How Do You Heal at Home?
Beyond the rush and noise of the Holiday Season, hides an amazing treasure - the passing of stories and wisdom from our elders. And we're not just talking about tales of the good ol' days from grandparents! Because an elder is simply someone who’s gone before you, no matter their age.
So, to celebrate this special time of year, we are featuring short stories from some of you - the elders in our community who have already walked the road of recovery. We wanted to know how you have integrated recovery into your homes and living spaces.
Each featured response is brief. Our hope is that they spark your imagination to consider ways that home might become a partner instead of an opponent to mental health.
Many thanks to Kara Richardson Whitley, Ashton Grooms, Jen Ponton, Jane Zeltser, Patrick Devenny, Tony Wilson, Niki Dubois, Chris Henrie, Ivy Watts, Katie Kittredge, & Jayne Mattingly for sharing.
I don't know about you, but the older I get, the less interested I am in the physical items we gift each other during the holidays, and I find myself more drawn towards the irreplaceable moments this time of year allows. Whether it's building a fire with friends and ribbing my buddy Sean about his, quote-unquote, "fire skills" or seeing the excitement on my three-year-old's face when she grasps how good it can feel to give something away rather than just receive.
Of all these more ephemeral holiday treasures, there's one that I think American life tends to forget, the passing of stories and wisdom from our elders. And I'd like to use the term elders loosely, because an elder is simply someone who's gone before you, no matter their age. So today we are celebrating the holiday season by hearing from some of you, our elders who have walked the road of recovery. I wanted to know how you have brought recovery into your living spaces. Each of the responses are brief, in hopes that they act as little sparks to our imaginations as we consider ways that home might become a partner instead of an opponent to our mental health. You are listening to Mental Note Podcast. I'm Ellie Pike.
Kara Richardson Whitely:
Hi, my name is Kara Richardson Whitely. And that right there is one of my best recovery tools, a cup of tea. I know, it seems really simple, but when I was in the depths of binge eating disorder, I would circle around this kitchen and the kitchen I had before just seeking an answer in what might be in the cabinets. And what I learned with a binge eating disorder specialist therapist was to pause, be present, to feel the counters on my hands, and if I can, get a cup of tea, because when I hold this cup of tea, I'm present. I'm here. I have warmth in my hands. I can feel the texture of the porcelain on my fingertips. I can smell the aroma, I feel heat, and I am here in a moment instead of cycling, waiting for another answer when I'm not going to find it.
I am just coming off of one of the most challenging mental health episodes I've ever had before, just disappointed with life and thinking I'd be a lot further than I am at my age, not being happy with work and not having a good work-life balance. And just recently I can say proudly that the clouds are lifting and I'm feeling so much better. I had to set a lot of boundaries and I had to create a space in my home that was just for me, full of color and light. I had to start eating differently and taking my daily walks. No matter if it's raining or if the sun is shining as beautiful as it is today, I had to get out and walk and take a breath of fresh air. And I feel amazing today.
Hey, I'm Jen Ponton and for the last year I have been in a really acute state of trauma and healing and recovery, and it's been additionally challenging because my housing has been very unstable and unreliable. I've found the most grounding and anchoring and rooting things that I can do have been to make my space as sacred and loving and reassuring as possible. The best thing that I did was finding this picture of me from when I was 10, and I had just broken my arm and I had climbed a jungle gym and I conquered that jungle gym and I stood on top with my hands on my hips. And that is the kid that I know I am. That's how I know I'm on purpose, when I am her. So I keep this picture of her in a hot pink frame on my desk to check in and just say, "We've got each other. We can get through this."
I make my home a more healing space for eating disorder recovery by making sure that I have all of the bath essentials that I need. So that includes bath bombs, beautiful flowers, lavender oil, candles, music. And the reason that that's so important to my healing is that as a recovered individual from eating disorders in my youth, my eating disorder self is integrated with my healthy self and now only acts as an alarm system when something's going wrong in my life or I feel overwhelmed or stressed. So as soon as I get that alarm, I make sure to take a very soothing bath. It's essential to my mind, body, and soul, and I'm able to fully relax and then reevaluate whatever the situation is that could possibly trigger me.
For me and my journey of recovery, a lot of it came down to making my home environment something that wasn't triggering and allowed me to really focus on myself. I think the most difficult part about recovering at home is exactly that, that when you are in that environment, you're forced to face the things every single day. But that was the best part of recovery was then I knew I could get to a spot that I could be in my house and not be thrown back into my old ways. So what I had to do was get rid of certain things in my house that were triggering, covered mirrors, did certain things around the house that would allow me to just really focus on how I was feeling in that moment, to then eventually start to incorporate everything back in but not fall into the same traps.
In 2021, I created the I Faced My Demons Campaign where I detailed my journey with mental health and my struggles with substance and alcohol abuse. What I did is I created a song, and this shirt's called I Faced My Demons. I sold them to people online and I asked anybody who purchased a shirt or who just wanted to use the hashtag to talk about any struggle that they had or any demons that they faced. And what I did is for a seven-day period, I discussed many different topics of my journey with mental health, whether it was dealing with depression and anxiety or with substance abuse, I talked about my journey and how I got through it.
And what I ended up doing is creating a really cool community of folks who all used the hashtag and they began to share their story, sometimes opening up for the first time about their stories, and then talking about ways that they dealt with their things and ways that they got on the other end of their journey. This was very hard for me to do because at that point I had never been so open and transparent about struggles, only about the good things, and this helped me to close the door on the shame and to really just be able to move forward and to be confident in my story and my recovery and just be able to just then get on the other side of it all.
Something that I did to really help support my recovery was to connect with my community, my friends, my family, and give them the opportunity to show up for me by, important, asking them to show up for me. And I let them know what I was working on and they wanted to show up for me. They just didn't know exactly how. So I let them know exactly what they could do to show up for me, how they could show up. I let them know what things were helpful, maybe not so helpful. And it would've been perfect had they never said anything activating, and that just isn't reality. So something also really important that I did was I learned to tolerate discomfort and I learned to be okay without having that support. And it would've been ideal to have that support of course, and it's not always available to us.
When I returned home from in-patient treatment, I knew that one of the most challenging things that I would have to do would be setting boundaries with my family. During one family meeting while in treatment, we were given a list that was titled The Dos and the Don'ts About Talking to Somebody with an Eating Disorder. And when I got home, I put that paper directly onto our refrigerator. And although it was challenging, it felt really, really good to finally feel safe and understood within my own home.
I lost my mom about a year ago, and I got the phone call about her passing when I was at home. Then she passed in the home that I grew up in, where I still frequently visit my dad. So I had to create these spaces both in my own personal home and the home where I grew up in, and to find my moments of calm. Particularly I really created spaces to grieve in my home, to have long spaces to take extra time to do meditation or a workout or just create these spaces where it was okay to allow myself to feel how I was feeling. That really allowed me to continue on through my grief and know that it's always going to be part of me, but now that I know how to grieve at home, I know how to grieve in other spaces too when I think about her, which is all the time.
Two years ago, when I was in the process of transitioning to college, the question came up about whether I was going to get a new therapist when I moved to college or if I was going to stick with my same therapist. And it quickly became evident with how far I was going to have to travel that I wouldn't be able to drive to therapy every week. So we explored our options and realized that virtual therapy might be the best option. So that is what I ended up doing. While I'm not consistently in therapy anymore, I still have the flexibility of if I need to go to therapy or something, I can send a text and I can do therapy from wherever I'm at. And that has looked like FaceTiming or Zooming for therapy sessions in my bedroom all the way to FaceTiming and doing therapy on the top of the parking garage before I had class. So I found with virtual therapy that I really have the flexibility that I need, and it makes it really sweet when I come home for the holidays and I'm able to have an in-person therapy session.
I did my eating disorder recovery outpatient. I was living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming at the time, and I was living in a basement with all men, including my boyfriend, who's now my husband. And the one thing that truly helped me throughout my entire journey was finding true self-care. And so what I did was I created a self-care corner, literally a corner in my room where I was able to do all things that were void of eating and sleeping and working out, and were just things that helped my soul feel better, 5-10% better; essential oils, aromatherapy, painting my nails, puzzles, coloring. Let me tell you, changed the entire landscape of recovery for me because I had my space to just be unapologetically myself. Highly recommend the self-care corner.
Thank you for listening to Mental Note Podcast. If you're wondering what it looks like to heal at home, you may want to look into virtual programming through Eating Recovery and Pathlight at home. Their programs fit seamlessly into your everyday life and are proven to be as effective as in-person treatment. On today's episode, you heard from Kara Richardson Whiteley, Ashton Grooms, Jen Ponton, Jane Zeltser, Patrick Devenny, Tony Wilson, Nikki Dubois, Chris Henry, Ivy Watts, Katie Kittredge, and Jayne Mattingly.
Our show is brought to you by Eating Recovery and Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center. If you'd like to talk to a trained therapist to see if in-person or virtual treatment is right for you, call them at (877) 850-7199. If you like our show, sign up for our e-newsletter and learn more about the people we interview at mentalnotepodcast.com. We'd also love it if you left us a review on iTunes. It helps others find our podcast. Mental Note is produced and hosted by me, Ellie Pike, and directed and edited by Sam Pike. Until next time.