Throwback Thursday: What is home?

Originally posted February 28, 2012

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

~ Maya Angelou

For my entire life…I’ve moved from one house to another to another. I’ve had many different bedrooms, schools, groups of friends. Each time, I have had to adjust to a new “home”.

Unfortunately though, I’ve never felt safe at my house, my school, or with whatever group of friends I have had at a certain time.

I have never had a true home.

You may ask, “What? How could you have never had a home?”

Well, to me, a home is a safe haven. It is a place where I can go escape from the troubles of my world and just be myself. It is a place where I know that I am loved unconditionally and I will never be rejected.

To me, a home is consistent. There is a sense of continuity – a place that I am comfortable enough to put down roots without the fear that everything will be torn out from underneath me. It is not a place where I don’t know what to expect from day to day. I have never felt safe enough to settle and put down roots.

There is a sense of privacy and boundaries are respected, but there is also a supportive environment that enables a person to grow into the best person that they can be. There is balance somewhere between having to be independent and take care of myself and being smothered and overprotected.

A home should be a place where kids are allowed to be kids. They shouldn’t have to take on adult responsibilities in elementary school. Age appropriate expectations are so important.

I have lived my entire life in fear – of my parents, of my peers, of lack, of myself.

Throughout my life, I’ve come up with different ways to keep myself safe and meet my need for security. The most consistent method that I have used is my eating disorder.

My eating disorder has been there for me to fall back on in times where everything seems uncertain. It is the perfect place to retreat into when I don’t feel safe. Through my eating disorder, I was essentially able to say that I don’t have needs, so I wasn’t disappointed when they didn’t get met. At the most extreme times of the eating disorder, I didn’t feel anything. I couldn’t think about anything other than food, and that was good. My life was crumbling around me and I was being abused and taken advantage of, but I was okay because I had my eating disorder. Thinking about it now, it’s like the eating disorder became my protective shell…it became my home, and it stayed that way for many years.

The only other place that I felt safe was at Mercy. I allowed myself to come out of my protective shell and put myself out there. I still feel at home whenever I walk through the doors of Mercy Ministries. At Mercy, I fit. I belonged there. All my needs were met. I had support, and I created a family. Sometimes I get glimpses of “home” when I talk to some of the girls I was there with, specifically my friend Katherine. We may not be related by blood, but there is no doubt that we are sisters.

Anyways, now that I am going to treatment and the eating disorder isn’t functioning in the role that it used to function in, I feel lost. I feel more lonely than ever, and this time, I don’t know what to do about it. I kind of want to move – to recreate Alexis yet again…because that’s what I know how to do.

Every time I have moved, I have gone into it hoping that I finally find a place to call home, but after all those unsuccessful attempts, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not location that determines a home.

I have to find a place within myself where I am satisfied with myself in order to be at a place where I can maintain a “home” environment. I need to surround myself with the right kind of people.

It’s not the location that matters.

It’s me.


The concept of home still holds so much power for me.

When I wrote that post, I was really struggling to find where I belonged. I was commuting to college in Toronto, living at home, searching for schools to transfer to in the States, and still, struggling intensly with the eating disorder. I wanted to run away or to disappear inside myself because I couldn’t figure out where on earth I was supposed to be.

Now? I’ve created a home for myself in Massachusetts. It may not be my forever home, but it is for now. I’ve put down roots. I’ve invested in people, and they’ve invested in me. I’m learning to have healthy boundaries with the people that I love, that has only served to strengthen the relationships that we’ve developed over the last year and a half. Being at a Christian college with res life guidelines and expectations from the college provide me with structure and expectations, but I’m still treated like a grown up. I still go off campus and I do my own thing. My friends have seen me at my lowest, and they’ve loved me through it. They’ve stood by me when they were absolutely terrified, and they walked with me as I grew into a person who could stand on my own two feet.

There’s a familiar rhythm to life when I’m home in Massachusetts. Life is filled with unexpected obstacles and extraordinary victories, and I don’t always feel happy or comfortable. I don’t ever want to feel completely comfortable anywhere that I go, because that doesn’t foster continual growth.

I was right about one thing though. I did have to go through a process of giving myself permission to just be where I was before I began to feel like I belonged.

Home is me, absolutely, but it’s so much more than that.

Sometimes a change of pace is the best thing in the world.

It’s 6:30am and I’ve been laying awake since 4. I feel like I should be tired, but I’m really not. My brain has been swirling with thoughts as I lay here in the dark stillness of my new friend’s bedroom.

I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to spend the last two nights here in this big comfy bed. Last night, I slept better than I have in weeks. I’ve met many incredible women, and I’ve seen community lived out here in The Beaches of Toronto in a way that I rarely witness back in Hamilton.

I’ve had so many new experiences as well. I ate king crab legs for the first time. They are very expensive and even more delicious. I walked to a cute all day breakfast place and bought freshly squeezed orange juice. I accompanied my new friend while she went to show houses to her clients and met the cutest puppy named Steve. In my humble opinion, he was the best part of that house. I went to get ice cream with the cutest little boy ever (even if he’s a handful…). This may not be a new experience, but I’ve looked at all her books and I want to read them all.

Out of all the cool new experiences, my favourite moments have been the evenings we’ve spent sitting outside sharing our lives. We have much in common, so it’s nice to sit and talk with someone who’s a bit further down the road of life and, as such, has come to possess incredible amounts of wisdom. I feel safe to ask questions that I would never ask anyone else.

When this woman speaks, people hear her. It is evident to me that is she loved by so many, because she loves so well. She’s a strong, confident, powerful woman, but she is also intimately acquainted with pain and suffering. She understands the concept of authenticity in a very practical way. This woman is a Truth speaker. She is a woman of integrity; someone who is true to her word. She calls bullshit on people while at the same time identifying their strengths and building them up.

I’ve talked to a few people who know her well, and they confirmed to me everything that I have noticed as I’ve watched her life play out for the last 38 hours. She is both highly respected and deeply loved by everyone around her.

We were talking last night before bed and I asked her if she was proud of herself for how far she’s come. She told me that she is, but sometimes she forgets to reflect on where she’s come from so she doesn’t necessarily feel it on a daily basis. I want to make it known right now that I am so beyond proud of everything she’s accomplished and the woman she has fought so hard to become.

I’ve only been here since Saturday afternoon, but I am leaving a changed woman (Note the word woman…). I am inspired, empowered, and encouraged. This was just the boost I needed to help me get back on track, and I so appreciate it.

She’s a good friend of my mom’s but I wholeheartedly feel that this is the beginning of a really wonderful relationship.

Throwback Thursday: to be vulnerable is to be courageous

Originally posted December 14, 2013

Sometimes I go back and read through old blog posts from the many different blogs that I’ve created through the years. I started my first blog when I was just thirteen years old. Rarely did a person read them, but I wrote for me. I wrote because I needed to process, and the early posts were overflowing with angst. It’s fascinating to me to have something so tangible to remember how much my heart ached all those years ago.

This post that I’m sharing with you now was written only seven months ago. I was in the midst of one of the darkest periods of my life. I had just had my very first assessment for eating disorder specific residential treatment, and I felt overwhelmed. My heart was raw because I had just exposed so much of myself. Any pretense of being “okay” was gone after ending up in the emergency room only a few days prior. Despite all this, I still held on to hope. I recognized the power of choice. I was beginning to learn that strength and bravery often revealed themselves in the moments of utter weakness and pure exhaustion.

I didn’t know how much worse things would get before they got better, but they did eventually get better, and I suppose that’s what matters.

I’m still learning some of these lessons day after day…but in the moment that I wrote this blog, I was choosing life.


 

“You can choose comfort or you can choose courage. You can’t have both.”

~ Brene Brown

Finding yourself in a place where all pretences and facades have been stripped away – where compartmentalization is no longer an option – is quite possibly the most humbling experience a human being can have. To be raw, unguarded, and exposed is excruciatingly painful, yet I’m learning that maybe this is how we’re meant to live.

At least I’m learning that maybe this is how I am meant to live.

Vulnerability is uncomfortable. It is awkward, wearisome, and at times, downright distressing.

As I write this, I’m in a very vulnerable state. I feel naked, laid bare, and exposed before so many people. Everything that I used to hide has now been brought into the light. I’m not just talking a single person’s flashlight, either.

Part of embracing vulnerability has been a choice on my part. It started months ago when I began to let the walls down, little by little, experiencing emotions that I’d kept locked away for years – sitting with those feelings in the presence of another person. It started when I learned that leaning in to discomfort was the only way I was going to make any progress. In the past, I’ve come up against situations and circumstances similar to the ones I’ve been facing recently, and instead of opening up, I’ve shut down. Instead of leaning into and onto my supports, I’ve run away.

It has appeared, though, that throughout the course of these last few months, there have been a number of situations that have literally brought me to my knees. It’s been a form of vulnerability that I have fought against, but in the end, I lost the fight. It felt compelled and involuntary – and yet I still had a choice. I always have a choice. Would I be honest – revealing the darkest parts of myself, the parts that terrify even me – or would I cling to the pretence that I had everything under control, even though there was plenty of evidence to the contrary?

chose honesty. I chose to embrace vulnerability even though it hurt like hell.

I’ve reached the point of pure exhaustion. I am drained of both physical and emotional energy, and I am void of the ability to compartmentalize. I can no longer keep all the areas of my life wrapped up neat and tidy in their own little boxes – separate. I can no longer maintain composure when I’m being overwhelmed with emotion; it spills out whether I’d like it to or not. I’m afraid of this place because it feels chaotic and out of control. It feels like I’m spinning out, but the reality is, I’m right where I need to be.

In times of deep pain and hurt, vulnerability feels terrible while simultaneously bringing great relief. People see you. Some people know you. Those people love you.

When I show up by bringing my full self to the table (both figuratively and literally), I’m actively choosing to engage in real relationships. I’m choosing to allow people the honour of walking alongside of me, rather than at arm’s length. I’m choosing to allow them to hold up my arms when I don’t have any strength left. I’m choosing to allow them to fight on my behalf, because they know my battles. They are intimately acquainted with my enemies, even if they may not fully understand them.

By embracing vulnerability, I have seen more people really show up for me than ever before. I think that’s because I’m showing up for them.

By embracing vulnerability, I have learned that I am not alone, no matter how alone I may feel.

It may be uncomfortable, awkward, messy, and distressing, but moreso, it’s refreshing, satisfying, and invaluable.

To be vulnerable is to be courageous. 

Learning to be alone together.

I recently filled a journal with quotes, scriptures, collages, poems, letters, and writing prompts for someone I really care about. It was a very time consuming, and incredibly rewarding project. When I finished the last page, I literally squealed. It was great.

Anyways, the reason I bring that up is because part of that project meant coming up with various writing prompts. I thought of a lot of them myself, but I also spent a long time researching to find ones that I thought were applicable for her. In the process, I came across many absolutely absurd prompts, and a few powerful ones.

There was one prompt that I saw that stuck with me. I didn’t use it, because it wasn’t appropriate, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The prompt was, “Write about the day you knew you were truly alone in the world.”

walking_alone_by_inv4d3r-d5bseei

It struck me because I’ve felt alone for much of my life, but I have no idea when that started. It also struck me because I’ve always known that even if I feel alone, I am never entirely alone in this world. I racked my brain for weeks trying to figure out this whole feeling alone/being alone dichotomy.

I suppose part of this can be attributed to that fact that I’ve been a Christian for years and God has been a very significant part of my life. In the Christian faith, we are taught that we are never alone because God is omnipresent. He is everywhere all the time, so of course we’re never alone. I always had confidence that even in my darkest hours, God was there. He was my hope, my refuge, and my strength.

But there has to be more. I’ve experienced countless traumas, rejection, betrayl, depression, complete and total isolation. I’ve physically carved the word alone into my skin. I was absolutely convinced I was alone, and yet, when I look back at my writing through the years, it was clear that although I felt alone, I was never actually alone.

For some, I think that being alone is a distinct reality, and at times, it was for me too. For me though, it was a choice. I was alone by choice. There were people who were there waiting for me to come back to them, but I wanted to believe that I was alone so I pushed them away. I created evidence for me to believe what I wanted to believe. I was alone, and I was unworthy of people’s love and support.

Over the last few years, I’ve been on a journey of finding out that being alone and feeling alone are two completely separate things. I’ve learned that when I feel alone, I need to reach out. I need to remind myself that I am not alone. Even if no one is around to reach out to, I need to go where the people are. I need to sit in a crowded coffee shop to prove to myself that people exist and I am not alone in the world.

I’m doing much better at this, but I still struggle with this a lot. My innate tendency is to isolate. Reaching out requires far more effort, and sometimes I feel like I don’t have it in me…but I do it anyways.

Now, being alone can sometimes be a good thing. As an introvert, I NEED my alone time. If I don’t have it, I feel drained and often I end up getting to the point where I feel alone in a crowded room, which is quite possibly one of the worst feelings in the world. But for me, I know that eventually that alone time needs to end.

I was created for community. I desire it, and I seek it out. I’m learning how to be alone together…and that’s the best type of alone time.

holding_hands-1600x1200

It takes effort, until it doesn’t

Since I’ve been home and interacting with people who I haven’t seen in quite some time, I’ve been asked all sorts of questions ranging from “Where have you been the last three years?” to “You’ve gained so much weight! How did that happen?” (Talk about tactless and triggering, much? No gracias.)

The question that I’ve been asked most often in conversations where the topic of my recovery comes up is, “Do you believe you can fully recover or is this something you’re going to have to manage forever?”

In the recovery community, it sometimes feels like there are two camps when it comes to the answer to this question. There are those who are fully convinced and have seen evidence that full recovery is, indeed, a very attainable possibility, and then there are those who believe that while symptoms may be eliminated or highly reduced, there will always be little bit of the eating disorder just waiting for you to slip and fall into it’s waiting arms.

(Source: healthyplace.com)

(Source: healthyplace.com)

As for me, I ascribe to the ideology of camp number one. My response is a resounding yes. Yes, I absolutely believe that full recovery is possible. I have met too many recovered individuals to believe that they are the exception to the rule. For me, the notion of continual management of symptoms and hyper-vigilance of watching and preparing for the next relapse fills me with such a deep sense of hopelessness. I don’t want to think that all of my efforts have been for naught – all the meals that I’ve fought through and all the urges I’ve surfed (Sun wave, anyone? Shout out to Ali and Rachael at IOP if you see this.); the endless therapy sessions and the pain of buying clothes to fit my new body that I’m working hard to accept. I need to have an end in sight, and for me, that end is “recovered”.

One huge component to this discussion is the definition of recovery and recovered. Everyone has their own unique definition of recovery. I have thought about this long and hard. I have participated in plenty of group therapy sessions based around this topic. It’s very difficult to fight for something that you cannot even imagine.

When I say that I believe in being fully recovered, I think of life without an eating disorder. What does that mean though? In my mind, it is so much more than weight restoration and the cessation of behaviours. It’s choosing to reach out instead of reaching in. It is to eat more one day and less the next; to have a big brunch without worrying about how it fits in your meal plan. Self-compassion is no longer a treatment buzzword, rather it’s a reality that is lived out on a daily basis. It’s saying no to things that don’t satisfy you, and creating space for things that make you come alive. It’s establishing and maintaining real world relationships that are not wrapped up in the treatment and recovery circles. It is affording yourself the opportunity to make mistakes. I think it means embracing your inherent character traits and using your strengths to your benefit, rather than aiding in your self-destruction. It is living in the space between black and white. It is seeing yourself as a worthy human being, no questions asked. It is having healthy coping mechanisms that have simply turned into ways of life. It is structure and routine in combination with flexibility and relaxation.

Something that we talked a lot about in treatment was how both the eating disorder self and the healthy self come from within each of us, and the process of recovery means that we develop our healthy self so that it’s strong enough to absorb the eating disorder self back into us and take all the energy we spent waging war with our bodies and begin to fight together. What once was fragmented becomes whole.

From everyone I’ve talked to, I’ve learned that there’s no single moment where you realize you’re recovered. Eventually, the day will come when you realize that you’ve been so busy living that you haven’t thought about engaging in behaviours for over a year. There will be moments where you remember…maybe a familiar taste triggers something deep within the recesses of your memory and you thank God that you are no longer that person.

To get there takes work; it takes effort and energy.

Until it doesn’t. 

How does one grieve without completely falling apart?

There’s so much I want to write about, and at the same time, nothing at all.

I feel like I can’t write anything before I acknowledge the loss of an incredible woman. A week ago, Ify, a woman who worked at the organization I interned at from June-Dec of last year, and continued on as a volunteer in varying capacities, was killed in a car crash.

I didn’t work super closely with her, but I had worked very closely with her for two weeks right before I left, and had varying encounters since she began working at the home in Feb/Mar. She was a woman of excellence. She loved God wholeheartedly. She was compassionate, kind, and gentle, yet very determined and strategic.

When i first heard that Ify had passed away, it was Sunday night…right after I had posted my latest blog and was blown away by the response. As soon as I heard, I was in shock. How could she be dead? I was just laughing with her three weeks ago. She thanked me for how well I functioned under pressure. It was a nice interaction.

All I want is to be in Mass with the rest of the team to celebrate her life. I feel so isolated and alone in my grief because no one here seems to comprehend the significance of this. I feel trapped in Canada – knowing that the only way I’m going to get out of here is if It’s the end of August. And it’s not.

Grief is never something I’ve been good at…not that there’s really a right way to grieve. I suppose I should say that I’ve never allowed myself to grieve when someone I care about passes away until this year. I’ve got a lot of grief and sadness pent up inside of me, and it appears that now that I’m not using my eating disorder to cope with the feelings of sadness and loss, everything is coming out. I’ve had a hard time getting out of bed, eating seems to have fallen by the wayside, and the idea of being around people makes my skin crawl.

I left my house for the first time since Sunday today though, so there’s progress, and I ate food. Also progress. I can’t allow Ify’s death and all of this grief to derail me. I’ve worked so, so hard to get to where I am. I can’t give that all up. But I just don’t feel like I have the emotional capacity to do this right now, and that makes me sad. Along with everything else in the world…