Dream Big

I used to think that dreams were only for dreamers. People who spent their days daydreaming rather than doing. People who were overly optimistic and failed to be realistic. People who were always persistently positive and couldn’t see the hurdles. 

I used to think that I didn’t have time to dream. I needed to not waste a second and instead put in the work. I had to keep on pushing harder even when I was tired. I had to keep on pressing towards the goal. But my goal wasn’t my dream… there would be another goal after this one. My goals lined up without a finish line in sight. 

For a while, I didn’t think I deserved to dream. I had lost control of my life as I knew it and thought I’d never gain it back. What was the point? Besides, I didn’t have the energy. I was sick—at least that’s what the doctors told me. I was haunted—at least that’s what my enslaved brain told me. Dreams were for happy people. Dreams were for strong people. Dreams were for those who freely lived. Dreams weren’t for me.

I used to spend all my efforts pushing my limits. Aiming for nothing less than perfection. Beating myself up over small shortcomings. Shuttling almost all of my drive into manipulating my eating and exercise. Even with all the 

pounds lost and pounds gained, moods up and moods down, depression gone and returned, self-criticism accepted and rejected, I still refused to sit still. I couldn’t sacrifice all of my progress to stop and attempt to dream.

Just one more…I thought to myself. Just one more…then I will be satisfied. 

Or so I thought.

Lap after lap of falling on my face …

 Year after year of over-exerting myself …

I still didn’t feel fulfilled. Yes, I had reached all of the goals I had meticulously set for myself. I had far surpassed them, actually. But it still wasn’t enough. I still felt a hollow pain inside. 

Then one day, I had a dream. I dreamed I was speaking to a large audience about my struggles. I dreamed of a new arrival of strength. I envisioned myself confident, joyful, and strong. I saw myself as inspirational, grateful, and empowering. I saw my future from the inside out: mentally liberated and physically free. Professionally driven and relationally connected. Family-oriented and faithfully serving. I imagined myself alive and healthy, courageous and compassionate. 

I had a dream of being someone instead of just doing things. I had a dream of becoming and knowing who I was. I dreamed that I would feel and recognize a passion. I dreamed of a passion that would propel me forward. I dreamed of obtaining a forever foundation, and acquiring a true sense of my unshakable self. I had a dream of discovering who I was meant to be. 

By training myself to be present, I allowed myself to dream. By acknowledging my past, I opened up myself to the idea of a future. By facing mere brokenness, I recognized my hope. It was in this hope that I finally learned what it truly means to believe. And this believing would require faith. 

You see, it is in times when we feel lost when we are forced to find our way. There is hope in the air of even every gloomy day. Dreams aren’t just a random dance at nighttime. No… dreams are meant to wake us up. Dreams help us distinguish reality but aim for something greater. Dreams can never be won by an opponent, or snatched away by a contender. You can never fail at achieving your dreams, because your dreams are yours to choose. Uniquely crafted by your hopeful mind, your dreams belong to you.

Dreams have character. Dreams don’t simply get checked off, or conquered with a detailed program. Dreams are forever growing, but in the most rewarding way. They are yours to fathom, yours to keep, and yours to chase. Dreams take a small thought and turn it into a big opportunity. Dreams are meant to be pursued, not accomplished. They are meant to be motivators, not pressures. They are meant to bring value to your life, not destroy it.

So I decided to dream. I dreamed hard, and I dreamed big. I refused to let my eating disorder crush my dreams. And I’m still dreaming. 

I dream of a world where eating disorders are no longer stigmatized. I dream of opportunities to pay it forward, and to use my story to help other people. I dream of reaching others through speaking and writing. I dream of sharing my book with anyone who will listen. I dream of being an educational voice in the athletic department and a role model for student athletes. I dream of resounding mental health resources and of becoming a professional in the field someday. I dream of a pro-recovery movement, and impacting the lives of young women in an effort of prevention. And I dream of a fulfilled purpose here on this earth. My dream is to run after life that my Creator designed for me to experience, and to love as hard as I can. 

Dreams take risks. They take sacrifice. They take hard work. But they also require vision—a healing vision; a hopeful vision. I pray that the Lord would heal any blindness tonight. I pray that you could see your worth, recognize your value, and feel your purpose. For “He who began a great work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.” No one knows when our days are over. But dreams keep singing even after the last sun sets. ❤ 

 

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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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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

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