Sometimes what bonds a group of friends together can be a little strange. Grown men who like to skateboard, tattoo lovers, beer enthusiasts….well for us it’s a man. One man. Jimmy Buffet.
My husband’s and my friends take one weekend out of the year to go a little crazy. Crazy in a good way. We have been attending his concerts for over 20 years, and we live for this nutty weekend where we drink margaritas and sing about fruitcakes all year. It is a joyful, silly celebration. A time to be frivolous and forget your cares and be 19 again. Here’s the only problem: my 19-year- old self wasn’t healthy.
I had an eating disorder that nearly destroyed me at 19. I have grown, I have healed, but scars remain. And sometimes even the most joyful of times can bring out those moments of shame, terror, fear, anxiety and agony.
A little backstory: my (so handsome) husband, when dressed up, is a dead ringer for Captain Jack Sparrow. He has a great time dressing up — it’s fun! It’s on theme! It also draws in crowds of 20-year-olds with their 20-year-old bodies!
My husband is a faithful man. He would never even seriously flirt with these, let’s be honest, girls. But after years of watching even one-way flirting, it got to be hard for me. It took me back to a time when I was young, beautiful and mentally sick. A time when I was broken and searching for meaning in all the pain. I look at these young women and I see me at my worst.
Four years ago as we set out, my husband (in full Captain Jack garb) could sense my stress. He did everything. He asked and asked and asked and pleaded to know how he could help me, but my mood was just too dark. He even pulled off the road and took me into a Target to buy me a new sundress. He’s a great husband, but he wasn’t able to reach me in that moment. There are moments when we have to save ourselves.
We got back in the car with my new black “sundress” of mourning, and my internal argument turned into a shouting match. Insecurity, bodily shame, shame over not being able to enjoy one of our favorite weekends, terror over the scars of my eating disorder, the thoughts swirled in a black hurricane in my mind as hot tears ran down my face. My black dress, my clouded mind, my very body had turned into a thunderstorm in the middle of this car ride and I was desperate.
Then I saw it. A chance for the pain to stop. My husband was going 70 mph on the highway and an 18-wheeler was swiftly approaching. I could open my car door and roll right under it. It would be so easy. It would be over. The thoughts would finally STOP. I poised to undo my seatbelt and bolt…3..2…1…
I stopped myself. Or God stopped me. Something stopped me. WHAT THE HELL, HEATHER? This is not how your story ends! This is not your legacy! This is not how you go. You have ONE life and ONE life only. Put. Your. Hands. In. Your. Lap.
I did.
My husband didn’t notice what I had almost done. The storm passed and the weekend went as planned, 19 year old girls, costumes and all. I was ok, ok because I was alive. The moment of brokenness passed.

We all have these moments in our lives — moments when the terror and pain seem too much to bear. Sometimes it’s in the midst of a tragedy, sometimes it’s when your mind decides to make an internal storm on an otherwise perfect day. We can’t control when these broken feelings happen, but we can know that when we get cracked open and broken, blessings can pour in. Four years later, I finally told my husband about that day, and we cried together. The shame was finally released through my confession to him. Have you ever heard that shame only can live in darkness? It’s true.
We all have scary times. But this is when the grit comes in — and the grace. After that day, I knew I needed to come to others in their broken places and give them strength. I want young girls to know that when these moments come, they can still choose to live. You can’t predict when anxiety will rob you of excitement, or fear your feelings of love, but you can bear them, brace yourself, and move through.
On days like that one I had four years ago, I have an order, a mandate: Choose to live. Choose grit. Choose embracing yourself, and wait. Wait, because the grace will pour in like the sunlight after a storm. As Jimmy Buffet himself says, “breathe in, breathe out, move on.”
Oh and remember this: The best margaritas ALWAYS contain a little salt. Drink up.