I always wanted to be different.
In the fifth grade when all the other kids were bopping around to NKOTB, Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson, I was spinning Elton John and Billy Joel on my record player.
When my high school friends went to Contempo Casuals to purchase Bongo shorts and fluffy-sleeved shirts, I was sporting patent leather Doc Martin’s and channeling my inner Courtney Love.
In college, the girls going out to on Saturday nights were decked out in tight skirts, short shirts, and crazy-high heeled stilettos, whereas I headed to the Ocean Club in pants and flats.
From as long as I can remember, I always wanted to have that little extra special something that set me apart from others. In my childhood and teen years, I thought that blatantly showing the world that I was different through my music choices or clothing was important because I wanted validation that I was, in fact, special. As I’ve grown older (and hopefully a little wiser), I now see that my uniqueness does not need to be on display through my clothes or music choice for the world to see.
Knowing all this, I now find it highly ironic that I initially based my ideas of treatment around set food templates and schedules, meal plans gleamed from the internet or dietitians, exercise advice from people who do not have my history or skill set.
In my eating disorder recovery, I was not being unique in any way.
For the last six weeks I decided to pursue real recovery, recovery that will make me whole in mind, body, and spirit. And initially, I thought I was doing pretty well. I had read numerous articles about the necessity of breaking ingrained thought patterns (which I still believe), and watched YouTube videos that promoted unrestricted free eating. I saw these individuals who ate and ate and ate, and thus I decided to follow suit. And so, I ate like a fiend around the clock because those writings and those YouTubers suggested that if I just EAT EAT EAT EAT EAT, then eventually, my brain will catch up with my body and I will be nutritionally and mentally healed. So that was what I did. I JUST ATE. I write that down, and many of you probably wouldn’t believe me when I say that I literally ate every time I thought about food. But my husband can attest to the fact that I did shovel something in my mouth whenever I thought about said snack or meal. Even when I thought I was going to puke, if I thought about a muffin, I ate it. There was a certain element of freedom to being able to eat around the clock (cookies, cakes, and pies, oh my!), but after a week or two, I noticed that I was starting to get a bit anxious. Anxious about my expanding waistline, yes, but also anxious that I wasn’t doing my recovery process “right.” In my mind, I thought that if an article or a YouTuber suggested I eat until stuffed, then I HAD to do that, no ifs, ands, or buts.
But what if I was driving and had no food around me?
What if I was in the middle of teaching and couldn’t break away for a snack?
What if I felt the slightest bit of hunger and wasn’t able to eat right away?
The fears and anxieties that were very similar to the fears and anxieties I faced when surrounded with anorexic food rules started creeping back again. It’s ironic, actually. I could STILL get anxious about food even when I was trying to NOT engage in eating disorder thought patterns and NOT be anxious.
And then, there’s the issue about my exercise (or lack thereof). I decided to stop exercising cold-turkey a week or so into eating in an unrestricted manner. Yup, no exercising. Nothing. Nada. I went from weightlifting five times a week to hanging up my Adidas and spending afternoons napping. Why did I decide to do this? After reading some articles on compulsive exercise and watching more YouTubers talk about their recovery journeys, these individuals suggested that to break the ingrained exercise compulsions I had, the only way to do so was NOT engage in the behavior. And so, that was what I set my mind out to do. But similar to what happened with my eating, the anxiety started welling up. And not just anxiety that I was going to lose strength or muscle mass–it was an anxiety that I felt foreign in my own body. I didn’t feel like ME. I knew (and still do know) that my identity is not wrapped up in a sport, so separating weightlifting from Lauren wasn’t entirely unfathomable. I am not just a “weightlifter.” I am “Lauren.” Granted, there is something about snatching and clean and jerking that I find absolutely breathtaking and powerful and fluid and lovely, but those movements do not define me. And truth be told, after a short while of refraining from lifting, I started to get depressed. The joy I got from working towards perfecting the technique in a lift or feeling myself explosive extend in a snatch was gone. And it made me incredibly sad.
Now I know many of you will already think, “Lauren, that is the ED voice talking to you. Don’t listen to it.” But here’s the thing: I can FEEL when anorexic voice is talking. Deep in my spirit, in my soul, I can feel when the voice is compulsive and unhealthy. But these feelings of anxiety around my food and exercise….those didn’t feel like it was from anorexia. It is hard to explain what the exact feeling is like, and the only thing I can liken it to is when I hear God’s voice speaking to me. There is a peace and calm and freedom when I feel His Spirit telling me what to do–even if that action is one that I may not have chosen for myself, I will not feel unsettled or incomplete.
But eating like a fiend and stopping all exercise did make me feel unsettled and incomplete. I was trying to do what an internet article or YouTuber had done in recovery, and in the end, I wasn’t honoring my own identity and recovery process. I was NOT being an individual but instead was trying to fit myself into someone else’s plan.
And then I read a text from a friend. And this text made me really sit and pray about what it was that I was hoping to get out of this recovery process. She said that I should find that unique thing that makes me ME, and channel that into all that I do.
God has pretty remarkable and awesome timing.
Her text made me think.
I was eating and eating and eating according to someone else’s plan, and in the end, it was causing me gut-wrenching anxiety.
I stopped exercising cold-turkey, and it was causing me anxiety and depression.
My ultimate goal is to inspire people around me to find their own little extra special something and share that with the world, yet I was negating my own “special something” and was instead trying to corral myself to be like everyone else.
I was forgetting my uniqueness.
And I was reminded…
I am not like any other person recovering from a restrictive eating disorder.
I am not even the person I was ten years ago when I was struggling to eat and refrain from long-distance running.
I am a thirty-eight year old mother to two wonderful children. I am a wife who loves her husband. I am a writer who has a passion to share my thoughts with the world. I am a teacher who is at times, also a student. I am a weightlifter who wants to learn and grow. I am a child of God who will always be loved by my Creator.
All of those above listed labels, all of those titles are tied and woven together to create ME, a beautiful, unique person. And because I am uniquely created and designed, my journey is also going to be unique and my own.
So what does that mean? I’m not following those articles and YouTubers that persuaded me for so long. I am weightlifting again (albeit, with some stipulations of frequency and length of training sessions so I can give myself adequate rest periods). I’m eating like a human being who loves food (I am listening to what my body truly wants, I am making sure to eat so that I can perform daily tasks, I don’t force feed myself).
I am being my own unique self.
And I am feeling, well, pretty darn grand. I feel more like my unique, like Lauren.
And I am moving towards that full recovery…onward and upward.