Justin Littleton is the program director of our day treatment program in Santa Barbara, California. He feels privileged to witness clients challenging the eating disorder every day when he’s at work. Justin is a tireless advocate for our clients as he supports them in their recovery and is an inspiration in how he carries himself in his personal life. We are grateful to have Justin on our team and we can’t wait for you to get to know him.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from Santa Rosa, California. I moved to Santa Barbara to attend UC Santa Barbara and have found myself committed to our ocean breeze and beautiful mountains. I’ll still be forever grateful for the rolling hills of Sonoma County and find myself returning a few times a year to visit family and drink good wine.
When did you start working for Alsana?
I started working for Alsana just after finishing my Bachelor of Science in biopsychology in June 2018. As I approached graduation, I remember feeling incredibly confused with what I wanted to do; I had been working in mental health services as a peer-counselor and felt motivated to continue with that incredibly valuable work but had a recent budding interest to pursue nutritional sciences or nursing. I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to patient-care, but I didn’t know in what capacity.
So, when I saw Alsana’s posting for a direct care counselor position, I jumped on the opportunity to plunge into a company whose philosophy practices everything I had hoped to dedicate my life to: joyful movement, therapy, and re-establishing a healthy relationship with ourselves and our bodies. It was happenstance, really, but it was a match made in heaven; I couldn’t be happier with the opportunity I get each day to positively impact our clients’ health and wellbeing.
What is your role at Alsana?
I’m the program director at our day treatment program in Santa Barbara, California!
What would you tell your 13-year-old self?
This is such an important question to me! June is national #pride month, and it was right around the age of 13-years-old that I began questioning my own sexuality. I grew up with an identical twin brother and, consequently, found myself in a comparison game for the majority of my life. If it wasn’t “he’s faster,” it was “he’s better with girls,” or “he has more friends.” My brother was and has always been a huge advocate for me, but my questioning sexuality and imprisonment in distorted ideals of masculinity really took a toll on my mental health, body image, and sense of self-worth. I found myself in a really dark place at this age.
My now 23-year-old self would have so much to say. I think it would start somewhere along the lines of, “you will come out of this so much stronger – believe me.” It’s hard to follow a tunnel when you can’t see the light creeping through on the other end; you’re stuck in absolute darkness and moving forward – at least at first – feels like only more pain. I’m not sure how I managed to keep marching onward, but I’m so happy I did. I might encourage my 13-year-old self to stop looking for the light at the end of the tunnel and realize that he, in all his young and curious glory, was the light all along.
How do you help individuals struggling with eating disorders?
I truly believe that the therapeutic relationship between our clients and their treatment team is the vital ingredient in the recipe of their recovery. I lend a compassionate ear when clients need it. I lean into their struggle with curiosity rather than judgment. I employ empathy at every corner of their recovery journey because I have seen the immense struggle and yet the beauty in our clients’ resiliency and ability to always do the harder thing. Recovery is a messy, beautiful thing, and I do my best to support our clients in whatever meaningful ways I can.
What do you look forward to at work?
I get the privilege of watching men and women challenge their eating disorder every single day while I’m at work. We develop real relationships here. I think about our clients all the time, honestly. I look forward each day for the opportunity to help remind someone of their inner beauty. During this recovery process, I think some folks sometime require a helping hand to lead them to the light. Me and my team get to be that for our clients. There’s something really moving about that responsibility; that these clients are brave enough to place their trust blindly in us to help facilitate their recovery. I take that responsibility really seriously.
What words of hope/encouragement would you give someone with an eating disorder?
One of our therapists always tells our client that although they did not choose their eating disorder, they have the opportunity each and every day to choose recovery. It might be an over-simplification, but it’s true.
What three words would you use to describe treatment at Alsana?
I would use holistic, adaptive, and individual.
What’s the hardest part about recovery?
Trusting. The. Process.
I’m clear with my clients that I’ve never experienced an eating disorder, and I am truly floored by the sheer will and determination it takes to fight an eating disorder. These clients challenge their eating disorder at every moment of their day. Our society socializes over food; we plaster our walls and billboards with conflicting and often controversial (not to mention harmful) literature; we literally bathe in it every single second of our day. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to struggle with an eating disorder in a society so wired to work against recovery.
But the process works. I’ve seen it work. I have a lot of loved ones whom are living, breathing examples of the recovery process. I used to think it was magic. Now I’m more inclined to believe it’s trust in your treatment team, the process, and yourself. But it’s hard to trust when you can’t see the end. I totally get that.
Have you ever had an experience in your life that you thought was bad at the time, but that turned out to be good?
I’ve had a few difficult experiences in my short but exciting life. The moment that comes readily to mind, however, is my coming out story. I’ve never felt so terrified in my life. I can remember so vividly countless nights standing outside my father’s door, trembling in blind fear, and failing to communicate to him something so purely innocent but what felt so risky at the time. I spent a few years in contemplation, playing out scenarios and what-ifs so thoroughly that I managed to exhaust all possibilities. It was a time of name-calling and isolation. I don’t like to go to that place much anymore. It feels so distant. But it was definitely difficult.
The scenario I hadn’t formulated in my head, however, was one over a casual Thursday night dinner. One in which, without skipping a beat, my dad would turn his head to me and calmly inquire, “will you be inviting your boyfriend to prom?” My face caught on fire. In between bites of his tri-tip, my father had successfully – and without hesitation – extinguished the fire that had been aflame in my head for years. I was suddenly free to be whoever I wanted to be. I can say with absolute confidence that I have never once regretted coming out to anyone. And that’s certainly not to say I was welcomed with a warm invitation at each corner of my coming out experience but with each “I’m gay” echoed through the years the more me that I’ve become. And that’s a pretty powerful tool to have, I think: a resiliency and confidence in who you are. I’m proud of that. I get to see that same development in our clients as they walk through their journey. Nothing empowers me more than getting to see that. It’s truly a privilege!
Share a recovery miracle you’ve seen.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget it: I was adjacent to a client during her last breakfast meal, and my attention was divided amongst several clients who needed my support. I wasn’t too fixated on this particular client because I knew she was in a place in her recovery that didn’t require as much support anymore. She was social; she was smiling; she was absolutely engulfed in a wonderful conversation about her plans for school and her future that I had almost forgotten that she had an eating disorder altogether.
But when she checked-in after the meal, I had shivers all up and down my body. “I cried over my first bagel here,” she said; and she was absolutely right. She cried all day over the bagel, and it ruined her entire day. There was this wonderful pause as several of our other clients just watched her smile creep into a nostalgic bitter-sweetness that made me tearful. “I just want to live the rest of my life,” she concluded. I’ll never forget that moment. I know she’s doing just that – living the rest of her wonderfully rich life.
What do you believe is the most common motivator for healing?
There’s been one underlying motivator I’ve seen in each and every one of the clients – and that’s their relationships. At the end of the day, our relationships are the only true thing we have. By modeling healthy relationships to our clients, we begin to strengthen their ability to build and foster healthy relationships of their own in their everyday life. It’s these relationships that strengthen our clients’ ability to persevere through recovery.
What’s your favorite hobby?
In my personal life, I’m incredibly passionate about movement as recreation, adjunct therapy, enjoyment, and absolute pleasure. I grew up forced into sport that I never really enjoyed. I spent nearly a decade playing out of obligation, and I developed a really twisted sense of what movement and my body meant to me.
I started weight training at about 17-years-old, and there was something revolutionary in my headspace that happened when I welcomed powerlifting into my life. The sport was less about competition and more about challenging myself to show up for myself. I think the best kind of movement is the one you enjoy. For me, that became powerlifting. I’ve been lifting now for about 5 years, and I can confidently say that my sense of self-confidence and trust in my own body has elevated to levels I truly never thought I’d reach. This sport helped me feel at home in my body. I’m really grateful for that.
What do you specialize in?
I have the really exciting role in our Santa Barbara location as our movement liaison and partner in pride advocate. With that being said, I specialize and am energized by Alsana’s movement program and helping our clients re-experience fun and pleasure with their movement and in their bodies. I also meet with our sister sites on ways to enhance treatment for our LGBTQ+ clients. As a member of this community myself, I am incredibly invested in providing a space both welcoming and clinically effective to this unique and wonderful population.
What should clients expect at Alsana?
When clients walk into treatment with us, they can absolutely expect a brilliant team of recovery specialists to assist them along their path. Recovery is difficult. Clients can expect a guiding hand along the entire journey towards recovery with us at Alsana, and a compassionate companion ready to hear them, validate them, and challenge them along this beautifully messy journey.
Clients can expect to bring their entire, authentic self and have a team of hands ready to receive it – baggage and all. Authenticity is the key ingredient in our relational work here at Alsana. We welcome it!
Why do you work for Alsana?
Alsana’s mission to treat its clients in an adaptive, holistic way perpetually inspires me. This team is patients-first, always; and we shine so authentically. I’ve never felt so inspired to be nothing but myself before in a professional setting, and it’s been an absolute blessing. This team is honest, forthcoming, passionate, and a beautiful rag-tag team of clinicians that never fails to bring a shining authenticity into this space. It’s a wonderful environment to work in, and I do truly mean that.
What’s your favorite movie quote?
In Love, Simon, a 2018 movie about the coming out experience of a high school boy, Jennifer Garner, who plays Simon’s mother, tells her son, “You get to exhale now…. You get to be more you than you’ve ever gotten to be in a very long time, Simon.”
You can watch the entire clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTM1iHy59SY
What has been your best day working at Alsana so far?
This has become a bit of a joke amongst staff. For a while I was the direct care counselor on our Saturday social outings and our group of clients really enjoyed getting their nails done. I had my first mani-pedi on shift with a particularly enthused client who decided, with my permission, to paint my big toe a bright, lime green color.
My feet had never looked so good. Thanks, Alsana.
What do you do on the weekends?
I’m all about that R&R. Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time being a ‘yes man.’ I think it’s important to break free from the monotony of life sometimes. I’m someone who finds a lot of comfort in structure and habit, but I’m realizing that new experiences are such great ways to learn about myself.
With that said, you can likely find me on a day-trip across our beautiful California coast, trying out new places to eat and/or drink, spending time with loved ones, or doing some sort of enjoyable movement out in the sun. I’m California born and raised; put me outside in the sun with someone I care about, and I’m a happy camper.
If a book was written about your life, what would you call it?
Learning to Dance: A Memoir of a Boy Who Could Not Dance
“Let your light shine” is a foundational principle of Alsana’s culture. We expect employees to come as they are and bring their whole selves to work, just as we want our clients to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves—exactly as they are—to their eating disorder treatment.
Alsana’s staff spotlight series highlights the way our employees let their light shine and the unique attributes only they can add to our clients’ recovery experience.