Gorgeous autumn shades lined the two lane road leading to 176 Lassiter Homestead. As I pulled down the windy entrance road to the Carolina House, my heart skipped a beat. Yes, I was finally returning home, if only for an afternoon. It was a picture perfect day of clear blue skies, much like my first day back in December 2010. I parked my car and sat for a moment, allowing myself a minute to take it all in. It might be hard for some to understand why this place is so special to me. After all, it is an eating disorder treatment facility. But that is just it, the Carolina House is not a ‘facility,’ it is a home. It was my home and it will always be my home.
As I walked up to the yellow house, I spotted a young woman snuggled in a blanket on the front porch.
“You’re McCall. I recognize you from Facebook,” the young woman said.
“I am and I recognize you, as well,” I replied.
Over the past year many CH women and other recovery warriors have friended me on Facebook. There is a special bond there, especially that of the Carolina House sisterhood. I climbed the porch steps and sat down next to her. Not only did I recognize her, I also knew the heartache in her story. She explained how ‘they put her back in residential.’ Tears welled in my eyes as we talked and she shared about a special locket around her neck. I was in awe of this extraordinary and resilient woman in front of me. What courage and strength she had to do whatever it took to find recovery, even if on this particular afternoon she was having trouble seeing it.
After we talked I began to unload my car and my mind wandered back to earlier that day. I spent the morning at Veritas Collaborative, another outstanding eating disorder facility in Durham for adolescents ages 10-19. I spoke there and had the honor to meet their brave patients. I was blown away, not only by the state-of-the-art facility, but by the heart and passion of the staff working there. They reminded me very much of my Carolina House family. However, it was the young patients who truly left an imprint on my heart.
Throughout my talk, I noticed a young redhead listening intently. She did not ask any questions like many of the other patients. She sat quietly in her chair with her feet tucked under her, snuggled in a sweater and big scarf. When our time together was finished all of the girls rushed to give me a hug. There are no words to describe the feeling of being inundated by a nation of tween and teen hugs. My eyes welled with tears and I couldn’t help but think of their childhood innocence that had been robbed by this wretched illness. As the young girls began to clear out, there stood the ten year old redhead waiting patiently for her hug. I knelt down and grabbed her hands. Her big green eyes looked at me as I said, “Hang in there and trust in your team and the people around you. You are so very brave.” With that, she wrapped her arms around me and held on for what seemed like forever. I did not want to let her go. At this point there was no stopping my tears and as they streamed down my face. I couldn’t help but think, how do these children not see what I see? How do they not look in a mirror and see the precious beings that they are? Sadly, I knew the answer because I once looked through the same distorted mirror.
But it isn’t just those suffering with an eating disorder who can’t see what others see. Just a day before at Southern Smash: Carolina, I met countless women who suffered from those same shattered images. You do not need a chart labelled with an eating disorder diagnostic code to understand the agony of being at war with your body. The women of UNC were ready to break that distorted mirror and see themselves for the wonderful women that they were. I was so moved as one of my young Smash Ambassadors pulled her scale out her backpack ready to smash away the notion that her worth was tied to a number. Yes, she and countless other brave SMASHers are the reason I do what I do. I simply show up with sledgehammers and scales, they bring the heart and passion to change, not just their lives, but the lives of others around them.
Warm sunshine beamed down as I sat on the Carolina House lawn prepping for the Smash. I sat quietly, soaking in every moment and observing those around me. It is funny because it seems like so long ago that I lived in the yellow house, but at the same time it feels like yesterday. I can still feel that knot in my stomach as I remember waking up every morning and looking at my distorted reflection in the mirror. Post-it notes lined the mirror with messages telling me I was beautiful and loved and worth recovery. Bullshit, I used to think. I felt destined to live in a place where all I saw was ugly and mediocre. What a difference three years (and a lot of therapy and work) make.
I have shared my story countless times, but standing before my Carolina House family this time was different. I stood strong and proud, not because I have all the answers or because life is perfect. I stood tall because I have accepted and come to love my ‘imperfections,’ but I no longer consider them imperfections. My mirror is no longer clouded with my eating disorder. My mirror is streak free and I can finally see what others saw all along. Telling my story this time was obviously full circle and surreal, but moreover it solidified my footing along this path and the mission I am on.
Words will never do justice the raw emotions that occurred at the Carolina House SMASH. I, myself, am still having trouble labeling all of the emotions I felt as the patients smashed every scale to complete dust. From the treatment staff to the patients, there was not a single dry eye. Tears poured down my face as I watched on. I cried for these women who have lost so much to their eating disorders. I cried for the young girls at Veritas whose childhoods were robbed. I cried for the young redhead who hugged me so tightly just hours before. I cried for the young college woman who confessed her secret struggles to me the day before. I cried for the lost soul that I once was, for the years and memories stolen by my eating disorder. And mostly, I cried thinking of the magnitude of what I had overcome.
I continue on my mission to help others SMASH those shattered images and see what is real and true inside them. I SMASH for every Tarheel woman who opened her heart to the power of vulnerability and authenticity. I SMASH for the red-headed child who deserves to see what I see in her. I SMASH for every recovery warrior. I SMASH for the young woman on the Carolina House porch. I SMASH for her dear friend pictured in her locket. I SMASH for my entire CH family. I SMASH for my family and for my son so he can grow up knowing he is worthy and loved just the way he is. And most of all…I SMASH for me.
Who will you SMASH for?