"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."
The words “Dream Big” serve as the dedication to her children in my sister’s book. I don’t know how many times I have told her what an inspiration she is. I have told her what a wonderful message it is for her children and all of the other young people who will read her words, but, until now, I didn't realize that she was also inspiring me.
I have never been a dreamer. I am a planner, an organizer, a realist. I have always had a sensible goal in mind. In Jenni Schaefer’s book Life Without Ed, she asks the following question: “What is your vision of freedom from Ed [eating disorder]?” In July of 2013, I couldn’t answer this question. The page in the book remains blank even today. I realistically knew that freedom from my eating disorder would free up my life and leave me with time to follow my dreams, but there was a problem...I had no idea what my dreams were.
I thought of the wise question “Where does your mind go when it wanders?” As I child, it was always dance. I had dreamt of being a dancer. I had choreographed every song that played on the radio and rehearsed for countless hours in my childhood bedroom. But for a long time, my mind has only wandered to a place of self-doubt and it is hard for any dreams to grow in a dark place like that.
When I couldn’t answer the big question of what my life would be like after recovery, I started with a small step I could focus on. I wanted to help one person. I thought if I could help one person struggling with an eating disorder or body image issues that my recovery would have a sense of greater meaning. This gave me the inspiration to organize an event in our small town. While preparing for the event, I decided to launch my blog and website (www.ohhowsheblooms.com). I quickly realized that I had already helped more than one person. So the next logical question was...what now? Again, I had no answer...no dream.
In February of 2014, I had a conversation about yoga teacher training with my yoga teacher and dear friend, Laura of Abi Yoga. I hesitantly said that maybe it would be a cool thing to accomplish one day...a dream. She told me how she believed in me and knew it was something I could accomplish. My eyes filled with tears and I remember saying, “I don’t think I have ever let myself dream that big.” What was holding me back? I had let my old thought patterns convince me that this wasn’t even a possibility for me. I had allowed the eating disorder to squash yet another dream and I hadn’t even seen it happening.
As I thought all of this over, this quote by Marianne Williamson came to mind: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” It is one of my favorite and least favorite quotes at the same time. Its raw truth terrifies me because it speaks directly to me. Fear of failure has always held me back. I decided it was time for my dreams to cast a shadow over my fears and I began researching yoga teacher training programs.
Yesterday, I graduated from Bhumi's Yoga and today I can officially call myself a 200 hour registered yoga teacher. My head is still spinning from the weekend, but the thought that keeps replaying over and over in my mind is "YOU did this!" Yoga teacher training is the first thing I have ever done solely because I wanted to do it. No one suggested it to me. No one hinted that I should give it a try. It was a calling from my soul. And yesterday, as I sat meditating, gazing into my own eyes in a mirror perched in front of me, I couldn't help but smile.
So my dream now is this: to be powerful beyond measure! Not in a greedy-power-kind-of-way, but in a saving-myself-while-saving-others-kind-of-way. If I ask myself where my mind goes when it wanders now, I see yoga and smiling faces and hugs and healing. And, for the first time in my life, I believe that these dreams will all come true.
Me, after graduation yesterday...you can't fake a smile like that!
"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 are days when I wish I could do it all - put on that superwoman cape and please everyone, doing every task perfectly, while being in 10 different places at once. And then I realize that it is on those very same days that I crumble. My anxiety is high, my emotions raw, my patience nonexistent. I try so hard to convince myself that if I just push a little harder I can keep all of these balls in the air. I believe this until the exact moment they all come crashing down on my head.
My perfectionistic, people-pleasing personality shifts into overdrive and I ride the high for a brief moment in time and then I am left facing the reality. I cannot do it all. I cannot please everyone. I cannot be in 10 different places at once. And attempting to accomplish these unrealistic goals does nothing but leave me feeling empty. The overwhelm leads to anxiety and the anxiety is a trigger for my eating disorder. Triggering my eating disorder is not an option. Therefore anxiety is not an option. Therefore overwhelm is not an option.
My therapist once told me “Balance is a myth.” She said this after my five-minute speech on my overwhelm and how I just needed to find balance to get through this. Two days later in a yoga workshop, the teacher said that the latin word for balance is to dance…that balance is finding your center among the chaos.
As a people-pleaser, one of the most difficult words for me to utter is “no.” As a person in recovery, it is the most essential word in my vocabulary.
I don’t need balance as much as I need boundaries. Letting go of the guilt I feel when saying “no” is still the greatest struggle, but the guilt certainly outweighs the misery of letting the eating disorder win. I know this journey of recovery will be life-long. I must remember to find the lessons in each test. And I must remember to celebrate each and every little victory. Each honest answer when a friend asks if I’m ok. Each phone call I make, hands and voice trembling, telling the truth about how I am feeling. I know if I follow my heart, I cannot go wrong. My intuition, that was silenced for so many years by my eating disorder, is starting to speak louder and clearer and I don’t want to do anything to quiet her wisdom. She has taught me volumes already.
“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.
There are days that are pivotal. You wake up one person and go to bed another. You start the day doubting yourself and your decisions and fall asleep completely content with who you are. Yesterday was one of those days for me.
Several months ago, I bought a ticket to attend the 2014 Celebration of Life Gala and Auction hosted by The Kirsten Haglund Foundation. The event raises funds to provide eating disorder treatment to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it. Tonight they honored Jenni Schaefer with the 2014 Advocacy Award. Jenni is an amazing author, speaker and singer/songwriter who has helped countless people in recovery by sharing her story. I am one of those people. Her book Life Without Ed quite literally changed my life. As I read her words, I felt like someone understood me for the very first time. It was as if she had crawled inside my mind. When you are in recovery, there is no greater gift than that of understanding. So when I heard that Jenni would be so close, I had to seize the opportunity to be able to thank her in person. Yesterday afternoon, I hopped in the car and drove an hour and a half to Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is where it gets very “your life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
So here I was alone in a hotel room in a town I’d never been in before getting ready for a gala where I would not know a soul. I had to pause to acknowledge what a big moment this was for me. Sure, I was nervous, but not anxiety ridden. This, in itself, was a huge mark of improvement. In the new Tenth Anniversary Edition of Life Without Ed, Jenni quotes Amelia Earhart in the afterword: “The best way to do it is to do it.” She goes on to explain that “sometimes, what we really need to do is let go, stop thinking so much, and take that step - right off the trapeze platform - into freedom.” I took a deep breath and walked out the door.
The event was wonderful. The stories of hope and recovery were uplifting and inspirational. Jenni’s words were so full of hope. As the evening came to a close, I found myself getting emotional. Back in my hotel room, I sat down to send my hubby an email about the night and the emotion hit me full force as I wrote:
I am just really proud of myself right now. I'm in tears because I am realizing how far I have come. I walked around that room tonight, not knowing a soul, and told people I was in recovery and talked very openly about it. I sat with two young girls and had a great time hearing their stories and their dreams of making a difference. Meeting Jenni was so wonderful. She knew exactly who I was and was so thankful that I had come and was genuinely happy to meet me. I mean, can you even believe that I (of my own free will) bought a ticket to this and came all this way and marched right into that room with confidence? This was just one of those days that I will never forget. I might stay up and do some writing. Kind of feel like I could conquer the world right now. And I couldn't do it without you by my side!
And so, here I sit. I am acutely aware of a shift happening inside me. I have jumped up another rung on the ladder of recovery and I can see the top...blue skies, sun shining, birds flying freely...I can feel my wings sprouting.
"Difficulties come when you don't pay attention to life's whispers. Life always whispers to you first, but if you ignore the whisper, sooner or later you'll get a scream." - Oprah Winfrey
Simply going through the motions is not enough. A yoga class will not do the trick if you are constantly judging yourself in the mirror. Handing out great advice to others will not be enough if you are speaking to yourself in an entirely different tone. There are times when you can convince yourself that you are doing all of the right things because on the surface you are, but surface level is just that. It's what is going on in the deep that matters.
This week I have been going through the motions and forgot one of my biggest rules - listen to your body! My back was tender...I went a little slower at yoga. My back tightened up...I thought, "maybe it's more yoga that I need." My back really started hurting...I started modifying my yoga postures again. And then came the scream, after I had ignored every whisper. It took a doctor telling me that I needed to step away from yoga for me to listen.
I felt lost. I depend on yoga and the people in those classes. The idea of stepping away, even for a short time, makes me anxious and, quite frankly, sad. So I sat down this morning to regroup (which is what journaling does for me) and this is what I have decided: my body, and my heart, need me to learn how to do this on my own. This is not to say that I won't go running back to yoga and my friends on that mat as fast as I can, but it is to say that I will take this time to be still, to listen and to learn.
The path to recovery cannot be dependent upon one tool. It requires an entire toolbox full of options. Yoga and my friends there are my go-to tools, but I need to have other options when they are not available.
My auto-pilot mode, which I have mentioned before, wants me to take the time and fill it with to-do lists so at least I feel productive. For me, busyness breeds madness. When coupled with exhaustion, chaos ensues. So today I will rest. I will honor my body as the temple it is. I hope you will listen to your body today and give it exactly what it needs.
"Accept - then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it." - Eckhart Tolle
I truly believe that the life of recovery from an eating disorder is not any different than the life of someone striving to be authentic. As women, each and every one of us struggles to love the body we have been given. We are all affected by the messages we receive from the media on how we should look and dress and talk and feel. In today’s world, it is hard to find your place and feel at ease.
One of my favorite quotes is from Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection. She speaks so beautifully about living an authentic life and embracing ourselves in the here and now.
"Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy - the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
We all have a story to tell and every single story is worth hearing. The greatest lesson I have learned this year is that speaking your truth will set you free. It will set you free because you will no longer have to hide behind the mask you have worn for so many years. It will set you free because you will inspire others to speak their truth. It will set you free because it is so much easier to be yourself than to try to pretend to be someone you are not.
It will set you free, but it will not be an easy journey. There will be some who still believe the messages they receive from today’s society and they, quite frankly, won’t be nice because they just won’t understand. There will also be the voice of the “old you” who will doubt every new and different path you try to take. At times, it will be exhausting to fight back. And it will take a lot of work and effort to learn how to take care of yourself in the right ways, not through crash diets and extreme exercise, but through self-care and nourishment and honoring your body.
Along the way, you will need support and a sense of community. You need to find like-minded people who will have your back. I have found many of these people through yoga. Recently, I have found a whole new group of beautiful souls through an online course I am taking by More to Love with Rachel. For the month of February, we have participated in daily exercises to learn to love, honor and listen to our bodies. There have been discussions on worth, boundaries, and mindfulness. It is one thing to read about these ideas as I have been doing recently, but quite another to put them into action with a community that I instantly felt a connection with. It has been empowering to take the time to do something like this for myself and focus each day on working on another piece of who I want to be.
At the end of the day, you have to discover what works best for you. Sometimes that is the hardest part. It is always easier to pick up the latest diet book or join the hottest gym at the moment and follow their plan. But easy isn’t always right.
I encourage you today to take five minutes for yourself. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Ask yourself, what do I need right now? It might be a snack or fresh air or a nap. Whatever it is, honor your body and give it what it needs in this moment. And right there, you have taken the first step on a beautiful journey of self-discovery. I hope you love the person you’re becoming!
The problem with being a perfectionist is the “all or nothing” mentality that comes with it. The phrase “go big or go home” comes to mind. (If you are a fan of that motto, this blog post is not for you!) Although this black and white way of thinking is characteristic of perfectionism, it can be overcome and I am living proof of that.
I was faced with a big decision this week and my auto-pilot mode kicked into perfectionism overdrive. I should do this now and I should do it perfectly! Oh, that initial panic mode drives me mad! The fact that it starts by talking in “shoulds” is especially aggravating.
I was presented with an amazing opportunity. My interest was piqued and my curiosity ran wild dreaming of the possibilities. I could feel my foot pressing heavily on the accelerator, rushing into a decision I hadn’t even processed yet, the view melting into a blur.
Then something amazing happened. I shut down auto-pilot, grabbed the wheel, and took my foot off the gas. I took my time to make the right decision for myself. These are the steps I followed:
At the end of the day, what I really want most is to live my life without the eating disorder in it. Recovery is a process and I am getting there one step at a time. Today I took some time to simply enjoy how far I have come. I am blessed to have a family who loves and supports me and friends who do the same. I have a lot I would love to pursue and many lessons left to be learned, but, for right now, I just want to live my life and enjoy every minute of it. I plan to drink it all in and savor every sip!
"Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." - Roald Dahl
This week I was reminded of what it’s like to really feel magic...to believe completely that dreams can come true...that surprises await you around every corner. I took a family vacation to Disney World and remembered the feeling of being a child with a sense of awe...of wonder. My breath was taken away. My heart skipped a beat. I giggled, really giggled. I had pixie dust sprinkled in my hair as the words of Peter Pan were repeated...”all you need is faith, trust, and a little bit of pixie dust!”
I joked at yoga this morning, warning my friends that I had been sprinkled with pixie dust and might just levitate today. We laughed and class began. It had been over a week since my last class and this one was particularly hard. I was trying so hard to focus on getting out of my mind and into my body, but it was taking more energy than I had to give. And then the music changed.
Music has always affected me on a deep level. It can bring a memory rushing back or change my mood in an instant. To me, music is magic. How else can you describe something that can transform you so completely? That can take you traveling through time? That can send your dreams soaring? This morning, Katy Perry’s Dark Horse suddenly gave me something to focus on and just the burst of energy I needed. I stopped thinking. I was listening to the rhythm and the lyrics and singing along when, all of a sudden, I did it...CROW! I had been trying to do this elusive pose for months and there it was...a surprise awaiting me around the corner. I called out to my teacher and fell out of the pose just as she turned to me. I burst into tears. They were tears of pride and joy and accomplishment. They were proof that even when my mind is telling me one thing, my body can tell me another. My body can speak the truth of my soul...that I am strong and powerful and determined and unstoppable. That I am magic.
I started to wonder why I had been so drawn to this pose and so determined to do it, so I did a little research and was very intrigued by what I found. Sandy Krzyzanowski of Better Day Yoga says this about the possible spiritual aspects of crow pose: “Just as with breathwork where you extend the exhalation and dwell in the space between the breaths, use crow pose to dwell in the space where balance is found. This pulls your concentration inward where there is no past or future, only the present.” She continues to explain that the “crow reminds us to sing our own song with no thought toward needing the approval of others. It is not by our doing that we are deemed ‘acceptable’. We are already acceptable by our very nature. We are all songbirds—each and every one—regardless. Accept that you are magical. Accept that you are here to create.”
I don’t have to wonder anymore. Apparently, crow pose and I were meant to be! The thought of this pose representing the magical songbird in each of us spoke to my heart and made me feel like flying.
Incidentally, the intention I pulled from the jar this morning said, “Let your light shine.” I almost rolled my eyes at this, thinking how it didn’t relate to me at all. Ok, Universe, I get the message loud and clear! My heart sang today because a bit of it was able to shine through. My light is shining bright and if that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.
‘Cause I, I’m capable of anything, of anything and everything. - Katy Perry