Kristen Ales @kales.tales

Kristen Ales @kales.tales

Many of my happiest early memories are being outside...

I remember taking my first steps in the pacific ocean and watching my younger sister shovel sand into her mouth, or building forts in along the creek lined with driftwood. I remember how proud I was when I first learned how to ski. I felt wild to the core, with a lust and curiosity for life.

Sometimes it baffles me how much we are shaped as little humans. How vulnerable we are to be molded by our experiences, messages we receive, or what we observe. As a therapist, it is what I hear my clients taking about most. How can we heal past trauma that has shaped our lives in such a dramatic way? How do we begin to rebuild a loving relationship with our bodies, when we've been told for our entire lives that they need to be "fixed" or different? Perhaps its by reconnecting with the part of our being that is the most wild.

I went to a pretty unconventional elementary school, we ran around without shoes on, climbed redwood trees hundreds of feet in the air, played in the woods and woke up the next day covered in poison oak. We spent time studying pottery, archery, and circus tumbling. I remember stubbing my toes chasing after the peacocks we had on campus. My mom was the lunch lady—she made the best grilled cheese. 

Of course my time at this school had to come to end and I switched schools in the 5th grade due to my parent’s finances, and mostly because they felt I should probably also learn how to read and write. (Totally understandable). Changing schools, is one of my clearest unhappy memories. I was so far behind academically, the kids at public school dressed differently, acted “cool”, I remembering this as the first time time I felt shame and doubt.

Another difference was that my sister and I took the bus and got to hang out alone at home for a couple hours before my parents got home from work. This is when I developed a unhealthy relationship with food. Coming home and eating ice cream was now the best part of my day, instead of running and playing in the forest. It was what I found comforting in this time of change. I would make cookies, steal quarters and buy candy from the corner store. Sometimes I would eat so much, I would try to hide the evidence of empty boxes and containers of food. I had developed binge eating disorder by the time I was in 6th grade. 

Its hard to look back at the years of my adolescence and feel only sadness. I was made fun of everyday at school for my weight. My parents didn’t know how to help. I spent everyday dreaming of being someone else, I wanted so badly to be different that I didn’t get to know myself, I didn't want to. I stuffed myself with more food to numb the feelings. 

I started dieting after I was made fun of onstage at the homecoming assembly. An experience that was so brutally embarrassing and painful, I am surprised it was never depicted in a late 90’s teenage movie. I lost a good amount of weight in a healthy way learning about nutrition, being supported by my family and weight loss coaches. When I started receiving positive attention for my weight loss, I quickly slipped into using unhealthy methods to quicken my weight loss and stopped eating. I started lying, and throwing food away. I weighed myself multiple times a day, and gave myself praise when I felt lighted headed or was about to faint. I eventually lost my period, and started loosing my hair. My sickness had taken over. 

From high school through college I went through periods where I binged, then went back to restricting. My weight fluctuated dramatically, but I managed to always stay at a healthy weight after high school. However, my thoughts still revolved around the intake of food, and what I looked like. The eating disorder voices were so loud that I didn’t develop a voice of my own. You can ask many people from high school and college, I was never known for anything, I had friends that I followed around, and I clinged to romantic relationships. I had a difficult time expressing who I was because, frankly I didn't know myself. All I knew or heard was the voice of my eating disorder.

As I reflect on this time, I ask "What was lacking through this time of struggle?" The answer is very clear... 

After college  I found myself working at an outdoor school in the Santa Cruz mountains and throughout Yosemite area—they needed someone to dress up in costumes and teach kids about redwood trees and rocks—something I knew a lot about from my childhood. Soon I found myself laughing harder than I ever had, making deeper connections with other people, and for the first time in my life having confidence. I spent everyday outside and said yes to any adventure that came my way. Quickly the eating disorder voices in my head were so quiet that I began to hear my own thoughts, and develop a voice of my own. For the first time in my life I felt like I had a personality—and I loved it. Not only that, but I began to love my body, not because it was perfect in any way, but because of all it allowed my to do: hike, climb, ski, surf, hug!  

For the last 6 years my life has revolved around the outdoors working as a guide, saying yes to spontaneous adventures, traveling around the southwest in my blue Subaru (her name is Tina). I am currently finishing my Masters degree in Wilderness Therapy with a goal to help those who have also been touched by eating disorders. To help others quiet the voice of doubt and shame, to shake the messages we have received about our bodies, and to love our limbs for all that they can do. Connecting with the wilderness brought back the wildness that I felt so strongly as a little girl. Today my curiosity and lust for life is more ferocious than ever.