A piece on purpose, periods, and paper napkins, in no particular order
I read a piece from The Daily Om last week called “Finding Our Life’s Work.” The author, Madison Taylor, writes, “Your most important work in this lifetime may not be your job – it’s a conviction within your soul, recognizable if you allow it to shine.”
My life’s work is Recovery and sharing Recovery. So today, I’m here to share recovery.
I’ll start with gratitude. I feel grateful for brown paper napkins, the kind you find at coffee shops. They’re free, almost always readily available, and possess vast versatility. I often use them to blow my nose and spit out phlegm as needed.
I have a great story about phlegm, if you want to hear it – which you will, since you can’t say no.
One morning, while walking down Bond Street with a favorite book in hand, a thick green glob arose from my chest. As luck would have it, in that very moment, a massive mud puddle appeared on my left. ‘Twas the perfect spot to spit in.
I reeled back then leaned forward, preparing to make my shot, but I must have had too much momentum, as the book went down with it. This particular book belonged to the New York Public Library, but the way I see it, I gave it character.
End of tangent.
I’ve been told it’s weird to use napkins as tissues – weird as well as unnecessary – but I love them for their potential. They make terrific writing surfaces. You know the stories of artists whose life’s work began on a cocktail napkin? For me, great healing has begun on coffee napkins – not to mention letters to loved ones.
A Body That Functions
They’re also great for absorbing armpit sweat, one of the body’s charms. I’ve come to love my bodily fluids because they reflect my bodily functioning. I love having a body that functions. I haven’t always had one. In the eating disorder community, bodily functioning is determined by the presence of a period – for people assigned female at birth, that is.
I’ve come to love my bodily fluids because they reflect my bodily functioning.
I love having a body that functions.
I got my first period in the fall of 7th grade. In the following spring, I got another one that lasted more than 30 days. Consistency was a problem as well as duration. I’d leave trails of blood behind me everywhere I’d go. Eventually I went on birth control to restore my body’s balance, albeit artificially.
I thought little of my period between grades 8 and 10, but at the start of my junior year, I lost it to my eating disorder. My last bleed pre-ED took place in August of 2015, not to return till December of 2017. That’s 28 months with no period.
Waiting for My Period was like Waiting for Godot. I wanted so desperately to get it back so that I could stop gaining weight. I hated gaining weight. Still do. Letting go of weight control has been a great challenge, and reaching weight maintenance has been a constant struggle. That’s why I went to rehab; I wanted to put weight restoration behind me.
Waiting for my period was like Waiting for Godot.
I entered rehab on October 20th, 2016 and emerged December 30th 20 pounds heavier. Had I maintained that weight, I surely would have gotten my period, but I wasn’t ready to stabilize there.
My dietician pre-rehab gave me freedom of choice; she gave me roots and wings. My inpatient dietician took my wings away. My outpatient dietician worked in Functional Medicine. According to the Institute for Functional Medicine,
The Functional Medicine model is an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness. It requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and leverages that data to direct personalized treatment plans that lead to improved patient outcomes.
My inpatient team did not approve of my outpatient dietician’s methods, nor did they approve of her Functional Medicine Background. They thought it enabled my eating disorder, which admittedly it did, at times – but that wasn’t the fault of the model; that was me, abusing it.
One condition in my Discharge Contract was that I’d see a new dietician whom they selected for me, one with a more “moderate” philosophy. I kept my promise; I had no choice. I was a minor, bound to the will of adults.
I did not connect with this new person. Under her care, I felt disempowered like I did in rehab. Rather than helping me find my “True North” (as my original – and current – dietician called it), I felt I had to conform to hers.
In 12-step recovery, we make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of a higher power of our own understanding. For some this means God, for others intuition; for some it’s simply the 12-step room. This understanding is unique and varies person to person. There’s only one thing that Higher Power is not: another human being.
There’s only one thing that Higher Power is not: another human being.
In rehab, rather than turning my will over to my higher power, I turned my will over to a panel of human beings, and I was doing the exact same thing with this new dietician. Eventually it hit me that she was not my higher power, and I took my power back by ending our relationship. You can read my breakup letter to her here.
I returned to the loving arms of my old dietician (aka Fairy Godmother) and for the next two months felt on top of the world. I was happy, healthy, and stable – until I lost two pounds and fell out of my “range.”
This subtle weight loss, if left unchecked, can lead to a downward spiral. I left it unchecked by avoiding my dietician, and it did lead to a spiral. The next time I weighed in, two months later, I was eight pounds thinner: eight pounds thinner and eight pounds farther from rebuilding my bones and regaining my period.
Open Letters From a Rough Week
I coped with this news by writing 3 letters, the first to my dietician:
To My Dietician:
I understand your concern that my weight is too low to get my period, but I am happy and healthy for the first time, and that is a cause for celebration. I don’t know what my weight is–and I don’t want to know–but while you say it’s unlikely I’ll get my period here, I highly doubt it’s impossible.
As you said, I look great: my skin is glowing, and based on my appearance you expected my weight to have held since last session, suggesting that this “significant drop” is merely a temporary dip from my increased activity in the past few weeks.
I’ll admit that on the hunger/fullness scale I’ve been eating to a 7 when in order to maintain I should be eating to an 8, but it was in no way intentional. I have not been actively restricting or trying to lose weight.
I can confidently say that I am not in my eating disorder anymore. I’ve simply increased my exercise and I guess I just didn’t realize that that means I have to eat more.
I wish I didn’t have to think about this: weight, periods, numbers.
Weight is just a number. It’s just a fucking number.
For the first time in forever, I love my body, and I’m not talking about what it looks like: I’m talking about what it feels like, what it does, how it moves. I just want to trust and nourish my body as it is, without constantly worrying, “Hmmmm, did I eat enough?” or, “When the fuck am I gonna get my period back?”
This is all riding on my fucking period, Jesus, I DON’T CARE IF I GET MY PERIOD BACK! If getting my period is what it’ll take to get everyone off my back, to put an end to nutrition sessions and stepping on the scale, then I guess I want it back, but honestly? I don’t want to have my own kids, and not having my period doesn’t affect me on a daily basis.
As for the osteoporosis, well, I’ve already made peace with that and accepted that it’s something I must live with. Again, it doesn’t affect me day to day. I’m not in any pain.
To me, osteoporosis and amenorrhea are my battle scars, the remains of my anorexia, an illness which I have recovered from. The wound has healed and these are the scars. I put my body through hell for two years straight; it’d be naive to think I’d emerge from that unscathed.
Look, in a way, it’s good there’s some permanent damage; it’ll teach me not to dance with the devil again. Plus, I’m proud of what I’ve been through–of what I’ve conquered–and I want something to show for it. I’ve thought of tattooing the recovery symbol on my wrist, but until then, these are my tattoos!
If and when my period does show up, I’ll welcome it with open arms, but right now it’s just a matter of waiting. In the meantime, I’m going to nourish my body appropriately, celebrate myself, and live my life.
I’m not going to follow any “meal plan” or check the toilet for blood or have nightly “chats” with my uterus about how important it is that it function properly.
I’m not going to think about weight gain or attempt to gain (or lose) weight in any way. I’m going to workout without fearing new muscle mass. If my body wants to bulk up, it’ll bulk up. I’m going to do what I want to do, let my body do what it wants to do, and relax, live my life, and have fun.
I agreed to one last weigh in to make sure I’m not on a “downward spiral” and I’ll stick to that. But after that I’m done. I want to be happy. I want to be free. Please let me be happy. Please let me just be.
I hear denial in that letter: Don’t Even Know I Am Lying. I hear resistance to getting healthy on my body’s terms; I hear a desire for health on my own terms. Fortunately, since then, I’ve made progress.
Next I wrote to my body:
I love you. If I have neglected you lately in any way, I am truly sorry. Body, I’m in awe of you. Your strength, your stamina, your killer looks — you’ve really turned yourself around.
Have you forgiven me, Body? Because if I didn’t know any better, I’d think we’d been best friends for life, based on your recent actions.
You’ve transformed! You’re a transformer! And I promise I’ll do everything in my power to keep you in your newfound healthy state.
The rigor of the past few weeks and the subsequent weight loss was an accident. I think so, anyway. Nevertheless, I vow to be more cognizant of nourishing you fully from here on out.
You’re special, Body. You’re not a machine. You’re a living thing. I know that now. I’ll be honest, Body. Feeling full is hard for me. I like to operate on as little fuel as possible. I like to meet your needs at the bare minimum.
I see now that that’s injurious to you–that even when I’m not operating from a place of disordered, maniacal madness, skimping out on a few bites every single meal eventually catches up with you. It’s selfish of me to treat you that way.
I’m going to work on tolerating fullness, on operating at an “8” instead of a “7.” Whatever you do with that extra fuel is perfectly alright. If that means a few extra pounds, so be it. You deserve to just be. No boundaries. No limits.
I love you, Body. I want you to know that. It’s important to me that we’re connected, Body. It’s important to me that we’re close.
Finally, I wrote to my period. I call this one, “I Want You Back” :
I want you back. I need you back. These past two years have been sterile and serene but in all seriousness, your absence freaks me out.
I’m trying to trust my body–to listen to it, embrace it–but how can I trust it when, bottom line, it’s not working as it should?
I wished you away.
I wasn’t ready to be a woman.*
I stunted my maturity so I wouldn’t have to face certain parts of myself, like my feelings of inadequacy, low self-worth, and sexual confusion. Reverting to pre-pubescence put those problems at bay.
But I’ve come a long way, and I’m ready to mature. I’m ready to live fully and love myself exactly as I am but I’m scared and distressed and unsettled because I don’t even know what that looks like because my body has not fully healed.
I want to relax! I don’t want to have to think about this anymore, about whether or not I ate enough and did my weight go up or down and for God’s sake, am I healthy, I just want to know that I am healthy and that depends on you!!
So please come back. My body needs you. My bones need you. I need you. We’re awaiting you with open arms. And a full box of tampons.
*First, let me clarify that I don’t believe having a period makes you a woman; I know that’s a cis-normative narrative. However, gender identity is unique to each individual, and having a period is part of my own identity as female.
My period finally returned on December 21st, 2017 – 15 months ago now. Unfortunately, I only had it 3 times before I lost it again, but while I’m still awaiting its return, I know we’re almost there.
Anyway. When I did get my period back the first time, I put a photo of my first bloody tampon on my blog. If you’d like to look, you can do so here. Occasionally I wonder if that was “too much” – if I should take the photo down – but I’d rather lead by example and model body acceptance than politely conform.
I care not how other people see me; I care only how I see myself.
Each day we live in a brand new era, and we get to choose how we show up. We get to choose if we follow paved trails or blaze our own. I choose to blaze my own.
I respect the wisdom of cave-people (no gendering) and dogs. They relish their bodies; they live unapologetically au natural. I, for one, can stand to learn from them. I’m not saying we should act like animals, but I do see primitive wisdom there.
Saturdays Are For the Self
To shift gears, today I’m partaking in what I call “Self-Love Saturday.” It’s an opportunity to reflect and reset, free from company and free from technology. In case you haven’t heard, Saturdays are for the Self.
[To clarify, I wrote this post on paper napkins and am now retroactively transcribing it. Technology has no place in my self-care practice.]
I’m seated in my favorite coffee shop. It’s crowded, as usual, but I always find a spot. I’m tucked in the dimly-lit back, and while I normally gravitate to the front by the windows, I’m grateful for this environment because it fosters an energy of retreat – plus, I have a table to myself.
One second: I’m going to the bathroom.
Ok, I’m back.
I got the small stall. I prefer the big one, for space, but I’m grateful that I got a stall without having to wait. I had to wipe urine off the seat, as I often do, but I’ve actually come to enjoy this. I consider it an act of service.
In the past, if I walked into a stall and found it dirty, I’d ask out. Now I clean it up, expressing gratitude for the physical toilet – a modern miracle – and serving those who will use the toilet after me.
On the topic of my healing, I have finished my 28 days of affirming the mantra I am proactively healing my body (a process you can read about here), and now I’m practicing self-love to maintain my progress.
I practice something called “Advanced Integrative Therapy” which involves direct contact with the chakras. According to the AIT institute,
Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT) is a powerful yet gentle treatment that heals body, psyche, and spirit. AIT easily removes the aftereffects of a trauma, strengthening the individual by instilling positive qualities and productive beliefs.
To remove a negative belief from your system, I place one hand on the chakra where the belief is strongest. I then place my free hand on my crown chakra and state the negative belief aloud. Next, I move my free hand to my forehead and repeat the statement. I do this for each chakra, ending with the root.
Different emotions live in different chakras. We can learn where we carry specific beliefs muscle testing (read more here). I tend to carry fear in my solar plexus and pain in my center heart.
On Thursday, my therapist and I used AIT to remove two limiting beliefs from my system. The first was:
Because of all the times and ways I was so disconnected from my body and unable to take care of it, I don’t trust that I am healthy or that I can take care of my body now.
I thought I carried this belief in my solar plexus, but muscle testing revealed that I carried it in my center heart (likely due to the trust component). So, I placed one hand on my center heart and moved my other hand through each chakra, bringing this statement’s intensity from a 10 to a 0.
Next, we treated:
Because of all the times and ways I was not healthy because of my eating disorders, I live in fear that I am not healthy now.
This did live in my solar plexus; again, I brought it from a 10 to a 0.
Then we instilled a positive belief to fill the newly created void. To instill a belief, we move upwards through the chakras – root to crown – without using a stationary hand (we want the belief to flow through our whole being, not just one area).
We instilled the following:
I am healthy and I am connected to my body. I always know exactly what my body needs, and I always treat it with respect and love.
After bringing this to a 10, we instilled the core quality of self-love. To do so, I move through each chakra – root to crown – vocalizing, “Oh, Self-Love.” I then repeated it silently repeated it silently, without the “Oh.”
This self-love meditation is my new routine, which I’ll practice for at least one month. It’s easier than writing a 4-sentence mantra 25 times a day, that’s for sure. I do like the mantra I instilled before, though, and I intend to keep repeating it anyway.
After this session, I felt my confidence increase. At the same time, I wanted objective feedback that I was ok. I wanted feedback from the scale. I knew weighing myself would be a risk, but I also knew that the action could serve me if I let it.
I sent a message to my nutritionist, confiding my intentions to cultivate accountability and support. Then I sent love before me to the scale. I affirmed that I wanted information and set the intention to detach from the number. Then I did it, and according to the number, I am exactly where I need to be.
Without empowering the scale, I want to thank it for the information and relief it gave me. I want to thank that moment for allowing me to let go of the residual fear I was carrying. I am so grateful that I can trust my body and trust my wellbeing. I am so grateful to trust my intuition and to know that I can take care of myself. I am so grateful that I can now have faith, undying faith, in my body’s function.
In closing, I would like to say that the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. Take what you like and leave the rest. If this post spoke to you, I invite you to share it, as these messages are for all.
Featured Image: A sculpture of Mother Earth. Brooklyn, NY.