Hey Mommas: What If?

I read a blog post this week about a woman who suffered from post-partum depression. She wrote about how difficult it is to speak up. She wrote about the importance of getting help. Here was a perfect little new life and this mom was filled with despair. New moms are SUPPOSED to be overjoyed and grateful! So she suffered in silence because what will people think?

I recently read a dear friend’s blog post where she announced she is moving closer to family and friends. She and her husband foster and have adopted kids in need. They have moved a good bit in the past few years. They have five kids and a sixth on the way. She needs help. I need help with one child so I can’t even imagine… In her post she said she worried about what people would think about them moving again. Would it be viewed as failure? She has been told she brought this on herself. She has been told she SHOULD have known better! This friend is the hands and feet of Jesus to her kids. What she does each day is unimaginable to some. And yet she hesitated to move closer to home- closer to help- because what will people think?

I am a nursing mother. Exclusively breastfeeding is hard work- I admit I had no idea how hard. I have been reprimanded for allowing him to nurse to sleep because newborns MUST self soothe! I have been shamed for letting him nurse for more than fifteen minutes at a time because everyone’s milk shuts down RIGHT AT fifteen minutes! AND every baby suckles at the same pace! (Ummm… no.) Now that he is fourteen months I am embarrassed to tell you I am still a nursing mother. I am embarrassed to say that my 14 month old is still getting the highest form of nutrition daily. This milk that is made just for him. Even creating antibodies for when he gets sick. I keep thinking I need to wean him before he ready because I worry what people will think. I have yet to find one research article saying that breastfeeding past a year is harmful to the child. In fact, I have only found articles saying the opposite is true. And yet I worry. What will people think?

I’m writing about mommas because that’s my world right now. But the judgement is not reserved for the moms – unfortunately, no one is spared. We judge each other for everything. Judged if you look old but heckled if you attempt to look younger. You’re lazy if you’re overweight but heaven forbid you lose too much weight. You’re selfish if you choose not to breastfeed your child but definitely do not breastfeed past twelve months. Judged if you co-sleep or if you choose to let him cry. You’re too rigid if you choose to sleep train yet you’re a bad mom if your child doesn’t sleep. Never let your kids play with your iPhone, yet they better be quiet and still at the restaurant. Buy all organic and goodness knows you should never give them sugar. Judged for being a helicopter parent and then ripped to shreds if something happens to your child because you SHOULD HAVE BEEN HELICOPTERING. Does your head hurt yet? It’s enough to leave a momma isolated, confused, and afraid to ask for help. We were created for community, yet we work tirelessly to divide and conquer instead of to commune.

Why all the judgement? Why can’t we mommas join together and support each other instead of tearing each other down? What if we connect over mom-woes and fears instead of creating division? What if we love each others’ kids instead of rolling our eyes about the tantrum at playgroup? What if we offer a hand or a hug to the distraught mom at the grocery? What if we speak a word of encouragement to the mom whose kid is running around the restaurant? What if we hold a foster mother up in prayer instead of telling her she should have known it would be hard? What if we cling to her traumatized children in love instead of shaking our heads? What if we simply say “me too” when another mom says how tired she is? What if we show compassion and mercy to the mom who unknowingly let her child play too close to danger? What if we all stop judging one another and start connecting and loving instead?

But wait…. there is a caveat to this sort of behavior: it will not make you feel “better than” the mom next to you. Because that’s what it all comes down to, right? We are all so afraid we are failing that we need to think we are at least doing it better than that mom. But what if we all stop judging one another and start supporting each other instead? I wonder what kind of change we would see in our children if we as parents join together? Children tend to follow in our footsteps. Would we see more empathy? More compassion? More connection? Stronger relationships? The ability to talk about the hard stuff? Possibly less shame? Less self hatred? Less loneliness? And in turn less depression, anxiety, and addiction? I don’t know. But it’s sure worth a shot.

Eat Or Leave

“God has already caught me. His goodness and love have pursued me and won me. I just need to jump into that reality” Lysa Terkeurst in Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely

“You’re going to eat or you’re going to leave.” I sat stunned as these words were being said to me. Silenced. Empty. Numb. They were being said by the director of my treatment center. I had a choice to make.

Treatment was nothing new. I had done this before. Many times, in fact. I had been through treatment center after treatment center. I knew the rules. I would eat. I wouldn’t purge. I would smile and say how much better I felt now that I was nourished. I would excitedly plan for my future now that there was hope for one. I was a perfect patient…. until I wasn’t. Until I couldn’t take it anymore. I would then find a way to sneak around. I would lie. This was usually only a few days in. I knew the rules. I also knew the games.

It’s not that I didn’t want help. I wanted nothing more than to be free from the disease that had taken so much away. It took my friends and my dreams. It took school and jobs. It came close to taking my family. I wanted help. But I couldn’t. I could not face the day without my eating disorder. It was such a part of me. By my early 30s, after 20 years with an eating disorder, I feared it was all of me. If you took it away, there would be nothing left. A hollow soul.

The ‘could not’ eventually became a ‘would not’. I didn’t know this yet though. I didn’t know I was stronger. I didn’t know I was ready. I was still playing the game that I had played for years. The game that said I wanted help, but I was not willing to trust the Helper. I was still relying on my own self-will to take care of me. My eating disorder was my best friend. My identity. My savior. How could I let that go? How would I survive? I had not yet truly said help. I didn’t know how. And so here were those words “Eat or leave.” I had a choice to make.

I remained stunned and numb that night. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen- this was not how the game was played. This director clearly did not get the memo. I am always sent out with words of praise and admiration from my group. Everyone saying I have a bright future and a strong recovery. I always get a beautiful sendoff as I walk out the treatment doors- no one knowing that I was still submerged in the depth of my disease. Waves taking me out one by one as I smile and thank everyone for all they have done for me. As I walk right back into the loneliness and isolation that is an eating disorder. Not this time. This time I had to make a choice. “Eat or leave.” There would no charade here.

I honestly don’t know why I made the choice to eat four years ago. Maybe it was my desire to be liked- I had never been kicked out of anywhere before. Maybe it was the group of friends I had started to make- it had been a long time since I had friends. Maybe somewhere deep inside I did have hope of a different life. I don’t know. But I woke up the next morning and did the most terrifying thing- I jumped. And I jumped again the next morning. And the next. It was excruciating. Layer after layer was peeling off and I was left feeling naked and afraid and oh so vulnerable. And I was also being caught. Day after day. I was being held up, loved, and affirmed by people who cared. People who showed love and grace to me. I began to trust. And as I began to trust them, I knew that God had led me here. To this place, to these people. They held me until I could see that God had already caught me. He caught me a long time ago- I just never knew it. I just had to jump into that reality.

I just spent a beautiful Easter weekend with my husband and son. I would go through it all again to end up in this place. My husband is smart and funny and stubborn as a mule. Even when he is at his worst- I’m grateful he’s mine. I hope he feels the same way about me- my worst is seriously…. the worst. I’m more stubborn than a mule. Our child is smart and funny. He is highly sensitive and is the most strong willed child I have ever seen. I can’t imagine where he gets it… And I love every single sensitive, strong willed hair on his head. Recovery hasn’t been perfect and it’s still not easy, but it’s life. Life after many, many years of dying. And on this Easter weekend where we celebrate life after death- I am grateful. Grateful for the cross. Grateful for the resurrection. And grateful that God continues to be a God of miracles.
**I have posted the link to Uninvited by Lysa Terkeurst on my Let’s Read page. This book is a must read for anyone who has ever been afraid to jump.

In This Together

I’ve had loved ones ask if I’m ok since starting this blog. I always appreciate being checked on, but rest assured- I am better than I’ve ever been. I live a life full of joy and grace today. This blog is about life in recovery. Which looks a lot like just…. life. An honest, authentic life which includes both the joy and the difficulties. Many people have never been forced to be brutally honest about how hard life can be. I believe that what I write about is universal. Some struggle more and some less. I think we are so used to relating to each other through perfect Facebook pages that it can be unnerving for someone to write about the hard truths of life. My hope is that someone, somewhere will read this and think, “me too”. We are put on this earth to be in relationship with one another. Being emotionally honest in relationships is extremely difficult and very rare. And relationships are what addictions are really about- the eating disorder and/ or other substance(s) fill the need for connection. Until they don’t.

Relationships are messy and hard. I have someone in my life who tends to make fun of things I do. I struggle with this person. Do you struggle with people in your life? Do you leave some interactions feeling bad? My initial reaction is to cut people off- if not physical detachment then emotional detachment. Then they can’t hurt me. But this was so much easier when I had an active eating disorder. It’s not so easy these days. And it’s not a healthy reaction. Being in recovery means I must have relationships. I must be connected. Plus… I actually really like and care about people. I am highly sensitive and can’t shake things off as easily as some. I have been this way my entire life. If you knew me growing up you did not know the eating disordered, detached me. You probably knew someone who loved big. I created ways to cope with being highly sensitive as a child, as children do. Children are very resilient and use creative ways to cope. If only the coping could stay child-like, right? But when the creative healthy coping stopped working and I still felt so intensely, I started using bulimia and anorexia. The pendulum tends to swing back and forth in eating disorders- everything is too much then not enough then too much again (symbolic through restricting, bingeing, and purging). And the thing about any addiction is that it works at first. But eventually it becomes unmanageable and harmful to the addict as well as the people around her/ him.

So now that I don’t use eating disordered behaviors to cope, I feel. And I mean… I FEEL. I get to be present in this life- sometimes it’s more like an ugggghhhh… I HAVE to be present?!? Because being present can be brutal. Think about it- the normal person may eat a lot of ice cream after a break up or have some wine after a tough day. We have all used substances and/ or obsessive behavior to cope. I don’t know many people who really know how to just feel and express the feelings. Some detach. Some may explode and spill messily onto their loved ones. And still some explode and spill violently onto strangers. Feeling is hard. Yet we are created to feel. Feelings give us information. And feelings are how we connect to others. Sure- I may like someone because they also like football. But I will feel connected to that person if she cries when Ole Miss loses a football game. See how that works?? I connect to her sadness because I too feel so very sad after a loss. We see each other. We are in this together (if you are a Rebel fan, you know what I mean. In. This. Together.) But if she just talks about football from an intellectual standpoint- I may appreciate her knowledge. I may ask her questions. But I will not feel connected. Connection comes from vulnerability. Being vulnerable means allowing someone to see who I am. And the core of being human- what we all share- is feelings. Circumstances can be very different, but sadness is sadness. Joy is joy. Anger is anger. Excitement is excitement. Feelings are what connect us to each other.

So what do we do when people make us feel bad? Because that is what makes connection scary. I always need to remember it’s not about me. I have to remember this over and over again. It’s not about me. The way you treat me has nothing to do with me. It may be directed at me, but it’s not really about me. I’m just being me. You are just being you. And our reactions are about what we bring up in each other. For example, my toddler was being clingy and needy this morning and I felt frustrated. If I raise my voice at him, he will think he did something wrong. He’s just being a one year old who is completely dependent on his caregiver. He was just as needy yesterday as today. So what’s different? Me. I had things I needed to do. So my frustration had nothing to do with him even though it was a reaction to his behavior. It was about me. It’s easier to see when it’s a child but you could insert this into any given situation. An argument with your spouse. A rude comment from a stranger. Once I remember it’s not really about me I can drop my defenses. I can listen for feelings. I can work to be kind and loving toward that person. But this can only happen when I take meĀ out of the equation- only then can I hear truth. Then we can leave the conflict more connected than before instead of creating another wall. Sounds nice, huh? It’s not about me. I’m just being me. You are just being you. And thank the good Lord each of us is a work in progress!

Sweet Surrender

I struggle every day with surrender. With turning everything over to God. With letting go of control and seeking His will instead of my own. And I have suffered long and hard because of my refusal to let go.

My refusal doesn’t come from not wanting to- it comes from the fear of not knowing that I will be ok. It’s a lack of trust. My actions have often shown that I do not believe God will take care of me. His Word says He is love. It says every good and perfect gift comes from Him. That He has plans for me- plans to prosper and not to harm me. Believing what God says means trusting. And I don’t do that very well. People either. But I guess our relationships with people are a reflection of our relationship with God. If I felt secure- held in the everlasting arms of my Heavenly Father- I would feel secure in relationships here on Earth. Do you ever feel unloved even when everything around you proves otherwise? I do. Lack of trust. So I struggle to turn my will over and I suffer because of it. You would think I would eventually see that His will has to be better than my own pit of loneliness and self loathing. I’m working on it. I am much much better today than I was in the midst of my eating disorder. Everyday I eat is a step of faith. An act of surrender. It says “I’m trusting you, God. I’m not sure I know you will catch me yet, but I sure HOPE you will.” Today I may not fully trust, but I have found hope.

I now have a baby boy. This child is a gift of my attempt at surrender. My first major step in surrender came 4 years ago as I started eating and keeping it down. And it was a giant first step. My life is more fulfilling and beautiful than ever before. Blessing upon blessing. The greatest being the gifts of my husband and now 13 month old baby boy. I never imagined. If my life has gotten this much bigger and beautiful in just 4 years- imagine what it will be if I just keep stepping! But doubt and fear still take over daily.

And then there’s this child…. When I look at him I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is who He says He is. That His will and plan are so much better than mine. And the reason I know I believe is not because I have let go of my fears and attempts to stay in control- nope. Still there. The reason I know I believe is because when I look at him I pray. I can’t help it- it just flows out. And my prayer is “God, please take care of him”. Without even thinking about it, my constant prayers for my child show me that I do believe God to be the One who can take care of us the best. He is the ultimate caregiver. Not me. I don’t know what’s best. I have no control over my child’s future. I can decide between breastfeeding and formula, pampers and huggies… I can decide to co-sleep. I can choose baby led weaning. I can do what I think is best and love him with all I am. But my love and my attempts to take care for him are nothing compared to our heavenly, perfect Parent. This child belongs to God. He is not ours. He has been entrusted to us for this time. And thank God for that. Goodness knows I will screw it all up. Cause that is what we do y’all. That’s why there are giant messes all over the place. Just turn on the news for 5 minutes- you’ll see. It’s why relationships are broken and so messy. We- on our own- make one giant hot mess.

So please baby boy- don’t fight the One who can give you all the desires of your sweet little heart. Stay in that childlike faith and surrender. Trust Him. Depend on Him first and foremost. I am only a reflection of God’s love for you. A reflection is never as bright and clear as the real thing. I will mess up. Over and over and over again. I already have messed up more times than I can count in your short 13 months of life. And I will continue. I am imperfect. My love for you is as perfect as anything I’ve known and yet it is still so imperfect and fallible. Allow God’s perfect will and His perfect love to encompass you all the days of your life.