Maybe I Don’t Know

Written by: Emily Blair, Director of Operations

Image source

Riding home on the L from my karate class this week, Jon Bellion’s song “Maybe IDK” came on shuffle.  The song states a variety of “I wonder why statements…”. Here are some that Bellion mentions in the song:

I wonder why I say yes to everyone in my life.

I wonder why I can’t run that fast in my dreams.

I wonder why I miss everyone and I still don’t call.

As I sat listening to the song on the train, I thought about how I would finish those “I wonder why…” statements.  The theme of the song touches on questioning why something is the way that it is or why something happened – something we all have probably done.  Sitting on the train car, I started to think of my mental health journey and started to finish those “I wonder why” statements in this framework.

I wonder why I still get anxious when I go to karate.

I wonder why I still have difficulty setting boundaries and saying no.

I wonder why my depression still creeps in.

I wonder why I’m not as bold and confident and sure of myself as her.

I wonder why I put up walls when I know vulnerability is so important.

I wonder why I even struggle with anxiety, depression, and body image issues in the first place.

This list could go on and on and on and on.  That would be an uplifting post, wouldn’t it?  

The truth is, I think that in our journeys’ with mental illness and recovery, we often get bogged down with figuring out everything from A to Z.  What is the root cause of my anxiety and depression, what are strategies to saying no, how can I stop comparing myself to other people, etc., etc.  We create plans, attend groups, take our medication, and when we still have a panic attack or when we still struggle with that one fear food, our head becomes filled with “I wonder why” statements.  This cycle is so dangerous because mental illness will always be an “I wonder why.” I wonder why people have to struggle with it to begin with, so where do we get ourselves if we just keep asking why?

The song is not solely about questioning why certain things are the way that they are.  The pre-chorus and chorus say this:

Although I guess if I knew tomorrow

I guess I wouldn’t need faith

I guess if I never fell, I guess I wouldn’t need grace

I guess if I knew His plans, I guess He wouldn’t be God

So maybe I don’t know, maybe I don’t know…

But maybe that’s okay.

I can’t help but sit back and marvel at how true these statements are.  Now, I believe in a higher power, a God whose fingerprint is always at work in our lives.  In fact, spirituality is a core value of Unpolished Journey. In recognizing this, I think there are some things we may not understand for a long time or possibly never understand in our journey with mental illness and recovery.  And if we constantly question why we are still struggling, we’ll be left walking in circles, because, while there may be some behaviors someone is partaking in that are feeding his or her mental illness, the truth of the matter is we will never really know – we’ll never know why he struggles with bulimia or she turns to alcohol or he has manic episodes.  

I think of it this way.  Say someone gets a cancer diagnosis.  The doctor may explain the diagnosis at a scientific level – maybe it was genetic or maybe the individual smoked a lot.  But the question is a deeper why.  Why that person, that individual, that human being.  

And the same goes for mental illness. We will never know why [insert what you struggle with] has to be an issue for us.  We may never really uncover the exact root cause of our depression that we are so intent on finding or read enough self-help books to create a perfect, foolproof plan for recovery.  

I want to take a moment to say that taking medication, attending groups, reading books, creating coping ahead plans, and everything that you do to help your mental illness is beyond necessary, in the same way that someone with a cancer diagnosis needs to get radiation and chemotherapy or whatever the treatment might be. The point of this post is not to discredit any of those things.  The point of this post is to remind us that even while doing those things, we may never fully understand parts of our journey.  And that’s okay. If we let these “I wonder why” statements cloud our thoughts, we will never fully experience recovery.

As I see it, Bellion reminds us that without these struggles, without these hardships, we wouldn’t truly appreciate faith and grace and all of the beautiful things that exist in this world.  So, while we’ll never fully understand our journey, we can be patient, watch it unfold, and appreciate faith and grace in the process.

P.S. I highly recommend listening to the song.  Click here to do so.

Soften My Brow

Written by: Madeline McCallum, contributing writer and blogger at http://madelinesmusing.blogspot.com/?m=1

To be quite honest, lately I have had absolutely no clue how to practice self-compassion.

I have felt like a train hurtling forward into infinity, with no end-point in sight and no time to look out the window.

How could I nurture myself when I needed to make sure I was aligning one foot in front of the other in the perfect way? I was treating my relationship with myself like that of disciplining a child – one party clearly knows better than the other, demands things of the other, scolds the other when they want to act differently.

I was explaining this circle of reprimand that plays out all day in my head to my therapist, and I watched as her eyes turned sad and she told me, “That sounds like you are being awfully harsh to yourself.” That made me pause, because up to that point I hadn’t really considered that the way I was treating myself was a choice – didn’t I have to act that way, perform those things, to be the successful human that I wanted to be?

I would never, ever choose to speak the words that I speak to myself to another person; yet, they roll so easily off of my internal monologue. Once I stopped to think about this, I remembered times recently when I would be in the gym and physically burst into tears just because of the bully inside that was screaming at me.

That is powerful stuff. A clear image of an over-bearing, dominating, plain old mean voice, much like the personified “Ed” voice, emotionally beating my authentic self to a pulp. But somehow, I still couldn’t figure out how to exist any other way –  I was pulled in really deep.

I found myself wanting to yell STOP at the top of my lungs – I couldn’t keep going at this pace, this hurtling forward was unsustainable. And let me tell you, I have never believed in the Universe and the way it works out and my Creator’s plan more than I do now – after a particularly grueling weekend, I experienced a severe allergic reaction while on my Monday lunch break.

The experience of anaphylaxis is nothing if not the definition of being out of control. As my lungs closed and ambulance workers shocked my body back to life with a huge adrenaline shot, I had to just close my eyes and believe it would be alright. In tears and with a heart that felt like it was going to explode, there was no choice but to tell my body it was going to be okay. With every needle in my arm and chemical pumped into my veins, I clung so close to myself, telling my body that it was so strong, look at what it could handle!

My body has shut down the week following this reaction, from all of the chemicals and the physical trauma as well as from PTSD and intense emotional trauma and anxiety from the first time I experienced this reaction that had been triggered. I have been forced to rest, to really and truly give myself the compassion I need. My body is so in tune with the world almost on a spiritual level, and it finally put its foot down (no pun intended) and wouldn’t let me get out of bed until I did some serious reevaluation.

I came across a blog post from Mystic Mamma, who writes about wisdom, tuning in, meditations, and astrology, about the New Moon that happened this week. She wrote that this time is “a time of deep self-healing,” a time that has come where she who is dedicated to healing others “must retreat and give some of that healing to herself.” I realized amidst feelings of being paralyzed in my loneliness that I have all of the capability to mother myself within me. I needed to give myself the time and space to heal and “tune into [my] inner Mother and connect with that healing, nurturing energy.”

Once you pull yourself out of the depths of your self-hatred and expand your view, look beyond your body’s capability and into the capability of your heart and your spirit, it becomes a lot easier to pause and see the value and necessity of self-compassion. Your worries don’t all melt away; rather, they become just a thought, not all-consuming, that exists and can either be remedied or worked through.

I’m definitely not an expert at self-compassion yet, but I am getting there. This month I am going to meditate on stillness, on broadening my vision and being anchored deep in the body that knows me better than my mind knows me.

In a section of her new book “Honoring Voice,” Pixie Lighthorse writes, “Soften my brow. Help me hold my gaze.”

In my quest for self-compassion, I hope to soften my brow, to ease the deep tension that has taken up home in my body, and to focus on all of the incredible things that my body has survived and will continue to survive, and the world that is waiting for it once it has rested.

Leaning on Spirituality in Recovery

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

I have been asked on more than one occasion what helps to motivate me in my eating disorder recovery journey. Each time I respond without a breath: “My spirituality.”  The response is a reflex at this point, as well known and comfortable as the stuffed dog that lays beneath my head each night.  Spirituality is both my breath and my peace.  It is the part housed within my soul. The part that no matter how dark or twisted my mind becomes, it cannot be touched.  My spirituality gives me the connections I desperately need in order to defeat the darkness in my life.

If this tool is so powerful against the eating disorder, what exactly does it consists of? What does it mean to be spiritual? What does it mean to utilize spirituality?

Spirituality, for me, is leaning on a Higher Power to restore me to sanity. My Higher Power being God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. My spirituality is interchangeable with my faith and my faith is interchangeable with hope. Hope being the killer of darkness. Spirituality is the process of learning to surrender over my struggles, pains, and emotions to my Higher Power in order to pull me through.  It is me admitting my weakness in order to understand just how strong my Higher Power is.

My eating disorder is a massive web of thoughts, behaviors, insecurities, and painful memories.  It is infectious and when I surrender to the eating disorder, it overtakes my entire life.  I can’t eat, sleep, or think without the eating disorder. I can’t even breathe without it. I become a host dictated by its parasitic nature, sucking all life and purpose from my veins.  In return, the eating disorder silences my ability to hear any aspect of my spirituality. It cuts me off from the room that houses my soul, my spirit tank, and any essence that gives me purpose in my life.

I was once asked how I would envision the rooms of my internal house to be arranged. The rooms consisting of my physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual parts.  I told the therapist that the spiritual room would be at the center, and in order to get into any other room in the house, you would have to walk through it. “How does your eating disorder impact your house?” my therapist responded with. “It turns off all the lights in the spiritual room and boards up all the doors, so that I am stuck in one room without any resources or light,” I told her.

After I said this out loud, I was reminded of what deep down I always knew to be true.  My spiritual room must be dusted, rearranged, aired out, and lit in order for me to find joy and peace in other areas of my life or in order for me to move freely to the other rooms/parts of myself. The eating disorder cuts me off and leaves me caged and frozen in captivity. Therefore, I forget who I ever was without it.

Now, I am not going to tell you that you HAVE to use spirituality in order to recover from mental illness, but I will tell you that I don’t think anyone will ever understand true freedom until they have found God. Until you have found that piece that is larger than yourself, larger than your struggles, larger than your past illnesses or hurts. For me, my spirituality is the ONLY tool strong enough to defeat the eating disorder completely. I could reread the DBT handbook a thousand times over or read a million articles on recovery or discuss my meal plan ten fold, but without prayer, scripture, a relationship with God, or hope that’s found in my spiritual community, then none of those skills can truly take root. Because, the spirituality piece can not only manage my symptoms, but it can heal them, alleviating them in their entirety. And that, my friends, is called hope. And without hope full recovery cannot exist.
Spirituality is the only thing large enough to fill the void that living without the eating disorder leaves me with.

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.

Yin and Yang

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As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this week, I came across yet another post of someone lost to an eating disorder. A sad truth when you have a history inside treatment centers is that you get to meet, connect, and love many individuals who struggle with the same life threatening disease as you. You get a first class ticket to the battles happening inside of people’s minds without the knowledge of how the fight will pan out.

Though manifested in different ways that is what an eating disorder is, a battle.  One that you fight and fight and fight. Even when you are exhausted and you wake up with sore arms and cramping legs and the last thing you want to do is trudge downstairs to make yourself breakfast, you pull yourself out of bed and you deflate the abusive voices inside your mind with each bite. You fight until one day it isn’t so hard anymore. Your arms have grown stronger and your mind more resilient.  You start to know more of yourself and less of the disease that once controlled you.  Fighting becomes, simple.

But some aren’t so lucky. Some loose footing in those early stages of battle. They slip, twice or three times, or perhaps only once is enough to sweep them from the battlefield and pronounce them defeated. After all wars produce causalities and that is the sad reality that those with eating disorders are subject to.  We know battle. It just isn’t loud or flashy or apparent to those in every day life and, therefore, commonly goes unnoticed.  That is until you scroll through your Facebook feed and see another has fallen.  Another gone. Another stolen by an eating disorder.

Perhaps that is what causes the constant push and pull of positive and negative energy inside of my mind.  The prevalence of such beauty, like my trip to Mongolia, and such darkness, like the reality of this young woman’s life lost to mental illness. How can both coexist? How can I know such triumph and still empathize with anothers defeat?

Yin and yang is a fundamental concept in philosophy whose principle is that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites, for example female-male, dark-light and old-young (acient.ed). The principal proponent of the theory was the cosmologist Zou Yan (or Tsou Yen) who believed that life went through five phases (wuxing) – fire, water, metal, wood, earth – which continuously interchanged according to the principle of yin and yang (ancient.ed).

goes with yin yang explainationI have been thinking about yin and yang a lot.  Partially because the symbols were plastered all over the Mongolian city I lived in for the past month proving a great reminder of the solace the philosophy can bring me in times of questioning.  Life is all just one big balancing act.  Food’s power over us only looses authority when we loosen our control and learn balance and intuition at the table. Body image only starts to improve when we are able to look in the mirror and reassociate what it means to be beautiful. Self esteems flourishes when we are able to accept our flaws, mistakes, and gifts.  Allow both the negative and positive energies to pour over you. Refuse and challenge aspects of the darkness. Take in and hydrate in the truths of the light.

I see that another woman was lost to an eating disorder and that there is the reason I have to keep writing, keep sharing, keep falling deeper into my recovered life. I have to use my voice, my story, my insight into the struggle to help spread awareness, to help prevent any further losses. Nothing negates the fact that tragedy sucks, that is doesn’t feel natural or acceptable to move forward after it.  But what is necessary is movement, a constant shifting through time and space, a forever transformation where each of us is falling deeper into the selves we were meant to be.

That is the concept behind the five phases talking about earth.jpgof life that Zou Yan was speaking about. Wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each phase has their own attributes. Wood being creative and luxurious, fire being enthusiastic and passionate, earth, nurturing and stable, metal, ambitious and determined, and water being transformative. Would we want to get rid of one of these things? Cut it out completely from our life?  Leave behind creativity or passion, never experience ambition or transformation.  I don’t think so.  Same are life’s seasons. Each coming with its own surprises, each offering different opportunities for growth, and each melting into the next. Just as wood fuels fire, fire forms earth (volcanoes, ash, etc.), earth contains metal, metal carries water (buckets, pipes, etc.), and water feeds wood (trees, plants, etc.). So does each phase of our own life prepare and shape us for what is to come.

So yes there is darkness and yes there is sadness, heartbreak, grief, and loss in this lifetime. I know it. I get it. I feel it all the time. But out of darkness comes light, growth, and room for transformation.  Without a collapse, no one can learn what it feels like to get back up.  Without my eating disorder, I wouldn’t have my story or insights or perspective on life.  Without it, I couldn’t speak and touch others. Embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly, knowing that everything in life is a balancing act. Where there is bad, so is there good. It all is just a matter of where we choose to focus our attention.

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Being Present

IMG_7710I spent the last four weeks in arguably the weirdest country in the world.  Let’s preface by saying, I have been a lot of places, seen a lot of cultures, tasted a lot of strange food, but nothing quite compares to the Mongolians. From watching five-year-old boys race horses through the countryside to eating goat out of a goat (yes, they cooked the meat in the goat’s body), I was never bored throughout the day. Because, not only was something odd constantly happening, but I also had no idea it was going to happen. No one spoke English and Mongolian is not even remotely recognizable to my English speaking ears.  Therefore, each day I got up and set out alongside my team of nine other girls, expecting nothing and hoping for everything. What else could you do when you had no idea what you were going to be doing?  Do I wear a dress today when there is a possibility that I could be bused back to the countryside to ride camels and pray in yurts? Do I wear sandals when there is a possibility of rain in the afternoon and the swatties (toilets that are just holes in the ground) could flood, overflowing poop into the streets? There was no way of knowing and, strangely, that was the most freeing realization of the trip.

I couldn’t know. I couldn’t prepare. I couldn’t wake up and have even a slight idea as to what food would look like that day, what the schedule would entail, who I would talk to or how I would communicate with the language barrier. I couldn’t humor my eating disorder or insecurities in any way and what a beautiful thing that came to be. Though upon first arriving in Mongolia at 3am and being fed Burger King chicken nuggets and Coke, I would have said otherwise.  But as the days passed and the weeks began to unfold, so did the chains on my heart begin to break. So did the demons start to lessen and the self-ridicule begin to release its grip.  I was in Mongolia, it didn’t matter whether I had Burger King, whether I was running, whether or not I felt less than the people around.  All that mattered was the now, the present, the moments with these amazing girls in this oddly stunning country.  Never again would I be with these people in this place and there was no point on ruining the moments by listening to the critic inside my head. In a year or even two months from now, I would remember what I did and did not do.  And if I decided to keep my eating disorder that would mean, I would remember the time I didn’t have ice cream with my team or I sat on the steps crying over pizza instead of playing Bananagrams inside. Which, sadly those moments came, slinking in, devious, and tricky just as the disorder always is.  But that was at the beginning of the trip, when I was confused, displaced, and I didn’t know what to expect from this country and these girls and my work here in Mongolia. The turning point came in a moment of awakening. This was the moment when being present became the biggest and most important objective of my days. This was the moment when my faith, God, and freedom washed over me.

IMG_7702And so it that the key to enjoying the moments? Faith. God. A Higher Power. I say yes. Absolutely.  How could it not be? When the eating disorder, or whatever else you may struggle with, is just so strong and powerful and all encompassing?  It is a challenge so large that there is no hope of defeating it without something larger than my little, pathetic human self. I always preached knowing this, but somehow it didn’t fully set in until this month. Out amidst the sprawling mountains and hills of the Gobi Desert with eagles flying overhead and the sun beating down on my skin, I suddenly understood. I understood that no amount of therapy or nutritional counseling or psychiatrist appointments were going to heal me. And if I continued to think those things would, I would continue to be a fool, living a life lying to both myself and everyone around.  True healing comes when you let go.  You let go of everything that ties you to your past life. It comes the moment you decide you have had enough and you read out, grab God’s hand, and ask for help.  True healing comes when you decide your weakness and you allow God to be the one to lift you onto your feet.

I could sit in a therapist’s office every single day for the rest of my life and if all I am doing is rehashing all the ways the eating disorder has restricted my life and all the skills I am going to use to overcome my urges, nothing will ever be achieved. I could sit and discuss a meal plan forwards and backwards, making changes, discussing fear foods and challenges of the week, but no fruit comes from that.  These things will not propel me forwards because they are keeping me stuck in the belief that I have an eating disorder and will always have an eating disorder.  And let me tell you, my eating disorder loves those appointments. It loves the hours in the week that I get to once again play the “sick” card.  That I can talk about all the times I screwed up with food, all the anxieties around my body, all the times I felt emotionally overwhelmed.  But the minute I take the comfort of dieticians, scales, therapists, and skills away, I am left in a world where my eating disorder is not the center. That’s where personal choices come into play. I can either allow my weeks to center around appointments where I get to discuss the disorder, each food choice lining up with the discussion I will have with my dietician, each time I cried becoming a mental note to bring to my therapist or I can start letting go.  I can start surrendering. I can start living. And living only happens when the disorder is handed over to God.  When something greater and more powerful is given permission to remove the darkness in my mind.

IMG_7597And when does the removal happen? What does removal look like? Simple, it happens when you ask for it. Sometimes I have to ask God several times a day to take my eating disorder away, to silence its thoughts, to keep me safe from its control.  Other times I go a week or so completely in sync with God’s purpose for my life. It all depends and depending where you are in your recovery journey determines how foreign the removal will feel. If you don’t have an eating disorder, removal still entails the same concepts. Removing darkness does not have to be as concrete as a clinical mental illness.  It can be body image insecurities, self consciousness, grief, being afraid to step out.  Whatever it may entail, it still looks a lot like release.

Now, what removal looks like is an entirely different story because this looks vastly different on each person. For me, removal is looking a lot like freedom.  It is giving myself permission to take a moment and just be.  To wake up in the morning and spend time with God and not planning every minute of the day.  To go to bed and not be concerned by tomorrow.  Removal looks like a peace that comes with being comfortable in the present moment, being content with a moment, a minute, a second.  Being able to look at myself in the mirror and have grace that not everything is perfect, that I am in pain sometimes, that I don’t have to be okay to be joyful, that no matter what I have done or been through I have purpose in this world.

IMG_2330The removal of my eating disorder came to fruition for me somewhere in the Gobi Desert surrounded by mountains and sand and the overwhelming idea of just how expansive the world is, the mind is, God is. It came when I realized what it felt like to be in life, to feel it on my skin and in my hair. To look down at my body and know that it is going to heal. That I will recover. That I am recovering each day with each moment that I chose to experience.

Being present if you have an eating disorder, is not about the skills you know or the meal plan you follow.  Being present in general, isn’t about being able to recount your story a thousand times and process through trauma or loss or insecurities. It doesn’t come when you are happy with every aspect of your life. It isn’t about giving up. It is about giving your challenges over. Being present looks a lot like being recovered, or recovering a life worth living, and it happens the minute you allow it to happen. So look up, look out, breathe, and remind yourself that the heart inside your chest determines the significance of your presence. You cannot decide otherwise because for the very reason that you are alive, you matter.  Therefore, you would do yourself and everyone around a huge disservice to not look into your heart today and welcome in God to remove the darkness the eating disorder has clouded it in.

Taking a Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What if I Didn’t Care?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Glimpse of Heaven

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

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

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

“It glows?” my dad asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you?”

“I think we should.”

“Then let’s do it.”

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

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

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

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

“Welcome to Anderson’s Lagoon.”

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

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

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

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

“Do people typically jump in?” I asked.

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

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

“Yes,” Lucky said.

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

“Let’s go Morg,” my dad said.

“Okay,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Morg, I am scared,” my sister said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.