“We are not our bodies. We are our spirits and souls that happen to be housed inside a physical presence. Our bodies are unique
because we, our souls, are unique. And not only is that OK, it’s essential”
-Embody by Connie Sobczak
Written by: Kelly Maughan
I had a completely different post written out for this, but felt inspired today when I recognized a recurring lesson being shown to me; being able to handle emotions. Part of me wants to make these really educational posts about eating disorders, but I also want to share my thoughts, my struggles, and my journey, because then at least there is potential that it might help someone else, and it’s also helping others to understand. I’ve found myself recently somewhere between relapse and recovery. Some days wanting one and not the other, some days wanting both, most days I don’t know WHAT I want. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do, is just identifying the emotion I’m feeling, sitting with it, and knowing that I can handle anything that comes my way. Not only that, but trusting that others can also handle their emotions. On one hand, having an eating disorder will ultimately leave you void of emotion, and convince you that you can’t handle your feelings. On the other hand, if I’ve learned anything in the last year and a half, it’s that I have learned to find comfort in the uncomfortable. Somewhere in the process of my move last year, I got caught up again in my eating disorder. There was so much uncertainty, unknowns, unexpected stressors- I immediately went back to what felt comfortable. Pair that with a pretty intense relationship and breakup, and I was headed straight into the danger zone. There was so much anxiety, pressure, hurt…it was paralyzing some days and I didn’t know how to move. I could think myself into a hole so deep in so little time. It’s hard to comprehend the power of the mind. I can’t stress enough that eating disorders are a mental illness- having a sick body is only a symptom of the illness. The illness itself, is in your head.
This morning, I went to my first yoga class in a couple of months. I was really nervous- yoga was something I used to really love, and I was good at it. But in the mind of my eating disorder, a hot yoga class (or any exercise for that matter) meant I could burn off those 300 calories I let myself have today, and then some. It was a way to sweat out every bit of hydration from my body so I know that when I go home to weigh myself, it’ll be less than it was before. It was a test to see just how far I can push myself without fainting. It was for everyone around me to think I was doing healthy things for my mind and body. It certainly wasn’t to be present, or do something that made me feel good. So when I went today, I wasn’t sure how I would feel. I went to a studio I had never been to before, which also always makes me nervous. I walked into the studio, and there were mirrors on the entire wall in the front of the room- like a dance studio. Faaaantastic. That’s great. I tackled the class, but found myself closing my eyes for a lot of it just to avoid looking in the mirror. The first 20 minutes of class I spent fidgeting with my shirt, in between vinyasas, wishing I wouldn’t have worn such a tight tank top. Completely uncomfortable, completely NOT present. It was the perfect class for me to ease back into yoga- it was the perfect amount of challenge, but not so much that I had to stop. At one point during class, we were in chair pose, with the intention of holding it for a while. With your arms above your head, and your knees bent, your legs are shaking, and the instructor is walking around talking peacefully about handling conflict in life. How your feelings won’t kill you- you just have to feel them, hold space for them, acknowledge them. Pain is just pain, it doesn’t mean you’re in danger. You’re safe, and all you have to do is keep breathing. At this point, everyone is breathing deeply, trying to stay with the discomfort. I, for whatever reason, decided to open my eyes during that moment, and watched myself hold the pose. The first thing I noticed was my rib cage, and not because I was happy to see my bones- but because I could see it expanding and shrinking with each deep breath I took- I saw my body working hard for me. After everything I’ve put it through, it’s still working for me. The least I could do, is take care of it. For once, I loved my bones not for sticking out, but for housing my heart and my lungs that are allowing me to be here right now. Before I knew it, we were moving on to the next pose, and I was able to finish my practice with a little more gratitude in my heart. I was able to be present in that moment, and find something I appreciated about myself. I left class feeling pretty good- proud that I was starting to like the person I saw, even if it was only for a few seconds.
A girl I met in treatment made an analogy once that has really stuck with me. She described our thought process like a forest-we are used to the same thoughts, habits, behaviors, etc., just like if we were to walk along the same path in a forest every day. In order to change our thought process, we have to make new paths- they’re not quite there yet, and you have to walk along that new path for a long time before all the trees and bushes eventually clear out. But over time, the new path will become clearer, and the old path will start to grow over, and soon you won’t be able to see it very easily because you don’t use it anymore. It will always feel familiar, because you walked on that path for so long- and sometimes you might go back to it for comfort, but you won’t need it anymore. So whether you’re struggling with a mental illness, and you need to reroute your thoughts, or you feel bad about yourself when you try on new jeans, or whatever it may be, see if you can start to retrain your thoughts. You can’t always control your thoughts, but you CAN control how you react. You don’t have to agree. And most importantly, you can handle all of your emotions- sometimes sitting with the discomfort is what will catapult you into something greater.