How to accept a compliment.

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I went to the dance tonight to celebrate the end of an almost 4 year long legal process.  A 4 year long ordeal of leaving my ex-husband.

I danced.  I felt happy.  I enjoyed the music.  I smiled.  I forgot about my problems.  I lost myself in the moves, the beat and my dance partners.  It was a good night.  Swing dancing is an amazing healer.

Friends and strangers alike knew I was celebrating tonight.  Swing dance events usually include a birthday jam, a song where those who are celebrating something or visiting from out of town get “jammed” inside a dance circle.

Tonight, I celebrated freedom and victory with a jam I’ve waited for for almost 17 years.  It felt incredible.

After the dance, someone I’ve danced with over the years came up to me and started talking.  He told me that 3.5 years ago when I started coming to the dance I looked like “someone coming out of a long illness.”  He went on to explain that I looked healthier now and that I’d changed for the better.  He said that I had been much thinner and looked fragile.

It was a genuine compliment.  He was right.  I was coming out of a long illness and a long abusive relationship.  I was going out as a single adult for the first time since I was a teenager.  He was also right that I was thinner then.  I’ve gained about 10-15 pounds from the low end of the weight I’d been hovering around for about 3 years.  He’s probably right that I look healthier.  I am healthier mentally.

But as anyone who battles an eating disorder knows, compliments can be treacherous.  Any comment about a person’s weight, size, shape or healthiness can be interpreted by the eating disorder voice as an insult.

I tried to be present as he gave me this kind feedback about my health.

But inside my head Ana was screaming at me to get away from the conversation.  Ana was telling me…”he thinks you are fat.”  She was telling me “it’s so obvious you’ve gained weight even a stranger can notice.”  She was telling me “you are fat. you are disgusting.  you have no self control. you are weak. you are shameful.  you are ugly.”  She was having a yelling match in my head as this shy man struggled to explain what he’d noticed.

I’m trying to sit with the compliment.

Factually it is true, I have gained weight.  No, I’m not comfortable with it.  Yes, I’m constantly thinking about restricting and exercising and ways to lose weight.  Yes, I put myself down far more than anyone would realize.

But honestly F#@K Ana.

That man wasn’t telling me I looked fat.  That man was telling me that I look healthier after escaping from an abusive relationship that almost killed me.  He was telling me I looked more alive and happier.  He was complimenting me, even if Ana couldn’t understand.

People in recovery from eating disorders might always interpret compliments about their health or their body in a negative light.  Generally it’s safer NOT to talk about a person’s weight or size.  It can be a trigger and very uncomfortable, especially in early stages of recovery.

But for tonight, I’m happy that I’m still alive.   My body is okay.  It allowed me to dance for almost 3 hours tonight, despite my chronic pain issues.  My body has been through so much.  It’s okay to give Ana a break once in a while and just appreciate the steps I’ve taken towards health and recovery.

Your body is okay too. Whatever your shape or size.  You are beautiful and strong and you deserve to love yourself.

Banish body shame.  It’s okay to accept the compliment.  You are worth it ❤

On Valentine’s Day, Celebrate YOU!

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Valentines against white supremacy
By Kate Madeira

On Valentine’s Day this year celebrate yourself!  It’s perfectly okay to take a day to acknowledge yourself and all the work you’ve done.  Celebrate yourself and all your awesome qualities!  Feel proud of the fact that you are a survivor.  You are surviving like a boss.

I’ve been doing a lot of self reflection and taking a long hard look at my life recently.  I’ve been confronted with accepting the fact that it’s not my abusers standing in the way of my recovery (at least not entirely).  What is standing in my way are my own negative, self hating, self-destructive core beliefs.  If I don’t believe that I deserve recovery, health and happiness, then I can’t expect those things to just fall into my life with the wave of a magic wand.

I’m not ready to let go of lifelong core beliefs.  Not yet.  It’s going to be a long journey.

But that journey is beginning with a single step.

Acknowledging that maybe, just MAYBE, my core beliefs aren’t true.  Maybe, just MAYBE, there is another option for me.  Maybe, just MAYBE, I could live a life where I do celebrate myself, I do believe in myself and I do believe that I deserve good things.

This Valentine’s Day, I hope that you find love.

Trust me, self love will last a lot longer than that box of chocolates.

Though you deserve chocolates too!  Buy them for yourself tomorrow, they’ll be 50% off!

 

Self doubt.

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One of the side effects of surviving any type of abuse, including abuse within the psychiatric system, is self doubt.  Emotional abuse and gaslighting are particular triggers for self doubt.

I’ve been struggling with so much self doubt this week.  I felt hopeless at times. I felt I was almost back where I started 3 years ago.  I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to do my job. I felt like a shit mother.  I felt like I was letting everyone down.  I felt exhausted and depressed.  I felt like there was little meaning to my life.

I know I was triggered.  Some of these feelings were related to past trauma.  Some of them were related to life stresses.

Today, I’m feeling a little bit better.  I had a good day at work.  I met some challenges successfully.  I realized that there is no possible way to keep everyone happy all the time and that my best has to be good enough.  It’s all I’ve got!  Not everything in the world is my fault!

I realized that when I was feeling depressed I failed to take, or even consider, the advice that I give to almost all of my service users at work.  I often tell survivors that the journey to recovery and health does not go in a straight forward line.  While we are healing we move forward, backwards, side to side, up and down, but as long as we are moving we are coping and surviving.  In dark times, when all seems lost we have never lost the previous gains we made.  When we feel better we are not starting from zero.  We can never lose the progress we have made, we can only lose sight of it from time to time.  Any progress you make in your healing journey stays with you.  It’s okay to relapse, it’s okay to feel down, it’s okay to feel hopeless…but don’t give up.  Your hard work is paying off.  Recovery from trauma is not a race, and it if WERE a race it would be a marathon and not a sprint.  It’s a marathon with no clear finish line, sometimes we are beaten down with exhaustion but even if we are crawling forward at a snails pace we are heroes.

Sometimes when times are dark the best thing we can do as survivors is to self care.

Sometimes when times are dark the hardest thing to do is self care.

Let us first acknowledge that as survivors, especially as women, we have often learned various messages about self care, from our families, from our abusers and from society.  Many of those messages are negative.  If you take care of yourself you are lazy, you are wasting time, you should be productive, you need to put others first…blah blah blah!

Self care is very simple but it is not easy.  It’s is often challenging for so many reasons.

I’m want to tell you that self care is a radical act.  By caring for ourselves and putting ourselves first we are combating patriarchy and rape culture.  By believing that we deserve to be cared for, that we deserve to listen to our inner voices, that we deserve to rest, to be validated, to have fun, to laugh and to relax, we are fighting against the harmful messages that women are not worthy of self care.

In order to self care, we must first identify and tune in to what we need in any given moment.  It can be helpful to think of your basic needs first.  Have you eaten in the last 4 hours?  Are you hydrated?  Have you slept?  Do you need to  move your body or breathe some fresh air?

Are you having strong feelings?  If you are scared, maybe things that make you feel safe can be self care.  Wrapping up in a cozy blanket, holding a pet or stuffed animal, talking to a supportive friend.  If you are angry, maybe you need to assert yourself, exercise, move your large muscle groups.  If you are sad, maybe you need to cry, get comfort, talk to others.

Yes, I am giving you permission to express your feelings!  Whatever they are they are normal, healthy and important.

Let’s put ourselves first today.  Fight self doubt with self care!

Who is with me?