Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wind

Slippage never feels good.

Whether you're climbing the face of a cliff,
carrying a baby,
keeping a secret,
or conducting brain surgery.

Slippage means backsliding.
Lack of progress.
Downward motion.

The dictionary defines "slippage" as:
1. The act or an instance of slipping, especially movement away from an original or secure place.

I've been secure for several months now. I've felt more stable in the last 6 months than I have in the last five years. But I feel like I've moved away from that secure place. Lately I've been in a place where the thoughts I lean toward, are those I thought I was done with. I recognize these thoughts and behaviors too well. These are addictive behaviors. Irrational behaviors. These are eating disordered behaviors. What I thought was long past, comes sneaking back like cancer that wasn't removed 100% the first time.

This week I asked a friend, "Why is it that whenever I'm doing good, I'm afraid to say so, for fear that saying it out loud will jinx my progress?"

She recommended quite truthfully, "You're not afraid of the words. You're afraid of your reaction to them."

She's right. I worry that saying, "I'm doing well," means I'll stop working on staying well. When I'm doing well, sometimes I get lazy.

I'm comfortable with fear. I get fear. In dark moments, I'm familiar with my erratic behaviors and hopeless thoughts. But hope? Peace? Serenity? These are too unpredictable. You never know where the wind will blow next. Some people take joy in the thrill of it all. I just want someone to tell me the weather so I can know exactly what to expect. No surprises.

Life doesn't operate on these terms and is full of surprises. Life doesn't seem to care much how I feel about it. I can only control my reaction to it.

I'm tempted to get scared.
Assume the worst.
And pretend I have no control over the outcome of my life for the next month.

I'm tempted to act like my past defines my future.
I am merely a pawn.
And I will just have to hope for the best.

But I know better. I've been here before (and places much worse). When I want to fear and worry and doubt that I have any fight left in me, I remember where I've been. Anne Lamott writes about this better than anyone in her book Traveling Mercies telling the story of her own eating disorder:

"It is, finally, so wonderful to have learned to eat, to taste and love what slips down my throat, padding me, filling me up, that I’m not uncomfortable calling it a small miracle. A friend who does not believe in God says, 'Maybe not a miracle, but a little improvement,' but to that I say Listen! You must not have heard me right; I couldn’t feed myself! So thanks for your input, but I know where I was, and I know where I am now, and you just can’t get here from there."

So instead . . .
I call three people on my way home to tell them what I'm going to eat for dinner.

I avoid the inclination to linger in front of the mirror and let the insults rain down like fire.

I tell Jeremy when he drops me off at home, "I'm not hungry. Food will not make this problem go away."

When I get home and Ben and Ashley wave a "hello" from their Grey's Anatomy marathon, I say, "I just want to tell you, I'm not hungry," and they say, "Okay," because they know that's all I need.

Sometimes slippage is an accident.
And sometimes slippage is a choice.

Either way, both can be corrected (and always will be) with some awareness, accountability, and kindness.

Beauty Survey #7: Honor

Forty women were surveyed about beauty. This blog explains the reasons for the survey.


The last question to be answered is this:

#7. Essentially, I want to know: How do you honor your beauty without letting it define who you are?

One woman told me about a woman who is defined by her external beauty: “I have an ex- sister-in-law who has turned this into an art form -- she will never rise up and take over the world, as she is too busy in the bathroom mirror counting the pores in her nose, or in the gym working out and trying to keep certain things in the same place they were when she was 18 years old (she's now forty five). Ugh.”

So since I don’t want that, what can I do? I received many responses like this:

“When I feel like I’ve figured that out…I will let you know!”

“I'm honestly not sure.”

“No clue. Let me know when you find out.”


We’re perplexed. The more women I talk to, the more I realize there is a common thread among us. We’re trying to balance self-respect with self-loathing because there are too many reminders of everything we are not. So we wonder:

How do I look past half-naked women on every TV show, billboard, and advertisements (and the men admiring them) and not think I should be competing with that?

How do I accept who I am with Botox-ed, suntanned, plastic surgery-ed versions of women walking around?

How do I honor my beauty without letting it define me?


Women said:

“I honor my beauty by letting it be a part of me. But only a part.”

“By surrounding myself with people who cherish me and think I'm beautiful no matter whether I have an acne breakout, last season's boots, or a 20 pound weight gain.”

“I get myself involved in causes and activities that are meaningful and joyful, and invest myself in relationships that uplift and challenge me for the better. I think good friends help keep you in check, and remind you to always strive for that balance.”

“I radically accept myself as I am, rather than believing I need to change. I am beautiful and I am enough-- just the way I am.”

This really is radical. I’ve never met a woman who loved everything about herself. We’ve always got a grocery list of reasons why we are not good enough: pounds to lose, cellulite, wrinkles, blah, blah, blah.

Acceptance is key. Focusing on the good.

One woman writes: “I have bigger thighs, but they’re strong, they help me run fast, they help me kick box, and play sports well, they might not be as “pretty” or slender or as “perfect” looking as some other girls thighs, but their beautiful nonetheless and I like them for what they are. I accept the fact that my hands are short, and stubby, and scarred up from all the scrapes, but they’re strong, they help me give people massages, which makes others feel better. That I’m not petite, I just wasn’t built that way, I won’t ever be petite. I’m athletic, I have a bigger build, but it’s okay, and it works for me.”

And another woman wrote about internal beauty:

“Of course my beauty defines who I am--but, while I struggle with my body image every single day, my beauty has very little to do with my dress size or my pretty face. It has everything to do with my pretty soul. It's because I knit gloves to warm his hands. It's because I make his coffee every morning. It's because you can break my heart, and I'll survive, thrive, and keep on loving. It's because I'm open and generous and kind. It's because I know him. It's because I can talk politics intelligently over a pint. And It's because I've seen the world and still think he's the best thing in it. That's my beauty, and yes, it defines me.”

Here’s what I’ve heard:

-beauty is part of who I am

-I carefully choose friends/partners who love and support me no matter what

-being passionately involved in something helps to create a life worth living

-acceptance is a daily choice

I want to focus on having a pretty soul.

And I so appreciate those who have helped me remember that.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Barista

Today, Mr. Bob made me cry.

Maybe that's not true. Maybe I let him make me cry. Maybe I chose to let his words bring tears to my eyes. I suppose no one can force me to cry. But somehow saying, "I chose to cry" sounds less important. We had a meeting. I expressed concerns. He denied them. Blah, blah, blah.

I could write another long blog about how horrible Mr. Bob is.
I could tell you that he is unreasonable.
I could tell you he makes me feel like an invalid.
But I won't.
I won't tell you those things because then he would be winning.

Instead, I'm going to focus on what I've seen in classes and observations that have taught me both how I want to teach and how I do not ever want to teach. Both lessons. Both good.


When I am a teacher, I will smile at my students because I want them to feel seen.

When I am a teacher, I will resist filling in blanks because I want them to feel heard.

When I am a teacher, I will paraphrase their responses because I want them to feel understood.

When I am a teacher, I will make learning relevant so that the students can take away something that will matter in real life.

When I am a teacher, I will incorporate games, music, videos, projects, and activities so that learning is memorable and fun.

When I am a teacher, I will explain why we learn, why we have assignments, and why we have rules. Students deserve to know why.

When I am a teacher, I will make my classroom a safe place for different genders, races, sexual orientations, and religions.

When I am a teacher, I will teach conflict resolution and paraphrasing so that students can learn to maturely and effectively communicate. It's the key to life, you know?

When I am a teacher, I will never tell a student s/he is stupid.

I will never expect students to be perfect.

I will never assume that English is the only class they are taking.

I will never act like the students that walk into my classroom are not one-of-a-kind human beings that deserve my love and respect.

And if that's not part of what teaching is, then I don't want it.

Maybe someday I'll be a teacher.
Or a barista.
Or a magician.

But whatever I do, I want to be happy and I want to spread happy (and goodness and peace and all those other things that make the world go 'round).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blow Fish

Yesterday, I worked with a group of classmates to study for an exam. At one point, the conversation shifted to discussing the teacher and I made a comment about disliking the class. My friend, A.J. sarcastically exclaimed, "Oh really. We had no idea." They went on to list somewhat funny, somewhat awkward comments I had made to the teacher in class that had surprised them.

Have you ever been strolling along only to hit a brick wall that changes your perception of reality? That's how this felt. I was sorting through in my head all the interactions and conversations over the past 2 months that would've hinted toward my dislike of this class. After putting the pieces together, I realized it would be a incredible if they didn't know my feelings, because I've been making them pretty clear.

We'll call this teacher, Mr. Bob. I'm not proud to admit this, but it's easy to lose respect for him when I feel like he has very little respect for me. He regularly cuts me off in class, pretends to listen when I'm making a comment, gives unclear and lengthy assignments that he admits have no relevance to real teaching experience, and refuses to say, "I'm sorry. I was wrong" when he makes mistakes. I don't want my feelings and respect to be based solely on what I get from another person. I wish I treated him with love and respect because he's just human. Unfortunately, I think I've justified it because he's rude, strict, inflexible, unclear, and difficult to interact with.

The friends who pointed this out to me are friend that I respect for many reasons, one of which for bringing my attention to this. At the same time, ever since then, I've been questioning what else I may say and do that people react negatively to, but never tell me. If I missed this, what else am I missing?

This thought began the downward spiral that was today. My guard was up.
He was late because I am unimportant.
He thinks I am full of myself.
He's only saying and doing nice things to get something from me.
Those girls are giggling because they think I'm pathetic.
They are staring at me because I look like a slob.
She thinks I am annoying.
He thinks I am ugly.
He thinks I am unintelligent.
She thinks I am a dork.
He probably thinks I am exhausting.
He thinks I am needy.

F
or the first time in my life, I felt like a blow fish.




That's right. A blowfish. I was on guard, I was waiting to be attacked, to be judged, to be hated. My prickly skin awaited their judgment, just in case.

Instead what happened was . . . nothing. Nothing happened. No one said any of those things and I cannot verify that anyone actually thought any of those things either. What I know for sure is that I thought those things first.

Today, I felt unimportant, pathetic, annoying, ugly, exhausting, and needy. To cope, I blamed someone other than myself by projecting what they were probably feeling about me.

I took a walk and cried. Crying is lubricant for life. Sometimes you just gotta let it out and once you do, life will probably run quite a bit smoother. So I cried. I cried about my insecurities, my doubts, my long list of to-dos that never get done, and mean comments about my book. I probably cried enough for riots in Cairo and other worldly injustices just because I had plenty of tears to go around.

Now I'm dry, feeling drained, and gathering up courage to do what my friend, Chris always recommends, "the next right thing."

The "next right thing" means going home, putting on my pajamas, studying for a test, and going to bed. The next right thing never felt so good.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Interpersonal

This semester I am taking a class called, Interpersonal Communication, which is taught by my favorite teacher and editor of my book, Chris Blake.

This class is not part of my major, I added it to this last semester that was already going to be heavy. But I'm glad I did. This class like Concepts of Wellness or College Algebra should be required for every major. When communication is not considered a "basic" for every college grad, the world as it is makes a little more sense.

In this class, we learn about the fact that it's impossible not to communicate (even silence is communicating something), how computer-mediated communication (CMC) has changed our relational landscape, and how self-concept and self-esteem effect communication and social norms. Intriguing stuff, right? Well, maybe not for everyone, but I'm really enjoying it. Amidst a handful of dry and uninspiring education classes of busy work and hypothetical teaching scenarios, this class demands my full attention and interest.

For example, today we made up real-life scenarios and acted out good communication skills involving I-language and paraphrasing. Instead of "umms" and other filler words, we are encouraged to (brace yourself) just stop talking. Yeah, instead of filling the precious silence with words, we can just pause, think, then talk. Today, two people took turns acting out touchy scenarios such as: at whose family's house to spend the holidays, a friend's suspected cheating with your partner, and a messy roommate. Can you think of a few people in your life (and maybe even yourself) who would benefit from even knowing what paraphrasing is nonetheless using it?

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the class thus far:

"Men have become the tools of their tools." -Henry David Thoreau

"There is none so blind as one who will not see."

" 'Can't's cut off the future."

"We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are." -Anais Nin

"The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposite ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." -F. Scott Fitzgerald

"The belief that one's own view of reality is the only reality is the most dangerous of all delusions." -Paul Watzlawick

"It is thus with most of us; we are what other people say we are. We know ourselves chiefly by hearsay." -Eric Hoffer (afterall, stranded alone on a desert island from birth how would you know if you were funny? smart? fat?)

"We are not only our brother's keeper; in countless large and small ways, we are our brother's maker." -Bonaro Overstreet

"Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person to the right degree, at the right time for the right purpose, and in the right way. This is not easy." -Aristotle

"I can't choose how I feel, but I can choose what I do about it." -Andy Rooney

"The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n." -John Milton from Paradise Lost

"What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

"If you think all communication is talk, you haven't been listening." -Ashleigh Brilliant

"The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer." -Henry David Thoreau


Mmm...good.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bow Out

I'm not super fond of mornings like this.

Mornings when I don't get out the door in time.
Mornings when my hair does this greasy, floppy, uncooperative thing.
Mornings when I spend far too long trying on skinny jeans or boot cut? Converse or flats? t-shirt or sweater? hat or headband?
Mornings when the longer I spend looking in the mirror, the louder that bullying voice in me becomes. Words like "fat" and "gross" and "ugly" and "unmotivated" and "pathetic" sneak into my otherwise kinder vocabulary and leaves me feeling, well, most of those things.
Mornings when it's only Monday and the war has already begun.

In all actuality, the war never ceases. It just ebbs and flows. In and out. Louder and softer, depending on whose in charge.

Yesterday, I went running with a new friend. We talked for quite a while about how much we have in common, the biggest one being that we are both recovering perfectionists.

Talking to her I was reminded of the journey I am still on.
The journey that challenges me.
The journey that has enabled me to consider a whole new way of living life.
The journey that brings residual doubts into my head from the girl I used to be.

She was driven for many of the wrong reasons.
She was unable to admit her flaws.
She was tough on the outside and falling apart on the inside.
She was convinced that organized, efficient, and productive were her most important virtues.
She was sad, but unwilling to say it out loud.
She was apparently "perfect" but unable to see any worth in herself.

It's taken me several years to acknowledge that perfection is a myth. And I was just chasing my own tail in circles attempting to catch it. There are people I see around me who are running in circles. When they try to compete with me, to prove they've got it all together (and they don't), I bow out. That's right. I let them "win."

I have a friend whose apparent life goal is to be the most beautiful woman in the room. Always. I'd say she succeeds most of the time. Congratulations. Now what? When I am around her I purposefully wear sweats. Why? Because the game is silly and I'm not playing it.

Some describe this perfection seeking personality as Type A: aggressive, sometimes hostile, stressed, controlling. Yes, yes, yes, yes. Either way, I don't think it's any way to live and frankly, it already been too long.

To the Non-Type As: thanks for your patience.
To the Type As: there's another way if you're willing to work for it.
To the Type As (perfectionists) in recovery: Hang on. Deep breaths.

Creators

I like Donald Miller. He seems the type of guy you'd want to just sit around and read a book with, chatting in between about something interesting. But not pressuring or anxious. He just seems chill.

Donald Miller has written several books. Two of my favorite are Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. You can check out his blog here.

Lately, he's been blogging about creators of writing, books, music, art, gardens, programming code, you name it. We are all creators of something. Could be children, could be lesson plans, could be cars, or successful brain surgeries. We all create something and anyone who creates sets themselves up for criticism.

His simple words bring me hope...


"Here are some things to remember:

1. Only creators get criticized.
2. All creators get criticized.
3. The best way to answer your critics is to succeed. Keep working. Work harder."


Friday, February 18, 2011

Sixth Grade

Customer service representatives know that for every positive experience a person has (at a business, restaurant, etc.), they will likely tell one other person. For every negative experience a person has, they will likely tell at least eight people.

I've found this to be true in myself by way of compliments and criticisms. If I were to receive oodles of positive compliments, I'd appreciate them, remember them for awhile, then possibly forget. But time after time, one stinkin' negative comment, I will probably remember for years.

This semester, one of my professors is using my book to teach her College Writing II course. The other day, she gave me a list of her student's responses after reading half of my book.

A sampling of answers:
"Where is Cambodia?"
"Why does she whine so much?"
"I HATE THIS BOOK!"

I read the responses and wanted to be strong and secure.
I wanted to be objective and understanding.
But instead, all I wanted to scream was, "NUH-UH! Not if I hate YOU first!"

I met with my professor the next day. She reminded me of the inevitable: I am not my book.

Profound. Right?

Nearly three years ago, when I was nineteen years-old, I traveled alone to Cambodia with an impressive amount of baggage and lessons to be learned. It was not my finest moment. In fact, it was my worst moment yet. I wrote blogs regularly as a way to cope and gain perspective from friends and family back home. Then, upon returning, I was asked if I would share my blogs to be printed in a book.

Publish all my dirt and worst moments in a book? Sure. Why not?

The motivation in printing the book was that, everyone struggles with something. If my worst moments could help someone else gain strength, to know they're not alone, it would be worth it.

I will never defend that while I was in Cambodia I was thinking clearly or making all the right decisions. I made a lot of weird, crummy decisions. But it is what it is.

If someone read my diary from 6th grade and criticized me for being so superficial, so selfish, and so narrow-minded, I would laugh. Who cares if I was acting selfish? I was twelve. I would not feel the least-bit bad for who I was because I am someone else now.

I am not who I was three years ago.
I am not who I was a week ago.
Or fifteen minutes ago.

We are constantly changing, growing, learning, and forming newer, better or worse versions of ourselves. And that's okay. We are human.

After talking with my professor, I was walking to my next class when a freshman girl from Nigeria whom I've never met, stopped me. "Are you Heather Bohlender?"

I nodded.

"I'm reading your book in my College Writing II class. I just wanted to tell you how much I'm loving your book. I've only been in the U.S. for a few months. It's . . . hard. I've never felt so lonely and misunderstood in my life. Somehow reading your book has made me feel like I'm a little less crazy. Thanks."

She walked away and I stood mostly speechless.

Following the trend of customer service, I would forget her kind comment and instead focus on the anonymous "others" who may or may not have actually read my book at all.

I'm choosing to listen to the girl with a face. A name. And a kind word.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine

Today, I ran four miles while watching "Good Morning America." I'm a bit worried that doing this will render me unable to run a half-marathon without constant stimulation to distract me. At least I learned about the current status of the Chilean miners and the best color to wear for someone with green eyes. Purple. (I'm running a half-marathon. I'm signed up. There's no turning back now. Correction: Yes, I can turn back now. It's more accurate to say; I've decided not to turn back now.)

Today, the sun came out of its hiding, graced this barren land with 50 degree temperatures, and I wore a skirt, damnit.

Today, my boyfriend, Jeremy made me a valentine. It was big, like 2 feet tall, with hearts and kind words, and the first question out of my mouth was, "Who made this?" He looked at me a bit surprised and said, "I did." Sometimes I speak too soon. He's so good to me.

Today, I ate gluten-free pasta and sauce mixed with textured vegetable protein (otherwise TVP), and dairy-free "cheese." I'll admit it was really tasty and eating with limitations has taught me to get freaking creative, but still, I'll be happy if/when all this food allergy stuff is behind me.

Today, for an assignment I taught a 15 minute micro-lesson to peers about stories. If you haven't read Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, I highly recommend it. I based the lesson on short stories around writing and living a life full of adventure, conflict, risk, and joy. These are the stories we all like to read about and watch on screen, this is the life I want to live.

Today, I plopped down in my seat in college algebra only to find I did the wrong days assignment. Again. NOW, what he was teaching made sense. But the three hours I spent muddling through the homework I hadn't yet been taught was clear as mud. My tummy hurt. The room was hot and kinda smelly. I spent a bit too much time beating myself up about my technical difficulty. By the time he handed me the in-class assignment to be completed before leaving the class room, I wasn't in a good place. Then, I was supposed to do algebra. I struggled through 75 % of it, got frustrated, gathered my things, and walked out of the room.

Today, upon realizing that running away from my problems wasn't going to get the algebra done, I walked outside, all the way to the cafeteria, stopped, took a deep breath, and walked back to the math building. I took some more deep breaths and completed the assignment.

Today, I remembered that the 3rd grade version of myself who felt stupid in every math class since then, doesn't have to be who I am today.

Today, I ate a banana and remembered when bananas used to be healthy. You know before they began rating certain fruits healthier than others? Before bananas had too many carbs. Before I knew where they were farmed, what pesticides where used, who picked them, and how much carbon emissions were used to bring that banana to my mouth. I want to be intentional. I want to be part of the solution. But I kinda miss when a banana was just a banana. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.

Today, I looked in my planner full of deadlines, assignments, and responsibilities and wanted to cry.

Today, my Dad called from a few hundred miles away to ask me if I would be his Valentine. I said, "Always." And I could hear the tears flood his eyes.

Today, my uptight teacher said, "funky." I chuckled. Another student grinned. We had a moment.

Today, I woke up with plenty of air in my lungs.
My heart never stopped beating. Not once.
Good people smiled at me.
I had food to eat.
And I'm safe.

I'd say it was a good day.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Beauty Survey #6: Men and Cheating

Forty women were surveyed about beauty. This blog explains the reasons for the survey.

Here is one question and a summary of their answers.

#6. The "men are visual" mantra gets preached and sometimes pressures women into working hard at keeping their man interested and excuses promiscuity. How do you balance this with your other qualities and not let "being pretty" be your main goal?

This was the question I most needed an answer to. Consider how one brave woman answered:

“Being cheated on, is one of my biggest fears. It would make me feel like trash, not good enough, not pretty enough, not worthy, just not enough period. I’m very afraid of it. My dad cheated on my mom when I was younger, which lead to their divorce. I have a hard time believing I will be truly loved, deeply, and whole-heartedly throughout the entirety of a marriage because I feel like whomever I marry, will always want someone younger and prettier as the years go by, and as my own sexiness and appeal fades. They might not find me attractive anymore, and honestly, it really scares me. I hate the thought of being cheated on. Hate it, and I can only hope it will never happen.”

I can only hope it will never happen. This fear somewhat reflects a view I’ve had for far too long: that his faithfulness has something—anything—to do with me. It’s not hard to see where we get these messages. There are a lot of societal norms that we simply shrug our shoulders at and rarely stop to consider what we’re beginning to believe. That’s why these answers were so important to me. These were the answers I most needed to hear.

Here’s how a few women answered:

“For a guy who thinks that's the most important thing, I'd say, find a new man.”

“A man that pressures a woman to focus on her outward appearance and is constantly obsesses with how she looks is just adding to the trouble. First, start with a good man, a man that appreciates both kinds of beauty, the inside and the outside. He will encourage you to nurture both. Keeping a healthy balance between the two will help keep you grounded.”

“If he chose to be unfaithful that wouldn't be my fault. Also, he can find someone else attractive without being unfaithful to me so the fear of seeing (something! anything!) isn't something he needs to worry about, nor do I.”

“‘Men are visual’ reduces men to a very shallow existence. I do believe men are attracted to the physical aspects of the female-- boobs, butts. Most men, like most women, want in their 'life sustaining relationships' the attraction to be much more than that. How do we keep our man interested? It is so much more than looks. Interested in each other would be a better way to say it—that is a function of love, respect, common interests, security, goals, intellect, spiritual—and more.”

“Men may be visual, but they're also, generally, optimists. They see the good. They see your great ass, or your curvy frame, or your beautiful hair. Most of them don't notice the rolls or the sags. You’ve got to choose a good man in the first place.”

“I never worry about this with my husband. He feels it is his job to make sure I know that he thinks I am the most beautiful woman he knows. I want this for all women. It is a fresh feeling.”


After hearing these bold answers about the fact that a cheating man is NOT my fault, I had to wonder: When did I begin to believe otherwise? The obvious sources came up first: music lyrics and movies that glamorize infidelity, magazine covers where someone is always cheating on someone else. When I dug a little deeper, I was surprised to find what I believe has been a major source of confusion that a cheating man is my fault: some Christian women’s relationship books.

If you’re feeling at all offended by this, please re-read what I just said. This is what “I believe” has been a major source. Not the source. Not the only source. Books do not have the exact same effect on everyone. I am only describing the effect that some of these books have had on me.

Most Christian women’s relationship books value purity and waiting to have sex until marriage. This isn’t a bad message. This is one belief among many. What I’ve witnessed though is a slight imbalance regarding whose responsibility it is to maintain this purity. I feel like some of these books paint men as less-than human, less-than capable of controlling their sexual drive, less-than respectable men who have desires, but also brains.

A year ago, I walked into a conversation among two Christian female professors at my college. They were discussing the ridiculous message in a Christian book they had just read: For Women Only. They were frustrated, but laughing hysterically about how sexist the book was toward men. One of them told me, “I was shocked at how blatantly the author made men out to be animals with no self-control.”

I had just skimmed the book the night before. Her response and mine were quite different. I finished the book feeling guilty and self-conscious about everything I was doing wrong as a woman. She finished the book feeling grateful and confident that she does not believe those words or that men are animals. “Women and men should be outraged at books like this,” she told me. “This message is hurting all of us.”

I feel like this message has hurt me. Along with media influences and gender roles, it has warped my perception of men and my perception of myself. I’ve over generalized. I’ve been unfair. As is with many coping mechanisms, it’s easier to lump groups of people together than it is to get to know them one-by-one. I have too often taken the easy route.

Men have brains and choices and common sense just like I do (though culture tries hard to convince me otherwise). Yes, we’re wired differently. But no, I’m not wired better. No, I’m not going to show the world every inch of body and act like I have no effect on those around me. No, I’m not going to pretend like a relationship doesn’t involve equal work for both people. No, I’m not going to perpetuate the belief that men can’t control themselves.

If I want equality for women (and I do), I need to fight for equality for men too.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Chai

I wonder if coffee shops have this effect on everyone. Or just me.

It can't just be me because coffee shops are always brimming with movement, conversation, and the intoxicating scent of freshly smothered coffee beans.

I just sat down at my favorite coffee shop across the street from campus. I'm rarely here on a Friday afternoon. By now, I'd prefer to be home. Doing nothing. But after one of the most chaotic days I've had so far this semester, I still have a few assignments that must be finished, a few chapters that need to be read. I sat down. My head fell almost instinctively fell to the table in front of me. And I cried.

Not ugly sobbing tears, mind you. Just a few little dribbles that needed to exit my body and absorb into the fabric of my dress. That was enough. Thirty seconds of I'm-running-on-empty-and-don't-love-today kind of tears. Yes, that was enough. Because after that I realized:
I'm in a safe place. It's going to be all right. Chai makes everything better. Every time.

I might've swiped some art from my lovely friend Emily's blog recently and now it resides on my desktop:



At least three separate times this week, just reading the words re-directed the course of my day. That and Israel 'IZ' Kamakawiwo'ole's version of "Over the Rainbow." Uh huh. That's the one.

THESE moments are my life.

The moments when I feel like I'm falling apart.
The moments when my teacher mercilessly docks points off my 6 hour project for using one space instead of two.
The moments when nothing fits right, feels right, goes right.
The moments when I'm standing in line at the grocery store.
The moments that I wish didn't count for moments of my life because, frankly, they're not my best.

In fact, they may be down right ugly.
But they still count.
Can't cancel.
Can't edit.
No need.
Perfection is a conspiracy.

This moment is my life.

Onward.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

As If

I'm nervous to even talk about this for fear that somehow talking about it will make me think about it, and thinking about it will jinx me, and jinxing me will end the successful streak I've had the last 6 months. But I'll say it anyway:

I'm doing really well.

I know. Terrifying, right? I hardly know what to do with all these good days and positive emotions. The joy in the my life is nearly suffocating it's so wonderful. I've said it before, I'm not sure what to do with happiness. Because I've been caught in cycles before where happiness only meant that doom was soon to follow. In the past, joy has made me uncomfortable.

Joy is erratic.
Difficult to tame.
Unpredictable.

But fear?
I get fear.
I know my way around it pretty well.
It's mappable and familiar.
It's the joyful stuff that gets me.

This morning, as I laid in bed fully enjoying the snow day, I reached for the book that I believe has had a lot to do with these stable 6 months: Women Food and God by Geneen Roth. I know, I know. This book again, right? I'm telling ya. It's changed my life.

Roth says that the biggest obstacle to any kind of transformation is the voice that tells you its impossible. And we've all got one. She calls it The Voice. Sigmund Freud calls it the superego. The inner critic. The voice of evil.

We've all got The Voice by the time we are four years-old. It has it's benefits and functions as a moral compass, but as life goes on it can become a culmination of every authoritative voice we've ever heard (primarily our parents). The Voice has one main message: Your impulses cannot be trusted. Listen only to me. Depend on me. Otherwise you'll die a failure. You idiot.

"And therein lies the pickle," writes Roth, "The Voice feels and sounds so much like you that you believe it is you."

My personal manifestation of The Voice collaborated nearly five years ago to form an eating disorder. But we've all got our stuff. You think about yours. The Voice in each of us has a unique way of blending objective truth with moral judgment which leaves us feeling defeated and weak.

Roth writes that "Freedom is hearing The Voice ramble and posture and lecture and not believing a word of it . . . When you release yourself--even one time--from The Voice, you suddenly realize how long you've been mistaking its death grip for life."

When I think about what has most altered my journey over the last 6 months, its a truth I learned from this book. I realized that I had given up on myself and my ability to heal. At some small level I had figured that an eating disorder would forever be part of my life. I didn't trust myself. I felt out-of-control because I believed that something else was controlling me. But on a significant day last August, I realized that no one had control of me except for me.

"Diets are based on the unspoken fear that you are a madwoman, a food terrorist, a lunatic. Eventually you will destroy all that you love and so you need to be stopped . . . We treat ourselves and the rest of the world as if deprivation, punishment, and shame lead to change . . . with a little more self-disgust we'll prevail."

It's not true. Here was another heavy hitter for me:
"When you believe in yourself more than you believe in food, you will stop using food as if it were your only chance at not falling apart . . . And yes, it really is that simple." You pick your weapon. Maybe you believe in porn more than you believe in yourself. Is it alcohol? Is it anger? Is it control? Is it anxiety? Whatever you are more familiar with than yourself, it's going to dominate.

After recognizing this in myself, I began doing what Roth calls "living as if" . . .
I am living as if I believe I am worth it.
I am living as if I look in the mirror and love what I see there.
I am living as if I am completely comfortable with happiness.
I am living as if the peace I long for is actually here.

Because the more I see life as it could be, the more it becomes so.