A Birthday Reflection

As I sit here writing this it’s a beautiful spring afternoon. The sun is hanging brightly in the sky, the gentle breezes blow through my curly hair, and the aroma of freshly blooming flowers and cut grass fill my nostrils. I hear the peaceful chirping of birds, and I can feel the beat of my own heart. It’s in moments like this that a smile spans across my face, and the trials of the week before me seem to become distant memories.

Last Friday, I was blessed with celebrating my 23rd birthday. Given my recent struggles, it’s fair to say that I was not particularly looking forward to that day. A whole day focused on celebrating me, my presence in this world, and the food that would surely accompany this day just was not appealing to me. As the day grew closer, and the events of the week leading up to my birthday unraveled, I was met with challenges, and thought provoking, emotionally deep questions. The most touching though was “what do you want for yourself in the next year?” When I was originally asked this, my eyes swelled with tears, and all I could utter was a faint “I don’t know.” The following is a letter I recently penned to myself in response to this question.

 

Dear Alissa,

Yesterday was your birthday! It was a quiet day, filled with warm wishes and waterfalls of love. I know you would have rather have spent it unnoticed to resonate with how lost, alone, and meaningless you have felt in this world lately. But, don’t you see, those all are the lies your eating disorder wants you to believe. I know deep down, even though you feel alone in this world and in your struggles right now, I know you are so aware that your creator loves you, will never leave you, and is carrying you through these moments.

There has been a lot of talk lately about what you want for you throughout this next year, and figuring it out. A question that seems so unbelievably loaded when you barely know what you want from day to day and feel as though you are just trying to keep from drowning in the sea of uncertainty. You are focused too much on the miniscule picture. Step back and embrace the beautiful, bigger picture.

This next year, WHAT DO YOU WANT? YOU? Not your family, not your treatment team, not your friends or employer but YOU? Do you want to keep dwelling on all your imperfections and “failures’’? Do you want to be miserable, hating your body when there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with you? Do you want to just drift through the motions of day to day life?
NO! I want so much more. Trouble is, at the moment I’m not quite sure how to get there. I want happiness and meaning in each breath I take. I want to love this life for all it is, all it has been, and all it is capable of becoming. I want to fully unlock my passions and be so immersed in them that I don’t have time for self-hatred, but rather love. I want to find the courage for self-love, no matter how awful I feel day to day, or what I eat, or what I weigh. I want to LOVE ME because GOD made me and He only makes good. I want to open my heart and mind to new experiences. I want to be brave. I want my life to reflect an attitude of gratitude.

But where to even start? It all just seems so overwhelming for my listless mind. Maybe, the best thing I can do to get to that place, is to be present in each moment, and find something, even if it’s as simple as the gentle breeze to express gratitude for. Maybe that’s the best place to start? As Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I will find the life that God has meant for me to have one step at a time.

Advertisements

Authentic Struggles

Yesterday I sat in Maiya’s office exhausted and shivering under the soft massive blanket I swiped from my therapist, Jen’s office. Maiya looked me dead in the eyes and told me, “I know you have been restricting your carbs. Do you want to tell me what that’s about?” My shivers turned to trembles, and my exhausted eyes over flowed with tears. I didn’t know what to say. I know all the non-logical eating disorder reasons why I have found it perfectly fine to restrict my carbs. The feelings of safety, of value, of control, of power. I know all those things. But they aren’t the root of all this evil I’ve been inflicting on my body. After lots of back and forth, and finally promising Maiya I would properly nourish my body at least through Tuesday when I see Jen and we can plan a course of action, I began to really understand why this relapse is bringing me so much safety. Not that I didn’t know it before, but sometimes you really have to be burned by the flames to understand.

Today, the more I thought about the question Maiya first asked me, I was overwhelmed. And in that sensation, I found the truth. Facing my feelings is insanely difficult for me. Digging up my wounds, dusting off the dirt, and stitching the pieces back together- it’s too much.  Facing the people who caused those hurts, can be just as traumatizing as when the original cut was made. Acknowledging your pain, and letting yourself truly grieve can be devastating. When I started that process, I wasn’t fully prepared. I didn’t know just how shitty it would all feel. I didn’t know I had so much pain locked away. And then Ed came calling-screaming my name. He knew what to say to make feel loved, secure, worthy. He knew how to wrap me up so tightly the way I needed someone- anyone to do for me in those moments, but wasn’t strong enough to ask. I felt I had to deal alone, and let my grief take its own course. But that was faulty thinking. All I have done since I was a child has been to isolate myself from facing my problems. I isolate myself from true connections, from living fully, from happiness, because I don’t feel worthy of other people’s care because I was made to feel like a burden every time I reached out. So of course, when things got rough, I ran full speed back to Ed. Because why not, right? (I can tell you right now – if you are flirting with this idea WORST DECISION EVER!!) I hated seeing the sad look on Maiya’s face yesterday, and felt I failed her. She told me she was sad for my sweet body, and hearing those words out of her mouth was almost too much to take. I’ve never known Maiya to be sad in the year and a half I’ve been seeing her, and I just wanted to cry in her arms yesterday and beg her to fix me. But the thing is the fixing- or the process of the fixing is up to me. No one can help me unless I let them in. No one knows what I’m going through and feeling unless I let go of my “it’s all good in the hood” exterior, and reach out with an open heart. No one can be there for me while I heal unless I am genuinely authentic. I want to get back to that place where I lived in brazen authenticity. I want to let people back in. I want to tell my best friend what has been going on without sugar coating or pretending I’m fine. I want to live by the words I wrote in my post last week, and live my life with purpose, because I am so much more than my eating disorder. I want to let go, and let others in.

As I work through these challenges myself, I want to throw out a courageous challenge to you, my readers. If you find yourself struggling with a battle that you feel alone and abandoned in, I encourage you to reach out. I encourage you to let your walls come tumbling down, and start on your own path to fully living authentically. I think you will find you’re not as alone as you think. Maybe you’re not on the alone side of this struggle but know someone who is. Send a text, a card, an invite to spend time with them. Share your story, and embrace theirs. Our burdens are not meant to be carried alone.

Purpose

Over the weekend I attended a wake for a relative that passed away suddenly. While I had only met her a handful of times, her wake left a lasting impact on my heart. The following is a journal entry from this past Sunday that I would like to share.

 

4/24/16

I am still hardcore in my relapse. I cannot stand the feel of my own body inside of my skin. All I feel is my fat suffocating me and the eyes of the world staring at and counting each of my visible rolls. I put on my black dress earlier that I haven’t worn since last summer to attend my relative Gerri’s wake tonight. I have never felt so uncomfortable in a dress in my life. I just wanted to crawl into a rabbit hole and not be seen. The eyes of my uncles and aunts I’m sure were sizing up my body noticing all the weight I’ve gained. Judging my every step. All of these things flooding my mind in a moment where my body shouldn’t have mattered. But somehow, it did. Ed had accompanied me to the wake.

As time went on, and we talked to the close family members of my relative, I began to feel this overwhelming, empathetic, melancholy feeling. I looked around at the grieving faces. I looked at the closed casket covered with the most beautiful yellow roses. I saw the pictures of a young, radiant, beloved, wife, mother, grandmother. I saw the smiles of happiness, and the lines of a journey well-traveled on her face in each picture. And the more my senses were engaged with my surroundings I began to think deeply and it brought me back to a meaningful conversation I had not too long ago with Maiya about snowflakes and purpose. And I thought, someday, when this is me, people aren’t going to remember how many rolls I thought I had on my body; they aren’t going to remember how much food I didn’t eat or did eat. No one will remember how many hours I spent in the gym or my weight on the scale or the size of my dress. What they will remember is all the things I can’t see when I’m stuck with Ed. They will remember (I hope) my smile, my loving heart, my free spirit, my compassion, my talents, the joy they felt around me. They will remember my strength, and how I tried to be a light of God’s love and hope. They will remember things I probably don’t even know about myself. And it brings so many tears to my eyes. My earthly body doesn’t matter because my heavenly father has given me a spirit of love, and that above all else makes my heart swell.

The parlor of Gerri’s wake was filled with yellow flowers. When I looked around, I realized something else. These flowers had a purpose. Gerri had a purpose. I have a purpose. I was not placed on this earth for decorative reasons, but to make a difference. As I continue to struggle with finding my footing in a strong place of recovery again, I am going to try to remember all these things. Although I did not know her well, her wake left a lasting imprint on my life. And now, whenever I see a yellow flower, just as when I see snowflakes, I will smile because I will know I have a purpose too.

Steps of Faith

Yesterday was a very fabulous Friday! I was presented with an academic achievement award at my school for having a semester GPA above 3.0. This was a huge honor for me and really meant a lot. My first semester back at school since being sick and I rocked it. I rocked it when I wasn’t sure I could. I was filled with self doubt, uncertainty, and at times overwhelming anxiety. I spent a lot of time questioning what I got myself into, and was I really smart enough- good enough to start the pathway to becoming an RN? I proved my self doubt wrong. I learned to believe in myself, and accept my strengths and worked on my weaknesses. I learned how much love and support I have around me and that I’m pretty sure that I have the best cheerleaders rooting for me. Rooting for me in my successes, my failures, my self doubt, and loving me through it all. And to me, receiving this certificate meant so much more than just academic achievement. It held all the things I worked to overcome last semester, and a belief that I am good enough, and I can do anything I set my mind to. It showed me that once we throw away the self doubt, let go of our insecurities, and place our security in Christ we can metamorph into all God plans for us to be if we place our trust in him and take those first scary steps out onto the water. All we need to do is hold our hand out to Him, and walk by faith.

The Best Compliment

Monday afternoon I stood on the playground of the preschool where I work. All around me was the chaos of children screaming, the music of their laughter, and the sound of their sweet little feet hitting the playground as they bounced joyfully from one end of grounds to the other. I stood and took it all in. I watched them be so carefree and enjoying every second of their day. That’s the amazing thing about kids. They don’t care who hurt them earlier in the day, they don’t care about the baby fat that still covers their sweet, precious bodies, and they don’t care about being someone who they aren’t just to impress someone. They are just present in the moment. And while all this was going on around me I talked to one of the moms of a little boy in my class. She told me something that really hit me at the deepest point of my heart, and I haven’t stopped thinking about her words since. She looked at me and said, “Alissa, you are so real. And that’s what I love about you.” Realness. Authenticity. Those things- those two courageous, scary, wonderful things- they are what I have been trying to become. To be fully me. To be perfectly imperfect. To take off my shell and bear my heart and my scars to this fake world. To hear those words- it was better than the feeling of hearing how great I looked, or I look like I lost weight, or hearing how smart someone thinks I am. “You are so real.” That was the best compliment I could have received. And to hear those words, must mean I’m doing something right.

Flowers and Storms

Recovery. Sometimes recovery is a garden bed full of fresh, colorful flowers on a warm spring day. Sometimes it’s a tree bending and cracking under the heavy rain from the season’s strongest storm. Sometimes it’s both of these things wrapped up in the same day- even the same hour. It’s a crazy, wonderful, messy, fragile, but still somehow beautiful piece of me. But at the moment, it feels more like I’m the tree trying not to snap in the middle of the storm. I’m digging my roots into the soil as hard as I can trying to stay strong. But every time I start to feel like the colorful garden bed again, the winds of Ed’s storm start to roar and the raindrops of his destruction start to fall around me and flood my mind. He tells me food is the enemy. He tells me I’m worthless when I eat. He tells me my weight needs to be an ideal perfect number. He gets mad when I tell him that by choosing to eat and ignore him that I’m making a bold statement. I am making a statement that I’m worthy. He gets angrier when I tell him my weight isn’t who I am and it doesn’t matter how the world sees me because God looks at my heart. He gets livid when I tell him food is my friend. Food helps my body survive the demands of each day. He screams, he shouts, he bangs his fists against the walls of my mind. But I know in this moment, as I lay in my bed crying from the exhaustion I feel from fighting, that each time I challenge Ed, the smaller he becomes. And the smaller he becomes, the harder he will fight for control. And the harder he fights, the stronger my fight for freedom will become. So I will close my eyes, dream about becoming a colorful, lively free flower again, and wake up knowing I am clothed in God’s armor, and with God, anything, even conquering my hardest recovery battles, is possible.