Divorce and Grief

woman standing in field golden hourDIVORCE AND GRIEF


            There is a unique kind of grief that comes with divorce.  There is no funeral, no death of a person, no obituary or burial, and yet there is loss just as deep as if someone has died.  In another sense, there has been a death – the death of a dream, of a way of life, of a family unit, of lots of things that can’t even be named.  Perhaps we should have a funeral after the end of a marriage.  Perhaps that could help the grieving process along in some way.  Ceremonies often give closure and respect to the magnitude of change. 

            I think that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief are relevant after a divorce just as much as after other types of losses.  If you are going through a divorce, the stages below will probably sound familiar.

1.      Denial:  While denial can be useful in helping us get to work, fix dinner for the kids, and do the daily things we need to do, it can also be overused.  We pretend that everything is fine even when absolutely nothing is even remotely ok!  We pretend that we can handle all that is going on even when we go to be with a migraine night after night.  Sometimes we must deny how deep the pain is or we would not be able to function.  Denial is a normal stage, we all go through it.  Know that it helps us function when we need to, but eventually we will have to look at reality.  Be there when you need to, but don’t prolong the visit with denial.  Denial can easily become guest who overstays their welcome and begins to stink like the proverbial fish. 

2.     Anger:  This can show up in all kinds of way.  We might be angry at our ex, angry at ourselves, angry at our parents, our job, our religion, even at the rabbit that is eating nibbling peacefully on the lawn!  Anger helps us protect ourselves – it often empowers us to keep ourselves safe.  Anger is not the enemy if we don’t let it control our behavior in destructive ways.  Most of us are not comfortable with anger so we try to ignore it or go back to number 1 and deny it.  It hurts, it is powerful and it is untamed.  Let it be there.  It won’t hurt you.  It is a necessary part of the process.

3.     Bargaining:  This is usually a desperate attempt to make things go back to the way they were, or at least how we wanted them to be.  We might decide the marriage wasn’t so bad after all, or there was that one thing that we could try that would make all the difference.  You know – that one special blend of herbal tea that can fix everything.  For me it was more bargaining with myself than anyone else – “you can suck it up, can’t you?  Really, things were not all that bad.”  Or “wow, divorce is so much harder than whatever you thought was tough in the marriage.  Just try one more time to make it work.  Look at all the fun you had on that one vacation 7 years ago!”  Sometimes we bargain with our ex, or sometimes with God or anyone else in the universe who will listen!  We are willing to do whatever it might take to make this divorce go away.

4.     Depression:  This is the stage when you eat a lot of ice cream, stay in bed all day and watch brainless TV.  Who knew they could make a reality show out of people who like to dress up as mermaids and stay in their bathtub all day?!  Stock up on tissue because you will need it for this stage.  Cry every tear that wants to be cried.  Feel the depression in the depth of your bones.  The best way to not get stuck here is to embrace it fully and let it be as big as it needs to be.  Then, allow it to move through you and into the atmosphere or down to the center of the earth.

5.     Acceptance:  This is when you can finally feel the air fill your lungs and it doesn’t hurt anymore.  This is when you can get out of bed in the morning and say, “I think I can do today.”  This is when you feel like there is a life out there beyond the dark muck of divorce.  You can see a future, you can even see the present without the theme of divorce running your day.  You know there will be challenges, but you no longer feel unable to handle them.  You’ve got this. 

What you really need to know is that this is not a linear process.  It’s more circular, or spiral, or something along those lines.  You might start with anger, then get depressed, then be in acceptance for a while, and then go into denial.  You will visit each stage more than once.  Hopefully after the first couple of rounds with the stages each will get less intense, and will be less difficult to move through.  There is no right way to do this.  Everyone’s process is different and yours will be unique to you.  Settle in and let the process unfold as it needs to.  The less you resist, the less it will persist.  Be gentle and patient with yourself.  You will make it, and you will find the other side.


Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC



woman standing in field golden hour            Even under the best of circumstances coordinating all the things that go along with parenting can be tough – doctor’s appointments, sports practices, school activities, play dates etc.  Who is going to pick Tommy up after school and take him to soccer and who is going to take care of dinner and who is going to make it to the parent teacher conference is a never-ending situation to figure out.  Now add in the fact that the two parents making these decisions are no longer married because their relationship fell apart, and an already tough situation just became almost impossible at times. 

            Despite the challenges, finding a way to share parenting with your child’s other parent is important for the emotional well-being of your child.  Research shows that children from divorced families do much better emotionally when the parents can have a good co-parenting relationship.  Sounds reasonable, right?  “But you don’t know my ex” – said most divorced parents at some point!  “We couldn’t get along when we were married, what makes you think we can get along now?”  Or, “If we could have communicated well enough to parent together when we were married we wouldn’t be divorced!”  Sound familiar?  Here are some ways to help.  I did not say here are some ways to make it wonderful, or easy, or blissful, just some ways to help. 

1.      Refer to your ex as your child’s dad or your child’s mom rather than your ex.  This sounds rather minor, but it can really cause a shift in your thinking and your attitude.  Your “ex” brings with it all the thoughts and feelings of a marriage gone bad.  It has a major negative connotation, and only servers to perpetuate resentment, grief and all the other negative feelings that come from a divorce.  So, use that word less, if at all.  Instead, replace it with Tommy’s dad, or Tommy’s mom.  Usually this phrase is not so loaded with negative feelings as “ex”. 

2.     Figure out the best way to communicate with your child’s other parent.  It might take a while before you feel like you can speak face to face without it ending badly.  That’s ok.  It might send you over the edge just hearing that person’s voice on the phone.  That’s ok too.  Give yourself the time you need, and figure out another way.  Maybe email is best for a while, or texting.  Whatever you do, just don’t have your child be the messenger.  Use a friend if you need to, just not your child.  Be honest with yourself about what you can handle, knowing that eventually it will change.  If you push yourself to communicate in a way that you are not ready for you will just create more animosity and your child will suffer for it.  It’s ok to not want to hear his/her voice for a while.  Find what works for you.

3.     As hard as it may be at times, ask the other parent for feedback when you offer a solution or present an idea.  If you think your child would benefit from some tutoring at school, or that he/she would like a summer camp, present the idea and then ask the other parent what they think.  That’s just common respect.  No one wants to be told that something is going to happen with their child without being asked for their opinion.  Would you want the other parent to TELL you your child is going to summer camp for underwater basket weaving without being asked what you think?  I doubt it.  So, give the other parent the same courtesy.  It will go a long way towards being able to work through other situations.

4.     Make transitions easier.  Make sure your child has the essentials at each house so they don’t feel like they are moving in and out every few days.  This is their home, they are not staying at a hotel.  Sure, they may have comfort things or favorite clothes that they want to take back and forth, but that should be because they choose it, not because they have to.  You would not want to have to pack up every few days, would you?  Making it as easy on your kids as possible will make the transitions easier, which will cause less friction between you and the other parent.

5.     Own your own stuff.  Pay attention to your own feelings around transition times so that you can take care of yourself.  No matter how much you want your kids back, it can be hard to go from a quiet house to a noisy one.  Prepare yourself mentally for the kids to come back, have a cup of tea right before they come back, have some kind of ritual that signals to your nervous system that things are going to change so that you don’t get stressed and cranky.  If you are still really angry about the divorce it can be tempting to want to hear all the bad things that happened while the kids were with the other parent.  Acknowledge that to yourself, and then just smile.  No need to judge yourself, it’s normal to want to compare yourself with the other parent.  If you acknowledge this, you are less likely to grill the kids for dirt on the other parent.  If you don’t acknowledge it there is a bigger chance you will have conversations with your kids aimed at tearing down the other parent, which may feel good to you in the short term but will be damaging to the whole family in the long run. 

For more help navigating divorce and co-parenting call me to set up a time to talk.  Getting support can be one of the most useful things you can do. 

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC
[email protected]




            It can be so hard to practice mindfulness when the noise in our heads never stops.  Here are some strategies that can be helpful when you would like to find some relief from the well-meaning and sometimes not so well-meaning voices in your head.

1.     Turn the radio down.  Imagine that the sound in your head is like the radio in your car.  There are several different stations to choose from if you want to listen – talk radio, oldies, country, maybe some mellow music, a dance station, all kinds of choices.  But if you decide none of those stations really fit with what you are wanting at the moment, turn the radio down.  Imagine that there is a knob in your head that you can turn down the volume.  Unfortunately, there is not an “off” switch, but you can turn it down so that the voices are no more than background noise.

2.     Give the voice a new character.  It’s hard to take someone seriously when they sound like Donald Duck, or Pee Wee Herman.  Instead of hearing the voice as a competent adult or someone that you would take seriously, turn it into something you wouldn’t take seriously.  It’s your voice after all, you can do anything you want to it, so why not have some fun?

3.     Be polite, and say thank you.  Tell the voice in your head thank you for sharing, and now you are going to talk to another guest at the party.  How many times have you tried to shut out the voices or ignore them?  It never works, right?  So, you might as well stop trying to ignore it.  Be polite, acknowledge this faceless voice as you would any visitor.  Tell it thank you for stopping by, and then move on to what you would like to focus on.  Just like a persistent child, the voices in your head will keep pestering you until you acknowledge them.  That’s it, you don’t have to agree or engage in a lengthy conversation, just acknowledge. 

4.     Put the voice to music.  If the voice is going to be there, you might as well have some fun with it.  Give it a dance tune and make it a party.  Make it a song in another language from another country.  Give it a deep voice, or give it an opera voice.  Give the song a name.  Maybe it’s the “You are No Good” song in an Italian opera voice.  Or maybe it’s the rap classic “I can’t Take It Anymore”. 

5.     Practice finding the gap.  If you really pay attention, you will find a gap in the stream of thoughts going through your head.  It might only be half a second, but look for it; listen for the break.  When you hear the gap, inhale deeply, and then exhale deeply.  And then listen for the next gap.  It will come, be patient.  Sometimes the gap will last a few seconds, and you can inhale and exhale a few times.  It really doesn’t matter how long the gap lasts, the point is to pay attention and find it. 

Our brains are amazing and complicated.  They process millions of bits of information all at the same time so that we can walk and talk and digest food and breathe and figure out where we need to be next.  It’s a great thing that our brains never stop working, but it can be exhausting when the chatter gets too loud or is negative and unhelpful.  The trick is to work with our minds rather than resisting so much.  Accept that the chatter will be there to some degree most, if not all the time.  So, play with it.  Find some strategies to mold the chatter rather than attempting the impossible feat of silencing it.  I realize there may be some who have found a way to silence the chatter, but that is a blog you will have to find elsewhere because I don’t yet know how to do that. 


paved road on rainy day surrounded by forest

             I get asked the question repeatedly – will I ever get better?  Will the abuse ever stop running my life?  The answer is twofold.  Yes, your life can get better.  Yes, the abuse can stop running and ruining your life.  I’m not sure however, if it will ever completely stop intruding on your life.

            I wish I had better news.  I wish I could say that once you do your work, the abuse will never have any impact on your life ever again.  You will never have another nightmare, never have another panic attack, and never have a moment of low self-esteem ever again.  The truth is you might have times when you need to do some more work, in fact that is a good possibility.  I don’t tell you this to discourage you, I tell you so that you can have realistic expectations and not feel like you have failed if some old shadows show up occasionally.

            So many clients feel like they haven’t worked hard enough, or that they are too damaged and that’s why they can’t seem to get over the abuse 100%.  Their self-esteem suffers and their confidence falls.  So, hear me loud and clear, there is nothing wrong with you or your recovery if you need extra support once in a while for the rest of your life.  You are not doing anything wrong or being lazy!

            Abuse, especially abuse from childhood, has so many layers to it.  It can affect us physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally.  It shows up in new ways when we go through changes in our lives, like getting married, or having kids, or starting a new career.  How is it reasonable to expect that you can sort through all the layers and be done forever?  Personally, I don’t think that is a reasonable expectation at all. 

            The good news is that once you get the big chunk of work done, you never have to do that again.  You don’t have to go down that road of intense and possibly long term work again.  The next pieces can be done in more of a “tune up” type of way.  Maybe you just go in for 2-3 sessions to process through some anxiety that has surfaced.  Or maybe you decide to start a meditation practice to deepen your sense of well-being.  Another way to do some tune up work might be to make some diet and exercise changes to reduce an underling mild depression.   

            Personal growth is never over.  For some it might mean revisiting wounds that abuse has left, but that does not mean that you have not done your work.  It just means you have some healing calling out to you.  It’s an invitation to deepen your sense of meaning and purpose in your life.  Personally, I think that those of us who have a glaring reason such as abuse or addictions which require us to do personal growth work frequently, have been given a gift in some ways.  Yes, we experience deep pain, but we also have the opportunity to experience deep peace and healing that might not happen if we were not pushed to do our work.  The path of healing is worth it.  There is no finish line.  It is an incredible journey with ups and downs and twists and turns, and if you need a partner now and again, call me.  I would love to be a witness to your healing.

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPCC



[email protected]




            Many of us talk about being afraid of death, but I am beginning to wonder how many of us are actually more afraid to live?  How many of us actually have the courage to not just exist, but to live fully? 

            Just take a moment to explore ways in which you might be avoiding living fully; ways in which you might be trying to take the edge off of being fully present.

1.       Do you have a glass of wine in the evening to unwind?  This might seem quite harmless – after all what harm does a glass or two of wind cause?  It’s not like I’m getting drunk!  While it may be true that you are not getting drunk, you are using something to alter your feelings chemically.  You are putting a buffer between you and whatever you might otherwise be feeling. 

2.      Do you eat or not eat when you are stressed or feel lonely or need comfort?  Food is a common way to put a buffer between us and the rawness of our experience.  Different foods have different impacts on us emotionally, and I bet you know exactly which food to go to when you don’t want to feel a certain way. 

3.      Do you fill your day so full of activities you don’t have time to just sit and do nothing?  It is so easy to justify being busy – how else would everything get done?  This is a great way to distract ourselves from uncertainty, or fear, or loneliness.

4.      How much time do you spend in front of a screen other than for school or work?  This could be watching TV, surfing the internet, checking your social media feeds, and shopping online, anything that has you sitting in front of a screen rather than doing something else.  I’m not saying all screen time is a distraction, but if you are honest with yourself, I bet a lot of it is.

Getting the picture?  There are many more ways we distract ourselves, the ones listed above are just some of the more common ones.  The point is, I think we are more afraid of living than we are of dying.  It takes a lot of courage to truly feel the insecurity of not knowing if we can pay our bills this month, or of not knowing how secure our job is.  It takes a lot of courage to feel the intense loneliness of being divorced and not knowing if we will ever have a successful intimate relationship.  Courage is required to face the anxiety of putting ourselves out there knowing that there are people smarter, better looking, and more confident than we are. 

Life is hard and it is scary and it is unpredictable.  I think that we are trained from a very young age to avoid the discomfort of the uncertainty of life.  We are not taught that it is normal to feel some anxiety, it is normal to feel scared and insecure and lonely sometimes and that there is nothing we need to do to fix those things.  It’s ok not to feel good all of the time.  No one ever told me that when I was young – did they tell you?  I am telling you now, it is ok not to feel good all of the time.  You don’t have to avoid uncomfortable feelings.  But it takes courage.  It takes courage to stay when things are tough rather than finding a buffer.  The good news is courage does not have side effects like the buffers do – courage won’t make you overweight, it won’t give you high blood pressure or diabetes, it won’t drain your bank account, and it won’t damage your liver. 

It does help if you have some support if you are going to be courageous and fully engage in life.  Find people who are also willing to let go of the buffers, who will encourage you and cheer you on and sit with you when you cry.  You may still choose to take another path, but at least be honest with yourself, that sometimes life is scarier than death.



            Have you done something nice for your brain today?  Did that even cross your mind?  I know that until recently it didn’t cross my mind.  I have thought about getting in shape physically, I have wondered how healthy my heart is, and yes, I must admit I have thought about getting my hair healthier; but not so much about the health of my brain. 

            Lately I have become obsessed with ways to have a healthier brain.  The statistics are quite concerning – some reports estimate that you have a 1 in 9 chance of having some form of dementia at the age of 65, and your risk doubles every 5 years after that.  Dementia is the 5th leading cause of death among those 65 and older according to the CDC.  So if you plan on reaching 85, some experts say that you have a 50% chance of having dementia.  Look at the person sitting next to you – will it be you or them who gets dementia?  That is a scary thought!

            I plan on living for a long time.  I want to enjoy my grandkids.  I don’t want them to know me as that lady they have to visit in a place that smells funny who can’t even remember their name.  I prefer to be in charge of my own bathing and personal care for as long as possible.  So if there is something I can do to help keep my brain healthy, then you had better believe I am going to do it!

            One of the scariest things to me is that dementia starts taking hold long before you ever notice any symptoms.  By the time you notice symptoms, there can be a lot of damage done already.  I am encouraged by some of the work being done by the Amen Clinics as well as others however, that show that we can heal some damage and prevent further cognitive decline.

            Let me tell you how serious I am about this.  If you knew me, you would know that I am a hardcore Coca Cola fan.  Back in my younger days I used to drink a 6-pack of Diet Coke every day.  Somewhere in my adult years I switched to regular Coke, and have been drinking one in the morning and one in the afternoon for more years than I can remember.  I have never been a coffee drinker.  I don’t think I even really tried coffee until I was in my 40’s.  The biggest rule at my house – never take mom’s last Coke.  I take my Coke very seriously.

            Well, after learning more about my brain health, I have decided that one step I can take is to stop drinking Coke.  I am not here to bash Coke in any way; it has been my trusted companion for many years!  But it does appear from what I am learning, that perhaps all of that sugar might not be so good for the control center of my entire being.  I am not willing to give up caffeine quite yet, so I have decided to give coffee a shot – 1 cup/day.  From what I have read, coffee seems to be preferable over soda, so that is my one thing.  For now. 

            This may not seem like a huge deal to you in the grand scheme of things, but here is my point.  There are so many things you can do for the health of your brain that it can be overwhelming.  Pick one thing that seems important to you, and start there.  For me it is not drinking soda – at least not on a regular basis anymore.  I am not a fanatic.  I am sure there will be times that I still indulge in a soda, just not daily like I have been. 

            For you it might be going for a walk for 20 minutes 4 times/week.  Or cut back your alcohol consumption to once or twice a week.  You could start a mindfulness practice for 10 minutes every day.  Maybe you are not getting enough Omega 3 in your diet, so you could start taking a daily supplement.  Or maybe you could start by increasing your sleep every night.  Pick something that feels doable to you, something that jumps out and grabs your attention.  All you have to do is start with one thing and make that a habit.  You can do one thing right?  We can all find one thing to do for our brain. 

            If you would like some more ideas, or some support in creating a healthier brain, contact me.  It can be so much easier to make changes with someone else to walk the path with you.

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPCC

[email protected]




            That is a great question!  You might be saying things like “just because I am getting divorced doesn’t mean I am crazy!  I don’t need therapy!  He/she is the one who needs therapy, not me!  Therapy is for people with mental illness or serious problems, not for people who are getting divorced – people get divorced every day!”  But trust me, therapy CAN help you deal with and recover from divorce.

            First let’s talk about what divorce recovery is and is not from a therapy point of view.  It is not about getting even with your ex-spouse.  It is not about taking medication so that you feel happy all the time.  And it is definitely not about labeling you as mentally ill or crazy.  Divorce recovery is all about helping you get through a really difficult experience in the healthiest, least damaging way possible.  It is about helping you not get stuck in feeling like your life is over and you will never be the same again.  Therapy can help you get through divorce without drowning your sorrows in alcohol every day, or without going broke from spending too much to make yourself feel better.

            Do you ever feel hopeless, lost, wondering if it is even worth getting out of bed in the morning?  You are not alone.  Divorce causes many people to feel this way.  Therapy can’t make all of the difficult feelings go away, but it can help you deal with them so they don’t hold you hostage.  Those negative feelings can be so paralyzing making it difficult to do anything.  Sometimes the last thing on your mind is getting yourself dressed and going to therapy!  But that’s probably the best thing you could do for yourself – even if you have to come in your pajamas (believe me, you wouldn’t be the first!).  Dealing with all that’s going on in your head is exactly the step you need to take before you can do much else.

            Just to make you a little more comfortable, here is what a session might look like.  You drag yourself out of bed, no energy to put on makeup or fix your hair, but you manage to throw on some sweats.  Dark circles under your eyes from crying and not sleeping.  You hesitantly walk through my door, a little embarrassed about your appearance.  In fact you apologize to me that you aren’t feeling well or something and that’s why you look the way you do.  I smile, and tell you that my space is “come as you are space” and invite you to sit on my very comfortable couch. 

            First I just want to get to know you.  I want to know what your particular struggle looks like, and also what things are going well (I can hear you now saying “are you kidding?  Nothing is going well!”).  I won’t pretend to know how you are feeling or what you are going through.  Everyone is different, and I won’t assume you are like anyone else.  For the most part, I will offer you a safe place to vent, cry, and rage, whatever you need to do.  When you are ready and would like some tools, I will provide them.  We will talk about what you need to get through this time, and together we will create a strategy. 

            I have lots of tools in my bag, so don’t worry, you don’t need to have the answers.  Our work together will focus on how to help you feel better physically, how to get a hold on the chaos in your head, and how to help you not feel like you are drowning in painful emotions. 

            So let me remind you, you are not crazy.  You are going through an extremely difficult situation, one that puts your entire life in turmoil.  It doesn’t really matter if you are coming out of the worst marriage imaginable and that getting divorced is the best thing you could do.  It is still beyond difficult.  Even if it is a very civil and somewhat friendly divorce, it is still an ending to what your vision of your life had been.  There is nothing wrong with needing some support and guidance.  This is the time to take care of yourself, not put yourself last on the list until everything else is taken care of. 

            Call me, I would love to help you get back on your feet and to feel like getting out of bed is a good thing.  970-988-6978.  [email protected].



            If you have trouble calming your mind and getting it to slow down (like most of us!), this might help.  Mindfulness is about being present, about maintaining focus, right here in the present moment.  It is a gentle practice, very forgiving of shortcomings.  We are very skilled in darting from one thing to the next – we train daily in planning and distracting, but we do not practice as much in focusing on the present moment.  Mindfulness practice is not about reprimanding ourselves for letting our minds wander, it’s more about inviting our minds to become still, over and over and over again.  It is much like training for a race, or trying to increase our muscle strength; we have to use and train those muscles frequently for them to become stronger.  Our minds are not all that different when we are training them to focus and stay present.  It takes frequent practice and work outs to build the “focus” muscle. 


            Here is a link to a free, 7 minute guided meditation that incorporates music to help you focus.  Music can be a wonderful way to focus our attention, we just don’t often realize that we are actually being present with the music.  That’s the other trick to mindfulness and staying present – we need to be aware of being present or it gets lost.  So this guided meditation gives you some instructions on what to pay attention to in order to help you work out your “focus” muscle.  Enjoy!



For more information on mindfulness, contact me at [email protected] or call me at 970-988-6978.  I would love to help you see how mindfulness can be of benefit to you.  Feel free to visit my website at gwenbartran.com for more information about my work.




            You might not think of the word investment in connection to therapy, but to me therapy is all about investing.  It is about investing in your happiness, in your emotional well-being, in connection with others, and investing in peace for yourself.  Those things sound nice, but maybe they are a little too abstract?  Well, if you are happy, peaceful and emotionally healthy, you will have better relationships with your family, friends and yourself.  You are also more likely to feel healthy physically and get sick less often.  You are also likely to be more successful at your job or at school or in your home life.  Your brain is less likely to be filled with noise that is distracting and negative, and more likely to be filled with more pleasant things.  You will be able to handle difficult situations better without falling apart.  You will be better able to focus on and accomplish the things you want to rather than getting sidetracked by stress or sickness or fear or whatever else gets in your way.

            Sound good?  Therapy can be an investment in all of those things.  We invest in retirement accounts and savings accounts and in real estate and the stock market to be financially secure.  We invest in gym memberships and trainers and workout equipment and medical services to insure physical health.  We even spend a great deal investing in hair color, makeup, stylish clothes, facials, manicures and pedicures to help us feel good about how we look.  Too often we overlook the foundation to all of these things, which is our emotional and spiritual well-being.  If we put some time and attention in our emotional and spiritual health, then our financial life, our physical life, and our self-esteem will all benefit. 

            Think about therapy as a workout for your mind.  It is not all that different from lifting weights to build muscle.  We don’t realize it, but we have been training our minds for a long time; we have been building the muscles of distraction, training in avoiding difficult emotions, in being hard on ourselves, and in building the muscles of negative thinking.  I know that personally I spent many years training in how to daydream and be mentally somewhere else while looking like I was participating in the conversation or working or whatever else I was supposed to be doing.  I got pretty good!  I got so good that it just came automatically without even trying.  How many years have you spent practicing being hard on yourself?  How many years have you spent practicing an addiction?  How many hours have you spent thinking about how stressful things are in your life and thinking that it will never get better? 

            Therapy is about retraining our mind and brain.  Sometimes it involves training ourselves to stay present long enough to process old trauma and pain so that it can be properly stored.  It almost always involves training ourselves to sit with unpleasant feelings rather than distracting with something else.  It also almost always involves recognizing where we are stuck and how we stay trapped.  With a trained therapist, we can slowly unravel the tangles of our minds so that we can have all of the benefits of being emotionally healthy.  It is no different than seeking out a financial advisor to make sure we are financially healthy, or seeking out a trainer to ensure our physical health.  With a little work, the pay-off for investing in our emotional and spiritual health is well worth the investment. 



First of all, I need to say that I think the term “mindfulness” is getting a bit overused, and I hesitate to use it for that reason.  On the other hand, I believe it is a valuable concept and it is a useful tool when talking about healing from an eating disorder.  Since the concept of mindfulness is used in so many contexts currently, let me define how I am using it.  I am talking about mindfulness as being aware, without judgment, of what is currently happening in our body and our mind.  It is not an attempt to stop our thoughts, or to direct them in a particular way.  It is not an attempt to escape from emotional or physical pain but rather getting to know the pain better.  It is bringing our experience closer, looking at it in an intimate way rather than from a distance.

How does this relate to eating disorders?  Most of my experience is with anorexia and bulimia, so that is the perspective I am coming from, although I am sure much of what I am saying can be generalized to include compulsive overeating.  When someone is suffering from anorexia or bulimia, he/she is in contact with the experience of being distracted from his/her true experience rather than being in contact with the raw experience.  The behaviors of an eating disorder serve a purpose; they provide an opportunity to either work through something that is unresolved, or they provide a distraction from working through something that the person feels unable to handle.  Either way, the underlying problem, emotion or thought is distorted in some way so that it becomes difficult to really work with it. 

Mindfulness can help settle the muddy water so that we can see more clearly what is being hidden by the behaviors of anorexia and bulimia.  The idea is to sit still long enough to let the mud settle to the bottom so the water becomes clearer.  It sounds simple, but it is certainly not easy.  It can be especially difficult to do alone when one is consumed by something like an eating disorder.  It can be frightening, painful and confusing.  It is helpful to have a trained person to help guide you through the process.  I have experienced this process many times with many different people, and it is usually surprising what comes up when the mud settles.  It’s usually not what the person thinks is going on.  Again, that’s when it is helpful to have someone there to help with the process; someone who can help you feel safe enough to look at what’s coming up so that it can be seen, resolved, and then fade into the background. 

What I have found in using mindfulness to help people suffering from anorexia and bulimia is that every person is so unique, and the function of their eating disorder is just as unique.  All the books in the world that describe why a person has an eating disorder and how to fix it, can’t explain what’s happening for you.  Even people with years of experience and education don’t know what is going on for you until they sit with you and help you through the process of letting the mud settle to see what’s really there.  You are unique, your life and your experiences are unique, and you have the keys to unlocking the process of healing.  You don’t need someone to tell you why you have an eating disorder, you need someone to listen to you and support you in finding your own answers. Mindfulness is a way to get there.