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.

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.

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.

Boundaries and Old Connections

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.

(Im)Perfection

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?  

Hope Through The Struggles

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.