It’s my party and I’ll be who I want to

Since early childhood, an eating disorder had prevented Karyn from having fun on her birthday. But, with her 60th approaching, fear gave way to freedom. Read on.

By Karyn Braveheart 

This is my party. This is my day. This is my chance to say what l want to say in person to people who have been there for me at pivotal points in my life.

Ever since I remember, I was too frightened to speak. I remember comments like “Why doesn’t she talk?” and “Has the cat got your tongue?” I was hearing-impaired as well, but there was a fear of being noticed, being watched, being seen and being heard. This meant I was a lonely, shy, one-friend-at-a-time person. School was a nightmare and the teachers gave up on me saying I was a daydreamer and didn’t want to be a part of anything. One teacher told my mother that if I didn’t come out of my shell I would never get anywhere in this world. Others had hopes for me that when I started working or when I got to a certain age l would be different, but I was already different in so many ways. I lived with a fear that was crippling my body and my spirit.

A Sunday schoolteacher’s smile

I was under constant high expectations to be someone I was not, and by the age of 12, I believed everyone had given up on me. Then, the smallest thing gave me a tiny bit of hope to hold onto.

My Sunday school teacher smiled at me. She was nice to me. She had a kind heart and a strong faith. I was at an impressionable age, but also vulnerable. This Sunday school teacher was there for me every Sunday, and at girls’ club on Thursday nights. I wanted to tell her how much l wanted to be a good Christian like her, so l wrote to her.

The amazing thing for me was she wrote back to me. That first letter was the beginning of 49 years of letters and poetry shared with her. What was it about her that helped me through the trauma of my childhood? It was her smile. It was so full of love. I didn’t know if she loved me, but I hoped that she did. My teacher and her husband always commented that I was a good writer, that my poetry was “so good.”  I believed them. If anyone knew, they did. Over the years, they would save my life many times through their love and encouragement and prayers.

Drawing strength from love in all its forms

Trust was a big issue for me, but along the way I began to meet other people when I was desperately needing something. I didn’t know what that “something” was, but it came to me when I was at my lowest. Each time, I had to draw on my own courage to allow myself to be helped.

It was always worth it. I knew the smile of love. I found out what generosity was: “giving and expecting nothing in return.” I often felt undeserving of anything, so I had to learn to receive from the people who cared about me, even when I believed I had nothing to give back. It wasn’t always material things, but more it was their time, their willingness to sit in silence with me and not give up on me.

The power of unconditional love

What these “angels” told me was the opposite to what my eating disorder told me. They didn’t understand what I was going through. They were not all there at the same time, but they all had one key thing in common, and this was love from the heart. As the years went on, I remember even while I was in the hospital there would be one nurse, or one cleaning lady, or one stranger who would be there in my times of need. Most of all, the friends I have gathered along my journey, like my Sunday school teacher and others who believed in me, are still here for me. Through them, I have discovered and learned the meaning of true friendship, unconditional love, respect, and trust.

Faith is believing in something you hope for but cannot see

On the 30th of July 2017 I turned sixty. I decided with the help from a lovely friend living nearby to make this the most special birthday ever. I had one celebration for family, but I planned another for the following week, inviting all of the people who believed in me and had been there for me over the years. These people had proven to me that when there seemed to be no hope, a small thing like a smile could show the way. Their constant small expressions of love and care kept me alive and instilled faith in me. I had to believe in something I had hoped for but could not see, I began to believe in me.

It’s my party and I will invite who I want to

I never thought I would be brave enough to meet again with even one of these people, yet for my sixtieth I excitedly made and posted twelve invitations. I kept saying to myself, “it does not matter if nobody comes,” yet I felt happy. The important thing was I had invited them, and had told them why. I was celebrating my freedom and their part in making this possible.

Replies came in: “I’ll be there with bells on,” “I have booked my flight,” “I’m honored to be invited,” “Yes, I’ll be there,” “I won’t miss it for the world.” I felt blown away with every reply and overjoyed at this outcome.

Everyone was thanking me for the invitation, but not only that they were accepting, they were coming!  Fear gave way to new feelings. I felt joy.  Excitement. Happiness.

My real voice is set free

The restaurant table was booked for twelve, and what a gathering we had. I continued to surprise myself for how far I had come. I had a voice. A voice never heard by most of these friends, except in writing. For years, the written word had been my only way of communicating. Now, however, the voice from my inner, true bravehearted-self was released. My real voice was free. For the first time I could smile, hug, speak, and reveal the real me.

This gathering of friends I call angels was amazing. They all gelled as if they had known each other for years. It was a wonderful day. A birthday cake with my name Karyn spelt with a ‘y’ meant much to me. Surrounded by the love and support of my friends,  I also felt free to share in eating this cake for the first time. Most of all, I wanted to make a speech, so I stood up and gave a little testimony of how each person had come into my life at a crucial time and had impacted my life ever since.

Anyone can help heal the soul with love and kindness

It doesn’t have to be professionals alone who can help to make you better, it can be anyone at all. Anyone who loves you or shows you kindness can lead to life changing and life saving events that bring healing to the soul. The love of people who cared enabled me to be able to say at the age of sixty: “It’s my party today and l can be who I want to.” The love that flowed around the table and filled the room at my party showed me that everyone has a story. Love was flowing from heart to heart and healing was taking place for each person there, and this was all happening because I had decided to give myself a celebration of how far I have come. I did it. My party was a gift from my heart, and turned out to be a party for all and a day we will always remember.

A beautiful story of faith, belief and patience

“Why did my party go so well?” I asked my loved friend. “Because of YOU,” she said.

Loved back to life, imperfectly perfect, I’m getting there. Because of the people who chose to believe in me and were patient, knowing one day they would hear my voice, today I’m able and free to pay that same love forward to others.

About Karyn (in her own words): I am Karyn, mother to three sons, three daughter-in-laws and grandmother to five grandsons. I have had an eating disorder along with anxiety, depression and multiple fears and phobias. Now diagnosed with PTSD, I am trying to live as independently as possible, and I have a new friend in my puppy Cavachon, Zoe, to keep me on my toes. I love writing, poetry, and art, and I am working on the second draft of my first book. My passion is to see everyone find peace in their hearts, and to get to know themselves through self-love and being your own best friend and guide.

June Alexander

About June Alexander

I have written nine books about eating disorders since my recovery (my “reconnection with true self”) from anorexia nervosa and other long term mental health challenges in 2006. In 2017, I graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy (Creative Writing). My contribution to the eating disorder field was recognised at the 2016 Academy for Eating Disorders International Conference in San Francisco where I was awarded the Meehan/Hartley Award for Public Service and Advocacy. I am currently a co-chair of the NEDC Steering Committee Evidence of Experience Group, a foundation steering committee member of the annual World Eating Disorders Action Day, and an Advisory Panel member for F.E.A.S.T.

All articles by June Alexander

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