Categories
Eating Disorders Mental Health Recovery

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Insight From Michelle Gross, MA, LMFT

Continuing our week of honoring Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I spoke to Visions’ Michelle Gross, MA, LMFT who has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders for over 18 years. Her passion is in treating the eating disorder community both individuals, and their families. Eating Disorder Awareness is something we encourage and support via groups, individualized therapy, and nutritional support. I asked Michelle for some insight into what she tells families with a loved one who is suffering from an eating disorder or disordered eating behaviors. She says,

 

“When assisting a family who have just learned that their loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, I want them to know that eating disorders are a coping mechanism that tend to occur in individuals who suffer from anxiety and/or depression. Eating disorders numb pain (overeating), release feelings (purging), and create a feeling of control (counting calories). Eating disorders, although not always identical in form, tend to run in families. Family members need to know that the way in which they respond to their loved one is critical to the recovery process; however, they are not responsible for the development of the eating disorder itself. Eating disorders are an illness. Eating disorders are not about weight.”

 

Families who are confronted with this issue have to re-learn how to communicate with each other in a non-triggering way. I recently had to have a discussion with someone about their perpetual food talk and how triggering it was. Every meal was punctuated with negative commentary about weight gain, etc. So, eating with this person was becoming treacherous. Michelle Gross has wonderful insight and suggestions for situations just like this:

 

“It is important for family and friends to know how to be supportive. Unfortunately, the best of intentions to assist the eating disordered individual tend to backfire. Telling an anorexic that recently gained weight: ‘You look so much healthier,’ is easily misconstrued as being told one is ‘fat.’  Attempts to make sure an anorexic eats or a bulimic does not purge, create feelings of powerlessness that intensify the desire to feel in control by minimizing calories or purging.  Innocently mentioning one’s own need to lose weight or recently enjoying a vigorous workout, leave the eating disordered individual feeling inadequate and more dissatisfied with herself.  Loved one’s need to learn the ‘language’ spoken by the eating disordered individuals. Eating disorders are competitive.”

 

And what about triggers? Remember, what triggers one person may not trigger another, but some things are similar across the board. Michelle provides some salient advice here. If we begin to understand the psychological mechanisms of the eating disorder, our awareness and ability to support someone who is suffering increases. By opening our eyes, we can be supportive without judging the individual.

 

Michelle tells us that, “Family and friends also need to learn what triggers or intensifies eating disordered thoughts and behaviors.  Shopping for clothes, going to restaurants, exercising to reduce stress, can all intensify the eating disorder.  Eating disorders are reactive. The more one learns how their loved one’s eating triggers them, the more helpful one can be.”

 

Recovery is a family process, and that includes recovery from substance abuse, mental illness, eating disorders, or processing disorders. Treatment must include all facets of the family system. Learning how to do this is a process and a practice; and as Michelle illustrates, it is not one-sided affair:

 

“It is extremely valuable for family members to be part of the treatment.  Family sessions in addition to the individual therapy offers all members the opportunity to learn how to be supportive, to share concerns in a controlled environment, and gives the eating disordered individual an opportunity to express their feelings in an appropriate way vs. through the eating disordered behaviors.”

 

We need to unite as a recovery community, championing Eating Disorder Awareness Week and encouraging others to do the same. We can facilitate supportive environments and spaces for healing so those suffering from an eating disorder can begin to recover and find freedom from the devastating anguish caused by their eating disorders.

Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Events Mental Health Recovery Teen Activism

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Visions’ Stefanie Boone, MS, RD Shares Insight

It’s National Eating Disorder Association‘s Eating Disorder Awareness Week

often referred to as EDAW. I asked Stefanie Boone, MS, RD, to provide some insights and tips on what an eating disorder is, what is is not, and ways in which you can be supportive. This year’s EDAW theme is “I had no idea.” We are grateful to have Stefanie as part of the Visions family:

When I see parents, friends, or significant others trying to support their loved one with an eating disorder, my heart goes out to them. Besides feeling guilty (is this my fault?), worried (will he or she be OK?), and overwhelmed, they are often at loss around how to be helpful. Friends, family, and community need education around the following concepts:

–       That an eating disorder is really a symptom of deeper underlying issues;

–       That their loved one cannot just simply stop the behavior;

–       Certain things you may think would be supportive can actually make things worse;

–       That their own talk and behavior around food, diet, and being dissatisfied with their own bodies have and will continue to affect  their children or loved one;

–       That the sports team their child is a part of may actually be feeding into their ED.

My top five tips for those who want to be supportive are:

1. If you are trying to get your loved one to seek help, take a loving and non-judgmental stance with your loved one. An eating disorder is a mental illness, and requires professional help. Express your concern from a loving place.  Share how the ED is impacting you and your family.

2. If you are supporting an adult (spouse, parent, adult child) – do not be the food police. This is usually not helpful. With children and teens parents may need to be more involved – your child’s treatment team will guide you.

3. Be a positive role model – even if you do have your own opinions about food and even if you think you are “fat”, you need to stop sharing these thoughts and comments with your loved one.
And NEVER comment on how your loved looks – this is a very sensitive area and often a completely innocent comment such as “you look great” can be twisted into “is she saying I look fat?”

4. If your child is on a team sport, contact the coach – get more information as to what he/she is advising your children around food and exercise. Your child will most likely need to discontinue this sport at least temporarily while in recovery.

5. If you are a teen and have a friend you are worried about, talk to an adult about it immediately– teacher, school counselor, parents. I know this may be hard, but you may be saving your friend’s life.

 

Eating Disorder Awareness Week begins TODAY: 2/23-3/1. Please share your experience, strength and hope this week, using the hashtag #EDAW14. You never know who you’re helping or who might “hear” you for the first time.

Links to Check out:

How much DO you know? Take the NEDA QUIZ.

Proud2BMe Teen activist guide

Download NEDA’s Key Messages HERE and let others know why you’re participating.

 

Categories
Addiction Adolescence Alumni Guest Posts Bipolar Disorder Mental Health Recovery

Alumni Voices: “I’m 17, Bipolar and In Recovery”

I’m pleased to share a guest post from one of our Alumni, bravely sharing about her experience as a bipolar teen in recovery. She is not only inspiring and courageous, her post is a testament to the clarity and hope willingness and recovery brings.

 

“I’m 17, Bipolar and in Recovery”

How old are you when you are in the 5th grade? Ten, maybe 11 years old? I was probably closer to 11 given that I was held back in preschool. Now, who exactly gets held back in preschool? I didn’t really pay it any mind when I was in preschool, yet I still struggle with the shame of having repeated a grade so early on in my education. I remember feeling extremely uncomfortable in the 3rd grade for having to be pulled out of class to learn to read in a private room with Mrs. A, the learning specialist teacher. Learning to read had come so easily to my older sister, C; it was not the same case for me.

So back to my original question: I was 11, and I had already been diagnosed with ADHD. By the time I was in the 8th grade, I was prescribed 100 mg of Adderall per day. Well, it turns out that I did have a mild case of ADHD, yet it also turns out that ADHD is commonly misdiagnosed and mistaken for bipolar Disorder. No one found out that I had a mood disorder until I came to Visions.

 

It is not uncommon for a person who is bipolar to not want to take their medication. The first time I went through Visions treatment I was diagnosed as having mood instability and not full-blown bipolar Disorder. This mood disorder accounts for a lot of the feelings I was having before and even after I came through Visions. Before I reached the point of needing inpatient care for the first time, which far preceded the time in which it took for me to ask for it, I had experienced quite a bit of depression. I have also dealt with my fair share of manic episodes.

 

For someone with a mood instability disorder, drugs of any kind will make for a much more painful and deep depression, a much more insane manic high, and will far from help the situation. This is not to say that abusing any kind of drugs or medication, illicit or otherwise, will help anyone. Yet, when your brain chemistry is already messed up and you continue to pile any kind of chemically enhanced drugs on top of that, it makes for a manic-depressive individual.

 

It is not uncommon for a person who is bipolar to not want to take their medication. The first time I left treatment, I wasn’t taking my medication as prescribed. I missed many days in a row, I took it at different times throughout the day, and I even flushed a whole handful of my pills down the toilet. This definitely didn’t help my condition. The combination of illicit drug use, consistently missing my meds, and a variety of other unpleasant behaviors can only lead to a few options. Those of us in recovery know what those options are.

 

Given that I had already been locked up in a psych ward at the age of 14, had not yet been to Juvi, and was still breathing, the last option would be recovery.

 

I haven’t discussed my recovery much because it is not only something I deal with on a daily basis, but it is also something that I am quite insecure about. As I have already shared, I have been through Visions Adolescent Treatment twice. I once had almost a year and a half of sobriety. I had gotten sober at 15, yet I prided myself on the time I had sober, and not the work I was doing. How could I? I wasn’t actually working a program.

 

I had struggled with the idea of sobriety the moment I found out what the other residents were using in my inpatient program. I had only been smoking weed, while the other residents were in treatment for much harder drugs. I knew that I deserved to be there; my story was pretty intense, yet I still felt insecure about my drug use.

 

That statement alone is what reminds me on a daily basis that I need to be sober. Only an addict-alcoholic would feel the need to go further and to use harder. I guess that wasn’t enough for me, because after about a year and four months of sobriety, I relapsed. This time, it did not take long for me to realize how utterly unmanageable my life was.

 

I did not need to prove to anyone else that it was a good idea for me to be sober, especially not my mother. That’s another good point: Only someone who is extremely sick and in their illness would put someone they love in that much pain. I guess I still had to prove it to myself.

 

Today, when I have a moment where I think of using, I think of my family. I say to myself, “Even if I’m not an addict, I couldn’t put them through what I used to.” I believe that the “issues” I deal with are not only related to one another, but they are also a gift: Not only is my recovery a gift, but I see my bipolar disorder as a gift as well. I feel lucky to have the ability to feel things as intensely as I do. I hope that this will be that last time I am getting sober. I will take one day at a time in keeping it that way.

 

Categories
Adolescence Mental Health Parenting Recovery

Accepting Your LGBT Teen

Identifying as an LGBT teen

for the first time is a courageous, albeit scary leap toward self-acceptance. Often times, one embarks on this leap with great trepidation, avoiding conflict with aversive family and friends while creating a whirlwind of conflict within. In cases where there is little to no familial support, this process can really be challenging. We have hosted several LGBT youth in our programs and we offer them a wide variety of support while also encouraging them to be unabashedly who they are.

 

I asked Joseph Rogers, one of our teachers and the Education Coordinator at our Day School, to identify some ways to support LGBT teens in their recovery. Joseph says,

“I think one of the most important aspects of recovery for an LGBT teen is the availability of LGBT meetings. Additionally, it is important for LGBT youth to develop a mentor relationship with someone who has dealt with the challenges of growing up as an LGBT youth in American society. LGBT youth, like all young people who get sober, need to see that there is a life beyond drugs and alcohol; that there is a life to be had and a life to be built.”

 

Some other challenges LGBT youth often face is familial discord and deep resistance to a sexual identity different from the family’s perspective on societal norms.  Often times, families are more concerned about what others thing rather than focusing on what their teen needs. When I asked Garth LeMaster, MA, LMFT, and therapist at our Outpatient Program about what parents can do in order to support their teen, he said,

“The most important thing for a parent to do is get support for any feelings that may arise.  The kid may be dealing with enough regarding their feelings, so parents must provide a safe place for them to land.  If they do not, they make like infinitely more difficult for the kid and can seriously damage the relationship.”

 

A component of our treatment programs are our family support groups and we offer them to parents throughout their teen’s treatment. These groups are a terrific resource for parents to use and lean into. They can provide the group support necessary to help parents unravel the tangle of emotional difficulties they may be experiencing. It’s also beneficial for parents who are having difficulty accepting their LGBT teen to have individual therapy, which facilitate a deeper unraveling and investigation of the root causes of resistance.

 

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) shared incredible statistics about the connection between familial support and the betterment of behavioral health. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) announced their new resource “A Practioner’s Resource Guide:  Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children,” which can be downloaded for free. The statistics show LGBT teens with low or no family support, who experience rejection instead of acceptance were:

  • 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide
  • 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression
  • 3.4 times more likely to use illicit drugs; and
  • 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sex—

Compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Family acceptance helps:

  • Protect against depression, suicidal behavior and substance abuse;
  • Promote self-esteem, social support, and overall health.

 

LGBT teens faced with this inner conflict can often feel like outcasts, castigated for not being like “everyone else,” and challenged to conform. If we as a community can provide support for your LGBT teen, we can help normalize the transition from feeling apart from to feeling a part of a community.

 

Creating a safe, supportive space for a teen coming to grips with their sexual identity is a necessary component in allowing them to land on both feet in their recovery and in their process of self-acceptance. Showing our kids that they are loved and cared for, regardless of who they are, is an invaluable gift we can give our kids.

Categories
Communication Holidays

Valentine’s Day: Love and Kindness For All

Valentine’s day:

It’s the day to celebrate love and joy, and connectedness, not just a partnership with another human being.

Anthropomorphic Valentine, circa 1950–1960 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Maybe you’re single, or you just broke up with someone, or heck, you’ve been together with your Valentine for several months or years: can you honor your heart? Can you be of service to those around you, calling everyone your Valentine? Today, in Huffington Post’s “Good News” section I came across this post about students leaving random love notes around for people to find. I was inspired by their kindness and ability to care for others. It is a wonderful way to be of service and it got me thinking about all of the things we can do for each other, like:

  • Pay for the person’s lunch behind you in line.
  • Leave a kind note for a friend.
  • Pick a flower and hand it to the first person you see–just for the heck of it.
  • Compliment someone without expecting something in return.
  • Cook a meal for someone.
  • Write a card for no reason.

 

These are just a few ideas, with the through line being kindness, which means, “The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to express friendliness, generosity, and to be considerate. And perhaps it will inspire you to carry those actions throughout the rest of the year.  Here’s an inspiring quote from Mr. Rogers, a man whose kindness was a visceral part of who he was:

“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”

 

Oh and one more thing, as if Mr. Rogers wasn’t already inspiring. Check out this video of a 29-year-old woman who was born deaf but hears sound for the first time after receiving cochlear implants. Grab a tissue; Her joyful, awe-filled reaction is remarkable!! Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

 

 

 

Categories
Addiction Parenting Prescription Drugs Prevention

Prescription Drugs: The New Gateway Drugs

Prescription drugs are one of the easiest drugs to obtain.

Ritalin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Often times, it’s as simple as going into the medicine cabinet at home, at a neighbor’s house, a friend’s house or a family member’s home. This ease of accessibility coupled with the curiosity and natural rebelliousness of teenagers is a recipe for experimentation, sneakiness, and even mimicry of parental actions.

 

Some kids start using prescription drugs because they are trying to inappropriately cope with their stress or anxiety; some use it to try to get an “in” with a certain crowd. There are those, too, who have been prescribed a medication for one thing, notice a “benefit” for something else (like more focus on a test), and begin misusing it or sharing it with their friends.

 

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, more than 71, 000 children ages 18 and under are seen in the ER for unintentional overdoses of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

  • Two-thirds (66%) of teens who report abuse of prescription medications get them from friends, family, and acquaintances.
  • Among young people ages 12-17, prescription drugs are the second most abused drug (behind marijuana)
  • Teens ages 12-17 have the second-highest annual rates of prescription drug abuse; young adults 18-25 have the highest rate.
  • Every day, 2700 teens try prescription drugs for the first time with the intent of getting high.
  • Nearly one in four teens have taken a prescription medication that was not prescribed to them.
  • One in three teens report being offered a prescription drug or OTC medication for the purpose of getting high.
  • One in three teens report having a close friend who abuses prescription pain medications.
  • One in four teens report having a close friend who abuses cough medicine to get high.
  • One in 10 teens report abusing cough medicine to get high.

Parents need to take preventative actions with all of their medications. Do you safely dispose of unused medications? Or do they reside in the dark corners of your medicine cabinet, collecting dust on their exhausted expiration dates?  Are they loosely out on a counter or tabletop which is easily accessible? Now is the time to batten down the hatches, so to speak, and take some preventative measures.  Our kids watch us all the time; they learn from our actions and reactions, and they often mimic us so it behooves us to behave in a way that we would like to see our children behave.  Trust me, seeing my son say something sarcastic and realizing he’s just mimicking me is mortifying, and that’s just sarcasm! Kids will try anything on, and if taking a lot of medications is part of your habitual behavior, they will try that on too.

 

  • Communicate with your kids and educate them about the risks of prescription drug abuse. Be honest and age appropriate.
  • Don’t take medications that aren’t prescribed to you. (A recent study by The Partnership at Drugfree.org showed that 27 percent of parents have taken a prescription medicine without having a prescription for it themselves.)
  • Store your medications in a secure place.
  • Count and monitor the amount of pills you have before you lock them up.

 

Prescription drugs are being hailed as the new gateway drug.

More often than not, one begins with prescription opiates and ends up using and abusing street drugs. The reality is, once the medicine cabinets are depleted and the sheer cost of Oxycontin, Vicodin, etc., becomes prohibitive, the path inevitably darkens.

 

Stay aware. Tap into the multitude of resources like SAMHSA, Partnership for a DrugFree America, and the Medicine Abuse Project for more information and free pamphlets. If you suspect your child is abusing prescription drugs or any drugs, seek help.

 

Resources for this blog:

Partnership for Drug Free America

Medicine Abuse Project

Educate Before You Medicate

Dispose My Meds

FDA

Categories
Adolescence Alumni Events Recovery

The Annual Alumni Ski Trip! It’s Finally Here!

This is it: time for our annual Alumni Big Bear Ski trip,

Ski Bear Mountain (Photo credit: miheco)

and we are over the moon! It’s one of the favorite alumni events of the year, and the fact that 6 more weeks of winter have been predicted (thanks, Punxsutawney Phil!), and the fact that snow is falling, we are raring to go.

 

It’s always an adventure complete with community building activities, epic goofiness, 12-step meetings, fellowship, and a burrito-eating contest. Yes, you read that last part correctly. There’s a place in Big Bear that sells something called the “Big Juan” burrito. It’s a 4-pound burrito and if you can eat it in 45 minutes, you win a T-shirt. There is always someone willing, no matter the warnings of sickness and overwhelm.  It must be some T-shirt! We’ll post pics if someone dares to take this challenge.

 

The best part of this trip is the alumni community. Alumni are given the opportunity to reconnect with one another, bond and share stories of recovery, downfalls, and encouragement. Some come just for that, even though they don’t ski or snowboard. In fact, there has been many a time where alumni have helped each other out on the slopes, guiding each other down their first hill or their 100th.  Team work, fellowship, goofiness, laughter, hot cocoa, marshmallows, and the inevitable teen prank: It’s all worth every moment.

Categories
Addiction Heroin Prevention

The Skinny on Heroin: Cheap, Accessible and Deadly

The media is calling Heroin the “silent assassin,”

Heroin syringe (Photo credit: Thomas Marthinsen)

and many are  saying there’s a Heroin epidemic, mostly because of the recent celebrity overdoses and increase in heroin deaths across the country.  The latest celebrity death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman seemed to really strike a nerve. Is it because he was clean for a long period of time, openly talking about his troubles with addiction? Or is it because he’s someone we as an audience want or need to respect because of his wide range of talent? It’s a loss, a great one, but it is more a reminder of the devastation drug use can cause.

 

The use of heroin is prime for a death sentence and its inexpensive procurement makes it an easier and more desirable go-to than drugs like Oxycontin, particularly if you are young, desperate, and broke. At the same time, for celebrities like Hoffman or Cory Monteith, familiarity may be the calling card.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Prescription opioid pain medications such as Oxycontin and Vicodin can have effects similar to heroin when taken in doses or in ways other than prescribed, and they are currently among the most commonly abused drugs in the United States. Research now suggests that abuse of these drugs may open the door to heroin abuse.”

 

And according to a 2012 Monitoring the Future study (a NIDA funded survey of teens in grades 8, 10, and 12, only 0.05% of 8th graders, 0.6% of 10th graders and 12th graders reported using heroin at least once in the past year. The number of teens using heroin is down significantly to what it was in the 1990s. The main concern now is that teens addicted to prescription opiods like Oxycontin will eventually turn to heroin because of its low cost.

 

Concerned about your teen or young adult? Here are some signs to look for:

 

  • Extreme drowsiness: nodding off, acting sleepy, moving really slowly
  • Itching, scratching at face and arms
  • Nausea
  • Pupils very small, like pinpoints, even in dim light
  • Marks on the skin (if heroin is injected vs sniffed)

 

Talking to someone who has a drug problem isn’t always easy, in fact, it can be down right difficult. You may encounter denial, anger, frustration, sadness, regret, and you may face a litany of excuses. Regardless, encourage your friend or loved one to talk to a counselor or a teacher, or trusted adult. Be kind and encouraging and make sure you are also getting the support you need. Reaching out to a friend or loved one lost in the throes of their addiction can be overwhelming and deeply upsetting. Make sure you also have resources you need to decompress and ground yourself: a therapist, AlAnon, CoDA, or a space or practice that you can lean into to take care of yourself.

 

Check out NIDA for more information on heroin.

Help is just a phone call or email away. Contact us with any questions or concerns.