I am so lucky to have 2 dogs, something I have wanted since I started talking when I was just a young girl. Mickey is 3 and Marely will be 2 in January and over the past 3 years I have learned a lot from the two of them. Yesterday when I was taking them for a walk, I was really intrigued by their personalities. I have known this stuff before, but you know how you all of a sudden have those moments of “ah….cool”. That’s what happened to me on the walk. Here’s what happened.
It has been snowing off and on for the past few days and when we went for a walk the sidewalks hadn’t been cleared yet, so we walked in the street through the neighborhoods. There was quite a big difference in height from the street to the top of the snow on the yards (especially near the street because of the city trucks who came through to plow the streets clean) nonetheless my Mr. Marley spent most of the walk up on the top of the snow piles, happy as a clam. Trotting along, peeing where he felt like it, and going down and up the snow banks. While Ms. Mickey stayed on the street walking in a straight line. Mr. Marley, my happy go lucky dog is like a child playing outside, he loves puddles, and piles of leaves, and big snow banks. While, Ms. Mickey is a little more serious, experiences anxiety, and has a bit of an attitude. She likes to keep her feet clean, avoids the crunching of the fallen leaves, and mostly stays out of the dirty puddles. Yet, Mickey has her way of having fun too; burying her head in the snow, going for a swim in lakes and rivers, and rolling around on her back playing with her toys.
As I walked with Mickey and Marley it hit me that the path to recovery is about incorporating their differing of personalities. I had to learn to let go of some of the perfectionistic qualities, be willing to get my feet dirty, and be okay with taking a road less traveled. Yes, everything has its place, but I didn’t need to be so serious all the time and I didn’t need to be goofy to be liked or gain friends. I needed to find my own rhythm, my own “Shira” and just be my own version of me. In the past 6 years I have enjoyed finding out who I am, getting to know myself, and letting others see all of me, not just the highlights.
If you are stuck in your eating disorder, how can you start letting go of the perfectionism mindset? How can you embrace the unknown? How can you find comfort in being you for you, and not having to impress others? No matter where you are along your journey, how can you incorporate some of Marley and some of Mickey into who you are. I have come to realize that there are no two days that are the same, I am not a robot, but a human who is fluid and constantly evolving.
Just bear with me here:
It snowed about 8 inches last night. The snow was incredibly wet and heavy, so 8 inches of snow compacted down to 4 inches. After the city plows came through and cleared the streets there was quite a bit of snow at the end of the driveway; and unfortunately, the temperature is predicted to drop over the next few days, so I had 2 choices 1. leave it and we’d have an ice rink at the bottom of the driveway or 2. go out and clear it. I decided it would be best to clear it, so I put on all of my winter clothes: my jacket, hat, scarf, snow pants, boots, and gloves, and I headed outside with the shovel.
As I walked down the driveway I looked at the amount of snow that needed to be cleared. It didn’t look like it would be that hard. It was a few feet wide and the length of the driveway. That should be no problem, right? Well, I was fooled. It didn’t seem like it should be that hard, but given the density of the snow and it being compacted down, it was extremely challenging.
I started on the right side, and made some good headway at the beginning but my arms got tired quickly. I had to shake the shovel a few times with each load, just to get the snow off the shovel because it stuck to the shovel. The snow was so thick that many times I had to ram the shovel several times on one spot just to get it under the snow. I switched from using my right hand to hold the end of the shovel to using my left hand, and then back again. I could feel the strain in my back. After several trials on the right side of the driveway, I decided to switch to the left side of the driveway. In the beginning it was going good, but again there was a spot that was so stubborn. I stopped what I was doing and looked at the section of snow left. I felt defeated. It didn’t look that big when I was first walking towards it, but now that I was in the thick of it, it seemed to triple in size. The difficulty of the task seemed impossible. I went out into the street and approached the snow from the other side. Yeah it was easier for a few shovelfuls but it wasn’t long before I was stuck and couldn’t get the shovel underneath the compacted snow again.
I stopped to catch my breath, put my chin on the handle of the shovel and leaned onto it. My breathing was rapid, my body sweating, I felt too tired to go on. I even let out a loud “urg, someone help me”. The sky was beginning to get darker by the minute and when I looked around, it was just me outside. Nobody was there to help me, I had to do it myself. Nobody was coming to finish it for me. Again, I wanted to “give up” but thought about the ice-skating rink we’d have at the end of the driveway, and then thought I need to finish it because I’m not a quitter and I know it will feel wonderful when it’s done.
This went on like this for about an hour. On the last couple shovelfuls, I looked at how far I had come and just the few piles I had left. I was so close. I needed to finish it at that point. There was no going back. And then, I was done. I did it! I looked at the end of the driveway and it was totally cleared. “I did that, I did it myself.” Yes, there were moment of questioning if I could do it or if I wanted to do it, but I pushed on through and didn’t quit. I didn’t give up even when it was hard.
This experience with shoveling the wet heavy snow parallels my journey from my eating disorder to my recovery. It was so hard at times. It was unbearable and seemed impossible at times. It was heavy and daunting. I had to attack it from different angles when I felt stuck. I had times that I was so exhausted and overwhelmed that I screamed out to the world, even though there was nobody there to hear it. I wanted to just throw in the towel at times, but then what? Go back to the eating disorder? No way! I decided I was going to give it my all and try with everything that I had to turn my life around. I wanted without a doubt to be free from the suffering, from the self-hatred, from destroying myself and my body. And now looking back over the past 6 years of recovery, I am so happy I worked that hard and didn’t fall short of full recovery. If I didn’t continue trying as hard as I did, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If I threw up my hands and said it was to uncomfortable I wouldn’t experience the joy I feel today. If I came to believe I couldn’t, then I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I’m so proud to say I did it. I achieved recovery. I put in the hard work and I can reap the benefits now. And, that is what I want for everyone. Recovery: If I can do it, I know you can too.
So when things get tough, think about shoveling the snow and the amount of stamina and strength it takes, even when it seems impossible. You can conquer this and live life in recovery. I am here ready to support you and walk alongside you. Reach out today! I look forward to meeting you!
The alarm goes off and the music begins to play
I can't figure out what song it is, I only hear a hum
It's pitch black outside and you want me to get up right now?
I'm like a sloth, rolling from my left side to my stomach, then my back
My eyes closed, my arms and legs barely moving
I feel like molasses, oozing down the side of the bowl, thick and sticky
Does this ever get easier?
I doubt it, at least for me it doesn't.
As the days get shorter and there's less sunlight, I struggle to get going in the morning. October 1st is the day it all falls apart. It seems like clockwork. Does my body or my mind know it's October? It boggles my mind how just a day can change how my body works. I tried to hope this away and scold myself, saying I just need to push myself more, I should be able to control this. And yet, mental illness doesn't work like that. The brain is an organ and organs don't always work well. It's a brain illness; so does that mean it can heal or does it always stay sick. I'd like this to be different but I'm not sure it can be. From October to March it's a challenge. It's hard to admit, nobody wants to say that their brain has a sickness, but I can't pretend that I don't. Since I am learning more each day about my body and mind I celebrate what comes naturally and I learn to adapt to what is difficult. It's not good and it's not bad. It just is and today I am grateful. Thank you for what you are teaching me.
I write this in the darkness of the night. I can not sleep. My mind is running and running in circles about how to help people, how to affect change, how to help people discover themselves, heal, and stop hurting themselves. I struggled with an eating disorder for 23 years, all forms including anorexia, compulsive exercising, binge eating disorder, bulimia, and anorexia with purging behaviors. It was a horrid 23 years, with days of dark depression, desperation, grief, hatred, loneliness, isolation, including periods of self harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. I was in a deep dark hole, so stuck, like an endless nightmare I could not wake up from. I was so sure that my life and my purpose was to suffer. I grew up in an abusive home, both parents loved me but it was shown in a way that didn't make sense. As a child I always thought and wanted my parents to divorce because the abuse from my dad was so frightening and hurtful, the nightmares so intense. I cried every time my mom left the house, or drove away after dropping me off somewhere. I would stand at the window and sob uncontrollably. I remember being punished in Montessori school, for being sensitive and fragile, for being emotional and afraid of men. My eating disorder began when I was 7, not consciously but because I didn’t feel I deserved food that tasted good or food that was associated with happy and positive experiences.
For many years I took the hate that sat inside me and hurt myself. I didn’t know any other way. I needed to be perfect, I knew when I was anything but perfect, the monster of my dad would emerge. I was a straight A student, I looked like I had everything together and figured out, I was the first one to help everyone else, I listened to everyone else’s troubles. My mom turned to me for help and guidance, I needed to be strong. I graduated high school at the top of my class, graduated college in 3 years, became an EMT, ran my own in-home respite care business for medically complex kids and pediatric hospice for 10 years, and went to nursing school, got my BSN, RN license, and have now been a nurse for 11 years; working in a variety of capacities. It's in my nature to care for people.
From the age of 18 until 27 I dabbled in getting help for my eating disorder, it was suggested a couple times to drop out of school to get help, but I told them I had it all under control. When I told my parents for the first time at the age of 22 about my eating disorder and depression they denied it all, and told me it couldn’t be true. I told them I needed help, but they said you’re not like the people that are severely malnourished, you’re fine. So I carried on. It wouldn’t be until I was 29 and staring death in the face, going to the county jail to plead to the psychiatrist and judge that I shouldn’t be medically committed to the state, and my body withering away to nothing for my parents to see for a short time that I was in need of help. That understanding of the hurt inside of me only lasted for a short time, and it was back to what it had been like for so long. Silence. Denial. I was dying on the inside. Starving from the inside out. I was so desperately wanting and needing to be and feel loved. I can't say I ever truly experienced love, with all of my abusive relationships I was in, the date rape I experienced twice, the compulsivity in engaging in sex, getting pregnant and being coerced into having an abortion against my will, and bouncing from one person to the next, I let everyone take advantage of me. I thought I could fix everyone, everyone except me.
I often read through the journaling I did and it's heartbreaking what I went through, it is even hard for me to read it. I have suppressed many memories, yet other ones are so intensely vivid I can still recall what I was wearing, the smells, the sights, and the feelings inside me bubble up and tears run down my face. I am not certain how I survived. I was told by multiple professionals and eating disorder treatment centers that there was no hope for me, that I would end up in jail (as I was shoplifting multiple times a day), the state hospital, or dead. I could not stop myself from destroying myself. I hated who I had become, I hated I spent so many years fueling my eating disorder instead of myself. I was trapped in the cycle of a revolving door in treatment centers with no progress, only frustration, losing myself, and being secluded from the world.
Just when the center wanted to send me to the State Hospital, I decided I needed to do something different. I decided I needed to change and needed to choose change. After an intense 12 days in the hospital, writing down my story and my thoughts every waking moment, I looked outside and I said to myself, I want to experience life outside of hospital walls. I wanted to experience freedom from the eating disorder. When I discharged, it was highly likely that I would be back or I'd die before I could get help again. However, next month the 3rd week of October I will celebrate my 6th year in recovery. When I left the hospital that last time, I never went back. It is a miracle that today I am married, own my own home, feel confident in myself and who I am, am able to hold a job longer than 9 months, and I can even look in the mirror and like what I see. And now, I've turned my difficulty into helping other people find recovery from their eating disorder demons.
I started a nonprofit called Living Proof MN and things have been taking off slowly. The vision in my head is so vivid, but implementing it has been challenging. The resources, support, funding, grants, and any assistance through Minnesota and the Department of Health Services for eating disorders has been extremely sparse. Out of thousands of national grants, none are dedicated to helping people struggle with eating disorders. I have reached out to so many organizations and local newspapers, what they have said is alarming: "We cover stories that have a worldwide need and impact, that require attention, eating disorders are not something we cover". When reaching out to the local treatment centers, they said they cannot refer people to Living Proof MN or allow me to give out business cards, they said they need to keep the business within their business, wow, talk about money making. That is a tragedy that places are making money off of people desperate for help. And anyone I speak with seems to lead to dead ends. It is so disheartening.
Since I started Living Proof MN, I have heard from people all over the world needing support and guidance. Many have been in and out of treatment for years, many don't have a support system, many don't have money to pay for therapy or treatment, many are keeping secrets from their family and friends, many are suicidal and contemplating or on the verge of ending things. I have personally lost many acquaintances to eating disorders, the treatment centers are all guessing at what to do to help people, and yet they are not helping. It's a huge problem with very little knowledge, support, and funds. I'm trying to help in the way I know how, from my experience. When I left the hospital 6 years ago, I decided to forge my own way, to create my own treatment program that included being out in the world, eating regularly, facing fears, meeting new people, and trying new things. I kept myself busy. I devoted a solid year to my recovery journey and transformation. It was the best decision I made, for myself. I began to heal. I began to see myself differently. I began to see that my purpose was not to suffer, but instead to thrive. It is that same experience I want to offer others.
Anyone reading this, know that there is hope. That recovery is amazing. It is worth the fight. I sincerely believe in everyone.
Yesterday there was a houseful of people who were eager, excited, hesitant, nervous, fearful, and strong. The Making Meaningful Memories event warmed my heart and struck a chord deep down within me. People longing for a way out of the eating disorder, out of the darkness, the isolation, self destruction, and spiral they have found themselves to be in. With so much in common, connecting when in the same room is easy, it's finding the motivation to get out of your house and our of your head to come to events like this one that is hard. When people are struggling the most, it's the hardest to reach out and prompt yourself to do what is helpful. When people are doing well, there is an openness to being vulnerable and getting yourself to be engaged with others. It's in the times of struggle that opportunity for change is incredibly high; and so important to step into the fear that's keeping us stuck. I want to find a way to lift people from the struggle to find hope, strength, and healing. Living Proof MN is a safe place for anyone that finds themselves in a negative environment or unsafe situation. Please don't hesitate to reach out to Shira day or night.
I am married to a man that I met at a writing group and have 2 big dogs that bring a lot of joy to my life. I like to go camping and hiking and spend time with my friends and family. I have been a registered nurse for 10 years and work with people who have mental health issues and people with drug and alcohol addictions. I have been in recovery from my eating disorder since Oct 2013.