Trauma is not you fault. PERIOD. End of sentence. There is absolutely no “but” necessary. This word, in my opinion, invalidates, minimizes, and places guilt.Read More
At the end of the summer, I started doing a type of reprocessing therapy. I learned a lot, and I hurt a lot. On several occasions, in an effort to pull me into compassion, my therapist asked “What would Jesus say to you if he were sitting here right now?” I gave the classic “I don’t know,” as tears collected and fell, and on a few occasions, my therapist prayed with me and for me. Honestly, as a Christian, there are a lot of truths I “know” but I do not live in. I’ve found much of my suffering is from shame, guilt, and anger regarding my faith and the way I feel God made me. One night, plagued with insomnia, I laid there and wrote what I think God would say to me. It’s always at night when my mind speeds up and I can think most clearly. I wanted to share this letter becuase I know I cannot be the only one who needs to hear these truths. I am loved beyond my ability to comprehend- and so are you.
You are not made wrong.
It’s not your fault you’ve lived your life in survival mode. It’s not your fault you weren’t taught how to feel. It’s not your fault you are afraid to trust. Nothing that has ever happened in your life has made you worthless. You do not deserve pain. You are not bad. You do not deserve to hurt yourself. You will not spend your whole life self destructing. You are not supposed to die by the slow suicide of anorexia. You are meant for more than being remembered for taking your own life. You are worth staying, despite the lies that say disappearing is better.
You are not a prisoner of depression. You are not owned by anxiety. You are not forever to be tormented by PTSD and trauma. Anorexia is not your life sentence.
You are more than the diagnoses that have been thrown at you and often times put you in a box. Your big personality does not make you too much…its ok for you to find it again and shine. That beautiful, wonderfully and fearfully made human is in there somewhere…and she is amazing.
I made you the way you are on purpose. Every piece and part of you is written in love and meaning. You don’t have to be ashamed of your truths. Silencing them keeps you sick. It’s time to stop carrying the weight of being made wrong on your shoulders, because that isn’t true, and I don’t make mistakes. You don’t always get to see they whys of my ways on this side of heaven.
You are worth staying for, no matter how many people have walked away, or that you have walked away from.
You are not forgettable, and you are so deeply loved. People need you, because you matter. Even when you feel insignificant.
It is ok you’re scared. It is ok you’re hopeless- because those that love you are holding your hope right now until you can carry it again. It is ok that you’re angry with Me- because I can handle it and I will never leave you.
You are ok. You will heal. It’s not your fault you don’t feel like a person. It does not mean you can never be ok with your body and mind and soul.
You deserve to fight for yourself. You are not going to spend the rest of your life lost. You are more than you think you are. And you were not created to live in guilt, shame, and pain. You are redeemed. A child of grace.
It’s ok that you don’t believe any of this. Someday you will. I can already see it. Because I’ve been there, and we will go there together.
I’ll be behind you and in front of you. And most importantly- right beside you.
I did not think- as I’m sure no one does- that when I started throwing away my lunches at school when I was 12, that restriction would follow me to this point.
I did not imagine- that every time I pounded the pavement running, spent hours at the gym, or found myself hunched over the toilet hating myself more than I knew was possible that my eating disorder would still be a struggle so far down the road. I don’t run anymore, or go to gyms, or throw up- but the desire to be empty still wracks my brain.
I did not know the sickness I felt in my stomach as a child would follow me into adulthood and later be named anxiety. That anxiety would make me clench my teeth until my gums began to recede and my teeth cracked.
I did not know- and when I did, I didn’t truly believe- that what I did to my body then would matter now.
So I do all the things and try all the suggestions given to manage the side effects of this horrible illness. Chronic back pain. Migraines. Lack of hunger cues. Blood sugar issues. TMJ. Depression. Trauma. Anxiety. Insomnia. Memory loss. Man, sometimes I am so freaking angry at myself for not knowing better.
But I did not know better. “They” say hindsight is 20/20, but I wonder if “they” ever had to look back on their lives and see all the time lost. Blurred memories of “the best time of your life”. Now I know better. So every damn day, I do my best to move forward and live the beautiful life meant for me. Some days I fail, miserably. “Get knocked down 7 times, stand up 8”? More like, fall on my fucking face more times than I can count, and the getting up is simply lifting my head and not staying in my mess. Getting up? Sometimes looking up is all I can do. I know better now. I know that I cannot muscle my way through recovery, get to a finish line, and bam- eating disorder gone. It’s a process. I hate that, with every cell in my body. I want anorexia gone, erased, non-existent. I live with the awareness that this illness may affect me for the rest of my life. I am well aware there is no erasing it, no going back, no do-overs. I live with the uncertainty of the degree to which I will always struggle. It’s like being told there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, but you can’t be sure; and if there is a light, who knows when you’ll see it. Some days, that is a devastating thing to live with. Never being sure there is true freedom for myself .
I cling to my faith, believing in things I cannot are, simply because for me, there is no other answer. The one thing I can trust, is not knowing. God knows. Every step I’ve taken, and the ones still to come. And damn, how I want to shake God sometimes and ask Him if He really knows what He is doing. But He has to, and He does. My battle with my eating disorder has taught me that I don’t get all the answers my humanness wants. Instead I get….
Three things I know of, but cannot fully grasp with this lil human brain and stubbornness of mine.
I do know- He knows better.
A while back, I shared my story on Instagram in a seven part series during NEDA Week. This post is a collection of those captions.
I’ve struggled from disordered eating since I was a teenager. I remember worrying about body image and food at age eleven. However, I played competitive sports growing up and was also a college athlete, so for the first several years of my eating disorder, the excessive exercise I did was considered “normal” and even “dedication.” I ate as little as I could while still maintaining my status as a star athlete. Starving myself completely would have affected my performance greatly, and it would have devastated me to lose my starting position on any team. I spent most of my teenage years at a perfectly normal, healthy weight, even though I was suffering mentally and emotionally. I began to struggle with anxiety and insomnia, further exacerbated by the restriction and exercise compulsion. I stopped enjoying things “normal” teenagers did because I was fixated on food and exercise, but hid it behind my outgoing, tough demeanor. Before entering college on an academic and athletic scholarship, I vowed to myself I wouldn’t gain the dreaded, “Freshman Fifteen”.
I didn’t just avoid the “Freshmen Fifteen” in college- my eating disorder and compulsive overexercise spiraled out of control. Anxiety and stress from nursing school and playing college soccer dragged me deeper down. If I thought we didn’t “work hard enough” at a practice, I would go running afterwards. Sometimes I ran 2-3 times a day, or for 1-2 hours at a time. I lived on Diet Mt. Dew and cereal, and my idea of a meal was fat free ranch and cucumbers. I was plagued by constant respiratory illnesses, asthma, and extreme exhaustion. Still, I managed to receive my nursing license at the age of twenty, lead my soccer team in minutes played, and run cross country on a scholarship my senior year. My weight? All over the place, from what I remember. But that number was irrelevant to me.
I graduated in 2008 and moved to Nashville, TN to start my career as a nurse at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. By that time, me eating disorder was so engrained in me that I didn’t really understand I had a problem. Working nightshift and maintaining the restriction and exercise patterns led me to constantly be sick- doctors even testing me for immune dysfunction because of the frequency and severity of infections. Not once was I asked about exercise or eating habits. I was more bothered by my anxiety. I ended up reaching out to someone- I’ll call her C- at my church who helped me find a therapist. We met for coffee one afternoon, and she asked me various questions, one being “Do you have an eating disorder?” I paused, and said no. After some thought, she gave me someone’s information to contact. As we got up to leave, C said “You know what, wait a minute. The Lord is telling me that you need to see someone else. Let me give you her information.” I didn’t know it then, but in that very moment, God had started writing my redemption story. A story that is messy, ugly, and far from over. I truly believe if it were not for divine intervention that day, I would not be here.
I am endlessly grateful for the time I spent with my first therapist after that meeting. It was in her office the first mention of an eating disorder was brought up, due to my therapists’ own experiences, but I pushed the hints aside. It wasn’t until I hit a new low- an absolute rock bottom- that I realized how very little regard for my own life I had. I owe so much gratitude to my friend Tara for sticking by my side during my absolute lowest. The ways in which she loved me, cared for me, and fought for me are living proof of God knowing exactly what we need when we need it. Because of Tara’s friendship and my therapist teaching me that I had a voice, I went for an assessment at The Renfrew Center, which was located where I lived. I was clueless. I was lost. I was sick, but in denial because I “looked fine.” It didn’t matter that I was ruled by anxiety, food rules, and exercise schedules. It didn’t matter that I hated every ounce of myself and couldn’t remember the last time I ate a full meal, or ate without compensating. When Renfrew immediately recommended hospitalization or residential treatment, I blew them off. I had just accepted a travel nursing position in North Carolina, and didn’t have time for that. At the urging of my therapist and Renfrew staff, I found an outpatient treatment team in North Carolina before moving there. “No big deal,” I thought. “A few months of that, and I’ll be fine.” I didn’t know I was about to begin a journey that would shatter everything I knew. A journey that would break me, again and again. A journey that would give me a second chance at life.
In North Carolina I began to work on recovery and had a very huge reality check. I struggled to function working full time and maintaining my health. Only my friend Tara knew I was getting help- I felt so very alone and scared. My outpatient treatment team urged me to go to residential treatment, but I had no insurance, no medical leave as a travel nurse, and no support. I began researching scholarships for treatment and met an angel of a human named Lynn, who had a foundation known as Melissa’s Voice. Lynn has lost her sister Melissa to suicide after a long battle with an eating disorder, and was interested in helping me. With her support, I told my family about my eating disorder and started to let friends in. Lynn graciously gave me a scholarship and connected me with a friend she had who ran a treatment center a few hours away. I took a chunk out of my savings, and with help of my parents, entered residential treatment in 2012. By this time, I had been enslaved to my eating disorder for nearly fourteen years.
In those weeks at the treatment center, I realized this: eating disorders take everything. Mine had taken my teenage years, my voice, my identity. It had taken my life while still leaving my body physically here on this earth. Life with an eating disorder isn’t living, it’s existing. I know that to be true with every cell of my body because I spent so much time drifting through life. It breaks my heart. I regret it. I have little to no memory of what others thought were the best times of my life. I was there, but it was just a shell of myself. I had myself fooled, and everyone else. I am forever grateful for the amazing souls I met in that big blue house where I found my heart and learned how to fight for my life. I am forever grateful to the people that helped me get there. But, I was still ignorant to the recovery process. As much as I hoped eight weeks of intense treatment would be enough to “cure” me, it was not.
A report in 2017 analyzing the results of 27 studies regarding relapse rates of anorexia sufferers, showed that over 25% relapsed within six months of completing treatment…that percentage increases after one year to 50% or higher. Six years ago when I discharged from residential treatment, I can honestly say that I never believed I would join those statistics. A few months after completing treatment, I moved back to Nashville, and found myself in full blown relapse, and the most physically ill I had ever been. I found myself back in treatment for several months, discharged, and pushed onward. However, I am fighting against something so strong and so dark, and my journey continues to be rocky. I spent 18 weeks in treatment starting last June. I spent most of 2018 wishing my life would end as I dealt with a degree of depression and anxiety I didn’t know was possible. After two treatment centers, an amazing psychiatrist, and life-saver of a therapist who refused to give up on me, I am slowly getting back on my feet and moving forward.
I still struggle. Daily. But I am still here fighting, which is an accomplishment in itself because I did not see a future for myself even 6 months ago.
I have anorexia, I have anxiety, I have PTSD, and I have depression…but these things do not have me. I am not a diagnosis, I am not a failure, I am not too much. This illness that tries everyday to tell me otherwise and convince me my life is not worth living, is wrong.
I don’t write when I’m sick. On Instagram I do; little snapshots into my life; but I do not write here. This blog was started simply as a space to share my words with the universe- wether that happens to be one person (hi mom) or a hundred. This space has been silent lately. It became blank when I became silent because I had slipped once again into the turmoil of my eating disorder and everything that goes along with it. Six years fighting this. Seventy two months. 2,190 days. I remember being told the average time it takes someone to recover is six to seven years. 2,190 plus days later, I am here…fighting my way through the blank, silent space and trying to reclaim my life.
Exactly one month and one day ago today, I discharged from treatment. I discharged myself, making one of the most difficult decisions of my life as I walked out of the treatment center that day. After fourteen weeks of tears, angry outbursts, and confusion, I saw little progress. Honestly, I still don’t know how much I see. In some ways I am worse off than I was before. In the same number of ways, I am wiser, and learning my journey looks different than I pictured.
I haven’t written because when I am sick, I am ashamed. Ashamed of looking just fine on the outside, but being a mess on the inside. Ashamed for needing treatment again, and feeling like I came out no better than when I started. When I am stuck in shame, I don’t write. I don’t eat. I can’t rationalize. I can’t see the severity of my depression and destructiveness. I can’t escape the paralyzing anxiety that often cripples me from doing little but exercising or sleeping.
One evening at treatment, I refused dessert. A staff member put me in someone’s office with worksheets and a pen, and left. I was told that by not eating, I was choosing not to participate in group, and could process on my own. She was down the hall but I was alone, in a room, and in my mind, this was my punishment. I filled out one of the sheets and turned over the paper and started writing.
“The things no one will say to me.
Waste of resources.”
As I wrote, the tears came. The silent kind, where you don’t even blink or scrunch your face but they keep on falling and falling and you don’t know where they keep coming from. The kind of tears where there aren’t even any sobs, just all that damn water pouring out of your eyes like its never going to stop because it comes from a place so full of hopelessness and defeat that maybe it can’t be dry.
I left that night and began to plan how to end my own life. I’m a nurse. I don’t have to google how to, don’t have to wonder what will work, etc- I know. I always have, its medical knowledge and basic common sense. But this was the first time I thought out when and how. Something in me made me pick up the phone and call my best friend. I was crying so hard that I don’t think she understood much of whatever I was trying to say, but she left where she was and came to meet me at her house immediately. I am here today because I have an amazing support system and a God who says my story is not finished yet. I did not want to make that call to my friend, and still think maybe it wasn’t my own power that made my hands do it.
You see, that’s the thing about the last 2,190 days…nearly every one of them have been spent in a fight I am not winning. It adds up. To being hopeless. It adds up to me concluding that I would very much rather die than continue to live like this. Something I do not talk about outside the four walls of my therapist’s office is how chronically suicidal I have been. I went to treatment this time in hopes of it helping with that. Treatment did not “make me” want to end my life that night- the thoughts were already there and have been for a while. They were exacerbated by the feelings of worthlessness of my impression of being given up on. It made those words I wrote on the back of the worksheet very real to me. My work is believing they are not, and believing I am not too much.
It has only been recently that I have begun to come to terms with accepting my humanness. Which means I may live with having an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, and PTSD for the rest of my life. But, that doesn’t mean that those things have ME. I am a fighter and I am hella resilient. In all of my weakness, I also have a God who is my strength. I know I am loved, beyond my ability to comprehend, by both God and the beautiful people He has placed in my life.
I’ll put these thoughts out there on to my blog and into space, and half of me will likely regret it. No one wants to talk about suicide. No one wants to yell to the world how much they are struggling. No one even understands mental illness. That includes me. And yet, I do. I talk about it. I do it for the one person who might need to read this. I do it for my family and friends, who I often can’t tell in conversations how much has been going on. I talk about it because this part of my life keeps me coming back to my yoga mat, and my yoga practice has healed parts of me I thought were unreachable. I do it to glorify God for continuing to bring me through the darkness- even when I don’t want Him to. Even when I beg Him to stop; when I’m angry at Him and think He made me wrong. I speak my truth for myself, because I am healing from the outside in, and I continue to learn that silence only breeds shame. Shame breeds sickness, and that is not how I want to spend my life. I will heal.
October 15, 2012. My first week in residential treatment. I am scared, I am anxious, I cannot fathom that I am here in in this place.
November 5, 2013. “Dear Body, Why do you let me down? I can’t trust you.”
February 14, 2014. Four moths ago, my life was slipping away. I am stronger now, the second time around.
September 1, 2015. “Things are better. They really are. Recovery is worth it. Recovery is possible.”
April 11, 2016. The last time I journaled. DAMN. Sorry therapist. “In the big picture, my life is amazing and my problems are small. I am tired. I am so tired. I want an easy button. I’m human. I want myself to be fixed, but what if this person I am is all I will ever have?”
July 29, 2017. I stopped working so hard to destroy my body, because I didn’t love it more when it was smaller.
May 25, 2018. I need more help. Have for a while now. Since November, and I’m finally willing now. I eat enough to get by, I feel my clothes get smaller but my mind tells me otherwise. I feel like shit on my yoga mat more times than not, and I am usually too tired to practice. If I don’t practice, I can’t eat, and something I love is turning into the awful cycle of compensation now. Yoga saved my life but I don’t really want to be alive right now. I realize now my eating disorder will never not be a part of my life, and I mourn that. I realize that I struggle with something that will mean I forever have to be careful and aware that each big decision I make in life is truly what is best for my health. I learn once again I cannot run from myself by burying myself in a job, by throwing myself into new things, by denying that anorexia has crept into both the smallest and biggest parts of my life and I am starting to lose myself again.
June 3, 2018. A week from tomorrow I’ll walk through the doors of The Renfrew Center once again. I was for damn sure that I would never have to do this again, but I am also for damn sure that I will not continue to live this way.
My recovery from my eating disorder was singlehandedly one of the most challenging, confusing times of my life. I was left feeling hopeless so many nights. I was left with tears running down my face for years just because of an extra slice of pizza.
My recovery was hard.
But the thing is, my recovery was not like what is so commonly depicted on Instagram. And my life to this day is still not like many of these popular, famous Instagrammers.
When I was in the beginning of my recovery, chickpea pasta was not an option for me. Vegan cheese was out of the picture. There was no exercise allowed- not even walks. I was not allowed to make myself some extravagant oatmeal creation with zucchini and egg whites. I ate the packets of brown sugar oatmeal. Two to be exact. And I dealt with the anxiety from that packaged, brown sugar oatmeal. I dealt with the guilt of not being allowed to do any physical activity. I sat at the dinner table with sweaty palms and a terrified stare when white pasta with marinara sauce was placed in front of me. I watched as my family so effortlessly ate this meal. But for me, it felt like there were bricks weighing my wrist down and I could not lift up my hand to that fork. And when I did, I dealt with the negative thoughts that rapidly entered my brain, causing me to want to run away from the dinner table and lie in my bed with the covers over my head- blocking out my reality. My reality of recovery being eating, feeling guilt for eating, pushing through the guilt, watching the tears drop down my cheeks, and waking up the next morning to do it all again. It was a draining process, but a process that became easier over time… a process that gave me strength.
I wouldn’t change this process for the world. I wouldn’t recover in any other way. I am thankful I was exposed to all foods. I am thankful I was forced to just take a seat and not move my body at all. It so desperately needed that rest, and I knew my body thanked me for giving it that.
But when I look on Instagram now, I see many young girls approaching recovery differently. Working out 5 days a week while still trying to gain weight. Eating, but only eating “clean” foods. Having such a tight grip on what foods are “okay” to eat. This honestly makes me sad, because this is not what recovery should be. Recovery from anorexia should be planting yourself on your favorite chair and not doing anything when all your mind wants you to do is work out. Recovery from anorexia should be challenging yourself to have the cupcake when the thought of having it causes you anxiety- but doing it anyway because in difficult times comes immense growth. Recovery from anorexia should be loosening your grip around control with food and going with the flow- letting others decide where to eat, letting others cook for you, switching up your typical foods and trying something new. Recovery should equate to living a life of freedom from food and exercise. Recovery should feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulder because you are allowing yourself to sleep in, instead of waking up at 4:30 am to workout. Recovery should be a smile on your face after eating a slice of cake with your best friend. Recovery should bring you genuine smiles.
My life to this day is still freedom. My life is not focused around the food and movement I do. My life has more meaning than that. My life is not spending 5 hours a day in the kitchen. It is not going to the gym every single day. My life has more value than what I will eat for dinner tonight. This is what recovery has given me. This is what recovery continues to give me. A life that is so fruitful in other things besides food and exercise… a life that sets my soul on fire… a life that brings me challenges and tears some days but endless laughter and joy other days. My recovery has allowed me to embrace my humanness. It has allowed me to embrace the individual I was always meant to be.
November unraveled me. Slowly, like thread falling from fabric, before I knew it, I was in a place where I found my own self unfamiliar. I signed up for a Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY) training- meaning I would be equipped to teach TSY to others- but it also meant I had to look at some things I had long ago tucked away. You know, those things that are probably a “big deal” but you relive the events over in your head enough to reduce them to a simple, almost meaningless event that might have happened to someone else, but certainly not to you.
Then the nightmares started, and the anxiety that made me chew the insides of my mouth raw. I woke my husband up at 2am the night after the first training. “Why did you let me do this?” I demanded. “Why? This shit is hard. I’m reading hundreds of pages about how our bodies hang on to all the stuff we go through, and I see myself in those pages, and I realize that its true- the body remembers. And the body always wins.”
I’ve been a Pediatric or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse for 9 years. I’m human- I’ve been through some tough stuff- we all have. Family issues, lost friendships, death, bad relationships, you name it. I’ve had an eating disorder for more of my life than I have not. Like how it sounds or not, we are all trauma survivors in some sense.
November reminded me of this. My body spoke to me in ways I could not ignore. I am a person who feels very deeply. I care for others with my whole heart. As much as I hate to admit to being emotional, I am. I am still learning that this is a gift and not a flaw like I’ve told myself and been told for so long. It’s the way God made me. I’m not made wrong, even though much of the time I resent that way I am. It can make living life HARD, because in the same way a person can be giddy and beside themselves with joy, I can be wracked and stunted by sorrow. Emotion that settles into my bones and fills all the spaces I didn’t know were empty. I am the same way with love. The beauty of it touches my soul and makes the entire world feel brighter. I have finally learned, that I cannot choose to feel one spectrum of emotions over the other. In attempting to numb pain, I will inevitably numb joy as well.
November unraveled me, and December has left me undone. I am owning my role in it and beginning to pick up the pieces. Some of them are painful, like the relentless migraines I’ve developed and the depression that has snuck in. Some of the pieces are healing, like the person from my past I reconnected with and spoke my truth to. I am still discovering pieces, and I get to pick and chooses what I want to stay, and what I want to go. It’s my life, not anyone else’s, and I want a say in how I choose to process and heal and implement wounds from the past.
The body remembers. Our brains are wired a certain way to react and protect us when needed. We can’t control that. Our tissues and muscles and cells hold the memories. Be careful what you pack away in hopes that the unseen disappears. God made us so beautifully flawed- breakable, ignorant, and so just so HUMAN. The unraveling and undoing of things in our lives has a purpose. Hold on to that hope.
Recently, my therapist brought up a good point (they’re good at that). To say I struggle with self love is an understatement- hell, I struggle with self LIKE a good amount of the time. She pointed out to me that when I’m talking about my child (my 90 pound fluffy baby beast dog), I laugh at her quirks and call her a mess.
“Why is that?” She asked me. “Why do you point out those messy things?”
“All the things that make her a mess are the things I love most about her,” I replied without hesitation.
“Exactly. Why can’t you love the messy things about yourself too? You don’t tell your dog to stop doing the things that make her personality hers. Why do you do that to yourself?”
Point for the therapist. I broke eye contact and looked away. It was true, I realized. So logical, so simple, so seemingly EASY.
“What are you thinking?” She asked me.
I didn’t answer, mostly because at the moment, I was thinking how much I hated my therapist, and counting to ten in my head whileI convinced myself not to straight up peace out of therapy. I don’t hate that my therapist is right. I don’t hate her for pointing out the obvious to me. What I hate is that there’s no easy button for self love. I KNOW I’m spending, and have spent, more years of my life than not, being critical of myself to the point where I don’t even like myself. I hate that there’s no “cure” for that except hard work that I have to do myself, because I’m not completely convinced self love is possible for me.
“It’s OK to be who you are,” said my therapist, who I don’t actually hate. “What if you could take the things you think after messy about yourself and embrace them for making you love-able? What are those things? They might be really simple, like you only wear thin socks, but those things are OK?” Not exact quotes (except for the thin socks reference) but you get the idea.
I’ve been thinking about this all day. I’m not special for struggling with self-love; those who don’t these days are probably in the minority. So, I wanted to take a few minutes, and acknowledge that I am a mess…and that is ok. That does not mean flawed, or stupid; it just means I am ME. And no matter how hard I try to fight it, I can’t truly change the core of who I am.
I’m sensitive and emotional, but I am also tough and a bit rough around the edges. I speak my mind, sometimes before I think. I believe in standing up for what is right. I don’t have an ounce of Southern charm in me, even after living in the south for ten plus years. I would give a friend the shirt off my back, and that gets me hurt a lot. I always want to include everyone. I don’t have a best friend because ALL of my friends are my best friend. I don’t know what day it is half the time because I’m a nurse. I don’t want to be a nurse anymore but I don’t know what else to do. I’m bad at math. Like really bad. I forget people’s birthdays, I send cards late, and I do all my Christmas shopping at the last minute. I procrastinate. I don’t balance my checkbook and my husband keeps track of the bills because if it were my responsibility, we wouldn’t have electricity (this almost happened once). If I carry cash, I’ll give all of it to homeless people selling The Contributer. I don’t own high heels because look like a baby giraffe walking in them, and who wants to wear uncomfortable shoes? It takes me forever to cash checks. I can hardly work our TV at home, and I always forget the password to our wireless. Actually, I always forget the passwords to everything that requires a password. I don’t bake, and I’ve ruined two crockpots. I know the words to a shocking amount of rap songs, and I sing them in my car. My ringtone is “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift, and that’s also the song I blare when I’m having a bad day or leaving work. I hate card games, because I’m bad at them, and I really hate losing. I don’t love having game nights with friends because I never like any of the games and get bored easily. I don’t sit still very well and I couldn’t tell you the last time I went to a movie. Or watched one. When I go to work, I look like I’ve just rolled out of bed because I don’t understand the point of doing my hair or makeup when I’m going to work as twelve-plus hour shift.
I am a mess…because I am human. I am a mess and I’m learning that isn’t a bad thing…becuase it is what makes me, me. And that is ok.
The truth about being a new yoga teacher, is that no one tells you what’s its going to be like to be a new yoga teacher. The truth about being a yoga teacher, is that once you finish teacher training, you go back out into reality. Maybe you teach, maybe you don’t. I’m a brand new teacher. I’ve taught yoga for three whole months. I say that sarcastically just FYI. I’ve learned a hell of a lot; and I’ve learned a lot of things I wish someone had told me.
So here’s me, telling you. Wether you’re almost a certified yoga teacher, are about to teach your first class, just became an instructor, or are thinking about it- this is just a little bit of my wisdom. Take it for what it’s worth. Leave it for what its worth. I know I still have a lot to learn…a lifetime of learning actually. This newness of being a yoga teacher is just the tip of the iceberg. Please be aware, I am not telling you I know all there is to know about being a yoga teacher. Not even close. Thinking that I even know a lot would be pure ignorance. I don’t. I learn every day- that is something I love about yoga. It is always changing me and challenging me.
You’re not special or more enlightened than anyone else just because you chose to become a yoga teacher. Being a yoga teacher is a trend right now- everyone’s doing it. You are not better than anyone. A yoga teacher is not better than a Zumba teacher at the YMCA. A yoga teacher is not better than a cycling instructor at a little gym. What you are is incredibly brave and committed. You said YES to one of the best, but most difficult things in your life- teacher training. You spent many many hours looking at the deepest parts of yourself, being humbled, screwing up, and being uncomfortable. Be proud of that. Damn proud. But don’t forget where you started. Anyone remember that sweet video of a dad talking to his little girl in the mirror before they start the day? “You are not better than anyone else”, he tells her. “No one is better than you.” You are that little girl looking in the mirror. Always.
Just because you’re a new teacher, doesn’t make you less important. Less knowledgeable, sure. Less experienced, yes. But if yoga means unity, and the goal of yoga is one-ness, like you learned, everyone is equal. Don’t be discouraged if you bomb your first class, or even your first few classes. It’s inevitable! But that does not make you a lesser teacher or student. Do not let teachers above you make you feel small- and remember this carries over to LIFE too. In the same breath, don’t make others feel small. Especially when you teach. If you teach, you will have people of all levels in your classes. Speak to them all. Each and every one of them. Watch the bodies in front of you. You are all equal. They are as important as you are, even though you are in charge and they are on their mats. Teach that way.
The yoga world can be catty. Ok, it is catty. It’s competitive. It’s full of egos. It is full of pride. This truth has been a hard truth for me to learn. I didn’t want to learn it. People I thought were in this business to do good showed me their true intentions were selfish. From personal experience, I have been denied the opportunity to teach a karma class at a studio for a great cause, for reasons unspoken. I did not train at that studio, I do not teach there, I do not belong teaching there. And so pride outweighs desire to do something for the greater good. Turning to another studio in hopes of teaching the class there, I was again denied because “we don’t know that person.” And so yoga becomes about “who you know” rather than “how can I help.” I was told by a mentor and fellow teacher that I was not a peer- simply a student- implying there is a hierarchy in this practice and I am among the lowest. I was told I was attached to truth and it was a problem for our relationship. I was told I was dramatic and gossipy. And so “I am in charge of you” replaces “how can we talk as equals.” Things that were known about my true character were taken and used against me like darts, and I learned that not all intentions are out of love. The thing is, just because yoga preaches peace and zen and love in no way means it is made up entirely of those things. We are human. We hurt each other. It is our nature. We are flawed, we are selfish, we are scared, we are insecure. WE ARE SCARED. That doesn’t make any of us exempt from the standard of being kind to one another. When I think about those situations, I actually don’t feel much anger. I feel sadness, because the world needs all the kindness it can get- but the bottom line is, life is about business. It is the world we humans have created for ourself. We will continually sacrifice love and compassion for money and the need to be right. I am guilty of this also. I am not the exception. Just because I write about it does not mean I practice what I preach 100% of the time. But I do my best. Some days I’m a rockstar with it, and other days I fail miserably. Freaking miserably. Always have, always will. I am not better than anyone else.
Don’t believe in too much magic- but believe in some of it. Find a balance. Find those moments in your own practice where you are completely swept away in your own breath and movement. When the rest of the world is just that- the rest of the world. You don’t care what anyone else is doing or saying. You are fully present. Teach to that magic, even if it feels silly. It is your truth, it is your reason for yoga, it is your light to share. Find the teachers and students and classes that remind you how yoga works. Learn from the people who light not just you up, but others also. There is a lot to be said for those who can see beyond themselves and teach that way also.
Lastly, if you aren’t consistently feeling joy when you get off your mat after your practice, step away. Yoga will be there. It always was. The practice that you maybe long ago came to with wonder and adoration will always be there waiting. No one can take that from you, not even yourself.