Into The Valley (A Reflection)

It was initially described as a mysterious illness, originating outside of the country. Before everything seemed to tilt, I went to church and then traveled to North Carolina with my family. It was just like the flu, some said. It would be gone by July, a local doctor reiterated. When I got off the plane on March 11th of 2020, concern was growing exponentially. I had decided to quarantine out of caution, and then the following day a stay at home order was issued by the local government. Aside from essential businesses, we were on lockdown. 

Covid-19. Caronavirus. It was real, people were dying, and still are. I gathered I was high-risk, but learned that it was more so because my lungs had never fully developed (I had been on a ventilator as an infant). My mom frequently expressed that she was scared for me, and I was scared for my grandparents and my sister. I vaguely remember hearing about H1N1, Ebola, Zika, but there was more reassurance in how it was being handled. This time around, it seemed like all bets were off. 

By day, I was an anxious mess, mostly because everything was so unknown at the time. I hated the constant speculation about the virus in itself, along with what may or may not happen as a result. The news is never not on in my house, so that in itself was a challenge. I blasted music a lot and tried to journal. I didn’t want to eat, and found myself exercising more than usual. I started shutting off notifications and muting websites, which helped but didn’t stop me from doomscrolling (a feel-better attempt that always backfired).

At night, I would fall into a depression. I had just started genuinely getting involved at my church (my first time volunteering with any church, really), and to have the put on hold felt like a loss of possibilities when it came to connection and spiritual growth. A man that I could see myself dating went off the grid, and I had to literally sit with my feelings about it. My brother was on the tail end of his deployment, unsure of how he’d get home or when (after already going through the wringer back in January). And being the extrovert that I am, it was tough to suddenly be so limited in terms of what I could do or who I could see. 

I eventually recognized it as what is commonly known as a trauma response, and what followed is rather blurry. Walks were a saving grace. There were times where I read or watched movies for the entire day because I didn’t have the emotional capacity to do anything else. I Facetimed, Zoomed, and played silly games on Houseparty. I prayed, even when it got tiring and repetitive. And then I cried, waiting until late at night to truly let it out.

But what I remembered most was the little, now-significant moments: the feeling of sunshine on my face. A care package from one of my best friends (because I told her I missed Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee). Listening to Jimmy Buffet and Kenny Chesney on the back patio as the weather warmed. Summertime was different, yet I was fortunate to get outside and be on the water, and did so whenever I had the chance.

In retrospect, I was incredibly fortunate both physically and financially. I’m grateful that I could support friends of mine who struggled with being alone, or were dealing with emotionally taxing situations in addition to the pandemic. Being a rock was part of what kept me going, even if all I could do was listen and validate and not let those people give up on themselves.

The anger didn’t set in until I started trying to get a vaccine appointment last month. I had long held-in anger at an incompetent administration who cared more about pandering to their base than being honest and working alongside health experts. When people cried, “My rights, my freedoms!” I wanted to scream that getting a haircut and going to a restaurant isn’t exactly a right, but a privilege. You don’t get to complain about supposedly being controlled or policed while simultaneously being against marriage equality, denying the existence of racial injustice, and refusing to see the disparities in healthcare. And you don’t have to like wearing a mask or agree with every decision being made, but don’t make things more difficult for those who try to protect the people around them, or can’t “just stay home” (as it’s often oversimplified). Everyone has the right to an opinion, but no one has the right to use that opinion to harm someone else.

I didn’t have the energy to argue in those moments, and I don’t always do well at thinking on my feet. When it comes to choosing physical versus mental health, I don’t have a solid answer. It’s not about following every rule to the letter, but rather, taking care of each other. How differently would this have played out (at least initially) had we collectively focused more on helping one another? How many lives would have been saved? 

How can some Christians say they love Jesus, while refusing to see and meet people in their humanity?

Contemplating the road ahead is an overwhelming thought, and the best way I’m coping is one day at a time. I hope we remember that what was accessible and doable during the pandemic is still entirely possible (especially for the Disability Community). I pray enough people will get the vaccine, or at least be open to getting it in the future. I pray that the generations shaped by this last year will live and love better than the ones before it. May we learn to show compassion to the collective suffering we’ve faced, and sit with one another rather than compare or compete. My we choose humility over superiority, even if our health seems to indicate that we’re invincible. And as life moves forward, may we build a culture of presence instead of constant productivity, and cultivation rather than instant gratification.

Yes, God will do His part, but we also have to do ours

Keep going. Just. Keep. Going.

When You Need A Little Extra Help

I wrote this as I was holding space for someone whom I’m care about very much. This kind of decision should not be made lightly, and should always involve professional evaluation and input. I wrote this based on my own personal experience, and ask that it do not be taken as gospel.

I take a little pill each day
And I was scared at first.
Would it change my personality?
Would it make things even worse?
I had a lot of questions, which were answered with patience and care.
Follow the instructions
Pay attention to your mood and feelings
And then take it from there.

So I took that little pill each day
And it took a couple of weeks.
Over time I noticed that there was a change
But a change involving good things.
I wasn’t crying as much anymore
And the chest pains went away.
I had the headspace that felt lighter and brighter
And the motivation to go about my day.
Some people say I mellowed out
“You’re not as bubbly as you used to be!”
My friend, it’s called the typical stresses of adulthood
Hormones and PMSing.

Haven’t you heard of puberty?

It’s not always magic and instantaneous
I still have to do the work.
Reframing anxious thoughts and coping with uncertainty
But I stay off the edge, for what it’s worth.

It can take some trial and error
Many options, and not all have the same purpose or results.
But it’s better to try and try again
Then to strive for mental wellness
And yet do nothing at all.

What works for me, may not work for you
That’s entirely okay.
But if you’re not a doctor or professional
Please be careful with what you say.
Some people need that little pill, but avoid it due to fear.
Fear of stigma
Fear of criticism
Wanting to be superhuman in the eyes of strangers
But especially to those they most hold dear.

It’s not a lack of faith
Or a desire to numb out.
I’d rather not get stuck inside the prison that is my head at times.
To be able to connect and build relationships.
To seek and experience joy
Is what life is all about!

So if you need that little pill
There’s nothing wrong with you!
Human beings have complexities
Who need a little help, that much is true.

I think it’s brave
I think it’s wise
And who is anyone to judge?
If you take a little pill
You have my support and love!

The Unintended Impact of Disabled Inspiration

“So, how’s the job hunt going?”

I was at an appointment with my doctor, a yearly checkup or something to the effect. He was trying to make small talk while looking at a clipboard.

“It’s going,” I said. “I’m filling out job applications, going to networking events, reaching out to people on Linkedin, and honing my overall skills.” I elaborated that I wasn’t giving up, and proud of myself for trying to build a life in Chicago, even if that meant having one foot in and one foot out.

“The world needs more people like you,” he said without looking up. “People that realize that there’s more to life than just playing video games and living off government money.”

Huh? His comment carried an uncomfortable implication, an unspoken expectation. I left with a kind of uneasiness that I couldn’t explain, and for the longest time couldn’t figure out why.

///

I’ve become part of and have learned a lot from the Disability Community over the last year. My first steps were reaching out to a woman whose Facebook post had gone viral, needing validation regarding a long-desired dream. I’ve wanted to write and publish a book but questioned the right to tell my story due to having a lot of privilege as a white woman who can pass for being nondisabled most of the time. Her answer was a resounding “YES!” and that disability is fluid in both condition and experience. I joined online groups and began following prominent figures. I learned about the Americans With Disabilities Act, my own internalized ableism, and how SSI keeps many recipients in poverty. I read, watched, and listened as much as I could, and I’m still learning. It helped me begin to grasp what I previously didn’t have the language for.

When living with a disability, you’re either pitied or put on a pedestal. I’ve been both at one time or another, and it’s been why I’ve been so hesitant over the years to write for large publications and truly plant myself in the public space. I don’t like the idea of telling people what to do and how to live their lives, especially if I’m not in their shoes. I was (and still slightly am) afraid of being idolized to the point where I feel like I can’t be me. I wrestle with that enough as it is.

I’ve only been called an inspiration on rare occasions, but it’s been equally implied in other ways. The term may have fueled my sense of determination growing up, but I can no longer deny the problematic nature of the word and the weight that it carries.

It Has the Wrong Focus

When hearing stories of those facing more barriers/challenges, the common assumption is that the person isn’t working hard enough or saying/doing the right things. This leads to a harmful misconception that most disabilities can and should be “overcome”, whether by sheer willpower or divine healing. “Inspiration” puts the sole responsibility on the disabled person to not only make everyone around them comfortable, but they often must rely on that comfort in order to fight for and obtain basic human rights.

What most people don’t realize is that for decades, there has been a system at work that aims to discriminate against disabled folks, particularly in the workforce, healthcare, marriage, education, transportation, and even art. (I’m sure if Trump and the current administration had their way, we’d be locked in institutions again and out of public view). Rather than lauding (or pushing for more) we need to examine how society has systematically failed to see us and treat us as human beings, and then hold it accountable.

We have the technology. We have the resources. Any supposed reason not to address the system going forward is just an excuse.

It Removes Agency and Projects Identity

I won’t deny that grit, determination, and resilience are part of why I’ve reached certain milestones and accomplished a number of things in twenty-something years. But attributing “inspiration” to part of my identity has often made me feel like I have to be “on” all the time, and I end up struggling to tone that fierceness down when it’s not needed. I actually have a soft, romantic, and even sensual side, and I’m in the process of figuring out how to show it more often. I have to remind myself that I no longer need to spend my time and energy proving my worth, and I’m allowed to just rest and be.

Everyone has a right to choose how they identify, and reject terms and phrases put on those who have never been where they have. (Most of what’s deemed derogatory were done so by those without disabilities, believe it or not). I’m not “semi-disabled.” I have a right to ask for help (without being talked down to or infantilized). And I’m not being selfish by refusing to deny my needs related to having Cerebral Palsy.

I’m realizing that I don’t want to attempt to do everything, especially for the sake of being a badass. I don’t want to be everything to everyone, particularly if I have to forsake my mental and physical health in the process.

It’s Just Awkward

Imagine if someone were to approach you, and the first words for an introduction were “Hey sexy!” or something along the lines of that. Whether it was intended as a compliment or a come on, there’s something about it that doesn’t feel right. I’ve been there plenty of times, and in those moments I wish I worked up the nerve to say, “You don’t know me, so how do you truly know what makes me [insert adjective]?” I’d probably be accused of not being able to take a compliment, but if I sense that it’s not genuine, I’m not going to take it as one.

And I think that’s why much of the Disability Community bristles at co-opted adaptability, especially if they’re just trying to survive in a world that wasn’t built with them in mind. Some appreciate it, and they’re entitled to do so, it doesn’t mean everyone should be lumped together. If a disabled person says “this is hurtful” or “this isn’t helpful” that should be respected, full stop.

///

When it comes to giving praise or speaking highly of anyone, I’ve learned to use “I” statements to communicate that I’m taking personal responsibility for what I say and how I say it.

“I admire you,” or “I’m grateful for you” doesn’t seem like much, but it goes a long way.

 “Thank you for sharing your truth,” or just, “Thank you for being you,” speaks volumes.

For me personally, it melts my heart when individuals take the time to ask me what I truly want, rather than trying to convince me to take what I can get all the time (both personally and professionally)

Context is equally important, specifically how long you’ve known the person for and what parts of their story they’ve shared. If you’re at a speaking event or conference, take in and sit with what they actually said before sharing what you’ve learned or what it means to you. There’s a time and a place for everything, and a first meeting isn’t necessarily it.

In a culture that values productivity and defines individuals by how they contribute to society, I want my message to be that what you are capable of doing matters. The world needs people who can do the little things as much as the big things. It’s perfectly valid not to want to be the next big polarizing figure, or the subject of inspiration porn (that’s another subject for another time). You are worthy of living life as you see fit, regardless of who tries to make you feel bad about it.

For those getting defensive about this subject, please check your ego as well as your privilege. Impact is always greater than intention, and if you don’t live with a disability, you don’t get to tell the disabled how to live. Part of being an ally to marginalized communities is the willingness to have some humility and be corrected, even when it doesn’t feel good.

I know that many will still look at disability a certain way, regardless of how much education and insight there is. And I know that people will still look at me in a particular light, regardless of how I ask to be treated. But I hope that my closest family, friends, and even potential partners will respect where I’m coming from, regardless if they agree or not. I’m still learning how to explain what I often don’t have to think about, because I live it on a regular basis.

And now the question is, if you’re so inspired, what are you going to do about it?

When I Talk About…

Initially I wanted to tell as many people as I could, or at least many as I thought needed to know. When you keep a serious problem like an addiction/disorder under wraps for a length of time (whether intentional or not) you suddenly don’t want to have a filter anymore. You want to tell the truth, all the time, believing that’s exactly what you need to do to heal. And perhaps in a way, I absolutely needed to back then.

But as the saying goes, not everyone can handle the truth. And my truth is that recovering from an eating disorder is complex and multi-faceted. Three years later, I’ve come to regard it as something sacred, a big part of my life, but a part nonetheless that not all can be part of. There’s an assumption where if you don’t openly discuss the absolutes of who you are, you must be ashamed of them. Yet what if it’s not shame, but protection, that motivates the quiet? A healthy protection of progress, and protection of self.

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My best friend asked me how I wanted to celebrate, given that the pandemic had put the original plan on pause. My immediate family was supposed to reunite in Florida after my brother’s return from deployment, and we’d even spend a day at Disney. The courage to share with my mother what that trip would mean to me, what I had accomplished personally, was enough of a celebration in and of itself. It was tough to come up with anything else beyond that at the time.

I dreamed the night before the three-year mark about being surrounded by cakes, each one looking too damn delicious for words. And the morning of the seventeenth, I finally came up with a short-term idea (well, mostly). It should involve macaroons or chocolate truffles (two of my favorite sweet treats). I want to get dressed up and go dancing when it’s safe enough. Do a photo shoot. Anything that allows me to appreciate food and my body.

And yet, recovery is so much more than that, and I want it to be a focus as I continue to grow and evolve: it’s about getting in touch with yourself, valuing yourself, and ultimately coming back to yourself.

The romantic in me. That sense of child-like wonder and awe. The sensitive smile with a tender heart who cries easily. She doesn’t need to be found because she’s always been there. She just got buried under a lot of garbage for a while. And though I’ve done a lot of work in terms of getting to know her again, there are aspects I’m still learning to accept and embrace.

///

As Sunday ended, I had a hard time falling asleep, so I began to pray:

I’m sorry that I haven’t always loved and cherished this beautiful creation that you’ve given me.

I’m sorry for when I didn’t show it compassion or understanding.

I’m sorry for the ways in which I allowed my body to be disrespected and used. I wasn’t strong enough back then.

Thank you for three years of healing.

For learning how to honor, rather than avoid hunger.

For trusting myself enough to know what I need when I need it.

And thank You for walking with me through it all, especially in the moments when I’ve felt very much alone.

Of course, there is grace; grace for when I wake up too late and feel like I don’t have time to eat breakfast because I must play catch up. Grace for when I chug a protein drinks or various snacks just to get something in my stomach. Grace for when I the constant news of COVID-19 made me want to hug the toilet because I couldn’t hug anyone else. When I fear that gaining weight will no longer mean I’m beautiful, because that’s what I’ve known and was used to

But I am more than that. I have my heart, my mind, and my spirit. My church, listening to podcasts, reading books that make me think, quiet time, all remind me that I have a body, but other parts of me just as much nourishment.

In some respects, with diet culture so prevalent, I’m always going to struggle. I’m now just finding the gumption to call BS when I see it. And it takes a lot of mental energy to let things go when people around me just don’t “get it.”

There are good days, and there are hard days. I’m grateful to be part of each one of them.

A Virus and A Reckoning

 

There were initially whispers of warning

Something is coming, sickness will spread

That were largely quieted by selfish ambition

Self-preservation  over people

Stocks over saving lives

Drowning out concern with cries of “hoax!”

Denying experts the right and necessity to speak

And hiding the truth from all who needed to hear it

Not a big deal

It will go away

 

But it hasn’t, and now hear we are

Hunkered down to ease the rise and chaos

Daily life, collectively, has come to a screeching halt

Like misbehaved children, we are forced to think about

What we should have done 

In terms of heeding the cries of science

Weaponizing faith and privilege instead

Of being mindful and prepared

 

For extroverts, a new territory

How long has it been since I last stayed home this long?

No social gatherings, church, or bopping around the city

Like living in an alternate universe

How the actual hell did we get here?

But I welcome the resting, reading, and reconnection

 

And from this I’ve seen

That connection is essential 

To the human experience

Conversation, vulnerability

And physical touch

The latter which I crave

And miss the most

 

But where do we go from here

When a lack of leadership and transparency

Have brought us collectively

To such a dark place in history

A legacy stained by lies, corruption, and sickness

Those on the right side of history trust facts and science

More than blubbering buffoons 

 

I pray for healing, restoration, and protection

Accountability for politicians that looked the other way

That we may learn from this devastating season

Taking a damn good look at ourselves

What many have enabled

 

There might be dollars and so-called power in big business

But solidarity in the small and local

Heroism belongs to the every-day workers who cannot stay home

God go with all of those on the front lines of this crisis

Let us support them, honor them, and lend them our hands

For there is speaking truth to power

And power in speaking the truth

 

I anticipate the day

When I can wrap my arms around the people I love

Dance in public

And worship in community

A celebration unlike one I’ve ever felt or seen

Until then I pray for peace and ease

Waiting and expecting

Let it be so

What Happened to ‘Hello’?

Did anyone ever teach you how to properly talk to a woman?

It seemed witty enough when getting hit on in a bar or catcalled in the street, but most of the time I’d forget or was more focused on getting out of the situation as fast as possible. I didn’t feel safe enough to engage, nor was in right headspace to want to educate anyone. In my early twenties, it was a comeback meant to shut the guy up and nothing more. Yet I’m now a working woman who relies on walking and public transit, and it’s still a genuine question that echoes in the back of my mind.

Why do men tell women to “smile” when they have no idea what kind of day they’ve had, or the circumstances they might be experiencing?

Why do men call a woman beautiful or sexy, when they don’t even truly know what makes her so? And what about at first sight makes this so-called flattery appropriate?

And while rejection stings, why get so angry to the point of causing emotional and even physical harm?

I’ve had enough conversations to realize that it comes down to entitlement and ego; I want this, and therefore I deserve to get it. If you don’t like or appreciate my attention, then you deserve to be punished.

It’s disgusting and degrading; perhaps men who act this way already know this and don’t care, but I’m going to take the human to human approach anyway:

Life is not fair, and the world does not owe you anything. You can have back luck and a bad lot, but that does not give you the right to put that pain onto others, particularly those you don’t know. Being a good person does not always lead to the rewards that we believe we should receive, and there comes a point when you have to face your bullshit and admit that you just might be part of the problem. If you want to experience genuine human interaction, learn how to pay attention and pick up on social cues. But more importantly, learn how to listen and respect boundaries, even if you don’t agree with them.

And if you’re genuinely looking for a date, stop assuming that sidewalks, public transit, and various places of busyness are the only places you can go. I’m not opposed to meet-cutes, but there’s a huge difference between organic introduction and the feeling of being trapped to the point of questioning your physical safety. A couple of years ago, I went to a Starbucks on my lunch break for a phone interview. A man approached me saying that he had a question, and I politely tried to explain that it wasn’t a good time. He kept coming up to me throughout the phone call trying to ask me things, and then kept me in full view as he walked away again. I could tell that he was going to try to follow me out the door, so I instinctively went toward the front counter to explain the situation to a barista. I’m grateful that a couple sitting nearby saw what was happening, and offered to walk me back the office where I was interning at.

Being stuck between trusting my instincts and sparing a stranger’s feelings is exhausting; you should be ashamed if you ever put someone there.

There’s a popular quote that if you see something beautiful in someone, speak it. Most of the time I agree with it, though it’s definitely not applicable or appropriate when you don’t even know their name. If the first words out of a guy’s mouth are “Hey beautiful” (or something to that effect, whether online or in person), I cringe and the alarm bells automatically start going off. I absolutely hate it, but it’s my way of being able to tell when it’s meaningful or when that person is trying to butter me up. There’s a time and a place for commenting on a woman’s physical appearance, and a first meeting is not one of them.

In most situations, a simple hello or making eye contact will suffice; no pick-up lines or clever come-on’s necessary.

If she doesn’t respond or engage, you leave her alone, full stop. She might not want to talk or meet anyone. She might not be available. Whatever it is, she’s not interested and that’s all you need to know.

Being powerful does not make you better than anyone.

And wielding that power to dehumanize and harm others does not make you a man.

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I’m aware that men experience harassment as well, but I’m only qualified to speak for myself and as a woman. Debating on who has it worse does not negate the gravity of harassment, and there should be no competition over who deserves more compassion. Reaction to rejection by intimidation and/or violence is never okay, and the only way to get that message across is by standing together.

It might take a generation or two to find a way forward. In theory, sticking up for oneself is ideal, but it’s an entirely different story when strength and size come into play. As I write, it’s easy to say that I would use self-defense techniques that I’ve learned over the years, but what about when anxiety kicks in or there’s nowhere for me to run? You can’t possibly know how you’ll exactly you’ll handle an aggressor unless you’re looking right at them.

One could argue that consequences infringe on the first amendment, but a freedom is a freedom until it is abused. All I want to do is to get from point A to point B safely and peacefully, and respecting that shouldn’t be so difficult.

I initially wanted to write more, but the different aspects of harassment, assault, and #MeToo became too much to unpack in one piece, so I’ve decided to split it up. I’ve been quiet as I’ve processed the daily headlines in conjunction with my own experiences, and want to respond rather than just react.

Intent and Content

 

 

 

beauty-1845520_1920

 

Always a dreamer

Mildly ambitious

But a quiet one

Knowing that what sat in the depths and crevices

Was sacred

 

Surrounded by cautious skeptics

Reminded of her limitations

And not to wear her heart where it could be shattered

So she learned to speak

Only when and where encouragement flowed

 

From a girl with an impressionable sponge of a mind

To a woman with a soft heart and a tough attitude

Only bound by what she allows

But when asked about her plans

She goes quiet again

Trying to balance between wants and blessings

Already bestowed

Afraid of destroying possibilities

 

Two dreams

May her words flow from pen to paper

So that others may hear and be impacted

Perhaps even changed

May her perspective make them think

And move the world towards greater things

May love grow

Between her and another man

Deep with roots so strong

A love of acceptance and grace

But also motivation, courage, support, and strength

May this love be a partnership

A partner with whom she can build a future

Not just to bridge the disconnect and pass the time

But to hold, cherish, and keep

 

Before her Creator

Now audaciously in prayer

Let it be so and be blessed

Lead me and give me the courage to follow

For you have the final word

And your will be done

Going Back To Church (Or Trying To)

 

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I go to church, but I have not gone regularly since I was seventeen years old.

Around the 2008 election, I began to hear the hissing whispers of what now seems to define the Evangelical Christian movement on the cultural landscape: You have to be a Conservative Republican. Pro-life and Anti-Abortion. Do not support marriage that does not involve a man and a woman. And having sex before that means you will not have anything to give to your future spouse (especially if you are a woman). The Bible is clear on X, Y, and Z. If you don’t fully believe in any of these things, you must not truly love Jesus.

Uh, what?

That led to an even bigger question: should I believe these things because I feel that they truly right? Or have I just been spoon-fed every Sunday to do/say what a pastor tells me to?

I froze, spiritually, as if merely speaking that out loud turned me into an outsider. I was terrified to bring it up with anyone, given the friendships I’d cultivated since that first summer at a youth group camp were beginning to fade and I feared being brushed off and simply told to “check the Bible.” It seemed much easier to just sleep in, rather than try to sing words that sounded hallow or nod along to a message aimed at the absolutes rather than those who dare question and investigate.

God and church. Church and God. Such an intertwine was all I had known back then, and needed to take time to untangle.

College made me both curious and apprehensive to see what faith looked on campus, attending various groups and giving each one a genuine try. There was an emphasis on being different, and I already was fighting a separate battle with unintentionally standing out in the face of ignorance. There was always something off about the atmosphere, a superior us versus them mentality. I was only a freshman, and didn’t want to get pitted against a place I was just beginning to love and would be at for the next four years. I would attend Sunday services every so often, but continued to keep lingering doubts to myself. I wanted belonging, but not enough to risk rejection.

I was far from the pews, but not from the foundation; I still prayed regularly, kept a journal, and read the Bible. I knew that I needed God, but I also needed to see what that looked like between Sundays. I had lived a shelter life as a young girl, and didn’t want to be confined by four walls while on my own. I still had many a spiritual conversation in bars, coffee shops, and even after a weekly summertime tradition of The Bachelorette.  I’m grateful for the friends that reassured me this season was normal and human and nothing to be ashamed of.

A transitional nudging led me to one of the most popular megachurches in my local area, yet real connections were sparse, and I kept wondering if I would ever find a gathering place to call home, especially as I was evolving into adulthood.

Writing this, home seems to look like a hodgepodge of different cultures and ethnicities, neighborhoods that have their own distinct vibe and flavor. Whenever the fundamentalist/progressive divide becomes apparent, I remember how important it is to be aware, but not afraid (at least to the point of running away from real community). I don’t see the point in debating, because ultimately we can have the same beliefs but different convictions on how to live out those beliefs. I’ve learned that it’s okay to disagree with those you admire, and still gain knowledge and wisdom from them. But yet I cannot deny what has been tugging at the core of my soul for a long time:

There are some things that are just between a person and God, whether it has to do with their body or their sexuality. Sometimes, “speaking the truth in love” means simply listening, and remembering that we humans have a limited perspective in comparison to the One who created us.

Leaving church (for however long) does not equate to abandoning God. Yes, we are called to gather together, but that is no reason to invalidate wounds, pain, and abuse caused by it. There will be seasons where Jesus Calling and online podcasts feel safer than walking through sanctuary doors.

Anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental health struggles have absolutely NOTHING to do with a lack of faith. Pastors are not the same as doctors or psychiatrists, and be wary of those who act like they are. It is wise to seek counseling, and it is just as wise to take medication if you feel moved to do so.

If you don’t want to be lumped in with those that feel they need to hate certain groups of people in order to be “good Christians”, then stand up and live out who you say you are.

I am still wrestling with a lot, especially when it comes to gray, or even flat out bad theology. I don’t like the term “broken” because of how it was used against me as a young girl by those that bullied and ultimately misunderstood me. Phrases like “hungry” or “thirsty” often make me want to draw closer to God than the former; reminding me that I still desperately need Him without feeling less than human.

I could never be an atheist; I have been through too much and experienced enough miracles to know that we didn’t just get here by simply appearing out of nowhere. There is something much bigger than you and I, although I cannot pretend to understand or comprehend all of it. That is why faith is often referred to as a mystery.

Funny how when I first started attending church, I sought out a safe place from what I had no control over. Nearly ten years later, I find myself in similar circumstances, though my brain is still a sponge.

I still have questions and am skeptical at times, but the beauty of faith is being able to discuss it all on a deeper level and be able to grow from it. Wherever my journey takes me, I trust that what is hurt will lead to healing, and what needs transforming will lead to grace.

When Recovery Is Unconventional

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Trigger warning: Discusses specific eating disorders; please read with care.

May 17th was the day I graduated college, and three years later would also become the day I would admit to struggling with multiple eating disorders.

I’ve lived an unconventional life, realizing over the last year that recovery is no exception. It is not by choice, but rather trying to make the best of my financial situation and the resources that I could afford. There’s a common misconception that everyone who suffers at the hands of this monster automatically goes to treatment, does what they need to do, and then comes out one hundred percent behavior free. That kind of work and healing is nothing close to linear, and to expect that (if not demand it) is completely off-the-wall.

I had no idea how to process it at first; this was another layer of stigma on top of recently prescribed medication for depression and anxiety, along with already dealing with a physical handicap. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I allowed myself to believe that I wasn’t ‘sick’ enough, and that I didn’t need professional guidance when it came to proper nutrition and health. The battle between the ED-oriented part of my brain and the rational part raged on, with no accountability or speaking truth on a regular basis. Anorexia continued to scream that finding a job was more important than making time for a proper breakfast and lunch, sometimes even dinner. When trying to eat, I kept avoiding certain foods because of their texture or packaging. Scales and weight brought on a weird mix of feelings; automatic happiness when the number down, and a mild freak out if it went up. It told me that all I had to offer was my body, whether that related to men or general attractiveness. For most of my life, that’s all I’ve ever known.

I began attending a series of twelve step meetings at a local health center, and initially connected with a sponsor. However, there were few boundaries in place and eventually I had to put distance between us due to her projecting aggression over how I should navigate the complexities of mental illness. My experience with her left a bad mark on group meetings and mentorship, and it was difficult to be vulnerable without the fear of being judged or criticized for not getting help ‘the right way.’ For a while, I stopped going all together.

Life ebbed and flowed, and the disorders seemed to be buried under work and weekend activities. Until mid-March, when I came home from a lackluster date and began using behaviors. I’d had the occasional slip up, but I knew it was bad this time around because I didn’t care what happened, or where it would lead to after.

It was a full-blown relapse.

It felt like a setback at first, but in hindsight it was more of a come-through. I was tired of caving into the pressure of putting up and shutting up, of putting off doing what was necessary because not everyone around me understood it. Church is great, and therapy is wonderful, but oversimplifying and relying on sheer willpower will only carry me so far. In other words, I can’t do this all by myself, and I need help from a specialist who’s trained to go up against this toxic disease.

But that’s just the physical aspect of it, and the psychological is just as important: practicing self-compassion is a lot more feasible than trying to fully love what you’ve been told to hate or change. Letting go of perfectionism and no longer taking responsibility for the actions or behaviors of others.

Recovery at its core is really the practice of imperfection in the journey of getting it right. And the more anyone tries to fit into the ideals of recovery, the less like they’ll fully recover.

There’s no timeline, and getting better is more of a lifestyle then a destination. I don’t get triggered easily, but the major ones can be relentless; that means I engage differently with alcohol, busyness, relationships, and even sex. If I sense that any part of me has to be compromised or that my body becomes the central focus, I’m not going to go there. There is such a thing as too much compassion (or trying to make something work) and not enough boundaries. If it means I’m ‘boring’ or ‘selfish,’ so be it.  Trying not to be either was how I got sick in the first place.

It’s literally all one day at a time. And if anyone asks me how long or when, I’m perfectly fine with saying I don’t know

ldn’t be here without my support system, those that walk alongside me and sit with me in the uncertainty, rather than try to fix me or sweep the issue under the rug. I can only imagine how hard it is to be a parent, friend, spouse, or partner in this kind of situation, and feel helpless along with it. But there’s always something you can do, whether it’s affirmation of who they are (and whose they are), educating yourself about eating disorders, attending meetings or appointments, or doing something with them that makes them happy. It feels good when a loved one tells me that they’re proud of me, or is willing to literally hold me through the physical discomfort of trying to eat a full meal. It’s better to ask question than make assumptions, and please don’t ever assume what they need or don’t need.

Recently, I went to Florida for the first time in over a decade, and wanted to celebrate the one year mark at Disney World. I was a bit of a pain in the ass about it for most of the week, but I didn’t want to come right out and say why it was so important to me. Eventually we made it to the Magic Kingdom fireworks, and I quietly cried tears of joy and gratitude. I’m still working on doing things for myself, even at the risk of being told no or looked down on for it.

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When I’m ready and strong enough, I’d like to use my writing to advocate for those in unique situations, as I’ve been. We talk about overcoming stigma, how to go about getting the necessary help, and how to keep pursuing it even if you don’t have the best insurance coverage or have to travel a good distance. It’s daunting and overwhelming, and part of me still digs my heels in when I think about the steps I’ll have to take, and what I have yet to go through.

A friend once told me that fire softens steel, but then it comes back stronger. He said that was me as a whole, and I choose to hold onto that. Recovery is flexible, and that’s what ultimately makes it possible.

Light From Glass

 

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Unexpected words

A sharp sense of disbelief

Letting Go

Termination

Fast and Unforgiving

No Time

But I was just getting started!

Crack

 

I’ll never touch you like that

You can trust me

He said to keep me from flinching and cringing

You’re so beautiful

They’re crazy not to want you

I was suspicious and skeptical

And rightly so

As the first goodbye was the last

Crack

 

Grief and reflection followed

But so did instinctively grabbing a shield

 “I feel a little bit guarded” permeated every-day language

Unusual for a believer in vulnerability and connection

But it’s natural for a bruise to want to heal

And to seek shelter when the bruising becomes too much

Too many bruises leads to too many cracks

 

Fear is not the central concern, or even avoiding pain

For heartbreak is proof that you’re living life

But you can’t live if your health is in a detrimental state

As I became aware of once before

 

Discouraged and unmotivated

I allowed the familiar urges to rise and regurgitate

Until I felt empty and nothing else could come out

Fuck it, my tired self said

Who cares what happens?

I cried tears of confession

Praying for mercy and compassion

In those moments I felt unlovable

Slip up and backtrack

Crack

Relapse?

 

Brokeness is not a sight to see at first

And a caution to touch

It’s not a burden to bear alone

But not everyone can walk that road

Yet when the light gets in

When connection happens

When truth is spoken over lies

There is an unmistakable beauty

In realizing that humanity still exists

 

It’s like a prism of color

A story

Not a cautionary tale

But one of Grace and redemption

So let the black cloud come

Yet it will not overcome me

Let the voices speak

May that be tender and gentle

Let love be known

The kind of love we all need

And I will stand unashamed

Knowing that I will grow, evolve, and become

Go where the light is

Even if it’s just a little bit