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January 20, 2023

Healing is a Continuous Spiral: Lessons from an Eating Disorder Healing Journey.

I read thousands upon thousands of books, memoirs, and firsthand accounts of others who had walked the path of recovery and healing from an eating disorder.

I hoped one day I could tell my own story from this place of wholeness, healed and fully recovered.

I have written and shared my story many times before. I published a book four years ago encapsulating my recovery and healing journey from an eating disorder of many shades and flavors (namely bulimia). I poured my heart and soul into the healing journey, taking a much broader, trauma-informed, somatic-based, spiritual lens of healing. I studied yoga. I received somatic work. I tried lots and lots of therapy. I delved deeply into plant medicine, where trauma resurfaced and found safety to feel again, and also where shards of deeply held wounds and shadows of disassociation patterns remerged with a vengeance and a furry, leaving me feeling a bit more scarred for the wear.

I hoped and prayed with desperation most days that either I would finally be free and healed of this god forsaken suffering or that my life would just end already. I couldn’t imagine one more day of the pure misery of my own pained existence. Bulimia has that way with you. Spits you up and chews you back out. And at the same time, like an abuser, or covert narcissistic lover, takes you by the hand and spins you dizzy with unfulfilled promises of freedom from pain, escape from suffering, and liberation from feeling deep self-loathing, but little do you know that the shadow of promises feed on poison and pain, perpetuating the suffering day by day.

Five years ago, I finally said, “No more,” and meant it with the entirety of my being, mind, body, heart, and soul. Committed to this choice and boundary with myself. Stood by it, tooth and nail biting down with great struggle each time those urges to binge came up, like a wave or tsunami threatening to sink my tiny little life boat. Food and binging was always the getaway car to an unnamed location of short-lived euphoria followed by deeper misery, self-hatred, and shame.

But, combined with some deep somatic, embodied spiritual work I had been diving headfirst into, and a new career in massage therapy, and a new city and home, I finally stopped engaging in the toxic cycle of bulimia.

I never thought I could stop, so when the days, months, and years passed without behaviors, I rejoiced. I celebrated myself for the first time ever. I remembered what it felt like to feel joy again. To feel alive. And, to feel at all.

Feelings have a way of convincing you of truth, of entirety of your human existence and worth boiled down to a feeling. Along the way, I have and am still learning to flow with the tides of my emotions, honoring their existence and yet not getting swept down too far or out to sea that I can’t find my footing again.

Five years of recovery, of continued growth, the deepest lessons and challenges faced this last year, I stand humbled. Deeply humbled by the journey of healing. Because, as those books shared with me, maybe falsely so, the healing never truly ends. I have come to accept more and more healing as a verb, recovery as a journey, and myself as a person to be loved, not a project to be fixed.

As with all things, food will always be one of the most intimate relationships we have. To take energy from outside of you and make it a part of you. It is a conscious or unconscious relationship many of us have. Though I don’t engage in outright disordered behaviors (binging or purging), I still have my own ways of unconsciously consuming and numbing with food. Because food to me was always the safest and sure way to get my often times much-harder-to-pin-down-and-meet needs met, to feel pleasure, to feel comfort, or to not feel. To, for a few moments, just the f*ck check out.

My relationship to food and my body has not culminated in a state of perfection. And, I figure as long as I am in a body, eating food and feeling feelings, maybe there is no culmination point in this lifetime. It’s an ongoing journey of healing, learning, and growing. And, the only thing that has helped is ample amounts of grace along the way. Whenever I slip into negative self-shaming talk, I feel the familiar tugs of the eating disorder voice trying to seduce me yet again. These days, I can catch it. I can watch it. I can say hello to it. I still don’t like its existence, but it doesn’t sit in the driver’s seat these days; rather, it’s more like that annoying co-pilot or passenger badgering you to turn right, go faster, slow down, speed up.

As Jeff Foster, author and writer says, these thoughts are like children, or birds singing. I can’t say they sound like they are singing—maybe yelling, badgering, berating, and belittling—but I do deeply appreciate the metaphor, that these thoughts simply just want to exist and have permission to be there. And we can tend to them like the old, old stories, they are, by simply saying, “Hello.” That they are in fact like children, full of so much to say, zero filter, and a rawness of being. And, they need our parenting energy to hold them.

As I approach my five-year anniversary of being free from bulimia, I still feel pride of the journey I’ve taken, but some days, I also feel and question my own recovery. Am I really that far along on the journey if I still have body image struggles, thoughts of food and my weight, and more manageable and fairly normal coping behaviors around food and exercise?

I’m learning that maybe there’s no mathematical linear equation for how healed we are. No one numbered answer for how near-perfected we are. Because as long as we are alive and breathing, the healing continues, in spirals, one layer after another to be revealed to us.

And, yeah, that’s maybe not the answer our minds or egos would like to hear. But, it’s the truth.

Some days, we feel lit up by life, elated to be alive, and as far along on the healing journey as we are. We feel joy swelling in our hearts again. Other days, we feel crushed by life circumstance, by the weight of inner wounds still tugging at us, demanding our attention.

Some years, we enter a deep initiation cycle into the healing realms by fire. By illness. By disease. By injury. By death. By loss. My own journey took on that shade this whole last year, plunged deep into the depths of physical illness.

We can sit here and wonder what we did to deserve this suffering. Because we must have done something horribly wrong to deserve this karma. That our bodies are finally feeling all the years of emotional and self-inflicted verbal abuse. Of all the “wrong” choices we made, of not listening, not honoring the self or the body, or the soul. That this is our punishment.

But, maybe, just maybe, suffering and pain are the portals back to remembering our own power of self-compassion, of gentleness toward the self while unlearning thousands of years of conditioning toward self-hatred, judgment, and rejection.

The healing continues, for all of us. I can say I am healed from bulimia. I no longer inflict that poison upon my body. And, that is a story worth telling. Even if the story of being fully free and liberated from all bodily, food, and emotional struggles is one I am still writing. I am still writing the story of being human. Of being flawed and still worthy of love. Of being imperfect and still deeply worthy of belonging to life. It is a story of broken chapters, torn up pages, scribbled love letters to self, forgotten promises to self, and yet, the deepest, unwavering commitment to self.

It’s a story of life. Of healing as a verb. Of healing as a part of life, but maybe not the sole reason for existing. Of healing as a continuous spiral into becoming human, of being allowed to be human, and still have wounds.

Of allowing vulnerability to be the medicine, even if it still feels like the curse.

As poet and author Jeff Foster says:

“You cannot truly love until you can love your own inability to love sometimes (including the self). You cannot truly heal unless you embrace all that is unhealed within yourself, make room for it, treat it as a welcome guest in your vastness. You cannot know true freedom until you realize that even feeling unfree is a tremendous gift.”

So, let’s all grant ourselves a little more permission to love the unloveable, the inability to love, embrace the unhealed parts on the healing journey of life, to find wholeness in the broken-feeling parts still, and to acknowledge the self for all the healing we’ve already done. Because, this healing moment is enough, and as you exist in this moment, so too, are you enough as you are, in whatever state you find yourself in, broken open or broken down, feeling into, or feeling cast out from love.

May the spiral of healing find you in this moment too, and remind you that you are already home, and already whole.

For more of my eating disorder recovery story, check out my book, linked to my Instagram page.

Or tune in to my latest podcast episode to hear more of my recovery story, here or here.

~

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