RheasOfHope

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

When you write your testimony August 5, 2018

After twelve years of being employed by my church and about six years of regularly attending, I decided to take the plunge and become a member. Part of the membership process is writing and sharing our testimony. So, here it is:

 

 Anorexia. Unworthiness. Bulimia. Shame. Binge Eating Disorder. Perfectionism. Self-harm. Depression. Anxiety. Stubbornness. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Self-loathing. Brokenness. Isolation. These qualities are not typically high on the list of Christian attributes. And yet, they were my reality when I accepted Christ.

I grew up attending church with my grandparents and two cousins every Sunday while our parents remained at home. My grandfather was the assistant pastor at the church; which made me the pastor’s kid. I felt the pressure to perform, memorize the verses, perfect the prayers, and act in a manner appropriate for a pastor’s grandkid. While I grew up in the church, I most certainly did not grow up in Christ. Christianity–it appeared to me–was a performance; another area in my life in which I was expected to excel, another area in my life in which I fell exceedingly short, and another area in my life in which I was not perfect—not even for God.

Throughout my thirteen years in public school, I was relentlessly bullied for being overweight, smart, and middle-class. Pictures of cows labeled “Rachel” were passed around behind my back, books were knocked out of my hands on the stairs, and demeaning nicknames were given daily. While I certainly was not loved by my bullies, I also did not feel love from my family. The expectation was to achieve, raise my younger sister, obtain perfect grades, take responsibility for myself and others, and obey the myriad rules of my house. I never once remember hearing “I love you,” being hugged, or feeling like my presence mattered.

Shame and unworthiness—and the accompanying depression and anxiety—was ingrained early and rapidly in my young life. In an effort to avoid feeling this shame and unworthiness, I developed what I now recognize as binge eating disorder at age eight. I ate to fill the void of feeling unloved. I ate to numb the pain caused by my bullies. I ate and ate because it gave a feeling of safety—my one safe space where no one could ever hurt me. When I went away to college, food again became my refuge, and I plunged into twelve years of atypical anorexia. I severely restricted food, over-exercised, abused laxatives, and purged in an attempt to overcome my deeply-rooted feelings of shame and unworthiness. I felt I needed to be punished for who I was and how I felt. If I wasn’t perfect, I certainly didn’t deserve to eat that day. If I got a 98% on a test, I had to use the elliptical until I paid the penance of missing those two points. If I ate more than my allotted calories for the day, I had to purge the overage—and then punish myself for allowing myself to eat. If my bedroom wasn’t cleaned to my standards, I had to punish myself by burning or cutting my skin. I did not seek professional help until I was twenty-one years old; thirteen years into my disorder. I lived in a cycle of self-condemnation, shame, rejection, self-hatred, unworthiness, and fear; far removed from God’s love, a love I did not feel I even deserved.

That is, until the night of December 7, 2017. Two weeks prior, I had been told by my treatment team that I needed a higher level of care for my anorexia. After disclosing this to my friend, she felt I would benefit from attending the healing prayer gathering that night. As we sat together in the pew, I felt my heart began to soften, the walls around my heart began to come down, and I saw—for the first time—the love of Christ. I knew in that moment I had to put my eating disorder at the foot of the cross, leave behind my shame and unworthiness, and move forward as a daughter of the King. But how? I reached into my cavernous purse, and located my planner. Flipping to the “notes” section, I scribbled in hasty cursive, “Julie, I want to accept Christ.”  Julie and Patrick guided me through accepting Christ that evening. I put my past at the feet of the Lord, and I instantly I felt lighter—like God had lifted my burdens, my sins, my shame, my eating disorder, and everything else that was keeping me from Him. The relief I felt in unloading my burden to God was unlike anything I had felt before; I was finally able to take a breath, breathing in His love and acceptance. I felt–instead of shame–a warmth; a closeness I’ve never felt before. For the first time, I truly felt the all-consuming love of the Father and believed that-as broken as I was–I was worthy of that love.

Since that day, I have moved forward in my life confident that God loves me, He chose me, He finds no fault in me, and that He will never abandon me. I no longer ache for the days I spent in my eating disorder; the false protection it offered or the way it numbed me to the world around me. I do not need anorexia when I have the most powerful force on earth and in heaven guarding my heart and keeping it in perfect peace. I live in constant humility that He waited patiently for me while I self-destructed, knowing with only the absolute certainty of a sovereign God, that I would return to Him. I am continually grateful for the Christian mentors and friends He has placed in my path to support my continued growth in Him. I share my story with as many people as possible; knowing that I can use my words to glorify my Father.

 

Romans 12:2

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

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When Anxiety Paints For You July 20, 2018

When a co-worker planned for us to attend a painting party, I had visions of becoming the female Bob Ross minus the perm. I thought, “I’ll get to hold one of those palates on my thumb, wear an apron, and paint with a knife. Maybe I’ll wear a beret. Real artists wear berets. Who am I kidding? I’m not buying a beret—that ridiculous.” The fact that we were painting “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh was a bonus; impressionism is my favorite period of art. I was excited to create my own masterpiece.

 

Anxiety, however, had different plans.

 

The class began at 6:30, and–at 6:15–I was the first to arrive. It was just me and the woman that was leading the class. I stood there awkwardly fiddling with my collarbones while she got out the painting supplies, praying she wouldn’t try to make small talk…which she did. While she rattled through the requisite, “What’s your name? What do you do for a living?” etc., my brain frothed into a raging sea of “what ifs”

 

What if she asks a question I don’t know the answer to? What if she thinks I’m weird? What if none of my co-workers come, and I’m the only one? What if she says something about my weight? What if I say something stupid? What if..? My anxious brain was busy catastrophizing and creating scenarios that, in all likelihood, would never come to fruition. That’s how anxiety works; your brain spirals into the quicksand of worst-case-scenario, all-or-nothing, black and white thinking where anything that can go wrong, will. By the time I realize the thoughts are anxiety-driven, I’m so far into the anxiety rabbit hole that it takes a lot of concerted thought and fact checking to climb out of it.

 

Even after my co-workers arrived, I still couldn’t shake the dread. What if I can’t paint? What if I do it wrong? What if I get paint on my dress after she said it would never come out? What if my co-workers think my painting is awful? What if my painting truly is awful and I just wasted $40?

 

As we were painting, the anxiety rampage continued. I look to the paintings of my coworkers; my swirls are so much bigger than my neighbors’, how did they get theirs to look like the teacher’s,  did I mix my colors correctly, am I using the right brush, what if I’m doing this wrong, why am I such a failure? I take a drink of my Moerlein –playing with the sticker on the bottle to distract me from my thoughts and my painting. I take a deep breath. The teacher instructs us to paint seven stars on our background, but my OCD demands that I paint eight. I make a mistake and want to start over; I want to give up because I can’t do it perfectly. Paralyzed by anxiety, it wins this round.

 

Looking back that the experience now, I can see that my art is unique to me and that it doesn’t matter what looks like. My anxiety didn’t make my painting any better but it certainly lessened my enjoyment of the painting party.

 

I see this pattern again and again in my life; letting anxiety rule my decisions, living life in a series of worst-case-scenario what ifs, and allowing automatic negative thoughts to overrun my thinking.  This is not the life I want to live. This is not the life God intended me to live—despite the fact that He wired my brain to make anxiety a part of my brain. The most repeated phrase,  in the Bible is, “Do not fear.” When God spoke to Moses in the desert, He didn’t say, “Oh, Moses, you’re freaking out? Cool, cool. Panic some more, catastrophize the situation until you’re too paralyzed to make a decision, and then I’ll see what I can do for you.”

 

And Jesus didn’t say, “Anxiety is awesome, y’all. Let us live our lives in constant fear of an imagined outcome that will likely never happen.” No! God does not want us to live our life in anxiety. He wants us to trust Him, grow in Him, and know that He has our lives planned perfectly in accordance to His will. He wants our trust in Him to replace the lies of anxiety. He wants us to use His Word to fight the voices of worry; secure in the knowledge that God has us in the palm of His hand. His grace covers our failures.

 

Through my thirty years of anxiety, I’ve learned more and more to depend on God to get me through those moments (or days or weeks) of anxiety. When my mind begins to spiral into the abyss of anxiety, I am able to go to God with my fears and what ifs. In this acknowledgement of my anxiety, He is able to calm me and abate the anxiety. This acknowledgment also reminds me to employ therapeutic strategies on my thoughts such as fact checking, reframing, and cognitive defusion. It has taken a lot of work and trust in the Lord to get where I am today—and I still struggle with anxiety. However, I know that I am able to overcome anxiety.

 

 

Below are some verses we can use in our times of anxiety to remind us of the Truth:

 

Exodus 14:13-14

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Deuteronomy 3:22

“Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.”

Deuteronomy 31:6

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Joshua 1:9

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

1 Chronicles 28:20b

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you”

Psalm 3:3-6

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.”

Psalm 23:1-4

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 27:1

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?”

Psalm 29:11

“The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

Psalm 31:24

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”

Psalm 32:6-7

“Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Psalm 34:4-5

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”

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.”

Psalm 55:1-3

“Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me and assail me in their anger.”

Psalm 55:22

“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.”

Psalm 56:3-4

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

Psalm 56:10-11

“In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?”

Psalm 91

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. “Because he[b] loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.

Psalm 94:19

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”

Psalm 112:7-8

“They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.”

Psalm 118:5-7a

“When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper.”

Proverbs 12:25

“Anxiety weighs down the heart,  but a kind word cheers it up.”

Isaiah 12:2

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense]; he has become my salvation.”

Isaiah 26:3-4

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.”

Isaiah 41:10 and 13

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

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Isaiah 43:1b-2

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters,  I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

Isaiah 44:8

“Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

Isaiah 51:7

“Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have taken my instruction to heart: Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals or be terrified by their insults.”

Isaiah 54:4a

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.”

Jeremiah 1:8

“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 29:11-13

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”

Lamentations 3:57-58

“You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.” You, Lord, took up my case; you redeemed my life.”

Zephaniah 3:16a-17

“Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 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.”

Matthew 6:25-34

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 10:29-31

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Matthew 14:27

“But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.””

Mark 5:36

“Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.””

Mark 6:50b

“Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.””

Luke 12:22-26

“Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

John 6:20

“But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.””

John 14:27

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.”

Philippians 4:6-9

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

2 Thessalonians 3:16

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”

2 Timothy 1:7

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline”

Hebrews 13:5b-6

““Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

1 Peter 5:6-7

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

IMG_8868

My completed painting

 

 

Isaiah 55:8-9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

When you trust God to heal June 29, 2018

My cheek, still sun-kissed warm from my picnic lunch, rests on the cool, curved porcelain. A mixture of tears and vomit swirl in front of my eyes while also dripping down my hand. I can feel my heart’s beat throbbing behind my eyes. My breathing is shallow and irregular. My knees, weak from osteoarthritis, tremble from kneeling for so long. I wipe my hands on some toilet paper and reach for my glasses. “This is the last time,” I say to myself as I toss the toilet paper into the bowl.

 

“You know damn well this isn’t the last time. Every time you’ve said, ‘This is the last time,’ you’ve come running back to me to save you. You’re weak, Rachel. You need me. You’re worthless without me. I’m all you’ve got” ED jeers.

 

Various iterations of ED had been a constant in my life since I was eight years old, and there I was, 28, and still fighting her. I’d proclaimed, “this is the last time,” so many times that the words had almost lost all meaning. ED knew this and used it to keep me stuck. It’d be another two years before I shook her off entirely.

 

But this time WAS the last time.

 

I’ve been lured many times by the siren song of purging:

“You ate birthday cake at a party? You’re such a fat ass. What idiot invited you, anyway?”

“You ate dinner after I specifically set your calorie limit for the day? You have no control! Get rid of it!”

“Have another bowl of cereal. It tastes good and you can just purge it afterwards. You know you miss it.”

“Your students had a hard time listening today? You know what will calm you down and make you feel better. Just once more, for old time’s sake.”

 

But that was the last time.

 

Recovery has been a series of consistent choices. It felt—and still sometimes feels—uncomfortable; like mourning the loss of a piece of you. After all, an eating disorder insidiously operates to make you feel like it is a piece of you; the defining character trait about yourself that you cannot—should not–change. EDs thrive on isolating a multifaceted person down to one singular title: eating disorder. Eating disorders want you to believe the lie that you are the ED and the ED is you.  EDs make you feel that they are your identity, that you do not exist outside of the disorder, and that your sole purpose in life is to be controlled by ED.

 

But that is not the truth.

 

You were, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139:14) by a God who created all things. When the ED attempts to convince you that you are nothing, know that God, “determines the number of the stars,  and calls them each by name,” (Psalm 147:5) yet loves each of us so much that, “ the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7). Let that sink in for a minute. The God who created each star and knows it by name, loves you so incredibly much that He even knows the number of hairs on your head. In Matthew 10: 27-30, Jesus reminds us that not even a sparrow falls to the ground in death without the Father knowing; reminding us that we are worth more to God than many sparrows. Between naming stars, keeping tabs on sparrow deaths, and knowing the number of hairs on seven billion heads, it sounds like God has His work cut out for Him. And yet, He took the time to lovingly create everything about you—from your dimple on your cheek, to the veins of color in your iris; from the size of your feet to your affinity for cheesy 90’s sitcoms. You are a miracle of creation and no eating disorder can tear that away from you. Nothing about you is an accident; you were made on purpose for a purpose. While I don’t know your purpose—and I don’t always know mine—there is a purpose for your life; a purpose that is not an eating disorder.

 

But if I’m not my ED, what am I?

 

Know that you, “are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Notice that the scriptures do not say, “You are an eating disorder. Your sole purpose is to engage in behaviors and obey the demands of the disorder.” No! We are the exquisite handiwork of God, created to do good works; “the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1: 7). We are not timid—we have the strength to overcome the eating disorder. We have power, love, and self-control (that I often like to reframe as allowing God control of myself instead of letting the ED have control). I pray that you may, ”grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18)

 

 

But why would God give me an eating disorder?

 

In short, He didn’t. Take a look at the story of Job. Horrible thing after horrible thing happened to him—his flock of over 4,000 animals was destroyed, his ten kids died when their house collapsed, his body became covered in sores, and myriad other events that were meant to challenge Job. These things did not come from God. No. Satan sent these to Job as a means to test Job’s faith in God. No matter what atrocity Satan put upon Job, Job never stopped praising, “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;  may the name of the Lord be praised. In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:21b-22). Satan attacked Job because he doubted the genuineness of Job’s faith in God; believing Job only praised God because of the wealth he had amassed. However, Job persevered and endured the struggles in authentic faith because he knew, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28). Job knew that God would not attack him or cause him harm; unlike the eating disorder who exists solely to attack and harm.

 

Know that you are worthy, as is. There are no prerequisites to obtaining the love of God, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). Even before you were born, God loved you, “he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4) 

 

I have not purged for two years and I have gotten my restriction under control in the last few months. God can heal and God will heal.

 

2 Peter 1:3

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness”

 

When you choose recovery again and again March 31, 2018

Staring in awe at the verdigrised feet of the Statue of Liberty, my stomach growls. “Not now,” ED says, “You have so much to see while you’re here. You don’t have time to waste on food.”

 

My brain–as swampy as the unseasonably warm November air in New York Harbor–can’t create a coherent thought outside of how fat I am compared to the girls posing for selfies with Lady Liberty. “Think of how many people have your fat body in the background of their photos. You’ve completely ruined their vacation memories,” ED whispers maliciously.

 

When was the last time I ate? It doesn’t matter. I have things to see and a conference to attend—I’ve never been to New York, after all. I unzip my blue fleece, and take a step forward; my knee giving way slightly due to my arthritis.  “See?” says ED, “If you weren’t so fat, you wouldn’t have these problems with your knees.” She’s right, I concede, and continue my way around the island; ED berating me every step of the way. At the literal feet of freedom, I continue to be enslaved by my eating disorder.

 

——

 

A few days later, while aimlessly tracing the intricate designs of the conference hall carpet with the heel of my stiletto, I call my friend Jenni in Texas.  I know I have to tell someone about this months-long relapse, and I know Jenni will know what to do. ED assures me that I’m fine. “Fat girls can’t have anorexia. Besides, you ate today, didn’t you? You’re fine. Quit over exaggerating, and hang up on Jenni. She’s a busy woman who doesn’t have time for whiner like you,” she hisses.

 

Ignoring ED, I tell Jenni everything. The pause before her words feels endless. Maybe I am wasting her time? Taking a deep breath, Jenni says, “You say you don’t want to be like your patients. But can’t you see, Rhea? You are them. You are just as sick as your patients. As much as you try to deny it, you are just like them and you know it. You’re a smart woman, and I know you know this.” The reality of her words hit me hard. “I know I can say this to you,” she continues, “because you are smart and strong. You know exactly what you need to do. Now do it.” Jenni is right—she always is—but what do I do now?

 

——

 

Two weeks later, curled up on my therapist’s black leather couch instead of Black Friday shopping, I hear, “I think it’s about time we looked into a higher level of care for you.” In the six years I’ve been seeing my therapist, she has never spoken these words…until now. What have I done? This can’t be happening. Not now.

 

“She’s lying,” ED quips, “She doesn’t think you’re sick and she never has. She’s testing you. She’s trying to get rid of you so she doesn’t have to see you anymore.”

 

“You can’t be serious,” I state aloud.

 

“Oh, I’m quite serious,” my therapist replies, “I’ve never seen you like this. You’ve lapsed before, but you’ve always gotten right back up and kept going. I’m not seeing that right now.”

 

Crap. What have I done? I can’t go to treatment. My jobs, my kid, my students, my life…they’d all be lost. How did I let this happen? I leave her office, head spinning, unsure of what to do next. Where do I go from here?

 

——

 

Two days later, I’m sitting by the ornately-carved gothic fireplace at school struggling through admitting my relapse to my friend. Through tears, I choke out that I need her help; that I can’t do this alone anymore. Julie takes me in her arms, and makes me feel less broken. She promises the walk me through this as long as I’m willing to come alongside her. She institutes adult lunch box buddies after school; wherein we eat lunch prior to me heading off to my second job. Both she and I hold myself accountable for completing nutrition, and examining thoughts/emotions I am feeling when I do not complete.

 

One week later, she takes me to our church’s healing prayer gathering. Instead of ED’s voice, I hear the voice of God urging me to put my ED at His feet, follow Him, and I will be free (read that story here). On February 25th, Julie and her husband Patrick baptize me into the Kingdom.

 

——

 

The buds on the trees are starting to bloom and the birds are gleefully singing. It’s late March, and I’m working the hardest I’ve ever worked on recovery.

 

            “I don’t know how you pulled this off. How you turned it around so quickly. I was certain you were going to have to go to a higher level of care to get this far in recovery. I was ready to hand you off, and see you again when you got back,” my incredulous therapist states.

 

            “Honestly, I don’t how I did it either,” I reply, “You’ve known me long enough to know I’m the most stubborn person on the face of the planet, and I was not going to let this eating disorder take my life. My stubbornness–combined with a whole lotta Jesus—is what got me here.”

 

——

 

            I have a long way to go in my recovery, and I am making progress every single day. I can, without a doubt, state that this is the strongest I’ve ever been in recovery. After 22 years spent in illness, I no longer yearn for the days I spent in my disorder. ED has nothing more to offer me. I no longer turn to her for the comfort only Jesus can provide. Eating disordered thoughts still pop up in my head—they’re not called “automatic negative thoughts” for nothing—and I now know I can choose to act in line with my values; acting opposite of what ED commands. I always thought I would have to live with at least some aspect of my ED forever; that I could never be fully recovered. And yet, here I am. I am recovering. I know I can exist without ED. I can draw my strength from the Lord.  I know I can fully recover. I know I can live.

 

 

The Parable of the Wandering Sheep—Matthew 18:12-14

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”

 

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.”

 

 

 

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.”