Old-Fashioned Developments

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“I wish you could see yourself the way that I see you.”

It was during a phone call with one of my closest friends from college, after I had tearfully vented some frustrations about my life situation at the time. 2017 has very much been an inside job, where it wasn’t necessarily what what happening to me, but what I had to reckon with as a result. His words stuck with me, as they do quite often, and it’s something that quite honestly I’m still processing.

As I’ve pondered and prayed, my response became twofold: we live in a culture that essentially trains us to dislike ourselves and tells us that we need to be better, whether that’s in the form of changing appearance or acting a certain way to blend in. And because of that, God gives us opportunities to engage in life-giving and healthy relationships/friendships in order to show us what we can’t see, both the good and the not-so-good.

But even with the affirmations and reassurance from loved ones, the concept of feeling good about and believing in myself isn’t exactly cut and dry. I’ve always had a quiet confidence, but have shied away from it for a fear of coming across as unrelatable. I still want to connect with people, to need them and for them to need me. I want to practice humility and gratitude.. And I’ve never been interested in owning a room the second I walk into it or getting people to instantly like me. I’m sure already get enough attention as it is without even trying, probably for reasons that aren’t exactly flattering. Having power and/or control does not equate to being the best person.

So what do you do when self-love and sugar-coated platitudes seem ridiculously hokey?

How do you love yourself when you inner critic (or the critics around you) are so loud to the point where you can’t hear anything else?

Instead of trying to have it all together beforehand, maybe we can learn how to extend compassion inward as we go along.

Maybe the key to self-confidence is not necessarily believing that we’re awesome all the time, but being kind and gracious to ourselves in the moments when we think we’re not. Or at least that’s a start.

For instance, on my first day at my new job I had very little direction due it being Thanksgiving week and not many people were in the office. There was an initial mix up upon receiving my badge and computer, which had me waiting an hour longer than expected, my cheeks burning with embarrassment and fear that I would make a bad first impression. Once I set up and settled in, I spent a lot of the the time introducing myself by saying, “I’m Alyx and I’m new here, can you show me where the bathroom is? The microwave?” and so on. I’m not shy about taking the initiative, but doing so on a regular basis can be overwhelming after a while.

When I overthink, that’s where I have to be my own best friend. I’m a softie, so I speak to myself in a way that’s tender: Honey, you’re okay. You’ve got this. Take a deep breath and just do the next right thing.

Am I enough?

Yes, you are.

Why?

You’re a human being and a child of God.

But what about–?

Shh. Lists aren’t necessary for being lovable.

It’s like the way we take pictures: the sugary, caffeine like boost is similar to taking a selfie, where you simply hit a button and then you can immediately look. Self-compassion is old-fashioned development; it takes time, patience, and the right equipment. It’s not a quick fix, but something more sustainable.

I’m not just digging inside until I’m hallowed out as though I have nothing left; I allow love and grace to pour down on me as a reminder that it’s not just about me.

Compassion. For self. For others. A work in progress and an aim for growth, so that I’m no longer beating myself up over doing the best that I know in that moment.

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Broadening Horizons

sunrise-1634734_1920.jpgLately I’ve been thinking of publishing longer essays on different platforms, and this week decided to venture over to Medium at Delightful today. This is something that I feel very passionate about, and have had to put into practice in order to grow in order to get to where I am right now. It’s not an us verus them, or at least it shouldn’t be. We’re in this together.

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I Will Go

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I haven’t known a world without tragedy

Since I was ten years old

Hearing about a crash and buildings in a city

Sitting a class not understanding a thing

I didn’t grasp it then

What it would mean

 

Where were you when the plane went down?

Where were you when the bomb went off?

Where you when the sky got a little bit darker,

When innocence got lost

 

Now every year it seems that shots ring out

Echoed by cries of “no more” and “change NOW”

We shout, debate, argue, grieve, and then go on

Then it happens again

The same cycle

Same tears

Same words

More lives lost

More questions than answers

 

It was a little more personal this time

In the city of lights, games, and dollar signs

A little more closer to “it could have been me”

Or friends or family

To which I wept regarding proximity

Numb with the realization

Of being stuck between frustrated anger

And reality

 

It’s true that no place is safe

Or only as safe as it feels

Why bullets rain

Down on those who come together to share common threads

Music, education, community

Because one filled with enough hatred

Blinded by what, we may never know

Used a weapon to take lives

 

I don’t have the answers to such devastation

This complex thread

Involving mental health, gun control, and how we relate to one another

But I will not live in fear of the possibilities

As I travel, dance, and sing

At these celebrations of music, love, and life

These staples of the summer season

Now treasured memories

I will go

Cautious, but not cowering

Mindful, but not unaware

I refuse to let darkness cloud my thinking

That’s how evil wins

The Thing about Therapy

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October has always been a special month for me, beyond the colors and the coziness. It marked my first official visit to Iowa, and the beginning of the most transformative chapter in my life. I have met some amazing people, and even fallen in love (more than once) as the leaves have changed and the air turned crisp. But it was also the time when I decided that I could no longer do it on my own; I needed hope, and I needed help.

I went back to therapy.

There’s a lot of truth in not being able to do something until you’re genuinely ready; though I had seen professional counselors as a child, I didn’t have a ton of autonomy over who I talked to, and I was too young to even begin to remotely process the real struggles, much of which were still going on around me back then. And sometimes we’re not genuinely ready until we hit the bottom, until we realize that we have nowhere else to go and nothing left to lose. That took about seven years, where finally at the beginning of my sophomore year of college I hit the floor, threw my hands up, and then picked up the phone. I don’t remember how long it took to get in for an appointment, but sooner rather than later I was trudging over to the University Counseling Center.

I’ve done individual and group sessions, non-religious and Christian counseling, depending on the season I was in and what I needed at the time. In the past three years, I’ve gone from learning how to adjust to the transition period of post-grad to navigating and battling against demons that I never believed I would have to face in life. And with it, I’ve grown more than I ever would have outside of it, and it’s incredibly possible that I wouldn’t be writing this today had I not reached out for another studier and well-trained hand. While inner circles and friendship are necessary, one’s personal home team isn’t typically trained to navigate the depth and complexities of their loved one’s psyche. There comes a point where everyone says, “I love you and support you one hundred percent, but I only know so much.” It’s not a matter of choosing between one and the other, but allowing them both to enrich life and compliment it.

Society says we shouldn’t need help, and that it makes us weak.

Churches say to pray more or simply have faith.

Skeptics in general accuse the entire field of only being after money and making a situation worse.

A good, professional counselor will understand that their job is to listen, to guide you without shame in order so that you may unpack the past in order to create a better future. They should accept who you are and affirm that you’re human, but also be willing to challenge your way of thinking when appropriate, and encourage you to trust the process rather than dig your heals in. God can speak to you through that person, but you have to be willing to open your heart and mind to what they’re saying. And it might take a few times to figure out if you and that person mesh well, or it might take a few people to find somebody that you click with; but when all is said and done, it really does come down to you.

That’s right: in order for therapy to work, YOU have to be willing to show up and do the work.

You have to tell the truth, but also be willing to acknowledge that your version of the truth might be just that. And you also might be wrong.

You have to take responsibility for your life, your actions, and your overall well-being. No one else can, nor should they do that for you.

You should embrace who you are fundamentally, but also allow yourself to grow and evolve.

You have to get out of your head, and get out of your own way.

And you have to want it. If you seek help purely for the sake of pleasing people or trying to be the person they think you should be, it’s not going to do any good.

This kind of transformation is often uncomfortable, even brutal. It does get lonely, because those on the outside might not understand, or they don’t want to have to face their own crap. It might become a pressure cooker here and there, a race to get to the finish line and get back to normal. But it takes as long as it takes, and it’s nobody’s business as far as why or how you go about that time.

It’s not limited to a one-on-one or group discussion; healing also involves writing, music, painting, and any kind of creativity. It’s what allows you to speak and live out your truth, to feel closer to yourself, others, and even to God. I tend to share my writing as a way of communicating with my therapist and with others, otherwise I’m probably be fumbling over my words and nothing would come out the way I intended.

And while there are a lot of resources and spaces dedicated to finding help, overcoming stigma and a willingness to start is only half of the battle. There’s dealing with cost and having the ability to afford it, as has been my battle when seeking out both psychological and physical medical care. I’ve been fortunate where most of my therapists have allowed me to pay on a sliding scale, because it typically has been out of my own pocket. From the research that I’ve done and what I can grasp, insurance companies typically don’t like to pay for mental health services because they don’t recognize depression, anxiety, and so forth as legitimate health concerns. For whatever reason, some can’t take a broken heart or a chemically imbalanced brain as seriously as they would a broken leg.

I’ve never liked the term “broken,” one that’s tossed around in Christianity, or the concept of needing to be “fixed.” We’re not robots, or the sum of our many and complex parts. We’re human beings, all with different stories and backgrounds bound by the common thread of desiring love, connection, and validation. We need to grow, learn, heal, and become who we are meant to be.

What other alternative is there?

Too Human

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First it was her legs, poked and prodded

Always something needed to be corrected

Another surgery, rounds of needles

She hated hospitals

“Am I Ok now?”

Onto the next one…

 

Young and blossoming, make-up had to be flawless

“Your hair’s not straight, let me fix it”

Outer beauty was the shield of protection against whispers and words

Of misunderstanding

And she had to be the one to keep it from happening

They saw through it, and they talked anyway

 

A few years later she went off to college

Sheltered and unaware of the culture

She had her independence

That was met with ignorance

Curiosity with eye-rolling

And going out with eye catching

 

It was the first time men seem to find her attractive

Flattering, but a little confusing too

She didn’t try too hard to dress

But the groping and comments never seemed to rest

There were things that they did

A way that people lived

It felt good sometimes

So she figured she’d roll with it

 

Real life came around

With many ups and downs

Most of which were out of her hands

So she did what she did to keep going

She had her body

Not a care that the scale dipped lower

Or that her stomach rumbled from hunger

Tired of being small and backed up against walls

She needed cheap relief and she got it

 

A timeline of sacrifice for perfection

Why is perfection worth seeking

if it means denying and losing who you are?

The church folks implore it’s worth trying for

Few speak against it being worth dying for

And before it was too late

She realized that the worry, obsession, and frustration

Wasn’t worth it anymore

 

This standard of grace is new

Four months in

Beginning again

Setting boundaries instead of casting blame

Walking around with a naked face, unashamed

Sharing her journey, when appropriate

Practicing awareness of feelings

Instead of just sucking it up

She is not a body, but has one

Also a heart, mind, and soul

She refuses to rush the process

Or be guilt-tripped for the sake of someone else’s ego

Surrendering it all to her Creator

She’s soft, yet powerful, like water

And water is part of being human

Some still say she’s too much, and that scares others

But maybe she’ll a little too human

Which not all know what do to with

But for this firecracker, deep-thinker, and people-lover

It’s more than enough

After A Year

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Please don’t let us be late, I prayed, remembering how rushed and off-kilter I felt when we had all come together for the funeral. This was more of a celebration than a somber goodbye, but there was still a heaviness to the occasion that I had sensed even was we prepared the memorial garden. That morning, his twenty-third birthday, a fishing derby was held in his honor; I had originally planned on casting a line, but gave into the fears of getting hooked (literally) and my lack of patience that often accompanies it. I found more comfort in observing the soon-to-be dedicated patch of land and reminiscing on memories of Connor and our shared childhood gone by.

My family and I found seats underneath the small pavilion as musicians began to play a rendition Cole Swindell’s “You Should Be Here.” I’d heard it at Country Thunder a month before, the last place (and eerily the last day) that I’d seen Connor before the accident. I held a wad of Kleenex and my mom’s hand as the floodgates opened up rather freely throughout the ceremony, my heart breaking all over again hearing poignant words from my brother, his sister, and especially his mother. Perhaps for the first time since I got the news, I wept out of anger more than sorrow. Rest assured, I was in no way angry at them or even at God. If nothing else, I was pissed off at the world; a world that had only paused momentarily last year to remember a beautiful person. A world that kept trying to tell me in one way or another that supposedly it was time to stop grieving. A world that seemed to go on as life hadn’t changed, and yet so many of our lives had changed irrevocably. I wanted to scream at the world to go stick it where it hurts, and am tempted to do so now at its indifference toward tragedy, disaster, and injustice. But that’s for another time.

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The gathering came to a close with a take on Eric Church, whose music I love for a number of reasons, but will hold a special place in my heart because it was Connor’s last concert. I let go of any embarrassment about crying in public a long time ago; I don’t always see tears or weeping as indications of sadness, but rather a sense of depth to feelings that have no explanation. I feel deeply, and I love deeply.

Most recently, a popular blogger and pastor described it as the grieving one does after the funeral. The heaviness might lift after a while, yet the heartache still remains in the shadows of every-day life, ready to hit you in the most unexpected way at perhaps the most inopportune times. However, I’ve learned not to be afraid of those moments, to embrace them as they come and let them teach me what they need to. If a song comes up on the radio that sparks a memory, I’ll listen to it. I genuinely enjoy talking about knowing Connor and growing up in the backwoods of suburbia when it’s appropriate, because of how it has shaped me both as a kid and an adult. I’m grateful for the memorial garden, a place that I can come back to when I’ll no longer be able to come back to the house that I was raised in.

I find peace in knowing that his family is my family, that I will forever be connected to them and others through the life and memory of an amazing man. I hold close the traditions we’ve created to celebrate him, and those we’ll create in the future. To some it seems morbid, or refusing to let go, but for me it’s a way to create beauty out of something beyond tragic.

I cry. I reminisce. I write. I pray. Grief teaches you so many things, many of which are talked about in the most cliché ways. But if nothing else, the last year has taught me to lean in and be fully present, even the midst of a weird combination that is both pain and joy.

Yes, he should be here. And while not in the way any of us would want him to be, I believe that he is.

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Getting Wonder Woman All Wrong

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She was motivated by compassion rather than revenge.

Her strengths were not by chance, but by proper training and preparation.

She did not want to hide, nor did she want attention. She was simply fulfilling what she felt called to do.

Chills scattered across my skin as she grabbed her shield and began climbing the ladder out of No Man’s Land.  She rose up and began to run forward in cinematic fashion, deflecting bullets off her wrists in the process. I was so overcome by the power and awe of these singular moments that tears formed in my eyes and poured onto my cheeks. I had come across an article headline where many admitted to crying during this particular scene (and others), but didn’t read any further for fear of coming across spoilers. And while it is wonderful that strong female characters have been brought to the forefront in action-adventure, there’s another reason, a personal reason to celebrate the incredible film and story that is Wonder Woman.

In my teens an early twenties, I proudly called myself Wonder Woman in Real Life, though my only vivid interpretation is the most recent summer blockbuster. I’d seen various references through the old days of Cartoon Network, but never knew her story within the context of any comic books. It was a lot of assuming and creating a definition in my own head based off her title alone. I desperately wanted to be strong, fierce, and independent; not for the sake of being a heroine, or doing what was right, but merely proving people wrong. It was a defense mechanism, a way of communicating that underneath a sweet (and perhaps naive) exterior, there was a badass not to be messed with.

And one could argue that the fictional Diana Prince is similar, but the difference between her and I has been a matter of pride.

She never had to proclaim who she was in order to make a statement or have an impact, nor did anyone have to point her out in dramatic fashion in order to shape her identity. She allowed herself to be helped and advised in adjusting to the outside world (even when the majority of the responses to her requests were “NO!”), leaning on her male comrades for support without total dependence. Her relationship with Steve is not a back and forth of who saves who, but it more so revolves around what they teach one another, about partnership, grace, and the harsh realities of justice and evil. And as I’ve dug deeper and reflected on what this film has meant to me, I realized that perhaps it’s not just social media, loneliness, and ignorance that’s slowly killing us. Rather, it’s also individualism.

The reasons for “every person for themselves,” are plenty, from the fear of coming across as needy/codependent, to the fear of rejection and abandonment. I’ve always been, and still am slightly terrified of being too much, and have assumed that’s why people tend to disappear out of my life every so often. It seems like when it comes to lending a helping hand now a days, there’s a bit of a debtors mentality, where if you do something for someone, then they automatically owe you (or vice versa).

And so we do everything ourselves, or at least we try to in order to avoid pain, disappointment, and betrayal. Whether it comes from society or otherwise, we’re either pressured or expected to dig deep within ourselves and by ourselves for that which is beyond comprehension. We dig and we dig until we’ve become hallow shells, resentful and isolated from what we were created for.

Love. Connection. Community. Building each other up instead of tearing each other down.

I believe that love comes not from within, but from God above. And I believe that we learn to love ourselves through experiencing aspects of God in other people, both women and men.

The first time I heard that God loved me was from a man.

Had it not been for the men I’d met during college, I wouldn’t have begun to understand what loving myself meant until much later. They accepted me and didn’t judge me, even in the midst of bad decisions and mistakes.

And not too long ago, a man whom I very much care for, admire, and respect said to me, “You’re one of the strongest and most resilient women I know.” He then continued, “I wish you could see in yourself what I see in you.”

But I think that’s what relationships are for, whether they’re platonic or romantic; again, to show us what we’ve been blinded to by impossible standards.

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I’ve had to fight battle after battle since the day I was born. More recently, it has been the battle to overcome stereotypes, establish a career, and live my own life. A battle to let go of anger and allowing my heart to soften toward my family history. And now, a battle with a disease that threatens to land me in the hospital, and perhaps even take my life.

Since coming to terms with it three months ago, many have asked me how they can help or support me. Most days I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that it goes beyond just getting me to eat, or encouraging me to take deep breaths when I feel like going back to an unhealthy physical behavior. It’s a lot of patience, especially as I’m still in the midst of trying to get some kind of professional help. It’s grace when I ask obvious questions or bitch and moan over silly things, portraying myself as self-absorbed.

But mostly, it’s letting me know that it’s OK to not be a superhero. That I’ve got this, and we’ve got this.

There is part of me that will always be a fighter, stubborn and willing to kick down doors if need be. If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have lived past infancy. But I’m practicing and allowing myself to be soft: Instead of “I’ll show you!” it’s, I’ll show you what I have to offer. Rather than getting angry at those who don’t understand, I seek to gain a better understanding of both myself and others. And rather than putting up walls, I choose to set boundaries. It’s still in present progress, and I can’t say whether or not I’ll fully get there.

But the best way to get healthy is to start getting real. No cape. No lasso or tiara. Just an open heart and willingness to see what wasn’t there before. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Deep Skin

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To some degree

My life has been about my body

Fixing pieces with needles and surgery

Braces for my legs

Had me walking like a robotic contraption

Than attempting to perfect with the ‘right’ hair

Painting my face with acceptable colors

Wearing clothes that enabled me to blend in

Or at least try

 

A college student, naïve should have been my middle name

Rape culture seemed foreign and distant

I did not consider myself a target

Because I did not see myself as sexy or beautiful

I was just trying to be human, to be me

But my twenties showed me the difficulties

Being groped in dimly lit bars

One bragged about “ripping” me “in half”

If he could bed me

I never let anyone past my apartment door

But I beat myself up

For not standing up

 

Post-grad was another picture

Dating without reservation

Where hormones and desire took precedence

It feel natural and right in the moment

Always followed by doubts and questions later

I never voiced what I truly wanted

It felt silly at the beginning

Like forcing each other into a pressure cooker

So I let it roll, and eventually rolled into the deep end

Where I no longer had to wonder

Yet such experiences were anything but

Heat of the moment, nothing more nothing less

Where they disappeared like ghosts

Flinging me into depression

And debating regret

 

But I’ve kept going

And out of many, there’s only been a few

Who don’t beg me for some kind of stimulation

We talk like adults

I feel seen and heard

The others don’t really know me

And I question my responsibility

Whenever the same scenario plays out

We meet, we kiss, and then he leaves

Me asking, “What could I have done differently?”

I resent being the one to always apply the brakes

Or to have that role

When they have a voice too

 

It’s a lot to take on

As I work toward loving my body

And keeping my insides from destroying it

I need to openly communicate that I’m not just skin and body parts

I have them

But I also have a mind

A soul

And a heart

Which is challenging

When living in a culture that values what is initially seen

Over what is seen in time, and with patience and grace

I won’t fully blame myself

Or the guys that buy into stereotypical bullshit

But if I am more than just what magazines, media, and even doctors say I am

I have to stand my ground

And live that out

When I make mistakes

Grace upon grace upon grace

On Weakness

 

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“What’s your biggest weakness?”

I answer the usual: procrastination and intimidation

Anxiety that leads to impulsiveness out of insecurity

Second guessing myself

Overthinking and overanalyzing

Some will say compassion to a fault

And therefore, not knowing my own worth

Self-centered and stuck in my own head

 

The world practices individualism

A culture of being on your own

Don’t rely on anyone else

Chin up and buck up

Don’t let them see you cry

If you do, you’re not “man enough”

Or too much and not enough in general

 

Yet what is weakness if it speaks to truth

And your truth

Showing emotion

Being open and vulnerable

Sensitive and aware

Needing affection

 

What is weakness

If it means simply being human

To not be perfect, but perfectly flawed

It keeps you in check, a reminder that you don’t succeed without help

To change what you can, and surrender what you can’t

To grow, get better, and become stronger

So why is weakness so terrible?

Maybe instead of hiding in shame

One can focus on turning their weaknesses into strengths

In The Valley (Life Lately)

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About a month ago, I began waking up and struggling to get out of bed. I’ve been in funky throes before, but never to the point of complete exhaustion and not being able to think straight. It hit me without warning after unexpectedly losing my job and choosing to do something that I can’t say I regret, but in hindsight it had more of an emotional impact than I anticipated. Over the past several weeks, I’ve had to come to terms with some heavy stuff all at once; being formally diagnosed with depression and anxiety was a relief, having sensed it all along and now finally being able to address it. The health of my body has been a tougher pill to swallow, not because it was a surprise, but because I had been denying it for such a long time. For now I’ll say that it has a lot to do with a lack of appetite, along with the ability to keep food down when I do eat. I don’t want to hide anymore, and I’m slowly opening up to my closest friends and family regarding both situations. And whether I’m on the road to recovering or learning how to manage certain things, I want it to be for me, so that’s why I’m only sharing so much at the moment.

Yet even among those that I know, I’m not sure how to adequately describe what I’m going through. The circumstances are atypical, at least in comparison to the way that the issue is portrayed in Hollywood and the media. And because of that, I wonder if I even have the right to talk about it out loud. By merely looking at me or looking at pictures, you wouldn’t guess that there was anything going on. There have been accusations of dramatizing the circumstances or discussing the subject to get attention, and that is not something I would stoop to when it comes to something that can potentially kill me if I’m not careful. It’s unfortunate how it still comes down to looks; one has to “look” sick or be at death’s door in order for their struggle to be taken seriously.

I can’t say how I feel about it all right now, specifically identifying with having an illness or a disease. I would much rather call it a weakness; a weakness that was the result of wanting control in the midst of chaos, and the fear of losing control if I ate too much or didn’t exercise enough. And yet, I ended up losing control anyway, where it psychologically ran wild for two years. I don’t see this as another notch of shame to add to my belt, or another layer of baggage that will supposedly make me hard to love. I’m actually grateful that I’m coming to terms with it sooner rather than later, as though God gave me a lifeline rather than letting me nearly flat-line before I asked for help. It feels like a major (and hopefully a final) step in dismantling this tough as nails exterior/persona that I portrayed in order to protect myself. It’s already teaching me a lot spiritually, and I’m leaning on my faith more than I ever have in a long time.

I’ve been asked about support, and truthfully I’m not entirely sure what that looks like. I’m going to both a recovery group and individual therapy, though not as often as I would like. I don’t expect anyone to fix me, nor do I want them to try to, because I don’t need to be fixed as much as I need to be fed (literally and figuratively). I need patience as I navigate how to think differently so that my stomach can accept nourishment. I need compassion (NOT pity), as I walk and stumble as I figure out what kind of treatment is best for me, and what allows me to be healthy. I need to get out, spend quality time with people I care about and have deep conversations. I need to experience adventure in new places, taking road trips and be spontaneous. I need hugs and physical touch. More than anything, I need to be encouraged not to hide anymore. Hell, that’s how I got here in the first place, because I isolated myself and the pain eventually manifested itself on a physical level.

I’m not broken, but I am human. I want to be an example for others, to show that you can face adversity with both grit and grace. I’m not going to wait for the light to just magically show up in order to start healing, but to be a light myself. True strength is not self-reliance, but being able to admit that you cannot do it on your own.

I am strong.

I am brave.

I am resilient.

I am loved, and worth loving.

And by the Grace of God or come hell or high water, I am going to be OK.

For anyone who is out there struggling, regardless if you can relate to this or not, so will you.

We got this.