Feature Friday: Aly

I met Aly at a dinner event with Munchin’ with Moguls. She made a comment about her job and blog and so after the dinner was over I asked her if she’d be willing to share her story here, and she said yes! Her blog and Instagram account are amazing. She radiates beauty, on the inside and the outside. Plus she seems perfect for the job she has, she goes into more detail below.

Aly is a 23-year-old Brigham Young University graduate who currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. She enjoys cooking, traveling, spending time with family and friends, and being adventurous. She works as a Recreational Therapist and is also the creator of Build Your Beautiful— a blog focused on self-love and holistic health.

Hi! My name is Aly. I’m a health fanatic, a recreational therapist, and a blogger.

My three titles have something in common. I became these three things after a difficult challenge I faced in high school. I’ll get into the details here in just a moment.

First and foremost, I’ll tell you about therapeutic recreation. Therapeutic recreation is a holistic process that uses recreation and leisure of all different kinds to bring about a positive change, emotionally, physically, intellectually, spiritually, and socially in an effort to maintain and improve quality of life. I currently work with children and teens ages 6-18 in a behavioral health facility. Most of the patients I work with suffer from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, chemical dependency, or intermittent explosive disorder. Although these are the most common diagnoses, I do work with patients who have other challenges as well.

As a recreational therapist, I facilitate group therapy sessions to teach patients skills they can use to improve their lives. For instance, sometimes I do activities based on social skills to teach my patients how to interact appropriately with others. Sometimes I do activities involving physical sports to teach patients appropriate ways to use their leisure time. Other times I do activities based on mindfulness to help patients recognize their personal feelings and emotions.

I love my job and feel so blessed to do something that has the potential to literally change the lives of others. I decided to become a recreational therapist after I used therapy and recreational activities to help me through one of the most challenging times of my life. This is where the “health fanatic” and “blogger” titles come into play.

My story goes like this:

After a difficult experience in high school, I began to see myself as everything I was not instead of everything I was. At the time, I thought “I should do something about my challenge… something to make me feel better about myself.”

This “something” turned into eating healthier, exercising more, and focusing on myself. Seems great, right? It was great until it went too far and I became obsessed with accomplishing those goals. It all went downhill from there.

My obsession turned into an eating disorder. I suffered from anorexia nervosa for years.

What most people don’t understand about an eating disorder is that the disorder is about so much more than just food. Yes, the disorder manifests itself through food, but it’s not like someone can just start eating more and POOF they’re all better. I only wish it were that easy.

I suffered physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Some of these consequences are completely out of my control and may haunt me forever. I had an extremely low self-esteem, I had a disturbed body-image, and I was constantly self-conscious. I isolated myself from the world, I felt undeserving of love and acceptance, and I completely rejected myself. I was irritable, anxious, and terribly confused.

I used to prove my worth by the amount of food I ate and the number of calories I burned. I used to prove my worth by my jean size and the number on the scale. I’m here to tell you something I wished someone had told me long ago… those numbers DO NOT reflect your worth!

Abandon the bull crap you’ve been brainwashed to believe about perfection and beauty. Thick eyebrows and a thigh gap cannot buy the freedom that comes when you embrace who you are and your own imperfect journey.

Those strong legs allow you to run, jump, carry heavy things, and explore the world. Those freckles on your skin came from your grandma who also gave you your bright eyes and zest for life. Those intense emotions you feel allow you to connect with other individuals and show how powerful experiences can be.

You can focus on what the world thinks of you, or you can focus on what YOU think of you. The percentage of your time you spend worrying about what the world thinks of you is time wasted. The way you feel about yourself is what matters most.

Though I have come a long way, those unhealthy habits and tendencies haven’t completely vanished. I still feel obligated to check the nutritional information on everything I eat; I still feel guilty sometimes when I eat because I’m hungry instead of at my “scheduled” times; I still feel self-conscious some days when I look in the mirror. Though these things are not innately negative, they can become negative if they are taken too far. I’m working to find that balance in my everyday life.

As a society, we rarely talk about the things that hold us back from becoming the person we want to be. The person I constantly strive to be is someone who is kind, loving, generous, healthy, energetic, and joyful. Keeping my challenge bottled up inside of me helps absolutely no one. It doesn’t help me obtain these desired attributes and it certainly doesn’t help anyone else fight through similar battles to become who they want to be.

It has taken me YEARS to get to the point I’m at now. Looking back, I can honestly say I’m glad I’ve had this experience. I’ve met so many wonderful and inspiring individuals through my struggle. I’ve found who I am and who I want to be. I’ve grown stronger and more confident. I’ve learned how to listen to my body and address my personal needs in a healthy way. I’ve learned how to express myself in positive ways; this blog is one of those ways.

The reason I created my blog, Build Your Beautiful, is to encourage others who have a negative view of themselves to have a more positive self-esteem. I know some of you may feel like that goal is impossible, but I’m living proof it is possible. If you feel like you can’t do it alone, reach out to someone you can trust. I’m always willing to talk to anyone who reaches out to me! Transparency is what has helped me the most through my journey. The moment I started sharing my story, three years ago, is the moment I started making progress.

I know that we each have been given unique gifts in this life. I know that we often face challenges to help us recognize those gifts. While challenges are not easy and trials are not fun, we can learn and grow an extraordinary amount through these processes. One of my biggest challenges has also become one of my biggest blessings. Trust in your own process and be patient with yourself. Sometimes those painful experiences teach us things we never thought we would need to know.

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