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.

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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.

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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 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 ask for help May 21, 2015

Seated on a borrowed bike, I continued to pedal despite the South Carolina humidity and the fact that I was sweating out of body parts I didn’t know were capable of sweating. What had been described to me as a “quick, easy bike ride to the beach” was turning into the 2012 Tour de Hilton Head, and I was a female Lance Armstrong (minus the steroids). I had followed the signs along the sidewalk that pointed to the beach, but had, somehow, become lost along the way…VERY lost. My sister was behind me asking me to stop; more like pleading for me to ask for directions. However, I continued on; determined to find my way to the beach without asking for help.
Half an hour later, and, as we could come to find out, twelve miles in the wrong direction, I finally stopped at the guard station to an apartment complex to ask for directions. I unceremoniously dumped the bike on the sidewalk and handed the last of our water to my sister before approaching the security guard for directions. I, typically, am able to create a good rapport with elderly people—this man, however, was NOT having it. Before I was able to ask for directions, he barked, “Get that bike off my sidewalk; people walk there.” I went back to move the bike to the grass, then returned to his station.
“Hello…” I looked at his name tag hoping that adding his name to the question would make him nicer, “Albert. My sister and I were looking for the beach when we got really lost, and we…”

“You’re way off girls. Not even close. Just follow those signs back to where you came from” he said as if my mere presence was inconveniencing him; as if he meant to say “Be gone peasants.”
“Sir, I would really just like to rest for a moment. We came all the way from the stables. I would just like to stay here until my cousin can come pick us up.” The old man was unmoved by my statement, but allowed us to stay until my cousin arrived with a pick-up truck to collect me, my sister, and our bikes.
So, why tell a story like this? Because, as I move along in recovery, I recognize how events such as this one mirror my own journey in recovery. Hear me out on this one…
When I was an 8-year-old girl constantly being bullied for my weight, my poverty, my brains, my clothes, and just about anything else kids would find to pick on, food became an escape; somewhere I could go that the pain wouldn’t follow me. I ate to numb, to shove down emotions, to find friendship, to search for love and acceptance…and I ate and I ate and I ate. For, roughly, the next ten years, I continued turning to food to “cope”. I continued on that path, just as I had continued down the bike path, in the wrong direction. What I had originally turned to to alleviate my pain, had only clouded my path; causing me to become lost in an eating disorder. Instead of helping myself, all the eating was only masking and exacerbating the pain. And yet, I continued down that wrong path, insisting to myself that I knew where I was going and what I was doing.

When I entered my first year of college, I was convinced that the only way to help myself was, again, through food…so I began restricting as a means to reach the “right path”. The restricting, again, only served to get me more lost and continue to distance me from the life I desired. However, people began to give me positive attention. I was lauded for my “weight loss”, my “control”, my “dedication”, my “discipline”, and a whole bunch of other adjectives that described my eating disorder, but not Rhea. I thought, though, that maybe these people were on to something; that maybe my eating disorder would be a ticket back to the right path that would get me to where I wanted to be. So I kept restricting. It was then that I realized I had no clue as to what my “right path” was. However, my eating disorder convinced me that my “right path” was towards sickness…and so I followed it miles out of my way; away from my dreams, friends, family, ambitions, happiness, and, most of all, away from health.

After three years of restricting, I got bored with my eating disorder, and felt I was no closer towards finding the right path. Naturally, I returned back to food. “This time will be different,” I told myself, “This time I will be able to find my way out of the muck and onto the right path.” Thus began purging, over-exercise, self-harming, and laxative abuse; as well as seeing a “counselor” who refused to admit I have an eating disorder. I feel this mirrors the point where I asked the old man for directions; it was merely a holding area. I definitely wasn’t going towards recovery or the right path towards health, but I didn’t have any clear signs on how to get there either.

After working with Lindner, my current (amazing) therapist, Thom Rutledge, and doing lots of HARD work, I have a clearer idea of the right path. My “right path” includes: teaching, writing, photography, working for an eating disorder treatment center, treating myself well, and leading a mentally healthier life. It does not include my eating disorder. I no longer self-harm or use laxatives. I am eating more and have drastically reduced the frequency of my purging. Asking for help, in both of these experiences, was the wisest and healthiest thing I could have done. Does that mean it was easy? Hell no! Asking for help is one of the hardest things (aside from recovery itself) that I have ever done. At the same time, asking for help is, singlehandedly, the best thing I have ever done in my recovery. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; it may just end up saving your life…I know it did for me.

Psalm 107:28-30

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.

 

When you talk to a 5 year old March 30, 2015

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“Whatcha playing Miss Rachel?”

I look up from the screen of my phone at the wild mop of blonde hair covering her blue eyes, “Just a text from mommy, that’s all.”

“Oh. OK” she sings and bounds off to play with her my little ponies.

I look back down at the screen and reread the text from Abby’s mother, “Abby has made two comments lately about being ugly or not liking her face. She had told me she doesn’t like her face and then a few nights later that she was ugly. I can’t figure it out.”

Abby is FIVE. She reads and writes on a first grade level despite the fact she is only in pre-school. She loves to take care of her two year old brother. She sings, dances, and enjoys putting on shows. She is funny and sensitive and loves Disney princesses. And, apparently, at the age of five, has decided she is ugly.

My heart dropped after reading her mother’s text. I remember that feeling like it was yesterday; hating myself, thinking I was ugly, feeling like I did not fit in, wanting to be like everyone else, knowing I was fat…all of that and more, I felt all those things at Abby’s age. And there is no way in hell I was going to let this little girl feel the same way!

I remembered Abby’s mom had made a book with the photos I had taken at Abby’s 5th birthday party, and retrieved it from the shelf. I wanted Abby to hear what I would have wanted to hear at her age. Abby and I sat down on the couch to read the book together. Then I found the photo I had been looking for; Abby’s friend Lee. Lee was recently adopted from China at age 5. Lee is amazingly smart; learning English in only a few months. He loves to tell stories, and is very fond of dancing. Lee also happens to only have half of a left arm and a deformed hand on his right. I discussed with Abby what she likes about Lee and what fun things she does with him. Never once did she mention his physical differences. I asked her if Lee being different mattered to her. Abby said that Lee would be her friend no matter how he looked. We talked about how God made Lee special as we continued looking through the book. On the next page was a photo of Abby talking with Queen Elsa from Frozen (well, an impersonator Elsa).

“What do you like about this girl, Abby?” I asked as I pointed to a picture of her.

“That’s just me, silly”

“Seriously, Abby, what do you like about this girl?”

Abby thought for a few minutes before hesitantly responding, “I am smart. And I am funny. And I’m a good singer.”

“Anything else?”

“I’m fun to play with, and I’m good at helping mommy with Ross (her younger brother)” she said with more confidence.

“And do you know what I like about you Abby,” I asked. Abby shook her head no. “I like how nice you are, how much you love others, your smile, the way you laugh when Ross chases the cat. I like you for you, Abby. I like you because God made you Abby and there is no one else like you.”

Abby smiled and looked up from the book, “Wanna try on princess dresses Miss Rachel?”

“Yes Abby, yes I do” I responded.

On her way up the stairs Abby turned around, “I love you Miss Rachel. You have a big heart.”

“I love you too Abby bug. You are smart and beautiful and loving. I am lucky to be your babysitter.”

That day Abby taught me to take a moment to love myself. She taught me how important it is to remember the amazing qualities God gave each of us. She taught me to view the world through a lens of love instead of hate, and to let the light within me shine. This week I am writing down two positive self-talk moments a day to remind myself of the goodness and grace that exists in me. Each time I reread one of these moments, I am able to remind myself that, just like Abby, I am awesome. I encourage you to write down your positive self-talk and then revisit it often. Never forget that you are an amazing person!

Abby

Princess Abby with the Elsa decoration from her party.

Isaiah 64:8

Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

 

When you destroy a relationship February 16, 2015

This Valentine’s Day weekend, I decided to take an untraditional look at love by ending a relationship that I had had for many years. Recovery is teaching me that I have to love myself more than I want to stay in my disorder. With that in mind, I decided that my love for myself and my recovery, was more important than this other relationship. However, this relationship was not with a boyfriend, a family member, a friend or any other person. This relationship was with my scale.

For at least the past eight years, scales have been a huge part of my life; the eating disorder itself for eighteen. I remember the little white scale with the dial my roommate had in college, and how she used to hide it from me so I wouldn’t use it. That’s the thing about people who aren’t thinking clearly because they’re consumed with an eating disorder, no matter where you hide a scale, we can sniff it out like a bloodhound. Whenever she would notice that I had found it, she would hide it again. However, again, little Miss “no shame because I can’t even think about how wrong it is to go through people’s personal property because all I can think about is pleasing my eating disorder” would search through her things until I found the beloved scale.

When I moved out on my own after college, one of my first purchases was a black bathroom scale. I set it in a place of honor next to my closet door in my bedroom. Every morning the blinking digital readout of my weight would determine what I wore that day, if I was allowed eat, how many times I would have to purge, if I would be punished for my weight, how much I would work out, how many laxatives I would have to take, where I could go, if I had to self-harm, who I could talk to…

Now that I have stopped weighing myself on a daily basis, my black scale was sent to the inner recesses of my closet for two and a half years; I was not ready to give it up completely for fear that I may need it some day. Today, I only get weighed at my doctor’s office. I do not allow them to tell me the number, I get on the scale backwards with my eyes closed, and have them black out my weight and BMI on the printout they give each patient after his or her visit. I am not yet ready to see the number.

To say that the relationships I have had with scales have been the longest-lasting and most impactful (albeit deadly) relationships I have ever had, would be an understatement.

This Valentine’s Day weekend, I decided to end all of that. The scale had to go.

I dug the scale out of my closet; moving aside old schoolwork, discarded bags, and shoes I forgot I owned. There, on my bedroom floor, I grabbed a silver sharpie and wrote a farewell decree on the scale. Then I grabbed my keys and moved the scale outside.

My scale reading

My scale reading the farewell decree.

Thinking it would impart the most damage, I placed my scale under the tire of my car, hopped inside and started the engine. I left the door of the car open, however, in hope that I could hear the satisfying crunch of the scale under the weight of Little Red.

Say your prayers scale

Say your prayers scale

Even after running over it thirty times, the scale was undamaged. I knew this called for reinforcements.

car

I wonder how the scale reacted when all 3,400 pounds of my car ran it over?

I picked up the scale, threw it on the ground next to my dad’s tool bench, and got out the necessary tools. Not wanting to risk flying scale debris in my eye or scale shrapnel in my skin, I used a screwdriver to open the scale. Once opened, I was shocked. A little quarter-sized battery and some wires were what I was letting control my life. Maybe three dollars worth of supplies made my life a living hell for all those years. I ripped out the wires and metal pieces like a madwoman.

Blurry, but you get the idea

Blurry, but you get the idea

With all the pieces that make the scale function removed, I bagged up the remains and gave the scale a less than honorable burial.

intothebin

I hope you enjoy hell, scale

scalecoffin

WhereItBelongs

My scale’s final resting place. It will be so satisfying when the garbage man comes to remove it from my life forever on Thursday!

I could not be happier about my decision to destroy my scale and take back my life. Not a single second has gone by that I don’t applaud myself for destroying this piece of plastic that controlled me for so long. This Valentine’s Day I chose to love myself by ending a deadly relationship forever. I cannot think of a more appropriate use for this day than to celebrate my life, my recovery and myself. Remember, you are worthy of love, life, happiness and recovery!

Ephesians 2:4-5

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

Psalm 139:14

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.