Last December, me, Jeremy, our friend Keri, and a few other friends, sat around on a Saturday afternoon. Snow covered the ground outside and the idea of snuggling in for hot cocoa and a nap sounded good to everyone.
“I’ve been changing my reaction to cold weather,” Keri announced after awhile. “I’ve realized that for the most part, I hate the cold weather. It makes me mad and whenever the weather changes to cold, I resist it.”
As we grinned and listened to her humorous story, she continued, “So you know I’ve just started telling myself, ‘Who cares if it’s ten degrees outside? The icy wind on my skin is a new experience. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing.’”
We all laughed and began thinking of other “new experiences” that don’t have to be bad things. It started with getting burned alive in volcanoes and actually got more silly from there. “Ahh, getting shot in the heart. This is a new experience. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”
Jeremy and I got a good laugh out of that conversation and seem to quote Keri regularly since then. We’ve had plenty of new experiences this summer, things I’ve never done or imagined doing before, but hey, “It doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” we tell each other, “It’s a new experience.”
I like curry. I like making curry. Geoff, the chef, discovered this and I found myself leading 6-7 kitchen staff through chopping onions, kneading dough for chipatis, and seasoning 4 huge, steaming pots of spicy deliciousness. Lunch was success. I took a nap.
I like kayaking. There are half a dozen kayaks down at the lake front and often during rest period or free time, I’ll take one out and paddle until I can’t go any further. The water is a great place to think and be reminded to ride the waves.
A trail winds around the tip of the point at camp. Though it is not a long run, it winds through trees, along the shore, and up some challenging hills. Sometimes I see deer in the brush and ticks on my legs, but trail running in the early morning, is one of my new favorite things to do. It’s not a treadmill. It’s not the sidewalk, traffic, and observers. It’s clear, open, clean, wild, unpredictable, and rejuvenating. I ran the first time without my ipod because I didn’t know if I would need to listen for animals. But since then I’ve tried to do without. Headphones have always been a distraction from my thoughts and motivation to keep running. But this summer, I’ve learned I don’t need them. I don’t need to hide from myself.
I’ve never worked with blind people. That week came with a treasure chest of experiences I’m so grateful for. Also, I’ve never inserted a tampon for another person. That was a new experience. It doesn’t have to be bad, it’s just…new.
I’ve never gone stargazing on a boat.
I’ve never gone stargazing on a barn roof.
I’ve never been to Waffle house. Everyone from the south is now shocked in amazement as to how this has happened, but let me explain. I’ve only seen one Waffle house in
Thought I’ve wanted to, I’ve never acted in a play. I’ve always thought I might be capable, but in high school, drama always fell during basketball practice, and well, basketball always won. I don’t have any big parts, but it’s been fun nonetheless.
I’ve never dressed up as Red fish before this summer. The teen banquet theme was Dr. Seuss. My friend Katie and I dressed up as Red fish and Blue fish. The gym was decorated with characters from the books and bright neon colors as we feasted on a buffet of weirdly colored food: green eggs and wham, roast beast, purple potato salad, green ice water, and Who pudding. Oh my.
I can’t possibly mention new experiences without mentioning Jeremy. I’ve never dated a boy for 7 months. I hadn’t ever had a fight with Jeremy. I hadn’t ever had a fight and then high-fived afterwards. New experience. I’ve never braided my boyfriends’ hair or been confused as two girls holding hands. I’ve never Nair-ed a guys back. Oh new experiences galore!
I’ve never contemplated so strongly never having kids.
I’ve never contemplated so strongly having kids
I’ve never adapted so well to change. I’m learning flexibility.
I’ve never felt community like this. I’ve always assumed I’m just not a “group” kind of person. I’m not a social butterfly who loves meeting new people and having lots of acquaintances. So while I appreciate having a few really close friends, let’s just say Saturday nights I don’t get tons of phone calls from all my friends wanting to hang out. It’s not that I have that now either, but it’s nice to be in a larger community where we work together and connect in different ways.
I’ve never shared my story with kids. Talking with adults is different. I didn’t want to somehow encourage destructive behavior in kids, but I didn’t want to avoid the topic either.
I’ve never taught sports to kids. I’ve always been coached. Watching them learn and grow and improve must be that “rewarding” feeling my coaches always talked about. Last week after playing competitive games of dodgeball, basketball, and football with teen boys, it felt good to be teaching them valuable skills, even as a girl. I might’ve also taught them how to lose to a girl, because let’s be honest, they needed humbling. But I paid the price for that as well. Every Saturday night the cabin with the best behavior and cleaning scores gets to choose a staff member and pie them. That’s right. Each week two staff members don swimsuits as campers and counselors toss banana crème or chocolate slop in their face. Again, not my favorite part of camp, but as a result of some apparent “schooling” that went on on the basketball court, my boys had their revenge. In all honesty, it was sweet revenge. Because I made them admit before the pie-ing began the “real” reason they chose me. Sweet victory, a quick run to the lake, and pudding in my ear the next morning. Wow.
Never before have I felt cool to kids. I’ve never felt so looked up to and admired. They watch me for sure and I don’t attempt to be anything I’m not. I’ve never felt so responsible for their safety, happiness, and well-being.
Being the youngest in my family, I haven’t had much exposure with kids who are younger than me. Camp has allowed me to work with a wide variety of ages and then gladly give them away at the end of the week. I’ve learned developmental traits I wouldn’t have noticed as easily because the weeks fall in succession by age. I’ve been able to see the differences in kids as they age, what they need, what they don’t need.
I’ve never felt so “old”. Much of the staff is 19, which is only two years younger than me, but they seem so surprised that I am, gasp, 21 years-old! Even more shocking is the campers reactions. To them I seem light years older than they are. One girl last week said, “That girl is such a ho. Oh, if you don’t know, a “ho” is someone who sleeps around.”
While I may feel older than some, I know I am wise. I continue on with what I’ve learned and how I’ve changed. Never before have I been so grateful to be out of high school. It’s a new experience; it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And oh no, please believe me, it isn’t.
I gladly move on.
We all struggle with self-worth, on some level, at some time, in some way.
As I’ve been doing my own research and interviews I’ve learned: men struggle with porn. Maybe they did struggle, maybe they are struggling, maybe they will, but it seems to be inevitable. Maybe it’s not a direct struggle with porn, but it could be masturbation, cheating, or lustful thoughts from a movie, a magazine, or reality, daily life. Women don’t always make that battle much easier.
“Ninety-nine percent of guys struggle with porn, or have struggled in the past, and the other one percent are lying,” or so I’ve heard.
Porn is compensation for wanting to feel worth it, to feel like a man.
Women battle self-worth too. As I’ve never talked to a guy who denies a struggle with porn, I’ve never vocalized my battle with an eating disorder and had a woman say, “Huh, I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Women fight to feel worth it by being beautiful, wanting to feel pretty, worth it, important. Why do we so readily associate women with shopping, hair salons, and fashion? It does not have to be a negative thing, but we are wired to be the beautiful half of humanity, someone has to do it. It is okay to want to feel beautiful and attractive. It is not okay to push extremes to achieve it.
Every woman has either said or thought, “I should not eat that.”
“I am fat.”
“I am ugly.”
“I need to go on a diet.”
“I need to lose 10 pounds, then I’ll be happy.”
“I wish I looked like her.”
Men and women want to feel worth it. We just attempt less than effective methods of doing so. We know by now how I’ve sought self-worth and you probably know how you’ve tried too.
I’m still trying to figure out if every woman has an eating disorder. I hear myself in other women’s words. I recognize my thoughts in women who claim no eating disorder. I realize I’ve taken behaviors to an extreme, but the more women I talk to, the more if feels like I am doomed to an existence of self-hatred for the rest of my life.
I’ve never met a woman who hasn’t dieted. I’ve never met a woman who hasn’t guilted herself into not eating something. I’ve never met a woman who always exercises for the right reasons, her health. I’ve never met a woman who loves herself truly. I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t compare herself to others and feels she comes up short. I’ve never met a woman who is confident, loves herself, and feels adequate and valuable in every way.
Dove conducted a worldwide survey asking women to describe how they look. Of the options “beautiful” was only chosen by 2% of the world’s female population. Two freaking percent.
Saturday night found me angry, crying, frustrated, and hating myself, again: hating what I look like, what I weigh, where I’m at, how I act, who I am. Jeremy held me as I cried, unable to do much else, though that is exactly what I needed him to do. We’ve been here before. Sadly he’s used to it. He just listens. He hears. He helps. I’ve realized that the act of just sitting quietly with someone while they cry, might be one of the hardest things for a guy to do. Jeremy doesn’t try to fix me. He doesn’t try to solve my problems. He understands that the battle for self-worth is not easily fixed. He is strength that I just don’t have, but desperately need.
Sunday I disappeared, well as much as possible amidst 150 people, staff meetings, registration, and arriving tween campers, no easy task. It can be painful to put on a mask, acting like you’re okay, when you just aren’t. So I didn’t. I didn’t put it on. I just was and it was okay.
When people asked me how I was doing, I told them. “Ya know it’s not the best day of my life. I can’t quite figure out how to stop hating myself.”
This might seem a loaded response to a simple question. But I mean “How are you” when I say it, so I always try to answer it honestly. Surprisingly, I gained helpful insight along the way.
“I know exactly what you mean. I’m so sorry,” Hannah told me. Kasia, Hannah, and I sat on the cabin porch and talked about it. Why can’t women stop hating themselves and comparing to everyone else around them?
I told them how I want so badly to be a woman who truly loves herself. Hannah said, “I’ve never met a perfect woman, a woman who loves herself totally and consistently. But I’ve met women who come close.”
As she said it I realized I was again again seeking perfection and that only worsens my situation. Perfection is what got me started in the first place. I may never find the perfect woman who loves herself completely, but I know plenty of women who come close, and that might just be good enough.
My roommate, Kasia stopped me, reached for my arm, and said, “I can’t believe you’re saying this right now. You are that woman to me. You are that woman who seems to be okay with who she is. You are confident and you love life. It’s so surprising for me to hear you say that you struggle with the same things I do, because I look up to you so much.”
My jaw dropped. I could not believe the words that were coming out of her mouth. I found myself in a similar position a week ago when Katie, a thin, beautiful, blond babe with a spunky personality, compassionate smile, and generous spirit, told me, “I wish I was more like her. She makes me look fat.”
My dropped again. How could Katie, the girl I compare myself to, feel as worthless as I do, when she’s 10 times the person I’ll ever be?
It’s sick really and it’s getting us no where. It’s a vicious cycle I refuse to contribute to or take part in. I’m not exactly sure yet how to avoid it or how to get out of it, when sometimes self-hatred seems to pump through my veins.
Someday self-worth will find me, loving, forgiving, accepting, and kind. Until then I’ll be the best version of myself along the way.
I dare you to do the same.
The more I share my story, the more liberated I become. Eighteen months ago I wrote a blog admitting to an eating disorder and found an inbox overflowing with support, encouragement, and others personal stories: eating disorders, pornography. I spoke at Union college and was greeted again with warmth and other people’s testimonies: eating disorders, self-hatred, depression, alcoholism. I shared my story here at camp in
Every Sunday night at campfire bowl we do something called, Cardboard Testimonies. As our theme this summer is Freedom, we are encouraging those we come in contact with to face the chains that bind them and surrender. One at a time, any staff that want to can go up and hold a piece of cardboard with their own testimony written on it. For example, mine says, “Recovering bulimic” and when I flip it over it says, “God is re-defining beauty.”
It is equally uncomfortable, but equally rewarding every time. By now, 18 months after “exposing” that secret I swore I’d never tell by blog, emails, speaking at
Consider a full size moving truck full of possessions: couches, dresses, a grand piano, beds, boxes, fine china, and books, and being expected to unload and move into a house all by yourself. Split up that load equally between 1,500 movers. Piece of cake right? That’s how I feel. Relief. Rest. Healing. I don’t have to carry this on my own anymore.
We’ll call her Deidra. She runs 6 miles every morning. Yesterday I saw her out running twice. She doesn’t eat much. She labels food “good” and “bad.” She likes black and whites. She has never told anyone but me. She disappears at times and shows proof of life at others. She gets defensive, avoids confrontation and conversation, she exists. I can’t save her.
We’ll call her Brenda. She vocalized the need for help to a few close friends, but didn’t receive much support. I’m the only other person who knows. She runs. She compares. She fights within her head everyday wishing to be beautiful, noticed, important, enough. She looks anxious, antsy, uncomfortable. She uses humor to mask her pain. She does it well, but I can’t save her.
I have to remember that while I am public in my personal journey, that does not automatically make me responsible for everyone else’s. I can’t save these girls. I can be here to listen, but I am still fighting my own demons.
I’ve been intentional in this blog to not write in too much detail about the specific behaviors of an eating disorder. I used to search online for tips, I know others do too. It’s sick, but it’s true. I don’t want to encourage an already massive monster. But it struck me the other day that I have not written much about how to help someone who is drowning in an eating disorder.
Someone battling an eating disorder does not need:
-to be told they are beautiful.
-to be told they are skinny.
-to be told they are perfect just as God made them.
-to be guilted and shamed into feeling worse than they already do.
-to be told your own personal stories about weight loss, that’s different: “Yeah, I could stand to lose some pounds too. It’s so hard isn’t it? How did you do it?”
-to hear, “I understand.” Because even if you’ve had an eating disorder, you still don’t understand. They are a different person, with different family, friends, and environment. “I understand” is one of the worse things you could say.
Here are some helpful things you can do:
-Observe. Gather information. Consider if what you are seeing could be eating disorder behavior: infatuation with weight and appearance, anger/mood swings, avoiding social situations and withdrawing from people, strict comments about food and exercise, weight loss, disappearing to the bathroom after meals, inflexible, agitated, black and white thinking, perfectionist, over achiever.
-Become a safe place for them to talk to you if they so choose. Be honest and transparent with your own struggles. Say “How are you?” then shut your mouth and listen. No really. Don’t interrupt. Don’t fill the precious silence with junk. Just listen. Everyone wants to be heard.
-Speak honestly. “I’ve been unsure of how to bring this up. I am worried about your health. I’ve noticed _________ and ___________, and I just want to know if there is anything I can do, because I want to help any way I can.”
-Don’t give up on them. I lived in denial for several months even after the doctor told me I was anorexic. It wasn’t that I was trying to be tricky and hide anything, I figured eating disorders only happened to crazy people. Ha. Be around. Be available. Be persistent in your compassion without pushing the person away. If she doesn’t want to talk to you, suggest a specific counselor you’ve been to or heard about.
-Compliment the person on more than just their appearance. How about character, personality, skills, attitude? Remind them they are worth much more than what they look like.
If someone tells you they have an eating disorder, don’t freak out. It is not your fault. They are not entirely your responsibility. They made a lot of decisions before hand that got them here. Be compassionate, but keep in mind that an eating disorder is like many other addictions and most of the time, short of suicide, there is time, take a deep breath. Do your best with where you’re at. No one is perfect.
I’ll be honest: people with eating disorders are sometimes difficult to help. I’ve often told my family that I’ve never had to help someone with an eating disorder so I don’t know what it feels like, yet they’ve done a pretty dang good.
On any given day I wanted to talk about it or I didn’t want to talk about, I wanted to hide it or I wanted to flaunt it. I would get so angry at some people’s comments or bulimia jokes though they didn’t realize they were laughing about me. I felt that the entire advertising industry was out to get me. I was pissed off that there were drive-throughs, that holidays revolved around food, and that eating was completely necessary to survive.
Keep in mind, she might be irrational. She might be angry. She might not be ready to talk. But healing will come. Don’t give up on her.
It might take 3 or 30 years, but don’t give up on her.