Opening Myself to Recovery

Share this:

By: Alysa Cristadoro

About a month ago, I finished my yoga teacher training. At the end of the month, we were gifted with mala beads: beads that are used for prayer and meditation. We all infused these beads with the mantra “I open myself to you.” This could hold so many different meanings for each individual. For me, I think about how I can open myself to others, how I can open myself to the challenges that life throws my way, and how I can open myself to the higher power I believe in. But I also thought about how much I have opened myself to this journey of recovery.

What do I mean by that?

For so many years I was trapped in my eating disorder because I would never open my heart to the true beauty that recovery is. I was so close minded in my belief that my story was different than others. Unlike the countless individuals that were living a life of food and exercise freedom, I convinced myself that I wasn’t capable of that. My heart was closed to the thought of recovery, my mind was held in the chains of my disordered mind – I did not open myself to anything but my eating disorder.

When people asked how I recovered, I don’t really have a straight forward answer. I strayed off the path several times. I tripped and epically messed up, I felt like I didn’t know what the heck I was doing at times. But the thing that ultimately led me to a life of freedom was opening my heart and mind to this life of recovery. Instead of convincing myself that I was different, that I was incurable; I let go of self-limiting beliefs and dove head first into this crazy messy journey that is eating disorder recovery. I released my mind from the chains of the disorder thoughts that controlled me so long and dug deep into my heart to find strength to change. Open your heart to love – love for yourself and for your journey. When you invite love and openness into your heart, you can truly let go of fear. Opening myself to recovery and letting go of my eating disorder was single-handedly the best thing I have done in my life thus far. See what happens when you actually stop closing yourself off to recovery. I promise you wonderful things will come your way.


About the Author: My name is Alyssa but you can call me Lyss. I am a college student, a certified yoga teacher, a nature lover, and I talk a lot about recovery because it is SO possible. I love spreading hope and light to others and inspiring people along their journey towards freedom.

Sometimes Recovery Is Taking a Leap of Faith

Share this:

By: Kaity J

The night sky was full of stars, but no moon. Oh how I missed the moonlight as it shone through my window and cradled me in its light. Looking up at the star I wonder who else is seeing the same thing. My dad always said whenever we were apart; to remember we look at the same stars. He said that he thought of me whenever he looked into the sky. I did too. In science class, I learned that we are made of stars, which I can understand because the God that placed the stars in the sky also made us. I’ve been gone a lot, jumping from place to place, never really staying, and never settling. Sometimes I like it, I’m like a shooting star, you see me for a glimpse and then I’m gone. Sometimes I compare that with being my true self. I’m so obsessed with other people liking me, you cant see the real Kaity, but then, maybe like a star or maybe like a moon, I appear, sometimes as fast as lighting and sometimes as slowly as a waxing moon. Like peeling off wet clothes, one by one, the layers fall. I am scared to be a moon. It’s so much easier to just be a star, almost invisible at times, shining light from years ago.

A moon is visible and its light is present, from within. What if I don’t have enough light? What if I’m as dark as a moonless night? My family told me that they would hold onto my hope when I had none, is hope light? My hop is waning, flickering, almost out. I’m tired of being a star, yet I’m too afraid to become a moon. Because once I fully become a moon, I will never go back to being a star. While pondering all of this, a tear slips down my cheek. Running from my real self is exhausting. Looking up at the starts I start to see a moon creep over the horizon. Here is my chance and in that moment, I decide to leap in and take it.


About the Author: In recovery, figure skater, lover of animals and movie watcher!

Closet Cleanse

Share this:

By: Marlee

I purged my wardrobe. Literally, I had clothes scattered across my bed and floor. Why you may ask? Well I was running sprints one morning, and I noticed how my shorts were bunching up on my thighs. I had been noticing it a lot lately and I was kinda beating myself up about it. Why? Because my shorts fit just fine in the summer. All my shorts fit. I knew that I had gained weight but the fact that stuff that was fitting over the summer wasn’t fitting now was making me self conscious.

But before that self discriminating voice got louder I thought “Why am I trying to wear clothes that don’t make me feel comfortable and confident?”

Some of my clothes were ones that I got back in high school or during my first two years of college. As I thought about it more, I wondered if I was trying to hold on to some old part of me. Why was I trying to hold on to a person that I no longer am?

As soon as I got back to my apartment, I started tearing my closet and dresser apart. I created two piles of clothes: one for clothes to sell and one for clothes to donate. I didn’t hold back. I didn’t think twice about getting rid of something that was cute but no longer fits me.

Its still a hard concept for me to wrap my head around. Most people don’t realize, that ED survivors may recover, but we still deal with the side effects on a daily basis. Becoming comfortable with yourself is a process and a struggle. I felt like these clothes were holding me back from embracing my body even more than I already have. We should wear clothes that make us feel comfortable and confident. We shouldn’t be wearing clothes that make us feel insecure or uncomfortable.

I don’t want to wear shorts that bunch up on my thighs. I want shorts that hug my thighs and show off their strength. I don’t want shirts that make me feel self conscious about my ab-less belly. I want shirts that flaunt my curves and make me feel confident. I want dresses that make me want to twirl (an indication that I like something btw) and a swim suit that makes me want to do a cannon ball into a pool (I promise I’m 21 years old).

I’m not the size I was during my ED. I’ve gained weight since last year. I realized though that a number is so meaningless in defining my self worth. Some stores I wear one certain size in jeans, and in others I wear a different one. But you know what? WHO GIVES A DAMN?! It’s a stupid number and sizing in the clothing industry is SO screwed up. I’m gonna pick clothes that fit me and make me feel confident. And I’m sure as hell not gonna stress over the size, because really what does a number or letter mean? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

Purging my closet and dresser was refreshing and invigorating. You should have seen me. It was like something out of a movie. I had music blasting in my room, throwing clothes out on the floor, singing and dancing the whole time. Doing that instantly made my day SO much better.

So the moral of this whole story: meaningless material objects should not define you. If something makes you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious, DON’T WEAR IT. Hell, GET RID OF IT. It’s not worth it to keep wearing something that makes you feel horrible about yourself. You deserve to feel confident, strong, and beautiful in whatever you’re wearing. And when you feel good about yourself, that confidence radiates around you. And that is the most important thing you can wear.

This post originally appeared on lifteatlife.wordpress.com


About the Author: 21, going on 22-year-old recent college graduate. Loves lifting heavy weights, blogging, french bulldogs, dancing, singing, and peanut butter. Aspires to help people find their inner fighter and embrace every part of themselves.

A Letter to my Scale

Share this:

By: Kayla Hopper

Dear Scale,

You have ruined my life. I have given you power to control every aspect of my day. You tell me when to wake up, what to wear, what to eat, and when to drink. You tell me where I can go, who I can go with, and always make sure I feel worse about myself; so that I can strive to make you happier. You make me believe that the lower your number; the higher my worth is, and the safer I am. You tell me a set point and promise that you won’t demand more; until it’s not enough, I can always be better. Each day I run to you, sometimes multiple times a day, just to get your approval. To see if I am living up to the standards I allowed you to set.

But there is one thing I have now realized, I handed you the power, and I can take it back. That number doesn’t tell me my worth; I am made in the image of God, created with the utmost love and respect. I am worthy of love and compassion that you are unable to give. The number doesn’t reflect my accomplishments. I am a proud mother of four children and a wonderful wife and friend. I have allowed my body to go through tremendous pain and change just in the power of love. I am not an object, I live and breathe. I deserve to have grace on my hard days, and celebrate my victories.

I am a woman, I am valued, I am needed, I am wanted, and I am deserving. I am everything you tell me I’m not. I don’t have to be a certain size to be accepted. I don’t have to be a certain number to love myself. Loving myself is not conditional, and it is not a weakness. I have allowed you to have control for too long. I have let you wreck my body, my self-esteem, my family, and my relationships. You have caused more pain than I can fathom, all in the quest for an unfulfilling happiness. You have nothing to offer me but lies and pain.

Without you I can soar. I can be who I am created to be. Without your demands… I am free.


About the Author: I am a 30-year-old wife and mother of four. A survivor of anorexia, ptsd, and bipolar disorder.

Crafting an Empowering Therapeutic Journey

Share this:

By: Dr. Whitney Robenolt

One of the hardest parts of beginning your treatment journey is seeking out therapeutic support. The therapeutic process is typically associated with a state of vulnerability that at times can promote apprehensive thoughts, especially for those seeking support for the first time.

As an outpatient psychotherapist I find it important to advocate for individual treatment, in order to promote the notion that you can be an active and empowering member of your therapeutic journey. Finding the right therapeutic match may not always occur the first time you step into a therapist’s office. However, it is important to be hopeful; you will find your right match! Conduct research. Search for specialized treatment providers in your area. Seek out support groups in your area, asking others their recommendations for powerful therapists. Contact local therapists of interest requesting a consultation to discuss the potential treatment process, including their knowledge of eating disorder etiology and treatment modalities.

Mental health symptomatology and presentation, especially within eating disorders, is not always black and white. Those who present with disordered eating patterns do not always fit into a specific mold. Eating disorders are not biased, and it is important that your future therapist will provide effective support and treatment for your individualized needs. Ask questions. Many of the individuals I see for psychotherapy are often hesitant to initially ask questions. I believe questions are an integral part of the therapeutic process. It allows you to become an active member within your own treatment journey. There have been many studies that have focused on the importance of the therapeutic relationship and ability to give feedback to your therapist. Contrary to some beliefs, therapists cannot read minds. If you have questions regarding aspects of treatment, are unsure if your needs are being met, etc., these are all perfect topics to discuss with your therapist in order to create the most effective treatment. Creating a safe therapeutic space for open and honest communication is often of primary importance to many therapists.

We are all people who at times may feel flawed, but it is important to remember we all are of value! We all can be our own warriors, promote change, and empower others and ourselves. A strong and effective therapeutic journey will assist in allowing you to see you own value. However, it is important to remember that the first step comes down to you, to pull from your internal strength and motivation, to know you are worthy of rediscovering your value.


About the Author: Dr. Whitney Robenolt is a doctoral-level, outpatient, psychotherapist, practicing in Danville, PA.  She currently works as a member of private practice, John G. Kuna, Psy.D. & Associates. She has worked with a wide variety of diverse individuals, including those working towards eating disorder recovery.  She believes the psychotheraputic process is a valuable tool to instill hope, understand one’s value, and making life changes to improve quality of life. She has conducted research on eating disorder etiology and has been a presenter at the Pennsylvania Psychology Association Annual Convention regarding eating disorder treatment modalities. 

The In-Between

Share this:

By: Krystal Cook

I’ve found myself in a difficult place lately. A place I’ve come to reference as the In-Between. No one talks much about this place, but I have a hard time believing I’m the only one who has found themselves here. I’m in-between the old me and the future me. The sick me and the whole me. The addicted, disordered me and the real me.

You see, I dropped out of life at 13 when I began starving myself, self-harming, and living with depression. I retreated into a giant shell that was my armor for over 12 years. I dropped out of school, out of relationships, out of my family, and out of growing up. I didn’t know how to handle the pain, the chaos and all the feelings in the world around me so I did everything in my power to stop feeling anything. If you know me at all you know that when I get passionate about something I get very, very passionate about that thing. I give everything 110%. I feel everything to the extreme. This would be great if the world only dealt out love, joy and happiness, but we all know that is not the case. So I decided that even the intense love and joy I felt at times were not worth the intense pain, rejection, and sadness I also felt.

Fast forward through a dozen years of therapy, treatment centers, recovery attempts and relapses…and here I am today with over a year of true recovery behind me, and only traces of the sick me that surface in my brain every once in a while. Don’t get me wrong, to be where I am is a miracle and I am so grateful to be out of the dark hole I crawled into so long ago. I am no longer obsessed with food, my weight or the scale. I don’t have to fight the urge to hurt myself anymore, and I get out of bed most days so thankful for my life. But at the same time I often feel like I woke up out of a dream and I am that 13 year old girl in a 27 year old body. I am married, self-employed and by all outward appearances handling myself pretty well as an adult. I’ve gotten really good at the “I’m fine” persona who has all her ducks in a row and is “just living and enjoying life!” But under the surface I find myself in low grade panic mode in many situations. Especially when it comes to relationships and interacting with other people.

As an introvert to begin with, and one who never learned how to make healthy relationships in my formative years, I find myself retreating into a different shell of isolation. So while I am not struggling with the behaviors of my sick self, I am also not what I would consider a whole self either. I even find myself struggling in my marriage because I was a different person three years ago when I said “I do” to the man who had won my heart and who (I thought) knew the best and worst about me. The truth is, I still put the “I’m fine” wall up with him more often than not. He says it is like pulling teeth to get me to open up and be honest about how I really feel. In many ways I feel like we’ve had to start completely over again in getting to know each other, and I know that is a process that will continue for the rest of our lives. But it is hard, frustrating, and has left me feeling confused and misunderstood many times.

I say all this to say that recovery from any addiction, disorder or mental illness is so much harder and more complex than I think people realize or want to admit. Just because the behaviors change or stop does not mean the work is done. Just because life is a million times better than it was with the addiction (I absolutely promise you it is!!) does not mean it is easy. Just because you are out of treatment and can call yourself recovered or in recovery, does not mean you no longer need help. When your entire identity was wrapped up in this thing for over a decade you emerge without a sense of who you are and where you belong now. And if you are not careful you will gravitate to defining yourself by mere labels and what your current role in life is (wife, mother, sister, friend, career woman, etc). You can feel like a ship without a rudder suddenly trying to navigate life, and all the emotions you stuffed down for years come at you like a hurricane. It can be incredibly overwhelming and it explains why relapse happens so often.

I realize the blessing in this is that I know where I am. I see that I am not where I want to stay, that I have so much more growing to do. I tell people I want to live a life of authenticity and yet I watch myself put up a front more often than not. I long for real connection that goes beyond the surface and yet I keep people at arm’s length. I tend to use my ‘introvertedness’ (if that’s not a word it is now) as another shell to hide under. I’ve spent enough years of my life feeling stuck and out of control. I’m ready to move on and move forward. I want to do the hard things (ok, I don’t really want to but I know I need to) and reach out and truly connect with others. I want to find out what it’s like to be whole me.

Brene Brown defines whole hearted living this way, “Whole hearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.” I think this is such a good place to start. Addicts have so much shame to fight through even after they break free from the behaviors. Shame that the past ever happened, and fear that it might repeat itself in the future. That shame keeps us from believing we are worthy. And only until we believe that truth and begin to live out of it will we start to fully live and move out of the In-Between. So this is just to say, I’ll be working on that and here is a good list to start with if you are too.


This post originally appeared on krystalkaye.blogspot.com

The Omens in My Eating Disorder Recovery

Share this:

By: Meg Burton

“Omens are the individual language in which god talks to you. My omens are not your omens. They are this strange, but very individual language that guides you toward your own destiny. They are not logical. They talk to your heart directly.” Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist

I recently finished The Alchemist and have been mulling over what my personal legend in life might become and all the omens in my life, good and bad, that have led me to this exact moment. I may not have a clear vision of what my personal legend is at the moment; but I can’t help but be amazed by the path of the omens that have been laid before. They have ushered me to where I am in life. And they are hopefully laying out a path that will lead me to discovering exactly what my personal legend may be.

Omen Circle #1

Three summers ago as I was in treatment for my eating disorder, I made it clear in most chances that were available, to proclaim my hatred of Italian food. In an ironic twist of fate, the following summer I found myself traveling to the Italian portion of Switzerland to work at an American school where I fell in love with Italian food. The summer after that I even farmed for a little over two weeks in Italy, tending to the vegetable garden and learning how to make home-made dishes like pasta.

Omen Circle #2

While I was in treatment I also met my friend, Shirley, who connected me with the yoga studio, Wanderlust. Shirley works for the owners of Wanderlust and Schuyler (one of the owners) grew up in my hometown and went to the same high school as me. Both of our roots come from the small, crazy hippie-town known as Sebastopol, California; providing me with an omen that convinced me to finally take the leap to sign up for yoga teacher training at Wanderlust. I began to fulfill one of my life dreams of helping others heal through the use of yoga.

Omen Circle #3

After completing my yoga teacher training at the end of May, I jetted off to Switzerland to embark on my third summer working at TASIS (The American School in Switzerland). This summer wrapped up a long omen circle.

About a year and a half ago I was standing in my room when all of the sudden I began to remember an author I loved as a kid. I quickly googled one of titles of the books I could remember, and that’s when Sharon Creech reentered my adult life. All of my childhood books were still at my parents house, but I kept the names of the books in the back of my head.

That spring a friend of mine was in Southern California for a conference so I went to meet with her and catch up. After dinner we found a cute used bookstore and I zoomed over to the young adult section. Low and behold they had two of my favorites, Walk Two Moons, and Chasing Redbird. Even reading the books as an adult I still felt connected to the characters and was reminded why I felt such an affinity for them when I was young.

Fast forward to summer time and I was back at TASIS roaming the dining hall and decided to take a moment to look at the merchandise in the display windows. While my eyes were grazing over each item I froze in my tracks, staring at a book titled Bloomability. Splashed on the bottom of the front cover was the name, Sharon Creech. How could this be!?! Why was a book by one of my favorite authors inside the merchandise display of an American school all the way in Switzerland?

I opened my phone up and began frantically googling. This is when one of the most small world, this-has-to-be-an-omen, moment happened. Bloomability takes place in the exact school I work at in Switzerland. Sharon Creech happens to be married to one of the most influential headmasters of the school and also worked at the England campus where my dad works; and the two actually knew each other! These paths of omens are crazy you guys.

This summer, I decided to embark on an adventure I’ve always wanted to take since working in Switzerland. Our campus overlooks Lake Lugano which is nestled between the two peaks of Mt. San Salvatore and Monte Boglia. I have always stared up at the blank, grassy knoll of Monte Boglia, hoping that one of these years I could find a free day to hike it. Shirley ended up coming to visit me this summer and we were able to hike all the way up to the top of Monte Boglia where I left a quote from Bloomability in the trail book. I wrote it down with a huge smile on my face; enveloped with so much joy and happiness.

IMG_5485

Omen Circle #4

And now here I am sitting in a cafe with only 17 days left in this magical place, reading a book I was suppose to read for yoga teacher training but never did. To add to the continual path of omens and magic, it happens to be a cafe right next to Herman Hesse’s house who wrote Siddhartha, the story of the life of the man before he became Buddha.

This place I am nestled in is filled with magic that draws so many influential and special people here. All these omens have led me to this special place on this earth where I am tucked away in the hills of Montagnola – surrounded and protected by the lakes, rivers, and mountains.

Keep your eyes open. Look around you. There are little miracles and omens everywhere once we pause and listen. They are talking to your heart and yearning to guide you.

So again, all I can do is repeat the holiest of all mantras while I sit here and draw a line through all the connections that have lead me to this moment where it feels like anything is possible in this life.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.


About the Author:

Meg Burton first began working with Project HEAL in 2012 where I started as their PR intern.

She writes, “I was going into my sophomore year of college at Cal State Fullerton where I still felt like a fresh transplant from Northern California and didn’t quite feel like Orange County was my home yet. 

Transitions often trigger eating disorder behaviors so I was on high alert to maintain my recovery. I was trying to find resources to surround me with support during this transitional period and I was astonished to find that my college not only did not provide any resources for eating disorders, but didn’t even “deal with the issue.”This is when I decided to do something. If there weren’t any resources, then I was going to provide the things that I wished were available to me. I moved from a PR intern at Project HEAL, to helping found the Southern California chapter. 

Working with Project HEAL has been a dream for me. I don’t want anybody to go through the painful process of trying to get help and being denied from insurance and/or being able to attain the care that they need. If I can take the experiences I went through to help another person in their healing process then I can find the meaning in all my struggles. We’re not meant to walk through this journey alone and I am so grateful to be a part of an organization that is here to hold your hand if you need it. 

In my free time I’m a wanderluster. I love traveling, going on crazy adventures, sitting in coffee shops, practicing yoga, reading, and going to concerts. I’m absolutely obsessed with Harry Potter and Florence and the Machine. If you’ve talked to me for more than fifteen minutes then you’ve most definitely heard a camp story from me. Recovery has made me become a connoisseur of many foods so if we get to hang out lets go get chocolate milkshakes.”

17 Years Counting Calories is Enough

Share this:

By: Erica Johnstone

I just turned 30, and I have counted calories for over half of my life, as far back as I can remember. My anorexia started at age 12, and by 13 I knew the calorie counts of nearly everything I ate, and if I didn’t, I didn’t eat it or I calculated all the components, erring on the side of overvaluing them. In the past few months, I have accomplished a major victory over my anorexia: I have not been counting calories. I never thought this would happen. After years and years of inculcating my mind with calorie counts and the idea of an acceptable daily total that could not be surpassed under any circumstance, I was resigned to the fact that this would be part of my life forever. I have been at a healthy weight for the past few years and in solid recovery for the past 6 years, but I still counted calories, agonized over parties with dessert that did not fit into my daily calculation, and exercised on a rigid schedule six days per week. I was, as everyone else would tell me, “so disciplined.” Let me tell you, this disciplined rigidity is not something to aspire to. It is not inspirational or motivating. It sucks the energy, joy, and spontaneity out of your life. It is more akin to living under an internal dictatorship. You cannot disobey. You complete all reps, limit calories, calculate for the day ahead and the next day and the day after that. You must develop a plan every time a workout is 1 minute too short. You must eliminate something to compensate for this failure. And that is what it really is about – a sense of failure and unworthiness. You must drive yourself to the ground and deprive yourself so that you can earn the happiness in your life.

I felt that I would always be partially recovered. I would be healthy enough, and I would manage well enough, ironically feeling that I was never good enough. I was inordinately happier than I had ever been, so I would settle for that. I am married to an incredibly loving, supportive husband who brings me enormous joy. I am completing my master’s in counseling and will be starting work in an eating disorder treatment center in the coming months. However, I knew that a part of me wanted more freedom from my eating disordered thoughts, and yet another part, the eating disordered one, was scared, telling me “No, don’t go farther. Look what you have already done, how big you have gotten.” It was an eternal battle I would fight forever. During my last period of restriction, last March, my dietitian had me write down the pros and cons of restricting. I had done this before, but this time it was very impactful. Prior to it, I thought there were more pros than cons because in the moment restricting made me feel better. It made me me feel like I had earned the right to live because I had successfully deprived myself. And yet there were so many cons: I was not free, I felt bad for those I was disappointing around me, I had less energy, I was hungry and exhausted from calculating and calculating day after day. I wanted to be truly free. I also knew that I was entering the field as a clinician soon, and I needed to be fully recovered to do so. I wanted to be able to have a baby and be a healthy role model. As I started experimenting with intuitive eating after many previous attempts, I finally got some satisfaction from the freedom, from defying the ED voice. Whereas before I had always thought of how hard recovery from anorexia is because you feel partially bad about it all the time. It seems different from recovery from drugs or alcohol where you can feel accomplished each day sober. With anorexia, a part of you feels horrible because of what you are doing. The eating disorder tells you that you are disgusting and indulgent, and it makes you think you will never be able to tolerate, much less accept, the body you are growing into.

However, I started to think I could be ok with it. I could be ok with this body because it is going to be what it is going to be. I think the biggest contributor has been a subtle shift in trusting my body. Though I have been told that my body will figure out what food it needs, it is incredibly terrifying to believe that, as someone who has feared her body, and particularly changes in it, for her whole life. I was scared that I would never stop eating and never stop growing. However, I am learning that my body tells me when it is full. It tells me what it wants to eat. It does not want to eat endlessly. It also does not want dessert all the time. It craves many different foods. It is not against me. It is me. Making peace with this is so incredibly relieving. It is a sense of freedom, a great weight off your shoulders. It is strange to be 30 years old, to be what I consider now a “real” adult chronologically, and yet I am relearning the most basic of all skills that babies learn. I am learning how to eat again. As challenging as it may be, the taste of freedom is worth it.


About the Author: My name is Erica Johnstone, and I am a psychology researcher and graduate student in counseling. I live in Folsom, CA with my incredibly supportive husband Tyler and our dog Oso. I am starting an internship this Fall at an eating disorder treatment center and will be graduating next June as an MFT intern hoping to work as a therapist specializing in eating disorders.

Recovering with Buddha

Share this:

By: Cait O

I have gone through many spiritual cycles in this life. I was born into an Irish Catholic family (which is where I probably received my training in guilt and shame). Before I went away to college, I began reading Buddhist scripture. 

What I remember most profoundly about my first encounter with Buddhist text is the story of pretas, or hungry ghosts. These are believed to be the souls of people who have suffered tragic death in the physical life.

I didn’t realize it quite yet then, but at seven years old I experienced the loss of this lifetime as I know it. My parents split up, and as in most cases of divorce, the court decided which parent got to spend which days with me. Each parent moved on with their lives. In the meantime, I surrendered to the false belief that nothing I could ever need or want was important. I would always be starving to feel significant. I became a hungry ghost. Invisible. Needy. Afraid. In-between.

Most peoples’ first experience with Buddhism is the concept of karma. The literal translation of karma in sanskrit is ‘action.‘  In this westernized, co-opted culture of instant gratification, I have observed that people often perceive karma to be the retribution or punishment we receive from the universe as a form of atonement for our mistakes, selfishness, and wrongdoing.

This is, in my opinion, a very shortsighted view.

I have begun to view karma the way I view recovery and my own body. What I put in, I also receive. The law of cause and effect is our karma. It is neither good nor bad, it just is. We receive it as we see it.

Receiving happens only as long as I am open. This idea of karma is more gentle. It does not see actions as good or bad, it just sees them for what they are. They tilt the proverbial scales accordingly–it is our perception of the outcome that convinces us that anything is “good” or “bad.” 

Karma is merely the sum of our actions, and mindfulness of the times we give or withhold compassion in this life.

In my recovery, I have had to do the same thing. I no longer see foods as “good” or “bad”; they are what they are, and I decide how and when and how much to put them into my body. If I binge, I feel uncomfortably full. This leads to suffering; physical, mental, and spiritual–sending me down a shame spiral, possibly to other behaviors. If I skip out on food and ignore my hunger, it leads to suffering–I am hungry, I get irritable, obsessive, and I am unable to act out of kindness. I withhold compassion from myself.

In recovery, I am more mindful of the how, when, what, and how much I use to nourish my body. And most importantly, I no longer withhold compassion from myself or others.

So when somebody sat down next to me the other day as I was eating and said, “Ooh, pizza, huh? Pizza is bad. I can’t do the carbs.”

I raged on the inside. Forgetting that this person is suffering, just like I have, from their own perception of food, body and self. I wanted to judge them, stay angry with them, put distance between myself and their ignorance.

But then I remembered that withholding compassion from this person is a guaranteed way to increase my own suffering, or samsara. Just the same way that withholding compassion from myself for nearly 15 years increased my suffering greatly. Believing that I was not enough was the reason that I committed to several disordered behaviors across the spectrum, rather than looking to recovery as a solution

I realized that there was nothing wrong with this meal in front of me. It was delicious, I planned it, decided on it, committed to it and enjoyed it. I quickly reminded myself that this person has no knowledge of my eating disorder. Then I let it go.

Being from Long Island, the road rage capital of the world, anyone in my immediate surroundings would probably ask themselves, “how???? I would have at least cursed her out or mentally flipped her off.”

The hardest lesson I have learned in recovery is the ‘letting go’ part. In Buddhism, this is known as ‘nekhamma’, or non-attachment. I developed my eating disorder out of a codependent need to control people and things, or at the very least, give myself the illusion that I was doing so. There was a hole in my family-of-origin story that I filled with bingeing, which quickly became the pressure to be perfect in every aspect of life.

Oscillating between binge eating and exercise purging based on other peoples’ expectations of me is how I facilitated my own suffering, abused my body and have carried a broken spirit around for far too long.

I have since had to consciously and thoroughly drop all the expectations, beliefs, emotions that are not my own. I did this in the pursuit of an easier, softer life, and it’s given me a new peace to settle into. My recovery is one gift that I took for granted until I realized that I couldn’t come to expect it unless I put in the work, unless I let go of resentment and hurt and anger, and started building bridges to people who’s experiences looked different than mine; rather than building walls of judgment, difference and fear to keep them out.

Recovery, to me, has come to mean being willing and open to sitting with my biggest fears, and feeling the joy of conquering them through meditation, compassion, service to others, kindness and work. I am no longer a hungry ghost because I have started to heal, make myself visible, live a life that’s authentic. And whether it’s through Buddha, program, treatment, love or family–you can, too. 

“Every human being is the author of [their] own health or disease.” 

-Buddha

Breaking Out – My Eating Disorder Story

Share this:

By: Nikki Bowers

I do not remember being called fat.  I DO remember hearing women talk about so and so being fat or how much weight so and so put on.  It always seemed to be the topic of conversation when I was a little girl.  I was a dancer and a baton twirler at a young age so maybe that is what people talked about in that circle.  I do remember looking down at my thighs in second grade, spread on the chair, and thought, “My legs are big.” From then on, I tried to hide them.

I grew fast and quick.  I was 5’3” tall in fifth grade.  I had stretch marks from that growth that I would hate for the longest time.  I was called “big boned” and “broad”.  My mother used to say, “Nikki can’t fit into that…she is just too broad.”  To me, it meant that I was too big.  It seemed that I was too much of a lot of things and not enough of most things.  Too slow.  Not fast.  Too average.  Not smart.  Too goofy.  Not serious.  Too much energy.  Not focused.

In high school, I walked into the weight room one day.  It was empty so my friend and I decided to box squat.  We had seen it done but had never tried.  We kept putting on the weight.  160, 180, 200, and the numbers kept climbing.  260 pounds was starting to get harder.  When the guys walked in they began to joke, “What are you going to do…try out for wrestling?”  Can you imagine if the response was different?  But it wasn’t.  Every girl in the 80’s was expected to look like a twig.

That summer before my senior year of high school I worked as a lifeguard.  One day as I jumped off the diving board, a fellow lifeguard commented on how I looked like a “wrestler”.  That is when I decided…I needed to lose weight.

Nobody begins a diet, drinks alcohol, or experiments with drugs thinking, “I can’t wait to be addicted to this.”  Yet, this is how it happens.  People began saying kind things to me that they had never said before.  “Wow!  You look good!”  Even my mom complimented my weight improvement.

The shift began slowly, deep inside my head. Every eating disorder patient will tell you of a different high they would get.  My high came from being empty.  The longer I could be empty, the more euphoria I had.  It is when I felt the best.  However when I ate I would learn that I could make myself throw up.  This gave me more options.  I had control.  And control is what I love.  I could be empty whenever I wanted.  This emptiness created a prison that would be ALMOST impossible to escape.

I became a Christian right after graduation.  I was hoping that God would heal me instantly.  Healing like this does not happen from a lightening bolt from the sky.

I thought about it day and night.  Would I eat?  Would I not?  If I did, could I throw it up?  Did I need laxatives?  How many calories?  When would I run?  When my parents needed milk, I would run to the store and run home with the milk.  I ran in the middle of the night if I could not sleep.  I slept with weights buckled around me (my own contraption) hoping it would make my stomach flat.

I had been too weak to finish playing Fall Ball for softball in college. I was lucky to finish exams.  On December 17, 1990, my dad took me to a special eating disorder unit in Baltimore.  I screamed at him not to leave me because I wasn’t finished losing weight.  He looked back with tears in his eyes and left.   It was a place where I would be “fixed”.

I did not return to college and lost the scholarships that I had.  I was the youngest woman on the unit and I finally felt understood.  I didn’t have to explain myself.  I did not have to hide my addiction. If you did, you had privileges, if you did not, you had to stay in the common room and could not go back to your room, use the phone, or have visitors.  On Christmas day, my friend Ann and I were the only ones not allowed privileges.  We sat in the common room and watched everyone have Christmas.  I remember thinking, “How could my life get any worse than this?”  Yet, it did.

Nobody from my family showed up for family therapy because we did not have any problems.  It was my problem.   My brother was a drug addict, and I almost died from my eating disorder, but we were all good!  I went to individual therapy where the doctor just stared at me, I talked, nothing was really solved, and time was up. I went to group therapy where we talked about our body image and I was encouraged to “let my feelings out”.  I was given Prozac to help my OCD tendencies.  I was on my way to recovery…or that is what everyone thought.  Actually, the thought was, “If you just eat, you will be fine.”

Being in a hospital where they make your food, watch you eat your food, take your meds, watch you go to the bathroom, talk about your feelings….that is the easy part. You then have to go back to your dysfunctional family that never visited you in the hospital and live it out.  That wasn’t going to be challenging at all.  Not at all.

After 2.5 months in the hospital, I was released to go home.  I really cannot put into words what happened but in one month, I lost weight again.   In a heated argument with my mother, I told her what I had wanted to tell her since kindergarten. I finally “let my feelings out.”  It was the best feeling in the world.  However, it landed me out of the house with some belongings in a trash bag.  I was kicked out of the house.

That was the moment I realized that getting better was my responsibility.  Recovery was up to me.  I couldn’t blame anyone for where I was at this point (which was pretty low).  I had to make decisions every day to get better.  This was also the time where my friends became my family.  I moved in with my childhood best friend.  Her mom loved on me the way I needed.  She always had dinner and then you were expected to clean up and not throw up.  It was soooo hard.  But slowly I gained some confidence.  I took a year off of school and worked three jobs.  After several months of minimum wage jobs, I decided that getting my degree is what I needed to do.  I did not have any money.  I had my work ethic, my determination, and a glimmer of my sense of humor.  I slowly began to rebuild my life.

Every step forward seemed to push me two steps backward.  It seems that “just eating” doesn’t get rid of the demons that caused the disorder.  There was a lot of work and pain to process. I had to unlearn the bad habits and relearn the healthy habits.  The magic pill of Prozac had to be taken regularly. And I would not do that. That left me suicidal and participating in self-mutilation.   The demons and I battled every day.  Some days I won, some days they won.

From the outside, I looked “fine”.  If you asked me, “I was fine.”  Everyone expected me to be fine.  So to please everyone….I was.  I hid my wounds and became a master of this.  I participated in the life everyone expected me to do but inside I fought a battle every hour to keep myself sane and fed.

When you are a perfectionist and people pleaser this is what you do.  I had food rituals that could not be disturbed and I constantly fought the question, “Do I rent this or own it?”

I filled my life with work and school.  I went to school full time and worked three jobs. This busyness kept me structured.  But it also kept me from eating.

There were pivotal moments in my recovery that made me realize that life was worth fighting for daily.  My dad pleading for me to live made me choose small goals to heal for good.  Getting my first teaching job made me realize that I had to be fueled to keep up with elementary school students.  Meeting my husband that knew all my brokenness and said, “I love you anyway” and encouraged me to lift because my body was so strong made me want to be better.  Becoming pregnant when they did not think it was possible was another milestone.  Having two girls back to back made me want a different childhood and healthier perceptions for them both.  I knew I had to heal so they would have better.

I have learned to give myself grace to not be okay.  I have learned that recovery is not perfect and takes a long time.   Relapse happens but it does not have to be a downward spiral to undo how far you have come.  I have learned that being honest about my struggle helps others.  I have learned that I have wasted so many years obsessing over the expectations that others have for me instead of discovering my own.

It has been 27 years.  I am still trying to figure out so many things.  Life is not fair for anyone.  We are dealt a family and their choices have consequences.  We make choices and every choice has consequences.  There were many days that death looked better than what I was facing.  And every time in that loneliness and despair, God showed up.  From the outside, it would not look miraculous but when I was on my knees pleading for a better way, I would always find the strength to rise.  God would guide me to paint beauty with the ashes.

If someone were to call me a wrestler now, it would be the biggest compliment.  I am a strong woman.  I have muscles.  My body can do amazing things.  My confidence and self-acceptance does not come from people’s admiration.  It comes from me knowing that I have worked my a** off mentally, physically, and emotionally to be standing here today.

I love the life and family we have created.  If someone would have told me that I would be standing here with the confidence and strength I have now I would have never believed it was possible.  Because my brain was hard wired in a certain way and critical elements were not met when I was growing up, I believe that I will always be fighting my demons.  The only difference now is that my winning streak is so much better and my armor is more complex.  The past 40 years have been spent fighting to unlearn and undo things while breaking out of a prison that I created.  The next 40 years?  They will be spent living in the freedom I fought so hard to have.

This post originally appeared on paintingbeautywithashes.net


About the Author: Nikki Bowers is a wife, mother of 2 girls, educator, mentor, and blogger. She has recovered from her eating disorder and helps women find their voice and strength to keep fighting.