Don’t Tell Me I’m Beautiful

The mind can be a dark, desolate place.

When I was in the thick of my anorexia, the last thing that I wanted to hear from anyone was, “You’re so beautiful.” I didn’t want to hear, “You were fearfully and wonderfully made.” Or, “You’re a masterpiece in the making.” “You’re a work of art.” “You’re beautiful.”

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Gag me. It would literally make me want to throw things. Shut the hell up. No. I’m. Not. Hearing those things would actually fill me with rage and I would get physically angry.

Don’t tell me I’m beautiful. Can’t you see how hideous I truly am on the inside? Don’t you see how much I am suffering right now? I don’t want to you tell me I’m beautiful. I don’t want you to lie to me. Don’t try and *cheer me up.* I’m a f#ck up. I’m not worth it. I’m not worth your breath. I’m not worth saving. 

Sometimes we just want to hurt.

Sometimes we just want to feel the brokenness in its entirety.

Sometimes we think hurting is what we deserve.

Sometimes we think pain is what we’re worth.

We hit rock bottom.

Just when we thought that we had gotten as down and as low as we could possibly get, the bottom drops out and we fall even farther. That rock bottom.

Rock bottom is a dangerous place. Because it’s like quick sand: it can engulf you if you let it.

At rock bottom, I’ll tell you what, there was nothing that provoked more venom in my soul than when someone, trying to comfort me, would say “You’re beautiful.”

Don’t f#cking tell me that.

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I was at rock bottom. I didn’t want to hear that. I was broken. I was in a dark place. And hearing my loved one try to reach me and support me by telling my that “I was beautiful,” just made me recoil. It made me curl into myself even more – pushing them farther away.

I wanted them to see me for who I really was — or rather, who I thought I was. Who ED was telling me I was. — I wanted them to tell me that I was worthless. I wanted them to tell me that I was causing them pain and sadness. I wanted them to tell me that I was a horrible person and that I was a burden to everyone in my life.

I wanted them to confirm the Lies that ED was filling my head with. I was drowning in ED’s constant harassing, making me believe I was worthless, a burden, not good enough. That’s the thing about rock bottom: the longer you stay there, the more you believe the Lies that ED is feeding you. So, the last thing I wanted was for someone to tell me that I was beautiful, or “wonderfully made.” No. Just let me be the piece of s#!t I truly am. Leave me alone with ED. I’m in hell and I deserve to stay there.

The darkness is real. Anorexia is not about weight loss or trying to look “hot” for shorts season. No. It’s a battle for control of your mind between the darkness and the light: between ED and the Truth.

Two things.

First, I want to validate your feelings. If you’re reading this, and you’re having or have had similar feelings, you can probably relate to the darkness. And if you’re feeling these things, I want you to hear me when I say: I know that your feelings are real. I know it’s not a cry for attention. I know you’re not being a “drama queen.” No. I want you to know that your feelings, whatever they are, are real. They are real to you, and I’m not telling you to “Snap out of it.” I’m not going to tell you to just “Cheer up, Buttercup!” No, because these feelings are not just “in your head.” They are real and they are all consuming. And your feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness seem insurmountable. They feel overwhelming: that you will never be able to overcome this. You feel that you’ll never be able to get out of the pit of hell in which you find yourself. You feel trapped and alone. That there’s no way out.

You don’t have to stay there.

That’s the second thing. That’s what I want you to hear.

You don’t have to stay at rock bottom.

Rock bottom is not “it for you.” It’s not your destiny. Rock bottom is not where you “deserve” to be.

There’s an incredibly cheesy quote that goes, “When you hit rock bottom, look up.” And I cringe to even put that on here, but it is absolutely, 100%, right on the money.

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When you’re at rock bottom — I mean, true rock bottom — you literally have nothing left. Positively nothing. I had destroyed my friendships, betrayed my loved ones, lost my boyfriend, had to drop out of college, gave up an acting career and a sports career, my hair had fallen out, my body was barely sustaining life, I had lost every passion in life, was distant from God, annihilating my body with starvation and excessive exercise. I was emotionless: numb. Empty. I had nothing left.

So I looked up.

And I hesitate to say that I looked up, because the truth is that I didn’t actually do anything — it was God working in me: I just allowed Him to work on my heart.

But, in an effort to continue the exasperatingly cheesy metaphor, I will suffice it to say that “I looked up.”

I made the decision to let Him work on my heart. I made the decision to accept His love and His forgiveness. I made the decision that rock bottom was not “it for me.” And you can too.

You don’t have to stay at rock bottom. You can get out. And you don’t have to do it alone.

Jesus will help you get out of rock bottom. Philippians 4:13 says:

I can do all things with Christ, who gives me strength.

You don’t have to do it alone. You don’t have to find a way out of rock bottom by yourself. Because I know, it seems impossible. How do I even start? Where do I go? Jesus will help you. Just let Him come into your heart and love you. For when you allow Him to love you, things begin to change.

Desperation. Despair. Agony. Misery. Torment. Hopelessness. Anxiety. Distress. Jesus has seen it all. He’s been through it all. And He’s not afraid of it. He’s not afraid of you.

This has become my motto, and I want to share it. I just ask Jesus, in the very moment of struggle, to be strong for me.

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It’s not an overnight process. It’s not going to be — BOOM — I CAN SEE! But, slowly and steadily He will work on your heart. He will help you learn to love yourself. He’ll help you to do the next right thing. He’ll help begin to ease the anxieties around food and body image. He’ll begin to raise you up from rock bottom and restore your mind, body, and spirit.

And if you let Him, He will help you to know your true value and your true dignity. Until one day, He will tell you, “You’re beautiful,” and you’ll believe it.

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Taking Off the Mask (Part 2): Broken & Free

Continuing our discussion on masks, for me, the reason I would wear the mask of “I’m fine” was because I was afraid to show my brokenness. I was afraid to show anyone my insecurities, my fears, my doubts. I was afraid to show anyone that I wasn’t perfect. So I wore a mask.

ED is a master manipulator. His number one priority is ruthlessly guarding the eating disorder. He wants to keep you entrenched in your anorexia and control your mind, body, and soul. So when ED gets the inkling that you’re contemplating taking off your mask, breaking down the barriers and opening yourself to receiving love, it’s like a giant alarm goes off. Sirens start blaring and ED goes into “lock down” mode and will do absolutely everything in his power to make you doubt yourself – to make you feel undeserving of taking off the mask. He’ll make the Lie seem insurmountable.

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And this is where ED truly becomes devious.

“I’m too broken.”

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How many times have we thought that? “I’m too messed up. Too far gone. Hopeless. What I’ve done is beyond the point of forgiveness. I’m too dirty. If people were to see the real me, they’d hate me and never forgive me. I’m too broken.”

Sweet girl, you can just take all those lies and chuck them out the window. They are lies from the pit of hell being told to you by ED, who is trying to protect the eating disorder with everything he’s got. Remember: ED wants to kill you. That’s not an exaggeration. Literally. ED wants to steal, kill, and destroy your body, mind, soul and spirit, and will not give up until he does. So he feeds you those lies.

And he’s good. He’s really good at making me believe those things. He’s really keen and cunning, making me think, “You know what? I am a really horrible person. My past is unforgivable. I’m never going to be able to get out of this despair, so why even try? Why even take off the mask and let someone in? My life is in the gutter, and I deserve to stay there.”

I know a lot of you are probably feeling stuck in that place. I know I was stuck there for a long, long time: Not feeling like I deserved forgiveness. Feeling too dirty and guilty to be loved.

Here’s what helped me:

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There’s a story in the Bible of the woman caught in adultery. And I know, I know…I’m going there. I dropped the “B-Word.” But just hear me out.

Many people believe this woman was Mary Magdalene, but it never actually identifies the woman’s identity. And I kind of like that, because it allows me to see myself as this woman.

Anyway, in John:8, a woman gets caught in the act of adultery. The penalty for this crime was being stoned to death. Let me say that again: they would throw rocks at her until she died. This woman had been caught in some random man’s bed. She was guilty. Dirty. A prostitute. She was, in every sense of the word, broken.

But then Jesus comes on the scene. Here is this woman at court, in front of the men who will stone her to death, and He says, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” And with that, they all turned around and left. Then Jesus was left alone with the woman.

So Jesus picked up the woman from the ground and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” The Jesus replied, “Then, neither do I condemn you. Go now, and leave your life of sin.”

This is such a comforting image, of Jesus, stooping down to pick up the broken, guilty woman.

But to really understand this passage, we have to know what “condemn” truly means. I never really understood its meaning growing up, and it wasn’t until I learned the definition that this story really spoke to me.

Condemn means: to express an unfavorable judgement on; indicate strong disapproval of; to pronounce to be guilty; sentence to punishment; to declare incurable.

To declare incurable.

How many times have you or I thought that our eating disorder is simply incurable. That my past makes me incurable. Hopeless. A lost cause. That I will never be able to overcome this despair?

I see myself so much in this woman. Here I was, broken. I was a shell of a person: dirty, outcast, guilty. I was 78 pounds, and just entrenched in my anorexia. I was lying to everyone I loved. I was killing my body. I was so self-centered that I was driving God out of the picture. I was prideful, vain, deceitful. I was harboring absolute hatred for myself – I hated the creation of God: me. I was the picture of brokenness. I was dirty. I did not deserve to even touch the sandals of the Lord. I felt unworthy to even come before God in prayer. I couldn’t look Him in the face. I was too broken.

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“I do not condemn you.”

That’s what Jesus said to this woman who was just as broken and dirty as I was. She was caught in adultery. A prostitute. She was guilty. Unclean. Just like me.

“I do not condemn you.”

I do not declare you incurableI don’t judge you as guilty. I don’t sentence you to punishment.

Jesus responded to this woman with love. He picked her up off the ground, saved her life, affirmed her, and set her free from her past. He didn’t say, “I’m not going to judge you right now, but just don’t come back, ‘cuz tomorrow it’ll be a different story.” It wasn’t, “Oh, you’re catching me on a good day…I’ll give you a free pass..today.” No, it was, “I don’t condemn you.Period.

And then, here’s the kicker: He said: “Go, and leave your life of sin.”

It was not, “I’m not condemning you right now, but you’re going to have to carry your past around with you as a burden for ever. You’re going to have this terrible shadow follow you around from now on.” No. He set her free.Go, and leave your life of sin.” He picked her up from the dust. ‘Leave the past in the past — leave it in the dust, and be free.’

There is nothing that is too dirty for Jesus. There is nothing in your past that would have made Jesus go, “Ohhh, she’s guilty of that?…Stone away!” Nope. Nothing. And you know why?

The Cross.

Why did Jesus not condemn this woman? I found myself asking that. Why not? She was guilty. Why was she the exception to the law? Surely, I wouldn’t have been so lucky. Jesus wouldn’t have saved me if he saw me down on the ground. Mary Magdalene must have been really pretty, or something.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

And it boils down to this last thing: The Cross.

The Cross stands for two things: Love and Condemnation.

You’re scratching your head. “Love, I get. But condemnation?” But just stay with me for 2 more minutes, I promise this comes full circle.

1) LOVE : The Cross is Love. The love that Jesus would die on a cross for you. For me. So that we could get to Heaven and live forever with Him in eternity.

But why? We hear that all the time. Why? How exactly? Why’d He have to die? I get that it’s a grand gesture, but why? And it has to do with this last thing:

2) CONDEMNATION :

John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world might be saved through Him.”

Let’s go back for a second to the definition of condemnation. To condemn is to pronounce to be guilty, to sentence to punishment, to declare incurable.

We are guilty. We all have things that we’re guilty of. Just off the top of my head for myself personally…lying, gossiping, cheating, my eating disorder, vanity, judging, stealing, idolatry. WE ARE ALL DIRTY, BROKEN, UNCLEAN, PEOPLE. We are all that woman on the ground, caught in adultury. We are all guilty.

We are all deserving of condemnation. We all deserve punishment for all of the shitty things we do. For our lies. For our hurtful comments. For our eating disorder. We deserve to be condemned.

But…

JESUS WAS CONDEMNED FOR US.

That was the point of the cross. That was the entire reason why Jesus died: Was so that WE would not have to endure the punishment that we so deserve. Jesus endured it for us. For me. For you. That’s how great His love is for you and me. That’s how much He cares for you and me: that He would take the punishment for our guilt: for my lies, for my deception, for my eating disorder. He endured the punishment so that I don’t have to.

He doesn’t condemn us, because He was condemned for us

That’s why Jesus picked up the adulterous woman from the dirt and set her free: because He already paid the price for her dirtiness and her adultery. And that’s why he picks you and me up off the ground: because He already paid the price of our eating disorder.

We are all broken and hurting individuals. We all have pain and imperfections. We are all that woman in the dirt. We don’t have to wear a mask to cover that up. We don’t have to pretend that we’ve got it all together. We have nothing to hide, because Jesus already paid the price for everything we’re hiding behind the mask – for everything we’re covering up when we say, “I’m fine.”

You don’t have to be fine. The adulterous woman wasn’t fine. And look what happened to her. She showed her face to Jesus, and He set her free. She reached to touch the feet of Jesus — she took off her mask and exposed her vulnerabilities — and He set her free. He did not condemn her. He did not declare her incurable. Because He already paid that price.

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That’s what He wants to do for you. He wants you to reach out to Him, so that He can affirm you and set you free from ED.

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and leave your life of sin.”

Taking Off the Mask (Part 1)

“I’m fine.”

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Those two little words are the biggest lie in all of history.

When I was entrenched in my anorexia, that was my motto. End of story. Everything was always, “I’m fine.” Maybe you can relate. But with those two little words, I was able to keep everyone at arm’s distance. I wasn’t letting anyone in to see what was really going on in my heart or in my mind. No way, Josè. My world was literally spiraling out of control. I was on the edge, dying on the inside, yet everyday I would put on this mask of, “I’m fine.” This mask of, “I’m smiling. I’m happy. There’s nothing wrong here. Everything’s just peachy.”

You see, part of my (Capital L) Lie was that in order to be loved, I had to be perfect. That my worth was linked to what I achieved. That I had to earn love through a performance.

So for me, that mask that I would put on everyday — that smile, that “I’m fine” — was a performance that I thought would merit me love. Merit me value. Merit me worth. I would perform for everyone that I was happy and that I was “fine.” I would perform that I didn’t have an eating disorder.

But this mask was killing me.

You see, I was what you would call a “bottler.” Every emotion I was feeling, be it good, bad, disappointed, hopeful, doubt, etc. Any feeling that I had, I would stuff into a bottle and screw the lid on tight. I would never share my emotions with anyone for fear of showing weakness. For fear of showing vulnerabilities. For fear of revealing that I’m not perfect.

And for a while, it would work: I’d forget about certain insecurities or fears I would have. I wouldn’t dwell on feelings of being hurt or being inadequate or even feeling a little bit left out at some times. Nope — those feeling were in my bottle, far far away. I chucked that bottle out to sea. And in the meantime, I picked up my mask and put it on for everyone to see. And for a while, that worked.

But here’s the thing with masks: I was wearing this mask because I thought it was going to make me be loved. I thought wearing this picture-perfect, smiling, “I’m fine” mask was making me worthy of being loved. But in actuality, by wearing the mask, I was preventing myself from receiving love.

Let me say that again: the mask created a barrier, so that I could not receive love. I was preventing myself from being loved.

I was putting on this mask, and doing everything in my power to hide who I really was. To hide the deepest parts of my heart that were so desperately in need of love and acceptance. The parts of my heart that needed to be nurtured: my insecurities, my fears, my struggles, my anxieties, my wounds, my Lie – those parts of my heart so desperately needed love. But by wearing a mask, and concealing those things from the world, from my loved ones, from my friends, from God – by hiding those things away and wearing the mask that “I’m fine,” I prevented those things from seeing the light. I prevented them from receiving the love that could heal them.

“I’m fine” is such crap. And it’s such a common lie we tell each other. It’s incredible how widespread that bullshit is, seriously. There are so many people walking around hiding their brokenness with a smile. Or hiding their brokenness with alcohol, or drugs, or sex, or shopping, or cars, or an eating disorder. We do everything in our power to hide that brokenness for fear of exposing the real me: the imperfect me. The broken me. “No one could possibly love the real me.”

Here’s what I want you to hear tonight: The imperfections are what make you lovable.

Your brokenness is what makes you beautiful. Your imperfections are what make you strong.

When we take off that mask — When we expose those things in our hearts that we are afraid to show people for fear of rejection or for fear of disappointing someone, or for fear of being less than perfect, we are inviting them to love the real you. We’re revealing a sacred part of our heart that we so often conceal behind a smile — conceal behind a mask of “I’m fine.

Because here’s the other thing about masks: When we wear a mask, not only can we not receive love, but we cannot truly give love either. There’s a barrier there. There’s something in the way of giving your heart away. And giving love is just as important as receiving love. For it is in loving others, that we are truly allowing ourselves to be loved. In giving love to others, we are multiplying the love that has been given to us from God. In loving others, we are sharing goodness, sharing joy, sharing love. And in loving another person, we are loving ourselves, and driving out the Voice of ED. ED wants us to draw into ourselves. ED wants us to be isolated and ignore phone calls from our friends. ED wants us to stay home from social engagements for fear of there being food there, or for fear of having to eat in front of people. ED wants you to curl up in isolation and cling to him in self-destruction. But when you love another person, when you give of your heart, you are driving ED out. You’re waging a war against the fears and anxieties ED’s placed in your mind.

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. Love drives out fear.”

When we give love to others and accept it in return, we are driving out the fears that ED is spewing into our brains. This is the single most important thing for silencing the Voice of ED. When we accept love from others, as well as from God, and then in return, turn around and give that love to others, and give love to ourselves, ED can’t win. He is driven out of our lives, because we are living in love. There can’t be any fear there. We are loving ourselves and allowing others to love us and giving love to others. It’s a cycle, and there’s just no place for ED there. But the first step in that cycle of love, is to take off the mask.

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And here’s the final thing: yes, there will be people that want you to wear a mask to fit in. They’ll want you to conform to their standards or ideals in order to be “popular” with them, or be seen as “acceptable” in their eyes. And frankly, those people suck.

But hear me when I say this: they don’t deserve you.

You have so much to offer and you deserve to be around people that love you for exactly who you are. Around people that love you for the person you are underneath the mask. In actuality, those people that want you to be someone you’re not, or encourage a “masked” existence, are toxic relationships, and should be expelled from your life, just like ED. That’s hard to hear, and may shake you up — You may think, “Gosh, how am I going to go back to school and be around my friends who all expect me to be this way?” Well, frankly, this is the time for you to carve your own path. This is your recovery and if your “friends” tear you down, maybe you need to rethink those relationships. That’s some pretty tough #realtalk right there, but it’s something that you really need to think about if protecting your recovery is going to be the number one thing in your life (which it should be).

You don’t have to wear a mask. You are wonderful and worthy without concealing the real you. You don’t have to walk around being “fine” all the time. You don’t have to wear the painted smile all day, every day. Letting someone in is incredibly scary, but it will be the best decision you ever make. Revealing the real you begins the healing process. You don’t have to start by telling everyone on the block, either. Start in a journal. Reveal your inner self to yourself. Maybe you’re like me, and wouldn’t even be vulnerable with your own mind. I just didn’t want to face the truth or have to deal with my emotions at all. Journaling is a great way to practice letting out your emotions instead of bottling them up, and showing your true colors. Journaling makes your emotions more accessible, and makes sharing them with another person less scary.

Living behind a mask isn’t truly living. We become hollow, hiding behind a painted smile, afraid that our brokenness will prevent anyone from loving us or wanting to get close to us.

Take off the mask. Your brokenness makes you beautiful.

But what do we do when we feel that our brokenness is just too much to reveal? What then? To be continued in Part 2.

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We put on masks to be loved. But when we wear masks, we can’t receive love or give love.

The Truth about Slip-Ups in Recovery

The thing about eating disorder recovery, is that it’s not just a one time thing. It’s not like you just flip a switch, and from then on, forever and ever, you’re “cured.” As much as I wish that were the case, it’s not. It’s a constant test of will and endurance.

instructablesHave you seen those bicycle electricity generators? You pedal this special bike, which creates electricity to power a light bulb or a blender or some small appliance. You generate electricity, but only for as long as you pedal the bike. Recovery is like that light bulb. It takes a constant effort of pedaling the bike in order to keep the light bulb lit. It takes a constant effort of eating calorically sufficient meals, facing fear foods, choosing to love yourself, being open with others about your feelings, avoiding negative body thoughts, accepting forgiveness, overcoming anxieties about foods and body image, etc. to remain in recovery. It is a constant, daily thing. It tests your endurance and determination. It can be hard and downright exhausting. But it is so worth it.

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And now for the “RealTalk” about recovery: You will have slip-ups. Now we’re not talking a full-blown relapse where you’re restricting, loosing weight, engaging in bulimic or ED behaviors, etc. We’re talking slip ups. A slip up looks different for different people. For some, a slip up can be missing a snack, not finishing a meal, or giving into thoughts that are self-destructive or hateful in nature. For others, it’s over-exercising, purging, engaging in self-harm, lying about your intake, etc. A slip up is anything that momentarily brings you back into your eating disorder.

And let’s be really honest here: these moments happen. It doesn’t matter how strong you are in your recovery: you will experience a slip up at some point.

And frankly, it sucks.

Because with that slip up, comes the mental baggage along with it. Slip ups bring you back to that dark place of, “I’ve failed. I’m worthless. I can’t believe I did it again. How could I be so weak, so worthless? I knew I wasn’t good enough for recovery. See? I knew I wasn’t strong enough to do this. I’m such a disappointment.”

And you feel sick to your stomach with guilt. With disgust. With disappointment. With shame. You instantly are filled with self-hatred, and feel like everything you’ve worked for, you’ve just thrown away. You’re always strong, but today, for whatever reason, you gave into that one little ED behavior that taunts you everyday.

“I’m an utter failure.”

Now what?

First of all, take a deep breath.

Sweet girl, just breathe for a moment. You are not a failure. Slip-ups are part of the recovery process. Slip-ups come with the territory of overcoming an eating disorder. Why?

Because WE ARE NOT PERFECT.

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Remember that perfectionist demon that was so central to our eating disorder? Well it tries to sneak its way back into our brains through whatever channel it can. And as a result, in many cases, we feel that we need to have the “perfect” recovery. We create this unrealistic expectation for ourselves that we need to have a flawless recovery process, and that anything less is a failure. We need to have picture-perfect #cleanfood/organic meals captured in the most flattering filter on Instagram; we need to eat Ben & Jerry’s for our bi-weekly #pintparty; we need to walk around uttering quotes by Maya Angelou or Gandhi, and we need to joyously proclaim self-love to anyone and everyone because dammit, that’s what a perfect recovery looks like.

Wrong. You can just take all those notions about the “perfect” recovery, and throw them out the window. Because there is no. such. thing. as the perfect recovery.

Because it’s recovery. You will have good days, and you will have not so good days. And there will be hard days and days that seriously test your commitment to recovery. And then there will be days where you slip up.

First: Forgive yourself. You’re not perfect, nor are you expected to be. You’re not a failure if you slip up. You’re not worthless. You’re just doing the best you can, and some days (hopefully not many) ED will find a way back into your mind for a hot minute. But just forgive yourself and move on. Dwelling in that head space of self-hatred after a slip up only makes things worse. Self-hatred can lead to a spiral of guilt and shame that will make slipping up again not only easier, but very likely to occur. Choose to love yourself enough to forgive yourself for the slip up, and then recommit to your recovery, and move on.

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Just a couple weeks ago, it was Easter. And on Good Friday at my church, they always do the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross visually tell the story of Jesus carrying the cross up to Calvary where He was crucified. The priest reenacts the journey by carrying a huge wooden cross around the church as the Bible passages are read. And three times during the journey to Calvary, Jesus falls down under the weight of the cross. Let me say that again: Jesus falls down three times.

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And this past Good Friday, I was sitting on the aisle, so I got a really good view of the action. And it really hit me, because three times, the priest – this strong man dressed in a robe – would “fall” to the ground and lie face down on the marble for about 10 seconds to reenact Jesus’ fall. It was really powerful to see. And then, after the third fall, a man named Simon is made to help Jesus carry the cross for the rest of the way to complete the journey.

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Afterwards, I found myself thinking about that image of the priest on the ground. I mean, it’s not very often that you see a grown man lying prostrate on the floor. And as I was thinking about it, my recovery came into my head.

You see, I’ve mentioned it before, but our eating disorder, and our recovery, is the cross that we’ve been given to carry in this life. We’ve been given a cross because Jesus was given a cross. But here’s the thing: JESUS FELL THREE TIMES under the weight of His cross. He fell three different times because His journey was so difficult and so exhausting. And in the end, He needed Simon to help carry the cross with Him. His journey wasn’t perfect. I mean, it was perfect, because He is perfect. But what I’m trying to say is that His journey of carrying the cross wasn’t without stumbles. It wasn’t without a slip-up.

And in the end, Jesus needed Simon’s help to finish the process. So here’s the other thing: it is okay to ask for help. It is okay to tell someone, “I’m struggling.” It’s okay to say, “I need some support right now through this meal. I’m feeling a lot of anxiety and just need you to sit with me while I fight the Voice of ED right now.” It’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean you’re not committed to your recovery. Quite the contrary. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that by asking for help, you’re more committed to protecting and guarding your recovery than if you kept it bottled in.

But here’s the last thing: asking another person for help when you’re struggling is good. It’s terrific. Your parents, loved ones, friends, doctors, therapist, nutritionist – they are all there for you when you’re having a hard day.

But you know who else is there for you?

Jesus.

Before you roll your eyes, just hear me when I say this: He is there to help you through the struggles. In fact, He is the only way I was able to truly recover. I had to completely draw on His strength and His courage to make it through each and every day during weight restoration.

He wants you to cry out to Him when you’re scared. He wants you to cling to the bottom of His robe when you’re desperately holding on to recovery for dear life. He desperately wants to be there for you, but He’s not going to force Himself on you: you’ve got to ask Him, and then He’ll come running. He wants to take your cross from you. He wants to take ED off your shoulders. He wants to walk through recovery with you, together

On Jesus’s journey, carrying the cross, each time after He fell, He didn’t stay down and wallow in self-hatred: “Oh man, I freaking fell again. I’m never going to make it. I might as well give up. I’m just not cut out for this. I’m a failure.” No. He got back up, picked up His cross yet again, and put one weary foot in front of the other. And when it got too much, He accepted help from Simon and they carried the cross together.

Slip-ups are going to happen in your recovery. But they don’t define your recovery. They don’t define who you are. When we remember Jesus’ crucifixion, we don’t say, “Oh yeah, He was crucified and saved the world from sin…But you know what….He fell three times. I don’t knowww. He fell, so…” No. The fact that He fell never even enters the equation! All we remember is the unprecedented, overwhelmingly amazing act of self-sacrificial love where Jesus died on the cross because He loves you and me.

Don’t let one slip up discredit how far you’ve come. Don’t let it cause you to doubt your worth, doubt your progress, or doubt your destination to freedom. You are worth that freedom. So forgive yourself if when you slip up. After all, even Jesus stumbled three times.

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Weight Restoration Without an Appetite

Weight Restoration. The crux of recovery. Where the rubber meets the road. Where the physical healing takes place. Where the mental healing is tested. Weight restoration in eating disorder recovery takes many forms, methods, strategies, and sizes.

Typically, once the body starts receiving consistent nutrition and adequate calories, your metabolism kicks in and you begin to feel hunger cues again. This makes the weight restoration process a bit easier and smoother, because your body is speaking to you.

But what about when you don’t have an appetite?

What do you do when you’re just not hungry? What do you do when nothing sounds good? How do you weight restore without an appetite?

Well, this is a tricky topic, because frankly, you need to really look at the motivation as to why you don’t have an appetite. You need to examine what’s really going on: Is your lack of appetite an ED thing? Is ED trying to sneak back into your mind and tell you that you’re not hungry, even though you are? Does nothing sound good because you’re experiencing fear with certain foods? Are you just saying you’re not hungry in an effort to avoid eating and to avoid the actual weight restoration process? Take a good hard look at what’s driving the lack of appetite.

When you’re restoring weight, hunger does come and go. More often you will experience hunger, but sometimes, especially as your metabolism and your digestive system is still in “catch up mode,” hunger isn’t always experienced.

When I was weight restoring the second time around, after my relapse, I was doing it from home. And it was really hard for me to “get up in the bit” for restoring my weight. There was still a lot of fear around certain foods and I had trouble getting out of the rut I was in when it came to food preparation. I just wasn’t able to cook in a way that would actually restore my weight. So even though I truly wanted recovery, I was terrified of the steps I needed to take to actually get there physically.

And I’ve mentioned this before, but I thought I’d reiterate it. I recently had a conversation with a sweet girl who was experiencing something similar. She’s weight restoring, and didn’t have an appetite for anything. So she’d just end up eating a pint of ice cream at the end of the day just to get the calories that she knew she needed.

My advice to her, and what helped me restore my weight, were Buffet Restaurants. 

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It sounds so incredibly silly.

But Chinese buffets, breakfast buffets, cafeteria-style restaurants…these were really helpful for me when I was restoring weight. I would go with my father, bless his heart. And these restaurants were helpful for several reasons.

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First, it helped spark my appetite when I had none, or when food seemed scary. Now, this sounds a bit backwards: if there’s fear surrounding food, why would going to, literally, a buffet of food options help to overcome this? Well, I think it’s safe to say that everyone suffering from anorexia is a bit of a foodie at heart. They love food, they just deny themselves the joy of eating it. So, by going to a buffet, and seeing all the different options right there in front of me, and smelling them, and being able to take a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, it allowed me to try different things. Being swept up in the all consuming sensory atmosphere, for whatever reason, made eating easier. It was like my “fight or flight” mentality took over. Here I was, willingly and knowing walking into the “lion’s den” and saying, “Alright, bring it on.” I was able to “get up in the bit” for having a substantial weight-restoring meal. It was kind of like entering a boxing ring: “OK, ED. We’re going to do this.” It was a stage for a one-two-punch.

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Next, it was a different environment. Being out of the house was particularly helpful. I found the kitchen and dining area at home were painfully triggering. There were horrible memories attached to that part of the house that would just punch me in the gut with reminders of huge blow ups I had with my parents, or where I had thrown food, or thrown a tantrum. Having to sort through my measuring tools, or using cups and bowls that I had used religiously during my eating disorder, put me in a bad head space that made eating a weight-restoring meal especially difficult. A new environment fostered not only the needed courage, but a fresh, clean slate.

Additionally, I was able to fall in love with food again. By eating things that weren’t fat free yogurts, rice cakes, string cheese, and tuna, I began to experience truly delicious food. For example, crab rangoons. Who’da thought that I’d love those little guys!? — A Chinese buffet, that’s who. By being able to try different things a little bit at a time, I was able to remember what it felt like to enjoy food and not be controlled by fear. At a buffet, you’re able to try a spattering of different little things. Being able to have a few bites of fried rice, and a few bites of french toast, etc. etc. was less scary than having an entire entrée in front of me. And further, in those few bites, I was conquering the fear associated with the food, and learning to enjoy the flavor on my own terms.

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Next, it helped me to give up control. By eating at a restaurant, I had no say in the preparation of the foods. At home, I could skip adding the butter, or the oil, or the cream. Or more accurately, I could pretend to add them when I really didn’t.  But at a restaurant, I was literally out of the kitchen. If sautéing in a healthy glug of olive oil still is frightful, try a restaurant: they do that for you. All you have to do is simply enjoy the finished product.

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Further, it gave me practice eating in public. That sounds rather silly, but there is so much secrecy and isolation around eating when you’re in the disease. You’re afraid of eating in front of people for fear of judgement, or because of shame in your disordered habits. Eating out at a restaurant helps to “condition” you that, “Yes, it’s okay to eat in front of other people. It will be okay.”

Lastly, it helped me to just sit with myself after I ate. One of the things that a lot of girls -myself included- struggle with, is the intense anxiety felt after meals. For me, I would always want to take a walk or exercise. I could never just sit. There was so much fear and anxiety around that stillness. Around that act of being sedentary. So eating at a restaurant was really helpful to deal with this. You see, my dad drove a convertible. So on the drive home, we’d ride with the top down, and there was something really therapeutic about the wind in my face that would calm my anxiety after the meal.

Weight restoration is difficult. Period. Especially if your appetite is nonexistent. The important thing to remember is that your body so desperately needs the nutrients and calories in order to restore and rebuild your organs and your bones. And you may feel full, or you may just not feel hungry, but that doesn’t mean your body doesn’t need the sustenance. Your body’s digestive system is still just limping along, and so your “hunger cues” are still playing catch up. Your metabolism was so used to being in starvation mode that it is just now beginning to learn to trust you to feed it consistently again. But don’t worry, because it too, will soon get in order and restore. But in order to do that, you need to keep eating. Consistency is key to getting your metabolism up and running, as well as reducing any bloating.

You’re a warrior and are doing great. The process of weight restoration can be scary, but you’re reclaiming your life. You’re loving yourself with every bite you take. You’re pushing ED out of your life, once and for all.

“For God has not given you a spirit of fear and timidity, but of POWER, love and a sound mind.” 2 Tim 1:7

Gold, Refined by Fire

I went to the doctor today for the first time in three years. A new doctor.

And it sucked.

***Now before you give up on this post, keep reading — my “Negative Nancy” talk will turn around here soon. I promise — I’m just setting the stage 🙂

But going to the doctor legitimately sucked. Why? Because I had to talk about my ED history.

But wait a second…you’re working on writing a book on anorexia…how was talking about it difficult for you?

Well, frankly, it was in how it was received. I won’t go into too much detail, but the doctor disapprovingly called my history a “checkered past” and was very judgmental in his words and actions. When I mentioned that my mom had a heart attack during my anorexia, he even went so far as to snicker and say, “Tsk, I bet you feel guilty!”

So I got home, and I was pretty upset. Actually, let’s be honest here, I was fuming. Angry. Hurt. And I had a good cry.

I felt judged. I felt full of shame. I felt looked down upon. I felt worthless.

So why am I telling you this?

Well, today was a reminder for me that there will be people in your life who just make you feel…small.

Allow me to expand.

There will be people you run across who will focus more on your having had an eating disorder, than on the fact that you overcame an eating disorder.
What do I mean by this? Well these people will not care that you’ve recovered or are in recovery from an eating disorder. All they will hear, and all they will judge you on, is that you had an eating disorder.

What they are doing is defining you by your eating disorder.

And what else can I say, other than….those people suck. 🙂

But, no, seriously. That doctor today was one of those people.

And here’s what I have to say about that:

You are so much more than your eating disorder. It’s in the past. And it does not define you.

Is it a part of your history? Yes. Was a cause of great suffering and despair during that time period? Yes. Does it dictate your worth? Absolutely not. Does it make you any less of a person? Hell no.

You know what? Yes, I do have quite the “checkered past,” thankyouverymuch. But you know what else? That dark history — that woundedness and brokenness that I experienced — has made me into the woman I am today. That suffering and those trials have taught me so much about myself and about God and about love. They’ve taught me how to take care of myself, how to be a good friend, how to love myself.

That dark history does not define me.

But…

It has refined me. 

There’s a popular saying, about being gold or silver, refined by fire. The gist is that we are the raw material, and God is refining us though the trials of life. Blah, blah, blah. It would always go in one ear and out the other, because it was such a cliché. But I never quite understood that saying until the actual process of refining metal was broken down and explained to me. And it changed me. So I’ll pass it along.

Here’s how you refine silver or gold.

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1) BREAKING: First, the refiner breaks up the raw material. This is so that the valuable metal can be exposed to heat.

2) THE CRUCIBLE: And no, I’m not talking about the book. A crucible is a fireproof melting pot that is able to withstand extreme heat. The refiner places the broken raw material into the crucible and then puts it in the furnace to remove the impurities in the raw material.

3) THE DROSS: Dross is a fancy-shmancy term for the layer of impurities that forms on the surface of the melted raw material inside the crucible. The refiner skims off this layer of impurities.

4) MORE HEAT: After skimming off the layer of impurities, the refiner cranks up heat and returns the crucible to the furnace. This process of skimming the dross and raising the temperature to release more impurities is repeated until the desired purity is reached. It can happen up to seven times. Certain impurities are released at certain temperatures. The more difficult impurities are released at the highest temperatures, and result in a more valuable finished product.

5) THE REFLECTION: The refiner knows that the process of skimming the dross and reheating the raw material is complete when he looks into the crucible and sees his clear reflection because the raw material no longer contains impurities.

When I think back on my eating disorder, I can now see that it was indeed a fire that was purifying me. It’s hard to think about in the moment, but you are being shaped right now – You are being molded into the woman you’re meant to be. You’re being allowed to experience this suffering, this torture, this agony right now, because it is preparing you for something bigger down the road.

You may roll your eyes at that, and think, “Yeah, sure. I’m not capable of greatness. This is it for me. I will never get past this. I will always be enslaved to the prison of my mind.” But hear me when I say this: Those thoughts are ED talking to you. That doubt is trying to keep you from the incredible life in store for you.

Overcoming an eating disorder, is quite possibly one of the hardest things in life to do. Bar none. Perhaps I’m a bit biased, but breaking the cycle of addiction and self-hatred is impossibly difficult. And it’s an every day thing. It’s not like drugs or alcohol, where you can just avoid it and never let it be a part of your life again. You have to face food multiple times a day. And you can’t just not eat. You have to prove you are stronger than ED three (plus) times a day.  And those who do — those who overcome — are warriors. They’ve been to the depths of despair. They’ve lived in the darkness and have risen above and reclaimed their lives. They are champions.

They have been put through the refining fire.

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But what the heck? The whole process of refining silver or gold is all about removing impurities. I wasn’t that bad of a person before. I didn’t steal or kill anyone. Come on. What did I really have to get rid of?

Well, finding the answer is a truly difficult process. And to be honest, it’s a bit painful. I can only speak from my experience. But there were really three different things that I was supposed to learn from my eating disorder.

1) BREAKING FREE OF PRIDE: When I look back at my past leading up to my eating disorder, I can definitely see where pride was sneaking into my life. I was allowing my image and my persona, and my social status to become a central focus in my life. Even though I may have been falsely humble on the outside, on the inside, I was letting those things become an idol that I worshiped. My eating disorder completely broke me of that pride. Not only was the state of my emaciated body absolutely humiliating and humbling in itself, but I had to completely surrender my longing for perfection. My eating disorder broke me of the big plans I had for my life. It completely knocked me down. I just envision myself standing on a pedestal (a self-constructed, false pedestal, I might add) and then getting hit by a wrecking ball and landing on my butt in a big pig pen and creating a big splash of slop and pig shit all over the place. The eating disorder stripped me of everything I had to be “proud” of: my body, my social status and relationships, my college plans, my sports career, my acting career, my singing voice, my hair. All those things were literally shredded to pieces by ED. Pride: broken.

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2) LEARNING TO LOVE MYSELF: OK, from the sounds of that last paragraph, you’d think that since I “thought highly” of myself and had pride, that I was just overflowing with self-love. Wrong. I was suffering from perfectionism. I kept setting the bar higher and higher for myself. There was always a new level to achieve. Always something to work on or improve. I was never happy with just myself. I only found value in myself for achieving certain things or performing a certain way. For me, the most difficult aspect of recovery was learning to actually love myself. And the only way I’ve learned to love myself was to accept the love that God so desperately wanted to give me throughout all of this — To accept His love, that I had been rejecting, because I didn’t feel worthy enough to receive it. In short: I let Him love me.

Which leads me to my last point:

3) RELYING ON GOD: The main thing I was supposed to learn from my eating disorder –The Big Kahuna — The sole purpose for that suffering and hell that ravaged my body, mind, and spirit, was to draw me closer to God and learn to depend on Him. It sounds incredibly cliché, but when I really truly reflect of the lessons from my anorexia — When I get down to the nitty-gritty and think about how it’s changed me, it’s that I now completely rely on God for everything. And this encompasses both #1 and #2 from before, as well. I now have the true humility to know that I am nothing without Him — I know that recovery was not my doing, but His. I was so completely terrified of the weight restoration, I was petrified of facing fear foods and allowing my body to change. I only recovered by clinging to Him. Alone, I simply could not have done it. So there’s my broken Pride – #1. And now, I also know that I am so undoubtably loved by God, who died for me. I didn’t do anything to earn His love. I didn’t have to be perfect in order to deserve that love: He chose to love the broken me. And He has chosen to dwell in my heart. And since He lives in my heart, I have no choice but to love myself and to honor my body… because He is dwelling there! So there’s the self love aspect — #2. In the end, the main “take away” from my anorexia – what it all boils down to, is learning to rely on God.

And that’s the final stage of purifying gold: the Refiner can see His reflection in the raw material

This may get pretty heavy, pretty quickly here, people. But just hear me out.

We are all reflections of God. We are all reflections of our Maker.

Not only were we created in His image, but He lives in our hearts, and shines through us. Just think about what makes you “you.” What makes me “me?” I know it might be hard to think about, because ED has been stifling the authentic “you” for sometime, and you’re fighting to find that girl again. But just think about what makes you unique. For me, I am incredibly silly. I love talking in funny accents. I like to pull fun pranks on people. I have spontaneous dance parties, preferably in outrageous costumes. I like to give gifts. I love to sing. I love to leave secret care packages for the people I love. These things are all reflective of God. I know you probably don’t imagine God bustin’ a move to old school N’Sync, or being goofy … but I’m tellin’ ya — God has a silliness about Him! He has a fun-loving spirit! Just look at the intricate flowers, or silly animals, or even some of the foods we eat, and tell me that God didn’t have a sense of humor!

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But anyways, those things that make you “you” are all a refection of our Creator. He made you to be that way. And it is because He made you that you are precious. That is where your worth and my worth comes from. That is what gives us dignity. That is why we are loved. It’s not from our BMI, or if we have a thigh gap, or what the number on the scale reads. It doesn’t matter if we’ve eaten a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in recovery. Our worth doesn’t come from achievements we’ve done in the past. Conversely, our worth does not diminish because of a “checkered past.” (I’m lookin’ at you, doc). Our worth comes from one place: Him.

Gold didn’t become gold overnight. It was process of breaking down the raw material, heating it up until it melted, and then skimming off the impurities. Over and over and over. It had to endure the fires. It had to completely melt down to liquid. And only when the refiner could see his reflection in the melted raw material was the process of purification finished.

My eating disorder was a fire. Recovery is a fire. All of these trials are shaping me into the young woman I’m supposed to be. They’re changing me into gold. And they’re changing you too. This pain you’re in right now — this suffering, this agony — it has a purpose. Yes, it sucks to endure, but you will overcome it. You will become stronger and more resilient because of it. You’re being prepared for something down the road that is more amazing than your wildest dreams. Stay the path. Keep doing the next right thing. Because one day, you’ll wake up, and you’ll be gold. You’ll have learned what you’re supposed to from the Eating Disorder. And then you’ll be ready to go out and do what you’ve been shaped to do, as gold.

My Thoughts on Minnie Maud

Minnie Maud.

OK. I’d like to first, get this out of the way, right now. I’m sorry, but when I hear “Minnie Maud,” all I can think about is this:

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🙂

But seriously, Minnie Maud is a new treatment “trend?” for restrictive eating disorders. The name comes from the sources of its evidence-based approach: the Minnesota ((Minnie)) Starvation Experiment, and the Family Based Treatment — aka MAUDsley Protocol. 

All of the information on Minnie Maud is outlined on the website YourEatopia.com. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time perusing the website, because I frankly find it fascinating. Basically, the long and short of the guidelines can be summed up in this: It’s an outpatient treatment plan where you eat a minimum of 3,000 calories per day, (you’re encouraged to eat more, and give your body what it craves, even if it means eating 10,000 calories due to extreme hunger), no food is off limits, no restricting, no weighing yourself, and absolutely no exercise.

From what I have read, and from the rabid, cult-like following on Instagram and the blogosphere, people have had great results from adhering to the program. And that is awesome — Truly incredible that an at-home program is saving so many lives. Kudos.

My personal thoughts: it would not have worked for me.

Let me back up.

When I entered “forced recovery” in 2007, Minnie Maud just wasn’t around. The website didn’t come on the scene until 2011, so this approach simply wasn’t an option. So there’s that.

But, Minnie Maud wouldn’t have worked for me, because I did not initially want recovery. I was admitted to an inpatient treatment center for three months by my parents. I was so entrenched in my disorder that I did not want to get better. I wanted to stay in my safe little ED bubble. But it was literally “do or die.” I was 78 pounds. My parents knew that if I didn’t get admitted NOW, that there was a very real possibility that I would die within the week. It was a breaking point, and I had no choice in the matter.

So my weight restoration was regulated by the treatment team at the inpatient center. I chose not to have the NG feeding tube, so I drank my Ensure supplements to put on weight. But the meals at the inpatient center were planned out for us. We were allowed to choose from two options. And the foods, although they did challenge some “fear foods,” they did not in any way, shape, or form, make me find joy in eating again. In fact, they frankly weren’t very good. Eating at inpatient was more of a “Dear-Lord,- please-let-me-get-through-this-nightmare” kind of experience, rather than a “food-is-meant-to-be-enjoyed-and-not-feared” kind of experience.

That’s one aspect of Minnie Maud that I really do like: that you eat what you feel like and crave. This could lead to falling in love with food again.

And I know that sounds silly — fall in love with food? But here’s my new take on food: it is a way that God shows us that He loves us.

Because face it: God could have made all food taste the same. I mean, think about it: If the sole purpose of food was to simply provide adequate nutrients and energy needed for survival, God could have just made some sort of sludge or pill, even, to get the job done. But no. He created all different types of foods with different tastes, flavors, and textures to be enjoyed and savored. I mean, heck! Look at the human tongue — there are taste buds in five different areas — salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami — You look at that and tell me that God didn’t want us to enjoy food!

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So anyway, that’s a definite plus of Minnie Maud: that you actually enjoy the weight restoration process. (That’s where the coveted “Pint Party” hashtag comes from on Instagram: it’s the Minnie Maud Army enjoying a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.)

But let me be completely honest here for a minute: that wouldn’t have worked for me. Given my mental state during my “forced recovery,” I would not have adhered to the 3,000 calorie rule. I would have found a way out of it, or found a way to manipulate my way to keep my eating disorder. I would have sneaked exercise. I would have thrown away food whenever possible. I would have made a case that I was actually “craving” carrot sticks. That I was finding “freedom” in plain oatmeal. I would not have been able to eat with reckless abandon, as is the goal of Minnie Maud. I would not have been able to adhere to that highly caloric intake on my own. I just was not at that mental state.

I needed an inpatient treatment center. I needed to be monitored. And frankly, I was so severely malnourished and on the brink of death that I needed the intense medical supervision I received at R. They took my vitals 3 times a day. I slept at the nurses’ station for the entire first month so they could monitor me while I slept. That’s how severe my anorexia was.

Plus, I would have never been able to challenge myself to “fear foods” had I not been at an inpatient treatment center, where there was just no other option. Your meals were planned out and made for you. That’s the beauty of inpatient — they make you completely relinquish control. Your meals are monitored. Your free time is monitored so you don’t exercise. The bathrooms are monitored. They even flush the toilets for you! Had I been at home trying to do the Minnie Maud method, I would have just been eating oatmeal and celery. I needed someone to take the control away from me. I needed someone to say, “You’re eating the cheeseburger. End of story.”

But here’s the main reason why Minnie Maud wouldn’t have worked for me: I wasn’t ready to truly recover. Sure, I put on the weight at inpatient, but that was only so I could get the hell out of there and get back to my eating disorder. I relapsed as soon as I got to college and got away from my parents. I was not ready to give up my anorexia yet.

But…

I do think Minnie Maud would have worked once I genuinely accepted recovery.

Post-relapse, I had to take a semester off from college and live at home with my parents. At this time, I had gotten almost as low as my pre-inpatient weight, so I had some serious weight restoration to do. I finally adopted recovery because of three things: 1) I had no other options (college was taken away), 2) I embraced God’s love, and 3) I fell in love with food again.

In this second “go-around” of weight restoration, I didn’t go to inpatient. Mainly because it was $160,000 and it didn’t really get to the root of the issue the first time. Yes I put on *most* of the weight at R, but I didn’t truly recover. SO after my relapse, I did it from home with the help of my parents. My dad primarily helped with the physical healing and my mom primarily helped with the spiritual healing. And both of these were key to my true recovery.

But back to Minnie Maud: The way I tackled weight restoration after my relapse went along with the Minnie Maud guidelines to a degree. My dad’s a brilliant man. And even though MM wasn’t around, he intuitively knew the guidelines, even though they weren’t formally spelled out on a website.

My dad knew I had to fall in love with food again. He knew I had to break out the regimen of egg whites, oatmeal, and canned tuna. He knew I had to learn to embrace food. So during that six month period, we went all over the city, eating at restaurant after restaurant, buffet after buffet, learning to love food. Not only did it allow me to see the pleasure in food again, but it also relinquished my control in preparing the food, which was a big thing for me. If left to my own devices, I would have never been able to add the butter, add the cream, add the oil. I just couldn’t do it. But at a restaurant, I had no other option. I was at the mercy of the chef. Looking back, my dad was doing the Minnie Maud method before it was even a recovery “trend.” I don’t know what I would have done without his help through that difficult period. He was so patient and loving and supportive. He’s earned his place in Heaven, I’ll say that.

So in short, there are a lot of aspects of Minnie Maud that are really terrific and could be a great approach to recovery, but only if you have truly adopted recovery, and are committed to actually consuming a minimum of 3,000 calories a day.

However, there is one aspect of Minnie Maud that I see as problematic. And that is that it does not take your spiritual healing into account. Yes, you learn to embrace food and eat what your body craves. Yes, you tackle fear foods and allow your body to rest and restore.

But what about your mind? What about your soul? I did not find one thing on the MM website that addressed those things.

And I’ve got to be 100% honest here: Jesus was central to my recovery. 

Nay. Let me rephrase that: Christ was my recovery.

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Putting on weight for me was absolutely terrifying. And literally, the only way I was able to do it was through the strength that God gave me. Had I not have been completely focused on Christ’s love and forgiveness, had I not meditated on Jesus’s comfort during my suffering, had I not accepted that my worth and dignity came from simply being a daughter of God, I would not have been able to recover. Every. single. day of my recovery, I would focus on different bible verses and quotes that kept me thinking about His love and comfort, rather than negative body thoughts, self-hatred, and feelings of unworthiness, which all came from ED. In fact, to this day, I still have to completely fill my mind and heart with His Truth, otherwise the damn voice of ED will find a way to taunt me and shake me up. So I constantly listen to Christian radio, Christian podcasts, and books — I keep myself focused on His love, which fills me up so that ED can’t bring me down.

But that’s what’s missing from Minnie Maud. MM is great, yes – it tackles the weight restoration aspect of anorexia and eating disorder recovery, but that’s it. And frankly, that’s only 10% of the battle — mental healing is far greater and much more difficult to overcome. And for me, mental health and wellbeing stems from one place: God.

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I’ll leave you with this final thought: just like everyone’s eating disorder is different, so is everyone’s recovery. No two recovery journeys look the same. And that’s okay. So long as you get to the destination, it doesn’t matter if you follow Minnie Maud, if you go to inpatient, if you are tube fed, if you drink supplements, if you eat Ben & Jerry’s or go to Chinese buffets every day. Recovery is your journey. If the Minnie Maud approach sounds like something you could really get behind, then more power to ya!

Recovery is hard, no matter what way you go. It will be the fight of your life. It was a fight, that to be honest, I would not have been able to win had it not been for Jesus. He was my strength, and He can be yours too. He wants to be. He longs to be. Because He loves you so incredibly much, and wants to take your suffering away from you — you just have to let him.

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The Truth about Bloating in Recovery

Alright, truth time.

There’s an elephant in the room, and it has to do with refeeding in recovery. And that, my friends, is bloating.

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This is an uncomfortable topic to talk about, because it has to do with body image. During recovery, we’re working on accepting our new body and learning to love it. We’re overcoming body dysmorphia, and #realtalk: we’re working on weight restoration.

Frankly, bloating makes progress in those departments rather difficult.

My biggest fear during weight restoration was that I was going to wake up one morning and just be massive. I was afraid that my body would just balloon out of control. There was so much anxiety about that allusive “weight range.”  I journaled about it a lot:

I am nervous and weary of how my body will be at the end of my stay [at inpatient]. I am scared that if it changes to a point beyond where I am comfortable, that when I get home I will be depressed and unhappy. Lord, please give me the strength, courage and endurance to get through today. I know You will protect me from anything that scares me.

So let’s have some #realtalk about bloating. Spoiler alert: it happens in recovery.

During your eating disorder, you’ve been in a state of starvation. Your body has been feeding off of its own muscles. That’s why you become skeletal: because your muscles are literally deteriorating in order to keep you alive. But here’s what we so often forget: your organs are muscles too. So they deteriorate and shut down too — all in an effort to keep you alive. That’s why your menstrual cycle stops – because your reproductive organs have failed. You’re cold all the time because your circulatory system is shutting down. You can’t sleep because the adrenal and hormonal levels are off, because they’re shutting down. Your digestive system and metabolism as slowed to a halt. Your organs are literally wasting away, day by day, to keep you alive. And that’s why girls die from anorexia: because your heart is a muscle too, and it shuts down. Let that sink in: 1 in 10 people die from eating disorders. It’s nothing to joke about.

But what does all this have to do with bloating?

Well, since your body has been in a state of starvation during your eating disorder, it doesn’t trust you to nourish it. So, when you finally do begin to feed it again, it still thinks you’re going to deprive it in the future. So it holds onto the nutrients. Just think of a cave man, or a prehistoric animal: they would stock up when they could, because they never knew when a famine would hit, or they’d have to hibernate for the winter. That’s what your body is doing. It just thinks that it’s a temporary “feast” period, and that it should hold on to all those nutrients because you’re heading into another famine.

So in an act of self-preservation, your body insulates the most vital organs first, again, in an effort to keep you alive. And where, might you ask, are those vital organs? Around the trunk of your body: your heart, your lungs, your liver, etc. So it initially stores the nutrients around your midsection.

Before you start panicking, “Oh goodness, it’s true. My worst fear is actually a reality. I’m going to get fat!”

PAUSE. Breathe.

NO. YOU’RE. NOT.

After a few weeks of getting consistent calories and adequate rest and restoration, your body will begin to trust you again to nourish it. Then, it will redistribute evenly. You will fill out beautifully, and in all the right places. I promise. 🙂

But here’s the kicker: In order to “beat the bloat,” you have to keep eating. You have to keep nourishing your body with adequate nutrients and sufficient calories consistently, or you body will stay in that starvation mode, and hold on to every nutrient that you consume.

This is very hard for a lot of girls in recovery, and is the moment where the “rubber meets the road,” and your recovery is tested. Your perseverance and will to fight are tested. Will you keep going or will you fall back into old ED habits because of poor body image? Will you continue to banish ED to the fires of hell, or will you let him creep into your mind because you are scared of a temporary bloating phase?

This is where the true warriors rise to the top.

This is where you become gold, refined by fire.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few tips that I found helpful dealing with my bloating during recovery.

  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing. This really goes without saying, but tight clothing is very triggering in recovery. Stick with clothes that give you room to breathe. Yoga pants, hoodies, t-shirts. The stretchier the better.
  • Avoid the mirrors. Again, this is something that is intuitive, but scrutinizing your body in the mirror is not going to make the process any easier. In fact, just the opposite. Your body is blooming into the woman you’re meant to be. Trust the process. Learn to love yourself.
  • Take a gentle walk. This can be tricky, as a lot of women and girls abuse exercise as a way to purge calories, but I’m not talking about a power walk here. I’m talking about a gentle stroll — Something that will help to take your mind off of a bloated and triggering tummy. Talk a walk in your backyard and take pictures of flowers. Take a stroll through the park and look up the different plants on your phone as you mosey along. Be outside. Surround yourself in the beauty that God created. Remember that you’re also His creation, and are covered in His fingerprints:)
  • Drink water! Another aspect of bloating is that your body is holding onto excess water, otherwise known as edema. It’s counterintuitive, but the more water you drink, the less your body will hold on to.
  • Be with supportive people. It is so important to surround yourself with supportive people. In your recovery, you need people by your side who lift you up and support you in your recovery, not bring you down. 
  • Dwell on the Truth. Lastly and most importantly, keep your mind focused on the Truth. Otherwise, ED will find a way back into your head, and this time he’ll bring 7 friends with him. So remain centered on the Truth. These were some thoughts I found to be helpful in recovery.

Hang in there, sweet girl. Bloating comes with the territory, and is only temporary. You’re doing the right thing: you’re sticking with recovery, nourishing your body, and learning to love yourself. The bloating will pass. Keep doing the right thing. One day at a time. One meal at a time.

I believe in you.

Relationship #RealTalk: Toxic Relationships

The dictionary defines “toxic” as “harmful or deadly.” Other synonyms include poisonous, lethal, and virulent. Yikes.

There will come a time in your recovery, where you have to take a cold, hard, look at your past, and ask the question, “Do I have toxic relationships in my life?”

Spoiler alert: This is not a fun activity. I mean we’re talking….

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But jokes aside, this is a task where you have to really sit down and ask yourself, “Are these relationships good for me?” Did they contribute to the development of your eating disorder? Are they unhealthy or triggering? Do you find that you compare yourself with her, or find it to be competitive in nature? Does he treat you with respect? Does he or she make you feel valued as a person? Do they build you up and make you realize your self worth? Do you feel loved? Do you leave feeling inadequate or not good enough? Do they build you up or tear you down? Would they support you in your recovery? Can you be vulnerable with them?

I know that seems like quite the list, but if you see any red flags from that inventory, you’re dealing with a toxic relationship. In other words, you’re dealing with a harmful relationship. A deadly relationship. A poisonous, lethal and virulent relationship.

One thing my mother always taught me, (and to be honest, I always rolled my eyes at), was the notion of “shaking the dust off.” It apparently came from the Bible, but the saying goes, “If they don’t accept you in one town, shake the dust off your sandals and move on to the next town.” This comes from Matthew 10:14, when the disciples were traveling from town to town…in sandals… spreading the word about Jesus.

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I never really quite understood that saying until I was in recovery, and taking my “relationship inventory.” You see, I did have a toxic relationship in my life. I wouldn’t say that this relationship caused my eating disorder, or made me become anorexic. Not at all. However, the relationship did contribute to my feelings of inadequacy, which ED then twisted and heightened into feelings of worthlessness. It was a highly competitive relationship. It was controlling. It was comparative. It was toxic.

How did I know? Because every time I would leave, I would feel badly about myself. I wouldn’t feel good enough. I wouldn’t feel loved.

And even though she was one of my good friends on the surface, many of her actions communicated otherwise.

And this was hard to swallow. Really hard to swallow. But that wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part was shaking the dust off. … Taylor Swift even wrote a song about just that.

I mentioned it previously, but the most important aspect of my recovery is that I’ve removed myself from the triggering environment of my hometown. I’ve completely uprooted my life and started fresh. That may sound depressing, but in actuality, the freedom it has brought is unimaginable.

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I had to “shake the dust off,” and leave behind an environment and relationships that weren’t good for me, and embrace a new life filled with new friends, goals, and dreams that encourage and support my recovery. I’ve kept in contact with the relationships back home that are positive and healthy, but I’ve let go of the toxic relationships that made me feel inadequate.

The dust has been shaken off, friends. I’m now living abundantly in New York City with friends that do love and care for me. I’ve separated myself from that environment back home where, I still to this day, walk around with a shadow of my anorexia following me wherever I go. I can’t go for five minutes without being brutally reminded of my dark past — my neighborhood, the grocery store, the park, my school, the gym, the kitchen, my bedroom — I just can’t escape the darkness. And what’s worse is that people still see me as the “formerly sick girl.” I just had to start fresh. I had to establish a new environment and new relationships.

But I have to say this: it is so important to be able to share your history with someone in your new environment. A confidant. Someone you can share your vulnerabilities with. Someone that deserves that sacred part of your heart. A best friend. A mentor. A church friend. Dare I say it….a therapist? But having someone who knows your story, who is someone you can talk to, is important. Because even though you’re starting new doesn’t mean that your past isn’t part of your makeup. Your past: the suffering you’ve endured during your eating disorder, has shaped you into the strong, resilient survivor you are today. And your past is not something to be ashamed of. Quite the contrary. You’ve fought the battle and won. You’ve had to overcome something that could have taken your life. One in ten women with an eating disorder die. Let that sink in. You’ve chosen life. You’ve chosen love. And that is something to be proud of.

But that freedom, that power, that reclaiming of your life cannot happen if you’ve got a toxic relationship dragging you down. Recovery is hard enough as it is with only supportive people around you. It is impossible with toxicity in the equation. It’s like jumping into the ocean with a bowling ball tied around your ankle. You just won’t survive.

You’ve got to shake it off.

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I’ll leave you with this: They say that if you change nothing, nothing will change. They are right on the money. If you go back to a relationship where you don’t feel good enough, you don’t feel loved, you feel inadequate, you feel competition for this or that, ED will come right back into your mind and wreak havoc.

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Letting go of relationships is hard, especially ones with history and ones that may, on the surface, appear to be significant relationships. However, from this point in your life on, you need to accept that the number one thing in your life (aside from Jesus) will be protecting your recovery at all costs. You need to guard it and protect it no matter what, and if that means saying goodbye to a “friend” who just doesn’t want the best for you, then so be it. Shake the dust off. Your life is too precious not to have people behind you that love you and are cheering for your recovery.

Relationship #RealTalk: Broken Relationships

If you’ve lived though an eating disorder, it’s no secret that they take a toll on your relationships. We all know the damage it brings to the body and to the mind, but the havoc ED wreaks on relationships is often overlooked.

Eating disorders are like a Category F5 tornado. They rip through and leave a trail of destruction that takes time and perseverance to rebuild. Eating disorders destroy her physical body: I developed osteoporosis as an 18-year-old girl. My hair fell out. I stopped menstruating, and to this day I still don’t. They mess with her digestive system, her circulatory system, her brain function, and her growth and maturation process.

Eating disorders devastate her mental wellbeing as well: She has to fight the Voice of ED for the rest of her life. She develops OCD and perfectionist tendencies that she will have to combat from here on out. She battles guilt, fear and anxiety. She continually will have to beat back feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy from this point forward. Her Lie never truly goes away — she can only muffle it and become stronger than its influence.

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But those things are all openly talked about and rather common knowledge. What people often forget is how the eating disorder also destroys the relationships in her life.

When I was in my eating disorder, it was all consuming. As I mentioned before, I didn’t care about anything or anyone else. I was simply controlled by my obsession with losing weight, restricting my intake, avoiding eating, sneaking exercise, throwing away food, and keeping the deception up. Period. Not how my behaviors were affecting others, or how concerned my loved ones were (although I did carry around immense guilt and shame). But at the end of the day, all that mattered to me was myself. And as a result, needless to say, my relationships suffered.

You see, during my illness, my friends were so concerned. They knew I had Ulcerative Colitis, and they knew I was sick, but they didn’t really know what was going on. I was adamant that it wasn’t an eating disorder, and my family wasn’t talking, in order to respect my privacy. But everyone saw my body wasting away, and knew that there was something not right.

So they reached out to me. They would call me every day — they’d invite me to take walks or come over to watch a movie. They invited me to grab a cup of coffee, hang out — anything! But I never answered their phone calls. I was too caught up in the F5 tornado that was raging in my head, that I couldn’t break the cycle – not even for 30 minutes – to sit down for tea with my friends that cared and loved me so much.

Part of the reason why I pushed them away was that I knew that if I let them get too close to me, they’d see how entrenched in my anorexia I was. They’d figure out that, “Wow, it’s not Ulcerative Colitis, but actually an eating disorder.” I chose to protect my eating disorder over keeping my friendships. That’s the sad truth about anorexia and eating disorders, and why it’s so hard to “get through” to her: she would literally do anything – including die – in order to protect her eating disorder. So she’ll lie to you. Manipulate you. Hurt you physically, mentally and emotionally. She’ll hide food. She’ll vomit behind your back. She’ll isolate herself. She’ll threaten this and that. All to protect the thing that is controlling her every move.

But back to my friends. They loved me. They were concerned. And they called everyday. But there comes a point, where after months and months of reaching out and never even getting a return phone call, that you just stop reaching out. They never stopped being my friends, but they just stopped trying, and chose to support me from a distance.

Many of those relationships – not all – did end up healing. It took a long time to rebuild them, but they did recover. And just like you didn’t destroy those relationships overnight, you can’t rebuild them overnight either.

I had to come clean with the truth. This was something that I did at inpatient. I think Alcoholics Anonymous refers to this as “making amends,” but I did just that at inpatient. I made a list of all the people in my life that I had been lying to: my family, my friends, my teachers, trusted family friends. And I wrote letters to each of them, explaining that I actually was suffering from an eating disorder, not Ulcerative Colitis. And I apologized for lying to them and betraying their trust.

The process of coming clean was a big part of my journaling at inpatient. I was so terrified of being honest with my loved ones, because not only was I going to have to disappoint them, but I was also going to have to be vulnerable and reveal that I’m not perfect. Both of those things: being a disappoint and being imperfect, were two of the biggest lies that ED was telling me. They were his stronghold on me. And so to admit those two things to literally everyone in my life that I cared about, was something that, a) I was filled with so much anxiety about doing, b) was completely terrified of doing, and c) knew that it was something that just needed to be done.

“I have to do this. If I want complete restoration from the ED, then I have to come clean to the list. They are still going to love me, and it will actually offer them some relief. It will be a way of showing them that I love them and that I am sorry.”

After I wrote and sent my letters, I had an overwhelming sense of the gravity that my illness had on the people I loved. It became real: I had truly hurt them. It was the first time where my eating disorder “blinders” had come off, and I realized the gravity and the impact of my actions not just on me, but on others.

I just wrote my first amends letter to Luke. I feel very ashamed after that letter. I need to remember that God loves me.

The letters to my friends go out today. I am anxious as to how they will be received. I know I have wounded them and I am hopeful that they will forgive me and still love me. I know I have a lot of trust to earn back. I am anxious about the awkwardness of afterwards and seeing them for the first time when I return.

The responses I got from my friends were full of love and relief. They said they were honored that I would trust them enough to share this part of myself with them. They said they were sad that I had been battling this alone and relief that I was getting help and healing. There was not one bit of anger. They were all full of hope for me, and for our friendships in the future.

In addition to writing letters to my friends and loved ones, I also called my immediate family. I already recounted first admitting the truth about my anorexia and calling my parents immediately after. It took a few days, but I then called my siblings — Some relationships merit a phone conversation.

I just called my siblings and I told them the truth. It was so hard and scary, but now I feel so free because they forgave me and told me how much they love me and just want me to get batter.  I want to rebuild their trust, and by me getting better, I will be a walking picture of the regained trust.

Telling your friends and loved ones the truth is a very humbling and scary thing, especially when doing so means coming face to face with the lies ED has been feeding you. But it is worth it. Those relationships are worth repairing, and honestly, it will make them grow stronger.

When I got home from inpatient, my friends were waiting at the house for me, and greeted me with warm hugs and such genuine excitement that I had chosen life. We all were so happy to see each other that we all jumped in the pool in my backyard with all our clothes on. They had the “old me” back. They had the “old friend” back that was trapped inside, being manipulated by ED. Yes, they had been lied to. Yes, they had been hurt by my isolation and withdrawal, but I think deep down, they understood that it was not really me who was choosing to hurt them, it was my eating disorder. Everyday I am grateful for the forgiveness I have received, and have made it my mission to take the love and compassion that I generously received, and pay it forward.

But there’s one aspect of Broken Relationships that isn’t quite so “lovey-dovey,” and that’s toxic relationships. Yes, you will have a handful of relationships that, let’s face it, just aren’t good for you, and jeopardize your recovery. Then what?

That’s a tough topic, and it’s up later this week in my Relationship #RealTalk series.