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

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Police

I've taught Zumba at an all-women's gym for about a year now. My boss asked if I'd like to pick up some hours and start working at the front desk as an opener. Essentially, this means that I show up a little before 5am, unlock the doors, turn on the lights, the treadmills, the radio, and start a load of towels. Women start showing up for their morning work-outs at about 5:15am. I work at the front desk for a few hours while the sky changes from an eerie blueish black to a lighter, cheerier shade of day. The city slowly awakens.

In the darkness of last Tuesday morning, I arrive at the gym to find a black truck already parked in the parking lot. The silhouette of a man sits inside the cab, looking straight ahead. Should I stay in my car? Should I run for the door? Should I call someone? Duty calls, so I quickly exit my car, grab my belongings--keeping a close eye on the man in the truck--unlock the front doors, and walk inside.

Last year, after someone broke in, we installed a security system. So upon walking in the door, I hurry over to the alarm key pad, fumble open the cover, and enter my number to disable it. Immediately a warning flashes onto the screen: "Front Door Alert!" Dread surges through my veins as I imagine that the man I thought I left outside, could now be inside. Peering around the corner to the front door, I think I see a shadow move on the sidewalk outside the front door. But maybe it is just my imagination.

Looking out the window, the truck still sits in the orange glow of the street light. But now the truck is empty.Brrrrriiiiiiiinnnnnnngggg! The phone screams.

"Hello?" I whisper through a dry throat.

"This is the security company," says the soothing voice of a woman. "We saw the "Front Door Alert" at your residence. Would you like us to call the authorities?"

I hesitate. I'd feel so dumb if the police showed up and there was nothing to worry about. I'd also feel like an idiot if there was reason to worry and I didn't do anything about it. "Well," I stammer. "I don't know." I tell her my short, frantic story about the truck and the alarm. Just then, the man walks by the far set of windows toward the back of the building.

She asks, "Would you like me to send someone just in case?"

"Hold on." I slowly tip toe my way toward the set of windows to see if he is still there. Several banging sounds come from the other side of the door and I scurry back to the phone. "Yes. Yes. I think it would be good to send someone. I just heard banging noises and I'm afraid someone's trying to get inside."

Click.

Now what? Grabbing my car keys and my cell phone, I stand with my back to the locked front doors and glance quickly left and right, waiting to see if he will come through one of the side doors.

I'm back in Cambodia.
I'm alone.
It's dark.
I'm afraid.
I'm stuck.
I'm helpless.
I resent being in this situation.
I want to run.
I want to scream.
I want to cry.

This time I don't have my makeshift brass knuckles.
This time I don't have pepper spray.
At least this time I had the option of calling the police and I'm so glad I did.

Clanging sounds come from upstairs. He's inside.

Just then, one cop car pulls up, then another. Relief. Two police officers get out and I quickly let them inside, unloading the story before they have time to say anything.

"I just heard some noises upstairs. I think he's inside," I tell them.

"Yup, I saw a man through the windows when I drove up," the officer informs me. "He's got a broom."

"A broom? Why would he have a . . .?" Uh oh.

My two rescuers walk up the stairs and question a slightly stunned maintenance man who was sweeping the salon upstairs. He shows ID and proves to the officers that his keys to the building work.

Apparently, he usually cleans early on Monday mornings, but took Labor Day off.
Apparently, he didn't realize they hired someone new to work the opening shift.
Apparently, he didn't consider communicating with me, walking in the front door, turning on lights upstairs, or making his presence obviously known to me.

I have two options here:
I can feel foolish for alerting police to come investigate a maintenance man
OR
I can feel proud.

Let's say it wasn't a maintenance man. If an intruder had broken in, I'd be grateful I took precautions to protect myself. Must I be put in real, serious danger to feel good about having called the police?

I remember saying (and I quote): "Never again will I let pride make my decisions for me."

Two years ago:
Pride kept me from coming home early from a year in Cambodia that left me raw, cynical, scared, and all-around unhealthy.
Pride kept me from admitting: I'm scared. I'm lonely. And I want to come home.
Pride kept me from wanting to talk about the sexual assault in Cambodia because I felt like I did something wrong.

The other day:
Pride would've kept me from telling the security company to send the police.
Pride would've told me I was being ridiculous.
Pride would've put me at risk.
But it didn't.

The verbs have changed.
Before pride "kept."
Now pride "would've kept."

Change. Improvement. Growth. Onward.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

First Day of School

This email from my Dad made me want to drop out of school and go home. He's so sweet.

"Heather-beather,

Sorry we weren't there today to see you off to your first day of school today! You may not have known that I always teared up every year when we were sending you, Ashes and Chris off to school the first day each year. I've just never gotten over it and wanted you to know I was misty-eyed this morning just knowing you were on your way! Granted it's not quite the same when you don't have a brand new lunch box or box of crayons to take with you!

Anyhow, I hope your first day went well today!

Luv ya! Dad"