Hope is a Thing With Feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers  
That perches in the soul,  
And sings the tune without the words,  
And never stops at all,  
   
And sweetest in the gale is heard;          
And sore must be the storm  
That could abash the little bird  
That kept so many warm.  
   
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,  
And on the strangest sea;         
Yet, never, in extremity,  
It asked a crumb of me.

-- Emily Dickinson
Hope is a powerful thing. As Emily Dickinson tells it, hope lifts us up. It is sweet and everlasting; it keeps us warm in the harshest elements, and yet it asks nothing in return.

Sometimes, though,  storms fly through our lives and snatch hope away for a bit. Such has been the case with me in the last month or so. Although the medications I’ve started taking have helped diminish  my anxiety to some degree, I still haven’t been making much progress with the food related aspects of my issues, and that was discouraging.

Luckily, after meeting with a nutritionist yesterday, hope flew back and lit inside my soul. I feel lighter now and much more positive. While I’ve never lost that tiny flame deep inside that tells me I WILL recover from this illness one day, it had dimmed considerably as of late. But now it’s back, burning brightly with the belief that I am on the right track.

Looking back now, I realize that my lack of hope was strongly tied to my lack of goals. Whereas before I had nothing concrete to work toward, now I do. I had the desire to improve my eating habits, but I didn’t have a plan. Desire is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not enough. I also probably know as much as my nutritionist does about food and diet. I know exactly how many calories it takes to equal a pound, and although I haven’t counted calories in years, I could rattle off a list of nutritional information by memory (what a waste of brain space, right? :p). Yet all of this information does me no good if I don’t have a strategy to apply it. You’d think if you added knowledge and a sprinkling of desire, the magic would happen — but no, you have to have actionable goals.

Of course, I learned all this in treatment. There’s even an acronym for it: SMART. Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related. But as we’ve just learned, knowledge is not enough. I know all about goals, sure, but I wasn’t making any! Or I was, but “gain weight” isn’t exactly specific…  So yesterday, I met with a nutritionist who helped me set some “smart” goals, and I walked out with the unexpected side effect of hope!

I’m not a mathematician, but I’m pretty sure these were the missing ingredients in my equation. Desire and knowledge may not be enough to bring about recovery, but add a bit of hope and some goals, and voila!:  Magic. 🙂

 

hope and goals are the magic ingredients

 

 

Drifting Without an Anchor

I’ve been feeling rather aimless lately. Largely because my apartment lease ran out at the end of June and I still haven’t found a new place to live. I suppose I should be grateful that I have family that doesn’t mind me staying with them  until I find something, but because my family lives in another state from where I’d been living, I feel like my life is essentially on hold. I don’t have any roots in this state. No real friends to speak of, no job, nothing. Granted, I hadn’t firmly planted roots in the other state either, but I at least felt like I was beginning to. As it stands now, I’m not really sure what to do. Just wait? In case you haven’t picked up on it in my other posts, I’m not exactly good at waiting. Patience is not one of my strong suits. I like to move. I like to know where I’m going. So just about everything about my current situation is uncomfortable.

As all of this was running through my head this morning, I began to draw a connection between my current living situation and the stage I’m in of recovery: Not exactly ‘sick,’ but not exactly ‘recovered’ either. I suppose people call this stage ‘in recovery,’ but to me, ‘no man’s land’ seems like a better term. Without a foot firmly planted in either place, a person begins to feel like they’re floating around, with nothing concrete to hold on to. In a lot of ways, recovering from an eating disorder, or any kind of addiction, is very much a leap of faith. You decide the old ways are no longer working, so you let go of that raft and jump across the abyss to another one that you can’t exactly see yet, but you’re pretty sure it’s there. Somewhere…

Until you find it, though, hidden somewhere in that scary darkness, you’re left treading water in what can seem like shark-infested waters. You don’t have your old weapons to fight the sharks with, but you don’t really have any new ones to hold on to either. Or if you do, you haven’t really mastered how to wield them effectively yet.

Anyway, I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this wandering, prolonged analogy, but it just kind of tumbled out of me as I started to type so I’m going to roll with it. If anything, perhaps this post’s aimlessness will help convey my current state of mind more clearly than my limited vocabulary.

If not, here’s a poem I wrote back on New Year’s Eve of 2010. Maybe it will do the trick.

Darkness presses in

I find it hard to see.

I watch those around me,

but no one ever watches me.

I look for an escape route

but all looks just the same

How to flee these feelings?

How to stop the pain?

I want to curl up in a ball,

pass winter with the bears,

numb the empty heartache,

cut out all my fears.

But the knife I had is gone —

I’ve tossed it in the trash.

Searching for a new way

to cope with living’s wrath.

It’s hard without my feather —

my wicked magic wand

that curious little spell I cast

on its way to being gone.

Now I’m left with a blank canvas–

a virgin page to fill

Looking at it’s blinding

I’m afraid I never will…

 

(To be continued….?)

 

Tearing Up the Rulebook

For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived by a set of internal rules. As I grew older and entered adolescence, these rules became more and more rigid, requiring me to jump through all sorts of hoops in order to be ‘good enough.’

Be polite. Make good grades. Make people laugh. Be pretty. Exercise. Eat healthy. Don’t make mistakes.

Essentially: Be perfect.

It worked out well for me at first — as long as I could put a check by each of my ‘to-dos’ each day, I was okay. I felt good about myself and all seemed right with the world. But the minute I deviated from one of my rules — all hell would break loose. I’d get anxious and upset and I couldn’t think about anything else until I put things right. With such a rigid and lengthy list, my days quickly became consumed by my need to cross things off. Life faded into the background and soon nothing else mattered.

The funny thing is, I hate authority. I rebel against rules imposed on me by the outside, yet I had created the most overbearing rules imaginable for myself. I was driving myself crazy. Something had to change. The rules had to go.

Ha! If only it were so easy, right? My life was built around these rules. They’ve been my truth for twenty something years. I mean, try telling a bunch of football players that the point of their game was no longer to score a touchdown on a field by running and passing, but to gently roll an egg across a parking lot with their tongues without it breaking. Mmmhmmm. Now attach a lot of deeply held beliefs into the whole mix, and you begin to see the challenge I faced. STILL face — To be clear, this story is not finished. I have torn a few pages out of the rulebook, but the book is still very much alive. Part of the challenge, I think, is that initially I tried to change the rules, when really I just need to get rid of the idea of rules altogether. NO RULES. NONE. Life, fortunately, does not have a rulebook. We are each allowed to sculpt our lives however we choose. How wonderful is that?!

So join me. Let’s not waste time creating rules where none are needed. “Break” a few of your own rules today. Better yet, toss them in the trash, and LIVE.

 

 

Cleaning Out the Toolbox

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I have a tendency to get anxious.

A LOT.

For NO REASON WHATSOEVER.

And I know I’m not alone.

I hesitate to speak for everyone, because it seems there’s always an exception to the rule, but I would venture so far as to say that we ALL get stressed out from time to time. We get anxious, unsettled and uncomfortable. And unless we’re masochists, we HATE it. As soon as those feelings creep into our awareness, we do whatever we can to get rid of them. QUICKLY.

Some of us zone out in front of the TV or computer, others of us exercise. Some of us eat, others of us don’t. Some of us curl up in a ball and go to sleep, others of us work until we drop. Suffice it to say, our coping mechanisms run the gamut. (If you’re sitting here reading this wondering what the heck I’m talking about, then you’re coping mechanism is probably denial ;)). Some of our coping mechanisms are quite effective, while some of them actually end up causing MORE problems than the very problems we use them to escape.

I was thinking about this earlier today as I puzzled (for the gazillionth time in my life) over why, after twenty plus years, I continue to hold on to the destructive habit of rigidly controlling my food intake despite being perfectly aware of how very destructive it is. For some reason, despite years of treatment, therapy and oodles and oodles of facts and statistics, I continue to engage in behavior that is not at all conducive to the kind of life I want to live.

WHY? What the fuck kind of sense does that make?

On the surface: none. None at all.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you begin to see it makes perfect sense. Since I was twelve years old, I’ve used food and exercise to manage difficult emotions. In the beginning, it worked magnificently. As time went on, it lost its oomph. But by the time I realized what I was doing and how harmful it was, it was too late. It was habit. Try doing something for twenty years, all the while telling yourself how great it is and how awesome it makes you feel, and then suddenly stopping. Yeah. Not so easy. Even if you don’t have personal experience with an eating disorder, you likely can relate on some level. Just look at how many people in the world struggle with obesity and you begin to see what I mean.

So here I am, thirty something years old, and basically the only tools I have in my toolbox to deal with anxiety are food and exercise.

Until I take them out.

You see, I actually have been acquiring some other tools over the years to deal with difficult emotions. They don’t come as easily, and they’re not quite as effective, but they’re a heck of a lot better for me. I have mindfulness, communication, medication… I don’t HAVE to hold on to the dangerous tools I’ve been grasping for so long.

Yeah, I know. It seems terribly obvious and perhaps I should have had this realization much sooner, but when it occurred to me this morning, it hit me with astounding clarity. I was wondering why I continued to reach for the eating disorder when anxiety struck, when what I should have been wondering was why I still kept the eating disorder in the toolbox in the first place. It’s like sticking a kid in a room full of healthy food and telling them not to eat the box of cookies in the middle. Not gonna work. But take the cookies out, and that other food starts to look pretty tasty.

It will take a while to make these new tools as strong as my old ones were in the beginning, but I have a feeling they’ll be much more durable and effective. Besides, who doesn’t like new things? I can’t wait to try them out!

What tools in your toolbox are you neglecting? Which ones could stand to be tossed out? Join me today in a little late spring cleaning 🙂

Your Body is a Vessel — Fill it with Love

I’ve been meaning to write a post for a long time about loving your body for what it can do and not for what it looks like, but I’ve struggled to put my thoughts and feelings into words. Luckily, I’ve recently been introduced to Glennon Doyle Melton and her genius blog “Momastery,” and it appears that today she’s done it for me.

paintbrush-master

http://momastery.com/blog/2014/07/06/body-masterpiece/

I love her use of  a paintbrush and canvas as a metaphor for our bodies and our lives. Personally, I’ve struggled lately with being ashamed of how skinny my paintbrush is. As the heat of another Carolina summer threatens to suffocate me, I find I want to wear less and less clothing. Yet this conflicts with my desire to hide my paintbrush at all costs. Some days I’d rather just stare at the blank canvas than risk taking out my paintbrush for others to judge.

I hate that. I don’t want to hide. I want to paint!

And paint I shall. I suppose I’ve started with this blog — sharing my story with others and opening up my insides for the world to see. I’m not sure how many people actually read what I write here, but I kind of like it that way. I just like that I’m willing to continually put myself out there in all my messy glory.

So please forgive me for copping out today and just directing you to someone else’s blog, but sometimes I find I really can’t say things any better than someone else already has. And if you’re not already familiar with Glennon, definitely check her out — I can’t say enough good things about her book, Carry on Warrior, and her TEDx talk, Lessons from the Mental Hospital.

After you’ve done that, get all the paint you can find, take out your paintbrush, and make Jackson Pollock proud.