Saturday, November 28, 2015

Change is a Form of Loss

Lately, I've felt a strong desire to walk up to people and awkwardly announce,
"I don't know if you know this, but...I was just in Korea."

And I know that they'd stare me down, look for my adult supervision,
and start to walk away. At which point, I would grab their arm, look them
straight in the eyes and repeat,
"No, I don't think you understand: I was just in Korea!"

And then this poor unsuspecting person just might run away. And they probably should.
Because I'm feeling a wee bit crazy lately.

Not really, truly I'm-a-harm-to-myself-and-people-around-me crazy.
I'm just the fantasizing-about-this-every-damn-day kind of crazy.

Because I just can't stop looking around me
at the coffee shop
at the grocery store
at the gas station
on the street
in the airport
at a rest stop
and thinking, "How does this place exist at the same time as all the places I've just been?"

Like Korea
and Cambodia
and China
and Vietnam
and Japan
and Thailand
and Indonesia.

It's disorienting.
It's unsettling.
It's crazy-making.

It's like Narnia. A place you've been to. A place that is real. As real as this chair I'm sitting on. But it's rare to find a person who has been there and can relate to what you're saying. Or someone who realizes that that place you just came from takes up 70% of your thinking on a daily basis. Someone who knows to say, "Tell me about this place you've come from."

It's not a rational question. You can't tell just by looking at me. I'm fine. I'm functioning. But this occurrence, where you've been to such a vivid and unique place, but almost no one in your "new" life has. They don't get it. How could they? So my body is here sitting across the dinner table, but my head is somewhere else entirely. That's a hard one that I haven't quite figured out what to do with.

On Facebook recently, a friend who also lived abroad a few years ago, wrote, "Turns out you can't live in two places at once. I'm still coming to terms with leaving a part of myself somewhere and being a whole person at the same time. It's very difficult. I have to admit that, for me, moving forward means forgetting a little. Heartbreaking but thus is life."

hiking in Bali, Indonesia

Travel is a dismembering experience.

A big part of me is in Colorado.
And Nebraska.
A large piece of me is and always will be in Cambodia.
Another piece of me resides in Korea.
And little bits of me are scattered throughout all the places I've landed in-between.

The farther I go, the more disjointed I become. But it's not only one painful amputation after another. Because some how, like Narnian magic, my heart grows fuller and my eyes more clear.

Rob Bell (who should start paying me for all these endorsements) says,
"Change, even it it's good, is always a form of loss, and loss must be grieved. 
That's the only way it works. Stuff it, deny it, repress or suppress it and it will 
come back to haunt you. It will lurk in the shadows and it will resurface later. 
Your grief then, is a sign of health. It demonstrates an awareness of your 
interiors, your heart, and your desire to face and embrace what's 
actually going on inside of you."

So, as I grieve the loss of this Korea-season of our life, I will do so with real-parts of my beating heart, pulsating from various homes around the world.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Be a Safe Place This Thanksgiving

Today, I sat at a coffee shop on a cloudy afternoon and listened to people share their Thanksgiving plans. I went to the grocery store and bought cranberries and chicken and rosemary and chives. I fought the crowds for a parking spot with the best of 'em. I sat in the kitchen and watched my sister cut onions and make delicious food.

It's been three years since our last Thanksgiving in the United States. Two years since I ate snail soup on Thanksgiving. A year since I blogged that, "we won't always be so far away." And here we are, not so far away, in the States with people we love spending the holidays how we always have and how we likely always will.

There's comfort in familiarity and there's thrill in the foreign.

I'm lucky to have experienced both. What a gift.

Beyond the gift of travel, is the gift of healing. And Thanksgiving will forever be a reminder to me of the healing and growth and recovery that has taken days, week, months, and years. And so on the eve of a day that still haunts and torments many a person with anorexia and/or bulimia, I'd like to share a few thoughts on ways to support a person with an eating disorder, but also EVERYONE at the table. Because there is likely someone in your life that has an eating disorder you know nothing about AND there's always room for a little more compassion even for the other folk gathered around your table:

1. STOP asking people if they've lost/gained weight
     What a boring a judgey question anyway. Certainly, we are far more interesting as human beings than numbers on a scale.

2. Talk about things other than food
     And please-oh-please do not comment on how much or how little a person is eating. None of your damn business, that's what they're eating!

3. Stop rationalizing your food choices
     No one really cares that you were "bad" and ate a muffin this morning. No one really cares that you were "good" and ran three miles this morning. Again, this only makes us all stupider as human beings.

4. Put your bathroom scale away
     Better yet, throw it in the trash. Get rid of it for good. If you're overweight you'll know it because your clothes aren't fitting. Fixating on numbers is what contributes to eating disorders anyway. I can pinpoint precise moments at another person's home when I stepped on the scale and it set me back another few months. Not their fault. Just a nice gesture.

5. Don't use ED-specific language as a joke
     You finding "binging" on pumpkin pie laughable only makes a person feel trivialized. And claiming that you couldn't be anorexic because you lack the willpower doesn't make anyone feel accomplished or proud.

6. Offer something to do before or after the meal
     Sitting around in preparation of eating and in the after-math of eating is about the hardest time for a recovering person. Suggest a walk. Ask if they wanna play cards. Basically, anything is everything.

7. Don't make observations about what their eating
     Likely if a person is trying to hide eating disordered behaviors they won't fulfill your curiosity to witness it anyway. So trust that the person is following a best-laid plan unless they ask specifically for your help.

Basically, leave this person's recovery to the experts. And please avoid body-shaming talk and conversation about fat and calories that often pervades so much of our culture as some kind of weird, national past-time.

We're all getting better, people. Every day. We're all learning how to love each other better.

Here's to that well-worth-it journey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

One Little Cupcake Sprinkle

When did "So, what's next for you two?" become such an offensive question?

We've been back in the States for almost two months now; traveling from state-to-state, spending time with people we love. And along the way, kind, generous, sincere people often ask--as any normal human being would--what we're going to do now. And when it happens I want to shrivel into a teeny-tiny person, the size of a sprinkle on top of a cupcake and just disappear, pretend like I didn't hear the question, and blend in with the other sprinkles until the person walks away.

I don't know what we're doing.

I know we've finished college.
I know we're married.
I know we spent two years in Korea.
But I can't easily account for the past ten years.
I seem to have tragically short-term memory.
I don't know how I got here.

So, now what?

Listening to Rob Bell's podcast recently, he released a series of daily thoughts about forgiveness. About how our failure to forgive people doesn't hold them hostage, it holds us hostage. It keeps us straddled with one foot in the past and one foot in the present. Not. Fully. Living. And, for the life of me, I couldn't think of anyone that I needed to forgive. But I listened on because Mr. Bell always has wise things to say, like this:
"And oftentimes the debts are ones we've racked up, we haven't forgiven ourselves. We are not living well with ourself. We have not made peace with our own story."

Maybe I need to make some peace.
Make amends.
Forgive myself for what was.
For the things that changed my story.
For my short-term memory.
For the ways my 20s seems to have slipped through my fingers.
Like I expected something more, but am left with what I have.

If I'm lingering in the past, it's difficult to be present and content now.
Because part of me still feels like I'm nineteen years-old.

And so...

Dear Heather-girl,

I forgive you. 

I forgive you for being 18 and wanting to fit in so desperately.

I forgive you for the time you stopped eating.

I forgive you for the times you forced yourself to throw-up.

I forgive you for showing up to college only half-way there.

I forgive you for ever believing that your worth was dependent upon your appearance.

I forgive you for the hours you spent with five different counselors.

I forgive you for the women you judged in therapy, positive that you'd never be "that bad."

I forgive you for the reasons you went to Cambodia.

I forgive you for being broke open and torn apart.

I forgive you for Cambodia being the fight-of-your-life.

I forgive you for needing trauma counseling.

I forgive you for the friendships you lost along the way.

I forgive you for the boundaries you had to make to get through the day.

I forgive you for the times you couldn't go to class.

I forgive you for each passing semester blurring into a cacophony of counseling appointments, self-harm, regret, and, oh yeah--college courses, too.

I forgive you for losing track of time and losing track of self.

I forgive you for the six years you spent recovering from that eating disorder.

I forgive you for the 4.5 years (and oh, how much money...) it took to earn a degree you may or may not ever use.

I forgive you for the two years you spent in Korea. Your friends may have shiny careers, but you don't have student loans.

I forgive you for worrying so much about the future.

I forgive you for wanting to play small.

I forgive you for being twenty-eight and feeling lost and unsettled and unsure.

It's hard to let go of what feels like so many pitfalls and drawbacks these past ten years. "If only..." are two of the most dangerous words in the English language. I can think of so many things that I wish had gone differently.

But my life isn't only one of regret.
It's just awfully easy to see them as I'm standing here with a lot of time on my hands and miles and miles to reflect on.

So, here's to forgiving myself and moving forward with hope. Because, as Rob Bell says,
"To forgive is to set someone free and then realize that it's you."

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Every birthday surprises me.
Every year.
Every passage of time.

As if I forget that time is happening whether I like it or not.
Time is happening.
Time has happened.

Today is my twenty-eighth birthday.

And more than once during the past year, I've stopped to tally up how I got here, like, "Okay, we've been in Korea for two years and we came in August of 2013. We were married in 2012. So yeah, I guess I am twenty-eight!"

More often than not, it feels like the math just doesn't add up. But it does.
My heart just needs to catch up to my head.

And so to help ground me in this moment and this year, some thoughts to ponder:

1. What brought me joy?
Living in Korea.
Spending time with my husband.
Playing Ultimate Frisbee.
Laughing with and learning from my co-workers in Korea.
Becoming an auntie in March and meeting her in October.
Traveling to America, Japan, China, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia.

2. What are some of my favorite memories?
Riding bikes around sun kissed, Udo island in Korea with my parents when they came to visit.

Flying to Nebraska for six days for my best friend's wedding. Jumping on the bed in our excitement. Standing there by her side knowing that I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Coming home to a tent set-up in our living room, camping chairs, a "fire" on the TV (compliments on YouTube), and the movie Wild because my husband loves me so.

Playing women's Ultimate Frisbee with the Mother Huckers and going undefeated in the Summer Showdown tournament.

Standing on the Great Wall of China with Jeremy and re-visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia knowing I'm in a much better place than the last time I was there.

3. What did I learn?
Try as I might, putting people/cultures in boxes doesn't serve anyone and rarely turns out to be accurate. Just let people be people, free from whatever categories I feel I need to put them in so that it can all make sense.

Marriage is hard and marriage is beautiful.

I learned how to record music on GarageBand and how to make videos on iMovie!

I'm learning about culture shock and adjusting to life between homes.

4. How about next year?
I want to spend less time on social media.
I want to read 40 books.
I want to start taking guitar lessons.
I want to--at least--try Crossfit.
I want to be content: here, there, and everywhere.

5. How old would I be if I didn't know how old I was?
     Easy. Twenty-three. Because I spent 18-23 recovering from an eating disorder and 24-28 finding my feet again. That process of healing made me feel like those years didn't "count" and I lost track of time. Of course, part of me wishes I could get those years back, and I wonder if I'll always feel five years younger than I really am.

This is what 28 looks like.

Here's to many more...