Author: Val Berenshtein
The other day…
something quite extraordinary happened to me. I was sitting in my college dorm room, finishing up some homework that was not due until next week, when I stopped and just stared at the wall.
In front of my eyes, I saw the rawest reflection of myself that I have ever seen in the past – a reflection that showed a soul of misery, unhappiness, struggle and pain, yet also a soul of power, ability and worth.
Throughout the past five years…
however, the only reflection I saw was that of the negative: I had been suffering from anorexia nervosa, restrictive eating disorder, periods of bulimia, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideations all through high school; as little girl, I was bullied for my weight and appearance by peers and adults; in middle school, my best girl friend and I got into a fight – might I remark, over a boy! – and never mended our friendship. This broken friendship created such a void in my heart that I had not been able to fill it since.
I faced conflicts with my family, oftentimes feeling like nothing I did was ever praiseworthy or attention-granting. I would seldom have the men in my family – my father and my grandfather – attend my voice performances, which broke my heart over and over again.
In high school, a dark cloud came over me, afflicting me with a plethora of mental illnesses that I had never experienced or knew of before. It took a huge toll on me and my family that, to this day, I am working on mending.
I share all of this…
not to ask for pity or concern. I do not wish to be told that my life has been hard or that I have gone through a lot because, frankly, life circumstances are extremely subjective, and everyone goes through adversity.
The reason I am sharing this is because, for my entire life, I thought that there was nothing I could do to fix my struggles. I thought that I was weak and crippled and broken to the point where no amount of hot glue could put the pieces of my soul back together.
And, I held onto these thoughts of incapability. I sat with my pain and frequently took it out on the people around me. My family, especially my mother, was my biggest venue of anger-release. To her, I would cry and scream and blame the world around me for giving me this miserable life. I would question my ability to live free of anorexia and restrictive eating, often bringing up suicide and my desire for “a way out”.
During these 19 years of my life the girl that reflecting back at me through the mirror did not believe in the power of her own resilience and ability to take back her life. For 19 years, she saw no worth in herself, no power and no love. And, that girl became me, and I became ill. My life equated to unhappiness and misery and immobility because every day felt as cruel as the one before, and I was stuck.
But, sitting in my dorm room…
something within me shifted, and a lightbulb – dimmed from a lifetime of toxic, inadequate energy – turned on. It began glowing brighter and brighter the stiller I sat and the more I put my life in context of the greatness and beauty of the world.
Through it all, I saw that the only person in charge of deciding when I start living is me. I realized that I put my life, my happiness, my freedom and inner peace on hold because I equated them to the affirmations of others.
For years, the only questions I would ask myself were, would my actions, thoughts and behaviors be good enough for others to see me through a non-judgmental lens? Would saying one thing over another make someone like me more? Would allocating all of my time and energy into spending time with one person make him fall in love with me? Would my choices make me a worthier human being in the eyes of others?
Yes, years upon years of unhappiness – both conscious, as through high school and my first semester of college, and subconscious, as through my childhood – infiltrated my life and destroyed any bits of autonomy that I thought I had had.
Perhaps my reliance on others is the reason I developed anorexia and a bundle of other mental illnesses in the first place. Perhaps it is why I never felt comfortable in my skin. Perhaps it is why I was never able to make genuine friends and maintain those friendships.
I put these things in perspective for myself to assert that I did not want to live like this anymore.
So, on January 23, 2018…
I decided that I had had enough.
I decided that I am a worthy human being no matter what my beliefs, thoughts and actions are, no matter what I look like, no matter who I choose to be friends with or what activities I find enjoyable.
I decided that I deserve love – from myself and from another, the latter of which should be an equal and beautiful reciprocation from one person to the other. I deserve to live freely, to do whatever I want to do with my life no matter what anyone around me thinks or believes.
I decided that I deserve to find happiness – a happiness that is so whole and so fulfilling and so unquantifiably freeing that 100 years from now, when I am lying on my death bed, I can look back on my life and say, Wow, I lived the most amazing life!
is the beauty of life: our ability to craft it just as we want it to be.
Indeed, we cannot control circumstances that unexpectedly come up: a death of a loved one, a diagnosis of the flu, a last-minute cancelation that may leave us plan-less; however, these are the experiences, the incontrollable events, that give us all the more power to follow the path that both our life circumstances and our decisions lay out in front of us. It is our ability to make our own decisions, speak our own minds, and challenge ourselves with things that are uniquely challenging to each one of us that lead us to the places where we are meant to be, to the people who we are destined to meet and, most importantly, to happiness that is our right as human beings.
Through my recovery from restrictive eating disorders and my quest for self-worth, autonomy and inner freedom and peace, I look forward to finally finding the happiness that I, and every single human being on this planet, deserve to have.