Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Faucet

A year or so ago, Ben and Ashley's kitchen faucet started doing this weird shaking-pulsating-spitting water-vibrating the pipes kind of thing. Whenever we turned the water on beyond a slow stream, the faucet would go into convulsions and an angry tantrum. We learned to spend more time at the sink rinsing dishes or filling up the water filter because if we tried to rush it, the faucet would get angry and the whole house would know it. That faucet forced us all to slow down a bit.

After several months of this, we called a plumber who came and easily fixed the problem. As I turned on the faucet for the first time after its repairs, I was shocked at how quickly the water came pouring out. On full blast, the water would spray off of the plates and soak any bystanders (or so it seemed in comparison to how it used to be).

Dishes took much less time. Filling our water bottles was nearly instant. We all spent a lot less time standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window. And I kind of miss it.

* * * * * * * * * *

We don't spend much time just standing. Just sitting. Just waiting.
In doctor's office waiting rooms, we read magazines.
Walking from point A to point B, we listen to ipods.
Driving in our cars, we talk on cell phones.
On the treadmill, we watch TV.

When's the last time you saw someone in a private or public location just sitting and thinking?
When's the last time you did?

Many of us suffer from information anxiety and don't even have the time to stop and consider why. I've gotten in the habit of reading, listening to my ipod, and talking on my cell phones because I don't want to look lame, as if I am so boring that I have nothing better to do. As if people are watching me and I want to at least "look" busy." Because as we all know, that's super important to leading a meaningful life.

* * * * * * * * * *

My eighty-six year-old grandpa can be found on his farm most days of the week rumbling around on his tractor, feeding cows, and fixing things. When my dad and uncle suggested he get a cell phone for safety reasons, he said, "Why would I want to let other people in on my precious quiet time?"



* * * * * * * * * *

My education textbooks talk about how today's children are becoming less and less creative. They can't seem to muster the critical thinking skills of previous generations. Our society doesn't allow nearly as much quiet thinking time as say, people of the 1900's, even the 1950's. Thinking is on the decline.

* * * * * * * * * *

Three years ago, my friend Stella from Cambodia recommended I try meditation. I lasted about a week.



At Thanksgiving when I saw Stella again, she reminded me how much good meditation could bring to my life. "Prayer is a one-way conversation. Meditation is a two-way conversation," she told me. "Prayer is about talking. Meditation is about listening."

After seeing Stella that day, I wrote in my journal: "This is something I want to do. This is something I will do. I will make it a priority."

So I returned to school for the last 3 weeks of final exams with good intentions, even writing, "Meditate," in my planner every single day. Want to know how many times I actually did it? Once.

Essentially, in the four weeks since I said, "I will make meditation a priority," I haven't. At all.

* * * * * * * * * *

Battling an eating disorder as involved training myself to see that the feelings I'm trying to avoid with food won't actually kill me. I can sit with uncomfortable feelings. I can be still and feel whatever I need to feel. I don't have to avoid every mildly unpleasureable situation that comes into my life. I can just feel it.

Battling any other addiction follows the same premise. Geneen Roth says, "When you believe in yourself more than you believe in __________ (insert your weapon here), you will stop using __________ as if it were your only chance at not falling apart."

But how do I believe in myself? Well, I need to know what in there is worth believing in. I have to know that there is something in me worth valuing and respecting and believing in.

That's why I need to meditate.
That's also why it's so damn hard.

"Meditation helps you discover what you love that you didn't know you loved because you were so caught up in your mind that you didn't realize there was anything else there" (Geneen Roth, Women Food and God).

* * * * * * * * * *

Reasons I've not followed through with meditation:
-I don't get a pay check or a report card for it
-Society at large doesn't seem to value meditation as a "productive" use of time
-It's not super fun
-I'm not always good at sitting still
-There's too many more important things to squeeze into the day
-It's hard

Yup, it's hard. It's downright difficult for me to sit still and quiet my mind, so therefore I don't.

I've heard that "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
And "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again."
And "It's the hard things in life that are the most worth doing."

Blah, blah, blah.

I get it.

Fine.




This will be me . . .

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sour Patch Kids

I remember growing up and thinking that anyone 3-15 years older than me was . . . the bomb.

Ever so closely I observed my older cousins; what clothes they wore, how they laughed, what they ate. They were regular objects of my admiration. They could do no wrong.

So even as ridiculously un-bomb-like I feel, I have a hunch that younger eyes watch me just as my eyes watched others. This is why when I'm home from college, I try to set up a date with my three younger cousins.

Today I drove an hour away to pick up my cousin Angie's daughters Oriel (9 years-old) and Cosette (5 years-old). Amazingly, I like these kids. Their kind, well-mannered, and don't whine too much when they don't get their way. Plus, they're just plain fun! So we loaded up and drove another hour to pick up the oldest, Destaney (13 years-old) who apparently very, very, very, very much strongly dislikes Justin Bieber and doesn't care the least bit that he was (rumor has it) thrown in jail recently for smacking a paparazzi.

With a car full of curly-tops we headed out on our adventure. About 8 minutes down the road, Oriel said, "I'm hungry." So we stopped at Subway for sandwiches. Upon arriving at the movie theater, the girls "needed" more food, so they stocked up on 2 extra large Slurpees, 1 box of Sour Patch Kids, 1 box of Raisinets, and 1 oversized bag of Skittles.



Finally in the movie theater, we settled in for . . . yes, it's true: "Yogi Bear". They loved it. They laughed and cheered and enjoyed every minute of it. Little Cosette jumped at all the "scary" parts in the PG-rated movie as she was eaten alive by the too-large theater seat that her small body couldn't hold down. She spent most of the movie with her butt sinking closer and closer to the floor and her feet up near her face. She ended up crawling into my lap when the (SPOILER ALERT) lumber company showed up to chop down all the trees in Jellystone State Park.



We recovered though and headed to the swimming pool which had 3 slides, a lazy river, water guns, fountains, the works. We had a blast. The older girls went off to explore and Cosette and I headed for the shallow pool. We played long and hard (or as long and hard as possible when you're 3.5 feet tall and sporting a neon colored life jacket that apparently gives a "humongous weeeeedgie!")



My favorite part of our adventure was at the end of the day when Cosette and I hung out in the lazy river. At one point I was her sea horsey and she rode on my back as we floated along. Then later she commanded, "Lay down."
So I floated on my back, watching for what she wanted next.
"No, put your head back."
Done.
"And relax your arms at your sides."

Now we were floating, me completely relaxed floating head first down the river, and her at my feet pushing me a long like a tug boat (complete with tug boat sounds). We must've gone around in circles at least 20 times as she gently led me through the water. She completely took charge and I gladly let her.



Today, a five year-old helped me slow down and breathe.
Today, Oriel gave me a purple and pink beaded necklace she made herself.
Today, a child took hold of my hand when we were crossing the street.
Today, I ate chips, caramel popcorn, and Sour Patch Kids for lunch.
Today, I told my cousins they are special and that I love them.
Today, I corrected Destaney when she said she was dumb.
Today, I was reminded that life can be more simple.

Today, three young girls looked up at me admiringly and it felt good.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mike

Last night I watched a movie called Adam, about a man who has aspergers syndrome and his relationship with a woman who learns more about Adam and more about herself. At one point in the film, she feels overwhelmed and says,

"Adam, can you give me a hug?"

"Yes." He stands still.

She adjusts. "Adam, I'd like you to give me a hug."

"Oh, okay." Then he walks over and embraces her.

(Check out the trailer HERE)

Aspergers syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. In other words, the social cues that many of us pick up on such as fear, joy, anger, or annoyance, someone with aspergers may totally miss. They don't have the natural ability to sense social norms and learning every possible scenario is nearly impossible.

* * * * * * * * * *

My friend Mike has aspergers. I met him this semester as we had two classes together. I liked Mike from the first moment I met him. He's friendly, smiley, funny, and sincere. A few months ago I shared the story of a recent hard time in my life with Mike. That afternoon, I walked into class a few minutes late and Mike sat in the front row. We could've been the only two people in the room because without concern for the other twelve, Mike said, "You know Heather, I've been thinking. And it makes me sad what happened to you. I'm . . . so . . . sorry." He then stood up and gave me a hug.

Sometimes I'll be doing homework in the student center and Mike will strut up to me just looking for a good chat. Some days we'll talk for awhile, but other days I really need to get things done. As most of us do, I will continue looking at my book, only glance up periodically, and answer with "Uh huh"s and "Yeah"s. All the messages that say: "I'm busy."

I learned after awhile that Mike wasn't getting that message. When I don't have time to talk I need to say, "Mike, I am in the middle of my homework. I would like to finish it now. Can we talk later?"

He always says, "Oh, I'm so sorry. Thank you for just telling me. See ya later."

* * * * * * * * * *


I think we would all be better communicators if we assumed everyone had aspergers.

Instead of relying so heavily on social cues and hidden messages, we would just ask for what we need. Most of the pain in our lives is caused by the simple fact that we want something we aren't getting, but we don't ask for it directly. When we don't get it we get frustrated and angry.

I see this a lot in my relationship with Jeremy.

When I expect him to "just get it," know how I'm feeling, read my mind, and say the right things, I'm always disappointed. Some might think that means we aren't a good fit. But those people will look their ENTIRE lives for the "perfect" fit and never find it (well, not outside of fairy tales).

Relationships take work.

When I see the perfect opportunity for a romantic moment and he misses it, I could either get mad and stomp out of the room, or I could say, "Jeremy, I really need you to hug me right now."

In a recent interview with Oprah, Ali MacGraw said it has taken her sixty years to learn to ask for what she needs. We're not always good at it. Life isn't like the movies.
We don't always reconcile our differences.
We don't always feel understood.
We don't always kiss in the rain.

Sometimes we stay angry and bitter for a long, long time.
Sometimes we fumble through tears and hurt feelings.
Sometimes we knock teeth in our aim for lips and the rain just makes it sloppier.

Asking for what you need may not sound romantic, or at least romantic by Hollywood's standards. But this is what it is. Sometimes we have to say,
"I don't need you to fix it, I just need you to listen."
Or "I need some time alone."
Or "What you said hurt my feelings."
Or to a partner, "If you find me attractive, I need to know it."


I expected that people would dislike my boldness in asking for what I needed, but instead I've found people are relieved. Like when my parents were trying (with good intentions) to help me through eating disorder recovery, they were actually making it worse. I got frustrated. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want them to make me feel like a problem. But they didn't know I was feeling this way until I told them. And when I did I offered suggestions as to what would help. They've been an excellent support ever since.

* * * * * * * * * *

In our culture, asking for what we need sounds selfish or needy or bitchy. But I'm not telling you to demand what you need or whine about what you need. Some of the wisest words my Dad has ever said--and have always stuck with me--are, "Go ahead and ask. All they can is say 'no'."

And when/if someone says "no," then you need to ask yourself:

"Is this negotiable?"
"Will I be truly happy/fulfilled/balanced/complete without this?"

If the answer is "no" and you realize they will never change their mind, then you may need to re-evaluate your relationship with that person. Which is hard, but completely necessary.

* * * * * * * * * *

Some of the most powerful words I've encountered in twenty-three years are:

"How can I help?"

Yup, that's it.

"How can I help?"

This doesn't mean I want to fix you.
This doesn't mean I always know what's best.
This doesn't mean I know what you need better than you do.

It means, "I respect you. I care about you. Let's work for a solution, together."

It may seem terrifying, but it changes lives. I'm telling ya'.

Greta the Atheist

Recently, my friend Michael posted an intriguing link to an atheist's blog. Check it out here, because the rest of this post will mean nothing to you if you don't.

Go on.

Have a peek.

Look around a bit.

If you still haven't looked. Look now.


I think my favorite part of Greta's blog was how she addressed atheist anger. Anger is not a bad thing. Anger creates change. She brings up a good point saying that anger has brought about every pivotal social change in our history: women's suffrage, civil rights, etc. She says that if a person cannot use anger, then:

"you're telling us to be polite and diplomatic, when history shows that polite diplomacy in a social change movement works far, far better when it's coupled with passionate anger. In a battle between David and Goliath, you're telling David to put down his slingshot and just... I don't know. Gnaw Goliath on the ankles or something." (snicker, snicker)

Anger creates change. If we never got angry things would always stay the same.

Greta lists many of the reasons she's angry (here are a few):

-atheist conventions require extra security because of death threats (and who are these threats most likely coming from?)

-atheists are often harassed in the military and forced to attend religious events

-women are dying of AIDS in Africa and South America because the Catholic church has convinced them that using condoms is not of God

-many believers treat prayer as a sort of cosmic shopping list for God. They pray to win sporting events, poker hands, beauty pageants, and more. This leads to the revolting conclusion that God controls every minute detail and deliberately makes people sick so they’ll pray to him to get better

-religious leaders often tell children – and adults, for that matter -- that the very questioning of religion and the existence of hell is a dreadful sin, one that will guarantee them that hell is where they'll end up

-children get taught by religion to hate and fear their bodies and their sexuality. Female children get taught by religion to hate and fear their femaleness, and that queer children get taught by religion to hate and fear their queerness

-9/11

-religious believers make arguments against atheism without having bothered to talk to any atheists or read any atheist writing


I'm not an atheist, but these things make me angry too.

Religion has many flaws, which has had me questioning the importance of claiming one at all. So I haven't since I've been back from Cambodia. It hasn't made much of a difference in my life besides the fact the fact that I feel more authentic now that I don't.

Was Jesus really concerned with everyone taking on a label or did He want us to be taking care of people? Did He want us all sitting in church once a week or was it better to spend time sitting with people who are hurting? I've not found any wonderful reasons to sign up for a religion or a denomination. I know Adventism well. I grew up in it. It has it's pros and cons. I'm not anti-religion, I just know that you be like incredibly Christ-like without attending church a day in your life.

If Christianity is an active movement toward making the world more like it should be (peace-filled, joyful, safe), than the most un-Christian place may very well be inside of a church where we are merely "talking" about what we believe. That's not where real change, healing or redemption take place. What really matters--where real spirituality takes place--is what happens outside the doors.

I tried on atheism for a week in Cambodia. It didn't fit well. Too scratchy. Too unsure. Too hopeless. But I've been battling with many of these same arguments ever since. I appreciate Greta's boldness in saying them out loud.

I don't agree with everything she writes. For examples when she says "goddamn" she's actually disproving her own point that we should all be respectful of each other's beliefs. She's shutting a lot of doors instead of creating the possibility of discussion. Her rhetoric sends the message, "This is what I believe and I don't give a damn what you think about it." Her "blow me" message near the end pretty much seals that deal. This she says to the very people she wishes would learn more about atheism.

Still, I'm glad I read her blog because Greta's objective in writing the blog is not to get rid of all religious people, but to end the discrimination against those who do not claim one.

And I'm all for it.

Atheism is another belief system, another way to look at life. Who am I to say it is right or wrong? Just because I am not atheist doesn't mean that I cannot learn more about them. What Christian wouldn't appreciate an atheist saying, "Tell me more about what you believe. I want to understand better." In fact by reading this blog I've found we have more in common than I thought.

The world is far from perfect. Both of our beliefs want to make it a better, safer, and more accepting place for everyone.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lincoln Journal Star

Several weeks ago I was contacted by the PR representative on my college's campus and asked if I would be interested in doing an interview with Lincoln's newspaper, The Lincoln Journal Star.

"Hmm, do you know of any reason that I shouldn't do it?" I asked.

"Not really. It's up to you. It could be great PR for the campus and for your book."

He passed on my phone number to a writer at the newspaper and I waited to hear back. A few days later Kevin called and we got together to talk.

Here's the interview and slideshow if you'd like to check it out.

He asked questions.
I answered them.
I know the story pretty well after all.

What most intrigued me was the conversation that followed afterward.

"Kevin," I asked as he was putting away the microphone, "Is it okay if I ask you a question?"

He nodded his head.

"When I was talking about sexual violence you mentioned that that sounded like events taking place at Rosebud Indian reservation. How are you connected with Rosebud?"

"Well, I am Native American and I grew up on Rosebud reservation until I was eight, then my family moved away."

He went on to explain how he didn't have many memories from the reservation, but had gone back and visited.

The reason Rosebud caught my attention is that a year ago my Educational Diversity class spent 4 days volunteering at the middle school on the reservation. The poverty and the educational situation were eye-opening enough, but then after our visit, I saw a documentary that was put together about the horrific sexual violence that is completely out-of-control on this reservation (check out the trailer here).

Kevin saw the same documentary that I did and wrote his own story in the newspaper about it in an effort to raise awareness. He and I both grieved over the shocking situation on the reservation and he shared some of his own experiences with me.

"I've been sober for 14 years," he told me. "No, make that 13 years 11 months and 27 days."

Wow.

He said that alcoholism is a huge issue on the res and of the dozen or so people that were in his AA group 14 years ago, he was the ONLY one who went voluntarily and he is the ONLY one who is still sober.

I asked him how he was going to celebrate. He said he and his wife would treat themselves to a nice dinner.


Here's why this interview mattered to me: Had I been doing an interview about a book I wrote about, say, dolphins; Kevin and I never would've connected the way we did. There's something powerful and--dare I say--sacred about opening your soul to another person.

I felt fine with my interview, but I felt truly connected and fulfilled after Kevin's interview. His story inspired me to keep telling mine.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lime Light

Last night I had a nightmare so gruesome I don't even feel comfortable describing it (and that says quite a bit because there are very few things I don't share).

It was one of those rape dreams.

I imagine that women may be able to relate more to rape dreams, but they are horrible, helpless, terrifying sort of dreams that grip you and hold on tight until you are sweating and screaming yourself awake.

What's more disturbing about dreams like this is that they are a pretty direct reflection of my subconscious. Essentially, if I'm dreaming about it, I've probably been thinking about it too.

My lingering feelings about sexual violence have probably resurfaced as a result of reading an incredibly touching book called, Half the Sky. I will write more on that later as I could devote several blogs to its content. The book describes the injustice and slavery of our time; the hatred, abuse, and discrimination of women. The book describes horrific gang rape rituals and sexual slavery organizations that make me want to scream and yell in an attempt to solve problems that will never be solved that way.

The awareness that I am a woman, and others are not, is rarely far from my mind.

This particular rape dream was inflicted as a sick punishment for the fact that I am so open about telling my story. This person hated me and hated my message about honesty and healing.

Ever since my book was released in August, I've felt it. I've felt the attention. I've heard the reactions. I've seen my face on the Union college website. I've read my story in the Lincoln Journal Star. I'm feeling the heat of the lime light. It's a few degrees hotter than comfortable.

We put ourselves at risk everyday.

By getting out of bed or walking out the door, we open ourselves up to people.
By painting a picture or writing a song, people may like it or dislike it.
By opening our mouths, people may disagree or boycott our message.
By writing about my struggles on this blog, publishing a book about it, performing songs, and speaking up front, I'm giving people permission to form opinions about me good, bad, or unsure.

I've had very few negative reactions to my story or my book, so I know that part of this doubt probably comes from within myself. Sometimes I look at a copy of my book sitting on the bookshelf and think, "Wow, I'm proud of myself for that." Other days I see it, that smiling face on the cover, and quickly turn it over so I don't have to look at it anymore.

She says, "Your story doesn't matter. No one cares. Shut up or I'll shut you up."

Sometimes I wish I hadn't written blogs or written the book. There's so much less risk involved by keeping your mouth shut and saying nothing at all.

My imagination gets the better of me and I start assuming what people are saying and thinking. I assume they're sick of me.
I assume they don't want to look at me.
I assume I'm misinterpreting their affection for pity.
I assume a lot of things that just aren't true, and they end up in horrific nightmares.

That's reason enough to question that voice in my head that tells me I am nothing, that I deserve to be punished for my outspokenness.

I have to continue to disagree with those ideas because they are not welcome here.

And never will be.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Loves to Picnic

Richard Young interviewed me for his blog lovestopicnic.com.

You can check it out by following the link, or you can read it here, because well, white font on a black background is just plain hard to read.


Richard Young: Heather, when we first met you were the basketball star that sang in church all the time that everybody seemed to love. I don't remember the first time I heard that you had an eating disorder but when I did my first instinct was curiosity. I did not know you very well and I all I knew about anorexia was from a paper that I had written about Karen Carpenter. How do you feel about introducing yourself to many people that don't know you through something that is very personal matter. I would imagine that this makes you feel alot more vulnerable. Am I wrong?

HB: You are absolutely right. Writing a book about my struggles—about what makes me human—puts me in an incredibly vulnerable position: What if people think less of me? What if I lose friends? What will people think of me when they find out I’m not perfect?

We need to ask ourselves: What is it about “getting personal” that scares us so much?

If someone thinks “less” of me for having an eating disorder, than they must be the world’s first and only perfect person, because here’s some news: Everybody struggles with something. Maybe it’s an addiction, maybe it’s pornography, maybe it’s alcohol, maybe it’s gambling. We’ve all got something. And the more we act like we don’t, the more people around us see right through it. None of us are perfect and that’s okay.

I’ve not lost one single friend because I’ve shared my struggles. In fact, I’ve made more friends because of it. It’s been a long journey of day-to-day decisions to accept that I’m okay as I am. I don’t have to have perfect hair and make-up, wear designer brands, or put on a happy face when I’m falling apart inside. I don’t have to fake having it all together when I most assuredly do not. It’s liberating to make friendships based on transparency instead of the masks we hide behind.

My “dirt” is on display for anyone on the internet or in a book store to read. Anytime we put ourselves out there, we give people permission to form opinions about us: good, bad, or otherwise. We can’t control how they will react, but here’s what I’ve found: More people have graciously related to my story and thanked me for writing it than people who have rejected it. In fact the score is at least 200 to 1. I’ve only dealt with one person who criticized my story and they did so anonymously, so that doesn’t even count.

Ninety-nine percent of the time when we admit that we are indeed human, the people around us take a deep breath, “Oh good, then I can be too.”

I first blogged about the eating disorder in 2007 during my student missionary year in Cambodia. I’d already been battling anorexia for 18 months and had only told a handful of people closest to me. I reached a desperate moment in Cambodia where the risk to remain silent was more painful than the risk it took to be honest. I’ve never regretted that decision. Not once.


RY: When I look back at events that have taken place in my life it is hard to get perspective on things if they have happened recently. For example it's like passing something on the freeway and seeing it appear in your rearview window. At first it is very big but you can't see it the whole thing. But as you drive farther away from it you can see exactly what it was. How has your perspective and memories of your journey changed? Does it look and feel the same as it did the weeks after you returned from Cambodia?

HB: My perspective on my year in Cambodia has altered gradually ever since I returned on July 1st, 2008 about two and a half years ago.

When I first came back to the States I felt fragile. I had nightmares about being raped. I went to trauma counseling. I was afraid to eat for fear that I would resort to throwing up. I didn’t want to go to church. I was angry with God (if there was one). I was sick with giardia, worms, parasites, and amoebas. I was scared to be alone with myself because then I’d have to face who I had turned into in Cambodia. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror.

I felt like a bad student missionary. Like somehow I had missed the point or slipped through the cracks. I had this picture of what my experience was “supposed” to be and when it wasn’t I felt like I must’ve done something wrong.

Writing Honestly, I’m Struggling was the single most important thing I’ve done to heal since returning from Cambodia. Most of the writing was already done since the book was compiled from the blogs I wrote overseas. But having to re-enter that experience and re-live those days and nights was incredibly healing. This time when the feelings became too much, I could turn off my computer and it would all be over. Instead of putting those feelings in a box and avoiding them, hoping they’d just go away, I had to dive back in and deal with them, feel them, and work through them.

Sometimes I’ll read through the pages and think, "Oh girl, take a deep breath." Where I was then seems less difficult to me now as I sit in a safe environment with friends and family nearby. But I know better. I have to honor my experience. Time is powerful medicine. Who we are now is different than who we were five minutes ago or five years ago. Things change. Opinions change. I’ve changed. I know now that this is my story and I don’t need to apologize for it. I can’t fret about what I should have done or how I should have reacted. This is my story and I’ve learned too much for it be a mistake.


RY: I know that coming back from the things that you have had to deal with in your life takes time. I know that in my life I am constantly trying to improve and learn from my struggles. If you only had a few moments to speak with someone who was dealing with some of the struggles that you had to deal with in your year of mission work what would you say to them?

HB: If I had only a few moments with someone who’s talked to me about their struggles (and we are ALL struggling with something), I would say:

“I’m so sorry that you’re hurting. You’re not alone. How can I help?”
Those four words—“how can I help?”—are incredibly powerful.

It doesn’t mean I want to fix you.
It doesn’t mean I’m secretly judging you.
It doesn’t mean I know exactly what you need.
It doesn’t mean I know what’s best and I’ll force that on you.

It means: “I’m sorry. I want to help. Tell me how.”

I have this hard-wired belief that I am the only dysfunctional person walking this campus. After all, I’m cleaning up after an eating disorder. I don’t know what I believe about God anymore. I wish my thighs looked like her thighs. I’m not sure that I’m in the right major. And I spend more time than I’d like to admit wondering if I hold any value in people’s lives or if I will make any significant difference before I die.

I think most of us believe that we are the only dysfunctional ones and our friends would be horrified to find out otherwise. But the truth is: some of us are about one minute away from falling apart, yet we walk around and carry on with life as if we’re doing—how do we answer the question, “How are you?”—oh that’s right, “Good.” But we’re not. We’ve got to stop acting like we’re “good” if we’re not “good.”

I’m not always doing “good,” sometimes I’m doing “wonderfully,” “splendidly,” “horribly,” or I’m just plain falling apart. I realized that if I was so frustrated that no one else seemed to be admitting they weren’t always doing “good,” than I needed to start the trend. That’s the hardest part, Gandhi was right: We have to be the change we want to see. And it stinks because that means I have to put myself out there first.

Vulnerability is an incredible strength. Some people fight it their whole lives as if letting people know who they really are just might kill them. But it doesn’t. And it won’t. And it will only make you stronger.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Speechless

Two years ago, I joined a women's fitness facility called Five Willows. When I walked in I felt safe. There were beautiful paintings and sculptures by women artists, a dance school, yoga and pilates classes, child care, as well as an Aveda salon and spa.

I met personal trainers and fitness experts who were strong, knowledgeable, and capable.
I met working women who balanced jobs, family, and taking care of themselves.
I met marathoners, triathletes, and cancer survivors.
I met Liz, my yoga teacher, who has traveled to India numerous times and appeared in movies, one of which with Elvis Presley.
I experienced yoga classes that challenged me to relax and brought me to tears.
I experienced a strong community of women who supported each other.
I experienced joy and laughter teaching Zumba to 60-something year-olds who shook it with the best of 'em.

Every time I walked in those doors, I felt like I was taking care of myself.

And now it's over.

After opening and teaching Zumba Tuesday morning, I got a voice mail that Five Willows was officially closed. I needed to return my keys and pick up my last paycheck. The sudden end involved a bank foreclosure that no one was expecting.

It feels like something died.

The building just sits empty and quiet. No blurry-eyed exercisers stumble in at 5:30am. No Zumba dancers shake their stuff. No women come together inside and gain strength. It's just over.

Five Willows held such a prominent place in my life and now it's gone. And it's weird.

* * * * * * * * * *

When I was six years old, my aunt and uncle's lhasa apso dog had puppies. My ambitious parents decided to let us take home one a new pet. We chose Trinket.

She was a little, light brown puppy that maybe doubled in size over the next 17 years. She was a small dog. Pets bring life into people that is hard to explain. When I was a dramatic 8 year-old, I'd bury my head in her fur and cry about the world's injustices. She never talked back and always seemed interested. Trinket had puppies and we kept her son, Oscar.

As Trinket and Oscar both aged, Trinket's health deteriorated to the point that she was mostly blind and deaf. She would walk in circles around the kitchen, bump into things, and be terrified if someone touched her.

She was suffering so my parents had her put down a few weeks ago.

When I returned home for Thanksgiving break, Oscar refused to sleep alone. He would always find a place at the foot of my bed. He would bark and look around the house for her. But now she's gone. And it's weird.

* * * * * * * * * *

On Sunday, my dad called to tell me that papa died.

My nana and papa (my mom's parents) have always lived far away from us. Us kids grew up seeing them over Christmases or summer vacations. Papa was tall like a giant from a fairy tale and always had a belly that jiggled when he laughed real hard. But he was the kind type of giant that wrapped us in hugs and smiled when we were around.

We would sit at a card table, do puzzles, and talk and talk when the snow kept us inside.

Slowly, papa grew older as we all do. Parkinson's brought a shake to his hand and difficultly remembering to his brain. Last time I saw him he seemed to recognize me and his eyes lit up like they always did.

But now he's gone. And it's weird.

* * * * * * * * * *

What makes a place/a pet/a person cease to exist?
What reaches in and takes the soul that brought them life to begin with?

What does that soul look like?
Does it have a color?
A shape?
A sound?

How does that soul encapsulate everything that that person was?
How does it make every one left feel so empty?

What takes place inside of those of us that are left?
Does my piece of that person leave too?
Does the grief come because the part of their soul that resided within me is taken away and goes with them when they die?

No one can take away the memories I have in that place, with that pet, or with that person. But when the life-force within them leaves, memories never feel like enough. And what's left is the eerie awareness of what once was, but is no longer, and never will be in the same way again.

And it's weird.

By and large, we know what to do with most situations.
But death leaves us speechless.

Maybe the lessons to be learned lay in the quiet grieving moments. The moments when we realize that whatever part of us that went with them when they died, and we think we'll never be able to live without, never really left at all.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stella


The last time I saw Stella, I was a frantic twenty year-old: scared, bitter, hurting, and afraid. She saw me at my absolute worst: far from home, irrational, terrified of men, terrified of myself, and stuck in my own self-hatred that manifested itself in several weekly meetings with the toilet.


The last time I saw Stella was three years ago in Cambodia. We met when someone recommended her as a counselor. We departed assuming we'd never see each other again. But we did. We connected on Facebook to find out that she would be in the States for the first time and would be in Denver an hour away from where I live. Thanksgiving morning I drove to where she was staying and wrapped that wonderful woman in my arms, hardly believing she was actually there.


I sat across from her on the couch and shared my story, but this time the story was much different.


This time I smiled and breathed deeply.


This time the sunshine poured in through the windows, the street outside was quiet, and I felt safe.


This time I spoke with clarity and confidence.


This time I talked about progress, improvements, and hope.


This time my voice was calm, my sould was at peace, I spoke of forgiveness, and the realization that life is a journey, not a measuring stick of perfection or failure.


This time I talked about a future that doesn't absolutely terrify me.


This time I talked about a God that actually likes me, a God that is not confined in a church or a list of guilts and failures, a God that I'm actually interested in and humbled by, a God that continues to surprise and accept me.


This time I talked about feeling loved and supported and heard and accepted.


This time I talked about sharing my story, writing a book about it, and building friendships based on the one thing I fought for so long: being who I am.


This time was different and I am so grateful.


This is progress. This is proof for all the times I'll try to convince myself I'm going no where. These are the moments that are nearly impossible to capture, to remember, or to duplicate. But I'm sure going to try.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Notes

Here follows one of the many reasons I am in love with Jeremy:

"Morning my Love,

Today may seem like a day devoted to and surrounded with food. Today may seem like a day where there is no relief from the presence of people.

But...

Today is about stopping to remember to be thankful, possibly more aware. You can and have made it through many more meals and gatherings then you once thought you could. The size of your plate says nothing about you. There are other ways to be satisfied. The number on the tag behind you does not rule your life. People are good for you. It's okay to take breaks.

Breathe.
Pray.
Love."

He wrote me several notes to open on specific days during the two weeks we're apart. This one was for Thanksgiving day. He knows me well.












We're going on two years together, the longest relationship for both of us. He's a good one. I'm keeping him around. He's good for my soul.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

And I Will

A good friend once told me that I see life like a river full of floating leaves. Some people may just sit on the bank and watch. Others may get in and enjoy the cool water brushing against their ankles. I tend to stand there overwhelmed by all the leaves coming at me and attempt to catch, analyze, understand, and dissect every leaf that comes down the river.

Sometimes I have a hard time just letting it be.

I often feel bombarded and overwhelmed by life. The internet doesn't make this any easier. There is information, facts, and "Life-Saving Tips Every Woman Must Know" at every turn. We have an influx of unnecessary information that the world keeps saying is completely necessary.

Sometimes I get scared that good things are passing me by. I fear that an idea will come and go that I could've written about, but had to finish another damn term paper. What if that thought could've been the perfect song and I was so busy attempting to keep up with life that I missed it? Sure I wrote a book. Should I be doing something about that? Promoting it? I don't know. So I just sit here stunned by everything I should be doing/pursuing/accomplishing. But I'm not.

I'm easily overwhelmed at the feat of simply maintaining life.

This fact has come up recently in several doctors appointments. It's amazing to me how many people have told me recently that managing my stress would improve my health. Stress could be the source of the inflammation in my knee. Stress could be the source of TMJ in my jaw because I'm grinding my teeth at night. Stress continues to be the source of my struggles with eating disorder recovery.

Just when I think I have life pinned down, figured out, boxed in: something changes.

Like Thanksgiving. Always comes. Every year. Yet it surprises me how anxiety grows the closer we get to Thursday. A whole day devoted to food and its consumption. Some years I have honestly thought the day itself would eat me alive. It has yet to.

That's probably what happened today. I got tired of arguing with myself, of deciphering truth from lies, of convincing myself, "No, this feeling will not actually overtake and kill you. We can breathe through this."

Feeling anxious. Feeling stressed. Then I started being stressed about being stressed (Yeah, I'll probably die of heart disease if I don't STOP stressing! STOP NOW!)

It's the stressed people who die of heart disease.
It's the stressed people who miss out on a life that passes them by because they were too busy worrying.
It's the stressed people who are so busy overanalyzing every piece of information that comes down the river, they can't enjoy the wonderful life sitting right in front of them.

I've had worse moments.
I've been more panicked.
I've been more crazy.
I've been less clear.

Breathing continues to be my best defense and a strong offense.

It's going to be all right. These moments come and go. Some days I'm better, some days I'm worse. But EVERY other time I thought I might not make it through an uncomfortable
feeling
situation
event
emotion
assignment
day:

I DID.

And I have.

And I will.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Authoritative

Something to think about. . .

"When 3,407 9th- through 12th- grade European American students described their parents' styles and their peer-group orientation, adolescents who characterized their parents as authoritative (demanding but responsive, rational, and democratic) were more likely to favor well-rounded crowds that rewarded both adult- and peer-supported norms such as "normals" and "brains."

Students, especially girls, who characterized their parents as uninvolved were more likely to be oriented toward "partyers" and "druggies" who did not endorse adult values.

Finally, boys with indulgent parents were more likely to be oriented toward fun-cultures such as "partyers."

In fact, adolescents with authoritative parents are more likely to respond to peer pressure to do well in school and less likely to be swayed by peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol, especially when their friends also have authoritative parents (Collins, Maccoby, Hetherington, & Bornstein, 2000)."

Not that I'm about to have kids or anything, but doesn't this kind of take the guess work out of a few aspects of parenting? I'm not saying it's a quick fix or your kid's mistakes are your fault, but the studies were intriguing when they broke it down so simply.

If you want good kids who care about school and pick good friends, have high expectations, be responsible and reasonable, and give them a voice. Choose family friends who have a similar parenting style and give off solid values.

If you want kids who party and do drugs, be uninvolved. Distance yourself. Put food on the table and nothing else. Buy them everything they want so you look good, but don't actually give them what they need: you.

Optimism

Last week, I asked my counselor, Lynn, if she believed that people are really born optimists and pessimists or if we just become whatever label we are given. I don't want to label myself a pessimist for fear that it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy that I settle into. Lynn didn't have a clear answer except that she does believe optimism can be taught.

So she gave me some homework to write down every positive thing that happened on any given day. I picked Monday.

*woke up feeling rested
*slept in a warm bed
*no mice sounds coming from the ceiling (yeah, we've had mouse problems. But now we've got traps)
*water for a parched mouth
*space heater
*daylight savings
*great hair day
*I have teeth
*clear-ish skin
*eyes that see
*ears that hear
*apple cider
*cute boots and comfortable dress
*fruit salad
*got to class on time
*interesting class period
*when asked to write one word to describe how I feel, I wrote "optimistic" while most everyone else in class wrote "tired, " "overwhelmed," and another felt "like butter"
*"Teenage Dream" song redone by Boyce Avenue (youtube here, it will make you happy too)
*warm, morning weather
*supportive parents who let me dream and choose my own path
*a wonderful boyfriend who supports me and makes me smile
*incredible roommates who encourage me to think deeper
*cereal with bananas
*grandma Florence's humor
*a protective sister who knows me well
*having a cell phone/lap top computer/car/college education
*speaking English
*U.S. resident (these two qualities are not superior, they are merely helpful)
*my parents have never questioned whether or not I could go to counseling
*I wrote a book
*fun birthday weekend: waffles, walk on North Jamaica trail, card games, The Oven, movie
*allergy-free food that I can eat!
*good friends
*two day extension on my 15-page term paper
*my usually grumpy teacher was in a good mood
*extra time
*perspective
*deep breaths
*spontanaety
*kissing
*productivity
*peas
*PB & J
*cooking
*little kids that are cute and don't belong to me
*ditching class to enjoy a warm November afternoon
*honest conversations
*feeling helpful
*things falling into place
*gluten-free, vegan pear pie
*early to bed
*cozy blankets
*peace

That's 53 positive things in one day and I KNOW I didn't get all of them!

I am blessed. You are too. Try making a list.

Neon Pink Swimsuit (with ruffles)

Geneen Roth writes in her book Women, Food, and God that, "the most difficult part of teaching people to respect and listen to their bodies is overcoming their conviction that there is nothing to respect. . . The possibilitity that there is a place in them, in everyone, that is unbroken, that has never gained a pound, never been hungry, never been wounded, seems like a myth as far-fetched as the Sumerian goddess Inanna ascneding to earth after hanging on a meat hook in hell. But then I ask them about babies. I ask them to remember their own children and how they come into the world already gorgeous and utterly deserving of love. They nod their heads. They realize that brokenness is learned, not innate, and that their work is to find their way back to what is already whole."

Roth describes a meditation retreat in which she asked the women to stand in front of a full lenth mirror and describe what they saw:
"I see humongous thighs."
"I see flat stringy hair."
"I see a horrible double chin."
"I see arms that hang down to Montana."
Essentially, My body and I are one. There is nothing good about my body, therefore there is nothing good about me.

Then, she asks them to look again, beginning with their eyes. "I asked them to look beyond the color and shape of their eyes and to see what was seeing. For people who didn't quite understand the seeing-what-was-seeing part, I asked them to remember what it was like to be a child before they began to label and name the objects in their world. What it was like to see an extravaganza of form and color before they knew it was a rose and could compare it to other roses . . . When they walked up to the mirror, they used words like brilliance, like precious, like completely open."

There is no goal, no end place, no test to take. No one is keeping score. Not is watching us and deciding whether we are worthy enough. Only us.

This idea of looking beyond my eyes in the mirror to the person beyond the eyes was . . . embarrasingly mind-blowing.

Instead of looking at the outside, I looked on the inside and was surprised at what I found.

Inside there's this little girl with golden, curly locks standing in the bright green grass wearing a neon pink swimsuit with ruffles. She's eating a popsicle. She looks happy.

She's never hated me for eating too much or exercising too little.

She's never considered disiking herself because she knows she's awesome!

She's the uber-confident little girl who loves to twirl, eat Frosted Flakes with a spoon two
times the size of her mouth, and mix up mud pies garnished with bush berries and twigs.

She's never been interested in what others were eating or wearing or saying. Shes' in her own little world.

She's tough enough to run around with her brother and go fishing, but sensitive enough to cry, to feel, to care, to write poems about her pet snail, George.

She's always known she was perfect because she's never considered any other option.

What's not to love, afterall?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Twenty-Three

Surprisingly, she survived another year.

How did this happen?
What constituted the last 365 days?
What did she learn?
How did she change?
One year later, was she better or worse?
Healing or stuck?
Growing or stagnant?
Happy or settling?

She found herself in that same familiar place: contemplation. Which scares some people, but comforts others. She felt that tinge of "happy" creeping in again. She didn't know what to do with it, but she just let it settle in and cozy up to her steady breathing.

Happy. Happy.

It can't be coincidence that 50-something year-olds never say, "Oh how the years have dragged by!" No. The years always "fly" by. Life doesn't slow it maintains whether we take time to notice or not.

Her heavy eyelids reached for closure as the nighttime sunk in.

Twenty-three?

Twenty-three.

Hmmm...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Luke

"Don't mess with what's on the table at meals or if the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There's more to a meaningful life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the natural world, free and wild, not tied down to a job description, peaceful in their identity in God. And you count far more.

"Have you ever known a person who got an inch taller by looking in the mirror and whining about their height? If whining won't do it, why whine? Look at wildflowers. They don't even think about their appearance, yet, have you ever seen color so vibrant, design so unique? The ten most ripped men and ten most thin and beautiful Victoria's Secret models look shabby and ho-hum alongside those flowers. If God cares so much for flowers, most of them never even seen, He's bound to care a whole lot more about you. Be proud of you. Like you. Do what's best for you.

"I'm trying to get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can understand God's giving. People who don't know God and the way He works whine over these things, but you know both God and how He works. Steep yourself in God: what is real, what His desires are, what He wants to give. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don't be afraid of missing out. God wants good things for you.

"Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can't go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bankrobbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being."


I might've paraphrased a paraphrase. You can find the "original" that I borrowed from in The Message version of the Bible in the 22nd verse of the 12th chapter. These words were said by Jesus and written down by this guy named Luke, a doctor and well-educated Greek, between 6 B.C. and 27 A.D.

I think I like Luke. We might've hung out. Who knows? I feel like his words speak pretty strongly to my most recent thoughts on beauty and God. Not a lot of answers, but a few interesting thoughts along the way. Thanks, man.

For some reason it's easier for me to relate to the Bible and its stories in historical terms. I guess I assume these are more likely to be facts that even an atheist couldn't argue with, the sorts of aspects that don't require faith. Learning about how the Bible came to be, who these people are, and what it means intrigues me. Only recently have I been able to delve into what the general population accepts about Jesus and the Bible. For some reason, knowing these things makes them more real to me. I guess I'd always associated the Bible with fairy tales that only Christians believed, but it's interesting to know that biblical scholars that are religious, agnostic, and otherwise, still study and value Biblical texts for its complex structure, historical value, and poetic style.

It's almost like these aren't just silly stories I heard in Sabbath School and memorized for tests in church school.

It's almost like these things really happened and there are lessons I can learn from them no matter where this journey takes me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

When Death Comes

by Mary Oliver


When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and
takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;

when death comeslike the measles-pox;
when death comeslike an iceberg
between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door
full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Unattractive

In one breath:
"Beauty is dangerous." -Gerard Manly Hopkins

In another breath:
"Beauty will save the world." -Fyodor Dostoyevsky

These quotes--and approximately 47.6 billion other reasons--contribute to my contridicting beliefs about beauty.

What is this inner urge I have to feel beautiful? To be attractive? To be a woman?
What is this outer urge I have to be tough? To be unattractive? To be less of a woman?

I can most easily trace the roots of these conflicting desires to my childhood (where all good psychological reflection seems to end up). My story is neither fantastic nor unique: I've been rewarded for being "pretty" my whole life.

As a kid, I heard:
"Oh, you're such a gorgeous girl!"
"She's gonna grow up to be a heart breaker!"
"No, you can't be twelve! You look so much older than that!"
It was in grade school that I got my first taste of the ugliness that went along with being "pretty." The boys in grade school who would finger my bra against my back and shoulders. The boys who would ask me, quite seriously, to take my shirt off for them. The boys who "educated" me at the age of twelve much further than I wanted to be about everything from blow jobs to sex positions, and their fantasies that often involved me or other girls. I envied the quiet, mousey girl in class who didn't garner their attention.

In highschool I learned that I didn't have to be intelligent, funny, talented, honest, or even necessarily kind, I just had to be pretty. I still got plenty of attention from my older brother's friends, but at least theres was less . . . vulgar. The eating disorder began in high school (surprise, surprise) where I was rewarded the longer I starved myself.

The experience that most challenged my thoughts on beauty was Cambodia. In a short amount of time, I became fully aware of how my presence on the street attracted stares, licking lips, stares, and touches. Walking outisde felt like I was on display in a whore house. When I went outside, I would cover as much skin as possible, pull my hair back tight, wear large sunglasses, a pollution mask, and a helmet to avoid their attention--without much success.

Three years later, I'm becoming more and more aware of my developing beliefs about beauty. This weekend, my boyfriend, Jeremy(bless his soul), taught me a few things. (It still kinda surprises me how much of my story I admit on this blog. Eh, what the heck.)

Last week, he commented, "Your face looks . . . orange."

This is what every girl wants to hear, right? I did not intend on my face being orange. The new make-up I was trying to cover my "flaws" with was obviously failing me and I felt like a freak. It took me a good 30 minutes of thinking and a few kind prods from him saying, "What are you thinking, girl? Do you want to talk about it?" for me to acknowledge: yup, I REALLY want him to find me attractive and when he doesn't (or simply comments that my make-up looks weird!), I struggle to feel valuable, worthy, and beautiful.

Maybe this sounds silly. Maybe this sounds shallow. I don't actually believe that my only worth is in my appearance, but I've sure had a lot of experiences that tempt me to. And I keep coming back to: How will I ever know if I am good enough? Where does my value lie?

Jeremy remind me, "I'm not those guys you went to school with." He deserves more credit than that. He's not one dimensional. He see all of me. That's awfully hard to believe based on my observations the last few years, but my options are
#1. Call Jeremy, my dad, and other respectable men liars.
#2. Believe them. Possibly the doubt. the lies, the lessons to be learned, can be found within me.

I think I am going to do some research. Possibly a survey project that will ask women:
"How do you honor your beauty without letting it define who you are?"

Because the temptation is to:
stop spending any time or money on my appearance
OR
surrender to the culture's expectations of beauty and call the first plastic surgeon in the phone book.


Oh, sweet balance. Don't give up on me. I'm learning.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Herrmann

When I woke up this morning, this is what I found in my inbox:

"herrmann has left a new comment on your post "Book Release: Honestly, I'm Struggling":

so: i take it we have you to thank for trash chutes in rees smelling like vomit?!?

newsflash: your life is a cakewalk. get a fucking grip & stop whining about it cos no one's listening"



I don't know who this person is. They left me no way of tracing them. So since this commentor left me no one-on-one way to respond, I'm doing so here, hoping that they'll read it.


Dear herrmann,

I don't know anyone by your name. To my knowledge we've never met. But you obviously have some strong opinions about me. Well, now I have some strong opinions about my limited knowledge of you too.

You are a coward.

To make such strong statements about me through the veil of an anonymous comment on the internet, resembles junior high fights on Facebook. I will not honor your remarks with equal immaturity. If you would like to actually talk about your opinions, you can post again and leave your email address (Don't worry, I won't post that for others to read. That would, after all, be rude). I'd be more than happy to talk with you. I will not, however, fight with you.

I suppose since you "approached" me by way of a cruel blog comment, you're probably not that interested in talking. Just in hurting. Just in being reckless. Just in being cowardly.

In case you only read this blog once and will never actually "talk" to me, I must say . . .

While there have been reports that the Rees hall (girls dorm) trash chutes reeked of vomit several years ago (actually, before I even came to college), you don't have me to "thank" because I never once purged at the dorm and your being unfair and insensitive to assume that I did. Whoever was vomiting in the trash was hurting . . . horribly. And for you to go pointing fingers or making fun of that pain only makes me respect you less.

I agree with you on one point: my life may look like a "cakewalk" to some. I'm not going to argue about whose life is harder. It doesn't matter. We are only responsible for our own stories. I am fully aware that many people have, many people do, and many people will continue to hurt more than I will ever experience. Just because I wrote a book about my struggles, doesn't mean I think for one minute that I am unique. We ALL struggle. We ALL hurt. Writing about it has been healing for me and healing for others.

I am trying to "get a grip." I'm looking for balance in my life. I'm looking to move on. I haven't always done this gracefully, but I'm trying. And I encourage you to stop reading about it if you're so angered by it.

Lastly, to say that "no one's listening" is actually quite untrue. A lot of people are listening. People do care. I've lost count of how many people have shared their own struggles with me because I've shared mine with them. And together we heal.

So frankly, this one cowardly blog comment doesn't worry me.


Have a nice life.


(And now I will sign my name)

Heather

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Release: Honestly, I'm Struggling


Scott Cushman, assistant director of public relations at Union College, wrote up this great article about my book, Honestly, I'm Struggling. It's pretty cool to see it on-line and in the hands of people on campus who are reading it!
I've had my copies for a few months now, but just recently, the books have been made available for sale at Adventist Book Centers. I'm so thrilled that people actually want to buy the book, but I will insert my thoughts here:

If you are going to buy a copy of the book and buy it from the ABC, I earn about 7 pennies.
If you are going to buy a copy of the book and buy it from me, I earn a few dollars.

So, if you are in the Nebraska area and would like to purchase a copy of the book, you can email me at hbohlender@gmail.com.

If you are in the Colorado area and would like to purchase a copy of the book, you can email my Dad (Daryl Bohlender) at dbohlender@gmail.com.

Don't worry, if you buy the book at teh ABC, I will not hold it against you. The books cost $15.

Thanks for your support.

Rumbling

The premise of Geneen Roth's book Women Food and God is that our beliefs about ourselves, about life, and about God is reflected on our plates.

She recounts watching a group of women eat a meal during a mindfulness exercise. As the women sat with their food in front of them and waited for everyone to be served, they looked like heroine addicts being forced to sit and wait with their drug tempting them from the table. Some of them took the "you-can't-force-me-not-to-but-I-hate-myself-for-eating-salad-again" route, and others the "screw-you-I'm going-to-eat-a-little-bread-with-my butter" route. She described several other positions that said a lot about how these women felt/reacted to/felt about life. Some feel deprived, but can't imagine living any other way. Some have given up and give life the finger about every chance they can.

What about me? What does my plate tell me about my deepest convictions?

I'm a distracted eater. I read, do homework, check my email, write, talk on the phone, watch TV, cook, do laundry, play piano, walk, get dressed, do my hair, and even practice Zumba while I'm eating. Anything to avoid thinking about eating. Which seems to tell me . . . I'm a driven, task-oriented person. Uni-tasking seems like a waste of time and there's never enough time.

I'm a quick eater. Not ridiculously, but I've been known (if only by myself) to inhale. A speedy process. To the point. Which seems to tell me . . . I keep a schedule, have a plan, and stick to it. I don't like sitting with uncomfortable feelings.

I eat the most at night. At the end of the day, when I'm without the next task or schedule in front of me, I don't know what to do with myself and that scares me. Maybe I struggle to relax. Maybe I'm anxious or afraid. Which seems to tell me . . . I'm most comfortable with a routine, with situations I can control. When it's beyond my control, it' s beyond my sanity.

I like carbs. This is not a problem. Carbs are not bad. Could be a phsyiological defecit, could be a preference. I like texture. I like quick bulk. I like filling quickly and moving on. Which tells me . . . I prefer quick comfort and quick results. Now! I'm not super patient, but I'm super efficient?!

I'm a hoarder. I have a hard time sharing food. I save everything. I ration leftovers. Free food? I'm there. Sale? Count me in. Which seems to tell me . . . I have a belief that there will never be enough. Enough time. Enough money. Enough joy. Enough food. Maybe I'll run out. Maybe I won't have enough. I won't have what I need. Maybe my appetite for life exceeds everyone else's and there won'e be enough for me. Maybe I'll be in pain or out-of-control. Maybe I need to save up now for a time when I'll be lacking.

Overall, my hunger scares me. And I ask, "When will this hunger be tamed? Can I trust myself?"

Essentially, my beliefs have been that I need to be tamed. That I have an insatiable hunger that surpasses all others. And if I were set loose, if I didn't restrict and control myself, I would go crazy. This is a strong message. What if someone actually walked up and said those words to me, "You are too much. You need taming. You'd go crazy if you weren't controlled this way. We can't trust you." Well, someone is saying that to me: me.

I've been quite hungry lately. Not like, within the last five minutes-hungry. But for several days now. It feels like every time I finish eating, I'm hungry again. I can't seem to fill my tummy. I can't seem to satisfy this hunger. There are probably oodles of reasons why: an active life, body cycles of high metabolism, blah, blah, blah. I'm not so concerned with the "why" as much as why this scares me so much.

Because I don't want to feel hungry. From twenty-two years of watching women I've learned: women aren't supposed to admit to hunger. Women should eat like birds and look like birds (sticks for legs, slim figure). Women aren't supposed to have needs. To want. To feel.
"Oh no, I won't have dessert. I'll just have a bite of his."
"I'm not a complainer. I don't want to be a burden."
"I haven't even eaten breakfast today, I' m just so busy taking care of the family!"
"No, you go first."
"I'll do whatever you want."
"I don't care. I don't have an opinion."

For too long, I've seen hunger as a weakness. A compromise of the will. A giving in and giving up. This is strength? No, this is a sick form of denial and abuse. If you wouldn't expect it of a child, you shouldn't expect it from yourself.

Wants and needs are not gendered. They are part of being human. You are not stronger when you pretend that you are not human. In fact, you are just being ridiculous. I am just being ridiculous.

Don't give in to anorexia of the soul. Don't deny yourself what you need: love, companionship, joy, rest, food, fresh air. Allow yourself to hunger, to feel, to want, to desire. Don't fear the rumbling in your tummy or the rumbling in your heart.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Women, Food, and God

"Obsession is a way of organizing your life so that you never have to deal with the hard part--the part that happens between two years and dying. But the glitch in living life this way is that it is not a life lived in the present moment because the pain you are avoiding has already happened. You are living your life in reverse."

-Geneen Roth

Saturday, September 25, 2010

LaQuisha

My LaQuisha has bright, brown eyes.
My LaQuisha is slender and leggy. She makes spandex look stylish.
My LaQuisha shops at both thrift stores and department stores and wears the most trendy, yet classic styles.
My LaQuisha has an attractive boyfriend and together they will make attractive babies.
My LaQuisha is active and sporty and well-traveled and sweet.
My LaQuisha posts these incredible pictures of her travels, her boyfriend, her model-esque presence.
And the more I look at LaQuisha, the more I dislike looking at me.

Everybody's got a LaQuisha (just a note: this is NOT her real name). It's that person in your life who seems to have it all together. She or he walks with this confidence, this character, this presence that seems superior to anything you could ever hope to have. This person seems to simply stroll through tasks/talents/skills that you may struggle with. This person annoys you just because they seem to be so freaking awesome. And the only reason this bothers you is because you believe you are so freaking not.

Last semester, I stumbled upon the knowledge that make-up counters will pamper you for free. It seemed a good idea until I got there feeling schlumpy and despicable compared to the blond, busty, babes that surrounded me. As I sat in the highchair, the consultant started applying foundation, which is essentially fake skin.

"Now for the war paint," she joked as she dipped her brush into the flesh-colored paint and smeared one thick stroke beneath each eye.

What was probably a joke to her, a typical daily routine, jolted me. War paint. That's a grand way to put it. We are literally applying this fake skin to imitate the skin we wish we had. I haven't been able to put that out of my mind ever since. So every morning, during my own ritual I wonder, is this "war paint" today's female representation of what gladiators did?

Is this what we do to pump ourselves up for battle?
Is this the confidence we need to go to war against others, against the world, against ourselves?
Is this what we require to feel adequate in a highly competitive world?

Maybe for you it's not make-up. Maybe for you it's the clothes you wear. Maybe it's the food you eat (or don't eat). Maybe it's the lies you tell yourself everyday. Maybe it's that thing that makes you feel more prepared--slightly more adequate--to get through another day.

Four years ago, in the thick self-starvation, I saw a dietician, she told me, "If you eat right and exercise, your body will decide what it needs to weigh."

Yeah right. My body shouldn't decide what it needs to weigh. My body doesn't know. I do.
I wanted my 5'7 frame and athletic build to be petite and cute and slim. Like LaQuisha.

The truth of the matter is: LaQuisha actually isn't that smart.
Or funny.
Or talented.
Or great to be around.
She can't dance the salsa.
She can't cook aloo mattar.
She can't listen the way I can.
She hasn't written a book.
La Quisha is just LaQuisha.

And I am me.

It's taken four years, but I believe my dietician now. Now I'm having to accept that maybe this is my ideal weight, my ideal size, my ideal personality, my ideal me. It's hard though. Because sometimes I really want to be anything else.

LaQuishas roam the world and always will. This is true because you and I are LaQuishas too. Someone, somewhere, looks at you--your body, your style, your personality, your humor, your intelligence--with the same amount of covetousness, that you attribute to someone else. Though it's hard to believe, there are not actually certain breeds of people, a specific genetic line, that will always be superior. They are only superior to the degree that we let them be.

As I dare to consider that I am a LaQuisha to someone else, I have to say: "Don't waste your time." I'm just as messed up and broken and childish and irrational as the next person. Whatever value you attribute to me I dare you to find within yourself. Because it's there.

Preaching to the choir here. Don't worry, I'm listening.


What if right now, in this moment, we are everything we need to be?

Believe it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Am The One Who...

was born with curly hair and will die . . . with curly hair

played with My Little Pony as a child, basketballs as a teenager, and ideas as a college student

enjoys peanutbutter and jelly like it's going out of style

only wears clothes in which I could comfortably bust out a Downward Dog

awakens early in the morning

writes songs, poems, blogs, boooks, and essays

shakes her booty and gets paid for it . . . because she teaches Zumba

still remembers (barely) what life was like before cell phones and the internet

has a story to tell

believes in people and their ability to heal

learns best by talking about what she's learning

values people who smile, who are intentional, who are transparent

struggles with finding balance, accepting joy, and seeing the good in herself

does well at finding solutions, accepting criticism, and seeing the good in others

has a lot of questions about God

feels like she's doing okay.



Note: "I Am The One Who..." poem idea taken from Mrs. Nelson's 7th grade English class where I'm observing this semester

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Good Job, Body

What are the qualifications of a magnificent day?

This morning I woke up at 4:30am to open at the gym where I work. These early mornings get easier as I get into the swing of it and--oh yeah--get enough sleep. Ladies came and went, the Jazzercisers to their shaking and the spinners to their bikes. Sunshine crept out from the shadows and the street began to grumble with morning commuters.

Mid-morning, I teach a Zumba class to anywhere from 1-8 women (most of them over 60). Some mornings it's just me and Dottie, a 6o-something stout woman with twigs for legs and not an ounce of rhythm in them. We wiggle, we jive, and we smile. I beamed this morning as Mary, a pretty conservative mother and homes chooler, said, "Can we do that hip circle song?" to which she began singing, "Say Hey (I Love You)" by Michael Franti. A wonderful way to start the day.

By the time Zumba is over, I've already been awake for five hours, and yet a full day stands before me. From here, I did some homework, some magazining, and some emailing. Of my two classes on Thursdays, one of them is Volleyball for Everyone. Yup, "everyone" can do this volleyball class (probably even Dottie). It's quite basic, but we have a good time.

The cooler morning faded as the sun inched higher into the sky. After volleyball class, I met my good buddy/little brother I never had, Michael, and we played quite a competitive game of tennis. It's an excuse to spend time with him and he says he likes playing with me because he says he actually gets to hit the ball. Apparently, that's supposed to be a compliment.

I had another class, then scurried down to the fields for the first Ultimate Frisbee intramural game of the season. Amazingly, I was picked on the team of all teams. It's going to be a fun season. We won our game today as the shadows at dusk cooled the earth and the cicadas came out to play.

With the windows rolled down and serenades from Death Cab for Cutie, I drove to the other gym where I teach Zumba. Now this crowd is a little different. About 30-40 people show up each night to class: kids, adults, seniors, high schoolers, and a few Latinos needing a fix. They're a bit rowdier, a bit edgier, a bit more fantastic. This class continues to amaze me. I just don't get tired of it. I bring the choreography and they bring the energy. Between all of us, it's bound to be fun. I get the opportunity to shake my booty and be silly with complete strangers and get paid for it. Could there be a better "job"?

Lynn, my counselor, says that we are afraid to be proud of ourselves. I was told to look for opportunities of which I could be proud.

Today, I'm freaking proud of my body.

I spend a lot of time shooting daggers of hatred at my thighs, my arms, and my tummy.

Yeah, well those thighs pulled me out of bed at an unreasonable hour this morning, salsa-ed and merengue-ed through two full dance routines, dipped low to retrieve volleyballs, bolted back and forth to take Michael in 7 games of tennis (though he pulled ahead 4-3). Those thighs ran up and down the Ultimate field and didn't even flinch. There's strength and stamina in there. Good job, thighs.

My arms work. Hallelujah. Some people don't have arms. Some people have bone diseases. Some people have chronic arthritis. These arms can lift, lower, swing, sway, toss, tread, pull, and press through obstacles in my way. And they did.

This tummy may never make it on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but it works for me. It really does. Those muscles work to support my body, my spine, my internal organs. No small feat. Without a tummy Zumba would be rough. How would I wiggle my hips? How would I twist and bend and hold up the rest of me? Good job, tummy.

Good job, body. Thanks for carrying me through a magnificent day.

These Moments

To avoid self-fulfilling prophecies, I'll say this:
Sometimes, in the past, peace has made me uncomfortable. I've assumed that because life must be inherently tumultuous, good times probably won't last long. So I should just brace myself for the next blow.

But as I said, I wouldn't dare say that now. No. I'm learning to daily choose another path. It doesn't mean I don't feel that way, but saying it outloud is probably just solidifying the idea in my head. So I'm trying.

"If you're so worried by the fact that you're doing well, you probably aren't fully enjoying it anyway," says Lynn, my counselor. "What's making life more peaceful these days? Stay there. Remember these moments when life gets bumpy so you can prove to yourself that you've been here before and it's going to be all right."

Dealing with the remnants of this eating disorder (or by psychological qualifications, my EDNOS, or eating disorder not otherwise specified) has been easier lately than it has been in several months. I could say, "I'm not sure. Hope it continues." Instead, I want to take notice of what's working and keep doing it with the understanding that life keeps moving and what's working now, might not work a few months from now. But we keep moving anyway.

My most profound AHA moment came while I was reading Geneen Roth's book "Women Food and God." In it she talks about how dieting is essentially our attempts to tame an inner hunger we fear will overtake us if we don't control it. We fear that if we actually ate what we wanted instead of what we should, we would probably eat the entire world! This isn't true. I realized, Hmm, I don't trust myself.

Have you ever been around someone who didn't trust you? Maybe they didn't believe you? It's a horrible feeling when someone can't put their trust in you whether it's a child or someone who's been hurt in the past. That's what I've been doing to myself:
"No, I shouldn't be left alone in a kitchen."
"No, I better not go to that get together because there will be food there and I'm not hungry."
"No, don't/can't/shouldn't eat that."

Essentially I'm saying to myself, "You are a child that needs controlling. If I don't do this, you'll go crazy!"

This is a lie.

I can trust myself. I have been trusting myself. It feels good.

In addition to my AHA moment, my boyfriend, Jeremy, moved to Nebraska. We've been doing the long-distance thing for 1.5 years and having him here is . . . is . . . so wonderful. We're pretty much polar opposites on a lot of things: I'm more left brained, he's more right brained (depending on the day). He's a kinesthetic learner, I'm fine with a textbook. When handed spare time, he thinks, "What fun thing can I do?" and I think, "What work can I get done?" He's more extroverted, while I'm more introverted. He was an IRR major, I'm an English Ed major. He tends to avoid schedules. I tend to avoid spontaneity. What I'm getting at is, we're good for each other. But I secretly think I learn more from dating him than the other way around. He's my constant reality check.

Lastly, I think one of those things that's been contributing a more peaceful state of mind has been focusing on radical self-acceptance. Yeah, the kind that is rare, that makes people wonder if you're cocky just because you *gasp* might like who you are. I'm challenging myself to accept that what makes me unique can be labeled a quality or a flaw depending on who's being asked. I'm doing good for myself and not feeling guilty about it. In turn, when I take care of me, I have more to give. More to offer. More to live.

I'm hanging on to these moments.
The moments when I'm not thinking about/dreading food or the next meal.
The moments when I require less time alone with my thoughts because there's a lot less clutter up there.
The moments when I realize it's been 8 months since I last purged.
The moments when I like the shape of my legs or my curly hair.
The moments when I wake up in the morning and I'm hungry.
When I feel hunger.
When I know the sensation and can actually describe it.

I'm learning from these moments when I feel hopeful ,and I'm moving forward.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Lesson of the Moth

the lesson of the moth

By Don Marquis, in "archy and mehitabel," 1927


i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself