Sarah Thoughts: Finding Your Compass

We are all unique.
We all have our talents,
our interests,
things that light us up inside,
and our own perceptions of the world.

Nobody fits into a mold.
Well… people might try to fit into a mold,
yet it probably doesn’t feel very good inside.
I know it didn’t for me.

There was a period in my life where I cared way too much about what everybody thought,
I seeked external validation,
and I prioritized my life based on how much external validation I received.

T H I S
I S
N O T
L I V I N G

Placing internal validation at the base of my pyramid of needs,
this is what has made my body and my mind feel like home.
I don’t feel like I’m living outside of myself anymore.

I’m not perfect and I still have a lot of work to do but pivoting into a place where I seek internal validation versus external validation has been one of the greatest turning points in my own personal growth and ultimately fulfillment in life.
Healing and growing into a stronger and more capable version of myself is what I am finding.

Don’t get me wrong, this is all incredibly terrifying.
It’s painful.
It’s reaching into the deepest part of your soul and talking to it.

I have no clue what I’m doing,
I’m just trying to follow my internal compass.
I’m doing my best to listen to the internal cues that say “yes”,
and not feel guilty for saying “no”.
I’m literally learning as I go,
there’s no guidebook,
or rulebook,
or even a roadmap that I can find on the Internet.

It’s all new, every single day.
While it gets more familiar and easy to act on,
the whole listening to your internal cues, it’s scary.
Terrifying.
Mind boggling.

But, it’s so worth it.
And I would never go back to external validation because I do finally feel at home with myself,
even on the bad days.

It’s a feeling that I never felt when seeking fulfillment outside of myself.
I feel like I’m a better person, friend, daughter, worker, mentor, trainer, and a better human.

Healing

Healing is like an onion –
you logically know there are many layers,
but you only really see the outer layer,
the one that’s visible.
Only when the outer layer is taken off are the inner layers fully exposed.

Throughout my own journey of healing,
I’ve learned how key it is to tackle one layer at a time.
To tackle the layer that I’m ready to tackle, or most ready.
Real talk, I’m never raising my hand saying “let’s go I’m totally ready to tackle this.”
But I sure as hell am raising my hand saying “come at me I know I can do this.”

With each layer comes a deeper understanding of your being.
More acceptance.
More love.
More respect.
Each layer brings you an awareness that is deeper than you ever consciously experienced before.

Each layer represents a piece your story,
the story that makes you, well, you.
Each layer requires time and patience (and probably some crying).

While tackling each layer may feel like pushing up a boulder,
you can push it up.
You will push it up.

And when you do,
you’ll look back at it and be like:
“I did that and I can take on the next one too.”

Mountain therapy

Hey folks!

Today I’m just writing, expressing my thoughts and general feelings about how the mountains provide a sense of therapy for my soul and my being. Mountains in the sense of hiking, mountain running, snowboarding, and honestly hands down just being in the mountainous areas of New Hampshire (note: yes, I just used some form of the word “mountain” three times in one sentence). There is a specific series of feelings I experience when in the wilderness. They are nearly in-explainable, but I’m going to try and replicate them here.

I’m free.
I’m not, but I am.
I’m trying to be.
I feel it.
In my bones, being, soul.

I feel free.
At ease.
I feel like everything is in order, taken care of, checked off the infamous to-do list.

I don’t think about anything other than the moment at hand.
Those hours, minutes, seconds.
They are real.
Raw.
They exist.

I’m breathing: deeply, consistently.
Inhale. Exhale.
I feel my lungs full up with air, diaphragm expand.
Alive.

Suddenly, I have a flashback of when I didn’t feel alive.
When I felt like the world might end or that my world was ending.
I remember, vividly, to a time where I didn’t see hope or worth in my existence.

It fades as quickly as it came.

I’m walking.
Step by step.
It’s been a mile or two or ten.
I feel like I just started the hike or the adventure for the day.
Hours have passed.
My brain is in the zone.

Nothing is wrong.
I feel good, safe.
In flow.
Everything will be ok.

My mind wanders back to those thoughts of unease that arose before.
But, they aren’t uneasy or hopeless.
They just exist.
Simply, they are there.

The current flow and state of feeling like my world is together mends the wounds.
I feel alive.
I feel ok.
I trust myself.

Breathing, in and out.

I trust myself.
I know I can do whatever it is that my mind is thinking about, processing.

The world doesn’t feel so heavy.
It almost doesn’t exist.
The flow state, mentally I’m lost in that.
Everything seems to move so slowly but so quickly.

I’m moving through space.
walking.
breathing,
I’m moving forward.

My entire past and history and story is at my damn fingertips ready to fight.

But,
it doesn’t need to.

I don’t need my strength of shutting myself down or shutting the world out.

I am alive.
I feel good.
Everything is ok.
I don’t need my history or my past skillset.
It’s there.
It’s part of me.
I don’t need it in this moment.

I need this.
This as in where I’m currently at.

I need the mountains.
The wilderness.
The forest.
The fresh air.

I need the space.
The quiet.
The time with my humanness.

I am alive in these seconds, hours, days.
They transpire into all over parts of my life.
My motives become one.
My existence has a common purpose.
I no longer have any desire to take myself out.

I just am.
I am me.
I’ll continue on my path,
whatever that may be.

Everything feels ok.
I keep moving,
breathing,
existing,
feeling.

Everything is right there underneath my skin.

But, for a series of moments, hours, days,
I am free.

Discomforts of recovery

Hi all!

Happy Friday junior Thursday 🙂

Blog post number two for Eating Disorder Awareness week is per suggestion/request of two of my favorite humans. One friend suggested talking about bloating and body changes and then another about “tolerating discomfort/moving through discomfort” – this post gets into all of it.

There are a lot of uncomfortable things one experiences both during an active eating disorder and throughout the recovery process. And these things change throughout the experience as well. For example, bloating may be more common during a re-feeding and/or earlier stages of recovery but it’s also not mutually exclusive to this time point. Whereas tolerating discomfort can be seen more as a general concept as, well, real talk – life regardless of an eating disorder (ED) history can be highly uncomfortable at periods. Discomfort isn’t only physical either, it can be emotional/mental, or all of the above.

Without making this a LENGTHY post (it’s still lengthy), because I easily could write a novel on this topic… I’m going to try and highlight the major “discomfort points” that I see based on my own experience and also in the recovery community into three broad “categories”: active ED, early recovery, later recovery. Keep in mind this is fairly generalized and someone may experience something I only list in one “category” during a different time. Everyone is unique (and this is a good thing 🙂 ). I’m also not placing any definition behind early vs. later recovery, again, every single person going through this journey will have their own experience.

Active ED:
– Comments such as: “you don’t look like you have an ED” or “I wish I had your discipline”. Literal face palm here.
– Physical complications such as digestive symptoms, loss of menstrual cycle
– Hunger
– Loss of interest, depressive moods
– Anxiety and hypersensitivity
– The amount of time and brain space that goes into the thoughts and behavioral patterns during an ED
– Isolation and feeling alone
– Deep emotional and mental turmoil

Early recovery:
– Re-feeding
– Bloating
– Extreme hunger
– Comments such as: (e.g “you gained/lost weight”, “you look so healthy”
– Dealing with acute physical complications (e.g blood sugar, blood pressure, electrolyte imbalances, etc., etc.)
– Hunger
– Body changes (literal weight gain/loss, redistribution of weight, overall body composition)
– How clothes fit
– Not knowing how to cope and feeling as if you’ve lost part of yourself
– Being witness to co-workers/friends/family following various diets and exercise routines

Later recovery:
– Dealing with chronic physical complications (e.g long-term digestive issues, bone mineral density, etc.)
– Body changes
– Pregnancy
– Having/finding/maintaining a support system (usually the support being extended is greater during earlier phases of recovery)
– Major life transitions/trauma and managing recovery/remission while minimizing risk of relapse or lapses
– Managing lapses
– Needing to be on any form of “diet protocol” for a specific illness/disease
– Navigating “exercise”/”fitness”/”movement”
– Diet culture

That is NOT a comprehensive list. I couldn’t even possibly give a comprehensive list because I’m going from my own personal experience plus those I know who are in this process and what I see in the recovery community. Which is still all my own perception.

The varying degrees of discomfort are real.
They are extremely valid.
Eating disorders are all consuming,
encompassing.
They don’t just affect someones mental health.
It’s not just about the food.
It’s not a body-image problem at the core.
It’s every.single.part.of.the.persons.life.

Relationships (family, friendships, intimate), school, work, cognition, emotion, connection to self and the entire world, ability to feel joy and ease and safe, physical well-being, trust.

It’s a rabbit hole that is incredibly hard to dig yourself out of.
Cyclical. Painful. Intrusive. Terrifying.

When in the process of writing this, I was having some memories pop up from very early stages of my ED. 11/12 year old Sarah feeling completely inadequate, untrusting, unsafe, and unable to express this. Being terrified of the voice in my head that didn’t seem to be mine, but that seemed strangely safe and comforting. 13/14 year old Sarah engaging in self-harm behaviors because the starving and purging wasn’t enough of a numbing. I remember I would lay on my bedroom floor some nights and just cry, deep deep cry, and write (writing has always been helpful), and cry, and try to be as quiet as possible because I didn’t want anyone to hear me… because I felt like there was no way to help, that it wasn’t that “bad”, and therefore I would just be a burden to everyone around me. I could storytell a lot more but that’s not the purpose of this post.

For now, I want to focus on how to deal with and manage the discomfort.
*And this is entirely from my 26 year old, almost 7 years in remission, perspective.*

Just like everyone will have various discomforts and sticking points at different stages, the ways to manage these will vary too. What works for one person could potentially be triggering for another. Recovery as a whole is a giant grey area and as one progresses further on their path, the grey becomes a little less murky and hopefully reaches a point where you understand yourself pretty dang well as a human being.

The early stages are HARD because the primary coping mechanism is “gone”. It’s getting your feet wet again. Learning what is helpful and what is very much not helpful. During this stage, things can be very uncomfortable… kind of like you’re trying to run in deep thick mud. I’ve discussed this previously but it’s relevant; for about a year after being weight restored I dealt with substantial bloating. This was incredibly challenging because I already felt out of element and then I also needed to continue to fight any ED thoughts that came up and keep taking care of my nutrition/care needs to heal. Which was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do. Honestly, beyond grateful to have had a rock solid support system at this time point.

That’s an example of “early stage” from my story.

There’s also re-establishing some form of routine. Integrating recovery practices into daily life. Figuring out boundaries both for yourself and for your relationships. Learning how to express your needs vs. shoving them down until you spontaneously combust. “Early stage” can have a strong emphasis on risk management – the risk being lapse or relapse. Honestly, in my opinion, I think doing what YOU need to do for YOU in this stage to NOT fall back into the rabbit hole is key. That said, relapse does NOT mean you’ve failed. At all. Ever.

I think, to a degree, all of the discomforts of the earlier stages can set someone up to effectively manage future hurdles and speed bumps in a way that feels safe (still uncomfortable, but safe) and supportive of ones’ process and recovery. A lot of the work is really in learning what were the initial reasons (even if not all of them) of the ED’s development. From here, doing the work around this; because it never really was about the maladaptive behaviors in the first place.

Being gentle when things pop up, because they will. Heck, as I was writing this post memories popped up from the intense emotional pain I experienced in the early stages of development of my ED. And I just sat with them, gave them space, and was like this is apparently important to include in this blog. And so I share, and I’m gentle with what comes up.

Another thing I’ve found helpful is breaking down why something is uncomfortable. There are obviously circumstances and situations that are deeply painful or traumatic, these are a whole other thing. But the things that can be broken down quickly, in the moment, like comments people make/feeling bloated/seeing diet ads/intrusive thoughts/clothes fitting different/situational anxiety – break it down.
Why is it prompting discomfort? Where’s the root of that? Is it fear? Shame? Guilt? A brain pathway that needs some “re-wiring”? What is it. Get curious and either rationalize it, re-context it, or change the story around it you currently have in your brain space.

For the bigger discomforts such as major life transitions, I’ll say what has worked and continues to work for me. I recently wrote a whole post titled “managing continued remission”, where I talk about the strategies I find helpful. Read that if you wish, but I’ll make a cliff notes version here:

– Grace
– Love and appreciation for everything I’ve been through, even the dark stuff, because I have gained A LOT of knowledge about my inner world and can now use this to be a better helper/healer/empath/person
– Self-care pyramid/hierarchy of needs – making sure the basics are being covered as much as possible
– Therapy as needed. I think having a therapist during transitions/major life changes is helpful. Sometimes in later recovery stages the support system isn’t as supportive because well, you don’t need it to be, but during major transitions you might need that extra support
– Continuously checking-in with where I’m at, how I’m showing up, and being very honest
– Acceptance that whatever is going on is another piece of the puzzle

On the hard days remember:
The uncomfortable moments will pass.
You will survive this. Whatever the ‘this’ is.
You are strong. Resilient. Capable.
You have value.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout all of this, from age 11-26, is that:
I wouldn’t be who I am today without the deep, ugly, icky, terrifying, uncomfortable. And so I give it respect. I give it space, not power. And keep going.

“Some people survive and talk about it. Some people survive and go silent. Some people survive and create. Everyone deals with unimaginable pain in their own way, and everyone is entitled to that, without judgement. So the next time you look at someone’s life covetously, remember…you may not want to endure what they are enduring right now, at this moment, whilst they sit so quietly before you, looking like a calm ocean on a sunny day. Remember how vast the ocean’s boundaries are. Whilst somewhere the water is calm, in another place in the very same ocean, there is a colossal storm.” Nikita Gill