Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Comfort in the Chaos

A poem for Fay Scott


Sitting in faint light
of the kitchen,
classes hover on your nose.


Windows open like extended arms
enveloping the slight breeze of the day.


You prepare all within this house
with your prayers.


We sleep like weary travelers,
but really, you've seen the world.


Still,
constant as the intense sun.
You pray.


Honking motorcycles grumble angrily
outside the metal gate.
You pray.


Dust filters through the screens
like sifted flour,
settling and cluttering
corners of the house.
You pray.


Nightgown stuck like a wet suit,
sweat trickling by 5 a.m.
Humid weight of the Cambodian air.
You pray.


Safe, but
never totally peaceful.
Sleep, but
never really rested.


Teetering on edge
between fear and contentment.


Hope in a junkyard
of confusion and isolation.
Clutter you can't ignore.
And yet,
you pray.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Late

This morning I woke up feeling surprisingly rested considering I went to bed at midnight. My bed was warm, Otis, my stuffed dog was near, the sun was shi...wait a minute. The sun is never up when I wake up at 6am. What time is it?

8:10am. It was 8:10 in the freaking morning. I usually wake up at 6am for yoga, breakfast, and to cram for the days classes that start at 7:30. But no, this morning I was jolted out of bed by my fear of the wrath of, you guessed it, Y.J. Moses, or Dr. Moses, my education professor.

Indeed I spent several hours yesterday finishing up the six assignments due in just one of his classes, Intro to Teaching, and by the looks of it I was going to miss getting it in on time. But no, I worked too long and hard to enjoy the wonder of breakfast or changing out of my pajamas.

So by 8:18am, 2 minutes before class ended, I slapped the stack of papers, amounting to my livelihood and said, "These are on time." I didn't ask. I told. He might've noticed my lateness, maybe, and must've understood. "Ok."

So was my morning, a bit bumpy but ok. Some read and think, Ok, no big deal, she made it on time and continued with her day. And to you I say, "No it was a big deal."

Being that I am a recovering perfectionist, a sickness that has led me down many roads I never want to go again, this is a big deal. So, my day didn't start how I wanted it to, it's gonna be alright. So, I didn't do my yoga, it's gonnna be alright. So, I didn't take the 24 vitamins and nasty multi-vitamin tonic, it's definitely gonna be alright.

I forgave myself and moved on. I sat and chatted with a friend. I stopped long enough to eat lunch with a friend I haven't seen in awhile.

I went back to my room for 3 hours and buried my nose in books and a 10-page Philosophy of Education paper, oh YJ Moses, you taunt me so! Sitting at my desk, surrounded by pictures of my kids, I miss them. What a difference a few months makes. I think about them, how they're doing, what they're doing. I didn't love, love everything about Cambodia, but I enjoyed knowing I was doing something important. Spending 2 hours formatting a 10-page paper into APA style using correct bibliographies, page numbers, and centered titles, just doesn't equate "purpose" for me. I'll let ya know when it does.

I looked up "hippy" in the dictionary, out of curiousity. Correction: I typed "define hippy" into Google. Interesting: hippie= someone who rejects the established culture; advocates extreme liberalism in politics and lifestyle.

That defines a lot of people I know. I wonder if they realize they are "hippies" and I hope they're ok with it, because I am. "Rejecting the established culture" could easily be me theme song, that is assuming our culture is pretty happy the way it is.

I went to the gym to exercise. Lately I've been more conscious of my body, the tension, the cold, the heat, the flexibility, whatever. I realized last week that each and every time I step outside into the frigid Nebraska air, I tense my shoulders towards my ears, furrow my eye brows, slightly clench my fists, and hunch in my lower back. Noticing my eyes also squinting to the brightness of the sun, I let it all go. Ahhh! That's better.

I purposefully work out as often as I can at 4pm, because that is when Oprah is on. I gotta get my quality time in ya know, she won't be around forever.

The show was on 16 overweight teenagers and addressing the real reasons they are overweight. This generation of youth is the first that are beginning to be outlived by their parents. The problem is, it has very little to do with junk food. They are not hiding under fat, they are hiding under sexual abuse, divorce, abortion, violence, and their parents drug abuse. Many of them talked about contemplating suicide. I could relate SO strongly to what they were saying.

Granted my struggles have been mostly NOT eating to hide pain, but it's the same core struggles that keep popping up in my friends and family. I'm seeing it now, and alot of people don't. They keep trying to fix the symptom, instead of treating the illness.

The Oprah show, way to go, arranged an intervention with counselors to help the families understand what was really going. This kind of stuff is what makes me want to get into counseling.

It was a good day. I'm doing well. I'm happy. I'm doing what I need to take care of myself. A typical day for me has much more room for accidents, detours, and open-mindedness than it used to.

Rarely do I just blog about my day, but more so what I learned. But I don't feel like wrapping this up with a bow, it just was.

And that's ok.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I Have a Dream too

As Martin Luther King Jr. inspires us to use powerful, provocative words to fight battles and win freedom, I do the same, in another way.

"I have a dream that one day women will rise up and live out the true meaning of our creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all women are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day in Beverly Hills the daughters of former celebrities and the daughters of former plastic surgeons will be able to sit down at the table of sisterhood.

I have a dream that women will not be judged by the measurements of their waist, but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that women will not be estimated by the amount left on their cafe minimum, the size of their jeans, or the number on the scale, but by their compassion, patience, love, and joy they bring to those around them.

I have a dream that one day the magazines writers, movie makers, and fashion designers of our country will join hands with little girls and build an industry that accurately portrays women to their young, innocent eyes.

I have a dream that girls will believe they are beautiful and perfect without dieting or a stitch of make-up, because, they are.

I have a dream that women will start a radical revolution and stop hating their bodies and themselves.

This is our hope. This is the faith we go to bed with at night. With this faith we can change a culture that tells us we are never beautiful enough, thin enough, or perfect enough. With this faith we can be who we truly are and love every part of it.

Let freedom ring from Cosmo magazine.

Let freedom ring from Pro-Ana websites.

Let freedom ring from middle school playgrounds, junior high locker rooms, and college campuses.

Let freedom ring from breast enhancement surgery tables.

Let freedom ring from dieting centers, make-up counters, and the Playboy mansion.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, we will be able to speed up the day when all women; gray-haired or wrinkled, large or small, models or model citizens, will be able to join hands and say, “Free at last, free at last. I’ve been beautiful all along, now I’m free at last.” "

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Anxious


Anxious. Sometimes I feel a bit anxious when my responsibilities seem too much, and my qualities seem too little. Or I feel anxious when I do not feel enough, or too much at the same time. I feel anxious when I haven't called my parents in awhile, and they have to pin me down so we can talk for 10 minutes. I feel anxious knowing that I could be nicer, more laid back, more efficient, more funny, or more care free. I feel anxious when I am overwhelmed by good things in my life, good opportunities, and yet I can make them sound like burdens. I want to write more music, read more books, learn guitar, continue drawing, learn to be more environmentally conscious, be vegan, lower my cholesterol.

Too much. Thus, I feel a bit anxious.

The above list is nothing more than what anyone else deals with on any given day. I'm not saying I'm unique, I just seem to get more easily overwhelmed than most. Those thoughts keep bombarding me, making me feel like somehow I am running out of time (which is funny because the title of my blog yesterday was, "There is Time").

I'm up and down. But some things tend to bring me back and calm me down.

Today I was listening to a mix that Ben Yancer sent to me in Cambodia. I was craving new music, and so I played those CD's over and over and over again, until I learned the words and the melodies played in my head all day long.

One particular song I remember listening to while walking down the busy Cambodian road. The sun beating on me like punishment in the 90 degree heat, sent sweat trickling down my face. The rhythm of the music matched with the cadence of my feet. The men stared and yelled at me. The children pointed. Choking on the dust through my surgical mask, I tried to pretend that my reality was as calming as the music in my ears.

I was taken back and reminded to be grateful for what I have in front of me. I am not in Cambodia. I can heal now.

This morning I "stumbled" upon a picture I drew 2 years ago by orders from my eating disorder counselor at that time. She told me to paint her a picture of what recovery looked like to me. So I drew a peaceful Heather, more content with who she was. Someone who had a greater purpose than just battling the demons inside of her. Some one that I was making up because I saw none of these qualities in myself at the time. It was a nice wish, basically to imagine I'd ever be any of those things written on the paper.

On it, I wrote: "What does recovery look like? It is healing of the five areas of my life: physical, social, spiritual, emotional, and mental. I will no longer over stuff my body or restrict calories. I will not purge, eat what I "should" or exercise because I have been "bad". I will not lie to people or fake how I am feeling. I will stop using anorexia as an excuse not to pray. I will stop beating myself up. I will no longer allow ED to control my thoughts. I will eat what I want. I will make other people a priority. I will know that God loves me not because of what I have or have not done, but because of who I am: His. I will love myself. I will be present, stable, and aware. I will live in moderation and balance. I will love my life and look forward to each new day. I will live in peace."

Some days looking at that picture was easier than others. I hated reading it and realizing I'd slipped up or it didn't feel like I was getting any better. But now, it's different.

Now I read it and think, Holy cow! I've come a hell of a long way! I'm still working out the kinks on a few of those areas, but I have much to be grateful for, because compared to where I've been, I feel like I can do almost anything.

Almost.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

There is Time

"I was sexually assaulted in Nicaragua and I've never told anyone until...well, just now."

Her face emotionless. She looked straight ahead, scared to seek a response from any one of us gathered around the candlelit table.

"I'm so sorry," I said.

"It's ok."

"Ummm, no it's not ok and I'm really sorry that it happened to you."

Friday night I sat at a friends house with 7-8 other girls, all of which served as student missionaries last year. We gathered around a table with good food and good company, something that honestly surprised me.

I was kind of dreading the evening just because I don't know any of the girls very well and even though we are all SM's I've had a hard time connecting with some of them. But as we started talking the stories started pouring out: stomach issues, feeling forgotten by people at home, feeling helpless to help more, being frustrated with the very people we came to help, feeling far from God.

"I felt abandoned by the missionaries I was living with. I can't trust adults anymore. My mom and I are not as close anymore, we've stopped really seeing eachother. There is a lot of hurt there."

Or, "It was not what I expected. It was the hardest year of my life. My year was not what I thought I was getting myself into from what I was told before I left."

We all seemed to have similar feelings and experiences. Sure we went to Cambodia, Prague, Laos, Nicaragua, the Amazon, Venezuela, and Albania, but oh, how it rocked our world.

I talked about what made my year difficult, mostly my struggles with a different culture, particularly the Cambodian men. How I hated them all for a long time and felt attacked at every side. Afraid to go outside, terrified to be alone, and angry with God.

Someone asked me, "Would you ever recommend someone to go overseas?"

"Oh, absolutely. People have such diverse experiences and it wasn't just "being" an SM that was hard, it was all the baggage and bias I brought into it. If someone was planning to go I'd tell then to thoroughly research where they are going, and, take a good friend!"

Walking home, I wondered If we are feeling the same way, why haven't we talked about it until now? I've been ready and willing to talk and work through my experiences since I got back, but no one seemed to share my thoughts or feelings until now. Either way I'm grateful.

I told them I am writing a book and they all got really excited because I told them that I hoped I could paint a very real picture of what being an SM can be like and share my story that way. I think it's a good thing. I have a voice.

Last night I had a dream about being a missionary. Most of my missionary dreams up until this point have been nightmares. But last night I dreamt I was somewhere in South America with Jeremy playing football with kids of all ages. It just felt right and true in so many ways. Fay was there and watching what could have been brought tears to my eyes as I said, "This is wanted my SM experience to be."

She said, "It's not too late. This is it. You're here now."

I have a voice. There is time. A few Y.J. Moses education classes under my belt and I'll be good to go, wherever that happens to take me. There is so much more. All is not lost. There is time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

We Bite Back

Numbers have haunted me for several years: number of pounds, number of calories, number of fat grams, number of the size on my jeans, numbers.

Numbers don't haunt me anymore, they liberate me. I weigh more right now than I ever have in my entire life, 145 pounds. I'm 20 pounds "better" than I was a year ago. I will never again wear a size 4, weigh 110 pounds, or limit myself to 900 calories a day.

I'm happier than I've been in a long time, I dare say, ever. Not the kind of happiness that befriends you as a child because you live in ignorant bliss. I'm talking about genuine, content, realistic, yet balanced, joy.

When little girls step on the scale as children at maybe 40 pounds, we say, "Good job! You're getting big and strong." Where do we stop saying that? Ten? Fourteen? When do we stop congratulating and start criticizing? It was 14 for me. Where is that magic zone of perfection? I'm done looking for it.

A little over 6 months ago in Cambodia I was vomiting several times a week. But since landing in the States I have only done so twice. TWICE! Ha!

As Anne Lamott says, "I know where I was and I know where I am now and you just can't get here from there. So it was either a miracle- or maybe it was more of a gift, one that required assembly. But whatever it was, learning to eat was about learning to live- and deciding to live; and it is one of the most radical things I've ever done."

Yes, this has been a gift. No it wasn't going through it. Going through it, and sometimes living with it, has been hell. But I would never want this experience to be taken away from me. If I'd never had an eating disorder I would still be living a fake existence quite content with pretending I was better than I was and putting on whatever face people wanted that day.

But I'm content with beating this and moving on. No. I'm beating this sucker, kicking it around with what I've learned, showing it whose boss, and sharing my story with people who need to hear it. After all, what's the point in overcoming struggles if we don't share what we've learned? No this is not lost on me, in fact, I've gained too much. I refuse for this experience to be lost on me.

Recently I read, "Start a revolution. Stop hating your body!" Yeah, that really would be breaking the mold wouldn't it. I think I'm going to make some t-shirts... Check out webiteback.com for information about a community of people who are post-pro-ana (pro-ana is a group of people who teach pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia nervosa methods. Their websites are repeatedly shut down, but they continue popping up faster than they can be closed down. Sick.) So webiteback.com is a group who is recovering and moving on to battle an entire culture that tells us we just aren't good enough as we are.

Another reason I am so grateful for this journey is the incredible people I've met along the way. Our whole family has been forced to communicate better than we ever have. My sister is my best friend and Ben isn't such a bad sidekick either. I've been blessed with incredible counselors and dietitians.

By being completely honest about my own struggles, others have felt welcome to do the same. May it be alcoholism, depression, or porn, it's the same struggle. That same feeling that this can rule your life, you don't know how to get out, and you're terrified what would happen if someone found out. That makes sense to me and there fore I understand the struggling, honest people who dare say, "I'm struggling."

Now we are talking. Thank you Spirit. It's a beautiful thing. How will what I've learned matter? I'm dreaming in ideas.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Yoga

"As you sit, eyes closed, notice the sensations in your body. Take note of what your muscles are telling you and what your soul needs. With this recognition of the calm inside of you in this moment, stay in this light as long as you can all day," she says. "And when someone threatens to take away the peace you feel inside yourself right now, come back to this moment and remember, that this is your truest self and it is possible to come back to any moment in any day."

So illustrates another of the hundreds of lessons I've learned in yoga. My truest self is this calm inside and I don't have to give it up when I walk out the door. It's a mindset.

This morning I went to a Kundalini yoga class. The Kundalini practice of yoga focuses much on the breath and the organs. Each pose is accompanied by quick, rhythmic breaths that force the abdomen in and out.

Towards the end of class, Liz, the teacher, a 60-something, gorgeous, and petite woman, talked about our true selves, about the spirit within each of us that keeps us alive, keeps our hearts pumping, keeps us present.

During the end of class, it is mostly just lying on our mats, breathing, and being. Beside me a 50-ish woman with dark-rimmed glasses and a tired looking body, started to cry. I heard just a few sniffs as I twisted my neck to the right and saw a tear roll down her cheek and fall on the blue mat.

After class I overheard her telling some of the women that her father died this week. After 93 wonderful years of life, it was just time for him to go. The other women put comforting arms around her shoulders and she said, "I need to deal with this. Yoga seems to be the safest place for me to do that. I was just thinking about how much I miss him."

Another definition of church.

Yoga is not a trend.
Yoga is not a cardiovascular exercise that will drop pounds.
Yoga is not about forcing any movements or tearing muscles or pushing the limits of physical strength.
Yoga is not guaranteed to even make you look any better.

Sure it can be all of those things, but it isn't for me.

I started practicing yoga several years ago in high school, most likely because I heard Jennifer Aniston did it and probably assumed I'd instantly look like her if I did. Hasn't worked quite yet, but I've found much better pay offs any way.

Yoga has made me more conscious of my thoughts, my feelings, and my spirit.
Yoga has taught me to be more aware of my surroundings wherever I am.
Yoga has taught me how to breathe.
Yoga has increased my flexibility and improved my balance.
Yoga challenges me to be alone with my thoughts and accept what comes, accept myself.



Earlier this year, when I got back to Union college, I stubbornly and almost proudly stated to my sister Ashley, "I haven't prayed in months."

Without a second thought, she said, "What if you have?"

"Huh, don't ya think I'd know if I have or I haven't?" I said.

She asked me, "Heather, what isn't prayer?"

I haven't quite come up with an answer to that question and I've really been trying to. What if journaling can be prayer? Or blogging? Or running? Or sitting with a friend? Or watching children play? Or leaves blow in the wind? What if yoga can be prayer?

Prayer, by definition, is communication with whatever a person calls God. For me, prayer is communication with Spirit. And being conscious of what my mind and body can do through yoga makes me aware of the "something" that keeps me alive.

Journaling works for me because I am visual and I like writing.

Sitting quietly watching life reminds me that there is peace and hope, safety, freedom, and justice in places I just might've stopped looking, but Spirit always abides.

Yoga makes me slow down long enough to acknowledge that somehow I'm still alive, still breathing, that my thoughts are powerful, and rest is good. I can be.

At the beginning and end of most classes we say, "Namaste", a Sanskrit phrase which means, "The divine in me honors the divine in you."

Namaste.

"I honor the place in you where Spirit lives
I honor the place in you which is
of Love, of Truth, of Light, of Peace,
when you are in that place in you,
and I am in that place in me,
then we are One."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blessings

I'm a crier. Sometimes I cry when it just seems like the best thing to do. I figure it doesn't hurt anyone and sometimes if just feels good. I probably became comfortable with my tears last year in Cambodia. There was no one to cry to, but the tears were impatiently waiting and ready to flow, so they did.

Crying isn't a wimpy thing to do. It doesn't have to be dramatic or ridiculous. In fact, if someone is brave enough to all out cry, good for you. It's better for my body than say, doing drugs, so I figure a good cry fix now and then will get me through.

Basically, I'm granting myself permission to feel and I've been feeling a lot the last 3 days: anger, sadness, worry, pain, stress, tiredness, but mostly, overwhelmed.

I have classes starting at 7:30am that go straight through the next 5 classes until 12:30pm. Oy. I don't love these classes. Frankly, I don't even feel smart enough to be in them, but I am and I'll do my balanced best and drop one if I need to.

Sitting through only two days of classes has me thinking much already about my kids. First of all, that I need to keep the memories of them very fresh because they are why I'm teaching, not Dr. Moses, my teacher. Sitting in Philosophy of Education I wrote on my paper 20 times, "Colllege is not here to entertain me," because he definately isn't.

Grammar and Linguistics is essentially, math with words. I hate math. I like words. I'm riding the fence on this one. I definately need the class and the teacher is great, but it's tough and apparently way over my head. In that class I wrote on my paper 20 times, "This class can greatly improve my writing," but it will really test me too.

As I sat in World literature, the fourth class of my day, I was reminded, I am so incredibly blessed to even have the shot at a college education. I don't want to complain at the opportunity to learn and grow and stretch and be a better person, but as I definately did so yesterday to another student, she said, "You're not complaining, you're comparing."

But complaining or comparing, I made a list this morning of all the things I am blessed.

I am blessed...
-with a college education
-with warmth when it's frigid in Nebraska
-with good genes and good health
-by great supportive people
-with two homework/socially friendly jobs this semester
-by what I've learned: to say 'no', to communicate, to let things go
-with a fully functioning brain and a reasonably good head on my shoulders
-by a loving family who hasn't given up on me yet
-by wonderful friends who seem to like me, amazing
-for the opportunity to write a book, a book!
-by good doctors and healthcare many do not have
-with a safe environment
-with freedom
-with justice
-by good opportunities
-with choices: mentor at a middleschool, play piano, write for the school newspaper
-for my SM experience and ALL that continues to teach me (Today, for the first time I realized: Before I left and while I was in Cambodia, people asked why I was going or why I was there, I said I wanted a year out of college to figure out what I wanted to do because I was just wasting money. Then ha, out of nowhere, I have a major! I wanna be a high school English teacher. Yeah, I think I might've picked that up in Cambodia.)
-with a spontaneous, affirming, wise, fun, boyfriend, oh laid back too...

I'm blessed. The things I struggle with now, particularly this semester, are small compared to where I've been. That doesn't immediatley make them easier, it puts them in perspective.

I can do this because of what I've done.