"We eat the way we eat because we are afraid to feel the way we feel." - Geneen Roth
I sit at my kitchen table, windows open, the beautiful morning sunlight shining. I hear the whir of the fan, the hum of the cicadas and the bark of a dog in the distance. I smell fresh air and cut grass and the early crispness of fall. But the question I am asking myself is “What do I feel?” Why is this is the hardest question to answer? When did we lose the ability to cry when we are hurt and scream when we are mad? When did it become the norm to hide what we feel?
As a highly sensitive person and someone recovering from an eating disorder, I know I probably spend a lot more time thinking about these things than most. I am introspective and curious and constantly trying to crack the code of my existence. I feel things deeply and therefor experience even more discomfort when pushing down my emotions. I have learned that the release I feel when letting my emotions out is far easier to deal with than the stress I create by holding them inside.
Over the past few days I have felt emotions bubbling up and have tried to mindfully notice them without judgement. I have tried to let them out. I have tried to name them. I have failed. So I decided to spend some time with my journal and just write and see what happened. What I wrote was a goodbye letter to my eating disorder.
It is important to know that transitions are difficult for me. I don’t do well with change. But it is time to say goodbye. The letter I wrote feels a bit too personal to share here, but trust me, it was great. Most importantly, it was brave. It was me being authentic and facing life head on and not letting the fear of not knowing what comes next hold me back. It was me standing up for myself and crying and screaming and demanding to be heard. And don’t we all deserve that? Don’t we all just want to be heard?
When did it become the norm to hide what we feel? It happened when we listened to all of the pressures of society and placed them upon our shoulders. It happened when we decided that showing our feelings was a sign of weakness. It happened when we thought having so many emotions meant there was something wrong with us…that it was a flaw that needed to be hidden.
My emotional side is my greatest strength. It is what makes me a good mother, a good friend, a good writer. It is what makes me, me. It is what has given me the strength to dig deep and find the courage to say goodbye. These emotions, that felt like chains for so many years, are exactly what I need to unlock the cage door and set myself free.
An excerpt from an article in the August 2014 issue of Yoga Journal Spain:
I crept, almost crawled, into that first yoga class, acutely aware of the physical strength of the women surrounding me. I had stepped into a photo of yoga bodies straight out of a Lululemon catalog. My cheeks blushed, my breath quickened, and my palms began to sweat. I quickly placed my mat in the farthest corner of the room in an attempt to hide, but the room was small and there would be no hiding. The class began and I quickly realized it was not for beginners. I did my best to follow along, but sweaty hands and feet do not stick to yoga mats and my muscles were trembling. It was a struggle. I was drenched in sweat, face purple from exhaustion, head spinning, body shaking as the class came to an end. Most people in my position would have never returned, but I was not most people.
I was six-months into my recovery from binge eating disorder. I had been attending weekly therapy and was trying to find a form of exercise that would fit my therapist’s criteria of “movement for the joy of movement.” I had found that sensation in Zumba classes - the fun of dancing to loud music without mirrors, without judgement - but there was still something missing. I would soon find that something on my mat.
I had always been intrigued by the idea of yoga and had taken a class or two over the years. They had either been too much like stretching or just like gym class from my school days. I could feel that this time was going to be different. I just knew it deep down in my bones. So, the next Friday, I went back…and the Friday after that…and the Friday after that. And after a few months of weekly practice, I touched my toes in a forward fold for the first time and the pure joy I felt radiated from my very being. It was a joy I had not felt for a very long time, maybe ever, a joy of pride in what my body could do. A joy that hope was real and alive in me. It might have gone unnoticed by others in the class that day, but I will never forget my eyes locking with my teacher Laura’s as she recognized my accomplished and beamed with the same pride. I think it was in that moment that our friendship truly began.
I soon confided in Laura that I had come to yoga because of my eating disorder and that I could honestly say it was helping. She cried tears of understanding, having experienced her own healing on the yoga mat years earlier. She then became my biggest advocate on the mat, striving to help me deepen my mind-body connection and to learn to come to a place of love for my body. She studied and shared her learnings and has taught me so much both on and off the mat and for that I am eternally grateful.
She recently asked me to explain what it is specifically about yoga that has helped me with my eating disorder. First you must understand that eating disorders are a coping mechanism. They can help people control their emotions, calm their anxieties, and numb their pain. An eating disorder has a function, otherwise it would not last so long. The trick to recovery is to learn how to replace the function that the eating disorder served with healthier behaviors. At first, the emotions that rise to the surface feel completely unnatural because you haven’t allowed yourself to feel them for so long and your immediate impulse is to use the eating disorder to push them aside. And it is so hard to resist those urges, they have been your “natural” response for so long. It takes practice and patience, both of which you learn on the mat.
When I am on the mat, I feel the kind of feeling that I want to feel all the time. I feel pure bliss. I am in the moment like no other time. I lose all track of what is going on around me and really focus on the task at hand. I am in my body, not my mind. I am breathing and releasing and moving to the rhythm of my breath. I am happy. When I am on my mat, I know that everything really is going to be alright. I know that I can do anything...and I plan on doing a lot.
Pictured above, Laura Granado of Abi Yoga (my yoga teacher and best friend) and and me, Britt Melton of Oh, How She Blooms!
“There is only one journey. Going inside yourself.” - Rainer Maria Rilke
I am a firm believer in people come into your life for a reason. I spent this past weekend with 17 remarkable women, each one of them beautiful souls who are now forever linked to my chain of existence. They were all ages, sizes, backgrounds and had different reasons for being there, but we were all there...together...sitting on the floor...surrounded by blue-green walls...clinging to hope.
The greatest lesson I have learned is that the key to recovery - from an eating disorder, from negative body image, from addiction, from abuse, from life - is hope. Hope is the gentle voice of kindness that sticks up for you when the negativity of your struggles are loud and clear. Hope is the motivator to hold on one more day and see what tomorrow brings. Hope frees us.
“Hope is that beautiful place between the way things were and the way things are yet to be.” - author unknown
Planning this event with my soul sister and best friend, Laura Granado of Abi Yoga, has been a whirlwind. It has been fun and exciting and busy and sometimes overwhelming. It has been exhilarating and anxiety ridden and ridiculously crazy and blissful. In the past, days filled with so much activity and emotion would have sent me straight into the comforting arms of my eating disorder. The eating disorder would have convinced me that self-sabotaging behaviors were the only way to deal with the stress. It would have said that a binge (or 2 or 3) would have numbed my feelings of being overwhelmed and helped me get through this. The difference these last few months has been the voice of hope. Hope telling me that the binge would only be temporary and I would feel worse than I do now if I went through with it. Hope saying, “why don’t we try this my way and see how it goes.” So instead of the frenzy of guilt and shame associated with the eating disorder behaviors, I had kindness and self-care and rest and priorities and love. And that is where I found the peace...right in the middle of the love. Hope equals love. Having hope means loving myself enough to believe in the possibility of healing, of a life without anguish, but of one filled with joy and contentment.
Hope is the answer.
"Those who have hope have everything." - Margaret Boyd
So as I sat through this weekend intensive, hungry for knowledge, a funny thing happened. I realized that not only did I already know a lot of what Chelsea was teaching us, but that these were the behaviors I had actively been using to get through the stress of the past few months. I had the opportunity to tell Chelsea this Saturday night, standing in my kitchen, her washing dishes and me drying. She smiled, looked me straight in the eye, and said, "You made it!" Oh, how I want to wrap that moment up in a box and tuck it away for safekeeping. People come into our lives for a reason.
Now I see that I spent last weekend with 18 remarkable women, because I was one of them. I am part of something bigger now. I am part of the solution and I am ready to spread hope like wildfire with every step I take. So, watch out world! I am getting ready to start using these newfound wings for some serious flying.