And I Still Haven’t Forgiven Myself

This past week, on a whim, I threw on Trevor Hall’s album “KALA” as I drove home from teaching.

I have a lot of beautiful, nostalgic associations with Trevor’s music. I first heard his song “The Mountain” the first time I practiced at Just Be, and it brings me back to that first space of playfulness and joy of discovering my love of yoga. In fact, his song “The Lime Tree” was played at the end of most of my very first yoga classes, and every time I hear it I’m taken back to those blistery December nights, laying on my mat in the dark, looking up at the faint Christmas lights twinkling on the ceiling.

But I never really went out of my way to listen to his music on my own until the other day. I had played “The Lime Tree” in my Yin class purely for the nostalgia, and decided to put on his most recent album for my drive home just for kicks. The album shuffled through a few songs, and I enjoyed all of them, but about partway through my drive the song “Forgive” came on.

If you’ve never heard Trevor’s music, it’s simultaneously ethereal and earthy, mixing the sounds of reggae, rock, and Sanskrit chanting in a way that could easily be cheesy, but is somehow effortlessly beautiful. Although I’m, admittedly, a listener of some music that has less-than-positive lyrics (I’m a shameless and unlikely rap and hip hop fan), Trevor’s music always carries an uplifting message. His music speaks of love, compassion, acceptance, and living life to the fullest.

This song, however, had a message that hit me in an unexpected way.

Towards the end, slam poet and “conscious hip hop artist” Luka Lesson recites this poem:

 

“Forgive everything that has ever happened, life is everything we can imagine laid out in patterns of pain and passion, you cannot control it, so keep your compassion. There are no accidents, there are no factions, there is no ‘us and them’, nothing to borrow or lend, no enemy of friend. And only forgiveness can make that happen. Forgiveness is giving, so give yourself this gift from time to time, and from all of your mistakes come all of your greatest gifts in disguise.”

As soon as the last line was finished, something I’ve been namelessly carrying in my heart for years became identifiable. In a sudden moment of clarity, I recognized the source of a lot of pain I’ve quietly kept to myself since I was 13 years old. I suddenly understood nights alone, wondering why I was sad when everything seemed so happy. I suddenly understood hundreds of unfinished poems in documents long archived. I suddenly understood the twinges of guilt, floodgates barely restrained, over every action, every interaction, for the past four years of my life.

I still haven’t forgiven myself for having an eating disorder.

And I know this is ridiculous because every day I preach that mental illness isn’t something we can control, it’s only something we live through. Every day I strive to prove to the world that the things we’re handed only serve to make us more compassionate, more understanding, more relatable. Every day I try to be gentle with myself and move in a direction of lightness. And yet, this guilt has hung onto my fibers in a way I just can’t shake.

I suddenly came to realize that I’ve been writing a confession in my head every day from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed.

I’m sorry that I didn’t take care of myself, and I that I didn’t eat the food that people are desperate for across the world every day. I’m sorry that I isolated myself from friends and experiences that could have changed my life for years. I’m sorry that I spent endless amounts of my parents’ money trying to get out of the grip of a disease that was born from my own mind. I’m sorry that I was hospitalized the weekend of Mother’s Day, the weekend we were supposed to go to a baseball game together and stay in a nice hotel be a happy family for once. I’m sorry that my mother was sleeping on a hospital bed next to me for days without a shower or a warm meal. I’m sorry that my brother’s birthday was ruined because I was hooked up to an EKG two hours away from home and my mother couldn’t be there to celebrate with him. I’m sorry I hurt the body and spirit that I now so fiercely protect.

I’m sorry for it all, and I still haven’t forgiven myself.

The other day before class a woman told me that she reads my blog, and it’s helped her work through her teenage daughter’s recent struggles with anxiety. She told me that my authenticity about my struggles helps keep her grounded in reality, and keeps her from comparing where I am today, years into my journey, from where her daughter is at the beginning of her own. She told me I don’t know how my words are helping others.

But while she- and seemingly the whole world- has forgiven me for my past, I still haven’t.

Because when everyone around me is telling me that they think I’m a good role model, or that they appreciate me sharing my story, or even that they look up to me, I still feel guilty about it’s roots. I still think back to the days that I lied through my teeth and hid good food and swore up and down that everything was okay when it truly wasn’t. I still think back to the days that I yelled and howled at the parents who were only trying to keep me alive when I didn’t want to be.  I still think back to the beginning of teacher training, when I was still so encapsulated by my own self-prescribed routines and obsessions that I couldn’t be present to the priceless gift that had been handed to me.

And to be fucking honest, I think to the days of not-so-distant past when I’m not being a good role model. I think to the days of last week, or last month, or even yesterday when I saw a picture of myself and criticized the tiny imperfections I could see, or when I felt a familiar stress over not knowing what was in the food I had eaten, or when I stared at myself in a  dressing room and cursed the fact that some clothes don’t “look right” on me.

I feel guilty because although everything I teach and everything I write comes straight from the heart, it doesn’t mean I live it all of the time, and sometimes I worry that people think I do.

I’ve never been able to see this guilt until recently, but it’s been bubbling up to the surface more boldly as the clock ticks closer and closer towards my move next month. It’s been forewarned to me since beginning treatment for my disorder four years ago that the transition from high school to college is a common time for relapse. The combination of stress, loss of routine, and adjustment to life away from home is enough to distress anyone, but particularly those with a history of disordered eating, depression, or anxiety. I have suffered from all of these things.

I’ve tried to keep this knowledge on my sleeve and in the back of my mind as time goes on, to keep myself from getting too cocky about my place in remission and to remind myself that recovery is always an active choice, but I’m coming to realize that it’s causing me pain.

I’m tired of assuming that things will be hard. I’m tired of “hoping for the best but expecting the worst.” I’m tired of identifying first and foremost as and anorexic and secondarily as a human.

I broke down to a friend the other day, crying into the handle of their car door in the driveway of their grandmother’s house, about how sick of being sick I was. It’s just recently that I’ve been able to recognize this, to recognize that I’ve been carrying honest-to-god shame about where I’ve come from. Not shame in the sense that I don’t want to talk to people about it (this blog was sprung from the fact that I talk about the shit I don’t want to talk about), but shame in the sense that it hurts the way I’m able to view, forgive, and accept myself.

I’ve come a long way in accepting my flaws. I no longer define myself by my appearance, by my academic performance, or by my comparative success to other people. I no longer beat myself up over flaws or imperfections. I feel confident in my skin and in my voice, and yet I can’t fucking let go of the fact that I did bad things.

I still feel like an imposter sometimes, because of the things I’ve lied about, because of the time I’ve stolen, because of the resources I’ve dwindled. And it’s because of this that I was almost too afraid to go to college- I just assumed that being someone who comes from seeds of pain and sickness I would fail, or at least desperately struggle in a way I simply didn’t want to do anymore. I had come such a long way in my happiness and my rootedness that willingly throwing myself into a whirlpool of disorder (figuratively and literally) didn’t make any sense at all in my head.

But that single line in that single verse of that single song suddenly made me realize that I need to forgive to move forward.

 “Forgiveness is giving, so give yourself this gift from time to time, and from all of your mistakes come all of your greatest gifts in disguise.”

Forgiveness is a gift, it’s not something that comes to us naturally, it’s something we must grace upon ourselves should we want to continue to grow. Forgiveness is a gift that I’ve withheld from myself for so long because I felt like I had committed sins I could never repent, and while I’ve come a hell of a long way, I can only come so far without its aid.

My therapist once asked me if I thought my blog had a theme. I thought for a moment, and then said, “Acceptance.”

“That’s exactly the word I had in mind.” She said, “Acceptance.”

I have accepted who I am. I have accepted where I’ve come from. Now it is time to forgive.

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