Taking a Break

fighter-plane-5

As the month of June comes to a close, my sister and I are preparing to head out on month long trips across the world.  Emily is heading to Honduras to help at a shelter for abused and neglected girls, and I am leaving for Mongolia where myself and eight other college girls will be doing outreach ministry in the villages.

I think back to myself just a year ago.  A year ago I had relapsed with my eating disorder trying to cope with PTSD symptoms and was back in treatment.  A year ago I spent my entire summer inside group rooms and around kitchen tables talking about food, feelings, and coping skills.  A year ago everyday felt like a battle.  I didn’t know what I wanted my life to look like.  Though I had a vision for what I thought recovery should be, I never thought that it was a possibility for someone like me.  Someone who had relapsed over and over.  Someone who didn’t remember a time before her eating disorder.  Someone who had very little concept of normalcy around food, body, and exercise.

A lot can happen in a year. After last summer, I have entered and remained outpatient for the first time in over two years.  This past year, I have begun to feel what it is like to choose recovery, every minute of every day.  I have experienced the loss of someone I loved dearly and grief as I continue to watch my mom battle cancer.  I have traveled all over, from Mexico to Belize to the Keys and now off to Mongolia. I have tasted good food.  I have exercised for the fun of it. I have met people who have changed, shaped, and motivated me. I have fallen in love with the world, moved closer to my Higher Power, and learned what it truly means to lean on faith.  I have also felt the true, heavy longing for someone lost. I have felt helpless through a loved one’s illness. I have had bad days, dark days, hard days.  But that is the point.  This year has been filled with experiences where the one’s previous fell short.  I don’t just remember what I have eaten for the past twelve months or where the bathroom in every restaurant and school classroom is.  I remember feeling motivated and defeated, free and chained down.  I remember living, and that is a strangely new concept for me.

It has been a year of discovering.  Myself, the world, and what I have to offer, which isn’t that what recovery is? Recovery offered those opportunities to live, truly live. With a full belly and a face glowing with laughter, I was able, at moments, to be present in experiences. Though, nothing is perfect.  I had slips and mess up.  I fell on my face and had to pick myself back up.  But every time I fell off track, I eventually ran back to recovery, and that is the difference between a relapse and the imperfect journey of recovery. It’s not a straight shot towards the recovered life, it is a winding, twisting, bumpy, mountainous road.  The key is not to take a turn.  Just stick with it, no matter how treacherous the road might become.

So as I leave for Mongolia and Emily heads to Honduras, we have decided as a team to take a break.  A real break.  A time to rest, refuel, and recommit to the intentions behind Unpolished Journey.  This entire site, blog, and organization is centered on the desire to create a new mindset around beauty. A mindset where we are able to appreciate our bodies for what they can do, where they can go, who they can heal, touch, and love. Appreciate them not for what we see in the mirror, but for how magnificent their machinery is.  After all, bodies are intricately made and wonderfully complex. Just like the organic structures of the mountains and oceans that we find so breathtaking, so are our bodies like them.  I have come to this conclusion after traveling, participating in multiple adventures, and diving into the depths of the ocean.  The world is stunning and it is our bodies that allow us to be in the world. Shouldn’t they too be written off as stunning as well? But in order to find the beauty of the world, we must first learn to take the time to find it.  There must be space to breathe.  To sit back, reflect, rest, and experience what the world has to offer in order for us to find our place in it.

So we are taking a break. For the month of July there will be no blog posts, no Instagram feeds, or Facebook posts. Emily and I are leaving the country and want to be 100% present for those experiences.  We also want to demonstrate the necessity of taking time off for yourself.  In recovery, they preach self-care, self-care, self-care. I used to roll my eyes at the very thought.  “What a waste of time,” my overly-productive and perfectionist-self would smirk.  But after a year of battling for recovery, raw heartbreak, and continual trials, I finally see its purpose.  Self-care is not a waste of time because without it I would just fall into unhelpful behaviors.  Then all of my time would be wasted flirting with my eating disorder, instead of writing for my blog or traveling the world or being in school.  Self-care is the medicine needed in order for myself to remain grounded enough to continue every day towards a larger purpose. Self-care is the bridge between self-deprecation and self-assurance. It gives you the armor needed to navigate the messiness of life without destroying your mind or your body.

That is what this break is for Emily and I.  It is a time of self-care.  We both felt called to leave and participate on these trips and we don’t want our days centered around where we can find Wi-Fi to post on Instagram or the Blog. As we prepare for a month away, we also wanted to encourage you all to take a break as well.  Whether that means getting off social media for a week, two weeks, or even a month, or if that looks like adding in 20 minutes of self-care every day.  Your break could mean that you are going to start going to meetings or search for a therapist because you need space where you don’t have to be 100% all the time.  Maybe your break means you are going to allow yourself a day off from the gym or you are going to treat yourself to a sundae while watching your favorite movie.  Whatever your “break” may look like, we want you to take it during July.  As we travel and clear our minds of the stresses left back at home, may you find a release in the next four weeks as well.

We wish you all the best.  We will be back August 1st with even more adventures and insights to share. Take some time to breathe and we will see you in four weeks!

taking a break

 

The Body is a Machine

the body is a machine

“The body is a machine; you must use it or it gets rusty.”

I came across this line written in one of my journals from 10 years ago.  When I wrote this I was 11 years old and referring to my body in relation to dance.  Writing about how to improve myself as a dancer, I would first have to build the machinery of my body.  Strengthen the legs, improve flexibility, stamina, concentration, etc., all things that to become a dancer- which at the time was all I wanted- are necessary.  But what does it mean for my body to be a machine when I am in an eating disorder? Because I can tell you when I wrote those words at 11 I wasn’t thinking in terms of fascination with my body’s abilities, I was writing from a place of resentment with my body’s inabilities.  I wanted to be better, stronger, faster, thinner. I wanted everything that my body was not giving me.

When my eating disorder began, I had very little knowledge into what was happening.  I didn’t realize that with every minute spent obsessing about food or challenging myself to shrink a little farther, I was feeding a parasite inside my mind.  I was allowing it to grow and grow and grow until it had swallowed any rational thoughts around body image, food, exercise, and my self worth. But how was I supposed to know if I didn’t first realize there was a parasite overtaking my body?

After the parasite swallowed my mind, it had control of my body’s machine with its only goal being to destroy the machine.  Not all at once, no big explosion or anything like that.  That would be far too simple.  The parasite likes slow and painful downfalls. Shut it down gradually. Forget to charge it, forget to oil it, unscrew the bolt needed to connect the stomach to the heart or the heart to the mind.  Allow the deconstruction to take time, to take effort, to happen so gradually I, the person the parasite has invaded, am unaware of its reign.

Then there came a day when I realized something was not quite right.  When I got up in the morning, my arms didn’t quite work and my head was spinning.  My legs were like lead and my stomach was in a constant knot.  I went to charge my machine, my body, my life source, and found that I couldn’t reach my arms to grab the cereal for breakfast or even the phone to call for support.  I found that I was not in control.  I started to hear the voice in my head, the malicious banter of the parasite sitting in the control room of my mind.  “Don’t eat that.”  “Go running even though you feel tired.” “If you eat that, you will have to eat all of that.” “If you touch that you will grow exponentially and never stop.” “Do this, do that, do this, do that.”

But something strange happened once I became aware of the parasite.  With awareness came a desire to push back, to restrain myself against the parasite demands. No one wants to be under the control of someone, or something else. I wanted my machine back. I just couldn’t do it alone.  So I called in some troops, professionals who had seen other parasites like the one inhabiting my body. I let them start the excavation process, to dig as much as they could out of my mind.

All of that was good.  All of that made sense.  The development of an eating disorder, the realization you need help, and the journey through treatment has been talked about a thousand times over.  But what happens after the professionals help you excavate the parasite?  What happens when you are sent back out into a world with a newly discovered mind but a machine, or body, that no longer responds to your voice?  What happens when you have spent years and years and years under the reign and direction of something else and now suddenly you are expected to be the controller of your own machinery?

This is the point in the recovery journey that I personally found the most challenging.  I felt the most lost, the most confused, the most misunderstood because here I was, someone whose entire existence had been shaped for the past decade or so by a disease inside my mind, who had put their life on hold for a long long time to enter into treatment, to get help, to start healing, and then who left.  I was back in the world with no knowledge of what my world should look like.  I didn’t know myself, my body, my soul, my spirit. I had left school, work, switched majors, lost friends, lost my coping mechanisms.  I was out. I was “in recovery” with absolutely no idea on how to navigate or sustain it.  All I knew was my eating disorder. And now, by the grace of treatment, I knew it backwards and forwards. I knew my fear foods, new coping skills, what emotions I had suppressed. I knew the eating disorder.  I could have written an entire book on what mine looked like alone.  What I didn’t know was my machine. I didn’t know myself.  I didn’t know my body and treatment did not help me to figure that out.

Figuring out the body’s machinery after years of it being controlled by a parasite, or eating disorder, has been the most rewarding and simultaneously painful experience.   It is the part of the recovery journey that I am most passionate about.  The part where you stop relearning the eating disorder.  You stop counting exchanges, and managing weights, you stop obsessively talking about how the eating disorder snuck into your week, or how you failed to cope well on Saturday night.  Though, don’t get me wrong all those things are needed in recovery as well.  But what I am speaking to is the necessity of pairing them with meaning.  Pairing those nit picky logistical aspects of eating disorder recovery with how to connect with the world again.  How to wake up in the morning and be able to know that you have a larger purpose than what you are going to have for breakfast or how far you will run at the gym.  To know that you are in control of that machine you live in, that it is charged, and oiled, and ready to take you wherever you desire to go. This is recovery. Recovery is about passion.  It is about moving past simply maintaining the body’s machine.  It is finding a sense of normalcy around maintaining health, food, weight, exercise so that you can quiet yourself enough to hear the slow, constant hum of the soul.  The soul, which only sings when the machine is running, when it is in order, updated, waxed, and shined.  When the body is healthy then the soul is present.

What fills the soul is the most important aspect of sustaining recovery.  Until I found things to fill mine, I could never remain in recovery. Instead I would go to treatment, “heal” the body, talk of coping skills, leave, and relapse. Over and over again, until one day I stopped. I stopped for long enough to see that this doesn’t work.  The healing of the body without taking time to listen to the soul, will only reap destruction because destruction is all I knew.  The parasite taught me how to deconstruct the machine, and so when I would leave treatment and become the director of my body again that is what I would fall back on.  I don’t blame myself because I didn’t know any better.  But if I were to have taken a minute to listen to the soul, it would have been there all along.  Quiet for many years but always there.  It would have been singing those times I left treatment about the ocean and art and writing and traveling.  It would have been giving me a meaning for sustaining my body’s machinery, I just didn’t know I was supposed to be listening.

So what is it like to see my body as a machine?  Fascinating. Breathtaking. Stunning.  To think that the heart works with the brain and the brain with the lungs and the lungs with the throat and the throat with the stomach.  It is a dance.  A dance to the song of the soul who sings constantly to the rhythm of the machine’s hum.  My blood is always pumping without my knowledge of it.  My brain is always sending out electric currents without me realizing it. My body is a complex array of systems that together give me the ability to write, dance, dive, wake up in the morning, smile, laugh.  Then, it is the soul that gives me the butterflies in my stomach when I think about my spirituality, or the deep belly laughter when I think about those I love, or the overwhelming longing when I think about the one’s I have lost.  I found the soul in the ocean when I went scuba diving. I found one place where the parasite, or the eating disorder, had never been before. I figured out that the parasite couldn’t swim and that beneath the surface I could see life through a new lens. I found the soul in writing, in words given to those struggling with eating disorders.  Through connecting with others and offering them streams of hope. The soul lives in my faith, in my Higher Power, in all of the things that give me a sense of passion, purpose, and meaning.  The soul is the feeler, the body is the doer. Unless they work together, nothing will actually be achieved in recovery.

That is my constant encouragement for those struggling with eating disorder recovery, to lean on the things that make you feel something. Lean on something positive.  It doesn’t have to be anything huge, like scuba diving.  It could simply be the fact that you think flowers are beautiful.  Then go buy a flower or go to a park and sit next to some flowers. Think about why it is they look beautiful to you and then hold onto that for your recovery. Apply some beauty into your thoughts, actions, and intentions and see where that takes your recovery for the day. Continue it. Do it every day. Until listening to the soul is routine.  Until the soul is in line with the machine you are learning to control and direct without the rule of the parasite inside your mind.

End the Aspire Bariatric’s Approach to Weight Loss!

red-angry-smiley-face

(First here is the link to the website administering this assisted weight loss device, read it keeping in mind that millions struggle with bulimia, millions. Now there is a device preaching that this illness is acceptable. http://www.aspirebariatrics.com/about-the-aspireassist/#section-2 )

I am writing this blog post through blurry eyes as they are filled with tears at the thought of how many more people will come to death’s door as a result of this horrible new assisted weight loss device.  The AspireAssist works, not to bring people to a healthier lifestyle like the website preaches, but instead hands patients a prescription for a life threatening disease.

How Aspire Assist works as copied straight from their website: The AspireAssist works by reducing the calories absorbed by the body, while helping you make gradual, healthy changes to your lifestyle. After eating, food travels to the stomach immediately, where it is temporarily stored and the digestion process begins. Over the first hour after a meal, the stomach begins breaking down the food, and then passes the food on to the intestines, where calories are absorbed. The AspireAssist allows patients to remove about 30% of the food from the stomach before the calories are absorbed into the body, causing weight loss. You’ll also need to chew carefully and eat mindfully, which helps give time for the fullness signals from your stomach to reach your brain.” There is nothing, I repeat nothing, about this approach to weight loss that is natural.  It only teaches the mind and body to not communicate.  It severs any semblance of normalcy.  It causes a biological switch in the brain of “it doesn’t matter what I eat because 30% of it will be thrown up anyway”. It fuels an addiction, a lifestyle that once begun is extremely difficult to stop.

I think about all of the people I have known to pass away from bulimia.  I think about the gruesome statistics of how many lives have been stolen by this insidious disease. Health complications like electrolyte imbalances, gastric ruptures, or sudden cardiac arrest, steal people every single day. And so what, we develop a device that assists people in getting to that point?  That aids in their addiction between food, body, and self worth? That buries them? If not literally, then figuratively in a constant obsession and ruling of food over their lives. Because whether actually being buried in a grave or not, those who are in the chains of bulimia are dead.  They are dead to themselves and to the world because to be alive means to be present. When your body is depleted of nutrients or your mind is consumed with thoughts centered around food, there is no way you can join the band of living.  Bulimics become blindfolded, living a life in chains, playing with death.

I cannot wrap my head around the fact that the FDA would even begin to question whether or not to approve something like this.  How could you, when eating disorders are such a massive epidemic in the world?  70 million people are affected by eating disorders.  70 million! And by approving the AspireAssist device we have just welcomed hundreds, thousands, perhaps even millions more to join that statistic.  FDA has not only further reinforced the notion that being overweight is not acceptable, they have now given those who struggle with weight the tool to “solve” that problem in the form of another life threatening disease.  FDA has literally taken the stigma that eating disorders are not a serious medical conditions and validated it, etched it into stone, taken that belief and vocalized it to the entire world.  What kind of madness is this?  That we cannot look at the girls who passed away from bulimia yesterday or the ones that will die today and say that they are sick, that they need help, that what they are doing is not working.  Instead, now even the FDA is looking at those dying of the illness and saying, “keep it up, at least you won’t be fat, at least you can purge yourself of the food that consumes and overwhelms your life”. Instead, the FDA is lighting the bulimic torch and passing it down the line towards millions of people worldwide who have this belief that if they were just thinner they would find health and happiness.

Also, outside of the people that will be added to the insidious bulimic cycle, think about those who already struggle.  Think about those with eating disorders that will get their hands on devices like this and exacerbate their illness. There are millions with eating disorders that have been unsuccessful at throwing up. And the sad truth is that when you are in an eating disorder, many struggling would do anything to rid themselves of extra calories or food or what have you.  So take those with eating disorders who cannot make themselves vomit and show them this shiny new toy and see what they do with it.  Do you think that they will just toss it aside and say, “nah that’s okay, it promises to make me thinner but I don’t really want that”?  No, offer that up and you are going to have thousands upon thousands of eating disordered individuals searching to find a way to obtain the AspireAssist.

They say you have to approved to use it, that is comes from medical providers, that access to the AspireAssist only comes in conjunction with nutritional therapy.  Bullshit! If you have known anyone with an eating disorder, you know they are good at being sneaky.  The disorders are built in secrecy.  How do you think someone’s struggle can go unnoticed for years before it comes out?  So don’t preach regulations to the community who are the masterminds of devious plans.  We know how to get around rules.  We know how to push the limits to obtain what we want.  We are smart and dedicated and determined. FDA could put all the regulations in the world on this device and it still wouldn’t be enough because the eating disorder is never satisfied. It takes and takes and takes until there is nothing left.

So here is my call to action, clink on the link at the end of this blog post and sign the petition to withdraw FDA’s approval of the Aspire Bariatric’s device.  Then share the petition with friends, family, Facebook, whatever. Just get the word out and let’s see if we can put an end to this madness.

Link for the petition:

 

What if I Didn’t Care?

giphy.gif

Many times I wonder what it would be like to just not care. To look at food and see it for its taste, its ripeness, its smell.  To look at food and simply wonder “do I want it or not?” instead of standing there contemplating the nutritional value of one cereal verses another or a brownie verses ice cream.  What would it be like if I could reach into my mind and erase the previous beliefs I have constructed around food?

I have talked with so many people fighting for recovery from eating disorders and each one has a similar view when it comes to erasing their mind’s history. There is this universal understanding that we cannot go back and unlearn the calories in every single food item.  We cannot rewind time and forget the weights we fell or rose to. We cannot go back and stop ourselves before we made lists of good and bad foods, before we set the rituals that were to happen at the table, before we googled best crash diets or the 10 foods never to eat when trying to lose weight.  We cannot erase a history.  We can only learn how to re-associate the history. This is where those who never struggled with food or body image issues fail to understand how difficult recovery from these destructive behaviors is.  We have to deconstruct our brains and re-decide what rules and facts stem from our disorders and which ones could propel us into a life of health.  The sad truth is that almost all associations we have with food, exercise, and our bodies, after having an eating disorder, are unhealthy.

For me, recovery is relearning the definition of health. What are fats? What do fats do for me? Why does my body need them? What is normal exercise? What does exercise mean for me? When can I start exercising and for how long? When does the exercise become too much? Every single day, I find myself plagued by millions of questions that for someone without disordered eating would never cross their minds. I have to question every decision I make centered around food. Why did I choose the banana instead of the apple? Was that out of preference or for a disordered reason? As I fell further into recovery, I came to realize just how complex, complicated, and present the disorder was in every aspect of my life.  Why didn’t I sit with that person at dinner tonight? Was it because I genuinely wanted to be alone or because my disorder tells me I am not good enough to hold a conversation with them? But I could only question so much before I started to lose faith in any of my decisions. I started looking at myself as someone incapable of deciding for herself what was or was not “good” for my recovery.

This is detrimental.  To come to this point is almost as unhealthy as the disorder itself because I swung from micromanaging everything I ate or did with my body to a desire for someone else to micromanage it for me. I turned to dieticians to instruct me on food. I held onto my meal plan like it was the golden ticket to happiness and health.  Following it obsessively, never straying outside of its parameters. I found myself not trusting any decisions centered around food preference and because of that emotionally restricting at my meals. Meaning, I chose foods that I did not want, that were not my favorites, but would satisfy my body’s biological needs and fail to please me emotionally.  What I was not aware of was that emotional restriction just leads to more fear around foods, more urges to binge, and less trust in myself and my body. It looks like this. I go out for brunch with some friends. I scan the menu and my mouth salivates at the thought of the blueberry pancakes. My mind says pancakes are a “bad” food and instead I order an omelet. Both are adequate meals, but in eating the omelet I went home still dreaming about the pancakes. Therefore, I was not emotionally satisfied.

The solution to all of this seems simple.  Stop caring. But what trips me up is the how.  How do I not care when I have cared for as long as I can remember?  And by not caring, I mean stop micromanaging. Loosen the reigns. Let preference and bodily hunger cues guide your actions around food. But how do I learn to trust my intuition?  How do I even begin to listen to an intuition that I am unsure even exists.

This all comes full circle.  Back to listening to your gut, a concept I have written about in the past.  A concept that is so difficult for anyone with an eating disorder whose association with a gut, or giving into what your stomach desires to eat, means “a loss of control”, “failure to overcome gluttony”, or simply “failure”.  What would it be like to be able to have ice cream and know that it was what your body, your gut, the intuitive eater inside of you wanted?  To see that as a success rather than something to panic about?  What would it be like to re-associate your history with ice cream?  To erase calories or good/bad food thoughts? To just order your favorite flavor and toppings, eat it with friends, laugh, smile, enjoy its wonderful taste on your tongue, and then drive home that night knowing that you just took a step towards knowing your gut.  You are now that much closer to rewriting that part of your mind that tells you that ice cream is something you aren’t allowed to have. That you are moving towards freedom from the disorders history, which was never your history to begin with.

Beauty

index

How do we know beauty?  How have we come to our perception of beautiful?  What if we were to deconstruct the ideals of beauty to its foundation, the bare bones, the roots of what beauty was intended to be known as? What would that beauty look like?

There is something really healing that comes from being in nature.  A humbling effect that washes over you when you realize just how complex the world is, a sense of being a small part of something greater.  It is an ability to see beauty as it was created and intended to be. Not a beauty as a result of manipulation but one of authenticity in its creation.

Try looking at a leaf as an example. Zoom in on that leaf until you see all the veins, the crevices, the formational patterns atop its surface.  Look so close that you become aware of the smallest details. Focus on them. Take them in.  When you feel like you have a total picture of the leaf’s design, zoom out and focus on the all the leaves in the tree. The mass of the leaves and what shapes they form.  Then include multiple trees and their leaves in your visualization.  See what a group of trees look like. Keep zooming out, adding in more and more components to your stream of thought until you become aware of the magnitude, the scale, the vastness of the world.  Tree. Woods. Entire state. Country. Continent. World. Space. Galaxies. Planets.

There is something healing in nature because it is just so large.  We are able to contemplate its vastness and come to the conclusion that we are not the designer of such a massive masterpiece.  In knowing we are not the creators we are able to rest in the wonder of it all.  Nature has power in this way. It is something that we can look at and know it appears as it was intended to.  After all, you wouldn’t look at a tree in the woods and complain that the leaves were too green or the trunk was too bumpy.  You look at a tree and think, wow what a beautiful tree. In the same way that you wouldn’t look at a lake and wish the water was firmer or the ripples were more distinct.

Why is it that when we look at ourselves the standards we hold for the tree or the lake suddenly fall apart?  Why is a tree, a natural, organic, unique structure different than a body?  Are we not all organically made?  Are we not all intrinsically different? Leaves don’t need to be greener and hair doesn’t need to be blonder.  Trunks don’t need to be smooth and stomachs don’t have to be flat.  Water is fluid and thighs jiggle.  Ripples come in accordance to the wind and muscles flex in relation to activity.  We are the same as the elements we call beautiful.  Our bodies are a beautiful collection of mountains and valleys, ripples and leaves.  We are natural masterpieces, an organic phenomenon.  We are living, breathing, constantly evolving creatures and why is it that this fact alone cannot be beautiful?

Our lungs rise and fall to the rhythm of our breath.  Our hearts beat every second.  Our veins carry blood, red warm fiery blood to every organ of our body.  Our brains are electric. Tongues can taste. Ears can hear. Hands feel texture, temperature, and moisture. Stomachs speak. Muscles grow. Are you grasping just how insanely complex our bodies are?  The very act of being human is beautiful. Not to mention that we are one person in a world of billions.  Billions and billions of people, all unique, all different, all whose bodies are working under different freedoms or constraints. In the same way you zoomed in on a leaf and then zoomed out to conceptualize the entire universe.  Think about the heart beating in your chest in relation to billions of other hearts doing the same thing.  How many hearts do you think are in sync with yours?

I am at an artist’s residency in Michigan called Oxbow this week where I am taking a class exploring the theory of body in relation to things.  The Thinging Body, is the title of the class and in it we are discussing the art of objects.  What objects are? How can a body both be aware of an object and unaware at the same time?  For example, how can your body play off of the movement of grass? How can you become like grass? How can you become light and blow in the wind?  How can you bend in accordance to an element that you yourself are not subject to, being a solid dominant mass?

To answer questions like you must take time to truly look at things.  To look and think about what you are looking at.  To stare at your hand and meditate on the abilities it offers you.  With a hand you can grab, make, mold, hold, write.  Without your hand those things would become very complicated.  Same goes for feet, hair, a stomach, veins. I have been thinking of the body as a collection of objects, a collection of parts, a combination of machines working together to create me.  And me is not you or them or anyone else.  We each have our own set of machines working inside of us to make us who we are.  In the same way that each tree has a different collection of leaves making them what they are. Yet, we are all bodies.  We are all human.  We are the same and not at the same time.  We are complex and universal all at once.

What if you looked at your body this week with the same fascination as the mountains or oceans?  What if you treated the machines that you have been gifted, the machines that work together to give you breath, thought, passion, and love under the same standards as the galaxies?  What if you looked at your hand and was blown away by the possibilities is offers you?  How would this shift in mindset change your week?  How would you treat yourself different if you looked in the mirror and pictured a powerful, complex, and stunning old oak tree?  Roots and water, trunks, leaves and ripples, our bodies have them all.  Our bodies are the objects in nature we come to understand most intimately.

Forget diet magazines or unrealistic perceptions of women in media.  Forget the talk of eating too much or too little at the table.  Forget the obsession society has with painting faces with makeup every morning or wearing dresses that flatter your figure.  Take yourself away from the zoomed in standards that the world preaches as “beautiful” and realigned yourself with what is truly beautiful in life.  Nature.  And you are a natural wonder because body is a naturally complex thing.  Let it be as it was intended to be.

To the Woman Yesterday at the Gym

To the woman at the gym,

I see a piece of me in you. At first glance my eating disorder tells me we are the same, but it is just a piece, a part, one parasite that has infected both you and me, me and you and, by unfortunate statistics, many others.

Your eyes are like an animals digesting the numbers flashing in front you. Fierce. Determined. Hungry for something bigger than what that treadmill is going to give you.  But there you are eating the wrong sustenance, burning off what little fuel your body is craving.  Next to me, right there, I could reach out and turn off the machine. I could turn off the obsession. I could save your screaming legs. I could end it. But I can’t and I know that.

Only you can save you from the beast inside your mind.  Only you can decide to become friends with your body.  Only you can start to fight, not the machine because that it not the enemy.  But fight the illness in your mind that tells you to keep on going.  Keep going towards what? Death? Illness? An eating disorder? An exercise addiction? Do you even know the fire you are playing with?

I can’t exercise next to you.  Your machine is infecting my mind as well.  We are not the same.  My mind tells me we are, but I know we aren’t because I am going to move. I am leaving.  I am going home to a dinner and shower and rest.  I am different because I know that you are playing a game that can’t be won and I am not playing anymore.

World Eating Disorders Action Day

World Eating Disorder Action Day is supposed to work at bringing awareness and take away the stigma surrounding the disease that is estimated to affect 70 million individuals worldwide. Take minute to let that number set in; that is more than the top 50 U.S. cities combined.

Did you know that without treatment upwards of 20% of those with eating disorders will die from complications as a result of the disease? 20% of 70 million is 14 million people.  According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, there were somewhere around 14 million cancer survivors in 2015.  That is amazing news, right? Except, why is it that no one bothers to talk about eating disorder survivors?  Why is it when someone stops throwing up or binging or starving themselves, everyone shrugs it off? About time, they choose to be normal. What is the big deal?  Think about the numbers. The numbers, the numbers, the numbers. Aren’t those with eating disorders obsessed with the power that numbers hold? Well, why don’t we start to focus on the right ones.  The 70 million people affected.  The 14 million that could potentially die without treatment.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer last November, people would come up to me and say, “you are not alone.  Everyone knows someone who has gone through this.  She will beat this.  I know it.” This is a comforting statement that has brought solace to my family as we continue to navigate through her treatments.  But why is it when I was checked into treatment my doctor sat on the edge of the examining table and said, “I used to be anorexic and trust me I was much worse than you.” Or my roommate at treatment smirked and said, “I used to be anorexic.  Had to be hospitalized. I was really bad.  Like really really bad. Not like you.” Or people that I knew from back home suddenly calling and saying, “I was anorexic too.  I hit X amount of pounds. I was so thin.”  Was this some kind of one uping game? My eating disorder goes public and suddenly everyone and their brother is anorexic as well?

Here is the difference though.  I say my mom has cancer.  People ask what kind.  Say they will pray for her. Tell stories of how their loved ones beat the disease.  I say I have an eating disorder and people tell me stories of when they were sick, how low their weight got, what behaviors they used to lose the weight. When my mom is sick with cancer, everyone is offering seeds of connection, hope, and healing.  When you have an eating disorder, everyone is glamourizing the world of weight loss and thinness.  When you have an eating disorder, everyone is trying to be better at having an eating disorder than you.  When you have an eating disorder, suddenly the three women sitting next to you “used to be anorexic” as well.

Why? Because society tells us that to have an eating disorder equates to self control.  False. False. False. Is it about control? Do we restrict to create a false illusion of control? Sometimes. But most eating disorders do not revolve around only restrictions with food.  They don’t orbit around diets and toning our muscles and buying the latest string bikini.  Most eating disorders are secret insidious monsters that no one knows anything about.  They are the diseases that keep you up all night sweating about your body, praying to be taken out of it.  They are the diseases where you sneak off to the grocery store to indulge in your strange love affair with food.  They are the diseases that tell you no matter what you do – starve, binge, eat clean – you are worthless, that you should disappear, that society would be better off if you were to just shrink away to nothing.

Also, eating disorders do not just include anorexia. Those 70 million people, those 14 million at risk of death, include everything from anorexia to bulimia to binge eating disorder to EDNOS and back again.  Eating disorders are not just thin.  Most people affected are not underweight.  The reason so many people end up dying from the disease, the reason it is the deadliest psychiatric illness is because still we only see extremely emaciated people as in danger. Sure, some of those struggling will waste away and become skeletons who are scary to look straight at and some of us will die trying to become that.  Because those whose weight naturally falls a little higher have to fall twice as far as someone who was “thin” to begin with and by that point they will be dead. And what is thin anyway? What is underweight? Who decides these terms? If you are throwing up something is wrong.  If you can’t think straight at a buffet something is wrong.  If you are obsessively looking in the mirror, full of self-hatred, something is wrong.  You don’t have to wait until you are emaciated, for someone on the street to mention you need help, before saying you are dying inside.

That is what eating disorders do.  They kill.  That is their only goal, to play with death, to test the limits, to fall and fall until one day there is no where left to sink. So why not catch them? So why not, in the same way we offer connection and hope to those with cancer don’t we offer stories of recovery?  Instead of saying I used to be so sick. I was in the hospital. I was this thin, say I am working on my relationship with food. I have learned that food is not the enemy, that thin is not a semblance of strength, that control does not exist in the gym.  Offer seeds of connection, healing, hope through stories of health.

It is so cliché to be sick, helpless, thin, and frail.  It is what is plastered on every TV screen and tabloid magazine, but it is empowering to be healthy and bright.  To own the cellulite on your thighs, to eat pizza with your friends, to look at the TV and scoff at the false perfection the screen preaches.  Empowerment comes when you can stand for health when everyone around glamourizes the flirtation with death.  Death is the overrated, has been, washed up trend. We all know what it looks like to hate ourselves.  However, we don’t know how to love, accept, and care for the bodies we have been gifted.

Remember the 70 million.  Remember the magnitude of that number. Remember that without treatment 20% could die.  But know this, with treatment that the number of death by eating disorder falls to just 2-3%.  What does that tell you?  It says that being able to see an eating disorder can save someone’s life.  So know the illness for what it is, not what society pretends it to be and stop glamourizing the idea of “having been anorexic”.  Start challenging the mindset that thin somehow gives you superhuman strength.  Redirect those thoughts.  What if the power people seem to equate with thin translated into the power of learning to love yourself?  All of you, the curves, the misshapes, the cellulite, the mess ups, and everything in between.  What if we started looking for something new, something larger than the societal ideals of beauty? What if we started to look beyond the mirror towards health and healing?  The what ifs can be answer by these simple words: we would start saving millions of lives.

A Glimpse of Heaven

image1(2) copy.JPG

One morning while in Belize, my whole family went out snorkeling.  Also on our snorkeling boat was another family, and a single man.  In total there was 9 of us, not including the crew.  We set out around 8am.  The plan for my day was snorkel all morning, dive all afternoon.

Well, we all got to talking because that is what you do on the water. You are friendly and talkative and genuinely interested in the other people because they are genuinely interesting people.  I mean, the type of person who goes to an adventure and dive resort in the remote village of Hopkins is not boring.  They are unique and mysterious and, well, adventurous.  The single man on the boat started talking to my dad about a night excursion he went on day previous.  It was called Lucky’s Bioluminescents Tour.

“He takes you out into a lagoon and stops the boat. And the water starts to glow,” he said.

“It glows?” my dad asked.

“Yes, it lights up.  You jump in and there are a million little lights surrounding your body. You have to do it to know what I am talking about.”

“Hey Morg,” my dad calls over to me. “He says they have a tour over on the Sitee River that shows you the bioluminescents.”

My dad knows that I have been obsessed with bioluminescents ever since I first experienced them in the Cenotes caverns in Mexico. It was more than the science behind them.  It was the idea that at night a whole different alignment of creatures comes out. Glowing. Stunning. Strange.

“We have to do that!” I answered. “Tonight, if we can!”

My dad laughed. He was used to my enthusiasm.  My we have to do it all mentality. My childlike demeanor when it comes to anything strange, unusual, a little out of the ordinary. Ask me and the question is yes yes yes. I want to do it all because why waste another second of time when I feel as though I have already wasted too much?

“That will be a long day. Nine hours on the water and then heading inland for another tour,” my dad tells me. I can see in his eyes that he doesn’t mind. He can see in mine that this was not a question of time. This was a question of, are you willing to experience all you are before you head back to America.

“We can sleep when we are dead,” I told him.

So at lunch my sister, mom, and I walked up to the information desk and requested four spots on Lucky’s tour that evening.  My dad and I would get back from diving at 4:45. We would be leaving for the tour at 5:45.  A whole hour to rinse off the salt water.  Dip our wetsuits. Grab a drink. That was plenty of time.

When we came in from diving, I was wide awake but simultaneously exhausted, which only makes sense if you personally know the feeling. I felt drained. I could feel it in the space behind my eyes and in the heaviness of my shoulders, but my mind was racing.  I had just swum, quite intimately, with a shark and an eagle ray and I could not separate exhaustion and stimulation. I have found lately that they go hand in hand. One does not exist without the other because the worthwhile experiences, the heart throbbing moments don’t happen laying in my canopy bed.  They happen after a day in a small boat on choppy waves, breathing dry condensed air, swimming across the reefs, and being circled by sharks.

“Do you still want to go?” I asked my dad.  He looked tired. He hadn’t slept the night before because the smoke detector in my parent’s room kept going off. I didn’t want anyone to feel like I was pushing them to do too much.

“Do you?”

“I think we should.”

“Then let’s do it.”

Sitee River.JPGWe left at 5:45pm.  Frances was our driver. The car was stuffy and humid.  The river was in the jungle. They told us bug spray was a must.  Seeing the brown water, the little dingy boat, and the endless swarms of bugs, I wasn’t so excited anymore.  I could be sitting at dinner right now, eating warm bread, and sipping on a carbonated drink.  Instead I was tired, being bit by bugs, and listening to a tutorial on the Sitee River. Where were the bioluminescents? That is what I came for.

The sun was just starting to set so Lucky had to stall the first hour or so of the tour because if there is light, the bioluminescents in the water are not going to show up.  Lucky gave my mom, dad, sister, me, and the couple who was joining us on the boat, flashlights.  He showed us how to shine them into the trees to look for crocodiles, glowing spider’s eyes, and iguanas. We found around seven crocodiles in a matter of that hour hanging out under the brush on the river banks and an endless amount of spiders.  Looking

Then it was finally dark. Really dark. The kind of dark that in American cities with all the lights and noise, you have forgotten exists.

“Now we will head to Anderson’s Lagoon.  Home of the famous biolumunescents,” Lucky said as he turned the small little boat down a narrow channel adjacent to the river. The channel, tunnel, pathway, whatever you may call it, was no more than five feet wide. The trees had grown down and overtop of it, blocking the sky from view. There were several fallen trees that had to be swerved around and avoided. It was dark.  Did I mention that? Still, Lucky knew where he was going. He seemed to sense what was in front of him. Eventually we came to a clearing.  A large circle of water encased by the silhouettes of elaborate trees and the sound of tree frogs.

“Welcome to Anderson’s Lagoon.”

I looked up. The sky was glowing.  There were more stars than I knew could exist. Trails of them.  Dotting the deep black sky. A vortex of sorts sucking my mind in and spitting my body into some sort of dream. Completely void of color. Not the grey black or yellow black that makes up the Chicago sky.  This was black. Real black.

“Put your hand in the water,” Lucky instructed as he turned off the boat’s motor. I did as he said and as soon as my skin met the warm black water, I started uncontrollably laughing. Laughing and laughing, a deep belly cackle that only comes from a full body experience. Every movement of water over my hand made set off a thousand little dancing white lights. The waters were dancing, glowing.

“Now, who wants to jump in?” Lucky asked.

Wait a second. We had just spent the last hour or so pointing out crocodiles. In the daylight, I had seen how brown and murky this water was. Swim? Was he crazy?

“Do people typically jump in?” I asked.

“Sure,” Lucky said, “that is what you do to get the whole experience.”

“Did the people last night jump in?” I asked.

“Yes,” Lucky said.

That did it. I took off my shoes. And my shirt.  Stood there in my swim suit and steadied myself on the side of the dingy boat.

“Let’s go Morg,” my dad said.

“Okay,” I said.

He laughed again.  “Okay? She doesn’t even question it?” he said quietly to the other couple and my frantic mother.

“There are crocodiles in the water. Morgan, don’t. Morgan, we can’t,” my mom was saying.

Too late. I slipped myself gently into the water, which I had been informed was only three feet deep and packed full of mud. I made a point of not touching the bottom.   Mud and water freaked me out.  It reminded me of my grandpa’s lake and my brother teasing me that the mud was all goose poop.  The water was insanely warm.  Like almost to a burning level.  Easily 90 degrees.  But that was not what I was noticing.

Everything was glowing. Millions of millions of lights dancing around my dad and I.

“This is so amazing!” I laughed. “Incredible. Magical. Everyone has to get in.”

“Morg, I am scared,” my sister said.

“Jump in. You don’t want to miss this.”

Eventually the whole boat was in the water, swimming around, laughing those deep cackles at the magic that was surrounding us. I unfortunately don’t have any photos of this experience.  Partially because I didn’t want to waste any time behind a camera lens and partially because it just didn’t show up on camera.  The bioluminescents are just something you have to be there to see.

When we were all back safely in the dingy Lucky said, “That was plankton and reason it lights up is because it is being attacked.  The lights signal other predators.  It is a sort of ripple affect.”

“So the lights were signaling the crocodiles?” my mom asked.

And we all laughed, and I am still unsure as to whether that was a joke or not, but really I don’t care.  All I care about now is the fact that I got to swim in waters full of dancing lights, that I got to experience what Lucky called at the end of the tour, “a glimpse of heaven”.

There has been a reoccurring theme popping up for me in the past six months.  After loosing my cousin in December of last year, his words “make it count” have rebounded over and over in my head.  His mantra has become the theme for my recovery, my life, and my family’s life.  How could it not?  When you are completely heartbroken and confused about something nothing short of unexplainable, you have to hold onto what the person you lost gave you: their spirit.  And Andy’s spirit can be summarized into those three words.

Jump in the water. Eat the cake. Travel. Laugh. Run my hands along the plankton filled, glowing waters because that is what making it count looks like.  Making it count is running towards life even when your eating disorder convinces you to be obsessed with death.