Oak City Psychology

Serving the City of Raleigh and Surrounding Areas

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Is this an Eating Disorder?

Because of my specialty in Eating Disorders, my family and friends are constantly telling me about the bizarre diet and exercise habits of someone. Whether it’s the person who’s at the gym constantly or the one who will only eat wheat toast, (with no butter!) for breakfast, the common question is, “Is that normal?” Let me tell you, that’s a tough question to answer. In reality, what my family member or friend usually means is, “Should I be worried that this person has an eating disorder?” Also not an easy question to answer based on one odd behavior or eating habit. An eating disorder is a culmination of several behaviors based on a central fear of fat or being fat. For example, I happen to be one of those people who doesn’t like my food to touch. Does that mean I have an eating disorder? Absolutely not! I love food too much for that, but that might be the topic for a different blog. Is it a somewhat disordered way to eat? Definitely. Does that mean you should ignore when your formerly cheeseburger loving friend suddenly becomes a vegan? No it doesnt, but it also isn’t enough to diagnose them with Anorexia. Eating disorders are complex disorders consisting of both specific thoughts combined with a myriad of behaviors on a spectrum from things we all do that might be a little weird with food to rigid rules about the method and specific food that can or cannot be eaten. Which paritally explains why the “is this normal” question is so difficult. Making a judgment on what is or is not normal based on one odd behavior is extremely difficult. A clinician uses all of the data gathered in an initial meeting that lasts about an hour to make a decision about an appropriate diagnosis – and even then it is difficult. A 5 minute description of your friend who will only eat ham sandwiches cut in the shape of stars for lunch, does not provide the level or amount of information needed to know if that is a behavior to be concerned about. Now if that friend also refuses to eat entire food groups, constantly pinches invisible fat around her waistline, and spends two hours a day exercising, my red flags start waving. So to make a long explanation a little shorter, if you are concerned about one of your friends or a family member never hesitate to contact a professional who specializes in eating disorders. And, talking to your friend or family member may help them to take the sometimes scary step of seeking help. If that family member happens to be your child, as a parent you have to right, and I might add responsibility, to find the help that child needs to move past these symptoms before they become a way of life. www.edreferral.com is a great site for finding referrals in your area. This is a site that only includes professionals who specialize in working with eating disorders.

Unbreakable Bonds

“At a very young age, the trainers capture young elephants in the wild and bring them to a forest camp. One of their feet is bound with a chain so large that there is no possibility of escape. For a while, the young animals struggle to free themselves, but very quickly learn that it is futile and stop trying. They eventually grow accustomed to being bound and to the presence of the trainer.

As the elephant grows, the trainers exchange the large chains for small ropes. Although they are now held only by a small strand that could easily be broken, the elephants never try to escape. Why? They believe that they can’t. In their mind, they believe they are still bound by unbreakable bonds and that struggling is useless. Although the real barrier has been taken away, it is as real as if it were still in place. For the elephants, freedom is literally a gentle tug away, but it might as well be on the other side of the universe.” – from a recent email, no author given

For many, February has become a month synonymous with love and all things cupid. It’s a time when Hallmark and every flower and candy shop tell us that true love is celebrated with cards, roses, and chocolate. When I was in college, February 14 came to represent something very different for me. I was a part of a group called the Carolina V-Day Initiative. The goal of this group was to support community organizations that focused on ending violence towards women. So why Valentine’s Day? And what on earth could this have to do with elephants? I’m getting there . . .really.

Bur first, a little history. There are many legends surrounding the date and name for Valentine’s Day. Most concur that the name was chosen to commemorate a priest who performed secret marriages when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men in the third century. So that’s why this is a celebration of love. But what about the date? Most scholars believe that the date was chosen by Catholic priests to align with a pre-Christian Roman celebration of fertility. This celebration was held on the Ides of February or February 15. So there you have it, a holiday about love and lust celebrated in February, and it’s made Hallmark billions.

So why the scorn in my tone? Isn’t celebrating love a good thing? I would say, absolutely! As long as we’re celebrating real, healthy love. The unfortunate truth is that 1 of every 3 women in the world will be the victim of violence, both physical and sexual. Statistics also show that 3 in 4 of these women are victimized by people they know and often love. So what kind of love are we celebrating? Until 1975, all 50 states in the US had a spousal exemption in their rape laws, meaning it was legally impossible for rape to occur in marriage. It took 20 years for all 50 states to remove this exception, and even now most states charge the offending spouse with a charge less than rape. Is that what love is? Just a few weeks ago, Congressman Chris Smith introduced a bill to change the definition of rape in abortion laws to “forcible rape.” This definition would not include rape in which drugs or fear were used as coercion and an already difficult topic would become impossible. Whether you support a woman’s right to chose or not, this redefining of rape is frightening.

In college, I was horrified when I learned these statistics, which led to my involvement in V-Day. This group empowered women around the world to say enough is enough, it’s time for the violence to stop. As part of this organization, we staged two performances of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. I remember being awed by the response. People lined up starting at noon the day of the show to get tickets for a 7 o’clock performance – on Valentine’s Day! Seven college age women came together and made a difference in our community. It was amazing! And filled me with such hope. I began to feel that people really did care about these issues.

That was almost 10 years ago now. I’ve been “back in the real world” long enough to realize that activism on college campuses is much different than activism in the rest of the world. I’ve heard so many times in response to stories about abused women who are killed by their partners or who kill their partners, “Why didn’t she just leave? If my husband ever touched me like that I would leave.” And you know, most people in these circumstances would leave. But for some women the idea of leaving wouldn’t even come to them. They are like the elephants in the email I received. They have been bound with the unbreakable bonds of fear for so long, they don’t even know what options they have. Abuse doesn’t start out like an explosion. It’s more like a slow leak, where the air is slowly released until you realize your tire is flat and you don’t have a spare. You’re trapped. Men who abuse don’t start out beating their wives – no one would stick around for that. Men who abuse start small, isolating women from their friends with their jealousy, slowly taking over the finances of the family, convincing the woman that her place is at home.

Some of these things start off as “cute.” Women often see jealousy as a sign of how much their partner loves them. Many women were raised in a family where the male dealt with the finances. These things can seem normal, until they’re not, and the woman finds that she has lost all of her support, both emotionally and financially, and doesn’t even have an excuse to leave the house anymore. Freedom might as well be on the other side of the universe. That’s why for me, Valentine’s Day may be a day to celebrate love, but it is also a day to remember that we have a long way to go in making sure every woman and girl experiences true love.

V-Day is an organized response against violence toward women.

V-Day is a vision: We see a world where women live safely and freely.

V-Day is a demand: Rape, incest, battery, genital mutilation and sexual slavery must end now.

V-Day is a spirit: We believe women should spend their lives creating and thriving rather than surviving or recovering from terrible atrocities.

V-Day is a catalyst: By raising money and consciousness, it will unify and strengthen existing anti-violence efforts. Triggering far-reaching awareness, it will lay the groundwork for new educational, protective, and legislative endeavors throughout the world.

V-Day is a process: We will work as long as it takes. We will not stop until the violence stops.

V-Day is a day. We proclaim Valentine’s Day as V-Day, to celebrate women and end the violence.

V-Day is a fierce, wild, unstoppable movement and community. Join us!

Surviving Thanksgiving

For most people, Thanksgiving is a time of celebrating the things that we are thankful for, be it family, friends, or just lots of football. It is also a time where binge eating is the norm. The expectation is that we will all eat ourselves into a coma and feel full for a week. For most of us this is fine. We bounce back from this binge and go about our everyday lives. For someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, this is a nightmare. Someone who restricts their food intake sees nothing but a day of avoiding all the sights, smells, and meals of the day and someone who binges feels like their dirty little secret has been discovered and will spend the day looking for ways to compensate. How can someone who has struggled for so long to eat in a healthy way participate in such an unhealthy style of eating? Can Thanksgiving become something more than just a day to stuff ourselves on turkey and pumpkin pie? I thought I’d put out some ideas for folks who need some grounding during this holiday, whether recovering from an eating disorder or not.

Firstly, let’s all take a step back and try to remember that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks (it’s in the name of the holiday) and not about how many pumpkin pies you can eat. Allow yourself to be thankful for the people who prepared the food and the hard work that went into the planning for this meal. Make every attempt to enjoy the company of those you care about. For people who have struggled with an eating disorder, this might be the first holiday you’ve experienced where you could actually allow yourself to enjoy the food, and that truly is something to be thankful for. It will also most likely be difficult and you may struggle. That’s fine. Get your support system lined up before the holiday rolls around and you’ll be able to handle those stumbles.

Also, rather than gobbling up all the turkey within arm’s reach, take a few minutes to savor the food. Make an attempt to eat more slowly and truly taste the flavors. Many families save these “special” foods for the holiday season, so take the time to actually taste it. If you’re feeling really rebellious, make the decision to have these foods more than once a year. That can often take away the urge to overeat these “special” treats. If you have struggled with restricting it will most likely be scary to participate in a holiday where everyone else goes back for seconds and more. Work hard not to compare your plate to that of others. This is good food, and you deserve to enjoy it!

Now this last bit might be touchy for some of you. Some people love Thanksgiving because they get to spend time with family they don’t see often. Others dread it for this very same reason. It can be difficult to be around family members that you may have been avoiding since last Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution for this. If you family is abusive, the healthiest decision may be to forgo the traditional celebration. This is difficult, but you have to make the decisions that are right for you. However, if you’re just annoyed by your family it may be grin and bear it time. There are a lot of ways to deal with this situation – have a stress buddy that you can call at the end of the day to vent, rely on your significant other to keep you sane, and plan a little alone time throughout the day to keep a check on your sanity. As with the thankfulness piece, focusing on the positives of the day rather than dreading the tension can also make this holiday much easier to endure.

I hope you can use some of these tips in your holiday celebration, if only to remind yourself to focus on giving thanks. May you and yours (whoever they may be) have a blessed holiday that truly encompasses the meaning of Thanksgiving.

Our National Eating Disorder

I recently finished reading Michael Polan’s The Omnivore’s Dilema (which was an amazing book), in which he talks about our “national eating disorder.” No he’s not saying that all Americans have Anorexia or Bulimia. What he is arguing is that we have lost touch with the food that we eat, to the point that we have begun eating “food like substances” rather than food. He seems to be saying that the more we have learned about food and food science the more unhealthy we have become. If you look at the statistics on this, it’s hard to disagree. Our “knowledge” about food has grown exponentially over the past decade. I put that in quotes because, like Polan, I think we may have lost the real knowledge of food along the way. As a nation, we seem to have become so confused about which foods are healthy – milk? eggs? salmon? wild or farm raised? – that we’ve simply given up. Why bother trying to decide which meat we should have for dinner when it’s much easier to grab a protein bar and some fruit flavored water. There’s even a commercial for a fruit drink that makes eating an actual piece of fruit seem like the biggest hassel we have to endure during our day. At the same time, the rates of both obesity and harmful eating practices (restricting, bingeing, and purging) have exploded. Polan says that a big reason for this problem is that as Americans, we don’t have the same kind of food geneaology as say native Italians or Greeks. Because this country was settled by so many different types of people, we didn’t develop our own food culture with rules about how and what we ate. The goal became convenience.

Now, whether you agree with that or not, Polan may be onto something with the idea of a national eating disorder. It seems to me that our relationship with food in this country has become extremely damaged. Don’t believe me? Well then think about this – when was the last time you made a dinner in which a can opener was not an essential tool in the preparation? For that matter, when was the last time you made a dinner that didn’t involve the microwave? We live in a world where convenience is the most important aspect of any product. Our children attend schools where chicken nuggets and french fries are standard fare and body fat measurements are a typical part of health class. Young girls are encouraged to both love their bodies (Dove) and get rid of that acne once and for all (Proactiv, Clearasil, etc). Magazines geared toward women, and increasingly toward men, show airbrushed models with abs of steel and flawless makeup on the cover and advertisements for chocolate, Lean Cuisine, and Hydroxycut on the inside. No wonder we’re confused! The government tries to help by releasing guidelines for healthy living (mypyramid.org) that are more confusing than the magazines. What is the average person, without an advanced degree in nutrition and food science, supposed to do to navigate all of this information? Well, there are plenty of advertisers, fast food restaurants,and frozen food companies out there that would like to tell you.

Food is no longer a personal experience, shared with family and friends. Food has become the enemy, and I see a slew of women in my office everyday who can attest to that. Is that what we want for the next generations? Think about some of your best memories, and I will bet a high percentage of them revolve around food of some sort – a Thanksgiving turkey, watermelon seed spitting contests, ice cream on a hot summer night, diving into that bag of Halloween candy. Is our obsession with what is scientifically healthy, robbing us of some of the joys of life? Is our fixation on what will be quickest and easiest keeping us from connecting to our families and friends? Now, I’m not advocating we go back to the days when girls spent their days learning to be “good” wives, getting lessons on cooking, sewing, and cleaning by working alongside their mothers, grandmothers, or nannies. I know that’s not practical anymore, or even that desirable to most of us. But, what would be the harm of using a Saturday to make a meal from scratch, using real food, with all the fat? Having your son or daughter come into the kitchen with you to mix the batter for pancakes that you made with flour and sugar instead of a mix? Gathering around the dinner table to eat and talk about the day? Packing a lunch or dinner and heading to the park? Do these things take time? Sure, things that are worth it usually do. Will having an outdoor dinner with your family solve all the problems with food in our society? Of course not, but it may just give them the ammunition they need the next time they read an article, see a commercial, or hear an advertisement that tells them they aren’t worth it. And that’s worth more than all the hours in the world.

The Secret of Happiness

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. – Thomas Jefferson

If you’re American, you know these words by heart almost from birth. It’s the foundation upon which our country was built. But what do they mean? In particular, what is “the pursuit of happiness?” Pure scientists would have us believe that happiness is simply chemicals floating between neurons in our brain. New agers equate happiness with inner peace. Dictionary.com defines happiness as the state of being happy and then procedes to define happy using synonyms such as joyful, blissful, and exuberant. All well and good, but really, what is happiness?

I watched a few movies recently that got me thinking about this question. One of them (which I truly don’t recommend watching because the movie was pretty terrible)was True Confessions of a Shopaholic. In the opening scene, you see the main character as a little girl talking about how happiness became a shiny pair of shoes for her. The gist of the movie (spoiler alert) is that because she equates new things with happiness she finds herself in massive amounts of debt with plenty of things and having completely destroyed the most important relationships in her life. Which of course, this being Hollywood, leads to an epiphany on her part after which she completely mends her shopaholic ways and finds true love and friendship. Ah, if only life were that easy.

The second movie I watched was Julie and Julia (which actually was pretty good)in which we meet Julie a woman on the brink of turning 30 who decides to find happiness by cooking her way through Julia Child’s cookbook while writing a blog. Along the way (again spoiler coming) she comes to realize that it is not the act of cooking, or the even the food itself that creates happiness but the ability to spend time with friends sharing an experience.

Thirdly, I watched a documentary called This Emotional Life (which was fantastic) that explored what science has found about how to create happiness in our lives. Ironically enough, the findings seem to point to the very premise of the first two movies: it is not things, deeds, adventures, or even money that make us happy – it’s having people to share those things with. I know, Hollywood actually got something right for a change, although in a kind of unrealistic, sugar coated way.

I was amazed to learn that research being done all over the world shows that relationships change our brain chemistry. The smile of your own newborn releases that same chemicals in a mother’s brain that cocaine creates, which creates a euphoric feeling. And hearing laughter almost doubles the amount of chemicals. People who were shown pictures of people they love during a brain scan showed activity in the areas of the brain where positive emotions are regulated. There is also research being done on lottery winners and “the lottery curse.” What this research is finding is that the people who adjust the best to winning large sums of money out of the blue, are those who have close relationships which remain stable after winning. Now, this research also found that people with more money tend to be happier than people with very little money and that lottery winners who actually change their status in life show the largest happiness gains. But again, these results changed if the winners lost their close relationships along the way, leading to very depressed, uber-rich people who made poor decisions about their winnings. It seems good relationships even lead to better decision making!

The moral of this story – happiness is not a new pair of shoes, a journey through cooking, or a huge sum of money. Happiness truly is about who we have to share it with.

“It’s so much more friendly with two.” – Piglet

Review: Trauma and Recovery

I’ve recently been reading Judith Herman’s classic book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. It has completely changed how I view the world of trauma as well as the therapist’s role in healing the trauma. As a clinician, I hear of the struggle people have to move past the violence that has impacted their lives. I carry awful stories, but I didn’t have to live those stories. My clients did.

One of the most important and disturbing parts of Dr. Herman’s book was how limited the research had been (and to some degree continues to be). The first half of this book explores the theory behind abuse and reviews the research that had been done up to 1992 when this book was first published. Like Herman, I was shocked to see how much of the literature focused on the characteristics of the victim of abuse, rather than on the perpetrator. Hotaling and Sugarman (1986) said it best: “The search for characteristics of women that contribute to their own victimization is futile . . . It is sometimes forgotten that men’s violence is men’s behavior. As such, it is not surprising that the more fruitful efforts to explain this behavior have focused on male characteristics. What is surprising is the enormous effort to explain male behavior by examining characteristics of women.” This was among the many quotes, stories and insights this book provided that not only helped me but I believe would be so helpful to clients. Unfortunately, this book is inappropriate for clients in so many other ways. The stories it includes from survivors of trauma, which are so helpful for clinicians, could be truly damaging for someone in the midst of trying to find their own way through trauma. Also, the second half of the book, focused on the recovery process, while useful for clients is probably of most use to a clinician who would understand how to apply the concepts to each individual.

So, I highly recommend this book for any clinician, whether you specialize in trauma or not. But I would urge extreme caution in recommending this book to a client. The insights a therapist could gain from this book are invaluable. You will learn something that will make you a better helper for your clients who have experienced trauma.

Father Hunger: The Importance of the Father Daughter Relationship

“Father hunger is a deep, persistent desire for emotional connection with the father that is experienced by all children.” – Margo Maine, Ph.D.

Any female can tell you that her father has had a huge impact on her life, either by presence or by absence. For those lucky enough to have a positive relationship with their dads, where they feel loved and respected, life is good. These girls go on to have healthy relationships with men later in life and have more self-confidence than girls who have a negative relationship with their fathers. And it’s pretty easy to understand what can happen to girls whose fathers were verbally, physically, or sexually abusive. But what about the girls who grew up with a father who was physically present, but emotionally absent. These men tend to by highly educated with well paying, powerful jobs that take a lot of time. They probably attend their daughters’ games, recitals, and practices but may spend more time on their Blackberries than watching their child. There is an appearance of involvement without the emotional connection. Their daughters probably achieve great things, but feel like it doesn’t matter, like they are invisible. It’s not that these dads don’t care about their daughters. In all likelihood these fathers would be heartbroken if they knew their daughters felt this way. It is simply that they don’t know how to interact with their daughters. So why does this happen?

There are some seriously damaging myths about fatherhood in our society. Dads should be the breadwinner, they should be the decision makers, and they don’t get emotional. Probably the most harmful to both dads and their children is that fathers aren’t important as parents. This view is starting to change but it is still difficult for men to step up as fathers when they become the butt of jokes for doing it. Simple things, like the difficulty of finding a diaper bag that doesn’t seem too feminine, contribute to this difficulty. Now, some of you may be thinking, who cares about the diaper bag and the reality is no one does really, but it is a subtle message from society that it is the woman’s job to raise the child. And dads feel alienated, which leads to emotional withdrawal and eventually emotional absence. This is not okay – Fathers are important! Research has shown that girls with solid relationships with their fathers have a reduced chance of developing an eating disorder, less depression and anxiety, and are less likely to become involved in abusive relationships. This is too important to allow the distance to grow.

Unfortunately, many men have difficulty connecting with their children on an emotional level because their dads didn’t know how. It’s no ones fault, we just aren’t very good at teaching men about connecting with others. So, I’m guessing the men reading this might be thinking, “Great so I’m screwing up my daughter but I don’t know how to do it differently.” First, just the fact that you took the time to read this says you want to do it differently. And the reality is that a few simple steps (see blog on simple vs. easy) can make a huge difference in your daughter’s life. So here’s some ideas:

1) If you’re a new father, get involved with the care and feeding of your baby. Learn which diapers fit the best, which food your child prefers, and which stuffed animal is the favorite. This will start to build the emotional bond early in life. Think of this information as a map – the more you know the more detailed the map the better you’ll see your child.

2) If you have school aged children, attend parent teacher conferences, get in the rotation to take your child to school or pick her up. Use that time to talk to her and listen to what happened during her day. Learn the names of her teachers, friends, principal, friends parents, and the lunch lady for that matter. Does it take energy, absolutely. Is it worth it? You better believe it.

3) Have special father-daughter days or activities. Pick a favorite restaurant, park, or movie and go together. Tell mom to back off – this is your special time with your daughter (and mom should have her own anyway).

4) Know the names of your child’s doctor, babysitter, and school and have these numbers programmed into your phone.

5) And this is the most important – take five minutes out of each and every day to tell your daughter how much you love her and how special she is to you. She craves that recognition and you will love the look on her face when she gets it.

As a father, you have the ability to change your daughter’s life for the better. It will take work on your part, but it will be the best job you ever had.

“Certain is it that there is no kind of affection so purely angelic as of a father to a daughter.” – Joseph Addison

Further Reading: Father Hunger: Father, Daughters, and the Pursuit of Thinness by Margo Maine, Ph.D.

Mommy Survivor

Soon after Mother’s Day I received an email from my cousin that made me laugh and then made me really sad. Here’s the email and then I’ll explain what I mean:

Six married men will be dropped on an island with one car and 3 kids each for six weeks. Each kid will play two sports and take either music or dance classes.

There is no fast food.

Each man must take care of his 3 kids; keep his assigned house clean, correct all homework, complete science projects, cook, do laundry, and pay a list of ‘pretend’ bills with not enough money. In addition, each man will have to budget enough money for groceries each week.

Each man must remember the birthdays of all their friends and relatives,
and send cards out on time–no emailing.

Each man must also take each child to a doctor’s appointment, a dentist appointment
and a haircut appointment.

He must make one unscheduled and inconvenient visit per child to the Emergency Room.

He must also make cookies or cupcakes for a school function.

Each man will be responsible for decorating his own assigned house, planting flowers outside, and keeping it presentable at all times.

The men will only have access to television when the kids are asleep and all chores are done.

The men must:
shave their legs,
wear makeup daily,
adorn themselves with jewelry,
wear uncomfortable yet stylish shoes,
keep fingernails polished, and eyebrows groomed.

During one of the six weeks, the men will have to endure severe abdominal cramps, backaches, headaches, have extreme, unexplained mood swings but never once complain or slow down from other duties.

They must attend weekly school meetings and church, and find time at least once to spend the afternoon at the park or a similar setting.

They will need to read a book to the kids each night and in the morning, feed them,
dress them, brush their teeth and comb their hair by 7:30 am.

A test will be given at the end of the six weeks, and each father will be required to know all of the following information: each child’s birthday, height, weight, shoe size, clothes size, doctor’s name, the child’s weight at birth, length, time of birth, and length of labor, each child’s favorite color, middle name, favorite snack, favorite song, favorite drink, favorite toy, biggest fear, and what they want to be when they grow up.

The kids vote them off the island based on performance.

The last man wins only if he still has enough energy to be intimate with his spouse
at a moment’s notice.

Now, those women out there reading this will find this hillarious. Those men out there reading this are possibly somewhat offended. And thus begins the battle of the sexes as set up by society. The truth of the matter is that it has largely become the woman’s job to take care of the emotional side of family relationships as well as the logistical side of family life. I know many men will say, well that’s because I work, but the reality now is that women also work, often full time, outside of the family. And thus begins the battle of the sexes in couples therapy. It is happening more and more often that couples enter marriage therapy because the wife has simply collapsed under the enormous pressure of maintaining family life. This battle over whose “job” taking care of the family is has created a divide between men and women. Some women thrive in this type of environment. They spend their time planning family outings, making family meals, and attending school functions – it gives them energy. Other women attempt to do all of these things and feel like utter failures when they are exhausted by the end of the day. This is because we all have different talents and strengths. Notice I said different, not better. The truth of the matter is that if you’re a mom and doing all of the things in this email makes you feel fulfilled and full of energy, that’s great. The problem occurs when you’re a mom and you feel completely drained and empty after doing all of these things. That means you need help and you will need a partner who supports that need for help, even if society doesn’t. Otherwise, you and your partner will end of in my office, or divorce court. That’s what makes the funny sad.

Big Ben

Anyone who listens to the radio, watches TV, or reads the paper has probably heard about the issues surrounding Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the issues regarding a possible sexual assault he perpetrated on a young woman in Georgia. You probably have also heard that he will not be facing charges for this but that the NFL is considering some sanctions. On my drive to work this morning I heard a discussion of this very subject that made my blood run cold. The DJs on the station were discussing their views, a male and female thought Big Ben should be fired due to his public standing. The other male on the show was infuriated and believed that since no charges were being filed the NFL should not be involved at all. Several issues came up – the fact that this is actually the second time Roethlisberger has been accused of this type of crime, comparisons to Tiger Woods recent issues, and the idea that the young woman must be lying since the charges were dropped. This last piece is what made me so sad and scared for other women who may have experienced a sexual assault. What makes it even worse – it was put forth by a female caller to the station. There are so many myths about sexual assault in our culture that make it nearly impossible for a woman to feel able to report a crime and often leads to victim blaming and perpetrator worship.

One of the most commonly put forth theory on women who accuse famous people of sexual assault is that these women are lying to get money from the superstar. Unfortunately, the media has made a huge deal out of the two or three cases like this in the past decade of so, leading people to believe that this is the norm rather than the exception. No woman, I repeat, NO woman would want to make something like this up if she knew what the consequences would be for her. Going through a sexual assault trial is akin to being reassaulted. You will have to tell the story of your assault multiple times with a defense lawyer questioning every detail that you provide, hoping you’ll get confused about the details of what was most likely the most horrific experience of your life. If your case has made it to trial you have probably endured highly shaming examinations involving hair removal and pictures and met with dozens of police officers who may or may not have believed you. And heaven forbid there was any use of drugs or alcohol prior to your assault or that you may have had sexual contact with the perpetrator, or any other person, in the past.

The reality of this is that women who are assaulted avoid pressing charges because they know what will happen to them. Seventy-five percent of the assaults that occur are perpetrated by someone the woman knows and most likely has been intimate with in the past. Alcohol is the most popular date-rape drug available. And officials estimate that approximately 85% of assaults go unreported. I constantly hear women who have never been assaulted say, “If someone did that to me, I would go after him with everything in my power.” Unfortunately, these women usually don’t understand the results of a sexual assault. They don’t recognize that women who have been assaulted feel they have no power and that something they did most likely caused the assault to happen anyway. We as a society do not support the survivors of assaults by providing them safe places to make reports and then believing them when it happens. And when the case makes it to trial, we require that the victim revictimize herself in order for the perpetrator to most likely be found not guilty. I have spent years working with victims of sexual assault, trying to show them that making bad decisions does not allow someone to rape them. Rape is not a physical crime, so much as a destruction of another person’s soul. And our society makes that okay when we label the victims as liars or sluts or drunks and celebrate their famous perpetrators.

Making Peace with Women’s Bodies

After too long of an absence, one of my clients finally broke my writer’s block. Unfortunately, this experience is so common among women there’s no way confidentiality will even be threatened by my sharing this. My client expressed her deep seated fear that if she gained weight, people would no longer like her and would even abandon her. This idea was based on her observations that being thin is what leads to happiness. Some of you may be asking yourselves, “where could she have possibly gotten this ide.” Some of you are nodding your heads in agreement because you too have seen the numerous ads for weight loss aids, diet foods, Lean Cuisine, and even chocolate that shows thin, happy people generally having a good time. Day in and day out, we are inundated with these types of ads from the time that we can watch TV. We are taught that some foods are “good” and that others, typically the ones people want to eat, are “bad.” At the same time, any advertisement for food on TV involves a thin woman sensually enjoying whatever it is that she’s eating and ravenously looking for more. Women are trapped. Food is both the enemy and the replacement for a sexual relationship.

What if, instead of this confusing food landscape, we were raised on a planet where food was simply food, neither good nor bad and in no way a replacement for sex? Would women, and in reality men, have such a conflicted relationship with women’s bodies? The surprise of this is that we do live on this planet – food is simply food, neither good nor bad. We can’t have a relationship with food that will replace our intimate relationships with others. The difference is that we have commercials, magazines, and even some television shows that tell us otherwise. Maybe it’s time to start listening to our own wisdom again. Maybe it’s time our rational brains were invited back to the party. Instead of looking for comfort in that Snikcers bar or bag of Doritos, look for it in those people in your life that you can trust. Instead of trying to gain control of your hectic schedule with mac and cheese, try saying no to some of the things in your life that are actually creating the hectic schedule. Simple, right? Absolutely! Easy? Well, that’s a different story. It takes constant mental aerobics for women and men to remind themselves what is real for a woman’s body. Whether or not we use them for this purpose or not (which by the way, is the woman’s choice), women’s bodies are built to create and sustain life. That takes fat, hips, and breasts. It’s time we started to remember that and stopped bombarding women and men with unrealistic images and ideas about bodies and food. Women really do come with curves, and those curves are beautiful, in whatever form they take. That should be respected, not derided.

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