People ask me what recovery looks like. Here’s an example; the experience of the courageous Audrey MacKnight, in her own words…
On Jan 1, 2014, I made a New Year’s decision (after a serious night of celebration!) to join a friend of mine on a pilgrimage in Spain on the Camino de Santiago. After seeing the movie “The Way” I was very inspired. I asked my husband if he thought I would be able to make such a journey. I am a 51 year old woman who had never back-packed or hiked anywhere and who, in the past, would have been much more likely to make a New Year’s Resolution about losing 60 pounds!
Being his usual supporting loving self, he said, “You have 6 months to prepare… of course you can do it!” So I decided that if I was able to get on the same flight as the six other people planning to make the trek, then that would be a sign from God that I should go. I got a reservation on that flight. Gulp!
I ordered books about preparing for the Camino, consulted hiking experts, began buying necessary equipment; a backpack, boots, sleeping bag, etc., and started seeing how far I could walk. Initially, I started off with 2-3 mile journeys; building up to over 10 mile walks on the weekends.
I was about to participate in what I hoped would be one of the most spiritual experiences of my 51 years, but as the time grew closer, I became hyper focused on “weight”. All of the books I was reading stressed limiting the weight you had to carry – in your pack and on your body. I had lost about 15 pounds, just following the training routine and eating healthfully, but I became obsessed that I wasn’t taking weight off fast enough. It seemed the more I worried, the more my weight stayed the same or crept up. I guess that is the law of attraction at work. You attract what you think about most; good or bad.
In the weeks leading up to the trip I just had this broken record in my head that said, ” I’m too fat to make this hike in Spain…it’s crazy, people will laugh at me…” I’d wake up every morning in fear that I would not be able to keep up with the group. Would they be annoyed with me for slowing them down or would they leave me behind? Would I be humiliated; would they look at me and think this doughy middle-aged woman has no business making such a journey? My anxiety got so high, I seriously considered cancelling my trip. I didn’t want to face the possibility of ridicule or failure. But I didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity of a lifetime because of fear, either…
Four days before my departure I decided to reach out to Ellen Shuman. She had always been a trusted advisor and coach. I knew if anyone could talk me down from the emotional ledge I was perched on, it would be Ellen. I was so very glad she was able to find some time in her schedule to talk to me.
Initially, our phone call began with me trying to tell her all about my doubts and fears. Just a few minutes in she asked if I had some extra time that morning, and if so would I be willing to try something new; a self- hypnosis technique. I immediately agreed. It turned out to be so very fantastic!
She asked me to identify how I was feeling—and then how I wanted to see myself on this trip, instead. We agreed that what I wanted was absolutely possible and beneficial. Ellen then asked me to come up with an image that represented how I wanted to be on the walk. I visualized myself as a brook, bubbling and flowing over rocks and over any obstacle that presented itself; calmly and happily progressing on my journey. Instead of focusing on my worries, I thought of myself as prepared, capable and ready for this trip. I could vividly imagine what being in that Cathedral at the Pilgrim’s mass at the end of The Camino would be like.
Then she asked me to come up with a memory from my past; a time when I felt judged and ridiculed for being fat. I was surprised that a memory came up immediately. It was soon after I was married, on a trip with other couples. I recalled that I thought the other wives looked like “beauty queens”; much thinner than I. I felt shame when we had to give our weight to the guys renting us the jet skis. I weighed the most. Oddly, at the time I was a perfect size 8.
Ellen walked me through that memory in a way that, by the end, I couldn’t even remember why that incident had any negative emotion for me, whatsoever. I just remembered all the fun I had on the jet skis with those women. LOL, no one wanted me to get off the jet sky because I was “too fat”. In fact, the woman I was with on my jet ski, when offered the chance to change partners, said “no”. She was having too much fun with me to switch. But, I had previously remembered that day only with a great deal of shame, around my weight, and it was driving my anxiety about this upcoming trip, without me even knowing it.
Ellen explained to me that it was as if I had an old program open and running in my brain. It was affecting how my brain was working in prep for this new trip, even though I was not even aware that that old program and others like it were open and impacting me today. We closed that program, just like you can close an open program on a computer that’s having memory issues! It was so amazing!
While I was actually making the hike on the Camino, my weight was the furthest thing from my mind. I smiled as the initial part of my walk took me past an actual bubbling brook and the positive images and words Ellen and I created to represent this trip repeating in my brain.
The trip turned out to be more of EVERYTHING I could have imagined. More difficult, more wonderful, more solitary, and more grueling. I hiked 128.9 kilometers (80 miles) of the 133.6 Kilometer journey in the first 5 days, carrying a 19 pound pack. WHEW! The longest day was 32 Kilometers/19.2 miles with temperatures reaching 102 degrees! The final 5.5 hours of that day was UP a mountain side! I thought I would need a portable defibrillator!
I did pretty well physically though. I got some blisters, but they didn’t keep me from finishing. The steep up hills and down hills are tough on the knees; so I was VERY proud to have made it, unscathed!
Arriving in Santiago de Compostela was one of the most moving experiences of my adult life. The cathedral there is one of the most sacred places for Christians (next to the Vatican and Jerusalem). I was moved to tears just being there. I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t stop crying for 30 minutes.
99.9% of the people I met along the way were AWESOME; the food was great, the accommodations were much better than I’d imagined (I was lucky to go with someone who’d made the journey before). Never has a vacation left me so depleted of negativity, spiritually energized and renewed–and grateful to be alive! I gained a different sort of perspective on the world and my place in it. I let go of all the trivial things that used to get me emotionally fired up and I pray I am able to continue to see the best in people and circumstances around me and in myself.
Ellen had always told me that healthy bodies come in all sizes and shapes. I now really deeply understand what she meant. I love my body; all size 16/18 of it! I thank God for my strong legs, healthy body, and fabulous curves. I saw lots of seemingly fit and thin people of all ages who were not able to finish the journey due to severe blisters on their feet, knee problems, sunburns, even broken bones from a fall. Carrying a bit more weight did not keep me from my destination, my journey; nor was it even important.
When I got back home, on the way to work, I turned on the radio in my car. The first conversation I heard was about what to eat for breakfast to be thin. It seemed so silly to me, I had to immediately turn it off.
Today, I fuel my body healthfully, work hard, and enjoy every moment of the day. I can’t stop smiling. When I talk about the trip to my family and friends, I am still moved to tears. I will never loathe my body or wish I were skinny, again, or step on a scale to help me assess my worth. Oddly, my clothes are fitting better every day. There’s that law of attraction again.
I encourage anyone who might read this to honestly love yourself and don’t postpone your life’s activities until the scale reads the magic number you’ve been longing for. I worked hard to get here (Ellen will tell you that’s so), but the destination is so worth the journey. I am so very grateful to Ellen Shuman for her wise counsel, innovative thinking, and ability to cut through the muck. Her use of this self-hypnosis technique with me was precisely what I needed to clear the old memory out, along with the entrenched and false emotions tied to it. I made room for some fabulous new ones!
Ellen Shuman is a pioneer in the field of binge eating disorder treatment; a Coach who specializes in helping people overcome binge eating, binge eating disorder, emotional eating, compulsive eating, and food addiction. She is the founder of A Weigh Out Life Coaching & Members’ Circle, Acoria Binge Eating Disorder Treatment (1993-present). She is a Past President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (2011/2012), and Co-Founder of the Academy for Eating Disorders Special Interest Group on “Health at Every Size”, email@example.com, 513-321-4242.