Thursday, September 15, 2016

One Year Stronger

"I am restored to wonder. I am worthy of life."

There's a pretty admirable person in my life that's asked a question of me lately that has required some deep thinking. "What does it take to heal?" We all have wounds and we've all found ways to survive and maybe even thrive, but healing is something that we don't always make time for. When you spend a year of your life in recovery and a large part of that year actually living in a medical center, dedicated time for healing seems pretty natural. However, when your life has become so neglectful, down to your basic needs not being met, the idea of becoming "healed" can often seem unfathomable. So I've realized that for me healing is a long term goal. Right now, the question I have to answer each day is "how can I nurture myself?" Because that is where I'm currently situated on this path to healing. The answer to that question could be anything from a concrete step like "I need to have a meal and then rest my body" to something more vague such as "I need to set more boundaries around how I spend my free time."

There were a lot of steps between pain and "how can I nurture myself?" For example, "what can I do, in this moment, to feel safe?" was one of the first steps. And then came "what is the next right decision?" Once I mastered how to take life minute by minute came more difficult tasks, like taking life hour by hour. It seems overwhelming to think that coping would be broken down this tediously, but humans have always had to crawl before they walked and for whatever reason we ignore that logic to take adulthood on very quickly.

The beautiful thing about life is that no two people experience it the same way. Which means that while we all have similar stories and stimulus, we can empathize with one another and hold each other's hands when we don't, we'll still never truly understand another human. This is actually a beautiful thing because it means that none of us should ever feel like we can't choose an unbeaten path or follow a criticized direction unapologetically because the billions of moments that are woven together to create the history of you are unlike anyone else's and the future doesn't have to be either.

So back to our question. What does it take to heal? I'm not there yet and that's okay. Maybe some of you are. If you aren't, find what stage you're in. Maybe go back to square one and learn how to live again.

It's been 365 days of learning what it takes to recover and what I've learned is that recovery takes an undeniable willingness to trust. Trust your team. Trust your fellow warriors. Trust that life without an eating disorder is possible. Trust the process. Recovery isn't just about eating six times a day or staying off the treadmill or handing over your laxatives. Recovery is tears. Lots of them. Recovery is night sweats and belly aches and missing your family from the other side of the country and pouting and throwing ice at a wall instead of purging and messing up and starting over. Recovery is also sunshine and Disney trips and kayaks and ice cream for the first time since who knows when and friendships and reunions and hiking and rock climbing and thank god I'm not freezing and love and puppy snuggles and the best is yet to come.

Recovering from an eating disorder is by far the most difficult thing I have ever done, but I hold on to the hope that the best is, in fact, yet to come.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Diet Culture

We live in diet culture. Like every where we look there's something telling us what we can do to look more like "her." Who the hell is her? Over the past year, I've done a lot of work to learn to love looking more like me. A happy, healthy, nourished me. And when you start loving being nourished, you start to hate diet culture and everything it does to prey on our insecurities.

A balanced lifestyle should never ask us to throw our lives out of balance which is often what a diet does. The most common type of diet restricts calories by excluding an entire food group from your diet and compensating by adding foods from a different food group to ensure that you still "feel full." Let's talk about science for a minute. Your body needs every single food group. You can google each food and learn what they all do for you, but you can't live without any single one of them. They all work together to make your body function at its best. When you exclude one of those food groups, one part of your body isn't able to be its best. For example, a common food myth is that carbs make you fat. Carbs are actually the main source of energy for the body. When you restrict carbs, you're restricting your body's energy resources. They also power your brain. So carbs don't make you fat - they make you smart and strong. Your body can't get the same energy and wits from a vegetable. 60% of your diet should actually come from carbohydrates. This doesn't meant that you have to eat pasta every single day (there are plenty of other sources of carbohydrates out there), but it does mean that restricting this food group altogether is a terrible idea!

It's called balance. The body needs everything. It needs fruits and vegetables just as badly as its needs fats and proteins. We should consume every food group, every day. And we should love our bodies regardless of what the media is telling us is beautiful. I've been overweight and I've been underweight and I've been a healthy weight. I can tell you that the first time I really began to nourish my body, I went to my therapist and said "if this is what being nourished feels like, then I've been starving for years." And I've met plenty of people who have had this same experience. Skinny isn't an indicator of health. And number on a scale is just that, a number. If you're nourishing your body appropriately, your body will respond and find its healthiest range. You'll feel good. And you won't be hungry.

If you have questions or need help or feel overwhelmed by nutrition, I encourage you to reach out to a dietitian. They don't just help people with eating disorders (: It's much safer than dieting. I don't know what I'd do without mine. She reminds me weekly that nourishment is vital to my well being and helps keep me on track with what an appropriate meal plan looks like for my body because every single body is different.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Accepting Normal

"I hated my body when I was overweight, I hated my body when I was underweight, and I hate my body now." I've said this more than once this week and it's something that should be okay to talk about.

I began losing weight because I thought there was something wrong with the way I looked. I thought there was something wrong with me. The size I was wasn't desirable. I didn't like the way certain clothing looked on me. You could forget feeling comfortable in a bathing suit. When I lost weight, not only did things begin to fit better, but the world fit me better. My new body got a lot of attention. Nothing really changed about me, but my life changed a lot. My habits were far from healthy before anyone ever noticed that I had lost too much weight. And even at my lowest weight, I felt much more acceptance and praise than I'd ever felt in my life. I was also the most inauthentic I'd ever been. Maintaining a life and an eating disorder at the same time is exhausting and nearly impossible. As much as I felt like I "fit in," I still wasn't happy.

Now at a normal weight, accepting that this is my normal is really hard. Knowing that this is what my nourished body looks like, this is where my body feels good, well, that's hard to accept. My dietitian can tell me every single day that I'm in a healthy weight range, my friends can tell me I look great, I can tell myself I'm thankful for how well my body is functioning and none of it makes it easier to accept the fact that my body is larger than it was a few months ago and it needs to be that way. However, what I'm working on learning is that skinny doesn't equal fulfilled. No matter what the number on the scale reads, there's still a soul inside of this body that I have to learn to love and care for. No amount of diet pills can slim down your character.

This road is long and this journey has been quite the fight. They tell you that body image is the last thing to go. And I certainly hope that one day I'll be able to live in this body without hatred or disgust. But for just this week, I'm resolving to be thankful for making it this far and for all of the supports that have helped carry me when I thought I couldn't go any further. It's been a really hard week. Sometimes I think it's okay to be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to take a break and just breathe. That's my week - breathing and being thankful.

"These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb." -Najwa Zebian

Thursday, June 30, 2016

30 Days to Celebrate

Today is a very special day for me. I have worked tirelessly, relentlessly, and fearlessly for 10 months now. I have had the support of specialists, family, friends, and coworkers. I have attended session after session, group after group, and meal after meal. Bite by bite, sometimes with poise and grace, sometimes kicking and screaming. There have been good days and bad days and really really bad days and sad days and days that I just didn't feel like it. There have been road blocks and migraines and last minute changes in plans. And somehow here we are. 180 eating opportunities. 180 times to face the same fear. 30 days and not one single missed meal. Not one laxative. Not one purge. Not one trip to the gym. 30 days of life. One month of recovery.

I really value authenticity and it would be very inauthentic of me to tell you that this milestone didn't come without plenty of struggles. There were days were I was certain I wasn't going to be able to fit one more thing in my body. There were days when my appearance and body image screamed at me all day long, reminding me of every insecurity. And every now and the  there were also somewhat normal days where I just ate as didn't think anything of it. Those are the best days!

My biggest fear right now is that I've met my goal. I've made it to 30 days. It was a struggle. It was exhausting. So now what? I have to find a way to keep myself from flipping. I have to remind myself that despite my craving to manipulate my body, being nourished feels really great! I have to set a new, realistic, attainable goal. Something that feels like it will be worth celebrating, but still something worth working day at a time.

"One thing we know for certain is that chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort." -Kelly McGonigal

Recovery means a life worth living. And that's something worth chasing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Beautiful People

Beautiful People,

I'll admit, you caught my eye. I stared once and envied your perfectly white smile that was the force of attraction for the world around you. You've found a way to impress this world and fool them into thinking that you have a life worth wanting and, man, do they want it. I can't see your teenage years, but based on your poppy colored blush placed perfectly on your always lifted cheekbones, I would say you were a 10 out of 10 - the boys wanted you, the girls wanted to be you, and your parents definitely loved you. Thank you, beautiful people, for existing. In 10 years, you'll have stories to tell that will become the premise of a rap song or something and you'll probably end up in a low-key famous commercial starring my favorite comedian, but the jokes won't be about you because beauty protects you from the punch lines.

But the punch lines are more like puns and if we back up the story a little that rap song probably wasn't actually about you because the facade of a life you've lived couldn't be captured in a lyric because you were never authentic with anyone. Your teenage years really weren't that great, but you only cried yourself to sleep because it was important to make sure no one knew about the things you hated about yourself. And this attraction that the world has to you just leaves you feeling lonely because no one takes the time to get to know someone that's as stigmatized as you are... Marred by something you didn't choose.

So when you catch my eye, perhaps I can look past my own insecurity and lay down the shield I've created to keep inferiority away and for just a moment ask you to be something other than beautiful. If you were offered an alternative identity, what would you choose? If the people who judged you by your looks could peer into your soul, what would they see? Perhaps beauty isn't actually what you want to be defined by.

When I take a step back I realize that all of these beautiful people have insecurity just like me. The probability that their lives are awesome all the time is low and the probability that they've been through some painful things is high. Judgments based on looks are like trying to describe a book you haven't read so either start reading or stop judging. There is beauty in all of us and our flawed society only allows us to see it in others. But trust me when I say, someone has wished for your life too. "The beautiful people" ... That social class doesn't exist. There are many beautiful people in this world and you are one of them. Read it again, YOU ARE ONE OF THEM.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Solo Hike

Yesterday was my first, dietitian approved, solo hike.  I can't explain how hard I worked, relentlessly asking and always being told "not this week."  It's discouraging to put in work, week after week, and to always be told no to the things that are important to you.  I knew I wasn't ready the many many times I was asking before.  I wasn't even sure I was ready this time.  I tried it once without permission.  It went terribly wrong.  I picked a 6 mile out and back that was completely up hill on the out and completely downhill on the back (if any of you are familiar with Looking Glass Rock, you'll know what I mean).  I practically ran the downhill.  Only stopped once on the up.  I completed the hike in 2.5 hours and I felt incredibly accomplished.  That is, my eating disorder felt accomplished.  Meaning, Leah had failed.  Miserably.  

This time was much different.  I planned my day.  I chose a gentle, 3 mile hike.  I set an intention to walk slower than I thought was necessary because even if it was okay to keep a quick pace that didn't mean I had to.  I chose to notice things along the way and really take in my surroundings.  I stopped a lot along the way to view different parts of the river, little mini falls.  There was one small climb at the end which I took slowly and never got short of breath.  And then I was rewarded with the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.  It was definitely something from a fairy tale.  And I knew that the universe was saying "well done."  

Then there was a choice to be made.  There was an extension.  An exciting adventure extension that definitely was not an approved level of movement.  It was a rock climb straight up to the top of this beautiful fall.  It included ropes and ladders and all sorts of cool things that make my little kid self get overly excited.  I was more than tempted.  I stared at it for a long time.  A very long time.  I can't explain how much it hurt this large part of me that is consumed so much by an eating disorder that it has just become the eating disorder to say "no, you can do that another day.  This isn't the last time you'll ever go on a hike.  We're going home."  I felt sad, initially, walking away from this awesome adventure.  But the more distance I created, the more I began to take pride in my self-control.  I have a really good friend that I call for help in situations like this.  I don't have cell service in the woods, so I just asked myself what she would say.  COSA would have kept reminding me that, because I'm nourishing my body and caring for myself, I'm more certain that tomorrow is a day I'll be gifted with, as is next week and next month.  I'll have plenty of time to take plenty of adventures.  And it would probably be more fun to share that adventure with someone that I care about.  Today, I'm caring for my body.  That means picnics at waterfalls and gentle hikes with my dog.  But my adventure wasn't any less of an adventure just because I chose to stick to the guidelines I was given.  That made me strong and brave.  I imagined COSA then making a few funny jokes or some puns because she's the greatest for those and then she would have changed the topic because she would want me to get out of my head.  So, that's exactly what I did.

When you're faced with a choice that you have to make all by yourself and no one is around to know whether or not you made the right decision - that's probably the hardest time to do the right thing.  Walking away from something you really want that you know is wrong for you and you know that no one would know about takes a lot of courage.  I can stand on the other side of this experience and say that mustering up the courage is really freaking worth it.  The feeling you get later when you get to share with your friends and family that you stuck to your values and you did the right thing, it's lovely.  The feeling you have in your soul that you know you overcame your own demons and you were in control for a day, that's priceless.

I'm really proud of how well yesterday went.  I'm grateful to all of the supports who've helped me get to this point in my recovery.  I'm looking forward to more mindful woodland adventures.  I know that I won't be perfect every time and that there's always room for improvement, but taking each day, one at a time keeps me focused on being able to conquer that challenge.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

When Self-Love Whispers

I was making my breakfast this morning when I caught a glimpse of my legs. The reflection on the refrigerator door made me stop. I turned a couple different directions, checking them out and then I did something that I struggle to do. Something that almost never happens for me. I said "daaaaamn girl!" My legs aren't bony anymore. I no longer have the thigh gap. They're pale like the rest of me. Bruised from my many outdoor adventures. But man, am I in love with them today. I might not like them tomorrow. I don't even remember my feelings towards them yesterday. But today my confidence whispered to me and I can't explain the feeling.

I've been waiting for this day. I've been told it happens but I never really believed it. It's the day that I don't hate everything about myself. The day that I can love a small part of me without starving me. It's here...and that means recovery is possible. That means hope.

So I have some thoughts around all of this that I really just wanted to share with the world...

First, there's no guidebook to life. We've all heard that but I'm finding more and more each day that my process is a strange one and hardly ever makes sense, until it actually makes sense. Figuring out who you are, how you want to be, how to love yourself, or how you want to live, well, there's really no way TO figure it out. I've realized that making the best decisions in the moment has carried me to the best places in life. Sometimes the best decision is to plan. Sometimes the best decision is to let life lead me along. It's okay to not have answers and it's even more okay for all of that to be scary and overwhelming.

Second, even though there's no guidebook, there are survival kits. There's no map of life, but there certainly are tools that will help you survive. Find what soothes your soul. Find what helps you hang in there when you feel like you're at the end of your rope. For me, I need tons of support people, therapy, nature, something to keep my hands busy, and reminders to breathe. My survival kit has changed through the years. I've tossed out the things I don't need anymore and picked up more effective tools along the way. Build your kit and build it well.

Finally, when you reach a peak, celebrate! You'll have lots of mountains to climb and loads of valleys to explore. In those periods of life, you'll learn about yourself. You'll be put to the test and you'll have to learn how to adapt to the situation. But when you finally make it to the top, or even just to a nice viewing point, stop to take a picture. Spend a little bit of time celebrating not only the achievement, but the journey. On a day like today, when your self-love whispers, don't just celebrate the moment, but celebrate all of the hard work that brought you to that moment.

So here's my moment: today, I love my legs. And I'm so proud.