It’s amazing how as humans we find so much comfort in knowing and understanding other people’s struggles. We search for people that are experiencing similar pain and hurt. But to be honest, my story doesn’t matter as much as your story. Let me explain what I mean. My story is important to ME. And sure, it’s important for me to share so that you can finally feel like you’re not alone. But what’s most important? What’s most important is your story. OWNING your story. So before you get all caught up in reading my story, and likely comparing yours to mine (because hi we’re humans and we compare). More than anything I want this to inspire you to really OWN your story, devoid of comparisons to any else’s. Owning your story will truly set you free from any sense of your story “holding you back”
So here we go...here is my story:
For as long as I can remember, making people “proud” was my sense of livelihood. I would achieve things, be “smarter”, do things “better”, be more involved, do ALL the things. During those phases of my life, my brain translated all the praise of achievement into “love”. Let me see how proud I can make people. Let me see how much love I can feel from this. It seems silly now, but for the longest time, it’s what I knew as “love”.
Now let me be clear here: I received a lot of love in other ways from my parents and family. For a long time after realizing my attachment to achievement external validation, I felt really guilty. I felt guilty that I was so loved, and somehow I MESSED UP because I didn’t see the other love that was around me. Maybe you relate to this too. This thought that “well so and so has it worse. I should really be grateful. I really was lucky to have a smooth upbringing, lots of opportunities, etc.” Does this thought sound familiar to you?
On the surface, you feel like this is your compassion for others (which is real and true) but another layer of this is the message that “you aren’t enough” being perpetuated by the shame gremlins. Because when we don’t OWN our own stories, and spend time working through our own hurts, traumas, and struggles, how can we ACTUALLY express true compassion for others? The level of compassion you can exhibit for others will continue to be stunted if you yourself don’t truly feel like enough. No amount of extending compassion to others will make you feel compassion for yourself.
So as time went on, I continued to search for the next achievement. Now I look back and recognize this pattern: I’d start to feel a tiny bit uncomfortable because my achievements were starting to “level off” (aka I wasn’t getting as much external validation as I was used to) and so began the search for the next achievement. In college this was applying to a new program and then applying to be an RA (getting rejected), then spending the next year over-involving myself to prove to them that I was worthy, guess what- CRUSHED IT! I got the RA job. Then, all by myself, I created a Student Organization for my program. Then, as graduation approached, I applied to a job that no one thought I would get because “they would never hire a new-grad for that job”, but, guess what, I got it. Then while I was at that job-the itch came again-time to get another certification, then the itch came again, time to go to grad school. Here let me just apply to the top grad school in this profession. The itch came again-time for another certification because maybe THIS will make me feel qualified...finally. Yikes. (And let me be clear here: none of these things themselves are BAD, I value each and every one of these experiences and accomplishments. What I’ve learned to shift is my intention behind it all...keep reading…)
There was finally a moment where it hit me like a ton of bricks. And it’s sad but true, that change only comes when the pain of your current situation is so great that you have no CHOICE but to change. And that was this moment.
Graduate school was a HUGE move for me. Literally and physically. I moved to Oregon to attend the University of Oregon getting my Master’s in Human Physiology and Athletic Training, 2,000 miles from home. It is considered one of the top 3 master’s programs for Athletic Training my first career. I had to fly out there for an entire weekend of interviews. It was an intense process.
Interestingly, I’ve always had a pull to the state of Oregon. There was something about the mountains and the mist that intrigued me and also felt like home. So as soon as I got there, and interviewed, I fell in love. I actually also fell in love with one of the other applicants. We had an instant connection, and everyone noticed. We both got accepted and as soon as we all got on campus, it wasn’t long before we started dating. Everyone that was there for that weekend wasn’t surprised and said things like “I totally saw that coming”. It was really the closest thing to love at first sight that I think I might ever experience.
This whole experience of stepping outside my comfort zone and falling in love felt like I was really living out my life’s plan. Like this is what I was always meant to do.
But can I be honest with you? This whole experience was me running away. I felt uncomfortable in the life I had back in the Midwest for many reasons. And this big change just felt good. Because new things always bring a level of excitement. And my life didn’t feel exciting anymore. My life was starting to feel heavy, there was conflict going on that was wounding me, and I just wanted to run. So I did.
But guess what, this newness of Oregon lost it’s luster too. And this experience was the moment. This was the moment where everything felt like it was crumbling around me. This was the moment where I felt like I now had zero control over my life. This was the moment that I realized “wow, what have I done?”
Let me paint the picture for you. Here I am, at this prestigious school for athletic trainers. Athletic Trainers that go here typically get jobs that are highly sought after. We are looked at as “the best of the best”. And here I am, starting to actually HATE this job. I realized that “wow, I don’t even LIKE sports” and I’m spending my days sitting on the sidelines, watching sports, waiting for someone to get injured so I can fix them up. Don’t get me wrong, I was a GREAT athletic trainer. I prided myself in being REALLY good at manual therapy. I just kind of “got” the body. And so making people physically feel better came naturally to me. But I just couldn’t see myself doing that for the rest of my life, or frankly much longer at all. I loved connecting with my athletes and coaches, I loved being outside, I loved making people feel better, but man did I HATE the thought of being an athletic trainer for the rest of my life. Not only that but later I realized that I wasn’t interested in learning anything new in the field (a major red flag for me! I love learning new things!) This was the first piece of my life that I felt was crumbling around me.
Then there was the part where I had actually ran away from my life at home because there was some struggle there. I was caught in the middle of some family issues that I shouldn’t have been. I felt so much shame, hurt and worry from that that all I felt like I wanted to do was remove myself from the situation. But what I found was that removing myself from the situation didn’t fix anything, I still felt the feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret any of the choices that I’ve made. But moving forward, having tough conversations and forgiveness are things I am more open to doing rather than simply running away.
The last piece of my “perfect” life that was “crumbling” around me (air quotes because I now realize that it was all crumbling for a bigger reason) was that the man that I fell in love with, the man who I had had discussions of and mutual agreements and plans of marriage, the man who we had been looking at engagement rings and had told me he wanted me to be his wife...that man stopped loving me. Out of nowhere, love faded. I tried hard, I put more effort into that relationship than I ever thought I would have needed to. And yet, he still decided he wanted out. All the while I put up this front that this was ALL HIS DECISION, he just LEFT ME. But guess what, I had been feeling the distance too, I had been saying things like “well that’s the plan” when people asked if we were going to get married. “THAT’S THE PLAN?!” It’s actually kind of comical the attachment I had to rules and plans for the vast majority of my life.
During this time when I felt like I was losing control, and I really felt like I needed an element of control in my life. So I started to control food, my body, and exercise. Control around food had been brewing for a while. I had been gluten-free for a few years and I was militant about being gluten-free. I hadn’t been diagnosed with celiac disease, but my rules around cross-contamination were stricter than most celiacs. I would interrogate the waiters at restaurants, asking them to re-wash pans before they cooked my meals, not steam my veggies over pasta that was boiling, had separate cookware and food storage containers than my roommates. So because I had been practicing intense rules and restriction for a while, why not just start restricting calories? Sounded like a good plan.
I wanted to lose a few pounds (like literally 3-5, I gave those lbs so much power). And to get there, I would run more, so that I could “lean down”, and restrict my calories to 1200 calories per day. I started to become more obsessed with food. And I became a slave to the scale and the mirror. I would wake up every day, already anxious to get on the scale, fearing what it would say. 126 pounds?! MOLLY HOW CAN YOU GAIN WEIGHT WHEN YOU ARE TRYING TO LOSE WEIGHT. Next on my to-do list is standing in front of the mirror in my underwear, inspecting my body like a flaw detective. I’d even take pictures and compare DAY TO DAY like some magical thing would happen and poof, the next day I’d love my body. (SPOILER ALERT: that never happened during this phase). As the number on the scale continued to not be good enough, I would say things like “I’ll just hit it hard tomorrow”, “I’ll just go for a longer run”. As I began to restrict more, exercise more, I started to overeat. I’d eat what I thought should have been enough for a meal but then would go back for whatever was in the cabinet, chocolate, dried fruit, carrots, granola, literally ANYTHING I could get my hands on and eat until I was stuffed. Then I would feel overfull, bloated and thing “FUCK” how am I ever going to lose weight if I can’t control myself around food and keep doing things like this? Why can’t I just be normal and lose weight and get lean?! It’s simple calories in, calories out Molly.
But my body was starving, I was starving. And I began the cycle. Restrict→ Increase cravings→ overeat→ feel shameful→ restrict. I stayed in this cycle for quite some time. I started to feel CRAZY around food. It was literally all I could think about. “When’s the next time I can eat? How much of those 3 hours am I going to be thinking about how hungry I am? Is the snack I have planned going to make me actually stop feeling hungry?” and I’d have thoughts like “Man I just really want some french fries, or a dessert, or SOMETHING satiating, but then I’d have to go run 10 miles to make up for that, I could do that, I could fit that into my schedule.” I even started eating my office mates peanut butter cups in secret, and when she asked me if it was me, I lied. I said it must have been the janitor! “You know I would tell you if it was me!” Man did I feel guilty. But holy shit I WAS STEALING FOOD FROM PEOPLE AND LYING ABOUT IT! All I had to do was say “Oh my gosh I totally should have asked, I’m sorry and I’ll stock us back up!” But no, shame thrives in silence. No way I could bring my shame to the light.
I started talking to my friend about how frustrated I was with this whole food thing. Like why can’t I accomplish this? Why can’t I just get lean, get defined quads and abs and finally BE HAPPY?! And then why am I always thinking about food? I wish I wasn’t hungry all the time. Not to mention, I feel like my relationship is crumbling. I’m really unhappy and sad about it. After a few of these conversations, she said something that blew my mind “Molly, some of these thoughts about food and your body are not normal, you shouldn’t have to feel that way.” She shared with me that in college she was actually struggling with an eating disorder. We were roommates and I didn’t even know (again, shame lives in silence). And then it clicked “holy shit, I am on the road to having an eating disorder. I need help. This relationship I have with food and my body and frankly EVERYTHING in my life right now is so chaotic and I simply cannot continue to live my life like this.”
I cried. Because for the first time in my life I was not “achieving what I was supposed to”. I felt so lost and confused. No relationship, no career, no direction. I felt like a total failure. But at the same time, even in that moment of complete and total failure, I felt so much relief in the realization. I was terrified and relieved all at the same time.
I started going to therapy. Real talk? I didn’t connect with this therapist, sometimes she made me really mad, but I knew I needed it, and I did make SOME progress with her. Now I know it was because I knew I needed change but I wasn’t really ready.
At the same time that I realized my restriction was so disordered, I started giving myself full permission (Mind you I had no idea about Intuitive Eating at the time). Cue overeating chocolate and cereal for the next 7-8 months. I gained lots of weight. I probably gained 25 pounds during that short period of time. It was hard for me to look at pictures of myself, and buy new clothes (sneak peek into my future, I’ve even gone up ANOTHER size since this time but now feel so much more confident in my skin!) but at the same time, there was a piece of me that knew I had to do that. Because the alternative was much worse.
I contemplated not finishing graduate school. I started to feel rejection from the staff there as they started to hear that I didn’t want to be an athletic trainer anymore. No one ever said anything like this to my face, but I created a story that they were saying things like “what a waste of a spot in this program, someone who doesn’t even want to be an athletic trainer.” My feelings of rejection likely came from this story, not to mention I never felt like I “fit in” with that staff.
I finished grad school and immediately moved home. There was A LOT of grieving during that time. I had gained so much and also lost so much. I had NO IDEA where my life was going and I hadn’t yet become excited or even comfortable with the idea that everything was going to be okay.
I started to feel uncomfortable in my body, as I was still overeating chocolate and cereal and going up clothing sizes and decided to put my whole family through a Whole30. The whole30 was actually a big step in my relationship to food. It both helped and hurt my relationship with food. It helped because it gave me a crutch to let go of calorie counting. But it hurt because it kept me thinking about “good food” vs. “bad food” for a longggg time. I got back into the cycle of restricting. This time, not restricting calories, but restricting food groups, which ALSO let to overeating and shame. This cycle lasted much longer than the caloric restriction time because I felt a sense of pride with how “clean” I could eat. I felt a sense of “entitlement” when I compared my eating habits to other peoples. And I was proud of that. And so shame kept me in that cycle.
I decided I wanted to become a health coach, and when I first got my certification, I wanted to teach people to “eat clean like me”. But I held myself back, because I felt like a bit of an imposter, like how can I teach someone this when I still feel crazy around food, and still find myself overeating chocolate, or eating the entire batch of paleo baked goods. I’m not perfect, so how can I coach other people?
When I found Intuitive Eating, the very first thing I read talked about how we can all be normal eaters, it clicked, all I wanted was to be able to eat things at restaurants without feeling guilty, and to be able to stop when I was satisfied with a treat rather than it leading to a crazy overeating session.
The first thing I started to do was ask myself “Molly, what do you WANT to eat right now?” Because Whole30 and paleo created such a huge pile of “shoulds” for me, I never asked myself what I WANTED.
And then it all really CLICKED for me. I had never asked myself in LIFE what I WANTED. The things I did was always a means of receiving praise and external validation, rather than getting internal validation from asking myself what I wanted. W.H.O.A. What do I want? For breakfast? And for my life?! I just want some f-ing oatmeal, I LOVE oatmeal but I “couldn’t have it” when I was paleo.
This is the question that changed everything for me. “What do you WANT?” It started to become not just a question I asked about food, but about my life.
Getting clear on what I WANT for my life, has begun a transformation that I am so grateful for. Knowing that I get to choose what to bring into my life, and what I don’t want for my life, has been crazy, beautiful, scary and everything in between. When I say, getting clear on what I want, I don’t mean that I want this car and that kind of house, and those shoes...I mean getting clear on how I want to FEEL and how I want to make others feel. That way, I get to leave it up to the Universe/God/Source/whatever you want to call it, to help me get to where I’m meant to be, but getting clear on what I WANT and how I want to show up in the world has been quite the journey.
So I encourage you to do two things if you read all the way to the end of this story. First, get clear on YOUR story, own your story so that it can stop holding you back. Next, ask yourself what do you WANT? How do you want to feel in life? How do you want relationships, your career, your love for yourself to feel? Get clear on those things and start living with those things in the forefront of your mind!
Thanks for listening to my story, I’m grateful that you’re here. Cheers!