Wednesday, November 24, 2010

One day at Magnolia Creek, i remember a strange and slightly annoying guest-therapist asking us all to draw a picture of what the journey of recovery looked like to us from where were at that moment.

the girls and i were clustered in the middle of the group room floor, some of kneeling, some settled into beanbags, i was cross-legged. construction paper and markers encircled us, and i remember thinking that of all the ways i could have been spending my time, i was sitting at a rehabilitation center with a hauntingly soft-spoken therapist and coloring supplies all around me.

i first chose a yellow sheet of paper and i drew a road that narrowed into a distant mountain with a cross at the top. people i know and love and people i'll one day know and love walked the same road, each of us headed for Home.

when i rested the finished drawing on the carpet in front of me the therapist asked a little too kindly if i would share what i'd drawn with the group.

i glanced at him through lowered eyes, leaned forward on my kneecaps and reached with a stretched arm and fingertips for a black piece of paper a few feet away.

i settled back into the carpet and then at the bewilderment of the therapist, but not really the girls, i folded the paper in half, placed on the ground like a triangular tunnel and held my drawing of the road and the mountain at the paper tunnel's end.

"This yellow one- this isn't my recovery," I said, "The scary black-hole-tunnel- that's my recovery- the yellow is the rest of my life afterwards."

The therapist asked me to explain...

"well," I said, "i'm not going to pretend that recovery sounds fun or exciting or easy or even like something i want to do at this point. To be honest, i've never felt so terrified of anything in my whole life, but i have to give this up, and so i'm just going to walk blindly into this awful black abyss and trust that God's got a light for me on the other side."

fast forward to yesterday.

i spent the first half of the day on the road home...just me, my car, and about ten cds i made for the thanksgiving journey.

aside from the fact that thick clouds hid the early sun from the treetops, i was thrilled for the music-filled hours ahead, until i saw this:

oppressed by the ominous sky ahead, i couldn't help but reminisce the feeling of jumping into a black hole that accompanied my initial decision to recover. the january day when i folded that black sheet of paper and yesterday morning's drive had more than just an oppressively dark-looking future in common: both offered only two courses of action: forwards or backwards; and when i chose to move forward, both would provide me a torrential downpour:

i really am one for road trips, but in the midst of the down pour when i could hardly see the tail lights in front of me there wasn't enjoying much of anything- just gripping the wheel and getting through it (and risking my life taking the above photo...i guess i'm a true blogger now). i can remember first gaining weight and throwing out clothes and having to eat six times a day and dreading every mirror and reflective surface i passed. The chaos that my sickness constantly sought to appease pelted my mind like hard raindrops. i just wanted it to stop. i wanted to turn and go back to safety. but i knew it couldn't rain forever and so i begged God for His strength and steadiness, and through the blinding rain i continued.

after a time of seemingly unbearable downpour, moment by moment the rain lightened. at first i feared it would only heavy again, but as i made my way forward my hope grew in the lightening sky and although the rain had not stopped, i knew things were going to get better:

i loosened my grip on the wheel and the color returned to my knuckles. i continued to pray but with an unclenched jaw and i restored my music to full volume. when things began to lighten in early months of my recovery, i remember feeling strange a freedom from the most rigid of my thoughts. my idea of beauty took on a new form- one that could other people and i could fit into without being reduced to a skeletal frame. i slowly learned presence of mind and to smile and to be alive separate from the parasitic entity to which i'd grown accustomed. i began to understand why i needed and sometimes wanted to move forward- there was a light at the end of the black piece of paper, a light that broke up the darkness that had once filled the sky:

i moved forward still, and for awhile, i thought things were fine as they were. i felt safe and i felt some sun trapped in the car window and for awhile i just wanted to rest. the clouds continued in their dominance which i would not have preferred, but the storm in its worst was bad enough to make me thankful for the semblance of peace that had settled overhead:

but as i continued forward on the journey's road, eventually breaking my eating disorder's rules day in and day out, trying new things like the #1 at Chic Fil A (my new favorite thing the world has to offer) and all kinds of desserts and asserting myself and being confident for once, i looked around me and i realized that the storm had lost its strength. blue sky and the sun were taking over and i was facing the yellow drawing all by its self- the black paper tunnel was a thing of the past:

i know that the future ahead of me is not one without storms. but i also know that the clouds of my eating disorder have broken and i'm walking through a season of blessing and anointing that on the fore side of the black sky i could have never seen coming. the joy of moving through yesterday's clouds and pulling into the driveway and throwing my arms around the people i love and sleeping in my bright red bed and waking up to my dad brewing coffee was completely worth the morning's plunge into the rain.

recovery is worth the storm too.



Sunday, November 21, 2010

"i gave her roses...

today while i was studying at O'Henry's {chatting with friends and listening to music with a study guide on the table in front of me} i took a bathroom break and noticed a painting hanging on the wall above the thick silver wheelchair handle. The painting was forgettable, the phrase scripted across it was not.

"I gave her roses..." it said across the top,

"-and she blames me for the thorns" followed at the bottom.

for a split second i thought about the quote in terms of romantic relationships and i made a mental note never to be the kind of wife who notices thorns before roses.

but as i stood there washing my hands, the words began to sink in more deeply and i started to consider them in terms of my Heavenly Father and i realized that if He were the kind to complain or hold grudges, he would probably have written the quote from the forgettable painting across the sky or carved it into a mountain or something else noticeable that would get the point across.

"i gave her roses...and she blames me for the thorns."

as i left the bathroom and turned the corner back towards my table, i considered the figurative roses God has lovingly placed in my hands in my lifetime. so often i've failed to acknowledge the beauty before me. the colors and the sweet smells He meant for my blessing—to turn my face to His—but i've noticed only the thorns.

"i'd rather not be blessed at all," i've said, "than to have to touch these thorns or to risk touching them."

i've crossed my arms and laced my fingers, refusing the gift from the One who knows and loves me best—all because i thought i knew better than to touch the roses that He purposefully created with thorns in the first place.

thanks to some extensive googling, i now understand that without thorns, roses would doubtfully make it more than a few days in full bloom, as predators would have nothing to deter them from stealing a mouth full of richly colored petals. in other words, though painful, the thorns are a life-giving source to the beauty {i actually don't like roses that much, but we'll pretend....} that opens at the end of the stem.

i think that one reason i chose my eating disorder over my life for so many years was that i refused to see any purpose in life's thorns other than pain. I forgot all about the roses the thorns were protecting and grew bitter and angry towards the One who'd grown them. i turned my face from His and set out to make a way for myself in which i could have all that i thought life should entail without any of the thorns.

but what i failed to understand for all for all of those years was that was that in avoiding the thorns, i was avoiding the beauty that they could have made possible. the pain He allowed me was meant for shaping and molding and making me into a woman capable of receiving a blessing and keeping and tending it for His glory. the pain of the thorns was intended to magnify my need for him, thereby magnifying the beauty of the roses He offered me. what i failed to realize was that joy in Him is so often made possible through preliminary pain.

i dare not say my understanding of pain and its purpose is complete now by any means. what i will say, however, is that i'm going to make a conscious effort from here on out to embrace both thorns and roses; to trust that my Creator put the thorns and the smooth parts just where they were needed and nowhere else. I'll blame Him not for the thorns, but thank Him for the flowers and for His provision for their protection.



Sunday, November 14, 2010

strong enough to feel.

on November 20, 2009, i wrote in my journal, "i'm beginning to lose my passions and loves. all i can think of is this. i used to care for so much, but it's all been replaced by emptiness".

i was fully engaged in my relapse and i knew it, but i cared so deeply for my eating disorder and all it entailed that it would be another two months before i would make the decision to let go.

"to let go" sounds like an instantaneous effort- one fell swoop that clears it all out and lays the open ground for something new.

but in this case, "to let go" has been months worth of minute-by-minute picking apart of the tightly woven intricacies that filled my heart and mind, disguising themselves as who i was.

as old habits and ways of thinking have slowly but surely unraveled, the cares and strongholds behind them have certainly weakened, but continued to occupy significant space and strength in my soul for a good while.

even as i've lived recovery i've found myself feeling invincible- as if nothing nor anyone could hurt me. this is because the vast majority of pain that i've felt over the past year has been directly tied to my eating disorder. it was the supreme priority for which i cared so much for so long, and i think that i forgot what it was like to hurt or to ache for anything else.

the reason i (or anyone else for that matter) had an eating disorder in the first place was to protect and validate me against pain and fear and uncertainty that naturally occur when we live. in other words, i used my disorder to block out the emotions i was too afraid to feel- i placed my weight and my food intake at a place of such importance, that all else became worthless, thereby eliminating the ability of any entity outside of myself to affect or control my emotions.

i thought i was stronger and better and tougher and more capable than people who cried because of other people and got themselves caught up in life's cuts and scrapes. i thought i would be more successful in the working world and the world in general because i was too strong to let silly emotions affect me- too special and too different to get upset the way others did.

over the past months, my heart has finally found the space and the capacity to care for other things. it's been liberating, humanizing, exciting and's been fun.

recently, i've become so enthralled with living and loving to God's melodic freedom that i've allowed the last of my protective outer shell to slip away. constant thoughts of my body and of heath-consciousness and grams of carbs and amounts of exercise have grown sparse and the things of life--things that are natural and beautiful and fiercely uncontrollable, things that are the prize of vulnerability-- have replaced them.

i've suddenly found myself fearful of this newfound vulnerability- of life outside the protection of my eating disorder (or even of it's remnants)- although true joy and peace reclaimed their place in my heart soon into recovery, it's been recent weeks in which i've found i am no longer exempt from the aches and stings of life's hurts- things that i thought i was too tough to feel.

i was recently in a car full of friends when i broke down and cried in front them about something completely unrelated to my disorder for the first time. "This is so dumb," i said over and over. I couldn't believe i was actually upset about something so seemingly trivial. i felt weak and honestly silly that i'd allowed tears of such a nature to leave my eyes.

but thanks to the strongest women i know, i sat and i cried for as long as i needed. and afterwards we celebrated that i was actually feeling and caring for something for which my eating disorder had zero regard, but for which my heart in its independent state finds much meaning and importance.

i realized that the times in which i did not feel were not my strongest times at all, but my very weakest. anyone can put on a mask of pseudo-strength in the face of numbness, but true strength, HIS strength, is what enables us to walk through the pain and anguish and hurt we are promised and to let ourselves feel them and cry over them, to swallow forced smiles or fake hello's, to just keep going and to let our trials make us who we are.

"...My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness..."
2 Corinthians 12:9



Tuesday, November 2, 2010

to give life is to have life.

i'm going to preface this post by letting you all know that the Red Cross is nothing but a bunch of snobs. apparently my blood is unacceptable because it's been to Honduras and back in last 12 months.

but in all seriousness- i understand. i would hate to give someone malaria or some other deadly Honduran disease (although i assured them i was 90 percent positive i wasn't bitten by a mosquito when i was there).

although the fact that i was unable to give blood today kind of ruins this post, i'm still going to go with the idea behind it because i feel it's a good one.

i suppose a college campus like Samford is a decent place to hold a blood drive because word gets around fast and because there are less blood-contaminating behaviors on campuses like this one (right?...). Whatever the reason, blood drives happen on a quite regular basis around here. Consequently, over the past three years i've passed the Red Cross truck and congratulated myself for being too underweight to give blood on a quite regular basis as well.

Pre-recovery, the big white blood truck seemed like nothing more than a bright spot in my day- something to ensure my validity and importance each i time i saw it or saw someone wearing one of its stickers. i could look at it and know that of all the things i wasn't, there was one thing i was: thin. And for me, this brief look into how thin i actually was was like a fix of pseudo-awareness of my significance and specialness.

according to my old standards, i'm apparently no longer special or important, because i weigh enough to wear a red cross sticker, just like all the other non-special people who weigh enough to take time out of their days to keep blood banks stocked.

because this mindset is one in which my beliefs were firmly rooted for the majority of my college experience, i decided it would be only fitting to make my way over to the next blood drive, give my blood, and enjoy knowing that my now lively body is capable of offering its life to someone else.

it sickens me to consider the amount of emotional security i found in my own lacking physiological health. but what's even worse to me is that i found self assurance and pride in the fact that i was unable to offer life in the form of blood to another person.

giving blood, i think, parallels to much of the rest of my life (this is the part where you pretend that i successfully donated a couple of crimson pints today). There have been a myriad of ways i've seen and experienced myself being able to pour forth (or stay steady as a vessel as He pours forth) into others where i found it previously impossible to be present. Just as my body was without the health required to offer blood to someone who needed it, my mind was without the nourishment and free space it needed to be present even amidst the lightest of passings-by conversations. My heart and spirit were without the security and the joy of contentment they needed to laugh from down deep, and to love my father, my neighbors, and myself with open arms.

for so long, i thought that not weighing enough to give blood made me "good enough". i now realize that "good enough" is something i'll never be; "good enough" is not what makes us able to give. what makes us able to give is to have life ourselves. i now have life, and i'll give life. today, i marched into the blood drive and i said, "i'm here for the first time ever because i finally weigh enough to donate blood". and even though i didn't even technically need a band-aid when i left red cross, i left the drive feeling fuller, more capable, and more like myself than i ever felt passing it by.