No Victory Is Too Small to Celebrate

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A lot of us who suffer, or have suffered from an eating disorder, are very familiar with the tendency to make comparisons. We tend to have a high perfectionistic drive and if we see someone doing something well, there is a feeling that we need to do it as well (which would merely be “acceptable”) OR better, so we feel that we’re doing a good job too.
The same goes for recovery.
When I first started my recovery journey, I was always comparing myself to other people who were also in recovery, and I started to feel like I wasn’t doing it well enough.
There were many times that I achieved something that felt like a monumental accomplishment but I wouldn’t even share it in group because other people were so much further along on their journey and accomplishing bigger and better things. I worried that they would think my accomplishment was stupid or trivial – so, I shamed myself into silence.
Unfortunately, by not celebrating those small victories, I was not giving myself enough credit, which affected my motivation and confidence to keep going.
After all, what boosts confidence better than success? When I failed to honor those early successes, I had no foundation to build my inner strength upon. I began to not trust myself in recovery similar to how I had not trusted myself in my eating disorder.
I had many false starts in recovery, and the one major difference between all of those times and the time I finally DID get better was building an unshakable foundation. A foundation combined with an immense amount of inner strength, eventually taught me how to trust myself.
What changed was that I celebrated everything and I congratulated the heck out of myself for even the tiniest things. Even one less purge in a day…or just not completely finishing a planned binge, was a big deal because it was excruciatingly difficult. And I celebrated that. I thought about it, and how hard it was, I journaled about how proud I was of myself, or sent a message to my therapist, whatever I had to do to honor my accomplishment.
Eventually, the things that were once impossibly challenging will become a part of your everyday life. There will come a point where days and weeks, or even years, go by where you don’t even need to fight your eating disorder anymore, where that voice is so far gone from your head, it would feel like a foreign language if you ever did hear it again. Still, that doesn’t make whatever you achieve today any less significant.
It might not feel like a big deal to you now because you know you are capable of bigger and better things – and you will get there, but as someone who has experienced both minuscule and massive victories in recovery, I promise you that each and every single one is worth being celebrated.
When people build buildings or great monuments, there are many different pieces and many different sizes that make up the completed work. Without the smaller pieces, especially the ones nearest to the foundation, the entire structure would crumble.
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So, every time you place a new stone into what will become your recovery monument, congratulate yourself for adding another piece (no matter how big or small) to the incredible, ever-changing, ever-evolving ~ sometimes totally abstract ~ work of art that is your recovery.
And if others around you are building their recovery sculptures, too, realize that each one will be as unique as each of you are. Some will crumble and need to be rebuilt again, some will need bigger stones in certain places where yours will only require smaller stones…and vice versa.
Just honor yourself for every single building block you add to that structure. Some days there will be very large boulders and sometimes just tiny specs of dust, but when you see the finished product, each big, medium-sized and small building block will become part of one large, beautiful structure that YOU built – piece by piece.
This post was written by Jeanette Batur

Want to submit a post to Project HEAL’s blog? Email blog@theprojectheal.org! 

You Always Have A Choice

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This post is written by Teddy Teece. Teddy lives in Berkeley, California and divides his time between for profit and non-profit ventures. He is writing a semi-autobiographical book about the psychological concerns of students athletes. You can follow him on Twitter here!

What if I told you that first thing tomorrow morning, your friends and family – your boyfriend, your girlfriend, or your spouse – your employer and co-workers – and you, yourself – would no longer respect you, care for you, or want to be associated with you? On top of that, what if I asked you to take whatever it is you’re most passionate about and dedicated to in this world, throw it away, and find something new?

Now suppose I came to you just before dawn and told you that none of what I just said actually had to happen – that it could all be avoided so long as you followed one simple order: Don’t eat.

Oh and one more thing – suppose I told you there was a pill you could take that would kill your appetite while making you stronger, smarter, and more attractive to the people around you whose attention you crave most?

Come sunrise, would you skip breakfast and take a pill for lunch, or would you fly full-throttle into a hurricane that would leave your self-conception and social life in tatters?

Now, some of you may have actually faced some version of this scenario, or thought you were facing it, at some point in your early life. Others may find it unfathomable.

I am writing this now because I chose to skip the food and take the pills rather than throw my identity into the fires of uncertainty.

Of course, the stark terms and ultimatums within which I’ve framed this hypothetical scenario are largely irrational and imagined, and in some sense could never really unfold. Rarely, if ever, does anyone encounter a choice or turn of fate that will result in what I described. But, especially as young adults, what determined our realities more than our deepest fears, our hopes and dreams, and the stories we told ourselves about how the future would unfold?

I’m not rehashing my past right now to determine what – if anything – I’d change about it. Rather, I’m sharing my experience with you because I’ll bet that there’s someone in your life, right now, who feels stuck between a rock and a hard place – who feels like it’s all or nothing, and that to avoid becoming nothing they must put his or her body (and surely with it their mind) in the line of fire.

Think hard on it. You might find this person in an unexpected, far away place, or they might be right at home. Ask yourself – what might they do to hold onto their social identity, the admiration of their peers, and their self-respect?

If the answer comes anything close to “too much,” then please – the next time you get a chance – let them know you love and care for them no matter what, and that they always, always have a choice.

No One Wins in Hide and Shrink

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By: Alexis Sears

About Alexis: A few years ago, Alexis graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Currently, she is a Master of Social Work candidate at the University of Michigan. She is passionate about sharing her story of full recovery from food and body image challenges. Her hope is that others are inspired and empowered to experience the same sweet freedom from disordered eating and negative body image.


no-one-winsI know that I am not alone in loving summer. Warmer weather, longer days, BBQs, time on the water, it’s almost impossible not to enjoy this glorious season. But, for me, summer has always had one little catch – that it is synonymous with ‘swimsuit season’. Those two words alone make me want to hide and/or shrink. And so each summer, I spend significant time and energy attempting to do both.

But this summer was different. I made no attempt to be a smaller version of myself. No cleansing, no detoxing, no “low carb, no carb”, no exercise plan, none of that. No hiding, no shrinking.

Instead, I listened closely to my body’s needs and followed its cues to eat, sleep, and move. I chose to trust my body’s inherent wisdom, in spite of any pressure to do otherwise.

I was also intentional about finding a swimsuit that fit me, instead of trying to change my body to fit into a swimsuit. (Because, I have to say, the latter is downright backwards… clothes are meant to fit you, not for you to fit them, ok?)

And as a result, this summer, I spent more time relaxing, swimming, laughing, reading, chatting, running, enjoying, and embracing, than any summer prior. And as the summer season changes to fall, I am grateful & content, rather than relieved that ‘swimsuit season’ is over.

I want to share this because I believe that summers, friends, vacations, family, and the world, need YOU, in your entirety and in your wholeness. No one wins when you play hide & shrink. Your purpose is not to try and take up less space. Not during this season, not during the next swimsuit season, not ever. There is room for you to embrace & enjoy too. Please take as much space as you need.

 

 

After Years of Disobeying My Body, It’s Now Disobeying Me

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Written by Project HEAL co-founder, Liana Rosenman

11203042_10153197326585041_7354793636075951106_nI spent most of my teenage years treating my body like an enemy: hating it, blaming it, manipulating and controlling it. Through recovery, I’ve learned how to appreciate myself as a whole person and to love myself for who I am. I have realized the strength and goodness that lies within my body. I became my body’s friend rather than its enemy.  

The thing is, I’ve done a lot of HEALing over the years. In a lot of ways, I became more in tune and aware of my body and was healthier than ever. My life was full of beauty, exploration and learning. I was in love with life and in love with living. My moments were filled with good friends, loving family and hard work. I was happy. Truly happy. But, that was once upon a time (or at least for now)!

I took my body for granted until I woke up one day and realized my immune system stopped doing its job. My body has become my own worst enemy because I am no longer in control of my body — Lyme Disease is. Lyme Disease is caused by a spirochete—a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme is called “The Great Imitator,” because its symptoms mimic many other diseases. It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart.

I have always prided myself in being productive. Organizational systems made me swoon. There is something about systematically organizing your entire life into one little book that excited me. I must say, one of the best feelings in the world is when you have a beautifully laid-out, organized, color-coded day where everything fits together like a puzzle (because I just couldn’t say NO and had to use every single square inch of time in my day on something). I got a kick out of ticking off a to-do list. Goals? I had them down baby! Success and my addiction to achievement were ingrained into the person I was.

My plate has always been full. I’ve had a go-go-go personality for as long as I can remember. I think I was born with it. I wanted to do it all, and to be the best at all I did. For me, what’s on my plate determined who I was, how I saw myself, if I allowed myself to be happy. I judged myself based on what was on my plate. Somehow I thought life was about putting things on my plate and continually having to add more.

But life with Lyme has changed that. Life with Lyme means that I can’t predict what I’ll be capable of doing from one day to the next, or even from one hour to the next. Lyme Disease has a way of bringing you down. You feel like you are living life in a box — looking out of a window and watching life passing you by. Each day is unique and to what degree my body will cooperate is unpredictable. I am learning not to be stuck on how things are supposed to be done.

Sometimes it feels like Lyme Disease has stolen everything – my health, my energy, my time, my relationships, my focus, my joy, my plans, my dreams – literally everything. I am quickly learning that I have a choice: I can push myself to an unhealthy point and try to make up for what it seems I’ve lost, or I can choose to accept that who I am in this moment is enough.

I believe that there are life lessons in every circumstance joyous or otherwise. Whether it seems fair or not, obstacles present themselves for a reason and the experiences and introspection that these difficulties bring, allow us to evolve. I am learning to just be for the first time in my life. I am learning to find time for small daily rituals that keep my body healthy and happy. I am learning to rearrange my priorities to focus on my health. But most importantly, I am going to have to learn how to slow down, focus on HEALing and balancing life.

I hope that although I am not on the path I intended to be at this age, nor where I want to be right now that eventually, I will find my way onto a path that I will be happy with, grateful and thankful for. Most importantly, when I eventually look back on life in a few years, I hope I will understand why things turned out they way they did.

Don’t worry Kristina- I won’t leave Project HEAL and start another non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about Lyme Disease.

Wisdom Wednesday: Be Brave

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By Christina Grasso

During my senior year of college, I agreed to speak publicly for the first time during Eating Disorders Awareness Week about my personal experience battling an eating disorder. I cannot remember what possessed me to say ‘yes’ being the private, often anxious, usually self-conscious, and always snarky human I am, and  frankly thought it would turn out to be an experience I would deeply regret. What if people mock me? What if I lose friends over this? What if nobody will hire me after college? What if I relapse and end up looking like a recovery fraud? What makes me special enough to tell my story? What if I throw up all over the tuba while speaking à la Mia Thermopolis? Cover the tuba!

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Thankfully, there was no tuba in the audience. Although I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little nauseous, because at that time, giving personal witness to something like mental illness was not a super trendy thing to do. This is not to say people these days are taking numbers to do so, but we have come a long way. At that point, I didn’t know anyone speaking openly about his or her recovery, so there really wasn’t any sort of beaten path or manual of how, or why, or why not to tell one’s story. It seemed like a matter of right and wrong, and because I felt so ashamed I initially thought it was the wrong decision. So getting on stage that evening and speaking to hundreds of people about something that felt so personal and raw was undeniably one of the single most terrifying moments of my life. And you know what? I don’t regret it – nope, not for a second. Those terrifying moments came and went, but they wound up entirely transforming my life.

A year or so later, I was presented with the opportunity to be profiled for my advocacy work on Teen Vogue. I nearly chickened out because I was so afraid of what people would think of me. But then I thought, So what? If by sacrificing my preference for privacy I could potentially help someone else, it was worth it to me. In her book Carry On, Warrior, author Glennon Doyle Melton, who is a favorite of mine, said, “I’ve never made a friend by bragging about my strengths, but I’ve made countless by sharing my weakness and my emptiness.” And this, right here, is why I have made the choice to continue to share, mentor, and speak aka go beyond my comfort zone. Because in a digital and often broken world, there is nothing better than real human connection with people who get it.

Glennon, who also speaks openly about her own recovery from an eating disorder, goes on to say [of her decision to disclose], “I don’t want to take anything to the grave. I want to die used up and emptied out. I don’t want to carry around anything that I don’t have to. I want to travel light.”

Writing and speaking about my experiences certainly helps me stay committed to my own recovery process, sure. But that’s really just a bonus. Because as I am getting older I am realizing how much my body is merely a vehicle for my heart and soul, and for doing things that can make a difference. Not to get all touchy-feely, but it’s true. In being vulnerable, we give others permission to do the same.

Occasionally, I think about how my life might have gone on to be easier, simpler, and considerably less awkward had I remained in my cozy little hermit crab shell and stayed mum about the whole experience. I certainly had the right to do so. But as I have grown up, I have come to realize that at the end of my lifetime, like Glennon, I want to be completely used up and rung dry in the most positive of ways.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric illnesses and up to 20 percent will die. I don’t know if I will ever have the capacity to really grasp just how fortunate I am to have escaped those bleak statistics, but what I do know is that I want to spend the rest of my life paying it forward.

Between my senior year of college and now, perhaps I’ve been mocked, but I try not to let those bad seeds plant negativity up in here. I’ve lost false friends, sure, although I try to look at it in such a way that time, instead, has revealed my true friends and united me with the ‘right’ people. The job market can suck, but it has also sucked just as much for my non-eating disordered peers. I have relapsed, and of course, that’s discouraging and messy and can feel like a failure in more ways than one. But ultimately, over the years, I have learned that like it or not, nobody is perfect, and one’s acknowledgment of this very human flaw we all have in common is precisely what qualifies a person to tell his or her story. What makes us “special enough” to do so is everything and nothing; what matters is only our bravery in starting a conversation that matters.

Christina Grasso is a writer, activist, and social media consultant.  In addition to her work in fashion and beauty, she serves on Project HEAL’s Advisory Board and founded its New York City chapter in 2012.  She lives in Manhattan.

Holding Onto Hope

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This post is written by co-blog manager Emily Costa. Check out her new site bodylovebabes.com

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Today, exactly 365 days ago I sat in residential treatment for the eating disorder I had struggled with for years for the last time. After 3 and a half months of treatment, I was finally ready to leave the secure and safe walls of the place that made me me again. The place where I was given a second chance. The place where I was given back the hope, love and strength to live my life for the first time.

Those 3 and a half months were the hardest thing I had ever gone through. See, there is no escaping yourself in treatment. You are given this very rare opportunity to face yourself every second of every day by being vulnerable and letting your guard down.

This place changed my life. Correction, it helped me change my life.

But I didn’t know this would happen when I first arrived. I felt hopeless when I arrived. My mind was convinced simultaneously that 1) I didn’t have a problem and 2) I wasn’t worth this chance at recovery.

My first day of treatment I wrote this in my journal: “I feel as if I forgot how to be me in the most pure and natural way – or maybe I never even learned how to be me in the simplest form. I am holding onto the small bit of hope I have that things will get better”

And thank god I held onto that hope. That hope pushed me and grew wildly dat by day that I could do this, I could get better.

There were moments in those first few days where I sat and swore to my team I was going to pack my bags to return home.

Yet I stayed. I fought. All because of that small ounce of hope and I became Emily again.

Those days I spent there were the days I chose me again. Those were the days I let go of the chaos and comfort of my eating disorder to live in freedom. Those were the days I learned to use my voice again. Those were the days I learned that my eating disorder and struggles do not define me. Those were the days I realized I am worthy of life and recovery. Those were the days I allowed strangers to become my support system and aid me back to health and strength. Those were the days I realized I am MORE than my body.

Today, I sit in gratitude for that time and chance I got last year that gave me my life back.

Recovery is such a beautiful, difficult and amazing process and because of that I wouldn’t change my path for anything else. It is weird to be grateful for a disease that has made my life challenging – but I am. It has made me who I am, a strong girl who wants to share her truth with the world.

Hold onto the hope you have, no matter how small. Because things do get better.

Today I am proud for all the wisdom I’ve gained and the ability to live in my own truth.

xo, Emily

Ally in Recovery: A Boyfriend’s Perspective

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This post is written by guest blogger Stephen Hitt

heart sand project healI’ll never forget the day my girlfriend opened up to me about her struggle with Bulimia. I thought I knew her pretty well. On the outside, she was always outgoing, confident, and funny. Although she would never like to talk about it, I understood that deep down she struggled with anxiety and insecurity. I knew all these things, and yet, her admission shocked me. I kept my composure as she explained that she had won a treatment grant, and was finally going to get help fighting a disorder that had controlled her life for as long as she could remember. She had been ashamed to talk about it for so long, and didn’t even believe there was hope for her anymore.

I never told her, but when I was finally at home that night, alone in my room, I began to sob uncontrollably. I couldn’t believe that the person I loved the most had been destroying her own body and spirit. It broke my heart; all I could think was “How can I make you see what I see in you? How can I make you understand how loved you are?”

At the same time, I felt terrified and alone. Even before she began treatment, I was under no illusion that it would a quick cure-all. Once she decided to take action against ED, there would be no going back. She would be struggling, and I would be a part of her fight.

She used to worry that she was too much for me to handle, and that pretty soon I would get tired of being with someone who had “issues.” She was never a burden to me. I was scared only because I felt like I could do nothing to help her. She was fighting her own mind, dealing with triggers I didn’t understand, and holding to beliefs about herself that I could never change. In the past year, I’ve made many mistakes trying to help her. I want to say or do anything to stop her from engaging in eating disorder. I’m never angry at her. I’m furious at a disorder that takes her joy, lies to her about who she is, and doesn’t allow her to love herself the way she deserves.

By now I’ve learned a lot about what it means to support someone who is struggling with an eating disorder. It isn’t hard to love her. I loved her before I knew about her ED, and I love her just as much now. The difficulty comes in knowing how to love. In any healthy relationship, we share in both the triumphs and failures of our partner. When they fall, we are there with them, helping them to get back up on their feet. A guy or girl who suffers from an eating disorder is stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of guilt and shame. When my girlfriend is struggling, I can’t help but feel like I must motivate her to change the outward behavior. I want to say “You can’t do this to your body. You ought to take better care of yourself. You are hurting yourself.” But this is more hurtful than helpful to her. Even though it’s motivated by love, it adds an enormous amount of guilt and shame, along with pressure to avoid disappointment. These feelings only feed ED, and keep her from feeling free to be open about her struggle.

Instead of telling her what she ought to do, I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is see myself as her ally in recovery. I encourage her to be open about her struggle. I remind her that I love her, and regardless of how well she is doing with ED, I’m not going to leave her to fight alone. I tell her how proud I am of how far she’s come, and remind her that I believe in her recovery today, even if she doesn’t. We do talk about the logistics too, but I make sure she knows that I’m only asking to help, and I understand how hard it is to struggle with the disorder. When she makes a mistake, we talk about what she did well during the day, and what she thinks she’ll do differently tomorrow to facilitate recovery better. Lately, the only thing I pester her about is staying open and communicating where she is with her recovery.

As much as we care about the person we love, we can never change them. We can only stand by as an ally and a resource, loving and supporting as best we can. Recovery is ongoing. There’s no quick fix, no easy solution, no over-the-counter remedy. But there is hope for change, and the best thing we can do is remind the person we love that we are proud of how far they’ve come and that we believe in their recovery even when they don’t believe in themselves.

The Importance of Self-Care

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This post is written by Emily Costa, Project HEAL’s Blog Managerwhat do you do self care

While in recovery we constantly hear the term ‘self care’ and how important it is to apply it to our lives to be our healthiest selves. I’ll be honest; upon arriving to treatment I was skeptical at this idea. In my head I looked at my treatment team and swore up and down that nothing would replace my eating disorder. Because in my head, my eating disorder was self care.

It took a while for me to settle into reality. My eating disorder was not something that took care of me; it was destroying me emotionally and physically. The problem was, in those moments I relied on my eating disorder I was often in such a state of distress it felt like that was the answer to my problems. I had fallen into the habit of self-medicating myself with negative behaviors, and it was going to take time for me to learn what self-care really meant.

Not until recently did I realize the importance of self-care. I think when beginning the journey to self-care its important to recognize that it won’t look the same for everyone. Not everyone is going to do yoga or be able to immediately quit the things we hate doing. But we make adjustments, we make our lives worth living and it’s a process that takes time.

Some ways I’m practicing self-care is putting my recovery first. I cut down on the hours I’m interning and the amount of classes I’m taking this semester. Focusing on myself is an important step in learning to live a healthy balanced life. I try to practice self-care everyday. Whether its taking a walk in Central Park, taking one of my favorite yoga classes or doing my gratitude list – I try my hardest to set time aside for me. I try to take a break from my cell phone and spend time with the ones I love or take the time to write in my journal.

Just like making progress in recovery, learning self-care can be new and scary territory. But over time it may just become your favorite part of the day! Now it’s time for you to share your favorite self-care activity. Leave us a comment below or post a picture on Instagram doing your favorite activity using the caption Self Care and #WhatDoYouDo

The Road To Recovery

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I thought I would blog about relapsing this week, as the word relapse has a negative connotation. Those in recovery often feel like relapses are the end of the world. That all the hard work put into recovery has gone to waste. And you’re back at square one.

As someone in recovery I know this feeling all too well. Here’s the thing, relapses happen. And yes, as cliche as it sounds they are most definitely part of the process. It’s taken a long time for me to realize that a relapse means little in the time it takes to heal.

You are fighting for your life, literally; and there are bound to be ups and downs. It helps to look at recovery like a road map. You start in the middle of nowhere, traveling to get somewhere new. You’ve heard the saying, nothing is worse than being stuck where you don’t belong. You realize you are worth more than an eating disorder and pick up a map to find a new destination.

Although it’s a major detour, it’s exactly what you need – a new start down a new path. You come to a one way road and realize the only place to go is forward. You allow yourself to have setbacks and some road blocks but you continue to find your way. Eventually, after all the road blocks the road finally turns the right way and you make your final destination, recovery.

See, there’s no reason to fear those road blocks. No reason to be scared of a minor detour. Eventually you’ll end up where you belong. Keep driving.

#WordsOfWisdomWednesday: Trophy

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This post is written by guest writer, Rebecca Leung:

image1-3To be seen, I could scream,

I could wish this whole thing was a dream.
Because self esteem, it is limited,
Eyes on me should be inhibited.

My image was once my trophy I mourn the loss, it is lonely

It is lonely because without a trophy, I am without identity.

A trophy is tangible, something I hold on to
Without it I am floating, no safety net, I fall through

Wait. 

Only now I am with identity, its growing as we speak. I am seen.

But in a way that doesn’t demean my attributes that used to be so weak
And I’ll speak.
I’ll speak because I am now strong
I don’t need a trophy to feel that I belong

Life is no longer spent merely existing
I’ll approach it roaring like lions are strong and persistent
Everyday a new challenge, give it no break
I’ll never give up and thats what it’ll
Take it in stride, grace and maturity
I am now open to share insecurities
Theres purity now to the words that I speak
Because I value honesty and honestly validation is still what I seek
So when Im called talented I am filled with pride
But it is twisted, pride surely subsides
Its connection I’ve found that truly makes me sing
The friendships I’ve made let’s me know that I am something

I’ll throw away my trophy, figured out it was cheap metal
We are worth more than an image, golden is where we should settle
So look at me world, I won’t be ashamed
Because I’m badass, I’m killin it I’m taking back the reigns.