Sometimes I do not love service.
This (not surprisingly) can be inconvenient at times.
Service is a big part of what helped me stay in recovery from my eating disorder, especially during the early days.
Service is also what has helped me maintain that recovery – and grow stronger and stronger – in the many years since those early days.
Currently and for the past several years my primary service work has been through mentoring. I run a mentoring-based nonprofit called MentorCONNECT, where I oversee the organization’s behind-the-scenes (with a lot of awesome fellow helpers), offer my time as a mentor, write and speak about mentoring, lead meetings, and more.
It is time-consuming – sometimes very much so. It can also be stressful and worrisome, especially when new folks join the community and they are really struggling in their recovery. As well, volunteers come and go, members relapse and rebound, money is required to keep certain programs functioning (whether we happen to have those funds or not) – well, you get the picture.
It is also rewarding – to start something new and see it not only survive but grow up and begin to thrive – that part is undeniably nice.
But there have been many days along the way when I wondered what on earth I was thinking when I used to romanticize about being of service to others and how wonderful and fulfilling it would be.
A friend recently sent me a post called “When Your Mother Says She’s Fat” by author Kasey Edwards.
The post was hard for me to read – painful, too.
This is because I had a similar experience with my own mom growing up.
One night she and my dad were going to a party, and she looked sooooo pretty to me! So I told her, “Mom, you are beautiful!”
Her response was less than reassuring. While I don’t remember the exact words she used, I did get the distinct sense that she disagreed with me – that perhaps I had even somehow embarrassed myself with my lack of correct perception.
In my assertion that I saw my mom as beautiful, I had made myself vulnerable, and received criticism rather than appreciation in return.
It was also jarring to realize that, as her daughter, this meant I was not beautiful either – or at least, I was destined not to be as I grew up into a woman.
As a girl I loved to copy drawings of beautiful faces and clothes line-for-line out of the magazines, relishing my ability to recreate loveliness on paper.
But after that night, my girlish art hobby soon turned from a source of sensory delight into a fretful fantasy that maybe one day, if I just changed enough about myself, I might be the gorgeous woman being drawn instead of the copy artist.
I never did manage to achieve that goal.
Instead, I got sick, and then sicker. And then I grew up and realized that “beauty,” like talent and intelligence and all the rest, is both an inside job and a wholly subjective assessment. I also realized it was a choice I would have to make for myself – whether or not to see “me” as “beautiful.”
A dear friend and colleague, Emi Berger, recently wrote a blog post about a concept called “The Hero’s Journey.”
Joseph Campbell, the creator of this “monomyth” (the technical term used to describe his creation), has outlined three distinct stages the hero takes.
Of course, each one of the three main stages then has several sub-stages, meaning it isn’t quite so streamlined to get from One to Three as you might assume (and as I might like).
Right now, Emi is tackling her biggest athletic challenge to date – competing in an Ironman event this coming July. She is planning to use her competition to raise money for MentorCONNECT, the nonprofit organization I founded in 2009 for which she is currently a board member.
In her post, Emi describes first feeling called to compete, then resisting, then eventually answering the call (this being stage one – Separation).
In the next stage (Initiation), Emi talks about having to face her many fears full-on as her training progresses – a stage which for her is currently in-progress.
When Emi reaches the third and final stage of Return, she will have conquered each of those fears, whether or not she wins her competition.
As I was reading about Emi’s amazing journey (from the comfort of my couch), it occurred to me that the Hero’s Journey is also a great analogy for recovery.
Just the fact that there is such a phrase in use today – the “anorexic brain” – makes me realize how far medical science has come since I first contracted anorexia as an 11 year-old in 1981.
Those were dark days – no longer was a person who refused food automatically incarcerated in a general psych ward – but neither were they ushered straightaway into treatments tailored to their specific needs.
This, of course, was because there were no treatments tailored to the needs of anorexics….or bulimics, for that matter, or persons suffering from binge eating disorder or eating disorders not otherwise specified or any types of eating issues.
But today, thanks in large part to the work of Dr. Walter Kaye at the University of California-San Diego, and Dr. James Locke at Stanford University, we are staring into the face of an exciting (and long awaited) new era.
With the help of brain imaging research, we are beginning to understand what kinds of treatments make the most sense to help people heal from irregular eating patterns. This imaging research shows clear differences in brain activity when the brains of persons who have suffered from eating disorders are compared against the brains of non-eating disorders persons.
The other day I went out walking with my mom and her hiking club.
The walk leader promptly proceeded to get us lost in the urban woods. For TWO HOURS.
At first I took it well – it was a pristine day, just the right degree of sunshine and warmth, and the company was good.
But as we walked and walked, and it dawned on me that we were walking in circles yet again, my temper finally frayed. Once it began fraying, it wasn’t long before it completely unraveled.
When we got back to the car, I apologized to my mom and her friends, saying I didn’t know why I had gotten so angry. My mom said, “Yes, usually you aren’t like that.”
The truth is, that particular combination of events represented a particularly heinous pet peeve of mine – trusting someone else to lead me and getting lost as a result. As such, I was angry at myself first and foremost, and as my anger towards me built, it simply spilled out and over onto everyone in the damage path.
Through this experience – and a few similarly irritating others that piggybacked on it in days to come – I have recently come to realize just how much I have often depended on the internal combustion of unexpected (and frequently humiliating) anger to push me towards positive change.
For instance, I still remember my childhood best friend telling me I was “too fat to be friends with” – too fat to even be seen with, for that matter.
I get so many questions from recovering people about how to replace the mean voices inside their heads with something kinder.
For many years I didn’t know how to answer this question. This, of course, was because the voices inside my own head were still quite mean.
Today, the voices in my head have gotten much kinder. Unfortunately, this does not mean I am any closer to answering those who ask me how it is done.
What I can say is – when the shift occurs, you will KNOW it.
Although, truthfully, you might not know it all at once – for me, significant changes like this often “sneak up” on me – like they are afraid I will run them off if they just show up with too little advance warning.
So I will never be one of those people you want to ask, “So what was the exact, precise, on-the-second moment when you knew such-and-so had changed?”
But I will tell you HOW I changed the positive self-talk in my head, and how you can know your own efforts are starting to work.
She always motivates me to give my very best – and then to give even more.
10 years ago this month, Jenni accomplished a huge personal goal when she published the now-bestselling book Life Without Ed: how one woman declared independence from her eating disorder and you can too.
This month, “Life Without Ed” celebrates its 10th anniversary, and we celebrate Jenni, her recovery, and all she has done for others who are still struggling to recover.
On Wednesday, February 12th, Jenni will speak about her work and her recovery in a FREE MentorCONNECT teleconference.
This event is a part of our plans to raise awareness of eating disorders during NEDAwareness Week 2014.
==> You can RSVP for the free live teleconference (call in) event HERE.
==> If you can’t attend the live event, you can listen to the free podcast (once it is posted) HERE (or in iTunes).
==> You can participate in NEDA & MentorCONNECT’s 4th Annual Virtual Walk for eating disorders awareness by offering a donation or sharing this link with your social media networks (or both)!
You can also enter to win a free book right now, today – it is simple to enter!
To enter the giveaway, all you need to do is CLICK HERE TO READ Jenni’s “DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE FROM ED.”
Then post a comment stating your commitment to declare your own independence from your eating disorder.
Two books – both signed anniversary editions of “Life Without Ed” – will be given away and winners will be chosen at random (using a random number generator Jenni suggested- this will be a real first for me!)
==> CLICK HERE TO READ Jenni’s “Declaration of Independence from ED,” post your commitment in a comment below, and enter to win a …
In my last post, I shared about a fascinating new book I’m reading called “The Body Has a Mind of Its Own” by Sandra & Matthew Blakeslee.
One of the reasons I got the book was because of a chapter called “Dueling Body Maps, or Why You Still Feel Fat After Losing Weight.” I really, really, really wanted to know the answer to this question!
I still remember reading singer Jennifer Hudson‘s confession that, even after her dramatic weight loss, she still felt the same size on the inside. I thought she was very brave to admit this….and I could totally relate.
Given my own lengthy (although happily now concluded) battle with an eating disorder, I too have been many different sizes over the years, and it has always seemed that no matter what size I am (or how healthy I am at that size) when I go to shop for clothes I can’t ever figure out what size I actually am. What is oddest, however, is that often I’ve found when I get larger, I still pick out smaller-sized clothes, and when I get smaller, I still pick out larger-sized clothes.
In these moments, it almost feels as if my mind is playing catch-up – it is slow to adjust to my body’s alterations. And as it turns out, this is EXACTLY the phenomenon that is addressed in this chapter of the book!
The Blakeslees explain that the scientific reason for why this happens is due to the presence of two body maps – a body schema and body image. The book provides these helpful definitions for each map.
Body schema: a felt sense based on physical properties of your body.
Body image: stems from learned attitudes about your body.
The word “flow” first came into my life a year or so ago during a walk at the park.
A friend and I were talking about happiness – how to find it, how to know you have found it, how to make it stay.
He mentioned that for him, getting totally wrapped up in an activity – whether it is one he particularly thought he would enjoy or not – often feels so exhilarating it is indistinguishable from any other kind of happiness.
He said the name for this state is “flow.”
As I mentioned in my last post, I have been reading a new book called “Sheepish.” When I started reading the book, I expected to learn a lot about sheep…and wool….and sheep farmers.
I did not expect to learn about the originator of “flow” too.
So imagine my happy surprise when I flipped the page and read these words by author Catherine Friend:
If I start doing more things with my hands, whether that’s woodworking or gardening or knitting or baking cookies, I might fall into the condition made famous by the psychologist with the impossible name, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly. That condition is “flow.” It means becoming completely involved in an activity not for the sake of the outcome but for the sheer joy of it. It means feeling alive when we are fully in the groove of doing something. According to Csikszentmihaly, the path to greatest happiness lies not with mindless consuming but with challenging ourselves to experience or produce something new, becoming in the process more engaged, connected, and alive.
So, for instance, if I completely dive into reconciling my receipts in preparation for tax time, losing track of time (and my sanity) in the process, that could be considered a form of happiness.
I turned 43 this month.
Every year right around this time I do an “annual yearly review.” I think through what I’ve learned, what I haven’t learned, where I’ve made progress, where I haven’t yet made progress – all that good stuff.
In this year’s process, it occurred me that I have changed my mind a tremendous number of times in the last 43 years.
For instance, at first I was sure I didn’t have an eating disorder.
Then I was sure I wasn’t sick enough to do anything about the eating disorder I knew I had.
Then I decided I really wanted to do something about my eating disorder but was positive I couldn’t recover.
Then I changed my mind again and determined I would recover or die trying (because anything was better than waking up to my own self-hatred for even one. more. day).
Then one day I woke up and realized I was really DOING IT – RECOVERING – and I set my mind to KEEP GOING….