A Letter From The Brink Of A Relapse


For the past few years, I’ve made it a point to segregate the writings I’ve done as part of my advocacy and support work in the world of eating disorders from my personal blog. Recently, however, I learned that all of those writings inadvertently “disappeared” from the internet, when the blog I was contributing to was abruptly shut down.  I was heartbroken, in part because many of the writings were deeply personal and I’m told by those who read them were instrumental in helping those who’d “lost” or temporarily misplaced their voice share their struggles and their hearts with loved ones.  This is one of those pieces, which I happened to save, borne of conversations I had with someone fearful of having to tell her loved ones that she was struggling – again – and in desperate need of help.  The names, of course, have been changed, but the emotions seldom do.

“Just eat for God’s sake, for your sake – for our sake!”

Dear Mom, Dad, Husband, Brother, Sister, Friend,

I know you’re frustrated and angry that I’m struggling – AGAIN! Believe me, I am too, but I’m also terribly afraid – afraid of slipping back into the quicksand of this insidious disease, afraid of the darkness that I know is waiting for me if it succeeds in pulling me back in, if it is allowed to re-gain a foothold.

Most of all, I’m afraid of disappointing and hurting you – even more than I already have. I’m afraid that every new misstep and slip will be the proverbial straw that finally breaks the camel’s back, that this time when I reach out for your hand to give me a reason and the strength I need to pull myself out it won’t be there. You won’t be there.

That’s the part that’s unbearable to me. The disease is a tough enough adversary to fight with an army behind you, let alone when you’re alone. It’s doubly difficult when you’re saddled with guilt and shame, like I am (like most sufferers are) for having put so many others, especially those I love, through so much.

I wish I knew what to say. I wish I had words that could make you understand what it’s like to live with this disease, why I get stuck sometimes – why I stumble. The truth is: I don’t really understand it myself. There are, however, some things that are very clear to me that I want – actually, I need – you to know:

I’m committed to battling this disease until I beat it.

I’m grateful for all you’ve done and how patient you’ve been with me.

Your belief in me and in my ability to win this war matters – a lot.

I’ve never wanted or intended to cause you pain or hardship and now is no exception.

I may have taken a step back, but it’s only a step (or two). It’s all part of the journey.

I can’t afford for you to give up on me. I’ve/we’ve come too far.

In fact, I need you now more than ever. I’ll find the courage and I’ll do the fighting, but I need your support. I need your love.

You have mine.


On White Hats And White Horses (In loving memory of Emily Echerd (3/16/82 – 1/3/16))


“There’s always some reason to feel not good enough.” Sarah McLachlan*

There was a time (not so long ago) when I naively believed that there wasn’t a problem in the world (at least in my world) that I was incapable of solving. I’m not entirely sure where that fanciful idea was born, but it was very real and before long it expanded to include not only my problems, but the problems of others (e.g., friends, family members, colleagues at work and later my children). From my perspective, no problem was too big or too small for my white hat and white horse. Or so I thought. And then, one day, our daughter stopped eating.

I will never forget the day I came face-to-face with our daughter’s eating disorder for the first time. I will never forget the frail and frightened look on the face of a young woman who I barely recognized as my daughter sitting wrapped in a woolen blanket in a nearly fetal position in the corner of the oversized couch that dominated the small living room in her apartment or the battle that ensued as my wife and I tried to convince her to allow the contents of a small can of protein drink to pass over parched and quivering lips that were desperate for even a brief reminder of how food or liquid tasted. I hardly knew what to say, let alone do. It all seemed so surreal, so incredibly irrational. Two things were, however, painfully obvious: (1) if our daughter didn’t eat or drink something soon, she was going to die; and (2) she and her eating disorder, which by then was firmly in control of the situation, couldn’t possibly care any less.  Indeed, both were openly, almost combatively, defiant.

Miraculously, after 2 hours of encouraging, cajoling, imploring, insisting and finally dictating in anger, the task was complete – the small can empty – just in time to start the gut-wrenching process all over again.  I’d seen enough. Like Pavlov’s dog, I leapt into action. I threw my entire arsenal of problem-solving skills at her eating disorder.  I contacted some of the leading experts in the field in search of understanding and then used what I learned to put together a game plan – a course of treatment that I was certain would dispel this insidious enemy just as quickly as he had moved in and taken as his hostage the most beautiful soul I’ve ever known.

Before long, however, I was forced to confront a very sobering and heartbreaking truth: There I was, faced with the biggest and most important problem I had ever faced, with my daughter’s life, a life for which I would gladly and unhesitatingly sacrifice my own, literally hanging in the balance, and I was powerless to fix it.  In fact, I couldn’t even understand it.  Over time (lots of it), my super-hero persona surrendered and my heart opened wide to the realization that:

We can hold the light for our loved one (and we should – steadfastly), but, at the end of the day, only they can choose to step into it.

We can show them the truth about themselves (and we should – unhesitatingly), but, at the end of the day, their eyes are the ones that have to see it.

We can shower them with words of affirmation and encouragement (and we should – enthusiastically), but, at the end of the day, only they can allow those words to take up residence in and nourish their soul.

We can point them to the pathway that leads to recovery (and we should – lovingly), but, at the end of the day, only they can take the first step (and the next).

We can rush to their side when they slip and fall, as they likely will, along that sometimes treacherous path and offer a hand to help them up (and we should – empathetically), but, at the end of the day, only they can reach out and take it.

We can implore them to live fully and unabashedly (and we should – whole-heartedly), but, at the end of the day, only they can choose life and do what is necessary to sustain it.

I was reminded of these difficult truths (and my humanity) again at 5:47 a.m., on Monday, January 4, 2016, when The Bully reared his ugly head again, this time in the form of word that a young woman named Emily, who I’d been supporting and encouraging for nearly 3 years in her ongoing efforts to recover from a long and difficult battle with anorexia, had died suddenly the day before. Seconds later, as I lay still in the darkness rereading and trying to process that news on my phone, warm tears began to pour spontaneously down the sides of my face. “This is not possible,” I thought – “not Emily. Wasn’t it just a few days ago that we’d corresponded in anticipation of the holidays? I hurriedly pulled myself together and went to the computer searching for anything in our most recent exchange of texts and FB messages that would bring some semblance of sense to this otherwise senseless and heart-breaking news.

What I found instead stopped me in my tracks.

Emily had been telling me that she still had not found any relief from bouts of vertigo and that the accompanying nausea was making it difficult for her to eat. I, in turn, had been growing increasingly concerned and urging her to use her voice to insist that her doctors find an answer:

Me: “Emily, Emily, Emily: I think I’m gonna have to fly up there and personally see to it that you see a SPECIALIST who can get to the root of this problem and resolve it. I hate the fact that you are suffering with this – and that it’s impacting all aspects of your life and your health.”

“You don’t have to do that,” she replied – punctuated by a smiley face. “And, anyway, why would you do that for me?”

“Because I’ve always liked white hats and white horses and helping rescue damsels in distress!” I said.

To which Emily responded, “LOL” followed by an even BIGGER smiley face and a LARGE thumbs up! It was the last contact I had with her.

12 days later, she was dead.

As I pushed my chair back from the computer, I thought to myself, “Maybe I should’ve added ‘and because I value you, because you’re worthy of good health, deserving of happiness and of a full life, because the world is a better place with you in it, and because I love your smile, your spirit and your Southern accent!” Then I realized I’d told her all of those things and more – at least 100 times in the preceding three years – and I gladly would have told her 1,000 more if only she’d given me the chance . . . if only she had lived.

My heart was broken – and it breaks again today two years later remembering her.

But I refuse to allow The Bully to claim Emily’s death as a victory. Instead, I am committed to honoring her life by continuing to encourage others to honor theirs and I would ask that you join me. If you are suffering from an eating disorder (or other addictions) and considering treatment, honor Emily by seeking it. If you are in treatment, honor her by taking full advantage of it. If you are in recovery, honor her by taking the next step, eating the next meal, refraining/abstaining from substance use, and/or treating yourself a little more gently – a little more kindly – a lot more compassionately. And, if you love an “Emily”, honor my friend by continuing to love open-heartedly and unconditionally.

Then Emily wins, then we win – then Love Wins.


*April Koehler’s impossibly and hauntingly beautiful photograph entitled “Mourning Angel” is copyright protected and used with permission. April’s other work can be found at: www.aprilkoehlerphotography.com

The Snuggle Is Real


Take it from me: There isn’t a man or woman on the planet Earth who doesn’t love snuggling. Oh sure, some, men in particular, will scoff at that suggestion. In fact, I can picture them now – rolling their eyes, flashing their Man Card and wondering when, where, and why I misplaced mine.

I know, because for the better part of the past 5 decades, I was one of the “some” – but, not by choice. No, my skepticism, indeed my ignorance about the soothing, transformative power of snuggling and the soul-replenishing intimacy it engenders was borne of fear.

Fear that if I allowed someone to get that close to me for more than 5 minutes, they would surely discover what the little boy in me believed to be true about himself from a very early age: that he was unlovable or, worse yet, unworthy of love – and then they’d leave.

That’s one of the things that happens when your childhood takes a back seat to a bottle of scotch, when empathy is replaced with anger, when a mother’s vision is too blurred to safely navigate her way home, let alone notice the needs of the small, sensitive hearts she’s responsible for waiting inside.

And so the walls go up. Not just any walls. Walls constructed of titanium. Impenetrable walls. Walls designed to keep love at arm’s length, to protect the remnants of the innocent, child-like heart they encase, and give the bruises time to heal. It’s a matter of self-defense, of emotional self-preservation.

It’s not a choice. There’s nothing conscious about it. And yet, the funny thing is if you live locked away in that castle on the hill long enough, you actually manage to convince yourself that it’s where you want to live, that it’s more desirable than what you imagine awaits on the other side of the shark-infested moat.

But then, one day, you decide to confront your fear. You lower the drawbridge and crack the front door to your longing-for-a-lifetime heart ever so slightly and you steel yourself. You let him or her (and their love) in and everything starts to change. Not all at once. Not in a flurry of fireworks.

It changes one gentle touch at a time. A touch finally, fully felt. A caress. A butterfly kiss. A noticing of the way things “fit” – how her head rests perfectly in the nap of your neck, how your hands intertwine as if they were created to be together, how bended legs tuck seamlessly one pair into the other.  Her softness.

And, if you will allow, if you will trust it, slowly the walls you once thought would never come down will start to melt away and be replaced by an unquenchable desire for more of it – more warmth, more vulnerability, more closeness, deeper connection, true intimacy.

It’s called snuggling, but it should be called love fertilizer. It’s quiet and peaceful, restorative and invigorating. It supplies the strength needed to face a new day and the comfort required at the end of a long one. For those of faith, it’s an Earthly reminder of a Heavenly Father’s presence.

Oh, and guys, here’s the most amazing thing about snuggling: It does all of this and it doesn’t require you to say a single word. “All” it requires is your presence, a heart open and willing to be filled up, a laying down hug (see photo!), and a desire to hold that hug a little (okay, a lot!) longer than usual.

Believe me: the last part will be easy!

Image Credit: http://www.bonde.com.br


For 30+ years of Mondays, I stared at a 6 a.m. alarm clock and thought it was time to get up and go to work – and go to work I did. I worked tirelessly convinced, as I’d been from the time I was a little boy, that “doing” not only was the way to express love, but the only hope I had to be recognized and loved in return. And so, “do” I did and on those too frequent occasions when I felt I hadn’t done enough or done things well enough, I redoubled my efforts and did more or started over and committed to do better. Often, at the end of a day, though bone weary at the number of tasks I’d assigned myself and completed, I was left feeling frustrated, wishing I could do or had done more.  Not surprisingly, when others failed to notice how much “love I was doing” for them, let alone to reciprocate that love through doing of their own, I grew disheartened and, at times, resentful.  I didn’t understand that love isn’t shown by, nor is the receipt of it dependent on “doing” and certainly not on doing constantly or perfectly, as my childhood had led me to believe – indeed, seared into my soul.

Along the way, my misguided obsession with doing things, rather than being love very nearly caused me to lose the love of my life.

Thankfully, I learned (albeit the hard way and much later in life than she (and I) would have preferred) that love has nothing to do with how quickly you get to the office when the morning alarm sounds or how much you accomplish when you get there. No, love is hitting the “snooze” button at least once – not to snooze, but to roll over and draw him or her near, to feel their warmth, to allow your fingers to gently trace the contours of their body and remind yourself of the softness of their skin, to breathe in the sweet scent of their hair, to express and reflect on your gratitude for the fact that they are in the world and part of your world, to tell them that they are valued above all others and cherished beyond measure, to kiss them tenderly, to be fully present just a moment longer, and to let their love in – all the way in. Take it from a guy who chased the electronic rabbit around the track a thousand too many times: There’s no substitute for the Monday moments I’m suggesting, for risking it all, for loving with your whole heart, and it’s never too late to get started.

P.S. There’s also no reason not to make and experience those moments on Tuesdays through Sundays as well!


Image credit: https://0.s3.envato.com/files/53733348/AlarmClockPreviewImage.jpg



I believe every heart has two basic needs: To be noticed and to be chosen. Not for the auto-tuned version of us that the rest of the world sees, the us that’s a little too perfectly manicured and made-up, dressed just so, always on its best behavior, says all the right things at all the right times, knows what to do to fit in and does it.  No, we want to be noticed and chosen for our acoustic self, the stripped down, un-made-up version of us, the us whose voice cracks at the wrong times, who has anything but “everything under control”, who is a little grungy and frumpy, who sometimes forgets the words, who doesn’t always hit the right note – for the unvarnished and broken pieces of us, the us who is fearful, fragile, and, at times, uncertain of our worthiness.  Truth be told: We want to know there’s someone in the world willing to fight for that version of us, who longs to be with it, whose heart aches in its absence – someone who cherishes it.

In a perfect world, those needs are met beginning with the love of our parents, from the moment we’re born until the day we leave the family home (and often for many years thereafter).  When they are, we get to see firsthand what being noticed, chosen, fought for, and cherished looks and feels like, which makes recognizing it when we encounter it in the real world that much easier.  But not every home is like that, including the one I grew up in.  Some, like mine, require you to do the fighting if you want to be noticed, to perform and unfailingly excel if you want to feel cherished and chosen – and even then the morsels that fall from the table to feed your hungry heart are few. Eventually, you too go out into the world, only you don’t have the picture on the front of the puzzle box that’s there to let you know what the pieces needed to put the puzzle together look like, let alone what to do with them – where they’re supposed to go.

And so you do the best you can with what you know, the tools you have to work with.  You keep doing and fighting to be noticed and hoping to be chosen. You really have no choice. It’s the deepest desire of your heart.  For a moment, you entertain the idea that you’re like the most interesting painting on a gallery wall. You’re sure that sooner or later a buyer will come through the door and not only see you for what you are, but rush to embrace you and take you home without having to be convinced by the curator that you’re unique and deserving of the asking price. And when they don’t or, worse yet, when they stop and stare, come back time and time again, and repeatedly turn away, or pick another, you begin to question whether you’re special at all, why it is you have to work so hard to make others see what to you has always been so obvious: The gift that is you – all of you – just as you are.

Maybe you’re wondering whether that day will come, the day when you will be fully noticed and chosen – unconditionally, whole-heartedly, voraciously.  I hope it does and I believe it will.  I have to.  My favorite customer just walked back into the gallery!


Artwork by Leonid Afremov

“Good Morning, Beautiful”


Dear Cyndy,

I wonder how many letters I penned to you in that dark, cold, lonely room in the tenement house on North Lafayette Street in 1978. It was a lot.  My goal was to write one a day – and at least a couple of poems a week.  That was ambitious, some might say a bit on the obsessive side, even for someone as fond of writing as I was, but here’s the thing – I was obsessed . . . with you.  I was always looking for new ways to describe my vision of you, how beautiful I thought you were (thus, the telltale introduction), and the way my heart felt in the few times a year we got to see each other and during the too much of the year we spent apart.  I hoped that my words, like these, could somehow keep “me” in front of you across the miles, present in a permanent sort of way so that I would not be forgotten. I even fantasized about them stirring your own heart (and other parts of you as well if I’m to be honest!).

I remember balling up page after page of yellow legal paper and tossing the trash on the floor around my dimly lit writer’s desk in front of the window overlooking St. Joe’s Hospital, as I desperately and, at times, frustratingly searched for “right” words. It was the height of my perfectionism.  Everything about those words, the way they were strung together, the quality of the penmanship, their preciseness, their cadence, had to be just right or I started over.  I started over a lot!  I would spend hours a night, sometimes into the early morning – often at the expense of my studies (don’t tell my dad!) to make certain that when I headed out the door for the long walk to campus around 5 a.m. I had a letter or a poem or both in hand ready to drop in the campus post office for its long trip across the country.  Each time, I would hold my breath waiting to hear that it arrived – and hoping it hit the mark . . . your heart.

I’m not sure I ever knew your heart where those letters and poems were concerned. Whether they were something you valued or became more of an annoyance, a ritual that you would have just as soon I give up or at least suspend to give your heart some breathing room.  In the end, that never really mattered to me.  What mattered to me was that every day (or at least every other day) an envelope greeted you at your mailbox and let you know that somewhere in the world, there was an aspiring writer, a hopeless romantic of sorts, who thought you were beautiful, who longed for you to believe that, and who was hell bent on loving you whether you were ready to accept it or not.  I’m not sure when or why I stopped making it a habit to tell you you’re beautiful.  It certainly wasn’t because you stopped being beautiful. You didn’t! In fact, you’re more beautiful today than the day we met and fell in love. The writer just got careless or misappreciated the importance of those words, or both.

And he’s sorry – very sorry.



On Forgiveness (an excerpt from “The Little Soul and the Sun” by Neale Donald Walsch)*


A few weeks ago, I was reminded that some of life’s most profound and important “truths” are found nestled in the pages of innocent looking children’s books . . .

“I know what I want to be,” the Little Soul announced to God with great excitement. “I want to be the part of special called ‘forgiving’. Isn’t it special to be forgiving?”

“Oh, yes,” God assured the Little Soul. “That is very special.”

“Okay,” said the Little Soul. “That’s what I want to be. I want to be forgiving. I want to experience myself as that.”

“Good,” said God, “but there’s one thing you should know.”

The Little Soul was becoming a bit impatient now. It always seemed as though there were some complication.

“What is it?” the Little Soul sighed.

“There is no one to forgive.”

“No one?” the Little Soul could hardly believe what had been said.

“No one!” God repeated. “Everything I have made is perfect. There is not a single soul in all creation less perfect than you. Look around you.”

It was then that the Little Soul realized a large crowd had gathered. Souls had come from far and wide ~ from all over the Kingdom ~ for the word had gone forth that the Little Soul was having this extraordinary conversation with God, and everyone wanted to hear what they were saying. Looking at the countless other souls gathered there, the Little Soul had to agree. None appeared less wonderful, less magnificent, or less perfect than the Little Soul itself. Such was the wonder of the souls gathered around, and so bright was their Light, that the Little Soul could scarcely gaze upon them.

“Who, then, to forgive?” asked God.

“Boy, this is going to be no fun at all!” grumbled the Little Soul. “I wanted to experience myself as One Who Forgives. I wanted to know what that part of special felt like.”

And the Little Soul learned what it must feel like to be sad. But just then a Friendly Soul stepped forward from the crowd.

“Not to worry, Little Soul,” the Friendly Soul said, “I will help you.”

“You will?” the Little Soul brightened. “But what can you do?”

“Why, I can give you someone to forgive!”

“You can?”

“Certainly!” chirped the Friendly Soul. “I can come into your next lifetime and do something for you to forgive.”

“But why? Why would you do that?” the Little Soul asked. “You, who are a Being of such utter perfection! You, who vibrate with such a speed that it creates a Light so bright that I can hardly gaze upon you! What could cause you to want to slow down your vibration to such a speed that your bright Light would become dark and dense? What could cause you ~ who are so light that you dance upon the stars and move through the Kingdom with the speed of your thought–to come into my life and make yourself so heavy that you could do this bad thing?”

“Simple,” the Friendly Soul said. “I would do it because I love you.”

The Little Soul seemed surprised at the answer.

“Don’t be so amazed,” said the Friendly Soul, “you have done the same thing for me. Don’t you remember? Oh, we have danced together, you and I, many times. Through the eons and across all the ages have we danced. Across all time and in many places have we played together. You just don’t remember.”

“We have both been All Of It. We have been the Up and the Down of it, the Left and the Right of it. We have been the Here and the There of it, the Now and the Then of it. We have been the male and the female, the good and the bad; we have both been the victim and the villain of it.”

“Thus have we come together, you and I, many times before; each bringing to the other the exact and perfect opportunity to Express and to Experience Who We Really Are. And so,” the Friendly Soul explained further, “I will come into your next lifetime and be the ‘bad one’ this time. I will do something really terrible, and then you can experience yourself as the One Who Forgives.

“But what will you do?” the Little Soul asked, just a little nervously, “that will be so terrible?”

“Oh,” replied the Friendly Soul with a twinkle, “we’ll think of something.”

Then the Friendly Soul seemed to turn serious, and said in a quiet voice, “You are right about one thing, you know.”

“What is that?” the Little Soul wanted to know.

“I will have to slow down my vibration and become very heavy to do this not-so-nice thing. I will have to pretend to be something very unlike myself. And so, I have but one favor to ask of you in return.”

“Oh, anything, anything!” cried the Little Soul, and began to dance and sing, “I get to be forgiving, I get to be forgiving!”

Then the Little Soul saw that the Friendly Soul was remaining very quiet.

“What is it?” the Little Soul asked. “What can I do for you? You are such an angel to be willing to do this for me!”

“Of course this Friendly Soul is an angel!” God interrupted. “Everyone is! Always remember: I have sent you nothing but angels.”

And so the Little Soul wanted more than ever to grant the Friendly Soul’s request. “What can I do for you?” the Little Soul asked again.

“In the moment that I strike you and smite you,” the Friendly Soul replied, “in the moment that I do the worst to you that you could possibly imagine ~ in that very moment . . .”

“Yes?” the Little Soul interrupted, “yes . . . ?”

“Remember Who I Really Am,” said the Friendly Soul.

“Oh, I will!” cried the Little Soul, “I promise! I will always remember you as I see you right here, right now!”

“Good,” said the Friendly Soul, “because, you see, I will have been pretending so hard, I will have forgotten myself. And if you do not remember me as I really am, I may not be able to remember for a very long time. And if I forget Who I Am, you may even forget Who You Are, and we will both be lost. Then we will need another soul to come along and remind us both of Who We Are.”

“No, we won’t!” the Little Soul promised again. “I will remember you! And I will thank you for bringing me this gift ~ the chance to experience myself as Who I Am.

“And so, the agreement was made. And the Little Soul went forth into a new lifetime, excited to be the Light, which was very special, and excited to be that part of special called Forgiveness.

And the Little Soul waited anxiously to be able to experience itself as Forgiveness, and to thank whatever other soul made it possible. And at all the moments in that new lifetime, whenever a new soul appeared on the scene, whether that new soul brought joy or sadness–and especially if it brought sadness–the Little Soul thought of what God had said.

“Always remember,” God had smiled, “I have sent you nothing but angels.”

*photo credit: onyxtruth.com