Yesterday morning, I looked in the mirror at my body.
I was getting ready for the day.
Nothing fit right.
I felt large.
I felt too big.
That’s when the voice that I constantly battle got louder and louder.
I studied every detail of my body.
Every stretch mark.
I tilted my head to the left and examined my body closer.
I shifted my hips and looked at the side of my waist. I felt discouraged by my body’s new shape.
I questioned how I got this point again, after working so hard to lose 100 lbs years ago.
My throat became tight.
My shoulders dipped in.
Shame was back.
I felt shame on the inside and my body was reflecting it in the mirror.
I turned around and I noticed the curves on my body and how an area on my back seemed to fall in a way that made me feel overweight.
My mind drifted to all of the days of my life where I felt fat.
This feeling started at a young age.
I was just an elementary school girl. At a time where I should be worried about which slide to go down at recess, I was off to the side wondering why I was so much bigger than all of the girls AND boys.
I was taller.
I was wider.
I was louder.
I was not comparable to anyone around me.
No one on TV looked like me.
And in the rare chance that I saw someone in the media who looked like me, they were being made fun of; they were the loser in the show.
Why was I so different?
Have you ever felt so different?
I felt a lot of chaos as a kid. There were big moments of uncertainty and fear when I was growing up. There were hurtful words from both my classmates and adults related to my body. I often felt unworthy. Unloveable. Unimportant. Unseen. Perhaps in their words, of course. But worse, in my own words. The hate ran deepest in my own mind.
And that manifested into a vicious eating disorder that was triggered based on a desire for control.
A place of desire for worthiness and love and validation for my physical appearance, as that always seemed to be what people commented on.
Not only about me – but I would hear them talk about other girls too. Mostly about how they looked. Sometimes on how they acted, but only if they acted nice and quiet and well-mannered. Tall, loud, and big girls were not celebrated. Being bold and true to yourself was not noble.
So, I started to restrict my eating. Some days, I would have 500 or 600 calories a day. I would run laps around my neighborhood. I would do crunchers to the Britney Spears album until I completely passed out.
And then eventually, I started making myself sick after every single meal.
Looking back, it’s all so tricky. Because once I started losing weight, people did SEEM to love me more. The boys noticed me. I had my first kiss. I got invited to “cool kid” parties. I got nominated to homecoming court. All of those experiences fueled the fire for more validation from other people.
Everything I did…everything I said…and everything I wore based on this question: Will other people like me more if I do this?
So much of my mental health journey has involved sitting in the discomfort of those feelings, memories, and hurtful comments from both other people and myself.
When I was younger and unable to process and cope with all that was going on around me, I turned to unhealthy habits.
I developed high-functioning anxiety. Will you appreciate me more if I put you before myself?
I became an over-achiever. Will you love me more if I win this award?
I become a people pleaser. Will you love me less if I say no?
I became someone who needed validation from others. Do you think I am pretty today?
I became someone who ran away from her feelings. Will you judge me if I tell you how I am really feeling?
Through therapy, I could finally hit the pause button.
I could reflect on my past to see how that’s shaping my current life.
My therapist made me realize that I was comfortable with chaos. Because when I was younger, chaos meant things were functioning as they should be; this was an eye-opening perspective when I first started talking to Nicole.
I realized that as an adult, I was CHOOSING chaos. I was spreading myself thin, running from my problems, and putting everyone’s needs above my own because I had been doing that for DECADES!
When I got help through therapy, I realized why I was doing and saying hurtful things to myself. I was connecting the dots between little Ashley and adult Ashley that felt so broken. And scattered. And damaged. I can’t even explain how unworthy I felt for so many years of my life.
You see, my problems with weight and my body run SO deep that I felt so much shame for the back pain that I was feeling recently. I had gained 40 lbs after having two big surgeries in 2019. I blamed my weight gain for the back pain. I told myself I didn’t deserve to get care until I took care of the weight gain. Even though I relentlessly exercise for HOURS a day for the past year (and only managed to lose 7 lbs – thanks PCOS), I finally told my therapist that I think my anxiety and depression are so bad again because I am in so much physical pain.
Everything is connected, y’all. And she reminded me that back pain isn’t a “fat person only thing” as I told myself. The thinnest people in the world can have back problems because of conditions like mine (disc degeneration disease). People of all sizes get injuries. I still, at 34-years-old, have a hard time battling the limiting beliefs that I formed about my body at such a young age.
My therapist reminded me to get out of my own way and get the care that I needed.
And sure enough, I learned that I had a bi-lateral pars spine fracture, two slipped discs, and stage 1 spondylosis in two areas of my spine. And this story is a perfect example of why I still go to therapy three years later.
I started to do the inner work in 2018 through therapy, but I am still healing.
I am still figuring out how to love myself without judgment and special strings attached. You know, the kind where you say, “I love will love myself more when I lose those extra 30 lbs.” Or maybe, “I will love myself more when I get that dream job.”
I am still benefiting from having someone listen and guide my thoughts in a non-judgemental, loving, and helpful way. Nicole is not trying to tell me exactly what to do. Instead, she listens for cues and ways to understand the depth of what I am saying. She is helping me piece everything together so I can gain new perspectives. And one of the biggest gifts that I’ve gained from therapy is the ability to see things differently!
I have learned how to re-frame my thoughts based on a “YES AND” and gratitude approach.
I have learned how to let go of what no longer serves me.
I have learned how to let go of my strong desire for validation and love and acceptance from other people and find that within myself.
I am working through all of my fears and worries and judgmental thoughts that come from never feeling enough. Or never feeling worthy. Because, my goodness, I have spent far too long being cruel and hurtful to myself.
And maybe if you have made it this far in my blog post, then perhaps you have lived too long living like this; I promise, there is beauty on the other side of this pain that locks you down.
There is so much more to see, experience, and feel.
There is so much light to experience beyond the darkness and heaviness that you feel.
Yes, therapy is hard.
Yes, therapy is uncomfortable at times, especially if you are being honest and showing up with your entire heart and soul.
But I believe in you.
And I believe in myself.
I believe in all of us and the power and potential to find the courage to ask for help.
Know that asking for help is the bravest, most loving thing that you do do for yourself.
Please ask for help, I am begging you.
I promise that this voyage through life if not worth fighting every second of the day.
You can seek in love, light, and joy in context with the darkness, pain, and suffering that all of us will eventually experience.
You can heal from your past.
You can find strength in what once broke you.
You can let go.
You can choose peace over chaos.
You can create new thoughts about yourself.
You can stop seeking validation from others.
You can say no and people will still love you.
You can look in the mirror and honor your body and all that she has done for you. You can love her. You can celebrate her. You can switch the negative thoughts around and put on your favorite music – and dance in the mirror until you’re proud of her again. That’s why I flipped my mood around yesterday, anyway!
You can walk into a room and not worry what people think about you. Because most of the time – people are stuck in their own minds and super worried about themselves – not you.
A common question I get is, “When are you publishing your book?”
I am no longer giving a set answer. I once heard that people should teach from their scars – not an open wound.
I am still healing. I am still processing a lot of my hardships. I am proud of my first draft because it led me to this point. But I also know that this first draft doesn’t go deep enough. This first draft is still protecting people and experiences that need less protection. I once heard that you should write your memoir and include all of the details that make you squirm a little. You should include those pieces that you, at the first reaction, want to hide. So, that’s what I am going to do. I am going to ensure I am not hiding behind my words. I am going to ensure that I am proud of how I share some of the rawest, most remarkable moments of my life with you. I am noting everything I am doing and feeling along the way.
And I promise that once these wounds close and the scars appear, I will be ready to share my stories with you. I also want to include a chapter on this past year, and how I have changed and evolved from everything that’s happened in 2020.
The wounds are getting scratchy, though. That means the scars are close.
And I can’t wait to share my stories with you and see how they can apply to your own life.
After all, the deeper we get – the closer we realize that we are to each other. You and me, you see, aren’t that different after all.
One thought on “3 Years Later: How Therapy Has Helped Me Heal”
What a great read Ashley! Thank you for sharing so much of yourself in an effort to support others.