Coach Caroline's Blog: Bulimia Survivor and Best Selling Author

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CoachCaroline

CoachCaroline

Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP, is an internationally-known coach, author, educator and motivational speaker on the topic of goal accomplishment and its connection with happiness, and is recognized as one of the world's leaders on this research and how it can be applied to one's life for maximum transformation and growth. She is also the author of several heralded and ground-breaking books, including "My Name is Caroline" the first autobiography by a bulimia survivor (Doubleday 1988 and soon-to-be re-released in 2013), and most recently "Positively Caroline," the first autobiography by a bulimia survivor who has decades of recovery.

Caroline is one of the first graduates of the Master's of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania (2006), and her capstone project became the best-selling book, "Creating Your Best Life" (Sterling 2009), the first mass market guide to the connection between the science of happiness and the science of goal accomplishment. She has been featured in the media for decades, and XM Radio featured her "Tip of the Day" for two years. Caroline is a graduate of Harvard University and mother of three adult children who lives in Bethesda, MD with her husband.

Posted by on in Alcoholism

4. What is your suggestion for raising healthy children, despite family predisposition toward addiction?

If you can educate children about their predisposition to addiction, at least they'll be armed with awareness.  Also, if you maintain a strong recovery program that role models coping tools to avoid addiction, that will definitely help them if they ever have their own struggles with addiction.  I also think that praising the effort they put into their goals, and not just the outcomes, will teach them that hard work is more valuable than easy wins.  There has also been a slump in the ability to self-regulate in recent decades, so kids need to learn how to delay gratification so that they understand that enduring discomfort eventually leads to bigger rewards than getting what they want right away.
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Posted by on in Food Addiction

3. Why are so many women over 40 developing eating disorders?

I suspect that with the "fifty is the new thirty" mantra, there are pressures to try to be fit, beautiful, successful and happy in ways that have not been seen before.  I also know how difficult it was for me to get better back in the 1980s because there were few role models and very few treatment centers, so I suspect that some people just went in and out of their disorders without ever stringing together long-term health.   Recovering from an eating disorder and staying better is especially hard, too, because food is a necessary part of being alive, and temptations and triggers are everywhere, regardless of where you go.  So I think that there are a huge number of women who have been dealing with some version of disordered eating for decades, and that there could be others who are feeling disoriented by upheavals in their lives – divorce, unemployment, empty nest, poor health, changing hormones – and focusing on their body distracts them from coping with other problems.  I also don't think that there is a widespread belief that long-term recovery exists, so there might not be enough hope for people to persist through the setbacks they encounter.

 

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Posted by on in Other Addictions

2. How does positive psychology differ from regular psychology in terms of addiction recovery?

I think Positive Psychology offers a different approach from traditional therapy that focuses more on what you are doing "right" and how to amplify that instead of focusing on what is wrong and what you are trying to avoid.  When you focus on your strengths, particularly in the beginning of recovery, it can feel empowering and give you a much-needed boost of confidence.

Knowing and using your top 5 strengths in new and creative ways (I use the VIA Strengths test at www.authentichappiness.com) has been found to make people both happier and more successful.  Positive psychology also brings in concepts of getting into flow by challenging yourself with hard goals, and then using your strengths to make progress on those goals.

There is research showing that all success with goals is preceded by being in a flourishing emotional state, so I'd also suggest that everyone in recovery learn about the research on "positive interventions" - the behavior/mental shifts you can deliberately perform to put yourself into a flourishing state.  It's important to also understand how to set the "right" goals that will enhance success, not focus on superficial or extrinsic outcomes.

There are also concepts around savoring that can be taught, as well as mindfulness meditation, that enhance self-regulation and reduce impulsivity.  I'm also a big believer in teaching people how to become more resilient, much like is being taught to the US Army right now by Positive Psychology researchers from the University of Pennsylvania.  You need resilience and grit to survive the setbacks and challenges that inevitably occur when you are pursuing recovery, and although you may stumble upon these concepts in random ways, I believe they offer so much hope and practical guidance that Positive Psychology should be integrated at the start of anyone's recovery.

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Posted by on in Food Addiction

1. What are the key ingredients to a successful, long term recovery from bulimia?

 

The things that have helped me the most are abstaining from alcohol, continuing to work on the emotional challenges that always come up in life, maintaining a moderate and healthy approach to food, never weighing myself, staying active with a variety of sports, pursuing my own professional/personal goals, giving support and help to others who want guidance, having a spiritual practice, having a contagiously positive circle of friends, being grateful for my blessings, and sharing my story with those who still struggle because it keeps my addiction fresh in a good way.

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Posted by on in Food Addiction

Again, the loneliness of my disease reaches out to slap me as I recall vividly those scenes of despair and trying to cry out for real help, but shutting myself down just as quickly.  Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I’d called even one of those therapists and taken the risk of being “seen” authentically, which would have broken the silence around me more decisively.  As it turned out, I had to get married to create the separation from my family that led me to finally seek help after hitting my last bottom.
 
I also wish I’d been something other than a number to my parents, who never seemed to comment on the fact that I was thriving academically at Harvard, and even on my way to graduating magna cum laude.  My brains came second to my body, and probably even to me at that point because it felt like the only thing anyone cared about.  What could have possibly made this nightmare end sooner for me?  More awareness of eating disorders, and open talk by people who were in recovery, and who could demystify the process of getting better.  It felt like a huge effort to even find the right people to reach out to, which is certainly not the case any longer.  There are blogs like this one, celebrities who go public (including the Disney actress who entered a treatment center this week for her eating disorder), and books galore for those who want to read more before they reach out. 
 
Still, there is always the shame and fear before identifying yourself as someone who is seen as “broken” by others, and whose behavior others find disgusting.  So I salute anyone who has the courage to raise their hand and ask for assistance, because by doing so, you enter a fraternity and sorority of some of the finest, most successful, and most interesting people on the face of the earth.

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Posted by on in none

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Twenty-seven years later:

Even though I’ve now been married for 27 years to the same man I was about to marry in this scene, everything has changed for the better, thank goodness. But boy, did it take work, consistency and continuing to pick myself up every time I slipped and fell.

It’s so easy for me to recall those feelings of despair and hopelessness in this scene, though.  In fact, I can’t walk into an industrial, single stall bathrooms without flashing back to the worst, and most painful, seven years of my life as depicted here.  What gives me the most heartache from this passage, though, is that I was so alone.  I hadn’t confided in anyone about my battle, and the irony is that today, my bulimia is an open secret.  In fact, I was recently interviewed for a television show about my current work as a professional coach, author and motivational speaker, and at the end I was asked about my favorite “power moment”: the time when I knew I was a woman who had stepped into her most “powerful self.”  Without any hesitation, what came out of my mouth was that I was proudest of my recovery from bulimia, and that I was the person I am today because of my willingness to confront my demons and to turn them into my biggest strengths.

So we need to always remember that not only do we have to find those safe places to go for healing, and that the people who matter the most will always be there to help us, but also that the things we might be most ashamed of could become the touchstones of our greatest growth and change.

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Posted by on in Food Addiction

My Name is Caroline is one of the first books written by a survivor of an eating disorder that addresses how to free your life of food and weight obsessions.

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