Finding Strength In Weakness

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Learning to love yourself, in my experience, comes in waves and stages. You can often start with affirmations (even if they feel hokey), staring in the mirror every day and telling yourself, “I love you,” despite how you may feel at the time, or work through body positivity exercises in a journal, whatever strikes your fancy. Things will go great for some time, until the moment comes when something major will challenge you.

It’s these challenges that really define us. Mine came from the in-law visit from a previous post, triggered my eating disorder for days. Today is the first day I’ve come out of it, and I want to share my experiences for any and all of us struggling with self worth, as a person and as a vegan.

I’ve realized that my darker feelings of self-damnation are like a canary in a coalmine, as are the eating disorder symptoms. Part of treatment early on was to recognize fat-and-ugly attacks (which for some my come in the form of I-haven’t-done-enough attacks) as what they were: an attempt at self-care. Sounds crazy? Let me explain.

At some point in most of our lives, we’ve been told that to stand up for the things we believe in, prioritize ourselves, or take pride in ourselves and accomplishments is somehow selfish or self-centered. Nothing could be further from the truth, but often, those messages come at such a young age or so repeatedly that we internalize them. Start to come close to success in your career? Suddenly your thighs are too fat for that dress and you need to focus on dieting. Bad fight with your partner or parents? Suddenly you find yourself consumed with thoughts of inadequacy. Activists fighting for animal rights can experience this sort of burnout as well, where everything they do feels like a drop of water in the pond and ultimately “amounts to nothing.” I can tell you that all of the statements above are false, but I’m sure, somewhere deep down, you already know that.

I’ve come to believe that these thoughts are indeed a form of self care, an attempt to distract ourselves from something uncomfortable with something familiar and “safe.” Self-depreciating comments are acceptable in most societies, where confidence is often equated with narcissism unless it’s socially justified. These views are ultimately false and self-destructive.

So what can we do to break out of these sorts of moments and renew our determination to help the animals and ourselves? Here’s what I’ve found:

  1. Approach the thoughts with a sense of curiosity. Ask yourself what has happened recently that might cause you to feel that way. Have you eaten within the last 4 hours? Are you hungry? If you have medication, have you taken it? Has there been an emotionally compromising event on your mind, be it success, failure, or a fight? Is there something you’re obsessively worrying about? Try brainstorming and make a list of possible culprits.
  2. Make a quick plan of action. Start with the most likely, and think of something you can do about it right now. If you haven’t eaten anything, find something filling and really focus on it. Savor the flavor. If stray thoughts wander into your mind, thank and dismiss them and return to it. If it’s a thought or event issue, try writing a letter to the person involved in a journal or on a word document you never intend to send. Crumple it up and burn it when you’re done, if you like. If you have fears of success or feelings of inadequacy stemming from a lack of accomplishment, try mapping out your goals and make a list of small steps you can use to move towards them. Then pick one thing you can do now and do it.
  3. Check in with yourself. Did the thing you did make you feel better? If not, go back to your list. If you exhaust all of your options, try talking to a friend or family member about it, someone you know and trust who might have an insight that you may have missed. If all else fails, find something you love, like a favorite video game, movie, or craft/hobby, and set aside a half hour to an hour to do it. Immerse yourself in it. When you’re done, see how you feel again.
  4. Congratulate yourself on your self-care skills. Finish out with a self-love technique, such as affirmations or an expression of verbal self love in the mirror. I know these things feel strange, but they really do help.

No matter what your size or involvement, these things are important, whether you’re having a fat day, a triggered eating disorder, activist burnout, or insecurity issues. I know you can make it through it, and I hope this helps you do so. I believe in you.

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On Veganism, Self Confidence, and Personal Strength

I haven’t done a body image post in quite a while, and this is a topic I’ve been meaning to get to for most of that time.

In my eating disorder recovery post I mentioned the amount of personal strength it takes to change your entire lifestyle to fit your personal beliefs, and here I want to expound on that topic a little more. I would like to see all of us not only give ourselves credit for this, but do so without the fear of being seen as prideful or arrogant.

I’ll start with this: There is a difference between giving yourself credit for your achievements and being a prideful, condescending arse.

This is a difference that most of us aren’t taught, and has significantly less to do with how others perceive your behavior and more to do with how you view it. Being proud of yourself and giving yourself credit for the monumental achievement of being vegan in a carnist culture isn’t prideful, but considering yourself better than others who do not is. Whether or not being vegan is the higher moral high ground, it doesn’t make any of us more deserving of life than any other.

Many of us started being vegan for reasons other than saving the animals. I know ethical vegans, but I also know environmental and health vegans, vegans who started for weight loss and ended up volunteering at sanctuaries, and vegans who started because of their eating disorder and wound up finding spiritual fulfillment and seeking treatment because of the vegan community’s support. This is a big deal as well. The fact that you, yes, you, found a reason to decrease the amount of harm that you are doing to the planet and the animals, as well as to yourself, is an achievement.

Even when it feels like there’s still far too much to do. Even if it feels like you’re one in a million. Even if it feels like there isn’t a difference being made, YOUR consumer choices save lives every year. Because most store stock for demand, and by avoiding consumption of animal products you decrease the demand that much more. It really is a major accomplishment.

I know many of us already know this, so why am I drilling it into the ground? Because when someone suffers a negative body image, it can be difficult to see our accomplishments as what they are.

It can be easy to blame ourselves if we don’t “look vegan” the way that many of us picture our fellow vegans: rail thin, in your face, almost painfully fit and confident. But there is no “vegan image,” it is a lifestyle not a diet, and a lack of weight loss does not negate the accomplishment of sticking to a lifestyle you believe in.

It is easy to see the massive overproduction of animals and its continuation as somehow overriding our efforts in our own lives, trivializing our own contributions because it seems natural and there is so much left to do.

It’s easy to soak in all of the hateful comments we hear from omnivores day in and day out and stay silent out of fear that someone will perceive us as being “uppity” or “that vegan.” But we’re not.

We’re warriors in our own right, fighting a fight that not everyone can see, and every day is a victory against carnism in your own home. Even if you’re a minor in your parent’s house, every step you take towards that goal and every day you stay determined is a victory, scaled to your ability and budget at the time. We can only do as much as our time and means allows us, and being vegan in any situation is its own victory.

Please, even on your worst days, don’t forget this. Because you are strong, you have a beautiful soul, and every day you live makes that much more of a difference. Never be afraid to speak up. Never be afraid to feel pride at your accomplishments. Because no matter how you look, what others say, or how hard it is, you are stronger than you can imagine, just for keeping going in the face of it all. I’m proud of you. You should be too.

What Recovery Feels Like

TRIGGER WARNING!!! I’m recovering from an eating disorder and I’ll be describing some of my experiences below, so if you’ve suffered and you might be affected by such descriptions, here’s your warning to get out now. I’d rather both of us wait until you’re ready 🙂

So for those of you still with me, I know that veganism is associated heavily with eating disorders, and I’ll preface this with the fact that thankfully my veganism has nothing to do with my eating disorder. I went vegan because I don’t like eggs, am allergic to dairy, and don’t process animal protein very well at all. Besides that, it’s healthier for me.

That said, I had a triggering event a few nights ago when I was drinking with my husband. I’m still in the tender stages of recovery (4 months without having weighed myself, only about 3 weeks from my last compulsive thoughts, 3 months from my last starvation diet) and my husband was a little careless with his words. He said he was “cutting me off” because I had “eaten twice as much as I normally do and that wasn’t okay.” He didn’t realize that his words hit my like a blow, and I was tipsy enough not to say anything.

That night I had nightmares about being fat and my clothes felt tighter then normal, causing me to wake up in a sweat at 6 AM with stronger urges to purge than I’d had in months. It took almost 2 hours to get the panic attacks that followed to stop.

What struck me though, was that this all felt out of the ordinary. After I calmed down and stopped the self-berating, I realized that I was upset that it happened. That I had treated myself that way. That I had hated my body again for the first time in months. And it hit me again like a thunderclap:

This is what recovery feels like.

Because this is a size blog as well as a vegan one, and because our community tends to attract people with eating disorders due to the “restrictive” nature of the diet (at least in a carnist culture), I wanted to put out a message of hope to everyone who suffers in this community as I have that there is indeed hope. Through counseling and body work, though I’m still obese, I’ve gotten to the point where this sort of compulsive self-hatred is a symptom rather than my reality.

When you get to the point that you not only recognize such feelings as being out of the norm but don’t judge yourself for having them, congratulate yourself for getting through them unscathed. Rejoice in your own strength. Because managing this is a fundamental act of self love and proof that you can keep doing it as long as you need to. It’s proof that you are strong and valuable as you are. And if you also happen to be vegan?

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That is proof of your strength, your compassion. That is proof of your worth. Because it DOES take strength to stand up for what you believe in, to live in opposition to carnist and diet culture, to choose a life that does the least harm that you possibly can. You have a beautiful soul, and realizing that?

That is what recovery feels like.