From Girlhood to Womanhood Rituals

From Girlhood to Womanhood Rituals
Hello, Dr. Anita Johnston here. I’m in Athens, Greece. Right now, I am at the sanctuary for Artemis. Artemis was the goddess of young children, and animals, and especially the maidens. In this particular sanctuary, the story goes, Athena had Agamemnon’s children steal an effigy of Artemis so that they could come here and build this sanctuary for Artemis.

Here, young girls, maidens who were ready to become women, would come here to worship Artemis and have special rituals. They had their coming of age rituals right here at this spot. We are talking about 700 BC, so a long, long time ago. What’s really special about that, is it tells us that there was a time, an ancient time, when the transition from girlhood to womanhood was sacred. There was a goddess that honored that, and there were rituals for the girls to participate in as they moved from the body of a girl into the body of a woman.

Now imagine what this would mean for us nowadays, because we don’t have rituals like that in our modern culture.

We don’t have ways of honoring, probably the most profound transition that is ever made – from girlhood to womanhood.

We are just really left to our own devices.

Nowadays, the only ritual that we have is dieting, because there is no other way of recognizing and honoring this most profound and sacred transition.

Many of us are left with body shame, because there are two kinds of secrets: those that are sacred and those that are shameful. In the absence of the sacred, we are left with shame. So many of us that grew up in this modern culture, have no way to recognize […]

Imagine telling your story – your healing story

Imagine telling your story – your healing story
Dr. Anita Johnston here, and I am in Delphi, Greece.

I am just getting ready to climb the Sacred Way, where the ancient Greeks came for eons to see the Oracle.

In those days, The Oracle was the equivalent of what we might consider a therapist. They would come to visit the Oracle, especially those for whom it was really the last ditch effort in their search for healing. Of course now, the Oracles, didn’t give the answers to the problems for healing, just as therapists don’t. They gave a riddle. The riddle then would be interpreted in terms of how you understood it. You would give it your own meaning, so that the answer, the correct answer, was inside of you. Very much like how we view recovery today.

Here the Greeks used theater for healing, because they understood that there is healing in the stories themselves. Just like today, we might use fairy tales or folk tales to take the images into the deepest part of our being. The Greeks understood this, so they told their stories, and they told their Greek myths, in service of healing the psyche.

Now check out this theater. You can see where people would come and sit. They would watch the plays; they would watch the performances; and then, find some way to make some meaning of all of that in their own lives. Just as we have to watch the play that is our lives, and see if we can come up with what the true meaning is for us.

Can you imagine the stories here? The tragedies? The comedies? All of us, it is we who get to decide what […]

Recovery Story

Recovery Story
I’m in Athens, Greece, and I have a story to tell you. I have a healing story to tell you. I am meeting with a young woman. Her name is Lise. She contacted me about a week or so ago. She lives in Germany and she said that she saw on my website that I would be doing a workshop in Greece. She was wondering if she could meet me because she wanted to tell me her story.

Her story is that, as a girl, she developed an eating disorder. My book had been published in German, and so she came across my book. It gave her so much hope for help, that she went to her parents and asked for them to help her get some treatment for her eating disorder. They weren’t willing to do that – no matter what she said, no matter what she tried. Now, I’m not recommending this, but she ran away from home. She took with her her dog-eared, underlined copy of Eating in the Light of the Moon, which was the German version of it. She did find help. Not that the book alone helped her recover, but she found help for her recovery. She is totally recovered now, and is a filmmaker. She has made some amazing films. I know, because she has sent them to me, and they’re really brilliant.

Now she wants to do a film about recovery. She had in mind the possibility that she would find her way to Hawaii, where she would meet up with me, and then she saw that I was going to be in Greece. She contacted me. She said, “Please, can we just meet? I know that […]

NEDA walk in Denver

NEDA walk in Denver
Hello, Dr. Anita Johnson here. I am at the NEDA walk in Denver, which is an amazing event for people who are struggling, and family and friends, to come and celebrate, share recovery stories, encourage each other, and support each other. Thank you for joining me here at the NEDA walk in Denver.

I first want to express what an honor it is to be here. NEDA is an amazing organization. You are amazing people because by showing up here today, you are NEDA. I'm honored because I get to do what I like to do more than anything else in the world, which is talk to people and tell them, “People get better. Recovery is possible.” I've been in the field a long time. I know of thousands, truly thousands who have done so. I get emails and letters from around the world. I meet former clients of mine all the time. It is absolutely totally possible to recover.

What I want to share with you is just a little metaphor I shared a long time ago with a client of mine who was EDA What was involved and how could she possibly do it? It calls for a little bit of an imagination, because recovery begins with imagining recovery in the first place.

I want you to imagine. Imagine that you are on the banks of a raging river. It is pouring down rain. You slip and fall in. And you’re drowning. You’re getting pulled down through the rapids. Along comes a big log and you grab on. The log saves your life. It keeps your head above water when surely you would have drowned. Eventually, it carries you to a place […]

Letting Go

It’s Dr. Anita Johnston here. I’m in Denver, Colorado. It’s fall here and I find myself looking at the trees, watching the leaves as they drop any time the wind blows – even just a little bit. I start to think about how nature has so much to tell us about Letting Go. This is something that seems to be really hard for us when we have feelings that come up — we can get stuck. We get stuck in the feelings and think that there is no way out.

The idea of trying to let go is kind of a mystery.

Exactly how do you let go?

How do you let go of uncomfortable, painful, or scary feelings?

First, you have to realize that you can’t really let go of them. They have their own natural flow, and they will let go of you. But you have to get behind the feeling, you have to get beneath the feeling, to the sensation that you first experienced — which comes even before the feeling. Sometimes, that might be a contraction in your belly, or the warmth that spreads through your body, or a little tickle in the back of your neck.

After the initial experience of the sensation, what happens is we attach a story to that sensation and we give it meaning.

Here’s the thing: You can’t let go of the story, either. But, if you investigate the story, if you look at the story, the story will let go of you. How does that work? First of all, you have to recognize that there is a story, and not only that, you’re the story keeper, and you’re the storyteller.

Angeles Arrien, once described a tribe that […]

The Mirror and Assertiveness

Hello, Dr. Anita Johnston here. I'm here on Maui, the island of Maui, at Ai Pono Maui, which is our residential treatment center. I wanted to share with you a really inspiring talk that we had today in our group.

I talk a lot about a type of communication, Assertiveness, and how important that is to the process of recovery — how important it is in order to really being free from struggles with food and fat. And eating. And all of that.

But there's another piece that goes hand and glove with the assertive formula, the assertive form of communicating, and that's the mirror.

And once you start to get the handle of assertive communication sooner or later you're going to come up against the mirror. The mirror is this: Whenever we feel a strong emotional charge, that's when we know the mirror is operating. Now, if it's a strong positive charge — like when you fall in love — all those qualities that you see in the other person that are so attractive, are actually qualities within yourself that maybe you haven't ever really identified or acknowledged, or appreciated, or cultivated or developed.

When it is mutual, when the love is mutual, you get a double mirror effect. So, not only do you get to see in the other person all those positive qualities that you have yet to develop, but you also get to see through their eyes, the positive qualities that you already have developed. That's what's happening when you have a positive emotional charge.

That's what it looks like in the mirror.

Now, when there's a strong negative charge, what's going on is that person is reflecting back to you aspects of yourself, […]

Understanding How Important the Sense of Belonging Really Is


Hello, Dr. Anita Johnston again. And I’m here on the Big Island of Hawaii. And what is behind me that you can’t see (because the fog is rolling in) is Kamalala.  I am at the site of our new intensive outpatient program for ‘Ai Pono that we’re getting ready to launch.

I’ve been here meeting with the team and everyone’s been getting to know each other. The thing that really came up as the theme of our meeting was this whole sense of connection.  And even more than that, a deep sense of belonging.
Understanding How Important the Sense of Belonging Really Is
The thing that really came up as the theme of our meeting was this whole sense of connection.  And even more than that, a deep sense of belonging. Because when you meet the people that are your Tribe, what comes into mind is an understanding of how important that sense of belonging really is.  You feel it. You know it. I think one of the things that happens to most of us is we all hunger for a sense of belonging. I think that’s one of the deepest longings that any of us have — to feel that deep, deep sense of connection.

What happens, mostly because of the culture we grew up in, is we’re really not taught the difference between belonging and fitting in. We feel the hunger for belonging but we confuse that with fitting in.  A sense of belonging comes when you stay connected to your authentic self, the uniqueness of your very being. We are all as unique as our thumbprints. There’s never been another Anita on the planet like me. And there never will be. And that’s the same for […]

Using Your Imagination as Part of the Recovery Process

Here’s a part of a talk that I gave in Kamuela on the Big Island of Hawaii for the launching of our new treatment program, ‘Ai Pono Kamuela. I thought you might enjoy it.
Using Your Imagination as Part of the Recovery Process
When somebody can get an understanding of the meaning behind their eating behaviors, I see the lights go on in their eyes. I used to call it that, I actually would see it, a little spark. Now because neuroscientists can now map the brain, they know what is going on. There’s a part of your brain, and its right above your right ear called the anterior superior temporal gyrus. What the neuroscientists have discovered, is when somebody gets an insight, when they “get” a metaphor, this part of your brain sends out a burst of gamma waves — 30 milliseconds before you even are conscious of “getting it.”  And Gamma waves are the highest frequency that the brain emits.

I’ve been doing this for years and years, and now the scientists are mapping and able to say yeah, that’s really what’s going on. So the light that I’m seeing is the electrical charge that comes from the anterior superior temporal gyrus. That’s so exciting for me!

I use metaphor because often when somebody is struggling, they have developed the left side of their brain profoundly/ They are so smart and rational and analytical. So, the part of themselves that is hanging onto this eating disorder like nobody’s business has got a gazillion defenses all ready. But if I come in with a story, if I come in with imagery, I’m coming into the right side of the brain. And this is the side of the brain […]

Eating Disorders Fate or Destiny?

There’s a saying that says, don’t get stuck looking at the finger pointing to the moon. Keep your gaze going. Look at the moon.

I love dogs. But dogs don’t typically understand symbolic language. So they’ll look at the finger. Is there a treat? What’s on that finger? They don’t know that this means something. It has meaning. It’s pointing you towards something. We understand that the disorder eating behaviors, they are the finger. And of course, you have to look at it. But, you don’t stop your gaze there, you just keep on going, keep on going, keep on going.

It’s pointing you towards something.
We understand that the disorder eating behaviors, they are the finger.
And of course, you have to look at it.
But, you don’t stop your gaze there, you just keep on going, keep on going, keep on going.

So that you can find out what it’s really pointing you towards. I have discovered after all these years working with folks who struggle, what their eating disorder is truly pointing them towards is their destiny. But, as all the ancient stories and myths tell us, in order to reach your destiny, you first have to face your fate.

Fate is all those things that life gives you that you didn’t ask for: These are your parents. This is your ethnicity; this is your socio-economic group. This is the car accident you had. This is the disease you caught. This is the eating disorder. All these things, that’s your fate.

If you don’t face your fate, you can’t live your destiny. You face your fate, like when somebody goes into recovery for eating disorders, they are raising their hand and saying, I’m facing my fate.

All this stuff […]

The difference between belonging and fitting in.

Here’s part of a talk I gave on the Big Island of Hawaii for the opening of our new ‘Ai Pono treatment program in Kamuela. I hope you enjoy it.

When I first started working with eating disorders, in 1982 in Honolulu, I was supervising a psychology intern who was doing research on the incidence of eating disorders in Hawaii. The two of us would get together, and we would talk about what we were seeing. And a third woman joined us, and she was a social worker who had her own recovery, but she had to figure it out herself. There was nobody to help her. So the three of us would get together and talk about what we were seeing. And every time we got together, we’d say, there is a real problem here. There should be a center for this.

After we had said it for about the fifth time, we looked at each other and laughed — okay, here we are. It was one of those; you build it and they come. And they came. Girls and women of all ages, all sizes, all ethnicities, all different kinds of struggles with eating and their bodies. No guys back in those days. Now, that is starting to change. But back then, no guys showed up.

I was intrigued as we were just trying to figure this out … Now, remember, bulimia didn’t even get diagnosed until 1980. So the field was really quite new.

What I wanted to know was, first of all, why is it females showing up?

Second, of all, why is it these girls and women?

And third, why is there a struggle around food, eating and their bodies?

I’m a storyteller; […]