Molly’s #imnotsorry Story

 

Written by: Molly who is a mental health advocate, traveler, and blogger (http://fullofpep.tumblr.com/mymentalhealth).  Unpolished Journey is blessed to have connected with her and have her contribute to our #imnotsorry campaign.

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I’m not sorry to break it to you, but running away from your eating disorder won’t work.
I’m in India in this photo, in case you can’t already tell. I’m 16 years old. Your eating disorder isn’t going to leave you, wherever you decide to go in this world. I understand, not eating when you have a mental illness like this doesn’t mean you don’t want to eat, it means you don’t want the anxiety-provoking thoughts in your mind to re-appear.

I know how terrifying they are, especially when no one else can hear how awfully the illness speaks to you. Not eating makes sense because it’s the not eating that kills those thoughts, I get it. But soon enough, not eating will kill you. There’s no two ways about it.
I’m not sorry for spilling the truth to you, exactly how it is, because if you suffer from an eating disorder you can either die trying to get better and succeed in recovery, or you die.

Stop kidding yourself.
3 years later and I’ve recently come back from another trip to Mongolia. A trip I took by myself. A trip that wouldn’t have happened had I still been ill.
This time, I didn’t have an eating disorder to manipulate the people around me and ruin my time.

This time, I reaped the benefits of recovery, because if I had allowed the eating disorder to take more away from my life, then I wouldn’t have experienced a life at all.
You deserve more than your eating disorder is allowing you to believe you do. So #Imnotsorry
Because this is the truth.
Kill your eating disorder, and in return, go get the life you deserve.

Stronger Together

 

Written by: Gracie who is a friend, spiritual and recovery warrior, and contributing writer to those at Unpolished Journey.

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No, I promise I am not going to make this political and try to persuade you to vote for Hillary Clinton. 😉

This weekend at the NEDA walk in Chicago I had one of the most overwhelming moments of clarity.  I looked around at my brothers and sisters in recovery.  My fellow fighters.  My fellow overcomers.  My fellow strugglers.  Mostly people that were complete strangers and yet people who probably understand the inner workings of my mind better than many people closest to me.  This is not at all to say that my closest friends and family do not have a wealth of knowledge and try to understand the thoughts, struggles and behaviors that characterise my eating disorder.  However, there is a difference between supporting and learning about an eating disorder from actually living daily with an ED in you HEAD.  At the NEDA walk I was overwhelmed almost to the point of tears.  I saw fighters, survivors, support people and family members.  I saw 80 year olds and 8 months old.  I saw people who wanted their lives and were fighting like hell to reclaim them.

That is when I realized.  I am not alone.  I am in community.  WE are stronger together.

When Morgan and I used to talk about Unpolished at our weekly coffee date she would talk about the inspiration for starting her recovery Instagram.  Both of us felt a longing for community.  A community that was supportive, authentic and hopeful.  We wanted a place for fighters to connect and retire their army of ones to join the army of many.  I realized that Morgan and I as well as Morgan’s sister, Emily, all dreamed of a space for people to connect and gather strength and hope.  Because of this, whenever we would meet up on Fridays, I would always leave our time together feeling refreshed, inspired, and reminded of the reasons why I fight…everyday.

At the NEDA walk, I looked around and I was lucky enough to have two very close friends from my hometown join me, and they also reminded me of why I fight…everyday.  For me, relationships and connections are the reasons I fight.  To be raw and honest there were times when I haven’t wanted my life.  I felt like I had dug a hole too deep.  I had watched too many dreams die.  My world had been turned upside down and my joy was hijacked by darkness.  However, when I couldn’t fight for myself I would fight for those around me.  Those who loved me.  And those who were fighting the good fight beside me.  I have watched the power of Morgan and I’s relationship challenge and strengthen our souls.  We haven’t always been shiny and perfect in recovery and sometimes we still find it hard to share the magnitude or reality of our struggles when we have them.  However, we are able to talk about the real things.  We talk about our goals and our dreams that have nothing to do with living a life consumed with an eating disorder.  We talk about the real and unglamourous parts about living with an eating disorder like literally shitting your own pants.

I have been in treatment.  I have been in groups.  I have seen the sick and often hidden competitive nature of eating disorders.  I know few other mental illnesses that hold such a strong and unhealthy competitive nature and it is something that not few like to talk about.  Common thoughts through the mind with an eating disorder are…

“I’m not sick enough to deserve help..I’m not as bad as her or him”

“I am stronger if I am sicker.  I have to be the sickest or thinnest in the room.”

“I have to share that I went to the hospital to prove how bad I was”

“I can have more behaviors than her…I can be sicker, I can be stronger”

These thoughts are rampant, destructive and a perfect example of what the eating disorder wants.  The eating disorder wants each person to isolate, compete and fight on your own…because on your own you are more vulnerable…weaker…slowly living you life with and for the eating disorder.  But we are truly stronger together.  When we aren’t comparing bodies, behaviors, trips to the hospital or medical complications we can have the space to lean into our true strength.  We begin to focus and reflect for each other the reasons we want to live.  The dreams, the goals, the possibilities of our lives when we are not consumed by a parasitic mental disorder.

Personally, I saw all of the children at the NEDA walk and I was reminded why I want to live.  I want to be a mother.  I want to raise daughters and sons who know their inherent value and worth first before they ever think about their bodies. I saw women who were fighting through shame and stigma to come together and fight for a new life.  I saw friends who have supported me and walked with me through my good days and bad.

I saw why I fight.

I saw who is fighting alongside me.

I saw my army, my overcomers, and I began even more convicted…

WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER.

Taking Action

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I have been reflecting a lot on the concept of motivation. The line that is drawn between being inspired and taking action. How can you hear a compelling and riveting motivational speech and be moved to make changes after you walk away from the auditorium?

This past Saturday was the Chicago NEDA Walk.  It was the perfect fall day. Cool breeze, sun out, dry ground. I felt blessed. We all felt blessed as person after person took the stage and announced “record breaking year” or “you deserve to keep fighting” or “there is no one like yourself”.  It was a powerful morning of 700 individuals ranging from those personally affected by an eating disorder to support persons and professionals in the field, all fighting together. We all walked to save lives, to end stigma, to break the silence that suffocates those who are struggling with eating disorders.

It is OKAY to get help.

It is OKAY to simply be you.

And I left the morning with warmth stirring in my chest and a smile plastered across my face because of the motivation seeping from one person’s journey onto my own. To know that I am not alone in this fight to reduce stigma. I do not have to feel isolated in my eating disorder or ashamed or small.

I matter.

We all matter.

Where then did this sinking feeling in my chest come from? This overhanging cloud of “uh oh” that was following me around? It was a powerful morning. It was inspiring. But I worry, about myself, about my friends, about anyone who’s struggling with mental health that they won’t finish the equation of healing.

Motivation/Purpose/Passion/Hope + Action = Recovery.

I know for myself that I have many moments of awakening.  These are when I see my Higher Power and the beauty in life. These moments give me hope in my ability to uncover total freedom from my eating disorder. They keep me fighting. But the moments are fleeting.  I don’t say this to bring us all down or so that we start to see the glass as half empty. I say this, instead, to try and be more real.  Life is mountaintop moments, but it is also the times when you feel normal, okay, good, or blah.  It is the dark days, the long nights, the hard meals. Life is walking alongside 700 people fighting against eating disorders and scrolling through your Facebook feed to see another lost to the disease. It is the week without any homework and the following week with five midterms. It is peace and stress, uncomfortability and rest, and everything in between.

So it brings me to the question what is the key to allowing these fleeting moments of motivation to translate into action?  Because, if in recovery we only followed our meal plan when we felt inspired, or only practiced other self-care activities after a motivational speech, how would we ever move forward?

Sadly, I don’t know that I have an answer to my question. And, quite frankly, I don’t think there is one answer. I think the answer to what compels us to take action changes with each day. It might be a Higher Power, faith, spirituality. It might be your family, your kids. It might be your job, your art. Maybe there is a song that gives you strength to make breakfast or call someone you’ve been avoiding or make an appointment with a doctor. This is a powerful tool to uncover though because once you find what motivates you and gives you purpose, you have found the fix to the “stuck” mentality of recovery. Once you find passion you start to believe in action. So search for your key to action and whatever it is fill your days with reminders of it. Put up notes on your mirror, write in on your hand, change your phone’s background. Keep yourself near to that fighting fire.  My hope for everyone who struggles with mental health is that they may be able to continue walking forward.  They may continue translating the motivational speech into a reason to leave the auditorium and do something. But I know how hard this is, which is why I get discouraged sometimes.

I have a grey cloud looming over my head because I know how difficult constantly acting and fighting can be. Especially when you get yourself in a slump. You fall for the eating disorder’s lies and then suddenly that action step feels so much harder than it did before you gave in. I know that it can seem impossible to get back on track and start taking control of your life again.  I know because that has been me more times than I can count. Sometimes, when you get in this space it requires added troops to pull you along, to keep you from staying stuck and failing to take action.

Added support does not equate to failure.

Quite the opposite, adding support is ACTION.

It is leaving the auditorium and doing something.

There is always something that can be done. The NEDA walk was a great reminder of that. After the walk, I am now inspired to re evaluate my current state, see what is my key towards action, fill my week with reminders of it, and then keep trucking forward. After all, when you are in recovery constant movement is so important. It is a time where we evolve and change and grow. So let’s allow ourselves to do just that.

Emily’s #imnotsorry Story

Emily is currently studying to get her masters in Anthropology at the University of Denver. She is learning to live out the mission behind Unpolished while leaning on faith to bring her strength.

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#imnotsorry.

Change brings about the biggest of fears. Stepping into a new situation, whatever that is, always leaves us with questions of worth.

I recently left a supportive friend group + family in Chicago and moved to Denver for graduate school. My expectations of “rad” adventures and lots of activity met with the reality of loneliness.  Loneliness beyond just, I am hope watching “Stranger Things” on a Friday. Because, truly, I love being alone. My days in Chicago were filled with me walking from Avondale to Lincoln Park just observing. Nah, this is the kind of loneliness where you text friends and beg them to come so you can feel what a hug is like again. This loneliness regurgitated lies I’d believed for many years. Lies that good community and a growing faith had finally helped me to bury.

The question of being good enough has begun to haunt me again. As always, it manifests itself as a different Demogorgon (sticking with the Stranger Things theme) depending on the season of life I’m in.  This time the yucky questions include: Am I good enough for this Masters program, and by default, the PhD I want? Am I good enough to step into leadership at a new church? Am I good enough to hike that mountain, to run that trail, and climb that rock? Am I good (read: beautiful) enough to be loved in the way I desire?

You see, when I left Chicago I was loved more deeply than I knew I could be by none-family, and I was the most physically strong I’d ever been. I had gone a full four years without relapse into my eating disorder and I was rock climbing, and running, and dancing daily. And I was full of joy.

In Denver, my body proved weaker than expected (thanks lack o’ oxygen) and making friends harder than I remembered. So I started falling into old traps and old fears of being worth it.

But one day this week while I was doing my daily run/walk it hit me:

WHO THE HECK DEFINES GOOD ENOUGH???

Answer: My Abba, my Yahweh. He declares that his creation is GOOD. Period. I am repeating that to myself over and over and over and over. And #imnotsorry for being the ever growing and learning daughter I am.

With that in mind, I am making a promise to myself:

Instead of being sorry for not feeling enough and rather than feeling bitter that I am in a tough place for this season I choose to

Say thank you to Abba that though transitions are hard, he has divine timing.

Say thank you to Abba that the thoughts that bring me down are no more than  twisted lies.

Say thank you to Abba for each hike I complete, each pull-up I do, each climb I send, each mile I run, each  good meal I cook, or a relationship in this city I have.

Say thank you to Abba that I can reach out to Chicago friends for both laughter and the tough questions; continuing to learn and grow.

Say thank you to Abba for the BLESSING it is to live near the Rockies and to feel grounded in the majesty of one of God’s finest sculptures.

I have no doubt that I’ll be repeating these promises to myself day after day after day. Each day is a new day. Not simply because that’s a nice metaphor. Not even because the sun rises each day. But because each day we are truly wiped clean and allowed to be free in who we are.

So, I refuse to be sorry for not being perfect, because I am being molded each and every day by my Creator.

Body Image is the New Glass Ceiling

 

Written by: Gracie who is a friend, spiritual and recovery warrior, and contributing writer to those at Unpolished Journey.

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I would like to invite you back to your middle school gymnasium.

You remember…the smells, the hormones; the walls covered in motivational sports posters reading, “Just Do it” and “Never Give Up” and “If you think you can do it, you CAN”.

Ok, I know that these memories are not the most pleasant to recall, so before we regress to far and start checking our chins for the ever-feared new zit, let me explain why I took us all the way back.

I have been reflecting lately on my fears to propel my life into the great unknown of brilliance, success, dreams and goals.  I suddenly had flashbacks to all of the motivational “Just Do it” posters and I thought…why can’t I just do it?  Why can’t I charge forward and grab my life by the reigns?  I decided to take stock of where my thoughts and energy were going because maybe this would give me insight into why I am so stuck.  So I decided…just for the day, to follow my thoughts.  The day would start off ok.  I would wake up and stretch in bed…I would roll over, pull the covers back up, roll over again, check my phone…

And then the war would begin.

“You should get up and exercise”

I’m so tired.

“It’s time to get up, are you going to exercise now…or later in the day?”

I’m so tired.

“Are you going to eat breakfast or not?”

I’m so tired.

“Are you hungry? Just ignore it, don’t think about it.  You should just go work out.”

I’m so tired.

I pull myself out of bed to go about my day, but not more than two seconds after I swing my feet onto the ground, the war continues.

“Don’t look in the mirror”

I’m so uncomfortable in my body.

“Look in the mirror, look at your body”

I’m so uncomfortable in my body.

“You’re not good enough, you’re not happy”

I’m so uncomfortable in my body.

The day continued and the war continued.  Of course I had moments with friends, in classes, or at work where I was so distracted by the company of others that I could experience moments of rest from the war inside.  These moments talking with others and keeping busy seemed to offer the only cease-fire inside my head.  Suddenly I understood why I couldn’t “just do it”. Body image and all consuming thoughts from my eating disorder were stunting my potential to simply interact with my world.  This seems to be the theme of my eating disorder.  The minute my strong, resilient, vibrant spirit begins to sing and chase a dream my eating disorder starts firing…enticing me, distracting me and doing everything in its power to consume all of my thoughts so that I cannot fulfill the true callings of my soul.

I began to think about all of the people I know who struggle with body image.  I thought of those friends I know with eating disorders and those friends I know without eating disorders.  The common denominator of negative body image seems to bring everyone together.  Someone without an eating disorder may not understand the madness of a constant war or the intrusive battle with food, self-destruction, and body image that can’t be simply “turned off”.  However, most people can relate to a dysfunctional relationship to their body.  The media is absolutely rampant with images of the ideal, the perfect…the photo shopped.  Men can never be ripped or muscular enough.  Women can never be thin or toned enough.  I began to think of the hours I spend each day uncomfortable in my own skin, wishing to change, alter or perfect my appearance.  This always baffles me because physical appearance NEVER makes my list when reflecting on my values or spiritual priorities.  However I find myself consumed daily.  Then I thought about the millions of hours other women and men have wasted looking at magazines, sifting Google for diets, joining a diet program, looking in the mirror, taking selfies, or slaving away at the elliptical.  It’s no wonder dreams are dying.  It’s a no wonder people are not living their highest potential.  There is a new glass ceiling separating us from the true yearnings of our soul.  Body Image is the new glass ceiling.  The negative body thoughts are preventing me and I would guess many other people from chasing what we really want.

I can personally say that fighting the body image war daily is preventing me from giving my time and attention to the things that really matter to me.  And even when I do begin to pursue these dreams, those negative thoughts and comparisons creep back in.  My negative body thoughts whisper…you can’t do that, when you look like this.  Or, don’t go to that interview looking like that.

What could we all do if we didn’t have to fight our bodies?  What could we achieve in a world without mirrors and cameras?  What would you do?  What chances would you take?  Where would your energy go if you were simply a soul without a body?

The glass ceiling can be broken, but first one must recognize the true calling of their soul.  One must choose to consciously redirect the consuming distractions to perfect a body that in reality will always be changing.  I don’t want body image to be the obstacle that keeps me from achieving my full potential and I refuse to let body image dictate where I put my time and energy.  I can see through that glass ceiling, now I just have to break it.

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The Real Story of the Beautiful

Written by: Julia who is a friend, cousin, supporter, and contributing writing for Unpolished Journey

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At the start of this semester I registered for an art history class called “The Story of the Beautiful”. It was described as a course that would provide a comprehensive look at the meaning of beauty, and society’s changing perception of it. I anticipated having in-depth discussions about internal versus external beauty, learning about concepts of beauty outside my own culture, and the origin of seemingly absurd fashion trends such as unrealistic body types and proportions. I was looking forward to this class more than any other this semester because I felt that it would provide me with a platform to share my strong convictions about healthy body image and find validation in a well-rounded definition of beauty.

I know that there was a time that I would have approached this class with a far different mindset. I once believed that beauty only existed in one way and one way only. I had never ventured beyond Western culture’s prescribed recipe of beautiful to discover my own organic beauty, one that cannot be defined, measured or even captured in an image. I’ve watched the media’s obsession with the formula for beauty lead me and many others down a rabbit hole, causing us all to spin in circles hoping to find what attracts others. We are taught that striving for beauty is a way of improving ourselves and bettering how we feel in our own skin. However, it is clear to me now that the only thing this pursuit is bettering is the beauty industry’s profit margin.

Beauty in the commercial world is capitalism’s best friend; people go crazy searching for all the right products, procedures, exercise programs, pills, and diets to become beautiful, yet it seems that beauty is always out of reach. This is intentional. The beauty industry keeps us all reaching so we don’t stop buying, so we never feel good enough or satisfied with what we have, and so we keep on spending. From my perspective, the likes of the fashion industry, fitness models, and social media have done a great job at tainting and polluting all of our perspectives so that beauty appears to come from ‘stuff’. I believe these perspectives on beauty can be divided between artificial beauty, and holistic beauty. The difference between these two ideas is similar to the difference between infatuation and love. The allure of adhering to a designated set of beauty standards comes from it’s glossy, shinny packaging: topped with lipstick, designer shoes, slenderness and perfect proportions. You are not meant to resist this; it caters to a subconscious desire for god-like perfection. To be seduced is the very intention of this marketable beauty because it sells us an idea of what we are not and can never be. Though fantasy is not intrinsically harmful, when mistaken for reality we feel as if the ground has been swept out from under us. Like an infatuation, we romanticize this beauty until finally exposed for what it really is and we discover that this ideal can never be lived up to.

I know that I personally never loved myself during this affair with artificial beauty. In fact, it grew into a parasitic self-hatred that infected not only my mind, but the environment and people around me. This version of beauty made me blind. Its long list of requirements and alterations clouded my sight and any horizon of hope to become someone I, or anyone else would like. I couldn’t see that beauty is not as something to be earned, but is something intrinsic in every person. The sooner we stop believing the lie fed to us by a consumer driven world that we must earn beauty, the sooner we are free from it’s superficial and unfulfilling prophecy. I’m not preaching to stop any regimen of self-care, to stop wearing fashionable clothes, or makeup, but to look more critically at why we buy these things. Is it out of obligation, or is something that makes you truly happy? I for one would never step into a department store if it wasn’t absolutely necessary to my survival, but I spent years convincing myself I liked shopping, and enjoyed wearing tight and trendy clothing, and for what end? The only results for me was a wasted paycheck, and clothes that would sit at the back of my closet after wearing them once. That is not to say that I am somehow morally superior because I have realized I do not enjoy fashion, nor am I implying that if you do you are shallow or superficial. I am advocating that being your authentic self is the most beautiful fashion statement of all.

Primed with this perspective I sat down in my art history class to find we would not be discussing the history of real and perceived beauty, or beauty’s implications across multiple cultures. Instead, I stepped into a class that idolized high fashion and would discuss “The Thirties & Forties: The Hourglass Silhouette”, “The Fifties: Breasts, Waist, Hips, History of the pinup”, and “Back and Buttocks: Marilyn Monroe: Barbie as Cultural Icon”. After reading the syllabus I learned that in essence, this class would dissect female bodies and rank them according to each decade’s standard of sexiness. I would be spending three hours a week trying to not fall into my old habit of ranking my own body against the unrealistic representations of women in advertisements and pop culture. More than being personally offended by this approach to the topic of beauty, I was shocked that an art school, one I had thought to be progressive, was endorsing this perspective. I knew that if I participated in this class I would be validating the very concept of beauty I so vehemently reject.

I could choose to stay in the class and argue my professor on every point he introduced, but I had to consider the toll that would have on my own mental health. I would essentially be battling with an entire classroom of people about my delicately transformed perception of beauty, and quite honestly I worked too hard to attain this healthy view of myself, and beauty to put it jeopardy of being openly tarnished by others’ doubts and judgments on a weekly basis. I do not believe that I was admitting weakness in dropping the class. I know I don’t need a class to tell me what beauty is. Strength is seeing beauty all around me; it is in the smallest of organisms and the grandest of sunsets, in moments of hardship and moments of joy, in all ages, shapes and sizes. Everything that is true to its form is beautiful because it was made just so.

Morgan’s #imnotsorry Story

Written by: Morgan, Founder and Creative Director of Unpolished Journey.

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I have thought long and hard about what my #imnotsorry post was going to be about.  I have watched others involved in Unpolished step out of their comfort zones and post their stories.  Here I was, the founder of the organization who started this campaign, the one who is helping to orchestrate and promote it, and still I have yet to participate.  Among other members of the Unpolished team it has become a running joke. “Go ahead and participate in your own god damn campaign already, Morgan.” Truth is I have wanted to participate this whole time and I knew I would eventually.  I just didn’t know what I wanted to publicly apologize for.

Originally I had written up an #imnotsorry post for being quiet.  That was the first thing that came to mind when thinking of what society tells me to change. It would have been a powerful post. It would have felt true, authentic, and real to my recovery experience, but sharing that doesn’t feel hard. Many people who know me know I am quiet. It took a long time, but I have come to accept this about myself. Though, I still struggle daily with thoughts of wishing to be more outgoing or extroverted, I don’t feel disabled by this insecurity. Therefore, I held off and didn’t post that #imnotsorry story.

Now, the past couple of weeks I have found myself in a slump. I have found recovery to be increasingly more difficult to justify. I have found my mind getting louder with unpleasant and self-deprecating thoughts. For the past couple of weeks, I have been fighting my eating disorder more intensely than I have in over a year. This struggle feels hard to admit. It feels real, authentic, true, and scary. But, that is how I know that this is what I am suppose to share as my #imnotsorry story. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquering of it– a continual theme for my recovery journey. I know that whatever scares me, but has the potential of reaping positive results is what needs to be done.

So here it is: #imnotsorry for struggling.

Yes, I am the founder of an organization that preaches recovery and a healthy relationship with your mind, body, and spirit. Yes, I am the one who posts inspirational quotes and stories every day on Instagram. Yes, I am the one creating a team at the NEDA walk and sharing the significant message behind the Embrace documentary. Yes, I believe every woman needs to love and accept themselves for the way they naturally are. And despite all of this outpouring of inspiration that I give, I also have an eating disorder. I am not separate from the recovery journey that I write and speak about. I am in it. I am it. The journey is my everyday battle. Morning, afternoon, and night. The struggle is there. The thoughts are deprecating. There are good days and bad and just because I preach a mindset of wholeness and acceptance that doesn’t mean that I am successful in living this out all the time.

I struggle too. I struggle just like all of the readers and followers of Unpolished Journey. I have an eating disorder and my recovery never has been or will be perfect. Sometimes my eating disorder makes it hard to get up in the morning, hard to choose what to have for breakfast, hard to go to sleep with a full belly, hard to make sense of my worth in the world. Sometimes my eating disorder still wins.  Sometimes I find myself feeling completely defeated at the end of the day. Other times the opposite is true and I fall into bed at night with a spirit full of strength and hope. But that’s recovery. Recovery is not a straight line, nor is it a narrow path.  Recovery takes many twists and turns. You run into countless obstacles along the way. Recovery is sticky, messy, gross, and wonderful all at once. But, above all recovery is not perfect.

I feel as though it would be a disservice to myself as well as anyone who finds inspiration behind Unpolished Journey’s mission not to speak about both the great and the hard times in recovery. The good/bad battle with food. The push/pull relationship with exercise. The body hatred/acceptance arguments in my head. I am not perfect. My recovery is certainly not perfect, but I am not going to apologize for my constant struggle. Because Unpolished Journey is not about this illusion that recovery is always a wonderful thing that I am happily choosing every day. No, here I will be straight up and real. Recovery is messy messy messy and it is probably the hardest thing I will ever do.

Dear Pain, Thank You.

Written by: Gracie who is a friend, spiritual and recovery warrior, and contributing writer to those at Unpolished Journey.

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Pain.

Pain comes in many forms.

There are the physical pains that a person experiences.

Chronic joint pains, muscle soreness, or wisdom teeth coming in.

There are emotional pains.

The pain of losing a loved one, feeling alone or fighting depression.

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

Life cannot escape pain.  The body cannot escape pain.  The mind cannot escape pain.  The heart cannot escape pain.  These are all realities and the truth that pain will ebb and flow in our lives is sometimes paralyzing.  We fear the pain of losing someone we love.  We curse the physical limitations of our body.  We get caught in endless loops of self-deprecating thoughts.  All of our pains are real and all of our pains are valid.  I used to hate pain.

Everyone has pain—that is the equalized.  However, everyone deals with pain differently.  I used to avoid pain at any cost—trying to numb, smile through, or ignore the pain.  Then something switched.  I started inviting the pain in and telling myself that I deserved to feel it, that enduring pain would somehow make me a better person.

But I am beginning to understand that pain is just misunderstood.  Pain is a tool, a teacher and a guide.  I have tried to think about the rebirth or newness that comes after walking through pain.  This newness is not determined by how a person moves through their pain.  As humans we have the choice—to numb, ignore, inflict or exacerbate the pain.  However once we have moved through this pain there is always a newness.  It can be the newness of learning to live without a loved one.  It can be the newness of a baby being brought into the world.  The newness is neither all good nor all bad—it just is.  Just as pain is not always all good or all bad—it just is.

I have been reflecting a lot lately on my spiritual journey and the pains that I have felt while battling an eating disorder but also the pains I have dealt with by right of being human.  I do not label pain as bad anymore.  I also do not label pain as good.  Pain is my teacher.  I do not seek pain, but when it comes now…I welcome it.  Pain is a process that yields miraculous results.  Just as a mother experiences excruciating pain of birth to bring a new life into the world.

One of the quotes that has particularly resonated with me lately is this quote from Cynthia Occelii: “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone.  The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes.  To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction”.  To see this seed, one may only see pain: the painful process of cracking, exploding, and coming undone.  And for someone who is observing the seed they may label the process as bad, horrible, frightening or undesirable, but then comes the newness.  Then comes the flower.  Then comes the great Redwood Tree.  Then comes the harvest.

I have started to practice being grateful for my pain.  I do not need to label the pain as good or bad.  I try not to run away from or curse the pain.  I also try not to lean into the pain or allow it to consume all of my energy.  The presence of pain is simply the indicator that growth is beginning.

I am beginning to learn that I will continue to experience pain.  However how I accept and view this pain in my control.  Life will bring unpredictable pains.  I may lose a job, experience a break up, suddenly need to move, or receive the news that a loved one has passed.  However, how I react to this pain will influence how I transform.  Right now I am practicing gratitude.  I want to be grateful for the pain because the pain is leading me to new life, transformation, and growth.  Pain is constantly teaching me about myself.  I am learning what is important to me and what my priorities are.  I am learning who I can count on to listen and provide counsel.  I am learning how to cultivate resiliency.  I am learning to trust and look forward to the beauty of the growth that is coming through my painful experiences.

Kelly’s #imnotsorry Story

Kelly is a good friend of those at Unpolished Journey. In addition to this, she is also a mental health warrior.  In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, Unpolished Journey wanted to share her story.  This post may be triggering for some readers, but I believe it is essential that we begin to share our stories: our true, authentic, and messy stories.  So be weary of content. Remember that mental illness is real and begins to be understood only when we are willing to hear each others stories.

imnotsorry

#imnotsorry for crying. I’m not sorry if I make you uncomfortable with my tears. I will not apologize to the people who think that I’m too sensitive or too emotional. When I was little, around the age of five or six, I remember whenever I would start to cry, people would tell me things like “Stop crying” or “There’s nothing to cry about.” This led to a future of constantly invalidating my own emotions because others often had before. This led to undiagnosed depression in high school that escalated during my first year of college. I grew up in an upper class neighborhood, I got good grades, and I was athletic.  I had good friends and an even better family. I thought I had no reason to feel the way I was feeling. There was no reason for me to want to kill myself, but mental illnesses don’t work that way. They do not discriminate. You can have a seemingly “perfect” life on the outside, but still feel completely broken on the inside. During my first year of college I cried alone, I cried to my roommate, and I cried over the phone to my parents.

I remember one night telling my mom over the phone that I just wanted to hurt myself. I wanted to feel anything except the emotions that were overwhelming me. I went to the counseling office at school and they referred me to an outside therapist because they felt that my problems were too overwhelming for them to handle. Still, I was not convinced that they were valid. I resisted following up with any of their referrals because I thought I could make it to the end of the semester. Then I would be home and things would be better. A couple weeks later, I realized if I wanted to finish my first year of school, I would need to address the issue at hand. So I began seeing a therapist in Boston. My mom flew out for a weekend and offered to stay until the end of the semester, but I didn’t want to be an inconvenience even though she said it wouldn’t be. Note to reader: Your feelings, your emotions, your tears, your illnesses—none of these are “inconveniences” to anyone that truly cares about you.

Fast forward about a year. I finished my first year of college by the skin of my teeth. I did not return to that school mostly because it was too far away from home. I was hospitalized a couple of times because of my suicidal ideation and I started to self-harm for a brief period of time. I was taking time off of school to figure things out. It was February 27th, 2013. I was feeling suicidal. Again. It was bad this time. I can’t explain it, but there are times when I just know I am in more danger to myself than others. It wasn’t a fleeting thought. I went to see my psychiatrist later that night. He wanted to keep me out of the hospital even though my thoughts were strong. He talked to my mom and she agreed to keep an eye on me, even though I am almost positive I told him “If I go home, I will try to kill myself.” My mom said, he didn’t tell her I said that.

#imnotsorry for crying because if there is anything worse than feeling overwhelmingly depressed to the point of tears, it is feeling nothing at all. When I attempted, I felt like I was a zombie or like I was sleepwalking. I went through the motions. I calmly told my mom I was going to take a shower and I took my pills to the bathroom. Shortly after, my mom called up to me asking if I had my pills. I had already taken them all. She knocked on the locked bathroom door. She asked what I did, and I began to cry. I woke up.

Things did not magically get better for me, but they have gotten better. Although I wish I could tell you that I have never had the thought “I want to kill myself” since my suicide attempt in 2013, or that I have not been hospitalized since then, I can tell you something that I am very proud of.  I have worked and talked and screamed and laughed and cried myself into the healthier person that is writing this post. I’ve learned how to express how I’m feeling, I’ve learned to validate myself, and in general I’ve learned to take better care of myself. I’m no longer afraid to feel. Rather I feel lucky to be someone that is able to feel the entire spectrum of emotions—even if it gets overwhelming at times.