You Look Like Gold To Me
Jennifer Hilton writes about a recent Come Alive at BridgePoint Centre for Eating Disorders in Milden, Saskatchewan and reflects on her ongoing process of personal alchemy.
I have been thinking about magic and how that is what I believe first drew me to The Haven. I remember thinking there was some sort of magic happening behind the scenes in the team rooms. I remember sitting in the dining room, watching the leader team disappear behind the door that I believed led to some special room. I wondered with intense curiosity. I wanted to know what was happening, how they were brewing up the magic that was happening in the session room. Witnessing people (and myself!) from start to end of program was a seemingly magical process of transformation – alchemy at work! I still believe this today and appreciate The Haven and my own dedication to following my wonder and becoming an Assistant Faculty member.
Recently, I had the opportunity to see magic happen in a circle outside of The Haven, at BridgePoint Centre for Eating Disorders, in Milden, Saskatchewan. Cathy McNally, Marlyn Farrell and myself were invited to lead a Come Alive for the staff of this centre that provides program options, rehabilitation, recovery and healing for people who are experiencing eating disorders. I had heard that several Haven faculty members had visited and taught there over the 18 year history of the centre and that BridgePoint had adopted some of The Haven’s ideas. I did not know that we would be meeting people at BridgePoint that have been part of the organization since the beginning as well as the many new faces that are now bringing new life to the centre. A rich cauldron filled with the old and new…and I remember thinking of the possibility for magic happening here! It was in this circle that my dear friend Marlyn shared this quote, in the context of the staff working together and creating their own magic. The quote inspired me to share some of my experience.
“It is your obligation to be witnessed doing the work of being yourself, to walk wide open in the world, untouched by the curses and hexes of, "you're supposed to be this" and "you should be that" ... when you are you in this way, the simple work of being yourself will become an invitation for others to take up the work of being themselves, and that's the highest magic of all: to be me in such a way that asks you to be you, and to be so truly you that I am obliged to really be me. — Andrew Foresthoefel
I was very warmed by the greeting we received at BridgePoint and their openness to what we were bringing. Working with the dedicated, loyal and caring staff of the centre, and offering them their own time to “Come Alive”, had me think of all the lives they touch in the work they do. They often spoke of magic too…the magic of what happens to people with disordered eating, when they come together, experience, and learn about themselves in a caring and safe environment.
I took some time to roam the halls of the centre, which was originally a hospital that has been carefully and lovingly converted into a working residency and training rooms. Upon entering, I was immediately drawn to the long hallway walls that are filled with beautifully crafted tiles, each one lovingly made by a BridgePoint participant. I was so drawn to a shiny gold one that said “You Look Like Gold To Me”. I stood there, took a breath, and immediately felt my tears, as I imagined the precious person who created this work of art. I imagined the person creating and seeing this tile as a mirror, reflecting a transformed image and perhaps even a forward focussed personal message of self-worth. I was not prepared for what happened next…when all of “me” flooded forward.
The me that, without ever knowing it, as a very young woman, developed her own version of disordered thinking about her own body and relationship with food. I remember having a conversation with a leader at The Haven and he asked me if I ever struggled with anorexia and I quickly responded with “Oh no, I am never skinny enough”. The words were out of my mouth before I could swallow what I really said. He gently reflected back to me and I felt my body sink. I have, for as long as I remember, had a fear of becoming fat, even when at times very thin, and have held a distorted body image, even up to now. I have gone through times of being obsessed with mirrors and avoiding mirrors at all costs. I have sworn to never weigh myself in fear of seeing something I don’t want to. I have not engaged in severe anorexic behaviour, and I certainly have experienced some of the thinking and resulting feelings.
I can look back and see the factors that contributed to my thinking pattern. I was picked on and verbally beaten down when I was going through adolescence, a time where I was more on the “pudgy” side. School kids were cruel and I was sensitive and took the name calling in like a sponge. No one ever knew how I was feeling about myself. I remember copious amounts of crying into my pillow. In my room, I also developed a relationship with the full-length mirror, which I was compelled to look in and find various ways to berate myself. It wasn’t too long ago that I caught myself doing that again and had a sudden surge of body-felt compassion for the severity of the internal messages I was running…and I did interrupt them this time! I continue to struggle, especially as this body of mine shows more of the passage of time. I admit, my clothing continues to be my barometer in determining how I feel about my body. If too tight, it’s time to diet, or exercise, or both. I have found ways to be with this pattern. I have a dear friend in my life that I have agreed to share these experiences with, to not hide or stuff down what arises. Movement continues to be my potion for transformation and is part of the magic I discovered at The Haven. When I am moving/dancing, I am free of the negative thinking and feel incredible joy and gratitude to have a body, no matter my weight or size.
I do have a potent elixir to shrink the internal and external “curses and hexes of, "you're supposed to be this" and "you should be that”. The recognition that I struggle, the growing self-compassion, and the support I have created in my relationships with my Haven friends.
I am on my life journey of “doing the simple work of being myself”, with others, and that is what The Haven offers, and in my mind, is “the highest magic of all”.
During my week at BridgePoint, with the echoes of my past and the focus in the present, working with the women of this incredible centre contributed to a very meaningful experience. I will always remember the beautiful shiny gold tile on the wall that invited me, and it will serve as a reminder to further uncover my own gold. I will never forget the magic these women created in their coming alive together! During the ending circle, as we breathed together, I met each person with soft eyes and thought to myself…You Look Like Gold to Me!