Mitchell Warnken

@mitchellwarnken1 | contributor
Current English major at UNCC, strives to utilize poetry, short stories and personal essays to bring awareness and support to those suffering from mental illness, as well as LGBT issues.

Getting My Wisdom Teeth Removed Taught Me to Face My Fears

Like any responsible adult, I ignored the cavity in my wisdom tooth (or third molar to be medically correct), even after half the tooth disappeared. I know how it sounds, but I promise it’s true. One day I awoke, and instead of the usual almost-microscopic hole in my top left wisdom tooth, a long-standing and avoided cavity I could rub with the tip of my tongue, was a giant gap. In place of the little pit was a crater of a tooth, two jagged points with a deep valley in between. The thought of swallowing half of a fully developed tooth is a bit unnerving, to say the least, but alas, I shall never know the true destiny of my inadequate decayed enamel. Despite the fact my sharp and perhaps dangerous shard of a tooth was still lodged deep into my jaw, I went on with life as usual. Not only did I hate the dentist, fear laughing gas, anesthesia, blood and dental pliers, but also I didn’t want to take time off from work. I had just been recently promoted and didn’t want to seem lazy to my overbearing and passive-aggressive supervisor. So, on life went. I ate normal, worked out, went on long hikes, camped and every few hours found my tongue back at my nub of a tooth, inspecting for further damage, a newly developed nervous habit. Then, the pandemic hit. Instead of working or going out to eat, I was stuck inside, with my husband, Netflix, some books and not to forget, lots and lots of my favorite sugary and crunchy snacks. Noelle and I did our best to stay entertained, playing video games, talking via FaceTime and phone calls to loved ones, and perhaps most entertaining of all, binge reading. But still, I was bored and restless. So, unsurprisingly, I turned back to my old friend and longest habit, chronic sweets eating. I knew and naively accepted the risks of my cavity-producing addiction. As one might imagine, due to my reckless behavior in regards to my oral hygiene and thanks in no small part to my diet that is more akin to a 5-year-old’s, it didn’t take long for disaster to strike. One Saturday morning, after consuming a sandwich, some syrupy and sugary strawberry lemonade and a small pouch of salty pretzel sticks, I felt one of the worst pains of my life. I stood up to put my dishes in the sink, and the remaining portion of my broken tooth erupted the entire left side of my mouth in pure agony. Hours later, and after multiple temperature checks, masks, gloves and hand sanitizing, the emergency dentist diagnosed me. Two of my wisdom teeth had cavities, and the other two were digging into my gums, creating pockets for bacteria. In short, all four had to go and fast. This is where I learned my first lesson. Now, I’m not writing this article in a pathetic and foolish self-loathing fashion, nor am I authoring this to point fingers at readers who practice the same dental hygiene as me. I am a writer pulling from my experience to entertain an audience (hopefully), even if it comes at my own expense. This all being said, you dear reader, may wish to heed my advice, or you shall face the same consequences I did. Don’t ignore what ails you. At this point in the story, I am still in excruciating pain, my tooth making it challenging to speak or even move my mouth. Not to forget, I have waited hours in my car and then in a small emergency dental clinic, my open mouth risking exposing others and myself to the invisible danger that is COVID-19 and of course, racked up hundreds of dollars in unnecessary X-rays and examination fees; an entire visit that could have been avoided. If I had first sought the professional opinion of my family dentist when I noticed the small cavity in my tooth, and then subsequently and undoubtedly gone to an oral surgeon to have all four removed, my pain, extra medical bills and exposing myself, my family and the public to potential germs and viruses, would have never happened. I could have had all of my wisdom teeth extradited months before the pandemic hit, with a lot less pain and anxious waiting. As the first weekend of my extreme tooth pain came to a close, over-the-counter painkillers easing the throbbing, I prepared for another impromptu visit: the oral surgeon. My stomach cramping from the antibiotics prescribed by the emergency dentist, I sat in a small and noticeably sterilized office as I signed paper after paper. I promised not to sue, to pay in full and that I was not a drug addict. Then, I got the worst news I had gotten all week. The soonest the oral surgeon could squeeze me in for extraction was just shy of two weeks away. I would have to make it 13 days, with a quarter of my teeth aching from a single tooth. I would have to pop painkillers more frequently than desired, eat on one side of my mouth and brush carefully. The two weeks in between my initial consultation, and my surgery were life-changing. By fully realizing the scope of the punishment for my denial and inability to face my fear of the dentist, I was in for a painful and scary month. Do your research. The scariest part for me during the two weeks I was seemingly stuck in limbo, between pain and surgery, was the fear of the unknown. Up to this point, I have never been put under with general anesthesia, a must for this surgery as my top two wisdom teeth were not straightforward or quick removals. I had never recovered from surgery, not knowing what to expect regarding pain levels and bleeding. I hate blood. So, to ease my nervousness, I set out on an internet search, reading from real science and medical blogs, browsing other’s experiences and learning the facts straight from oral surgeons and mouth experts alike. I researched side effects and normal reactions to being put to sleep. The takeaway was every mouth is different, every person is different and your response to a surgery or medicine is not the same as mine. To know what to expect, I would have to cross my fingers, say my prayers, close my eyes and get it over with. But, what kept me up at night, and what still unnerves me a little even now after all of this, is the loss of control. The thought of getting teeth pulled by a trained surgeon who does it all day is somehow reassuring, and even being in an unconscious state by an even more trained medical expert is calming. However, surgery is still terrifying due to the exposed and vulnerable state you are put in. No matter who was in the room when I was under, I could still not observe, control or protect my body and myself from the intrusions of the heavy painkillers and sedatives, scalpel and drill. Although my research didn’t completely erase my normal and collective fears of the surgery, it helped to read page after page, website after website, of people who had been through it whether they were patient or surgeon, the vast majority of whom had a positive surgery and easy recovery. Come to terms. As each day ticked by and I got more and more used to the now dull pain in the tooth that started it all, I became more and more aware of what I was about to put my body through. No matter the surgery, whether it be a single tooth, a nose job, full hysterectomy or even open-heart surgery, your body’s recovery will not be overnight. From less than an hour of being asleep under the knife, I spent over a week shaking off the brain fog, fatigue and forgetfulness that are commonly noted side effects of the drugs frequented in general anesthesia. On top of my medically-induced writer’s block, it took weeks to feel like myself again, having to relearn how to chew and cleaning out my mouth after eating a meal. Importantly, I knew myself, and when faced with situations I can’t control, I get anxious. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I realized I had to go through this surgery no matter how sweaty my palms were or how jelly-like my knees felt. So, even though it didn’t feel like I had a choice, I really had two. I could come to terms with the facts of my predicament, or I could let fear and nervousness rein free, and allow them to dissuade me from showing up for my appointment. Obviously, I chose the former. I utilized meditation, prayer, light exercise and journaling to work through every fear, and every irrational and rational thing that could go wrong while I was sound asleep with pliers in my mouth. Some people deal with stress differently; I usually run from it. I decided this had to change once and for all. By accepting my probable fate, and knowing even if the worst happened, I would be OK, I surprised myself by showing up for my surgery, actually going in the building and even though I shed a few tears as the surgeon and nurses walked in, I stayed seated, fully prepared for whatever came next. The takeaway. As the drugs swam through my veins, making my head light and fuzzy, as I then drifted quickly away into a deep slumber, I felt nothing but peace. Although the medicines coursing through my body I’m sure had a hand, I had faced my fear. If I died right there, or never woke up, stuck in a comatose state for the rest of my life, I was satisfied with the life I had led. I wrote and sealed a letter for my family, acknowledging how much I loved each and every one of them, and how much their support meant to me. Only by looking within myself, to the deepest scariest parts, and then learning how to calm them, was I able to overcome obstacles more substantial than I could have ever fathomed. I prepared myself for the worst, and by analyzing my life and actions as if I were to really die, I came to discover just how much I love myself, my life and the career I’m in the process of building. I no longer fear death the same as I did before all this happened. Waking up from surgery, feeling euphoric, no doubt from the medicine, I was ecstatic to have four fewer teeth, but more importantly, to be alive and awake. The road to recovery hasn’t been easy, and there have been some twists, turns and potholes, but so far, I’m doing good. Having four wisdom teeth yanking for my gums at 23 years old, was the most harrowing and perspective-altering experience of my young life. Although I can’t yet say if I will be scared or avoidant of the next hurdle that comes my way, what I can say is through it all, I’m so glad I showed up for myself. I’m thrilled that for once in my life, I was faced with a beast straight out of my worst nightmares, and instead of running, hiding or ignoring it, I tied my shoes, stretched my legs and sprinted toward it.

How Fear of Failure Makes Me a 'Chronic Quitter' of Jobs and Hobbies

It was 2:10 p.m. on a sunny yet frigid Tuesday afternoon in January and it was my lunch break. But this was no usual lunch break. For, if it was my “normal” hour I would be sitting in my hatchback, lunchbox spread open on the passenger seat next to me, monitoring the drive-thru traffic across the parking lot of the bank where I worked. So, instead of finding curious pleasure in watching middle-aged housewives and retirees idle in the backed-up bank line, I was speeding toward my townhouse on the other side of the city. Instead of carefully devouring my sandwich and banana, my lips were dry, my hands gripping my steering wheel so tight that the knuckles were white. I was quitting. And it felt like crap. Everyone has a bad habit. For some this habit may be smoking ; for the more anxiety -prone it may be nail-biting, and still for others it may be indulging in more sugar than is considered healthy. But for me, as mature and against smoking as I am, my bad habit is a bit more complex. You see, I’m a chronic quitter. The problem with me is that I get just enough involved in something — whether it be baking, soccer, or in this case, a part-time teller job — that I can perform it proficiently, but then boom, something happens, and with my heart beating out of my chest and shame weighing down on me like a shackle, I turn my back and walk away. Some may assume that I quit many hobbies, jobs and pastimes because I grow disinterested, but this is almost never the case. I loved baking up until the last time I made a pound cake and wiped the pan dry. I loved being a teller for the short while I did it, even when it got busy and customers were less than polite. I loved my coworkers and bosses, and even the location of the bank was perfect, across the street from my husband’s work. I had dreams and goals working at the bank. I was going to get raises. I was going to get promoted. One day, with enough hard work and dedication, I was going to be the boss. But then, the idea of failure crept back into my brain, and instead of relaxing on a much-deserved break, I was resigned to never return to my place of work, no matter what. My shameful habit of quitting seems so straightforward and easy to cure. And in fact, I thought it was already cured. For months now, thanks to the free time bestowed upon me by the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been working hard at writing, sobriety, therapy, yoga, exercise and so on. I have so many healthy habits, and am so immersed in each one that my days are full of fun and self-improving activities. So, it seemed to me before this last dramatic incident, that my bad habit of quitting things I enjoyed was now a welcome part of the past. The self-reflection that came along with the start of the COVID-19 lockdown must have solved whatever was wrong in my head to begin with, right? Wrong! I still can’t fully explain exactly what transpired in the weeks leading up to the abandonment of my part-time post, but what I can say is this: I made a simple rookie error while counting my drawer, and instead of asking for help, that shame and fear took over my brain. I was a failure the second the computer screen told me my totals didn’t match. I was the worst bank teller ever, according to my head, and I needed to hide my mistake immediately or be doomed forever. And you guessed it, that’s exactly what I did. And you, my lovely and intuitive reader, will probably be none too surprised to discover what happened next. I got caught! That’s right. Within 30 minutes, my boss was asking me questions; within an hour, I was digging myself deeper with lies; the next morning, I had been stripped of my keys, money and passcodes pending an internal audit of all my transactions and keystrokes. By listening to the voice inside of my head, a simple miscalculation that would have been easy to fix landed me on the hot seat, preparing to either be fired or damn-near close. But, possibly the most important distinction here is that I wasn’t yet fired. I still had a job. They even paid me to answer phones, direct traffic and help clean up while I waited for the results from the HR investigation. So, as the weeks passed with no word from corporate on my demise, the shame grew heavier and heavier in my chest. When I went to the employee bathroom and met my gaze in the faded mirror, I could particularly read the word F-A-I-L-U-R-E stenciled to my forehead. My fear of failure had led me to the brink of actual failure. Termination from a job I started only a month before would have been a new low for me. So, one day, when another employee went home sick with what might have been COVID-19 , and the prospect of answering one more phone call where I would have to tell the caller on the other end that, no, I can’t help you because I’m not actually a banker or a teller at the moment, made me want to vomit, I took a bow, and enacted my show-stopping, world-famous disappearing act. Would I have been fired? Would we all have gotten COVID and lost our sense of smell? I couldn’t tell you. Because after a quick-worded text to my former boss the next day, I never asked any more questions. My impatience, perfectionism and aversion to anything that could possibly mean I was a failure saved me from getting COVID or getting canned, but left me without a job, once again. My inability to face the true cost of my misdeeds, admit when I make mistakes, and my knack for lying my way out of what fear tells me is the end of the world, plopped me right down once again at the end of the unemployment line. And from being in this position more times than I care to admit, it’s a dank, dark and just straight-up depressing place to be. So where do I go from here? I’m not sure yet. I know I am back to scouring the internet for another entry-level job naïve and compassionate enough to hire me. I know I’m back to asking my dad for money. Which means I am also back to doing all the household chores and being the best little househusband I can be. But how will I — a 24-year-old online college student, former high school dropout, rehab abandoner and chronic quitter — fix myself? I embrace it, ergo in order to face my fear of being ashamed and of messing up, I have to be willing and able to clean the mirror, wash the letters off my forehead, and take a long hard look at myself. I have to learn to love myself fully and part of that is loving the parts of me I’m afraid to acknowledge. Nobody is perfect, and the imperfect acceptance of this simple-yet-thorough fact is the start of a journey in the right direction.

A Letter To the Bully Responsible for My Addiction and Depression

Dear Bully, It has been some time since we last spoke and indeed some time since the chaos of middle school. For so many years after I switched schools in seventh grade, I found myself asking why. Why would someone so coldly and without remorse torture me emotionally, mentally and physically? That question tore me apart for years. But in high school, where everyone gossips, I saw some pictures of you and another one of our classmates that you had intended to stay private and I got my answer. Finally, after over half a decade of waiting, I knew what started all this. Everything slid into place, and that was something I wasn’t emotionally or mentally equipped to handle. But this letter isn’t to talk about what or why. I don’t care if you’re gay or if you had a crush on me. What I care about is the way it made me feel. You’ve impacted my life as well as the lives of my family. You took the little childhood I had left. You stole my desire to learn. You hurt my ability to socialize appropriately. You deprived me of a lot of joy over several years. I could go on and on about how you indirectly caused my downward spiral into the depths of addiction, about how my resentment toward you landed me in a rehab program, how I dropped out because I couldn’t cope with being in a school where you freely and happily roamed the halls. But in truth, none of this is your fault. I was going to be an alcoholic one way or another; pure genetics. I was going to drop out one way or another to pursue my passion of vigorous day drinking. And beyond my addiction and alcoholism , I chose not to seek mental health attention when I was depressed or having a flashback of you. Sure, the things you did to me sped up my downward spiral exceedingly, and sure the memory of how you treated me will forever affect me in every little thing I do. But we were just kids. If it’s not your fault, then why is it so hard for me not to be angry with you? Why can’t I get over it all? Why can’t I shake this feeling of jealousy of your seemingly ordinary life while I’m here picking up the pieces of myself day after day? I guess the whole reason in me writing this letter is because I want you to know that your reaction to something in your life that you felt was wrong was not OK and will never be OK. I want you to know that because of the things you and your friends did to me, I am startled easily, I freak out if someone is walking directly behind me, and I panic when it comes to social situations, at times. I don’t tell you all these things in an attempt to force you to feel a tiny ounce of the pain you caused. I don’t tell you this in hopes that you’ll hurt yourself. I don’t tell you this in hopes that you’ll apologize. Bully, I care about you as a human, and I care about you as a potential and likely member of the LGBTQIA+ community. I hope that one day I can forgive you for what you did and truly get over those awful teenage years, but the truth of the matter is you were never alone in bullying me. You weren’t my first bully, and you weren’t my last. I’m an easy target. I am aware of this. In saying all this, I am still in no way letting you off the hook for your actions. What you did and what you started is in no way and never will be justifiable. What you did will never be forgotten. You and your friends made me such a stronger person. I am now able to take insults easily for the most part and ignore the haters. Without you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, which is so much more knowledgeable, grateful, sensitive and street-smart than I was when I was young. Even though your actions may not be justifiable or forgiven at this point, we were only kids, and I know what it’s like to be gay in the “Bible Belt.” I know how it feels to hate oneself. I know how it feels not to be accepted. I know how it feels not to be able to find love. I hope that you are well and don’t toss and turn so many nights as I do. I hope that you can grow from your past and become an amazing husband, father, and contributor to society. Sincerely, Mitchell.

How I Conquered My Anxiety of Hiking Alone

I have always referred to myself as a city slicker, despite never wanting to be. I grew up in a medium-sized city and, after high school, enrolled in the local community college. I got married in my hometown, too, and we bought a house 15 minutes from my parents. Despite my dreams of moving high up the Appalachian Mountains, or to some coastal California retreat, I became the adult I swore I never would be. When I was a teenager, I wanted to explore. Backpack through Europe, hitchhike the Midwest, explore volcanic islands in the Pacific. All the clichés, I know. The idea of living in the same city in the same house, going to the same boring job sounded like a death sentence to me when I was 16. Four years later, realizing that this was my reality and most likely my future, I decided I needed to take back my life. When I was a kid, I loved going when my parents took us hiking on weekends and breaks in the foothills of North Carolina. We went mostly on easy day hikes, short two to four-mile hikes, only very occasionally camping in our pop-up camper at popular campsites, never backpacking. I credit my parents for my love of exploration and nature. So, this is where my journey began. I started dragging my husband along to short loops on crowded trails in the state parks closer to my house. As Noelle, my husband, is not an avid exerciser as myself, he dropped out after the third hike or so. This created a dilemma for me. I was terrified of hiking alone. What if I got lost? What if I had to go to the bathroom and no one was there to spot for me? What if I got tired and couldn’t hike back to the car? With just a few easy to moderate hikes under my belt, I had already fallen back in love with hiking. I loved the stretch in my legs as I dug my trekking poles deep into the North Carolina clay and pulled myself up steep trails. I loved the views at outlooks and summits. I also loved the hunger and the great meals that came after the sweaty and calorie-burning day trips. This all being said, the decision was easy — I was going to conquer my fear of hiking alone head-on. The next week, I filled my Swiss Gear backpack with two bottles of water from the gas station and some goldfish, grabbed my boots and poles, and drove to the state park closest to my house. It was only a 40-minute drive, but I was shaking like a leaf the whole time. Scenarios kept flashing through my head. I reasoned that my love for nature and exercise trumped my fear. After parking in the mostly empty lot, I tied my boots tight enough that I couldn’t wiggle my toes, swung my pack over my shoulder and examined the trail map. I saw a trail that was a point-to-point three-mile climb up the side of a small mountain. This looked doable, I thought, of course not yet understanding to look for a difficulty rating. Reluctant but satisfied with my selection, I set out. The great thing about the North Carolina state trail system is that most trails inside it seem to be pretty well-maintained and marked. I was relieved to quickly to discover that every quarter mile or less along the trail was marked with a large trailblaze and inside the trailblaze was the park name. Despite this constant reminder that I was walking in exactly the direction I needed to be, I was still sure I was lost or on the wrong trail. Every half-mile for the first half of the hike, I would pull my paper copy of the trail map and trace my thumb along the roads, trails and campgrounds until I found where I might be. It was no surprise that every time, I came to the conclusion that I was following the right trailblaze on the right trail, going the right direction. Once I had relaxed enough to trust the trail markers and my decent sense of direction, I was struck by how quiet my surroundings were. It was so quiet even in the warm-yet-muggy August air, that I kept thinking someone was walking behind me every time I made a step along the rocks and roots on the forest floor with my thick boots. I had a good laugh once I figured out it was just me. Feeling even more at ease and enjoying my beautiful surroundings, I took a moment to retrieve a water bottle from my bag and, whilst opening it, gazed at leafy treetops above that partially shielded the blazing sun and clear blue sky. I noticed how much of my fear was gone as I began to hike again. I still didn’t pass another person along the trail; in fact, I didn’t pass another person until I intersected another trail high up on the mountain and saw hikers about a football field away on the perpendicular trail. After 45 minutes or so, the trail began to climb. The narrow dirt path abruptly pitched in a sharp angle up; thankfully stone steps were in place to help aid those who were as inexperienced as myself. After the first very steep section, I took my first real break. I had hiked less than two miles but, after my short climb, I was now exhausted. I considered my options. I was still a little worried of hiking alone, despite the trail markers and map. If I stopped now I wouldn’t be a “total failure” because I was at least less scared than when I first started out. In a way, I had conquered my fear. On the other hand, I felt I would fall short of my goal if I didn’t complete the trail. I was two-thirds of the way up, but of course I would have to hike back down, too. Weighing my options, I decided I should press on, maybe just another half mile or so, and see how I felt. Even though I was still unsure of my decision, I hiked higher and higher up towards the 1,300-foot summit. The trail continued to pitch more and more upwards, but it was OK. I felt a new burst of energy, knowing that I was closing in on my destination. It didn’t take long for me to reach the approach to the top of the mountain. I noticed that the wind had picked up just a little and the air felt just a tad cooler. Obviously, this wasn’t Everest; in fact, as far as mountains go, the one I was climbing was closer to a steep hill than anything else. Despite knowing that I wasn’t a world-class alpinist, I was relieved and excited to reach the top. I took the last few big steps up the incline, feeling the full extent of my inexperience in hiking in my knees and hips. Then I was there. I couldn’t believe it. It had taken me longer than I hoped, but I made it. I had done it alone. What I thought would be the end to my passion for hiking had actually had the opposite effect. I loved hiking alone. I loved the eerie quiet. I loved that I could pick my own pace. I loved that for once in my life I had no choice but to tough it out and, no matter the circumstances, carry myself home. The view was amazing. It was the only notable mountain in the area, so the view was pretty spectacular, all things considered. The clear blue sky capped off where the green rolling hills and neat farms ended in the distance. I was overcome with joy and pride in myself and in my surroundings. It wasn’t long before I decided I better start, what felt at the time, like a long journey down. I was exhausted. Realizing that maybe I had bit off more than I could chew for a first hike alone, I surmised the faster I got down, the better I would feel. Swiftly, I hiked back down the trail I had fought so hard to climb. I used my trekking poles to slow my gait, my boots not fully slowing me down as gravity thrust me forward. It wasn’t long before I was almost at my destination: this time, the parking lot and my car with air conditioning. I was drenched in sweat and little black bugs were buzzing incessantly in my ears, no matter how many times I swatted at them. Then it struck me. This was the change I so craved in my life. Hiking was an escape from the everyday rut that was my daily routine. Hiking alone was something so new and spectacular and so beyond my comfort zone that it forced me to grow. By conquering my fears of the solitude and the outdoors, I was now able to experience a grand silence and sublime views in my own time and in my own space, not having to worry about others or anything else, for that matter. As I blissfully sat in my car, the air conditioning blowing cold on my face, I relished in my many accomplishments in the last couple of hours. I reached for my water and my granola bar, and right then and there, in Crowders Mountain State Park, I knew this was only the start of a lifetime of conquering mountains.

How My Mom's Cancer Surgery Helped Bring Us Closer Together

The rain immediately soaked us in all its cold glory the second we stepped outside our front door. It was 5:45 on a chilly and wet December morning. As I drove Noelle, my husband, and I to the hospital in my red Mazda, all I could think was how much the weather reflected our woeful moods. My mother was due to have a hysterectomy to remove her cancerous tumor in just a few short hours. The date had been planned months in advance to coincide her recovery with the winter holidays so she wouldn’t miss too much work. Having to wait since the fall for her surgery, knowing full well that the cancer was slowly growing within her, was agonizing. It took a few anxiety-producing minutes to find parking at the outpatient lot. I remembered just how much I hated hospitals and doctors’ offices as soon as we stepped into the sterile-feeling foyer, the fluorescent lights half blinding us. A few minutes later we were outside a small room where my mom had already been prepped for surgery. As soon as I walked in, I was taken aback by the sterilized nature of it all. My mom’s short brown hair complemented with blonde highlights was tucked neatly in a cap similar to what my grandma used to wear to the shower. Instead of the usual white blanket, my mom was covered in an aluminum foil-type space blanket. Her predictable tight blue jeans and colorful blouse were replaced by a bland hospital gown. My mom has always been a grounding source in my life. Both of my parents actually. I am not exaggerating when I call my mom the strongest woman I know. No matter what was happening, whether it was me busting my face on a waterfall and having to get stitches or my sister falling down a ladder and spraining her wrist, my mom always remained the same: Calm and cool. It wasn’t until very recently on a humid spring hike I learned that during many of those scary times that inevitably happen when you have two hyperactive kids, my mom was terrified on the inside. She only kept her cool on the outside to help us believe that we weren’t gushing blood or that our limbs weren’t hanging off at odd angles. It was no surprise as we made awkward conversation while she waited for surgery that she chuckled and joked and quietly rambled about anything and everything that wasn’t the present. I could respect her need to keep a strong face. Despite her honorable efforts, however, it wasn’t hard to look into her eyes and see how she truly felt. Terrified. I couldn’t knock her for that either. Anyone in her position would be scared. It may have been a simple surgery, but as I stood there, we were both silently reminded of the unfavorable outcomes, and the reason I was there to begin with. I had begged my mom for months to let me be there during her surgery, or at the very least drive her. I felt the need to help in any way I could. She declined, I’m sure due mostly to pride, until she didn’t have a choice. Geographically, I was her closest next of kin and since she would be put under, I had to be there. I was the one, at 22, who had to make life-or-death decisions for my mother if the occasion arrived. I was proud to be of such use and to hold so much responsibility, but at the same time quietly prayed I wouldn’t have to exercise my new title. My mom and I are very similar in all the ways that a mother and child shouldn’t be and not alike in so many ways that a mother and child should be. Sure, we are both creative and love to exercise to unwind and destress. We both like rock music and driving fast. We are also both stubborn, passionate, overly sensitive, short tempered and scattered. We don’t see eye to eye on many issues and the last time we lived together, when I was 18, fought constantly. We argued more like siblings. The disagreements would be anything from cleaning the kitchen to the volume of the TV. As I grew up and matured into my own life and set ways, my mother dug deeper into hers. Our stubbornness and preoccupation with arguing drove a wedge between us that only loosened slightly because of her cancer diagnosis. I was there for her because she was my mother, not because I wanted to be. I didn’t want to regret anything or feel guilty if anything went south, as selfish as that is. So as my eyes darted between my mother’s anxious eyes and the clock on the wall that seemed to be moving too fast, I started to really feel sorry for her. I started to think about all the times I was to blame for our fighting. I thought of all the times I went weeks without seeing her, despite her living only 20 minutes away. I would make up excuses, too much school, too much work, too tired, etc. I instantly regretted all the times I had not been there for her after my parents’ separation. She had no one. Maybe I was more to blame for the hostile space between us more than her. Even though I was standing by her side, I now regretted all the times I hadn’t been. She was my mother after all. A short while later, the nurse assistants and surgeon came to do a final check. My mom stayed calm. They went over last checklists and made her recite her birthday and name. They released the brakes on her bed and positioned her toward the door. This was it. This is the last time I would see her pre-op. I went to gently pat her hand, a simple gesture to say you can do this. Instead, she grabbed me forcefully and pulled me in close to her face. She wrapped her other arm around me and hugged tight. I smelled the clean yet nauseating smell of her pillow as I rested my head next to hers. She kissed me on the cheek, and in a voice I have never once heard her use whispered “I love you” into my ear. As she let me go, I stood up to notice just a few tears gliding down her cheeks. As we watched her get wheeled into the elevator, I felt something I hadn’t felt since before I was a teenager. It was only then that I realized just how much anger and resentment I had been holding toward her for the better part of a decade. The surgery went fine, and we were relieved to hear that most likely all of her cancer was removed. It took hours before she was strong enough for us to go up and see her. Finally, once the nurses felt she was well enough, we were escorted back to another small, sterile room. As I pulled back the curtain partition, I was surprised my mom was asleep. When I walked closer, I was more surprised in the low light to discover dark marks under my mom’s eyelids, and a tiredness in her face I had never seen. I couldn’t help but think that her rest didn’t look so restful. Along with her friend, my husband and I tried to wake her together. It wasn’t working. Whatever painkiller they had put her on post-op had knocked her out cold. As the minutes progressed and our futile efforts were not working, her friend had a new idea. She suggested I try by myself to wake her. I was her kin after all. Still feeling a bit awkward being so close to my mom, I gently coaxed her to wake up. I lightly shook her shoulder. It wasn’t working. As a last attempt, I grabbed her left hand, holding it between both of mine, I rubbed it and said “Mom, it’s time to wake up.” Her eyes burst open and with a confused yet suddenly comforted look, examined her visitors. We talked to her for a few minutes, again just making small talk. Then my mother stopped and looked directly at me. It was then that I realized I had been holding her hand the entire time. It was also then that I realized I had let go of my pride. I looked into the eyes of a scared, tired woman who had only been strong for her kids and immediately knew. If she could survive cancer and I could stand by her side, then no matter what happened, no matter what resentments or grudges threatened our bond in that room or anywhere, I could let go of my anger, and be there, waiting by her side, always.

About This Photo of Myself as a Teenage Boy With an Eating Disorder

My narrow shoulders look shrunken half a size, obscured by my blue rain jacket. My new skinny jeans are the smallest size the store had, and even then, my hips have a little breathing room. It’s not too noticeable, but my coffee brown eyes are a bit sunken in, with very faint black lines. My “chicken legs” are disproportionate, with a glob of muscles bulging out on the top of either thigh. My wiry arms hang awkwardly at my sides. I am shaking in the chilly wind that is a hallmark of the D.C. winter and early spring. Despite the damp coldness in the air and my preoccupations with not having my usual running and biking routes at my disposal, I am in my happy place. Washington, D.C., was always a getaway for me growing up. My mom’s side of the family resided in the quiet suburbs on the Maryland side. My grandmother could blabber for hours when someone asked her about my mom’s childhood. She was a woman of great pride and strength, quietly battling an alcoholic husband for decades while raising four kids and keeping the house. My aunt, Nancy, was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. She had wavy brown hair, soft eyes and a smile so warm that I couldn’t help but feel happy to see her even when I was miserable. She too had her struggles. She also battled alcoholism , loneliness and memories of a broken childhood. Each year, as we made the seven-hour drive or a short one-hour flight, I teemed with excited at the prospect of taking the Metro train into Union Station, of walking along the National Mall, visiting the Smithsonian, seeing relatives that were much warmer and friendlier than my dad’s side of the family. D.C. was an escape from the constant anxiety and struggle that was my childhood and teenage years. My mother noticed this. Without saying why, she would arrange early morning flights to Baltimore for just her and me sometimes. In this picture, I am 15. Standing in front of the Washington Monument, my wavy brown hair just grazing my shoulder blades, the smile on my face is genuine. I am relieved to have a break from the excruciating exercise routine I assigned myself as well as the perpetual calorie counter clicking in my head. I was on vacation, so I figured that I could indulge a little. I knew that once back in Charlotte, I would force myself to work out twice as much and weigh myself three times a day instead of two, eat salads or not much at all, but it was worth it. During my early teenage years, I got a rush of euphoria when people looked me up and down and remarked, “you’re so skinny.” I thought this was a compliment. Now, at 22, I realize it was less a comment filled with envy or adoration for my body, but more a comment derived from worry and fear for my well-being. Looking at this picture now, I realize just how much my beauty standards have changed. When my mom snapped this still of me, I couldn’t look in the mirror unless I was drunk, I couldn’t eat a big meal or dessert without feeling worthless and greedy, and I certainly couldn’t go 12 hours without exercising. I thought that beauty was paper-thin. I felt that beauty was superficial and cosmetic and that the only thing that mattered when it came to your likability was your weight. As I have grown and matured, I have realized just how deep beauty goes, and that one’s worth is not solely defined by how many hours they can jog on the treadmill. Today, it saddens me looking at the boy looking back at me. I no longer have to escape to D.C. to love myself and to treat my body with respect. I no longer live in fear of being fat and ugly and unlovable, for the most part. I feel regret that it took hundreds of dollars and a thousand-mile round trip for me to be able to look into a mirror and whisper, “I love you,” even though it felt at the time like I was yelling. I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time that I weighed myself or Googled a BMI calculator. I am filled with love and pride in my body as I remember my life back then and the progress that I have fought so hard to make these last seven years to know that I am worthy, I am lovable and that I am beautiful, inside and out. It hasn’t been smooth progress, but it has been well worth it. Through years of therapy, a short stint in outpatient rehab and a brief encounter with a support group, I have rediscovered what makes my body perfect and unique. Only I am me, and only I have this body. This temple belongs to me, and the responsibility to keep my temple sacred relies solely on me. When I was a teenager, I hated myself. Now, happily married and just starting a career that I have dreamed of having for the better half of a decade, I haven’t been back to D.C. since that day. My maternal grandmother and my aunt, who I both loved dearly, have now passed. The voice inside my head that told me I had to run away or escape to be myself is now gone too. D.C. once served as my happy place, a place where I could be whoever I wanted to be and still feel love is no longer needed. It took many years of internal conflict and torment, but I am now in a place, surrounded by people, where I know I can always be who I am meant to be and that I don’t have to starve myself to feel beautiful. Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

About This Photo of Myself as a Teenage Boy With an Eating Disorder

My narrow shoulders look shrunken half a size, obscured by my blue rain jacket. My new skinny jeans are the smallest size the store had, and even then, my hips have a little breathing room. It’s not too noticeable, but my coffee brown eyes are a bit sunken in, with very faint black lines. My “chicken legs” are disproportionate, with a glob of muscles bulging out on the top of either thigh. My wiry arms hang awkwardly at my sides. I am shaking in the chilly wind that is a hallmark of the D.C. winter and early spring. Despite the damp coldness in the air and my preoccupations with not having my usual running and biking routes at my disposal, I am in my happy place. Washington, D.C., was always a getaway for me growing up. My mom’s side of the family resided in the quiet suburbs on the Maryland side. My grandmother could blabber for hours when someone asked her about my mom’s childhood. She was a woman of great pride and strength, quietly battling an alcoholic husband for decades while raising four kids and keeping the house. My aunt, Nancy, was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. She had wavy brown hair, soft eyes and a smile so warm that I couldn’t help but feel happy to see her even when I was miserable. She too had her struggles. She also battled alcoholism , loneliness and memories of a broken childhood. Each year, as we made the seven-hour drive or a short one-hour flight, I teemed with excited at the prospect of taking the Metro train into Union Station, of walking along the National Mall, visiting the Smithsonian, seeing relatives that were much warmer and friendlier than my dad’s side of the family. D.C. was an escape from the constant anxiety and struggle that was my childhood and teenage years. My mother noticed this. Without saying why, she would arrange early morning flights to Baltimore for just her and me sometimes. In this picture, I am 15. Standing in front of the Washington Monument, my wavy brown hair just grazing my shoulder blades, the smile on my face is genuine. I am relieved to have a break from the excruciating exercise routine I assigned myself as well as the perpetual calorie counter clicking in my head. I was on vacation, so I figured that I could indulge a little. I knew that once back in Charlotte, I would force myself to work out twice as much and weigh myself three times a day instead of two, eat salads or not much at all, but it was worth it. During my early teenage years, I got a rush of euphoria when people looked me up and down and remarked, “you’re so skinny.” I thought this was a compliment. Now, at 22, I realize it was less a comment filled with envy or adoration for my body, but more a comment derived from worry and fear for my well-being. Looking at this picture now, I realize just how much my beauty standards have changed. When my mom snapped this still of me, I couldn’t look in the mirror unless I was drunk, I couldn’t eat a big meal or dessert without feeling worthless and greedy, and I certainly couldn’t go 12 hours without exercising. I thought that beauty was paper-thin. I felt that beauty was superficial and cosmetic and that the only thing that mattered when it came to your likability was your weight. As I have grown and matured, I have realized just how deep beauty goes, and that one’s worth is not solely defined by how many hours they can jog on the treadmill. Today, it saddens me looking at the boy looking back at me. I no longer have to escape to D.C. to love myself and to treat my body with respect. I no longer live in fear of being fat and ugly and unlovable, for the most part. I feel regret that it took hundreds of dollars and a thousand-mile round trip for me to be able to look into a mirror and whisper, “I love you,” even though it felt at the time like I was yelling. I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time that I weighed myself or Googled a BMI calculator. I am filled with love and pride in my body as I remember my life back then and the progress that I have fought so hard to make these last seven years to know that I am worthy, I am lovable and that I am beautiful, inside and out. It hasn’t been smooth progress, but it has been well worth it. Through years of therapy, a short stint in outpatient rehab and a brief encounter with a support group, I have rediscovered what makes my body perfect and unique. Only I am me, and only I have this body. This temple belongs to me, and the responsibility to keep my temple sacred relies solely on me. When I was a teenager, I hated myself. Now, happily married and just starting a career that I have dreamed of having for the better half of a decade, I haven’t been back to D.C. since that day. My maternal grandmother and my aunt, who I both loved dearly, have now passed. The voice inside my head that told me I had to run away or escape to be myself is now gone too. D.C. once served as my happy place, a place where I could be whoever I wanted to be and still feel love is no longer needed. It took many years of internal conflict and torment, but I am now in a place, surrounded by people, where I know I can always be who I am meant to be and that I don’t have to starve myself to feel beautiful. Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

About This Photo of Myself as a Teenage Boy With an Eating Disorder

My narrow shoulders look shrunken half a size, obscured by my blue rain jacket. My new skinny jeans are the smallest size the store had, and even then, my hips have a little breathing room. It’s not too noticeable, but my coffee brown eyes are a bit sunken in, with very faint black lines. My “chicken legs” are disproportionate, with a glob of muscles bulging out on the top of either thigh. My wiry arms hang awkwardly at my sides. I am shaking in the chilly wind that is a hallmark of the D.C. winter and early spring. Despite the damp coldness in the air and my preoccupations with not having my usual running and biking routes at my disposal, I am in my happy place. Washington, D.C., was always a getaway for me growing up. My mom’s side of the family resided in the quiet suburbs on the Maryland side. My grandmother could blabber for hours when someone asked her about my mom’s childhood. She was a woman of great pride and strength, quietly battling an alcoholic husband for decades while raising four kids and keeping the house. My aunt, Nancy, was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. She had wavy brown hair, soft eyes and a smile so warm that I couldn’t help but feel happy to see her even when I was miserable. She too had her struggles. She also battled alcoholism , loneliness and memories of a broken childhood. Each year, as we made the seven-hour drive or a short one-hour flight, I teemed with excited at the prospect of taking the Metro train into Union Station, of walking along the National Mall, visiting the Smithsonian, seeing relatives that were much warmer and friendlier than my dad’s side of the family. D.C. was an escape from the constant anxiety and struggle that was my childhood and teenage years. My mother noticed this. Without saying why, she would arrange early morning flights to Baltimore for just her and me sometimes. In this picture, I am 15. Standing in front of the Washington Monument, my wavy brown hair just grazing my shoulder blades, the smile on my face is genuine. I am relieved to have a break from the excruciating exercise routine I assigned myself as well as the perpetual calorie counter clicking in my head. I was on vacation, so I figured that I could indulge a little. I knew that once back in Charlotte, I would force myself to work out twice as much and weigh myself three times a day instead of two, eat salads or not much at all, but it was worth it. During my early teenage years, I got a rush of euphoria when people looked me up and down and remarked, “you’re so skinny.” I thought this was a compliment. Now, at 22, I realize it was less a comment filled with envy or adoration for my body, but more a comment derived from worry and fear for my well-being. Looking at this picture now, I realize just how much my beauty standards have changed. When my mom snapped this still of me, I couldn’t look in the mirror unless I was drunk, I couldn’t eat a big meal or dessert without feeling worthless and greedy, and I certainly couldn’t go 12 hours without exercising. I thought that beauty was paper-thin. I felt that beauty was superficial and cosmetic and that the only thing that mattered when it came to your likability was your weight. As I have grown and matured, I have realized just how deep beauty goes, and that one’s worth is not solely defined by how many hours they can jog on the treadmill. Today, it saddens me looking at the boy looking back at me. I no longer have to escape to D.C. to love myself and to treat my body with respect. I no longer live in fear of being fat and ugly and unlovable, for the most part. I feel regret that it took hundreds of dollars and a thousand-mile round trip for me to be able to look into a mirror and whisper, “I love you,” even though it felt at the time like I was yelling. I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time that I weighed myself or Googled a BMI calculator. I am filled with love and pride in my body as I remember my life back then and the progress that I have fought so hard to make these last seven years to know that I am worthy, I am lovable and that I am beautiful, inside and out. It hasn’t been smooth progress, but it has been well worth it. Through years of therapy, a short stint in outpatient rehab and a brief encounter with a support group, I have rediscovered what makes my body perfect and unique. Only I am me, and only I have this body. This temple belongs to me, and the responsibility to keep my temple sacred relies solely on me. When I was a teenager, I hated myself. Now, happily married and just starting a career that I have dreamed of having for the better half of a decade, I haven’t been back to D.C. since that day. My maternal grandmother and my aunt, who I both loved dearly, have now passed. The voice inside my head that told me I had to run away or escape to be myself is now gone too. D.C. once served as my happy place, a place where I could be whoever I wanted to be and still feel love is no longer needed. It took many years of internal conflict and torment, but I am now in a place, surrounded by people, where I know I can always be who I am meant to be and that I don’t have to starve myself to feel beautiful. Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

About This Photo of Myself as a Teenage Boy With an Eating Disorder

My narrow shoulders look shrunken half a size, obscured by my blue rain jacket. My new skinny jeans are the smallest size the store had, and even then, my hips have a little breathing room. It’s not too noticeable, but my coffee brown eyes are a bit sunken in, with very faint black lines. My “chicken legs” are disproportionate, with a glob of muscles bulging out on the top of either thigh. My wiry arms hang awkwardly at my sides. I am shaking in the chilly wind that is a hallmark of the D.C. winter and early spring. Despite the damp coldness in the air and my preoccupations with not having my usual running and biking routes at my disposal, I am in my happy place. Washington, D.C., was always a getaway for me growing up. My mom’s side of the family resided in the quiet suburbs on the Maryland side. My grandmother could blabber for hours when someone asked her about my mom’s childhood. She was a woman of great pride and strength, quietly battling an alcoholic husband for decades while raising four kids and keeping the house. My aunt, Nancy, was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. She had wavy brown hair, soft eyes and a smile so warm that I couldn’t help but feel happy to see her even when I was miserable. She too had her struggles. She also battled alcoholism , loneliness and memories of a broken childhood. Each year, as we made the seven-hour drive or a short one-hour flight, I teemed with excited at the prospect of taking the Metro train into Union Station, of walking along the National Mall, visiting the Smithsonian, seeing relatives that were much warmer and friendlier than my dad’s side of the family. D.C. was an escape from the constant anxiety and struggle that was my childhood and teenage years. My mother noticed this. Without saying why, she would arrange early morning flights to Baltimore for just her and me sometimes. In this picture, I am 15. Standing in front of the Washington Monument, my wavy brown hair just grazing my shoulder blades, the smile on my face is genuine. I am relieved to have a break from the excruciating exercise routine I assigned myself as well as the perpetual calorie counter clicking in my head. I was on vacation, so I figured that I could indulge a little. I knew that once back in Charlotte, I would force myself to work out twice as much and weigh myself three times a day instead of two, eat salads or not much at all, but it was worth it. During my early teenage years, I got a rush of euphoria when people looked me up and down and remarked, “you’re so skinny.” I thought this was a compliment. Now, at 22, I realize it was less a comment filled with envy or adoration for my body, but more a comment derived from worry and fear for my well-being. Looking at this picture now, I realize just how much my beauty standards have changed. When my mom snapped this still of me, I couldn’t look in the mirror unless I was drunk, I couldn’t eat a big meal or dessert without feeling worthless and greedy, and I certainly couldn’t go 12 hours without exercising. I thought that beauty was paper-thin. I felt that beauty was superficial and cosmetic and that the only thing that mattered when it came to your likability was your weight. As I have grown and matured, I have realized just how deep beauty goes, and that one’s worth is not solely defined by how many hours they can jog on the treadmill. Today, it saddens me looking at the boy looking back at me. I no longer have to escape to D.C. to love myself and to treat my body with respect. I no longer live in fear of being fat and ugly and unlovable, for the most part. I feel regret that it took hundreds of dollars and a thousand-mile round trip for me to be able to look into a mirror and whisper, “I love you,” even though it felt at the time like I was yelling. I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time that I weighed myself or Googled a BMI calculator. I am filled with love and pride in my body as I remember my life back then and the progress that I have fought so hard to make these last seven years to know that I am worthy, I am lovable and that I am beautiful, inside and out. It hasn’t been smooth progress, but it has been well worth it. Through years of therapy, a short stint in outpatient rehab and a brief encounter with a support group, I have rediscovered what makes my body perfect and unique. Only I am me, and only I have this body. This temple belongs to me, and the responsibility to keep my temple sacred relies solely on me. When I was a teenager, I hated myself. Now, happily married and just starting a career that I have dreamed of having for the better half of a decade, I haven’t been back to D.C. since that day. My maternal grandmother and my aunt, who I both loved dearly, have now passed. The voice inside my head that told me I had to run away or escape to be myself is now gone too. D.C. once served as my happy place, a place where I could be whoever I wanted to be and still feel love is no longer needed. It took many years of internal conflict and torment, but I am now in a place, surrounded by people, where I know I can always be who I am meant to be and that I don’t have to starve myself to feel beautiful. Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

About This Photo of Myself as a Teenage Boy With an Eating Disorder

My narrow shoulders look shrunken half a size, obscured by my blue rain jacket. My new skinny jeans are the smallest size the store had, and even then, my hips have a little breathing room. It’s not too noticeable, but my coffee brown eyes are a bit sunken in, with very faint black lines. My “chicken legs” are disproportionate, with a glob of muscles bulging out on the top of either thigh. My wiry arms hang awkwardly at my sides. I am shaking in the chilly wind that is a hallmark of the D.C. winter and early spring. Despite the damp coldness in the air and my preoccupations with not having my usual running and biking routes at my disposal, I am in my happy place. Washington, D.C., was always a getaway for me growing up. My mom’s side of the family resided in the quiet suburbs on the Maryland side. My grandmother could blabber for hours when someone asked her about my mom’s childhood. She was a woman of great pride and strength, quietly battling an alcoholic husband for decades while raising four kids and keeping the house. My aunt, Nancy, was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. She had wavy brown hair, soft eyes and a smile so warm that I couldn’t help but feel happy to see her even when I was miserable. She too had her struggles. She also battled alcoholism , loneliness and memories of a broken childhood. Each year, as we made the seven-hour drive or a short one-hour flight, I teemed with excited at the prospect of taking the Metro train into Union Station, of walking along the National Mall, visiting the Smithsonian, seeing relatives that were much warmer and friendlier than my dad’s side of the family. D.C. was an escape from the constant anxiety and struggle that was my childhood and teenage years. My mother noticed this. Without saying why, she would arrange early morning flights to Baltimore for just her and me sometimes. In this picture, I am 15. Standing in front of the Washington Monument, my wavy brown hair just grazing my shoulder blades, the smile on my face is genuine. I am relieved to have a break from the excruciating exercise routine I assigned myself as well as the perpetual calorie counter clicking in my head. I was on vacation, so I figured that I could indulge a little. I knew that once back in Charlotte, I would force myself to work out twice as much and weigh myself three times a day instead of two, eat salads or not much at all, but it was worth it. During my early teenage years, I got a rush of euphoria when people looked me up and down and remarked, “you’re so skinny.” I thought this was a compliment. Now, at 22, I realize it was less a comment filled with envy or adoration for my body, but more a comment derived from worry and fear for my well-being. Looking at this picture now, I realize just how much my beauty standards have changed. When my mom snapped this still of me, I couldn’t look in the mirror unless I was drunk, I couldn’t eat a big meal or dessert without feeling worthless and greedy, and I certainly couldn’t go 12 hours without exercising. I thought that beauty was paper-thin. I felt that beauty was superficial and cosmetic and that the only thing that mattered when it came to your likability was your weight. As I have grown and matured, I have realized just how deep beauty goes, and that one’s worth is not solely defined by how many hours they can jog on the treadmill. Today, it saddens me looking at the boy looking back at me. I no longer have to escape to D.C. to love myself and to treat my body with respect. I no longer live in fear of being fat and ugly and unlovable, for the most part. I feel regret that it took hundreds of dollars and a thousand-mile round trip for me to be able to look into a mirror and whisper, “I love you,” even though it felt at the time like I was yelling. I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time that I weighed myself or Googled a BMI calculator. I am filled with love and pride in my body as I remember my life back then and the progress that I have fought so hard to make these last seven years to know that I am worthy, I am lovable and that I am beautiful, inside and out. It hasn’t been smooth progress, but it has been well worth it. Through years of therapy, a short stint in outpatient rehab and a brief encounter with a support group, I have rediscovered what makes my body perfect and unique. Only I am me, and only I have this body. This temple belongs to me, and the responsibility to keep my temple sacred relies solely on me. When I was a teenager, I hated myself. Now, happily married and just starting a career that I have dreamed of having for the better half of a decade, I haven’t been back to D.C. since that day. My maternal grandmother and my aunt, who I both loved dearly, have now passed. The voice inside my head that told me I had to run away or escape to be myself is now gone too. D.C. once served as my happy place, a place where I could be whoever I wanted to be and still feel love is no longer needed. It took many years of internal conflict and torment, but I am now in a place, surrounded by people, where I know I can always be who I am meant to be and that I don’t have to starve myself to feel beautiful. Follow this journey on the author’s blog.