When I was in treatment for my eating disorder, my daughter Presley was almost two-years old. In fact, I spent part of her second birthday sitting around a cold cafeteria table picking at a stale ham sandwich that I refused to eat. My first born, she was the only reason I wanted to “recover” at the time. She deserved a mommy who could get out of bed in the morning without popping a cocktail of prescription diet pills. She deserved a mommy who actually ate a meal without vomiting or taking laxatives. She deserved a mommy who didn’t define her worth by numbers-- weight, calories and binges. She deserved a mommy who was present, healthy and whole. I was none of these things.
My treatment room was plastered with her pictures; my wide-eyed, innocent breastfed creation. Her smile was all that kept me going some days. At night, I slept clutching her tattered and well-loved pink Winnie-The-Pooh blanket; usually crying myself to sleep. Although I only got one five-minute phone call a day to her, it was all the fuel my soul needed. I know it sounds super corny, but her energy poured through the phone and filled my heart.
I’d be lying if I told you I jumped whole-heartedly into recovery. Quite the opposite is true. I wanted to get better but didn’t want to do the work. I hated people telling me what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat. I hated being supervised in the bathroom and told to make my bed. I hated having a bedtime. I was a grown-ass woman for God’s sake.
Then one day during group, we were given the assignment of drawing a self-portrait. I watched as the women around me drew mutilated and distorted versions of themselves; fat, heartless, broken and ugly. I stared at my blank piece of paper. “I suck at drawing” repeated over and over in my head. Frustrated, I grabbed my binder for something to draw on. There on the cover was a picture of my baby girl smiling intently back at me. Tears welled up in my eyes. She was an exact replica of me as a child. We had the same chubby cheeks, curly blonde hair and pale blue eyes that disappeared when we smiled. The same innocence. The same body.
I began to sob uncontrollably. For the first time ever I felt my wholeness. You see, I had spent my entire life living as pieces of my body; never the whole. I did not have “a body”. I had a fat ass, oily skin, chubby legs and stretch marks. Yet, in that moment, all these negative thoughts melted away and I was left with what I can only describe as pure awareness and bliss. I was beautiful. My body, and all it encompassed, was a perfect creation that brought Presley into the world and harbored her safely for nine months. How could I mistreat something so sacred?
That was my a-ha moment. Everything shifted. The thought of my daughter experiencing the pain of an eating disorder was too much for me to bear. If I didn’t choose recovery, I would ruin her for sure if I hadn’t already. I internalized how my body- which I had abused for years- was my only vehicle for mothering this beautiful and helpless child. I could raise a strong, fierce and self-compassionate woman or I could succumb to my own fears yet again. At that moment, my life became an urgent choice.
What happened that day in treatment is that I chose to completely let go in the same crazy world where I held on for dear life. I made a choice to stop struggling with the past and its trivial details. For the first time in my life I was no longer that scared little ten-year old girl picking up pieces of a broken heart. I was strong and full of purpose. I realized that everything in my life had happened FOR me, not TO me. My opportunity for growth was endless. I knew my purpose in this life was bigger than me. Recovery was this leap of great faith, where my clarity and love for life become so great that I finally believed throughout my whole body I was strong enough to take life head on- without an eating disorder in my back pocket.
What happened is that I realized my body, with all of its society-assumed and self-made imperfections, was my greatest tool for raising a daughter in today’s world. In a society that values thinness, beauty and perfection above all else, the greatest protection I could offer my daughter was to genuinely and openly love my own body; stretch marks and all. My body was not faulty. Society was.
These days, I have two daughters and it’s been almost five years since I was in treatment. Each day I choose to be imperfect and let my daughters see me comfortable with those imperfections. They never see me criticize my body or step on a scale to determine my worth. I tell them openly that I love my body and when I share my gratitude for them being in this world, I always remember to include my body in that experience.
Recovery is a journey. For me, more than anything, it’s about living with integrity. I’m still learning how to do that fully. Thank goodness life is a really long time. While eating clean and intuitively, practicing yoga, and sharing my story with the world through my website Whole Figured has taught me to accept my body, my daughters have taught me to fully love and embrace it. My goal as their mother is to give them that very same gift.