“Irma-Survivor”

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9.11.17

This familiar date in U.S. history stirs up painful memories for everyone on American soil. The numbers echo inside our heads as the ultimate emergency coding. It was sixteen years ago this morning that our nation fell under attack by Islamic terrorists. Today, the entire state of Florida entered another battle as we were forced to surrender to treacherous winds and catastrophic waters. Yet even so, we fought back with a faithful vision of the aftermath from hurricane Irma—“the largest storm in history.” Both days, as gruesome as they played out to be, marked a new chance at resiliency.

 

The decision to stay put in our hometown and “hunker down” with the rest of the overly-loyal city was a decision that was not taken lightly. Our family went back and forth discussing possible alternatives for evacuation, but the route along crowded highways toward Atlanta appeared more daunting than the approaching storm. The media continued to shove petrifying video footage and warnings down our throats. With the gut-wrenching news from Houston’s recent hurricane, the bulk of Jacksonville civilians began to rush around in panic.

Gas stations had the life sucked out of them, grocery store aisles were immediately cleared, and not a single pack of water could be found anywhere within city linits. The chaos of anticipation as the monster creeped along the Caribbean was rising as quickly as the potential storm-surge.

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South Florida was hit head-on by Irma, as she continued to throw everyone for a spin. The original path was projected to head west, to then be bounced northeast by a front heading towards the middle of the state. The width of the storm was so wide it would eventually cover the entirety of Florida, and Jacksonville was right in the direct path of destruction. Still, numerous natives decided to sit and ride this bad girl out.

Suddenly, the scheming Irma changed her mind. Instead of aggressively veering east, she continued to crawl west. Cities near Tampa and Fort Myers were issued a state of evacuation. While our prayers for a change of direction were answered, the wishful winds blew in the opposite direction towards our innocent West-Florida neighbors. Irma was still creeping along strong.

As she made her way busting through neighborhoods upon landfall, the wind speed decreased and rate of travel diminished. Everyone in Jacksonville expected a mere category 1 or tropical storm to finally reach our territory. Sunday night was a rough one as Irma made her visit: winds howled and whistled through the waving trees. The rain smacked houses every which way, limbs falling all over the place. The forces were strong enough to split trees in half, and uproot them entirely. Trees fell on power lines blowing electric power transformers. Waking up to ghostly winds and explosive bangs did not make for a peaceful sleep.

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I’m sure everyone in Jax lost sleep that night. Probably even the entire week. With continuous praying for our brothers and sisters south of us and for our own families and friends, we had finally come to the moment of anxious dreading. The morning following our weather attack was no doubt an alarming one. But a thankful one nonetheless.

For those of us who rose out of bed that morning, hopefully we said a prayer gratefulness before we opened the curtains to the storm-stricken streets. Though alive and well, lots of homes and landmarks were not. The category 1 storm experience had blasted its way right on through… but the massive category 3 storm surge had only begun. The “River City” upheld its title that day, with gushing waters from the St. Johns streaming into the roads and yards in near proximity. Downtown was unrecognizable and undistinguishable from the river itself; the river that now resembled the ocean. Evacuation flood zones kept their reputation, with the shops of San Marco becoming comparable to the streets of Venice. First responders worked diligently with rescue missions, pulling people out of cars and water with boats and rafts. Local churches became Red Cross relief stations and JSO command centers. We had witnessed an impeccable natural disaster. Now it was time for the clean-up.

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Hand-in-hand, the city of Jacksonville fought back. Neighbors helped, families scrambled, and strangers shared amenities. Just like 9/11 in 2001, Americans jumped right out of the rubble and survivors began emerging from the dust. People flocked the streets, some forced to leave their flooded homes. Others remained trapped in condo’s and flood-crafted islands. Those with power breathed a sigh of relief. Those less fortunate busted out the flashlights and ripped open the snack stash.

 

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It is in times like these that we are forced to draw together. In times of devastation, all we can cling to is hope. We have perishable resources here on this planet, and man-made resources to help us bounce back into civilized society. But what is so easy to forget sometimes is the ultimate source of life that has always been and will always will be. God loves his people just as much as He loves the rest of His creation. I bet it hurt Him to watch all that He made huddle in fear and brace such a beating. But His mercy is greater than any form of destruction. His love is more powerful than any monstrous storm.

 

In this time of trial we had a chance at creating more than compatible community. Sharing food and water; opening up homes to family; clearing debris from front lawns; checking in on relatives; lending a working hand; bonding over candlelight; bearing the image of Christ.

We can, and will, get through this recovery together. We can, and will, walk out of these deep waters as stronger swimmers than when we began. We can, and will, grow closer to one another as a nation and as a city. We can, and will, with God’s help.

#irmasurvivor 
#FloridaStrong

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Human Days

I remember what it felt like to have “bad” days.

It’s not that I don’t have them anymore, but something in my mind is different:

I guess I have finally accepted the fact that I’m human.

I remember what it felt like, just trying to get by. Pressing on throughout the day, trying to keep busy to distract myself from looking down with disgust or disappointment. Feeling sluggish, bloated, discouraged and disillusioned. Punishing myself with double extra-long workouts, or restricting food until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

Yes, there were indeed “bad” days. Poor body image days, hopeless days, weak days, and frustrating days. Anxious days, angry days, and annoying days. Regretful days, resentful days, and rebellious days.

But there were also good days. Motivating days, exciting days, strengthening days and empowering days. Thankful days, thoughtful days, and transforming days. Victorious days, vocational days, and vibrant days. Each and every day soon became my choice.

I could choose recovery, or I could choose relapse. Yes, sometimes the eating disorder seemed more powerful than my will. Sometimes it won over my voice of reason. But there was always an opportunity for a second chance. There was always that short moment of free will. A moment with a fate that spoke the difference between slavery and freedom; isolation and community; pressure and peace.

I know what it feels like to dislike yourself. But what I have realized over the years while in healthy eating disorder recovery is that when I may not have liked myself on the outside, I still secretly loved myself on the inside. While at my lowest, yes, there were times when I couldn’t recognize my own thoughts anymore. In those days I was incapable of making rational decisions on my own. There were times when I pondered the true meaning of life, because I could’t truly feel it.

But after years of slowly getting better, I began to feel again. I began to laugh again and love again. I even began to love myself again. I may not have been happy with how my body looked every day, but I was in love with the person I was becoming. I knew I wasn’t done becoming her yet. So I pledged to keep on going.

I now recognize that this girl will never be done growing. I know I may not ever have everything figured out. But the self-knowledge and self-contentment that I have acquired by allowing myself to heal makes all of that okay. I guess I have acknowledged that we all make mistakes. I guess I have finally realized that no one is perfect. I guess I’ve learned that life is not meant to be wasted while wishing the day away. I guess I have accepted the fact that I’m only human.

Each and every day is a gift from above. There is no room for shame.

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Entrepreneur Expression

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No need to dance around the subject, I’ll just go ahead and say it:

BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR IS EXHAUSTING.

I don’t know why I thought it would all of a sudden get easier. I mean, let’s be real, I truly have come a looonnng way in all of my personal and professional endeavors. But the human side of me is ready for some pieces to finally start fitting together. I thought I would be flying by now.

Reality is, these past six months have been one heck of a whirlwind …

In February I sought out to improve my own health through holistic functional medicine.
I then managed to survive 40 straight days vegan.
I concocted dozens of different smoothies, mush bowls, and veggie dishes on a daily basis. Nutritional background gratefully served in my favor.
Through a consistent effort, I dramatically improved my blood work profile and successfully balanced my hormones (with supervised guidance).

In my “spare time” I conducted loads of research, put together 24 chapters, and self-published an autobiography. (Not to mention the endless drafts and countless editing checks.)
I learned the ins and outs of digital formatting and online marketing. Somehow I’ve even kept up with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

I officially launched FitPeaceByPeace, LLC, accompanied by all the required filings, regulations, and processing fees.
I invested a chunk of my savings to get the ball rolling, dealt with tax information and opened a business bank account.
Hours and hours have been spent brainstorming, networking, writing programs and proposals.

Yet there is still seems to be no time to simply sit and twiddle my thumbs. (Even though I find myself doing this on a daily basis.)

The work is never done. There is always something I could be doing. But then I deliberately stopped to look at my situation– I don’t really wish for the work to be done.

You see, while I sit here and complain about all of the hard work, someone is still constantly at work. God is continuing the good work that He began in me. I don’t ever want to wish for His work to be over.

As I contemplate the next step, God is already waiting. While I spit out all the things that I have accomplished, He is still accomplishing a fine masterpiece in me. It’s not about all the things I do, the brands I make, or the stats I create. His work is all that matters. Who am I to rush the will of the Lord?

I am here, open, and willing. I dream of doing big things. But I want these things to be for God’s kingdom.

As I try so very hard to figure everything out, God already has my life figured out. He’s the boss with the plan. It’s my job to trust and to listen.

It is so easy to get caught up in trying to keep up in this world. But I think the lesson to remember is that this life is not a race. We each have a purpose while here for a short while, and only God knows when that purpose has been fulfilled.

Even still, this doesn’t mean that God cannot continue to use us. It doesn’t mean that once we complete a “task” given by the Lord that we are done with business here in this life. We are forever constantly growing, just like a business must constantly grow to survive. The growth and maturity and life lessons to be learned, are all a part of the process. And as an advocate of the phrase “just trust the process,” I need to remember that God isn’t done here yet. Therefore, my work isn’t done here either.

Sometimes, I think we try too hard. I think that we create this image for ourselves of what life is supposed to look like. But oftentimes, it still seems like we are running in the dark. Yes it is great to set goals. Yes, it is awesome to have time-management. But at the end of the day, if you worked whole-heartedly for the Lord, then all of your efforts that day were worthwhile, regardless of the outcome.

When we chase the Lord, our wildest dreams will fall into place. When our focus is in the right place, we won’t have to try so hard.

God notices our persistence. He sees our dedication. God feels our passion. Some days, with frustration and stumbling road blocks, all we want to do is make our Daddy proud. All we want is attention, affection, and commendable affirmation. But the truth is, we already have them. We have been enough all along…

So to all who have ever had their heart set on an impossible dream:

 

“The only thing impossible for God is to be impossible.”

 

 

 

Image source: conversations4change

Speak Up!

There was a time in my life when I felt suffocated within my own self-perceived existence. Each day I scrambled under exhausting mental battles taking place inside my head. I felt confused, isolated, and numb even to my own feelings. Life’s direction was a mystery, and I didn’t have anyone to look up to, who had walked in my weathered shoes. I didn’t know anyone who I considered to be “like me.” Throughout my struggles, I thought I was a rare case and that my condition was such a horrid thing, and thus, something to be ashamed of. Yet despite all of this, a source of courage somehow managed to make its way through my rugged defensive walls, which then instigated the daring decision to open up about my past to others—a chance which was painful, nerve-wracking, and relieving all at the same time. I found freedom in sharing who I truly am (or once was, once upon a time.) Thus began a ripple effect of invigorating possibilities, potential, and purpose. I was finally able to come to terms with my real self, and I came to believe that I no longer had to grant control to a vicious power:

I no longer had to allow my past eating disorder diagnosis to continue to define me.

Just like the initial inkling to explore the roads of a restrictive lifestyle, true eating disorder recovery, or “stable remission,” stems from the same curious desire for a daunting, yet oddly intriguing change…

Rooted in that strong urge to constantly prove yourself, is a humming call to climb for escape. Chiseled within your heart of stone, is the determined will to survive. There comes a time when hovering logic finally clicks. Reality becomes clearer, and negative consequences become inevitable. Unless of course the will to climb overpowers the will to surrender to that tempting devious echo whipping at your ears. You see, only when we surrender to the demands of the eating disorder, do we remain buried beneath the rubble. It is when we surrender to our inner selves—our valiant soldiers for life—and to a higher power of truth and forgiveness, that we find the strength to climb. These inner soldiers will stand on defense until they die, bracing against resistance until their very last breath. Yet when these life-fighters are fueled with hope, the battle field gracefully glows…

A radiant light seeps into the shadowy tunnel, and our eyes wince at the brightness. Out of the hollows we reach our trembling hands, tearing down the faulty safety net of instability and shallow promises. The light has never been so bright…and the brightness has never felt so right.

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When speaking about stable recovery, the truthful golden thread is that you have to want it for yourself. This must be a real heart-felt desire, recognized by the very person who was victimized into accidentally tripping or adventurously nosediving in the beginning. You must first pinpoint the “why” behind taking such a leap of faith into the recovery zone. You must find the bravery to stare change face-to-face, and accept and genuinely desire not only the idea of recovery, but the actual physical, emotional, and mental state of recovery. You have to admit to yourself that you do want to get better. You must listen to your inner being that screams to you every day for freedom, and honestly ask yourself…

Are you fed up with the condition ruling your each and every day?
Why do you suppose you are in your current state?
Why do you wish to be free?
What will you gain from this decision?
Are you presently, truly happy?

Using the power of your senses and structured personality, now is the time to use your predisposed abounding determination to win back your life—the purposeful life you are meant to live.

As with any sort of anxious conception, we are the ones who ultimately give any sort of overpowering thoughts and fearful feelings any control at all. Without our own over-analyzing of these apprehensive thoughts, they remain simply meaningless thoughts—feelings which we often grant too much emphasis, and merely ideas in which we dwell to the extreme. It’s time to stand up against such fears. It’s time to join forces with that little soldier inside, and together, fight for the voice of reason. It’s time to speak up, stand tall, and march out triumphantly.

It’s time for your voice to be heard—by your eating disorder, by your family, and most importantly, by YOU.

 

The fact of the matter is, eating disorders are a deadly illness that often tends to trickle on silently—when frankly, such conditions belong right up there next to serious mental sicknesses such as alcohol abuse and drug addictions. Usually, the initial downfall is not a deliberate conscious choice to participate in harmful behavior, but it doesn’t take long for that choice to spiral into a state of lost sanity and misery—you can quickly become your own largest critic, and your own worst enemy.

Yes, eating disorders are a debilitating disease, which require scrutinizing attention and professional treatment care. It is also true that I did let the shame of this condition overpower me for nearly twelve years of my life. I had found my identity in the eating disorder and it’s nasty little lies. I thought I would be trapped behind those cold skeletal bars for life, and as a result, I was easily lured back into the tempting restrictive mindset. I was programmed to believe that what had happened to me was a terrible misfortunate circumstance that needed to be suppressed, and that it would only stir up painful memories if mentioned publicly in conversation. To escape this stabbing confrontation, I typically chose to avoid the topic altogether. But in doing so, and in strictly reserving my raw memories for my diaries, I realized that I was, in a sense, still living in secret. Slowly but surely I finally started to believe in the power behind overcoming the past through words, just as now I believe that sacred healing is indeed possible.

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Every time I tell my story it becomes easier. I can even tell it without crying now, which I perceive to be monumental, for this step is necessary in order to use my newly discovered strength to help others and pay it forward. As a matter of fact, opening up to my closest friends about my condition were major milestones in my personal recovery journey. It is often still emotionally difficult to discuss the topic around my closest family, who was there by my side through the darkest of years. But over time, it has even become easier to openly converse within this area ever since I began publicly writing about my story through blogging. The emotional rewards from opening up my heart have been exceedingly worthy, and I value every opportunity to share the mercy which has filled my heart to its rim.

Friends, it is finally time to break the silence. In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness week this year, I choose to honor this year’s theme of “Just talk about it!” by using this moment to share with you words of promising hope.

I realize that many people may shy away from approaching this tragic topic, simply because they don’t know how. I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be a trained professional to be able to make a difference in someone’s life. All you have to do is listen…

…really, truly listen.

Listen with the intention to understand, even though you may never truly be able to relate firsthand. Listen with a caring heart, and listen out of love. Encourage your loved one to talk this out, and give them the safe space to do so. Do not listen to correct or to scold; do not listen with judgmental, or even “expert” ears. Instead, educate yourself on where you can seek help and assistance when necessary, and act upon this knowledge accordingly. Simply be there, fully present with your loved one, or even perhaps, with yourself. Be patient…with others and with yourself. Be kind…to others and to yourself. True healing takes time. But the time that you spend today, truly matters.

No one is in this journey alone…no victim or helper ever has to walk these arduous trails silent.

It is time to SPEAK UP.

Speak up on behalf of your loved one struggling; your friend who once fell; your teammate who sat on the bench; your daughter who resents herself; your classmate who never came to lunch; speak up for yourself. I promise, there is always someone out there who is listening, or who would take the time to listen if you asked. Talking about our troubles is not weakness, but strength. To be able to come clean about your past, and to make peace with yourself while accepting your transformation along the way, is the bravest thing you could ever do.

Together, we must learn to simply “trust the process”…

and to “strive for progress, rather than perfection.”

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Keeping this deadly condition underneath the table only gives it more power. Little piercing glass pieces constantly being swept beneath the carpet are exactly how diseases like this spread. It is a cumulative effect which fires the bullet—nothing ever happens overnight. By ignoring small thoughts and feelings surrounding damaging behavior only fuels the satanic scheme. Put a cap on the muzzle before shaky fingers can wrap themselves around the trigger. Try to listen before you speak, and when you do speak, take note of which voice cries out first.

In situations like these, we must stand firm for what we believe to be true. Not what other people have told you to be true, but what your spirit tells you to be true. Pinned beneath the tight strangle of the eating disorder, your spirit is still fighting. Fuel this spirit with living fire, and it will ignite the whole rest of your being with the light of life. This is a different flame from the false energy that the eating disorder promises—this new flame reins forever. This invigorating flame brings hopeful heat, and displays a beautiful brightness.

It is time to unite powers of living flames, to overthrow the fiery deceiving tongue. We must stand together, hand-in-hand in advocacy and education, if we desire to make a difference in this overlooked corner. We must extend efforts by teaming up against misinformation, miscommunication, timidness, and false-accusations, and begin speaking out in truth and transparency. Knowledge and awareness are vital stepping stones to joyous victory. We all deserve a chance at life and freedom in this world. The dynamic movement of self-acceptance and transformation can start here with you.

Speaking to you today from a position of vibrant vulnerability, my conscience has never been so clear. The remarkable truth is that bold confidence and solid faith can be contagious. The spirit of hope and self-love can be unconquerable. Words of wisdom and compassion can save a life. And in my book, these humbling words of truth are words worth spreading. ❤

 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237, or visit
http://nedawareness.org

“Pep Talk”

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I often get asked the question:

“How did you find recovery?” or

“How did you finally reach a place of safe rest and reflection?”

As Jenni Schaefer would say, “Recovery is like a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are different for everyone” (paraphrased.) While the pieces of the puzzle do vary for each individual circumstance, the bottom line is you have to want it. Strong recovery is a choice which occurs deeply and internally, and stable living cannot be attained through force alone. It has to be a personal decision as a result of a new perspective, mental breakthroughs, and personal emotional commitment and maturity. It isn’t a smooth road either…yet each stumbling block has the potential of creating an even stronger soldier. Such individuals like myself already have the type A personality…we are already intrinsically motivated and extremely determined. It’s just a matter of shuttling this drive into a positive energy towards healing.

 

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There will be fear of losing that control—that security blanket of meticulously counting, measuring, recording and obsessing. We get so trapped and convinced that we cannot exist without it—that we will always be different, and always have to be alert so the evil voice won’t creep back in. In a way, we let this feed us. Deep down we want an escape, but for so long this has been “comfortable” —a sense of grip over our constant climb while trying to keep up in this world.

If you want to gain the trust and respect and self control over your own life again you have to be adamant about true recovery, and outwardly show your serious effort to change in order to regain your friends’ and family’s trust. Even with my respectful degree in Exercise Science, my family probably feared that I would use this new knowledge in the wrong ways. Despite popular belief, this knowledge assisted in extensive intellectual understanding about what exactly was taking place inside my frail body, and everything else associated with the illness from a physiological standpoint.

Today, I use this knowledge to my own health advantage, seeking opportunities to apply the practical information to myself and to others. And I’m still learning. But that is the glory of becoming one with yourself…it makes you feel so alive.

With that said, I’d like to offer a little pep talk—[the inner coach in me can’t help herself ;)] Below is a message directed to anyone who feels this sense of trapped identity and confusion. May this huddle empower you to take a stand, on behalf of yourself, or on behalf of a life you care about:

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~A message from your Coach…

“Instead of viewing this step towards healing as relinquishing the sense of control that you have idolized for so long, redirect your perspective to a control GAINED. By surrendering your old strangling ways and obsessive habits, you gain a brand new freedom, and a brand new peace. Break free of the shackles of restriction and lies of stagnancy. You were born a free spirit with influencing outside circumstances. Everyone deals with the same stressors differently, which determines the prognosis of our unique journeys.

Your identity does not lie within your eating disorder. Yes, it is a part of who you are, and contributes to your story, but only to reveal just how far you’ve come with your newly acquired strength. In the beginning, self-discipline and desire for control simply got out of hand. Take back your life with this same discipline and desire. Don’t let this disease control you. By remaining enslaved to the familiar behaviors, you are simply fueling the fire for disaster.

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You have to forgive yourself in order to love yourself. You have to stop making excuses for your suffering. You must stop trying to convince yourself that you were meant to suffer and that you don’t deserve to be well. You must preach to yourself the truth that your suppressed spirit knows so well…while trapped behind your ED voice, you are not truly well.

 
Once you admit you do want to get better, you then have to allow yourself to get better. You must be patient with yourself, and allow your body to figure itself out, piece by piece. You have to spiritually realize that God did not create you with the intention of living a life of pain—He created you with purpose. You must conceptually come to terms with the fact that it is “ok to be ok”…it is ok for you to be healthy, and it is ok for you to be happy.

No more feeling guilty about the past, and no more feeling guilty when you give your body the quality care that it needs to survive. Enough of this “But I’m different” business—everyone is unique in their needs, including you—but this doesn’t mean a life of deprivation, isolation, and slavery. I believe that God envisioned you in your best version when He formed you in his hands. He had wonderful intentions and dreams for you—so much that He saved you, and placed this book in front of your tired face.

God wants to be your center. He wants all of you, including the piece of your heart which was deceived so long ago. Give Him all of your guilty filth. Give Him all of your secret thoughts. Surrender to Him all of your mess-ups and give-ups. Present to Him all of your shameful fears and regretful tears.

The truth is, you are already forgiven, my friend. Live with the knowledge of this truth. The past is written, but the next pages are clean. It’s time to forgive yourself. It’s time to free yourself. It’s time to love yourself, and to love yourself without feeling selfish about it.

Consider for a moment who or what it is that you worship. Don’t grant evil rules and fretful lies more attention than they deserve. Instead, direct your attention to the one sustaining source of life, who has stuck it out through it all. It’s time to get better…truly better; selflessly better; holistically better. It’s time to draw near, reach inside and march out victoriously while lifting up your roughly-beaten soul. It’s time to reverse the curse, grab the reins, and believe in a better tomorrow. Though scars may be lingering, nestled within them lie badges of courage. The fears of change are minuscule compared to the joys of recovery.

I promise…

Your identity is not tied to the strings of your past. In untying your knots to the present, hope is set free. Reciprocating through the doors of faith, new life will return.

Imagine a meal with no regrets. A family dinner without fighting. An evening run with powerful strides, a smile that reflects a healthy glow. Laughing with pure joy…engaging with real intention…living in harmonic peace. A freedom which surpasses all understanding, and a new chapter to your survivor story.

Together, we are strong. Together, we are survivor strong.”

Man and woman couple help silhouette in mountains

Words of Wisdom

I am no doubt an introvert by nature. Quiet-time is a sacred gem that I store securely for a special moment in each day. Specifically, quiet moments alone with my words. Words have always created a “safe space” for me, and have served as a wonderful outlet for self-expression and reflection. I received my first journal when I was in the first grade, and ever since then I have made an attempt to recollect my thoughts and feelings around every pivotal event in my lifetime thus far. While in grade school, I discovered a love for writing short stories and memoirs. Every Christmas, I would write a new adventurous tale or thoughtful poem for my parents in lieu of the money required for a tangible gift.

Words always seemed to flow easily into my curious little mind, sometimes so feasibly that my writing hand couldn’t keep up with the sentences forming rapidly inside my head. I never enjoyed being pressured to write, though. In fact, it was mere torture trying to force the words to flow, while adhering to a random writing prompt posted on the classroom blackboard. Yet even so, I viewed writing as a gift. I saw words as a gift. It was because of this significance what words held in my own heart, that I sought to give to others this magical gift of words.

In Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages, “Words of Affirmation” ranked right next to “Quality Time,” as my two best methods for giving and receiving love. In today’s world of fast-paced work life, tight deadlines, and a continuous mantra screaming “go-go-go”—words act as a clever vessel that force us slow down. It takes time to stop our frantic running around to read a collection of meaningful letters, yet the resulting words can be so meaningful, empowering, encouraging, and majestic. Even on the loneliest of days, words almost always seem to evoke a feeling of comfort (if applied in the right manner.)

Beautiful words can be precious as they make their way into our hearts. But words can also be harmful; they can bite, scathe, and scar. Choosing the right words when communicating with others, and with ourselves, can be crucial for our relationships, self-development, and well-being. And for someone who is stepping out onto the fringes of eating disorder recovery, words can either assist in the pulling towards a liberating life of renewal, or in the pushing backwards into the fiery pit of hell.

I will quickly note that I am currently speaking from a position of stable eating disorder recovery, therefore, my ability to passively discern and dismiss certain words or phrases has indeed grown stronger over time. Yet, even so, there are some thoughts and words which still make me cringe, even to this day. The following words and phrases are particular ones which I consider to be “curse words” for those who have ever severely struggled with such a severely dominating mental disorder. I am asking that as a reader, you would please take each of these notices to heart, especially when communicating with anyone whom you suspect may be struggling, or who has previously struggled with any kind of eating disorder or poor body image. My hopes are that you would be able to carefully consider your individual circumstance when interacting with your loved one who may be riding the recovery seesaw, and you would become empowered to pause and think before you speak. Your words matter, and your words can also heal. Make your communication thoughtful, and make it a priority.

1. Weight. Inches. Pounds. Size—[or any quantifying measurable words of any kind.]

This includes talking about yourself, your own body, and your own eating habits. Words like “calories, dress size, grams of protein, hours of exercise, etc,” are all words which dictate a specific number, and can actually serve as motivation to fall back underneath the eating disorder voice of betrayal; they are what therapists refer to as “trigger words.” Essentially, these words pull the trigger for a pre-existing perfectionist and obsessive nature. They trigger comparison and tempting thoughts. They can cause the individual to compare themselves to a previous version of themselves, or to compare their current habits to the habits of someone who holds a physique which they admire. These words place a value behind a specific numerical figure; they hint that our own value lies behind a symbol or number.

During my own treatment, the worst part of each session was the required weigh-in. I dreaded stepping up on that rocky metal scale, watching anxiously as the vile numbers climbed to reveal my new weight. I remember that when I was approaching the end of professional care with my treatment team, I was ordered to turn around and face away from the device, while they weighed me standing backwards (preventing me from seeing the number of pounds displayed.) Even the trained team of professionals understood that the numbers game was a mental battle, and that seeing them could send me physically spiraling backwards. Yet even still, so much of my treatment progress was centered around the scale.

From then on, that was where I found my worth. I still didn’t want to gain “weight”—that dreaded word that really no female ever wants to hear. I soon became very good at manipulating my awful relationship with that cold device of numbers. I knew where every single scale was in every gym and public restroom. Even though I hated the action of weighing in, the lying box still managed to temptingly call my name. I still found a sense of pride by standing up on the deceiving balance device and seeing a lower number. Yet, while I thought I was the one in control of all the numbers, the scale was the one that had gained control of me.

I remember the day I graduated to a shirt-size ‘Medium.’ For the last twelve years of my life, I had always been complimented by my petite size. “How do you stay so skinny??” People would ask. I will admit that even this politely-intended question is the wrong use of words for a recovering anorexic, because it places the emphasis on an outward perception of size and figure. I remember when even size XS was sagging on my poor emaciated little body, even though I preferred the snug fit of clothing around my malnourished bony frame. Now I shudder even thinking about those times, as I can proudly lift the tag titled “M” from the clothing wrack; allowing my new muscular back and naturally broad shoulders to finally settle in.

The fact is, numbers and sizes are all relative. One scale may be 5-10 pounds off from another. A size 6 dress in one brand of clothing may be a size 2 in a competitor’s style. One person’s nutritional needs and daily caloric intake may be different from their own identical twin. It just depends. But one thing is for certain: our value does not depend on a number, size, or quantifiable figure. We are so much more than a measurement on a screen.

2. “You look so healthy!”

I will say that I ABSOLUTELY LOVE these words now. But take me back 5-10 years ago, and these words would have pierced my ears. I understand that this type of comment only comes with good intentions, but lurking behind the complementing words themselves come the lying words of “you’ve gained weight.” While under professional care, it was all about getting to that “goal weight”— that “healthy” weight. Thus, the newly-recovering eating disorder victim associates this word “healthy” (when referring to themselves) as looking “heavier.”

Again, I will explain that with recovery, eyes and perceptions do change. Therefore, I now embrace this comment with wide open arms. “Healthy” is now my desired resting place, but it wasn’t always this way. In the past, I thought I was already healthy, though my eyes were sickly skewed. I thought my body could function in its starving brittle state, and I didn’t believe anyone else could rightfully judge whether I looked healthy or not. Though I was aware of the good intentions when others would say something like this, back when I was a new explorer along the recovery road, these words would actually serve as another backsliding trigger.

Even the words “You look so good!” were perceived as backwards motivation in my eating disorder brain—at least when I heard this from people who knew my history. Sometimes, when I would hear these words from a stranger who I knew admired thinness, this served as a compliment. But it is still a compliment which only feeds the little distorted thinking, creating an incentive to return to a restrictive lifestyle.

As I said before, I now take all of these associated words as genuinely positive compliments. In fact, I highly appreciate it when people notice the progress I’ve intentionally made in my personal health journey. So please, do tell me I look healthy. Please tell me I look “good.” Take the time to notice my new strength—it sincerely means the world to me. I am mentally in a place where I recognize these words for their true meaning, and I would agree with you about my own transformation. But when communicating with someone who has a recovery status of which you are uncertain, be respectful and sensitive to your observant language. Instead, try and use words which focus on other deeper qualities, rather than merely “looks”—use lines such as:

“I love your smile!”
“You seem so happy!”
“You sound so passionate!”
“You ARE so pretty!”

 

3. “Go eat a cheeseburger!!”

Just so we are clear, to this day I do not particularly enjoy cheeseburgers. Nor do I really enjoy sandwiches for the exact same reason. While scrambling in the initial treatment phase, both of these food types were considered “dense” foods, and perhaps easier forms of getting ‘more for your buck’, so to speak. The layered ingredients packed together are also mentally easier to accept, over an intimidating plate full of multiple separate menu items.

However, there was a time when I did choose to consume cheeseburgers while under strict supervision with my meal plans. But it was still my choice; I actually wanted the variety in my diet. The difference was simply this: I chose to order a bacon cheddar burger because the taste sounded appealing. I didn’t order it because my pediatrician (who was extremely uneducated on how to properly communicate to an anorexic teenager, I might add) told me I should, along with a ‘big chocolate milkshake.’

I didn’t order it because “everyone else was doing it”—frankly, “everyone else’s habits” were exactly what I was initially trying to avoid. Ignorant (and often inconsiderate) comments about why we are unable to “just eat a cheeseburger!” is utterly insulting. It makes the victim feel properly victimized. It makes them feel misunderstood. I never chose to be taken over by an eating disorder. It’s not simply a matter of fixing by “just going and eating something.”

When I finally comprehended the fact that my family and the doctors actually were trying to help me, I agreed to their care when I made them promise to help me by a healthy means. One of my motives for increasing my exercise in the first place was to improve my athletic ability—I had absolutely no concept of nutrition and calories. In my mind, I had given foods a label as either “good” or “bad,” and a cheeseburger was put on the “bad” list. In my weakest state physically and mentally, chained by my eating disorder mindset, I agreed to try and gain weight back the healthy way—through adequate and wholesome nutrition.

I’m not saying that I wouldn’t eat a cheeseburger today if it were placed in front of me as the only menu option, but it’s just not something I would choose over so many other healthy dishes I consider to be fabulously delicious. I LOVE food, truly, I do!!! But I love it even more when it makes me feel good, and when it makes my body and mind thrive. Being forced to eat something that doesn’t necessarily satisfy my taste buds ruins the whole food experience. And unfortunately, the sly suggestion from my doctor to “go eat a cheeseburger,” sadly ruined my entire experience with the precious patty.

Instead, try understanding the difficulty of allowing certain formally “forbidden” foods back onto your plate. Invite us to lunch, but don’t be offended if we turn you down. Share a meal with us, but don’t make judgmental remarks if we decide to order a grilled chicken breast (which may be, to us, just as tasty as a juicy double whopper, if prepared appropriately.)

 
4. Eating Disorders. Anorexia Nervosa. Bulimia Nervosa. Binge Eating Disorder. OSFED.

You might be thinking, why did the specific diagnosis titles make this list? Weren’t these particular words used in this very same document? You are correct, my friend. But what some souls may fail to realize is that these words are quite debilitating. For years, these words filled our intuitive ears. These words were permanently printed on all of our medical records, and embedded into our suffocating brains as the essence of our existence. There was a time when these labels became our reality; they became our identity. These words soon took the place of our own very names. They were not names that we chose for ourselves, but somehow had woven their way into our monograms, while overpowering our individual sense of self.

Ever since my diagnosis, I have hated the word “anorexia.” Maybe it’s the deadly letter “X” boldly beaming in the middle, or maybe it’s the fact that the word also begins with the same letter as my first name. Regardless, I rarely use the word unless I have to. Heck, I still have trouble saying it out loud. This is one reason why writing is so much easier sometimes, because it takes the stabbing audible pain away. I remember when I first recognized this inner sensitivity: I was driving in the car, and as painful as it was, I began saying the crippling word out loud, repeating it over and over again.
“Anorexia”… “An-or-ex-ia…” Louder each time……”ANOREXIA…”

After saying this diagnosis label over and over to myself, I realized just how silly it was. Any word can be played off that way…try it sometime. Pick one word and repeat it out loud to yourself until it starts to sound…well, funny. It’s oddly hilarious and will force you to abruptly stop verbally repeating it. I share this exercise, because I am trying to make an important point here…yes, I was diagnosed with anorexia. As a matter of fact, I was diagnosed with anorexia, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder when I was a mere 12-years old. But for the next decade of my life, I let these words rule me. They manipulated my being, and told me I couldn’t have a life of freedom. They spoke false promises to me, yet I still fell for their trap— Every. Single. Time.

I understand that these words are necessary for a clinical diagnosis, and for intervention purposes. However, these words are just a cluster of letters, which are given way more power than they deserve. This simply highlights my point in the beginning, about how words can hold exceptional meaning. Choose them wisely, and think of other descriptions when describing the point you are trying to make.

“…My past mental condition does not define who I am today”

When referring to my past, I often like to resort, instead, to the following collection of words, creating possible sentences such as: “Yes, I suffered from extremely poor body image and fell into unhealthy behaviors as a teen, which then led to a difficult cycle of health complications. But now, I am FREE”—(or something along those lines.)

The bottom line is simply this: my past mental condition does not define who I am today. I no longer have an ‘eating disorder.’ I am no longer ‘anorexic.’ I am no longer ‘depressed.’ Sure, I still experience difficult moments, anxious thoughts, lonely days, and need to keep an extra eye on my nutrition. But none of those things define who I am inside.

Recovery is a journey, just like life is a journey. I no longer travel these roads alone as “Amanda, the anorexic.” Instead, I now hike these mountains with fellow veterans as “Amanda, a daughter of the King.

 

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”
~1 John 3:1

Forever Full

Today is the day after Thanksgiving 2016, a day which also has marked a series of “firsts”…

This year was the first holiday that my family has had the privilege of sharing with my little brother’s girlfriend (who, originally from England, does not normally celebrate the typical American holiday.)

This morning, I experienced my first encounter with serious debit card fraudulent activity, which thus called for a special visit to the bank to file a police report.

This warm Florida afternoon was the first time I have hit a baseball bat to a tennis ball in over 15 years, attempting to bring out the little 8-year-old girl still hiding inside.

And today was the first time in a long time, that I have awakened the morning after Thanksgiving full of peace; rather than hoarding the feelings of anxiousness, guilt, or regret.

Allow me to explain…

 

You see, for someone like me with a history of disordered eating, a day centered around stuffing food into overflowing tummies and onto crowded plates is something just short of a nightmare. All sorts of anxiety kindles in growing fear of anticipation for what the “food holiday” will entail: fear of getting sucked into the gluttony habits, fear of unintentional triggering comments from company, fear of being pressured into eating the “decadent indulgences,” fear of being judged by the amount of food on my plate, fear of binging on odd foods, fear of gaining weight…but mostly, fear of falling under an uncontrollable imbalance of thoughts and behaviors which I normally can keep on a tight chain.

I have experienced some wonderful Thanksgivings with my precious family, but many of those priceless quality moments have then been “ruined” in my eyes by my “mess-ups” of binging or guilty food behavior. In these circumstances, I wasn’t able to compartmentalize my relationship with food from my relationship with my loves ones. For years this first relationship overpowered my ability to interact and invest in others I cared about. It always seemed to dominate my thoughts and proceeded to rob me of the present.

I remember last year’s Thanksgiving being a true turning point for me in my recovery. I made it my goal last year to really focus on relaxing in the present moment, and on the relationships with my family surrounding me. I realized that even though the day is traditionally focused on what is on the dinner table, I could choose to focus instead on the smiling faces around the table and caring hands slaving away in the kitchen. I still ate more than I would on a typical day, but didn’t beat myself up about it. I laughed, I reflected, and I reminisced in all of the cheerful childhood memories shared with these people who were huge influences in my life. I sat and remembered what it was like before…life before my “disorder” took over my being. Before I knew how to pinpoint and direct my feelings, I found comfort in these loving connections of friends and family whenever little anxieties started to emerge. I was an anxious child by nature, but when I was in the vicinity of those with whom I felt comfortable, those insecurities seemed to disappear.

When I felt safe enough to let my guard down, I was loud and even obnoxious at times, but most of all, I was present. Last night, as I practically slid off the sofa in my family’s living room from belly-aching laughter which filled the cozy nostalgic air, I was so very thankful…I was happy…but most of all, I was present.

I told myself before Thanksgiving last year that this day was going to get better. Though each year is different in its own special way, last year my mindset, (in my eyes,) was in fact better than the previous years of mental battles. This year, I had no doubts going into the usual overwhelming atmosphere. Maybe it was the new accountability I have acquired as an eating disorder mentor and a health coach; maybe it was my own encouragement in a recent presentation about redefining nutrition; maybe I truly am far enough in recovery to be able to hold my strength; or maybe my body is finally able to calm down after physically starving and feeling unable to catch up–whatever the cause of this new feeling of contentment, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I feel physically satisfied, mentally sharp, and emotionally stable–three areas which are very vulnerable to falling out of balance. I had worked up an appetite from my annual Turkey Trot early that morning, but I was not ravenously contemplating every chance to divulge in a meal. I wasn’t restricting my allotted feeding time or quantity thereof, but instead filled my plate with what I wanted and how much I wanted, and didn’t think twice about it. I might have only chosen the dishes which I considered to contain familiar ingredients, but just like everyone else, I chose my meal based on my personal likes and preferences. I left the table satiated after clearing my delicious colorful plate, and continued to embellish the opportunity to socialize. I didn’t fret about all the workouts I would have to do the next day, or the “special occasion” foods I wished to binge on later, hidden from everyone’s judgment. For once I felt like a normal human being, simply enjoying the holiday.

 

I think what many people fail to realize is just how difficult social gatherings around food can be for someone struggling (or who has previously struggled) with any sort of disordered eating. If you think about it, it is essentially a built-up event which requires the affected person to publicly walk into a room enveloped by a cloud of their biggest fears. Curious eyes can be intimidating, foreign foods can be terrifying, conversations can be awkward, misunderstanding can be degrading, comments can be embarrassing, and worries can be piercing. Until we have one positive experience to serve as our new home base, each invitation to converse over a meal in an unfamiliar environment is more of a challenging dilemma rather than an exciting opportunity.

But I do believe that in situations like these, the only way to conquer these frightful feelings is to face them. As I mentioned, all it takes is one positive dinner with friends, or one successful relational Thanksgiving, to serve as a tremendous confidence-booster. It provides a new reference point, and the positive feelings following such an accomplishment are so much stronger than the old “safety set” of eating disorder retreating habits. The initial decision to step into the territory of interacting with a new perspective may not be easy, and the sequential steps may not be perfect. But just as I have mentioned before, these series of successful steps will continue to grow, and will provide the staircase towards a wonderful life of freedom.

It’s taken a while, but now I eagerly welcome the invitation to converse over a meal. I look forward to the quality time and the primary nourishment from cultivating genuine relationships, while sharing wholesome physical nourishment. So the next time we meet up for lunch, consider it my privilege to be able to partake in such meaningful moments together. Letting others in to the depths my past is not a task that I take lightly, and your trusting presence is something I highly value.

As I reflect on all of my many blessings this holiday season, I am thankful for the present. But even so, I am thankful for my past—my sufferings, breakthroughs, and this new position of strength. I am thankful for my company and my connections along this road of self-discovery—especially with my loved ones and acquaintances, yet also with myself. I finally feel welcomed inside my own skin again…I feel loved, appreciated, and valued in my own teary eyes.

I am thankful for the Love which taught me what it means to love, and the love which has given me a reason to be thankful. God has continued to show me this love (His love,) regardless of whether or not I chose to receive it or reciprocate it. This love is the love that has kept me going, and is the love which now shines to keep me glowing. I now remember what it feels like to actively cherish, while humbly stepping back in awe of thanksgiving. Grateful for the patience and opportunity for a second chance, the choosing does seem to get easier year after year…

I now choose family, forgiveness and freedom.

I choose patience, perseverance, and peace.

I now choose laughter, liberty and life.

I choose to be forever filled with thanks.

 

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Thess 5:16-17

A Heart of Humility

It’s hard sometimes, feeling like I’m all alone…not presently in a physical sense, but rather emotionally alone in my past struggles. I have made several distant connections with inspiring individuals who also hold similar survival stories, but it is still hard without that immediate affection from someone nearby who has literally been in your shoes. I talk to God about this though, all the time now actually. I know my God understands, because He suffered with me. He was waiting in my heart the whole time that it was fighting for its own beats. Against the voice of evil and deception, my God raised his cries of loyalty even higher. And I’m so eternally grateful that my patient Savior won. He always does, which is a truth I’ve slowly come to realize.

As complicated as this dual and sometimes triple diagnosis is, there is indeed a deeply twisted heart dilemma. Over time, we become fooled by a false idol of prideful satisfaction, dainty diligence, and piercing perfection. All of these things are only temporarily fulfilling, leaving us with a hollow begging bucket even emptier than when we began. Yet even amidst the anxious pounding of my own heart, not knowing what the next day would entail, I did know within my smothered being that this way of living was not what I wanted. I had convinced my logistical little mind that I could navigate through all these teasers of change and barriers of setbacks for the rest of my life. If this was how I was just “meant to live,” then I would settle to endure the pain day in and day out. I was tough…after all, just look at everything I had been through. I was different…and I willingly embraced this secret diversity.

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I don’t remember when my lost sense of realism finally came back around. I do believe that collectively, my prayers and thoughts and counsel from friends and family seeped into my pores from a spiritual angle, not a physical one. For years I appeared to be at an “acceptable” weight by the medical community’s standards, but little did even the smartest doctors know, that I was not yet internally healed.

 

Anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder are severe mental disorders like all other clinically diagnosed mental illnesses. Yet this doesn’t mean that they need to be deemed a chronic lifelong sickness. The labels are simply a way to be able to make a clinical distinction of symptoms in order to qualify for professional help, or to be able to personally pinpoint and deal with all of the associated physical, mental, and emotional implications. I think that so often we become so fixed on the label, just like the numbers on the scale, that we forget where our true value resides.

The descriptions pertaining to the clinical diagnosis are merely that in themselves–they are solely descriptions of the symptoms summed up in a word or phrase in order to facilitate communication, when in reality, very few people are aware of the proper way of communicating about any of these severe cases. As an advocate of eating disorder recovery and intrinsic healing, this effort of sound communication is one of my main goals in my writing and activist efforts. Communication, in any circumstance, is key to understanding. Even though we may not be able to directly empathize with a particular mental illness, we can all do our best to both convey and exchange feelings and emotions which still float amongst common ground. As human beings, we all have the ability to feel (to a certain extent.) It’s time to use this commonality to set aside our differences and reluctance to understand the transformation behind someone else’s tale.

 

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“Communication, in any circumstance, is the key to understanding”

Sometimes I can feel as if I am swimming in a sea of emotional tidal waves, but at least I can feel them now. I remember what it felt like to have a heart frozen over by ice cold depression. Shivering in my own sorrow, I grew numb to even my own real feelings. When loved ones finally noticed and intervened, the avalanche began. It was so hard to warm back up, to soften my soul, and to let that heart-melting mercy back inside. But as I write this now, with tears streaming down my full rosy cheeks, I am so humbly glad I did.

 

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“He heals the brokenhearted…”~Psalm 147:3

 

 

I believe in the sincere transformation of heart. I have watched it, I have witnessed it, and I have experienced it. I have felt my own heart violently shatter, and then be fused back together–little by little, minute by minute, piece by piece.

 

 

 

I can tell of my story because I am no longer ashamed. I can cry while I’m telling it because I now carry tears of joy. I can now joyfully live a life worthy of purpose, because I can humbly admit that I’m only the co-author of my book. I can credit my healing process to many doctors, therapist, family, and friends, and the climactic self-revelations to myself. But I can only direct the glory from the life-changing eternal transformation to the one who owns and guards my heart. My God reigns inside my patched-up vessel, and with boldness forever, my heart beats for Him.

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Image source: google.com

 

A Hopeful Promise

Sometimes, you have to first make the decision to change for someone else. Sometimes, the accountability and motivation must come initially from an external source, to drive you forward until you can reach a point where you finally begin to love yourself again. In the beginning of all of my chaos, the majority of my professional treatment was forced, in a sense. In my own blindness, I liked what I had going for myself as far as my routine and disciplined behaviors were concerned; I thought I was doing a good job managing my life, and didn’t truly believe anything was wrong with my current habits…I thought I had found happiness through my controlling routines and rituals of obsessive diet and exercise.

After I was clinically diagnosed, I went to all the doctor appointments and counseling sessions in submission to authority as a requirement, basically for my parents, while I was still thankfully underneath their loving care. Eventually, rational thoughts began to re-enter my mind as my primary reward system during treatment was introduced—the deal being that if I gained enough weight back, I would be allowed to return to the sports that I loved. For a while this was my only motivation, along with pleasing my family members who I hated to see constantly worrying about me…at that specific time, a return to the soccer field served as the perfect external driving force which gave me hope for something in which I associated the feeling of joy.

Later on in my athletic career, I picked up the sport of distance running—something I never thought I would have been “allowed” to do previously because running burns an insane amount of calories. But while one may initially think that a sport such as running would be an awful idea for someone with my history, I believe it actually played a very positive role in my recovery journey. While in high school, my reward for weight gain once again revolved around sport participation—though this time being the privilege to run in an annual local 15K. With my new nutritional training from dietitians and schooling, I knew very well that I had to fuel myself more efficiently in order to keep up with my training schedule. It “allowed” me to eat more (in my little twisted brain,) and I was ok with mentally granting myself the extra calories because I was aware of the large amount of energy that I was expending during my runs.

Just to make things clear, however, this isn’t to say that this grueling sport healed me—I still sported unhealthy body-image vision goggles while racing in my prime. I do think that my time spent in the distance running world, which later progressed further into the fitness industry, served as a necessary stepping stone in my own personal recovery journey. Once I realized the new fitness goals I had made for myself, regardless of whether they were endurance or strength related, I became more motivated to follow up on the nutrition side—this time with a new focus on feeding instead of fasting.

 

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Just recently, after years of small increment changes on the consistency and quality of my food intake, I finally landed in a place along my recovery road where I sincerely wanted to change—I wanted to change for the better, and I wanted to change for me. Back when things spiraled downward years ago, it took compelling and begging from my family and friends; coaxing me and disciplining me to get better. Later on down the road, I wanted to show them how much I appreciate their love, concern, and loyalty during such a devastating time of my past.

Today, I still stand firm in my place of stable recovery surrounded by them as my backbone, and accountability partners forever. I made a promise to these loved ones to never again return to my dark corner, and I will most definitely hold true to this loyalty. Along with this pledge, now I finally realize that I do desire this talked-about life of ‘freedom’…I want this for me. I want a future full of promise and days full of laughter. I want to travel, see the world, meet new people and hike tall mountains. I want to be a strong presence for my family, instead of weighting them down with my insecure sufferings. I want to begin my own generation of family someday…to be a wife and a mommy…to sit on the back porch with my handsome husband hand-in-hand, watching our children playing in the yard…to be able to hold my daughter close and tell her how beautiful she is. I want to experience life and breathe the fresh air…I want to carry on a legacy of commitment and truth.

 

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I have finally reached a point in life where I’m no longer accepting any nonsense from that deceiving little seed that somehow planted itself in my innocent mind years ago. There are trails I want to explore, sights I want to see, and goals I want to reach. I want to reflect on my past and learn from it, without it controlling my very being. I want to redefine myself by what I have overcome, and who I want to be, not by a previous lifestyle that may appear to present unsurpassable limits.

Through the ups and down and thick and thins, my faith remains unwavering. Though it was often blocked and masked at times, it has marched back up to the front of the line to lead me onward over and over again. In all the turmoil, confusion, self-ridicule, heartaches, setbacks and disappointments, faithful love endured as my constant. I am finally beginning to open myself up to that love, which has been desperately knocking on the door to my heart ever since I fell off the cliff of stringency over 10 years ago. All these years that I labored over trying to become my best; only to recognize now that I was the one who was standing in the way. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in a hopeful future, I just frankly didn’t honestly believe I deserved it. I could tough it out till the bitter end, just as I had been habitually doing for more than half of my life. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in surrender and serenity…I was just so unaware of the mere extravagance which could come from a future of freedom.

 

Today, this hope of a better tomorrow, stemming from a grateful present, is what propels me forward. Realizing the strong importance of self-expression, day by day I am becoming one with myself, and making peace with my past. It is a journey of forgiveness, kindness, thankfulness, and acceptance. It is a road of diligence, discernment, empowerment, and determination. Just like all of my countless road races, I know there will always be a finish line. My life holds value; value which I cannot expect to try and rush. It has taken me many years to openly confess my past flaws and sinful mess-ups, and to stand up to my own fears of shame and judgment. But it is time…time to stand transparent and true, proud and tall. It is time to find that boldness to share my story, for my family, my friends, my counselors, my doctors, my fellow soldiers, my God, and myself. I want to share to touch the lives of anyone out there struggling with doubts, fears, past hurts, self-inflicted pressures, and internal and external stressors. All of the knowledge and wisdom which I have been fortunate to collect over the course of this rollercoaster ride, serves me no good if I simply ball it up and hold it inside.

 

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So, friends, this is for you. Let this account be an external motivation to bring out your best self. Perhaps you have a loved one struggling, could use some extra inspiration, or maybe you are hurting behind closed doors. Regardless of the particular circumstance, I can promise you this: there is a such thing as hope. Believe in this hope, and in the healing power of intentional presence and heartfelt understanding. I can now say with sound audacity that I do understand what it feels like to drown… but most importantly, I now understand what it feels like to fly.

 

“Promise yourself that you will never do that to your body again…”—Anonymous

“I promise…with my whole heart, I promise. And I always keep my promises.” —AR

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The Eye of The Storm #Matthew2016

I had anxious anticipations heading into the weekend, but for different reasons than those which gradually arose mid-week. I was supposed to travel to Tallahassee with the high-school cross-country team that I coach, to attend the annual FSU invite (one of my absolute favorite races by far.) I was extremely excited to return to my home turf, reminisce in the heart of Nole nation, see my girls race on my favorite cross country-course in the state, and bunk with my little brother. Yet after some scary news about a category 4 hurricane creeping along Florida’s east coast, my plans for an exhilarating weekend quickly changed–though the anxious anticipation and exhilaration remained.

It was an extremely difficult decision to not travel to Tallahassee with my team. I hated the fact that I wouldn’t be there to see my runners break personal records on the beautiful intricately-designed cross-country course which sported the logo of my alma mater. But deep inside something was pulling me to stay put…I simply couldn’t just leave my family behind knowing a monster was about to reek havoc. Yes, I would have been safe in my little college town, but the thought of being separated from loved ones amidst the turmoil, and watching the news from a distance seemed worst than the alternative. So, without knowing what exactly to expect, I began preparing myself for the utmost worst. Hurricane Matthew was well on his way, and my precious city was lying in its menacing path.

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After I received a peace of mind about my decision to wait out the storm with my family, the next step was deciding where we were going to “hunker down.” We received many phone calls from concerned family and friends, offering up their homes in outside cities and states to accommodate our safety. As the bulk of Jacksonville watched and waited, our timeline for escape continued to shrink by the minute. Within the chaos of last minute Publix raids, and frantic news castors screaming about “catastrophic” and “life-threatening” conditions, the westbound interstate was already flooding with cars. Not quite sure about our destination, I attempted to pack up all of my most valued belongings, planning as if this was a moment of no return. I suddenly realized the effect that such a wonderful childhood had on me and my already-shaken emotions; things which had held a special place on my bookshelf and in my heart since I was merely two years old; childhood books, cherished photos, hand-stitched emblems and a drawer full of my personal journals. All these things which represented so many memories in this cozy little house and beyond; things which I hoped of bringing into my own home someday; things which cannot be replaced. I realized how truly sentimental materialistic things can be, as I attempted to save these precious gems. These were pieces of the past that I held so dear, yet even still, I recognized my own shameful attachment to tangible things. The memories are, and always will be, safe within my heart. I had my family beside me and God inside me, and that was all I really needed.

Despite this minor revelation during my ambition to literally pack up my life, I still managed to haul along as many personal belongings as I could–with the backpack full of hand-written journals being a top priority on my list. After minimally preparing our house (which was now in a designated mandatory evacuation flood zone ), we set out for Nana’s house to ride out this bad boy. The first 24 hours were probably the worst, mostly because this period was all about waiting, while nervously watching the horror stories and tragic disaster scenes on the news. Though I tried my best to stay faithful, there were times when the unknown circumstances were indeed scary. I admittedly had my moments upstairs in my bedroom, with hidden tears in between prayers. I don’t think I have prayed so hard since my mission trip to Nicaragua this past summer. Once again, I was frustrated that I was letting fear trickle in. I knew my God well, and I knew that after all this was over, we were going to be ok. I just didn’t know exactly what that “ok” description looked like…

Ok without power? Ok with minimal flooding?

Ok with a tree in the roof? Ok in water up to our knees?

Ok even without a home to return to? Ok in heaven?

 

…The uncertainty of our situation and the safety of my loved ones was overpowering, but I fought to drown out these thoughts. I prayed for protection and safety, that God would place his hands of protection around us, and this city that I have called home for the past 25 years. I prayed that His arms would surround all of us like a shield. I prayed for our house, which had withstood hundreds of storms in its lifetime; the house I grew up in from days after I was born. I prayed for my cross country team and their safe travels, and the safety for all of those souls who were brave enough to risk the hectic roads to try and flee town. I prayed that The Lord would calm this storm, and that He would bring peace and comfort to his people. In talking to God, my prayer continued that God would again use this for His glory; that it would cause others to pause and reflect, and turn to Him while believing in something greater; believing in a God of hope. I knew my God was larger than this storm, but I also had to calmly accept His will.

 

In my prayers, I thanked God for my family. I thanked him for community, bountiful blessings, and merciful love. In crying out to God in search of peace, He turned my attention to a beautiful colored illustration I had come across when flipping though my mother’s old bible, which I had discovered when searching through our ancient book collection back home. The gorgeous picture that had caught my eye, was the captivating moment of Noah and the Ark–with beaming rainbow and all. Remembering this image in my foggy mind, I found the verse in Genesis from the picture’s tiny caption. Refreshing my memory on the well-known bible tale, God sent me comfort in the words of his promise.

“And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
Genesis 9:12-13, 15 ESV

 

 

As the hours pressed on, our electricity did not. Expecting this premature power outage, we were more than prepared. Our coolers were filled with ice, bottled waters piled high, lanterns lining up on the mantel, and bathtubs and washers filled to the rim as backup. The dark wasn’t as intimidating with others to share flashlights with, and without the negativity of the broadcasts on television, distractions from the treacherous winds were more feasible. The down time was nice in a way, as I curled up in the corner of the closet and relived my college days, immersed in my journals by flashlight. Thank goodness for smart phones and cellular connections which the world relies on these days. Technology often demotes personal intimidate interaction but it served its purpose for important storm tracking updates, including the uplifting announcement that the storm had downgraded to a category 2 hurricane. Bit by bit, Matthew was slowing down. But even as the weather forces were weakening, the prayers were overflowing.

 

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Also, thanks to the luxuries of technology, I was able to keep up with the majority of my friends throughout the climactic events. Family members and friends would check in constantly, communicating about each other’s safety. I liked being at Nana’s house too, which has served as the family hub ever since I was a little girl. It was sweetly comforting to have my cousins, aunts and uncles all calling in to check on Nana, and to hear the scoop on everyone else’s well-being. It was nice to see the family all caring and looking out for one another, still interconnected despite time and distance. I am so grateful for my family connection, which has made up such a huge part of who I am. This is something I wish to carry on and instill in my own children and grandchildren someday…a dedication and loyalty, an unshakable support, all out of love.

As tragic as natural disasters like this can be, I love how such events bring communities together. Seeing all of the survivors emerging from their shelters, awed by the destruction and visible sunshine; Strangers helping strangers clear fallen limbs and debris; phone calls from long lost friends to check on the status of individuals they care about; churches offering space for air conditioning and water; parents strolling the streets with their young children pedaling on bikes close behind, everyone simply happy to be outdoors. I think that resilience in times like these is often difficult, especially returning to everyday work. Something as catastrophic as a hurricane really does shake up a city from its monotonous struggle to keep up with life. I think sometimes we need little hurricanes every now and then to break our dependence on the things of this world, and to help remind us of what’s most important.

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Today I stand hand in hand with thousands of survivors from what was projected to be the storm of the century. Our little house on the corner appears untouched, and does not appear to have even lost power. Everyone of whom I am aware, who stayed in town is walking out unscratched. My papa’s condo at Jax beach which was said to have not been realistically capable of withstanding the humongous storm surge, is still standing thanks to the sand dunes. As I lay tonight in my own bed, back in my home which I thought I may never see again, my heart is full. Praying for those areas which did receive more of a direct hit, and the restoration of those dear landmarks. But with knowledge of the manner in which Jacksonville handled this frightening occurrence, I’m not worried. So many officers and laborers whose work often gets taken for granted, are finally appreciated and respected. This whirling weather may have shaken up some emotions, but our community knot of trust is now tighter than ever.

“In the eye of the storm
You remain in control
And in the middle of the war
You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor
When my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me
In the eye of the storm”
~Ryan Stevenson

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