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.
Recently I was contacted by an old friend from high school who I haven’t talked to in quite some time. During those four awkward years we were pretty tight. We talked on the phone nearly every night, shared numerous inside jokes, took the same classes, shared secrets and family drama with each other, and always knew how to make the other laugh. After high school ended, we slowly started to drift apart as we went our separate paths. We began to talk less and less, and barely saw each other anymore. The connection was diminishing. This continued as I would see pictures on Facebook of her with another mutual friend always going out, and feeling hurt and heartbroken that I wasn’t even thought of. Because we weren’t the type of friends that ever had any drama, I felt I couldn’t express my feelings of hurt and how left out and alone I felt. I would see these pictures almost every week and just feel genuinely sad. The final straw for me was when I told this friend that I was entering IOP treatment and was met with virtually no support. That hurt me in a way that words cannot even express. Throughout my whole treatment, she never reached out, never asked how I was doing, never even invited me to hang out. I felt as though because I was broken, I was just this useless old childhood toy to her that could just be thrown into the garbage. I felt abandoned at a very fragile time in my life. A time when I needed friends the most.
Fast forward to the other day. Suddenly she finds some value in me. She suddenly wants to go and get our nails done together. She suddenly wants to talk to me. But I assure you there is something under that. There were messages about working out, eating, etc. And while this time it was a healthy mindset of messages, and a good part of that was because I steered the conversation that way, I know there will be another time where she finds it appropriate to talk to me about dieting, juice fasting, watching some stupid documentary that will scare me into eating certain foods again. I cannot have that toxicity in my life. I cannot put myself in a position to continue to have relapses. I cannot trust she has my best interest at heart, because it has become clear to me she does not. She hasn’t cared, she doesn’t care, she is probably just trying to use me for personal training tips, or even eating disorder tips, and I refuse to do that. The other day when we were talking, I could not say these things because my boundaries are still weak. I couldn’t tell her she triggers me, she abandoned me, she is not my friend. I couldn’t express all the love I have had from my REAL true friends over that last year. I could not explain to her how toxic she is for me. I could not say NO! But today, on the off chance she is reading this, I am telling her no now. NO I don’t want to hang out. NO I don’t ever want to try a fad diet with you. NO I don’t want to allow your toxicity back into my life. NO I do not want to set myself up to be hurt again because you don’t know what a real friend is. I may be shaky on this path right now, but I am learning my worth. And the one thing I have learned from my real friends over these struggles is that you are not worth my time, my life, my energy anymore.
Perfectionism. A concept so many of us- especially eating disorder sufferers are all too familiar with. Merriam- Webster has two significant definitions for the word perfect. The first one which I believe we all try to unsuccessfully achieve states, “Having no mistakes or flaws.” In the society we live in, we feel the pressure from everywhere- from family, co-workers, friends, classmates, media- the list goes on and on to strive to achieve this ideal person. This person who may not even exist. In fact- doesn’t exist. We try to become this person with the perfect body, the perfect grades, the perfect hair, the perfectly successful lifestyle. Thus painting this false image of ourselves and in turn closing ourselves off to the true beauty of connection and hiding our true, beautiful, authentic selves from the world. We hide our scars so others can’t deepen them. We shield our hearts in an attempt to keep our glass worlds free from the debris of the imperfection that swarms around us. No wonder we feel so lost and ultimately not good enough.
Now, I want to take a look at the second definition. “Having all the qualities you want in that kind of person, situation, etc.” This simple definition says so much when we look at its deeper meaning. There is so much more to each and every one of us than our plastic shells we present to the world. Underneath all our striving, our searching, our glass walls, there are real perfectly imperfect hearts. There are hearts who care for those who are hurting, that long to be free enough and vulnerable enough to touch their scars and feel their pain. There are hearts that have the most painfully, beautiful stories to share that are longing to find the courage to be vulnerable enough to reach out and be honest. There are hearts fighting so hard against the battle of earthly chains longing just to feel accepted in their worldly “imperfections” and fully embrace the perfections God has given them. I know this heart belongs to me. Maybe that heart belongs to you too.
As someone who struggles so heavily with the idea of perfection, and how I want the world to see me, the second definition really opened my eyes, and I’m starting to see what my dietitian means by “the spirit vs flesh battle.” There is never going to be a day when we don’t feel like we screw something up, feel like we have failed, or just feel like these messed up broken people. But those imperfections- that brokenness- our sins- I believe God takes all of it and transforms it, and transforms our hearts into good. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is an unfixable mistake. Nothing and no one is completely lost because his grace saves.
So, as we go into this new week, I am going to work to let go of striving for the perfect body, grades, lifestyle, job or whatever else may flood my mind. Instead, I want to work towards accepting my Godly perfections. I want to open my heart, be honest, be caring, share compassion, and bring hope. I know it won’t be easy, but is anything ever?
So Friday, in an attempt to pull me out of my relapse that I can’t seem to beat at the moment, Maiya (my dietitian), sent me home with a stuffed puppy named Mitchell. The idea being that I am babysitting him and he is my accountability buddy and the only way Mitchell will be nourished is if I am nourishing myself. And somehow it took the guilt away from not feeding myself to feeling guilty instead for not feeding this little thing who is theoretically dependent on me. Honestly, I thought Maiya was absolutely losing her mind when she told me this was what we were going to do because it is just a stuffed animal and I know this! But turns out Maiya is actually a genius. And it’s driving me absolutely crazy that I can’t figure out why this little stuffed animal is helping me get my meals in, but I’m just gonna go with it for a while. Mitchell is actually very comforting to me during mealtimes too and after. I have been abnormally, severely petrified of eating and gaining weight and somehow it is helping me a little with that too. This is so confusing! I wish I could have been inside of Maiya’s head to figure out how on Earth she knew this would be helpful, but hopefully she will explain it next time I see her. The only problem is now I am overexercising to justify eating and burn more calories and it’s not helping with my fear foods that have returned. I guess it’s just important I don’t give up. And if I need a stuffed animal to help me through meals good news is someday I will be able to look back and smile at this right?!?
I also got to spend a lot of time with my best friend Ally over the weekend and it really helped me to feel like I wasn’t alone. I was talking to her about how hard it has been for me lately to not know how I look to the world. She said something that was really profound to me. She said, “It took me a really long time to realize and understand this, but everyone perceives beauty differently. Very rarely is it dependent on appearance. What one person might not see as beautiful about you, will become someone’s treasure. And what the little boy at work said about your belly, he doesn’t know the size of your heart.” Her words just hit me as this overwhelming feeling of love and acceptance and value. I felt valued. And I needed that so badly. And it really got me thinking I only have this one life. There are no do overs. I only have one chance to use the big heart I have to make a difference. Do I really want to waste it worrying about calories, food, weight, inches, BMI, body fat percentage, etc.? Do I really want or need to obsess about how healthy I can eat and how much I can work out so I don’t get obesity related diseases when I’m perfectly healthy and could honestly get hit by a car when I walk out the door tomorrow? Do I really want to live this life only halfway because I’m too worried about not being enough when the cross shows me daily that I am more than good enough, worthy enough, that just the way I am- I. Am. Enough. Do I want to starve myself of the beauty of connection, of love, and wholeness just to obtain worldly beauty? Obviously the answer is no. I ultimately want to live each moment with purpose, not restrained by earthly chains. I want to experience all life can offer. I want to bring others hope. But how can I do any of that if I can’t find that hope for myself right now? How can I do any of this if I continue to dance with Ed? I know I can’t. And maybe by sending me home with Mitchell, Maiya was trying to send me home with hope.