This is a guest post by Allie Worsdale, who submitted the following essay as an assignment in Dr. Chris Patti's course at Appalachian State University.
This essay has been featured on the Optimal Living Daily podcast – Episode 708.
I think everyone has a moment in their life when they wish they had a “reset button” that could erase every embarrassment, sadness, and anxiety. For me, I wished I had a magic wand that could help me escape my body. The moment I wished I could reset was when I realized I couldn’t control my eating disorder. Even though this topic is difficult for me to talk about and share openly, my struggle has been a life-lesson in self-worth, and I hope it might be helpful to others dealing with similar struggles.
I’ve never been one to simply “enjoy the present.” For two years, there was not a single moment where I wanted to be where I was in life. I couldn’t stand to be alone with my thoughts, and yet I never expressed them out loud to anyone. As is all too common, I was the creator of my own suffering. By churning this inner turmoil, I wasn’t allowing myself a moment of peace or appreciation of where I was in life. I went through the motions of life without actually experiencing it. Even if I was in class, or with friends, or with family, I was never present; I thought about my eating disorder all day, every day. Physically, people knew I had a problem, but no one wanted to pry; they chalked it up to the fact that I ran cross country and would say things like, “Oh, it’s just because she’s been running more miles.” They’d say, “Her body just hasn’t gotten used to the demands of being both a student and an athlete!” I became the master of saving face and putting up an emotional barricade by acting like nothing was wrong. I suffered in silence until I could no longer handle the war going on inside of me.
My “reset button” moment wasn’t filled with feelings of self-compassion or thoughts about how, physically, I couldn’t sustain such a life any longer. Instead, I thought about changing for everyone around me, not for myself. While studying during the middle of fall semester, I knew I needed to call my mother for help. When I made the call, I could hear her voice drop until she couldn’t speak through her tears. I stayed dry-eyed. Telling my mother I only ate once every three days was heavy news, but I didn’t think it warranted crying—not for me. My mother was expressing more compassion for me than I did for myself. The decision to begin treatment satisfied the sense of obligation I felt to my family and my friends. Just as I did before, I went through the motions of life without being present. I went to therapy. I went to the doctors. I was monitored while I ate, and all the while I was not actually taking a moment to acknowledge the progress I was making. This caused me to not truly care about recovery and ultimately to relapse.
The problem I was facing, after a year of attempting recovery, was that I didn’t value myself nor did I know if I actually wanted to recover. I felt occupied with both shame and fear. It wouldn’t be until a few years later that I came across Brené Brown’s Ted Talk “The Power of Vulnerability” and her comments on what shame and fear really boil down to: a lack of worthiness. I didn’t think I was worth the time and money being spent on treatment for my disorder, especially because I continuously lapsed back into my old patterns. After a few more months of numerous doctor’s appointments, I met with a school counselor that presented me with the most important challenge during my recovery. She said, “Do the things that you love—that make life worth living—and be selfish.” When she told me this, I thought to myself, “My whole eating disorder is based on my selfishness,” and my dedication to what I dubbed as my “eating disorder brain.” But, despite my endless bounty of self-hatred, I tried to do as she said.
I started caring about my schoolwork again, engaging in class discussion and pulling myself out of my own head and into the assignments I was doing. By using my daily runs as ways to value the present moment, I fell back in love with the sport I had begun to hate. I began to become the person I once was, only better: I was becoming gentle with myself. When I did the things that I loved prior to my eating disorder, I saw my worthiness as a human. I never knew the formal definition of the word “meditation” or what it entailed, but that’s what I was doing when I would go for runs again or when I sat alone with a cup of coffee. I was appreciating—giving myself credit for taking steps to recovery. I was still making strides to get better for my family and friends, but I finally factored in myself as someone who I wanted to get better for. Would I rather wither away into nothingness by my own hands, no longer able to do the things I loved? No. I was learning to step back, once in a while, and tell myself: you are worthy. I am worthy. I am enough.
Rather than looking at my life as something I wanted to reset altogether, I have come to look at it as something to fundamentally change, in order to move forward into the future while still enjoying the present. The only person I had to prove my self-worth to was myself. Even though I still struggle with cultivating self-compassion, I no longer resent myself. I no longer let myself suffer in silence or wake up wishing it were time to go to bed again. I no longer wish for a “reset button.” I am grateful. I am enough. And I am worthy. And so are you.
Allie Worsdale is a Communcation Studies major and Apparel Design minor at Appalachian State University. She was born and raised in Long Island, New York, and plans to work in PR for an environmental non-profit organization after graduation. You can reach her at worsdalea [at] appstate [dot] edu.
Dr. Chris J. Patti (PhD) is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Appalachian State University, nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. As an ethnographic writer, his research highlights intimate, relational processes at the heart of human experience through listening to and richly representing stories of love, loss, and transformation. He has published several peer-reviewed articles and chapters on the theme of suffering and compassion. His other passions are rock climbing, longboard surfing, and intentionally doing nothing with his mindfulness meditation club Zen & the Art of Applied Communication. Follow them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/awarenessbites
You can email Dr. Chris Patti at patticj [at] appstate [dot] edu.