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How Eating Disorder Treatment Taught Me the Importance of Stillness


Weekends in treatment were slow … and I mean slow. It was so frustrating to have so much downtime in our schedule. We should be “working” and “doing,” marking things off our imaginary recovery to-do list. Having an empty day meant I was being unproductive and lazy. As it turns out, downtime at the Carolina House eating disorder treatment center was very much on purpose. It forced us to practice stillness and cultivate the ability to be alone. Learning to be still and alone is one of recovery’s greatest gifts. Stillness is a skill and a practice.

For many of us, eating disorder or not, being alone is a huge challenge and trigger. In the quiet of stillness, we are often faced with feelings and thoughts we’d rather override with our to-do lists.

Think about it. When was the last time you were still? Like, really still? With nothing to do or maybe with lots to do, but choosing to take time for yourself and just be.

Meet savasana, the most difficult yoga pose. By definition, savasana means lying on your back, eyes closed with arms and legs spread at the corners of your mat.

My mom is probably feeling anxious just reading that definition: Lying. Still.

Even when I am in savasana, my mind wanders to every corner of my brain: “What should I feed the kids for lunch? What are we doing tonight? Maybe we can watch a movie. Oh, wait, ‘Orange is the New Black’ is on. Yes, we should watch that. Maybe we can go on a date tomorrow. Jordan is off tomorrow. We should take the kids to the pool. Did I get sunscreen? What if the sunscreen I have is on the toxic lotion list? Does sunscreen really cause cancer? Why did Marjorie get cancer? Is it in the water? Did I give the dogs water this morning? Did I give Lola her medicine? I need to make an appointment for Lilly. Is she due for heartworm? I think all the pets are due. What if they get heartworm?”

The struggle is real, y’all. Like most moms, I am stretched thin — like really, really, really thin. And every so often, I snap. I need time for myself, time to reset and renew. I get to the point where an hour here or there of savasana — I mean yoga — is no longer enough. I need a solid refresh session. My refresh sessions usually involve time upstairs in my office, earphones in to drown out the tiny humans on the first floor. It goes without saying, I love my kids and family. I am blessed… yadda yadda yadda. And I am also human. I need time for myself away from my mom/wife/cook/vet/everything else role.

This week, as I realized my battery was dangerously low, I laughed at life’s irony: years ago I hated everything to do with stillness and solitude. Today, I crave it. I need it. It is an essential part of my mental well-being. And it is one that is so hard to come by, especially as a working mom.

Being a mom, a dad, a student, a career person, or any person in-between is hard. Life is hard. Life is also very, very busy. Busyness has become the poster child for being good enough. If we fill our lives and calendars with to-do items then we are good enough. We are worthy.

You are worthy whether you are the busiest person in the world or if you are lying on your couch watching “Housewives.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with either of those scenarios. The hard part is learning to say, “I need time for me. I need to just be.” The gift of stillness is yet another reason why I am so thankful for my time in treatment and journey to recovery. It is beyond hard to shut the brain down. It is even harder to know we need time to shut it down. We just keep going and going and going.

So here is the Sunday challenge: take time for you. Take time to just be. Find gratitude in the quiet and practice stillness. Give yourself the precious gift of being still. It is a rare gift that we all deserve.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via fizkes