“Forbidden” — a poem from my book, Free to Roam

Forbidden

I’m drowning in your choppy sea of innocence.
You’re ass-deep in constricting dogma.

If you got your chance,
what would you do to me?

Green eyes and icy fingertips stripping me naked,
a bite that burns with intention.

Would you pin me down out of years of frustration
or newfound emancipation? We’ll never know.

This secret fantasy only plays out in your head
because god is always watching.

Sweet dreams, farm boy.
I’m going home to wash your shame off my dress.

 

My poetry book gives an atheist perspective on being a Midwest Mom. It is for sale on my publisher’s site freethoughthouse.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. (Signed copies are available at freethoughthouse.com.)

Painful Lessons: Setting Boundaries and Toxic People

A common rule for people recovering from an eating disorder is to avoid conversations about dieting, so when I came home from treatment, I politely asked my loved ones to not talk about counting calories or losing weight in front of me. After all, if I was a recovering alcoholic, I doubt they would talk about drinking around me. It was a simple request really…

and they can’t do it. Every time I’m around my family there’s food shaming, body shaming, and general negativity around eating. After everything I’ve been through…and they just can’t keep their mouths shut.

What’s worse is my six-year-old daughter is hearing all of it. Eating disorders are very much a family problem and I am busting my ass to break the cycle.

One of the most difficult things I learned about in treatment was setting boundaries. I’m a bit of a pushover and people pleaser so stating my needs with confidence can be terrifying. It seems like every time I stand up for myself, I piss people off.

When my family makes comments about dieting, it’s not even the comments that bother me anymore but rather the fact that they won’t respect a boundary I set.

I actually think this can be a common problem for people when they come home from treatment. I’ve grown and I’m healthier but I came home to a family that hasn’t changed. How do I stay healthy among people with unhealthy habits?

After the trauma and pain of going through treatment, I am well aware that others are fighting their own battles, but I can’t let that derail my own recovery.

I hate thinking about how confronting family members might affect my daughter, but at the same time, I want to teach her to stand up for herself. We teach others how to treat ourselves so if someone disrespects you it must be addressed — don’t allow it to continue. This is something I was never taught growing up and I’ve paid dearly for it.

I’m in a fragile state so right now I am choosing to surround myself with supportive people and distance myself from those who are not – even with my family.

So, as always I am looking for your input. Do you have any advice on setting clear boundaries? And what do you do when someone disrespects them? How do you deal with unsupportive people – especially family members?

Toxic People

How do you know when a person is toxic enough to remove them from your life?
I have a toxic person in my life who I’ve endured for a few years and the time has come to weigh my options. Do I tolerate this person to keep the peace in my close-knit family? Or do I sacrifice the relationship to keep my recovery intact?

I really want to think about the benefits and consequences because if I choose to cut this person out of my life, it will have a ripple effect on my relationships with several other people.

How will this affect my daughter? What am I teaching her?

This will make family functions difficult. Is it worth it?

How do I find more supportive people?

I keep coming back to the thought that life is too short to be miserable.

Right now it feels selfish to take a stand because I’ve never done it before. It’s painful now but in the long run, I know it’s best for my well-being.

I know you don’t have to forgive and forget. Sometimes it’s best to just move on. I just want peace.

I would love to hear your input on this as well. Have you ever cut a toxic person out of your life? How did it feel? Was it worth it?

 

I want you to know that through it all my husband has been absolutely amazing. I am so grateful for his unwavering love and support. My battles have been relentless since coming home from treatment and he has stayed by my side. While I may struggle with the rest of my family, he has always had my back.

I also want to say thank you. I have written about some difficult topics since coming home from treatment earlier this year and you all have been wonderful.

Does being a skeptic make you more resilient?

When you are in recovery, you are bound to encounter the topic of “resilience”. It’s a certain toughness – an ability to bounce back from adversity. 

Not only am I in recovery myself, but I also spend a lot of time working as a peer supporter to help others. “Resilience” is the topic for a support group I’m going to facilitate. Obviously, I’m not going to bring up atheism or religion in the support group, but I thought it might be interesting to discuss here.

One of the ways I have overcome a lot of difficulty in my own recovery is by finding ways to stay grounded. As a person who has experienced psychosis, this can be especially difficult. Being an atheist grounds me. I know everything has an earthly explanation – even my psychotic symptoms. I am very aware of my illness which keeps me in treatment. I have seen my medications work so I choose to stay on them. The evidence presented in my wellness is key. 

Skepticism when it comes to my mental illness symptoms is crucial. I need the ability to question what I see, hear, and think. This also keeps me grounded and strengthens my resilience. It also lets me know when to ask for help.

Sometimes being resilient means keeping the bigger picture in mind. Knowing that a better life doesn’t exist after death reminds me to pursue the things I love and live with passion – right here and now. 

Are you resilient? Can the ability to question the world around you make you a little tougher in the face of adversity? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

The worst stigma is my own. (Mental Illness Recovery)

This is a tough post to write. Stigma is a sensitive topic; when it comes from yourself, it is associated with embarrassment and shame. Living with a mental illness is not easy and I don’t know any different. Medication is a game-changer but not a cure-all. Even when your symptoms go away you are left with a label. 

Stress exacerbates symptoms. So what do you do? Do you stay home and take it easy or do you see what the world has to offer? Either option is going to cost you. 

I have taken lithium for years.

In my early twenties, I tried several mood stabilizers with little success. I was still pretty new to the game having only been in recovery for a couple of years. My psychiatrist suggested lithium and it was definitely a drug I had heard of before – something I associated with “crazy” people. The routine bloodwork sounded scary as well. This was serious. As much as I was scared of being labeled “crazy” I also really wanted relief, so I reluctantly tried the medication.

Starting lithium came with some mental anguish, but now I’ve been on the med for many years and I take it every day without thinking twice about it. It really works for me. The stress I felt trying lithium was meaningless and counterproductive. 

I was treated for anorexia at 200 pounds.

This was more recent. I’ve struggled with eating disorders since the sixth grade. Last fall I felt myself slipping fast. I was very sick and I hit a point of no return around Thanksgiving. I knew I needed treatment. It was so difficult to reach out to treatment centers because I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously. I was overweight but also starving myself. I thought I would never get the treatment I needed, but thankfully when I called for help, people listened. 

It’s embarrassing to talk about having symptoms of anorexia when you look like me, but when I was admitted to the treatment center I saw people of all sizes. I thought I wouldn’t get the help I needed, but I was wrong. 

I was also treated for avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) and rumination disorder which I find much easier to talk about. 

I’m still very embarrassed about struggling with anorexia. The truth is eating disorders affect people of all sizes. I’m still coming to terms with that.

I still believe that no one will take me seriously.

Worrying about being taken seriously is a common theme in my life. I’m sure people see me as “crazy”. I’m open about my experiences which probably makes it worse, right?

I know my mental illness doesn’t define me, but it does explain a lot about why I do the things I do. I’m always trying to prove myself, mostly by taking on more and more projects. I want to tell the world, “look what I can do!” I feel that with having a mental illness that’s necessary.

But what if it’s not? What if no one actually cares if I have a mental illness?

My Pledge to Myself

My recovery will be a lifelong process. There are so many outside forces at play when you have a mental illness but the important conversations happen between you and your doctor. I let the world get to me and internalize negativity. My pledge to myself is to keep an open mind when it comes to treatment and mental health in general. This is my life and no matter how “crazy” I think I look my health is important. 

Can anyone relate? What stigma holds you back?

“Science is how god works.”

I went through this strange period when I was a kid – probably around junior high – where I tried to force myself to believe in god. I started going to church with my friends. Growing up I was secretly skeptical and fearful. I thought maybe something was wrong with me. Why wasn’t I a Christian? Why didn’t I believe? I thought if I went to church enough, I would see what everyone else saw.

It didn’t work. It only led to feeling isolated and alone with some serious inner turmoil. 

I could never deny my true feelings towards Christianity. Why would I put my faith into something that just doesn’t make sense? Even as a little kid I sensed things weren’t right. Going to church actually made me pretty uncomfortable. 

I struggled for years trying to come up with a concept of a higher power. As a teenager, I decided that “science is how god works”. God makes things happen and science is how he does it. Deep down I always knew that science was real and god was at best murky. I tried so hard to make it make sense.

Finally, after a life-changing event in my early twenties, I became an atheist. It was freeing but I was also a little scared. I didn’t know what people would think.

It just amazes me how damaging religion really is. My family wasn’t even religious. We didn’t go to church like my friends did. However, I still feel scarred from the pain and confusion I felt growing up in a conservative area. 

I’m sure many of you have a similar experience – the struggle of trying to make sense of something as ridiculous as religion. Sometimes I think that last-ditch effort is really just a push into atheism. 

I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Atheism and Recovery – What if I didn’t have a mental illness?

I became an atheist early in my recovery and it remains an important part of my life to this day. I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in my twenties. Dealing with psychosis was confusing and frightening but when I tried medication everything changed. I had always been skeptical but when I experienced hallucinations that were spiritual in nature I was left with a lot of questions. A moment of clarity came when the anti-psychotics kicked in. My hallucinations aren’t real – and neither is god. I was always looking for an explanation. I just never considered the explanation to be a mental illness. My diagnosis came with some relief – this is treatable.

That moment of clarity flipped a switch and I declared myself an atheist. Years of suffering came to an end with a simple solution – medication. 

But what if that moment never came? What if I never had a mental illness? Would I still be an atheist?

First of all, my husband asked me this question and it is so hard to picture. My mental health symptoms started in early childhood so I really don’t know any different. I am not my illness but it is still an important part of me. It often explains why I do the things I do.

My journey to becoming an atheist may be a little unique, but I still believe even if none of the mental health issues happened, I would still be an atheist.

I’m a curious person – it’s always been in my nature to question. I questioned the existence of god in childhood and the judgmental people in the town where I grew up definitely made me question the goodness of Christianity. Mental illness or not, I always knew I didn’t want to be like them. Questioning at that time came with a lot of guilt and fear but I feel no matter what I would have ended up with the same conclusion – I am an atheist.

Were there any specific events that led to your atheism? If those events hadn’t happened, do you still think you would be an atheist?

An Assignment — A Goodbye Letter in My Eating Disorder

I want to share something that makes me cry every time I read it. Just a few days before leaving treatment in Chicago, my therapist had me write a goodbye letter to my eating disorder. I’ve struggled with eating disorders for nearly thirty years but this round of treatment felt different. Maybe this really is goodbye.

 

Dear eating disorder,

I never gave you a name or found a way to separate you from myself. I only recently learned that you are not a part of me.

You stole me from the playground many years ago. At times, I put up a fight but you never quite loosened your grip.

I wondered what my life would be like without you. There have been missed opportunities and soured relationships. You were at least partially to blame.

On Sunday I will leave treatment and this is your final notice to vacate my mind and body. I am moving on without you.

I will go back to Toledo and be the wife and mom I always wanted to be and that my family deserves.

I’m going to chase my dreams without reservations. You’ll never stand in my way again.

You’ve been in my life for so long that it’s hard for me to be independent. I will learn, grow, and relish my newfound freedom.

You will no longer speak for me or decide for me – for the first time I am in charge.

Get out.

This isn’t “see you later”; this is goodbye forever.

 

(Quick note: Many people name their eating disorder. This can be beneficial in recovery because it can help separate you from your disorder. For example, what are your thoughts, and what are your eating disorder’s?)

My 300th Post – Channeling My Inner Grandpa G., Recovery, and My Red State

This is my 300th post! I am so grateful for Freethought Blogs. Not only is it a great outlet for my writing, but it also allows me to have conversations that might be difficult to have in real life. 

I spend a lot of time writing about mental health as atheism has played a huge part in my recovery. Jesus doesn’t care about my wellness, my doctor does, and I don’t thank god for my medications, I thank science. My medications work and I know I need to stay on them. Knowing there isn’t an afterlife keeps me motivated and reminds me to live my life to the fullest despite having schizoaffective disorder. 

I write from real life and am not an expert in anything but myself. My blog makes me think of my Grandpa G. He had a fascinating life and loved sharing his experiences. Everyone was captivated by his storytelling. A few years before Grandpa G died, I recorded him reminiscing with our family at my dad’s house. It was actually for a class project but now the recording is a treasured keepsake. My goal with my writing is to channel my inner Grandpa G and share my story with as much passion as he did his. 

The past few months have been very difficult as I received treatment for a decades-old eating disorder, and my journey is far from over. Thank you for making my blog a safe place for me to share my challenges. I hope one day my posts will help others. 

I often complain about living in a red state, but I have no plans of leaving. My family has lived in the same area for 170 years. This is my home and I want to see it become a better place. If you have any ideas on how to do that, I’d love to hear them. 

Thank you for reading and commenting over the last few years and hopefully for years to come. I am always learning from you. Thank you for your support.

Is there ever a time when people “need” god?

So I was watching Dr. Phil again. This time my husband was in the room. In this episode, there was a boy with a very rare genetic disorder where he couldn’t feel pain. It was very dangerous because he was constantly getting injured. They interviewed the family and they were obviously religious. They brought up god a couple of times. Then when interviewing the boy – who was surprisingly upbeat – he said “it’s how god made me.”

It was obvious that the thought of god was comforting for this family who has been through so much. My only hope is that they are thanking all the doctors who have helped them as much as they are thanking god. 

Do you think there’s ever a time when people “need” god (or something like it)? Like you’re in such an extreme situation that you need faith in something to get by?

After watching this episode, my husband asked me, “If you grew up with very serious health issues, do you still think you would’ve become an atheist?” My answer was “yes” but honestly if I was put in those circumstances I’m not 100 percent sure. 

So now I’m asking you the same question – if you grew up in an extreme situation, would you still have become an atheist? Maybe you’ve been through something similar. Do people ever “need” god? Is there something you have faith in for coping and comfort other than god? 

“Mistreated” — A Poem from My Book, Free to Roam

Mistreated

Beads of envy line your forehead—
in your sick game,
you brought fire to the fight.
My impressionable spirit whets your appetite for attention.

Peck away at my frazzled brain.
My secret thoughts run down your chin.
Sour doubt and anxiety
appease your fickle cravings.

You could be anywhere—
watching, waiting, stewing in your misery.
Nowhere is safe.
You assert your crumbling power with fear.

A captive victim of your abuse—
your overbite stabs at my fragile existence.
You’ll never know the cost of your actions—
a price I’ll pay for the rest of my days.

I want vengeance
but I want freedom even more.
You’re gone but still very much present
in my broken brain.

Thoughts of progress are fleeting,
pain erodes hope.
Your suffocating grip lingers.
I’m shackled from my next chapter.

The cold shadow of trauma
blankets my world.
Maybe with time
healing light will creep back in.

 

My poetry book gives an atheist perspective on being a Midwest Mom. It is for sale on my publisher’s site freethoughthouse.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. (Signed copies are available at freethoughthouse.com.)