• Posted on February 22, 2017 8:02 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    My current state of mind is similar to that of six years ago when I leaping from treatment back out into the 'real' world... Journal entry (2.23.2016) "I am feeling lots of things. I am worried about work. I am kind of angry. I want to cry. I want to fall apart. I want to scream. I want to feel competent. I want to feel my age. I want to breathe. I want to feel like I haven't been forgotten. I don't want to be lost and behind. I want to stop this voice in my head. I feel scattered."  Okay, so maybe I'm not feeling everything I did six years ago today, but certainly can relate to the anxious, scattered and breathing part. Life is changing. Again. Sigh. Unlike my anxiety six years ago, today's anxiety comes with a big slice of confidence and joy. How is it possible for one person to feel so much joy and anxiety at once? I'm not sure. But it is where I am and I'm rocking it. Recently, I shared the news about my family's upcoming move. It is beyond bittersweet. But with this move come chaos. And I mean capital C-H-A-O-S. Our house will hit the market next week. Showings will begin and so will the inevitable scenario of putting the dirty laundry in the dryer, gathering the scattered toys in a box and putting them in the car as you drive around with shoeless kids in their jammies, as well as a dog and and rescue cat who thinks she is a dog. Since returning home from our amazing vacation, sleep has been hard to come by. Jordan and I wake at all points in the night. We talk and toss around, while we remove our son's foot from our face (ah the joys of sleeping with a five year old). We are taking a huge leap of faith with this move. It is scary. It is unknown. But it is necessary so we rise up and march on. As I am rising up and marching on, I am also inundated with the growth of my beloved Southern Smash. Walking upstairs to my office every day, makes me the richest person on earth. Certainly not monetary rich, but rich in the greater since - the one that makes your soul burst with joy. I pinch myself on the daily. I am doing the exact work God put me on this earth to do. And because of that, I know that no matter what curve ball life throws again (and again) my family and I will be okay. I will be okay. Because look at how far I've come. When I think back to six years ago, I am in awe of how brave I was - probably because I, at the time, had no idea of my courage and inner strength. I felt so many emotions and marched on. I knew recovery was out there and I wanted it. Bad. I knew I just had to keep marching falling forward to get there. Today, I feel so many emotions as I march on. This leap of faith (like all leaps) is scary. But I rely on my perseverance was born six years ago. I rely on the solid relationship and friendship I have with my soul mate and best friend. We have gone through much worse. Jordan and I can literally conquer anything together. In the past few weeks, I have talked with more people struggling than I can count, guiding each of them (and their families) to professional help. This evening I spoke with a young group of women gravely concerned for their best friend. They listened so intently and laughed as I cut a joke here and there. But what they didn't know is the tears that fell silently down my cheeks. I was once their friend praying for someone to tell me I needed help - that I deserved help and treatment. That my life mattered to them. I cried because I feel so damn blessed to be a listening ear and sounding board. I cried because I am so alive. I cried because I am so scared of what is to come. I cried because I love life and my family so damn much it hurts. I cried for the young woman six years ago who had no idea the extraordinary path God was laying before her. I cried because I was brave enough to walk that path. I cried because I get to pay it forward and help others every day. Life is terrifying and also filled with such joy. When I started Southern Smash, never did I imagine it would grow to this extent. Never did I see myself in an office where I spend hours on end and still never finish the job. My job will never be done because it isn't a job! Jordan asks me every morning, "What do you have to do today?" My response, "My job doesn't come with a to do list." My work is led by my calling, my fire and passion. We all have a fire. A calling. I found mine. Don't be afraid to chase yours. It is that fire that stops you in your tracks. A fire that hurts because you feel it so deep. A fire that can never be extinguished, no matter what leaps you take or where you move. Walk your path. Open your heart to others. Take leaps of faith. Life would be pretty boring if we all sat in the comfort zone. [Insanely gorgeous photo cred to the extraordinary Ileana of Attimi Photography]

    Authentic, Eating Disorder, Pay It Forward
  • Posted on December 14, 2016 11:53 am
    McCall Dempsey
    2

    Today, December 14, marks six years in recovery for me. I'll say that again...SIX freaking YEARS. It seems so hard to believe because it feels like yesterday I walked stumbled through the Carolina House doors. I walked through hopeless, broken and tired. I no longer had the energy to fight the monster in my head, much less pretend like I had it all together. I wanted out. Out of my disorder, out of life. But somewhere, deep, deep, deep down, I wanted to believe there was more - that there was more to life than calories, weight, loneliness and empty pain. There was nothing I wanted more in the world than to believe recovery was possible. I walked through the doors of the Carolina House with a willingness to become willing. I didn't believe recovery would happen for me, but I trusted the extraordinary staff around me. I believed that one day I just might believe that I could live in the fairytale that was recovery. I quickly learned that recovery was anything but a fairytale. It sucked. It was painful. Even as I write this, six years later, my heart aches for that woman who thought there was no hope left. Tears roll down my cheeks thinking of how damn grateful I am to so many for walking by me on this journey, for giving me the tools to save myself. If I could do one thing the rest of my life, it would be to sit with patients in treatment centers. There is NOTHING I love more than spending time with those in the depths of the eating disorder fight. While most patients welcome me, there are many who absolutely loathe me when I walk in the door. There eyes immediately scan me and disregard me. And I can't blame them - I didn't like me either years ago. I hated speakers that came in and painted this rose-colored fairytale picture of recovery. "It is all bullshit," I would think to myself. I compared my journey to everyone around me - who was sicker, thinner and more deserving of help. My eating disorder kept me in a spiral of shame and hopelessness, not wanting to accept the treatment I desperately needed and deserved. Comparison is not just the thief of joy, comparison is the thief of recovery. Comparison haunted me...and it still haunts me today. When I speak now, many patients only hear that I went to treatment once or that I was only there for three months. They look at me and see a life unattainable for them. "You only went to treatment once; this is my seventh time in treatment" "You were only there three months, I've been here 11-months" "You didn't have to do all the weight restoration." These are just a few things I have heard throughout my years visiting treatment centers. My reply is always this, "Yep. You are right." You're right. I only went once. I was 29-years old and had been struggling for 15-years.  Yep, three months. I was there three months because insurance dropped me two weeks in and we were paying out of pocket. My husband and I gave every penny to my recovery and so did my parents.  Nope, I did not have weight restoration per se, but I did have a body that was super 'effed' up (that being the medical term) and had months years of gaining stability with my body and digestive system. I've had older patients look at me like I am a young unicorn, flying through treatment just one time while sprinkling fairy dust on the world below. I have had men look at me as the typical white sorority girl who had an eating disorder for attention. I have spoken to rooms where every patient was under a blanket. I have met with children who can't (won't) look me in the eye. And I have spoken to countless rooms filled with a community of angry patients, wanting to sit in the dark and not hear the message that recovery was possible. And I get it. I've been there. Some days I am still that angry person who wants to throw in the towel on life because life is SO. DAMN. HARD. Then I remember just how much I have fought to overcome. I dig deeper past the anger. I, of course, call my therapist (praise baby Jesus for Mary) and remember that, yes, this too shall pass. However, nothing passes without a lot ton of work and determination. I recently found myself up against a room of comparison patients. They were throwing every comparison question at me, until I finally responded with this: "Comparison is truly the thief of joy and your recovery. The more we sit and compare our bodies, stories and journeys to others, the less time we spend focusing on what really matters: ourselves and our own journey of recovery. Rather than say, 'She wasn't that bad' or 'my eating disorder is worse,' use that energy to open your heart, find empathy and encouragement from others. You're right, my story is different from yours and yours is different than the person sitting next to you. But that doesn't mean we can't find support in our struggles. It doesn't mean we can't lean on each other, provide empathy and support. You had a choice when you came into the room today: you could choose to listen with an open heart or you can choose to compare and continue to sit in hopelessness." It all goes back to a choice, an active decision. I can't make anyone listen to me, nor do I want to. I hated those speakers. (Oh the irony that I am one of them now.) But I showed up, I listened - and some days showing up alone is our victory. So yes, I went to treatment once. Yes, I was not a marginalized, traumatized, underweight victim. I am none of those things. I am a white, blonde, female and yes, a former sorority girl, but those labels don't define me or my story. I choose what defines me and that is my heart. I am McCall, an  intelligent, brave, determined, creative, authentic, vulnerable and beautiful SURVIVOR...and so are you. Rather than compare labels, bodies and stories, can't we all just see each other as brave. Show up today. Be seen. Listen. And above all else, believe that recovery is possible. I am six years of living proof. SIX YEARS y'all. Six years comparison free and loving every minute of recovery, my body, my heart and yes, this hard and amazing thing called life.   photo cred: top left, David Humpreys; top right, Chris Moncus, bottom: SheaBird ;)     And to celebrate six years...here are just a few of my favorite pics of life since this day six years go...

    Carolina House, Eating Disorder, Pay It Forward
  • Posted on December 6, 2016 3:45 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    1

    Tomorrow, December 7, is my birthday. However, I will not be with my family and friends. Rather, I will be surrounded with love, pain, joy, sadness, hope and courage. I will spend my birthday with the brave men and women at Castlewood Treatment Center in St. Louis, Missouri. I truly cannot think of anywhere else I would rather be. Growing up, I often heard my family and friends say, "Oh, McCall, stop being so sensitive". I tried my best to not 'be sensitive' and to 'toughen up', but no matter how hard I tried, I still hurt. I was (and am) a sensitive being. Nothing was ever going to change that. And I hurt alone and in silence for many, many years. I now consider my sensitivity my greatest gift. It is something I hold sacred. I honor my sensitive heart, taking care of it and loving it as it beats through every human emotion. Recovery has taught me to follow my heart, allowing it to feel, give and receive. Because of my soft heart, I am able to sit with others. I can literally feel their pain, hurt and loneliness. And above all else, I can let them know they are not alone. To be perfectly honest, my heart has been really heavy lately. Personal changes are happening, but moreover, I have carried so much hurt in my heart as of late. After returning home from Thanksgiving, I saw the devastating news that a fellow Wolfson Hospital cancer warrior lost her battle. I never met Kate, but she was just doors down from Marjorie during the summer of 2015. Her death hit me hard. I followed her story and there was no doubt she was a light to everyone who met her. Last Tuesday, Kate's mother, Lisa, posted a beautiful picture.  Tears poured down my face as I saw the picture of Lisa cuddling her baby in the final hours of her life here on earth. I don't know the pain of losing a child, but I have cradled my own child while covering her in desperate prayers for healing. I could feel the pain, love and unbreakable bond between a mother and her daughter through my computer screen. My heart carried her hurt. Days later I received an email from a young woman questioning if life and the fight for recovery were worth it. We've connected on the phone many times since her initial email. I do my best to remind her that there IS still light and hope and that the fight is TOTALLY worth every battle scar...but I also know how painful those dark moments are. I know how exhausting the fight is and that giving up often seems like a better option. I told her I would sit with her in the pain. I carried her hurt. On a daily basis, I hear from aching parents, lonely teens and adults drowning in shame. I sit with them, hurt with them and pray for them each night. I am very aware I can't save anyone, we all have to save ourselves. But that doesn't mean we have to walk the journey alone. This life is filled with so much sadness and pain AND there is also SO much good. 'Life is freaking brutiful' as my friend (who hasn't met me yet), Glennon Doyle Melton would say. Sometimes the sadness is filled with happiness and vice versa. It took me a long time to absorb that concept - joy during times of sorrow. Nothing confirmed the joy and sorrow theory like Marjorie's NICU and cancer battle. Watching my child fight for her life, not once, but twice, made realize that life is hard AND that there can be so much joy during these times, as well. The friends, family, doctors, nurses, prayer warriors and fellow cancer families that God put in our lives during these dark times, were our joy, our inspiration and our hope. They made us laugh and sat with us as we cried. They carried our hurt, while we watched with aching hearts as our precious baby fought for her life. In my short six years of recovery (and life), I have been blessed with so many people who have carried my hurt. So for me, carrying other's hurt and sitting with others in the darkness is such a gift. It is an honor for me to crawl back into the dark with those struggling and say, "There's nothing I can say that will fix this, but I'll hang with you here as long as you need me." Sure, sadness is not fun. Many reading this will probably wonder why don't I guard my heart better. That's just not who I am. God made us to feel, to love, to hurt and, most of all, to LIVE. Embracing sadness and sitting in pain is me living out God's purpose. There's no doubt my passion stems from years of my own pain and hopelessness. Nothing brings me more contentment than helping others through their dark times - sitting with them and connecting them with professional help. And I do guard my heart in many ways. If I allowed myself to follow every pediatric cancer or eating disorder story, I would basically live in fetal position in my closet. I am selective and I practice A LOT of self care. I shut down, I write, I absorb the joy that radiates from my two tiny humans and I call my therapist (obvi). My life since recovery has been learning to walk the beautifully imperfect balance of self care and helping others. So while I carry a lot of hurt in my heart, I also carry so much joy, love and light. My birthday wish is to sit with you, wherever you are. I spent so many birthdays feeling alone and hopeless, I don't want you to do the same. I hear you. I honor your pain. I sit in it with you. Thank you for giving me the best birthday gift and allowing me to share in your darkness. And to sweet Kate, may your light and love live on through each of us. You were truly your own light during many dark days. We will always "remember to smile" for you.

    Authentic, Eating Disorder, Live Life
  • 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
  • Posted on October 8, 2016 9:52 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    To my dearest daughter on your second birthday, I wish I could look back on this day with loving memories and joy. But I can’t. Your birth date was one of the most difficult days of my life. I will never forget the sounds and sterile surroundings of the OR room. Your daddy sat behind my head, resting his face next to mine and holding my hands that stretched out on the cold steel table. When Dr. Glas finally pulled you out, the nurse came around the curtain and held you up. “She’s beautiful, mom and dad.” She said as she held you up for us to see your precious face. You looked back at us with wide eyes, as if to tell us, “I’ve got this mom and dad.” Tears streamed down my face – and your daddy’s too. Those precious few seconds would be my only glimpse of you on your birth date. My body had been through too much and I was unable to see you until the following day. I could not get to you fast enough the next day. Waiting for the doctor to make rounds and free me from the catheter and IVs, was agony. Unable to walk, your Aunt Anne and daddy wheeled me down. Daddy already had the NICU drill down – sign in, scrub in. I followed his lead, trying my best to clean my hands with IVs hanging from my arm. He pushed my wheelchair into your tiny room, where your NICU Momma Lisa was already there loving on you. She lowered your bed so I could get my first glimpse at you. I slowly reached my hand through the tiny porthole of your Plexiglas home and touched your tiny fingers. Tears welled and streamed down my face. You were so beautiful – and so tiny. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. But there you were. You clearly had a different agenda. Your birth set the tone for the spirit you carry with you today: small, but MIGHTY. Tough, but loving. Wild and free. Full of LIFE and ready for life’s next adventure – even if your mom and dad aren’t ready. You clearly have your own timeline and march to your own drum. Your contagious laughter and independence are going to carry you so far in life, my sweet girl – I just hope daddy and I can keep up with you! I don’t know why you have had to endure so much in your short two years, but I do know that there is NOTHING you can’t overcome. You have captured the heart of so many – and you have so many angels flying on your shoulders, watching over you, protecting you when we can’t. I often think about how I will tell you about your birth and tumultuous first year of life. I still don’t have the answer, but I don’t think I have to. You will let me know when you are ready. You will lead the way in your own life – just as you always have. Marjorie Mims, you are a shining example of what life is about. Perseverance, discovery, love, hope and faith. May this year be filled with tons of laughter, Minnie Mouse, wagon rides, black beans & cheese (lots of cheese), dancing, singing, sparkly & squeaky shoes, hair bows, big brother tackles, friends and HEALTH. You are my hero. You and your big brother are my heart and my light. I prayed long and hard for you. I dreamed about you before you even kicked your way into this world. I thank God every day for not only blessing me with a baby girl, but a feisty one who is going to be a world changer. You’ve already changed my world for the better. I know this isn't the birthday we planned on. Hurricane Matthew drove us out of our home, but we are together - and that is all that matters. You continue to teach us that no matter what curveball life throws us, we will march on - and we will do it with laughter and love. The world is your oyster baby girl and I can hardly wait to see what God has in store for you! Happy happy birthday my precious angel. Here is to the best year yet and prayers that your daddy and me can keep up with you! We love you, peanut!

    Faith, Family, Health