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SunCloud Health offers integrative, intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization for adolescents and adults of all genders – “Supporting your desire to live free from self-destructive behavior as you embark on a life long journey of recovery”.

Food for Thought: A Necessary Paradigm Shift

A significant segment of the American population can, and does, consume all different types of foods with seemingly little in the way of adverse consequences. Another segment of the population carries a sensitivity to certain types of foods, typically highly processed, calorie-dense, hyper-palatable foods. Many people who identify as food addicts experience loss of control when eating foods with high amounts of refined sugar, white flour, salt and/or fat. The analogy from the world of addiction is that the majority of people can drink alcohol and be satisfied with just one drink. Alcoholics, who have a biological reaction to alcohol that renders them unable to stop represent a minority. Ongoing research has been quite useful in debunking the myth that you can’t be addicted to food. However, the eating disorder field is lagging behind the rest of medicine when it comes to the reality that addiction for some individuals can involve food substances (like refined sugar)  just as it can involve alcohol, cocaine or opiates for others. In fact, people with co-morbid ED and substance use disorders (the so-called “double winners”) are more likely to have  food addiction (FA) as part of their eating disorders.

FA, along with addiction involving other processes, such as compulsive internet use, compulsive work behavior, compulsive shopping, compulsive sexual behaviors, is not yet included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). As such, many treatment professionals remain steadfast in the belief that FA is not legitimate, despite emerging neurobiologic as well as clinical evidence to the contrary. Much research has demonstrated behavioral and neurobiological evidence supporting the construct of food addiction involving refined sugar in rodents. Several studies using functional imaging in humans also support the existence of food addiction,  showing that food-addicted people experience the same alterations in the reward and behavioral control areas of the brain as those of persons with addiction involving drugs and alcohol.

Why does this matter? Because untold numbers of people with FA remain unidentified and untreated in their disease; even worse, people with eating disorders who have FA are routinely treated by ED professionals who reiterate the “all foods fit” edict that drives nutritional therapy for anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder.  That dictate works very well treating patients with eating disorders who do not have food addiction. But this same dictate along with “all foods in moderation” is potentially deadly to  those with FA, who need to abstain from certain food substances in order to experience freedom from compulsive food behaviors. Further, for the brain circuits that govern their behaviors to heal from the disease of addiction, people with FA need abstinence from the substances which trigger large dopamine spikes in the reward center (a hallmark of the brain disease of addiction). The types and amounts of food substances that do that are highly individualized.

Keeping this in mind, consider the two clinical scenarios below. Would a respected treatment provider encourage a patient recovering from ED with a peanut allergy to consume a handful of peanut butter cups on occasion because all food must fit? Of course not.  Would that same professional instruct a person recovering from alcoholism to have a cocktail at happy hour once a certain level of treatment progress has been made, because having a cocktail with friends is normal? Of course not.

Treatments designed to help a person with restricting anorexia reach recovery may be detrimental to a person with FA that manifests as compulsive bingeing and purging. Conversely, treatments designed to help a person with FA would be detrimental to a person with anorexia struggling with compulsive self starvation, rigid eating and fear of gaining weight.

The difficult work we have as professionals is identifying who within the broad eating disorder diagnostic buckets has FA and who does not, and then tailoring treatment approaches designed specifically to help that individual heal. Many ED professionals think that treating FA using an abstinence model is incompatible with having a flexible, abundant and variety-rich meal plan. There is ample room for flexibility and variety in nutritional plans and therapy approaches for those with FA. Treatment of FA is also compatible with Health at Every Size and intuitive eating, as respected and well-established treatment philosophies for many in ED recovery. With that said, we must advance as a field and grow in our overall understanding of the many types of eating disorders within each diagnostic label, grow in our capacity to adequately identify who has which disease types, and finally treat people accordingly.  As we do at SunCloud, FA must be acknowledged by those in the ED community including dietitians, nutritionists, therapists and physicians. Until this paradigm shift occurs more broadly, treatment as it stands will remain inadequate, stigmatizing to those who don’t fit into the standard model and most importantly, potentially dangerous for those with ED’s that involve FA.


A massive breakthrough in our understanding of anorexia nervosa

For decades, therapists, doctors and lay people alike have believed that eating disorders result from emotional issues linked to body image and low self-esteem. Now, a newly published study has affirmed what we in the eating disorder recovery field have long suspected: the roots of anorexia nervosa are actually linked to the genes that regulate human metabolism and neurochemistry.

We have long said, “Genes load the gun and experience pulls the trigger.” This new research adds more evidence and specificity to the genetic underpinnings of what we now know to be a brain disease, with profound impact on eating behavior and body perception.

The study, which was published last month, found 8 new genetic markers for anorexia, suggesting that we need to rethink the way we view and treat the disorder that affects up to 2 percent of women and 0.3 percent of men worldwide. The findings are based on a scientific study of more than 17,000 patients living with anorexia – the largest study of its kind ever conducted.

“Now we know that (anorexia is) a complex mixture of aspects from the body and mind,” says study co-author Janet Treasure, a psychiatrist at King’s College London.

How this research helps us see anorexia more objectively

Until fairly recently, anorexia has been seen mainly as a psychological disorder. With advances in both basic and clinical research, the field has moved closer to viewing these potentially fatal illnesses as medical illnesses, in part because of the dramatic impact that eating disorders can have on physical health.

Many people with anorexia suffer from repeated episodes of extreme weight loss, even after they have undergone extensive treatment that helps restore them to a normal weight while in controlled settings. Over the past 20 years, we have seen few new interventions for the unremitting illness that involves frequent relapses – a condition so deadly it has the highest early mortality of any of the so-called mental illnesses. (I refer to them in this way because in my view, they are all organic diseases that are NOT “all in the patient’s mind.”)

Realizing that genetics may drive the symptoms of anorexia places these symptoms – and, in fact, the illness itself – in a new light for many patients. Clearly, behaviors and beliefs are only part of the story. The key takeaways from the study affirm that:

  • Anorexia is likely to be linked to the body’s inherited ability to metabolize sugars and fats.
  • Genetic differences in people with anorexia may mute body signals that would normally stimulate appetite during a period of extreme weight loss.
  • Anorexia has been linked with higher levels of physical activity.
  • People living with anorexia share genetic traits with people who have other mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia.

Greater compassion and support for those facing anorexia

It may be years before we know how to use these genetic differences to develop new treatments focused on the biology that regulates development and recovery from anorexia. We may someday be able to re-balance the body’s metabolic responses, helping to dramatically improve outcomes for those facing the disease.

But for now, the study has immediate impact on the terrible stigma that surrounds eating disorders, addiction and other mental illnesses. As a medical professional who has recovered from anorexia herself, I am closely attuned to the negative attitudes about mental illness that pervade society and even the professional community.

Too many of us blame the patient and blame the family when treatments fail to arrest a mental illness such as anorexia. This new research helps move the needle where it needs to be, taking blame and shame away from a deadly disease that patients and families didn’t choose or ask for.

Knowing that anorexia has biological origins, with genes linked to brain function and metabolism, helps us fight these unfounded beliefs. It also helps us as professionals and family members to separate the disease from the person. With the new findings in mind, we can have greater compassion for people suffering from anorexia, remembering that they are struggling with a disease that overtakes the brain – which is, after all, the organ we depend on to perceive reality, make decisions, and execute behaviors, day in and day out.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, we are ready to help you right now. Get in touch with us today to find caring, effective treatment for anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, binge eating or any related issue.


Why compulsive buying is a dangerous addiction that harms people and families

Who can help but laugh at Isla Fisher’s charming character in the hit movie, Confessions of a Shopaholic?

Based on Sophie Kinsella’s best-selling novels, the story feels lighthearted and fun. We might even see a little of ourselves in Rebecca Bloomwood, who just can’t seem to resist the impulse purchases that, one by one, lead to a series of hilarious misadventures.

But for people who actually live with Compulsive Buying Disorder, life is anything but fun. These individuals deal with the brain disease of addiction, manifesting for them as a frustrating cycle of desire, impulsive action and shame that poses a constant threat to their emotional and financial health.

A closer look at “the smiled-upon addiction”

In our consumer culture, the way we look and the things we own can become deeply intertwined with our self-esteem and social status. Social media’s relentless focus on appearances and material goods amplifies this effect. This may be why Compulsive Buying Disorder, or CBD, is an addiction that we consider less serious than others, including addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, food, gambling or sex.

What we tend to forget is that ANY addiction is dangerous to our health. We may also fail to see that people can become addicted to more than one substance or behavior over the course of their lives.

Addiction creates a relentless pursuit of our favorite substance or activity. When we get what we crave, we experience a great sense of reward, which may be felt as intense pleasure or relief from the pain life is sending our way.

In the beginning, it feels like we’re making a choice. We enjoy it; we tell ourselves we deserve it. But before long, our drug (or activity) of choice quickly becomes our drug of NO choice. When this happens, we know that addiction has robbed us of choice. The brain pathways involved in reward, decision-making and impulse control have been hijacked by the disease, which then takes on a life of its own.

Like any addiction, compulsive shopping has the power to destroy our finances and damage the close relationships that form the foundation of our lives. We need to stop making light of it and recognize it for the serious issue it actually represents for so many people. Often, these are individuals on the path to recovery who have had some success staying away from alcohol, drugs, food addiction or eating disorders. They have simply shifted their focus from their first “drug of no choice” to a new one.

What are the signs that a compulsive shopper can’t stop?

Mental health experts recognize that compulsive shopping, along with other forms of addiction, is similar to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). People who can’t stop buying things – even when they clearly don’t need the things they buy – suffer from poor impulse control. It isn’t a matter of simply loving beautiful objects; they are following a strong inner urge that is relieved only when they complete a purchase.

You or someone you care about may be dealing with Compulsive Buying Disorder if:

  • You think about shopping constantly – especially when you’re feeling bored, anxious, sad, angry or ashamed about yourself.
  • You spend hours and hours looking at merchandise online and in person, searching out sales and new places to find things that interest you.
  • You feel intensely excited when you’re shopping, leading to a sense of euphoria when you make a purchase.
  • You tend to shop alone – or only with people who love shopping as much as you do.
  • Because you don’t really need the things you buy, they tend to pile up. You may hide your purchases, return them (also known as shopping bulimia), sell them or even give them away.
  • After the “buyer’s high” wears off, you often feel guilty and ashamed of your behavior. These bad feelings may even push you right into another shopping episode.
  • Friends and family may be angry with you because shopping takes up so much of your time and attention. It may jeopardize your family’s financial security. Your spouse or partner may threaten to leave you if you can’t get your spending under control.

Compulsive buying can be overcome, one step at a time

At SunCloud Health, we have helped many people build the skills needed to overcome addiction, including the patterns that play out in compulsive shopping. Many times, this disorder occurs in combination with other addictions and mental health issues that may have been overlooked until now. Our caring, supportive staff will take the time needed to understand each issue in context and develop an integrated treatment plan that addresses each of your treatment needs with a unified approach.

You don’t need to spend yourself into bankruptcy or wait until your relationships fall into ruin. You can stop trying to control this brain-based disease with your brain alone – and finally get the help that will fully address your addiction, empowering you to heal.

If you or someone you love needs help with compulsive shopping, please get in touch with us today.

Exploring the pain of opioid addiction in a powerful new musical


SunCloud Health’s core philosophy met the artistic world on the evening of April 20, when staff therapists attended the performance of “Contact High: A New Musical” at the Northbrook Theatre.

Sally McQuillen, LCSW and I were honored to meet the cast and creators of this new musical drama, which focuses on the lives of high-school students who are caught in a web of mental health issues that include opioid addiction.

Participating in a talk-back after the show gave us the chance to answer questions from the audience about opioids, recovery and other mental health challenges. Conversations like these are a crucial part of SunCloud Health’s mission, as we actively seek ways to contribute to the community’s understanding of mental health.

A young opioid addict with nowhere to hide

As I sat watching the musical, it struck me how deeply the character named Jean struggled with her addiction. She seemed to ache for connection, not only with herself but also with friends and the community. Like many young people, Jean seemed like a leaf blown by the wind, desperately searching for comfort – yet suffering the extreme discomfort of her disease as it dragged her from one moment to the next. She sought a resting place in a world where it seemed there was no friendly direction, no safe spot to hide.

It struck me that Jean is exactly the kind of person we hope to reach at SunCloud Health. The ache in her heart is the same ache that echoes in the hearts of all of our patients. It reminded me of the commitment we’ve made to our clinical philosophy, which is a tapestry of principles that hold our team accountable to our patients and each other. Our philosophy empowers us to perform what we think of as “soul surgery” for the people we serve.

The healing value of empathy

At SunCloud Health, we are guided by an agreement that places empathy at the core of everything we do. Our agreement states:

“We agree to search for non-pejorative or phenomenologically empathic interpretations of our client’s, our own, and other team members’ behavior. We agree to assume we and our patients are trying their best, and want to improve. We agree to strive to see the world through our patients’ eyes and through one another’s’ eyes. We agree to practice a nonjudgmental stance with our patients and one another.”

As we work with people in group settings, we challenge their belief systems, providing the care, compassion and attention they may have missed in their formative years. We welcome them as therapists who acknowledge our own humanity and fallibility and are ready to guide them as they move forward in recovery.

If we as a community could truly touch empathy, I believe there would be a deeper understanding of the underbelly of addiction. So often, conditions such as PTSD, depression and other mood disorders are the driving force behind substance use. Our ability to acknowledge and treat these conditions is often the first meaningful step toward healing.

Sally and I felt honored to discuss these issues with everyone who came out to see “Contact High” – and we thank show creators Kyle Reid Hass and Jeremy Swanton for inviting us to be part of this unique production, which will soon make its New York debut. I feel certain that this new musical will open hearts and minds with every performance.

At SunCloud Health, our hope is that we can continue to contribute to the community in an authentic way, addressing the power differentials that exist between therapist and patient, government and citizen, parent and child so that we can all move a little bit closer to humility, compassion, empathy and healing.

You can rebuild your life in the wake of emotional abuse

Do you know the difference between a healthy relationship that sometimes includes conflict and an unhealthy one that is marked by emotional abuse?

If you’ve suffered from this kind of abuse in the past or present, this question may be surprisingly hard for you to answer.

That’s because the person who hurt you was supposed to love and protect you. Your trust was betrayed at the most basic level, leaving you confused and disoriented, doubting your own truth.

Your abuser may have been a parent, an authority figure, a lover or a spouse. All this may have happened when you were a small child – or it may be happening to you right now.

Whatever your unique story, the trauma you have faced has had a powerful effect on your life. The first step is acknowledging what has happened to you so that you can begin to heal.

The telltale signs of emotional abuse

Emotional abuse happens when someone attacks and undermines our identity, our emotional reality and/or self-worth. Even though this form of abuse may not involve blood, broken bones or scars, it is just as damaging as any form of physical abuse.

People who inflict emotional abuse have many ways of making us feel small, ashamed, invisible and unworthy. Has someone close to you …

  • Repeatedly attacked you with words?
  • Shamed, criticized or ridiculed you?
  • Made fun of your dreams, wishes and plans?
  • Kept you away from other people you care about?
  • Tried to control your movements or confine you to a certain space?
  • Used fear and threats to control you?
  • Gaslighted you? (Gaslighting refers to manipulating someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity, cognitions or emotional experience.)

If you have faced these and other emotionally abusive patterns, you may doubt your own self-worth. Many people in your situation also suffer from depression, anxiety, self-injury, addictions and other related issues.

As terrifying and harmful as emotional abuse can be, I want to reassure you of three things.

First, emotional abuse is real. It is a form of trauma that can have long-lasting effects when left untreated.

Second, there is hope for you to recover from the trauma you have suffered.

And third, you are not to blame for what happened to you. The abuse is NOT your fault. And with the right treatment and support, you can reconnect to your truth and lead an empowered life.

Seeing your life experiences in context

The path to recovery will depend on your unique life story. Abuse that happens in early childhood has an especially large impact on us because our brains are still developing. The human brain grows in stages, starting with our most basic operating systems – which govern reactions like fight, flight or freeze – then moving on to the more advanced areas that help us reason and solve problems.

To grow and develop healthy brains and bodies, we need consistent nurturing and support in a setting that provides security. If our families attacked, belittled or manipulated us, our sense of safety and security was seriously compromised. We may have suffered even greater harm if the people raising us were emotionally or physically absent due to drug or alcohol abuse, jail time, 80-hour workweeks or even abusive relationships of their own.

As grownups, we don’t stop needing stability, love and support. If you are suffering emotional abuse as an adult, your brain and body are under full assault. It is crucial for you to seek professional help so that you can see what’s happening and begin the process of reclaiming your life.

Our approach to treating emotional abuse

At SunCloud Health, we will help you see, understand and acknowledge the truth of what’s happened to you. Our treatment plan will be built around your unique life experiences and the effects of the trauma you have faced.

Consistency, nurturance, structure and safety are key for you right now. Most people who have suffered trauma don’t feel safe anywhere, because their bodies are holding trauma energy that’s been trapped there over time. This energy plays and replays in their bodies and minds, making it hard for them to trust authority figures and have mutually satisfying and fulfilling relationships. We understand these patterns and we’re prepared to help you cope with them.

Our caring, supportive staff will create a safe space for you to talk about your life. You will work one-on-one and in group settings with our expert therapists. You will also have the chance to connect with others who are walking the same road towards more safety and meaning in their lives. Releasing the strong feelings hidden deep inside you will create space for the type of healing and learning that will help you move forward.

Recovery from emotional abuse isn’t something that happens overnight, and the path is not linear. But along the way, you will meet people who have succeeded in creating empowered, abundant lives. We’re ready to help you take the first steps.

Call 844-202-4230 or email us here.

A Personal Statement, by Dr. Kim Dennis, on Safeguarding Patient Care

In recent weeks several people have reached out to me to say something about the Chicago Tribune reports of several patients being sexually abused by their therapist at Timberline Knolls.

Though I resigned from TK as CEO and Medical Director nearly four years ago and have no current affiliation with them, I understand why some are looking to me for some sort of statement. My time there, the people I worked with and the residents we helped will forever hold a special place in my heart. I spent a decade pouring my heart and soul in to creating a place where staff and patients alike could come and experience safety, compassion, healing and expert medical care. The entire SunCloud team joins Timberline Knolls in grieving and addressing the abuse that has happened in this situation and elsewhere.  In the spirit of service and being part of the solution, SunCloud will be sponsoring a series of events in the next year about the dynamics of power, sexual abuse and re-enactments specific to treatment organizations, using case examples and exploring best practices to safeguard patient care.

There aren’t really words to describe all that I feel since hearing about these allegations last Summer–sadness, shock, anger, disgust. I’m a psychiatrist, with an excellent academic pedigree as well as the personal experience of having recovered from bulimia/anorexia and alcoholism.  I’m heartbroken that a therapist abused women who had come to a treatment center to heal from abuse, heartbroken that innocent and vulnerable people are sexually assaulted anywhere, let alone there. I’m impacted by stories like these on a personal level, as a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of a person who was supposed to take care of me. I have overcome my trauma in large part due to the treatment I received over the course of a decade from a loving, expert, well-boundaried male therapist. I have been a victim myself of abuse of power from a male director while at work, both as a student and later as a practicing professional. Sadly, these problems are pervasive for women in society today. Sadness goes to tragic when this particular brand of exploitation, this particular brand of evil for those who are religiously inclined, occurs at the hand of a treatment professional.

This most recently reported abuse of power, undeniably, is a loss. For anyone ever connected to Timberline Knolls, for the professionals still there who actually are committed to helping women heal, and for the vulnerable people most susceptible to abuse across the world. Most tragically, it is another deep wound, upon layers and layers of other wounds, for the women abused and their families who deserve justice, who deserve to be heard, and seen and cared for in their healing. They deserve to be commended for courageously and miraculously speaking up and taking action.  Finding power in the truth. Finding power in saying no more to silence. Saying no more to oppression. Saying no more to sexual abuse and exploitation.  These women and their families are owed a great debt.

The responsibility we have as professionals is awesome. The healing we can impart is a part of that responsibility. Our duty to first do no harm, is another part of that responsibility. My hope and prayer for the women who have spoken out is that they can somehow, some way have the courage to trust again, somehow some way have the courage to again seek help, to find comfort, safety and peace on their journeys.

It is on all of us in the professional community to build treatment settings that are healthy, safe, well-boundaried, at all levels of our organizations. We cannot do that without personal healing and personal wellness. Unhealed people hurt others.

There are multiple levels of abuse that are indelibly stitched into the fabric of so many institutions. When those institutions serve people with histories of abuse, many safeguards need to be in place in order to manage and detect re-enactments of abuse playing out between staff and patients.  It’s hard sometimes to have hope in the midst of all of these tragedies.  There are examples of systems that have been riddled for decades with this kind of abuse, that finally have been exposed by virtue of victims speaking out in recent years (i.e., the Catholic church, in government, in the entertainment industry, the treatment industry, etc.). Where do we go from here? What do we do from here? All I know is that I pray everyday to be part of the solution. My job is to be awake for it, to continue to work for it, and to believe that in some small way we can offer hope, healing and comfort to those who still suffer.  At the end of the day, all I really care about in the work is helping people in meaningful and sustainable ways.

As the CEO of SunCloud Health, I care about the abused women and men that walk through our door. Staff who work with these vulnerable populations need trauma training, ongoing supervision multiple times a week to address interactions with patients, re-enactments occurring in the milieu, with staff, between staff, and also staff wellness. As a medical professional and CEO, I’ve always keep a hand in direct care and staff supervision. It does equip me with a unique perspective–I have my boots on the ground, in the trenches with patients and staff, and I step back to direct and lead the organization from the 50,000 foot view as its CEO.   One of the qualities we value in our hiring process is staff who have done and continue to do their own healing and ongoing development, both personally and professionally. Two of our institutional values are transparency and the strength we find in community. The work of healing with patients so wounded is intense, and the resources devoted to support that work are also intense. Grueling work, at times thankless, and always at the end of the day exquisitely fulfilling to see the wounded hearts beat with life anew. These are all pieces of the solution–building safe spaces from the top down and the bottom up.

Healthy body, healthy mind: the role of nutrition in recovery

Healthy eating gives our bodies and brains the support they need to carry us through life’s challenges. But for people dealing with a mental health condition, getting the right nutrition can be a real roadblock in the journey to wellness.

At SunCloud Health, we work with many people who need to change the way they eat in order to get their lives back on track. For example, people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol need help rebuilding self-care habits, including nutrition. Those who suffer from depression and other mood disorders also benefit from learning about the gut-brain connection and the nutrients that support mood stability.

People who come to us for help with eating disorders need caring, specialized, individualized support in healing their relationship with food. Our dietitian therapists  work closely with them to deal with a range of issues that are crucial for their recovery.

For those with eating disorders, the road to balanced nutrition isn’t easy

Many people with eating disorders spend a substantial amount of time thinking about food. Many know more about nutrition than just about anyone because they’ve spent so much time studying the calorie and nutrition content of foods and how the body processes these. Some have developed fears of specific foods, refusing to eat them at all – denying themselves of nutrients needed to keep their brains and other internal organs functioning properly.

When we work with people who are recovering from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, orthorexia and other eating disorders, we focus on healing attitudes and building new habits which serve to normalize one’s relationship with food and body.

Many people with eating disorders have distorted, rigid ideas about what’s healthy when it comes to food, our bodies and exercise. A healthy relationship with food is flexible, including choices from all different food groups. This definition of healthy can include processed foods, high-fat foods and high-sugar foods consumed in moderation.

A healthy relationship with food also includes an active connection with self, intuition, tastes and desires. A healthy relationship with body includes acceptance and belief in weight diversity. A healthy relationship with exercise means being active on a regular basis, engaging in pleasurable movement but without rigid or compulsive thinking or action.

A majority of us – even those of us who don’t suffer from clinical eating disorders – could use help overcoming old, sick, culturally supported beliefs that don’t serve us well. We need to find satisfying new ways to nourish ourselves at the body, mind and soul level.

Embracing good nutrition, one bite at a time

If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, here are 4 crucial things we want you to know.

  1. Food freedom is possible. Thoughts of food don’t have to control your life anymore. With help, you can learn to choose foods and eating behaviors which will sustainably nourish your body and support your total health.
  2. You can transform the way you see your body. We provide a safe space where you can talk about your self-image, and re-experience who you are and how you see yourself. Understanding the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual roots of your negative beliefs about your body began is the first step in developing a more accurate and loving image of yourself that supports your recovery.
  3. Change is possible for you, too — replacing behaviors rooted in fear and isolation with powerful new behaviors rooted in community, love and acceptance. With time, support and practice, you can learn to eat in nourishing rather than self-abusive ways. As your skill level grows, you will find yourself eating comfortably in social settings, choosing foods from grocery stores and restaurants that support your overall health and learning to prepare flavorful meals you will savor and enjoy as an act of responsible self-care. We offer supported meals and snacks, as well as experiential outings, to help you along the road to change. For people in recovery from eating disorders, food is medicine – and we will empower you every step of the way.
  4. You are not alone. At SunCloud Health, we understand that your struggles aren’t simply about food. Many people with eating disorders have suffered significant emotional or physical trauma that must be healed. We see you as a whole person and we are here to treat the full spectrum of challenges you may be facing.

If you need help healing your relationship with food, we are here for you. Call 844-202-4230 or email us here.

Young man’s death by opioid overdose shows the dangers of experimenting with pain medications

Recently I was sipping a warm beverage, enjoying my morning reading when I came across a story that touched me deeply.

It began as a simple message of thanks from a woman whose family was going through a very painful time. She wasn’t sure how they would get through the holidays without the smiling presence of her 19-year-old nephew, who had died just days before.

“I know people are curious about what happened, and mostly, they’re asking for the right reasons,” she wrote. She had decided to share all the details in hopes of helping others.

How a late-night hangout went wrong

Her nephew, whom I’ll call Chris, spent the last night of his life much like any other college student might. He and his friends stayed up late, eating pizza and playing video games in the basement.

At some point, one of the friends offered Chris a pill that was stamped with the name Percocet, a prescription opioid commonly used to relieve pain.

Chris had no history of drug use. He was a star athlete, a loving son and brother, a strong presence in his community. No one knows why he and a friend decided to take the pills that night. Maybe it was simple curiosity. Or the fact that they trusted the buddy who offered them the drug.

Both young men died almost instantly, according to first responders who rushed to the scene later. Chris’s mom found them both the next morning, and when she couldn’t wake them, she dialed 911.

An opioid that’s 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine

Medical personnel say the pills were most likely laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has caused thousands of overdoses and deaths across the country in 2018 alone.

“We are still waiting for medical reports,” Chris’s aunt wrote, “but we’ve been told the the pills may have been up to 50% fentanyl. According to the detective working on the case, that’s enough to kill 10 men.”

Just knowing that fentanyl is a powerful opioid doesn’t begin to explain why it’s so lethal.

This man-made drug is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It was originally developed to treat the worst pain suffered by cancer patients. In powder form, it looks so much like heroin that users can’t tell the difference. Drug dealers often pass fentanyl off as heroin, and due to the difference in strength, thousands of users have lost their lives.

“There can be no experimenting” with prescription drugs

Chris had big dreams. He wanted to be a father someday. He looked forward to playing football and baseball in college, hunting and fishing with his grandfather, and enjoying more time with his close friends.

“One bad choice was all it took to end this beautiful life,” his aunt wrote.

And she went on to raise a key point that really resonated with me.

Kids experiment with prescription drugs because they assume they’re safe. If they weren’t, why would the doctor prescribe them in the first place?

The idea that pills or capsules that look like they came from a family medicine cabinet could be laced with a harmful substance might never occur to young people who are just hanging out, looking for a little fun.

“You can’t see fentanyl. You can’t smell it,” Chris’s aunt pointed out. “The only way to be safe is to remember: there can be no experimenting.”

This is the wisest advice you can possibly share with your loved ones. And if you are concerned that a member of your family is playing around with opioids or prescription drugs, we are here to help you start the conversation.

Worried About Opioid Abuse? A Closer Look at the Prescription Pain Medications You or Your Family May Be Taking Right Now

If you’re concerned about someone you know who is taking opioids for pain, then you are not alone.

Throughout the Chicago area and around the country, more and more people are becoming addicted to prescription drugs that are meant to relieve discomfort. Ironically, using these drug for even a short time can lead to opioid addiction – even when we’re following doctor’s orders to the letter.

You may have heard the chilling statistics confirming that opioid overdoses have risen 100 percent from 2015 to 2016. You can’t listen to a newscast without hearing about the mounting deaths. In some communities, local morgues can’t take the bodies in fast enough.

Hospitals and substance abuse treatment centers are stocking up on Naloxone and Narcan, drugs used to treat overdose victims. But many people who overdose don’t seek medical help because they’re afraid they’ll be arrested and thrown in jail.

Understanding the opioid crisis that surrounds us

Looking at these terrible trends, we’re just as worried as you are.

I’ve written before about the classification of pain, because I want it to be clear that doctors aren’t blameless in this situation. Many have unwittingly fueled the opioid overdose statistics by prescribing opioids when other pain management solutions might have worked just as well.

But with the Centers for Disease Control reporting that more than 1,000 Americans end up in emergency rooms every single day, we need to look beyond the causes and work together to find real solutions.

Why some of us shouldn’t take opioids at all

One challenge is figuring out who will have a problem with opioids and who won’t.

It’s clear that some patients are more vulnerable to opioid addiction, yet there is no simple test to help doctors predict who will get hooked. As a result, scripts often end up in the hands of people who are very likely to become dependent.

The website reports that:

  • Nearly 30% of patients who are taking prescription pain medications will become addicted to them.
  • About 4% to 6% of those on prescription painkillers will eventually move to using illegal heroin instead.
  • Around 80% of current heroin users originally started with prescription meds.

How big pharma contributed to the opioid epidemic

In the 1990’s, a surge of new prescriptions for opioids laid the groundwork for the current crisis. Doctors adopted new diagnostic scales to evaluate the level of discomfort their patients were feeling. Many believe that the makers of prescription pain medications pushed for these changes, directly contributing to the epidemic of opioid overdoses and deaths we’re seeing now.

The CDC says the opioid crisis came in 3 overwhelming waves:

  • The first wave hit when a record number of Americans became addicted to the prescription pain medications their doctors gave them.
  • The second wave came when prescription opioid addicts switched to heroin in record numbers, causing a new surge of addiction and deaths.
  • The third wave came when fentanyl, a synthetic and often deadly form of heroin, hit the streets, further fueling the crisis.

Opioids don’t pick and choose their victims

All of us who work in health care are seeking answers, right along with you. We are reading the reports that show where resources and attention are needed most.

Opioid overdose statistics show the greatest number of deaths in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, all areas that suffer from high rates of unemployment, poverty and occupational disability.

Clearly, communities that struggle to provide a good quality of life are seeing higher levels of opioid addiction. But that doesn’t mean that people in more affluent areas are immune to the problem.

At SunCloud Health, we treat patients from all over the Chicago area. We know that wealth, influence and education are no protection from the addictive power of these dangerous drugs.

How to help someone you love who is struggling

If someone you care about is taking prescription opioids right now, don’t panic. Millions of people are able to use these medications without becoming addicted. However, you should take a closer look to ensure that things really are all right.

Look for signs that may indicate your loved one is in trouble. This helpful guide from the Mayo Clinic is a good place to start.

If you’re concerned, find a non-confrontational way to discuss what you see. Here are some very thoughtful tips from Sharon Osbourne, a wife, mother and performing artist who’s definitely been there. Sharon’s wisdom will give you many practical ways to open a conversation with your loved one.

Even if you don’t succeed in getting through to your loved one, you may need to take action. If it’s clear your loved one can’t stop using prescription meds, or s/he has moved on to illegal drug use, contact us right now. Your call or email message is 100% confidential and we’ll help you both find the help you need.

More than anything, please promise me you won’t blame yourself. You didn’t cause your loved one’s addiction. But you can provide the loving support they urgently need to begin recovering. So don’t put it off. Get in touch with us today.

Baby Elephant Beliefs, written by Shale Marks, LCSW CADC and Dr. Kimberly Dennis, MD

Baby Elephant Beliefs

There’s an old adage about baby elephants. Circus trainers would tie a rope around a baby elephant’s leg and would attach it to a stake in the ground, so that the elephant wouldn’t run away.  When the elephant grew to be an adult and weighed 12,000 pounds, the same elephant tied to the identical stake in the ground, still believed it couldn’t move. The elephant could have easily pulled the stake out of the ground and set itself free, but it was held in place by a limiting belief system. Illusion. Most of what keeps “people stuck” in the cycle of addiction or “dis-ease” are old ideas, limiting belief systems about “the self and the world” which keep illusions alive. People are afraid to let go of those beliefs which for so long served to help them survive in a world that was actually or perceived to be very dangerous.

It’s the rule rather than the exception for those with early traumas to develop and to define themselves by their wounds – this forms the basis of identity. A healthy connection to community is never formed and the reality of one’s being alone and overwhelmed turns into a perpetuated belief that no one will ever be there to help and that even if they were, accepting help would be a sign of weakness. Many people with traumatic histories and insecure early attachments also slip into the belief that real change is not possible – that somehow, they are beyond repair. Too broken.

In the face of overwhelming physical or emotional instability in the environment, the most adaptive response for small children is often the freeze response. Kids learn to dissociate, to go inside and use whatever they have access to in order to self-soothe, survive, create the illusion of security. When there is healthy, consistent attachment to caregivers, neural connections in the frontal cortex of a developing brain are formed normally, especially the parts of the brain involved in executive functioning and compassion–a necessary ingredient in healthy interpersonal functioning. When secure attachments aren’t formed at a young age for any reason, normal development of the  frontal cortex will be impaired. When kids are intermittently or chronically in a state of danger, they are prone to developing heightened activation in certain areas of the limbic system. Increased activity in the amygdala, or fear gating center, can lead not only to ongoing hypervigilance (always looking for signs of danger) but also disrupts the development of memory for example, which can have serious effects on a trauma survivor’s sense of cohesiveness and identity.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy, based on cognitive behavioral principles, is one way to break the chains of old beliefs and a brain stuck in activated trauma patterns. PE uses imaginal exposure in a supportive process and guided by a skilled clinician, to revisit painful and traumatic memories, making them speakable. So often, traumatic memories are pushed down far inside, compartmentalized away, and for good reason! The brain does a wonderful job protecting people, and it also does a great job of healing if or when people are ready to access expert help. Another tool used in PE is in vivo exposure, which involves repeated confrontation with the situations that cause activation but which are not actually dangerous in the present. Working through the activation using newly developed coping skills and healthy attachment to support allows survivors to have corrective emotion experiences. These experiences over the course of therapy lead to deep and lasting change. PE does not necessarily rewrite history, but it can significantly reduce the charge that traumatic memories activate, leading to the capacity to write a new present and live in a different way–a manner of living characterized by intention, consciousness, empowerment and choice. After PE, the patient can begin to see the memories through the eyes of a whole adult, rather than fragmented and splintered-off parts of self from childhood.

The benefit of truly integrated and holistic care is that patients are treated first and foremost as whole persons, rather than a cluster of symptoms labeled as disease treated only with others lumped into the same box. Treating substance use disorder, eating disorders, mood disorders and trauma in an integrated way with a cohesive team is good medicine in and of itself for the fragmentation that results from trauma. Fragmented care cannot heal fragmented humans.

So, how do we let go of baby elephant beliefs? By noticing our patterns, naming them,  and sharing them with our fellow travelers – in allowing others to bear witness to our vulnerability, we find our strength. It is only when we become aware of our limiting beliefs, that we can make a decision to accept ourselves, and expand beyond the old with new actions, new beliefs and a new way of life.


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