions of the regretted past. Either way, you move forward. Be on guard though. Negativity lurks around every corner. Hopelessness hides in the shadows. The ever-present “never lies” are ready to make their case: “You’ll never make it, you’ll never get better, you’ll never succeed.”

How do I move forward?

The First Key – Acceptance

So many people kick against the past as though complaining loudly about personal history will bring resolution to the present problem. Step one in finding and maintaining peace is to accept what has happened to you or because of you. Then, use your limited supply of emotional energy and resources to create the future rather than foolishly fighting to fix the past. Finding the “right culprit” to blame is not a valid substitute for acceptance. Accept yourself and your situation honestly and begin making positive strides forward in faith and hope.

The Second Key – Attitude

Make a confident attitude and a strong character your goals. Resist the urge to try to change, fix, or control someone else. Limit yourself, examine your motives, and maintain your mood and disposition. Many people who are damaged by the past are more interested in controlling others than in controlling themselves. Refuse to let someone else’s treatment of you determine your mood. The negative situations or circumstances of the past do not control your future. You are always headed in the direction of what you think about and what you say. If you think and speak negatively, it will prevent your progress. However, if you think and speak optimistically, you will move in a positive direction.

The Third Key – Choices

Poor choices and flawed decisions have lasting consequences. The tainted food eaten yesterday may make you sick today and tomorrow. Understanding this principle will help you endure the inevitable outcome of another person’s imperfect choices. You can endlessly dwell on the dysfunctional, neglectful, and abusive treatment that you endured. You could complain about it until it ate at you like a cancer. You could let it ruin your day today, and every day we call tomorrow. But you won’t. You are making a better choice. You can use your optimistic attitude, mentioned above, to make positive choices to build a satisfying future.  Increase your independence, get stronger, and expand your life. Be an initiator in your own life rather than a responder of someone else’s. I often tell people to do the thing they need to do. If you need to get a job, get a job. If you need to go back to school, go back to school. If you need to protect yourself, protect yourself. If you need to move forward from the wounds of the past, move forward. Or, get yourself strong enough to do the thing you need to do.

You Are Getting Stronger

This is so true in recovery. You may feel weak, inferior and incapable. The truth is you are getting stronger. You are getting strong enough to do the thing you need to do. You are getting strong enough to love yourself and resolve the wounds from long ago. You can take care of your needs and assert your own opinions. As you get healthier, you will stand up for what is right and be able to defend yourself. This will enable you to create the life you want and achieve the long-term recovery you deserve.

 

Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!

Resolving Old Wounds

Serenity Place Manchester, NH Lays off 21

Source: http://www.unionleader.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20180123/NEWS02/180129724

 

MANCHESTER — Serenity Place, the addiction-treatment program that fell into financial crisis last month, was divided up on Tuesday and parceled among several social service, drug treatment and health care organizations.

The transfer of programs meant the end to a treatment and recovery operation that mushroomed in the last three years to accommodate the opioid crisis, the Manchester Safe Station program and the Hillsborough County North Drug Court in Manchester.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Amy Messer put Serenity Place into receivership at the request of New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald after the organization could not pay bills. The top officials of the organization, including Executive Director Stephanie Bergeron, resigned before the receivership.

“There is no path forward we can see for Serenity (Place) to operate independently,” said Tom Donovan, MacDonald’s director of charitable trusts, on Tuesday.

Donovan, said services will continue for all people enrolled in Serenity Place programs. But 21 Serenity Place employees will not be transferred to jobs in the new organizations and will be laid off.

On Tuesday, Messer approved the latest plan sought by Donovan.

The highlights:

• Families in Transition, the organization appointed receiver of Serenity Place, will assume control of two transitional living programs — Tirrell House for men and Lin’s Place for women.

• The Farnum Center will take over intensive outpatient program, outpatient services, and the crisis program Respite, which provided a bed for people who went through Safe Station. Respite will move to 700 Lake Ave. Farnum Center Director Cheryl Wilke said Respite will become more of a treatment program than a residential program.

• Manchester’s Elliot Hospital will provide programs associated with Hillsborough County North Drug Court.

• The Seacoast-based Granite Pathways will open a location in Manchester and provide the recovery and support services for Serenity Place clients.

• Several organizations will offer the impaired-driver education programs that Serenity Place has historically provided.

• U.S. probation and parole officers will oversee drug testing and urinalysis.

Many programs were operated under state contracts. Gov. Chris Sununu and the Executive Council are expected to meet todayand transfer the contracts.

Families in Transition head Maureen Beauregard stressed that numerous organizations — including one from the Seacoast — have become part of a solution, and no one organization is bearing the burden. She said it represents the coming together of the treatment and recovery communities.

“I know it’s a sad story about Serenity Place. If we’re to glean anything from this, it is the community has come together,” Beauregard said. Donovan also praised Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Health Director Tim Soucy for their work in developing the transition plan.

Donovan’s filings with the court suggest the reason for some of the financial problems. State Medicaid officials were not paying some bills because services were not provided by properly credentialed providers.

“I don’t know if it’s illegal, but it’s not a way to get paid,” he said. He said the Attorney General’s office continues to investigate Serenity Place.

Donovan also disclosed that Serenity Place had a December bank balance of $8,645 when it was placed into receivership. Its operating deficit exceeded $1 million.

Tuesday’s ruling does not address the $153,000 that the organization owes about 50 contractors and tradespeople, Donovan said. Serenity Place owns one piece of property — a treatment center on Manchester Street. Several mortgages are attached to the property, but Donovan believes some equity exists.

Former attorney general Joseph Foster, who represents FiT, said a “mini-bankruptcy” could take place, in which lawyers will ask Messer to approve a future payment plan.

mhayward@unionleader.com

Action Alert – Help Needed – Urgent

Hello all,

Our friends from SOS have done an amazing thing by opening a shelter during this cold weather. They did it on the fly and are in desperate need of your help. Please read their ask here:

Self Care is Non-negotiable

ACTION ALERT

We need volunteer help immediately and food, refreshments, and coffee for an emergency 24 hour warming shelter in Rochester at the Recreation Center at 150 Wakefield St. (back entrance to Great Room)!
SOS is working with the City of Rochester, the Strafford County Public Health Network, Emergency Management, Rochester Fire, Tri-City Coop and the Rochester Rec Center to provide a warming center 23 hours a day  through at least Monday due to the bitter cold.  Dinner will be being served this evening by Straight Street Outreach at the center.  We have cots and blankets set up and had approximately 20 people last night spend the night.  We told them if they provide the space we will get the volunteers to staff it, so please help if you can.

We desperately need volunteer staffing.
Sign up here:  http://www.signupgenius.com/go/60b0e4caeaa2aa2fb6-rochesterAll you need to do to staff is come down and keep an eye on things help people coming in, greet them, show them where the showers are and provide any support needed.  We also need some donations of food, snacks, coffee, beverages and whatever you might offer to keep peoples stomachs filled while they get out from this bitter cold!

We have created an online sign up that you can sign up for shifts.  We have a dire need to get slots filled for today as early as 8am this morning!  We opened the center last night by 6pm on about 2 hours notice.  Anything you can do to sign up and help or drop food or beverages off would be greatly appreciated.  Center entrance is in the middle rear of the Rec Dept at 150 Wakefield St. in Rochester!  This is the only warming shelter that will operate 23 hours in the area.  Please be sure to get word out to anyone who needs it.

On behalf of everyone at SOS Recovery Community Organization thank you in advance for all you do to make this such a fantastic community with so much love and support.

SOS Recovery Community Center Rochester, NH Phone 603.841.2350.

Thank you and God Bless.

Questions Arise Over Profession Spawned by Opioid Epidemic

Recovery coach Katie O’Leary has worked with Derek on his journey from treatment to sobriety.

As he emerged from the grip of addiction three years ago, Derek saw how complicated recovery would be: programs to navigate, calls to make, forms to fill out, court dates to attend. All that on top of the emotional and physical strain of parting with the heroin and alcohol that had ruled his life for a dozen years.

But the 32-year-old counts himself lucky to have had a “recovery coach” guiding him on his journey from treatment to sobriety. The coach, Katie O’Leary, offered a deep understanding, and a motivating example of success: She started her own recovery from heroin addiction seven years ago.

O’Leary, who works for the North Suffolk Mental Health Association, belongs to a new profession whose role is expanding amid the opioid crisis. But as the use of recovery coaches grows, so do the questions: Who are they exactly? What qualifies them to do this work? What are the boundaries of their practice?

Governor Charlie Baker is the latest to seek answers, with his recent proposal for a commission to look into credentialing recovery coaches, a move that could lead to insurance reimbursement.

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For Derek, who asked that his last name be kept confidential in keeping with the customs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, O’Leary’s help made all the difference.

She told him where to apply for benefits, drove him to his first post-treatment sober house, stayed until he was comfortable there, and took his middle-of-the-night phone calls when worries kept him awake. Today, living in a sober house and working full-time, Derek meets with her about once every two weeks.

“When you start to get nervous, you start to fall, the recovery coach is the person who puts their hand out to you,” he said.

For her part, O’Leary, 37, understands the appeal of peer support. “If a clinician told me I have to do something, I would laugh at them and do the exact opposite,” she said. But suggestions carry more weight when they come “from somebody that has the same experience and the same pain.”

As he emerged from the grip of addiction three years ago, Derek saw how complicated recovery would be: programs to navigate, calls to make, forms to fill out, court dates to attend. All that on top of the emotional and physical strain of parting with the heroin and alcohol that had ruled his life for a dozen years.

But the 32-year-old counts himself lucky to have had a “recovery coach” guiding him on his journey from treatment to sobriety. The coach, Katie O’Leary, offered a deep understanding, and a motivating example of success: She started her own recovery from heroin addiction seven years ago.

O’Leary, who works for the North Suffolk Mental Health Association, belongs to a new profession whose role is expanding amid the opioid crisis. But as the use of recovery coaches grows, so do the questions: Who are they exactly? What qualifies them to do this work? What are the boundaries of their practice?

Governor Charlie Baker is the latest to seek answers, with his recent proposal for a commission to look into credentialing recovery coaches, a move that could lead to insurance reimbursement.

For Derek, who asked that his last name be kept confidential in keeping with the customs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, O’Leary’s help made all the difference.

She told him where to apply for benefits, drove him to his first post-treatment sober house, stayed until he was comfortable there, and took his middle-of-the-night phone calls when worries kept him awake. Today, living in a sober house and working full-time, Derek meets with her about once every two weeks.

“When you start to get nervous, you start to fall, the recovery coach is the person who puts their hand out to you,” he said.

For her part, O’Leary, 37, understands the appeal of peer support. “If a clinician told me I have to do something, I would laugh at them and do the exact opposite,” she said. But suggestions carry more weight when they come “from somebody that has the same experience and the same pain.”

Recovery coaches, or “peer support specialists,” have been around for decades, originally as volunteers who had beat addiction and wanted to help others do the same. In recent years, hospitals, treatment centers, municipalities, and courts have started to pay for their services.

They are seen as peers able to guide and mentor, encouraging people to enter treatment or helping them keep on track in recovery. Usually they are not supposed to provide treatment, and most do not have advanced degrees. But there are no firm statewide rules — and insurance companies do not reimburse for peer recovery services, requiring programs that hire recovery coaches to find other sources of funding. No one even knows how many people call themselves recovery coaches, in Massachusetts or nationwide.

Kristoph Pydynkowski, director of recovery management at the Gosnold treatment center on Cape Cod, welcomes the governor’s proposal to credential recovery coaches, part of a wide-ranging plan to battle opioid addiction.

“It’s a like the Wild West,” he said. “We do need to come up with some standards and best practices.”

Pydynkowski got his start a decade ago while working as a dishwasher at Gosnold, newly in recovery after a 10-year struggle with heroin. Someone pulled him away from the dishes with a request to talk with a difficult young patient. With his Mohawk haircut and tattooed face, Pydynkowski sat down with the young man — and connected in a way that changed the patient’s life, and Pydynkowski’s.

Gosnold started its peer recovery program in 2012, and now employs 10 recovery coaches to help patients after they leave treatment.

Training and supervision are critical for recovery coaches, Pydynkowski said. “I’ve seen so many people do harm to themselves and others,” he said.

People whose own recovery is too recent can end up getting high with their clients, Pydynkowski said. Some, he said, work around the clock and burn out, endangering their own recovery.

Recognizing the need for education and standards, the state Department of Public Health began offering a one-week Recovery Coach Academy several years ago, and more than 1,000 people have completed the course.

In 2016, the department established a more rigorous program to certify recovery coaches. Applicants must take the one-week course plus additional hours of training in ethics, cultural competency, and motivational interviewing. Then they must complete 500 hours of supervised work as a coach. Starting in June, they will also have to pass an exam.

There is no legal requirement for recovery coaches to become certified, but employers are starting to send their coaches through the program, and may require certification in the future. So far, 16 people have been certified, including several from Gosnold and the North Suffolk Mental Health Association.

But the state has no official definition specifying what recovery coaches can and cannot do — one of the issues that Baker’s commission might address.

More than 20 states have some kind of peer recovery designation or regulation, and most New England states offer certification. But the requirements vary, and there is no national standard.

“We need to unify this discipline, and we need to put together some standards that are national,” said Cynthia Moreno Tuohy, executive director of NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals. In January, the association plans to launch a national credentialing program for “recovery support specialists,” another term for recovery coaches.

The addiction professionals’ group has also worked with the American Professional Agency, a liability insurer, to offer malpractice insurance for recovery support specialists who become credentialed through its program.

One of the top concerns is defining the scope of practice, to ensure that recovery coaches don’t veer into providing treatment and do not try to replace trained addiction clinicians, Moreno Tuohy said.

Do recovery coaches make a difference? Data from Gosnold show that its clients maintain sobriety longer and have fewer admissions to hospitals or addiction treatment centers than before they enrolled in the recovery program.

A review of the research on peer recovery published last year in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found the research very limited, but the few good studies suggest that peer recovery services “make a positive contribution to substance use outcomes.”

The North Suffolk Mental Health Association, where O’Leary works, employs five full-time recovery coaches, paid $31,000 to $35,000 a year, and two supervising coaches, who make $42,000 to $45,000.

It’s a challenging program to manage financially, because insurance companies do not reimburse for recovery coaches as they do for licensed clinicians, said Kim Hanton, the agency’s director of addiction services. Hanton arranges to cover coaches’ salaries through grants and contracts.

Coaches have a special touch when engaging people, including those who may not want treatment. “It’s like magic,” Hanton said. “You see sparkle when you see coaches with individuals.”

While she wants to protect the integrity of the profession, Hanton hopes that credentialing will not make the job too professional. Requirements for college degrees, for example, would cause her to lose some of her best coaches.

“I don’t want them to take away the magic in what they do,” Hanton said.

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer

President Declares Opioid Crisis a Public Health Emergency

Tym Rourke and the NH Union Leader respond to the President’s declaration last week:

NH speaks: How to win the opioid fight

By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News
October 28. 2017 11:47PM

There’s been a lot of national attention on the opioid crisis, culminating in the President’s declaration last week of a national public health emergency. And that may mean more funding is coming to New Hampshire.

But where should that money go? What’s the fix?

We asked folks who have been on the front lines of the epidemic here for years for solutions. Here’s what they offered.

Unfettered access’

Rourke Tym Rourke (left) has chaired the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention and Treatment for eight years. He said he hopes the President’s declaration will bring more flexibility and funding to the table.

“Regardless of what part of the continuum you want to think about – more prevention, more treatment, more recovery – it’s about making sure that any individual has immediate, unfettered access to the things they need,” he said.

However, Rourke said, “None of this matters unless we can finally as a nation approach this disease just like we approach every other one. And the way we do that is people have insurance cards and they work.”

If people can’t access services, nothing will change, Rourke said. “Quite frankly, addiction (treatment) should not be paid for by grant,” he said.

Recovery housing

Patriquin Bryan Patriquin (left, showing his tattoos that read, “To thine own self be true”), 27, of Manchester has been in recovery from heroin addiction for nearly six years. A senior at Southern New Hampshire University, he has his own business and plans to pursue graduate school in clinical mental health counseling.

Patriquin says the greatest need for those new to recovery is safe housing. “When an individual gets out of treatment, very rarely does that person have a job waiting for them. Very rarely does that person have loved ones that are happy to see them,” he said. “Where does that individual go?”

Too often, he said, they end up back in their old environments and fall back into addiction.

Investing in recovery housing doesn’t get a lot of attention, Patriquin said. “But it’s going to save lives.”

Markevitz Susan Markievitz (left) of Windham lost her 25-year-old son Chad to an overdose in 2014; she has another son in recovery. She now runs a support group for parents like her in Derry.

If she had the ear of the President, she’d urge him to fund sober living programs that offer education and job search skills to help people get back on their feet after treatment. “Not only are they fighting their addiction, but their minds are also swirling: ‘Where am I going to get a job? How can I work?'”

Full-service recovery 

MarstonDonna Marston (left) became an unwilling expert on opioid addiction when her son became addicted. Since then, she’s created support groups for parents, written two books about her family’s journey, and started a scholarship program to help those in recovery with expenses. She also hosts an online support group that draws members from all over the country.

Marston said if she had a million dollars, she would build a full-service campus to bring people through detox, inpatient treatment and recovery. “The program would fill in the gaps that people often fall through when they are in early recovery such as day care, transportation, how to live a life without drama, chaos and lying,” she said.

It also would provide parents and other family members support services. 

Insurance coverage

Freeman Sarah Freeman (left) is executive director of New Hampshire Providers Association, which represents prevention, treatment and recovery providers. She said in the view of providers, two of the biggest barriers are financial uncertainty and workforce shortages.

She said it’s difficult for providers to expand services when they don’t know if programs such as Medicaid expansion will even be there; it’s currently due to sunset at the end of 2018. “If we’re not going to have a way to pay providers who treat those folks, there’s no safety net,” she said.

Merritt Michele Merritt (left), senior vice president and policy director at New Futures, said making sure that Medicaid and private insurance cover treatment and recovery is critical. “If we’re going to make a dent in the opioid crisis, the things we should be doing are ensuring that people have access to affordable health coverage, and once they have that coverage, that they can actually use it.”

Merritt said New Hampshire has been able to increase investment in recovery support services and prevention only because Medicaid expansion covers the cost of treatment for thousands of state residents.

Mentor the youth

Canfield Laconia Police Chief Matthew Canfield (left) says it will take a multi-pronged approach to address the crisis, including treatment, law enforcement and drug courts.

But Canfield said what’s often overlooked is prevention.

His idea is to have police officers serve as mentors to middle-school students, and have students do their own research about the devastating effects of drugs and then teach their peers.

“Because once somebody is addicted to heroin, it takes such a strong hold on them,” he said. “Even if they get treatment and they become sober, it’s a lifelong struggle.

“So let’s put more time and effort and resources into prevention before people have the opportunity to try this stuff,” he said.

Cut the strings

Crews Melissa Crews (left) serves on the board of Hope for New Hampshire Recovery. A successful business owner, she’s been in recovery for 24 years.

She wants to see more funding for accredited peer support programs “without burdensome strings or mandating billing system requirements.”

And it’s the same for recovery housing, she said. “Push National Addiction Recovery Residence accreditation and let that be enough to help these houses get up and running.”

Crews said it’s critical to have services available immediately. “It takes guts and courage to ask for help,” she said. “When you are turned away, it is devastating.”

Higher reimbursement

SpoffordEric Spofford (left) is founder and CEO of Salem-based Granite Recovery Centers, which has five facilities in New Hampshire that provide the full range of services from medical detox to sober living.

Spofford is a recovering heroin addict; he’ll celebrate 11 years of sobriety in December.

He said one needed fix is an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates for inpatient residential treatment, currently $162 a day. He said that is a fraction of what private insurance will reimburse for such treatment, and doesn’t cover his operating costs.

Merritt from New Futures said reimbursement rates for substance use disorder services are “chronically low, which makes it really difficult to attract clinicians to serve this population.”

“An incentive in the form of enhanced reimbursement would make a world of difference,” she said.

And Freeman from N.H. Providers Association proposes the state adopt loan forgiveness programs for young people who go into the treatment field, especially in underserved areas where they’re needed.

If Donna Marston could ask one thing of the President about opioid addiction, she said, “It would be to educate people that this is a brain disease.”

“They’re good people who are sick,” she said. “They’ve got a hole in their soul and they’re looking to fill it. And they fill it with drugs.”

Marston said she’s one of the “lucky ones.”

Her son has been in recovery for more than 9 years; he has a “beautiful wife,” she said. And their first child, a son, was born on Friday.

“So blessings come out of this nightmare,” she said.

 

Full article can be found here: http://www.unionleader.com/social-issues/NH-speaks-How-to-win-the-opioid-fight-10292017

NH Recovery Month Celebrations!

Last Chance to register for Ethics for Recovery Support Workers – Registration deadline is Friday.

Ethics for Recovery Support Workers: Monday & Tuesday, Sept. 18th & 19th at Marion Gerrish Community Center, 39 West Broadway, Derry, NH. 8:30AM – 5:15PM each day. Cost is $60.00 to attend and manuals will be provided. 14 CEs will be awarded. Visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ccar-ethical-considerations-tickets-36922833188 to register. Space is limited so register early.

HIV/AIDS – Derry, NH. Oct. 5th, 2017 at the Marion Gerrish Community Center, 39 West Broadway, Derry, NH. 6 CEs will be awarded. This class is pre approved by the NH Licensing Board for Alcohol & Other Drugs. To register visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/hivaids-for-recovery-support-workers-derry-tickets-36922861272.Seats are limited so register soon.

Welcome to National Recovery Month!Recovery Month began in 1989 as Treatment Works! Month, which honored the work of substance use treatment professionals in the field. The observance evolved into National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month in 1998, when it expanded to include celebrating the accomplishment of individuals in recovery from substance use disorders. The observance evolved once again in 2011 to National Recovery Month (Recovery Month) to include all aspects of behavioral health. Read more at Recoverymonth.gov/about. According to Recoverymonth.gov the theme for 2017 is Join the Voices for Recovery: Strengthen Families and Communities.

Events happening in New Hampshire

Restore Your Spirit Celebration & Vigil, Sept. 9th, 2017. 1:00PM to 5:00PM, White Park, Concord, NH; Food, silent auction, live entertainment. Special guest, Poet Mc-Matt Ganem. Download flyer here. All proceeds go to STARS. Read more about STARS Program here.

Rally for Recovery NH, September 16th, 2017, 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Veterans Memorial Park, Manchester NH; The Rally is a family-friendly event seeking to educate and raise awareness about addiction and the journey to recovery.  HOPE for NH Recovery will be joining with other community partners to host this event.  Family members, friends, and advocates of recovery will come out to celebrate the commitment we all share in this recovery movement. Volunteer and Sponsorship Opportunities available! Download flyer here. For more information visit here.
3rd Annual Take A Walk In Our Shoes, Sunday Sept. 17th, 10AM to 3PM, North Conway, NH; Hosted by MWV Supports Recovery. Prefer to ride? Join the County Motorcycle ride that begins at 10AM.
Or join Family Friendly Recovery Rally at Schouler Park to include a BBQ, live entertainment, raffles, kids activities, quest speakers, resource tables and much more. Visit  http://www.mwvsupportsrecovery.org/ for all the details.

Keene Hates Heroin (KHH), 2nd Annual Live Free Rally here in Keene on Sept 16 at the Keene Recreation Center from 11AM to 5PM; Live Bands: The High Vultage Project, Zach Benton, and Rick and The Redhead; The Pit Stop is catering; inside there will be a health and wellness fair including yoga, meditation mapping, free massage & chiropractic services; live demonstrations from Shaolin Studios and more. Guest speakers and feature presentations about addiction and recovery as well as a resource room where services from the Continuum of Care (Prevention, Treatment and Recovery) are welcome to have a table. No charge to attend (food will be sold at event). Any donations/proceeds will be used in KHH scholarship form to help persons in recovery gain access to treatment resources (medical clearance appts, MAT assistance, transportation, copays, etc. Rain or shine. Indoors and outdoors. Child and family friendly. Playground on site (parents responsible for their children). Volunteers needed! Resource tables welcome. Contact Jessica White at jessica.white@keeneserenitycenter.org or visit facebook here.

Super Sober Dance, Saturday, Sept. 23rd, 2017, 6PM-10PM. Hope for NH – Franklin Center, 175 Central Street, Franklin, NH. More information to follow, or contact Carolee Longely @ 603.934.1496.

Spotting Emotional Eating

Many times, overeating can accompany addiction. Overeating is similar to drug or alcohol misuse in many ways. As a recovery coach, you can further support your recoverees if you know what to ask. Here’s a good article on “How to Spot Emotional Eating.” I hope you read and gain some knowledge to further help your recoverees!

Hi Ginger,

I attended the World Athletics Championships in London the other week. It was truly awesome. 70,000 people cheering, roaring sometimes, with raw emotion. The power of collective emotion seems almost a magical force. I swear there were points in which athletes were willed on, almost psychically, by the focused masses.

The power of feeling it seems can practically move mountains. So, what we attach our feelings to is vital to how we live. We eat to live, to fuel our bodies and to socialize too sometimes.

But for many eating is a way of trying to deal with strong feelings. So called “comfort eating” or, what psychologists like to call, “emotional eating.”

In this week’s piece I talk about how and why it happens and how we might stop our clients from being consumed by their feelings to the extent that they literally try to consume their feelings.

I hope you enjoy this piece,

Mark

How to Spot and Treat Emotional Eating
5 uncommon strategies to help your clients break the comfort eating pattern
 

“After the break-up I just hid under the duvet and ate ice cream!”

“After a bad day at work I hole up in front of the TV and eat pizza and French fries!”

“When I feel depressed I binge on chocolate!”

I have heard endless variations on the above over nearly 25 years of practice.

Recently I had a question on our monthly Q&A: Could a client be overeating crisps as a way of feeling close to her father, who had committed suicide? The father also used to eat crisps in the evenings. (If you’re a member you can listen to the recording of this Q&A from 20th July 2017 here, once you log in to Uncommon U).

This set me thinking more generally about comfort eating, or what some psychologists call ’emotional eating’.

Why do we do it?

Whenever we eat when we’re not hungry, that is, when we don’t need to refuel, we do so for one or more of the following reasons:

*We eat for social reasons. It’s polite to eat. It’s expected that we eat.

*We eat habitually. We become conditioned to down chocolate or chips every time a certain TV show comes on, like a Pavlov’s dog automatically salivating to the sound of a bell. One pattern becomes intrinsically linked to another pattern.

*We eat unpalatable food try to deal with unpalatable emotions – otherwise known as comfort eating.

Comfort eating is not in the league of full-blown eating disorders such as bulimia. But for some, regular comfort eating can cause grievous health issues.

But first, let’s be clear: it’s not hard to eat food that will wreck us.

Addictively palatable food, deeply encoded desire

For comfort eating to exist, there needs to be plenty of addictively palatable resources available, which is why it tends to be a first-world affliction. It’s easy to overeat and snack on anti-nutritional ‘foods’, because these substances are designed to be addictively palatable.

In nature, we will always go for what gives us the most energy in the least time. When we hunted for our food (energetically, not in Tesco), there was no guarantee of when we’d next eat. Imagine this:

Your prehistoric buff body is becoming flat-out exhausted from hours of climbing and sometimes sprinting after uncooperative prey. You’ve got nothing. You’re burning energy fast, but you’ve nothing to refuel with. You’ve burnt most of what you last ate, maybe 24 hours ago. But then, something wonderful…

You discover a supply of honey! Don’t ask me how you extract it without getting stung, but you do. Maybe you’ve watched Bare Grills, or whatever his name is.

Anyway, you’ve hit the energy jackpot. All that energy in one hit! The sugar in that honey might just give you the energy to run down that deer so you can eat properly. That natural sugary snack, so high on the glycaemic index, has saved your life.

A nasty case of The Human Condition

So next time someone despondently cries, “I don’t know why I grab the ice cream/cookies/bread when I’m not hungry! What’s wrong with me!?”, you can tell them they have a nasty case of The Human Condition. We evolved to take on huge amounts of carbohydrate when we could get hold of it (which was hardly ever back then).

Yes, we’re hardwired to consume fast-energy-releasing foods. But this is not an excuse, because if we really listen to our instincts we will be able to discern our true requirements for food.

And of course, not having these honey traps (see what I did there?) around is a great idea. If it’s not in the house, it’s not in the mouth. If we let sugary foods be nearby, it’s not so much ‘weakness’ as it is simply being human that drives us to consume them.

Your survival instinct doesn’t care whether you look great on the beach. It will have you reaching for the fastest form of energy to get you sprinting after wildebeest (or, in modern life, settling back on the couch to enable all that insulin to store fat).

But palates and preferences can be retrained. One client filmed in Uncommon Practitioners TV over four sessions, describes how what used to seem alluring no longer does. She starts to see the old ‘comfort foods’ differently – and loses about 70 pounds in the process.

But comfort eating goes well beyond simply getting cheap, short bursts of energy.

Dealing with indigestible feelings

When we feel bad, we are driven to change our state. Alcohol and other drugs do this, but so do chocolate and other refined carbohydrate foods.

Many adults (and children) turn to comfort eating during times of stress or sadness as a way of trying to deal with the difficult feelings. Thirty-eight percent of American adults admit to turning to food when they feel stressed or sad.[1]

But the ‘solution’ is no solution, and in fact becomes a problem in its own right. Chronic comfort eating has consequences for health, fitness, looks and self-esteem.

We describe this behaviour as ‘comfort eating’, but does it actually work? Does eating bad food actually provide comfort for the upset eater?

A road to nowhere

We are, ahem, fed the message that food is a comforter as well as a fuel. And of course if we are hungry, really hungry, then refuelling is comforting, because it means more life! But that’s not the situation we’re talking about.

My client Elaine, also filmed in UPTV, began eating chocolate at night after a break-up with her boyfriend a year before. She describes feeling worse after comfort eating. And her case isn’t at all unusual.

Research carried out back in 2014 found that 81% of people believe comfort eating actually provides comfort by improving a low mood.[2] But researchers found that people’s mood improved just as fast when they ate neutral foods such as salad, or, in fact, no food at all.

So it seems comfort eating doesn’t improve mood or provide comfort, but I suspect it does provide a kind of numbness whilst the person is doing it. I suspect what comfort eating does produce for many is a kind of distracted trance state.

Hundreds of millions follow the siren call into a fat, unhealthy and (more) unhappy state, being led in a kind of mesmerized stupor.

So many clients describe a kind of trance state in which time seems to disappear and they, for a little while, feel switched off from their daily life. But once the eating episode is finished, often it’s as though they reawaken to the reality of what they’ve been doing and often feel worse than they did before.

So as it turns out, comfort eating isn’t much better at improving mood than it is at improving health, at least not beyond the first few initial mouthfuls.

Early (mis)Learning

I think some of the association between self-soothing and food is cultural, and commercials are a big part of that culture. But so are parents.

You might think parents already have quite enough reasons to feel guilty (for which some can turn to secret cream donut trysts), but it does seem that many adult comfort eaters learn this self-sabotaging pattern from the way they are fed as a child.

Researchers have found that emotional eating is:

*not genetic, but learned (from studies of identical twins)[3], and
*often learned in childhood.[4]

Not that it should be a massive shock, but it seems ’emotional feeding’ – giving your child ice cream when they fall over, packing them full of Cheerios when they didn’t get that party invite, or otherwise smothering their body with calories when they feel emotional emptiness – conditions the child to use food as an attempt at feeling better.

And this can persist into adulthood.

If we link comfort eating to unmet emotional needs, then we can see how cramming bad food in can seem like a way of filling a gap.

The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz was hollow. He needed to feel love again, and for that he needed real experiences that could actually fulfil him – not just fill him.

As a reminder, we all need:

*to give and receive attention
*to feel safe and secure
*to heed the mind–body connection
*to have a sense of purpose and meaning
*to feel a sense of connection to community and of making a difference
*to be stretched, to be creative, and to face manageable challenges
*to experience intimacy
*to feel a sense of control
*to feel a sense of status; to feel valued, appreciated, and respected.

We can see how any of our common human needs could become subverted in an attempt to meet them in ways that don’t really fulfil them, but just seem like some kind of solution.

When people eat though boredom, for example, they might really need to be giving and getting attention, or to pursue greater meaning in their life, or to be challenged creatively.

Of course, what can be learned can also be unlearned.

Some clients use food as an attempted solution to bad feelings so often that they have forgotten what real hunger, a real need to refuel, even feels like. And they may have also forgotten that there are authentic ways of meeting the needs they are grasping for.

Obviously, we can ask our clients to what extent they feel they comfort eat. And about their history of doing so.

But here are a few other ideas.

1. Forget dieting, forget ‘losing’ weight

A diet is like a valley on a hike. You pass through it, but you’re not going to live in it. And that’s the problem.

People see diets as temporary, hard, and full of deprivation.

Generally healthier habits as an ongoing way of living seem to be the way to go. By getting stronger and healthier, we gain our real shape. We don’t have to think about losing anything.

In my work with ‘weight loss’ clients in UPTV, I don’t talk the language of loss much to them. I talk of gaining slimness (or their ‘real shape’), of getting healthy or having the freedom to move the way they are meant to.

Excessive consumption of addictively palatable foods isn’t healthy for anyone, whatever their weight. Gaining independence from the tyranny of compulsion isn’t a diet, it’s part of the process of becoming more fully human.

So unless the client insists on referring to dieting or ‘losing weight’, we can focus with them on increased health, fitness, and control of their own mind and body.

But we need to get more specific.

2. Find the triggers to find the need

Much of life can be a desperate distraction.

We might fill our time with empty experiences in order to feel ‘full’. But unless these experiences genuinely meet our needs for connection to others, for a sense of greater meaning and purpose, for intimacy or challenge, or for feeling safe and secure, then we will be left feeling ‘hungry’.

Often, triggers for comfort eating arise when there is a lull in the distracting noise of the day. We are suddenly confronted with our emptiness. (Because we are not meeting our needs, not because life is essentially meaningless. Don’t worry, I’m not about to put on a turtleneck and a beret and recite bleak poetry.)

We may desperately try to fill this emptiness any way we can. And in our culture this is easily done through, well, any number of self-harming ways, but certainly through food.

“I feel empty in some way, so I will fill up in the easiest way!” would be fine if it actually worked. We could have filled up the hollow tin man with concrete. But it wouldn’t have been a very satisfying ending to the movie.

One man, Neil, whose therapy is soon to appear in UPTV, tells how he works all day with barely a moment for lunch. He takes work home with him and works weekends. But he describes a kind of emotional crisis. Late at night, when the not-so-merry-go-round finally halts, he gorges himself.

Neil wasn’t meeting his needs for fun or intimacy. Life was feeling like an endless, meaningless treadmill. And he was becoming obese.

His trigger was situational. These late evening times. Suddenly the day had ended and there he was, no distractions, only a sense of “I need something!”

Other people may find any difficult interaction, or sense of rejection, or feeling of being unfairly treated, may tip them into comfort eating.

We can find the pattern by finding the triggers. We can also explore some real solutions to our clients’ real needs.

3. Meet their real needs

As the great Persian poet Rumi said, “Fool’s gold exists because there is real gold.”

When we discover what tends to trigger emotional eating, be it fear, exhaustion, loneliness, feelings of rejection, anger, or anything else, then we can find the real need that isn’t being met.

Emotions are signals either that a need has been met (satisfaction, love, enjoyment) or that a need hasn’t been met (fear, anger, despair). Signals can get crossed of course, but emotions are still a good guide to what is lacking in a person’s life.

We can work hard to identify the missing need. We can also develop strategies to be clearer about what the client may really need and start to create the kind of life that genuinely meets those needs. In this way, the life blood of the filling-a-gap behaviour dries up and can begin to naturally be discarded.

But we may still have to deal with the ingrained habit.

4. Access and retrain the trigger feeling

In my UPTV session with Elaine, I ask her to access the steps of the comfort eating. I suggest she access the feeling of really wanting to go to the fridge and get the chocolate out. Because she has ‘practised’ this experience so often, it’s easy for her to access the trigger feeling.

We then rehearse going from the feeling of wanting the chocolate directly to the uncomfortable feeling afterwards of really wishing she hadn’t eaten it.

This isn’t a state of mind and body normally associated with the very first step. But I am, if you like, helping to bring the unpleasant bit right up to the front of the experience so she has a chance to feel the reality of where this path will go if she follows it.

This is an hypnotic technique called scrambling. We begin to scramble or disrupt the old pattern so that it no longer runs so easily if at all.

Most people when comfort eating, or engaging in any addictive focus, will have temporary amnesia of the reality of the feeling of having just gorged or gambled or drank too much. I want the reality to be really there from the very beginning.

We can also mentally rehearse, while the client is deeply relaxed, ‘forgetting’ to emotionally eat, and engaging in healthier behaviours. And by healthier, I mean more likely to meet real needs for the client.

Finally, throughout our work with comfort eating we can do something we also do with smokers or, in fact, anyone besieged by a compulsion or problematic emotional pattern.

5. Externalize and reframe

I’ve written about the dangers of building one’s identity around a problem state. If you believe you are the problem, then getting rid of the problem is akin to getting rid of you. No wonder some smokers look terrified when they realize they might have to stop.

Of course, it’s a cliché to talk in terms of “you are not the depression” or “you are not the anorexia” (although much of modern psychiatry seeks to do the opposite), but we can be much more subtle than that.

When we defamiliarize a pattern, it becomes easier to separate from it. We can defamiliarize it by describing it in metaphorical terms.

I teach practitioners to talk to smokers in parallel, so rather than talking about ‘smoking’ to a smoker (a familiar associative word), we can liken smoking to an abusive relationship. One they need to see for what it is and break free from. I talk about ‘becoming free’ and ‘escaping’, not ‘quitting’ or ‘stopping’.

Then we can continue to talk in this metaphorical way. There’s a UPTV video of me treating a 20-a-day smoker who had smoked for 30 years. I talk very little about ‘smoking’, but I am talking about smoking.

I talk about “it trying to con her back” and how she can “stand up to it” and how “its voice will sound weak and pathetic”. Notice how this externalizes the behaviour and reframes it. It’s very different from saying, “You may get withdrawal symptoms, which you can work to resist!” I make it outside of her so she can separate from it.

We can do this with comfort eating, too. When working with Jane (in UPTV) I talk to her about how ‘it’ (the unhealthy food) tries to kid her that she needs to have anything to do with it.

I describe it as ‘conning’ and ‘manipulative’, trying to take advantage of her when she feels stressed and vulnerable. Pretty soon she stands up to it and finds she can handle the stresses of life without being pushed around by the old unhealthy foods.

The more we can cast off what is not so good about ourselves, the freer we become.

And anything we are able to cast off isn’t central to who we really are anyway

Mark Tyrrell

Co-Founder
Uncommon Knowledge
Psychology trainers since 1995

 

Info to help your recovee’s with eating disorders

Taken from Mark Tyrell’s Therpay Skills email blasts; More details here

I attended the World Athletics Championships in London the other week. It was truly awesome. 70,000 people cheering, roaring sometimes, with raw emotion. The power of collective emotion seems almost a magical force. I swear there were points in which athletes were willed on, almost psychically, by the focused masses.

The power of feeling it seems can practically move mountains. So, what we attach our feelings to is vital to how we live. We eat to live, to fuel our bodies and to socialize too sometimes.

But for many eating is a way of trying to deal with strong feelings. So called “comfort eating” or, what psychologists like to call, “emotional eating.”

In this week’s piece I talk about how and why it happens and how we might stop our clients from being consumed by their feelings to the extent that they literally try to consume their feelings.

I hope you enjoy this piece,

Mark

How to Spot and Treat Emotional Eating
5 uncommon strategies to help your clients break the comfort eating pattern
“After the break-up I just hid under the duvet and ate ice cream!”

“After a bad day at work I hole up in front of the TV and eat pizza and French fries!”

“When I feel depressed I binge on chocolate!”

I have heard endless variations on the above over nearly 25 years of practice
Recently I had a question on our monthly Q&A: Could a client be overeating crisps as a way of feeling close to her father, who had committed suicide? The father also used to eat crisps in the evenings. (If you’re a member you can listen to the recording of this Q&A from 20th July 2017 here, once you log in to Uncommon U).

This set me thinking more generally about comfort eating, or what some psychologists call ’emotional eating’.

Why do we do it?

Whenever we eat when we’re not hungry, that is, when we don’t need to refuel, we do so for one or more of the following reasons:

*We eat for social reasons. It’s polite to eat. It’s expected that we eat.

*We eat habitually. We become conditioned to down chocolate or chips every time a certain TV show comes on, like a Pavlov’s dog automatically salivating to the sound of a bell. One pattern becomes intrinsically linked to another pattern.

*We eat unpalatable food try to deal with unpalatable emotions – otherwise known as comfort eating.

Comfort eating is not in the league of full-blown eating disorders such as bulimia. But for some, regular comfort eating can cause grievous health issues.

But first, let’s be clear: it’s not hard to eat food that will wreck us.

Addictively palatable food, deeply encoded desire

For comfort eating to exist, there needs to be plenty of addictively palatable resources available, which is why it tends to be a first-world affliction. It’s easy to overeat and snack on anti-nutritional ‘foods’, because these substances are designed to be addictively palatable.

In nature, we will always go for what gives us the most energy in the least time. When we hunted for our food (energetically, not in Tesco), there was no guarantee of when we’d next eat. Imagine this:

Your prehistoric buff body is becoming flat-out exhausted from hours of climbing and sometimes sprinting after uncooperative prey. You’ve got nothing. You’re burning energy fast, but you’ve nothing to refuel with. You’ve burnt most of what you last ate, maybe 24 hours ago. But then, something wonderful…

You discover a supply of honey! Don’t ask me how you extract it without getting stung, but you do. Maybe you’ve watched Bare Grills, or whatever his name is.

Anyway, you’ve hit the energy jackpot. All that energy in one hit! The sugar in that honey might just give you the energy to run down that deer so you can eat properly. That natural sugary snack, so high on the glycaemic index, has saved your life.

A nasty case of The Human Condition

So next time someone despondently cries, “I don’t know why I grab the ice cream/cookies/bread when I’m not hungry! What’s wrong with me!?”, you can tell them they have a nasty case of The Human Condition. We evolved to take on huge amounts of carbohydrate when we could get hold of it (which was hardly ever back then).

Yes, we’re hardwired to consume fast-energy-releasing foods. But this is not an excuse, because if we really listen to our instincts we will be able to discern our true requirements for food.

And of course, not having these honey traps (see what I did there?) around is a great idea. If it’s not in the house, it’s not in the mouth. If we let sugary foods be nearby, it’s not so much ‘weakness’ as it is simply being human that drives us to consume them.

Your survival instinct doesn’t care whether you look great on the beach. It will have you reaching for the fastest form of energy to get you sprinting after wildebeest (or, in modern life, settling back on the couch to enable all that insulin to store fat).

But palates and preferences can be retrained. One client filmed in Uncommon Practitioners TV over four sessions, describes how what used to seem alluring no longer does. She starts to see the old ‘comfort foods’ differently – and loses about 70 pounds in the process.

But comfort eating goes well beyond simply getting cheap, short bursts of energy.

Dealing with indigestible feelings

When we feel bad, we are driven to change our state. Alcohol and other drugs do this, but so do chocolate and other refined carbohydrate foods.

Many adults (and children) turn to comfort eating during times of stress or sadness as a way of trying to deal with the difficult feelings. Thirty-eight percent of American adults admit to turning to food when they feel stressed or sad.[1]

But the ‘solution’ is no solution, and in fact becomes a problem in its own right. Chronic comfort eating has consequences for health, fitness, looks and self-esteem.

We describe this behaviour as ‘comfort eating’, but does it actually work? Does eating bad food actually provide comfort for the upset eater?

A road to nowhere

We are, ahem, fed the message that food is a comforter as well as a fuel. And of course if we are hungry, really hungry, then refuelling is comforting, because it means more life! But that’s not the situation we’re talking about.

My client Elaine, also filmed in UPTV, began eating chocolate at night after a break-up with her boyfriend a year before. She describes feeling worse after comfort eating. And her case isn’t at all unusual.

Research carried out back in 2014 found that 81% of people believe comfort eating actually provides comfort by improving a low mood.[2] But researchers found that people’s mood improved just as fast when they ate neutral foods such as salad, or, in fact, no food at all.

So it seems comfort eating doesn’t improve mood or provide comfort, but I suspect it does provide a kind of numbness whilst the person is doing it. I suspect what comfort eating does produce for many is a kind of distracted trance state.

Hundreds of millions follow the siren call into a fat, unhealthy and (more) unhappy state, being led in a kind of mesmerized stupor.

So many clients describe a kind of trance state in which time seems to disappear and they, for a little while, feel switched off from their daily life. But once the eating episode is finished, often it’s as though they reawaken to the reality of what they’ve been doing and often feel worse than they did before.

So as it turns out, comfort eating isn’t much better at improving mood than it is at improving health, at least not beyond the first few initial mouthfuls.

Early (mis)Learning

I think some of the association between self-soothing and food is cultural, and commercials are a big part of that culture. But so are parents.

You might think parents already have quite enough reasons to feel guilty (for which some can turn to secret cream donut trysts), but it does seem that many adult comfort eaters learn this self-sabotaging pattern from the way they are fed as a child.

Researchers have found that emotional eating is:

*not genetic, but learned (from studies of identical twins)[3], and
*often learned in childhood.[4]

Not that it should be a massive shock, but it seems ’emotional feeding’ – giving your child ice cream when they fall over, packing them full of Cheerios when they didn’t get that party invite, or otherwise smothering their body with calories when they feel emotional emptiness – conditions the child to use food as an attempt at feeling better.

And this can persist into adulthood.

If we link comfort eating to unmet emotional needs, then we can see how cramming bad food in can seem like a way of filling a gap.

The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz was hollow. He needed to feel love again, and for that he needed real experiences that could actually fulfil him – not just fill him.

As a reminder, we all need:

*to give and receive attention
*to feel safe and secure
*to heed the mind–body connection
*to have a sense of purpose and meaning
*to feel a sense of connection to community and of making a difference
*to be stretched, to be creative, and to face manageable challenges
*to experience intimacy
*to feel a sense of control
*to feel a sense of status; to feel valued, appreciated, and respected.

We can see how any of our common human needs could become subverted in an attempt to meet them in ways that don’t really fulfil them, but just seem like some kind of solution.

When people eat though boredom, for example, they might really need to be giving and getting attention, or to pursue greater meaning in their life, or to be challenged creatively.

Of course, what can be learned can also be unlearned.

Some clients use food as an attempted solution to bad feelings so often that they have forgotten what real hunger, a real need to refuel, even feels like. And they may have also forgotten that there are authentic ways of meeting the needs they are grasping for.

Obviously, we can ask our clients to what extent they feel they comfort eat. And about their history of doing so.

But here are a few other ideas.

1. Forget dieting, forget ‘losing’ weight

A diet is like a valley on a hike. You pass through it, but you’re not going to live in it. And that’s the problem.

People see diets as temporary, hard, and full of deprivation.

Generally healthier habits as an ongoing way of living seem to be the way to go. By getting stronger and healthier, we gain our real shape. We don’t have to think about losing anything.

In my work with ‘weight loss’ clients in UPTV, I don’t talk the language of loss much to them. I talk of gaining slimness (or their ‘real shape’), of getting healthy or having the freedom to move the way they are meant to.

Excessive consumption of addictively palatable foods isn’t healthy for anyone, whatever their weight. Gaining independence from the tyranny of compulsion isn’t a diet, it’s part of the process of becoming more fully human.

So unless the client insists on referring to dieting or ‘losing weight’, we can focus with them on increased health, fitness, and control of their own mind and body.

But we need to get more specific.

2. Find the triggers to find the need

Much of life can be a desperate distraction.

We might fill our time with empty experiences in order to feel ‘full’. But unless these experiences genuinely meet our needs for connection to others, for a sense of greater meaning and purpose, for intimacy or challenge, or for feeling safe and secure, then we will be left feeling ‘hungry’.

Often, triggers for comfort eating arise when there is a lull in the distracting noise of the day. We are suddenly confronted with our emptiness. (Because we are not meeting our needs, not because life is essentially meaningless. Don’t worry, I’m not about to put on a turtleneck and a beret and recite bleak poetry.)

We may desperately try to fill this emptiness any way we can. And in our culture this is easily done through, well, any number of self-harming ways, but certainly through food.

“I feel empty in some way, so I will fill up in the easiest way!” would be fine if it actually worked. We could have filled up the hollow tin man with concrete. But it wouldn’t have been a very satisfying ending to the movie.

One man, Neil, whose therapy is soon to appear in UPTV, tells how he works all day with barely a moment for lunch. He takes work home with him and works weekends. But he describes a kind of emotional crisis. Late at night, when the not-so-merry-go-round finally halts, he gorges himself.

Neil wasn’t meeting his needs for fun or intimacy. Life was feeling like an endless, meaningless treadmill. And he was becoming obese.

His trigger was situational. These late evening times. Suddenly the day had ended and there he was, no distractions, only a sense of “I need something!”

Other people may find any difficult interaction, or sense of rejection, or feeling of being unfairly treated, may tip them into comfort eating.

We can find the pattern by finding the triggers. We can also explore some real solutions to our clients’ real needs.

3. Meet their real needs

As the great Persian poet Rumi said, “Fool’s gold exists because there is real gold.”

When we discover what tends to trigger emotional eating, be it fear, exhaustion, loneliness, feelings of rejection, anger, or anything else, then we can find the real need that isn’t being met.

Emotions are signals either that a need has been met (satisfaction, love, enjoyment) or that a need hasn’t been met (fear, anger, despair). Signals can get crossed of course, but emotions are still a good guide to what is lacking in a person’s life.

We can work hard to identify the missing need. We can also develop strategies to be clearer about what the client may really need and start to create the kind of life that genuinely meets those needs. In this way, the life blood of the filling-a-gap behaviour dries up and can begin to naturally be discarded.

But we may still have to deal with the ingrained habit.

4. Access and retrain the trigger feeling

In my UPTV session with Elaine, I ask her to access the steps of the comfort eating. I suggest she access the feeling of really wanting to go to the fridge and get the chocolate out. Because she has ‘practised’ this experience so often, it’s easy for her to access the trigger feeling.

We then rehearse going from the feeling of wanting the chocolate directly to the uncomfortable feeling afterwards of really wishing she hadn’t eaten it.

This isn’t a state of mind and body normally associated with the very first step. But I am, if you like, helping to bring the unpleasant bit right up to the front of the experience so she has a chance to feel the reality of where this path will go if she follows it.

This is an hypnotic technique called scrambling. We begin to scramble or disrupt the old pattern so that it no longer runs so easily if at all.

Most people when comfort eating, or engaging in any addictive focus, will have temporary amnesia of the reality of the feeling of having just gorged or gambled or drank too much. I want the reality to be really there from the very beginning.

We can also mentally rehearse, while the client is deeply relaxed, ‘forgetting’ to emotionally eat, and engaging in healthier behaviours. And by healthier, I mean more likely to meet real needs for the client.

Finally, throughout our work with comfort eating we can do something we also do with smokers or, in fact, anyone besieged by a compulsion or problematic emotional pattern.

5. Externalize and reframe

I’ve written about the dangers of building one’s identity around a problem state. If you believe you are the problem, then getting rid of the problem is akin to getting rid of you. No wonder some smokers look terrified when they realize they might have to stop.

Of course, it’s a cliché to talk in terms of “you are not the depression” or “you are not the anorexia” (although much of modern psychiatry seeks to do the opposite), but we can be much more subtle than that.

When we defamiliarize a pattern, it becomes easier to separate from it. We can defamiliarize it by describing it in metaphorical terms.

I teach practitioners to talk to smokers in parallel, so rather than talking about ‘smoking’ to a smoker (a familiar associative word), we can liken smoking to an abusive relationship. One they need to see for what it is and break free from. I talk about ‘becoming free’ and ‘escaping’, not ‘quitting’ or ‘stopping’.

Then we can continue to talk in this metaphorical way. There’s a UPTV video of me treating a 20-a-day smoker who had smoked for 30 years. I talk very little about ‘smoking’, but I am talking about smoking.

I talk about “it trying to con her back” and how she can “stand up to it” and how “its voice will sound weak and pathetic”. Notice how this externalizes the behaviour and reframes it. It’s very different from saying, “You may get withdrawal symptoms, which you can work to resist!” I make it outside of her so she can separate from it.

We can do this with comfort eating, too. When working with Jane (in UPTV) I talk to her about how ‘it’ (the unhealthy food) tries to kid her that she needs to have anything to do with it.

I describe it as ‘conning’ and ‘manipulative’, trying to take advantage of her when she feels stressed and vulnerable. Pretty soon she stands up to it and finds she can handle the stresses of life without being pushed around by the old unhealthy foods.

The more we can cast off what is not so good about ourselves, the freer we become.

And anything we are able to cast off isn’t central to who we really are anyway.

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