I spent the last four weeks in arguably the weirdest country in the world. Let’s preface by saying, I have been a lot of places, seen a lot of cultures, tasted a lot of strange food, but nothing quite compares to the Mongolians. From watching five-year-old boys race horses through the countryside to eating goat out of a goat (yes, they cooked the meat in the goat’s body), I was never bored throughout the day. Because, not only was something odd constantly happening, but I also had no idea it was going to happen. No one spoke English and Mongolian is not even remotely recognizable to my English speaking ears. Therefore, each day I got up and set out alongside my team of nine other girls, expecting nothing and hoping for everything. What else could you do when you had no idea what you were going to be doing? Do I wear a dress today when there is a possibility that I could be bused back to the countryside to ride camels and pray in yurts? Do I wear sandals when there is a possibility of rain in the afternoon and the swatties (toilets that are just holes in the ground) could flood, overflowing poop into the streets? There was no way of knowing and, strangely, that was the most freeing realization of the trip.
I couldn’t know. I couldn’t prepare. I couldn’t wake up and have even a slight idea as to what food would look like that day, what the schedule would entail, who I would talk to or how I would communicate with the language barrier. I couldn’t humor my eating disorder or insecurities in any way and what a beautiful thing that came to be. Though upon first arriving in Mongolia at 3am and being fed Burger King chicken nuggets and Coke, I would have said otherwise. But as the days passed and the weeks began to unfold, so did the chains on my heart begin to break. So did the demons start to lessen and the self-ridicule begin to release its grip. I was in Mongolia, it didn’t matter whether I had Burger King, whether I was running, whether or not I felt less than the people around. All that mattered was the now, the present, the moments with these amazing girls in this oddly stunning country. Never again would I be with these people in this place and there was no point on ruining the moments by listening to the critic inside my head. In a year or even two months from now, I would remember what I did and did not do. And if I decided to keep my eating disorder that would mean, I would remember the time I didn’t have ice cream with my team or I sat on the steps crying over pizza instead of playing Bananagrams inside. Which, sadly those moments came, slinking in, devious, and tricky just as the disorder always is. But that was at the beginning of the trip, when I was confused, displaced, and I didn’t know what to expect from this country and these girls and my work here in Mongolia. The turning point came in a moment of awakening. This was the moment when being present became the biggest and most important objective of my days. This was the moment when my faith, God, and freedom washed over me.
And so it that the key to enjoying the moments? Faith. God. A Higher Power. I say yes. Absolutely. How could it not be? When the eating disorder, or whatever else you may struggle with, is just so strong and powerful and all encompassing? It is a challenge so large that there is no hope of defeating it without something larger than my little, pathetic human self. I always preached knowing this, but somehow it didn’t fully set in until this month. Out amidst the sprawling mountains and hills of the Gobi Desert with eagles flying overhead and the sun beating down on my skin, I suddenly understood. I understood that no amount of therapy or nutritional counseling or psychiatrist appointments were going to heal me. And if I continued to think those things would, I would continue to be a fool, living a life lying to both myself and everyone around. True healing comes when you let go. You let go of everything that ties you to your past life. It comes the moment you decide you have had enough and you read out, grab God’s hand, and ask for help. True healing comes when you decide your weakness and you allow God to be the one to lift you onto your feet.
I could sit in a therapist’s office every single day for the rest of my life and if all I am doing is rehashing all the ways the eating disorder has restricted my life and all the skills I am going to use to overcome my urges, nothing will ever be achieved. I could sit and discuss a meal plan forwards and backwards, making changes, discussing fear foods and challenges of the week, but no fruit comes from that. These things will not propel me forwards because they are keeping me stuck in the belief that I have an eating disorder and will always have an eating disorder. And let me tell you, my eating disorder loves those appointments. It loves the hours in the week that I get to once again play the “sick” card. That I can talk about all the times I screwed up with food, all the anxieties around my body, all the times I felt emotionally overwhelmed. But the minute I take the comfort of dieticians, scales, therapists, and skills away, I am left in a world where my eating disorder is not the center. That’s where personal choices come into play. I can either allow my weeks to center around appointments where I get to discuss the disorder, each food choice lining up with the discussion I will have with my dietician, each time I cried becoming a mental note to bring to my therapist or I can start letting go. I can start surrendering. I can start living. And living only happens when the disorder is handed over to God. When something greater and more powerful is given permission to remove the darkness in my mind.
And when does the removal happen? What does removal look like? Simple, it happens when you ask for it. Sometimes I have to ask God several times a day to take my eating disorder away, to silence its thoughts, to keep me safe from its control. Other times I go a week or so completely in sync with God’s purpose for my life. It all depends and depending where you are in your recovery journey determines how foreign the removal will feel. If you don’t have an eating disorder, removal still entails the same concepts. Removing darkness does not have to be as concrete as a clinical mental illness. It can be body image insecurities, self consciousness, grief, being afraid to step out. Whatever it may entail, it still looks a lot like release.
Now, what removal looks like is an entirely different story because this looks vastly different on each person. For me, removal is looking a lot like freedom. It is giving myself permission to take a moment and just be. To wake up in the morning and spend time with God and not planning every minute of the day. To go to bed and not be concerned by tomorrow. Removal looks like a peace that comes with being comfortable in the present moment, being content with a moment, a minute, a second. Being able to look at myself in the mirror and have grace that not everything is perfect, that I am in pain sometimes, that I don’t have to be okay to be joyful, that no matter what I have done or been through I have purpose in this world.
The removal of my eating disorder came to fruition for me somewhere in the Gobi Desert surrounded by mountains and sand and the overwhelming idea of just how expansive the world is, the mind is, God is. It came when I realized what it felt like to be in life, to feel it on my skin and in my hair. To look down at my body and know that it is going to heal. That I will recover. That I am recovering each day with each moment that I chose to experience.
Being present if you have an eating disorder, is not about the skills you know or the meal plan you follow. Being present in general, isn’t about being able to recount your story a thousand times and process through trauma or loss or insecurities. It doesn’t come when you are happy with every aspect of your life. It isn’t about giving up. It is about giving your challenges over. Being present looks a lot like being recovered, or recovering a life worth living, and it happens the minute you allow it to happen. So look up, look out, breathe, and remind yourself that the heart inside your chest determines the significance of your presence. You cannot decide otherwise because for the very reason that you are alive, you matter. Therefore, you would do yourself and everyone around a huge disservice to not look into your heart today and welcome in God to remove the darkness the eating disorder has clouded it in.