As the final assignment for my "narrative therapy," my counselor asked me to picture a future without my eating disorder in it. Who did I hope to be? How would freedom feel? What would my life of freedom look like?
This is what I came up with.
It is amazing to me that my life today is much closer to this reality than it is to the reality that I described in my last post. Sometimes my eating disorder thoughts and behaviors still come creeping back to me, and I start to worry that I have made no progress at all--but when I look back at the slow but cumulative growth that I've made during the last few years, it is easy to recognize how far I've come. Sometimes it's still a battle, but I am winning. I don't plan to lose.
Have you seen the movie "A Beautiful Mind" about John Nash, a mathematician and Nobel Prize winner who suffered from schizophrenia? The movie chronicles his discovery that some of the key people in his life, including his best friend and his boss, are not real but are figments created by his mental illness. Near the end of the movie, John has reached a stable place with his illness for many years and requests a teaching job at Princeton University. Referring to John's schizophrenic illusions, his colleague asks him, "What about the...well, you know...are they gone?" As viewers, we can see what John sees in his mind, and as he looks over his shoulder, his imaginary friends are there, walking just steps behind him. He responds to his colleague, "No, they're not gone. Maybe they never will be. But I've gotten used to ignoring them, and as a result, I think they've kind of given up on me." He continues, "I think that's what it's like with all of our dreams and our nightmares...we've got to keep feeding them for them to stay alive."
Now I am not claiming to know anything about schizophrenia, and I don't think that mental illness will just go away if you ignore it. But I love the message of that scene and have thought about it often and in various contexts in the 12 years since that movie was released: I choose which thoughts to entertain, which dreams and which nightmares. Some weaknesses and natural personality traits may never completely go away for me--but I can decide not to dwell on them and not to give them power.
I choose not to live with my eating disorder anymore. I choose to ignore her. I choose to love myself and my body, no matter what size it is. I choose to live today in a way that is leading me toward the beautiful future that I imagine for me and my family--to feed my dreams instead of my nightmares. Even if my future doesn't end up looking exactly as this narrative describes, I am determined that it will include the key elements captured here: love for myself, love for my family, love for my body, love for God, love for others, and love for life.
I am the mother of five beautiful children. It is a busy, chaotic life, but, for the most part, I am able to keep my cool and mother with love because I love myself. I am close to my Father in Heaven. I feel His love for me, and I know my worth.
I am able to take the stresses of life in stride, instead of eating my way through them. When I do revert to emotional eating, which happens on occasion, I forgive myself and move forward. My eating disorder rarely comes knocking anymore—she knows there is no point.
I teach my children to take care of their bodies, minds, and souls. We eat lots of delicious fruits and vegetables—and of course some awesome treats too. Food isn’t the center of our family and universe, but we aren’t afraid of it.
We get outside and exercise together a lot as a family. We go for hikes and bike rides. We go for after-dinner walks around the neighborhood. A few nights a week, Ryan and I put the kids to bed and have a teenaged neighbor come over and sit with them, so we can go walking or jogging under the stars together, just like we did when we were dating. We are active and strong.
I take the breaks that I need from mothering my big family, and I don’t feel guilty about it. I have a sitter twice a week for a few hours, so I can go to a local coffee shop and write. I also take an evening every week to myself, meeting up with a friend for dessert, going to a bookstore to read, or just taking a walk by myself at sunset to think and pray. Because I want to be present and relaxed for my family and friends, I say “no” to extra curricular activities and responsibilities that will leave me feeling overwhelmed and drained.
I am someone whom people can call on a whim. I am available to talk and to help—I am not stressed and overly busy all the time.
I find joy in serving other people, and it’s a big part of my life and the lives of my children. It is one of the things that nourishes me and fills me. I tutor underprivileged kids in reading and writing, and I know I am making a difference to them. I teach my own kids to look for opportunities to serve others, and I help them follow through on their ideas for service. It gives me so much joy to see the light that comes from service in my children’s eyes.
I am happy. I am fulfilled. I am able to see the value and meaning in my life. I no longer feel stress or self-loathing on a daily basis. I get enough sleep. I take care of myself. I feel my emotions instead of fleeing from them through starvation, exercise, or excess.
I love and savor life, with all of its ups and downs.
I love and nourish myself, with all of my weaknesses and imperfections.
I am grateful. I am at peace.
I am free.
I am grateful. I am at peace.
I am free.
To listen to my Power of Moms podcast about what I learned in counseling, click here:
Unhealthy Stress or Habits? Break the Cycle!
And to see this narrative therapy published on the Power of Moms website, click here:
The Surprising Way I Confronted My Eating Disorder