Life, Death, and Pizza

Poem by Nayyirah Waheed


Tonight I ate pizza for dinner.

It isn’t often, but whenever I do, I remember this girl that I was in eating disorder treatment with. She was there for anorexia and bulimia, and she discharged halfway through my stay. She seemed to be in a really good place.

I found out later through mutual friends that two weeks after she discharged, she attempted suicide.

She slit her wrists after eating three pieces of pizza.

Notice I didn’t say “because” she ate the pizza. She didn’t try to kill herself over that. If you’ll forgive the metaphor, the pizza was just the trigger on an already loaded gun- a girl with a deadly psychiatric disease in a crisis state.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. At 20%,  that means 1 in 5 of us die. Many of those deaths are suicides. Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, orthorexia, and eating disorders “not otherwise specified” (aka OSFED) are all deadly, cunning, terrifyingly insidious diseases that need comprehensive treatment to combat. A custom combination of physical medicine, psychiatric medicine, nutritional care, psychological counseling, life skills, and spiritual care (among other treatment options) is essential for helping people get into solid, lasting recovery. With proper treatment, that mortality rate drops to 4%.

As I ate pizza for dinner tonight, I reflected on a time when dying because I ate too much of the “wrong” food seemed reasonable. I remembered a time when that girl’s decision made some sense to me.

And I thanked God for the fact that it no longer does. 

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 

Matthew 6:25

Advertisements

More Than Numbers

Body Composition Activity 2.2

The above document is an assignment from the “physical fitness and wellness” course that I’m being required to take in order to graduate. In it, I’m being asked to calculate my BMI, body fat %, “fat weight” (could there be a more triggering phrase?), lean body mass %, waist circumference, and more ridiculous numbers that are not even a reliable indicator of health.

Basically, I am being asked to calculate all the numbers that I used to obsess about when I was anorexic.

So I used to have this scale. I took it from my parents’ bathroom when I was around 11. I had this scale for over twenty years. I saw every number on this scale from somewhere in the 150s to somewhere in the 50s. I watched my body magically grow and shrink like Alice after eating a truffle and drinking a potion. I watched my body as it marched towards death and grew into life and back and forth until my final ascent into recovery. I watched those numbers like some mad mathematician, calculating my worth, if I deserved love, or even life. Those ridiculous numbers determined everything about me. They were me.

Until I realized they weren’t.

The last time I saw that scale was ten years ago, when I threw it off the balcony of my apartment onto the concrete of the parking lot below, and I watched it smash into a hundred pieces.

Am I happy with my weight right now? Not particularly. But the danger that lies in attempting to manipulate it from where it has naturally settled it too high for me to risk doing anything about it. Maybe that will change in the future. I don’t know. What I do know is that those numbers no longer make up who I am. I don’t even think about them. My body is more than numbers. My life is so much greater than that. I have a big, beautiful, wonderful life, and it has nothing to do with how much I weigh, or my body fat percentage, or how many calories I eat in a day. It has nothing to do with that because no matter what those numbers are I am deeply loved by God, my family, my friends, and my church. Being thin felt nice, but it was lonely as hell and painful and small, and so destructive and unhealthy.

Love is so much better than being thin, y’all. So. Much. Better.

My body isn’t perfect, but what the hell is. I’d rather be happy than a size zero. And as for this assignment, I’m fighting for an alternate assignment, as I’ve fought for other alternate assignments. My health and recovery are more important than any class.

 

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Ripping Down the Walls: Our Stories Are What Heal Us (Part 2)

The walls we build around us to keep out sadness, also keeps out joy

 

With this post I’d like to speak to my friends who are suffering with eating disorders and self-harm.

I personally believe eating disorders are fundamentally one disease with different manifestations. Whether you binge, binge-purge, restrict, or some other combination of eating disordered behaviors, to my mind it all comes down to a core belief that you don’t deserve to live. It’s a distortion of self, a lack of self-worth so profound that you literally do not believe you deserve to exist. It’s an inversion of the survival instinct, the one that wants to preserve your life; instead, it tells you that the way to psychologically survive is to physically die. And whatever method your brain chooses to go about that, the instinct is the same: destroy the body to save the mind.

There is only one way that I have found to heal from an eating disorder, and that is to reverse this instinct. To do that, you have to discover why you don’t feel you deserve to exist, what drives that belief, and tell that belief to go fuck itself. Because it’s just wrong. You have to recognize your fundamental worth as a human being, and really get that you deserve every good thing that every other human deserves, simply because you exist.

This is basic stuff that most people are born with, but a lot of people with eating disorders just aren’t. I wasn’t. And my trauma reinforced those ideas that I shouldn’t exist and I was unworthy. A great deal of people with eating disorders have trauma in their pasts.

Here’s some practical stuff for early recovery: Set reasonable goals. Don’t worry about it when you fail to reach them sometimes, when you fuck up, because fucking up is part of recovery. Do not let anyone tell you that one slip is the same thing as a relapse because it is not. If you throw up once, or skip one meal, or over eat, that is not the same thing as a relapse. A relapse is losing twenty pounds because you’re spending five hours a day at the gym or bingeing and purging ten times a day for a month. There is a difference. Slips are part of recovery. Relapse can be part of recovery too. Never give up hope. Never give up. Don’t worry about some of the little stuff they nag you about in residential treatment. For instance, I was always getting nagged about eating the vegetables in my soup in a certain order. Who cares? I ate it, right? I still do this. I do not have an eating disorder anymore, so let’s just file that one under “eccentricity” not “disordered.” The important thing is that you’re doing what you’re supposed to. Don’t worry about the knuckle-headed stuff. It’s picking your battles. If you’re one to isolate, be sure you see people once a day. If you’re a workaholic, be sure to take time for yourself. Remember that self-care comes first during the early stages of recovery, that you have to protect your recovery at all costs, and that is not selfish. It is survival. Find a spiritual practice that sustains you and do it once a day. Pray, meditate, talk to the trees, whatever. Just connect with something greater than yourself. Always be in contact with your team. Go to therapy, see your dietitian, see your doctor. And of course, when you feel lost, go back to the basics: make sure that you are drinking enough, eating enough, taking your meds, getting enough sleep, breathing deeply. Basic, life-sustaining activity. Those things come naturally to most people, but not necessarily to us. So it’s good to check in.

For my friends suffering from self-harm. So many of the same issues with eating disorders cross over into self-harm. I began hurting myself because I had bipolar that was undiagnosed and untreated, and I was so indescribably depressed that I literally couldn’t feel anymore. It was like living in a mass of black plasma that oozed around me, choking off my access to life and light. So I cut myself. A lot. I burned myself a few times, but I preferred cutting because, I don’t know…it just made sense to me. Later on I would also hit myself with blunt objects, to the point of breaking bones. This is very similar to the instinct I mentioned with eating disorders: destroy the body to save the mind. A great deal of people who self-harm have trauma. For me, self-harm served many purposes: recognizing that I was still alive when I felt dead in depression; punishing myself when I felt shame and guilt for bingeing and purging; soothing emotional pain; grounding and calming myself when I was panicking; forcing myself back to the present when I was in a flashback of being raped/tortured. So you can imagine, something that was so useful was extremely hard to give up. Self-harm also has an addictive quality, a physical high that comes from the endorphins that rush to your brain when you’re injured. It can be as difficult to give up as drugs for some people. I harmed myself off and on from the age of 14 until I was 29.

The only way you can give up self-harm is if you find something to replace it. You have to find a way to soothe yourself that does not involve hurting yourself. Doing that is similar to the process with eating disorder recovery; you have to reverse that part of your brain that says pain is pleasurable and preferable to what most people consider actual pleasure. It takes literally rewiring your brain, which is actually not as hard as it sounds. There is a technique or therapy model called ACT- acceptance and commitment therapy- that helped me a great deal. Just google it. You’ll go long periods of time without harming and then lapse, and that’s ok. It happens. Never be ashamed of your scars. Scars are not just reminders of wounds they are symbols of the healing of those wounds. Wear shorts and tank tops, go to the pool, live your life. If people don’t get it, educate them. If people ask, be honest. Say yeah, I used to cut myself but I’m better now. Every time you do, you’re taking away some of the stigma.

If you remember nothing else, the most important factor in healing from an eating disorder and/or self-harm is compassion. You must have endless amounts of compassion for yourself. This is the hardest thing you may ever do, and when you fall down, give yourself grace. Get up, move on, no grudges. Learn from it and do better. Have as much compassion for yourself as you would if your best friend were trying to heal from a deadly illness. Treat yourself with the same level of love and respect. You deserve nothing less.

Part 3 will address my friends who manage mental health issues and chronic health issues.

 

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

 

 

Ripping Down the Walls: Our Stories Are What Heal Us (Part 1)

The walls we build around us to keep out sadness, also keeps out joy

 

A couple of days ago, my BFF Deede wrote this incredible facebook post, and I asked her to let me share it here as a beginning for this post:

“How many of my friends have been to jail?
I have – and that’s a scary answer to give.
I’m not perfect, I’ve come from a rocky past and I’ve worked really hard to change my life.
There were some very low points in my life, and while I’m not proud of them, those were my choices – and I learned from them.
I’m willing to speak about those moments – to let others know they’re not alone. When we talk about these things, the walls built up around a person’s vulnerability are ripped away – and it’s scary; but that allows room for healing.

I actually love the fact that I have come from such a dark place.
I’ve turned my past into a lesson.
I’ve done a lot of self work in the past years, and one thing that has always stuck with me? How important it is to share our experience, strength and hope.

Every single person on the face of the planet has demons they have to battle.
There is no shame in battling your demons – but what if I battled the same demon you are currently fighting, and I didn’t give you my fighting tips?

It would be like holding the antidote to your poison in my pocket, and not saying anything – and I just can’t do that.”

This made me think about my own rocky past; the dark places I have been, the low points to which I’ve descended. This made me remember the poor choices I’ve made and the demons I’ve fought.

It also made me remember how hard I have worked to change my life, how I’ve turned my past into a lesson. How important it is to share our experience, strength and hope. And most of all, why I speak about these things: as Deede said, “to let others know they’re not alone. When we talk about these things, the walls built up around a person’s vulnerability are ripped away – and it’s scary; but that allows room for healing.”

Like my friend, I actually love that I’ve come from such a dark place. And like her, I believe that to keep to myself the ways that I’ve fought, survived, and healed would be, in her beautiful words, “like holding the antidote to your poison in my pocket, and not saying anything – and I just can’t do that.”

I just can’t do that.

 

To preface, you need to know that I’ve had many trials in my life. You probably know most of them. A childhood of violence: watching my mother as a battered woman, being verbally/emotionally abused and physically and sexually tortured by my father from 3-9, being sexually abused by my gymnastics coach from 8-12, being raped by a stranger at 16, nearly date raped at 19, sexually assaulted by a professor at 21. Other trauma: several serious car wrecks, a surgery at 23 where my chest was cracked open, I lost part of my lung, died in surgery, and was in a coma. Mental health issues: Bipolar, anorexia, bulimia, complex PTSD, self-harm, drug abuse, suicide attempts (several serious), executive dysfunction. Physical health issues: too numerous to name, but mainly autoimmune disease (x3), heart arrhythmia, polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility, chronic pain and fatigue, etc, etc.

As I dispassionately type this list I realize no one should have to live with this much pain. I also realize that I did, and I am, and I’m doing ok. More than ok.

For my brothers and sisters who are suffering from trauma: I can tell you that there is hope. I can tell you that it does not have to feel like this forever. It takes being willing to forge a new relationship with your trauma in order to learn to live with it. It takes being willing to see things from new perspectives and have enormous compassion for yourself and others. It takes recognizing your own inherent worth, and really, really getting that whatever happened was not your fault. Healing is letting go of the idea that you could have done anything different, that you could have changed the outcome of your trauma. You couldn’t. You didn’t. It happened the way it happened and healing is letting it be. It is grieving your trauma: what happened, what you lost because of what happened, what should have happened, what you did to survive, what you lost because of what you did to survive. It is acknowledging your anger while knowing that you can’t live angry. It is loving yourself for being courageous enough to face this at all. It is letting go of shame, guilt, blame, and fear. Healing is remembering your trauma and feeling peace.

Tomorrow I’d like to say a word to my fellow fighters of mental illness, self-harm, and eating disorders. For now, I hope this is helpful to some of you.

 

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
    and burst their bonds apart.
 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!

Psalm 107:13-16

Loving My Body: How Trauma Stole That From Me and How I’m Reclaiming It

19120854_1360656987348673_4473128298989223936_n

Yesterday, I shared this photo collage on Instagram with the following message:

“What would happen if you allowed yourself to love your body? Not as it could be 10 lbs from now, not as it was 10 years ago, but as it is right now, today. What would you do of you didn’t care what other people thought of your body? What would happen of you embraced with compassion everything your body has been through: all the traumas, the scars, the tattoos, the marks that tell its story. How much more space and time would you have if you weren’t worried about how your body looked to others?

Imagine being free from caring what anyone thinks about your body, and instead living in it with love, honoring it as the precious vehicle that houses your mind and your spirit. Imagine fully accepting where you are, so if you want to make a healthy change you can move from a place of empowerment. Imagine knowing that you can have peace within your body.

I invite you to think about those questions, and look back at your own photos. Stop editing, cropping, filtering. Be as you are. And imagine where you can go from there.”

This was also shared on Facebook, and a friend encouraged me to expand on this and share it here on my blog. So here you are!

Each of the above photos represent an important moment when I gave up self-consciousness and judgment and let myself live in my body with love.

In the first image, I am being Confirmed in the Episcopal Church. The guys next to me is our Bishop Suffragan, the one who actually confirmed me. For the non-Episcopalians out there, Confirmation is like taking a repeat of the promises made for you at your Baptism, only now taking them intentionally for yourself as an adult. We call it our Baptismal Covenant. Anyway, this was a big moment for me, and I was incredibly excited and happy. I was being Confirmed on St. Mary’s Day, which is our patron saint’s (the Virgin Mary’s) feast day, and sort of like a parish festival. For a couple of weeks leading up to this, I was searching for a nice dress and was having shit luck, because I hated how I looked in everything. Finally I settled on the purple one I’m wearing in the photo (thanks, Dress Barn). The great thing was, during the service and the ceremony and reception, I forgot all about the damn dress and how I looked. I was filled with the Holy Spirit and was just happy and thrilled to be a Confirmed member of my church.

In the second photo, I am sitting by our community pool. I’m wearing a swimsuit for the first time since I was 16; in the photo I am 32. This was a big moment for obvious reasons. I experienced a lot of trauma in our swimming pool growing up; my father molested me in the pool a lot. I became very frightened of them, and of water in general. I never wore a swimsuit because the anorexia told me I looked like a humpback whale in every single one. But last summer, I decided to just fucking get over it. I’d lived just blocks away from this pool for nearly ten years, and I was going to fucking go and swim like a person who lives in Houston in the summer. I wore a basic black tank suit and felt a little uncomfortable but whatever. I swam! And people saw me! And I didn’t shrivel in shame under their judgmental gazes! Big moment.

The third photo is a picture of my left side, three weeks post-surgery. I was 23 years old and had managed to develop a rare pneumonia that led to doctors needing to crack open my chest and remove part of my left lung. The other scars are from chest tubes. That surgery was an extremely traumatic experience, as it all happened very fast, and I nearly died four different times. (Actually, I did die once, in surgery, when my heart stopped for over a minute.) This photo was taken just after I had the last of my chest tubes removed. I still have the scars, of course, but they and this photo remind me just how much a body can survive. I developed a lot of respect and affection for my body after this experience.

The fourth photo is of me and my brother Bryan’s family. His wife Cristina, my other sister, and their kids Caleb and Abby. I was 25, and I was visiting them in Austin. I felt really fat during this whole trip. But in this moment I was just a sister and an aunt, being with my family.

The middle photo is of me at the gym, about a week ago. First time since last summer, huge deal!

The next photo is of me and part of my nursing school class. I was 29, and even though I was struggling with my eating disorder then, I have to say, when I had my scrubs and stethoscope and badge on, the last thing I thought about was how my body looked. I felt a sense of purpose and pride in the work I was doing and the skills I was learning that couldn’t be touched by my disease. I still feel that way every time I wear scrubs.

The lower left photo is of the last tattoo I got. It’s called the Miraculous Medal of the Virgin Mary. Each of my tattoos represents Mary: this, a blue rose, and a gold and blue Fleur-de-Lis. I plan to get more tattoos. For me, they are a way of taking my body back. My whole life, people marked it without my permission: rapists, surgeons, even me when I cut myself. I don’t consider myself-harm scars to be consensual, because they are born purely of trauma. I live with other’s marks on my body, but tattoos are a way to reclaim markings, and make my own. Make conscious choices about what story I want to tell with my body; what’s meaningful to me, and leave positive markings alongside the negative ones. This is an act of body love.

The bottom middle picture is of me being silly at our church Halloween fest.I came as a feminist cat; my shirt says “Cats Against Catcalling.” This was a moment of pure whimsy where I didn’t care what I looked like or if I was being foolish and I was just having fun.

The last photo is of me serving as a worship leader and Eucharistic minister at the Great Vigil of Easter this year. I was in a cassock and wearing a cross that belonged to my grandmother. It was my first time serving in a large service where we wear vestments and everything, and I was a bit nervous. But as soon as I put that cassock on, I felt something like awe; like nothing was important but being in the moment and loving what I was doing. I felt filled with the Holy Spirit and so privileged and honored to be part of this holy service. I just felt love.

These photos represent my growth over the years as I have come to love and trust my body more than I distance myself from it and distrust it. When you grow up abused, trauma teaches you that the one place you are not safe is in your body. Why? Because the body can be attacked. The body is what’s weak and vulnerable. In your mind, you can go elsewhere, but your body is stuck in the situation, left to be battered, raped, choked, tortured. When you return to it mentally you find it bleeding or bruised, physical evidence of its weakness. So you separate from your body. You dissociate your mind and your soul from it in order to stay protected so that when your body, which cannot escape, is being abused, at least your mind is safe.

You grow up deliberately trying to erase your body’s existence. Anorexia is pretty efficient at this, but cutting and beating yourself make their point, too. It never occurs to you that this is abnormal or a problem. It never occurs to you that one of the reasons you’re being revictimized is because you are so disconnected from your body’s basic instincts that you can’t determine a dangerous person from a safe one. It never occurs to you that hating and destroying your body means that you’re also hating and destroying your mind and your soul, because your body is not just a part of you, it is you.

Trauma, especially in early childhood, damages or destroys the basic trust and love we have in our physical existence. It delvers the clear message that the physical world is not safe and therefore the body is not safe. That loss of innate trust disturbs basic concepts of survival such as, do I deserve to live? Do I deserve to have good things? Do I deserve to be loved?

Do I have the right to even be here?

I still struggle with that question sometimes. Do I have the right to exist? To take up space, to need things, to be loved, to ask for help? Losing that innate trust in your body makes you question things such as, am I worthy of a decent home, of food, of sleep, of self-care? And often leads to guilt and/or shame when you receive what you believe is “too much.” But depending on where you are in your healing, “too much” could mean a 20 minute nap, or a tablespoon of fat free yogurt instead of a teaspoon (that’s a real example from my life).

Healing requires answering those questions with the reality that grounds you in truth: You are worthy. You are loved. You deserve good things. You have the right to be here. Everyone should know that simply by virtue of the fact that they were born and they are a child of God that they have the right to be here, to be loved, to have good things. Not everyone does.

Relearning those concepts and loving my body again go hand-in-hand. Because as I recognize my right to be here, I feel my body become more present in the world. As I recognize my right to have food, shelter, sleep, and other things, I am able to take better care of my body and develop respect for its needs, as opposed to contempt. As I recognize that I am worthy to be loved, I feel less of the need to control what other people think of my body and instead focus on developing my self, and on receiving love that is offered.

I still have a lot of healing to do. But like I said in the beginning, I invite you to look back at your photos. Ask yourself some of these questions. Stop editing your body out of your life, because you’re editing yourself. And you have the right to be seen– to have your whole self be seen.

 

I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Philippians 1:19-20

 

 

Being In My Body: PTSD and Exercise

18839745_10154430345472657_6909540518552824910_o

Gym selfie: no makeup, no filter, no problem!

Today I went to the gym for the first time since last August. It was good. I did twenty minutes of cardio (walking on an incline on the treadmill) and some core strength exercises. I’m starting small.

Exercise is an issue for me for a number of reasons. A former eating disorder is obviously one of them. My chronic pain is another. One that I don’t really talk about, though, is my PTSD.

The way that PTSD makes exercise difficult for me is a little difficult to explain. I suppose first I have to explain something about how I survived my original trauma.

One of the most common survival mechanisms in sexual and physical abuse is called dissociation. Dissociation occurs along a spectrum, but in its most simplistic terms, it’s a way for the mind to kind of separate itself from the body during a trauma so that it’s not experiencing it. For example, a good portion of my traumatic memories are remembered not from my perspective as I was there, but as if I were viewing them from above. This is one aspect of dissociation; the sensation as if one were floating outside one’s body. Another aspect, for me, is feeling detached from my body, even now. I’d say that, in order to function with the level of pain I live with, I have to live at about 2% dissociation all the time. I keep things pretty cognitive, focus on what’s going on in my mind and keep my body an afterthought. It’s the only way I can get up and do the stuff I have to do without taking major painkillers or crying some days.

As a trauma victim, I grew up dissociating from my body. I had to, to survive. As an anorexic, I dissociated from my body in order not to feel hunger or pain as I starved and abused myself. When I cut and beat myself, I was again dissociating from my body. I avoided touch. I abused pills. I did everything I could to basically not even have a body. 

As I’ve grown and healed, I have become better friends with my body. Even so, I have a hard time feeling present in it. When I decided to start exercising again I had some significant anxiety, and when I really explored that I realized that some of it was because I didn’t want to feel my body.

Exercising means moving, feeling, existing in the physical presence of yourself. I fear doing this because when I’m in my body, I open myself up to the presence of the traumas that still live in it. Being in my body makes me aware of my physical self, the self that was beaten, raped, choked, tortured. My body holds so many memories, and when I’m really in it I’m vulnerable to feeling those things. When it comes to PTSD, body memories are really the fucking worst. It’s not seeing what happened, it’s feeling what happened; as if his hands are still on you, as if he’s still forcing himself inside you, as if you still can’t breathe, in this moment.

The worst.

In the past, I have literally tried to rid myself of even having a body through starvation and self-mutilation. I’ll never do that again, but my connection to my body is still not what I’d like it to be. I think being grounded and comfortable in your body is something you have to learn as a child. It’s something I never had the chance to learn; after all, I was only three when the sexual abuse began. When you start dissociating from yourself at that young of an age, it probably takes a lifetime to build the connections that never formed. I’m continuing to try, through therapy and energy work, and now, through physical exercise. I hope that by being more present in my body more often, I can begin to heal the disconnect that’s still the norm. I hope that I can process that trauma energy out, so I no longer have to feel like the ghosts of the past are haunting my body.

Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.

Mark 5:38

 

 

Choosing the Middle Ground: Learning Balance in Life and Recovery

lightfromashes

Like a Phoenix, my body has risen from the ashes. My spirit is home.

Content Warning: Descriptions of eating disordered behavior

For those of you who may not know, I recently became an ambassador with Plexus Worldwide. (Check out my website: Shop My Plexus- Sarah Henderson)! Before this, I had been using their products, and I really believe that they can be life-changingly beneficial to people’s health and wellness. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have signed up to help other people access them!

Even though my personal Plexus journey is about reducing the inflammation in my body, healing my gut, and treating my chronic pain and fatigue, a lot of people use Plexus to lose weight, and a number of their products are made with that intention. When I joined, there was a recommendation that I take measurements of my body, my weight, and pictures of my body so I can have “before” numbers and photos for when I ostensibly reach “after.”

This presented a dilemma for me. As a lot of you know, I’m in recovery from an over twenty-year struggle with anorexia and bulimia. Numbers used to be one of my triggers, so I haven’t owned a scale in ten years. In fact, the last one I owned, the one that had seen the worst of my anorexia, I threw off the balcony of my apartment down onto the parking lot pavement, and watched it smash into pieces, which was pretty satisfying. However, ten years is a long time, and a lot of healing and recovery has taken place since then. I wondered if I should do this, for my business. Everyone wants those “before” and “after” photos, right? And I want to see my progress in that area too, if it happens. Weight isn’t the focus of my journey, but my body may change, and I’d like to see that.

At the same time, part of me didn’t want to participate in that diet culture that had contributed to my eating disorder and has contributed to so many others. Part of me didn’t want to post numbers and photos that could trigger others trying to recover, and wanted to not do it at all, not on my own behalf, but as a direct protest against that kind of focus purely on weight instead of health.

So in order to get some guidance, I posted my dilemma in several places on Facebook; my personal page, and two Plexus pages. And I got at least fifty comments, most of which were in agreement that I should do what’s best for me and my health, including my mental health. As it turns out, Plexus doesn’t really care about diet culture as I’d feared. As a company, they really do care what’s best for each individual and their personal health journey, NOT on selling weight loss products at any cost. This is one of the reasons I’m so proud to be working for them. The support I received from my team was incredible, and both they and my friends from my personal page really felt that if it would put my recovery in jeopardy, it just wasn’t worth it.

Here’s the thing, though: I didn’t know that it would put my recovery in jeopardy. It’s been a very long time since I’ve even really been exposed to my body’s measurements, so I didn’t know what my reaction would be. I did figure out something interesting from one comment, though. A friend that I was in eating disorder treatment with said: “Absolutely not something you should do. I would stay away from the scale and measuring. It’s not worth the risk of relapse.” And when she said this I thought: I absolutely do not feel at risk of relapse. Ever. Certainly, not at the sight of some stupid numbers.

Over the years I may have used behaviors every now and then when I am especially stressed. I may have eaten only “safe” foods for awhile, or restricted some, or binged and purged a few times. But those are bumps in the road, little rocky times that happen and I get back on the path within a few days. I do not descend into the destructive thinking process that is the eating disorder itself, and I do not continue in that behavior pattern. Which makes those bumps in the road part of recovery instead of precursors to relapse. I don’t ever feel in danger of going to the extremes I’ve gone to before, of treating my body like a disposable object that I can starve, abuse, and kill. I don’t ever feel that I will descend into the obsession that makes a person live on a packet of oatmeal a day, taking two hours to finish it, eating it one oat at a time. (I actually did this.) I will never again spend six hours at a time in the gym, needing the machines to tell me that I have burned every calorie that I ate that day. I will never again eat so much my stomach stretched to make me look nine months pregnant, and then force myself to vomit until I saw blood; and then do this three more times in one night, every day. I will never again be so emaciated that I am in liver failure, and have a heart attack at 17 years old.

I will never again allow myself to treat my body as anything less the the sacred being it is.

In order to be able to do the above things to yourself, your spirit cannot be attached to your body. You cannot see life as sacred or worth living. At the very least, you can not believe that you deserve to live, to exist, to take up space in this world. You cannot believe that you are worthy of the basic necessities of life: love, security, food, sex/touch, a comfortable home, a healthy body. These basic rights are not meant to be yours, for whatever reason. (Usually because you were somehow told or shown that they weren’t.) Your brain and spirit are dissociated from the vehicle meant to carry them and, crazy as it sounds, when you’re doing the above things, it truly doesn’t hurt. In fact, it feels really good. Powerful. You’re in control. It comes at a cost, but you really don’t care. Bodies are disposable.

I know that I’ve entered into true recovery, the kind that’s invulnerable to full relapse, because I’ve crossed that threshold into knowing that life is sacred. My spirit lives in my body now, and I fully understand that to harm my body in those ways is to harm my heart and mind and soul as well. When I fall into those behaviors, it’s short-lived because now it actually hurts when I do them. I feel what used to be numb and I have that life impulse, that inherent instinct that whispers this feels wrong. I know that I am fundamentally worthy to be alive, to exist, to take up space. I am worthy of health, love, food, sex/touch a comfortable home, and safety and security. I have a right to those basic things as a human and a child of God. And nothing that happened to me could ever take that away. Knowing that means that I cannot ever become as self-destructive as I once was, because you can’t destroy what you love and believe is sacred.

Powerful stuff, reality.

So as to my dilemma, I decided on taking a middle way. Today I did take measurements of my hips, waist, and bust, I stood on a scale and took my weight, and I took photos of my whole body from the front and the side. Except, I wasn’t the one who did it. During my therapy appointment today, I had my therapist do it! She asked me all throughout if I was having any feelings come up, any anxiety. I had none. Because I trust her, because I wasn’t alone, and because I had this done in an environment where I feel safe, I think my non-reaction was predictable– but still awesome. I love that seeing those numbers had no effect on me.

I won’t be publishing those numbers or photos; they’re purely for me to keep to see my own progress. I’ll weigh and measure myself again in six months, or maybe three depending on how I feel. I’ll always do it at my therapist’s office. (She’s an eating disorder specialist and works with a dietitican which is why she has those things.) I feel this is the healthiest way for me to track those numbers.

I will be daily tracking other factors, such as sleep, energy level, and pain levels, because those are the things I’m really focused on changing with Plexus. If I lose weight or my body changes, ok. But know this: I’ll never again make that the one, undivided focus of my life. Because sure, being petite again would be nice– but I’m not willing to die for it.

 

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

Samuel 16:7

I appeal to you therefore, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2