Debbie Gross, LCSW, Ltd.

     Individual, Marital & Family Therapy

Blogging on Life

Insights, Positivity, and Common Sense Ideas for Happier Living

by Debbie Gross, LCSW

How to Find Your Happy Place During the Holidays

December 11, 2019

   Welcoming another holiday season and new year can sometimes be filled with angst. Expectations are always high, which leaves lots of room for letdowns. Sometimes people use the time to reflect on the year gone by, only to notice the resolutions not met, disappointments, and heartaches rather than the moments that took our breath away. Somehow, our strongest memories sometimes are the darkest ones. It can take some people a lot of energy to hold onto the positive moments without the “but…” comments that follow. And planning for the year to come often is met with grandiose ideas that are a set up for more disappointment. So how then, can we possibly maintain the “happy” in “happy holidays”? What follows are six ideas for a wonderful holiday season to help transition into 2020 with hopefulness.


   1. Get Vertellis and play it. (www.vertellis.com) The card deck has four rounds:

      a. Round 1: reflect on the year past, focusing on people who inspired you,                                   things you did that wowed you, recall special moments

      b. Round 2: group reflection of the past year

      c. Round 3: focusing on the year ahead, making note of things you look 

                         forward to, plans you can make, ideas to carry into the next year

      d. Round 4: group reflection of the year ahead


If you don’t want to get the cards, share your own thoughts on the questions referenced above, and add your own. Use December as a time to reflect on how you spent the past year and think about what you want the next one to be like.


   2. Practice forgiveness. Focusing on the present, rather than holding onto the pain from the past. In an article by Katherine Hurst, she compiled steps to forgiveness:


      a. Stage 1: Awareness: You notice that you’re still angry, hurt or bitter about                                something, and this lets you know that you need to forgive. This 

                        awareness is crucial; without it, negative feelings will continue to

                        undermine you at a subconscious level.

      b. Stage 2: Experience. Forgiveness isn’t about suppressing or ignoring painful 

                         feelings. In fact, you need to go through a period of fully feeling 

                         those emotions. Engage with their full impact, whether by 

                         journaling or talking, and let yourself express your rage and pain.

      c. Stage 3: Acceptance. You don’t need to make excuses for the person who 

                        hurt you or to endorse the choices they made. In fact, you may not 

                        even want to let them back into your life. However, you do have to 

                        accept that you’ve had this unpleasant experience and that it 

                        cannot be changed.

      d. Stage 4: Willingness to Forgive. Often, it’s only after we experience the full 

                         range of our emotions and consign them to the past that we 

                         become willing to forgive. At this stage, you’ll really see that there’s

                         no benefit to staying in a place of suffering, and you’ll stop clinging

                         to the old pain that’s holding you back.

      e. Stage 5: Releasing. The final stage of forgiveness is letting go of your grudge

                         and releasing your emotions from your body. Once you do that, 

                         you can actively move on with your life positively and productively. 

                         You will feel a profound and lasting sense of peace and closure. 

                         (Hurst)


   3. Balance time spent with family and friends with time spent taking care of yourself. If you’re an introvert, you grow your energy from time by yourself, nurturing the quiet, inner peace. You especially need to honor the downtime! You will feel better in the group settings when you make sure to take that time to destress and unwind. If you’re an extrovert, you grow your energy from spending time interacting with others. While you might feel invigorated and alive in the group setting, you also need to have the balance of time alone. In those quiet moments you can check in with yourself, and caring for any stress, worries, or pain you might be feeling, physically or emotionally, from the experience of focusing on others.


   4. Be charitable! The holiday time is a great time to give back to your community, individuals in need, or friends and family who can use your help. Even if you have little yourself, you can go through your house and closets and pull out those gently used items that can be donated to others in need. Or make a date to give your time to an organization or individual who is in need of assistance. It feels so good to help! Whether giving of your time, money, or gifts, when you put yourself out there this way, the smiles or hugs you receive in return definitely fill your heart!


   5. Traditions!! There’s nothing like having some predictable enjoyment during the holiday times. Every family can create their own ideas for traditions if you don’t already have some. It can be game night, particular movies you watch, gingerbread house decorating, caroling, cooking baking, shopping, certain meals or decorations you use. Having some routine activities that you look forward to each year help strengthen the bonding or fun during this time. If you feel drudgery when thinking about an activity, try checking in with yourself about what is getting in the way. Sometimes traditions need altering to maintain the festive, enjoyable nature that was intended. Don’t be afraid to modify and enhance!


   6. Don’t go overboard and live beyond your means. Holiday time is not the time to spend down your savings, deplete the bonus, or charge up your limits. Gifts of the heart are as meaningful as store bought ones. Identify your budget for gift giving, entertaining, travelling or decorating and stick to it! The last thing you want is to overspend in December and spend the next year repairing the damage.

So whatever holidays you celebrate, may they be joyous, filled with love and laughter, and may you enjoy health, peace and happiness in 2020.


Work Cited

Hurst, Katherine. http://www.thelawofattraction.com/forgive-someone-hurt-you/. 2013-2019. Document. 10 December 2019.

Helping Navigate the Discussion Around Marijuana Legalization

A Guide for Communicating with Children and Adolescents

November 19, 2019

   With the legalization of recreational marijuana two months away, I feel it important to share some thoughts and guidance, as I have been receiving many questions about the impact on children and adolescents, families, as well as adult individuals. This first blog post will be dedicated to how to talk about the legalization with children and adolescents, offering parenting advice regarding marijuana use, and some educational resources to help you further understand the drug and research around its use.


   I want to first state that marijuana will not be legal for consumption by anyone under 21, just like alcohol. It is also important to know that it poses health risks for children and adolescents. The brain is still developing and does not mature until around age 25. In a recent study conducted by the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas Dallas, they found structural differences in brain development of adults who began using marijuana before age 16. These differences were primarily in the prefrontal cortex, which controls judgment, reasoning and complex thinking, and was directly linked to both the amount of marijuana used and number of years of continued use. (brainhealth.utdallas.edu) According to drugfree.org, “Even the occasional use of pot can cause teens to engage in risky behavior, find themselves in vulnerable situations and make bad choices while under the influence.” While it is legal for marijuana to be sold and used by adults over age 21 in the state of Illinois beginning in 2020, this doesn’t change the fact that ALL mind-altering substances, including marijuana, are harmful to the still developing adolescent brain. (drugfree.org)


   Therefore, it is important for parents to send a strong, clear message that underage use of marijuana is not allowed. The different ways marijuana can be ingested compared to thirty years ago has no doubt created a greater appeal to people who would otherwise not consider smoking. Getting high by smoking joints or a bong was the primary mode of use for years. Currently, vaping had been on the rise, but has gotten very bad press as of late with vape-related deaths. It is not clear yet what is causing this; whether it is physically related to what vaping does to lungs, what is in the substance being vaped, or some alternative reason. With the creation of edibles, people who might have otherwise avoided smoking weed now see more of a comfort level in trying or using it. Whether baked into brownies or cookies, or added to sweet treats like gummies or liquids like teas, there are many ways now to indulge. These edibles seem more socially acceptable than smoking or vaping and therefore pose a greater risk to youth attraction.

It will be important if parents choose to use, they are very careful about storage of all drugs, including edibles. Leaving containers out, much like leaving alcohol unattended, is risky behavior when children and teens are in the home. In addition, edibles do not get absorbed the same by each individual. There is a gap between eating an edible and feeling the psychoactive high that accompanies it. It can range from twenty minutes to four hours, depending on many factors, including any medications the person has taken, any other substances ingested, food eaten, and metabolism of the individual. If a teen eats an edible and doesn’t feel anything, he or she might be likely to eat more. The effects then can become exaggerated, and often one might feel paranoid, anxious, or nauseated. These symptoms can last up to twelve hours and be very scary.


   Getting into a car with someone under the influence of marijuana is also dangerous. Any impairment by substance use creates a risk that adolescents must avoid. Please have discussions with your children, much like you would talk regarding alcohol, about not getting into a car with someone (and not driving themselves) if the driver has eaten or smoked marijuana. Roadside sobriety tests will identify impairment from substance use, and there is a zero-tolerance policy for underage drivers with regard to marijuana.

There is a great resource for parents, called the Marijuana Talk Kit, that is put out by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. It helps break down the discussions you can have with your children and teens and will help set the stage for ongoing dialog. You can find it at https://drugfree.org/download/marijuana-talk-kit/


   Knowing the facts, starting the conversation, and creating a safe environment for your children and adolescents will go a long way in keeping them safe as our state legalizes marijuana. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you have at [email protected] 

Health at Every Size

2018

   I’ve decided to write on a personal, yet controversial topic – weight stigma and the diet culture in our society. As a plus size woman, some people might disregard this because they feel I am writing this to justify my size. Actually, I am writing this because I am worried about young girls and women and the messages we give them day after day that they just aren’t good enough! And here’s the thing, while I know I don’t exercise enough, or I my eating patterns aren’t as healthy as they can be because of too many late night meals from working crazy hours, or fast food snacks because I don’t make the time to prepare something that my body really needs, that makes up only a part of who I am! When you look at me, do you hold a bias that because of my size, I am not healthy? Because actually, I am!


   When we tell our young girls and teens that their body mass index or weight is not in the ‘zone’, we aren’t considering the whole picture. People of all shapes and sizes get sick. I have seen thin women suffer greatly with medical issues just as I have seen larger women with medical problems. And I have seen thin women who don’t exercise, and fat women who are quite athletic and physically fit! Size isn’t a reliable measure of health! Body health is not one dimensional, determined only by the number on the scale compared to our height and age! If we can instead teach girls to love themselves, move in healthy ways, eat foods that feel good and nourish them in a balanced way, then we can expect them to grow into happy, self-esteemed women who take care of themselves! Dieting teaches a person to restrict certain foods labeled as bad, which results in a deprivation mentality, followed by a break from the plan, then feeling a sense of failure, and retreating into the negative messages associated with falling off the diet.


   Think about those messages we hear every day! “Oh my goodness, I gained three pounds…I feel horrible!” “I can’t eat that, I have to keep my weight down for the ‘fill in the event’!” When someone has dieted and taken some pounds off, she might hear, “You lost weight! You look beautiful!” As if by implication before the weight loss, she wasn’t? Or at the next meeting, there is no reflection on how she looks, and maybe she gained a few pounds, so then she feels the weight equals less value, less beauty, less self-worth. I know girls and women who won’t wear bathing suits or shorts because they are embarrassed of their body type. I know girls and women who hide at pictures, afraid that they wouldn’t look their best in pictures because of their size. We are so tuned in to size and looks as a culture that we have lost the true beauty of an individual, and chiseled it down to only be reflected as a size 0 or 2 model.


   What would it feel like if we raised a generation of girls who could dance like no one was looking, wear what felt good and comfortable because she liked it, eat what felt great, view exercise as fun and energizing for her body, and could encourage her fellow ‘sisters’ to do the same? We are finally encouraging girls that they can do anything they set their sights on; girls can excel in math and science, for example. We must also teach them that they are beautiful in every shape and size they come in. If a diet program like Weight Watchers wants to invite teens to participate in a summer program of health and fitness for free, that would be exciting, as long as BMI and weight loss are not part of the plan, and they took ‘diet’ out of their equation! Deprived eating and shameful feelings around choosing carbs or grains don’t help teens develop a love for their bodies that will last a lifetime; rather it teaches them to feel they are never good enough, never thin enough, and need to practice self-deprivation at all costs. Instead let’s teach them that all food groups are ok and they can have a healthy relationship with food! Health can come at every size! Listening to what your body wants, be it salty or sweet, chewy or crunchy, hot or cold, and learning to stop when the body feels the first signs of full would be awesome! Helping teens to move for the pleasure of it; whether dancing, swimming, walking, running, or playing out in the fresh air would be glorious! Teaching teen girls that they should love themselves first, be proud of who they are and what they can do, and feel good from the inside out will lead to young women who can enjoy life without hesitation.


   So for me, while I want to get into some better habits as I continue this aging process in my 50s, it won’t be about losing weight. It will be about keeping my joints and muscles as healthy and lubricated as they can be to protect me as I get older. It will be about making sure I plan my meals better so I don’t feel so hungry at 9:30 at night that I need to stay up late after finishing a meal, and then feel too tired the next morning. And I will enjoy my chocolate because I love the creamy goodness as it swirls in my mouth as much as I love that crunchy, juicy pear, the savory chicken soup with that fluffy matzoh ball or that delicious king crab dipped in butter. When you look at me, I hope you see that I am healthy, smart, funny, creative, helpful, caring, and, by the way, I happen to come in a plus size body. 

The Cubs are a Symbol for What Therapy Teaches

2016

   As a lifetime diehard Cubs fan, winning the World Series was one of those highlights in my life that I know as the years pass will be as treasured then as it is now. As a marriage and family therapist, the symbolism in being a Cubs fan, both as looking at this year’s success as well as the long term drought and ‘maybe next year’ attitude can explain how one should live his or her life.

   

   First, let’s look at the championship game this year to understand. During the rain delay, a players only meeting was called and Jason Heyward spoke to his teammates. Almost every player spoke after the game about his words, rallying the team to pull together to finish this season with the 114th win that they have dreamt about. Why Heyward? Why is this significant to a social worker? Well, the guy is paid oodles of money, in the millions, to be there. Many would say this year has been a letdown in terms of what he has brought to the club. His fielding is never in question. His defensive role has been stellar this year. But during the playoffs, he had one of the worst batting averages, stranded fellow Cubbies on base, and left many wondering why we (all Cubs fans speak about the team as if it was our money spent!) are carrying him this way. Yet his talk represents why. During that game, at that rain delay, he could have sat quietly, passively, allowing others who have made pivotal plays or had at-bats that were compared with legends speak. But he decided he still had a role to play on HIS team. The Heyward symbol? Never lose sight of what you can contribute.

  

   Next, the theme of this year seems to have been “we never give up.” There have been so many moments, in the playoffs and during the season, where you look up at the scoreboard and thought, “no way.” But these Cubs are different from many others from years past. The score, the late inning doesn’t matter. The hopelessness doesn’t exist. They came from behind in many eighth and ninth innings to win. They were down 3 games to 1 in the World Series, where commentators were all but handing the coveted trophy to the Indians. They blew a four run lead and by the eighth inning, the score was tied. It didn’t matter. The team motto? “We never give up.” Anything can happen if you have a can-do attitude.


   The big picture. As a Cubs fan since the early 60’s, I have spent over fifty years thinking it can happen each year, only to sit in August explaining to my Sox or Cardinals fan friends that I’m hopeful that it might be next year. Eddie Vedder’s lyrics, “someday we’ll go all the way” is what we have felt our entire lives. There are so many like my dad, 81, and my mother-in-law, also 81, who have been doing this their entire lives, and they pass it down like a treasured heirloom, from generation to generation. My three daughters have inherited the Cubs gene as well. It’s what we do. It’s how we live. You start the season with hopes and dreams. You watch the games, wincing at each close play, sighing at each loss. By late July you shake your head and hope for a miracle, wish we could break from the curses that so many attribute to our fate. And by August the familiar saying is spoken, “Well, maybe next year.” And then November 2nd happened. Well, technically November 3rd. Because in Cleveland, the win occurred at 12:47 a.m. on November 3rd. A time we Cubs fans will never forget. That moment we have dreamt of has happened. The screams. The cheers. I went to bed with a huge smile and woke up with tears in my eyes, telling myself, “This really just happened.”


   I have spent much of my therapy career explaining to people that they are trying to live too safely. They are so afraid to get hurt; they aren’t truly living their lives to the fullest extent. They can’t really feel joy, after all, if they work so hard to avoid sadness or pain. And this is the biggest Cubs therapy lesson of all. The joy we are feeling right now is higher than any other team’s victory has ever felt. Not because I’m a Cubs fan and feel selfishly that this moment was better than Boston’s moment, or the Sox’ moment. But because when you wait 108 years for it while truly engaging in the ups and downs, and really riding the drought of disaster, when you finally reach the pinnacle, the view is more spectacular than you could have ever imagined. Only because we have felt the suffering, stayed loyal through the down times, believing even though our hearts ached and our opponents gloated, do we truly feel joy. I know we will hit the skids again. I am a Cubs fan. It doesn’t matter. I will be hopeful. I will be loyal. And just like the Cubs, in our lives, we will struggle.


   The ultimate message is, “Put yourself out there. Take risks. Know that pain is real and hurts. But if you keep at it, if you don’t give up, if you don’t lose sight of what you can contribute, the victories, no matter how infrequent, feel euphoric!”

Thanksgiving Reflection

2016

   As I do all the things I do to prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, I am trying to pay attention to all that I am feeling these days. I look forward to listening to the comments by my friends and family around the Thanksgiving table as we each share what we are grateful for. As a highly positive person, I know I always have a glass is almost full attitude, and I want to think that having that ‘can do’ attitude has helped me achieve the things in my life that are truly important. As a social worker, I am also highly tuned in to where others are at any given moment; the empath in me feels all that is around me and I tend to take that in and hold onto it. Partly because I hope that I can share some of the burden of others, and in part because I hope that my positive outlook drives me to find sources of healing, places of hope, and solutions to all that puzzles for problems that affect the people who are in my life.

   

   I am also aware that as a white person living in America, I have had a privileged life in so many ways, that my positivity has had a chance to thrive and grow. This has resulted in being able to quickly work to identify a positive outlook after the election results. There is a part of me that always holds onto hope. In general, I see myself as a social democrat and a fiscal republican. This election, I felt that putting someone into the White House that could shift the supreme court to extreme conservatism scared me most of all. I worried that a platform thriving on hate and fear would spark the voices of radicals who see no value in shared community, diversity, or equal rights for all. When Trump won, I lowered my head for a day, and then shifted my balance back to my positive self. Maybe he had a loud bark, but a gentle bite? Maybe he wanted to wake up America to notice we have gotten too complacent, but once awakened, he would shift his voice to unite us all? Maybe, since he spent most of his life as a democrat, he would make as surprise shift in aligning his cabinet to be inclusive and work towards acceptance?


   It was easy for me to do. I am white. I am second generation American. I blend in. Yes, I’m Jewish, so technically there is a target on my back, but I can look pretty much like many in America if I don’t put on my Jewish star necklace, or you don’t see me walking into my synagogue or catch my Menorah in the window on Chanukah. I’m also heterosexual. I have spent the last thirty years in a traditional marriage, raising three daughters, and basically living the American dream. I went to college and work in a profession I love, my husband went to college and has, thankfully, been steadily employed throughout our marriage, two of our children went to college and have entered the workforce, and the third is finishing graduate school. Pretty normal stuff. You see, from where I am, I can ignore the crazy on a day to day basis and continue to live my safe comfortable life.


   When I see Trump beginning to build his Cabinet with people who publicly hate communities of people, I have to step out of my world and speak up. Because I want my world to not only be safe and comfortable for me and my family, but for my friends, clients, neighbors, and community. It is anything but safe right now, and I am sorry for that. How can I expect people around me to be positive and grow that feeling when there’s a storm of hate swirling over America and growing with intensity? Unless we band together and continue to wake up our friends, and help advocate for a balanced government that wants to: protect the rights of ALL its citizens, allow for equality across genders, sexuality, religion, cultures, and abilities, and spread a message of respect to all people within its borders, none of us can or should sit back and feel comfortable.


   This is not about ‘my candidate’ losing the election, because I was highly aware of the flaws of Hillary Clinton too. I’m not a sour grapes person. But I am an empath, and feel the worry, pain and panic around me and understand that it is well felt. The one hope we do have is that President-elect Trump has always been one to be proud to say, “you’re fired!” I can only hope that when he sees the impact of what is coming, he utters those words to some of his soon-to-be key players and brings a more uniting team to his table.

So when I sit at my Thanksgiving table, I will focus on gratitude and hopefulness. But I will also pray for those leading our country to spend the next four years building up the lives of ALL Americans instead of working to tear select groups down.