In this episode, I sit down with my friend Iris McAlpin.
Iris McAlpin is a certified trauma coach and NARM® Practitioner specializing in self-sabotage, eating disorder recovery, and complex trauma.
See show notes at: https://www.thinkunbrokenpodcast.com/e131-overcoming-trauma-and-self-sabotage-with-iris-mcalpin-cptsd-and-trauma-healing-coach/#show-notes
In this episode, I sit down with my friend Iris McAlpin.
Iris McAlpin is a certified trauma coach and NARM® Practitioner specializing in self-sabotage, eating disorder recovery, and complex trauma. After recovering from severe bulimia, C-PTSD, and depression, she now spends her life helping people all over the world overcome similar struggles through trauma-informed education and coaching in both group and private settings.
We will talk about many different subject matter today around trauma and healing, including self-sabotage and how it's connected to Childhood trauma. Our inner critic comes from doing the inner adult work and why trauma healing is a necessarily slow process.
In this episode very excited to dive in to share those experiences with you that she and I both have as we've gone through this entire process of getting to where we are today and then some of those conversations when you can have a back and forth like this, it makes the experience more relatable.
If you're in this place where you are in this position in life, you're trying to figure out what's next and why you keep sabotaging and why you can't seem to get out of your way and what is going on – you’re going to want to listen to this. Come and join us, and we’re going to help you in your healing journey.
Learn more about Iris McAlpin's website at https://linktr.ee/irismcalpin
Learn more about NW Recovery at https://nw-recovery.com/
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Learn more about coaching at www.HealTraumaCoach.com
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Hey! What's up, Unbroken Nation! Michael Unbroken here – author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma, and you of course are listening to the Michael Unbroken podcast. Today, I'm joined by Iris McAlpin who is a certified trauma coach at NARM practitioner specializing in self-sabotage, eating disorder recovery, and complex trauma after recovering from severe bulimia, C-PTSD, and depression, she now spends her life helping people over the world overcome similar struggles through trauma-informed, education and coaching, and both group and private settings.
Iris, it's like, I'm reading my own bio here, thank you so much for coming on and being a part of the podcast today. First and foremost, I have a huge amount of appreciation for the effort and energy you've put it in the world to create change. Tell the audience a little bit about who you are and how you got to this moment.
Iris: Okay, so let's see. Well, so, you gave me a pretty good intro already. So yes, I am a trauma coach, and I'm NARM practitioner, which stands for the Neuro Affective Relational Model, which is just a really beautiful model for working with complex and developmental trauma. And I came by this path pretty honestly, I experienced a pretty significant amount of trauma in my early childhood, and I didn't know to label it that until much much later, I would say I was in my late 20s by the time I really figured out what had happened. And I did know very clearly that I was experiencing a ton of symptoms from bulimia to depression, anxiety.
I was basically living life with both hands tied, behind my back for many, many years. And so when I started exploring trauma, education and picked up a few books, my mind was completely blown and from that point, I became a little bit obsessed with trauma. I've done hundreds of hours of training and in trauma in the last few years and it's my all-consuming passion to spread trauma-informed, education as far and wide as I can.
Michael: Yeah, I totally relate to that like word-for-word almost, it's pretty impeccable what you just said. And for me so much of it started with this moment, I was looking at my life and you know, if you rewind my life 10 years ago, I didn't have words in my vocabulary like – self-sabotage. And self-help to me I thought was nonsensical, I thought trauma like – was you get over it, right? And the more I got over it, right? Quote-unquote, the worst, my life got. And I think about this all the time without the deep dive, and I'll say this, I'll preface it with this, I never had any intention of doing what I do now and nor do I honestly, ever want this job like – I'm always like, how do I put myself out of business by healing the world? Because ultimately, I think that it's nonsensical, that I even have a place for this conversation.
Now, obviously, on a long enough timeline, I believe that happens, but for anyone who starts this journey, I think it always starts with day one. One of the words that you mentioned was symptoms. Talk to me about, what you started to notice in your life, which became indicative of this idea of, you know what? Maybe I need to dive into this thing.
Iris: Yeah, so what's interesting is that you know, my first stage of coaching, I guess you could say, I was working mostly with eating disorders because I had through years and years of therapy and coaching and research, sort of figured out what was going on with my own eating disorder and at that point, I was pretty clear that there was a connection between eating disorders and trauma, but there wasn't a lot of literature around that like in the academic literature, there was very little at that time about that. And so I started running a program for eating disorders specifically and I started noticing this pattern that every single person in my programs had experienced some kind of early trauma and some cases later trauma as well.
But I just knew that there had to be something to this, this wasn't just a coincidence and so thankfully in recent years, or spent a lot more research to show this connection between the two, but I really relate to eating disorders as a symptom of trauma rather than a separate thing unto themselves. And, of course, it's not going to be true in absolutely every single situation but for many people, it is in some ways, a very logical way to try to manage some pretty unmanageable symptoms of trauma. Some of the nervous system dysregulation, some of the intense feelings food is ever-present and an available and so, if we need something to calm us down, even just temporarily it can be a very effective short-term tool, of course, the long-term effects of that or not, so good, but it makes sense on some level.
Michael: Yeah, it makes perfect sense. And food is such an easy coping mechanism, and I look at the spectrum, and that pendulum swings both ways because I found myself at 350 pounds, right? And it takes a tremendous amount of effort to get there, right? And what I thought at the time was you go look at my family and one of the things I started to understand was the long-term impact of generational trauma, and I looked at coming from this family, who many of the members are overweight and obese had diabetes, my mother lost her leg to diabetes and drugs and things of that nature. Right?
And that measurement became this really interesting focal point for me because I stopped thinking like – oh, this is actually inherent in my DNA and I started thinking about this idea that maybe it's because of what happened to me in my past. Was there something outside of only? Because, I think what happens, right? We as coaches, especially, start using the big words and we get lost in the simplicity of it all. What was kind of the early indicators to you? Because people, this was my experience. I looked at my life and I said, oh, this is just how life is? This is just how it's supposed to be, right? Was there an early indicator to you in any way about like maybe something's wrong or was there something you could place your finger on?
Iris: A good question. I mean depression started pretty early for me. I started having struggles when I was nine years old and by the time I was 12, I was crying myself to sleep every single night and I think I didn't talk to anybody about that but I was pretty sure that was not normal. And so that was one of my first indicators something's not quite right here and at that time I didn't really have a lot of education in Psychology, I think that was around the age I picked up my first psychology books, I was just trying to figure out what the heck was going on, but that was sort of my first indicator and then I mean believe me as a pretty glaring red flag and that started a few years after that. And so that was a pretty clear sign to me that like – there's something going on with you internally.
Michael: Yeah, you know, that's such a young age to have that much insight within yourself to be like – I'm going to start reading and learning about this. What were the biggest lessons that you started to implement from education that you applied to your life? Especially that young and was there anything that was actually practical for you then or did it take years later before that really started to sit with you?
Iris: It took years. It was a pretty steady downward spiral even at that age I knew that I had a family history of depression and so there was some awareness that okay, maybe, this is inherited, I didn't have the words intergenerational trauma that time, but there was some kind of vague sense that maybe some of this had passed down not even just through genetics, but even in just ways of being and acting and relating to ourselves into the world, probably couldn't have articulated it that way when I was 12, but there was some just sort of deep knowing that maybe this was part of my family lineage. But honestly, at that time, that made me feel a little bit helpless because it's like – well, this is just how it is for me, this is how it's going to be I inherited this. So there's nothing I can do about it and I got pretty hopeless over the years. And then when I was in high school, I was in an abusive relationship that kind of kicked everything even into further high gear and so it really, honestly, wasn't until I hit what I guess, most people would call rock bottom when I was 19 years old. And I started to realize that if I continued on the path that I was on, it was going to be just absolutely epic train wreck that I needed to start making some chefs and I needed to start taking recovery seriously. Because up until that point, I really hadn't and so that was a wake-up call and then from there, I think it just became glaringly obvious that I needed to take advantage of the help that I was already getting. So I was very fortunate to have a therapist already at that point, I just wasn't really making use of it.
Michael: Yeah, I totally relate to everything you just said and I have been battling this. There I call it inner conflict about creating change in the world of being able to do it and help people without the risk of rock bottom being the catalyst. And as much as I try to wrap my head around this, I just have not come up with a solution because I just innately and I hate to say it and it's such an inner conflict in the way that I think about this journey. I just don't know how you help people or even ask for help until your backs are against the wall and you go well, shit it's done or dies at this point, right?
And so I don't think you necessarily need to like dive into your rock bottom, but what all ultimately why? You know, because here's what happens. I think people get to that place and then you're faced with this interesting crux, right? You can go one way or the other. Why was it at that moment that you had decided? You know what, I'm going to push myself into what's next.
Iris: Yeah. Well, you know, in some ways, I wish I could say, like – oh, you know, I just decided it was important to love myself or something nice and sweet like that but really what it was that I really heard someone else. I really betrayed someone's trust and broke someone's heart and I knew that was going to continue to be a pattern and I didn't want to be that person. I felt like I was living a stool life that I had this life that, you know, looked relatively okay, on the surface, I imagine I wasn't fooling as many people as I thought I was probably but you know, it looks relatively okay on the surface, but then I was doing some really destructive and dangerous things in secret.
And I think at that stage, honestly, I was still pretty okay with that. I was still okay with hurting myself, but I wasn't okay with hurting other people and so that was a motivator for me, it was the biggest motivator for me, at that time.
Michael: Yeah, I get that. And that's hard, right? Because in some way, and this was my experience, and I'd love to know your thoughts because I've seen this in my clients, as well in some ways we justify that behavior. We look at it and we go, okay, find this is who I always say, this is who I am, right? And I'm like – I'm not going to change and you don't like it then leave and you know, whatever that thing was and my nomenclature was so much about blaming other people and just looking at them going. It's your fault because you don't like me for who I am while understanding like I'm standing in front of my house, while I have just set it on fire effectively, right? And it's like, what good does that do?
For me, I have this incredibly life-changing moment in a single shift, which I like literally when I stood in front of the mirror and I was like, Michael, what are you willing to do to have the life that you want to have? And for me the words, no excuses, just results started, just permeate my brain. Talk to me about the conversation that you were having internally with yourself in terms of your dialogue before and after the moment that you decided, you know what, I'm going to do something about this?
Iris: Yeah, I mean before it was pretty gnarly. I mean, I was just vicious to myself and I felt pretty hopeless up to that point. So, yeah, I just, I thought it was absolutely irredeemably, messed up, broken, unfixable, and all of those things. And I honestly thought of myself as kind of a monster, like – there's just nothing that can be done and I think after that moment, there was still a lot of that but it became this equation were was like – well, maybe that's true but if I operate under the assumption that is the only possible truth than I'm done like – I'm absolutely gonna die. And so I have to, at least try to consider, it's very hard to consider, but maybe try to consider that maybe that's not true. And if that's not true, then what do I need to do? And sign me up because I'm going to do it. So from that time, I threw myself, into group therapy, which was the first time I'd ever done that. That was a huge turning point for me because prior to that point, I was operating under the assumption that I was the only person who was, you know, this screwed up and of course, that wasn't true in a lot of experiences that I was having a lot of my internal dialogue was, unfortunately, relatively common, and it wasn't until I started hearing other people talk about their experiences, I started to feel some sense of okay, like – maybe this is part of the human condition, maybe this isn't just an Iris fundamental flaw.
And I think I was very selective about what I shared with therapists and coaches up to that point and by that, I mean, I didn't tell them pretty much any of the most important things that I probably should have told them because I was like, no, they can't handle, it's like too much. No point. I'm never going to fix it anyway, so I wasn't sharing those things.
And then in group therapy, unless you're just sitting there plugging, your ears, you're going to hear what other people are saying, and if they have similar experiences and you're listening to them getting feedback, you're going to start to internalize some of that. So, that's a huge part of the reason why I like to do group work is that it has this shame dissolving component that also unless you're just not paying attention at all. You're going to be absorbing a lot from other people in the group.
Michael: Yeah, spot-on. And it's funny, as we say this, I used to go to my therapist and give them hundreds of dollars of my money every week and tell them what I thought they wanted to hear and I'm just like that is not long-term sustainable and you'll get nothing from that. And to your point, the same incredible profound shift that I found myself in was being in a men's group therapy and for the first time, really, connecting, not only with men but in a safe space where I felt like – I'm actually not alone here. I want you to go deeper on this, I think people really don't understand the power of this because one-to-one therapy is becoming more of the social norm, right? In people, go, okay, it's acceptable but group therapy still feels very or even group coaching, right? Still feels very much intertwined with shame and guilt. Can you go deeper about the power that it had in your life and then on the other side of it now and what you do with coaching?
Iris: Yeah. I'm glad you're asking this because I think the very thing that makes people afraid of it is the thing that makes it powerful. And the sense that people have similar beliefs what I have like – well, nobody can handle this level of messed up or nobody can handle my story or people will think I'm weird or even sometimes it's like, well, my problems aren't big enough and other people's problems are bigger than mine and so they're going to judge me. Regardless of what that is, people have a lot of preconceived notions about like – what's allowed in a group setting on both ends of the spectrum and I think that's part of what makes it so potent is that and I mean, it depends on the size of the group, but if you're in, let's say a group of 20 people, chances are there's going to be at least a few people who have very similar experiences or similar ways of orienting towards the world or similar ways of relating to themselves. And we can listen to ourselves, talk to ourselves all day long, and that just sort of becomes background noise but when you start to hear it outside of yourself, and it's externalized, it just lands in such a different way.
And so let's say, somebody else in the group is saying; well like, oh, I'm such a piece of shit for this or that and you're listening to that, you're like – why I tell myself that, but I don't think they're a piece of the shed for doing that. It starts to create this cognitive dissonance that I think is really actually quite helpful and we can have compassion for other people, it's so much easier for us to have compassion for other people, and when they're experiencing exactly what we're experiencing or something similar, then again, that cognitive, dissonance, dissonance comes in we're like – well, okay, if I can feel compassion toward them then, then why is it not coming back to me in this exact same situation? And so it starts to kind of shake up our way of looking at ourselves that our way of looking at other people – the world, I think the ripple effects from that can be pretty huge.
Michael: Yeah, and it almost feels imperative to me at this point where you have to put yourself in this position of being in connection with other people because until you do that, then you still kind of feel alone and you're like –okay, does anyone else really get this? And the connection, in my coaching practices its Community Connection and Commitment, and those things are so important but before you can even get to that place, you have to work through this idea of the way that you talk to yourself and self-sabotage is a word that I think can often feel highfalutin because it's kind of just hangs over everything in society right now, but it really is, if you think about it, sometimes you are more mean and unkind to yourself, then you are to anyone else. Talk about the connection between this idea of negative self-talk, self-sabotage, and how it's connected to our childhood?
Iris: Yeah, so actually just released an article about this today. So, let's see if I can remember how I articulated this but basically there's this common idea in popular psychology that is negative self-talk is just an internalization of our parents’ criticism and I actually feel like it's much worse than that.
We actively turn on ourselves when we're little to preserve our connection to our parents. And so this happens at different developmental stages and it looks and sounds a little bit different depending on what happened at these stages, but let's just say, you know, your six months old, probably don't remember this and you desperately need something from your parents and you can't articulate that and maybe they're paying attention, maybe they're like a tune to you, maybe they're completely checked out and dealing with their own stuff, either way, we're not getting what we need. And so at that moment and of course, we don't have the language for this when where that little but we have two choices, we can continue to ask for what we need and like scream and yell, which doesn't work or we can give up what we need and try to preserve that connection with our parents because chances are, they're getting frustrated with us if we're screaming and yelling all the time, and we always choose our parents always, always, always because we absolutely need them for survival at that age and that's not just being overly dramatic like, we literally do. If babies aren't given sufficient love and attention and warmth they often die. And it's a phenomenon called failure to thrive or hospitalism.
And so that we have this like survival threat in those situations and then as we get older and as we start to have language and start to develop personalities, if our parents are constantly shutting us down, rejecting us, preventing us from developing our own autonomy and independence, again, we have to start to make these impossible choices. Do I continue to be true to myself and risk being rejected or do I do whatever I need to do to preserve the connection with my parents? And once again, we always choose that, and part of the way we manage to control some of those natural impulses is to turn on ourselves and think I'm bad, I'm lazy, I'm whatever we start to say to ourselves, I'm stupid by telling ourselves that were essential, stopping ourselves in our tracks. And that's a really important thing to do in a lot of situations and childhood if we don't want to get punished if we don't want to get rejected.
And so a lot of that negative self-talk doesn't work out so well later on in adulthood but when we're little, it does keep us in check so to speak and helps keep us in our parents, good graces and that feels very, very, very important.
Michael: Yeah, and at some point, you have to look at a 2 as a, it's a survival mechanism, right? It's so much about if we put this in place, then we create a parameter of safety and then it's reinforced through often negative things that happen that we're not allowed to step into being who was capable of being in that kind of creates a shadow that arcs over us for years to come. Talk about how you start to reframe that inner critic.
Iris: Yeah, so there are really two things that I like to do. If people are struggling with this, and these are things that I've used myself quite a bit. The first thing sounds strange to a lot of people at first, but if you say something really harsh to yourself, like – let's say, you forget your keys and you get in your car and I'm like, oh my God, I'm so stupid. If you notice that you said that, just say like wow, that wasn't a very nice thing to say, I'm sorry and apologize to yourself just like you would apologize to someone else if you said something harsh that you didn't mean or if you said something that was hurtful to them. And I think people think this is weird for a couple of different reasons.
One, a lot of times we're so used to being harsh with ourselves or like it's not hurtful because it's just become so normal that we don't realize that we actually are hurting ourselves by speaking to ourselves that way. So, I would just say, if it would hurt, if somebody else said it to you, then it hurts if you're saying it to yourself, even if you're used to it. And I think there's something about apologizing to yourself, that just sounds weird because you're talking to yourself, but I guess I always like to respond with if it's weird to call yourself an idiot, or if it's not weird to call yourself an idiot, then it's shouldn't be weird to apologize to yourself.
So I really like that because I think a lot of times people like to use affirmations, they'll try to say something that's the opposite of what they're saying to themselves like – if let's say, you tend to call yourself stupid, if you're telling yourself, Oh! I'm so brilliant or oh! I'm so smart and you don't believe that it's not really going to do anything but at least apologizing can come from a more heartfelt place there's like neutrality to that. I think it's easier to kind of wrap your head around and so I just recommend trying it and seeing how it feels and might feel a little funny at first, but just give it a little while and see.
And then the other thing that can be really helpful is sort of what we were talking about in the group work is this externalization. It's like there's kind of two pathways here. How would you respond to someone else? Saying the same harsh thing to you, you might defend yourself and that situation, and if you're defending yourself, then that's good information because that means that there's something about that attack that doesn't feel justified to you. But then, sometimes people might say, like, oh, well, somebody told me that I would agree with them.
And so, in that case, I think asking yourself the question, you know, how would I feel about somebody at I really love saying this to themselves and chances are, you wouldn't feel so good about it and so that kind of opened some things up as well.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. And you're in this juxtaposition of trying to reframe and effectively reprogram yourself into that, and the gap of discomfort there is often so gigantic that people are terrified. And so you mentioned something just being noticing being cognizant of these moments in which you're being unkind and one of the things that I think about is living life within a very binary parameter and what that means for me, as I do not allow myself to be unkind to myself, right? How important is boundaries for self in this?
Iris: Yeah. Absolutely. I like that because they're sort of a protectiveness they're, just as you would I would imagine protecting a small child that you really cared about like – if somebody was coming at this child and saying mean things you would stop that in its tracks, you would defend them, you would protect them. And so it sounds like you're doing that for yourself as well.
Michael: Yeah, I think it's a must. I don't know how if you're not kind to yourself, how could you be kind to the world and often we get reciprocated back what we put out. And so much of that I discovered by really, starting to do this work internally and I know one of the things that your big about is inner adult work, which is not discussed enough in addition, to inner child work. Can you talk about that and what that really means?
Iris: Sure. Yeah. So this comes from NARM. And it's actually part of what I really love about a NARM because, in the trauma field, there is a lot of discussion of inner child work. And I think that can be really important but it particularly, if we're looking at self-sabotage I guess I'll just distinguish really quickly NARM and I'm talking about child consciousness and adult consciousness
Child Consciousness is really appropriate in childhood that's like what you would expect. So, a lot of black and white thinking, and sort of magical thinking.
Adult Consciousness is more of that executive functioning like the rational decision-maker part of ourselves.
And so if you're self-sabotaging a lot, those behaviors are coming from that child part of ourselves and it is really helpful to get to know that part and to understand that part but if me as a practitioner, if I'm only turning to a client's child consciousness, I'm missing this adult side of them that actually really does what's best for them and really does want to move forward in their life and be kinder to themselves and be more compassionate toward themselves.
And so a lot of times, that doesn't get as much attention because a lot of times, if let's say a client comes in and they're really self-sabotaging a lot. We don't have to go digging for the inner child. The inner child is already running the show, like – the inner child is in the driver's seat, absolutely driving the bus, and then the adults, like – way in the back, like screaming, like no stop. And so, part of what I really appreciate about NARM is that it's absolutely it looks like both but there is this really strong bias, I guess you could say toward listening to what the adult wants because that's really what the client is after at the end of the day.
Michael: Yeah. I'd like you to go a little bit deeper into this and I've worked with thousands of people around the world and one of the things I often hear is, I don't know who I am. I don't know what I want. And as they stepped through coaching with me, it's always about like let's create the framework but somebody comes to you and they're like day one, they're like – man, I just don't know. Iris, like – my life is in chaos, I don't know what I want, I don't know who I am, I'm stuck, I'm lost, how do you start this process of moving into understanding who you are as an adult human being?
Iris: Yeah. I mean that can be a really long and complicated process, I'll just want to state that at the outset. I mean, I think there are certain things where, you know, if someone truly was, like, my life isn't utter chaos, and I don't know who I am at all, I would probably send them to a therapist, I would say that sort of outside of the scope of coaching, at least that's how I feel about it. But let's just say there is some level of like – their life isn't completely and shambles but there are some consistent themes and patterns that are just not working and they're confused about what they want and who they are.
That's a little bit different and usually, I just get really, really interested like if you're sitting there in front of me, there is something that you're wanting, maybe it's just to feel a little bit better so that you can be calmer with your daughter, for example, or maybe you just want to be able to control your anger so you're not having outbursts at work. There's some way and there's some clear thing that that person is wanting. You don't have to know exactly who you are. You don't have to know, a Five-Year Plan of everything you want to happen. If you can at least pinpoint one thing that you're wanting for yourself, then that can become this point of exploration, where we can start, and then from there, so many other things start to unfold.
Michael: Yeah, and one of the things you mentioned was the fact that it might take a really long time. My favorite word is PATIENCE because it is a marathon. Can you talk about the power of that word in this process and what that means?
Iris: Sure. Yeah. I mean, well, it is critical in the process and I think it's really challenging because we live in such an instant gratification culture where we just like – same-day delivery on Amazon, we're so used to wanting something, and then getting it, and it just, unfortunately, doesn't work that way and that's all hell.
And so, I think, things can start to shift, you may have very small wins as at the beginning as you go but if you're starting this place of just despair and self-loathing, it's going to take some time to get to this place where you can really feel practiced and being compassionate toward yourself.
And so, I mean, what I like to tell people, I tried so many things and so many of them really weren't helpful. I tried so many things and I kept trying, and I kept trying and I think even the things that weren't overwhelmingly helpful, maybe there is a just tiny little kernel from something that started a new thought process for me or started a new inquiry and so just little by little these, these baby steps over time, start to make a huge difference and it may not feel like it at the moment I like to keep journals and it's been fascinating to like go back and look at my journals from when I was 18, 19 years old. It didn't necessarily feel that whole time like they just were happening but when you go back a few years and look, it can be kind of mind-blowing how much is actually happening.
And so, yeah, I would say absolutely patience is necessary because otherwise, you're going to want to give up but also developing this skill, which is definitely a skill of noticing the small wins, it's sure you're going through that process, it's going help give you more patients, I think.
Michael: Yeah. And giving yourself accolades and appreciation is so important in this journey because and I often tell my clients to dislike it if you don't believe in yourself who will? And ultimately you have to stand in front of that mirror and be like – I love you. I'm proud of you. I'm happy that you made the right decisions today, but people think that somehow and I want your opinion on this because I'd be really fascinated by your thoughts.
I see this often where people make a mistake and immediately they feel like they are reverted back down 2-0 to baseline, starting over from scratch. Talk about how you really navigate making mistakes or falling back in the healing journey.
Iris: Totally. Yeah. Well, especially, I mean you see this in recovery from substance use quite a bit and certainly recovery from an eating disorder, it's really rare. I mean, of course, I'm sure it happens, but it's really rare to just decide that you're going to stop and for that to be it. And so there are going to be mistakes and what really helps me through that process because I honestly have no idea how many times I relapsed and bulimia recovery, probably hundreds of times. And at first, I would just beat myself up about it, later on, I started just getting really curious about it. It's like okay what was going on prior to this? What what was I not dealing with? What was I not willing to let myself feel? What was I not saying? What was I not giving myself permission to do? You know, I started getting interested in and what was leading to that, and then I started also getting really interested in and what that whole process is an experience was like – I just basically took a microscope and started looking at every aspect of the experience and trying to learn as much as I could from it. Because I knew that I think intuitively, I knew for a long time, like we don't do things for no reasons, that we don't do things like we are there is hidden logic in everything that we do. And so putting on my detective hat and looking for the logic, looking for the patterns, you know, then the relapse is, they weren't fun, and I wasn't wanting to create those but when they happened, I could at least sort of mine them for information and I became very, very helpful.
Michael: Yeah, and in that information, I always think about this. Mistakes are not failures as much as their points of data in measurements, in which we can determine what's next, because I look at one of my mentors, taught me something really special, and he said it; You know, if you can turn life's problems in mathematical equations, you can always find a solution. And that hit me so hard because what I've understood about that was it's not always cut and dry, like there's so much about this process and even in people, like I tell my clients all the time, like I make mistakes every day like, for sure, that is going to happen because I'm a human being. But how do you navigate the pressure of perfection really in the healing journey and just want to be done and perfect and healthy and not have all that stuff? Like do you do this?
Iris: I mean; I think maybe this is easier said than done but just sort of accepting the fact that that's not a thing like – you can't heal perfectly.
You can't do anything perfectly and that's really hard if you're struggling with perfectionism because I think there's this idea that well if I can just be perfect enough that I can protect myself from pain and so we're naturally, of course, we would want to be perfect then, if that's sort of an underlying belief or if I need to be perfect to be loved if I need to be perfect to be accepted if I need to be perfect to not feel shame. Of course, we're going to be chasing that and I think there is this kind of disillusionment process, I think that comes with healing where we start to internalize that some of these ideas we had about healing, about what's possible, are not really reality, it's more of a fantasy.
And then also realizing that really this is gonna be an oversimplification but on some level, I think what we're really really wanting is love and belonging and to feel safe in the world. And so, a lot of this perfectionism or this pursuit of healing and this very linear particular way is really our way of trying to give ourselves that of trying to find that that connection that belonging that sense of safety. And so if we can just start attending to that, like, okay, what do I need to do to connect myself? What do I need to do to connect to other people? What do I need to do to feel safe and secure within myself? I'm tending to that.
It's a different orientation toward it and that can be sad. I mean if you really have this idea that like – I'm just going to pursue this perfect path and then I'm going to perfectly heal and then, you know, everything's going to be great and I'll be happy forever, that's a hard idea of to let go of but the human experiences, it's complicated.
Michael: Yeah, right. And I'm part of it as that I often think about is when you're stepping into this and you're trying to do those things like creating love connection, kindness, community, all of these things and you've spent your life not being able to be intuitive or follow your gut because there's always a ramification in your action and you step into this plateau where you're looking at life and you're assessing it and you're trying to figure out, okay, like where do I really begin? That can be so complicated and also simultaneously terrifying. If you were to give someone listening right now, just one marker of where to begin, just to step into what's next in their life, what would that be?
Iris: Well, I'm going to give a very unsexy answer which is like a really think talking to a trauma, informed, coach or therapist somebody who's really trained in working with trauma is going to be your best friend in this process. The reason why I go there instead of saying, like, Okay start here is that different types of trauma often weren't different approaches. And so, if you have a shock trauma versus developmental trauma, that's the student likely need to be handled slightly differently and so I would just recommend talking to someone who's well-versed and these things and see maybe that's not the person that you, state working with forever but talking to someone who will know where the point you, for you specifically since you’re your path and your experiences your own.
Michael: Yeah, I think that's great advice and I look at whether it's finding a coach or a therapist or small group or whatever as being an alignment and I look at it very much like dating. And in fact, when I found my therapist, the guy who is now, I've been with for years and years and years. I had 30 phone calls with a therapist before I landed on him and because I'm the very type, A, I like spread put a spreadsheet together, looked at qualifications, had like an interview with them, like a lot of people just diving into the first thing they find, but the truth is like you got to do a little bit of research first.
So as a coattail do, what you just said, like do some research and you don't have to stick with the right with the first person because like honestly, I would assume like even our styles are so much different in the approach and who you need is not who I need and you got to keep that in mind, it's not one size fits all.
Iris: It’s true. Yeah, I mean, I don't even know how many therapists I've been through to find the right fit. And yeah, I was quite a few.
Dating is a great analogy because it's like, all these therapists could be wonderful human beings and just not the right fit, you know, and there's typically going to be just some kind of resonance when you find someone that you're really going to feel safe talking to, you're really going to connect with and maybe you'll get lucky and it'll be the first person you talk to, but maybe it'll be the 10th. So just keep trying and I know that's hard when you're really struggling and that you don't have the energy to do hardly anything. So, in that case, sometimes just talking to someone for a little while, until you feel a little bit better, as sort of a stopgap can be helpful but I definitely recommend to continue looking until you really find someone that feels like a soul connection.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. And you know, it's better to get other than to stand on the sidelines. So, just take the first step and that's a challenge and I get it, trust me, I think we get it right? But there's so much power and it just takes the first step even if you're scared because that means you're probably on to something.
Iris, this conversation has been absolutely amazing, thank you for being here, before I ask you my last question, can you tell everybody where they can find you?
Iris: Sure. Yeah. So I mean Instagram is a great place to find me. It's just @irismcalpin, because then, I have a linktr.ee that has links to my podcast and other interviews that I've done and my website and all of that. And I have a free class on self-sabotage, it's linked to there as well. It kind of goes into developmental psychology and how that influences almost a sabotage. So, that's always a good place to find.
Michael: Awesome! Love it. And Iris my last question for you, my friend, is, what does it mean to you to be unbroken?
Iris: Yeah, when I hear Unbroken, that word immediately comes with that is resilience. And to me I just think part of what makes humanity so incredibly beautiful to me, it's just this deep well of reserves that we have this incredible resilience that we have it. Sometimes we don't recognize or don't even know it's there until we're tested in a significant way. And so, you know, as broken as I thought I was for so long I wasn't, I wasn't broken at all, and I was just wounded and needed support and with support, I was able to start to tap into that resilience, that was always there waiting for me. So that's what I think of with that.
Michael: I love it. And I think that's a perfect way to end this conversation. Iris, my friend, thank you so much for being a part of this.
Unbroken Nation, thank you guys all for listening.
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My friends, Be Unbroken.
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Iris McAlpin is a certified trauma coach and NARM® Practitioner specializing in self-sabotage, eating disorder recovery and complex trauma. After recovering from severe bulimia, C-PTSD and depression, she now spends her life helping people all over the world overcome similar struggles through trauma-informed education and coaching, in both group and private settings.