Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Oughts and Ifs

the unexpected results of treatment

Another entry that is about faith that will probably be unfocused.  I’m learning that spirituality is rather difficult to write about.  It’s such an intangible thing and sometimes I feel as if there aren’t words for what I want to say.  Which is why I am so thankful for people such as Henri Nouwen.  Not only are his ideas on spirituality thought provoking and relevant, but his words are accessible and beautiful.

I’ve mentioned Rader before.  (I was at the Tulsa location.)  I was there in January and February for three weeks.  I’ve been criticized and called lots of names for going, which I find highly ironic, but that’s another story.  And you know, I might have been able to turn things around outpatient.  I had only just started slipping behaviorally.  But I knew my mind wasn’t in a good place, for reasons that had nothing to do with the eating disorder.  And I like what one of my friends’ therapists told her that she shared with me: To protect recovery at all costs. Rader allowed me to do that, and I left fully restored to my recovered state.

But I have to say that even if I had continued slipping and even if I had ended up relapsing, I would still be thankful I went if only for the reasons behind the books in the picture.  I experienced a spiritual reawakening at Rader, because of the workbook we used and because of the time I spent with an open Bible in my lap during my evening hours in my room, searching for answers to questions I couldn’t really voice.  I left Rader with a thirst to continue my spiritual journey, a thirst I have experienced at other points in my life but which had been lacking in the last couple of years.

One of the reasons I was resistant to Rader’s program at first was because of the spiritual aspect of the program.  I was so used to treatment programs that focus on avoiding behaviors and using coping skills and ignoring thoughts and urges and never ever mentioning faith and spirituality.  What place does faith have in the hospital?

The answer should be: everywhere.  I’m not talking about religion.  As I mentioned in my post, Wandering Around Faith, religion doesn’t mean much to me.  Worldly divisions of religion are just that: worldly.  Spirituality and faith are above and beyond religion or a set of rules or codes.  Spirituality and faith are found deep within the core of each person.  I have friends of many different religions, but we can discuss faith and spirituality with no problem, so the idea that hospitals shouldn’t address spirituality because different people may have different religions isn’t a good enough reason for me.  AA uses the term Higher Power for a reason.  I use the word God or the Divine.  Some of my friends use Yahweh or Allah or Buddha.  And in my mind, they are all versions of the Divine.  So I may be a radical or liberal Christian for believing this, but I’m okay with that.

But I think a person’s spirituality can be a huge asset to his or her recovery.  Our faiths give us a source of strength we can draw from to help us through difficult situations.  Spirituality can provide hope, something that many people with eating disorders lack.  I know I did for the longest time.  I was fortunate enough to find someone who was truly recovered and rediscovered hope, and she just happens to be a spiritual person by nature, which led me to return to my own faith and begin applying that to my recovery.  Prayer can be a source of peace, it can be a way to let go of anxiety and worries and obsessions.  Just the act of praying, regardless of outcomes, can be a release.  Meditation can allow an individual to become grounded and reconnect both with his or her Higher Power and him- or herself.

So faith and recovery were there in my mind together before I went to Rader, but I still couldn’t really believe in the whole “spirituality in the hospital” idea because of my previous experiences.  Sheppard Pratt worked for me, and they didn’t have spirituality, so how could a program that does work as well?  (Do you like my black and white logic??)

Well, it worked.  And it’s continuing to work.  I make sure I spend time nurturing the spiritual part of me now, on a daily basis, something I haven’t done in a long time.  And I have to admit that lately I’ve sort of felt bad about that.  Asking myself things like, “Why did I stop my daily devotion practice?”  “Why don’t I play my guitar and sing my chapel songs anymore?”  “Why haven’t I had to buy a new Bible in awhile?” (Admittedly, that’s only happened twice, where I’ve had to replace a Bible because it got sort of worn and this may sound weird, but I love the smell of new Bibles.)

Last night, I was reading a section of Henri Nouwen’s Here and Now, called “Without ‘Oughts’ and ‘Ifs'”:

It is hard to live in the present.  The past and the future keep harassing us.  The past with guilt, the future with worries.  . . . Guilt that says: “You ought to have done something other than what you did; you ought to have said something other than what you said.”  These “oughts” keep us feeling guilty about the past and prevent us from being fully present to the moment.  . . . Our worries fill our lives with “What ifs”: “What if I lose my job, what if my father dies, what if there is not enough money, what if the economy goes down, what if a war breaks out?” These “ifs” can so fill our mind that we become blind to the flowers in the garden and the smiling children on the streets, or deaf to the grateful voice of a friend.

Nouwen goes on to talk about how real life is in the here and now, how God is a God of the present moment, how the “oughts” and “ifs” pull us away from that moment, and, therefore, pull us away from God.

The “ifs” section explains part of my decision to Radically Accept my current situation. Things may change in the future, but I cannot obsess about that without giving up the present.  The “oughts”?  How many of us say the following things: “I should have listened to my first therapist? I should have kept with the program after my first hospitalization? I should never have purged that first time?  I should never have cut that first time? I should never have had an eating disorder?”  My question: How are these “oughts” helping you?  They’re great at increasing your guilt, but they aren’t helping you. I don’t think the “ifs” help us too much either, because the ifs (If I follow my meal plan tomorrow, If I don’t purge, If I don’t cut for a week, etc) only put pressure on our shoulders.

We live in the here and now.  Yup, it would have been great if you never had an eating disorder.  But you do. And it will be great if you follow your meal plan tomorrow.  But what about today?  Can you live in today?  “Okay.  So I have an eating disorder.  But today, right now, I am going to try to follow my meal plan and I am going to try not to purge.  And I will do the best I can for this moment in time.  I will not hold myself to what I could have done or what I could do tomorrow.  I will do what I can do in this moment, right here, and right now.”

It’s difficult.  The present moment.  But Nouwen is right.  If we live in the past or the future, we miss the smiles of children and the butterflies in the garden and the purring of cats sleeping next to you and the joy of reading a good book.  The present moment is filled with promises, if only we can let go of the past and future lone enough to grasp them.


July 4, 2010 - Posted by | Eating Disorders, faith, mindfulness, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Is it my imagination or are my posts longer now that I can’t walk all over the place?

    Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 4, 2010 | Reply

  2. A great post, Lexie. The idea that I could be spiritual and/or have faith without necessarily subscribing to every tenet of the denomination I was raised in is an idea I struggle with daily. Rather than feeling guilty for abandoning what I’ve been told is correct for something I may feel in my heart IS correct, I’ve more often than not abandoned it altogether. Now I’m having a hard time getting it back, and that makes me feel sad and more than a little lost. Thank you for spending some time addressing matters of faith, because it helps me to know it’s not just been me with the questions.

    Comment by michelle | July 5, 2010 | Reply

  3. Thank you for this amazing post! I spend far too much time dwelling on the past and dreading the future. So many “should-have”s Two quotes I really like are:

    “Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” – Groucho Marx

    (a bit different, though still about living and enjoying the present instead of thinking and analyzing it in a detached way), “You will never be happy if you keep searching for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you keep looking for the meaning of life without living it.” – Albert Camus

    Comment by anon | July 7, 2010 | Reply

  4. I don’t generally reply to blogposts but I will in this case. Seriously a big thumbs up for this one C CLass IP hosting!

    Comment by Triami | July 26, 2010 | Reply

    • thank you so much!

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 26, 2010 | Reply

  5. […] important to me. So, as the incredibly talented, inspiring Alexis Katchuk describes in her blog “Oughts and Ifs,” sometimes, we must “protect recovery at all costs”. And sometimes, doing so is not […]

    Pingback by The Long Road to Recovery | Eating Disorders Treatment | October 14, 2010 | Reply

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