Recovery Diary 2/09/19

I’m 13 hours ahead of everyone back home. Saturday is ending, while in Chicago the sun just came up. Time is a warped concept that leaves me feeling upside down and backwards, never quite knowing what to make of its strange and twisted factors. The half-moon is in three days. The tides are slowly receding with the moon’s magnetic pull. More and more of the sandy beach becomes exposed each evening as I walk, toes shifting, hands swatting mosquitoes, back to my bungalow. The moon is in outer-space. Outer-space holds all the stars that are above my head. There’s Leo and Capricorn and Cancer and even, my Scorpio shining high above my head. I’m so small and the world is so big and time is even bigger and I get lost in the complexities of all that is around me….

Then I walk inside. I open the door to the bungalow, turn on the fan, and grab my towel to shower. My mind switches from the wonder of the stars and moon to the worries of critique and judgement. I have teacher’s fright big time here on the island. I stay up for hours before I teach a yoga class worry and obsessing over everything I could do wrong. I mediate and do my best to calm my mind, but then somehow my dreams turn back towards the anxieties that await with the sunrise. Even my subconscious gives me little rest. I sent over photographs and a video to the boss of the dive shop I am working with, feeling inadequate with each file I uploaded, doubting my abilities, doubting my projects. If I didn’t receive jaw-dropping amazement as feedback, I wrote everything else off as a failure. Black and white. Anxious and self-deprecating. This was my dark-side.

Then I walk inside. I open the door to the bungalow, turn on the fan, and grab my towel to shower. I make jokes through the door with my partner and listening to the faint rustle of the waves in the distance. My thoughts are preoccupied but my soul is at ease. My body is content, browned and freckled by the intense Thailand sun. My knees and hips are scrapped from the playful waterfalls I have climbed, the rocks I have slipped on, and the current I fell down. The very tip of my nose is red from a tropical kiss too harsh. My feet as worn and blistered from my stubbornness to never drive a motorbike. My body is content. My body is home here. The stars stay in my soul, flickering deep within as I shave one calf and then the other. Scorpio’s nature pulses through my bones and the fading moon phases fascinate my spirit. My soul is at home here. This is my light-side.

I carry around two selves. My mental illness is a part of me and I believe it always will. I can’t turn back time and rewrite the past. I take the past, kiss it on the forehead, then put it in my back pocket and move forward with my life. My eating disorder used to be larger than my light-side. It used to be a monster that controlled everything I did. There was no room to hear what the soul or body had to say, the mind was constantly running the show. But, over the years I have learned how to starve the beast. Ignore its presence and begin to move on with my life. Therefore, as time passed the monster grew smaller and smaller until it was small enough for me to pluck it off the ground and shove into my back pocket. I have two selves, but one is much smaller than the other. The dark-side, this small self, sits in my back pocket. Every once in a while the monster with poke me in the butt, reminding me of my insecurities as an artist, yoga teacher, or simply as a human being. Every once in a while the dark-side will follow me into the shower and ransack my brain while my body and soul are deeply connected with the earth around.

This complex order of things, the two selves, the diminishing of the dark and its periodic resurrection, reminds me of time. It reminds me of my inability to understand the layers, the concept, the complex order of things. As human beings were are complicated creatures, we have so many depths to our nature. It is arrogant to believe I will ever figure it all out. So for tonight, I am content with recognizing that my mind is busy flirting with darkness while my body and soul are thriving in the light – such is the duality of life, the dialectic of the entire order of things.

Recovery Diary 10/29/18

Stick with it. It gets better. Trust me. -Note to self

Everything is different moment by moment. Things peak and then crash each time I open my mouth to breathe. My lungs are unstable pipe bombs that vacillate between filling with fire or cotton, leaving me to either breathe out sparks or clouds. Waking up usually begins with a neutral emotional radar, one in which there is no attachment to how the day is going to pan out. But, then somewhere along the passing moments I feel my thighs rub together or my stomach crinkle into a cascade of rolls. Something, anything – a memory, a song, a smell- could set off the pipe bombs of my lungs. Then I breathe out fire and heat and rage and despair. Internally I spiral, slowly unwinding everything I knew to be truth only moments before. Everything becomes bleak and hopeless and relapse feels like my only option. I become flooded with memories and past mistakes. I am haunted by the voices of past selves whispering of my worthlessness and failures. Essentially I explode. My lungs pop, ricocheting debris and destruction through my throat and out my mouth. Through my eyes, the entire room crumbles, I melt, and everyone around sees this dramatic decline, but, in reality, it’s invisible. The whole explosion that is causing my complete emotional breakdown, only I can see. I am alone. Completely alone in a war that no one knows anything about. And that is worse than swallowing your own bombs.

I could open my mouth. Tell those who love me when I am at war. Explain to them what it feels like, how I am truly doing, what is going on inside my brain. But it feels like betrayal. Betrayal of my mind, my recovery, and most importantly their trust because bombs go off all the time. I don’t know when the bombs will be triggered. I can’t predict why, who, or what will cause the warfare. So, fear keeps me from believing that loved ones won’t be overly worried when they discover how violent my internal experience can still be. I believe that they believe that things are now calm, neutral, and stable- which they are in comparison to where I have come from. I have moved from the front lines to- I don’t know- an army base, one that is targeted regularly but not under an immediate death threat? But that’s the reality of recovery from any addiction. It’s a constant battle and I’m not sure that anyone who has not walked through the struggle could understand. It’s not hopeless. Those of us in recovery know this. It’s not always bleak and dark. But, how can you explain that war isn’t always terrible? There are moments of joy, freedom, love, community, confidence, and hope. Even soldiers find a family away from home. They eat meals together, they find the joy of the sunshine. There is a sense of accomplishment when they go to bed at night because, hey, they lived. They lived another day. Addicts, when we lie down sober from our addictive behaviors, we feel the same. We lived. We lived another day without destroying ourselves.

As the months pass and I get farther into recovery, I start to forget I am at war. I believe that one day the war will come to an end, that true freedom comes when the my flag is planted into the ground and all my demons retreat. I kill more with each passing day. I become stronger. My enemies grow more fearful. The war has been going on for so long, but I am finally on the winning side. Some demons are even converting and beginning to fight on my behalf. Even they are tired. We all just want some peace. Peace comes sometimes now. I think you innately begin to manifest the things you desire most.

Peace comes in the form of car rides with the windows down and the music up loud. Joy is when Erik and I dance through the streets at night in the rain critiquing societal standards simply by being alive. Freedom comes during midnight custard runs or pie parties with my roommates. The brick wall that kept me from life is breaking down. I am getting more and more tastes of the other side. This is why the moments where my lungs explode and fall deeply into myself through a battle of fury and rage are bearable. I take them with stride. I welcome them in the same ways I have learned to greet rejection.

One more battle with my mind brings me one step closer to total freedom in recovery.

Recovery Diary 09/24/18

Sounds of a rushing stream trickle out of my phone, trying to trick my brain into thinking I’m not actually in my bedroom on the third floor of an apartment complex in downtown Chicago. My roommate isn’t vacuuming and my downstairs neighbors aren’t blasting shitty pop music. It’s the illusion of calm- the roaring fan blowing cold air, the phone singing of rushing water, the candles flickering offering up vanilla and toasted coconut. I trick my mind into believing I’m somewhere in the forest burning incense and sleeping under the stars while my mind tricks me into believing I am fat, unwanted, and all alone. It’s a trade-off, an unwritten contract, an agreement made some time ago that neither of us can seem to let go of. It’s a habit at this point, one that I am slowly trying to break.

It’s like trying to stop biting your nails. At first, you don’t even realize you’re doing it until your thumb is between your teeth and the top part of the nail is ripped off. Awareness is the first step. I tell this to the girls I work with all the time. We don’t want to hear that because it suggests that the process standing in front of us is far more intense than we expected. But, awareness is the first step. It was and always will be my fall back point. I find myself day-dreaming about losing weight, I light the candles. I start heading towards the scale at the gym, I listen to the stream in my headphones. I lie in bed reminiscing on depressed thoughts, I turn on the fan and allow myself to fall asleep and reset.

I trick my mind to keep my mind from tricking me. I used to believe it was a trade-off, a balanced relationship, one that would always leave me on the same level as my mental illnesses. I thought recovery was just about managing symptoms and thoughts and behaviors. Take my meds, eat my food, go to therapy, wash, rinse, and repeat.

I started to lose track of the days, but somewhere through the last couple of months I have risen above the tricks of my mind. I have found ways around them. Awareness became planning and planning became actions towards fighting back. The sounds of the stream, the candles, the fan, my art, my books, my snacks, the pool, the medication in my cabinet- these aren’t tricks anymore. These things are my safety net. They make me feel safe when my mind is a battleground. I have found weapons to quiet the cannons and gunshots. I know the secret now. Sometimes I just forget I have the tools.

Change Your Attitude by Choosing Gratitude

Written by: Megan Lawrence, contributing writer.  Follow more of her journey at HealingHopefuls.com or on her Instagram, @in.my.own.words.  

There is no such thing as recovery without gratitude, and if there was, it would be hard to maintain. While gratitude is not required to start your recovery journey, I want to ask you to just think about it for a second. Gratitude most certainly helps when it comes to accepting yourself, your circumstances, and your decision to pursue recovery in the first place. It may seem impossible at first – the whole idea of being thankful for the things that were destroying us – but when we change our mindset, we begin to see how beneficial, and quite frankly, how necessary gratitude is in recovery. Regardless of what you are recovering from, the journey will be a lot smoother if you’re able to be thankful for the journey traveled up until this point – both the good and the bad.

Gratitude Begins & Ends with a Positive Mindset!

So much of our ability to make it through this journey alive begins with the mindset we choose each day. You have two choices: seek the light or keep yourself in the dark. The latter is the easier of the two choices, but what kind of life would it be if we didn’t at least try to see the bright side of things? When we are intentional about practicing gratitude, and I mean honestly giving it a chance to change the way we look at the world, we often find out that our situation was not the only thing that was making life seem hard but our perspective, too.  We find that the way we choose to perceive our circumstances is what will heal or hurt us the most. Do not underestimate the power of your thoughts. By being grateful for the life you have been given, you will be able to make the most of what you’ve got, instead of focusing on what could be. So often we get caught up with wanting our life to be better than it is that we can’t even appreciate what is. A positive outlook reminds us to be grateful for what we DO have so that it’s a little easier to handle the bad days when they come our way.

Start a Gratitude Journal!

Is it hard for you to be actively grateful on a daily basis? Start a journal to track your progress, and monitor the days where your recovery seems a bit harder. When we start to write down our goals and hold ourselves accountable, eventually practicing gratitude will come automatically, and with much less struggle. Sometimes, just by writing down what we are grateful for, we often discover parts of ourselves that we weren’t even acknowledging before. While recovery may convince you that something is wrong with you, a gratitude journal can correct this truth by reminding you that recovery is a part of your story – that alone is something to be thankful for. You are stronger because of your journey with mental illness, and you will continue to get stronger the more you choose to put one foot in front of the other. Challenge yourself this next week! Wake up each morning and write down three things that you are grateful for. They do not have to be big, monumental parts of your life. Instead, think of meaningful reminders for yourself that recovery is worth it, and ultimately, something to get grateful for.  

This is YOUR Journey! Own it! Love it! Be Grateful because of it!

Who we are today is partly due to the person we may have disliked in the past. The rock bottoms, the moments of despair, and the feelings of inadequacy – they were all a piece of something much bigger. Your story and the person you have been thus far is NOT who you will be in the future. And who is that person? Well, that’s up to you. Instead of ruminating on the negatives in your life, try to focus on the exciting journey ahead of you that exists in recovery. Getting your life back, and taking control of who YOU want to become, and be known for, is always your choice! How awesome is that? We always have a say in who we are yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I hope after reading this you begin to see that approaching your struggles and your past with a grateful heart will ALWAYS take you further than regret or disappointment for who you have once been. That person was necessary to become the person you are today and the person you will become. This is your journey to living to the best of your abilities. Don’t get stuck in a chapter that is no longer who you are.

Keep writing your story, beautiful, and be grateful each step of the way. You are headed exactly where you are supposed to – home to yourself.  

 

Featured image by Johnathan Sautter

Kenzie’s #myunpolishedjourney Story

#myunpolishedjourney stories are stories individuals share about their journey with mental illness and recovery.  Interested in sharing?  Email us at info@unpolishedjourney.org.  

Tell us a little about yourself. 

Hi, I’m Kenzie! I’m 21 and a senior Spanish and Social Work student at Loyola University Chicago.  I’m originally from California but absolutely LOVE the Midwest. I adore penguins, dogs, coffee, and travelling. I’m a firm believer that people need other people and am aspiring to work in clinical mental health to promote hope and help.

What has your mental health journey been like?

I have struggled with mental illness for most of my life but never prioritized mental health until college. I didn’t grow up understanding mental illness and wasn’t aware of treatment or resources that were available. Untreated depression, anxiety, PTSD, disordered eating, and more had been building on each other and getting worse until the beginning of my junior year of college I was hospitalized for a suicide attempt. In my two-week hospital stay I knew I was ready to do whatever I could to prioritize myself and my health. I became super outspoken about mental health and my current mental health journey. I joined a therapy group at the wellness center on my campus and met with multiple therapists and psychiatrists until I found some that seemed to fit.

During this time, I had many different diagnoses and medication plans thrown around, and I was overwhelmed and confused. Things didn’t feel like they were getting any better, and I didn’t know what to do. Second semester of my junior year I realized I needed a higher level of care than I was getting and started an intensive outpatient program (IOP) to focus on trauma and substance abuse. I balanced IOP, individual therapy, work, volunteer and school for four months until the semester ended. School was not something I was willing to take a break from unless it was completely necessary and IOP was the most that I could do while still in school so when summer started I started a partial hospitalization program because I needed a higher level of treatment than I had been getting. I took half the summer to completely dedicate my entire days to recovery, while still maintaining freedom at night, which was exactly what I needed. I came into senior year much more grounded and rooted in my mental health than ever before.

I have a therapist I love and trust who pushes me to go deeper and grow more than ever before. I have a psychiatrist who I feel genuinely listens to me and isn’t quick to overmedicate or misdiagnose. I am part of therapy/recovery groups on my campus that help me feel belonging, while allowing me to continue to learn and use skills. I have community that supports and encourages me and my mental health journey. My mental health is still a struggle.  Most days are a lot better than before but to be honest there are still some that really suck. These are so much easier to get through with the resources I am connected with and by knowing how strong and resilient I have been and will continue to be. For so long I felt silenced, isolated, powerless, and alone because of mental illness.  Now, I try to combat those feelings not only for myself but for others too, by sharing my experiences and journey.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in pursuing recovery? 

To be completely honest, the biggest practical obstacle has been insurance/financial situations. My insurance plan cut out halfway through my planned time in PHP, which wasn’t the first time it stopped covering treatment. I say this not to scare you away from getting treatment for financial reasons but to encourage you to find the resources. I want to affirm that mental health coverage in the United States is often less than desirable but there are tons of resources our there if you search for them (or ask for help to find more). My current therapist and I have a sliding scale agreement that is totally doable for a self-supporting college student.

The biggest personal obstacle for me has been shame/honesty. I spent a long time wearing inspirational t-shirts from To Write Love on Her Arms and talking about wanting to work in mental health without being open about my own struggles. I felt ashamed not only because I was struggling with mental health but because I never felt like I was far enough in my recovery. I struggled to know how open and honest I could be with myself, my treatment team, and people in general. As someone who wants to work in mental health, it’s easy for people to say that I’m not capable if I’m not “recovered” and that makes it really easy to want to stay silent about struggles and pretend to be okay all the time.

What helps you maintain recovery?  

COMMUNITY. Recovery is choosing every day (or every hour) to heal and grow and without people supporting me it would be so easy to give up. People, especially other people in recovery, are huge part of my personal recovery because they show me that recovery is possible and important. Honesty and authenticity are also huge parts of keeping on track with recovery. Having people with whom I can be unfiltered and honest about the authentic highs and lows of life is essential.

On a more practical level I love using various creative outlets as self-care activities. Some of my current favorites are: coloring (mindful coloring books and swear word coloring pages are amazing), watercolor painting, collage making, tie dye, and dancing. I’m not very creative but I love looking up different projects on Pinterest or Tumblr that can allow me to be artistic without feeling pressured to come up with something new myself.

What advice do you have for someone in the early stages of recovery?

Be gentle with yourself.

Know there are resources.

Ask for help when you need it. Please never feel like you’re asking for too much or too often because you are deserving of recovery no matter what.

Find support systems and treatment teams that fit you. It’s always okay to switch therapists, psychiatrists, and friend groups.

Know you are someone loved and worthy even when you feel you do not deserve to be.

Staring at the Sidewalk

Written by: Morgan Blair, founder and creative director of Unpolished Journey

being human

It’s cold outside. Everyone and their brother could agree with that. It hurts to breathe, like a million needles being stuck into the pores on my cheeks. I try holding my breath, but the air sends me into a whirlwind of dizzy thoughts and upside down sensations. I take a breath in and try to deal with the needles in my cheeks and the sharpness of my throat. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I repeat this mantra over and over in my head while dreaming of my warm bed with the heater sitting on my dresser. I should have never left today. Then again, I know I did the right thing opening that door and stepping into the winter.

Left. Right. Left. Right. I have to pay attention. The slick icy sidewalks don’t help. I envision myself slipping, falling, breaking my tailbone, and being housebound for the next couple of weeks. Wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world. Although this newfound world of unemployment has given me a taste of that and it is maddening. You sit there with your own thoughts, silence, nothing but the sound of the music coming from your iPhone to keep you from losing your mind. Then, there’s the fun of it. Reading, painting, taking long restful naps. It isn’t all bad, getting to spend your days how you want.

Where am I even going? The truth is I don’t know. I just started walking. Suddenly everything felt like too much and the only relief came from the idea of stabbing needles of cold air into my face and letting the icy sidewalks concentrate my thoughts.

I wanted to take a walk.

A walk, where I could stare at the sidewalk and run, metaphorically, from all that was suffocating me inside the walls of my apartment. There are days when everything feels fresh. A new sunrise and sunset, new possibilities, new obstacles. The day feels like a game to be played, a game to be enjoyed. Then, there are days when this game becomes too challenging. You want to call it quits but whoever is manning the controllers continues going. You can’t stop. So, you put on your coat and you take a walk. A walk to nowhere. A walk to clear the space between you and the controller. To create some distance, my therapist calls it.

I don’t know if it is distance or the simple act of being human. I don’t think it is unusual to have moments of overwhelm. I don’t think that my diagnosis determines my humanity. I can, in fact, find commonality in my behaviors alongside those I know who aren’t a little unbalanced in their heads.

It’s called living.

Left. Right. Left. Right. And, I continue down the sidewalk.

The Crack in the Crystal Ball

 Written by: Gracie Mayer, contributing writer

We will never fully understand the world by trying to look into the future and predict where our paths will take us.  We usually only understand our experiences when we reflect back on where we have been and what we have learned.

Because we spend every day with ourselves, we fail to see how much progress we make on a daily basis.  Progress and growth are often so uncomfortable and painful, yet we don’t take time to stop and appreciate the process that is happening and give ourselves recognition for all we have walked through.  My birthday is at the end of November, which is also very close to the New Year.  So each time I add another year to my life, I make an effort to reflect on the calendar year that has passed.

Looking over the last year of my life is one my favorite self-reflection activities.  And yet sometimes I can feel paralyzed when I reflect on the unexpected detours my journey has taken.  I am reminded of how the unknown used to leave me so shaken that I would return to negative patterns of behavior that I knew would ultimately lead back to treatment – a predictable and safe conclusion.  However, the more I stepped into recovery, the more I realized that the universe does not curse or bless.  The universe does not dole out good and bad.  The universe only provides neutral experiences.  It is in the way in which these experiences impact our lives for better or worse that is in our conscious control.  A broken heart can render us incapable of leaving the house.  It can color our views of the world so much so that we refuse to trust those around us.  It can drive us to put up guards, locks, and walls around our hearts to make sure that nothing and no one will ever harm us again.  And little do we know that these guards keep the hurt out, but along with the hurt, these walls also keep out any potential good as well.  A broken heart can also drive us to create a masterpiece.  A broken heart can inspire us to chase a dream that has long eluded us because we realize the fleeting nature of our existence.  A broken heart can help us re-evaluate the kind of life/partner/career/family we want which instills a new sense of self-worth and a refusal to settle for any relationship, situation or activity that makes us feel “less than” or “not enough.”

Sometimes I see pictures of my younger self, and I sit in wonder.  This 6, 9, or 12 year old Gracie had no idea the turns her life would take.  Did she know that the college experience that she dreamed of — advancing with ease throughout all four years, meeting the love of her life and friends that would last a lifetime – would change into a series of residential treatment centers, struggles to go back to school, and ultimately attending a small college nothing like any that she had dreamed of?  Did she know she would fall in love like the magic she dreamed of only to have it crumble and leave her questioning what she could have done differently to keep it?  Did she know she would also have the chance to go to Africa, Europe, and South America?  Did she know she would fight back for her life and become strong enough to run two marathons?  Did she know she would meet people that would change her life forever and that she does have friendships that will last a lifetime?  Did she know that the turns in her life would grace her with empathy, resilience, fortitude and courage she never understood a fraction of before?

I no longer fear the unknown like I used to.  Of course there are still days where my stomach turns with anxiety, longing for a crystal ball that will assure me everything will be okay.  But more and more I have learned that the crack in the crystal ball – the unexpected event, or the unexpected gift that comes from the sometimes devastating turn of events – is really the most exciting and inspiring part of the journey.  Now I embrace change, and I even chase it.  I make a concerted effort to step into the unknown.  In the last year I decided to start the journey of yoga teacher training and became a certified yoga teacher, meeting friends and finding a community that brought such healing to pieces of me that I hadn’t realized needed it.  I graduated with my master’s in Social Work and was able to have the gift of working as an individual therapist, returning the gifts of a listening ear, understanding friend and unconditional support that were given to me at my hour of need.  I packed up my life and decided to move to a new state, start two new jobs and throw myself into a completely new climate and community.  I embraced change, leaned into it and actually chose it.  I chose growth.  I chose to trust the crack in the Crystal Ball because honestly it has been the most beautiful and transformative influence in my life.

I cannot wait for the future and yet I am constantly in awe by the beauty of the present.  I am so excited to see where this journey will lead me in the next year of my life.  I cannot wait to look back at pictures of my 20, 21, and 24 year old Gracie and think…she had no idea of the beauty that was to befall her life.

Brave Enough

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

Just yesterday my friend sent me a message with a quote: “I realized that if I was brave enough to feel my pain, then I was brave enough to do something with my pain–this was the moment I became a badass”.

My reasons for recovery have fluctuated so much over the years.  I have tried to rush recovery to go back to school. I have tried to recover for my friends and family. I have tried to recover because I was embarrassed or ashamed that I was still struggling.  I know that my reasons for remaining in recovery will constantly change.  I will set new goals and intentions and enter new phases in my life where my responsibilities and my life center around other things.  But now, my reasons for recovery are very clear–I fight for recovery because I realized that if I was brave enough to feel my pain, then I was brave enough to do something with my pain.  My eating disorder used to bring me so much shame that I would hide it at all costs.  I was always very reluctant to reveal my struggle for fear of judgment or being labeled as “the crazy one.”  I was afraid people would see my mental illness as a choice or as something I could snap out of if I would just eat a damn sandwich.  I was afraid people would become hyperaware of my weight gains and losses.  I was afraid people would automatically dissect and judge everything I ate or didn’t eat.  And even more so, I was afraid to admit my struggle as I slowly began to step into recovery and embrace a full and healthy woman’s body.

As I stepped into recovery I didn’t want to reveal my struggles because I didn’t feel strong enough to deal with the… “but you don’t look like you have an eating disorder,” “well it looks like you’re doing better,” and “yeah, I mean sometimes I think I have an eating disorder too.”  I didn’t know how to express the severity of what it is like to wake up every morning with the goal of destroying yourself.  I didn’t know how to let people know just how panicked I felt when a friend asked if I just wanted to go out to lunch or grab a quick bite.  I didn’t know how to relay the feeling of being completely isolated at family events, celebrations, and parties because I was consumed with a battle of calorie counting, self-loathing and disgust at my choices.  I didn’t know how to explain the feeling of wanting to crawl out of your skin, of entering a recovery center and allowing a team of professionals to control your body weight, shape, size and food.  I didn’t know how to explain that every time I tried to push myself to recover a fear came over me that told me I would be safer in a smaller body and that controlling my food and my body was a way of showing myself that I was in control of anything bad that could happen to me.

I didn’t know how to just tell someone these things, and I wasn’t sure that everyone had earned the right to hear it.  But just recently I have been pushing myself to embrace the pieces of my identity that I had tried to hide for so long. I have felt that it is even harder to reveal my struggle when I do not currently fit the narrow-minded view of what society thinks a person with an eating disorder looks like.  But the fact is, this is exactly why I need to speak out.  It is important for people to realize that eating disorders do not look like anything.  Just because a person eats does not mean that they don’t or haven’t struggled with an eating disorder.  You never fully know a person’s story until they tell you.

I remember when I first got diagnosed, I was having a conversation with my mom where I said, “maybe my eating disorder isn’t even for me, maybe this illness is giving me the skills, strength and experience so that one day I can help someone else–maybe it’s not even for me.”  Well I now know that part of it was for me.  I have learned so much and grown so much as a person.  At the same time I have seen my eating disorder work in mysterious ways allowing me to connect, empathize and truly lift others up through a shared understanding.  I can understand what it is like to not want your own life.  I can understand how dark some days can get and leaving this earth truly seems like the best option.  I can understand the pain of feeling like you have failed and let everyone down.  I can also feel the joy of coming through on the other side.  I can share the truth that life is abundant and always working for us, not against us.  I realized that my pain was greater than me.  I realized that my pain was made to heal–to heal myself and to heal others.  I realized that pain is a common denominator, something that every human will feel.  I also realized that as much as our pain connects us, our pain is also transformative and capable of bringing the most sincere joy and love of life.  I know that if I am brave enough to feel my pain, I am brave enough to do something with it.  I recover because I have walked through fire and proved that it is possible to be still standing.  If I was brave enough to look my eating disorder in the face and tell it politely to “fuck off”, then I am brave enough to share my story for the possibility that it might help someone else.

Help someone realize they are worthy.

Help someone realize that it’s okay to struggle.

Help someone realize it’s okay to not always have it together and not always smile.

Help someone realize that they deserve to take up space and celebrate the space they have been given.

Help someone else realize that if they are brave enough to feel their pain, then they are brave enough to do something with it.        

Reasons to Recover

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

Mental illness blinds us. It sticks us in a tunnel that appears to have no end. All darkness. All hopelessness. This tunnel that we are trapped in is small and dingy and only has enough room for ourselves. We become completely consumed by our own internal suffering that we are unable to notice anything happening around us. We become shut off to the concept that others might be struggling to, that we may be able to help if not so trapped within ourselves. We become blinded to any goodness, any light, any hope that may be surrounding us because we are trapped in that dark, hopeless tunnel with no belief in our ability to crawl out. Our world becomes only as big as the tunnel – narrow, small, dark, and completely isolated from the rest of the world.

This tunnel analogy rings true for me when I fall back into my eating disorder. Except, not only does my eating disorder’s tunnel appear small and dark, but it also comes with spiders and chains and an unrelenting obsession with myself. What did I eat today? What am I going to eat today? What do I look like? How much do I weigh? How many miles did I run? When can I binge next? Within the chains of my eating disorder, locked in that tunnel, there is no one else that matters except for myself, my food, and my weight.

When I am trapped in my depression tunnel, I become consumed with myself as well, with my focus more on my own suffering than food or my weight. I ruminate on past memories and reasons why I deserve to be so miserable. I am unable to fixate on why I am on this earth, and I replay in my head why I am undeserving of this thing called life. Depression is cruel. Depression is the monster in the tunnel that locked me up in the eating disorder’s chains and released the disorder’s spiders across my entire body. Depression in the mother of all things miserable and the captain of a self-consumed darkness that shuts everyone else out.

With all that being said, I have come up with my top three reasons to recover from these terrible diseases.  As I describe them, they are in no way ranked in order of importance. These three reasons are equally significant to my soul’s desire to recover.

  1. My first reason to recover is to be able to Experience Life. To get out of that damn tunnel. To pull myself out of that self-consumed misery so that I may be able to truly see the goodness surrounding me. I want to be able to have relationships, have passions, experience the world around me. I want to be able to smell the flowers, climb the mountains, bask in the sun. I want to dive below the ocean’s surface and fly high into the clouds. I want to truly live.

  1. My second reason to recover is to Help Others. When I am trapped in my mental illnesses, I don’t have the mental capacity for anyone else. I don’t even care enough about myself to begin to care about others. This is the exact opposite of who I was created to be. I know that we are here on earth to be able to reach out and touch the lives of others. Also, when you are able to help others, you begin to feel more confident in yourself because you feel like you matter, that you are significant, that you are needed. It is no wonder why mental illnesses want to keep us trapped in a tunnel because if we are isolated from the world then we don’t even have the opportunity to connect or inspire others. Therefore, we don’t feel like our presence even matters in this world.

  1. My third reason to recover is to Reconnect with my Passions.  I am an artist. I am a painter, a writer, a dancer, a performer, a speaker, a lover of all things creative. I watch movies for hours, analyzing the director’s and editor’s filming techniques. I critique art in museums. I read for hours without even noticing any time passing by. I am a passionate person. That’s who I created to be, but when I am in my eating disorder or chained down by my depression, all I care about is my internal suffering. I don’t have any energy left to be excited about art or creating. I don’t have any life inside my veins and therefore there is nothing left to overflow into my art. Therefore, I am not fulfilling my purpose and will, leaving me unsatisfied with my existence.

Mental illness loves to tear us away from our reasons to recover. It loves to blind us, trap us in those tunnels, and leave us in the dark. Its goal is to pull us as far away from our purpose’s so that we are unable to believe we even have one. It is important when seeking out a life in recovery to make a list of your own reasons for embarking on this journey. Pin them up on your wall, tap them to your mirror, stick them on your fridge, write them on your arm. Whatever you have to do to remind yourself constantly throughout the day that you WANT and DESERVE recovery.  You aren’t meant to live a life stuck in a dark tunnel.

Close Your Eyes and Open Your Soul

Written by: Gracie, Facebook manager and contributing writer at Unpolished Journey

I wish I could blindfold the world.  I wish for just one day, I could speak to your soul and not your concealer.  I want to see your spirit, not your eyebrow pencil.  I want to connect with the light inside you not the lip color painted on your mouth.

I promise I am not going to write an anti-makeup essay disguised as a spirituality blog post.  I simply want to use makeup as just one example of the many ways I often escape my spiritual journey.  It’s not the makeup’s fault, though.  It’s not the fault of the fashion or the new outfit.  It’s not the fault of the six pack or the thigh gap.  The fault is in the entire focus on the body as a show piece instead of a suitcase.  I see the body as a suitcase for the soul.  The body is a vessel not vouge.

I have been struggling a lot lately with how my body looks in recovery.  These recent few years in recovery have been the longest I have existed in an adult woman’s body and let me tell you, it does not feel like I have arrived.  I do not wake up and feel flawless regardless of how many times I blast Beyonce as my alarm.  I do not look for every chance I can to rock my bikini and I still find myself flipping through filter after filter to fix my figure and my self-esteem.  I have been feeling this lack of body confidence more and more recently and I began to feel that my worries, fears, and criticisms were drowning out any strength and wisdom that might come from my soul.

After a particularly hard week last week, everything came to a halt on last wednesday night.  I was at my very last class of yoga teacher training.  The 200 hour teacher training graduation took place on Wednesday night and I walked into the yoga studio of wall to wall mirrors.  I wanted to hide and I wanted to crawl out of my body at the same time and preferably both.  Our instructors informed all of the newly certified teachers to lay down our mats and settle into child’s pose.  In child’s pose, the instructors asked each student to close their eyes and feel around the top of our mats for a surprise.  I wiggled my fingers up to the top of my mat and felt a small piece of cloth that I began to realize was a thick, stretchy headband.  The instructors told us to pull the headbands down over our eyes and that they were going to lead us through an hour long, blindfolded practice.  I think I was the only one in the room who was over the moon with elation.  I gave my Higher Power a quick mental high five and praised the universe for disposing of the mirrors for at least an hour.

I was unprepared for the 60 minute journey I was about to take.

When I couldn’t see, I had to feel.

I felt my shaky legs struggle for balance.  I felt my body dance with the soft, flowing music.  I felt my fingerpads sink into my mat.  I felt my chest swell and empty with my deep inhales and exhales.

And then, I felt my spirit begin to talk to me.

I felt all of the fears that had been masquerading as dissatisfaction with my body.  I felt the fear of the unknown, the fear of failure, the fear of being alone, the fear of not being enough.  I felt the hurt of heartbreak, the hurt of being used, the hurt of taking the road less traveled, the hurt of having to ask for help.  I felt the pain my eyes had been convincing me was caused by the circumference of my thighs and the roundness of my face.

My soul tries to talk to me on a daily basis, but because I live in a physical world I often cannot hear my soul above my eyes.

When I was blindfolded I was forced to listen to my soul.  My soul reminded me that I am a light.  My soul reminded me that I am joy.  My soul reminded me that I am unique.  My soul reminded me that I am worthy and deserving.  My soul reminded me that I am an overcomer.  It is funny to me that the instructors had us begin the class in child’s pose, because I often look at pictures of my younger self and instantly see my soul.  I see that untamed, mischievous grin.  I see those genuine, unconditionally affectionate eyes.  I see what my eyes used to see – I see my soul.

Some days I wish I could untrain my eyes to see all of the things they see now.  I wish I could travel back in time to tell little Gracie to close her eyes before she starts to compare, despair and shrink.  I wish I could tell little Gracie to put on a blindfold and just TAKE UP SPACE.  Take up SO much space, because little Gracie, your soul is much too expansive to ever fit into any physical body.
Spirituality is truly my saving Grace.  Spirituality is the unconditional love that guides and gives me strength to live to my fullest potential, my fullest purpose, my most meaningful life.  My connection to my higher power and the energy of all of the souls around me is what makes my life worth living and it is therefore my reason for recovery.