The REAL Icing on the Cake

Enough of the sugar-coating. I don’t care for it. 

I’ll pass on the fluffy cupcakes with frosting, gooey cookies with glaze, and warm chocolate iced donuts with sprinkles. 

You may think I’m crazy, but …

No coconut and cream coating, powdered sugar finishing touch, or triple chocolate fudge, please. 

No thanks …

I want to know what’s underneath (and I’m not just talking quality ingredients). Forget the sugar-coating, I want to taste the real stuff. 

And no, this isn’t just another a nutrition talk from your health coach 😉

I want to know more …

I’ll go for some raw egg. Perhaps some unsalted butter. Unsifted flower. Half-melted chocolate chips. Crisco from the can.

I’m craving simplicity. 

I want to taste transparency. 

I want to chew on unrefined adequacy.

I’m craving pungent. 

Riveting.

Relentless reckoning.

I want the REAL recipe. The first ingredients. The natural ingredients. The processed ingredients. ALL the ingredients. Healthy or not. Fresh or stale. Wherever you are right now. 

I want the exact amounts, the honest amounts, and all the mistakes you spilled into the bowl. 

I want the “too much of this” and “too little of that.” 

I want the beaten batter and all of its lumps. 

I’m not interested in the decorated finished product, covered in layers upon layers of sugary colored frosting. I’m interested in the layers underneath—the sources of the sequence, and the steps in the story.

I would much rather meet the creator of the cake. 

I’m craving RAW. I’m craving REAL. I’m craving TRUTH. 

I want to know YOU.

The world often makes us think our raw ingredients don’t matter. We think we can’t share these messy piles with the world. We have to mix things up first; we have to make things look presentable. We become deceived in believing that our lives aren’t exciting enough; our bodies aren’t pretty enough; our schedules aren’t full enough; our stories aren’t important enough. 

I’m here to tell you that “perfect cake” is crap.

Or maybe we think our ingredients aren’t pure enough. We think our contents aren’t organic enough, our prep isn’t smooth enough and our measurements aren’t precise enough to fit in with this world. We attempt to cover up our misguided steps, our faulty accidents, our stained aprons and cracked mixing bowls. 

Maybe if I add more salt here, or sugar there, no one will notice. 

Maybe if I just keep stirring, the batter will become smoother.

Maybe if we bake more goods, good reputation will follow.

Maybe if we pour a little quicker, and beat a little faster, our struggle will become numbed.

Temporary fixes are … well, merely temporary. There will be a day when someone bites down on the piece of the broken eggshell you failed to pick out of the mix. That person might even be you …

We all want to be noticed. We all want to be accepted. We want to be admired, loved, and respected. We want people to bite off a taste of our lives and come back for more. Only, the dish we often are serving to others isn’t real. It isn’t authentic. It isn’t richly bold and filled with flavor. It’s an underwhelming recycled recipe. A recipe that’s not our own.

I get it …trust me, I do. I used to live in the kitchen of forbidden foods. I used to mix to the beat of society’s KitchenAid. I used to chop in the monotonous rhythm of perfectionism’s lies. But at the time it seemed easy. I worked to blend in, rather than stand out. Except I realized that in my mind I did stand out. I wasn’t like other people. I swam in my shame. The eating disorder claimed each one of my meals. I thought my broken cookie crumbs were worthless, so I swept them into the sink. 

I get it … transparency can be tough. Vulnerability can be vicious. Details can be dreaded. Opening up can be overwhelming. Sometimes healing hurts. But truth can be transforming. 

It’s time we shared our original recipe, without fear of judgement. It’s time for us to cook and eat freely and adventurously. There is no reason to confine to the unrealistic ideologies and spotless kitchen floors. We’ve all had a mess that we’ve franticly mopped up before anyone noticed. It’s time to open the jar of individuality and write your name in the chocolate drizzle. 

I admire any person who can tell me their past, lick the spoon, and use it to make a delicious batch of brownies. Secret recipes only hold their suspense for so long …

Just think of what the dessert spread would look like if we all divulged and swapped recipe cards. Just think of the sweet stories we could savor …

Your story matters, whether you think of yourself as a master baker or not. 

Your contents are beautiful … and can create a delicious masterpiece. 

Let’s be raw. 

Let’s be riveting. 

Let’s be REAL.

#WhatISTrue: 2018 Hungry for Hope Reflections

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This past weekend, I was blessed beyond measure with the opportunity to further my connections, my knowledge, my ambitions, and above all, my faith.

I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee for the 10th Hungry for Hope Conference hosted by the Christian nonprofit for eating disorder and body image healing, Finding Balance .

To put it lightly, the whole weekend was utterly surreal. At times, I have to keep reminding myself that it actually happened. It was like I was on my own little mountaintop in Franklin, surrounded by people who think and speak like me. It was inspiring. It was motivating. It was humbling…and I want to remember it fully. Not only do I simply want to remember this incredible experience, but I want to apply it. I want to use it, take it back home with me, and expand on it. The mission of Finding Balance is so vital—a center for Christ-Centered connection, community and healing. This summit is currently the only Christ-centered conference of its kind in the nation.

My reasons for attending this conference were multifold: 

I wanted to be a part of an event that combined my two top passions of faith and eating disorder recovery. 

I wanted to connect with other like-minded professionals and survivors.

I wanted to learn from strong faithful leaders in this field. 

I wanted to get a taste of this work and see if I really could picture myself working in the field. 

And of course I wanted to escape my busyness to find the Lord there, and receive clarity and peace from him.

It is safe to say that all of these things were manifested over the course of this weekend. 

The Lord was definitely present in that small little factory in Franklin. A few years ago, I never would have traveled all the way to another state to walk into a room full of strangers and purposely immerse myself in a subject area that was once so painfully personal. But that just goes to show how powerful God’s grace is and how capable His healing is. Never once was I triggered by listening to the difficult stories of other ED warriors or from receiving teachings about mental health treatment. Instead, I was overcome with empathy and compassion. I observed and listened from a redeemed soul as if I were already a licensed professional. I know deep down that this is indeed my mission field, and God has persistently strengthened me and brought me to a place mentally, emotionally and physically where I am ready: I am ready to serve on the other side and not just share my story, but continue it. 

I had a deep conversation with God during the worship concert Friday night led by Rita Springer. I began by asking God why I was there. There was of course an obvious excitement of having my niche of people all in one place and intriguing chance to learn more, but originally I was supposed to be on a mission trip in Nicaragua this weekend. That trip ended up being cancelled due to unpredictable civil unrest in the country, which is a tragic occurrence I am placing in the hands of the Lord. Yet even before this official cancellation, I faithfully made the decision to attend this conference after receiving a call from the Lord pulling me to an opportunity within the states. I knew God had opened up this door, but why? Why did He want me there aside from my own interests? And so, God proceeded to speak. 

God gave me several answers to my question, which was somewhat unexpected. He revealed the reasons one by one before inviting me into His Word:

I am here to be reminded of the truth.

I am here to receive His love.

I am here to be reminded of how He pursued me and how He saved me. I was reminded of how He shook me with his spirit in high school so I could carry Him with me to college—where He lit a spark inside of me to burst in flame for Him.

I am here because He planted a seed for a lifetime of growing.

“God, you found me…” I cried. “You found me amidst my confusion and darkness.”

“Of course I did,” He answered. “Now, what are you going to do with Me?”

At this moment, I honestly didn’t know how to respond to God’s question. That was the answer I hoped He would blatantly put before me. A little disappointed in my lack of spiritual discernment, I remembered a piece of advice that a keynote speaker had made that morning: “Steward the words of God,” she encouraged. In other words, go back to the truth.

Realizing I had this truthful blueprint right at my disposal, I reached into my backpack and pulled out my bible; my small travel bible I carried on-hand in college and that has been with me to Nicaragua and back. I decided to look up the verse printed on the Finding Balance bookmark that was waiting for me on the table that morning. Galatians 5:1 was the scripture, which I admittedly did not have memorized. 

Then the word of God spoke:

 

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm…and no longer submit to the yoke of slavery…” (Gal 5:1)

 

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I underlined this powerful verse which began my reading quest through each underlined verse in my bible through the book of Ephesians.

“What am I going to do with You, Lord?” I stuttered. “What am I going to do in response to Your reckless pursuit for me? This…this is what I will do, Lord…

I will stand FIRM in freedom. 

I will no longer submit to the yoke of slavery. My eating disorder enslaved me God, but YOU have set me free. I will live freely for You, Lord.”

So why else am I here?

I am here to celebrate freedom.

I am here because I can feel God here.

I am here because I am Hungry for Hope. 

I hope for a life of freedom for others.

I hope for a future for me somewhere in this field.

I hope in a GOD who heals.

I hope in HIS divine plan.

I hope for healing for others.

I am here so that my empty cup would be filled with the fullness of God.

 

At this moment I glanced up at the worship lyrics projected on the screen:

“Make me your vessel,

Make me an offering,

Make me whatever You want me to be…”

 

I kept expressing that word “want” to God. I have been telling Him that I want to work in the field of eating disorders someday. I just have been scared that my wants may not be His wants. But in that moment, God reminded me that He lives inside of me. He reminded me that I am free, and therefore free to make decisions and go after what I want. I am no longer conformed to the yoke of slavery. Because of Christ, I am free to want. And with Him within me forever, I don’t need to be afraid of wanting the wrong things.

“Lord, please let my desires match your desires, because you live inside of me. I am yours, Lord, living in a new life of freedom. I am free now … free to be whatever YOU want me to be. I’m free to choose, free to want, and free to dream. I choose YOU, Lord, each and every day. I want to make you proud and I dream of an abundant life with you. Because of you, I will NEVER return to a yoke of slavery. Even if I pursue your work in this field, God, I need not fear of falling behind bars again. I know you will take my burden, Lord. I know the challenges come after the vision, but that You are greater. I know that wherever I go, Lord, I am YOURS.”

And so, I continue this walk as He shines the lamp for my feet. Slowly but surely lighting up my path. I may be hesitant about my next steps but God is always sure. 

With this light, I have highlighted several points which I hope to take away from this incredible weekend and use in my life back home. It is my honor to share these reflections with you. My prayer is that the Lord would open your hearts to what He wants you to see, hear, and feel.

 

Hungry for Hope 2018 Takeaways:

  • This event was real. My connections were real. My encounters with God were real. My visions about future goals were real. My emotions were real. God’s truths are real. 
  • I am free to live this life in joy, in peace, and with enthusiasm. I am free to chase after my dreams.
  • Identity in Christ is the foundation of our being. Rediscovering this identity is the first step in the healing process.
  • When we re-establish our attachment to God and thus to our true self, all the other pieces will begin to re-attach
  • God is the only One who has the true power to heal. But He can use us as his vessels for healing 
  • Science and wisdom of the biological, psychological and physiological functions come from the Creator of this universe (Heb 11:2)
  • God himself is in fact a relationship in perfect union (the Trinity). He created us in His image of having a mind, a body and a spirit. We cannot neglect any one part. God wants us to be intimately connected with Him.
  • Coming into alignment with God involves you seeing yourself as worthy enough to receive His healing 
  • Sometimes behavior change is not sufficient for lasting change. We must spend time with the One who made us and who can change our hearts, and therefore our minds and our behaviors following. 
  • “What we fear determines what we trust. What we trust we glorify, and what we glorify we herald.” -Kelly Needham
  • “Hoping in the Lord is not naive, but a lifesaver. Hoping in the Lord is not weak, but brave.” -Rachel Hockett
  • Proceed with God by looking back on the truth of His word and the unforced rhythms of grace
  • The Bible does not just call us to live out of scarcity. You must first accept the fullness of God. You must first love yourself. In order for you to “deny yourself” as scripture encourages, you must first find your true sense of self. You cannot lose something you do not have. 
  • Practice discerning “description vs. prescription” when reading God’s word
  • Jesus did not come to make you nice—He came to make you NEW” -Jimmy Needham
  • Sometimes the purpose of a season is all about simply building your faith and becoming closer to God

 

“Then you will know the TRUTH, and the truth will set you FREE” ~John 8:32

 

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen” ~Hebrews 11:1

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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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 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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