Editor’s note: The name Georgia, used in this story, is a pseudonym.
This was about two years ago, when I had just transferred to CSU. I saw a valentine’s card, one of those cheesy ones at Safeway, and on the front was this massive colorful striped heart, with bold letters “Where is Your Heart?” I thought it was cute, no big deal, and kept walking, but that card stayed with me. I had no energy, not much excitement, very few friends and not much other than a whole lot of pain beneath a charming exterior.
I struggled with disordered eating and being unhappy with my body for as long as I can remember. I grew up trying to make my unhappy father happy, and my 112 pound marathon-running mother proud of me. Both I found to constantly torture me and keep me furiously disappointing myself. To control the life that I couldn’t control, I grew dependent and obsessive about food, weight and becoming more perfect. The harder I worked and closer I seemed to get, the more loneliness and fear seem to rule my life. If people kept telling me how great I looked, I must be loveable. My life will turn out right if I’m perfect. I became very thin, very tired, and very isolated. I had never received so much attention from my parents, from guys, and even from my long-time friends. I was ever more perfect on the exterior, but I no longer got a period, I was always cold, and was consumed by desperation and determination to be thin. Thin had every power over me. I could not deal with my pain. I didn’t know how else to go about it than to physically deteriorate. I was small and weak inside, so it made sense to match the outside.
My 73 year old dad just got married for the fifth time. She is beautiful, very petite, full of energy, and never going to make my unhappy father happy. I tried from the time I was a little girl until I was nineteen years old.
I am so proud to be my dad’s daughter. I’m so much like him too. He is absurd and inappropriate at times, much more honest than necessary, and has the driest and most punching sense of humor I’ve ever met. He’s intelligent and so handsome, and has the most unique and charismatic art collection. My dad is a 73 year old man, and he’s still a very hurt little boy. He is filled with pain. His father died when he was 17, he got a sum of money that allowed him to never work, and he never achieved a sense of self-worth. My dad did not have to work for anything, he didn’t earn what he had; security and a lifetime of wealth was given to him at age seventeen. He didn’t work much, he never found what he loved, and he never really got to know himself. He never had to struggle, or make tough decisions, because money seemed to always bail him out, and provide a comfortable and exciting life-style to keep him busy.
His father was never proud of my athlete dad, because sports are a waste of time. He was proud of my uncle Jack who was the intellectual one, who spent his time studying and interning at financial institutions. My grandfather died when my dad was 17, before my dad could make him happy. 73 years old, and he is yet to know and like himself. He marries women who will make him happy, but this only lasts until it no longer does.
Growing up I wanted desperately for my dad to be happy. I will forgo telling you details of this torture for over fifteen years, and just swear to you that this is impossible. I was the all-star on the basketball team, the volleyball team, the soccer team, the straight A student.nothing was working. If it was possible, I would have made my dad happy. Life was continually letting me down, and there wasn’t anything I could seem to count on. I loved my dad- I worshiped him. Yet I couldn’t make him happy. What the hell was life worth?
I began to purge all of the indigestible feelings and emotions, struggles and confusions. This lasted several years, on and off, and throwing up didn’t throw up my pain. I was scared of what life was about and why it hurt so bad. I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t gain hope or an understanding of what it took to have a quality life. How do people become happy and what are they happy about?
To deal with this I became a slave to my rigid lifestyle: class, treadmill, eat snacks every 3 hours, yoga, sleep. All I had room to care about was my physique. I had no energy to care about grades, hobbies, I couldn’t make friends if I wanted to because I was so inflexible. I mean, who wants to talk about the number of calories I ate that day?? Well that’s all I thought about.
It’s about a year later, two boyfriends later, many hobbies later, many friends later, and lots of life goals set later. Just like our bodies, our brains are not super-human, and only have the capacity for so much before it shuts down. We have to feed ourselves with positive messages, knowledge and good nutrients in order to perform the way we want to mentally and physically. I became obsessed with giving my body as little calories as possible, running as many miles as I could, and giving myself no self-care. I thought didn’t deserve it. I thought about more important things like calories. And running. I was consumed with my goal of having a perfect body and lost a passion for life. Anybody can strive to look 125 pounds, blonde long hair and be beautiful. BORING! Trust me, even if I had any friends then, and been invited to parties, I would not have been any fun to talk to. I had nothing to say. I didn’t know who I was. I was an exerciser and I wanted to look perfect. Oh cool, wow, that’s interesting. NOT!
Ridding my life of my obsession about food and exercise left a whole lot of room for new thoughts, hobbies, friends (thank God!), and whatever else I wanted. This realization was pretty exciting. What used to matter more than anything now matters much more reasonably. I love to exercise, to sweat, to be healthy and to feel good about myself. I love the Rec center, swimming, yoga, running outside, Kira’s hip-hop class, playing soccer with friends, and just having fun staying fit. I love it a whole lot more though, now that I appreciate it and do it for the right reasons. Rather than slaving to the treadmill, and having to go to the gym, I am active because it gives me energy, helps me sleep better at night, and feels great to be strong and empowered. Food and exercise fell into their appropriate roles in my life, and left a huge empty space that I could now feel with whatever I wanted. So if I don’t want my life to be centered around perfecting my physical body, what do I want to matter in my life? I thought about role models. If I were to spend a year on a gorgeous island and could take three people, who would I take? Making my list of role models was great, because it provided me an awesome answer. I absolutely do not look up to my role models because of their bodies. The most admirable, humble, interesting, fun, happy people that I look up to and adore, are not my role models and coming to my island because of the way they’ll look in bikinis. (My bro wouldn’t look so hot anyway.) My list reminded me of what truly matters to me. So, back to the island.
Donia has been my best friend for 23 years. Let me try to explain her in a concise manner. She does not take life seriously. She laughs, is way too sarcastic, and manages to make each day more like a story. She is so comfortable in her own skin.
Susan Eraly is my 5 ft., 90 lb., genius neighbor who moved here from India a couple years back. She tells hilarious stories with her entire body, extremities flailing and jabbing the air. She bikes to yoga in the snow with a smile on her face and stays awake for two nights if she wants to finish a project at HP where she works. Her life is her own creation, she makes clear goals and sets her mind to attain them. She sent me a text message earlier saying she had discovered the perfect drink: Espresso. Coffee. Steamed foamed chocolate milk. Ya that sounds totally delicious, but who has the guts to order that? Only Susan.
Davis Jones, my older brother, could make friends with a woman in a coma. I love him for many reasons, and a lot because he is so curious about life. He lived in Beijing to learn mandarin, in Chicago to manage the Walter Meego band, and just moved to Chile to find his wife. I swear that’s his reason. He reads, he asks questions, he theorizes and loves life. He loves his life.
I want to spend time with people who embrace life, whatever that is for them, and do it with style. To me this means finding what you love and doing it. It is a sense of self-acceptance and self worth that makes a person genuine, unique, honest, and alive to me. Things I truly love in life- being with great friends at Road 34, Colorado sunsets and warm sunshine, hearing the train during yoga in Old Town, Rams football games, working hard in the library- these things seem to exist in a different realm, far deeper and more permanent than miserable and self-absorbed worries of whether or not my body was perfect. I realized that when I walk into a bar or a party, I do not look for the most perfect person in the room for a friendly conversation. I am usually attracted to the person who looks the most comfortable with themselves. That’s what I admire. That’s what makes someone cool.
What do I want to be remembered for? Tim from yoga says, “You’re born, you live, you die~ enjoy the interval.” Amen! Rather than being remembered for having a great physique, I’d like to look back on life and know I was true to who I was. This is scary, because only I know if my intentions are right and my heart is in the right place. Rather than accepting myself because I successfully ran 5 miles that day, or ate under 1200 calories that day, I’m proud of myself because I stayed in to study rather than meet friends at Stonehouse. This was one of my most threatening barriers: learning to be happy and confident in who I was, and gaining that strength from my spirit and knowing that I am doing the best I can. I used to not have this strength, and look to my daily journal filled with my snacks and coffee calories, to determine whether or not I could be pleased with myself. It’s difficult at first to find that self- acceptance from within because it’s not written out clearly on paper.
Dr.Seuss says, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” If a guy only wants to date me for the way I look in jeans, to them I say, don’t let the door hit ya on the way out! I’ve realized that if a guy is interested in me because of my body, they are probably not going to be the best friend I want sitting in the rocking chair next to me (in Santa Fe maybe?) when I’m 65.
Last Thursday night, I watched three episodes of Sex & the City. One of them was the one when Samantha meets the Brazilian painter with long dark hair, who I found to be gorgeous. She was so full of life. I was excited at my admiration, because (I can’t remember the woman’s name) but she was not skinny, not blonde and not at all perfect. She did not have a BMI under 22, painted on make-up and I think she had a mole funnily placed on her cheek. But she was completely beautiful because she was happy, present, and she was comfortable in her skin. She knew who she was, and she rocked it. I am not gay, but I’m telling you, this girl was hot, and it was solely because of her confidence and acceptance within herself. Period.
My dad is still unhappy, and I don’t expect this to change any time soon, but I am thankful that I have learned so much from him. I am the only person, the one and only, who can make myself happy! I feel as though this is my most important job. Dolly Parton says, “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose!”
We all have our own stories, our own sources of pain and the ways that we deal with them. I suffered with disordered eating for about 8 years and it did not cure my aching heart. Maya read my story today, and asked me how I got from point A to point B, how I got over the eating disorder, and this left me wondering. Such a simple question, but any changes, true and permanent changes made, are made by taking one step at a time. Steps not necessarily forward, but a step with pure intention, and progress will be made. Life, yoga, body image, happiness, whatever, is a process that is exactly what makes our lives ongoing and ever-changing journeys. Significant treasures I found in my process, that helped me overcome my pain and my disorder:
Dr.Mitch, an amazing call-a-spade-a-spade counselor who helped me figure out what ways I really wanted to define myself. What are my goals for myself? What is important to me? Without a direction, life can take you on a journey rather than life being your own journey. Food had a seriously unreasonable amount of power over me, and I became a victim to that addiction. I want nothing to have that power except me and my own free will.
Yoga, which keeps me calm and myself. Yoga helped me weed out impulsive and mis-directed thoughts that come and go. It taught me how to choose my attitude and perspective rather than be a victim to any thought that arises. My dad just gave me a poster that says “Keep Calm and Carry On.” I love that. My new motto.
Stay in touch with what my priorities are. Set clear goals and keep your eye on them. This keeps me in control of my life, and reminded of what’s important to me. I want to stay connected to what I believe are positive and meaningful things in life.
Friends! Having relationships that are wonderful and fun, which is so difficult (for me was impossible) with an isolating eating disorder. Being around people who care about you and are going through their own troubles reminds you that we’re all human and imperfect, but we’re also all awesome, we’re God’s children, and we’re in this together.
Chris Bachman, a nutritionist/counselor/ R.D./ awesome woman! at Hartshorn, who specializes in disordered eating. She has helped me tremendous amounts, although I’ve only seen her about 10 times. She recommended I read a very helpful book, Intuitive Eating. Talking through my story really helped me decide that I wanted to make some changes for a happier life. I’ve gained trust in myself, to make good decisions as they come, flexibility, to remain open for what the day has to offer, and confidence, that my heart is good and I know what really supplies my life with joy. It helps me to surround myself with positive influences, people who enjoy and live a balanced life.
Great luck to all of you on your paths! Peace and Love (: -Georgia