Sunday, March 2, 2014

Moving Forward

I often make the mistake of expecting my recovery process to be perfect. So much of having an eating disorder is about perfectionism. A lot of us in recovery struggle with this desire to do everything exactly right...and nothing is ever good enough. It may be our grades. It may be our careers. It may be our appearance. I think one of the hardest parts about recovery is realizing that because I am not perfect, neither is my recovery. I will make mistakes. I will slip up. I will give Edie the reins every now and again.

One of those times happened recently. Or, rather, it's been happening. What made me realize it was a visit to my doctor for something totally unrelated to my eating disorder. I realized when I got on the scale that my weight, which has remained the same for over a year now, had gone up a bit. Not an enormous amount (which is what I was accustomed to pre-recovery), but enough to make me notice. My first reaction was to beat the crap out of myself mentally. And as I am sure some of you know, at times, we can hurt ourselves worse than anyone can ever hurt us.

I felt awful about it. I felt like a huge failure. We were a few days away from this year's NEDA Walk, where I was supposed to get up on stage and share a little piece of my story with people. I immediately thought, "What the hell am I doing, getting up there? I don't deserve to be up there." I had been so excited (and nervous) for the walk, to celebrate my recovery in this way. And here I was, realizing that I had slipped up. Then, in the examining room, a small miracle took place. Something that never would have happened without three years of recovery under my belt. I allowed myself to stop the mental abuse and reflect. Why had this happened? What was really going on?

I was immediately aware of the fact that I had stopped taking the time to make myself a decent breakfast in the morning. The days of cutting up fresh fruit and veggies and making smoothies were gone and had been replaced by grabbing something out of the kitchen and running out the door. There were days of eating next to nothing for breakfast and making less than desirable choices at lunch out of hunger and lack of forethought. But more than that was the stress and anxiety I had been going through. Actually, those same feelings are why I stopped writing in this blog for so long. I've been going through some things for a while, and I allowed what I was going through to take over my life. When I did that, I let go of the reins a little bit in my recovery.

Even though I still felt guilty and angry at myself, I was able to give myself enough space to remember that it is never too late to make better choices. I could start right at that moment. I gave myself the gift of forgiveness. I let my fiance and my treatment team know what I was going through. I decided that my recovery was more important than anything or anyone that was stressing me out. I'm moving forward. Every day is a chance to start again and make positive decisions. One step at a time.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


In my last post, I talked about my decision to be a part of the cardboard testimony ceremony at this year's NEDA Walk. Yesterday was the walk, and I had an amazing time. It started out as a cold and drizzly day, which made me wonder if anyone would show up for the walk at all. But to my surprise, there were lines of people waiting to register for the walk and give their donations to a worthy cause. It was so nice to see people come out despite the weather and support such a great cause. I loved seeing how much people care. I don't often feel like I'm around like-minded people when it comes to my recovery, so attending the NEDA Walk each year is especially powerful for me. It's one of the few times a year when I can be surrounded by people who support recovery, healthy living, and positive body image.

I spent a lot of time hanging out with the other people who were participating in the cardboard testimony ceremony. Like I said in the last post, most of them are quite a bit younger than me (which feels weird to say) and are in high school. I wasn't sure they would even want to talk to anyone outside of their own group, but they were sweet and they did. We talked about being nervous. We wondered aloud if we would cry when we got up on stage. When they kicked off the walk on stage, we all went together to watch on the side of the stage and cheer on a woman named Lori, who shared her experience with eating disorder recovery. Lori talked about life with Binge Eating Disorder. It was only about the second time I have ever heard someone discuss their personal experience with BED publicly. I can't tell you how affirming it is for me to hear someone else tell a story like mine. What it means for someone to stand up in public and confirm that, yes, this is real. She did an incredible job and was a braver woman than me. I applaud her for her amazing testimony.

Then, it was our turn. The music started, and we started walking out. I watched other people go before me. Heard the cheering and applause from the audience. And then, it was my turn. I was nervous, but not as nervous as I imagined I would be. Instead, I felt energized and a little shaky from the adrenaline. When I flipped my sign to the positive side, it filled me with joy to hear people applauding. For me. For my recovery. But also because they knew the power of what I had said. What all of us had said. I cried a little. I had no regrets about that moment, and was so grateful for it. I'm also grateful that it's on video and that I can share it with you.

P.S. Don't judge me for my crazy hair. It was really windy. Thank you. Also, if you're wondering which one I's the same one as the thumbnail image. Of course. :p

Monday, February 10, 2014

One small step for me...

This month marks three years in recovery for me. I usually think back to the beginning this time of year, but I've been thinking much more about it recently. Our annual NEDA Walk in Orlando is coming up, and my therapist asked me if I would participate in a special project they are doing this year. Until she mentioned it, I had never heard of a cardboard testimony ceremony. In case you haven't heard of it either, it's when people (in this case, people in recovery and their families) take a cardboard sign and on one side write how they felt when they were in the midst of their eating disorder (the negative stuff). On the other side, they write something positive about their recovery and how it has changed them. I immediately said I would do it, and then spent weeks thinking, "Are you INSANE?" and thinking of potential ways to get out of it. As I do with pretty much anything that scares me but is actually worth doing (please talk to my future husband about how I tried to get out of our first date - prime example).

Like any good therapist who has spent a looonnnggg time in therapy herself, I had to reflect on what was freaking me out about the whole thing. The conclusion I came to is that this is the first time that I am saying publicly, in front of a couple hundred people, that I am in recovery. Instead of sitting behind a computer screen, I am standing up on a stage in an amphitheater in downtown Orlando, holding up a sign that says how my eating disorder kept me prisoner...but also says how amazing my recovery is. Kind of a big deal for me. Even up to the time of the rehearsal on Saturday, I debated whether or not to go. Then my therapist called me from her cell phone to cheerfully ask if I was coming, and of course I said yes. I think she probably knew more than I did how much I needed to be there.

Walking into the rehearsal room at a local high school, I noticed that I was one of the oldest people there with a few exceptions...and most of those exceptions were parents of kids in the cardboard testimony ceremony. Some of them are also going to participate and share their own experiences, too, which is awesome. Seeing how young these people were was what really let me know I'd done the right thing. I keep saying how we need to raise awareness for Binge Eating Disorder. I'd been asking questions about eating disorders from the time I was ten, because I knew in my heart of hearts that I probably had one. Binge Eating Disorder wasn't even a DSM diagnosis until last year. When I got diagnosed three years ago, it was lumped in with "Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified". Or as I like to say, "You have an eating disorder, but we can't really put you in a category".

 I spent fourteen years thinking I was a huge failure. I've said so many times that I wish someone had known to tell me what was wrong a lot sooner. I wish someone had asked the right questions. I wish I had been as young as some of the people in that room when I found out. I've said so many times that I want us (the collective us, as a society) to get to a point that when another ten year old is curious about what is going on with her mind and her body and her relationship with food, she doesn't have to look as hard as I did. I don't want her to wait fourteen years to get help like I did.

All of this thinking made me ask myself, "Who are you waiting for, Ashley?" I don't even know the answer to that, really. I keep thinking someone else will get up and tell my story. That I'll be sitting in the audience saying, "Yes! Yes! Finally someone says it. Finally someone is talking about this." But at the same time, I've been thinking for a while that ultimately, I have a lot of things I would like to say about this and a lot I would like to do. I want to present at eating disorder conferences. I want to be the main speaker at a NEDA Walk someday. I want to share my story because I want people to know that this disorder exists. I want doctors to ask the right questions. I want people to understand that this is a legitimate eating disorder that needs to be taken seriously. That people like me are in as much need of help as the person with Anorexia or Bulimia. And if I want that to happen, I need to be part of it.

My part in this upcoming NEDA Walk is small, but in my heart, it is huge. I can't think of a better way to celebrate the past three years of hard, difficult (but rewarding!) work. I know it's only the beginning of what I hope to do.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

What Being a Bride Taught Me About Body Image

I've missed writing here. I took a break from my blog for a few months because I felt as though I didn't have anything else to say. I was stressed out and depressed about a couple of different aspects of my life (who isn't, sometimes?), and I didn't want to carry that into this blog. So I waited for the right time. Now it's here.

Part of my decision to stop writing is because I believed (erroneously) that I was at a stagnant place in my recovery process. I kept asking myself, "Shouldn't I be working on something?" What I failed to realize is that things were happening the entire time, and I just wasn't taking notice of it. I'd like to share one of those things today as a way to get back into the process of writing in this blog. I hope people are still around to listen!

If you know me, or if you've read this blog at all, you know that I'm getting married in November. Just before Christmas, I went with my mom to try on wedding dresses at David's Bridal. It wasn't until after it was all over that I realized the expectations I'd gone in with and the negative message I had engraved in my brain:

Don't expect anything, Ashley. Most of these dresses aren't for you. They are for smaller people. Sure, they'll special order it in your size, but it's not the same as trying it on for real like the other brides. Cover yourself up. Hide yourself. Stick to the plus size section in the corner. You'll find a beautiful dress, but you won't look beautiful in it. 

It's probably difficult to read that statement and believe that I was excited about looking for a dress...but I was. I just had really, really low expectations. Deep down, as much as I love and appreciate my body, I believed I did not belong in that bridal store. When we walked in, we started looking around at different dresses. I picked out some plus size, a few regular size. I tried on a ton of them. The first dress I tried on confirmed all the fears and beliefs I had about my body and what it would look like in a wedding dress. It was a beautiful dress, but I didn't feel beautiful in it. My arms were too fat. My boobs were too big. I looked like a cupcake.

Here we go, I thought. Just suck it up and keep going. So we did. But what I began to notice was that as I tried on dress after dress, I began to see the beauty in my body. Even in dresses I didn't like, I could appreciate my curves. My waist. My shape. Not only was the dress beautiful, so was I. And then it happened: I tried on The Dress.

It wasn't plus size.
It wasn't even in my size.
It was even on display on a thin mannequin in the middle of the store for all to see.
Part of the new collection.
No one in the store had even had a chance to see a bride in the dress.

By my own logic, I should never have tried it on. But I did. And when I put it on and walked out to the three-way mirror to see myself, I cried. I knew it was what I would want to be wearing when I marry my best friend. Even though they had to clip it in the back to show me what it would look like. Even though it's a special order to get my size. Even though the mannequin it hung on is a size my body can't and won't reach. In that moment, I realized how wrong I was. I have done so much work and made so much progress regarding my self-image, but shopping for a wedding dress made me realize how deeply internalized some of society's messages are.  I believed I was just going to have to settle for what I could get. I was completely wrong. Everyone deserves to feel beautiful, no matter what the size tag says on your dress. Everyone. Especially the brides who surprise themselves.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

November 8, 2014

I'm getting married.

You knew that, of course. At least, if you've been reading this blog recently. Or if you follow me on some kind of social media. But in case you didn't, or in case you, like me, want to say it one more time...I'm getting married.

We set our wedding date today. We went to the most beautiful place in Central Florida (if you want my opinion) with my mom, and as soon as we drove through the gates, we freaked out. It looks like something out of Tuscany. The trees. The hills. The stone. The ironworks. You'll forget you're in Florida. The three of us took a tour of the property. Took pictures of the views, the different aspects of the place.

That's the view from where our actual ceremony will be held. We're saying our vows on this beautiful lawn outside, and right over the stone wall is this amazing view. 

We all pretty much knew we'd be setting a date today. For about a month or so now (prior to our engagement), Rob and I had an idea about our wedding date. My birthday is July 1. Rob and I started dating on July 8, exactly a week after my birthday. I always enjoy that time of year, because we get to do a lot of fun things and celebrating in a two-week period. Rob's birthday happens to be November 1. So we thought, why not November 8? It just so happens that in 2014, it's a Saturday. I liked the idea, and thought it was easy to remember and kind of a cute thing that has significance only to the two of us. Plus we'll get to celebrate twice a year, birthday plus anniversary. 

When my mom originally called our venue, they said November 8 wasn't available. I thought, "Sad, but okay. No big deal." We would find another date. But today, they told us that November 8, 2014 is open. I had no idea how much it really meant to me until we heard it was available. So we went about the process of making plans, discussing food and locations and vendors. We set our date. 

Rob and I came home from this amazing place and all these incredible plans. And I said to him something that I'd been telling him all day: None of this stuff means nearly as much to me as the fact that I get to marry you

I'd marry Rob in our backyard, or on the corner of the street. I'd marry him anywhere, any place, any time. I look at the future ahead of us and I am so overwhelmed with the joy of knowing the blessings and the firsts we have in store for us. Not just this year, but in the decades (I hope!) to come. It's all so exciting because I get to spend the rest of my life with my best friend. The person I can't hide a single thing from. Who knows me inside and out, good, bad, and very ugly. And next November, I get to stand up in front of the people we love and promise him forever. No matter what.

I can't wait.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Engaged: Part Three: The Big Question

Back in May, we went away for an overnight trip to Tampa to celebrate my graduation. We spent pretty much the entire day together, and it was so nice. After that trip, I told Rob we needed to have at least one weekend day per month that we spend the day together as a couple. We've lived together for five years now, and one thing I've realized is how quickly "quality time" deteriorates. Quality time becomes time you spend in the same room together, or time watching television. And in reality, that's just not what quality time actually is. To us, quality time is actually spending time engaging with one another. Talking. Reading together. Relaxing together without a television blaring in front of us. Chatting over dinner. So a couple of weeks before we got engaged, Rob told me that the weekend of the 10th should be our quality time weekend for the month of August. I agreed.

I was really excited about the weekend. Of course, there was a part of me that felt this could be THE WEEKEND of us getting engaged. But I was also just excited for us to be together. I suggested we go to Leu Gardens, this beautiful property not far from where we live. We have both been there, but not together. It seemed like the perfect time to go. Rob said he wanted to go in the morning, when it wouldn't be quite as hot. We headed over there around 10:30 or so.

From the moment we got in, Rob took charge of where we went. He led me around like he owned the place, picking out the most scenic spots. I let him do it, since I obviously wasn't sure if this was just a visit to Leu Gardens or the proposal I'd been waiting for. When we got to this beautiful wooden deck overlooking beautiful trees and some of the buildings in downtown Orlando, I thought this may be the place. In an attempt to put my stuff down (you know, in order to make the proposal easier), I ended up dropping most of what I had in my hands and almost tossing some of it into the water.

But I was the picture of calm and not nervous or anything.

Turns out, that wasn't the place for the proposal. We moved on, walking through the winding pathways of the gardens. Taking note of beautiful flowers and trees. I was trying to be romantic while also trying not to slip on a mud patch (almost happened). Rob led us to the rose garden, which is absolutely beautiful.

Photo Credit by Britt Conley
(Full disclosure: That is not my photo. But it's a heck of a lot better than the one I took, and I'm trying to sprinkle some fairy dust here.)

I like to say that this is where Rob's proposal started. He told me much later that this is where he intended to propose, but he was so nervous that he couldn't actually finish the whole thing in this spot. When we got here, we stood in front of the fountain and he pulled me close to him. 

"I love you," he said. 
"I love you too." 
"You're the best." That's something we say to each other all the time. Another version of "I love you" for us. I looked up at him, thinking this was the moment. He was holding me closer than usual, for longer than usual. I looked in his eyes, and waited. But it wasn't happening. At that point, I knew the proposal was coming. I just didn't know when. I also saw how nervous he was, and I thought it was adorable. We walked past the fountain, barely even looking at the roses in the garden. We started walking up a sidewalk toward the Flower Clock. 

I actually took this photo the day of. Go me!
Rob stopped again and put his arms around me. 

"I love you," he said again. I smiled and we both started laughing. 

"I'm being really obvious, aren't I?" he asked. We were both cracking up. I started crying as I laughed, knowing what was coming. 

"Yeah, you are." 

"You're my best friend. You're so beautiful. You're the most important person in the world to me. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?" I said yes, and we hugged. I cried more. 

"I have to get down on one knee!" Rob said, and then he did. He pulled out the ring and got down on one knee in front of me. He put it on my finger. It was the perfect moment. 

The best part about it for me was how us it was. It was silly. It was awkward. It was romantic. It was emotional. I will never forget the moment we looked at each other just before he asked me to marry him and we both knew that the other person knew what was going on. I didn't even have to say out loud that I knew he was nervous and that all he was trying to do was make things completely perfect for me. I didn't have to tell him that he didn't need to worry and that everything was fine. He knew. I was so glad that it wasn't some completely rehearsed, polished proposal. It was the most natural thing in the world. Which probably explains why, after it happened, I didn't feel that bordering-on-manic happiness I thought I would feel. I was excited. I was happy. But it felt...right. Like this was supposed to happen all along. 

Rob, in the spot where he proposed

I spent the rest of the day calling friends and family to tell them the good news. It wasn't really until later in the weekend that the whole thing hit us. It's been a week now, and we are very excited. Next weekend, we are going to the venue we believe will be the location of our ceremony and reception. We will most likely be setting our date...sometime in Fall 2014. We can't wait for all the joy and blessings this next year will bring for us, and we are excited to celebrate our marriage next year. 

Most of all, I am continually amazed by our journey together and how it has brought us to this place in our lives. I have known in my heart since I was nineteen years old that this man would one day be my husband. I could never have known what we would go through together, how close we would become in the process, and the kind of family we would build in that time. It's been an incredible journey for us so far, and I see our marriage as the next great adventure. I can't wait to see what happens. 

Engaged: Part Two: Asking The Parents

Rob picked up my ring a week before we got engaged. Yes, I knew about that, too. If you've never been in that position before, let me just say something: When you know your prospective fiance has the ring in his possession and that The Question is is HARD. It's like torture at certain moments. It made me feel like That Girl. You know her. The one with the wild eyes who annoys the crap out of her boyfriend about getting engaged. Well, I wasn't her...but I felt like I may become her if things went on too long. I think that's one of those things you aren't really supposed to admit to, but I'm just going to come right out and say it. Don't judge me. Do me a favor. Google "my boyfriend has the ring but hasn't given it to me yet". Just do it. You'll see what I'm talking about. And hey, at least I wasn't one of Those Girls.

The weekend he picked up the ring, my dad was in town. It made sense that he would talk to my parents then, since he wasn't likely to see my dad again before he proposed. First, Rob talked to my mom. I spent the day out with my dad, getting lunch and watching Muppets Take Manhattan (Watch it. Now.). While we were doing that, Rob (unbeknownst to me) picked up the ring and went to see my mom. I know that it's becoming more popular to ask both parents for their blessing, but a lot of times it's a bigger deal to talk to the dad. Not so in my world. My mom was a single mom most of my life. She raised me and taught me everything I know. She's always been the one person who I could count on, who was always around. So for me, if you're going to ask someone for their blessing to propose to me, you ask my mom.

Rob later told me that he had spoken to her, but he didn't give me the full version of the story. I don't know if it's a Rob thing or a guy thing, but he tends to leave out the important details that I crave in a story. I got the real deal from my mom at brunch the next day. Whenever Rob would get up to go get something from the buffet, or whenever we decided to get up, Mom would tell me another snippet of it. She can tell it way better than I can, but she told me how he got in touch with her and went to meet her and show her the ring. How he told her how much he loved me and how much we both loved her. What it would mean to both of us to have her blessing. How his hands shook, out of nervousness. I almost cried just listening to it. Prior to all of this, I wasn't sure how I felt about that whole part of the process. I've read enough op-ed pieces about how asking the parent's blessing is anti-feminist, etc. etc. And while some people may be offended by it and it isn't appropriate for everyone, I actually am happy he did talk to my mom, in hindsight. It was a respectful thing to do, considering how important my mother is to me and all she has done for the two of us. She loves Rob like a son, and it meant a lot to her, I know.

Rob also showed my dad the ring, and he liked it and was excited. But my dad is not the kind of guy who you'd really need to ask for a blessing on this type of thing. He's just too laid-back for that. My dad has a good heart, and at the times I least expect it, he will tell me how much he loves Rob and what a great man he is. We both knew he would be happy for us.

Then, the waiting game began for me. The element of surprise is still there, even when you know as much as I knew about the whole pre-proposal story. I drove home each day from work thinking this could be the day. On Friday, the night before, we went to an independent theater to see Blackfish. I didn't really think he would propose to me there, considering that this is a film about how the killer whales at Sea World are being treated like shit (but that's another post for another day), and it's not exactly the stuff of romance. But we had dinner there, and sat on these adirondack chairs on the lawn afterwards, looking at the stars. We had time before the movie started. Rob went to put something in the car. When he came back, my stomach flipped. It was the first time I realized that I was nervous about this whole thing. What if it happens now? I thought. What if it's coming? 

But it didn't happen that night. It happened the next morning.

To be continued...
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