Warning: this one gets a bit heavy...
This photo means so much to me. Lauren is a sweet friend of mine with a rockstar sense of humor. We can sit around and crack jokes for hours on end (mostly at our own expense) and have the best time ever. I never knew how much I REALLY needed her until the day this photo was taken.
This picture was taken as we drove home from church one Sunday morning. I’d had a SUPER ROUGH night just hours before this. Saturday night consisted of a severe episode of compulsive eating brought on by copious amounts of stress and anxiety. I had zero control of my own body. I nonstop shoved food in my mouth that I didn’t even want. And I left myself in physical pain from the binge. I cried out to God and prayed as my head hung over the toilet trying to erase every trace of what I’d done. I cried and asked God why this kept happening and why I couldn’t stop it. Then I sat there struggling to receive the forgiveness I'd already been given.
This was something I’d struggled with for a little while. Something that seemed totally out of my character, but so real and so powerful. Something you certainly wouldn't hear from the mouth of a fitness trainer, right? Well think again. This problem in the fitness industry is covered up too much, but it's a conversation we need to have and the reason I care so deeply about my clients. I was born into a high stress home and anxiety was a close friend of mine. I soaked up much of the emotion and pain in my household and felt a pressure to fix things around me. Now as an adult I didn’t realize how much I still do that.
I’ve known plenty of people that weren’t comfortable in their own bodies (most woman have struggled with this to some degree if were being honest), but before this I never really had an issue with my body. But then I realized I lived in LA (a city hyper focused on image and arguably somewhat built upon it). I began realizing the power people carried and started taking in all of the body image anxieties of those around me. I stressed myself out and ran my brain into the ground as I tried to conceive what I can do to help pull them out of this. In my failed attempt at trying to be a savior, I got lost.
So, I’d overeat every night to uncomfortable amounts and occasionally throw up because my stomach couldn’t hold it all. I noticed the subtle ways people would look at my legs (which I used to love) instead of my face when talking to me, and a hyper-focusing hatred for my body began to creep up little by little. An eating disorder that was once somebody else’s somehow became mine, too. I prayed relentlessly and tried tons of therapy, coping, and release mechanisms for the anxiety in my life. It wasn’t until I met this girl that I really found the key to freedom.
Friends. They can hurt you, and they can heal you. She healed me. I’ve never met someone so secure in who she is than this girl. She could care less if people didn’t like her and she lived for whatever things brought her joy. I promise you though, her radical self love didn’t come apart from her own battles, struggles, and sufferings. We shared a common thread, one broken vessel to another. The difference being that she stood on the other side of freedom with an outstretched arm and helped walk me into it. On this day I told her about what happened and she took me for ice cream - mostly because she wanted some and she knew I’d never turn down a trip to McConnell's. Most people wouldn’t take a girl friend who’s struggling with an eating disorder to get ice cream, but it was just what I needed and she knew. She took that selfie on the drive and it’s easily one of my favorite pictures. Ever.
The night before, I took a photo in the bathroom during the hour that I tried purging everything from my body. I had tears and make up running down my face. Beat red cheeks from exerting so much energy into purging. And tired eyes because at 2AM, I should’ve been getting beauty sleep instead of hurting my body in an attempt to feel beautiful. I’ve since deleted the photo, but it shocks me to see the fullness of joy in this photo compared to the depth of pain I felt just hours before it was taken. It seems to be my experience that its with the same measure of pain that I am measured back a double portion in real, authentic joy once I hit the other side of healing.
So why such a stark contrast between the two photos? I was alone in the first photo and supported in the second. I was full of hate in the first photo and reminded of love in the second. I rejected myself in the first photo and I was affirmed by a friend in the second.
People are a big deal. We’re not meant to do life alone. And my story shows how much we can’t do life alone. It also shows how powerful your actions, words, and even tiny gestures can be. It shows how fragile our minds are and how much gentleness, kindness, and care they require. It tells you how important it is that you show up - even when you have nothing to say. I fully believe it’s purposeful that our pain is bigger than we are. Because we are a community of people designed for one another and sometimes we need to learn that the hard way. It’s like not drinking enough water. By the time your thirsty, it’s too late - you're already dehydrated. So it goes with relationships, even when you don’t think you need people - you do. So take your time. Find good ones. Ones that love you and support you. Safe people you can count on and confide in. People that can call out your crap (like Lauren 😉) because they truly love you. They know love is hard and it’s a choice they’ve chosen to make. Such people do exist. Yes, they'll mess up, but even in that is an opportunity to heal one another. If you notice them, reach out and tell them you need them. And if you can’t find one, I’ll gladly be that one for you until you do.
So thanks Lauren. You da real MVP. I love your goofy (I mean cute) overalls and your crazy subway stories. You have a gift to heal. With your words, your actions, and just the fact that you are present. Thank you for loving me, hearing me, seeing me, caring for me, and teaching me what freedom feels like. And when I shared this with you first, thank you for simultaneously making me laugh and cry by responding with Lecrae lyrics (song posted below).
Much time has passed since this story I'm sharing but as for me now - I can confidently and honestly say that I love me. I've watched myself conquer every obstacle in my way, and with every one I've gotten stronger and stronger. Although, I'm starting to realize that the strongest thing about me is the community around me. I'm not ashamed of stories like this because I know they are a catalyst for massive healing, and I'll do whatever I can to help my sisters love themselves well, too. It's a daily learning process, but it's worth every ounce of effort. On behalf of our society, I'm sorry that we've settled with a culture where it is hard to truly be who we are (and honestly love it). I'm also sorry that we haven't truly loved enough to both accept you and lovingly correct you. But girls (& guys), I tell you these things because my heart aches to know and see that you're hurting. I know many of us hold these emotions and thoughts so deep down inside that we convince ourselves we're fine. So with conviction in my heart and healing on my tongue...
You should know eating disorders don't always look like eating disorders, and that sisters who are near to your heart may be quietly suffering. You should know that your story matters, is powerful, and releases healing when you speak it.
I want you to know that you're not the only one. I want you to know that healing is real and is pursuing you. I want you to know that there are people who care deeply about your health and freedom.
& let me remind you that you are beautiful. Let me remind you that you don't need acceptance from anyone else in order to be who you were designed to be. Let me remind you that you are loved - just the way you are.
If while you were reading this, it's moved you in any way. Stay there. Feel the emotion, remember the pain, and invite the healing. While we will have suffering in this life, we can take heart because our God has overcome it all so that we may enter into freedom for eternity. I'm honest when I say that healing is real. Healing also has a name. His name is Jesus. He has your entire life in his hands and He is reaching out for you. I understand that you can't always trust in many things - but you can trust in Him.
From the other side of healing...
Scripture for study, meditation, and reference:
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." John 16:33
"A friend loves at all times, but a brother is born for adversity" Proverbs 17:17
"For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
... So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, 15-18
"And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone." 1 Thessalonians 5:14
"Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2