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 09/16/18

When I was in Costa Rica in February, everyone gathered on the beach with drums and ribbons to dance, howl, and sing as the sun set. There was a loud roar from the entire crowd when the sun made its final descent along the horizon. When the party slowly faded and the sky turned from pink to purple, we all packed up and started filed like little ants back into our tents in the forest before it got too dark to see anything.

When I was in Thailand in June, we sat on the beach singing mantras and strumming guitars while lying on our backs in a circle. We sang louder and howled as the sky turned pink and the sun dipped away for the night. We stayed on the beach until twilight and the mosquitoes became unbearable. Then we went back to our bungalows, made curry, and danced with our host families young daughter.

Today, I was sitting on a deck in Key Largo watching the sun set over the ocean’s horizon line while listening to Tash Sultana and laughing with my best friends. We smiled and argued over whose picture captured the sky’s beauty the best- even though the pictures were nearly the same. Then we sat in rocking chairs and talked nonsense before coming inside to prepare for tomorrow’s day full of adventures.

Nighttime tends to be the most difficult for me. It is the time when urges are heightened and nightmares come to life behind my close eyelids. It is where I lie in the dark afraid of the hurt child inside me. It is when my stomach is bloated from a day’s food and I take another sleep aid to try and calm my racing mind- which has suddenly convinced me that I am nothing but cellulite. The dark brings the demons out in me. The shadows of the night and the demons from my past are best friends. The speak to one another underneath the black sky like old lovers- embracing and precious.

Some nights are full of tender moments. Moments that make my soul smile and my heart race. Like last night when my friend and I stayed at this man’s house in Coco beach. It was just a room that he rented out for $25 a person. He was older and single. He said he gets lonely and likes meeting interesting people. There was another guy staying in the back room. We all chatted, ate rice and beans, watched Avatar, and swam in the pool. The night was peaceful. It was free of the voices in my head. But I woke up the next day to my friend telling me I kept hitting and pushing her away in my sleep. I shrugged it off, but there was a sinking in my stomach. Even on nights where I believe the peace I always pray for has finally overtaken the demons, I am reminded of those memories in my head.

“Nightmares…I have nightmares sometimes,” I explain, “I’m sorry.” Suddenly I am embarrassed and hurry to finish Charles’s dishes.

I don’t want people to know I still struggle.

I am still hesitant about breaking the illusion of perfection in recovery.

Two nights ago I was in the forest, dancing to Ben Howard at midnight in this room called the Glass Castle. As the music continued, the harder I danced. There was passion pouring out of fingers, anger expelling from my feet. I felt powerful. I felt so damn powerful. Then the music stopped. I noticed the sweat covering my legs and stomach. I noticed the dark. I laid down. I closed my eyes and listened as the next song began. I sang along, humming mainly because I didn’t know the words. A peace rushed over me. A sensation of gratitude and longing. Longing for time to bend and swallow me into this memory. Everything just felt right because while completely encapsulated by the music and night, it all made sense.

Recovery, like everyone always says, is not linear. There are ups and downs, twists and turns. Sometimes you go left when the map wanted you to take a right, but you get rerouted and everything turns out in the end- if only you keep moving. But, recovery is so much more than that.

Recovery is simply life.

The sunsets, the nightmares at Charles’s, the dancing in the forest, these were all moments that reminded me what it means to be human. You have these divine realizations of the beauty of each passing day, the celebration with communities about the coming night and the promise of the next sunrise. You have dark moments like the nightmares that keep you grounded. They remind me where I come from. They remind me of my strength, of my resilience, of my continued hope. Then there is the dancing and the freedom of my movements. The sweat, the heavy breathing, the music, the ground beneath my body, and the intensely black forest sky above my head- these are the moments of understanding. These are the moments when this crazy recovery journey I have been on, for a second, appears in my mind as a cohesive narrative.



Why I am Thankful for My Eating Disorder

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

In honor of NEDA Awareness Week 2018 and all those battling eating disorders.

Let’s turn the tables for a second. Take a positive outlook on the insidious diseases that eating disorders are. In AA they have a saying that eventually those who struggle get to a place where they can declare themselves a “grateful alcoholic”. Meaning, they can look back at the disease and see the strength and blessings that have come from their journey. I have been thinking a lot about this concept during this NEDA Week. How am I grateful for my battle with my eating disorder?

First off, my eating disorder has taught me about resiliency.  Not just the ability to bounce back from circumstances that have happened to me, but also from the cruel abuse of my own thoughts. My eating disorder would beat me up on a daily basis, telling me I am worthless and no good. It was a bully leading me to believe that I deserved the punishment of my eating disorder behaviors. Through my recovery, I have learned how to search inwardly for a new sense of validation. I have braved the cruelty of my own mind and rewired my thoughts to spew out compassion instead of abuse, love instead of hatred, hope instead of hopelessness.

Second, my eating disorder has brought amazing people into my life. Yes, I have been to treatment. Yes, I have been in hospitals. Yes, yes, yes. At one point in my journey I was extremely ashamed of these facts. I would hide them from people, laughing off comments about me being MIA for long stretches of time. I would fail to connect with others because how could you if you weren’t being authentic and truthful? But, I am slowly coming to the realization that these bumps in the road weren’t bumps at all, but rather detours that God took me on so that I could meet some of the most amazing people. Never have I encountered more genuine, compassionate, loving, and empathetic humans than those I met inside treatment. Those people know struggle, they know pain, they understand, and therefore they love you unconditionally. And, that is true and authentic connection.

Third, my eating disorder has taught me about patience. Like I mentioned before, I have been to treatment. At one point I thought that these treatment stays completely messed up my life, that those were months I could never get back, that I was a failure for taking this time for my healing. Now I am beginning to see the beauty in my alternative path. I didn’t graduate college on time. I have had to take two separate breaks, one my sophomore year and the other my senior. I felt like a failure. What I didn’t realize was the blessing these breaks would become. I learned patience with myself, with my journey.  My eyes were opened to the possibility of doing things differently. I didn’t have to be on a traditional route like everyone else. I was Morgan and I was on my own journey.

Fourth, my eating disorder taught me about determination. When I was engaging in behaviors, my eating disorder took over my mind and body. I would starve myself to the brink of collapse and still wouldn’t quit. I was a machine, a winner, a champion…. well, not exactly- that is just what my eating disorder told me. But, let’s be real, eating disorders take a lot of determination and commitment. After all, they are miserable so to stay in them is clearly a sign of one, addiction, and two mental dedication. Finally I came to the place in my journey where I thought to myself, “if my eating disorder can push myself to the brink of exhaustion, then why can’t I channel all that energy towards recovery?” This was a game changer. Channel that determination towards recovery and I became unstoppable. I mean people with eating disorders are extremely strong willed and intelligent, give them a goal and they are sure to get themselves to achieve it.

Fifth, my eating disorder taught me empathy. Because of my own struggle and painful journey through addiction and healing, I now have a greater understand of the pain of people around me. I feel a sense of connection to people’s stories and hangups. I feel compassion instead of irritation, love instead of impatience.  My eating disorder gave me a gift that I cannot thank it enough for placing in my hands. This gift allowed me to create Unpolished Journey and, as a result, connect with hundreds of people’s stories.

So, yes eating disorders are deadly and painful and horrible. Yes, treatment and help are necessary to find recovery. Yes, recovery is possible. Then, maybe some day in recovery you too can find reasons to be grateful for your eating disorder as well.

Here I Find Myself 

So here I find myself sitting in a coffee shop in LA, confused on how I got here. Not how, but more like when. When did I become healthy enough to travel without restriction, to eat what I want at breakfast, to go a weekend without exercise? When did this girl, this healthy, full of life, girl in the mirror, become me? 

The answer is not absolute. There wasn’t one moment, but a series of awakenings that lead to the human I have become. A series of falling flat on my face, only to get back up, and venture forward still. I am not who I thought I would be a year ago. I am better. Newer. Fresher. Stronger. 

Life teaches us about moments. Life teaches us about breath. Life teaches us that moments + breath = living. We are living whether we realize it or not. 

I find myself frequently at crossroads. Choose light or dark, left or right, soy or almond. What I choose may seem insignificant in the moment, but I know is monumental in the moments ahead. 

Who am I but a series of these awakenings? These moments where I find myself, noticing myself. It’s like meeting someone for the first time. 

“Hi, how are you? I don’t believe we’ve met before.”

The mirror tells the story of the new person I fight each day to become. 

Diving with 40 Sharks

2014 was a strangely dark year for me. Strange in the sense that it was simultaneously filled with amazing and terrible experiences. The year became a paradoxical existence that paralleled the sensation you get when riding a roller coaster. Up and down, around and around, excitement, fear, stomach dropping with each hill. 2014 began in the middle of my freshman year of college and it was the first full semester where I was attempting both recovery from an eating disorder and treatment.  10896190_787319994649619_4922777620822382493_o

In the fall of 2013, I hit a low with my eating disorder and my health reached a point where I could no longer lie to myself that the disease was not a problem. So 2014 required a lot of excavation of my mind to try and figure out why I restricted my food or used exercise as a means of punishment or whatever other behavior while also trying to juggle school. This lead to an identity crisis somewhere in July while I was interning in the fashion industry in New York. Alone in my crappy apartment in Greenwich Village, I came to the realization that the disease had overtaken my mind, my body, and essentially my entire life. Even the internship I was completing was a byproduct of my disease’s beliefs.

10931408_787320791316206_7535769775349464883_nAs you can imagine this lead to a series of events that paralleled that roller coaster analogy I used previously. I zoomed down a few huge hills and around several sharp turns before I opened my eyes and decided I wanted off the ride. I wanted my mind back and a body that was strong again and a heart that would beat to the rhythm of passion and not obligation. I wanted life.  So I went to residential treatment in August of 2014. This was my first experience with total surrender of my behaviors, schedule, possessions, etc.  I hated it.  I spent my first two weeks in that facility silent, moody, and noncompliant.  Yes, I wanted freedom but not without my disorder.  I wanted to be comfortable and free. Why didn’t anyone there understand that?

Over the next couple of months, I slowly came to understand what recovery was. I came to recognize that I couldn’t just decide I wanted off the roller coaster because the roller coaster was life. I had to learn how to ride the hills and turns with my eyes open and my arms in the air. I had to learn to relinquish my white knuckle grip across the guard rail and trust that my Higher Power would take care of the rest. It was not an easy process but one after years stolen due to my disease I was willing to try out.  What began to fall into place as I started to open my eyes, were possibilities. Living with an eating disorder was equivalent to walking through life blindfolded. When I took it off I was amazed at just how brightly colored the world was around me.

This was the time I started to reevaluate my goals, values, beliefs, and authentic interests. I was shocked to find how much of my existence was owned by the disorder.  I felt beyond grateful for Timberline Knolls for helping me to deconstruct my false sense of self because during the deconstruction I learned of my love for the outdoors, for diving, for writing, and for helping others. I switched my focus in school from fashion to art therapy. I started camping and hiking and, most notably, scuba diving, which I have written before about how this sport in particular has shaped my recovery.

10934040_787322961315989_1212227795706781982_nA few days after I left residential treatment I went diving with 40 black tip sharks without a cage. Why? Because I was thirsty for the life I had missed during the past decade. I wanted to feel that intense drop in my stomach with my eyes open and my heart pumping. I wanted to start living. I left a locked facility with my body newly healthy and nourished and went straight for the Bahamas because what better way to reinforce my recovery values than to experience them in real time? What I had been journaling about and creating in my mind the last several months played out before my eyes as shark after feeding shark swam around my body. Each grey 10931232_787323927982559_5336553686349123696_nbody represented my newfound passions, dreams, and goals.  The eating disorder had gotten me to believe that to hold those things was too scary, too unpredictable, much like a feeding shark.  But on the bottom of the ocean, I got up close and personal with the very things I was convinced would ruin me and came to find out just how magnificent they really are.  Sure, maybe feeling passionate about something is equivalent to swimming with a shark but that is the beauty of passion.  You get to welcome in the unpredictable, the risky, the hearth throbbing experiences that this life has to offer. And, that is true recovery. That is living.

I have been seeking experiences like swimming with 40 feeding sharks ever since that day in 2014. That is why I went to Cancun last March, Key West in April, and now I will be going to Belize on Friday because I am now open to the world and whatever it has to offer.