• Posted on May 10, 2017 12:49 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    4

    Last night, I posted a picture of my children enjoying ice cream sandwiches following dinner with a caption that said: "Years ago, I would spend nearly an hour in the grocery store's ice cream section. Opening and closing every glass door, pulling every carton out and quickly putting it back in. My mind raced as I carefully analyzed every black and white nutrition label. Too many calories in this one, too much sugar in that one. I would ultimately walk out with the lowest fat/cal/sugar ice cream-ish substance I could find. I would also leave in the throws of a massive panic attack. Because of my eating disorder, a task as simple as grocery shopping left me crippled by anxiety. When the ice cream made it to my freezer, it haunted me. I wanted throw it away. I wanted to eat it all and purge it. But all I really wanted was to stop the monster in my brain. I wanted ice cream to be just that - ice cream. I wanted freedom from my eating disorder. [Seven years later] Today, I quickly push my cart up and down each aisle, tossing in items on my list: avocados, black beans, chips, crackers, milk. I strolled down the freezer section and caught a glimpse of ice cream sandwiches. "That sounds good!" I thought and tossed them in. I kept my quick pace to the check out so I would make it home to unload the groceries before it was time to pick up the kids. I often hear from parents they limit sweets or do not keep them in the house at all. It is SO important that we offer our children a variety of foods and do not label food good or bad. Food is food - no moral value. All foods fit! When we deny our children certain foods, it creates a hierarchy of food and can possibly shame them from eating it in the future, associating the food with feelings of guilt. Above all else, it is so important for our children to see us enjoying a variety of foods. This evening, my kids and I enjoyed the delicious ice cream sandwiches. I never take a single moment of recovery for granted and the ability to share it with my children. I am so thankful for my recovery and the freedom that comes with - both in and out of the freezer aisle! "ūüíúūüíúūüć¶ The post was shared widely across social media¬†with many 'YES!' comments and women in recovery posting about their own journey with ice cream. ¬†However, I knew it was a matter of time before someone questioned my 'All Foods Fit' approach to food. ‚áí"I disagree in one respect. Junk food is junk. Chemical filled and not healthy. Once in a while a Twinkie or something junky is fine. But children should learn about healthy foods." ‚áí "Moderation is so key. As long as my dd eats a balanced meal that covers most of the food groups, I don't mind sharing my ice cream with her. She's such a fruit & veggie eater, she'd rather have fresh picked strawberries most days over processed sugars. The biggest thing I want her to take away from childhood & food, is that she try new things when they are offered (she nearly always has a different meal than me & hubby) and she get a little protein in. (Like I said, she's a fruit & veggies kid, but getting her to eat a little chicken or pork is tough some days.)" I began to respond, but soon decided my response warranted a longer reply than a simple social media comment. So... Thank¬†you all for your comments. I understand your thought around moderation and labeling food as 'junk' because that is certainly what society and many 'experts' tell us. "Don't eat junk. Childhood obesity is at an all time high! Limit processed sugars. Moderation is KEY!" I get the 'Moderation is key' a lot. And to that, I completely agree 100%. Is it healthy to eat ice cream and pizza all day long every day? No way. And on the other side of the coin, is it healthy to eat kale and apples all day long? Nope. So yes, moderation IS key. I cringe when I see people talk about 'chemical-filled' food. This has little to do with my eating disorder history and more to do with my daughter's cancer. Two years ago, when my daughter was in the hospital fighting neuroblastoma, I posted a picture of her with cupcakes sent by my sweet sorority sisters. I was shocked when I received an anonymous email warning me to keep ALL sugar away from my daughter. First of all, my daughter was 8-months and had just spent a week in the PICU, she wasn't even close to starting solid food yet. Secondly, sugar does not cause cancer. I realize I might be opening Pandora's box here, but my daughter was diagnosed at 7-months old. All she ever had in her body was breast milk. Cancer just happens sometimes. Sure, smoking causing cancer, but there is very little to connect sugar/processed foods to cancer. Trust me, I have tackled every doctor and nurse on our oncology floor and beyond, asking them what caused Marjorie's cancer. I asked them what I can feed my children to prevent it from coming back or to keep my son from developing cancer. Unfortunately, there is very little I can do. Cancer just happens sometimes. My dear friend/earth angel and beloved oncology nurse 'Two Knock', once told me, "McCall, I have had two kids on the unit before, both with the exact same cancer. One of the patients came from a family that was vegetarian and ate everything organic. The other child was of a lower socioeconomic level,¬†with two working parents. His diet consisted of a lot of fast food. Extremely different diets and home life - exact same cancer. You can't keep Marjorie or Manning from getting cancer based on what they eat." Again, is it good for us to eat processed foods and lots of sugar all day, no. MODERATION. Kale and cupcakes. Hell, kale and chemicals if that is what you label cupcakes and ice cream sandwiches. And to be completely honest, I do buy organic meats, dairy, etc. That is just my personal preference. You will also find non-organic bananas and oreos in my pantry too. At the end of the day, we can't deny our children and ourselves what our bodies want. You can't tell me that at the end of a hot summer day, an ice cream sandwich didn't sound amazing! I don't think I've met anyone who craved frozen kale after a hot day on the beach. Food is food. Sure, some foods pack more nutrient punch than others, but it is SO critical not to create a hierarchy. When we limit or deny our children (or ourselves) certain food or food groups, that is all we will crave. When we can truly listen to our bodies, it will tell us what we need. Our bodies might signal us to want leafy greens or they might crave a burger because¬†our iron is low. My children are small, but they understand that food is food. My son sometimes turns down cake for bananas and sometimes it is vice versa. The bottom line is we are born with an amazing hunger/fullness system that gets distorted with every diet or food denial. Often times we unknowingly pass that guilt on to our children. We love our children and want to see them healthy and happy, so we limit sweets or fast food. I can't tell you how many young people I meet who feel like they have to sneak McDonald's because they feel so ashamed about it. What if we drove through McDonald's with them? No, seriously. I recently gave a parent presentation with Oliver-Pyatt's amazing director of nutrition, Mary Dye. A mom challenged¬†the All Foods Fit theory, saying that if she allowed her daughter to eat whatever she wanted, her daughter would go through McDonald's every day. "Let her," I said. "She will kill herself with it," the mother responded. "No she won't. I promise," I said. "She will get tired of it. It will lose it's novelty. She won't eat it forever and it will not kill her." Mary then elaborated with a story that gave me chills: "I once had a patient who struggled with Binge Eating Disorder," Mary said. "Her father was a cardiologist and she grew up in a house that shamed and labeled food bad, especially fast food. My work with her was to normalize food and to eliminate the shame factor. In fact, as a therapeutic exercise, we drove to McDonald's. Fast food was something she would binge in secret and shame, alone in her car. I wanted to normalize the fast food experience for her. So we drove through, ordered, parked and mindfully enjoyed our meal. The more we deny, the more we want." I have told that story countless times. And what I would give to one day meet the brave patient who did the hard work of recovery, changing not only her life, but maybe her family's as well. I know the thought of keeping a variety of foods in the house or even you yourself driving through McDonald's is outlandish, but try it. You might even surprise yourself. I never thought I could have ice cream in my house. Today, I have ice cream, candy, cookies, bananas, kale, crackers, chips, cheese, apples...you name it. And guess what? I don't think about what I have in my pantry or freezer - unless, of course, I'm heading to the grocery store and need a list! My motivation to recover was to not only be a mom, but be a mom who led by example. I wanted to be a mom who could eat ice cream¬†and kale and everything in between. I am proud to say that I AM that mom today. There is also no doubt¬†I am screwing up motherhood in a thousand other ways, but I¬†make a conscious effort every day to do my best to live and lead by example. My hope and prayer is not to raise healthy kids, but kind kids who love and live life, kids who forget there are cookies in the house unless their bellies tell them they want one. I want my kids to listen to the amazing bodies God gave them. Moving their bodies when they have bursts of energy or when the sun is shining just right, eating when they are hungry, stopping when they are full and if they eat too much, well, then they know next time to stop.Food is not the focus of our lives - it is important, but our day does not revolve around it. Our daily focus is on loving and living - playing outside, building towers, chasing lizards and avoiding shoes flying through the air when Marjorie throws them in her daily tantrum! Raising healthy kids isn't as important to me as raising kids who love themselves. At the end of the day, if we love ourselves, like truly love ourselves, we will honor our body. We will nourish, move and rest it as it desires and needs. When we love our bodies, we take the time to take care of it in all aspects: mind, body and spirit. So ahead, eat the McDonald's, the kale shakes, the daffodil sprouts and yes, even the 'chemicals'. Because in the wise words of our Ole Miss SMASH Ambassador: "Life is too short to count calories...enjoy the cupcake!" For parents wanting more information on childhood nutrition, download my list of resources:¬†Body Awesome Parent Resources. (Highly recommend Ellyn Satter and Katja Rowell!)

    Eating Disorder, Family, Food
  • Posted on April 2, 2017 3:31 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    Lorelei splashed in the tub as I gently washed the shampoo from her curly hair. She is the first born of one of my dearest and oldest friends, Katherine. I¬†spent the week with them during my Chattanooga speaking tour. "My curls are tiny!" Five-year old Lorelei exclaimed. "Some people have bigger curls and some people don't have curls." "You are absolutely right," I said. "I used to have tiny curls like you, Lorelei! They are so beautiful and they make you so special." She nodded in agreement and we went on to talk about other things that make us different. "My friend has dark skin and doesn't need sunscreen, but my skin is really white and needs lots of sunscreen," she said proudly. We talked about tall/short, curly/straight, dark/light, large/small...all things that make us each uniquely different and beautiful. After bath, Lorelei, her mom and I snuggled in bed watching a quick cartoon before bedtime. Lorelei happily chomped away at her night snack before her mom turned off the TV. She kissed me goodnight and headed upstairs for her final bedtime routine. I went into the living room and began thinking about my night with Lorelei. Suddenly, my heart sank. In a few years, Lorelei will start questioning all of those wonderful things that make her uniquely beautiful.¬†The¬†world is going to tell her that her hair should be straighter, longer. Her skin should be tanner. Her body taller, smaller. While we can't rid the world of these messages, I know we can and will do everything to protect Lorelei's ears from these unwanted messages. Luckily, Lorelei was born into an extraordinary tribe of women. First off, her mama is one of the most ferocious, compassionate, sensitive and bright women I have ever met. Her aunt, Charlotte, is always there, along with her tribe of Green Cove aunts - ready to remind Lorelei that what she hears from the outside world is noise and we don't listen to it. We measure our worth by what is inside and how we treat others. My time in Chattanooga was closely followed by my annual camp reunion weekend. A weekend filled with yoga pants (no yoga, just the pants), wine, cheese and mountain sunsets. It is a weekend where my tribe comes together to laugh and refuel our tired spirits. We are all so very different, living in every corner of the US. We love different partners, we believe in different faiths, we are tall, short, big, small, dark, light, curly and straight. No matter how different we are, we stand together, lift each other up and support each other through life's trials. I'm fairly confident I would not be alive today without these women. Established in the 1980s, our bond runs deep. In a few years, our children will run and hike the same paths we did as children. Marjorie, Lorelei, Cecilia, Kate, Harper, Woods, Ramsay and many others will find their tribe. Marjorie and Lorelei will remind each other that their curly hair rocks and they can be girly AND strong. So while my heart momentarily broke for Lorelei, I quickly realized my heart should rejoice. Because Lorelei will be forming her tribe soon that will help her tune out that outside noise. Lorelei will forever know and be reminded that tiny curls are amazing and porcelain skin is beautiful. We are all beautiful, in every way, every color, every body. So to my sweet Lorelei, never listen to the haters - find your tribe and know you are beautiful and amazing just as you are. It is never too early to start talking to your little ones about what makes us different. Knowing that we come in all different colors, faiths, bodies is a wonderful thing. Start embracing these differences before they hear the world tell them otherwise! Who knows, you might learn something! Sometimes our biggest lessons come from the tiniest messengers.  

    Body Image, Motherhood
  • Posted on January 14, 2017 7:48 am
    McCall Dempsey
    1

    It was adding up to be a perfect night: the hubs was out of town, the kids were bathed and starting to rub their eyes and this momma had her eye on a nice cup of tea and a new book. Okay, why lie, all I wanted was a glass of wine, my jammies and Bravo. Marjorie went down sweet and cuddly as usual. And then, 30-minutes later, I heard it. That cry that only a mother knows. That cry that says: something is wrong. I ran to her room, opened the door and knew smelled the problem. EVERYWHERE. Her dinner (I'll save you the graphics) was E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E. The walls, her bedding, her blankets, the carpet, her face, her hair. I sat there staring at her in shock. Where do I start? What do I do? Why isn't Jordan here? I want my mom! Marjorie stared back at me as if saying, "Mom, get your shit together and get me out of this crib." I jolted out of my vomit trance and sprung into action. Bath, yes, put her in the path. I put Marjorie in the tub and started to clean...and clean...and clean. I ran between throwing all blankets in the laundry to rinsing her in the tub. Sadly, we lost her beloved Minnie Mouse jammies in the Norovirus Battle of 2017. They fought a hard fight, but in the end did not make it and were sacrificed to the trash. Thirty minutes later, everyone was clean and the house smelled like a FeBreeze factory. Marjorie was happy as a bug as we waited for her beloved and sacred blanket to finish washing. 'Okay,' I thought, 'just an upset tummy. We are all good. Deep breath.' WRONG. Oh I was so wrong. All. Night. Long. My heart broke for my baby girl. Her energy quickly depleted and she rested in my arms all night. I sat watching over her and memories of cancer days floated in and out of my mind. Even though I was so tired, I was so thankful this was just a tummy bug. Perspective is everything. The next morning she seemed okay, so I left her with our sweet nanny as I ran some last minute errands for my upcoming trip. I was finally going to hear and meet my idol, Bren√© Brown. The trip was days away and I was already giddy with butterflies with the chance to meet her and thank her for her incredible work. And then I woke up early Sunday morning with a text from our nanny... 'SHIIIIT! It's contagious. It wasn't an upset tummy from too much cheese. (Marjorie takes after her momma - cheese is LIFE). 'Okay, deep breath.' I thought, 'That doesn't mean you are going to get it, McCall. Wait, do I feel queasy. Nope. Not at all.' I rolled out of bed with positive thoughts flowing like lava through my brain, willing myself to be well. 'I am fine. I am a mom. We don't get sick. I won't get sick.¬†I am NOT missing Bren√©.' Sunday dragged along. It was freezing outside and Marjorie was still on the mend so we were sequestered ¬†indoors - every mother's dream nightmare. My queasiness rose in parallel to the kids' cabin fever and by 4pm, I knew I was going down. I called my sweet mother-in-law for back up, but it would be over two hours before she appeared at my door. Those three hours were a defining moment in my motherhood journey. As the cold sweats kicked in, I limped quickly into my bathroom with two tiny humans trailing behind me. One crying to be held and the other with his costume box asking, "Momma, which costume should we put on first?" 'Come on, McCall, you can do this. You've got this. Single mothers across the country have to do this. You. Can. Do. This.' And thus began the Battle of Norovirus 2017. My sister, who is an infectious disease doctor at the NIH (National Institute of Health), told me this was a classic norovirus case. Then she proceeded to explain that it was a highly contagious passed along by microscopic fecal matter on our hands. I stopped her there, thanked her for her consulting and headed into battle. "Mom, can you tie my cape on? Be sure not to get it backwards. You need the shield to be out." Manning, clearly not phased by what was going on, waited behind me with the patience of a four-year-old for me to help with his costume. I turned around, dizzy and weak, tied on his cape (the proper way) while holding his baby sister. I'm not sure what happened the next few hours or even day, but now that I'm on the other side I've had time to reflect on the many lessons and, yes, blessings of the Norovirus Battle of 2017. Moms can do (and survive) ANYTHING. And I mean ANYTHING. Moms can multitask like a BOSS. Who else can be sick while holding a toddler and tie a Superman cape...the right way? Moms are THE smartest people on the planet. When I posted my Norovirus Day 5 Diary pic, I got more tips and tricks on how to clean the hell out of toys (READ: throw everything in the bathtub with bleach)    Moms are the FUNNIEST people on the planet.¬†Sharing my misery with fellow mommas, not only made the situation better, it made it HILARIOUS. Life is going to throw us curve balls, rather than bitch and moan - call a girlfriend who will provide some 'Me Too' empathy and will make you laugh so hard your stomach hurts.    Life somehow seems to workout when moms are involved.¬†Needless to say, I was devastated when I had to cancel my trip to meet Bren√© Brown. However, I knew taking care of myself comes first and I also did not want to expose Baton Rouge to the plague. Despite her fun/tough exterior, my mom gets nervous and she knew how much this meant to me. Little did I know, she spent the day rehearsing what to say to¬†Bren√©. She knew her time would be limited and wanted to tell¬†Bren√© everything about me. My mom did great, even though she said I speak on 'body imaging' instead of 'body image'. So I'm pretty sure¬†Bren√© thinks I'm a x-ray tech now. I didn't care. My mom's effort to still make the evening special from a distance had me bawling. It is not every day you get a video of your parents with¬†Bren√© giving you a personal get well message. Cue. The. TEARS.   So, yes, I did not get to meet¬†Bren√©. Yes, my entire house now reeks of bleach and so do I (Pretty sure I've lost sensation in my finger tips). Yes, I continue to go around with a bleach sponge, wiping everything down. But after it is all said¬†and done, a little norovirus can't get my spirits down. There is something hilarious about dunking 3,987 legos, hot wheels and train tracks in bleach. Above all else, there is something beautiful in the gift of perspective. The day I felt human again, I received a letter in the mail. It was a card from Zoe McGowan's mother. I opened the small envelope and tears filled my eyes as I saw sweet Zoe's picture. It was the prayer card from her funeral. (Read more about Zoe) Tears rolling down my cheeks, I looked up as Manning and Marjorie gleefully played in the¬†bath tub. Rather than spend my days asking God, "Why?" I embrace the perspective that comes my way daily from my own experiences and from my fellow eating disorder warriors and cancer moms. Life moves so fast and it is totally okay to bitch and grumble when life throws us curve balls. If there is one thing my recovery and¬†Bren√© has taught me, it is that life can be both. We can be both flustered, annoyed AND grateful. We can have perspective AND still wish away the ¬†laundry and lego piles (especially when you step on one barefoot, ouch). Let your heart feel both. Find perspective and humor. Reach out for empathy. Let yourself cry. And remind yourself, you will survive. Thanks for the lessons Norovirus, until next time...

    Brene Brown, Family, Motherhood
  • Posted on December 28, 2016 2:03 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    4

    When I was in middle school my sister and I fought like cats and dogs. Actually, that's not true. We were worse. Way worse. We fought like two bridezillas at a Vera Wang sample sale. We were vicious. One afternoon my sister and I were verbally abusing each other as we climbed into my mother's suburban, likely headed to piano, volleyball or another extracurricular activity my mom constantly chauffeured us to. There's no doubt in my mind we had probably been fighting for hours on end. Suddenly, our mom had enough and said, "Sometimes I wonder why I even had children!" My sister and I stopped dead in our tracks, our claws retracted and our jaws dropped. Did our mother just say that? Wasn't she supposed to love us unconditionally? How could she say something like that? A few¬†minutes later my mom profusely apologized to us, telling us over and over how much she loved us. She explained how tired she was of hearing us yell and fight. The guilt of her snap statement¬†was written all over her face. Nearly 23-years later I look back at this memory with a much different viewpoint.¬†Now being a mother of two myself, I would've high-fived my frazzled mother, poured her a glass of wine and said, "ME TOO!" Because good LAWD, mothering is hard y'all. I have that same thought daily during holiday/summer breaks. Yesterday I found myself sitting in the middle of Marjorie's room in tears. The house was a wreck (despite my scrubbing it yesterday), my phone kept binging with emails, the kids were loud and I had just received my fifth knee to the face that day. Why do children think their moms are automatic jungle gyms when we sit on the floor? And where can I teach my giant son about spatial reasoning? He is like a great dane that thinks he is a yorkie, always wanting in your lap or on your back. It was¬†one of those parenting days where I threw my kids in the car and went to the car wash even though it was raining. Yes, I looked crazy to the car wash people, but little did they know this is my favorite parenting hack. The car wash guarantees¬†me with at least¬†20-minutes of personal space and partial silence (thank you to ear phones). I wanted to push the opt out button of motherhood yesterday and knowing we still had a week of Christmas break left made my chest spill over with anxiety. This inevitably caused my Bad Mom Gremlins to creep into my brain and belittle me: You aren't cut out to be a mom. You should be crafting or baking cookies with the kids. You should be enjoying these precious moments they go by so fast. How do those moms do it? They craft and take their kids to cute activities in town while looking blissful all the while. Hell, I always find out about community activities the day after and every outing with my wild spirited two and four year old inevitably result in some type of meltdown (parental meltdown included). Take them to the park, you say? Nope. No matter how long we stay or how long we swing, Marjorie insists it isn't long enough. She screams and arches her back while I attempt to buckle her in her carseat. I can feel the stares from¬†onlookers' judging eyes, knowing it's a matter of time before someone calls CPS based on Marjorie's guttural tantrum cry. I once heard my best friend say, "I love my children...but I don't like them every day." A-freaking-men. Can I get a HELL YES. Part of me feels guilty for admitting out loud that some days I don't like my kids. I can't stand the constant whine or ninja moves that inevitably result in a foot to my face or the dog's face, poor Lilly.¬†Then guilt comes over me as I think about mothers who would give anything to hold their babies again. Or I remember those friends who would give anything to just have a baby and the chaos that follows. I think about how this was the normalcy I prayed for during times of heartache. And then I remember that this is motherhood and life. I can feel empathy for others while also feeling frustrated (and exhausted) at the chaos of my own life - it doesn't have to be either/or. Motherhood isn't always blissful or filled with gratitude for my tiny humans. It's messy, annoying and a constant juggling act. Most days I'm terrible at the juggling act. My mind spilling over with work and emails that I forget the nuggets are in the oven (side note: it is literally impossible to burn frozen nuggets and for that I give a massive shout out to the powers that be at the nugget factory.) Yesterday I found myself fighting tears and saying, "I wasn't meant to do this. I don't have what it takes to be a mom." Then I remembered something I once said in defense of another mom: "The only requirement to be a good mom is to love your children. Fiercely." Parenting is a crazy thing. One minute you want to freeze time so your babies never grow and the next minute you are praying for the day they can regulate their emotions and intellectually understand that chicken is chicken, no matter if it is in the shape of a dinosaur, circle or God forbid an actual chicken breast. You find yourself checking out from whining and bickering only to glance over minutes later and see your babies cuddled up watching a movie. In those moments, life suddenly makes sense again. On those days¬†when my nerves are gone and all I want to do is cry, I pour my glass of wine and call on my tribe. Where would I be without my tribe of imperfect moms? They remind me every day that I don't have to have color coordinated kid cubbies and daily activity charts to be a good mom. And if you are the Pinterest wielding-cubby mom then I bow down to you. And if you are a stay-at-home mom, you are like a unicorn to me and I totally bow down. Thankfully, my own mother is one of my go to tribe members. She laughs and empathizes with my messy tales of motherhood, never judging and rarely giving advice because that's not what I need. She gives me a good, "Yep. Been there. Survived that...and so will you." And above all else she reminds me that I am doing a great job and that I¬†AM a good mom - actually a great mom. Being able to give myself a little extra grace on the not-so-graceful days¬†is my best tool. Calling my tribe to¬†say, "Motherhood is hard" and reminding myself that I'm not alone helps ease the¬†mom-anxiety. The fact that my two munchkins are so irresistibly damn cute helps too. So yes, it is true. I do not like my kids every day, but, oh my goodness, I love them so much it hurts. No matter how tough the days are I will never stop loving them. My love for my munchkins is bigger than they will ever know. And no matter how many ninja kicks I take to the face or how many boogers end up on my shirt, I would throw myself in front of a hundred buses for them. Every. Damn. Day. Because isn't that motherhood? Messy, loud and unconditional love. So to my fellow imperfect mommas out there, who are counting the seconds until schools reopen (and possibly considering dropping the kids at school tomorrow and pretending like you thought school had started), take a minute and read this parenting manifesto written by¬†Bren√© Brown, my best friend (okay, so we actually haven't met yet, but know we'd be besties). It is a perfect reminder of what parenting really is all about: loving unconditionally, worthiness and truly, deeply seeing our precious, snotty, lovable tiny humans. Deep breaths mommas, take care of yourselves...we are in this together.  

    Family, Imperfection, Motherhood
  • Posted on October 24, 2016 3:15 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    1

    Three hours. Three hours was all it took for the feelings to surface and the tears to flow. Three hours and a phone call from my mom. Last week my time in Raleigh consisted of ten talks, two Southern Smash events and two treatment center visits. When it was all over, I was DONE. Think about the most painful time in your life - your darkest days. Now put yourself back in that moment and tell that story to an audience...TEN TIMES in five days. I speak my story because I have been called to do so. It is a story of pain, hopelessness, faith, recovery, hope...and the many, many gifts that have come from it all. The gifts that I have worked damn hard for. Most people go on work trips, do their job, make some money and return home. My trips are very different. Yes, I do my job - but it isn't a job. It is my passion and mission. It is something I¬†pour my heart and soul into. Self-care is beyond important during these grueling trips. I carve out time to be alone and rest my mind and body - a skill I learned many years ago at the Carolina House. I speak about my eating disorder, my recovery, Marjorie's early birth and battle with cancer. I explain how the gifts of recovery have carried me through these last two years. I speak on how thankful I am for my eating disorder and how we can all turn our dark days into lessons of hope. I take questions and listen to others' stories of recovery, abuse, self-harm, suicide and every trauma in between. I cry with patients. I laugh with them. I tell them how insanely brave they are. They are my heroes. North Carolina and the Triangle area holds a very special place in my heart for obvious reasons: the Carolina House. Then, four years ago Veritas Collaborative and its amazing staff and brave kids stole a big piece of my heart. Over the years, UNC Chapel Hill has become my second home and NC State is quickly doing the same. The people, the area (and the food - best restaurants!) make it one of my most favorite weeks of the year. The icing on the Raleigh cake is the full circle moments that inevitably happen each year. Three brave young women took to the stage at SmashTALK: UNC, sharing their story of eating disorder recovery. I have had the absolute honor of knowing these women throughout their recovery journey, watching them soar and fall with every challenge ED threw their way. As Sara, Sarah and Teresa took the stage, I sat in the front row crying like a baby...like a proud momma bear. Each woman spoke with such poise and power, the audience sat silently captivated. I sat overwhelmed with the realization that not only had God given me the ability to pay it forward myself, but also helped me create a platform for other's to pay it forward too. My pay it forward promise to help just one person has multiplied ten thousand fold in the last four years. And now the ripple has spread even further. Watching these three women¬†pay it forward by spreading their own messages of hope and healing was nearly too much for my sensitive¬†heart to handle. On Wednesday, the women (and men) of the Carolina House (both Raleigh and Durham locations), absolutely blew me away. Their bravery, openness, and willingness to 'go there', left me in awe. While scale smashing might be silly fun to those on college campuses, it is no joke at a treatment center. Many times people are not ready to 'go there,' they are not ready to say goodbye to the scale. When you're in the midst of your disorder, the scale often represents a best friend. Many people enter¬†treatment not wanting to be there and not yet willing to accept these tough therapeutic challenges. It doesn't mean they won't recover or that they aren't an amazing person; it just means they aren't there in their recovery journey - and that is okay. Everyone's journey is different. We all move at different speeds - none better¬†than the other. The women this year, however, were ready to 'go there'. They beat the SHIT out of their scales. I buy and send scales ahead of time for each patient to decorate and SMASH! It makes it really personal when you are SMASHing a scale that has a message you wrote to your eating disorder or significant numbers, like the number of suicide attempts you've had. After the SMASH, we went inside to process the feelings that came up, and once again the women's vulnerability and bravery blew me away. There were tears, laughs, anger and yes, awkward therapeutic silence. Of course, I don't know how awkward it really was - we all needed a moment of silence after the intense afternoon. The silence was beautiful. Not to be outdone, the young children of Veritas Collaborative left an equally big imprint on my heart. It never gets easy - seeing 9, 10, 11, 12 and older children with feeding tubes, covered in scars of self harm. You can see the pain in their souls, but often you can also see hope in their eyes. I don't know what their young minds took from my story, if anything, but I took so much from them. Heroes come at every age - they are my heroes. Bravery comes even when we don't feel so brave. And most of all that this illness knows no bound - age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomics. It can strike at ANY age to anyone. And I dare you to look a 9-year old in treatment in the eye and tell her an eating disorder is a choice. Looking out to a room filled with children suffering from eating disorders, I can't help but think of their parents. The blame they feel. The worry. The heartache. I hope they know they are not to blame. No one is. We don't give our children cancer and we don't give them eating disorders. But we can give them treatment to heal. We can walk with them, learn how to support them and sit with them when they fall. We can't always save our children - trust me, I've tried. But we can help them to save themselves. That is what the Carolina House, Mary and Christy gave me. They didn't save me. They gave me the skills to save myself. As I exited Veritas' beautiful new facility, my heart was full and my body was exhausted. I knew the feelings from such a powerful week were sure to surface, but I assumed it would be when I drove away the following day. Wrong. Three hours after collapsing on my hotel bed, completely zoned¬†in on mindless tv (thank you Bravo for the¬†Below Deck marathon), my mom called to see how my week was. My first thought was to give her a 'Sportscenter' rundown of the week since I was tired. But before I knew it, I was describing in detail each and every day. I told her about the amazing day at NC State and UNC, about how much I fell in love with NC State and the great turnout. I recounted the incredible women of Carolina House and the woman who wrote the number of suicide attempts on her scale that she smashed. I told my mom how moved I was with her willingness and her ability to let happy tears overcome her as she shared how it felt to SMASH that number. I told my mom of the young children with feeding tubes and the big hugs they gave me after my talk. I told her about the PHP kids and how much fun we had together. From autographs to snack time to talking about the challenges of recovery, those PHP guys and gals were the perfect ending to my week. My mom listened intently and then said, "I am so proud of you baby. You are making such a difference." Well that about did me in. Cue. The. Waterworks. Streaming tears soaked my phone as I told my mom how I talked about her in each and every talk. She laughed a little because we both know some of my 'mom stories' were difficult ones in our relationship. But after sharing these mom stories so many times this week,¬†I reminded her how much¬†I love her. I told her how damn proud I am to be her daughter. Sure, she was not the perfect mom, but throughout my recovery journey she has been able to admit mistakes AND do the really tough work to dig deep in her own life. Parenting is hard. I know I will make mistakes and I will correct mistakes my parents made in my own life. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be just like my mom. Today, I no longer want to be like my mom - I don't want to be like anyone. I really and truly just want to be myself because I have discovered that I am pretty awesome person just as I am. However, I hope that when the time comes to admit my parental misguidances and mistakes, I can be as brave as my mom. I pray that I can fall down and walk the path side by side with my children, just like she has walked it with me. Mom and I¬†cried together on the phone a few minutes and I continued to cry after our call ended. There aren't enough blog posts to describe such a magnificent week. The feelings circle back to my first day in treatment, December 14, 2010. My heart remains with the people and place that have been such a huge part of my journey. Every time I share my story and meet others in recovery, my heart grows. I feel like my heart is going to explode on a daily basis and then I wonder how I got so lucky? Oh yes, I didn't get lucky. I worked so damn hard to create this beautiful life for myself. This beautiful and imperfect life. Yes, this is MY life and it is SO, SO good. It is an absolute honor and privilege to tell my story and it is an even bigger honor to listen to yours. Thank you NC...until next year. Thank you North Carolina for the love, my wheels are already spinning for next year. NC State, UNC, Carolina House and Veritas...thank you for welcoming Southern Smash and me with massively open arms. These events (and life) just keep getting better and better.    

    Advocacy, Eating Disorder, Health