Twenty years ago today I walked into a dining hall where a group of about thirty girls I didn’t know sang happy birthday to me.
It was embarrassing, yet sweet.
A few of them held up a sign , full of colors and bubble letters spelling my name (properly, which is amazing) on it as I stood there, frozen.
I was overwhelmed.
It was July 25th, 1996.
My sweet sixteen.
I was surrounded by people more excited about my birthday than I was.
The day before I had been registered as an in-patient at The Renfrew Center in Philadelphia.
I remember thinking to myself “I am not sick enough to be here. I don’t look as sick as these other girls.”
A few days prior my therapist recommended to my mom that I go in-patient before my eating disorder worsened.
In a panic, the only thing I could think about was how I wasn’t as deep into my ED as I wanted to be to deserve to be there.
The admission day was exhausting. I was dehydrated, not allowed to go up the steps, and had nurses shoving Gatorade down my throat, weighing me, and taking my vitals all day in a paper gown before meeting with nutritionists and therapist and answering all types of questions.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
So much so that I can distinctly remember the smell outside of the nurse’s station …. a mix of orange Metamuil, latex gloves, and something I can’t quite put into words.
Finally, when I was retired to my room that night, exhausted, I must have sarcastically mentioned in passing to my roommate how this was a great way to spend my 16th birthday. Then I went to sleep.
Her name was Alisa. She was thirteen.
She must have gone upstairs and told the other girls that I needed a warm welcome … these girls became my family for the next few weeks … but only after scaring the living crap out of me, the person who did not want any attention drawn to her (thinking she wasn’t nearly “thin enough”) on her first day in the dining hall at an eating disorder clinic.
It was intense.
Twenty years later, I am a 36-year-old mom (shit, I am THIRTY SIX today) of two amazing babes, and wife to the best dad and husband ever.
I work in wellness, I teach yoga, I love the work I do, and am so incredibly grateful for the amazing life I’ve created, and for all the my struggles along the way.
The reason I bring this memory up, today, on my birthday is number one gratitude, and number two because now more than ever I have a clearer picture of pin-pointing those demons I have struggled with for so many years (and hope by writing about it I may relate to, or help someone else not feel alone).
In fact, so much of that anxiety and negative self-talk hit me hard recently. I’m not sure where it came from, but I didn’t like it.
Maybe it was the fact that my birthday was coming up, and I am getting older?
Or maybe since that day in 1996, I always have had a little anxiety around my birthday.
I never told a soul this before.
Not even my mom or my husband, because I am not even sure I realized it.
But every year, I cry on my birthday, it’s never when anyone is around, but there is always one moment in the day where emotion comes over me and I never know why it is hitting me in the first place.
Recently I was PMSing, and nitpicking at myself more than usual, alone in the bathroom. Literally sitting there picking myself apart, and being absolutely disgusted with myself that I am allowing this to go on.
Where did this come from? It’s not something I do, or waste time on anymore. I don’t really have time for that crap, and practicing NOT doing this is something I have been working on for twenty years.
Now, I am not going to lie, I am pretty damn hard on myself in all areas of life, but I made a promise I found out I was pregnant with a girl that I would do my damn best to accept people’s compliments (something I was always SO bad about, instant shoot down when anyone said anything nice), and to never ever make derogatory statements about myself out loud like, “ugh I feel so fat” or “yuck I am so gross in this shirt.” —you get the point.
I can’t protect Ella from other women saying negative things about themselves in front of her about appearance (I CRINGE on the rare occasion this happens).
I can’t protect her from society or social media or being objectified.
I can do my best to be a good role model to her, and give her a solid foundation.
Except sometimes, when I am alone, and I don’t have to say those things out loud, but in my head.
It would be unproductive to even tell you what those voices are saying.
It doesn’t even matter.
My point is how I am handling it.
I read The Untethered Soul a couple of times, but I was compelled to pick it up again a few weeks ago when this anxiety started to come back. I was reminded that these voices in my head (I know, I sound like a crazy person) aren’t me … they are there, and I am observing them.
If my best friend spoke to me how this voice spoke to me, I would tell them to eff off, and be completely horrified that anyone could be so cruel.
It didn’t work right away, but a few days at the beach, some time with those I love, and some soul searching got me feeling better and more calm.
If you are struggling with this, at any age, at any time, you are not alone.
Eating disorders and body image issues may be a long-time struggle for some, so don’t judge yourself.
I often feel bad like after all these years I should “get over it” and think “why are you living in the past with this ED crap.” –but the reality is something I must admit to myself … and that this is a lifelong struggle for me.
In fact, so much of my life was not allowing myself to feel what I am feeling.
To not use my throat chakra and speak up.
Back in treatment I was so scared of triggering someone else that was struggling that I didn’t allow myself to let go completely and feel to get well.
I am not an expert, but someone who has been dealing with this for a very long time, and it took me this long to realize so many of these things.
It comes and it goes, and I think for the most part I am living a pretty “normal” happy life.
Meaning, my anxiety and issues aren’t surrounding food as much anymore, I have healed my relationship with food (which has been quite the journey).
But how I treat myself is a often a battle.
Trust me, I’ve come a long way which is why I can call myself out like I can now.
I can also finally look back on a lot of things from my past and see where some of my issues came from … things I spent so many years in therapy trying to navigate.
I don’t place any blame on anything or anyone, just so this is clear.
My mother is the best mom in the world and did nothing but tell me how beautiful and amazing I was all of the time.
However, my father died when I was 4, and I didn’t really have a solid male figure in my life the way my daughter does … in fact, she is lucky to have several.
Every single male peer or adult (and some females) did nothing but objectify women around me, stating at a very young age.
It was a big joke back then, but in reality I started being sexualized by older men when I was as young as 10. My cousin and I couldn’t go anywhere without someone yelling something nasty to us, and I remember getting hit on when I was 12 by men in their 20s (I mean, this was the 90s, there was no makeup, I am pretty sure I only ever looked a year or two older than I was at the most).
A couple early “boyfriends” I had did nothing but talk about other girls to me, and I always thought it was normal, and that they picked these conversation topics because everything I thought about myself was true.
Only now that I am a mother of a daughter do I really look back and see how messed up that was.
I always felt kind of weird growing up too … like I never could find my place, I am sure like most teenagers, but my anxiety and lack of confidence in all areas crippled me.
I just look in awe at my daughter’s relationship with my husband, it is the kind of relationship all little girls deserve to have with their father.
Her ability to be herself, unapologetically, is something I hope never gets lost.
Ella having these positive male role-models will hopefully help her to roll her eyes and focus on something more important when she is dealing with hormonal teenage boys someday (please, not so fast).
She literally has the best dad in the whole wide world, and that all the men in her life are respectful, sweet, sensitive, and kind.
To me, this is the best gift I could ever have, watching my child have something that I was missing, that I didn’t know impacted me as greatly as it did.
I ask just can’t stress enough to really watch what you say and how you act around young girls (and boys) … they notice everything.
Practicing kindness towards yourself is the most important place to start.
There is so much more I can talk about, but I will save it for another day, and just leave it at that.
Last Friday I mentioned Robb Wolf’s Podcast (episode 364 with Jason Seib) that really struck a nerve with me … it actually inspired me to write this post.
I just had no idea that I would be writing it on my birthday the way that I did … but I will say thanks for listening and being a part of this outlet.
I’m off to spend my special day with people who are more excited about it than I am … and I am pretty damn excited to spend it with them, so that says a lot 🙂
Happy 36th birthday to me!