RheasOfHope

one girl's thoughts on life, mental illness, eating disorder recovery, and hope.

When you write for ERC February 17, 2018

For those who may not know, I write for Eating Recovery Center’s blog occasionally. This post was originally published on ERC’s blog in November, and I’m reposting it here because I think it’s worthy enough to be included on my own blog.

 

7 Ways to Accept Your Body in a Society That May Not

I look away from the book I am reading aloud to my class as I feel a tiny, toddler hand creep into my lap. I lock eyes with the hand’s owner as she moves it to my stomach.

“You must have a big baby in your belly Miss King,” she states with confidence. My heart skids to a halt, and my students — even the ones who had, up to this point, not been paying attention — all stop to look at me, mouths agape.

This, my friends, is recovery.

“Your mommy is having a baby, isn’t she, Brooke?” I inquire even though I already know the answer.

She nods proudly, “Nobember firteenv.”

“That’s exciting! I have a little sister too. I have to tell you something though. I don’t have a baby in my belly,” I tell her, while I wonder if the lecture I feel in my soul is appropriate for my toddlers. “Sometimes people have different shaped bellies, and that’s ok. Just like you and I have different hair color, or like how Patrick and Amara don’t have the same eye color, sometimes bellies are different too…and that is the amazing thing about our bodies. We are all different and we are all loved—not because of how we look, but because of who we are.”

“So: no baby?” she questions, sadly.

“No baby; just belly” I answer and return to my book.

Prior to my recovery from twenty-one years of eating disorders, that interaction with a two-year old would have set off a cascade of self-loathing and an incalculable amount of time spent engaging in behaviors.

My eating disorder would have used the sweetness of a toddler as warped rationale for its continued control over my life.

But how did I get here? How did I get to the point where I could brush off her comment without spiraling back into my eating disorder?

I did not suddenly wake up one morning — fully recovered — thinking, “You know what? I really love and admire everything about my body today.”

Recovery has been a gradual, ongoing process — as I practice accepting my body and appreciating its aesthetics and function.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of things I do that help me love and accept my body — in this very moment — in a world that is constantly conspiring to do the opposite.

I know I’m not alone in having to learn how to accept and appreciate my body. Here are some suggestions for you to consider that may help you learn to love and accept your body, too:

1. Celebrate your body.
We can learn how to celebrate our bodies for all that they are and all that they do. It may sound and feel trite, awkward, or downright uncomfortable at first — I know it did for me — but celebrating our bodies is the first step towards accepting our bodies. Our bodies are more than their ability to gain and lose weight, more than their ability to contort into the current fleeting beauty-ideal, and more than their ability to conform to society’s impossibly narrow standards. Our bodies swim, nap, canoe, run, watch marathon-length Netflix sessions, play video games, and more — they should be celebrated for what they do — not berated for how they appear.

2. Think positively, as much as possible.
Consciously counter every negative comment you think about your body with a positive comment. When you have lived with an eating disorder, negative comments about your body are in generous supply. In fact, it is likely easier for us to generate negative body comments than positive ones — which is why countering these statements is so crucial. For every disparaging thought you have about your body, take a moment to reflect on your body’s myriad positive aspects. One way in which to counter negative body thoughts is to write a letter of gratitude to your body — sure it sounds weird, but it will be worth it. Writing a gratitude letter challenges you to highlight the breathtaking attributes that make you, you. When we focus on what our body does for us — how it aids us in living our lives—we are able to more effectively block out the negativity.

3. Be mindful with clothing.
Wear an article of clothing that makes you feel great, regardless of how you feel others may perceive you. In a world of “what not to wear” and “fashion police,” it is hard to feel comfortable in certain articles of clothing — especially with that added fear that someone may comment on your clothing. No matter how much you may like a piece of clothing, the ever-present fear of someone negatively commenting on your body will likely keep you from expressing your true self — I know I feel that way at times.

4. Focus on character — not appearances.
Compliment yourself and others on their character, not their body or appearance. All too often we’re greeted with, “You look so good. Did you lose weight?” Does that mean that, in order to look “good,” a person has to lose weight? Does it mean that they looked “bad” the last time you saw them? Does it mean that you’re only “good” if you lose weight? NO! Our bodies have absolutely no bearing on our worth as individuals — none. When we focus so intently on our perceived flaws, we will never be able to see the phenomenal aspects of our bodies or our character. By actively pointing the remarkable traits that are possessed by both ourselves and others, we are able to decrease the emphasize on body and appearance.

5. Respect yourself.
Respect your body’s needs: if it wants to move, move; if your body wants to rest, rest; if it wants to eat, eat; if it wants a massage, get a massage. It’s your body and you know its needs better than anyone else. Having needs is not a weakness — though society will actively work to convince you otherwise. Denying ourselves of our needs is not the strength we are lead to believe that it is. In addition, an eating disorder will actively work to persuade us that either 1) we have no needs or 2) we must ignore our needs. I’m here to say that all bodies have needs. A majority of recovery is recognizing what our body’s current needs are, and then effectively meeting them as a means to support and care for our bodies.

6. Become an activist.
We can spread body positivity by participating in body activism projects. I’ve joined myriad body positive groups on Facebook while simultaneously blocking “friends” who consistently post body-negative updates. In the grocery store, I turn around books and magazines that objectify bodies by promoting beauty ideals or the latest fad diets. If people can’t see them, they can’t buy them or fall victim to their propaganda. The diet industry makes over $60 billion annually by convincing us that something is so fundamentally flawed and wrong about us that we can only “fix’’ it by losing weight. But there is no “wrong” body. All bodies are good bodies, and we need not “fix” our bodies in order to be loved.

7. Believe that you are worthy.
I leave you with this: appreciate your body. It is all yours and you get only one. Your body is a masterpiece of creation, and there is no other body out there like yours —none. When the world seeks to mold you to fit their idea of worthiness–their narrow and impossible view of perfection — you sacrifice all the amazing attributes that make you unique and loved. We do not gain worthiness by conforming to the ways of others — giving up our true selves. Each time we strive to achieve the trivial and fleeting definition of worthiness, we give up a piece of what makes us extraordinary. You will gain worthiness each time you stand up for who you really are, each time you’re your authentic self in the face of adversity, and each time you hold true to your values.

Live your life on your terms in your body, and appreciate all the wonderful things it does for you.

Rachel is a teacher (preschool by day and adolescent patients at Eating Recovery Center, Cincinnati, Ohio by night), photographer, auntie, and aspiring writer. She writes to share that full recovery from eating disorders is — not only possible — but the single most rewarding decision an individual can make.

 

 

1 Corinthians 10:31

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

 

 

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When you accept Christ December 16, 2017

“You mean they’re going to touch me,” I incredulously—and somewhat cynically–ask my best friend Julie, “You know how I feel about touching.”

 

“You’ll be fine,” she reassures, “They just put their hands on your shoulders, and say a prayer over you or with you. You can always ask them not to touch you.”

 

After experiencing an alarming relapse in eating disordered behaviors that left me feeling even more shameful and unworthy than usual, Julie thought it might be beneficial for us to attend our church’s monthly healing prayer gathering.  I tug open the heavy wooden door to the sanctuary, and gently insist she goes inside first. Though I’ve been in this sanctuary hundreds of times over the past eleven years, I still feel undeserving to enter first. She chooses our pew, takes off her coat, and sits down while I shuffle anxiously behind her. When I take off my coat, I briefly consider setting it and my purse between us—a barrier to protect myself from potential harm. I then remember: Julie is safe, she won’t hurt me, and I don’t need that wall of protection from her. I place my purse and coat to my right, with Julie on my left.

 

I tuck into myself— “crisscross applesauce:” my typical sitting position—meticulously smoothing my dress over my thighs as I wrap my arms across my chest; fingers dancing across my collar bones.  I must make myself as small as possible as a measure of protection, and so as not to impede in Julie’s pew space or have others notice my presence. A subconscious manifestation of my anxiety becomes visible as I intensely wring my hands together, dig for my collar bones, and twirl my rings around my fingers. The more I will my hands to stop, the worse the movements became. I turn to my left—towards Julie. My eating disorder reminds me that I’m at least double Julie’s weight and more than half a foot shorter. I shake the thought from my brain; willing it to be more mindful. Tears begin their migration down my cheeks; this journey is familiar to them.

 

Julie’s upturned palms are resting on her sylphlike thighs, her eyes peacefully closed, head tipped slightly back, and her extended legs are gracefully crossed at the ankles.  The juxtaposition of our body language was not lost on me…which only increases the ferocity of the hand wringing as I draw my knees closer to my chest. Noticing my tears, Julie places a tissue packet between us, pats my arm, and gently states that they’re “communal tissues.”

 

Despite the rivulets of tears, I refuse the tissues. “Using them would be a weakness! You mustn’t have needs!” my shame proclaims. I dig through my coat pockets, finding the two unused tissues I had placed in there earlier in the day for my students to use at recess. They’re reduced to shreds minutes later. The tears do not stop.

 

A woman says opening remarks, a duo sings “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel,” and the service begins. Julie returns to her serene posture, and I to my anxiety and crying. The longer I sit—overhearing mumblings of Julie’s prayers, crying, wringing my hands to the point of pain, body checking, feeling unworthy, and avoiding eye contact—the more I feel what I can only describe as the Holy Spirit move in me. Tonight was going to be the night; the night I finally accept Christ.

 

You see, I’ve grown up in the church. I did not, however, grow up in Christ. Which, I now know, is a very big distinction. My step-grandfather–Lloyd–is a pastor, and my cousins and I grew up, essentially, as PKs (pastor’s kids). I’ve a wealth of Scripture committed to memory, live my life in accordance with Christian values, have lead many lessons on the Bible, problem-solve based on Christian principles, I firmly assert that Jesus is the son of God and He was a living sacrifice for our sins, and truly believe every word of Scripture is God-breathed and God-inspired…for everyone but me.  You see, it’s hard to accept that a perfect God could—or rather, would—love someone as broken and unworthy as me. Never mind the fact that I have scripture to prove otherwise, and that I trust that no one is beyond the love of Christ. It was hard to believe that a God of love could see past the barriers of shame and self-loathing that I built up around me to “protect” me from others. Because I had spent so many years in my eating disorder, in self-harm, and in self-loathing, I felt I was a huge slap-in-the-face to God. It is because of this unworthiness before God, that I didn’t feel I deserved His salvation…that is, until the night of December 7, 2017.

 

I feel my heart begin to soften. I must do something before shame/anxiety/Satan/eating disorder convinces me not to, before I lose my nerve, and before anything else happens. Glancing to my left, Julie remains serenely in the Word. Everyone around me is quiet. I couldn’t just blurt it out. I look around the sanctuary as if a billboard would appear telling me what to do. I almost lose my courage and conviction—what kind of Christian can’t say aloud that they want to accept Christ? I realize, however, that that is the voice of shame talking.

 

What do writers do when they don’t know what to do? They write! I reach into my cavernous purse, and locate my planner. I flip to the “notes” section and scribble in hasty cursive, “Julie, I want to accept Christ.” I lay the planner on the tissues between us. Julie remains peacefully unaware, and I sit in nervous anticipation. What if she doesn’t see my planner and I miss my opportunity? My fingers quicken their dancing around my collar bones as my shame increases. I take a deep breath and reach out, but I don’t want to touch her. I feel my touch will mar her perfection in some way, and I do it anyway.

 

Cautiously, I tap her forearm and nod my head towards my open planner. Julie inhales deeply, and touches my arm. My tears increase, and so does my anxiety and shame. Julie turns to me, and takes me in her arms. I don’t resist. I allow myself to be enveloped in her hug. It feels good to be held; as much as a vocally protest being touched. She whispers to me that she’s never walked anyone through accepting Christ, and that she would like to bring someone over to help us. I nod in approval as my tears land on her shoulders. Julie names an individual I know to be in the room, and asks if she can bring her over. Through the tears, I choke out a “no.” This person will only increase my shame and anxiety; leading me further from Christ. Julie, undeterred, asks if she can bring over her husband, Patrick. I’ve known him for over eleven years–Patrick is safe. I say yes; unaware that he is on the other side of the sanctuary.

 

Julie excuses herself and disappears, returning what seems like seconds later with Patrick. Standing behind me, Patrick pulls me into a hug; the scruff of his beard on the crown of my head. Again, I don’t resist the touch—which increases the tears yet again. He kneels behind me, calmly rubbing my back, and speaking words of reassurance. I cannot recall everything Patrick said (thanks emotion mind), but I know I accepted Christ. Patrick repeatedly states that I am worthy, that I am loved, and that I am enough—not because of anything I did, but because of what Christ did for me. I am deserving of all these things simply by my being a daughter of the King (not to be confused with my father, Mr. King). Julie, Patrick, and I pray together. I invite Christ into my heart forever. I give him my eating disorder, I lay down my depression, and I relinquish my past. I am His.

 

Instantly, I feel lighter—like God had lifted my burdens, my sins, my shame, my eating disorder, and everything else that was keeping me from him. I feel–instead of shame–a warmth; a closeness I’ve never felt before. Patrick and Julie excuse themselves to allow me some time for self-reflection. I curl back up into myself and cry. This cry is different, though. This cry is a cry of admiration for all that He has done for me while I lived in self-loathing, shame, depression, anxiety, OCD, self-harm, unworthiness, and eating disorders. This cry is a cry of humility that He waited patiently for me while I self-destructed–knowing one day His daughter would return. This cry is a cry of appreciation for His love of my brokenness. I am a daughter of the King, “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back.”

 

Amazing Women

It is an honor to know, love, and be loved by these women. Kelli (Left) and Julie (Middle), you inspire me to be a better daughter of the King, “mom,” teacher, woman, and all around better person. These two are the most amazing women—Christ-focused, intelligent, funny, humble, compassionate, wonderful wives, and caring mothers who live their passions and follow where God leads them. They’ve taught me, loved me, trusted me with their kids, cried with me, showed me forgiveness, laughed with me, and helped call me out of the darkness. They’ve each played an integral role in my life over the past 5-ish years (and this week in particular as Julie and her husband Patrick aided my acceptance of Christ). I love these ladies more than words can say, and can’t wait to make more memories with them—preferably in clothes as refined as these

 

 

 

Ephesians 2: 1-10

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

 

When you (don’t) climb a volcano August 3, 2017

“Stick, lady? It is much more better for volcano.” I take a deep breath and cautiously step onto the centuries-old cobblestone street at the base of Volcán Pacaya in Antigua, Guatemala; looking into the eyes of about fifteen children, each of them cradling a bundle of walking sticks they sell to support their families. Behind the children stand ten or so teenage boys and young men leading about a half dozen haggard looking horses. Behind them are a patchwork of abuelitas, roosters, toddlers, dogs, tourists, and trail guides.

“No, gracias,” I mutter sheepishly, and pass the children who are simply attempting to make a living. Despite the overcast skies, I’m already sweating profusely in the eighty-five degree heat and high humidity.

“You ride horse, lady? Es sólo cien quetzales,” shouts a boy of about fourteen sitting atop a horse roughly the same age. A well-worn cowboy sits atop his head and he sports threadbare Batman t-shirt. I nod my head no, and look away. I hate saying no. “Horse is better, lady. Maybe later? Mi nombre es Luis, y este es Jonathan,” he says tousling the knotted mane of his aging horse.

I turn to follow the others in my group, and receive a face-full of horse tail as Jonathan decides to swat a fly. “I probably deserved that,” I think. The welcome party follows my small group of five as we climb the hill to purchase tickets to enter the national park that houses Volcán Paycaya. They wait as we sign our life away on the waivers, and they follow us as we proceed up the volcano. My group consistes of a motley assemblage of people: me, two men in their late fifties, and a nine-year-old girl. Having been with these people all week, I’d formed a kinship with one of the older men, Francis, and Sophia, the little girl. I knew they would be supportive companions on the hike up the volcano.

DSC_0334

The welcome center at the volcano

The trail of black, cooled lava is steep and narrow—too narrow for the amount of people it is currently supporting. The rocks are sharp and slippery. The mosquitoes are bloodthirsty. The welcome party—children, teens, and horses–continues to follow us. Our native trail guide, Gabriel, stops every few feet to explain to us varying facts about the volcano and the forest around it. I need the rests. My breath is rapid, and I remember my inhaler is in Ohio. I’m sweating from areas of my body I didn’t know sweated. I feel guilty for asking for more rests when others are not. I’m falling behind in my group—back by about ten feet—and only about a foot in front of the welcome party. I feel boxed it, and my anxiety is rising.

“You want horse,” questions Luis, “It is much more easy riding horse.”

“No gracias. I can do this,” I reply sweetly. Meanwhile, my anxiety is now running full-speed ahead, and the voice of my eating disorder is reminding me that I can’t climb this volcano due to being overweight. My anxiety tells me that I’ll never make it up the volcano, and if I—by some miracle I do make it—it will be at the expense of the enjoyment of all the others because I am invariably flawed. My eating disorder tells me the hike would be easier if I were thinner—after all two fifty-year-old men and a little girl don’t appear to be struggling. It is also telling me that I can’t rent a horse because it would painful for the horse to labor me up a volcano–even if I did have the fourteen dollars it would have cost to rent the horse. My perfectionism is telling me to do what will please everyone so that they may enjoy this hike, but what would please everyone?

“Maybe later?” replies Luis and we continue up the steep trail.

I feel pressure from my group and my guide to move faster. I feel pressure from the kids and teenagers to rent a horse—and move faster. My already rapidly-beating heart increases, and my already labored breathing becomes harder. It feels as if it is getting hotter. I’m near tears.

“Lo siento. Yo soy muy gorda. Yo no puedo hacerlo,” I say through tears. I turn to Francis, and tell him—through sobs–that I am unable to continue.

“Jonathan is much more better for volcano,” says Luis from behind me. That’s it. I tell Francis to take photos for me when he gets to the top—forgetting he left his phone at the hotel—and trudge back down the volcano. I don’t turn around to see the reactions of the others—I can’t face them.

I cry openly on the way back down the volcano by myself—tears uniting with sweat as it rolls down my face. I pass two more children attempting to sell me sticks. However, when they see my tears, they think better of asking the strange gringa to buy a stick. I got to the bottom of the volcano, sat down my backpack, and sit on the black soot. My perfectionism yells that I ruined the climb for my group, and that I am going to have to admit to my friends and family that I failed the climb.  My eating disorder yells (because, yes, in recovery the voice still creeps in) that I’m a big, fat failure who would’ve been able to climb had I not been carrying the extra weight—and offers behaviors as “solutions” to change those feelings. My depression reminds me that I’m not worthy of good things, and do not deserve to reach the top of the volcano. I sit as a spectator while my brain beats me up at the bottom of the volcano.

I wallow in my sorrow for awhile, and remember a story the lovely Jenni Schaefer tells about her attempts at skydiving in New Zealand. Not completely comparable, but stick with me. She failed her first attempt at jumping, but was able to jump on her second attempt after defying the voices of negativity. I wanted to defy them too, dammit! So I gather my backpack, dust off my bottom, and continue back up the volcano. It is slow going, and I pass the kids selling sticks again. I get to the spot where I turned around before. I can’t do it. I can’t go any further. My body is exhausted, my brain is drained, and my emotions are depleted.   I make the decision to go back down the volcano.

Again my perfectionism, anxiety, depression, and eating disorder offer their viewpoint on the situation. I do my best to ignore them as I engage the stick selling children in conversation—apparently scary white ladies are less scary when they’re not crying on the side of a volcano. They made fun of my Spanish and I made fun of my Spanish; I think we’re best friends now. I leave the kids, and walk to the ticket counter welcome area. While my group climbs the volcano, I sit at a picnic table in the welcome area and journal. I write about the experience, what my brain was saying, and why I’m not a miserable failure.

IMG_6531

My self-care and writing buddy

A small mutt of a dog—perhaps lab, retriever, random combination—sits near me nursing her one surviving pup. I’d been watching them play that morning, and hoped I’d be able to see them later, as I’m a sucker for cute animals. When she sees me at the table, the dog comes to investigate. I give her a head rub—something I was explicitly told not to do while in Guatemala. She curls up at my feet while I go back to writing. She looks hungry, so I dig in my backpack for the peanut butter and jelly sandwich leftover from the day before (I didn’t eat the sandwich because I was carsick in the coaster van, not because of an eating disorder). As I feed the dog my sandwich—and one of my Clif bars—I come to the realization that sometimes we aren’t ready for hard things, and that’s ok. Self-care should always come first.

As much as I had been looking forward to climbing the volcano all week, as much as I wanted to prove to myself and others that I could climb the volcano, as much as I wanted to say I was able to climb the volcano, and as much as I wanted to avoid the shame that came with not climbing the volcano…I was not ready to do the hard thing. Am I disappointed? Yes, I would have loved to climb the volcano. Did I make the choice that was best for my body and my mind? Yes. Will I climb that volcano someday? You betcha!

What I needed that Sunday morning in Antigua was self-care. I needed time to clear my head, reflect on my values, and sit with a feral dog. Ok, I probably didn’t need the dog and the 2,000 miles in travel. However, I did learn that self-care is more important than achieving hard things, self-care is more important than a perceived failure, self-care is more important than shame and fear, self-care is more important than the belief that you’re letting down others, self-care is more important than checking an item off your “bucket list,” and self-care is more important than doing hard things. We can and should do hard things—don’t get me wrong—doing hard things helps us to grow and develop in authentic ways; AND sometimes we are not yet ready to do them.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do them—the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life have been the most rewarding (RECOVERY, going to college, writing, taking care of Leah, etc). Sometimes, though, we just need to slow down and take care of ourselves. What are you doing to promote your own self-care?

Sonya and Rachel

My friend Sonya (from this post) and I in Guatemala. Experiencing a beautiful country with this beautiful soul–who I credit with providing me the wake up call to save my life–was an amazing experience I’ll never forget. 

 

 

James 1:2-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

 

When you stand up for your health June 6, 2017

To say I have difficulties with doctors would be comparable to saying the Titanic had difficulties with an ice burg.

As early as I can remember, doctors have been expressing “concern” about my weight. When I first began gaining significant amount of weight—from what I now know to be binge eating disorder—my pediatrician informed my mother that I needed to lose weight–suggesting she lock her eight-year-old daughter out of the pantry (an act my parents took into consideration and often used as a threat against me). The same doctor later noticed that, around age twelve, I was developing scoliosis from that ever-present elementary school trend of carrying your backpack on one shoulder. She informed my mother that losing weight would alleviate some of the pressure on my spine; which would mitigate some of the pain I was experiencing. The binging continued.

In my teens, my pediatrician would frequently inform me that we should “probably start looking into how to lower your weight given your family history of heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.” While it is true that heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes are as ubiquitous in my family as black hair or short stature, these scare tactics only turned an already overweight, binging teen towards increased binging in an effort to make the embarrassment of being called fat and fear of these “inescapable” diagnoses “disappear.” This, of course, only trended my weight even higher.

Near the end of high school, I began to experience some unusual feminine concerns—the solution to which was, again, suggested weight loss. It wasn’t until I had an ultrasound in college, that it was determined that these feminine concerns were actually ovarian cysts. I was told the cysts would have been easier to see had the ultrasound waves not traveled through the extra layers of adipose tissue—despite the fact that that was my first ultrasound and no one had postulated cysts in my numerous visits, as the concern was on weight loss. Once again, losing weight was suggested as a solution to my medical concerns. Unbeknownst to my doctors, during those first semesters of college I was in the beginning years of a restrictive eating disorder that thrived on being told I was overweight, and used those words to intensify the eating disordered behaviors.

In college, when I first sought counseling at my college counseling center for what I believed was an eating disorder, I was again rebuffed secondary to my weight, and informed that I was merely feigning an eating disorder because I did not know who I really was. Because, as we all know, no overweight person could possibly have a restrictive eating disorder or be engaging in purging behaviors. Her response to my eating disorder, combined with years of pediatrician shaming past, continued to fuel my ED-NOS. My general practitioner at the time, the infamous Dr. Khaki Crocs, also felt that an overweight individual could not have a restrictive/purging eating disorder. He diagnosed me with an adjustment disorder. His explanation, “an adjustment disorder is like, well, I could diagnose my nurse with one now. She turned 50 this month and has been having difficulty coping with it. You’re experiencing life changes, and you’ve likely lost your appetite because of it.” It was only after I produced papers from Lindner Center of Hope with a diagnosis of ED-NOS, that he added the eating disorder diagnosis to my chart—without removing his initial diagnosis of adjustment disorder.

After college, I began to notice my knee sounded like bubble wrap when I walked and that it would throb for hours after I exercised. This pain was likely intensified by the strict exercise regimen of my eating disorder that never took a day off or let me take it lightly. Dr. Khaki Crocs was dismissive of my concerns, but my pleading that my knee felt wrong was met with a sympathy MRI. The MRI showed osteoarthritis of my knee behind the patella—where the tibia and femur meet—crepitus, worn away cartilage/bone, and edema. Dr. Khaki Crocs and my physical therapist suggested weight loss. To this day, my knee remains the same. A co-worker even joked she knew I was coming because she could hear my knee cracking as I walked.The most endearing  moment with dear ol’ Dr. Khaki Crocs, however, was when I voiced my concerns about my weight trending upwards, and he wrote the following words on his prescription pad before handing it to me, “Welcome to adulthood.” Thanks pal, way to take my health seriously. You’re a gem.

A few months ago, Dr. Khaki Croc’s replacement—whose partner I got by virtue of his retirement—decided to address my weight. My blood pressure was slightly elevated (we’re talking 128/75, so not even high), likely due to my dislike of this woman and my fear of doctors. She took that as a cue to remind me of my family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes—all of which are further complicated by obesity. I informed her that just the week before my blood pressure was too low at the dentist’s (because dentists apparently take blood pressures now), and the elevated pressure was likely a manifestation of my anxiety. She then suggested weight loss again as a means to lower that “too high” blood pressure.

Later in the visit, I expressed to her that I had noticed my weight trending upwards as of late that seemed out of context of my following my meal plan, reincorporating meat into my meal plan, and no longer purging. My dietitian had suggested that that weight increase could be secondary to a thyroid condition, my Effexor, or PCOS. When I relayed this to my doctor, she informed me that my two-year-old blood work showed no indication of thyroid abnormalities, that she’s been “prescribing Effexor and drugs like it for over 20 years and no one has ever lost weight when they went off of it,” and that “even if you had PCOS, it wouldn’t cause you to gain weight.” Her suggested treatment for my concerns was to “remove a couple hundred calories from your diet.” I explained that I’m recovering from a restrictive eating disorder, and that my dietitian uses the diabetic exchange system instead of calories—to which she rolled her eyes and replied, “Well, that has its own issues.” I left with her suggestion to restrict a few hundred calories and instructions to work out more–despite her knowledge of my history with disordered eating and overexercise. I, of course, shared this idiocy with my dietitian, and—after a laugh and mini-vent session–we continued on the same meal plan I already have.

Knowing that I deserved better than Dr. Khaki Crocs’ replacement, I sought out a new doctor last month. This doctor spent 45 minutes with me discussing my eating disorder concerns, my medical issues, my medical history, and what I want out of a doctor. Based on her conversation with me, my medical abnormalities, and past medical experience, she asked if I would be willing to do a blood test–as she felt I likely had PCOS. Forty-eight hours later, I got a message in mychart, “Your labs all look normal. These were done to see if things other than PCOS could be leading to your symptoms. No other signs of issues [were] seen, which does support a diagnosis of PCOS Your sugar is normal. Your cholesterol is good.” She was able to provide me with an accurate diagnosis and explanation for my weight gain in two days compared to the eight or so years I spent with Dr. Khaki Crocs and his croc-less replacement. She truly listened to me, addressed my concerns, and asked how we can worth to better my health without reigniting the eating disorder.

 

There is a powerful hashtag circulating right now–#TheySaid. The purpose behind this hashtag is for women to share their body shaming stories, how they overcame them (or didn’t), and to remind us of our shared humanity as women while empowering us to rise above body shaming. This is my #TheySaid, and my #SheReplied. Never forget your voice is powerful and necessary when it comes to your health. I don’t tell these stories to expose the inadequacies of my former doctors (though they are glaringly obvious) or in an effort to seek sympathy. I relay these stories to show that when you are fat, doctors only see fat. Your arm could be falling off or you could have lost all your blood, but when you are fat, the solution won’t be to reattach the arm or begin a blood transfusion. No. When you are fat, the first solution would be for you to lose weight. After you’ve lost weight, then they’ll see about the arm reattachment or giving you some blood. I relay these stories to remind people that they deserve appropriate medical attention at ANY weight. People deserve love and affection at any weight. People deserve life at any weight. Advocate for what you deserve–you are worthy.

 

Zephaniah 3:17

“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

 

When you’re inundated with body shame March 31, 2017

no wrong way

Two images stare back at me from my computer. The one on the left portrays a sad, frumpy larger version of the person—so sorrowful you can almost hear Sarah McLachlan in the background. The one on the right displays a happy, half-naked thinner version–who most certainly has an amazing life and personal jet by now. These images typically have many exasperating hashtags, list the number of pounds lost/goal weight, and describe how much they hate the person on the left. I don’t even know this person, and yet I’ve fallen victim to their expertly- curated Facebook life and their thin-ideal proselytism. These images awaken the demon of insecurity that lives deep within us, and stirs the spirit of body-shame.

These before and after transformation photos are meant to sharply juxtapose the fat, unhealthy version of that person with the thin, happy version. These photos prey on our insecurities, and desire to fit into the cultural thin-ideal. This pervasive thin-ideal convinces us that—when we attain the perfect body—we will gain health, wealth, love, and happiness. It impresses upon us the idea that the thinner body is a “good body” and the larger body is a “bad body”—and, through the transitive property of equality in mathematics, the person living in the “bad body” must also be “bad.” When presented with these transformation photos that perpetuate the thin-ideal, the culture of body-shaming and normalization of self-hatred is perpetuated ad nauseam. This perpetuation has a cost, however, and that cost is self-destruction, self-condemnation, and devaluation of those of us who do not fit the ideal.

Society criminalizes and fears fat at the same time—leading fat to become the last socially-acceptable form of discrimination. The prevalence of weight-based discrimination has increased 66% from 1995 to 2006 (NEDA). This is likely why 42% of girls in first through third grade want to be thinner (NEDA), and 81% of ten-year-olds have a fear of being fat (NEDA). This is also likely why the dieting industry rakes in $64 BILLION annually—outearning the wedding industry and the baby product industry. Society conditions us to second-guess any of the confidence we’ve developed about our bodies and question how someone—with our less-than-perfect body—can be accepted looking the hideous the way we do. How much we weigh, eat, exercise, etc. is nobody’s business but our own. Our bodies belong to us—not to social media, not your friends or family, not your doctor, no one. The phrase “Compare and despair” comes to mind—thank you Jenni Schaefer.

Here are the facts: THERE IS NO “PERFECT” BODY and YOUR BODY ISN’T SOMETHING TO BE “FIXED.” Contrary to what society shoves down our throat every minute of every day, there is no perfect body. Have you seen the lineup of female Olympic athletes from the various events throughout the years? Each of them represent the peak performance level of their sport, and yet every single one of them has a different body size and shape than the woman standing next to them. Not to be outdone, men from various nations recreated a similar photo. Health, like our bodies, comes in all shapes and sizes. Thin does not always represent a healthful body, just as fat does not always represent an unhealthful body. Health cannot be measured on a scale or through the flawed mathematics of body mass index.  While weight can certainly be an aspect of health, it is not a sole indicator. Health is also measured through mental and emotional wellbeing, effective relationships with others, meaningfully contributing to society, and myriad other aspects. There is no one right way to have a body!

Olympic women

There is no one right way to have a body!

Olympic Men

Remember, your weight does not make you any better or worse than anyone else. When we focus so intently on our perceived flaws, we will never be able to see the remarkable, astounding aspects of our bodies. There is more to life than food or weight—don’t let it become the central fixture around which your life revolves. The answer to our body and self-acceptance isn’t found in a fad diet, a new exercise trend, a pill, a cream, a tea, a detox regime, a cleanse, constricting shapewear, expensive exercise equipment, shakes, or anything else the diet industry/thin ideal perpetuators use a propaganda to convince you that you’re worthless while further lining their pockets with cash. As the amazing body-positivity activist Sarah Vance says, “Loving yourself isn’t going to come from changing your body.”

So how can we grow to love and accept our bodies—as they are in this very moment—in a world that is constantly conspiring to do the opposite? I’m no expert on body-positivity. In fact, I’m still working on it myself. What I can do, however, is recommend the celebration of a day of body love as a place at which to start. On this day, for every negative comment you say about your body, consciously counter is with a positive. Write a letter of gratitude to your body—sure it will be weird, and it will be worth it. Wear an article of clothing in which you feel great. Compliment yourself and others on their character, not their body or appearance. Respect your body’s needs: if it wants to move, move; if it wants to rest, rest; if it wants to eat, eat; if it wants a massage, get a damn massage. It’s your body and you know its needs better than anyone else. Having needs is not a weakness—though society will actively work to convince you otherwise—and denying ourselves of our needs is not the strength we are lead to believe that it is. I also recommend participating in some body activism projects. I’ve joined some body positive groups on Facebook, and blocked a TON of friends who consistently post body negative updates. I also turn around magazines that objectify bodies by promoting the thin-ideal—if people can’t see them, they can’t buy them or fall victim to their propaganda. If you’re feeling exceptionally brave, you can post body positive post-its on those magazines or on diet products. Be bold.

I leave you with this: appreciate your body, it is yours and you get only one. Your body is a masterpiece of creation and there is no other body out there like yours…none. Live your life on your terms in your body, and appreciate all the wonderful things it does for you.

 

 

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

 

When you have a security blanket January 29, 2017

 

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The Eager Beavers: I’m in the first row, fourth from the left in all pink and saddle shoes

I’m twenty-nine years old, and I still sleep with my baby blanket. My mother bought it for me when I was four–for my first day of the Eager Beavers preschool class at West Chester Church of the Nazarene. I had high anxiety about being away from my in-home daycare, and moving to a “big girl school.” My mother thought that having this blanket would remind me of home while I was at school, but I mainly think she purchased it so she wouldn’t have to deal with my pre-K anxiety. She then emblazoned my name on the back with puffy paint, and I’ve held on to it ever since. It’s not like I took it to college with me or take it on work trips, but I take comfort I knowing that it is in my bed. Having that object from my past grounds me in some way, and it’s reassuring that no matter where my life goes, the blanket will remain the same. Perhaps my eating disorder has functioned in the same way?

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Who wouldn’t love a blanket with a teddy bear being carried away by balloons?

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faded, but my puffy paint name is still there 

My eating disorder developed around the end of second grade. After relentless bullying all day at school, I would come home seeking refuge in copious amounts of food—sneaking food out of pantries (hiding the evidence of my consumption by shoving wrappers in the couch, under my bed, or slipping them between the cracks in our wooden deck), eating dinner leftovers all night long, and even eating out of the trash if I couldn’t find anything. I always knew that no matter how bad things had gotten at school that day, I could console myself that evening with food. Binging was my security blanket when the other kids teased me, when they passed notes of cows labeled “Rachel,” when they drew on my clothes on the bus, when they prank called my house during slumber parties…binging was always there to comfort me. This binging continued for the next ten years—searching for security, safety, and reassurance in food.

In college, repulsed by my appearance and in an effort to reinvent myself in a new setting, I sought security in food…or rather a lack of food. I quickly spiraled into restriction, and have never binged again. However, after about a year and a half of restriction, it no longer provided that soothing sensation I felt I needed. My malnourished brain—remembering the feelings of refuge

I received from my blanket, binging, and restricting—decided the only logical answer was to continue to manipulate food through further restriction in addition to compulsive exercise. I temporarily found the comfort and safety I sought. Restriction and over-exercise felt like my teddy bear blanket wrapped around my shoulders—protecting me from the world and comforting me through life. Yet the feeling never lasted. I would engage in behaviors, feel safe for awhile, and then sense the need to engage again to regain the feeling of safety—it was an endless cycle of fear, behaviors, safety, fear, behaviors, safety.

Though I don’t remember the exact date, I do remember that in September of 2009, I thought I could find comfort via continued food manipulation in the form of purging; in addition to my already severe restriction and over-exercise. I could never find, however, the feeling I was seeking—my behaviors were never enough for my eating disorder to be satisfied. Yet I continued to manipulate food in search of this comfort that had eluded me since early elementary school.  No matter what happened in my life, my eating disorder’s siren lure reminded me that I could turn to restricting or purging to get me closer towards the peace I desired within me.

My eating disorder has been with me for the last twenty-ish years–making false claims of serenity and security—and unlike my baby blanket, the safety is promised came at a cost to me. In early recovery, my eating disorder convinced me that if recovery felt too risky, I could restrict or purge to remind myself that the security provided by the eating disorder was still nearby. Restricting and purging felt like my security blanket—if the job of a security blanket is to slowly kill you. Know that eating disorders are not security blankets, they’re not Band-Aids, and they don’t “fix” the parts of life that are not pleasing to you. True security comes from recovery—being able to handle life’s unpleasant moments healthfully and effectively in order to produce a more desired outcome. This is not an easy task, however. Retreating back to the perceived safety of the eating disorder often seems like the only thing I knew how to do. The more practice I had with recovery, and the more skills I gained made this process easier. Know that you do not need an eating disorder to feel secure and loved for who you are. My one year of recovery has provided me with more security, serenity, comfort, and reassurance than either 20 years of an eating disorder or a crummy blanket could ever offer.

 

Psalm 46:1-3

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

 

 

When you forgive your bullies October 17, 2016

“Forgive and Forget:” we’ve all heard this idiomatic phrase. Perhaps we’ve even uttered it to ourselves when faced with someone who has wronged us, or offered it as a polite consolation to others. But can one truly forgive AND forget? And do we even want to forgive and forget? I was faced with this very question during Daniel’s—my pastor–sermon this weekend.

 

In Isaiah 43:25, it is written, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Many people take this as the basis for “Forgive and Forget.” After all, if the Lord of all creation, says He wipes out our sins and forgets they ever happened, who are we to hold a grudge against someone who has wronged us? Only here’s the thing, such a simplistic approach that verse completely disregard’s God’s omnipotence—He knows all that has happened, is happening, and will happen…with that knowledge, how would He be able to just “forget” sin? When it states, “remembers your sins no more,” that doesn’t mean He’s choosing to forgive and forget—He’s choosing to forgive us of our sins as a means to restore our relationship with Him; choosing not to hold our sin against us anymore. He wants to separate us from our sins so that they can no longer ensnare us—keeping us from a relationship with him. Furthermore, He wants us to extend His level of forgiveness to those we encounter. When we think about forgiveness, we must no longer think of forgetting, but of restoration.

 

With that in mind, I revisited a prompt I learned when training for the Body Project at the NEDA conference last month: “Please write a letter to someone in your life who pressured you to conform to the appearance ideal. Please tell them how this affected you and indicate how you would respond now, in light of what you have learned.” I knew immediately who I needed to forgive and restore; my bullies. I hold an inordinate amount of resentment towards these individuals—many of whom I haven’t seen in at least ten years, and none of whom deserve to have control over me anymore. This summer, many people asked me if I would be attending my ten-year high school reunion. My answer was always the same, “No one at Lakota liked me when I was there. Why would they like me ten years later?” Clearly I’m a master at forgive and restore. I had neither forgiven nor restored. In fact, any time my school’s name is mentioned, a feeling of intense sadness and indignation invades my heart. Quite frankly, I’m ashamed that that is my reaction. In an effort to forgive and restore, I’ve written an open letter of forgiveness to my former bullies.

 

Dear Bullies,

I forgive you. That’s right; I forgive you. Right now you’re probably wondering why I am forgiving you all for being horrible people, for giving me ingenious nicknames like “cow” and “whale,” for making a party game out of calling my house, for making me eat lunch alone for all those years, and for the myriad other malfeasances you committed—not just against me—but to so many others. You may be pondering why “Rumpke Recycling” or “Dairy Queen” is forgiving you and is grateful for the abuse you inflicted. While many of you are likely still questioning who I even am; as you’ve likely forgotten—or chose to ignore—your past transgressions. Your past behavior—as malicious as it was, and may, very well, still be—actually made me stronger. Though your treatment of me plunged me into a seemingly inescapable pit of depression, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders…it allowed me to seek and develop the very tools I needed to escape.

 

After being subjected to your harangue and torment, I grew to believe that I deserved to be treated in an unfavorably and destructive manner. I learned to hurt myself before others could seize the opportunity. I believed—albeit falsely—that hurting myself before others inevitably would, would make the pain more tolerable. However, the only result of that attempt at self-preservation was self-destruction in the form of twenty years of eating disordered hell, self-harm, and isolation. In gong through that hell, however, I learned of the inherent worth given to me by God and used your torment as the very foundation upon which I built my life and career.

 

In seeking refuge from the effects of your degradation, I grain invaluable knowledge and tools. If it weren’t for your wrongdoings, I may never have learned how strong, determined, and loved I could be. I’ve discovered that I’m imperfect and that what makes me worthy of love—because everyone is imperfect and we’re all deserving of love. I have come to disregard the negative, hurtful comments of others, while not continuing my negative attitude towards myself either. Asking for help, I’ve learned, is a necessary aspect of a healthy life—not a sign of weakness. Gone are the days of hurting myself before you could hurt me. Instead, I’ve constructed a support network of individuals who genuinely care for me and reinforce my commitment to recovery.

 

As a result of my efforts in recovery, I’ve acquired a job I adore and which also makes great use of my life experiences, education, and empathy. Everyday I have the privilege of engaging with teenage patients in treatment for eating disorders and share what I’ve learned from your many injustices. Likewise, these incredible souls teach me. Together we are overcoming and learning to love our authentic, raw, vulnerable selves.

 

So while you may have attempted to subjugate my life and though I may have missed twenty years of my life to an eating disorder, I stand here today as living proof. Proof that self-care is essential—regardless the opinions of others. Proof that one can rise from their past—from your tragedy, I have triumphed. Although it was painful at the time and was painful to remember, your bullying set me up to be the person I am today. And today, today I am improving. Know that you are forgiven.

 

  Gratefully,

Rhea

jenni-and-rachel

When you gain recovery, you get to meet people who have impacted your life from afar, and who helped you through their books, speeches, and living their own recovery. I was so incredibly humbled to meet Jenni Schaefer a few weeks ago! My goal is to shine as bright a light as she has. 

 

Colossians 3:12-15

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.