“Just take one a day honey,” she said, “and you will be happy, energetic, and lose that extra weight I see you carrying. You’ll never want to eat so you don’t have to worry about missing your workouts.”
She was right. I felt amazing. I dropped weight and had so much energy, so I could get amazing amounts of work done. Nothing could drop my spirits; not the loss of my job, my car, or my physical fitness. “Doctors” prescribed them to me from their storefront offices with vague medical facades.
My body healed from the car wreck and job wreck, and I wanted to start fresh. I moved to New York City to return to my roots, my family, my passion, and a musical theatre program at NYU. I forgot about Edie and her little pills. I was doing what I loved daily—acting, singing, and dancing. Structure went into my full plate of work—not food—and I felt safe in the group of people I could belt a ballad with. Eating became necessary to fuel this time, and it blurred out of my focus.
After the program ended, I started temping at an investment-banking firm in midtown Manhattan. On Sept. 11, 2001, a fear took up space where new hope had just broken ground. An out-of-control sense of desperation presided not only in New York but around the world. For me, it just triggered a need for order, escape, and that flush of happiness that my life had just had a few months prior.
The pills I used to take were banned in the U.S. I had to get them online and internationally in bottles with labels typed out from cheap printers. The sites I bought from a month prior would be shut down and replaced with new sites, and this cycle went on for months. The pills had long lost their euphoric effect. I had been on them for so long, so I upped the dosage from one pill a day to upwards of fifteen. My heart would race. I’d get anxious, breathless and paranoid.
A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that up to twenty-four million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder) in the U.S.
As a city, we became closer and kinder in support of each other. I just wanted to disappear. Skinny was a side effect of being on edge all the time, and it was only amplified by the global sadness that seemed to stop time in New York.
On a cold, late fall afternoon, I was walking uptown toward my apartment on the west side. I stopped to stub out my cigarette and saw a red flyer with tear offs at the bottom. The flyer was for a new yoga studio. I had no mat or yoga clothes, just the T-shirt, leggings, and sneakers I changed into after my long day at the office.
I had taken yoga before when I lived in LA. It had been quite intimidating for me. I always had a lot of energy, but I never seemed to fit in with the slender, graceful women or the slight, toned men.
I walked out of my first class in NY with a mindful pace. The lights from bumper-to-bumper traffic were to the left of me; soft, welcoming lights from and shops were to the right of me. I felt enveloped in that warm light, and the bite of the cold felt softer. I felt like I had been scrubbed clean inside and could breathe deeper and think clearer.
I was a mess, but at least I could see it, and that felt like something I needed to understand. I could feel myself shedding and unraveling layers of hurt. I had no idea what it was. I could only liken it to a warm hug.
So I went back to get more hugs.
Each time I left the room, I left a little more pain on the mat, and I felt a little happier in my heart. My wounds were covered in a sweet salve. I could feel myself healing.
My teacher was someone I could relate to, but at the same time, look up to. She had something I wanted, so I steeped myself in her presence as much as I could. I felt a closeness and kinship with the group of people that gathered together, moved and breathed together.
Yoga was the place I could feel safe and, though it took a while, the pills disappeared. Some days were hard. Some were effortless. But, it was conscious, and I was aware of the long-term benefits of giving up the habit, no matter how difficult.
I could come to yoga and abandon the vices, the fear, the day job and its horrid wardrobe, and the overwhelming list of to-dos. I could forget for awhile that there was no war outside me spurred on by terrorists, and no war within spurred on by my own self terror.
It was rewarding to conquer a new pose. It made me feel strong, like I was capable of anything. To have the other students in the room supporting and witnessing that effort made the practice worthwhile.
Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
That is yoga. That success was the connection I needed.
Working out my body from the outside inward expanded my world off the mat. Time with friends and family were richer, and I felt more present. I savored my life, my social network, and my new extended family in yoga.
The thick callus of my addictions and self-destructive behavior were replaced with a softness I felt so comfortable getting familiar with. I became the person other people wanted to be around. I became the person I wanted to be around.
After the encouragement of my teacher, I became a teacher and moved back to LA. Yoga saved me. I promised that if I could help others find the healing within yoga, then I have found my purpose.
Happily Ever After. The End.
Experts estimate that between one and three million adult women suffer from anorexia or bulimia, and that ten percent of all eating disorder patients are over the age of forty (eating-disorders.com)
Nine years later, the Shakti hit the fan.Within a year, I had lost a dear client of five years, broken up with my boyfriend of seven years, and lost my dad to cancer. It felt like I had lost everything. Studios let me substitute teach to make up for the financial impact the losses had on me. But my body ached, and I struggled to pay rent. I lost MY yoga. I must have channeled every great teacher I had ever met to help get me through those days. Every moment in that room made me feel whole, but as soon as I came home, I just felt empty, utterly exhausted, and completely alone. I sold everything, and food was a luxury. I never reached out. I couldn’t. I was a teacher with too much pride to ask for guidance.
Edie showed up at my apartment with several bags and suitcases. I couldn’t recognize her this time. She looked dark and frail with a veil of facial features I could hardly make out. She told me she needed to stay a while and had nowhere to turn.
I moved out of her way, and I watched as she filled my entire apartment with her junk. There was no room for yoga.
I escaped to running.
When it got quiet, I would turn up the music in my ears and run off every ounce of space that I took up, because maybe that would erase the hurt. I obsessed over every calorie I ate. I duct taped my fridge. I’m not kidding. My life was out of control, but as long as I could come home and write down exactly how many calories I consumed, I would relax, be at peace, and everything would be in order. If I ate more than my mind thought I should, I would just run it off again tomorrow. It was a tireless cycle of fueling myself enough to teach and do what I love, punish myself for not having it together enough to restrict, running till I hurt, and collapsing into bed. I emptied my fridge and cupboards of all food, condiments, and the like—everything but coffee and tea. In yoga, fasting is common. I fasted frequently, and for many days in a row. I abused that word, and it triggered the years and years from my youth where I never fit in.
I turned down invitations to every party or I was invited to for fear that food would be present. I wouldn’t be able to resist, because I was starving, so I bowed out.
I lost my period, some of my hair, but it never occurred to me that I had an eating disorder. That’s for teenagers.
My disease was a crescendo of lies that I told myself, my friends, family, doctors, and peers.
When I hit my rock bottom, I had nowhere else to look but up. I was on the bathroom floor of the studio where I taught. It was my home, my salvation, and the place I fainted because I was undernourished. I passed out from something I did to myself. It took every bit of strength I had in me to get up off that bathroom floor. But it also took me asking for help, and then taking the hand of a concerned male yogi who heard me and came into the ladies bathroom to get me to stand.
When I got home, I weighed myself. It was the number I wanted to see. I looked in the mirror. It was not the person I wanted to see. I was alone. There was no one. Not even Edie.
I called my mother in NY, and she told me to get off the phone and order food. There are 1,000 in Santa Monica, and the only place I could think of was Dominoes Pizza from my college days.
When the delivery man came to the door, I remember looking at him, hard. I memorized his face, dark and wrinkled, but with a brightness in his deep green eyes. He wore his blue and red hat with the rim facing backward, and one of the buttons on his shirt was dangling from a loose mismatched thread hanging off the hole. I felt like that thread. I knew this man was saving my life, and there was no turning back—from him, the pizza, or my problems. My superhero drove an ’86 Mitsubishi Mirage, and he arrived in thirty minutes or less.I sat down and turned on a Lifetime movie using the Internet I poached from my neighbor. It took me two hours to eat every bite of that small, thin crust, light-on-the-cheese pizza. I could actually feel where the food was going. I didn’t feel sick. I could feel color in my face, fullness in my belly, and energy in my heart.
I Googled the calorie count of the pizza. I ate a whole day in two hours while Meredith Baxter Birney fought for custody of her daughter.
Then I Googled, “How do you know you have an eating disorder?”
Pages and sites from my MacBook reflected back to me the years of pain I had put myself through. I had never sought help nor found the tools I could use to deal with Edie. She’s a mental disorder, a disease that had gone untreated. It’s a progressive one triggered by trauma, loss, depression, and a list of many more.
Controlling food and the size of my body was my coping mechanism for loss. Ironic.
The first time I stepped into a twelve-step meeting, the memories of my early 20s and my first awkward yoga class flooded back. My timid eyes and fear made my heart race. All of the men and women sitting in a circle of chairs looked like every version of me—so normal, soft, slender, or sick. I listened to their stories. For the first time in my life, I heard other people who had the same thoughts and behaviors around food that I did. I have a disease that other people have too, and I could manage that disease if I followed the steps, used the tools, and pulled from the strength of support around me to fire back if Edie returned.
My first few meetings overwhelmed and terrified me, but I felt clear and aligned. I kept coming back no matter how many excuses I made. I had a lot of work to do, but I had a lot of people to keep me accountable to that work.
Yoga, like Edie has changed shape and appeared in my life in many forms.
Edie would destroy, and yoga would rebuild. It took twelve steps and a bunch of deep breaths to bring me back to that original place where I felt safe and supported in the lines of community.
When I look back at my disorder, the one thing that brought me out of the sickness was yoga. I just couldn’t name it then or use it when my trials brought me down.
Yoga was Weight Watchers and marathons with packs of runners and cheering fans. It was school and the yoga studio. Yoga was the room that gave me the steps and strength to move through the pain and disease with awareness and mindfulness of it, not around it in shame or dismissal of it. It helped me get over the losses and focus on the gains a full life had to offer.
As a teacher, I see newcomers walk hesitantly into the classroom all the time. I don’t expect them to jump into crow or glide into handstand without taking the steps to get there. The first class can be terrifying, but it can also be liberating. Facing fear is freeing as we make progress toward a pose. But, the poses are just a method to return back to our self.
When I realized I can still be flawed and lead a great yoga class—that is when I really became a teacher. Being a witness and supporting students when they fall, cheering them when they succeed, it all makes sense now.
I live amicably with Edie now. We have renegotiated the terms of our relationship. I don’t try to get rid of her. She’s not my friend or enemy. When she gets too loud, I turn on the Real Housewives of Orange County. They are way louder than her. I go to class, a meeting, or call a friend who understands and engages in life outside Edie.
Sometimes I want to challenge or change her, but she’s a part of my life. For me, that’s the deepest understanding of yoga—acceptance; to live peacefully in both the ebb and flow of life.It took twelve honest, hard-working and thoughtful steps to get out of my own way, heal wounds, conquer inner battles, live with a disorder, and celebrate the life I have. Going it alone and self-harm was not the way.
Every day I get up out of bed, I know I need to nourish my body to do all the things I love.
The body I’ve been given is the only one I have, and I’m lucky no matter what it says on the scale or what thoughts go on in my mind. Breaking my problem down in steps helped me rein in those thoughts and behaviors. Yoga reminds me that, trials and all, it is one breath, one vinyasa, and one day at a time. That keeps me rooted in my purpose—my intention—of coming out.
So, come on. Go ahead. Get out. Get out and get into whatever room gives you the support to heal, float, fly, stand on your head, grieve your loss, or manage your disease.
I’ll be there giving you a high Namaste and lifting your toes above your tush.
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