What I do, Not who I am

Do you remember that old anxiety provoking game of “Perfection”?

Where you were given a time limit to put various shapes in their respective slots before the board buzzed and the pieces you managed to meticulously put in place were then shot into the air and back in your face.

Somehow this “game” feels like the perfect metaphor of my childhood.

Being busy and doing “stuff”, was always regarded as “good”. If mom was vacuuming we were expected to get up and do something as well. It was hectic, and typically felt like we were walking on egg shells. The anxiety and panic my mom could set off, similar to that timer of the game.

Still to this day, when my sister calls me because my mother is stressing out and off in one of her whirlwinds, I just tell her, “Stay out of mom’s way. She will freak out and yell at you if she sees you, so go hide downstairs, or at least stay out of her sight.”

When my parents were gone, I would sometimes arrive home to a list of things to be done:

Vacuum

Empty the dishwasher

Clean the cat box

Fold the laundry

Feed the dog

It was a race against time to get all the tasks done before they arrived home, and god forbid I forgot something on the list.

I was “lazy”, “selfish”, I did things “half-ass”.

I was constantly bombarded with the pursuit of what was “good enough” and because of that became very driven and goal oriented. I found my identity in what I accomplished and how well I accomplished said tasks. My worth was knit tightly with my productivity.

In elementary school these goals and fixation on my productivity started off small, making the honor roll, getting a lead in a play. Later, these became the idea that I had to do it all, and do it with excellence. I’m not sure my story could become more cliché, but if I made a 95 on a test I was congratulated and reprimanded in the same breath, “Well, what about a 100?” “Were there no extra credit points?”.

Somewhere in the mix, I was doing sports in middle school, and staying busy with student government, the school paper and science fairs; dodging the school receptionist and my math teacher because between the two of them they weren’t sure if they had ever seen me eat.

Learning about Eating Disorders in my health class, as if I hadn’t already stumbled across that tucked somewhere in between my mom’s comments about my body, my parents’ drunken fights and taking care of my two little sibs before I could even drive.

For as long as I can remember I stayed busy in school, especially in high school. I would go into school early for a National Honor Society meeting, or a Student Government meeting. I would stay late for practice, or tutoring classmates, then head off to work where I would stay, by myself, until about 11 – if I didn’t have to call the cops because of a hostile customer. While other high schoolers may have been sneaking alcohol and cigarettes, I could tell you the price difference between Marlboro and Pall Malls, and the total the packs would come to, including tax. If I skipped class it was to go back to the weight room and work out, my music kept me preoccupied, I didn’t have to think. I could immerse myself in music and not have to worry about later.

Did I stay so busy because I didn’t want to go home where my parents were probably drunk and screaming at each other, or was it for another reason?

Did I want to be prideful about how I could juggle everything at a young age and still succeed at school?

Maybe – regardless, self-esteem and worth held hands with grades and productivity as they skipped through the freshly mopped aisles of the gas station I worked at.

No matter what I did, I was blamed for the bad, and my mom took credit for the good.

Full ride scholarship to college? Oh, my mom just raised a smart, mature daughter.

Marriage falling apart? I’m the trouble making selfish child.

Softball award? Well, it’s a good thing mom went to all of those games… or, ehhh, one, that one time.

I did anything I could to get my mom to like me. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong, or why nothing was good enough. Voted most unforgettable, holding a job, participating in sports, scholarship, live in babysitter. I didn’t understand why nothing I did seemed to be right, or enough.

I figured if it wasn’t my productivity and accomplishments that weren’t good enough, maybe it was just me.

Maybe I was just “too fat”.

My mom, on a good day, soaking wet, is probably 100 lbs.

I did sports, but I began to run.

And run.

Weight came off, I was still staying busy, and it was another way that hopefully my mom would like me.

It was more or less my commitment, I would run in the rain, in the snow, it didn’t matter if it was 9 degrees or 90.

People noticed, they commented on the weight, or how frequently they would see me run.

Mom disregarded it all together, by that point I was no longer living with them, but still lived in fear of her, and wanted so badly to be loved and appreciated by her.

If I didn’t run what I deemed to be far enough, it was twisted as something I could have and should have done better. I considered it a lack of trying, or being lazy, not necessarily listening to my body and what it needed. Skipping a day of running was a lack of productivity, leading to the ever spinning cycle of “fat”, “lazy”, “selfish”. It wasn’t like a tape you see, because tapes have to be stopped and rewound to get back to the beginning. This was an endless loop of judgement based on my actions.

Why I still cling to running is still cloudy to me. Could be because it is something I can still be prideful in, or that is looked at through the disordered glasses of the diet culture as something to be praised.

Sometimes I’m not really sure who I am. It feels more or less like a list of what I do.

I go to work, I take care of my dog, I run and workout.

Who I am seems more uncomfortable.

I am a biochemist, a dog mom, a runner.

The first and last still seem to be closely tied with what I accomplish and how productive I am, not necessarily WHO I am.

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I Have A Special Secret

You, yeah you reading this.

I hope you are sitting down for what I am about to tell you, but not driving, that’s an entirely different sitting. I mean, I guess you could stand, but be careful walking and reading. What if you bump into someone and that person is having a bad day and picks a fight, and you are all, “Yo, I’m really sorry! I was reading this girl’s blog and bumped into you.” Then that person asks what blog (which could really work to my advantage).

Anyway, you, you reading this. Whether you are standing, sitting (not driving), kneeling, laying down, squatting or jogging, I have some news for you.

You are not special.

There, I said it.

Much like that person you bumped into while reading this, you may be ready to pick a fight.

The truth of the matter is, you are not special. Whether the person who told you this was a mom, dad, brother, sister, grandparent, (pssssttt, that isn’t true).

You aren’t the only one who:

                                Dyed their hair a crazy color

Got a tattoo in a weird place

Speaks a foreign language

Likes food others find repulsive

Now, I know we all want to think that we, as an individual, are special. Not sounding haughty of ourselves, but just “individual enough” to stick out. This could actually serve as a barrier between us and others, us and building relationships, us and our worthiness.

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If we believe we are special, then we are also different and unique; meaning we may interpret that as not being relatable. I could be out in left field somewhere, but by also having that mentality, it can also be thought of that you are the exception to the rule or are somehow undeserving.

You aren’t the only one who:

                                Has divorced parent

Are divorced

Struggles with a mental illness

Struggles with self-harm

Had an abusive childhood

Deals with alcoholism/drugs/addiction

But by believing you are somehow special or unique, you separate yourself from others, believing you are somehow different than everyone around you.

This mentality is a huge factor, I believe, in being open and vulnerable.  If we are unable to discuss our struggles and shortcomings, it makes it that much more taboo when someone finally does open up. We are able to see that “I’m not the only one struggling with _________.” Yet, if we all walk around stoic, others may believe they are the only ones and find it more difficult, maybe even impossible, to open up if they feel like the people around them can’t relate.

I found this to be true during the support group I attend. If we keep the conversation shallow, I leave feeling unfulfilled and like it was a waste. Yet, in front of four new people I talked openly about my urge to self-harm and purge. Realizing that more people can relate than they initially acted. One lady in particular, was quite, until I mentioned my struggle; she opened up about how she copes and what works for her. It was great to see strangers who were able to come together over one very taboo struggle and talk openly, because I know, I am not the only one.

 

Trust the Process!

XOXOXOXO

My Motto Growing Up Was, “Never Let Them See You Cry.”

                                “I think you grow up feeling shame about the stuff your parents didn’t allow you to talk about when you were little. So anything that a parent  makes ‘off-limits’ – that’s the shit that’s going to make you crazy when you get older. If you want your kids to be normal, let them talk about everything, then they won’t have any shame around it; then it’s just not a big deal anymore. If you grew up with a lot of ‘off-limit’ things, you have to ask people and figure it all out. The more you know, the more you realize you’re not the only one.”  -Brene Brown “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)”

                What if I was to tell you that I have read this paragraph at least a dozen times, and each time I do, the truth just rings even clearer.

I don’t think Dr. Brown could have written something any closer to the truth. Some families avoid controversial topics such as drugs, sex, rock n’ roll religion, politics, alcohol, body image. Making it very awkward to talk about later in life, or even confusion in their own opinions and beliefs on the subject.

What if though, “the stuff your parents didn’t allow you to talk about when you were little” was basically everything? I’m not saying this in a hyperbolic way either.

For as long as I can remember, I cannot recall a time where my mother and I sat down and had a serious conversation, of any sort. Granted, she talked AT me, and barked orders. My opinions were her opinions, not being allowed to have any idea or opinion that differed from hers (this was considered selfish, ungrateful, talking back). If we were sitting down to “talk” it was full of shame, belittlement, and ended with punishment.

I was not a sheltered kid, in any way, but I do firmly believe my mom was so wrapped up in her world, that I was neglected normal everyday advice and conversations someone usually has with their child. We never had the sex talk, ever, I learned it from the back of the bus. Every topic had shame around it. Mom called me a slut in high school when I asked if I could go to a football game with friends. Sex Ed was one of the most unnerving experiences of my life, once again, not sheltered, but I was appalled that people spoke so openly about sex. My perception of sex was one based solely on control. After angry drunken fights at all hours of the night, loud obnoxious make up sex was next on the list. This became perfunctory in my little head. People didn’t do that because they loved each other, they did it at the end of a fight. The constant “I love you, I hate you” routine in my life was extremely confusing to me.

Another huge one for me was emotions. I very distinctly remember one circumstance in particular. I was sitting on a railing, my foot got stuck between the bars. As I jerked my foot free I fell forward and bashed my nose on the edge of a bench. Immediately, my mother can running over, yelling at me for being so careless and for not listening. This was typical, as was “stop crying before I give you something to cry about”. I was not allowed to cry, I had no right to be angry.

 If I was proud of an accomplishment, I was either selfish, or I was instructed promptly how it had been done “half-ass”. Feelings were regarded as weak, and unable to control yourself, I would be spanked or punished, and still expected to hold it together. Some people hear the saying, “Never let them see you sweat.” My motto growing up was, “Never let them see you cry.”

It just became so much easier to not say anything at all, then to say or do something that would later on be held over your head or used against you. I made sure to never need anything and tried my best to hide. “Fine” was an emotion. That was the deepest it had gone in years. “You look upset.” “No, I’m fine.” It was practically my name and identity. It wasn’t until treatment that I began to learn feelings, much like a kid in pre school.

 

 

My Faith mixed with the Food and Fear

It’s a question I have been asked several times, but I’ve never actually stopped to dig deeply and dissect the answer.

The question may differ slightly,

“How did I get into Christianity?”

“Why did I choose to stay involved?”

“Have you always been a Christian?”

but the answer inevitably brings me back to a certain time in my life.

I can vividly remember being somewhere around 6 years old. I remember our apartment, the glass table, the beanie babies piled high, the kitchen bar, the stained bathroom floor from when I spilled red nail polish. I never remember church. I remember the park, my neighbor upstairs, my cat, the statue of the panther in the living room. I never remember praying.

Around 7 years old I was dragged along with mom who moved to North Carolina with some strange man who would later become my stepfather. I remember my bus stop, my dog, my teacher. Still no church or praying.

In 2000 my brother was born. At some point, unsure of exactly when that was, it was decided among my parental units that my brother, in order to keep him from being damned to hell for reasons I was unsure of at the time, was going to be baptized/saved/christened. I guess by default, I was volun-told that I was to participate in such religious ritual as well. I remember the smell of vegetable oil on my forehead and how I was sickened that I had some greasy oily stuff smeared on my face by a stranger. Up until that point that was the most religious experience of my life.

In 2004 my sister came into the picture. Somewhere between moving and the birth of my sister we began to make an appearance to a church. We stood up, knelt, sat, knelt, it felt like a bad version of Simon says. I watched as my parents introduced me to people that could be my grandparents. We showed up, smiled, and left. One Sunday morning I was getting ready for the perfunctory routine, I had decided to put on mascara and was instantly ridiculed by my step dad.

This is also when their religion seemed to be found more frequently at the bottom of a bottle than in a church pew.

Being under 13, I remember one night, after they had been praising the bottle again. A fight broke out. I gestured to my brother to go to our room and that I’d be right there. I grabbed my sister from her high chair and was going to take her with me to our room. Immediately, I was spun around by a slurred patron saint of the bottle. “You don’t EVER take my child away from me!” With that, my sister was ripped from my arms.

Another move, and another sibling later, I was in middle school. My parent’s religious worshiping of the bottle increased as did my self-hatred. I wasn’t allowed to speak up, have an opinion that was different from my mom’s, or stick up for myself. I turned all the feelings inward. Turning to self-harming, purging, anything. I was already hurting with all of the screaming and fights, which I was convinced was my fault anyways, so it made sense to punish myself, and simultaneously release some of the built up angst. I was blamed for why my parent’s argued. This logic made sense in my world since I had introduced the two of them by accident. I wasn’t sure if they hated me because of it, and if only I was thinner, better behaved, made better grades, maybe they wouldn’t hate me and their marriage would get strengthen.

Eating less, cutting more, purging when I could.

I had the opportunity to go to Ireland on a student program. I was threatened by one of the leaders that if I didn’t start eating I would be sent home.

A family friend invited us to church with them. We reluctantly began to go. I had learned from my past experience with church that it was time to put on my nice clothes, put on a smile and pretend everything was amazingly awesome in my picture perfect world.

Behind closed doors my family threw stuff, screamed, hated each other. My mother would wake me up at all hours to clean my room, clean the kitchen, whatever. Digging her nails into my arm and screaming, as my brother cried from behind her, “Don’t hit her mom!” My parent’s would scream and fight until the church door. With that, the name calling was suddenly, “Oh sweetie, I love you.”, “I love you too honey.” With controlling displays of affection to show to the church how great our family actually was.

I began to question what I was told about God, and even the very existence of God.

“God doesn’t love me, if he did why would he allow this?” I would question.

My own mother would push me against walls, dig her nails into me, and throw stuff at me. The next morning she would say “I love you, have a great day at school.”

I doubted the very word of “love” and it took years for me to be able to tell her I loved her back.

I continued to put on a happy face when we went to church, and was criticized by my parent’s when I wanted to go to church on Wednesdays for youth group, being asked, “Don’t you have anything else you could do besides go to church?”

I went into High School, from moving so much I knew almost everyone in my class. I told myself I would never drink or smoke weed, I didn’t want to be anything like my parents. I began to drink, and would smoke during the off season of sports.

I don’t remember a lot during this time. I went to school, did sports, was on student government, had a job, didn’t eat. Did anything I could to not go home.

Being told that what happens in this house, stays in this house.

My math teacher is the reason I actually became involved and plugged in. During Senior year I moved in with my pastor and his wife. Being told once again that I am the reason their marriage is so rocky, so if I moved out for a while…..

I changed my number, paid my own bills, went to church. Pastor and his wife actually gave me curfew, and I was thrilled someone actually cared about me and where I was. I was diving deep into Christianity, my devotional, and church in a way I hadn’t. We talked, like a family, prayed, like a family, went on trips. There was no yelling, and I realized what I had lived in wasn’t normal.

My parents left the church, I was eventually forced to move back home, and continued to stay at that church for as long as I could, refusing to ever go to church with my parents again.

My math teacher would pray for me and with me. I had convinced myself that if I don’t talk about what’s going on at home, then it’s like it doesn’t happen. After the cops were called, I began to open up to my teacher who invited me to her house, prayed with me, shared books and articles with me, and invited me to Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She spoke of her mistakes, I told her about mine, but it was never from a criticizing or demeaning place, but one of hope and love.

After graduation, I moved out, again. Found a church which I attended regularly, as well as a girls college bible study that my teacher led up. It was a safe environment. Learning about mistakes, love, forgiveness for not only ourselves, but others. There was something peaceful about the entire thing, a sense of belonging and security. How faithful God is and all He has in store for us and our future.

During all of this, my self-harming would come and go, and I was consistently struggling with my Eating Disorder. I was told by several people, that someone must have been looking out for me.

Deep in my eating disorder I would eat under 100 calories a day, and was running and lifting. I was taking diet pills, laxatives, and going to the gym. I have sustained injuries because of it, but when I look back, it is crazy to me that nothing severe happened. There is no reason that I shouldn’t have collapsed during a run, or seriously damaged my body.

I can only think that God has something in store for me, for keeping me around.

I continue in my faith for many reasons. It is one step further away from becoming my parents, every person I admire and look to are strong in their faith, and just the pure honesty that is spoken and how I feel after digging into my devotional.

Trust the Process!!!

Self-Empathy & Compassion

Self-empathy, to me, I feel like this is a brand new topic. One read about in fictional tales, along with princesses with flowing locks of hair and birds that make my bed for me.

In Brene Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), she goes on to explain the difference between empathy and sympathy. I’m very guilty of using these words interchangeably for years, but now having such a better understanding of the words. I want someone to empathize with me, but don’t want their sympathy. Brenė puts it,

“When they talked about their ability to overcome shame, they clearly pointed to empathy: sharing their feelings with someone who would understand and relate to what they were saying. Conversely, women used words like hate, despise, and can’t stand to describe their feelings about sympathy seeking- looking for sympathy or being asked for sympathy.”

Empathy, is looking for acceptance, and understanding that we are not alone in our experiences.

It has been argued you cannot give what you don’t have, this also including love and empathy, but I respectfully disagree. It is so much easier to give others empathy and the benefit of the doubt. I questioned daily why I was much more able to cut others slack, or be more understanding of others, why I was so hard on myself, and I believe this is a lack of self-compassion as well as empathy towards myself.

I fully believe that everyone has something in their life they are dealing with. Whether it be a sick family member, mental illness, recent death, financial issues, whatever it is, so I attempt to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. That is it though, right there. I don’t know everybody’s story, as much as I love hearing peoples’ stories and hearing how far they’ve come. What if I did though? Honestly, I might be more empathic and compassionate towards them, realizing what they are dealing with on a daily basis. Why is that any different than myself?

I know my story, I know what I have been through. I may not think it is “All that bad” but I know there are people out there who believe I am “brave” “strong” “courageous”. It is the shame of believing the lies I have been fed for years, and internally believing that I am not deserving or worthy. I am much more empathetic and compassionate to those I don’t know their story, than myself.

Seeing Myself In A Student

It is so difficult to compliment myself, brag on myself, or even see myself in a worthy light. My homework from my therapist this week was to “build a court case” against the lies I’ve been fed for so many years.

This is so hard for me, it is not like me to talk about what I have done or accomplished, because I just find that selfish and conceited.

My last post was about owning your story, but at the same time, owning it, doesn’t mean owning the lies you have been told your entire life. That is completely different. In an attempt to placate my therapist, I sat down the night before, and did the assignment she had given me last week. I didn’t put too much thought into it, because that would have been stressful and scary (which I know is kind of the point, to push me out of my comfort zone.)

Well, yesterday, I decided I wouldn’t wait last minute. I got home from my appointment, sat down and began to really think about the assignment and how difficult it would be. To not do it would be giving into the lies, rather than fighting them, but to do the homework meant dealing with the lies and trying to combat them with bragging on myself.

 

So, as I sat there, staring at the paper, it really hit me that this assignment was going to suck.

I began to think of my kids when I worked at a school, and one girl in particular who came to my mind and heart. I missed her, she had a very difficult home life, was hands down, one of my favorites, a heart of gold, and sassy as all get out (A girl after her own teacher’s heart).

So I started the assignment with, “What Would I Tell Alisha?”

  • You have been through so much, and are so strong.
  • Stay loud and loving.
  • Be there for your brother, you guys will be close.
  • You can’t control your parents.
  • None of that was your fault.
  • You are so loved.
  • It is ok to ask for a hug.
  • Be honest.

This is the girl, who was one of the smallest in her grade, yet, with a older brother, she would be out on the basketball court showing all the guys how to shoot. She was loud, sassy, played like one of the guys, but has a heart of gold.

Every day she would come running down the hallway, yelling my name and run into my arms. I was one of the select few who she came to for hugs and compassion, she didn’t want to lead on that she too, was tough, but needed love.

 

The day she came to school with stitches above her eye and scraped up, my heart sunk. The more I found out about her home life, the more I wanted to pick her up and take her home with me. No wonder she was tough and snarky, but I loved her just the same.

 

Reading the list that I would tell one of my students, but at the same time, me, not wanting or asking for help.

Worth & Deserving

For the absolute longest time, I was certain that I was unworthy and undeserving- of many things:

  • Relationships
  • Recovery
  • Love
  • Compliments

I believed I was the exception, that serious complications from an eating disorder happened to others, not to me. That others deserved recovery, not me.

 

Being consumed with my inner critic and eating disorder, I fully believed that my worth was based solely on my actions and others’ opinions of me. Yet, it was always unfairly graded and weighed.

Positive that the pleasant compliments were only said to be polite, and maybe even out of pity, they held no truth to them. Yet, when someone was critical or demeaning, I held those comments as gospel and put my worth in my imperfections and short comings.

 

By listening to my inner critic and falling for the lie of being unworthy and undeserving, I was practically saying that I held no worth in who I am.

I would never say this to another person, but yet I found it acceptable to refer to myself as this.

It has taken many, many years, but I am not the exception.

Just like how my body won’t survive on carrot sticks because I want it to.

My worth isn’t based on my short comings because I think that is all I deserve.

 

In a society that thrives on perfection and believes asking for help is a weakness, we become fake to those around us.

It has become taboo to talk about struggles, we portray only the very best side of our life, feeding into the belief that we can’t measure up.

I am a huge advocate for sharing our stories. It is so easy to get caught up with our faults and mistakes and make our identity in them, but yet, I want to hear who you are.

I don’t care about the weather, your car or your job. We ALL have SOMETHING and I want to hear it. What you’ve been through, how far you’ve come, what you learned, and how it made you, you.

So instead of only showing the best side of yourself – be real.

Own your story, it is yours to tell and nobody has the power or authority to belittle it for how far you have come.

Be unapologetically you.

You are worthy of it.

I am worthy of it.

We deserve so much more.

Flaws

You are not your flaws or your short-comings.

You are not defined by what you lack, or how you do not measure up.

Neither is your body.

Your body is not its flaws.

Fat

Scars

Stretchmarks

You, and your body, are not defined by your flaws.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

What is the purpose of mirrors? Why do people choose to obsess over their reflection?

Personally, I don’t think there is anything positive to come from staring at yourself in the mirror.

I could be wrong, and you might think I am totally off course, but, I believe the sole purpose of mirrors is to nit-pick at our flaws.

We know what we look like, and when it comes down to it, we really aren’t all that interesting to stare at either. So why are we so focused on mirrors and what we look like?

Even looking in a mirror to do your makeup or hair, we do it because we are unsatisfied with how we look. Mirrors serve absolutely no purpose. We stare at them to pick at our face because of break outs. We body check in them to see if we have drastically changed in the past ten minutes. We use mirrors so we can focus in on our insecurities and what we consider our short comings.

So, put away the mirror, focus on how you feel, and not so much how you look.

Who, Not What, Are You.

Who are you?

If someone was to ask you who you were what would you say?

Would you identify yourself with your flaws?

Would you identify yourself with the size pants you wear?

“I am _______.”

How would you fill that?

The world has told us to fit molds, stereotypes and to hold certain expectations.

As if your importance and worth in the world is somehow based on how you look; and God forbid we are open about our struggles and flaws, which could somehow make us less human or less worthy.

Who you are is not:

                What you do.

                A label set by others.

                A diagnosis.

                Mistakes you made.

Why would I accept a label set on me by others?

                I don’t walk up to someone and say, “Hi, I am a recovering anorexic.”

“Hello, I am anxious.”

                                “Good afternoon, I am depressed.”

Honestly, to me, this doesn’t sound bad. It would be more real. People may stop hiding behind the taboo shame that comes with these labels.

But, these labels, regardless of what they are, are not WHO we are.

I’m gonna say that again for the people in the back….

                Regardless of what these labels are, THEY ARE NOT WHO WE ARE.