It's been a hot second. Sorry, been busy breathing.
Breath. Born into this world, breath is the very first thing we ever do. It’s autonomic and something you typically don't think about. It’s not something that needs to take up our headspace because it is so intuitive, it just happens. For me growing up, the act of breathing was on the forefront of my mind constantly. From the age of 2, I suffered from malnutrition as a result of improper absorption, I had chronic anemia, severe allergies and asthma, I lacked the capacity to breathe deeply because of this. I feared my breath, because I knew what it felt like not to. The first moments of my life that I can recall are the ones where my mom cradled and rocked me in her arms, trying so hard to keep me upright and calm until my dad got home from work so they could take me to the hospital again. I remember the nebulizers, the oxygen tents, the IVs, the times I cuddled with my brother in my hospital bed.
The energy and zest for life that I had as a young child was sullied by the constant shortness of breath. I played and enjoyed the pleasures of my childhood, but early on I was deeply aware of my limitations. I couldn’t run as far or as fast as the other kids, I couldn’t go to friends’ houses because their pets exacerbated my illness so much, I had to be so careful not to get sick because my recovery would take so much longer. I was on so many combinations of puffers and steroid medications that my body would eventually bloat, my weight going up exponentially every year.
My eating habits were out of control; I did not have a good handle on hunger/satiety cues with my sicknesses. Early on I was so underweight and malnourished that protein shakes and force-feeding was my life. My mom told me years ago that it took me four hours to eat one meal, which meant I was literally eating all day at the hospital. Once my appetite increased by 6-7 years old, I was ravenous! Food was a renewable resource in a Filipino family and eating is constantly encouraged, but not making good habits early on, it made it difficult for me to understand when my body was ready to stop eating. I was worried that if I stopped eating, I would get sick again. I thought my body was wrong and weak when I felt full. So I would eat until it was hard to breathe… oh the irony.
My adolescence was a constant hellscape of fear and pain. My mental health was deeply linked with my relationship with food. I was bubbly, friendly, intelligent, confident, social. I was studious and accomplished from the exterior. A façade that maintained the belief that nothing could hurt me, nothing could touch me and I was strong, dependable and an indefatigable defender of my friends and family. Inside, I was deeply hurt and exhausted. It’s work to smile when you don’t mean it. I felt threatened and abandoned by my community of peers and adults that would knit pick at my appearance and behavior no matter how bubbly, intelligent or affable I was. The only dependable, kind, belly warming and heart filling entity I could turn to was food. My favorite time of day was 4:00PM after school, when I had a thirty minute window to gorge on whatever was in the house before anyone came home.
To become better for everyone else, and hopefully myself in the long run, I started purging. It helped me rid myself of the unnecessary weight in my belly from eating too much. It helped me gain some semblance of control. In a space where I was taught to be seen and not heard, to be the best at everything you set out to do, to believe in something you wholeheartedly don’t, to permit others into your personal space to your dismay, my eating disorder was a safe place where I could bridge the gap between letting go of what is and mastering the small routines in my life.
Deep Bottom Hold
By the time I entered nursing school my eating disorder was a weekly regime that just came naturally. It was easy to hide and I thought, socially acceptable. If it didn’t impede on my academics, love life, friendships and the little time I had carved out to see my family, it was fine. Through university I remained pretty sedentary and focused more on art, academics and the drinking scene of college life. While some of my friends were losing weight because they couldn’t afford to eat, I was gaining it. Junk food tastes that much better when it’s cheap. School was stressful and relationships were hard, but eating was always so comforting. It felt good and it was easy to control the outcome.
Despite my issues, I was continuing to show up for the people that I loved. I drove at weird hours to hold space for someone in a dark place. I took phone calls at 3am because a friend needed an ear. I went to places I didn’t necessarily want to go because someone wanted me there. I was tired, I couldn’t sleep and breathing was at its worst. I was on my steroid puffers twice a day and as needed, I was sedentary. With all my compounding issues I was heavy with weight on my body and in my heart. My cup was empty, my resources shot. My need to be good at everything I set out to do, to believe in something I wholeheartedly don’t, the validation I needed by permitting others into my personal space was insatiable, deafening. I needed to be everything to everyone because I was no one to myself.
When I was 19, in a deep, dark place where friendships were crumbling, death was looming and suffering was all around, I sought counseling. I was so extraordinarily resistant to being poked and prodded for information that I didn’t know the answers to. I was given workbooks and assignments to hand in weekly, it was so bizarre! I thought unloading my shit would mean less to carry and therefore less work to do (Surprise! It’s just the opposite). I eventually softened to the idea of airing my dirty laundry, I was determined to tackle my issues to be able to care for others, not the other way around. It was not easy, anytime I attempted to resurface and bring my head above water, another wave of shame would push my head deeper. I was grateful that my supporters were quick to notice my lapse and bring me back. The beautiful thing about this unraveling process was not only the healing, but the way my friends and family started showing up for ME; and as the process continued for the following years, I was able to learn how to prioritize myself and be there for myself in my times of suffering.
Breath of Fresh Air
It’s been almost ten years since I started the recovery process, my struggle never linear. I started taking better care of my mental health and rectifying my behaviors through cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga and nutritional support. I was in and out of counseling over the years, particularly when I noticed my patterns shifting or I felt threatened or attacked. It was also imperative for me to get the physical weight off. While it was initially discouraged by my physician and my counselor, my body needed it. I was still sporadically suffering from breathing issues and wanted to be off medication. I wanted to move more freely and have my physicality match the spaciousness in my mind, and so I went on a short, strict plan to rid myself of excess weight. Breathing became deeper and so much easier. My capacity to hold deeper, excitable energy became larger and it allowed for my yoga practice and CBT to enter and sit in a safer vessel.
There was increased coherence in the way my mind and body were operating and over these last few years I have finally realized the suffering I was physically inflicting on my body. When you lived with so much pain for so long you don’t realize you have it until it’s gone. The joint pain disappeared, my capacity to breathe so much better, but there have been so many little traumas that I will have to continue to nurture. My tooth enamel is still recovering and with appropriate supplementation my gut flora and immune system are back on point.
Deep Breathing Vitality
Enter the year of COVID-19. My passion for certain aspects of my career had already been waning, my life already transitioning and here came 2020 to shake things up further. With the stress of lockdowns, rising death tolls and states of panic over depleting toilet paper stocks, I found myself slipping back into old coping strategies. It was gradual, unnoticeable at first. My appetite was greater and my mood was unstable. I was feeling low, and gradually stopped doing the things that I love, and eventually all I wanted to do was lay and eat. What. The. Heck. I thought I had fixed this, I put in the work, why are we back here?! I had to nip it in the butt right away but wasn’t convinced that counseling was going to do the trick this time.
After weeks of research, and Dr. Googling my sorrows I knew I needed a different approach and decided to join the Food Freedom Journey through Hungry for Happiness for additional support. My nerves for online group support were immediately pacified by Samantha Skelly’s recount of her own struggles, meeting the other mentors and seeing and meeting women that were just as cracked and bent as I was. I so struggled with being seen; I didn’t want my camera on, ever. Being heard was terrifying so I couldn’t even type responses. Private meetings with my support person or my mentor were sticky and uncomfortable. I now know that I was growing; we grow in discomfort, we expand from the mud. I did the modules, I paid attention to the calls and the workbooks. I was present. But nothing has been more profound, more deeply healing and transformational than my introduction and eventual practice of breathwork.
My initial experience with breathwork was freaking terrifying. I was so used to doing a minimum amount of breathing to sustain life, so naturally my first experience with breathwork was a shock to the system. Like my first time in counseling, I was super hesitant, resistant and deeply afraid to be an active participant in this experience; afraid that I would not get anything out of it but also afraid that I would. Integrative breathwork was vital in order for me to start inviting this level of wellness and relaxation into my body. It wasn’t accustomed to dropping into a space of sheer vulnerability. Once I invited meditative breathwork into my practice I felt like I was unlocking doors to memories, hurt and deep wisdom I have ignored or forgot for so long. I don’t think my mind, my body or my heart would have been ready for this experience ten years ago. I am now realizing that breathwork is inviting deeper healing that counseling, social support, medication and nutrition just can’t touch.
It's ironic that the year I found my breath was the same year we were plagued by a pandemic that would take the breathing room out of so many lives. What has been my story for so long are only chapters of the more intense and crazy beautiful life I now wish to live. I see the deeper truths, the motives, the hurt, the trauma, the sparkle, the joy, the zest and the juiciness of my life and of those around me with more clarity and compassion. I have lost physical and emotional weight. That heaviness is no longer a burden for now. I know that this is a continual process but I am here for it. I am present, I am ready. I am unraveling and I am in the process of being better. And, for the first time in my whole life… I can finally breathe.
If you wish to learn more about Breathwork and how I can support you in your own journey of unshedding and relaxation - please email or DM me. I would love to connect!