Protection or Connection?

Written by: Gracie Mayer, Facebook Manager and Contributing Writer of Unpolished Journey

“Gracie, what is your favorite part about playing the role of Annie?”

“The applause.”

In fourth grade I had the privilege of playing the ball-busting, red-headed orphan Annie in my school’s musical production of Annie.  I remember this exact question and my answer from a radio interview with a local radio station.  They asked what my favorite part about playing Annie was, and I immediately responded without hesitation: “the applause”.  Fast forward five years, 230 pimples and one driver’s license later and my answer was “the affirmations”.

“Gracie why do you always smile, try to make other people laugh and hide any negative emotions?”

“The affirmations.”

I never really saw myself as a girl with extremely low self esteem, and I was always able to find something nice to say about myself.  It wasn’t until the onset of my eating disorder that I realized I was living like a leach – relying on the affirmations from those I loved to create my self-esteem.  I didn’t realize that I didn’t have self-esteem because my “self” wasn’t involved.  I had “external esteem”, which I had grown to believe would only exist with a calculated performance of perfect emotional regulation and joy.  Don’t get me wrong, joy is my main mode of operation naturally, but when I began to notice that this quality attracted people to me, I suddenly began to believe it was the only quality that attracted people to me. Enter Gracie’s struggle with boundaries.  Oh, I hope they like me.  Oh no, don’t be sad EVER…stay joyful, stay joyful, stay joyful.  They’re sad, make them laugh.  They’re upset, cheer them up.  Of course, I was not everyone’s “pillar of strength”.  In fact, there were many times I turned to my sister for comfort, peace and to be myself.  My family helped provide a safe haven where I could experience more than joy and only joy.

This is what brings me to my little bit of insight into boundaries.  I loved Emily and Morgan’s views on boundary setting as a healthy emotional practice in learning to say no and accept your own limits with self care.  However, I want to take a different look at the power of boundaries.  You see, boundaries work two ways: boundaries work to keep people out and they also work to invite people in.  When I was putting on my brave, “only-pure-joy-and-positivity” face, I was actually keeping people out.  Without being consciously aware, I had created a boundary that would shield other people from having to deal with my full range of emotions and likewise would shield me from having to be truly brave and vulnerable with the emotions within myself I had deemed as undesirable.  I had created a boundary around myself as a protective shield for fear that if I let people into my inner world, they would not love me, not care for me, and ultimately I would end up alone.  You may know exactly what I am talking about, and this may manifest in a different way for you.  Some people create this wall by being only angry, only sad, only funny, only quiet, only selfless, only perfect, only smart.  Many people build walls and boundaries to keep the truth of their whole and complete selves a secret for fear that the entirety of who they are will not be accepted or is not enough.

However, boundaries can also be made to let people in.  My sister and I are actually in the midst of a lifelong practice of this.  As I mentioned before, my sister was often the person I felt I could most be myself around.  I felt that with my sister I could let down my walls and open a boundary that invited her in.  However, I often felt that my sister set a brick wall boundary, except her boundary and wall of protection was “only perfect” and “only strong”.  My sister was always perfect in my eyes.  She was successful, strong, supportive, intelligent, full of wisdom and advice, and always right.  It wasn’t until we both began to grow older, and she began to share some of her college experience and more personal life with me that I began to see my sister’s humanity…and guess what…I FELL IN LOVE WITH IT.  I still remember my sister sharing one fun story about going out on the town with her college friends, and I distinctly remember thinking…I want to be friends with my sister.  This may sound like a slap in the face because at this point I had known the woman for 17 years.  So why was it that just now I wanted to be her friend?  Of course we were always friends, we are sisters and we are each other’s ride or die.  However, I always felt like my sister was more like another guardian or protector.  Because she was older I often felt like she was out of my league for friendship, she was too put together, too wise, too perfect.  I often felt like there was something blocking her from creating a boundary that would let me in because instead she needed to be strong for me, support me, listen to my problems and give me all the advice.  When my sister began to break down that wall by simply telling me a story about more of her personal life, she began the process of setting a new boundary that invited me in.  As we continue to get older, I have loved getting to know my sister, watching her grow, change and blossom.  I have loved seeing more of her humanity and more of her beautiful soul.

Boundaries are not only about saying no, getting your needs met and understanding your limits.  Boundaries are also our tool for connection.  Sometimes it is appropriate to use boundary setting for protection and other times we need to use boundary setting for connection.  Boundaries can be set to guard our hearts and boundaries can be set to invite people to see more of our heart.  We are all different: some wear our hearts on our sleeves looking to open up to any and everyone, in which case we may need to learn to guard our hearts a little more.  Others guard our hearts too much preventing any deep, meaningful and fulfilling connection to happen.  Who are you?  What do boundaries look like for you?  And how can you adjust your boundaries to align more with your authentic self?

To My Younger Self

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

In honor of NEDAwareness week, the team of Unpolished Journey decided to write letters to our younger selves.  After completing the letter and rereading it, I was caught off guard by how kind the words were. I wasn’t expecting the compassion and empathy I felt towards that little girl. Though I feel racked with self-loathing and critical thoughts, exercises like this help show me there is some love interwoven among the lies of my eating disorder.  So, without further ado, here is my letter to my younger self:

To my younger self,

There is so much that I want to teach you about acceptance, heartbreak, loss, and patience. I want to warn you about the trials to come – in school, in relationships, in life. I want to make you promise never to pick up the diet pills or tape measurer. I want to make you look in the mirror and say the words, “I love myself”. I want you to never, ever feel like too much.

But I know I can’t.

I can’t because those things – the trials and pain, the insecurities and illnesses – they will teach you more than any conversation ever could. Even if I could sit you down and pour a breathless monologue overtop of you, it wouldn’t do the trick. Words sometimes fail us. Especially when God knows we need our experiences to shape us.

The trials and pain are part of your journey. I wish that I could steal you away from the darkness or at least tell you the darkness won’t hurt. But I won’t lie to you. You whisper enough lies to yourself. It is going to hurt. The years ahead will be hard and stressful and confusing, but they will also be filled with some of the most fulfilling moments – moments of deep connection, true friendship, pure joy, childlike wonder.

Morgan, the road ahead is adventurous. So, as with any worthwhile adventure, there is going to be hard moments, easy moments, joyful moments, moments when you just want to quit. Never give up. That’s my greatest form of advice. No matter what you are feeling – hopeless, worthless, fat, ugly  – NEVER give up because the moments of darkness are what allow us to appreciate the light.

You have so much worth. You have so much purpose. Over the years you are going to meet so many amazing people and do so many amazing things. You’re young now. You haven’t felt the intense hunger pains. You don’t know yet how it feels to run on weak and tired legs. But as you get older, as you go through the years, you will learn so much about the power of will, the power of self, the power of faith.  You, my friend, are going to be shaped into a deeply wise woman who understands the depths this life has to offer simply because you have lived it. The ups and downs, light and dark, pain and relief- you know it. You lived it. You are living it. And that makes you one of the bravest people I have ever met.

Keep your chin up, Morgan, you have no idea what you are capable of.

With peace and blessings,

Your future self

End the Aspire Bariatric’s Approach to Weight Loss!

red-angry-smiley-face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link for the petition:

 

What if I Didn’t Care?

giphy.gif

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

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

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

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

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

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