I remember the summer days at the pool; it’s where I spent so much of my childhood between swimming lessons, day care afternoon trips, and those warm evenings with not a care in the world. And one memory that really stands out to me is level 2 swimming lessons, which requires little ones to learn bravery in an entirely new way. I remember those shaking legs, sopping wet hair, and racing heart as I crept up to the edge of the pool. It was my time to live life on the edge. It was my time to brave the deep end of the pool. So I did and I went for it, relying only on all the kicks and arm strokes I had practiced all those years before.
Seven-year-old me learned a few things about living life on the edge. I liked it, so I kept pursuing it. As a tiny one, I lived life on the edge by being the one with the biggest imagination, bringing all my friends along with me on the adventure of a lifetime, ones that were completely made up, mind you. When life tried to give me boundaries – oh like maybe a bedtime – I went my own way, choosing my own path, living on the edge maybe just to prove to the world that I could do it myself. I could pick out my own clothes, make my own food, choose my own life. I could swim in the deep end without a better-equipped human being to help me along.
This was me. Independent, some would maybe say defiant at times. Organized and thoughtful in my approach. Never complacent, making sure I could continue to find new boundaries to push, new edges to hang on.
Then I got to high school, where life began to lend itself to fewer boundaries, yet more decisions. And most of it was a dream. I had amazing friends. I was an athlete known fairly well in my area for a game I had been playing my entire life. School was a breeze, and I was involved in just about everything. I pushed myself to achieve more, do more, have more friends, and be more than maybe I was maybe ever created to be.
All that was great until I heard the words, “We have to go. Something really bad happened.”
Not more than ten minutes later I found myself on the ground in the middle of a Midwestern county road, staring with tear-filled eyes at the car two of my best friends were trapped in not knowing what happened or if I would get another chance to tell them I loved them. And there was absolutely nothing I could do in that moment.
I didn’t know that day of my life would be the day to change everything. My senior year of high school started out in a hospital room, holding the hand of my best friend, wondering when I would have her back and wondering if we would get to experience the highs and lows and all of the in-betweens of the last year of high school together. There was nothing in that room that day I could control.
And from there, it seemed like one place of refuge after another was deconstructing itself before my eyes. I found myself in a very unhealthy relationship, losing friends by the day, and without the support I needed to finish out my last year of basketball. The word got around in my small town, so my little, limited world was talking and it wasn’t the kind of talk anyone wants to hear about themselves. My life was out of control, and therefore I felt like I was out of control.
So after I painfully addressed my class as their Senior Class President, I bowed out quickly, taking myself across the state. I ran away to college, expecting the change of place to change my perspective.
What didn’t happen though, was that I didn’t change my pace.
I had no idea who I was anymore, so I found the next edge to live on. I found more boundaries to push and I found more control and order in it all. And the boundary I found to push was everything internal.
If I can only control my body, what it looks like, how it works, and what I offer it, then maybe, just maybe I will gain control in the midst of a swirling life.
So I did. I worked out constantly. I experimented with how little food I could eat and still function. My fuel was the words of those back home, the words of those who didn’t think I could find anything better to do than basketball with my life and those who wondered how in the world I would stay in shape after being an athlete.
There’s a strange thing that happens with your world when you control who you are and how your being shows up in the world. At first it’s euphoric, until it’s deadly. And that was the edge I was playing with.
After just a year in college, I found myself spending my summer in a different kind of level 2 all over again. My legs were shaking and my heart was racing, this time for much different reasons. I was back on the edge of the deepest edge I could find myself on – the edge of death. My legs were shaking because I was freezing in the middle of that sweltering, humid Midwestern summer. And my heart was racing simply to keep enough blood moving through my veins to keep me alive. I was so underweight, that it hurt to move, to sleep, and to eat anything of substance.
That summer, I was in a hospital for the most deadly mental health issue we know of. It was my time to come face-to-face with an eating disorder.
All the kicking and arm strokes in the world couldn’t save me from this one. So that summer, I let other people join me at the edge. I let people meet me there, to help me swim back to the place that maybe wasn’t so deep, that wasn’t so turbulent. I took the fear and the shame and the guilt and I threw it in that deep end instead, and the only way I was able to do that is by other people calling it out in me. They helped me take all of those things that were literally killing me and to turn it around. They listened. They were patient. And when I was so difficult to love, they loved me more.
It took many years and a lot of deep, courageous work to find freedom in my eating disorder. But I did, because I found the boundaries to my edges and I invited people into it alongside me.
This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week. It’s a week of sharing stories of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.
What this week isn’t is a week of self-loathing. I tell this story once a year around this time for a specific reason. And that reason is that eating disorders thrive in the darkness. They tell us that we’re a shame to the world, that we have no worth, and that this is all our fault, because shame lives in the darkness and in the hidden places. So friends, I’ll speak first. I’ll speak so that you too can speak, because you don’t have to carry that weight alone.
This week isn’t a week of blaming. Eating disorders are not self-inflicted wounds, no matter what it looks like from your eyes. They’re actually a coping mechanism for the trauma experienced in the world, and they serve a very real and protective purpose.
This week is about the fight. Because that’s what it is every moment of every day. It’s a fight to choose to eat that next meal. It’s a fight to not count the calorie. It’s a fight to not get on the scale in the locker room. It’s a fight to see yourself as uniquely valuable, with so much to offer the world. Sometimes that fight is a few months or years, and for others it’s a lifetime. So sisters and brothers, keep up the fight because I promise you it’s so worth it. It’s absolutely the most courageous thing you’ll ever do.
This week is about celebrating victories, both the big ones and the little wins. Sometimes that means reaching your goal weight again. Maybe that means you enjoyed those sweet potato fries again. Maybe that means you said no to a run because your heart wasn’t in the right place. Perhaps today was the day you looked in the mirror and loved what you saw. I celebrate you, because it’s all getting you closer to a healthier, more alive you.
And ultimately that’s what this week is about; it’s about the health and vibrancy of the people around us. Because when we all are doing things that make us come alive, we all make the world a better place to be. Eating disorders steal so much, destroy so much, and ultimately hope to kill those in its path. So let’s tell stories this week for the sake of health. For the sake of aliveness. For the sake of life. And at the edge of the pool in level 2, there will be people to meet you there.