• 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 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 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 Brené 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 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 August 6, 2016 7:48 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    The signature Wal-Mart yellow face smiled down on my mom and me as we slowly pushed our buggy through the back to school aisles. I was just a few weeks away from moving out and into my college dorm at Ole Miss. Most freshman fear the move away from home, making friends or getting into a sorority. Not me. I only had one huge fear. One MASSIVE fear that trumped any other fear: Gaining the Freshman 15.  I. DIE. I spent the summer compulsively reading every article on how not to gain the weight. As my mom pushed the buggy, I told her my plan for avoiding the dreaded beer weight gain. "I won't eat late night and I'll avoid beer. Oh and I definitely won't go to the dining hall - they said it is LOADED with calories..." My mom (unaware of my eating disorder) did what every loving and amazing mom does: she offered advice and encouragement. "I use a scale to keep my weight in check." She said, "I hop on every few days or once a week to gauge where I am and know if I need to cut back a little." Her innocent suggestion led us to the scale aisle where I purchased my first scale. Before you start judging my mom, remember that we are all doing the best we can - especially as parents. We love our children and often don't have the tools or education on how to cultivate a strong body image. (See below for parent/body image resources) The simple white scale became my best friend, my worst enemy and my measure of worth. Every morning the little dial rotated and sprung back and forth until it landed on my weight worth of the day. My once day weigh-in quickly escalated to over thirty times a day. I once missed class because I lost track of time obsessively stepping on and off of the scale. So did I gain the Freshman 15? Nope. I lost weight - and it was met with high praise. "McCall, you look so good. ... What are you doing? ... You have such willpower ... College is treating you well!" The compliments fueled my obsession. How low could the scale go? I watched with joy as it showed me a lower number every day. But what goes down, must eventually come back up. And when the number crept back up, life really spun out of control. I was going out and allowing myself to drink and even eat late night. I practiced the college diet rule that many students do: restrict during the day, saving all daily calories for alcohol - also known as drunkorexia, a dangerous and deadly practice that is all too common. Alcohol lowered my inhibitions and ability to stay away from food. After eating late night with friends, I would sneak down the hall, scouring vending machines and even garbage cans for leftover, thrown out pizza. I would wake the next morning with such shame and guilt, too mortified to ever reveal my secret, my struggle...my ILLNESS. On the outside, I was your All-American sorority girl. I experienced a fantastic rush, pledging Kappa Kappa Gamma. I had a wonderful roommate and friends. My grades were off the charts amazing. But behind closed doors, I was literally killing myself. To this day, I still wonder how I didn't drop dead during college or the years following. The war in my head and the way I abused my body should have caused major health issues - those didn't come until nearly ten years later. Shame kept me silent. I continued to struggle throughout my college years, bouncing between anorexia and bulimia, addicted to that bathroom scale and playing the picture perfect girl all the way through. So I am sure you can guess my solution to how you can avoid the freshman 15... DO NOT BUY OR STEP ON A SCALE! Often times your roommate or even the dorm or sorority house has a scale. It is impossible to never encounter a scale. (Side note: if your dorm or sorority house has a community scale, stop reading this and email me: mccall@southernsmash.org). While we can't stop others from purchasing and depending on scales, we can choose to not step on it ourselves. We can choose to measure our worth on who we are as a person not what we weigh. College is a time to find yourself, to try new things, meet new people and yes, eat late night and drink beer. I don't know anyone who has discovered their passion or found new friends by standing on a bathroom scale - trust me, I tried. To all college students, especially you freshies: LIVE life. Live YOUR life. This is your time. It is going to be amazing, hard, difficult, hysterical and full of new adventures. You can't fully experience life with lingering anxiety/obsession about the number on the scale. And if you are experiencing ANY type of anxiety - go TALK to someone. Your school has a counseling center on campus. Again, email me and I will help connect you to locals in your area. I lost so much of my college experience to my eating disorder and I will do whatever I can to make sure you don't do the same.  Whether you're a Rebel, a Tiger, a Tar Heel, a Bulldog, an Aggie, part of a Wolfpack or God forbid a Gator, Blue Devil or Roll Tide (JK...not really), I am here for you. You are not alone.  Get off the scale and let your freshman year be about YOU, not your weight. With love (and a Hotty Toddy!), McCall Body Image & Parenting Resources About Face Body Image Health Ellyn Satter Institute A Mighty Girl Beauty Redefined Body Image Articles Reclaiming the “F” Word:It’s For The Children It’s Not Just Girls. Boys Struggle With Body Image, Too Raising a Girl with Positive Body Image  

    Advocacy, Body Image, Eating Disorder