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Brookhaven Retreat Blog
Saturday, 28 February 2015 00:00

Emotional Sobriety

Sunday night, along with millions of other people, I watched the 2015 Oscars. The host, in case you didn’t already know, was Neil Patrick Harris who played a character known as Dr. Doogie Howser on TV from 1989 to 1993.

Like many actors, Harris has a long list of personalities he’s stepped into like second skins. When I tuned in an hour late and I saw him, I thought to myself, “Oh, look! Doogie Howser!” It made me think about how after all these years I would still associate him with that character (regardless of the fact that I never once watched the show when it was on). How interesting, and perhaps sad and amazing all at once, that although he’s played many other roles since the comedy-drama about a teenage physician who is just trying to grow up like every other “normal” teenager, I remembered him as Doogie.

The fact that he can laugh at himself now and make the audience laugh along with him in the role of the clowning host speaks volumes about the kind of actor and person he has turned out to be since he began his acting career in approximately 1988 when he was cast in the dramatic film Clara’s Heart starring Whoopi Goldberg. He seems pretty average (resume, salary and social circle notwithstanding) and it makes me scratch my little scalp and wonder how actors do it and still maintain emotional sobriety.

Emotional sobriety means not letting your emotions run wild. It’s about control. Without it, physical sobriety is a slippery slope that often leads to the safety net of drug abuse rehab to combat destructive choices of addiction and other compulsive behaviors.

Of course, we can all fathom how so many actors become ensnared by the trappings of fame and fortune. How difficult it must be to put your own reality aside and jump into a different life, a new set of circumstances, a brand new past and stew in it no matter how difficult or unusual it may be, all the while knowing that reality is finite and will come to a screeching halt when either your character is killed off or the director announces, “That’s a wrap!”

It’s hard enough as a mere mortal to live in my own skin, which actually makes a case for the kind of escapism the entertainment business requires. Perhaps for many artists, it is their salvation.

Graham Moore, who won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game, was touted by the Huffington Post for delivering the “most moving acceptance speech” of the night when he spoke of suicide awareness and depression.

"I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I'm standing here," said the 34-year-old screenwriter and author. "I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along."

Interestingly enough, he wasn’t the only actor of the night to reference suicide, which is a serious wake-up call for the human race. It reminds me that everyone has issues and if I contribute anything to my fellow human, it will be to drop my judgment.

As a senior in high school, I played Sandy in our school’s production of Grease. Though it wasn’t exactly difficult a stretch for me, I remember asking the director how to play a “goodie two shoes” without “telling,” which I learned about later in a college acting class.

Now, I think of living the life of one who chooses reality-hopping as a career and perhaps hiding behind different roles and calling it a job or an art form. That said, I can’t help but think about Robin Williams, and I become instantly sad. But since I’d rather not be sad, I think of Doogie Howser---I mean Neil Patrick Harris, in his underwear---“and then I don’t feel so bad,” as Lady Gaga broke character to sing.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
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Thursday, 26 February 2015 00:00

The Role of Food in Mental Health

From the time we are born, eating offers us comfort, warmth and fulfillment. Throughout our lives, there are traditions built around food for family gatherings and special occasions. Food plays the essential role of providing the nutrition our bodies need, but it can also become a source of distress when we unintentionally practice overindulgence or abstention.

No one means to develop an eating disorder. Often it is the result of deeply rooted emotional distress that has no release other than our bodies trying to find relief and comfort. We may do this through unhealthy eating, or for that matter, through chemical dependency, shopping addictions or other detrimental outlets. Disturbances in eating behavior are probably the easiest habit to gain control of our actions because eating is second nature, it is necessary, and food is readily available.

Eating healthy foods ensures that our bodies have adequate energy to function and focus. Unfortunately, the foods we crave when we are distressed, especially those high in sugar and carbs, have little nutritional value. They can even exacerbate symptoms of anxiety such as nervousness and fatigue, and cause an increase in the stress hormone, cortisol.

While foods are not a cure for mental illness, there are foods that have been found to help lessen symptoms such as anxiety, stress, insomnia, anger and irritability, and lack of motivation, focus, concentration, memory and appetite. Mentalhealthy.co.uk offers a Mind Food Series on “Food for Good Mental Health” that lists what foods offer the nutrients needed to alleviate specific mental illness symptoms. For example, the magnesium in pumpkin seeds and the Vitamin B3/B6 in squash have been found to help decrease symptoms of depression.

The nutritionist on staff at Brookhaven Retreat will help design meals for you that are healthy for body, mind and soul. Healthy eating is an integral part of the self-care that begins your healing journey and is just one of the dimensions of Brookhaven Retreat’s holistic approach to therapy.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Thursday, 26 February 2015 00:00

Self-care: Stronger Nails, Naturally

As women age, our hands become even more noticeable. Moisturizer is key for the wellness of your skin, keeping it hydrated, especially for your hands that may give away your age if you’re not careful.

I think of nails as the accessories of my hands and although I keep them short, they are neat and look clean and taken care of. If you happen to have long nails that become weak, perhaps you’re not eating enough foods rich in silicon and sulphur, like fish, onions or cruciferous vegetables. Brewer’s yeast, soy and whole grains have biotin, which your nails also need. To make them grow faster, try including flax seeds in your diet daily for two or three weeks and enjoy the results.

Topically, nails crave oil and you can use any and all of the following oils to lubricate your nails, remove cuticles and moisturize your hands all at the same time. Try coconut oil, argan oil, olive oil or wheat germ oil. Argan oil, otherwise known as Moroccan oil, is said to be the best because of the Vitamin E and fatty acids, which deeply hydrate brittle nails. You can add this oil along with the essential oil of your choice. For instance, lavender, citrus oils and peppermint are all helpful for mental wellness and warding off depression and anxiety, and maintaining mood balance.

If you happen to have a few simple ingredients, you can create your own nail soak to strengthen your nails.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon Argan, Coconut, Wheat Germ, or Olive Oil
  • A few drops of your favorite essential oil

Here’s what you do:

Mix oil and eggs in a small bowl. Soak the nails of each hand for about 10 minutes. Then rinse well. Try this twice a week for stronger nails.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Wednesday, 25 February 2015 00:00

How We Affect Our Children

Our interactions with our closest loved ones are like an intricately knit spider’s web. When there is the tiniest bug on the other side of the web, the ripple is felt all the way across. This is true of our most joyous accomplishments as well as our mistakes, but never felt so strongly as when mental illness or chemical dependency is involved. Many times we think that our actions are our own business and that they don’t affect others. Yet the fact alone that our loved ones care for us so deeply is enough to cause worry, stress and anxiety over our well-being. Adult loved ones will worry about our physical health and safety, while our children may suffer a range of emotions including fear, anger, sadness, guilt, shame, or anxiety.

Just how much are our children affected by our mental illness or chemical dependency? The answer to this question varies greatly depending on the predictability of our outward symptoms, stability or lack of in the home, the age of the child and whether or not our illness restricts the child’s basic needs being met. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health recommends that all children need an age appropriate explanation of a parent’s mental illness to help them understand why a parent acts the way they do. If left to come up with their own answers, children often think of incorrect and scary scenarios. Children also need a support system, whether it is a family friend, relative, school official, therapist or other adult to confide in and turn to if they need help.

MentalHealthAmerica.net asserts that resilient children understand that they are not responsible for their parent’s difficulties. They recommend that children develop resiliency through supportive “protective factors.” These factors include a warm and loving relationship with parents and extended families, a sense of being loved, positive peer relationships, an ability to articulate their feelings, good coping skills, interest in and success at school, and positive self esteem.

I didn’t think a lot at the time about how my depression after my brother’s death and during my divorce affected my pre-teen son. As a mature only child, I probably gave him too much credit for understanding what was going on, and probably also told him too much. He and I have spoken about it since, and at nearly twenty years old, he seems well adjusted with no permanent damage. But I know that it had to be so difficult for him at the time to go from having an involved mother who not only worked at his school but led community activities and provided a haven for all of his friends at our home, to a mother who stopped cooking and cleaning and volunteering and lay in bed for hours or days crying and sleeping. It took me a while after my recovery to also work through the guilt of how my illness affected him.

Don’t wait until you are looking back on your illness to assess the affect it had on your children. Ninety days of in a residential treatment program is a small amount of time out of a child’s lifetime to heal yourself and become not only physically available but more mentally available. Seek help now. Your children will thank you for taking care of yourself so you can take care of them.

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Tuesday, 24 February 2015 00:00

Constant Contact

It’s happening everywhere. People are glued to their phones and missing out on live contact with others in their general vicinity, as well as the chance to see magnificent things going on around them. Such was the case recently when a man sitting on a sailboat didn’t peel his eyes away from his phone to catch a look at perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Off the coast of Redondo Beach, CA, whales were breaching about 50 feet from a sailboat with several people on the boat, including a man staring at his smart phone. The whale and her calf surfaced, according to a photographer who was watching both the whales and the boat, and although two women on the boat caught it in time to take pictures of the whales, the man on his phone missed it.

Eric Smith, the photographer who snapped the shots told ABC News, "He could have been texting his mom in the hospital for all I know, but I thought it sucked that he missed such a wonderful moment happening just two feet in front of him.” Of course, you could also say that a man behind a camera is less likely to be glued to his phone because he’s glued to his camera. The point is we’re all victims of some aspect of technology, which we now wonder how we ever lived without, and it’s robbing us of time spent in other perhaps healthier ways.

A study conducted at Baylor University in Texas uncovered staggering numbers associated with the nation’s cell phone use and therefore considers it an addiction. The study, conducted on college students, showed that women spend about 10 hours a day cell-surfing while men spend nearly eight.

As reported by Baylor media online, researcher James Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing said, “That’s astounding. As cellphone functions increase, addictions to this seemingly indispensable piece of technology become an increasingly realistic possibility.”

The study also states that about 60 percent of college students admit to the addiction, and some said they feel agitated when their phones are not in sight.

Will there ever be the need for a program like those offered at Brookhaven Retreat for those who want to recover from smart phone addiction? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, we should aim to spend less rather than more time on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and the like, as well as playing games on the phone, because it means we’re less active and more susceptible to disease and illness, and less talkative with those closest to us, which poses a threat to our most important relationships. It also means we may be slacking off in other problem-causing ways.

As with everything, it’s about balance. Yes, we as a people rely heavily on technology, especially our smart phones, but think of all the people you may have loss contact with if not for social media applications like Facebook and Instagram. Think of all the thoughts and photos you wouldn’t share. Also think of the business opportunities that may otherwise be missed without the luxury of constant contact applications like email and texting. Smart phones also mean we’re safer because we have access to people and maps in possibly dangerous situations.

I think we’re pretty fortunate to have the technology we have and believe it gives more than it subtracts. But we shouldn’t abuse it. It’s like that saying, “It’s all fine until somebody gets hurt.” We need to be more mindful of how much time we’re spending and who might be standing patiently (or impatiently) waiting to have our attention.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Saturday, 21 February 2015 00:00

An Inner Peace Treaty

I’ve been thinking about how much chaos was stirred inside me when I read The Four Agreements (Amber-Allen Publishing, Inc. 1997) by Don Miguel Ruiz, a Mexican man born into a family of healers. It was no accident that I read this book. Author Janalee Card Chmel gave me a copy when we worked together in 1990-91 at a New Jersey daily newspaper and often discussed topics like anxiety, depression and bereavement. In 2001, she wrote Grant Me Serenity, an incredibly poignant memoir about her mother’s last seven months of life with advanced liver cancer. So, whenever this insightful writer and dear friend suggested a book, I was sure to read it. She never steered me wrong.

After reading The Four Agreements a second time and certain parts of it many more times over the years, I now consider it my “inner peace treaty.” I tend to reach for it when I’m feeling baffled, that my mental health is in question and I need to start from ground zero. The agreements are embellished by stories shared from Ruiz’s rich life and experiences during his process of what I understand to be true enlightenment.

  1. Be impeccable with your word. This is the urge to be authentic with your voice, as well as truthful and loving. The importance of this is obvious. Honesty is a lonely word. We lie to protect ourselves. We lie to protect others. We lie because we believe the truth will hurt worse than a lie. But mostly we lie when we want things to be different and don’t know how to make them authentically happen. A lot of it starts with words you say to yourself. We can only be truthful with others if we can be brutally honest with ourselves. Not easy sometimes!
  2. Don’t take anything personally. I believe this is one of the hardest things to accomplish in life. Our egos are huge and we have a difficult time not personalizing absolutely everything. I can only imagine how much happier the world would be if we could manage not to take things personally and understand that nothing anyone does has anything to do with you. For this agreement alone, the book is worth reading. Ruiz writes, “When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
  3. Don’t make assumptions. Imagine all of your relationships without misunderstanding. I have a hard time with it, but I’m going to try for just a moment. If we collectively decided to always ask questions and avoid assuming anything at all, the problems of the world would cease because people would have almost nothing to argue about. The trick here is having the patience and confidence to ask questions and once again to be impeccable with your word and say exactly what you mean at all times. If we could do that being human would have new meaning.
  4. Always do your best. Of course, your best is relative and subject to great change from moment to moment. But the point is to work with what talent and abilities you have and infuse every waking moment with positive energy and truth for your own sake to avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and especially, to avoid regret. Never mind judgment or abuse or criticism from anyone else because no one should ever take anything personally, according to the second agreement.

Just now, my intuition prompted me to Google “inner peace treaty.” The result is yet another affirmative example for how intuition actually works. Number one on the search list was a book by Chelsea Wakefield, LCSW called Negotiating the Inner Peace Treaty---Becoming the Person You Were Born to Be about Jungian archetypes and living authentically, both fascinating topics, if you ask me. So, it’s obvious that I must now read this book. But the kicker is when I looked up the publisher so I could include it here; it turns out to be Balboa Press, a division of Hay House (as in Louise Hay, the author of You Can Heal Your Life, 1984). Later this year, my first book Chilangos in the House (about the life of a Mexican restaurateur) will be published by Balboa Press.

If there were to be a fifth agreement, it should be to always follow your intuition because it leads you everywhere you need to go.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Saturday, 21 February 2015 00:00

Courgette Spaghetti

Courgette spaghetti, or zucchini spaghetti, is a great low carbohydrate option to use as a replacement for pasta. It is a fantastic food for diet days and it’s quicker to cook than pasta. It is a much tastier option than low carbohydrate or diet pastas and much better for you as well. It is very easy to prepare with a spiral slicer or with the julienne vegetable peeler, the julienne blade of mandolin or a spiral vegetable slicer. With a whole host of vitamins and minerals, Courgette is a great way to add a nutrient boost to a meal that can help support brain function and mental health.

Ingredients:

  • 1½ lb. salmon, cubed
  • 2 courgettes (zucchini), sliced into “noodles” with spiral slicer or julienne blade of mandolin
  • 1 tablespoon of canola or peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ lb. cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Salt and pepper

Marinade:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Pinch of paprika
  • Pinch of chili powder
  • ½ lemon
  • Salt and pepper

Procedures:

To make the marinade: In a bowl, mix the olive oil, garlic, paprika, chili powder and grated lemon rind. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the marinade over the cubed salmon and leave to marinate for a few minutes. In the meantime, use a spiral slicer or julienne cutter to slice the courgettes into “spaghetti noodles”.

Heat the canola or peanut oil in a skillet. Sauté the courgette noodles and garlic for 2 minutes, until soft. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the pan. Set aside. In the same pan, sauté the cubed salmon for 3 to 4 minutes until tender.

Remove the salmon from the pan and briefly sauté the cherry tomatoes. Return all the ingredients to the pan and warm briefly over a high heat. Transfer to serving dish and garnish with fresh basil.

Yields 4 servings

Source: http://www.surlatable.com/product/REC-276072/Courgette+Spaghetti

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Saturday, 21 February 2015 00:00

Perfectionism

If you can’t do something perfectly, why do it at all? That was my mindset for many years. I can’t be sure exactly where I picked up such a tough attitude, but I’m thinking it might stem from gym class. I still get a sick feeling in my stomach flashing back on the soul-crushing inferiority I experienced in gym class. From being chosen last for every team, to fumbling the ball to missing the ball and getting nailed by the ball, I cringe for the little me who felt worthless for not being a better team player. The ironic thing is having equally vivid memories of playing ball after school with my younger brother and his friends, who appreciated my participation. I was able to throw, catch, hit, volley, etc. as well as the next guy (or girl). But why on earth would I have been able to enjoy sports after school but during? The answer is confidence.

I suppose the sensation of all the negativity surrounding not being good at sports (during school hours) spilled over in other areas of life. The way I handled gym class at school was by avoidance. I figured, I’m not good at this, my friends stand to lose if I am involved, and therefore sitting out is the best option for everyone.

Later in life, there were times when I didn’t do as well at something as I’d hoped to do, and suddenly became unmotivated to continue. Even though I began playing organ at age 2, and guitar and piano at 5, there were a number of years I went silent because I didn’t think I was as good as I could be. I was pinning myself up next to famous people who spent all day every day working to achieve recognition, while I dabbled in all kinds of things in search of the one thing that would turn everything else unimportant. That never happened, by the way, I still do everything I like to do regardless of how good I am.

By the time I finally faced this issue in therapy, I had become completely depressed. I wasn’t doing what I loved and felt a huge void in my life. My homework was to go to open mic nights and perform. If I couldn’t muster the courage to perform, then I had to sit there and watch every other musician. So, I did that. Then the million-dollar question: Should the organizer of the open mic night quiet the “less spectacular” musicians and only let the professionals perform?

The answer: It wouldn’t be an open mic night then, so absolutely not. Everyone deserved equal time. Imagine your child has shown up to perform and is turned away because she’s less than perfect!

The moral of this story is clear to me now. Forget American Idol, The Voice and X-Factor. In real life open mic nights, what you give the audience when you perform is a look into your soul. If they appreciate it, wonderful. If they don’t, so what? Sing your song for the sake of singing rather than for the recognition or approval.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Friday, 20 February 2015 00:00

Self Care: At Home Natural Room Scents

The power of aromatherapy is no joke. A beautiful scent can lift your spirits, combat depression and anxiety and motivate you just as sure as a bad smell can ruin your mood. Here’s a way to liven up the good vibrations in the house without using toxic air fresheners or candles, which depending on how they’re created can be equally harmful to your lungs, especially for those with allergies and asthma.

This is especially helpful and natural way to neutralize the aftermath of a cooking frenzy that included green vegetables, garlic or anything else that isn’t so pleasant the next day.

The good news is you can use simple ingredients you may already have. Even better if you happen to grow herbs in the kitchen or in the garden. It’s also inexpensive and easy to do.

What you will need:

Recipe:

  • 2 fresh lemons
  • 2 stalks of mint
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 2 quarts of water in a pan

Put all the ingredients in the pan of water and bring it to a boil. Then turn the heat down and let them simmer. As the water evaporates, add a little bit more water to keep the ingredients covered. You’ll notice the aroma as the mixture simmers. Isn’t it delicious? You can keep the ingredients in a mason jar in the refrigerator until you’re ready to simmer them, or keep a supply so you’re ready with it any time.

You can create other aromatic combinations using peppermint extract, almond extract, bay leaves, thyme, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, rosemary, lime, ginger and other fruits like oranges. Use your imagination and create the combination you and your family love the best.

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Thursday, 19 February 2015 00:00

Career Make-over

After seven years as a journalist, I had an itch. I loved writing, but had grown tired of the corporate newspaper business. I was getting divorced. I was depressed as the grind of life had worn me down.

As a coping mechanism, I gave myself the gift of weekly massages and was amazed at how much healing took place on the massage therapist’s table. I was moved to enroll in a bodywork program and add massage therapist to my repertoire. Because Gloria Coppola, the school’s director, believed in approaching bodywork as a healing art as well as a science; tuning into our higher power through intention, contemplation, movement, aromatherapy and other methods, were all part of our fascinating education that felt more like a spiritual journey than a course in healthcare.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the year and a half I attended classes, I was actually on a guided detox program for negative thinking and scattered intentions. The education I received about the power of touch turned out to be the road to personal awareness, raised consciousness and an awakening on every level. I learned how to go with the flow without judgment, quiet the negativity in my entire being and exercise my intention, which I now see as the foundation for everything.

It didn’t take longer than my 75-hour externship to realize how many troubled bodies walked the earth and how negativity, dependencies and other issues manifest in the body, especially in the muscles. When I finally got into the business for myself, I also began to take on the weight of the world as clients unloaded their heart-wrenching life stories on the table.

Years later, I met back up with Gloria, who wanted my help writing her book, Both Ends of the Rainbow (Balboa, 2013). This was after she lost her second husband, fell into a great depression and closed the school. She learned so much through the bereavement process, and to this day, bodywork is still her motivating force, as she now, among other things, travels to Hawaii---where she lived for several years---to conduct training for a Hawaiian method of bodywork called lomilomi.

Although massage therapy didn’t turn out to be my life’s work as it is for Gloria, I am still grateful for my time spent in massage school, where I gained coping skills I may have suffered without, and for the many years I was able to help ease people’s pain. Now that I’ve returned to full-time freelance writing, I continue to use what is now ingrained and will for the rest of my life.

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We are a private pay treatment center and do not accept any type of insurance. Costs associated with care are the responsibility of the client.