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.