TRIGGER ALERT! My bottom with bulimia looked like this - me driving around Austin going from drive through to health food store and everything in between with a liter of almond milk. From restaurant to super market, I ordered french fries, ice cream, smoothies…basically anything and everything while drinking almond milk to make it come up easier when I purged. I would do this for hours and hours and hours. I think the longest I ever binged and purged was for 10 hours straight. I would spend hundreds of dollars and waste countless hours. I always went to the Starbucks on Oltorf near my house on South 1st to purge because the bathroom was private and that way I wouldn’t disturb my roommates with my disgusting habit. I remember the terror when I couldn’t seem to get everything to come up. I remember looking in the mirror after purging with tears streaming down my face, make up smudged, eyes bloodshot and mouth red from being stretched open by my hand. I always thought, “When will this end?”
Where do eating disorders come from? This topic is debatable, but for many the disorder stems from some kind of childhood trauma, a family history of addiction or mental illness, and/or societal pressure to be thin. However it’s not really that simple. I have met plenty of men and women with eating disorders who said they had a great childhood, no trauma, great parents, a fabulous high school and college experience, and yet they still struggled with Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia, Anorexia, or a combination of all of them.
The cause of my disorder was a combination of things. I think the main causes were societal pressure to be thin, a family history of mental illness (alcoholism from my paternal grandfather and depression from my mother), and sexual trauma that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to open up about publicly. Part of the cause was also childhood trauma, which is exceedingly difficult to write about, but I do find it necessary.
Ever since I can remember my dad had an exploding temper. He would often scream at my mom, which made me feel frightened and alone. As I got older, he would scream at me. My first memory of this was when I was around 4 or 5 years old. I was an only child, so I had no one to turn to in this pattern of rage. I remember hiding underneath the bathroom counter as a kid. I knew in my heart that my dad would never hurt my mother or me, but it still just felt safe to hide. Again, it’s so difficult to write about this because overall, he was and continues to be an outstanding father. He taught me the concepts of mediation and yoga at an early age, which later allowed me to overcome my depression. He has also worked extremely hard to heal his temper. Ever since I left home, he rarely explodes any more. As painful as it is to talk about, I think it is an important part of my story.
My mother is an incredible other. She always told me I was beautiful, smart, and I could do anything I wanted with my life. However, she didn’t truly believe these things about herself. She never said anything negative about my weight, but she was always on a diet herself and often talked about how fat and unattractive she was. We all look up to our mothers to obtain our positive body image. Unfortunately, her attitude towards herself made me more susceptible to having an eating disorder. It’s sad because she really did try to teach me to have a good relationship with food. When she was growing up in southern Louisiana she was told, “It still tastes as good, even if you’re full.” This mentality lead her to have a compulsion to overeat, which led her to diet, which started a vicious cycle early on. She would tell me I didn’t have to eat my whole plate if I wasn’t hungry. She constantly told me how beautiful I was. Yet seeing that she didn’t have a positive body image herself definitely had a negative affect on me.
Luckily I was fortunate enough that my parents were in a place to help me out financially with in-patient treatment. I realize this is a privilege that unfortunately so many people who are suffering from an eating disorder will never have. This is why I think it is so important to support causes like Project Heal and NEDA which help people get treatment who need it the most.
I worked through a lot of the aforementioned issues with my parents at family week at Shades of Hope treatment center in Abeline, Texas at age 23. My dad had previously never agreed to any type of therapy without quite a fight, so it was huge that he was willing to spend a whole week with me mom and I in a treatment center doing family therapy sessions! This was by far the most beneficial part of my 42-day stay at Shades.
Unfortunately I re-lapsed a year or two later when I went back to school to finish my college degree in Austin. I found out I had an 8-centimeter dermoid cyst inside of my right ovary, my then-boyfriend broke up with me, and I had finals going on all at the same time as my relapse. This relapse nearly destroyed me. This was my bottom. Binging and purging for 10 hours straight.
How did I finally recover? Honestly it was a lot of therapy and a lot of time. Someone posted on Instagram the other day that recovery is NOT a destination (actually it was Kate Speer @positively.kate ;) and I could not agree with her more. Recovery is NOT linear. I first started therapy when I was around 22 and I started treatment around 23. For the next 4 years I relapsed on and off, with the worst of it being around age 26, where this blog post began. Finally about 6 months before I moved to Chile at age 27, I binged and purged for the last time. Even after recovering from bulimia I occasionally struggle with food and body image. However, the difference is that now it is MUCH easier for me to get out of crazy town. From therapy and treatment, I have countless tools to help me get out of my head and into my healing when need be. The top three things that have helped me recovery are 1.Therapy, 2.Treatment, and 3.My support team (family and friends).
If you have made it this far, I truly appreciate you reading my story! My only hope by sharing this is that someone somewhere may feel a little less alone and may see the light at the end of the tunnel. We each have the ability to change our neural pathways in our brains for recovery. It just takes a lot of time, effort, forgiveness, and love. You CAN recover!
:::love and light:::
Watercolor by: Shay Spaniola
Happiness requires upkeep. According to recent psychological studies, 50% of our happiness is inherited however the other 50% is influenced by the way we live our lives. Learning that we receive about half of our happiness level from our parents made me feel a lot better about my own issues but it also gave me hope that I could take responsibility for my happiness. Bottom line: I could be happy, but I would have to work for it.
Anxiety and depression runs deep in my family and as a young woman I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Eventually I was able to quit my depression medication (Zoloft) cold turkey with the aid of a rigorous yoga routine (I don’t recommend going cold turkey, please talk to you doctor before deciding to go off of your meds). Yoga kept me happy for many years but I still struggled with depression on and off.
It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I found my perfect prescription for happiness: a daily happiness practice. This routine includes 5 things that I do every day to keep me happy. These are things that you can do in your home or on the road, every morning and or every night. I guarantee that if you do these 5 things every day for 30 days, your sarotonin levels will soar!
1: Exercise. This one may seem like a no-brainier, but it is important to emphasize that you MUST find exercise that you sincerely love. It is also preferable that you find an exercise that you can do anywhere. For me it's yoga. Maybe for you it's walking, jogging, jazzersize, or pole dancing class. Find something that makes you sweat for about an hour every day. The most important thing is that it doesn't feel like "exercise"...it just feels like fun!
2. Gratitude. This one is extremely important. It also seems to be the first one to skip on days when you just want to crawl into a ball on the couch and binge watch Netflix with a pint of ice cream nearby. However, if you make it a habit to physically write down three things that you are grateful for everyday, you will start to appreciate what you have and this positive energy will build. I like to do this first thing in the morning and again at night right before I go to sleep. It immediately changes my mindset when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. At night it helps me change the vibrational energy in my body and mind from negative to positive if I’ve had a rough day.
3. Mediate. It has been scientifically proven that meditation actually physically changes your brain chemistry for the better. Although the research which yielded these results was done on Tibetan monks, your daily meditation practice does not necessarily need to be the traditional eastern form (watching the breath in a seated cross legged position) although I highly recommend this form of meditation. Your meditation can be playing music, playing Sudoko, or even washing the dishes. It is just important that your intention is to meditate and that your meditation brings you into the "zone" as athletes like to call it. The "zone" is a state in which you are 100 percent focused on what you are doing for an extended period of time.
4. Cheerfulness practice. American, Tibetan monk Pema Chödrön speaks of a "cheerfulness" practice which is basically just noticing things that make you feel good throughout your day. You are driving and you pass by the most beautiful wildflower that reminds you of your child: pause and acknowledge this experience. You decide to take the time to prepare a delicious breakfast for yourself: pause and enjoy this moment. Simply by acknowledging these little moments we are increasing our cheerfulness. I also suggest writing about one of these moments every day. Writing about these positive experiences helps to further engrain them in your mind so that you're more likely to remember the good stuff.
5. Write. Just about everyday I do a stream of consciousness exercise called "the morning pages" from a book entitled The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. This exercise is not meant to be art. It’s better described as “Brain Drain”. You sit down every morning right when you wake up and you literally drain you brain of all of your thoughts. You sit down and write them in a spiral notebook until you have 3 pages. Try not to stop, try not to think too much, just write down each and every thought as it comes into your head without judgement. According to Julia Cameron it is not even important for you to read these pages until you have been in the habit of writing them for a few months. What is important is that you stay consistent and you keep them in a secure place where no one can find them. This way you feel like you can write whatever you want. This is honestly one of the best therapies I have ever done (and trust me, I’ve tried nearly all of them!) and it’s free!
You are probably thinking, “Yeah okay lady, I’m sure I’de be fucking stoked every day if I could afford the time to do all of these things…” however, the important thing is that you just try. If you at last attempt to do the things on this list you will probably do at least one or two every day which will improve your mood. Of course there are days when I can’t do all of these things, but I usually do at least 2-3 and I strive for all 5 every day. As I said in the beginning, happiness requires upkeep. Just like anything of worth in this life, you have to work at it. Happiness can take work, especially if you are genetically prone to depression and anxiety like me. However, with a daily practice, happiness can be obtained. It may seem like a lot of work, but you’re worth it! Try it for 30 days and notice your mood increase!
I am a flight attendant and I am also a yoga instructor. When I reveal my “alter ego” to fellow flight attendants they usually say, "I've always wanted to get into yoga!" or they express that they've tried yoga and or meditation but it is "just so hard"! Of course meditation can be hard for the beginner's mind, but it can also be hard even for the most dedicated practitioner. We all struggle to quiet the mind! In today's busy world it sometimes seems impossible to take a moment to get quiet and still. Don't let that stop you from trying. As I have expressed in my previous blog, the benefits of meditation have been scientifically proven to improve your brain. Read this article if you don't believe me.
The following are a few meditations that I really enjoy. Maybe you're still thinking, "Okay lady, I seriously have no time to meditate." Don't worry, you can even meditate while you brush your teeth, wash the dishes, or sit on the jump seat. I know I know, I’ll explain below.
I usually suggest giving yourself at least 3-5 minutes at the beginning of your mediation to settle in. First thing: obtain the proper posture. Traditionally the proper meditation position is cross legged with a straight spine (or in lotus if you're an advanced practitioner). It helps to sit on a cushion so your hips are a little above your knees making it easier to keep your spine straight. If this is extremely uncomfortable for you feel free to use a chair. Keep your chest lifted but shoulders relaxed. Ever so slightly tuck your chin to elongate your neck. Relax your face (especially your jaw, your tongue inside your mouth, and your brow), slightly lift the lower belly to support the spine, and start to focus on your breath. Relax. Don't become too attached to the thoughts that pop up. Observe them, honor them, and let them pass. This is easier said than done, I know, but with time it becomes more natural.
Sphere of love.
Shay (owner and creative genius of bunglo.co) says she doesn't remember teaching this meditation to me, but I swear she did!
You can do this meditation anywhere. You can do it on your meditation pillow in your room or walking through a crowded street. Think of yourself surrounded by a giant spherical orb of crystal clear white light energy. At the edges of this sphere there is an ever expanding iridescent rainbow light that reaches for miles and miles. Imagine this light is pure love of infinite proportions. You can start small and imagine this light is bathing everyone within a square mile, then all through your city, then state, then country, the globe, and eventually you imagine this white light love energy expanding infinitely all throughout the universe. Feel this energy in your heart center and let it fill you up. In my experience it can really change your mindset if you're in a bit of a funk. I like to practice it while walking through a crowded airport or subway. I imagine the white light of infinite love is healing everyone around me.
Watch the breath.
The next meditation is basically the original meditation taught by the Buddha himself thousands of years ago and believe it or not, it is the most simple. It is not at all the easiest, but by far the most simple. Once you settle in and obtain the proper spinal alignment, start to become hyper aware of your breath. Think about the way it feels coming in and out of your nose. Is the air cool or warm? Do your nostrils flair a little when you inhale? Feel your belly rise and fall with every breath. Allow your thoughts to come and go. You will most certainly get caught up in your thoughts and eventually remember you're supposed to be meditating. Don't fret. Don't beat yourself up. One of my favorite teachers once taught me to bring the mind back to the breath just as you would bring a lost puppy back home. Would you beat the puppy up for running away? Of course not! Lead your mind back to your breath gently and sweetly, just as you would carry your dear puppy home.
If you are one of those people who has very little time to yourself, you can bring the above mediation into your every day tasks. However, instead of focusing 100 percent on your breath, focus 100 percent on your task. Become completely consumed with the task at hand. If you're washing the dishes think about how the water feels on your hands along with the foaming of the soap, the roughness or softness of the sponge. If you're cooking dinner become engulfed by the smell of the spices you are using. Increase your awareness and pay attention. Increased awareness is key in this meditation.
Chakra cleansing meditation
The final meditation is a chakra meditation. If you are unfamiliar with the energetic chakra system, click here. Once you have familiarized yourself with the Chakra system and you have settled in to your meditation posture, imagine a white light energy from the universe dives through your crown chakra, down your spine, and then all the way down through the earth like a giant tree root. Then, imagine that same pure white energy coming back up, back through the earth, through the root you created, and finally pausing at the root chakra. Imagine the root chakra as a fiery red ball of energy blooming open. You can imagine it blooming and closing several times until the energy just feels right in this chakra. Once the chakra feels sufficiently energized imagine this white light energy moving up to the next chakra, the sacral chakra, but imagine this blooming fiery energy as an orange light. Do this with all the chakras and their corresponding colors. After you have finished your crown chakra, imagine the pure white light energy you have taken from the earth just exploding out over the top of your head and raining down into the floor next to you. Bask in this beautiful feeling for as long as you like. Revel in it! When you are ready, imagine the white light energy going back down your spine and back down the center of the earth. Thank the earth and the universe for its energy you have used to cleanse and energize your chakras, and gently open your eyes. You should feel a little more balanced and refreshed. Practitioners who feel they have a good understanding of their chakra system may want to spend more time on specific chakras.
The Buddha was once asked, “What have you gained from meditation?”
“Nothing!” The Buddha replied. “But let me tell you what I have lost: Anger, Anxiety, Depression, Insecurity, Fear, and Fear of Old age and Death.”
I guarantee that meditation will change your life. I encourage you to commit to just 5 minutes a day. Spending 5 minutes in meditation at the beginning of each day will help you clarify your thoughts and put you in a better mood to accomplish more of your goals. It will also help you be a better human for yourself and for those you love the most.
Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das