Transforming pain into power

Dear friends,

 

I’m sure many of you understand all too well what it means to navigate through a life filled to the brim with obstacles. I, too, have been dealt a very tricky hand of cards. For much of my life, I played the victim role. You know, the “Why me?” mentality that led to depression and hopelessness. I’m writing now to tell you there is a better way!

 

You have every right to be mad. Some of you are trauma survivors, others have battled horrible physical and/or mental illnesses, and many of you have said goodbye far too soon to the person you loved more than anything. Don’t deny your pain. You are entitled to your feelings. Embrace the anger, the sadness, the feelings of betrayal, and channel these intense emotions into doing the next right thing. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to truly cope with your obstacles.

 

I have learned to accept my past. I use my anger about my battle with an eating disorder, depression, and anxiety disorders to educate people of all ages, all over the world, about mental illness. I am currently in the healthiest place– mentally, physically, and spiritually– that I have ever experienced, and I believe this newfound health and joy is due largely to my commitment to changing my mentality. Yes, I have faced plenty of truly awful obstacles in my young life, but I refuse to let that define my current happiness and my success.

 

So, if you are tired of being the victim, embrace your pain! Do something about it. Spread the word about mental illness, grief, trauma– whatever the problem is, you have control over your actions surrounding it. You are a warrior, a hero, even when you don’t feel that way. Life is so much more than the difficulties we face, even when those obstacles feel like they will shatter us. I am proof that even the darkest nights can turn into the sunniest days.

 

I am sorry you have experienced such intense pain. My heart goes out to those of you who are facing tremendous battles. When you are ready, join me in turning pain into power. I believe in each and every one of you!

 

Love always,

Tara

Self Care is Important!

I sprung out of bed, as if it were Christmas morning. Bursting with excitement, I hastily shut off my alarm before it woke my roommate. I looked at the clock: 4:45 AM. Perfect.

 

Joyfully, I brushed my teeth and threw on my leggings and sports bra. I hopped in the car and drove to my very first early morning hot yoga class at the studio I’ve been going to for the last couple of months. This marked the day of officially becoming a morning person.

 

Some people think I’m crazy for voluntarily going to before-sunrise hot yoga classes. What college student goes to bed at 10 just to participate in yoga before 5 AM– awaking while her friends are still coming home from frat parties? This chick. Let me tell you about the method behind my madness.

 

I recently read a book that encouraged me to try something new– to wake up earlier and set an intention for my day. It took some time, but I was committed to becoming a morning person because it was a form of self-care for me. I was so tired of hitting snooze twenty times before dragging myself out of bed, and I hated the excuses I would make daily to stay in bed longer rather than embrace my day. I decided to make a change.

 

Now, I wake up and don’t hit snooze. I am excited to see what my day will bring! I make time for a solid breakfast and don’t feel rushed to get to my classes. Sometimes, I go to yoga, or go for a run. After a few weeks of this new routine, I have more energy, more joy, and more peace. Self care is oh, so important!

Body Image Blues

I looked into my bedroom mirror, eyes locked in on my belly. “Maybe once I get boobs my tummy will look smaller,” I thought to myself. I was 10 years old. My eating disorder had just started earlier that year and body image was already horrible.

Just a couple of years later, I was in Abercrombie and Fitch shopping for jeans with my mom. I had my first panic attack because I fit into a bigger size than I previously wore. I had to buy the children’s size 16 slims because I was in the top 90th percentile for height and the bottom range for BMI– all my shorter friends were wearing children’s size 12, and I decided I was fat.

Fast forward to now, years into recovery. I still have fat days. I still compare myself to thinner people and sometimes I wish I could change my body. This doesn’t mean I have thrown away my recovery. In fact, it shows exactly the opposite: despite the negative body image I encounter most of the time, I choose to take care of my body anyway. I eat intuitively, exercise when I feel like it, and get enough sleep to fuel my days. Ed tells me I’m fat, and I tell him to shut up.

Sometimes, it’s hard to look past the reflection we see in the mirror and love ourselves regardless of how “fat” we are. I’ll admit, I struggle with body image most days and have found myself engaging in negative self-talk because of my reflection. However, I have learned to appreciate my body for all the amazing things it does for me each and every day– none of which has any relation to my size or shape.

If you have grown up with a negative body image like me, there is hope. No, I don’t always love my reflection, but I do love my body! When you move past the ideal of loving the body you see in the mirror and focus on loving the person instead, you will find peace. And once you have made peace with yourself, the power you bestowed on body image will begin to trickle away.

You are more than “fat” or “thin”, your body is completely worthy of love and respect regardless of your opinion about it, and you deserve a life far more meaningful than anything the mirror can provide. Step away from the mirror and into the bliss of genuine self-love.

#BoycottTheBefore

This week, I have had the pleasure of working alongside some of recovery’s brightest stars: @lexiemanion, @declaring.dani, and @leenahlovesherself. We have been hosting an Instagram campaign called “Boycott the Before”, a week dedicated to the focus on recovery and on our current selves rather than who we were when we were sick.

Often times, before and after photos send the wrong message about eating disorder recovery, as only 1/3 of people with eating disorders are underweight. Before and after pictures promote the idea that you must prove how sick you were in order to gain validation for your recovery. This week is about celebrating your recovery and validating your progress without a focus on physical transformations or needing to prove the severity of your illness.

This week, we have had over 100 participants– and the week is only halfway through! Our participants come from all backgrounds, ethnicities, sexualities, and faiths, and I find such beauty in the unity that has come from our campaign. We, the organizers, are humbled and energized by the impact this movement is having on the recovery world.

I personally love this campaign because it does not encourage black and white thinking. We are not against before and after photos any other week of the year, as many do find them helpful for their own recoveries. I myself have posted a couple before and after photos with the intention of spreading awareness and hope that life is better without Ed. Our campaign is by no means a rule that must be followed, nor is it an all or nothing mentality.

However, we felt it was important to have one week where Instagram could collectively move away from comparisons and just focus on the awesome freedom that comes with recovery and letting go of the need to compete and prove your sickness. Fact is, if you’ve ever struggled with food or body image, your thoughts and feelings are valid and you deserve help regardless of your BMI or type of disordered eating. This week, we celebrate YOU and encourage you to join is in validating your RECOVERY.

If you want to get involved, check out our Instagram page @boycottthebefore and take a look at our website https://boycottthebefore.com . You can also purchase merchandise with our positive message on various products, including shirts, sweatshirts, water bottles, notebooks, and blankets here https://lexiemanion.threadless.com . Plus, 25% of the proceeds from purchases of our products go to Project Heal to help eating disorder warriors go to treatment to get the help they need. Of course, feel free to reach out with questions!

Why do you #BoycottTheBefore ? I’d love to see you join us!

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NEDA Week– smiling through the pain

Dear friends,

 

I have been in recovery for quite some time. Though the urges to restrict have decreased significantly, I still remember the pain of my eating disorder all too well. Most days, I don’t think about it. I consume my time with more meaningful activities than dwelling on my previous illness. However, this week, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, hits right where it hurts the most. I know I’m not alone in feeling bittersweet about this week. I’m writing to share my thoughts with you, so that you may relate and find strength in unity.

 

For me, it always starts the same way. Each year, I feel empowered on Monday, as if I can take over the world. I think, “Wow, I am invincible! I beat the very thing that tried to kill me for a decade of my short life. I am amazing”. Then, Tuesday comes around, and I start to feel conflicted. I know I have a lot to be proud of, but the pain of my past tugs on my heartstrings, playing them like a sad, lonely violin. I want to feel empowered like Monday, but Tuesday finds me smiling through the pain.

 

On Wednesday, I hit a low. The pain of my years of battling anorexia feels too heavy and threatens to crush me. I go through the motions of class, only to collapse into my bed at the end of the day with tears streaming down my face. I hug my teddy bears and cry, allowing myself to grieve all that my disorder stole from me as a child and teenager. Then, I pick myself up and glue the pieces of my broken heart back together. I am okay with the pain because I have risen above it. Tomorrow will be a better day.

 

And it is. Thursday brings a new determination to re-commit to recovery. I refrain from looking in the mirror when I can help it because I know I am more than the lies Ed still tries to feed me. I listen to my body more sensitively than ever before, nourishing it through intuitive eating and cozying up in blankets to give it some rest after yesterday’s intensity. I am so excited to see what the next year of recovery will bring!

 

By Friday, I feel peaceful and content. Despite the painful memories that come with this week, I feel grateful for the awareness it brings to the disorder that kills so many. I feel strong and capable because I am one of the lucky ones– I am in recovery. My past does not define me, but because of my intense personal growth, I am better able to understand myself and others. There is always a sunrise, even after the darkest night.

 

If you also find NEDA Week to be bittersweet, please know you are not alone. It’s okay to have feelings, even intense feelings– just allow yourself time to process them and practice self-care. You are braver, stronger, smarter, and more persistent than you know. You are my inspiration.

 

Much love,

Tara

Who’s your Jenni Schaefer?

I sat at the round table in the guidance counselor’s office–a table meant for a group to sit around and chat. But instead of a friendly group chat, there was a war. My perfect posture added to the intensity of the situation– and by situation, I mean the complex act of me trying to eat a sandwich through a fiery death glare aimed directly at the food in front of me. I was in the pit of my eating disorder, and I had convinced myself there was no way out. That’s when I was given a book to read: Life Without Ed, by Jenni Schaefer.

I’m not kidding when I say my life changed in that moment. No, I did not eat the sandwich, nor did I reach full recovery for a few more years. However, I realized for the first time in that moment that I had a say in my recovery. My parents could keep driving me to therapy, but it was up to me to make the decision to recover. It took years of debating with my treatment team and my loved ones, but sure enough, I ultimately chose recovery. I have Jenni to thank for a large part of my life-changing decision.

Around 1 year ago, I wrote Jenni a letter by hand and mailed it to her (I know, crazy concept!). I told her how much I admired her, thanked her for inspiring me, and asked if she was taking any interns for the summer. Shortly after, I received an email from none other than Jenni herself. I freaked out. I would be interning with my recovery role model the summer before my senior year of college!

Now, I am a second semester senior, and I had the absolute honor of presenting with the incredibly talented and amazing human being, Jenni Schaefer, for my university’s Love Your Body Week. Talk about full circle!

I’m sharing my story about my special relationship with Jenni because everybody needs a Jenni in their recovery. We all need that one person or thing that gives us the hope and empowerment to reclaim our health and fight for the life we deserve. I have Jenni to thank for the hugely positive impact recovery has had on my life, and for the many blessings that will continue to come from a friendship and mentorship with Jenni Schaefer.

Who’s your Jenni? How can you find your voice and make the choice to recover? I’m living proof that even the “impossible” is possible if you make the decision to fight for your life.

For more about Jenni’s incredible mission (and to see a blog I wrote for her) check out her website!

Call me a yogi

“Feel your feet planted firmly into your mat. As you sink lower in Warrior Two, feel the earth supporting you, gently pressing against your foot. Now, let your body fall forward–I know, it’s scary, but learning to trust your body will allow you to trust others more fully. Your body knows what to do. You know what to do. Feel your body weight shift forward and know that it’s okay to fall. Just stand right back up and try again.”

 

As you can probably guess, the person speaking the words above was my yoga instructor. I recently joined a hot yoga studio near my university, and it has quite literally changed my life. In the one week that I have been regularly participating in hot yoga, my entire mindset and feelings toward myself and others has changed. These are 3 reasons why hot yoga is essential in my recovery, and why you might like to find something similar for your own wellbeing…

 

  1. I am learning to trust– to trust my body, my mind, and the world around me. The dark doesn’t seem so scary anymore. Strangers aren’t automatically suspicious. My friends have my best interests at heart. I have all the tools inside that I need to succeed. When I fall, I can get up again and try a little harder. Failure has no meaning in my life because I trust that I can– and will– fly.
  2. I have a fresh take on recovery. I had become lax in taking care of my physical and emotional needs until yoga refreshed my outlook on recovery. Now, I cook yummy meals for myself every day. I try new foods in the grocery store and at restaurants. I challenge myself to do something a little scary (but not dangerous) so I can push the limits of my comfort zone. I seek support when I need it and offer my own support to others when they need me. Recovery is about balance, and I have found my footing.
  3. My body is respected. I listen to my body now more than I ever have before. I take breaks in yoga class and go back to child’s pose when my body has had enough. I fuel my body with food that makes it feel nourished and strong. I make sure to get enough sleep each night and schedule time to curl up in blankets and watch my favorite shows. My body has become my friend. Thank you, yoga, for teaching me the importance of truly loving my body.

 

Hot yoga is intense and is not safe for everyone. I encourage you to talk to your doctor to find out what your body is capable of doing and to find an outlet that allows your body to feel complete. Whether you are in recovery or if you have never had an eating disorder, self-care is something we all need to get better at. I promise you that taking the time to get connected with your soul and treating your body with love will lead you to a new place– one where you will find peace and true joy.

I am not “an anorexic”– and neither are you

This morning, I participated in a Twitter discussion hosted by Jenni Schaefer and Dr. Jennifer Thomas along with AED. The topic centered around appropriate language for individuals who are diagnosed with eating disorders. This topic is so important to me that I decided to continue the conversation here!

What’s wrong with saying an individual “suffers” from an eating disorder, or “struggles with” an eating disorder? In using this language, we reduce the individual’s experience to one of passiveness and helplessness. If you have ever met someone fighting an eating disorder, you know that he or she is anything but passive and helpless– these people are some of the strongest you will ever meet. Many in the eating disorder community prefer the term “battle” or “fight” when referencing their EDs, as in “She is fighting anorexia” or “He is battling bulimia”. After all, those seeking recovery are warriors.

How about referring to someone battling anorexia as “an anorexic”? Technically, this is grammatically correct, but in reality, this can be degrading. Labeling someone by his or her diagnosis takes away their personhood, reducing their humanity to a walking disorder. People fighting their illnesses– the very things that try to kill them and ruin every aspect of their lives– are not simply “a bulimic” or “an anorexic” or a “binge eater”, etc. Like I said, these people are warriors. If you want to refer to them as something, I’d go with superwoman, or rockstar, or really anything else that accurately reflects just how bad-ass they are!

Long story short, language is the first block upon which all our conversations about eating disorders are built. This dialogue is far too important to simply ignore words and phrases that undermine the intense fight and strength that comes with battling an eating disorder. Thank you, Jenni and Dr. Thomas for a stimulating conversation this morning. I look forward to more conversations with family and friends and a deeper societal understanding of eating disorder recovery!

https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/AEDWEB/05656ea0-59c9-4dd4-b832-07a3fea58f4c/UploadedImages/Learn/AED-Language-ED_Full_NEW-Flyer_03_08_17-d.pdf

Trust

I stepped off the plane in Phoenix with butterflies in my stomach and that old familiar sense of dread that used to torment me in high school when change was happening. “What if the other kids don’t like me? What if I can’t find food I can eat? What if I get sick and need to go to the ER?” The thoughts came rushing over me like a water fall, anxiety like a strong ocean current. I took a deep breath and did the scariest thing I knew how to do: trust. I trusted the process, I trusted the people, and most of all, I trusted myself.

 

I am currently taking a class in Hawaii. I know, it sounds amazing– and it is, actually, amazing. I’m having the time of my life learning things I would never appreciate if learned while sitting in a classroom. I get beach time frequently, the other students are incredible, the food is amazing, we partook in two service activities, and the Hawaiian culture and history are rich in depth and spirituality. This class is truly a once in a life-time experience.

 

However, I am still a little bit scared. Trusting is not easy for me. I am a type-A perfectionist who plans every detail of her life out and follows that plan almost to a T. I wake up here not knowing what the day will bring or where I’ll be getting my next meal from. I second guess my conversations with classmates, wondering if I said the right thing or if I completely messed up. The only way to overcome these anxieties is to simply trust.

 

Trusting is an integral part of recovery. If you don’t trust the process of treatment, you will not progress. If you don’t trust your support system, you will stumble more than you climb. If you don’t trust yourself, your road to recovery will be much longer and more painful. Trust, trust, trust!

 

Trusting is not easy, and I can’t promise it will come without hard work. Maybe someone will wake up one day ready to place blind faith in everything around them, but for most of us, trusting is a learning process. I learned a lot about myself as I began to put faith in my treatment team, my support system, and myself, and this was a key part of my progress in recovery. If I can do it, so can you!

 

So, next time you start to doubt if eating that meal is a good idea or going to therapy is beneficial, just take a deep breath, cast aside your anxiety, and trust your treatment, your people, and yourself. One small act of courage can change the course of your recovery for the better.

New year, same you?

“I will work out more this year. I won’t eat so much sugar. I’ll drop a few pounds and change my hair– I’ll actually be pretty, not just same old me. I’ll have a gorgeous boyfriend and land an awesome internship and every piece of my life will fall into place. The clock just has to strike midnight.” Sound familiar?

 

With the New Year comes a lot of expectation. We place unreasonable goals in the horizon of our newfound sense of purpose, goals that are humanly impossible to achieve all in the course of a year, at least for most of us. We promise ourselves that all of our problems will be solved with the change of one number and we will be happy. But guess what? The New Year done the usual way is not the answer to our problems.

 

Happiness is fleeting. It is far healthier to be content– with who you are, the life you live, and the people you surround yourself with– than to be happy. If you’re happy all the time, you appreciate it less. It becomes less of a gift and more of the same old daily routine. If you’re content, you can experience periods of happiness, and they are beautiful, precious moments that keep you moving forward, waiting for that beautiful gift to come again. Happiness is important, but it is not everything. Strive to be grateful for the good in your life and do your best to sit peacefully with the things that can’t change.

 

And then there’s the concept of beauty. We are all beautiful in our unique ways, and a New Year is not going to give you a dramatic makeover (unless, of course, you go the plastic surgery route). You will find that feeling you crave of being beautiful if you show kindness to yourself, and to your image in the mirror. The day you stop critiquing your reflection and instead tell yourself you look hot as hell in that outfit is the day you start to feel beautiful. This New Year, practice self love and find your own beauty.

 

Lastly, there comes the notion of health. The New Year is a great motivation for making positive changes in your life for mental and physical health. However, if you are solely focused on losing weight or refusing to exercise in a healthy way, you will not feel good about your body or your health. Try a 21 day yoga challenge, push yourself (gently) to gain strength and endurance, or encourage yourself to try a new kind of physical activity. Eat intuitively rather than follow a strict diet, cook with friends or family, and experiment with different teas if you want to make changes to your eating habits in a healthy way. The key to health is balance. You can get down to your “ideal” dress size and weight and still feel incredibly insecure if you don’t have balance in your health routine.

 

And so, my friends, this New Year, you are still you. That’s a good thing! The world needs you and your uniqueness, so don’t change the person you are. If you really want to change something, be a little kinder to yourself; find things to be grateful for in your life and strive to mend the pieces that are broken, but know that change takes time; find balance in your life and don’t place too much value in appearance. The best change comes from a place of self-love and empathy for others. This New Year, be content, confident, and balanced, but most importantly, don’t forget to be you.