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Archive for September, 2008

Alcohol and Drugs as Coping Strategies

Alcohol and drugs as coping strategies are right up there together with Eating Disorders as among the most life-threatening, harmful ways to deal with life. The definition of a coping strategy is: Any thought, feeling or behaviour that allows us to remain in an uncomfortable situation without being aware of how uncomfortable we are.

It’s clear, from that definition, that food, alcohol and drugs can fit the bill.

Now to be fair, food, alcohol and some drugs also have their place in a healthy, balanced life.  Obviously we need to eat to live – and, while they’re fine in moderation, we don’t need doughnuts and certainly not 12 of them at once. Likewise, not permitting our body to have the nutrients it requires to keep us in optimum health isn’t serving us either.

A drink every now and then at a special function or social gathering is no big deal, even if we’re doing it to loosen up a little.Needing to drink in order to go to a function, or drinking on a daily basis, or drinking to get drunk is definitely a sign of coping rather than balance.

And sometimes we do need prescription drugs to deal with chemical imbalances or other concerns.  The body is a complex organism and sometimes certain things don’t work the way they should. I encourage you to release any shame or judgement you may be carrying toward yourself for needing any sort of medication to deal with something that our body needs help to do naturally. Where drugs become a problem is when:

  1. There is a natural remedy or solution that will resolve the problem entirely but we choose drugs and thus have a bandaid solution rather than a true healing. Often but certainly not always (see above) Anti-depressants and Anti-anxiety medications fit this category: In these cases there is a valid reason for you to feel anxious and depressed and until that underlying reason is resolved the depression and anxiety won’t go away, it will only be masked by the medication. In these cases it is imperative that you identify and resolve the underlying trigger so that you are then free to choose when and if to come off your medication and to see that you can now handle stress without becoming anxious or depressed.
  2. We use them to numb out to stressful life events (whether in the past, the present or anticipated future stresses).

Certain kinds of drugs make us want to eat when we’re not hungry.  Others make us forget that we even have a body and send us into orbit where, for days, we can completely tune out to any signals of hunger we may be receiving. Others still, make us feel so queasy or unsettled in the various stages of getting high and coming down that we don’t want to eat because we don’t trust we could keep it down. Or we feel drawn to eat foods that are high in sugar and fat content but low in any nutrient value just to shut our body up so that we can keep on drinking, toking, snorting or shooting.

Either way, we’re certainly not honoring ourselves or our body when we ignore its natural signals of hunger, fullness, fatigue and pain in favor of completely numbing out to the world as we experience it. (Here, I’m inviting you to consider the possibility that the way you perceive the world may not be entirely accurate and may actually be harming you.)

But, if we come back to our definition of a coping strategy we see that as mechanisms to help us not be aware of the underlying disease and discomfort in our lives, alcohol and drugs work like a hot damn. The only problem is they don’t resolve anything and they create problems of their own – just like the use of food to cope: It doesn’t make the original problem better and it creates its own overwhelming stress and depression which leads us to need to numb out even more.

If you know that you are drinking or using some form of drug, whether prescription or street, to keep you detached from your life then on some level you’ve bought in to some “Learned Helplessness.”

Learned Helplessness is a way of perceiving the world that underlies everything you do, say, think and feel. There are variations on the theme but over all it sounds something like this:

“I can’t do anything to change X.”

“I am powerless to do anything about X”

“There is nothing I can do about X so I just have to find a way to be okay with it.”

This learned helplessness story is at the root of our use of harmful coping strategies. Remember, a coping strategy is anything that allows us to remain in a harmful situation without being aware of how harmful it is.  So, if you are telling yourself that there is something that is bothering you in some way but that you are powerless to do anything about it, what are your options?

  1. Be aware of your discomfort eternally and of your powerlessness and feel increasingly anxious and overwhelmed as a result.
  2. or Numb out! And Pretend it isn’t happening/didn’t happen or that it doesn’t/didn’t really bother you.

Neither is a really exciting option.  Neither option is going to make us feel better in any meaningful, lasting way. But, if those are the only options we believe we have we’ll take #2 any day any time – we all would.

If you’ve chosen option # 2 there is nothing wrong with you. You are doing your best to cope with a situation that you’ve told yourself you have no power over. You simply haven’t yet come across option # 3. But you’re about to!

Option #3:

  • Be open to the possibility that you’ve told yourself that “X” didn’t bother you and that there’s nothing you can do about it anyway.
  • See how it really did hurt you and that you have a good reason to feel anxious because that happened and because you’re telling yourself it’s beyond your power to change it or stop it.
  • See how your anxiety from that Learned Helplessness story leads you to need food and body image focus, drugs and/or alcohol just to keep yourself from going off the deep end.
  • Trust that someone can teach you how to deal with “X” in such a way that you actually can do something about it; you actually do have power over whether it happens and how you respond to yourself and others when it does.
  • Allow yourself to begin to receive support to let go of your Learned Helplessness story and to learn how to create the most peaceful and passionate life possible and to deal with life’s natural stresses in a way that enhances your self-esteem and reinforces your belief that the world is a safe place for you to bring all of yourself and to be the very very best you can be at all times!

If Option #3 sounds like something you’d like to experience in your life, even if you doubt your ability to have a life like the one I’ve described, let us gently guide you from where you are now to where you truly deserve to be.  And know that if any part of you is doubting your ability to have a peaceful and passionate life that is free from food and body image stress or alcohol or drugs, that’s only the learned helplessness kicking in and it’s going to kick in until you prove to yourself that it’s wrong and you are capable.

Don’t let the old nasty learned helplessness mindset prevent you from reaching out and moving forward with your life. Remember we’ve been there. We know firsthand that all of these harmful coping strategies can be overcome and left behind once and for all.

Let us show you how.

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Alone. Isolated. Frustrated…

Alone Confused and Frustrated

Those are just some of the feelings that described my mental and physical state for so many years. I lived in that state for so long that I figured “Well, even though I am not happy, I don’t know what else to do. Losing weight is all that matters to me, and I don’t care what I have to do to achieve it” It started with a combination of many events in my life that lead me to this point. I was bullied, I was insecure, I was bigger than my other friends for most of my life, I felt bigger than anyone in the world.

I tried my first diet pill when I was 13, I went on my first diet at 14. At first it worked but soon my motivation diminished and I just went back to me old ways; sugary drinks, chips and all sorts of deep fried fast-food.

After years of feeling fat but not doing much about it, I went on a diet and ended up loosing 20lbs. That wasn’t enough, though; I was still “fat” and felt horrible. I continued to use diet pills for years, worked out and slowly weaned almost everything out of my diet. I kept losing weight over the next few years but it never made me happy inside as I had promised myself it would.

 

I developed this all-or-nothing thinking and decided that I needed to be strict with myself in order to get results. My strict habits turned obsessive really quickly, I figured I had to stay on top of myself or else I’d slip and gain a million pounds. It was deadly, I would go online and seek “support” when really, I was developing an even deeper eating disorder.

Soon, nothing was enough. I fasted, I cleansed, I did extreme “all vegetable” diets and worked out very, very intensely for hours at a time, budgeting myself to a few hundred calories a day and while I lost a little bit of weight, my mental state was lost faster than the weight. I would secretly cry alone in my closet, because I was so empty inside. My boyfriend was very concerned, but I had put up such a huge wall around me, no one was allowed into that area of my life. I had drawers filled with information on anorexia, pictures, and poems, anything that fed my habit. I had numerous books and logs to track every morsel of food that went into my mouth and every minute of exercise. No one knew. I hid everything. People would congratulate me on my weight-loss, as much as you’d think it felt good – it only fed my eating disorder.

 

I got to a point when my boyfriend turned into my fiancé, I realized I was getting older, wanted to have kids  and basically said to myself “This is NOT working. I don’t feel good, everyone is worried about me and I feel so lost inside” One huge motivator was I did not want to pass on an ounce of this to my children, when I have them.

 

On a bit of a whim, I called up the Cedric Center and spoke with Michelle, who sounded so kind and understanding right off the bat. Through our sessions, she not only made me see certain events in my life that may have a part in why I am the way I am, but also gave me tools to use in times when I felt that lost, frustrated, alone and felt like regressing into past behaviors. Those tools are so valuable.

 

During my first few sessions I thought everything she was saying made perfect sense, it was logical, practical and eye opening. It wasn’t until I implemented those tools she taught me into my everyday life that I really started seeing (and feeling!) the results, for me it only took a few sessions to notice a huge change. My drill sergeant in my head has taken quite a vacation. I am now able to go out for dinner (which was NOT a pretty scene previously), cook healthy meals anxiety-free, eat lunch during the day and most importantly I am learning to do everything in moderation – exercise, natural eating, listening to my body, and also being able to have a cookie or a dessert if I’m so inclined. Before Michelle, NONE of that stuff would be able to happen. I was a ball of anxiety, always calculating calories, crunching numbers of how much I ate versus how much I had worked out. Nothing was healthy enough for me.

 

That is now my past. I love saying that! I look forward to a bright, happy and balanced future. I am feeling excited an optimistic. I seriously can say I would not be here, like this, today if I did not call Michelle. She is so educated, experienced and in tune, she helped me realize that I am not alone, she understands this journey.

Thanks so much T. for this wonderful feedback. If any of you readers can relate and would like some support to let go of your food and body image stress, contact The CEDRIC Centre and begin your healing today. 

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Emotional Stress

Emotional Stress is directly related to our use of food to cope. In fact, our level of emotional stress is an indicator of how much we will feel the need to restrict, binge or purge on any given day. Therefore, understanding the triggers of your emotional stress and what to do to decrease your overall emotional stress are two fundamentally important pieces in the process of recovery from any form of eating disorder.

Emotional stress occurs when we are in a situation that makes us feel unsafe in some way.  Emotional stress will likely manifest in one of the following ways:

1.      Anxiety (fear, resistance, desire to flee or avoid a person or situation).

2.      Anger (irritation, annoyance, frustration, judgement, blame).

3.      Sadness (feel teary and down, pain or heaviness in chest).

4.      Depression (disinterest, fatigue, isolation, hopelessness).

The sense of a lack of safety that triggers emotional stress arises from a real or perceived threat to our physical, psychological, emotional and/or spiritual well-being. In other words, as long as we lack trust in our ability to keep ourselves safe with any one or in any particular situation we will experience emotional stress, which then, if unchecked, can trigger the use of food to cope.

The following are some examples of situations where we undermine our sense of safety and trust in our ability to keep ourselves safe:

·        We have a relative who frequently makes comments about our weight but we don’t say anything because we don’t want to “make a scene” or hurt their feelings.

·        We’re in a meeting at work and a colleague has just said something that we believe is untrue but we don’t call them on it because we don’t want them to be angry with us.

·        We know we aren’t that interested in dating a certain someone but we agree to go out with them because we don’t want to hurt their feelings.

Notice the theme? It’s all about what others are going to think and feel. We’re so very concerned with what others think of us and feel about us that we’ll compromise ourselves time and time again just to avoid any possibility of judgement or rejection.  We can’t possibly begin to feel safe in the world and to feel the sense of peace and happiness and trust in ourselves that we need in order to cease using food to cope if we’re going to keep putting what others think of us ahead of how we feel and what we need.

Where does that seemingly insatiable need for external approval come from?

It comes from the belief that we are not good enough as we are. Thus we desperately need everyone’s constant approval, regardless of what we have to do to get it, or we will feel the painful sting of the “not good enough” story.

One of the primary experiences in childhood/young adulthood that sets us up to believe that we are not good enough is Emotional Abuse.  You’ve probably heard the term but you may not truly understand what it is and how it impacts you – specifically how it is the most significant contributor to your lack of trust and safety in yourself and in the world around you. 

Emotional Abuse occurs when someone manipulates our feelings intentionally. As adults, we are ultimately responsible for what we choose to respond to and for how we choose to respond. As children, we look to the adults around us to model healthy and appropriate behaviour. We look to those same adults to demonstrate, through their caring and treatment of us, our worth or value in the world. If our role models were unable to ask directly for what they needed while respecting our boundaries, should we say no to their request, it follows that we would mature into adults who feel unable to ask for our needs to be met. Given this scenario, we would naturally have a limited concept of what boundaries are and why they are necessary for healthy and respectful interpersonal relationships.The use of guilt, manipulation, threats and the withdrawal of love and affection are all examples of emotional abuse.

 

Emotional Neglect occurs when our most basic need for love and acceptance isn’t met. As children we all have a need for love and acceptance. It is natural, and it is our right as human beings to have that need met effectively, and consistently. When we do not receive consistent love and acceptance, we tend, as children, to try to make sense out of the pain and suffering we feel by imagining that we are somehow to blame. Somehow, we are not good enough, not loveable enough, and so we don’t deserve love and affection. That is what we tell ourselves to make sense of the lack of healthy emotional connection in our lives. This is a common circumstance and it is a very harmful one. It sets the stage for the internalization of many critical messages that continue to play in our heads long after we have left our family of origin.    The Impact

A study in the Journal of Counselling Psychology, 2002, identified emotional abuse and / or emotional neglect as the experience in childhood most likely to lead to an eating disorder or sub-clinical disordered eating. The experience of emotional abuse or neglect forces us to find ways to cope with the pain of our unmet need for love and belongingness. It is just too painful for us to be conscious of our need for love and not have any effective way of getting that need met. As children or young adults, the best coping strategy that we can think of is to distance ourselves from our feelings and from any awareness that we have emotional needs at all. This is a state of being called “Alexithymia”. It means a lack of connection to and awareness of our feelings and it is the mediating factor between childhood emotional abuse or neglect and the onset of disordered eating. 

 

The Solution

 

The answer to overcoming the use of food to cope or other substance abuse concerns is not to ignore your feelings. The answer is not found in berating yourself for having feelings or for not being stronger and more able to cope with the traumatic events of your life. That approach only serves to continue the abuse and neglect from within. It perpetuates the harm that was done to you when you are now an adult and able to have a life that is free from abuse and safe from harm.The answer is found in taking the time to build trust in yourself, and in others, so that you can create the space for the compassion and love that you never had. It is possible and so very rewarding for you to meet your own need for love and compassion. Doing so does not mean that you won’t get that need met outside of yourself – in fact it truly creates a far greater likelihood of getting the need for love and acceptance met in all areas of your life.
Imagine what that would feel like! To truly trust yourself to respect your feelings and needs in any situation with anyone creates such peace and joy within and such loving respectful relationships with others that the use of food to cope just falls away.  It becomes incongruent with who you really are and you just let it go. No fear, no pressure, no pain, just freedom.

If you think that emotional stress may be triggering you to use food to cope let us support you to heal this piece of your life. You deserve to have a life that is free from harm. 
Send us an email and let us know how we can be there for you.

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