Today, for Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I am sharing a chapter from my book 'Find Your Voice Project: A Journey Towards Healing" Scale wars are an intense part of this intricate illness. It was just one aspect of my journey that tortured me through my Anorexia and allowed for its presence to last as long as it did. PLEASE take a moment to read, share and educate yourself and others on how we can all TAKE BACK THE SCALE!
"You have the CHOICE to create the LIFE you want to LIVE.
The question is will you get past your FEAR to take the first STEP?"
Scared? I understand.
You’re thinking ‘Oh dear God, she wants me to throw away my scale!?’
Take a deep breath and hear me out.
No one knows the scale wars better than I. If I stop to really pause, I remember it as if it were yesterday. I can hear the clinking spring dial of the scale going back and forth as I waited without breath for it to balance out to my destined number, while time effortlessly stood still. I would then slowly glance down at the little window with more emotions than one can hold in a moment, knowing I was measuring every ounce of my worth on its reveal in that bitter second
On my worst day, I lost count on how many times my feet climbed onto the stone-cold piece of metal to weigh myself; shoes on, shoes off, before the shower, after the shower, before the bagel, after the bagel, before the run, after the run…it never ended. No matter what number appeared, what bargain I made with myself for that moment or wished upon number, I couldn’t stop.
I was certain I had control over every little number that appeared in the coveted rectangular black window. And until I succeeded at getting to the ‘right number’ I would not stop. The right number that simply never existed. The daily rise and fall of the numbers were my sheer weakness which I held tighter than anything else around me always. I believed it was all I had left. I truly thought I had control, the eating disorder was my own. A lie I believed daily. We both know the eating disorder thrives on controlling us.
I was misguided in how I gave the scale all my power. I allowed for this insipid piece of steel to freely and thanklessly claim my power and silence my voice daily keeping me recklessly and, so it seemed, safely inside the depths of my hell from sunrise to sunset.
The scale wars never gave me anything more than a constant torturous flow of physical and emotional pain as well psychological torture on an undefined level. A grueling false sense of control that radiated through my weak body at all hours of the night and day was the only gift it offered me.
Can one even call that a gift?
I allowed the numbers to define my entire existence in every imaginable way. I would orchestrate my entire day from beginning to end on a number that was never little enough. I rejoiced if getting the flu for it meant the numbers would drop rapidly as I watched in oblivious anticipation with disregard to any danger I was faced within the illness my body battled. As if I were going for a gold medal, I fought hard to try and control the decrease of the numbers while instantaneously losing the final sense of self-worth left within me when the numbers climbed even an ounce.
I was always thinking ‘just five more pounds’ with my ultimate goal diminishing any sign of femininity I had left or could visualize in my mind’s eye, for that was truly the defining piece for me. I was a woman terrified at the true definition of the word. It would take years to admit this, work through it and come full circle to identify what femininity truly meant for me. But, once I did, it opened doors and windows giving life towards new definitions of self. When, hearing supportive friends speak their truth about my fight over the years and how it affected them, I realized I never really did have control for even one minute as I wanted to believe. The scale controlled me for every second of every day that I allowed it until I finally chose to let go and move forward.
Listen to that again. I chose. It is a choice in the very end. This must come from you.
Until you really understand and admit the role the scale plays in your life and why you are making a choice to eliminate it within your health journey, you will not be able to take this step of choosing.
I would later learn whatever number I landed upon could not reveal the physical and emotional damage that had been done or would follow me until this very day. It is the biggest danger in the numbers you covet that no one talks about. You need to hear that the damage being done within this scale war can be irreparable.
You will be in darkness forever if you handcuff yourself to the numbers on your scale; the road will only be about the eating disorder until you embrace the reality that you can reach that equal destination of health and body love acceptance. And when you do reach health one day, you could possibly have taken away any chance of having a family, you could have caused enough damage that you will live in pain for the rest of your life, while not seeming like a bad thing now you could literally lose your hunger sense, as I have, and must face this reminder for the rest of your life. You must ask yourself… ‘Is it worth it?’
There are endless stories about the struggles of how these insidious numbers tortured me; from the multiple treatment programs and hospital visits that forced me to weigh backwards at every encounter panic ensuing before I even stepped onto the scale to the forthcoming wretched arguments I got into with men and women in white coats who looked at me as if I should be committed. These were not my greatest moments. Today, I shudder with shame remembering my defiance and cruel words over the years to friends and professionals only trying to help me, as they kept my deadly secret number hidden from me with what I believed to be a vengeance at times.
Truth be told, the vengeance was an exhaustion within the fight I gave them to a point, but in the end, it was more out of love and concern than anything else. A love so foreign to me, that I couldn’t even attempt to embrace it until several years later when was I able to step out of the fog that was my eating disorder. It was a treasured gift I never have taken for granted when I finally came around to accepting this understanding. I then returned the gift years down the road when I finally discovered my self-worth was more than a number.
Inevitably over time there were more than a few hospitals who had absolutely no sensitivity or basic understanding of eating disorders. Their insisting on weighing me forward with blatant disregard to the psychological damage it caused despite my fervent explanation, while proceeding to casually comment on the results in my presence sending me into a tailspin of frantic emotions, was insensitivity at its highest level.
Their commenting ‘that’s not too thin’ shattered everything within me that was fighting for emaciation in every second I struggled to breathe. They left me raw to only recognize the constant failure I already believed I was daily. This lack of compassion only left me with an unfair disdain towards the entire medical profession and would simply further my demise and lack of trust in the healing community as well as the process. These individuals fed my eating disorder in ways that led me to my advocacy work for education of eating disorders in the medical field, so that others will not face this same trauma I experienced when attempting recovery.
“Is it true? Can you rely on -hold onto- an image? Beauty is embracing what’s in your Soul.”
Through all my personal scale wars that followed me through the years, my favorite story was a gathering of the most terrifying and humbling extremes. On June 20, 1999, a handful of my CoinciGod group and support system gathered in the Church priory after reading a book to better understand my eating disorder battle in order to help me further find healing.
Take this in for a moment; these friends actually read a book on eating disorders to help unworthy me? Then they took an entire Saturday out of their lives to gather, talk, ask questions and try to understand what this illness was that I battled… to help me. Me? I don’t think I fully took that in during those days, but later it had me sitting in a humility and gratitude at the gift they selflessly offered me in the priory that summer’s day.
The night before this gathering I fought Xavier on the phone with every bit of my energy threatening to not show up. At that time, I was holding my breath tight within my own self burdened loneliness that consumed me, it was comfortable and familiar. It was safe in my delusional thinking. I was certain I would be in a room filled with undeserving love and support, I would be ‘found out’ and then no one would be left at the end of the battle.
I always felt like the darkness in the room which was me was too great; I couldn’t embrace the Light around me. I couldn’t comprehend that I, too, could be Light.
These moments of doubt left me feeling naked to the bone in my vulnerability. In every passing second I was apprehensive to exposing my raw emotions within the depths of darkness that crowded my soul. I sat more in this ominous fear than anyone could comprehend, a fear I only knew as my best friend who I thought would never betray me. My pain consumed me like a dense mustiness filling up the room leaving no space for anyone else.
Early that Saturday morning I had made it reluctantly through the priory doors, as I fought to convince everyone else around me I was the miracle that wasn’t going to ever happen. ED’s voice in my head was louder than all combined and I didn’t think I could even hear anyone at this point, let alone those who had supported me so unconditionally. My enormous guilt began to mirror my shame, I only wanted an escape route for I was deaf to the words of support for me in that moment as I sat trembling in the stillness of the priory library.
These same friends that gathered had acted as a consistent force of support through meal companions, as well reading one disheartening email check-in after another only ever offering unconditional support and kindness, freely and lovingly through my endless drama. But in the end, ED was scared by the love around the room. The loving unconditional acceptance and wanting to be a new voice for me when I could not hear my own voice was clearly present. We simply talked together, shared concerns, asked for ways of helping and learned together about the devilish ways of eating disorders. It was a gift I didn’t properly understand until years had passed and I could process it in treatment. Even now as I write this tears form, for its magnitude cannot be ignored.
After what seemed like days of being wrung out emotionally and continually questioning why these people continued to stand faithfully by me in healing, we decided to conclude the gathering outside in the parking lot for the most amazing and precedential scale bashing war in existence! I won’t lie, I thought for a moment, ‘Was I truly going to let go? Could I move on from the ‘what ifs? Could I let the numbers go?’ I can’t begin to explain the surreal emotions I felt and what those immediate emotions meant to the voices in my head as I took several enraged swings at the steel torture device with a hammer, then in an uncharacteristic moment crushing it with a car no less! I was experiencing a positive in a negative that I couldn’t fathom before. I literally was crushing down the voices.
There was a goodness in the fear I was experiencing, for the fear came from a risk to change, a risk to choose a different path. Empowerment at its best! The day came to a symmetrical close sitting side by side in the church pews with my peers for mass, instead of hiding from them behind pillars in the far back of the Church, as I normally did. Just for a moment in time I believed I was both deserving and worthy of such friends and goodness. Fr. Xavier’s homily that evening as he preached up high from the pulpit only reminded me, it is such goodness that makes change happen. It is having the courage to try something new in a moment when you thought it was impossible to even attempt such an act. It’s taking the risk to step outside of oneself and see the bigger picture, if only for a moment, then let it guide you to your truer path.
It is choosing to take the risk for your own journey to health.
It was quite some time from that day forward before I gave up weighing myself completely, but that moment of empowerment stuck with me every time I stepped onto a scale, looked in a mirror, measured a body part or battled through a meal questioning another’s love for me. It could not be erased from my memory as hard as I tried when wanting to prove everyone wrong and its meaning could never be ignored. I am more than a scale. I am more than a piece of metal.
I am more than a number.
And from that moment on there was no ‘what if’, there was only a constant flow of destruction of negative self, faltering health and false beliefs I once owned because of an unattainable number. For me the recognition was vocalizing, ‘I am going to fight.’ It was always intensely terrifying to commit, but I couldn’t ignore the blessings that followed when I made that choice and proceeded to follow through with a commitment to healing.
In this destruction of the scale, I felt I was giving up one more piece of control in my eating disorder life. Before, I thought ‘how dare these people tell me how, what, when, or where to eat!’ This only continued to make me livider with the entire process, until I could come to a new truth on my own. I realized, I could always buy a new scale. But what would that do? It would make me feel as if I failed. I would be less in control if I went back to the illness and what it wanted me to believe and embrace in those numbers on a simple piece of metal. I cautiously realized I did have a healthy sense of control within me. For it takes more control and strength to not go buy another scale, than giving in to the insanity and tossing aside the work that has already been done. When I finally came to this way of thinking, it was then I knew that I was healing in that moment. Surprised by this revelation, I knew right then I had begun to take back my voice, the first step before my last treatment program.
Small victories need to be celebrated along the way.
The scale had many meanings for me that were difficult to face all at once. I know this was in part why the process and multiple forms of treatment and length were an issue. It was never one easy answer to process that would lead me to find recovery. I needed time to dissect each piece when I was emotionally ready, so as not to return to the ways ever again as I had in the past.
What I would see through the final rounds of therapy surprised me in ways I could not see before, for the layers ran ever so deep like an onion. While a part of me was not always ready to let go, I realized that this would consistently be the case until I chose 100% to move forward and take on each layer of meaning as it came at me. In time, I healed with the baby steps of each day, for all I had was to focus on the present moment in front of me. When I leapt to health, I missed important parts of the process and only ended up at the beginning when I would crash. As I aged in the eating disorder, lessons started to slowly sink in. I knew I needed to see these steps for what they were in order to understand the insanity that the scale’s meaning carried in my life beforehand. It would be comparing its meaning that day in empowerment to what it was in the years past in dis-ease that would help me stay on a healthy track.
Today, I am stronger and healthier to comprehend my independence free from a number on a scale, an image in a mirror, past words attacking my worth, wounds from those who carried beliefs about me that I would no longer own as my own. It sounds daunting I know.
This day will come with hard work ahead of you, when you are willing to take that first defining step and follow through.
A major revelation of this scale process was recognizing through therapy, that in the illness I had always believed without a doubt knowing my weight meant I had control. When measuring my body, having the last say on my weight, and taking control of every single little aspect of what it all meant to me was clear, I was then led to this false belief that I had control over the end result. In these defiant times, I could care less what anyone thought or believed I ‘should’ weigh or what they thought I looked like when emaciated. I had control, albeit a false sense of control.
It in fact was the furthest from the truth, if not completely opposite. It controlled every ounce of me until the day I decided to never step on the scale again. And even then, at that decision, the embrace took time in itself to heal and come to terms in every aspect of what life would look like from that day on.
At the end of my journey, it was 14 years before I embraced the total truth. My life did not have to be determined by that insignificant number on a piece of metal manufactured by a society which continually tells both men and women alike how the story should play out on their journey. A society with preconceived notions rather than celebrating the individuality of each person born to this earth. My last treatment brought me to embrace such vast truth in we are the only voice and author of our own destiny. Your truth will come out today if you are willing to take the steps within these pages towards healing.
I wanted to share one final way scales have had an impact on my life. During the healing process, I found many ways to take back my life and journey. I went deep within to go to the source and turn around those negatives. One day I decided to connect the scales to affirmations. Affirmations already were a big part of my healing, I remember one therapist in treatment asking me one simple question. ‘What would you want the scale to say to you?’
It was such a strange question in that moment, but one that became empowering. I decided to start this practice of Affirmation Scales as I began to speak in schools and conferences. There was something about taking the time and thought to write the words in vibrant colors onto the scale that gave it much more meaning becoming empowering in ways one may not have envisioned once before.
While Find Your Voice Project© became popular and known for them, you can now see this activity pop up yearly on college campuses, workshops and eating disorder awareness events. I celebrate with gratitude whenever I hear about it! I am not one to need to take credit for something. This journey is about sharing with anyone who struggles how healing finally came into play for me, I do this work in gratitude and gratitude only. So, I took it to the people!
It was International NO DIET Day 2005. I boldly decided to take about 40-50 completed affirmation scales from my previous talks down to the San Francisco Embarcadero Ferry Building center divide, proceeding to spread them out all over the high traffic walking path from the bus stop that crosses over to the Ferry Building terminal! There was no way you could ignore me and my small posse of teenage volunteers, who after hearing me speak in their high school decided to come out to bring awareness to anyone that would listen.
Through the course of a few hours we stopped countless people asking them to sign our scales with affirmations. We challenged them to look outside the box literally in the middle of a city standing on our YAY!Scales, a scale that pays you a compliment rather than a number originally created by Marilyn Wann of Fat!SO?. The responses and facial expressions were priceless as each one had something to say from their first impression. My favorites were the mother and child who hovered over a scale starting a positive conversation around the work I was doing and the real meaning behind a positive body image without the life of a scale.
My heart simply warmed over the older grey haired ladies who stood on our YAY!Scales with giddiness of childhood delight making it all worth it to be out there that day. We stood with huge poster board signs encouraging people to honk against diets, as the yells and support poured in validating our cause. It was a brilliant day that landed us on the local news that evening and inspired a college paper of a student passing by! These defining events continue and are so important to the awareness needed in society today. Our voices must be louder than the media’s, for our voices are what really matters. Listen closely, anyone can put on an event like this. It is very healing and empowering. When you are ready and at this level, go do it! You are just one of the voices that will change the thinking that is out there today.
When all is said, and done this scale war is personal and unique to only you. You are the only one that can process what it means to you, define it and choose another direction than the number.
Will you take a chance?
Will you try to step off?
#FindYourVoiceProject #TakeBackTheScale #LoveYourBody
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