When I was 18 years old and went into residential treatment for my eating disorder for first time, all the doctors explained to me how my eating disorder was all about control. It was a theory I would hear throughout my recovery and something I focused on “fixing” for most of my life. With the discovery of my history with sexual abuse, I felt like the inability to fix my control-issues was finally explained and just maybe, with this new revelation, I would finally be able to surrender control. But this, of course, isn’t how true healing works; having an explanation is one thing, authentic healing is another. In the days following the revelation of my suppressed memory, the process of healing began, but in ways I would have never imagined.
A few weeks after confirming my suppressed memory with my mother and still lost in an emotional fog, my fitness studio was broken into. My credit card number was stolen, my checking account number was stolen and my identity was stolen. Someone had crowbarred their way into my studio and found all my important documents. I felt violated all over again. But instead of deep sadness, all I felt was anger and fear. Some faceless monster had ruined my space of safety and peace. The business I had built to give my recovery a positive and purposeful place in my life had been assaulted. The door to my studio was damaged and the property manager refused to replace it so that every time I walked through the door I have a stark reminder of the invasion just like the trauma that has scarred my body. The following weeks were filled with repeated calls to the police who did nothing just like when I was 3-years-old. Calling the IRS and being told there was nothing they or I could do except wait and check again later to see if any false documents were filed. Feelings of insignificance and like I didn’t matter flooded my body from both the memory of the molestation and now the break-in. At first I pushed them aside and focused on what I needed to do to protect myself; I opened a new bank account, I got a new credit card, I froze my credit, I did my best to feel grounded, but the ground felt soft and unreliable. Nothing in my life felt stable or important anymore. Control was lost, and in a way that I had never experienced before. I started having panic attacks, and suspected every unfamiliar face that walked by my studio.
My thoughts turned dark. Any external signs of happiness were forced and not real. I knew I was slipping. I yelled at my kids, my husband and especially my coach. I pushed people away and I refused to listen to my therapist or my coach. I knew I was allowing all of these things to pull me down but I was too exhausted to fight. I felt too worthless to fight. So I allowed it all to come in. I surrendered to the waves of emotions that rolled in like waves on the beach. I sat in it without protest and without any effort to escape. I cried in the car. I cried myself to sleep. And as horrible as everything I experienced felt; I needed this time to grieve, to release and to clear out. In the past, eating disorder behaviors, obsessive exercise or self-harm would have all served to numb this kind of pain to help me cope. But I turned to none of these. I sat in the pain, regret, fear and anger. It was cathartic, it was intense but it was necessary.
It was in this process and finally allowing the words of my coach to impact my weary heart, that I started asking myself, “why?”
Why now? What is the universe trying to tell me? What am I missing?
And probably the most impactful question of all, “why did this happen for me?”
Through surrendering to this divine storm and allowing it to settle, I was ready to fully listen. Although so much of my self-care had fallen by the wayside by this point, the one thing I kept in tact of was my yoga practice. Through this storm, yoga was one of the only times when I still felt peace and calm.
One day at the end of class in savasana I began to hear this answer:
An identity was stolen and another was revealed; my identity was stolen from the break-in and an essential piece of my story from over three decades ago was revealed.
The universe desperately wanted me to listen, to stop and finally see myself, my whole self as who I truly am. With all the facts, with every piece of me and without the fabricated truth I had created long ago when my eating disorder was calling the shots. What did I hear when I finally listened?
This business I created is not who I am. Fitness and exercise are not who I am.
The decision to go into this profession was a decision my eating disorder made long ago and at a time when I would have done anything to protect it. I left musical theater not to pursue a new career but to pursue my eating disorder. I never truly chose this path. This is not who I am. I had forgotten who I am. This is why I broke down at that women’s summit when we were focusing on our truth. It didn’t matter how good I was at teaching yoga, Pilates or exercise. It didn’t matter that I enjoyed my work. It didn’t matter how successful my business was. The only thing that mattered is that this is not who I am. It was time to fully surrender this fabricated identity, but looming over this sobering realization was a question full of uncertainty and confusion; where do I go from here?
My first inclination was to start taking voice lessons again. Through this storm I had found my real voice and I wanted to feel it soar like it used to before my world was turned upside down by my eating disorder. I wanted to get back what the eating disorder had taken away. As I began singing again, I thought I had started the journey back home to myself, my true self. It felt too easy of an answer and that’s because it was. Even though I desperately wanted to sing and perform again, this was not was the Universe had in mind. A few months after I’d begun voice lessons, I discovered I was pregnant with my third child. With the exhaustion and the nausea of the first trimester and simultaneously an increase in my workload, I reluctantly ended my voice lessons, but instead of sadness like I’d experienced in the past, there was a strange sense of relief. For the first time, I felt at peace putting this part of me to rest. The sadness and resentment that went along with thoughts and memories of performing had somehow morphed into feelings of peace. The blame I had once harbored toward myself for failing to realize my childhood dream of performing on Broadway had turned into self-forgiveness. I could finally fully embody the truth that it was not my fault. I could finally let go of my grief and sadness over a dream that was not meant for me.
I began exploring my feelings around other things I had also typically grieved the loss of due to my eating disorder. Things that I used to think, if only they had stayed in my life or somehow made their way back into my life, I would be whole again; That my life would be right again. For the first time in my life, the painful feelings of longing and sadness had faded into the past. In its place, complete gratitude and love for the people in my life right now and more importantly the sensation of full embodiment of my true self-acceptance. I didn’t need to search the past anymore to make sense of who I am now. I didn’t need to find explanations for why or how things didn’t work out because I knew now in my heart, that things actually did work out. I could finally stand powerfully in my body in this present moment and feel complete. Alignment finally felt real. All the pieces of my story had been put in place and I could finally shed my past and embody my whole self without any of my self-proclaimed labels. The reward of fully surrendering my past was an incredible sense of peace and a confidence in my voice like I had never known. With this peace and with this authenticity I know I can finally move forward, trauma and all, as a complete person with my entire story fully embodied.
So where do I go from here?
My next child will be born in March and the lease on my studio is up in May. Do I continue my work in the fitness industry? Do I choose another path? Do I fully embrace motherhood and stay at home even though it’s probably not financially possible?
I have no freakin clue.
And that’s OK. Actually it’s more than just OK, it’s liberating because what I do know is that I don’t need any of these things to make me complete anymore. I am complete just as I am and no matter what I choose to do, nothing and no one can ever take that away ever again.
Navigating the Murky Waters of Body Positivity, Thin-Privilege and Eating Disorder Recovery: Part Two