It’s funny how things work out, isn’t it?
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately, prompted by the holiday dedicated to giving thanks, the long hours at the bakery and the coming together of my family.
I feel blessed. Three healthy children. A loving husband. Parents who are healthy-ish, supportive and who live right around the corner. Two brothers whom I speak with regularly. Three dogs. A career doing something I love. An amazing team of people at the bakery, otherwise known as The B Team, who feel like more like family than co-workers. Friends who also feel like family, who would (and do) drop everything if/when I send out a text asking for help.
What did I ever do to deserve this?
I ask myself this question a lot, and more often than not, I have to force myself into believing that I do, in fact, deserve to be happy.
When you have an eating disorder, you tend to believe that you don’t deserve much of anything. And while I no longer struggle with my eating disorder, the feelings that go hand-in-hand with an eating disorder like to hover around, showing up in dreams or catching me off-guard randomly during the day.
It was about a year ago that I openly shared that I had an eating disorder. Our community had suffered devastating losses by suicide, mental health was a primary focus, and it felt like the right time to tell my story. I wanted to try to give anyone struggling with similar issues something to hold onto, a glimmer of hope that things can, and often will, get better. Change is possible if you are willing to do the work, if you are able to be honest with yourself, and if you are able to tolerate sitting with feelings that seem wildly uncomfortable.
The realization that I needed to share my struggle happened the night of January 9, 2013. On this evening, I sat in the Acton Boxborough high school auditorium and listened as Chris Herren talked to an over-flowing audience about his struggle with addiction. His story was sad, dark, beyond painful at times and at the same time, uplifting. I vividly remember thinking how utterly brave he was to be so open about his struggles. At that time, I was healthy and symptom-free for eight years. And yet, instead of feeling proud of my success at finding a way to live a healthy life, I was stuck in a pool of shame for being bulimic in the first place. Listening to Chris Herren be so openly vulnerable forced me to look more closely at myself. What I saw was a girl who was still actively trying to hide her eating disorder due to shame and embarrassment.
I made a promise to myself that night to stop hiding the fact that I had been bulimic for twenty years. I had to share my story. I didn’t know how I would do it, and at the time, I decided not to focus on the ‘how’ but on the ‘why’. The ‘why‘ was because not talking about it showed me how much shame I continued to feel about it even though I was now ‘cured’ and ‘healthy’. In order to truly move forward, I had to find a way to accept myself, every part, and forgive myself for those times where I believed in my heart I had failed because of my eating disorder. Chris Herren could have chosen to recover quietly on his own. He did the opposite, deciding instead to speak to as many people as possible about his struggles. His goal was to help just one person. The reality is that he has most likely helped thousands.
This past Monday, Chris Herren returned to the Acton Boxborough High School auditorium. His boyish face looked older, a bit more worn, and his story felt darker and heavier than it did in 2013. Recovery is hard. However, as I sat in the audience this time, I felt lighter. His appearance once again in my life highlighted the forward movement I have made on a personal level. I am forever indebted to Chris Herren, because in so many ways, he showed me what I needed to do so that I could keep growing as a person.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not at all, I happened to meet an incredible person a month ago. A woman on a mission to find the recipe for the famous Nashoba Brook Bakery granola with ‘love’ as a key ingredient. Her quest led her to me and she wrote this story about the granola, about me, and about my eating disorder. Her name is Jean Fain, and when she’s not searching for granola recipes and writing articles for NPR and WBUR, she’s an eating disorder therapist. Go figure, right?
Serendipity at its finest.
Yes, today I feel blessed. And I feel lucky for finding my way, with the help of so many people, out of some of my darkest days.
May each of you know that you too are blessed, and lucky, and deserve to be happy.
With sincere gratitude –