Having conversations with four year olds is always incredibly grounding. Try it! They live in the present moment, unapologetically express their emotions, have an abundant sense of curiosity, and stay hopeful. The most life-giving moments are with children that see how engaged you are to know their world and attach to you for simply validating their favorite color, food, and number. They don’t care what car you drive, your income, nor your weight. They care if you are listening and engaging, as humans were meant to support one another. They also have the power to conjure in us some of the deepest, thought provoking reflections through simple beliefs such as, “You’re not scared of anything, Ms. Crystal.” I think my heart skipped a beat at that moment. I pulled out the Moses storybook; not in a preachy approach, but to plant the seed that courage is “Moses-like faith”. That to a four year old is “Courage is when you are afraid, but you do it anyway.” Because although this four year old constantly sees me with more self energy than any past season in my life, I and my community know it was not always this way.
So here’s to you-the people who choose to recover from trauma instead of pushing it under the rug. To say to you, “me too”, I’ve been there- the involuntary psychiatric ward, struggling with the desire to live, undergone residential treatment, and continuing to unburden residual trauma. This is my take on courage I want to share in this space.
If there is one word I could gift someone recovering from an eating disorder or posttraumatic stress disorder it would be courage. This word has appeared daily throughout my recovery. Actress, Ruth Gordon describes courage “like a muscle. We strengthen it with use.” I have come to meditate on this simile and reflect on each experience that brings forth courage. Two years ago in treatment I remember sobbing over having to eat rice. Of course, it was never about the rice nor the weight as much as it was about yearning for control. The role the anorexia played in restricting food, punishing through exercise, and controlling my weight was an attempt to control my life and to suppress the trauma. The most transformative insight I received in recovery to exercise courage was to ask, “Do my choices, thoughts, actions, align with my values?” Values are the beliefs that don’t change despite circumstances. Values of integrity, self-care, community, and service. Values that remind me it’s not me against the world but that I am supported by my community and life itself. Values keep us grounded. Values align with the truth that food is not the enemy but instead a source of nourishment to the beautiful trillion cells we have that allow us to not only survive–but to feel, dream, and act.
When I was conjuring my values to allow me the freedom and courage to eat the rice, I realized why I was wrestling so profoundly with the concept of surrendering control. As humans we are wired for certainty. Like many people recovering from trauma, surrendering doesn’t settle well with young kid parts! I realized in order to surrender and to embrace the rice, family trauma, fill in your blank, I needed assurances. Assurance that I have a community that is not based on my weight, worldly success, but is there for me with all of life’s ebbs and flows. Assurance that my faith gifts me with promises of my value. Assurances that I have resources around me. Assurances of the creativity and love I gift others in my vocation. Assurances of my positive traits that trauma still has not nor ever will take from me. These are where assurances lie. Where there is assurance, there is peace. Yes, eating the rice, throwing out the scale, advocating for your needs, setting boundaries can stir up fear. But when you exercise courage, you are not only creating new pathways from a neurological perspective, but are also creating momentum to withstand greater life invitations. We all need assurances that we are loved, supported, and needed in this world. Some of us have had these assurances as a child while others of us have made the choice to create these assurances as an adult. I am thankful that certain false beliefs have lost their grip on me. It has taken me years to reach these “AHA” moments; four months of residential treatment, burning out from two careers, experiencing suicidal urges, and having to go through the process of recovering from anorexia and PTSD.
As one who has an affinity for whales as they are in tune with their community and swim gracefully into the unknown depths, one of my favorite quotes from Author Gregory Colbert is “The whales do not sing because they have an answer. They sing because they have a song.” I still haven’t received answers for most of my heart aching experiences. But, I have learned in the midst of hardships, it allows us to exercise courage, to change the things we can, that we are a being aside from the trauma, and it allows our community to shower us with love. I have experienced the depth of love and assurance from Project Heal and those around me in giving me hope, a renewed strength and opportunity to return to teaching, to vicariously experience a childhood at the age of 24, and an opportunity to confront residual trauma.
Many times before I take a courageous step, I have to care for those young anxious, grieving parts that cry out. For me recently, courage looked like waking up a few weeks ago with intense fear. But making the conscious effort to pray, go to yoga, eat, texting Liana “I’m terrified but I will care for myself”, creating a lavender dance by spraying lavender in the air to keep me present at work, and to advocate for myself. That day, I remember making lunch and taking a second look at the rice for my meal. I remember having the conscious realization that I am stronger than I was two years ago. I know if I skipped the rice, life will still happen. But I still have my assurances. Whatever is meant to happen with this situation, I know that I know that I know that I know (a thousand times) it won’t change because I try to control by not eating a carb. My wish for you in these moments is that you realize the present is ‘already here’ and what you do now is also for the ‘not yet’ in the future. When I was in treatment, the ‘already here’ moment of eating the rice was for the ‘not yet’ moments when life would present greater life invitations two years later when I was dealing with adult transitions. Embrace those ‘already here’ moments for the ‘not yet’ moments when you will eat the rice, self-care, and create the lavender dance instead of engaging in self-destructive behaviors when life hits hard.
By the next day, life worked in my favor and I received more than I expected from my act of conjuring courage. I’m always fascinated by the moon cycle. 29.5 days, renewing, always changing. The next day, it was a new moon, ironically, almost to say to me, “You made it through another life cycle with greater courage.” Part of me is learning that to be a human you will experience a range of emotions and some situations are out of your control. Because with circumstances, people still have to pause from their dream careers, financial difficulties occur, cars still break down, some family members never recover from alcoholism, and there will be some life lessons we will have to pay tuition for. But you have the choice to choose courage over fear no matter how long that may take you. It won’t always have a short-term good outcome. But if you continue following your values, your heart will stay open to remain resilient in learning the lesson life has invited you to experience in that moment. If my greatest losses have been made more in touch with my community and the children I work, I am grateful for that. I can surrender not knowing the reason for the trauma for the assurance I can pursue my dream again and cultivate a new life than my past.
What are your values? What are your eating disorder values? Do they match? Mine did not. Starving could not help me soften my heart nor help me process trauma. As Oprah Winfrey expresses, “Your greatest struggle can produce your greatest strength.” Will you allow your current greatest struggle to produce your greatest strength? Reach out for support. List your values, Breath. Journal. Feel. Yoga. Connect. This is where courage conjures. What courage will you exercise today? Will you eat the rice? Will you confront your false beliefs and those fears debilitating you? Reach out to your assurances when your anxious parts are overwhelming you.
As much as I wish I could literally gift one with courage, I’ve learned it is a choice one has to make for her/himself. However, I’m learning I can at least model courage, self-care, for others in recovery and so can you. From a personal experience, I am exercising courage by stepping back into my dream career field this upcoming Fall. I embrace the concept that life is not so much linear as it is in cycles; revisiting certain scenarios, not as the same person but with a different perspective. For example, in college when I was studying for the GRE, I was deep into my anorexia and fell deeper into restricting to suppress the anxiety. As I am now studying for yet another exam to teach in Florida, the anxiety is pronounced. However, instead of restricting, I am embracing my anxiety part. I prefer to check in with a math tutor each week to reassure me I am understanding the concepts until one day I can believe those truths for myself in this area of my life. I always stress the importance of community in this beautiful metaphor that was gifted to me. If a flower were in a dark room with no sunlight nor water, we would not simply fault the flower for not blooming. Survivors of trauma have to relearn values, cultivate a supportive community, and to reflect on their present day assurances.
To those of you who have struggled with suicide ideation, I want to let you know that you are valuable. Please reach out for support. I get it. Those thoughts come in waves I’ve battled since I was a child. I am learning to have a will to live for myself outside of people pleasing and circumstances. Life will always be messy. There will always be something. But I believe if we continue to go back to our values, write out our assurances, cultivate a safe community, we can go from simply surviving to dreaming and living. There are so many resources out there. Eat the rice. Create a lavender dance. Breathe. Come up for air. Advocate your parts. Be assured that even if you lose a job, finances go low, you fail a test; your values will guide you through those cycles in your life. These life cycles invite you to align with your values, gain clarity, allow your community to show you love, and to practice courage.
A BIG hug your way,
About the Author:
Crystal Campoverde is a GRATEFUL Project HEAL treatment grant recipient. Having walked through her journey of recovery from anorexia and bulimia, she is incredibly thankful for her loving community and for vicariously experiencing a life-giving childhood at 24 years old. She loves to write, eat cupcakes, practice yoga, and advocate for children’s needs. She is a strong advocate for both eating disorder awareness and post-traumatic stress disorder awareness. She shares her vulnerability through blogging to encourage others in their healing and to lead a fulfilling, redemptive life.