*as if I weren't one before?*
No no, that's not what I mean here. I exist and I have for the last 21.5 years, but I think I finally understand the distinction between existing and living. So much in my life and in my body and in my mind has changed in the last year, sculpting me into who I am right now (don't we just love cliche lines?), and I can't help but share both the trials and the triumphs.
It wasn't a switch that flipped overnight, but rather a l o n g road of twists and turns and ins and outs and lots of falls, followed by a faithful pick-up every time (thanks, God). You can call it "growth", I guess, but that seems to simplify this whole thing and eliminate the need for and excitement of writing this post.
One of my favorite one-liners lately - and my friends will agree - is "The last time I had (insert certain "unhealthy" or non-vegan food here) was...", and while it mainly applies to food, it just as much applies to simply living. Each step along this road (remember, it's not a flip-the-switch thing) led me a bit farther from my incomplete understanding of "living" and that much closer to finally, well, living.
This post isn't meant to be a guide to living because I'm certainly no expert, nor a piece of my autobiography because you get enough of that here already. I just want to talk about what I've changed, why I've changed it (if a reason exists), and how life feels now after the change. I want to expose this and hopefully encourage you, if any of this feels familiar, to seek help. And we're taking this allllllllll the way back, people, so buckle up.
When it comes to food...
My last couple years of high school through my first year or two of college - what feels like ages ago now - were tied up by food. Tied up. Food was a nagging reminder that I needed to exercise to "burn it off"; food was a steering wheel that determined the majority of each day's schedule; food was the mental and physical enemy I needed to always conquer. That was during the heat of my eating disorder, which didn't last longer than my first two years of college. But, for the years it did last, it stole a lot from me - late-night donut runs, brunch dates, pizza-and-a-movie nights, and pursuit of my passion. Notice the pattern there? Everything revolved around food. Whether I was simply restricting or because I chose veganism, I couldn't win the battle against food no matter how hard I tried or how much of a victory I thought I may have accomplished. Even when those donuts and pizzas did happen, nagging reminders of the next day's workout and meal plan took up too much space in my mind, preventing me from storing any sort of cherished recollection about the donuts and pizzas and - most importantly - moments with loved ones. I sharpened my "fake it 'til you make it" skill pretty dang well.
Every food that entered my body was either savored because I knew it was the last I'd be getting for a while, despite any possible hunger cues to tell me otherwise or hated afterwards because of the nutrition facts.
Now, I'm just eating. An awareness of nutrition advises my daily choices, but it doesn't determine them, nor does it inhibit my Friday night plans to eat nachos. A passion for cooking and (mostly) baking brings me SO MUCH joy - like, S O M U C H - but cake for dinner doesn't force me into negative thoughts and a two-hour gym-session the next day. An understanding of the importance eating plants and saving animals motivates me to find sustainable sources, but it doesn't deter me from that once-a-week pulled pork sandwich.
When it comes to exercise...
I woke myself up six out of seven mornings a week, bright and early, for whatever workout I had planned - a long run, intense HIIT or strength-training workout. For fear of feeling like I should maybe take a rest day, I ignored any and all body signals (i.e. sore muscles, achey joints, etc.). On vacations, I skipped breakfast invitations with my dad (discovering new diners and sitting at the counter is his favorite) because I needed to somehow utilize whatever I could to get the most efficient workout. With friends, I couldn't just sit and enjoy movies and snacks because I didn't think I was burning enough calories to "earn" the snacks. In high school, I stayed after track practice for an extra hour or so to run. More running after running. My coaches and teammates just laughed and said, "you're crazy!" or commended my fitness. That was not fitness.
Even after the heat of my eating disorder, exercise was all about calorie-burn. Long walks in the morning to just get outside and breathe fresh oxygen? Ha, yeah right. Yoga to just stretch? Never. And any workout that didn't last 30 minutes at the very least "didn't count" in my book.
Now, a desire to just move my body helps me squeeze in a workout everyday, but it doesn't scold me when my workout "isn't long/intense enough". An exercise "high", if you will, keeps me going back to the gym every couple days, but it doesn't screw up my sleep or take precedent over school, relationships, and me-time. Plus, I don't ever want to be so consumed by exercise that a size 2 and toned muscles become the most interesting, intriguing thing about me.
When it comes to emotions...
I cherished only the happy thoughts. Everything else I tried to suppress and eliminate via exercise and control of my eating and body shape. Somehow, that worked for a few years... until God opened my eyes and answered my prayers for humility in ways I unconsciously didn't want Him to. First, it was a heart-breaking look in the mirror, realizing how far I'd let my eating disorder take me. Then, it was a terrifying loss of control as my body, a year later, began holding onto weight (probably in a miraculous survival mechanism). Yet, despite the overwhelming fear and discomfort, I somehow found peace in it - peace in the fact that I knew God's hands were at work saving me.
Aside from physical matters, I've learned to... well, just feel. Instead of trying to burn off uncomfortable emotions like calories on the treadmill, I started to ask God about them and just release them to Him.
I started to understand that I won't always be able to control the way I feel - to shut my mind up, to "turn my frown upside down", if you will. I understand, now, that I won't always understand. Sometimes, I will have to continue breathing and functioning and going about life, resting in God, even when life feels like a horribly tight pairs of jeans you don't know if you'll ever squeeze out of. I'm feeling it all - from sadness, disappointment, and insecurity to joy, excitement, and strength - and I'm growing with each breath taken.
Life doesn't always have to be "but's" - find places to squeeze in some "and's". Baking a big wonderful chocolate cake AND taking a rest day. Feeling uncomfortable AND joyful, trusting God's hands.