I spent last week on vacation with my family in Ocean City, New Jersey. The weather was ideal, blissful really. My two little girls couldn't get enough of the waves and rides. They savored every bite of boardwalk food, and with the pure joy that only children radiate, my little loves celebrated new feats as they tested their physical abilities jumping waves, riding bikes, and charging up and down and all around on daring amusement rides. For my babies, this beachy wonderland was the peak experience of their young lives to date.
Like my children, I enjoyed myself immensely. However, I was aware of a pestering feeling just under the surface of my skin that I couldn't entirely shake. In the past, the prospect of wearing a bathing suit and eating boardwalk food would have been paralyzing. Hell on earth, to be exact. And you don't need to have an eating disorder to possibly feel the same way. Large crowds and, ironically, the carefree vibe of a shore town can ignite body image insecurity, anxiety, depression, addiction and other conditions that thrive on isolation in colossal ways.
About half way through the week, I finally understood the nature of these nagging feelings. They were remnants of old ways of thinking and living. They were the "rules" that dictated if, when, and how I ate a slice of pizza. They signaled what foods were on limits and what was forbidden. These messages were like a ticker constantly streaming across the underside of my brain: You can eat this. You can't eat that. You can wear this. You look hideous in that. You can have a bite of that. You must never bring that near your lips. On and on and on and on. Rolling in and out like the tide.
To be honest, I wrestled with these thoughts frequently. Sometimes I fell into their trap, and other times I remembered to breathe deeply until their bewitching influence lessened. Luckily, I had the wherewithal to understand that being out of my routine was enough to turn up the volume on these eating disorder thoughts. Having the answer to "why now?" helped me gain a sense of control over my rambling mind.
What helped most of all, however, is my work and my commitment to my clients. I have a pact with myself that unless I am actively continuing forward in my own recovery, I can not work as a yoga therapist. I believe it would be gravely unethical for me to hold space for others on their healing path if I can't hold space for my own continued healing. My work fills me with a profound sense of purpose, and because of that, it keeps me honest.
When I declined a certain food or activity because of remnant beliefs, my work was my safety net. Meaning, I couldn't ignore that I restricted or shake it off as no big deal. My work kept me honest and fueled my determination to say YES the next time. When old fears threatened to strangle me, my work kept me honest. I could be afraid or find the courage that so many of my clients are pushing themselves to find. When the urge to body check came on strong, my work kept me honest. I could no more risk my daughters seeing that behavior than look my clients in the eye as they openly share about their own very personal body battles.
Here's why I am sharing this with you:
Whatever your struggle is, there are thoughts and behaviors that come along with it that dim your light, that twist your mind, that cloud your clarity. Am I right? I also know that oftentimes those thoughts and behaviors are easier to be with than to pull yourself up out of the hole and try a new way. Do you agree?
If yes, I encourage you to find out what keeps you honest. Who or what motivates you to be well, to stay out of the hole, to keep pushing forward? What are you passionate about? How can you get more of your passions in your life so that they are bigger, brighter, and more powerful than the forces that test your happiness? What activity can you incorporate into your life to help hold you accountable to yourself?
What keeps you honest? Continue to ask yourself this question until you find the answer. And when you do, go after it with grit and ruthless drive. You will be thankful for that safety net, and you will feel renewed by a sound sense of purpose. I promise.