As the Founder of Recovery Warriors, I’m well versed in the recovery process. I’ve lived and breathed it myself, and spent nearly a decade of my life helping millions of other warriors through it. Little did I know that my journey of going through eating disorder recovery was just the beginning of a much deeper healing adventure. In this podcast (or post if you’re more of a reader), I open up and share about the intense and heavy inner terrain I traversed over the past seven years in order to claim my innate self-worth and radiance.
My intention for getting personal here is two-fold:
1. I want to encourage any of you who are feeling like you’ve been at your recovery for so long and are still not fully healed to not give up and to not lose hope. Healing is not a one and done event, it’s a multilayered process. In fact, if you’re doing it right, you continue to courageously break open the self and ego as a means for deeper exploration and integration.
2. My second intention for sharing is liberation. To own my story from a place of acceptance and love, not judgement and fear. This frees me up to be more in alignment with my authentic self which is essential for me in continuing my creative work and service to all you warriors.
Over the past 7 years, I’ve been private about my healing process because I was still very much going through the center of the storm. Now on the other side of the storm’s cleansing power, I have greater vitality, purpose and passion and a new perspective to talk about my journey from a place of wisdom, not from my wounds.
I can happily say that I’m radiantly alive. I’m in the best emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health of my life. And it all was a result of me not giving up on myself, trusting the process, and doing the heavy healing work.
Which leads me to my story… (you can read it here or listen to the audio version on Apple Podcasts or Spotify)
The story opens five years ago on Jun 18th, 2016 the day of my 32nd birthday. I was head over heals in love, waiting for a gold moonstone engagement ring encircled with diamonds to be slipped onto my finger by my handsome Johnny Depp look-a-like boyfriend. Johnny Depp circa 1990, not Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean just to clarify.
Earlier in the year he got accepted into a PhD program in Behavioral Psychology in Boston and it felt like Heaven on Earth to be asked to move across the country with him. I sacrificially sold off my prized surfboards and carefully bubble wrapped my belongings into boxes anticipating this next exciting chapter of leaving California.
In a blink of an eye plans changed. “We” turned to “Me” and “I” was no longer invited into His future. There was no birthday cake or confetti to celebrate the day. Just my dream shattered into millions of tiny little pieces as I wept on the floor. With no lease signed or place to move to, I knew I had to go somewhere with my packed boxes, bruised ego, and broken heart.
In the language of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, my break-up was my “call to adventure” and from here forward everything was unknown.
I dug up a clip from a podcast I did 2 weeks after the breakup so you can hear where I was at that point in time.
“And as many of you know, I kind of dropped a little hint on the last show that I recently broke up with my boyfriend. And this was a man I was getting ready to move across the country to Boston with in the fall. It has been a couple of weeks since we split, but this week is when I really faced reality on a whole new level. And it definitely was the deepest pain I’ve experienced yet and a lot of tears and a lot of fear, and just just a lot of intense intense emotions. I do just want to ask you, warrior, dear listener, to please be compassionate with me as I navigate my course when the landscape around me is in flux. And I find my new home because, you know, my course has definitely changed.
I’ve personally lived in over 25 houses in my life. And I know I can survive another move. It’s definitely within my ability. And this one in particular may take a little while. I’m confident things will get better. I honestly, know, they will. The visual I keep holding in my head that keeps coming to me is this big river. I’m on the banks of it. And I know, I need to jump across. Because I really do want to get to the other side. I know that that’s part of my path. And in order to do so I need to take a few steps back. So I can gather all the momentum possible to jump and catapult myself forward to the other side. And right now I’m really just being compassionate with myself. Knowing that steps back often are what drive you to make big step forward. And that goes for you as well with recovery. A lot of times it is it’s two steps forward one step back. And to not really fear the steps back because they’re part of the process.” (July 2016)
It’s so cool to look back and see that I did not doubt the power of my heart to heal. This trust was essential for what came next in my journey.
After spending months traveling around visiting my best friends, I followed an intuitive pull to move to Boulder, Colorado. To apply for a business accelerator program called Techstars. I had high hopes of creating the next Spotify of mental health educational content called Warriorfy. (With a name like that thank God it never worked out ?).
But the deeper truth unbeknownst to my career driven ego is I moved there to heal.
Through a series of magical synchronicities I ended up calling an adorable cottage tucked back in the rocky mountains along a gentle winding river my home. It was just me, the bears, mountain lions, deer, and my beloved dog Ona.
The solitude, scenery, and grounding connection to nature was exactly what my soul needed. The abrupt and totally unexpected loss of my relationship initiated a cataclysmic opening of my childhood wounds that I wasn’t prepared for.
Like the opening of Pandora’s Box, years of repressed and buried hurt, abuse, pain and trauma came pouring out. I was flooded with GRIEF.
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break. -William Shakespeare
Grief for having an emotionally detached and disengaged Mom who never experienced healthy attachment herself and was therefore incapable of giving me the same. Grief for having to be more of a parent than a daughter as she struggled through life with substance abuse, an eating disorder, and low self-worth.
My whole life I’ve deeply longed for a Mother’s warm loving embrace, nourishment, validation, and empathy.
Grief for never feeling like I had a Dad. Losing him once to a bitter divorce amidst bankruptcy when I was 6, twice to a cross country move and his new family when I was 10, thrice to his requested disownment of me when I was 21. And finally to his sudden early death with no chance to make amends or ever say goodbye when I was 24.
My whole life I’ve deeply longed for a Father’s protection, support, guidance, and encouragement.
Grief for Little Me. Little Jess who had no control over what she witnessed and the pain and confusion she experienced. I mourned the love, trust, and connection she never felt. The adoration she never received. All the ways she internalized she was broken because she was not good enough or wanted. How she had to survive by hiding her shame through an armor of perfectionism, unhealthy food behaviors, and extreme self-reliance.
Overall my warrior friend, I felt deep sorrow for the shame I have been coated in like a thick tar for most of my life.
My understanding of self-worth changed dramatically in this time. Prior I thought it was another word for self-esteem. But there is a big difference. Self-worth is the internal sense of being good enough and worthy of love and belonging from others. Self-esteem on the other hand relies on external factors such as successes and achievements to define worth. Self-worth is recognizing ‘I am greater than all of those things.’ It is a deep knowing that I am of value, that I am unconditionally lovable as is.”
Self-worth is the stable foundation on which we grow into our fullest expression of ourselves. It is not an elusive thing we find. It’s already within us. We are all inherently worthy. It’s about removing all the layers of shame and societal scripts that hold us back from seeing our worth, owning our worth, and embodying our worth.
I had a lot of layers of shame to remove and the fact that I developed an eating disorder comes as no surprise. For me, an eating disorder was one of the ways I coped with my childhood trauma. Leading trauma expert Dr. Peter Levine writes in his book Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body, “trauma is trauma no matter what caused it. To really understand this, we need to hone in on the fact that people can be traumatized by any event they perceive (consciously or unconsciously) to be life-threatening. When it comes to trauma, the critical factor is the perception of threat and the incapacity to deal with it.”
Dr. Peter Levine goes on to say that, “trauma is about loss of connection – to ourselves, to our bodies, to our families, to others, and to the world around us. This loss of connection is often hard to recognize, because it doesn’t happen all at once. It can happen slowly, over time, and we adapt to these subtle changes sometimes without even noticing them. These are the hidden effects of trauma, the ones most of us keep to ourselves. We may simply sense that we do not feel quite right, without ever becoming fully aware of what is taking place; that is the gradual undermining of our self-esteem, self-confidence, feelings of well-being, and connection to life. Our choices become limited as we avoid certain feelings, people, situations, and places. The result of this gradual constriction of freedom is the loss of vitality and potential for the fulfillment of our dreams.”
I’ve been very angry when I think back to my eating disorder treatment and the fact that it didn’t have a trauma informed approach. At the same time, when I sink into the reality, I wasn’t equipped with the resources or coping skills to deal with it then. I needed to be in a stronger place mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually to address it. However, through my hard won recovery from an eating disorder I learned the crucial skills of self-compassion and emotional awareness. Skills that were absolutely necessary to navigate my dark night of the soul or what my greatest spiritual teacher Dr. Carl Jung calls the “night sea journey”.
During the night sea journey, we begin to confront our disowned or suppressed shadow. And let go of the attachment to our outward identity. When we start to let go of our outer layers, we become more deeply acquainted with our full selves, our whole selves.
Here in the mountains of Colorado, coincidentally an hour a way from my Dad’s old apartment, the very last place I saw him alive, I was able to strip myself bare and fully access the depths of my childhood loss, abuse, neglect, and grief.
I walked along that flowing river and cried everyday for 7 months straight.
No joke, I cried everyday. Some days a tear or two welled up and trickled down my face. Other days full on snotty hyperventilating heart-wrenching downpours.
My tough exterior finally broke. The armor came off.
As the golden Aspen leaves fell from the trees in the crisp Fall air, I cried. ?
As the river froze over and snow covered my path and the cold air stung my lungs in the Winter, I cried. ?
As the yellow and red tulips triumphantly poked their heads from the soil in the Spring, I cried. ?
It was like a dam broke and tears came rushing out. It was the most cathartic experience of my life. Every tear began to dissolve a little of the shame. Each tear was a droplet of letting go. The tears were essential for me to break into the next level of intimacy and vulnerability with innocent and tenderhearted, “Little Jess”. The little girl within me who felt alone, helpless, afraid, misunderstood, unsafe, rejected, abandoned, unwanted, and unloved.
My spirituality grew 1000 fold in this time. Thanks to wonderful teachers like Brené Brown, Pema Chodron, Kristin Neff, and Caroline Myss I knew I was not alone in my suffering. I sensed my humanity and humility. In this space of suffering I allowed myself to be fully held by God. I learned to let the Divine take the lead. It became a sacred dance of surrender. With each step my intuition become increasingly more powerful. Tarot and oracles cards became my gateway to access spiritual guidance. My love for astrology deepened as I saw the narrative of my life unfold in the perfect Divine timing of the cosmos.
My break-up was a blessing, it provided me the catalyst for profound awakening – it opened a portal to emotional and spiritual transformation.
When Summer came, I was ready for the next phase of my night sea journey. I packed up my things and moved to Austin, Texas. The city my Mom has called home for the past 12 years.
Never did I imagine that this California surfer girl would end up down in the good Ole South in the heart of Texas. I have been here for 4 years now and am beyond happy living in the home of my dreams and stand up paddle boarding on the lake down the straight.
Living less than 2 miles away from my Mom has been hugely transformational in healing the unconscious power this relationship has had over me. Layer by layer I cut away the bonds that held me to the past by forgiving, releasing, and accepting.
Layer by layer I’ve released resentment toward my mother and put aside blame of my father. I see my grief as having two parts. The first was acknowledging loss. The second was my remaking. Remaking myself stronger from the inside out.
Leading trauma expert Dr. Peter Levine offers a gentle gradual approach to healing trauma in his book Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body. He builds a strong case that people who experience trauma are cut-off from their bodies, therefore body sensations, rather than intense emotion are the key to healing trauma. He says “rebuilding connection is really the key to all of this work, because trauma is about loss of connection, first to the body and self, and second to others and the environment.“
My remaking brought me a whole new level of meaning to the words embodiment and self-care. Self-care is not something that is nice to do or I should do. Self-care is a non-negotiable. When we place it at the center of our life everything around us improves. When we make daily decisions based on the value of self-care instead of reacting to all the outside forces that keep us away from self-care, our paradigm of ourselves, our self-esteem, our self-confidence, and our integrity are profoundly shifted in positive directions.
Self-care is not something that is nice to do or I should do. Self-care is a non-negotiable. When we place it at the center of our life everything around us improves.
In his book Yoga and The Quest for the True Self Stephen Cope says, “as we begin to re-experience a visceral reconnection with the needs of our bodies, there is a brand new capacity to warmly love the self. We experience a new quality of authenticity in our caring, which redirects our attention to our health, our energy, and our time management. This enhanced care for the self arises spontaneously and naturally, not as a response to a “should.” We are able to experience an immediate and intrinsic pleasure in self-care.”
I’ve found great success in establishing radiant holistic health, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually when I focus on the following 8 modes of self-care:
- Inhabiting my physical body and it’s senses through meditation, yoga, dancing, massage, baths, cooking, and cleaning.
- Finding my voice through therapy, improv comedy, journaling, singing, and podcasting.
- Increasing self-awareness of my emotions and bodily sensations through mindfulness.
- Tending to my inner world and spiritual self through analyzing my dreams, praying, and connecting to my intuition.
- Letting go of workaholism and giving myself space to rest, be creative, and have fun.
- Practicing gratitude and celebrating small wins every day.
- Maintaining healthy boundaries by knowing my needs and advocating for them.
- Connecting with communities that bring me consistency, accountability, inspiration, and encouragement.
As I focused on my own personal remaking over the past 5 years, I’ve been full of energy and enthusiasm to help other warriors focus on theirs. When I moved to Austin I started an education company called True Warrior. I envisioned it being a learning community for self-empowerment and spiritual growth. Given I’d been growing Recovery Warriors for 4 years and it already had existing roots and reach, it was natural for me to focus exclusively on eating disorders. I created 19 programs and 300 hours of educational content to facilitate the eating disorder recovery process which is now called the School of Recovery operated through Recovery Warriors.
The most rewarding part for me has been the ability to provide connection and opportunities to heal in community like I’m doing right now with the Courage Club.
One thing I know for sure is we don’t heal ourselves by ourselves.
As Brené Brown so wisely puts it in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, “connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel, seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Kimberly, a member of our Courage Club, bravely shared her journey and wisdom inside our Support Circle. She said, “There is still so much grieving I need to do for all of the shame I hold in my body. Changing my heart and rewiring my tangled up brain will take a while. Yesterday I was kind of a mess. I brought all the shame to the surface. What this eating disorder has done to my soul and to those I love. I need to sit with it all. I have a quote that says, “Let us release ourselves from the pressure to immediately find the good in everything. Let us allow ourselves to feel the fullness of our grief, and also, feel the fullness of our joy whenever our hearts are ready.” I’m kind of at that point in recovery. I just need to grieve. To say this has been really hard. I need to be able to go back to many of my stories and forgive myself.”
All of us have unique stories in what led us into the darkness of an eating disorder and what ultimately leads us out. It doesn’t have to be trauma or a disconnected family like I shared today. But what I will say, I’ve yet to hear a recovery story that does not involve confronting the toxicity of shame and the importance of connecting to one’s inherent self-worth.
After years of drawing inward to heal, I’m flourishing from the inside out. I’ve made it through the darkness just as I did with an eating disorder. I’m no longer letting the shame of my family story hold me back from experiencing joy, love, and belonging. It doesn’t matter how my family shows up for me. What matter is how I show up for me.
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