Have hope, chase joy, embrace life – recovery is possible.

Demons On The Boat

When i was in my first year of treatment, taking those first small, shaky steps into recovery, my lovely dietitian M. read me this story. It was the perfect analogy for my eating disorder, & became a a valued tool in my recovery chest, helping me to both communicate with people about my experience, & also proving a source of inspiration & encouragement when the fight just seemed too hard. I hope you find it helpful too, & when you reach the end, you will see why from that point on, i would always think of M as my ‘mermaid’ 🙂

Demons On The Boat

Imagine you’re steering a ship far out at sea. Below the deck, out of sight, lie a vast horde of demons, all with enormous claws and razor-sharp teeth. These demons have many different forms. Some of them are emotions, such as guilt, anger, fear, or hopelessness. Some are memories of times you’ve failed or been hurt. Others are thoughts like “It’s too hard”, “I’ll make a fool of myself”, or “I’ll fail”. Some of them are mental images, in which you see yourself performing badly or getting rejected; others are strong urges to [not eat or to hurt yourself]*. And still others are unpleasant sensations, such as tightness in your chest, or a knot in your stomach.

Now as long as you keep that ship drifting out at sea, the demons will stay below. But as soon as you start steering toward land, they clamber up from below deck, flapping their membranous wings, baring their fangs, and generally threatening to tear you into little pieces. Not surprisingly, you don’t like that very much, so you cut a deal: “If you demons stay out of sight, down below, I’ll keep the ship drifting out at sea.” The demons agree, and everything seems okay – for a while.

The problem is, eventually you get fed up being at sea. You get bored and lonely, miserable, resentful, and anxious. You see plenty of other ships heading into shore, but not yours. “What sort of life is this?” you think. “That land over there – that’s where I want to be heading”. But the demons down below aren’t particularly interested in what you want. They want to stay out at sea, and that’s final! So the moment you start heading for land, they swarm up onto the deck and start threatening you again.

The interesting thing is, although these demons threaten you, they never actually cause you any physical harm. Why not? Because they can’t! All they can do is growl and wave their claws and look terrifying – physically they can’t even touch you. And once you realise this, you’re free. It means you can take your ship wherever you want – as long as you’re willing to accept the demons presence. All you have to do to reach land is accept that the demons are above deck, accept that they’re doing their level best to scare you, and keep steering the ship towards shore. The demons may howl and protest, but their powerless, because their power relies totally on your belief in their threats.

Image via: All Posters

But if you’re not willing to accept these demons, if you’ve got to keep them below deck at all costs, then your only option is to stay adrift, at sea. Of course, you can try to throw the demons overboard, but while you’re busy doing that no-one is piloting the ship, so you run the risk of crashing into rocks or capsizing. Besides that, it’s a struggle you could never win, because there’s an infinite number of those demons in the hold.

“But that’s horrible!” you may well protest. “I don’t want to live surrounded by demons!” Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you already are. And those demons will keep showing up, again and again, as soon as you start to take your life in a valued direction. Now here’s the good news: if you keep steering your ship toward shore (no matter how much the demons threaten you), many of them will realise they’re having no effect, and will give up and leave you alone. As for the ones that remain, after a while you’ll get used to them. And if you take a good, long look at them, you’ll realise they’re nowhere nearly as scary as they first appeared. You’ll realise they’ve been using special effects to make themselves look a lot bigger than they really are. Sure, they’ll still look ugly; they won’t turn into cute fluffy bunny rabbits; but you’ll find them much less frightening. And you’ll find that you can let them hang around without being bothered by them. (Furthermore, as you continue on that voyage, it’s not just demons that show up. You’ll also encounter angels, mermaids and dolphins!)

Image via: Quotes Wave

And it doesn’t matter how far away from the shore you are. The instant you start heading towards it, you’re living life; you’re having an adventure; you’re moving in a valued direction.

© Russ Harris, 2007
with *adaptations.


Last week i had the privilege of attending the Sydney launch of ‘My Recovery’, an incredible new book from the gorgeous Julie Parker of Beautiful You, & i am so excited to share my thoughts on it with you here today! 🙂

One of the main reasons i started blogging here at Lifeinfullcolour, was to share the message that recovery from eating disorders IS possible.

When i was still entrenched in my eating disorder, i often feared that i would never recover. I felt tired & hopeless, & i couldn’t imagine living a life of freedom again – it just seemed so far out of reach. I had some truly wonderful people around me who tried so hard to encourage me, but what i really wanted was to hear from someone who had beat this illness themselves. I wanted proof that recovery was possible, but that proof was hard to find.

So when i did recover, i knew i wanted to be a voice of hope for those still suffering – someone who could say “I’ve been there, & i know how hopeless & tired you feel. But please don’t give up – recovery IS possible! I am living proof! And i know that one day you will find freedom in recovery too.” 🙂 I wanted to share my story, & encourage others in their own journeys to freedom.

And that is one of the reasons why i am so excited about this book!

With Julie Parker, author of My Recovery

‘My Recovery’ is chock-full of messages just like these – stories filled with hope & encouragement from people who have fought this illness & won. It includes stories from eighteen courageous men & women who have survived anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), with each survivor sharing not only their eating disorder journey, but also the strategies & tools that helped them along their path to recovery.

When i was first embarked on my journey to recovery, i found there were quite a few books that detailed what it was like to suffer with an eating disorder (a struggle i already knew too well), but hardly any that described what the journey to recovery might look like. Many of the books i read triggered my eating disorder with the mention of weights & other numbers, or detailed descriptions of disordered behaviours, but what i love about ‘My Recovery’, is that it is free of these common triggers, making it suitable for people in all stages of illness & recovery 🙂

So excited to see this book in print!

‘My Recovery’ is an incredible book, & i am so excited to be able to promote it here at Lifeinfullcolour 🙂 Thankyou ever-so-muchly to each of the beautiful people who have shared their stories, & thankyou, thankyou, to the gorgeous Julie Parker for putting together such a wonderful recovery resource – i know this book will inspire & encourage all who read it 🙂

You can buy ‘My Recovery’ as an ebook or in print via Momentum Books. All proceeds will be donated to The Butterfly Foundation to support those whose lives have been touched by eating disorders.

You Are Here For A Reason.

Parts of this post may be distressing.
If you need support, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800.

Throughout my teen years, & into my early twenties, i was plagued by self-doubt, insecurity, & feelings of worthlessness.

Negative thoughts filled my mind – “you can’t do anything right”, “you are always in the way”, “all you ever do is make people life harder for everyone”, “everyone would be better off without you”... I wondered how anyone could ever like a person like me – boring, stupid, ugly… – what did i have to offer anyone?

I measured my abilities against those of others, & i never seemed to measure up – “you have nothing to offer anyone”, “you are useless, worthless…”, “why do you even bother trying?” I was always trying to be “good enough”, always trying to please others, hoping that someday i might be “good enough” to earn myself a place in this world.

Just after my 18th birthday i tried to kill myself. I was overwhelmed by the pain of my abusive past, & saw no reason to live. In fact, i believed i was doing people a favour, & freeing them from that annoying, useless girl that just kept getting in their way.

I lay in a coma for 3 days, as the doctors told my mother to prepare for my death – “even if she survives, she will be nothing more than a vegetable – unable to feed herself, toilet herself, unable to walk, or to talk….”

But God had other plans for my life.

When i woke up (incredibly unscathed), i did not recognise my blessing. The negative thoughts continued to plague me, & the wounds from my past remained raw. In the 6 years that followed, i would make many more attempts to “disappear”, & i was angry that people wouldn’t “just let me die!”.

“Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.” ~ Richard Bach

When i look back now, i can’t help but see things differently – it is as though God was trying to tell me “I’m not finished with you yet! I need you! You are part of a plan, & there is no-one else in this world that can play your part. You can try all you like to withdraw, to retreat, to give up. You can try all you like to “disappear”, but i created you to stand out – i have big plans for you! You are important! And i am not going to let you disappear, no matter how hard you try.”

Looking back now, i am so thankful that God’s plan won out, & not mine. Because God’s plan? It’s a heck of a lot better than mine was!

So when you find yourself caught up in those negative thoughts – “you have nothing to offer anyone”, “you are useless, worthless…”, “why do you even bother trying?” – know this:

You are here for a reason. You have a purpose.

Never doubt your place in this world – never doubt your significance.
You are here for a reason. You have a purpose.
There is noone else on Earth like you – your knowledge, your experience, your talents, your weaknesses & strengths… you are unique, & the world would not be the same without you.
You were created to do great things, so stand tall in who you are, & know that you are a part of something big & beautiful & important (even if you can’t see the details just yet) 😉

Don’t slink into the background. Don’t hide yourself away.
Show the world your beauty. Glow. Sparkle. Shine.
Let your colours show. Even the darker ones. Even the ones you don’t like. Even the ones that others don’t like.
You are a rainbow. And everyone loves rainbows 😉

Read the rest of this entry »

Spring Has Sprung!

Spring has sprung here in Australia, & lifeinfullcolour is out of hibernation! Yay! 🙂

(Image via: we♥it.)

A lot has happened in my life this past season.
I started, then withdrew from a university course.
I started & ended a relationship.
I moved house (& months later, am yet to really unpack).
I started attending church, & discovered a beautiful new life of freedom & abundance in Christ.
And i have been blessed with opportunities to support, uplift, & encourage, & to really live my motto here at lifeinfullcolour – ‘Have hope, chase joy, embrace life – recovery is possible’.

Life has been busy &, as always, up & down. But above all, it has been beautiful – much like this glorious Spring day! 🙂

(Image via: we♥it.)

I have missed blogging incredibly, & i can’t wait to get back into it. More than anything though, i look forward to reconnecting with each of you, lifting you up, encouraging you, & sharing our journeys 🙂
That being said, it may take me a little while to settle back into blogging…. In the meantime though, be sure to ‘Like’ Lifeinfullcolour on facebook for splashes of colour, inspiration & encouragement, & updates on new posts 🙂

Until next time my lovelies 🙂
Have a beautiful day!

I’ve just finished reading a great post from this ain’t livin’, ‘On ‘Taking Care of Your Body’ and Value Judgments’, & it got me to thinking – what does “taking care of myself” mean to me? Because while others may use those words as a euphemism for how “healthy” (aka thin & toned), or appealing i may appear to them, the truth is, that how i take care of myself , & the level to which i do so are very personal, & have very little to do with how other people define “taking care of themselves”.

So what does “taking care of myself” mean to me?
It means:

  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Spending time with friends
  • Speaking to myself with kind & loving words
  • Taking time out to relax (jigsaw puzzles, DVDs, colouring books, board games, or reading work great for me :))
  • Connecting with nature
  • Eating lots of fresh fruits & vegetables (oh how i love a big fruit salad or a fresh vegie juice!)
  • Moving my body in fun & gentle ways – like going to the beach, dancing, or even climbing trees! 🙂

It means making time for, & allowing myself, to nourish not only my body, but also my soul. It means being gentle with myself, & seeking out balance. And it has nothing at all to do with what i weigh or how toned my arms are.

What do you do to take care of yourself?
What do those words mean to you?

(Images via: We ♥ it.)

[Image via: SooBoo Designs]

Sometimes, all we need is a little validation to remind us how amazing we are 🙂
And so, i have a challenge for you 😉

I want you, to make someone smile.
I want you to give someone a genuine, heart-felt compliment.

It could be your partner. It could be your child.
It could be your co-worker, your friend, or your neighbour.
It could be the person who makes your morning coffee, or the person you sit next to on the bus.
Or it could even be the first person you pass in the street.

Whoever it is, i can guarantee that you will make their day 🙂
And you never know, you might find yourself on the receiving end of some pretty great compliments too! 🙂

Did you make someone smile today?
Leave me a comment & let me know – i’d love to hear how it went! 🙂

To the -oh-so-lovely M.
[my mermaid – the dietitian who swam beside me during my first year of treatment],

You saw me through my first year of treatment, holding my hand as i took those first shaky steps towards recovery. You helped me to consider that my worth was greater than any number on a scale – that i deserved to recover. While it took me much longer to truly believe this, you helped to sow this seed of value in my soul – one which i would continue to nurture over the next two years, into the beautiful, flourishing blossom of self-worth that rests in my heart today 🙂

[From the ‘thankyou’ gift i made for M., when we finished our work together.]

To the brilliant M.C.
[the psychologist who gave me the space to discover ‘me’],

You were the first person to provide me with a space that was truly my own. At first I didn’t know how to fill it – it took me quite a while before I learnt how to “just say whatever comes to mind”. When we first began our meetings together, I filled them with the expectations & offerings of others, but as time went on, I realised that this was not a space for the ideas of others – it was a space for me to discover my own. And it was in these meetings, that I began to discover myself – one beautiful, hidden piece at a time 🙂

Thankyou for being consistent.
Thankyou for being reliable.
Thankyou for being here when I needed you to be, & thankyou for the times when you weren’t.
Thankyou for your silence, even though it made me uncomfortable.
Thankyou for your words.
Thankyou for the pushes when I needed them, & for supporting me when I needed to stay still.
Thankyou for helping me to feel safe again.
Thankyou for teaching me that crying is actually okay.
Thankyou for your lack of criticism, but thankyou also, for not always agreeing with me.
Thankyou for your reassurance.
Thankyou for giving me this space, & the time to learn how best to use it.
Most of all, thankyou for helping me to feel worthy of filling it.

[A bag i sewed as a ‘thankyou’ gift for C.T.
Yep – those are my feet!]

To the beautiful C.T.
[the dietitian who helped me explore an exciting lifeinfullcolour during my 2nd & 3rd years in treatment],

You taught me about so much more than food & eating. In teaching me to trust my body, you taught me to trust in myself. In encouraging ‘experiments’, you helped me to replace my fear with curiosity – & that curiosity has led me to discover beauty & wonder in every place I look. You helped me discover the things I value – you helped me to discover MY value.

Thankyou for your encouragement.
Thankyou for your smile 🙂
Thankyou for your patience – especially in the face of my many shoulder shrugs & “I don’t know”s.
Thankyou for your flexibility – for allowing me to work with you, in a way that worked for me.
Thankyou for your humour.
Thankyou for sharing you enthusiasm for nutrition with me – & for helping me to uncover my own shared passion.
Thankyou for your metaphors, analogies, & crazy hand-waving.
Thankyou for recognising, that the smallest of steps can sometimes be the hardest to take.
Thankyou for celebrating those steps with me 🙂

[Every cloud has a silver lining…]

M.C. & i had already said our goodbyes back in December after he moved on from his work at the ED service, but i had still been keeping appointments with C.T. C.T & i met again this past Tuesday, & although we had been working together for a couple of years now, there was something very different about this particular meeting…. This time our appointment was not for my ‘treatment’ – this time, we were celebrating 🙂

Three years after entering treatment for an eating disorder, i was ready to move on. And so, on Tuesday, the 8th March, 2011, after a beautiful celebration, i walked out of C.T.’s office, & through the door of the big cream building that was now so familiar. I walked out of that building for the last time as a client of the Eating Disorders Service & into the sunlight, ready to embrace the next exciting chapter of this beautiful lifeinfullcolour 🙂

[C.T. & i celebrated my recovery with my favourite raw, vegan chocolate cake 🙂
We even wore party hats ;)]

To those who have not experienced the devastation of an eating disorder (whether directly, or indirectly), there is little i can say to convey just how heart-wrenchingly painful, & overwhelmingly exhausting the journey to recovery can be. So many times i feared that i would never recover, or in moments of relative stability, found myself thinking that ‘this is as good as it gets’. But as overwhelmingly challenging as this journey has been, it has been equally beautiful. And you know what? My life becomes richer & more beautiful every day 🙂

I often refer to my recovery as a journey of self-discovery. I have learnt so much about myself – my likes, my dislikes, my strengths, my passions, my dreams… I’ve just begun to uncover my potential, & it is far greater than I could ever have imagined. I am vulnerable, yet strong, & more resilient than I know. I am beautiful, passionate, intelligent, creative, magnificent! And I have a courage that roars like an open fire in my heart.

For so many years of my life, I truly & deeply hated who I was, & I didn’t think that could ever change. But you know what? I really do love the person I see now – a magnificent, complex being, full of surprising beauty – & I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life getting to know her better 🙂

I feel such immense gratitude to be here now at this point in my life, & for every beautiful, scary, & painful moment that has led me to it. Sometimes I feel as though my heart might burst with all of the hope & joy & love it holds nowadays. I am grateful to have had these 3 years to heal, & to begin this incredible journey of self discovery, & I am especially grateful for having had access to the treatment I needed to save my life. I feel truly blessed to have been able to work with such an incredible team of people, & i am deeply grateful to everyone who has helped support me on this journey – i would not be here without you.

We made it through the darkness to the light
Oh how we fought, but still we won the fight
Oh, yes, we stand together
Sia, ‘The Fight’

With much love, & gratitude,

Supporting Sofia

“Sofia Benbahmed is engaged in two battles: 1 with an eating disorder, 1 with an insurance company. You have the power to help her win both.”

Last year Sofia Benbahmed entered residential treatment, so she could work on recovering from a 12 year battle with an eating disorder. But entering treatment was a battle in itself – Sofia’s insurance company would not agree to fund the months of treatment advised by the eating disorder specialists that had reviewed her case. But Sofia wants to recover, & decided to undertake a legal battle with her insurance company with the hope that they would agree to fund her care. But legal battles such as these take time, & with a severe eating disorder ravaging her body & mind, time was not something Sofia had a lot of.

So last year Sofia made the brave move of announcing to the world that she had an eating disorder – & that she needed their help.

With the help of friends, family, & many kind-hearted strangers from across the world, Sofia was able to raise the funds to enter residential treatment at eating disorders treatment facility, Monte Nido. As well as engaging in treatment, Sofia has also remained engaged in the battle with her insurance company, & her case is ongoing. With raised funds now running low, & an insurance company still refusing to fund her treatment, Sofia faces the potential of having to leave treatment prematurely, against her treating team’s recommendations for further care.

In her post ‘The Half-Baked Cake’, Carrie Arnold from ED Bites recalls a statement made by the clinical director of the Renfrew Center (for the treatment of eating disorders) in Bethesda:

Normally, you look in a cookbook for how long to bake a cake, and the recipe says to bake at 350 degrees for an hour. Managed care operates under the premises that you can make the cake at 500 degrees for 20 minutes and still have a finished cake. The irony is that often the cake looks done on the outside, but the inside is still completely raw. And if you let the cake sit for any length of time, the uncooked interior causes the whole cake to collapse.

After receiving less than half of the care her doctors recommend, Sophia is now faced with her own “Half-Baked Cake” scenario, & is again appealing for our help.

(Image via: We ♥ it.)

Why should you help Sofia?

Because, she deserves to live. She deserves a lifeinfullcolour, free from the torturous grasp of an eating disorder. And she deserves the chance to fight for that. Yes, Sofia is one of many. No, she is not any more deserving of treatment than any of the other thousands of people struggling with this illness. But she is also no less deserving.

Having lived a dark & tortured life at the hands of my own eating disorder, i know the struggle that Sofia is now facing. But i also know that the fight is worth it – recovery IS possible 🙂

When i first heard of Sofia’s fight, not long before she entered treatment, i was unable to contribute financially to her treatment. I am thankful today however, to be in a position where i am able to make a financial contribution to support her in this fight. Here is the message i left for Sofia, along with my gift:

Darling Sofia,

I believe in you.
You have been in treatment for 3 months already, & i am so proud of you & your determination to keep fighting this illness. It is a long battle, but i have so much faith in you. I know that you can win this war. Of course you may lose a few battles along the way, but i know that you have the courage to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, & keep fighting. Don’t ever give up that fight Sofia, because you are worth fighting for. Keep hope in your heart beautiful girl & know that i hold that hope for you in my own.

Have hope, chase joy, embrace life – recovery IS possible 🙂

If you are able, please consider making a donation to support this woman in her continuing fight for recovery – every little bit helps. If you are unable to make a financial contribution, you can still support Sofia by helping to spread the word – please pass this information on to your friends, family, & colleagues, so they may choose to make a donation if they are able.

To make a donation, please visit Sofia’s new GiveForward page.

Your support & generosity is very much appreciated 🙂

“I don’t have an eating disorder.”

I have uttered those words so many times in the past 4 years.

“I am not sick. I am not thin. I don’t need treatment. These is nothing wrong with me. I am fine, fine, fine, fine, FINE.”

Even after multiple hospital admissions due to complications from my disorder, even after starting treatment, i was still in denial for a very long time.

“I don’t have an eating disorder. I just have “food issues.””

In fact, it was not until my second year of treatment that i was able to admit to having an eating disorder. It was not until then that i could say those words & not feel like a fraud.

My thoughts last year, had been to finish up with treatment in December, just before the holiday break. Therapy had been going incredibly well & i had made a lot of progress, & my psychologist was also about to resign. My ED behaviours were under control, & any lapses were only momentary. My life was not lived according to the rules devised by my disorder, & i felt ready to pursue the next chapter of my life & my recovery on my own. Things came up however, & i felt rather overwhelmed – my biggest, & really my only lingering trigger for ED behaviours – & although i had stopped seeing my psychologist, i continued my connection with my dietitian.

Yesterday i met with my her for the first time this year – it had been 5 weeks since we’d last met. Those 5 weeks had been challenging for me in many ways, but not overwhelming. I had managed to navigate my way over, under, around, & through any challenges that had popped up, & i had resisted any urges to return to my disordered behaviours. I had enjoyed blogging here over the holiday break, & it had helped to keep me afloat during those challenging moments. It was not an easy time, but i got through it – the wonderful story of my life these days! 🙂

When we met yesterday, keeping in mind my progress, & my thoughts on finishing treatment, my dietitian asked me what i would like from our sessions – what did i need? Where to from here? It was a simple question for me to answer, & a joyous answer to give 🙂

“It might sound funny, because i guess i have known this for a long time, but it hasn’t really hit me until now… But i really do know what i am doing with food now. I know what foods make me feel energised & strong. I know which foods don’t. I know how much i need to eat to feel good, & how frequently. I know what it’s like to feel hungry, &  satiated, & i can respond to those cues – the way i eat now is determined by how i feel, rather than a set of ridiculous rules.  And i found myself thinking, “What else is there? I don’t think there is anything else.””

She agreed wholeheartedly with me, & with that we decided to meet once more, in a month, & if all is well to say our goodbyes 🙂

I have come to realise over this holiday break (& again, it sounds somewhat strange, even to me, that this realisation is only just “hitting me” now), that i don’t have an eating disorder. I am well & truly in recovery from an eating disorder.

I am no longer afraid of food. In fact, cooking & eating food is one of the greatest joys in my life! Most people i know would not hesitate to call me a “real foodie!” – a claim that is undeniably true yet equally shocking, for those who know of my past. In fact, it is true, that i have now discovered a freedom around food, that many of my friends & family are yet to acquire for themselves. Most of the time, i am able to eat very intuitively, eating what i want, when i want it, & trusting my body to balance everything out – i eat for enjoyment as well as nourishment. I love cooking & sharing food with others, & i love trying new foods. I. Love. To. Eat. 🙂

I am also incredibly accepting of my body now. Sure i have days where i look at myself in the mirror, & my eyes zone in on my thighs or my tummy, & i find myself thinking “My thighs are so fat. My tummy is so bulgy. I would look so much better if i lost a little weight”. Sure i have days where i feel utterly miserable based on whether or not i can fit comfortably into my jeans. But these thoughts & feelings now rarely dictate my behaviour – they don’t dictate how much i eat, how much i exercise, or whether or not i can leave the house. They don’t dictate my worth as a human being, as a friend, as a sister, as a daughter… I am lovely, & i am loved, & those things do not change in relation to my jeans size 🙂 It is now much easier for me to resist the urges to manipulate & reduce my body’s shape & size, because i know that those things have no bearing on who i am as a person – i know that what i look like does not make me any more or any less of a remarkable human being, & my self worth is no longer tied up in my appearance & my ability to manipulate it.

After 3 years of treatment, i am now able to say “i don’t have an eating disorder”. I can say those words & know deep within myself, that these are no longer words of denial. They are not a denial of my current state of health, nor are they though a denial of my past. I don’t have an eating disorder, but i did suffer greatly with one in the past. There are still some lingering symptoms & signs – the way restriction still pops into my head as an option when i’m feeling overwhelmed, the lingering digestive issues that my body & i are still working on healing, the struggle i have to moderate my level of activity…. But i do not have an eating disorder. Today, no words have ever felt truer than “I am in recovery.” 🙂

(Images via: We ♥ it.)