My pant size is not who I am

Today, I cried in a fitting room for the first time in my entire life.

I cried because the shorts that I tried on didn’t fit me. I cried because my pant size has increased significantly since January. I cried because I was standing in front of the mirror and all I could see was fat – everywhere. I cried because I was allowing that pant size to define who I am as a person. I cried because I felt disgusting, shameful, and ugly.

I bought a few pairs of capris in a size I am still very uncomfortable with and left the store feeling defeated.

The only thing I could think to do was to retreat into my eating disorder. “Once I get smaller again, I’ll feel a bit better. I won’t go too far this time…I’ll still be healthy,” I told myself. Rather than allowing those thoughts to take root, I chose to reach out to my dietitian, Anna, for support. The conversation that ensued allowed me the opportunity to slow down, challenge my distorted thoughts, and reassess my values.

I was reminded that to have a body is a common experience. It is something that every human being can relate to. I was reminded that being in my body as it is now does not have to be an isolating experience. In fact, it is only when I am fully present in my body that I am able to connect deeply with others.

I decided to shift my attitude from one of hatred, to that of gratitude. I made a conscious choice to think of all the amazing things that my body, as it is now – increased pant size and all, has allowed me to do. For example,

  • I have been able to climb the stairs up to where my church meets without feeling tired.
  • I have been able to walk around the pond at school and have a conversation with someone I care for deeply.
  • I have been able to play Dance Dance Revolution in a very old arcade with a dear friend.
  • I have gone on a hike to watch the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen.
  • I swung on the swings with my brother.
  • I held a gigantic eight month old baby for hours.
  • I shot hoops with my friend and sucked at it but had a lot of fun.
  • I went canoeing with that same friend and was able to lift the canoe onto the roof of my car.

Being in this body is less about the body itself, and more about what I am able to accomplish through it. If I were not healthy, I wouldn’t have been able to do some of those things, and if I were able, I wouldn’t have been present to enjoy them.

This canoe was so heavy. Sarah and I took a while to lift it up there, but we did it and it would have been impossible for both of us 6 months ago. Nourishment is a miraculous thing indeed.

This canoe was so heavy. Sarah and I took a while to lift it up there, but we did it and it would have been impossible for both of us 6 months ago. Nourishment is a miraculous thing indeed.

She also shared the following quote with me:

“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.

If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.

Truly, the greatest gift that you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”

~ Lao Tzu

This quote speaks directly to the things that I value most of all. It reminded me of why I’m fighting for recovery in the first place. It is why I had to get rid of my old clothes and shop for new ones. It is why I am learning to move into uncharted territory and explore what it means to be healthy and present in the world. It is why I said, “This is the end.”

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I want to leave behind my footprints everywhere I go. I want my life to have meaning, to make an impact. I want to be a person who challenges others to think differently, who speaks light into dark places, gives hope to those who feel that they are too far gone. I see injustice and I want to stand against it. I want to be not only a lifelong learner, but I want to give myself space to put my learning into action. I want to not only speak MY truth, but I want to be a platform for others. I want to amplify their voices so that they are heard loud and clear. I want to love boldly and passionately. I want to live a life full of compassion, bravery, vulnerability, flexibility, and sincerity.

If I allow myself to shrink my own world down to the size of an article of clothing, I am doing myself an incredible disservice. I may wear a larger size than I did, but I’m able to accomplish more too. I am full of life now – in a way that I never was before. I have so much to offer this world, and I am not about to throw that all away. (Thank heavens I’ve got so many amazing, supportive people in my life who remind me of this regularly. I don’t know where I’d be without y’all. You know who you are.)

So, today I cried in a fitting room for the first time in my life. I cried out of fear, self-hatred, and disgust. Next time, I won’t cry. I don’t have to like that my clothing size is larger, but I am choosing to accept it. Acceptance has nothing to do with enjoyment.

I commit to actively choosing to carry my values into the fitting room with me along with the clothes, because ultimately those are infinitely more important.


Why does it even matter?

Confession: I’m terrified of what people who only know me on a surface level, or who used to know me but haven’t watched this process of illness and recovery would think of me if they found out I am in recovery from an eating disorder.

Now, I don’t think it’s necessarily something to go around proclaiming to the world. “Look at me! I just got out of treatment for an eating disorder and I’m actually sustaining my recovery (even though i just got out a week ago)!!” There’s a time and a place, and there is wisdom in being cautious, especially with something as personal as this.

However, I also don’t think it’s appropriate that I’m feeling shame about my recovery.

When I was sick, I had less of a problem telling people that I was struggling with an eating disorder. It was more obvious, and it made me feel strong and empowered…as twisted as that is. In recovery, I feel strong and empowered sometimes, but at least right now, I feel physically and emotionally drained. I don’t feel like this is something to be proud of, even though I know it is.

The shame might come from my body. Being home has made my body image so much worse. I look in my bathroom mirror and I see my body as it is, but I remember what it was. It might come from the fact that I miss being sick. I know it’s a common feeling, but who in their right mind would miss that hell? It might come from the knowledge that people won’t see me as someone who needs help. I’m capable of caring for myself now, but I always go back to wanting people to take care of me.

Another part of me feels that if people see me in recovery, but they didn’t know me before, all of the valient effort that I put forth will go to waste. I want people to be proud of my recovery, but I feel like I’ll just be “that girl”.

I don’t really know. It could be a combination of all of those things. The biggest question that I have to ask myself is, “why does it even matter?”

Why does it matter of people don’t see the sickness. Why does it matter if people who don’t know me judge me? Why does it matter if people didn’t see me throughout the treatment process?

What matters now is that I’m here. Using my voice. Speaking my truth. Hoping that one day I’ll stop looking back and romanticizing the illness. I’m in recovery, and I’m really, really proud of myself for that.

Foreign to Familiar

Coming back to a familiar place after a period of significant change is always strange.

It highlights the multitude of differences between what was and what is. A relationship might feel so comfortable, and yet a piece of you knows that it is not right. A place might bring back so many old memories while simultaneously making you want to crawl out of your own skin. Even walking down the street you’ve lived on for years may feel both foreign and familiar.

On the one hand, you are the same human being who was here before. You slept in your bed, walked down your street, interacted with these same people. The routine of everyday life…or in my case, the lack of it…in this world seems to fit like a glove and you fall right back into it. This is what you know, what you’ve always known here.

And then you are hit with the harsh reality, you are not the same. You cannot live the same way. That glove that used to fit perfectly has left you feeling constricted and frustrated. Is it possible to navigate a familiar landscape differently? It must be. I have known countless amounts of people who have been able to do just that, but I am struggling to figure it out.

I am here – laying in my bed (which isn’t actually my bed considering my mother gave it to my brother…still bitter about that one), in my bedroom, in my house, in this neighbourhood, in this city. I went to a grocery store – I remembered things. I went to my church…and realized that maybe I don’t fit there anymore after all. I talked with a friend, and I realized we had very little to connect over anymore.

This discomfort is the evidence that I have been transformed. It is evidence of all the hard work I have done over the last few months. It is clear to me that the self I have brought back to Canada this time around is entirely different than any self I have brought back before.

For me, I think that navigating this familiar landscape differently means pulling out a map and charting new routes to take. It means establishing new connections, creating new memories, and maybe reorganizing ;). I also think that maybe it’s okay to bring a few familiar people along for the ride.

I really do feel like a foreigner in a familiar land. And maybe I’m okay with that.

It’s not just about the food…

Life happens. 

I’m supposed to be driving home today – something that I’ve been dreading with every ounce of my being – and when I went to turn my car on this morning to get on the road, the engine started smoking. I immediately get overwhelmed and started scrambling. I called the dealership first and they said I didn’t have towing, then I called my parents and they said I did. They called back with a number to call, and I got a tow truck, so now I’m just sitting here in the hotel lobby waiting.  (Thank God it happened in the parking lot as opposed to on the highway…)

In the past, my automatic reaction would have been to shut down – to go inside myself and wait for someone else to solve the problem. This time, my first thought was, “Damn. This is not good. I need to get a tow to the dealership.” and then I jumped into action. I made the necessary phone calls to get the immediate needs met. 

I’m really proud of myself, because this is evidence of all the hard work that I’ve done over the last few months. My brain is functioning better than ever. I’m learning to face problems head on and be assertive rather than being avoidant. 

Recovery doesn’t just have to do with food and the physical aspects. It’s about being able to make informed, realistic decisions. It’s about being present in relationships. It’s about finding your voice and being empowered to take care of yourself. 

The timing for this, in the midst of the chaos of the transition of moving home, is not great AND it’s okay. Everything is uncertain, but I feel surprisingly calm now. It’s okay. 

Life can happen and I can be okay. It’s simple, but it’s a great revelation.


Life’s Punctuation

Tonight is my last night of treatment.

Every time I’ve left treatment in the past, there’s been an ellipses at the end…

I’ve been waiting for the, “what next?” – the inevitable relapse that comes once I finish treatment. Sometimes I’ve waited longer than others, but it always comes eventually.

This time there is a period. I don’t feel like I’m waiting anymore.

Today, June 16, 2014, is closure. It is the end of a chapter. It is fear, hope, peace, anxiety, and cautious optimism.

Tomorrow, June 17, 2014, I turn the page and begin to write the rest of the story. I don’t have a full map of what that’s going to look like, but I know that this chapter will transform tragedy into triumph. This chapter will be the launching pad for the rest of the story that is my life.

As with any good story, I hope to carry forward certain themes. I want people to look at my life and see hope. To look at my footsteps and see the power of choice. To hear the sound of my voice and know that their words, too, are valuable. To look at my imperfections and see the reflection of grace.

Tonight is my last night of treatment. I’m scared and I don’t feel ready, but I have been equipped with all the right tools to embark on this next chapter.

This is the end.

My own ability to recover might be what terrifies me more than anything else.

 Yes, I’m absolutely terrified of losing relationships. That’s what I go back to time and time again. My eating disorder says that if I get better, I’ll lose my friends, my team, everyone who’s ever loved me. I’ll be alone in the world, and why would I want to get better only the end up in the same place that I started? I’ve had this discussion so many times. The people who love me want to see me well. There will be a shift, a necessary shift, but I will not lose them entirely. People will show up for me as I show up for myself. I say, “This is the end.”

 Then I think of my educational and professional capabilities. I’m able to do better work when I’m not eating. Food is not a distraction because I can pretend it doesn’t exist for an eight hour work day and get so much accomplished. Food doesn’t exist while I’m writing a paper, or I’ll use it as a reward for finishing. When I enter into a period of recovery – even thinking about recovery – my focus shifts. It appears I am not capable of holding both recovery and school/work at the same time. At least, not to the standard I’m used to holding myself to while I’m slowly digging my own grave. I say that I need my eating disorder to succeed in school, and I’ll get better once I’m done and my grades are good enough for grad school. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way because I don’t have the luxury of getting sick to the point of needing treatment again, not really. I’ve never not had an eating disorder and been a student. I don’t know what that’s like. I’m terrified that I’m going to fail. I would rather fail school and be recovered, than be sick and have my PhD though. I know that for sure. I say, “This is the end.”

 I think of my life and all that has happened until this point. I think of the trauma, the lies, the lack of resources. I think of the emotions that I don’t want to feel and the work that I don’t want to do. I think of how overwhelming it is. That’s why I’m scared of getting better. Yes, partly true. But is it really? Am I really afraid of staring my demons in the face and addressing them? I’ve been living with them my whole life…it might be nice to not have them clawing at my back constantly. But, it’s impossible for me to get rid of my eating disorder because how else would I cope with the work that I will have to do? I use the eating disorder to block the pain of the trauma, and I use it to cope with the pain from the recovery. There’s really no winning here. The eating disorder is not an effective method of managing my emotions. I say, “This is the end.”

 I think of my eating disorder as my identity. Of course I’m terrified to give this up. It’s been fourteen years. I don’t know who I am without it. Bull. Shit. I have a pretty solid idea of who I am without the eating disorder…and I actually kind of like the idea of being that person. I am an incredible friend. I am compassionate, intelligent, creative, and loving. I am dedicated, strong willed, and hardworking. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a student. I am human, and I am vulnerable. I’m learning to live authentically, and the eating disorder gets in the way of that. Why would I want to keep something that steals the light from my eyes and the warmth from my heart? I say, “This is the end.”

 And then I think of me. I think of all those things. I think of how much I want to be well, and how hard I’ve fought to get to this place. I think of how I literally feel the eating disorder slipping further and further away…and yet I find myself lunging for its coattails. I need to hold on, even if just a little bit. I need to hold on because I’m afraid to stop fighting against myself. I’m afraid to take all of the effort that I’ve spent to make myself small, unseen and unheard, and instead, make myself known. I’m afraid to walk into a room and make a noise that announces my presence. I say that I want to leave a legacy – to leave behind my footprints everywhere I go – but it’s impossible for me to leave my footprints if I tread so lightly that I don’t make a sound. I’m afraid because I know I can do this. I know that I have this untapped power source in the depths of my being that’s just waiting for me to say, “Yes. This is it. This is the time.” I’m afraid because once I do that, there is no going back. There is no holding on to just a little bit of illness. There is no, “You can be sick at home and healthy at school”. The seductive nature of the eating disorder, the allure of being sick…this is the great illusion. The feelings of safety and security, while once true, are now masks for destruction and defeat. The gentle whispers turned into deafening roars. What a tragedy I couldn’t hear my own self think. The illusion is destroyed when I say, “This is the end.”

Isn’t it funny that the one thing that we spend our whole life running from – the one thing of which we are most afraid – can also be the only thing that saves us?

This is just the beginning.

Time to Tell Myself a Different Story

“There are times in our lives when we have to realize our past is precisely what it is, and we cannot change it. But we can change the story we tell ourselves about it, and by doing that, we can change the future.”

~ Eleanor Brown

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this blog and say what I want to say, but I feel like that quote captures it so well.

I’m going home in 1 week and 1 day. I’ve convinced myself that going home this time is going to be the exact same as every time I’ve gone home in the past.

I keep looking back and telling myself that it’s impossible for anything to be different. It doesn’t matter that I’m going home in a much different state of mind than every other time. It doesn’t matter that physically, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. I’ve never been healthy at home, so I can never be healthy at home. End of story. I’m going to relapse anyways, so why not start now?

This belief has got to change, and the only way for me to change it is to start telling myself a different story. Yes, it is true that I’ve never been healthy at home. However, it’s also true that I’d never been healthy here either, and I’ve managed to come back into environments in which the only association I had was completely taken over by the eating disorder and do well.

Since I went to treatment in January, I have done so, so much work. I’ve done lots of individual work which has been integral to my recovery process, but I also did some family work. I have seen tremendous growth and transformation in the midst of my family relationships. I’ve seen methods of communication develop between all members of my family. I’ve felt more loved, supported, and cared for by my parents in the last few months than I have in my entire life. I’ve never gone home and had a real relationship with my family.

There are so many differences about my time at home this time around, and yet I’m still stuck in this belief that it’s not going to be any different.

I suppose that’s it though. I’m getting stuck in the past, skipping the present, and allowing the past to determine my future. I need to start telling myself a different story. I need to start telling myself that I can use my past experiences to inform me of where I need to be on guard. I can go in with my guard up because I know exactly where the major struggles are.

I am not powerless here. I’ve found my voice here at school. I know how to speak up and get my needs met. But, it’s as if I just surrender all that power willingly as soon as I find out that I’m going home. The choice is mine. Will I continue to stand my ground and fight? Will I prove to myself that I can be at home in a healthy way? Or will I continue to play along with the patterns that have been developed over the last many, many years.

I want to say that I’ve decided to go home and fight because I know that’s the right thing to say. However, I’m still feeling scared. I’m scared of what it would mean for me to do well for two more months and then come back. To me, going home and doing well means that I am even closer to recovered than I had thought possible. Going home and doing well means that I’m getting better once and for all. No more games.

Life is terrifying. Life at home is terrifying. Life without an eating disorder is even more terrifying. Life with an eating disorder forever and ever is the most terrifying thing possible.

I guess I know what that means. I can go home and do exactly what I need to do. I can go home and shock everyone who’s never seen me healthy. I can go home and prove to myself that I can do this.