Some of my earliest formative memories involve sitting in backyard patches of dirt, dripping wet from the springtime rain, undeterred in my quest to make the tastiest “stone soup” made of various creatures and wet dirt offerings. Or standing tiptoed in the kitchen, begging my mom to whisk the contents of this batter, or that batter.
The truth is that I have always had such a strong connection to food—ever since I was a child. I reveled in trying new foods as a kid, and loved to cook and bake for myself—often contemplating culinary school as a vocational path. And yet, perhaps because food was such a “known” and intimate entity to me, it became the easiest thing to control when I began feeling that I could control little else.
There was a lot of tumult in my life as an adolescent—in the home, in my relationships, in my own self-concept and sense of self. I now know myself to be a highly sensitive and empathic individual; however, this wasn’t necessarily something I had words or an understanding for when I was fifteen. And certainly not the capacity to manage. Because of this, the eating disorder became my process for coping and controlling—trying to grasp onto some semblance of perceived stability and predictability. While the ED initially fulfilled—albeit falsely—that role in my life, the obviously unhealthy ramifications of forcing myself into daily sickness quickly followed.
To be honest, my eating disorder wasn’t initially spurred on by issues with weight and body image—and yet as a result of abusing my body for years, those issues began to manifest in abundance. Constantly carrying this burden of hyper-awareness and self-consciousness crippled my psyche and confidence, and kept me from engaging with life in so many ways. There are countless memories I have of avoiding: social situations, relationships, and even pursuing interests and passions. All of this because my daily living was dictated by my eating disorder. My ED fed me a continuous reel of intricate and self-deprecating stories—my constant companion that kept me from living life wholly and left me in a state of perpetual fear and anxiety.
My journey toward recovery began when I was 24 and tired to the bone. Although the notion of recovery was terrifying, I was finally more afraid of what life would look like if I continued to allow my eating disorder to remain in control. Sitting slouched—knees crumpled into my chest—in the cold, tiled hallway of my aunt’s home, I remember being shocked into the realization that roughly ten years of my life had been spent engaging in the never-ending and crippling chaos that was my eating disorder. I was finally tired enough on this particular road, that I knew it was time to turn around, and slowly begin the long walk home.
Through some research, I found Cielo House—knowing that I needed more than individual or group therapy to conquer my beast. I had already mastered that dance, and knew that I was only truly going to get better if I challenged myself and pressed into the discomfort that I knew a full-fledged treatment program would bring. I was the first client to come through Cielo House in San Jose, and my time spent there undoubtedly laid the foundation and framework for my recovery. At that point in my journey, I needed the structure of a specified and targeted treatment program, and yet the warmth and support of genuine community and care. Cielo gave me both—the greatest gift in my recovery process.
And I say “process” for a reason. I certainly did not leave Cielo magically “cured”. In fact, it actually took me some time to realize that that’s not quite how the whole recovery thing really worked. My perfectionist tendencies kicked into overdrive when I was in treatment, making me feel like I often had to be the “perfect patient.” These tendencies often prevented me from engaging in many of the damaging behaviors associated with my ED—certainly a fringe benefit—however, upon leaving Cielo, it took some time for me to really tap into my toolbelt and reconstruct what healthy coping looked like for me.
Yoga has played a critical role in this process. I had the gift of working with a fabulous nutritionist and yoga teacher at Cielo House, who gave me the supreme blessing of helping me begin to reconnect with my body. As a former dancer, I found myself greatly drawn to the yoga she would offer up at Cielo. The practice reminded me of all the beautiful and powerful things our bodies were capable of doing and being—or rather, that my body was perhaps innately beautiful and powerful in and of itself. Not only has my yoga practice helped me to continue finding ways of connecting with the body in a positive way, but also to connect with my mind, heart, and spirit. After spending so many years floating my way through life, feeling like a fragmented version of myself, I began to know greater feelings of groundedness and connectedness—helping me to slowly find my way back home to myself.
I would encourage anyone similarly struggling to do the same—find those things that nurture, and help bring you back to your true self. For me, it was largely yoga. But it was also spending time with people that filled me up and reminded me who I am. It was finding those seemingly simple ways of taking care of myself in the day-to-day—taking baths, drinking hot tea, writing, cultivating mindfulness—that helped me to heal over time. I had to learn patience and gentleness in many new ways, recognizing that coming home to oneself is often a long, slow, and truthfully neverending process—but certainly one worth fighting for.