On Celebrating My Body

Four years ago this month, I chose to take my body back, putting my energy toward healing rather than hurting and destroying. Recovering from an eating disorder is not black and white, and there is as much of a mental component as there is a physical component. The beginning of the pandemic rocked me mentally, and I found myself teetering on the edge of unhealthy habits in order to cope with the stress of the unknown. Anxiety left me with little to no desire to eat, and when I did I was concerned about my ability to keep it down.

There are times where this kind of journey, this process, this life, has felt like basic survival. Going through the motions. Taking steps and following plans in order to go forward instead of fall backward. And yes, there are seasons, like at the very beginning or after a relapse where that’s the best course of action. But at what point does one shift their focus from surviving and actually start living? Or living again? 

Celebration is vital, and it’s something that’s not talked about enough in support groups and communities. We can talk about body positivity, neutrality, love and acceptance all across the board, but it becomes an echo chamber if we can’t identify and therefore practice what it looks like. And we deserve to. 

Especially now. 

Take All The Pictures (And Pose)

The very invention of the photograph was to create and keep memories, and for a long time you had to appreciate it, regardless of how it developed. Even before social media, I loved picking up a camera and capturing the beauty around me, even at the risk of annoying everyone else. Photography has become a favorite hobby, and I’m not going to deny that I love doing photoshoots (and having mine taken). I haven’t spoken about it much due to the fear of frequent discouragement, but I have been curious about modeling, regardless if it involves money or not. I’m fascinated by the creativity, the set up, and the way everything comes together. 

I want to remember the days, the moments where I feel good; good, confident, and completely and unabashedly myself. As scary as it is to see my body change, it’s even scarier to think about where I’d be or what I’d have to go through if it didn’t. It’s a sense of maturation, a softening, even if it’s not conscious. Your body is allowed to evolve with your mind, and it’s part of why I wear less eyeliner, only use hot tools on my hair when truly needed, and am most comfortable when wearing less clothing. 

I try things, but I don’t share it all with the world, because not everyone deserves to see it. I have a right to pleasure and enjoyment, but I’m rather selective about who I allow into that part of my life. It already feels vulnerable enough, and if I’m going to make it public, there has to be a purpose. I reject shame, and making anyone else feel that way merely because we’ve had different experiences.

Cultivate a sense of Adventure

I adore exploration; There’s something romantic about getting on a train or a plane and wondering what the day holds, who I might meet, and how it would change my life for the better. The recovery time might take longer, and I have to priortize rest and relaxation in the same way I do having a social life. All I can say for sure at the moment is figuring out how to do both is ongoing.

My family and I had to delay a vacation due to the pandemic, and then ended up making it happen almost a year later. It took a lot of balance with making lists and doing research, while still trying to roll with whatever was out of my hands (especially in terms of weather). I’m still a work in progress in regards to asking for what I want, and claiming victory in speaking up and putting something out there. This is especially true for me in relationships, both personally and professionally. 

It’s the kind of curiosity, vision, and creativity that has carried me through a lot of hills and valleys in life, even more so in this last year. 

Move. Dance. And Don’t Worry So Much 

Movement is a gift, and one that I often take for granted. I love to dance, regardless of speed, and despite never having concentrated on one specific type. At times I’m hyper-aware of the way others might watch me, which is why I’ve never been keen on taking classes (due to the impulse of self-comparison and criticism, wondering why I feel like I could but can’t seem to do it like those around me). But when I’m with people, when the lights go down low and the music is loud, I give myself full permission to go all out.. Sometimes I’ll start in on it without fully realizing what’s happening. Sometimes I’m in church, and sometimes I’m on a sticky dance floor surrounded by old-school paneled walls holding memories that could span decades. 

I’m going to a wedding in a couple of weeks, and I haven’t been part of a crazy party since my birthday back in 2019. I’d like to think I’d kick my shoes off and completely let go, or maybe ease back into it, depending on what the vibe is. But I will be in my element, and I will try not to overthink anything. 

Sip and Savor

My relationship with food has been complex as far back as infancy, texture sensitivities and subconsciously absorbing elements of diet culture playing key roles. I know that I enjoy grazing/snacking more than taking in fuller portions, and the latter can be overwhelming to the point where it causes anxiety. I’d like to expand my palate more (I take pride in trying mushroom stuffed pasta recently), but it’s all in the baby steps. I don’t label any food as good or bad, and do my best to listen to what my body wants and when it wants it. Rather than restriction, I focus on variety, even though there are days where all I can do is get something in my stomach, even if it isn’t particularly nutritious. 

I want to be fully able to see food as an experience, rather than something to rush through or survive on. I love the meditative aspect of cooking, and the sentimentality of drinking coffee in the morning and wine or tea in the evening. It’s those parts of my day that force me to go slow, to look around me and pay attention. And if you’ve ever heard me make a raunchy reference to eating chocolate (mousse, gelato, etc) maybe after reading this you’ll understand why. It should be pleasurable, and damn it if it can’t be sensual every so often. 

And when I can’t rejoice in my skin, or the things that come with it, I simply try to show it compassion. Here we are, calloused fingers and toes. Thank you, slightly pudgy tummy that sticks out because of poor posture. It all moves and functions differently, but I adapt and I figure it out. 

Yes, I have thin privilege. Yet I also live in a handicapped/disabled body, which society at large does not celebrate (if that was the case, ableism wouldn’t exist). It feels like a paradox, looking one way but having multiple layers to contend and come to terms with. And that is a whole story for another time. 

Right now, I thank God for four years, and for the way he physically made me. Even where there are days where I struggle and question and want to just get it right already. 

Here’s to draping myself in grace, and grace for those around me.

Let it be so.

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!

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.

///

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.

When You Want To Be Ordinary

“Do you want to know why I bop around the city so much?” I asked him one day. 

“Why?” 

“I could be wrong, but I feel like there’s this whole thing about how twenty-somethings should be traveling and seeing the world as much as possible, and more so be willing to do that by themselves. For me, I can barely get through an airport without needing some kind of help, and being alone in a foreign country for an extensive amount of time seems scary and dangerous (especially since I have a physical handicap). By adventuring in Chicago, or even other cities around the country, I have that freedom to experience and try new things while still having that sense of safety and comfort of home.” 

///

It started during my junior year of college, where I began to wonder if I was giving as much as I was taking. 

After graduation, during a conversation with my primary care doctor, he told me that I needed to be an “example” for other adults with disabilities, and show them that there was more to life than just playing video games and living off supplemental income. It left a bad taste in my mouth, as most primary care doctors do when they act like they know what they’re talking about. 

And now as I’m job hunting and simultaneously reevaluating what direction I want to take my life in, that question continues to plague me: Am I doing enough? Am I living up to my potential? Am I fulfilling my purpose/calling? 

And while these questions are worth asking, the answer is much more complex than just ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ These questions are a symptom of our busyness-is-a-badge-of-honor culture. As a woman with Cerebral Palsy, it stems from realizing that those with disabilities are either pitied or put on a pedestal, and the latter becomes the subject of inspiration porn/objectification. And that’s what scares me about doing The Big Things, such as writing a book, speaking in public, and/or becoming a full-blown internet celebrity: I’m terrified of losing my humanity, and becoming a stationary fountain of wisdom in the process. 

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but most people that I’ve seen slaying and hustling and making shit happen all at once  are also suffering on the inside: they’re physically and emotionally exhausted and they have to practically go off the grid in order to recharge. This is what marketing is. This is what making a living is. And if you want to make an impact, this is the kind of sacrifice you have to make. 

I call bs. Not because I have all of the answers, but because that type of rhetoric comes from listening to a cacophony of popular opinion as opposed to actively listening to individual experiences and one’s intuition. 

And while I’m still learning, this is what I know now: 

What you are capable of doing matters. You do not have to defy the odds all the time, or ever if you really don’t want to. You do not have to kick ass for the sake of making anyone feel better about themselves or more comfortable with your situation, especially if they’re able-bodied. Embracing what’s true for you does not equal mediocrity, but maturity. 

You are allowed to set boundaries, and you are allowed to have fun. Whether it’s shutting down your phone/computer at a certain time, or saying, “I support you, but I’m not qualified to treat you or heal you,” limits are absolutely necessary. I’m a huge advocate for discussing mental health and a host of other topics, but I also need play time and pleasure. It’s part of why I often send my people memes as much as I send inspirational quotes.  It’s part of why I enjoy watching Disney movies and reading People Magazine on a weekly basis. There is a lot more light to life than just listening to podcasts/sermons and reading self-help books. Especially if you experience brain overload or vulnerability hangovers quite easily. 

‘Living Your Best Life’ DOES NOT make you better than anyone else. You wanna be the next sexy, glamorous, entrepreneur? Godspeed my friend, and more power to you. But you are not superior to those that choose a trade school over a traditional university, or are doing what they have to do in order to support themselves It’s not always possible or practical for people to pursue something just because they’re passionate about it, and your passion might not be the thing that provides a paycheck. God needs those who are willing to do the every-day as much as He needs those who do the once in a lifetime. Your worth does not depend on how you contribute to the economy, or whether or not you contribute at all. And if you feel the need to preach about doing things, ‘like everyone else’ please check your damn privilege. 

Life is filled with a rhythm of rest and movement, and one that many overlook because they’re worried about living up to old, outdated expectations. It’s entirely possible for self-love and self-improvement to coexist, without the supposed need to choose one or the other. And just because you take a particular path for the time being does not mean you can’t ever change direction, change your mind, or just stop and be for a bit. Comparison is not only the joy, but the thief of everything that matters. 

I’m all for finding treasures in this world, but I’m also one for exploring my own backyard. 

Some call that backyard a jungle, I call it a playground.

Where some see loneliness, I see freedom and opportunity. 

Writing. Public Speaking. Advocating. Creating.

Maybe it’s unconventional, but I’m just doing my thing with great love. 

Perhaps it’s just a season, or maybe more. I do what I can, and let God take care of the rest.

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(photo by Rachel Loewen Photography)

Why Mental Health Is About More Than Just Self-Care

If you’re struggling, reach out. There is help. There is hope. [insert number for crisis text line]

I’ve seen this kind of message shared in droves over the last couple of years, and admittedly I used to do so whenever I would hear of a prominent celebrity passing away. The intentions are good, but the wording reeks of privilege and implies that society should only do the bare minimum in order to address a widespread crisis. The reality is that verbally disclosing that kind of struggle, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or any kind of mental illness, as not as simple as most PSA’s imply. It’s hard when you’re directly in the midst of a dark moment/season, one that is so emotionally paralyzing that you can’t find the words to articulate what you’re going through. It’s hard when you don’t know how someone will react, and telling them could possibly hurt the relationship and make you feel even smaller than you already do. And it’s hard when you don’t want to be a burden or an inconvenience, and then have it held against you later on.

I read and hear a lot about self-care, and the fluffiness behind it all. Yet, I feel like we should be doing more: we need to take care of each other too.

But how do we do that in a world prides itself in individualism and a “do it yourself” mentality?

How do we do that when everyone seems to keep score of who reaches out to whom, and then holds a grudge if you go a long time without talking?

It starts with one question: How are you today?

If the person says that they’re struggling, you could ask the following: What do you need? How can I support you?

Maybe they need to just get out of the prison that is their own head. Maybe they need to get something off their chest so that it has less power. Maybe they just need to be affirmed that it’s okay to not be okay all the time. Maybe they need help, and have no idea what help looks like or how to get it.

The important thing is to simply hold space, for whatever it is in that moment; no problem solving or preaching about being positive.  Do not assume that they want or need advice unless explicitly asked. Yes, it is unbelievably difficult to see someone in pain. It might seem impossible to listen to anybody try to explain the intensity of their experiences without wanting to run or cover our ears. But it’s not about you, or your comfort. This is about demonstrating love in action through empathy and allowing people to just be who they are, where they are.

Village Care, as I’ve come to call it, doesn’t only have to involve sharing and being vulnerable. It could be offering to help find a therapist or treatment program, driving people to and from appointments, or offering to babysit if they have kids. When I was going to a support group for my eating disorder, I very much appreciated when family members or friends would go with me. It showed me that they wanted to learn about what I was dealing with, and how they could love me and walk with me in my recovery.

Having been both the listener and the talker, there should always be boundaries. I do not keep my phone on at night unless specifically asked, and I don’t have the energy to keep my DM’s open all the time. A child, regardless of age, should not have to play a role bigger than themselves in their parents’ crumbling marriage. In dating relationships, a significant other should not pay the price or be the solution to their boyfriend/girlfriend’s previous relational pain. If a loved one knows they need professional help, yet continues to expect you to act as such instead of seeking it, it’s okay to draw a line. I care about you and I support you, but this is beyond what I’m able to do for you. Can I help you find someone more qualified?

Setting boundaries might feel like abandonment at first, but no relationship is worth compromising your emotional and physical health over. You’re not leaving them as much as you’re recognizing that you cannot save them, and they have to do their part too.

And sometimes, there are seasons where we just don’t have the energy or stamina to be there for someone in the way that we’d like to. It might be too painful, too triggering, and end up setting us back in our own journey. There is absolutely no shame in that, but the response should always be with love and compassion.

Lord knows I have failed at empathy many times, and I am still learning. It is never too late to learn how to do something, especially if what you learn might help save someone’s life.

We say that we are not alone, and I believe that. But it’s about time we stop saying it to merely pay lip service, and start making an effort to make it a reality.

Be Brave enough to go first. Set your pride, ego, or whatever it is aside and go to them. And then keep checking in.

You are wanted and you are needed. Probably more than you know.

Coffee and Tea

Beans

Such bitter beans

I tasted at a tender age

When sleep stopped coming easily

And make-up nor heels

Didn’t make me feel grown up

One for waking, another a jolt of energy

With more cream than brew

A bittersweet blend

Of deliciousness and sophistication

Carrying me through

Early mornings, long lectures

A welcome reprieve from a boozy headache

Designated mugs for different days

 

Leaves

Scented but seemingly tasteless

Reserved for sickness

In the cabinet my mother kept

A sore throat in winter snow

Or icing in a pitcher on a sunny day

Ease and wellness, not productivity

 

Rising before the sun

A train to city for work

Anxiety: Can I? Should I? Would I? Would they?

And wondering what the day would hold

A knotted stomach

Could only be untied by sipping chamomile flowers

And perfectly hot water

Mint, plantation or refresh

Sometimes chai

Rarely green

Never black

Cozy comfort

Sip by sip

Reading or watching

No headaches

Just warmth

 

This or that? So it goes

Either one extreme or another

As if choosing somehow locks you in

A requirement of narrow-minded opinion

Perhaps an element of priveledge

But not life itself

 

For such ebbs and flows

Light follows darkness

Feelings come and go

Twist me into what I’m not

And I’ll just reshape again

Discomfort only fazes the ignorant

The ones who can’t reflect

Or face their own shortcomings

 

Each day is different

Good and bad

A sight to behold

But not always necessary to decide on

Selectiveness doesn’t apply to everything

Especially stories

Especially if anyone wants to tell the truth

Perfectly Enough

Celebrating a year in recovery.

Vacations to several of my favorite places.

A job loss that led to something better.

Meeting awesome people.

Relationships growing and changing.

Welcoming a new baby into the family (for the first time in twenty years!)

Waking up the morning after an election, and experiencing hope instead of despair.

A reigniting of fire; to grow in my faith, and to grow closer to God.

And for the first time since I graduated college, actually wanting to celebrate the holidays.

2018 has been a plethora of things. An eclectic mix of joy and heartbreak. A mix that I struggle with summing up in a singular word. The magic wasn’t necessarily in the circumstances, but in the moments. As my sister said recently: It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfectly enough.

Oh, how perfectly enough.

I’ve noticed that reflecting often comes with the tendency to take it to the extreme; it was either amazing and we want to hold onto it for as long as we can, or it was awful and the end cannot come soon enough. But why do we always have to label anything as good or bad? Why can’t it just be reality, the kind where there are good things and there are hard things, but we can still say, “It is well”?

Yes, it is well, with or without the warm fuzzies to go with it.

I still have intentions for 2019; intentions in general aren’t filled with unrealistic expectations and leave room for grace and flexibility. They’re not centered on physical appearance or require validation, relying more on self-care, along with emotional and spiritual growth.

I would like to be as financially stable as I can be, and then move into my own place.

I want to write and read a little each day, whether it’s merely in my journal or a chapter in a book.

I intend to continue building my personal brand, and not get caught up in the numbers game.

I would like to join a small group again, and to focus on building relationships in person.

And I would like to get back into cooking, along with learning how to meal prep and plan ahead of time.

But most of all, I don’t want someone’s understanding or perception of me to determine whether or not I feel at peace with myself.

Let it be so, and may you have a joyful and prosperous New Year!

“Let Go, Let God” (And Other Things I’ve Learned)

A prompt and link-up, originally posted by Addie Zierman; I didn’t have time to join the official  train, but this nevertheless has been poking at me for a while.

 

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Let Go, Let God.

It was out of a Christian romance novel, spoken by the grandmother of a bride leading up to her wedding day. Calming and a lot less cliche than other phrases I’d grown accustomed to, it piqued an interest but I didn’t make much of it. A few years later, as I was still learning the ropes of being a freshman in college, I began to remind myself to “do what you can, and let God take care of the rest.” It seemed powerful enough, giving me peace and reassurance on some physically draining days and even lonelier nights. The words themselves have taken different shapes over the years, but the truth is still the same:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

I will hold you by your right hand, and I will guide you (Isaiah 41:10).

These verses have become pearls that I hold dearly, as I find myself in a position similar to eight years ago: this season of life is wonderful, but it’s also incredibly exhausting. The days (and tasks that come with it) are incredibly long and demanding, summoning a kind of strength that wouldn’t be possible without such promises. There’s a lot of joy in having a more defined purpose (professionally), though my anxiety has skyrocketed because everything involved is rather unpredictable. I have a less active social life because both my body and brain are so tired, where I’m less inclined to plan things and have even skipped out on birthday celebrations because I don’t want my immune system to crash. And while I have never worn busyness like a badge of honor, I have experienced the guilt that comes with saying “no” or “another time.” I have to trust that people will understand that I’m only practicing self-care, and that I shouldn’t spend my energy on those that don’t.

Of course that kind of surrender feels passive at times; oh, our country is in chaos and everybody wants to be savage and aloof, but God will fix it all. We don’t have to take care of the planet because one day He’ll wipe it all out. And there’s no need to believe in modern medicine because faith is always more than enough.

Everybody wants a miracle, but nobody actually wants to be a miracle.

When I show up and do my part, so does He. Wherever I go, He will meet me there (even if it is in the wrong direction). The question is knowing what my part is in whatever I’m being led or called to, and how do I make a difference without compromising my mental health?

For someone who battles anxiousness on a daily basis (and feels like she has to be accountable to everything), there is ultimately comfort in knowing I can only do so much. It’s a relief to be reminded that there are often other people and other factors involved, and one cannot bear the weight of an entire situation or relationship.

There is room for both intention in the future, and contentment in the present season.

And there is room for both comfort and confliction.

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.

Beauty in Affirmation

 

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Bombarded my myths

And society tricks

Drenched in perfume

Permed and wearing glasses

Sponging whatever they said

About what it meant to be a lady and a girl

 

Glitter and tears stung my eyes

Stand up straight and walk right

You want help?

They’ll fix you

Go fix your legs

Lose yourself

Until awakened by faith

 

You’ve got a figure

Cover up

Slinky dresses and corsages are the exception

Thick eyeliner and a faux glow perpetuate confidence

The edge of childhood and woman

Longing to be someone else

 

Leaving home, a teen no more

Tops get lower

Lips get drunker

Wandering eyes

Compliments like butter

But skin keeps getting thinner

And the mind sinks deeper

 

Taking a warrior pose

Seeing the outline of my bones

Side pinches, measurements, and anxiety

Are what I’ve come to know

A shell of sorts, I search my soul

Sick

Tired

Hell

 

What is beauty?

Only seems to be reflected by those looking back at me

Mirrors can lie

Scales can cheat

But the heart still beats

To the beat of my own personality

Kindness, courage, and confidence

The best accessories

 

Blessed by perspective

Not all can comprehend

Where I’ve been and how I got here

Testaments to how I’ve loved and lived

Fiercely, deeply, evolving

 

Created to create art

For a purpose

Speaking words of truth

A light and hopeful breath of fresh air

 

Beautiful, Blessed, Beloved

Remember it always

Wear it well

Live it out loud

Beautiful, Blessed, Beloved

By God

By truth

From above

Until Kingdom come