Self Compassion in Real Life

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Written by: Morgan, Founder of Unpolished

My alarm goes off. It’s 10pm and I have to leave for my overnight shift in 15 minutes. My body is sore from exhaustion and my head is pounding because I didn’t drink enough water throughout the day. It’s hard to keep track of the basics. Sleep. Water. Food is easier, but maybe because I am hyper-aware of that element. I slowly peel my eyes open, place my feet on the ground, and stand up.

I have to make money. I have to pay bills. I have to save if I want my year of travel to happen. But, I also go to work for deeper reasons. I go to remind all the girls there that they matter. My overnight doesn’t include much interaction, but I find ways to brighten the house. Writing notes, making homemade games to play in group. There are ways to leave traces of hope in a space where many are hopeless.

Compassion for other’s is a simple concept for me to grasp. Others deserve compassion. Others are important and worthy and beautiful because I love people. I truly do. There are very few people I find myself having issues with. But, one of those few that cause issues happens to be myself and this is, perhaps, the most problematic situation.

“How can you be compassionate for others without having any compassion for yourself?” my therapist asks me.

“It’s simple,” I respond, “You just do it. It’s second nature for me.”

But, as the years go on and time slips by, I start to realize the issues with this way of living. Living without compassion is like hiking in the desert without sunblock. Eventually you will end up burned, dehydrated, and tired. Eventually you will wear out. Eventually you will have to stop.

Maybe that’s what treatment was for me – my burn out point. It was my body, mind, and spirit saying, “hey listen lady, you need to learn to be nicer to us.” And, yet even with them screaming in my ears, I still have the hardest time listening.

Self-compassion looks a lot like the last 6 miles of a marathon. Clenched teeth, testing faith, the final stretch. It doesn’t feel good at first. Especially if you haven’t been practicing it previously in your life. For me, self-compassion is standing in the bathroom, staring at my face in the mirror while my head screams to stop and my heart screams for help. It is painting my nails when my head says it’s pointless, taking a day off work because my heart needs a nap, or painting when I haven’t cleaned. Self-compassion is a fight. It does not come easily.

But, just like training for a marathon, the more you practice the easier the fight becomes. Over time the fight will feel less like the last six miles and more like the first ten. It will still be strenuous and hard, but it will offer more reward than struggle. Keep practicing. Self-compassion is so important even if it feels unnatural.

Free Refills Unavailable

Written by: Florence Taglight, contributing writer for Unpolished Journey and blogger at findingflo.co.uk

Free refills unavailable.

Unlike most places in America, here in the U.K we don’t get free refills at restaurants, so once you’ve drunk your drink, you’re done and either order another, or perhaps switch it up to water.  Needless to say on first trips to America I was guzzling so much iced tea and Arnold Palmers (something the UK needs more of) that I was constantly going to the bathroom and on return to England, practising my tiny sip taking to make my drink last the duration of my meal.

Okay, so you are probably thinking, what on earth does this have to do with compassion?  Followed by I’m reading this to gain some insight not learn about refill differences in USA and UK.  Well, be patient.  It’s coming.  Now in fact.

Often people in recovery from a mental illness, or perhaps those caring for one, tend to love and love and love, and care and care and care or even cry and cry and cry till we can love, care and cry no more.  That’s ‘normal.’  You are not emotionless or cold-hearted, merely a human being. A human being who needs to replenish, revitalise, rest and recuperate.  It can be extremely difficult when all you want to do is love someone and show them you care, but by taking time out for yourself, you will be able to be more present for them when they need love, more caring for them when they need caring for.

But although helping others is fantastic, and what I do believe we are put on this earth to do, throughout recovery I have learnt that as I try to be compassionate to others, I end up neglecting myself.  Sound familiar?  I will bake, cook, shop and clean for all those around me who show me love, because it’s a two-way street, right?  But I forget that these people also bake, cook and shop for themselves.  They also tell themselves nice things, refill their own cups not just everyone else’s.

I used to find it impossible to sit down and watch TV.  I HAD to be doing something – emptying the dishwasher, folding, organising.  I’ve always been a fidgeter but just watching TV for me seemed, well, wrong.  I’ll tell you what is wrong – that thought process. It could not be more wrong.  So, although I’m still learning, I’m learning pretty fast and enjoying the time I am spending with me.  After all, no matter if I meet my soulmate and we become attached at the hip (unlikely), I will spend my whole life with ME, so surely I should be the one most compassionate toward myself and not rely on those around me to give me love or to give my love too.

So if you are stuck on how to refill yourself so you can refill others, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Write yourself a poem, and then read it to yourself.
  2. Take yourself on a date, for hot chocolate preferably.
  3. Watch a film like Pretty Woman or The Lizzie McGuire Movie – I know extremely different genres.
  4. Buy yourself a present – fluffy socks? Fairy lights? But don’t go overboard…I fell at this hurdle; I own enough notebooks to document my life, twice.
  5. Paint your toenails – it is surprisingly relaxing. Plus if they suck, chances are nobody is going to see them for a while, so you can leave them all messy, which personally I find extremely satisfying.
  6. READ someone you trust your poem about YOU.

Relapse and Road Head

Written by: Ana Mai Luckett. This post was originally published on Ana’s blog, Tales from Brain Rehab. Check it out to see read more of her story!

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One of my favorite things to do when I’m really depressed is google depression. I’ve spent days watching sometimes inspirational, sometimes incredibly sad TED talks, or heart felt slam poets explaining what depression means to them. It was on one of these such depression K holes where I stumbled upon this article in People Magazine. No judgement please, I only found it reputable because of the depression fog I was trapped in.Under regular circumstances I get my information from much more credible sources, like the internet. This article was a conversation with some actor ,who’s name currently escapes me,  where he talked about his struggles with depression. One of the most memorable parts was where he talked about how gradual that changes come after starting treatment, and it’s often the people around us who notice the changes before we do.This was true for him until one day he was walking outside, as he normally did, but was taken aback by how beautiful his neighborhood was. There were no drastic changes but the simple things like the color of the trees and the serenity of the stream just blew him away that day. All of these were things he stopped paying attention to when his depression got bad. So just by observing his surroundings through new mindful eyes, he finally got an assurance that his treatment was working. This was such a major realization for him because he was able to experience his own progress for the first time, rather than relying on observations from others.

Since reading this, I’ve been waiting for my moment with the trees- my grand realization that all of this is worth it. There have been moments here and there that teeter on grandeur and wisdom, but nothing screams breakthrough yet. This morning though, I think I came closer than I ever have to that moment.

It all started when I woke up and the first thing I wanted to do was shower and get ready for my day. I honestly can’t remember when I last woke up with that much energy and motivation to move. I even wanted to shave my legs- a task I’ve been neglecting since I’ve been home so it’s gotten a little bit out of hand. I didn’t actually end up doing that because one razor simply wouldn’t be enough and I didn’t have anymore blades, but before I jumped in my shower I also did my laundry! This has been on my list of things to do for weeks now, yet has remained untouched. By 11 am I was showered, had clean laundry, and even blow dried by hair. Before starting brain rehab this wouldn’t have been as much of an accomplishment , but when your day exists of going to and from therapy, the drive to wear anything but leggings and baggy sweatshirts kind of goes out the window. I  even left my house with plenty of time to stop and pick some prescriptions before I went to Denver-  another errand I’d been putting off.

The whole morning I couldn’t stop thinking about how easy all of this was. All of these things I was dreading or just simply too lazy to do, weren’t actually the worst most inconvenient things in the history of the planet. I caught myself becoming excited about the thought being a normal college student again and doing things like this all the time. That early jolt of confidence then just morphed into a sense of calm as I started my drive.Which was unusual because the weather is finally starting to revert back to traditional winter patterns.I braced myself for an incredibly tense and frustrating drive having to deal with all of the out-of-staters driving like it’s the dawn of the ice age. When you’re on a highway that is completely dry, regardless of the snow that may be around you, there is no need to drive 30 miles under the speed limit in the left lane. None.

So even as frustrating driving was, I think because of it I saw my tree today. I was cruising in the right lane and passing everyone to my left, because that makes sense and is definitely how highways work, when I momentarily glanced to my left and saw the driver of the car next to me with his phallic member in the mouth of his passenger. In layman’s terms, I saw somebody getting road head. After the initial shock wore off, I started laughing uncontrollably. Like to the point where I was more focused on the pain in my abdomen caused by the intense emotional outburst, than on my actual driving. This was just for a second thought, don’t worry mom, after this eyes stayed on the road and hands stayed on the wheel.  I somehow ended up behind this car for a while and kept on watching the woman’s head pop up for air and then go right back to it. It was a scene so ridiculous and out of the ordinary, I wouldn’t be surprised if a new American Pie movie is already in the works.

After witnessing “the event”, my  instinct was to call everyone I knew. Because they are my friends, we all share an incredibly immature sense of humor, and I knew that their reactions would be similar to mine. And to no surprise, they were. We laughed about the absurdity of the situation and reflected on just how dangerous it was. It was a brief reflection though, because when the topic is road head, safety is the least appealing part of the story to keep coming back to. A brief summary of our conversations then goes something like this: we traded various forms of “Oh my god,” then moved on to “I didn’t think that people actually did that in real life,” and added the occasional  “ how can you even keep a car in control when your genitals are in another human’s mouth?” The answer to that one is, you can’t. As entertaining as it was, this was one of the cars going below the speed limit in the left lane, and to make matters worse, it kept creeping dangerously close to the center line and then jolting back to its rightful place. Roadhead: a fun way to relieve stress, but also a huge distraction. Moral of the story, don’t do it.

I’ll bet by this point you’re wondering why I dedicated an entire blog to that time I saw road head. The first reason is easy: hours later I still find it hilarious and the internet deserves to know. The second is more personal. For the first time in god knows how long, I was able laugh without that voice in the back of my head popping up and reminding me I’m depressed and shouldn’t be doing this. Looking back on this entire day, I can’t count the number of times I’ve smiled. For once it’s not because numbers that low simply don’t exist, but rather, it happened too many times to keep track of.

Yesterday my countdown to discharge began, and I’ll be finished with brain rehab sometime between the 22nd and the 30th of this month. Getting that news was incredibly exciting, but at the same time, it’s also fucking terrifying. In my opinion, it’s impossible to face this news without some part of yourself fearing for what comes next. No matter how many exciting things or support systems I have in place, relapsing and ending up right back to where I was just months ago, will always be possibility. I’m no fortune teller, so it would be naive of me to think this is the last time I’ll fall. And so in lies the reality of the work I’m doing here. My past has scarred me in ways that will never fully heal, and triggers will always be lurking around me.  This is a lifelong journey , but starting to get back into my routine and simply taking the time to laugh today helped me to see how much I want to be back. The fear of relapse will always exist,but I’ve found something that overshadows that; my desire to return to the land of weekly laundry schedules and people who will never not laugh at stories about road head.

My Recovery Story

Written by: Brianna Whitbread

human hand drawing career stairs with chalk on chalkboard

My story-

15319442_1684605741565441_761333402_nHi, my name is Bri. I am 18 years old and have been fighting mental illness for 5 years. This has included self injury, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder.

The first time I was hospitalized, I did everything I could to be able to leave. I lied and pushed aside all of my dark and scary thoughts so that I could go home. At the time, I didn’t even really understand my mental illness so I wanted to avoid dealing with it at all costs. After discharging, I managed to stay out for 3 months but during that time period, my symptoms significantly worsened. At age 14, when I got readmitted to a psychiatric hospital, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be home for more than two months in the next four years. I resisted treatment. I fought so hard to push people away. This landed me getting transferred from treatment center to treatment center for the next 4 years. It got to the point where because of the severity of my symptoms and behaviors, places started sending me to other places because they weren’t equipped to handle me. Every time I would admit to a new treatment center, I was shortly transferred because of the fact that they weren’t going to do all of the work for me and because I was way too big of a liability. I will never forget the day that one of my doctors told me that I wouldn’t live to see my 18thbirthday. Because of the mindset I was in, I hoped he was right. But sitting here today, I am so glad he was wrong.

In May of 2016, I was admitted to Children’s Hospital Colorado on their inpatient psychiatry unit. Expecting the same results, I shut everyone out when I first got there. My treatment team would try to get me to open up but I was just so resistant. I think for about my first month and a half of receiving therapy from the woman who I now look at as my life saver, I would not speak during our sessions. I would sit in silence, hoping that she would just leave me alone. I wanted them to see that there was no hope for me too. Finally on a Friday afternoon, I let my walls down. I told my treatment team everything. I told them about the dark thoughts that I struggled with. I told them about my past. I figured after they heard how “messed up” I was, they would transfer me out to some where else.

That’s where I was wrong. The difference about Children’s compared to other treatment centers I had been to is that the staff and everyone else there believed in me. They had hope that I could get better. At first, I didn’t know how to take that so it took a while for me to actually accept that they cared. As soon as I got there, they reached their hands out to me and the day that I finally decided to grab them was when my life changed. I heard so many times in treatment that it will “get better”. Every single time that I heard that, I shook my head, rolled my eyes, and thought “if only they knew what went on inside my head.”

After discharging from my 5 month stay here, I saw a new life ahead of me, a life that I never thought was possible for me. Walking out those doors, I had goals. I wanted a future. I had a smile on my face that was no longer fake. Now I know that it does get better. The people who told me that knew what they were talking about. Today, my mental illness isn’t gone. I still have negative thoughts. However, I now know how to cope with those thoughts. I don’t set expectations for myself because mental illnesses are so unpredictable but I do set goals. Not always long term goals but sometimes goals that I can accomplish in five minutes. Realizing that life outside of mental illness exists was the most refreshing feeling I have ever felt. And now that I feel a happiness that I forgot existed, I want to use my stories to help others. I want to show them that things do get better. I hope to inspire those who have no hope that they can recover. Because as cliché as all of the things professionals tell those struggling, they couldn’t be more true.

And I can now tell you that because I am LIVING PROOF.

Recovery is possible.

How to Change the Way We Look

Fridays are by far my favorite day of the week.  Ever since my freshman year of college I have made a point to keep my day free of classes and because of this it has evolved into my day of rest. Everyone needs one, a day during the week that feels lighter than all the others, that offers renewing energies, that gives you time to simply be and enjoy the company of yourself and others who build you up.  Though, I get that life is busy, things get crazy, and a lot us feel unable to build into our week this space of rest. But I have successfully done so and will continue to because in my search for recovery I have found my day of rest to be a necessity.

Right now my Fridays look like this.  I get up at the crack of dawn, as I do nearly every morning because I have a deep fascination with the sunrise and the symbolism it brings for overcoming darkness.  I sit at my desk, looking out at the changing horizon, and write, meditate, and dive deeper into my faith before hoping in my car and driving 45 minutes out to the suburbs. Driving, once out of the stress of the city streets, brings an intense amount of release. With the music playing, the windows down, and the city skyline fading behind my back, I feel more open and less claustrophobic.  Then while in the suburbs I get to see two of my favorite people. The first being my amazing art therapist where we dive deeper into art as a translation of my experience in recovery.

From there I go to the same brunch place, to sit in the same chairs, and chat with my friend Gracie. And we chat and chat and chat about life and recovery and the universe and connection.  We chat all the way until the cafe closes and we are forced to call the conversation quits. If you are a fan of Harry Potter then you would remember the hourglass that Professor Slughorn had in his classroom where the sand would spin slow or fast depending on the intensity of the conversation at hand. Well, Gracie and I’s conversations leave the hourglass spinning slow and steadily as deep, meaningful topics naturally roll off our tongues.

A couple of weeks ago, Gracie brought up something she had seen in a documentary called “What the Bleep” where Buddhist monks prayed certain words over water and then photographed the molecular makeup of the water. She said that when they prayed love over the water, the molecules became beautiful snowflake structures, but when hate was prayed over them the molecules appears jagged and unpleasant.  I was fascinated. The body is 60% water. What would occur if we meditated on kind words instead of hatful? How would our bodies begin to shift on a molecular level? So, I dove deeper into the subject.

With further reading, I came across the work of Japanese researcher Masaru Emoto and his work with water crystals. Masaru Emoto first became known for taking samples of water from generally clean and beautiful sources around the world and photographing the molecular makeup. France, New Zealand, Japan. All the photos appeared uniquely different. Okay, so water is different all over, that’s cool, but not exactly conducive with my search for how to better my well being.

Water crystals from the Fountain in Lourdes, FranceWater crystals from the Yusui Moutain Spring, JapanWater crystals from the Mt Cook Glacier, New Zealand

  1. Fountain in Lourdes, France
  2. 2. Yusui Moutain Spring, Japan
  3. 3. Mt Cook Glacier, New Zealand

So I read some more and found pictures showing the formation of water in response to different types of music. Music for healing producing a soft and pleasant molecule, heavy metal music producing a sharp, strange spider web type formation.  Cool, so the music I listen to throughout the day can either relax or constrain the molecular structure of the water inside my body.

Water crystals exposed to music for healingWater crystals exposed to heavy metal music

1. Music for healing                                  2. Heavy Metal Music 

Some more reading. And here is the most interesting part. Masaru Emoto lined up bottles of water with the words “thank you”, “love and appreciation”, and “you make me sick, I want to kill you” attached to the outside. He left them overnight and photographed them in the morning. This is what he found.

Water crystals exposed to the words 'Thank you'Water crystals exposed to the words 'Love and appreciation'Water crystals exposed to the words 'You make me sick, I will kill you'

1. Thank you              2. Love and Appreciation      3. You make me sick, I will kill you.

How amazing is it that something as simple as water responds so viscerally to words.

Our bodies are about 60% water.  Imagine what would become of us, on a molecular level, if those messages of body dissatisfaction, self-hatred or any other self-deprecating thoughts were transformed into words of acceptance, peace, love, and appreciation.  Instead of playing on your internal monologue “I hate myself, I hate myself. Why did I just eat that? Why do I look so fat? Why did I say that? Why am I such a screw up?”, you repeated “Be patient you are relearning your relationship with food. I appreciate what my body can do. I am satisfied with who I am right now. I am at peace within myself”. Could you foresee the transformation of how you would feel?  That 60% of your body that is water would evolve into formations similar to those beautiful crystal snowflakes I shared above.  On a molecular level, your body would transform.  How then could you not experience a difference in your overall energy?
I used to think it was simply a change in my thoughts that were reaping more positive days than not, but now I have come to the realization that thoughts are just the beginning of a total body transformation leaving you feeling and, quite frankly, looking more alive and more at peace than ever before.

More on this topic:

http://www.unitedearth.com.au/watercrystals.html

http://www.masaru-emoto.net/english/water-crystal.html

Supporting Someone with an Eating Disorder

Written by: Emily, the sister and supporter of Morgan (founder of Unpolished), co-director, and logistical mind behind Unpolished Journey.

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Standing by someone who suffers from an eating disorder is not an easy task.  It’s not easy to watch a loved one look in the mirror and be disgusted with their reflection.  It’s not easy to see a sister fail to realize her worth.  It’s not easy to watch a friend put themselves in an unhealthy relationship because they feel that’s all they deserve.  It’s just not.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve watched my own sister battle an eating disorder.  I’ve seen her at her lowest of lows, and I’ve seen her at her highest of highs.  In light of all of these experiences, I figured I would take the time to share the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over these past few years when standing by someone with an eating disorder.

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  1. Don’t be afraid of anger. Most likely if you’re going to express concern to a sister, brother, friend, or relative, they’re going to push back.  They’re not going to immediately want to pursue a road toward recovery.  But their anger with you is worth expressing concern because someday they will look back and realize you were there for them from the beginning.
  1. Expressing concern does not mean forcing them into treatment. Treatment has to come willingly.  Expressing concern merely means standing by that person when they are in their lowest of lows and always reminding them that you are there for them.  It doesn’t mean assuming a condescending attitude of “I know what’s best for you” because you don’t.
  1. Let them be upset. Don’t tell them that they should “snap out of it” or “realize how blessed they are” because they really can’t.  When an eating disorder consumes their mind, that’s all they know.  That is their reality.  And in their reality, they are upset. tumblr_milo3cwfuw1rw5yn2o2_250
  1. When battling an eating disorder, people are not their authentic self. I reflect back on the points when my sister was at her lows and realize that is not the sister I know today.  In those low moments, I remember her anger and separation, but today I experience her laughter and joy for life.  Seeing her transformation inspires me to want every person to be removed from the eating disorder mindset so they too can experience life fully.
  1. Don’t walk on eggshells. Someone struggling with an eating disorder is still a person.  They are not a ticking bomb about to go off.  Talk with them, make plans with them, check in on them.
  1. Don’t get upset when they distance themselves or when they are in a bad mood. Individuals struggling with an eating disorder will likely avoid others due to their inability to see their self-worth.  And many times their aggravation with their own self will come out in the form of anger, sadness, or distancing.  Those attitudes or actions are really just a manifestation of the individual’s feelings of low self-worth. take-care-of-yourself-gif
  1. Realizing you are not their savior. There is a fine line between supporting someone through their battle with an eating disorder and becoming their lifeline.  You are an individual yourself.  You have your own problems, worries, and concerns.  You cannot be every role for someone with an eating disorder – a friend, a supporter, a therapist, a mentor, a parent.  It’s too much for one person to handle, and it’s not fair for someone to put that pressure on you.  My sister never, ever, ever did this to anyone, but I have seen it happen in other places, and it fosters an unhealthy relationship between individuals rather than creating a support system.

 

10 Things I’ve Learned in Recovery

I wake up in the morning and place my feet on the cozy carpet of my room, I stretch my arms high into the chilled air-conditioned air, and I breathe. I just breathe.  I breathe deep and full and strongly just to, once again, be amazed with the power of my lungs. It’s normal now, to wake up and be shocked with the person in the mirror, to not recognize the fullness in my belly or the smile across my lips. But it isn’t at the same time because when you spent so many years in darkness, to be basking in the light is, and perhaps always will be, jarring.

Those who know what it was like to once live on the cliff between life and death, welcoming in hopelessness, honoring the hatred you had against yourself, now have a view of a world that’s a little different. You know a world that’s more dynamic than the person sitting next to you because your world is one you helped create. You got out and you helped God sculpt and mold and transform the little, frail, helpless child you had become into a magnificent, unpolished work of art. You helped God fulfill His purpose in you by helping yourself become something and you continue to do so everyday. That is recovery. That will always be recovery. The transformation of oneself every minute of everyday.

IMG_2326I look at a picture of myself. The one with my arms stretched out wide over the Gobi Desert and I am shocked. I think about how far I was able to run without a thought of calories or food or how my thighs felts through my shorts and I am thankful. I think about the friendships I have formed over the past year, how I can love so many so deeply now that my mind is functioning again, and I feel so full I want to cry. I picture all the people who came out to Unpolished’s fundraiser and I can no longer deny who I am becoming.

I am not sick anymore. No longer do I have to worry about how long I can go without food, about how far I can run on injured legs, about the endless monologue of numbers that our society throws my way, or how long I can sustain this destructive lifestyle. No, I look at myself, I think about my life, and I breathe. I breathe in peace and out fire meant to burn my past life to ash.  My past behaviors, thoughts, self-deprecations dissolve to ash and fall to the gravel path before me. The ash sticks to the bottom of my muddy, worn down shoes and, with each step, I crush those lies beneath my newly powerful stride. I do so to know how far from being sick I am running.

It hasn’t been that long since I entered recovery. I made several stabs at it over the past couple of years, but those efforts never stuck until a little over 12 months ago. Last summer, July of 2015 was when I gave it all up.  When I finally looked in the mirror and admitted that this was it. That I could no longer have an eating disorder and live. I could no longer welcome in society’s views on beauty and be healed. I could no longer diet or measure or hate or alter or judge myself. I could no longer look at my past as a thunderous storm destined to creep into my present and constantly destroy who I am becoming. I had to peel myself apart, layer by layer to find what was resting in the middle. I had to truly release myself from the bondages of my eating disorder, fighting every thought and every challenging body image moment along the way, until I got to my core. Until I met my soul.

The past 12 months have taught me so much.  Things that I never thought I would ever come to believe for myself and that is why I made a list of the top 10 things I learned to share with you all – to share with someone in early recovery, or who is stuck in the cycles of relapse, or who just wants to get a glimpse of what became of someone who reconstructed the foundation they were once built on. I want you all to find something in my words to connect with.

  1. Recovery is just a fancy word for living. IMG_2350

I used to get real tripped up on what recovery meant. How would I know when I found it, what did it look like, what did it feel like? Was I doing recovery right? What were the requirements? Who graded my progress? Oh teacher, oh grader, oh evaluator, where are you to tell me I am doing everything absolutely perfect in order to be happy, healthy, and recovered? That is all BS.  There is no formula for recovery. Therapists and treatment programs will help teach you skills to get back on your feet, but at the end of the day that isn’t what recovery means. Recovery can’t be taught. It is felt and you feel it the minute you start doing stuff other than tracking weights, counting calories, or hiding food. You understand recovery when you start living. And living is unique to each person so I can’t tell you what that looks like. I just know that only when I finally met life, did I know what recovery was. I knew I had found the key to the recovered lifestyle. Traveling, diving, writing, painting, loving people. Living. That is recovery. Not a DBT binder or your meal plan’s exchange list, but I can’t teach anyone that. That is something they have to figure out for themselves.

  1. The sun rises EVERY SINGLE morning.

IMG_2055Maybe for some this isn’t quite so shocking, but for some reason I had been able to convince myself over the years that the sun might not return.  My mind’s demons could get so loud and so persuasive that I was somehow convinced that once night came it was never, ever leaving. And it was this belief that got me to do some stupid stuff.  It got me to binge over and over again, or starve, or purge, or run, or whatever other behavior because, hell, the sun was gone and I was stuck in this perpetual darkness for the rest of eternity, and life sucked, and I sucked, and I would never feel happy ever again….Then there came one day when I allowed the darkness, instead of sending me into a crazed frenzy, to just scare me. Scare me enough that I was paralyzed and didn’t move. I didn’t run to the eating disorder for hiding. I just sat there in it, exposed, cold, and scared. And you know what? The sun rose. It freaking rose the next morning and I went about my day. Because of this new discovery of mine the past year has been light years different.  I have learned tolerance of the night, urges, triggers, and emotions because I know that even the most horrendous days only last for 24 hours.

  1. I run a lot faster when I eat ice cream.

I run when I want to run and however far I want to run. I eat what I want to eat and how much I want to eat. The two go hand in hand and I know immediately when the balance is off. It’s yin and yang, light and dark, eat to thrive, thrive to achieve. Without the ice cream or the burger or whatever my mind, body, and soul are craving, I have opened the conversation between myself and the eating disorder once again. And running or any sort of movement when the conversation has begun turns south real quick and becomes about numbers, numbers, numbers. But if you eat the damn ice cream, and you savor that stuff with each bite, and you go to sleep, and head out the next day to the trail, it becomes more about overcoming the control than living in it. (All depending where you are in recovery, of course. This being several years out from the first time I stepped into treatment. I know my limits and relationship with movement. I know how and when it is my eating disorder and when it’s for my genuine enjoyment. That is relative to each person though. So be cautious with how personally you apply this point I am making.)

  1. Intelligence means nothing if you can’t connect.

I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to outsmart my eating disorder. Trying to logic my way out of my anxieties around food, my body, or numbers. Trying to will myself away from the irrationalities I was living in.  After I first started to build enough awareness of my actions and how they were ineffective, I knew “logically” that my eating disorder didn’t make any sense. I read books, I studied the DSM, I went to groups, therapy, talked with dieticians, read about why my body needed certain foods, and still, after all that I didn’t get any better. My eating disorder controlled everything, my thoughts, my actions, my values. I knew better than to believe the disease and yet I couldn’t not believe it. It made zero sense.  It wasn’t until I stopped looking to my mind for healing and just let myself be that things started shifting. When I simply was, I felt stuff.  I cried and I never cried. I was excited and I never get excited. I found passions. What were those? Things started shifting the moment I stopped trying to logic my way out of having an eating disorder and started connecting with myself and the world again.

  1. I dance harder, better, and sexier when my pants aren’t falling off my hips.

It’s true. The sentence says it all.  I dance harder, love deeper, live fuller when the size of my jeans or the number on some dumb scale does not define me. I have gained weight over the course of my recovery journey. I know it. I can feel it. And, at times, I hate it. But then I have to remind myself that there was nothing joyful or exciting or rewarding happening when I was X amount of pounds lighter.  Then I get up, I turn on the radio, and I celebrate the new tightness I feel in my pants because I would take pounds over misery any day.

  1. Being a party pooper leaves you alone in your shit. IMG_2047 copy.jpg

I was a miserable person for many many years and in turn was no fun to be around. I was what Meredith and Christina from Grey’s Anatomy call “dark and twisty”. And I used to ask myself why I didn’t have any friends. Why no one ever invited me out? Why I was alone with my own miserable self? Because no one wants you over if all you’re going to do is head into their bathroom and clog their toilet with your week old shit. If you are giving off negativity that is what others are receiving and they quickly learn that is not something they want to be basking in. I don’t get worked up about this anymore. I spent too much time beating myself up for “wasting” so many years reeking of bad attitude. I couldn’t help it because I was blinded by my eating disorder.  All that hatred and darkness, it wasn’t me. It never was me. That was the disease taking everything I was, all the way down to my personality, and keeping me locked away from the world. The eating disorder wants you to feel alone because when you are alone you run to it.

  1. Nothing in life is definite.

Nothing. Zilch. Nada. You can try and convince me otherwise, but I will just shake my head with every word. After losing my cousin, who was more a younger brother than anything else, at the age of 16 last December, you can’t look me in the face and say that anything is final or done or exact or definite. We are humans and we are always changing, evolving, discovering new interests, new passions, experiencing new losses, having to completely change our lives time and time again. Life and death. Recovery and illness. All are cycles and all are subject to change. So don’t tell me anything is certain or absolute because even God, the creator of this crazy world, is a complete mystery.

  1. Love only pours from an overflowing heart.

You can’t fill up others if you are pouring from an empty well.  I can’t offer support if I am still struggling with the disease of my mind. I can’t be a good friend if I am a shitty one for myself. I can’t love if I do not know what love is. Love only fills the soul when there is excess.  Meaning, when physical needs are met, emotional storms are managed, peace is made with the past, then the soul can overflow because the soul itself is no longer searching for water. It knows where to find it because once you enter recovery you find your love in life, in people, in faith. Remember the good old metaphor for recovery?  That just like in airplanes when they say that you have to put on your oxygen mask first before you assist others, you can’t offer others connection, love, or support until you first know what those things are. Heal yourself and you will naturally begin to positively affect others.

  1. Courage is not the absence of fear.

Meaning if something scares you – a food, a job interview, a relationship – and it has the potential of reaping a positive outcome, that is what you need to try. Because it is in the situations that scare us most where we learn just how courageous we can become. For, courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquering of it.

  1. You got to put in effort to reap results.

IMG_2491.jpgYou can’t sit around and wait for some magical spiritual moment before you begin your recovery.  Because if you are waiting for Angel Gabriel to swoop into your bedroom, speak to you in some godly booming voice, and pluck the eating disordered parasite from your mind, you may never get anywhere. You may be waiting in that same spot, on the edge of your bed, for the rest of your life. You have got to get up and start moving. God will meet you halfway. Slowly things will start falling into place. But it starts with that first meal, that first bite, then the second. Recovery gets put in motion with each morning you get out of bed and challenge the disease about what to wear that day, or what to eat, to what to say, or what to do. Recovery will come. I promise you. If you are willing to walk towards it first.  I never fully understood this because each time that I started to enter “recovery”, the minute I felt uncomfortable I ran back to where I began. I put my toes in and then said “nope, too cold”, sat back down, and waited for that magical wave of lightning bolts to come and swoop me out of my eating disorder. But that is a trap. Recovery requires action. You won’t find it, if you never go out looking for it.

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.

Adventures in Recovery

me on surfaceWhen people say the word adventure everyone has a different idea of what that entails.  Some think amusement parks, other think mountains, the ocean, or a new city, all of which I would agree are adventurous activities to partake in.  But what my mind swings to is probably quite different for the general public and I have a feeling that those of the you in eating disorder recovery will be able to relate.

blueholelgAdventure today means leaving for a week long trip to Belize where I will be diving nearly every day in some of the healthiest reefs in the world.  Adventure this week means possibly swimming with whale sharks and diving deep in a giant sink hole called the Blue Hole. Adventure means hiking into the jungle to see famous waterfalls and birds.  What comes up when I think about all of these experiences?  Excitement, sure. I am beyond excited to get up close and personal with the world.   It is something I have craved ever since leaving residential treatment in 2014.  But the sad part of all of these excursions is that the excitement is initially cloud by anxiety and fear because my eating disorder still preaches to me rules and regulations on what I can and cannot do.swimming-with-whale-sharks-in-belize-chaa-creek

Majority of the time food is not the source of the problem in eating disorder recovery.  There is some underlying issue that the food acts as a coping mechanism to appease.  But every once in a while I make the argument that food is the issue.  Right now I feel as though I am far enough into the recovery process that I authentically feel joy, excitement, and enthusiasm surrounding my trip to Belize.  It is the long history I have with unhealthy behaviors while traveling that are surfacing and causing an uproar inside my head.

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A typical conversation happening inside my head at a restaurant.

Me: I don’t want to eat that. I want to eat this.

Eating disorder parasite: You have to eat that.

Me: No.

Parasite: Fine then what are you going to do tomorrow to make up for that.

Me: Nothing.

Parasite: You have to burn it off somehow.

Me: Nothing.

Parasite: You have to. You are big and fat and ugly and that food will only make it worse.

Me: Fine I’ll order something different if you will just shut up.

Parasite: Don’t order something different. Order what I told you to.

Me: SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!

Everyone at the table precedes normally with their meal, enjoying conversation and ordering according to preference while I excuse myself to the bathroom to tug on my hair and silently cry for a moment before returning to the battlefield.

3019205-relaxed-sleeping-dog-on-the-beach-sandNow while I am on vacation these type of conversations are amplified inside my mind because they happen at least three times a day, which makes the experience exhaustingly. After challenging my eating disorder, I am left feeling as though I could just pass out the beach and sleep for days on end.  Every meal is eaten on vacation is done so without the control or comfort of my own kitchen.  It requires the ultimate act of surrendering to my Higher Power and admitting that I am, in fact, powerless of this parasite in my mind. Powerless over the arguments i constantly have to embark on, powerless over the guilt I will feel after having what my authentic self wants at a restaurant.

Here is the the thing, I am more than willing to surrender.  I am more than willing to dive into my travels with intentions of enjoying myself and the food.  I am more that willing to relax, unwind, meditate on the beauty that surrounds me in Belize.  The difficulty comes into play when you add the eating disorder.  Because the sad truth is that I can’t just choose relaxation.  Because of the screaming voice inside of my head, I have to fight for relaxation.  And isn’t that the exact opposite of relaxing in the first place?

10931408_787320791316206_7535769775349464883_nThe eating disorder takes adventure and tries to digest it according to its rules.  When you are consumed in an eating disorder it is simple to just sit back and allow the disease to play by its rules, but when you are in recovery you are at a constant war within yourself, a war no one sees, a war no one knows.  Not to be disheartened though because the fact that I have to overcome my mind in order to have dessert or lay on the beach under the sun makes achieving those things so much sweeter because I know that parasite inside of me has just been beat down a little more.  Beat. Beat. Beat. Heck, I believe that by the end of the week I will feel like a world class boxer and because of my continual efforts to defeat my mind the maggot will hardly be a part of my adventures.

Why? Because I don’t want it to be.  Simple as that.  The results of your efforts lie in the intention behind them.  If you want recovery, if you want to be separate from the voice in your head, then you are going to find recovery because you are going to take the steps necessary to get there.  The eating disorder can scream all it wants but it lives inside the head and therefore can’t force you to act on behaviors. For anyone else traveling while in eating disorder recovery, remember this.  You are only as vulnerable to the disease’s reign as you are in your willingness to act.

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Silhouette of a man on a rock , at sunset, with the arms wide open.