This Brave Body: A Survival Story

An Intro to #NEDA

You know, I should be dead.

Not the figurative, spiritual kind of death. The literal kind. The heart-stopped, ceasing-to-take-breath kind of death.

Why, you wonder? Well, that isn’t just a single story, and it’s certainly not a single story I can tell you on a Sunday evening with only 1000 words at my disposal, so you’ll just have to trust me.

But I swear to you, it’s true.

Yet, here I sit, all snuggled up with coffee and my laptop, definitely not dead.

A fact that I find both a tremendous relief and an occasional curiosity… I mean, why me? There are plenty of people who did not survive the terrors of childhood, the throes of adolescence, the unbelievably dangerous things I did before I knew better.

But I did. And so did you.

So, I was thinking we might spend a minute chatting about our collective good luck today. Having survived every single thing thrown our way up until this very moment, I thought we might be able to talk a little about how this happened.

How we landed here.

Heart still beating. Breathing. Surviving.

Survival. It’s a doozy of a concept that conjures all sorts of imagery, doesn’t it?

The war-torn and wounded.

The mama holding the hand of her child, knowing her baby will never recover.

The shirtless, bare-chested, bald woman who came out on the other side of cancer.

But if I asked you to close your eyes and bring to mind the most badass survivor you know, is there any world in which you would think of yourself first?

I can almost hear the resounding HELL NO from every corner of the Midwest as I type that question. Of course you wouldn’t. We always reserve that badge of honor for someone else… you know, the LEGIT survivors.

We make no room for a real recognition of our own bravery because we are too busy telling ourselves that brave is something other people are. Something other people do. Something that belongs to anyone other than us.

Yes, us.

Me too. I do it all of the time. I mean, I’ve spent the past few months interviewing women who told me survival stories that rocked me to my core. And as they held my gaze, allowing me to see past their pain, you bet your ass I bowed a little to the sacred strength they showed when they spoke their truth.

But when my tiny act of reverence lifted them onto a pedestal reserved only for the real survivors, the strangest thing happened. I lost the connection I craved.

I found myself thinking “Not me - I could never have survived that thing and lived to tell about it. I’m not that brave.”

And that little shift allowed me to sink back into the comforts of my own story, soothing myself with the knowledge that brave is something that belongs to other people.

Which is total bullshit.

Brave doesn’t belong to anyone.

It belongs to everyone.

To you. To me. To the stranger on the street who is struggling to find their breath.

And it always shows its face when we start telling the truth.

So, then what is mine? When I stop putting people on pedestals and pull myself up off the ground, what is it that I find when I hold my own gaze long enough to see what is sacred underneath?

I see the body I have deprived and depleted and poisoned and starved. This brave body that has never left me.

I can recall doing each of those things in the name of health, and with the hope that I might finally find a way to belong. And when each of those things failed me, I walked myself right up to the edge of this life and peered over the side.

I discovered what it means to want to die in one breath, but pray to be saved in the next.

And I am still here.

I am a survivor. So are you. And it’s time for us to share our stories.

Today marks the beginning of National Eating Disorders Awareness week - a week we will dedicate to featuring the stories of survivors who have given us the privilege of making space for them.

But before you go tapping out and telling yourself that this breed of bravery doesn’t belong to you, let’s just pause and consider the possibility that you might see some of yourself here. While your body might not know the experience of the dangerously low weight we so often associate with eating disorders, I’d be willing to bet your body knows something about what it feels like to be starving.

Or if it doesn’t know starving, then maybe it’s familiar with resentment, hatred, loathing.

Oh wait.. you do know something about those things, don’t you. I thought so. You see, we are never as far apart as we think we are.

And if your suffering isn’t that far apart, then neither is your survival. If you can see yourself in their pain, then you can also find hope in their healing.

So, stay with us this week. Find yourself here. Know that your brave body belongs, that your suffering is sacred, and that your healing is never quite as far away as you imagine.