Friday, April 27, 2012

Safe

It's not often that I feel safe.

Walking to my car.
Walking to my house.
Being home alone.
Passing a man while I'm jogging.
Walking by a group of men when I'm alone.
Wearing clothes that might be perceived by someone to mean that I was "just asking for it."

The other day my counselor said, "Heather, just because you've been hurt by several men, does not mean that all men are sexual predators."

Even though I know she's right because I know so many wonderful men, unfortunately, that's still hard for me to wrap my mind around.
Because of that guy who yanked up my skirt.
Because of that guy who grabbed for my butt.
Because of that guy who would laughingly push my face toward his crotch and say, "Oh come on woman, don't fight it!"
Because of that guy who wouldn't say a word to me but just slowly looked me up and down like a buffet gifted to him by God "him"self.
Because of that guy who would regularly comment on certain body parts that he liked.
Because of that guy who would often miss my shoulder and land on my breast.
Because of that guy in Cambodia.

Living in Cambodia taught me how to survive in such an unpredictable place.
That toughness will protect me in a world that just isn't good.
That the more I expect possible aggression from strangers, the better off I'll be.
That men just aren't safe.

I haven't really let down those defenses that I adapted in Cambodia four years ago. And that guy in Cambodia is still making me cry. Even now that I'm on the other side of the world in a safer environment, now that the moment is over, often it still feels like I'm in it.

During my yoga class yesterday, the instructor said, "This is a safe place," and I broke down and cried. I cried because I recognized that she was right. That in this room, in this place, during this hour, I was safe and yet, I carry the wounds of being violated with me everywhere.

The States aren't perfectly safe and devoid of sexual horrors committed against women. After all, one-third of college men polled would carry out a rape if they knew that they could get away with it (Fisher and Sloan 1995) So unfortunately, no woman anywhere can completely let down her defenses and pretend like there aren't certain risks just for being female.

But this is a little different and that guy in Cambodia is not here.
I don't need to carry him around with me everywhere.
I don't need to assume that all men are like him.
This is not a safe world, but there are safe places.

Yoga is a safe place. Counseling is a safe place. Jeremy is a safe place. My community of friends is a safe place. And healing will only happen when I trust these safe places, and gain strength to work toward mending the innumerable unsafe places for women.

I can feel safe.

















Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What I Know For Sure

I'm getting married in 19 days.

And with that deadline has come a daunting collection of to-dos that somehow manages to get longer everyday. Planning a party for a hundred or so people is no small feat. But planning the same party with an abundant list of peoples opinions about how it "should" go, traditions that are important to so and so, and inevitable emotional ties, makes planning a wedding a full-time job.

I've spent days, weeks, and months plotting who, what, where, when, how, who should do what, where they'll sit, what color they'll be wearing, who will take the picture, what to do if it rains, and how to maintain an inch of sanity in the process (the last one being the most difficult). And we're planning a "simple" affair on a limited budget!

Therefore some re-framing is necessary.

Heather dear, it might rain.
All the pictures might need to be taken indoors.
People might get wet. And muddy.
The photographer might slide off the muddy road in a crazy car accident and be unable to make it.
I might wake up with one (or more likely five) zits on my face.
I might get the flu.
My wedding dress might not fit.

Or I might spill coffee on it.Someone might lose the rings.
So and so might insist on being upset and not smile in a single picture.
Someone might have expectations that were not met.
We might not get the time we wanted to chat with people we love.
The whole day may not go as we planned.

But amidst the inevitable chaos and quickness of the day, in the end, I'll be driving away with the man of my dreams and we'll be husband and wife. That's the only thing that I know for sure: that I'll be his and he'll be mine.
And we'll be exhausted.
But so happy.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stupid Things People Say About Eating Disorders

Last week I sat on a flight from Canada to Arizona. I met a man who asked me what I was doing in Canada. "Speaking at a college," I told him. He naturally responded, "Oh, what did you talk about?" I went on to tell him a very brief synopsis of my story: Cambodia, eating disorder, life changes, healing and recovery.
The next words out of his mouth, "What was your lowest weight?"

A bit taken back, I fumbled for the nicest words I could think of, because all I wanted to say was, "Oh heeeeey'll no (insert finger wagging)! I know you did not just ask me such a stupid question!" So instead, I took a deep breath, looked him in the eyes and said, "Ya know what? The number is not important and I'd rather not talk about it."

At this point, he seemed equally taken back and a little embarrassed (I hope). We chatted about a few other things as I continued eating my salad. A few minutes later he felt the need to say, "Now you go ahead and finish all that salad, ya hear? I'll make sure you do. I don't want you to go starving yourself."

Again, I hoped he was joking, but I knew he wasn't. He really thought he was being helpful. He really believed that my struggle--the last six years spent re-wiring my thoughts about food, body and worth, re-claiming my own soul, and re-learning how to eat--could somehow be summed up and even benefited by a stranger making sure that I finished my salad.

As frustrating as it was to talk with this man about something he knew nothing about, I would rather endure the awkward and inappropriate questions myself, than to have him go on and spread his ignorance to someone else. And really, this was one of the few times that someone has approached me with their ideas about what an eating disorder is so bluntly.


Last semester, a student of mine blurted out: "I could never be anorexic. I like food too much."

I again paused, tilted my head trying to figure out what would make a person say that, and responded, "People with anorexia don't dislike food. They just tremendously hate themselves."

She chuckled awkwardly and rolled her eyes.


I appreciate when people ask me questions. I appreciate when people want to know more and learn more, especially when they're really asking about their best friend or their girlfriend or even themselves. This earnestness to know and understand excites me. But sometimes I gather that people are operating solely off of only a few overused stereotypes they've been exposed to. And instead of recognizing them as such, they spread the information like Bible truth.

I suppose that we all sometimes seek boxes with which we can reason and better understand. That if we can just fit this new idea into that box, it will be easier somehow. Like people who have told me they understand what it's like to have an eating disorder because they too have struggled to lose weight.


So people generalize what they think they know about eating disorders. Here are some of my "favorite" misconceptions:


-People with eating disorders have more will power or self-control than you do

-People with eating disorders don't really like food

-Eating disorders are just about eating more food: so more food, no more problem.

-If an anorexic simply regains her weight, she is healed! Hallelujah!

-Eating disorders are a rare phenomenon effecting only a small number of people

-Eating disorders only effect vain teenager girls

-You can't die unless your weight drops below 100 pounds

-People with eating disorders always look really thin

-It'll help if I tell her how beautiful and thin she is all the time. She just needs to hear it more.

-A recovering person should always clear their plate and if they don't, they're slipping, you better watch out and follow them to the bathroom

Not one of these things is true.
Not one.

So instead of operating off of those misconceptions, let me tell you this. The number one best thing you can say to someone with an eating disorder: I'm here for you. How can I help?

Don't assume you know what it's like to have an eating disorder.
Particularly (duh), if you've never had an eating disorder.

Instead...
-Acknowledge it. Don't keep acting like no one sees it (here are some warning signs).
-Say something like, "You look unhealthy," or "weak," or simply, "You don't look good." Choose an adjective that has a more undesirable tone because saying, "You look thin," might just be rewarding.
-Voice your concern.
-Listen without interrupting.
-Practice healthy eating habits around this person. Which means you shouldn't say, "Oh, I shouldn't have eaten that," or "That has SO many calories!"
-Encourage psychological help, but do not demand it.


Sometimes people will ask me when the eating disorder started.
My usual response, "When I was born. It's been working on me ever since."

It wasn't a decision I made one day.
Like, Gee, my life doesn't have enough drama. I think a mental illness will do the trick.
But studies haven't necessarily found genetic links either.
It's just a way of being. Of thinking. Of seeing the world. Of contemplating my place in it.


Please make it easier for those who are struggling around you.
Because there are people struggling around you.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Umbrella

About a year ago, I sent out an e-mail to all of the SDA college chaplains that basically said, “Hey. I wrote a book. Can I come speak at your school?” It was weird. It was awkward. But I’m glad I did it. The process has taught me a few things I needed to learn.

I booked a few speaking events and ended up with invitations to come to British Columbia, Tennessee, Missouri, Colorado, Texas, Maryland, and Alberta.

British Columbia involved speaking for two events at Hope Camp meeting. I met some wonderful people and learned, duh, that Canada is a whole ‘nother country (as a slightly annoyed Canadian pointed out when I tried to pay with American currency and use my cell phone).

My next stops were in January at Southern Adventist University where I spoke for several dorm worships, at Collegedale academy, and then at Sunnydale on our road trip home. It was at the girl’s dorm worships at Southern that I recognized how much I care about speaking to women about women. One student asked me how to explain to her family that being called “fat” hurts. Or two women who asked me how to make their families believe that their eating disorder is not just a “cry for attention” or a “pretend diagnosis.” Two women bravely shared their stories with me and have since pursue counseling for the first time. We’ve got so many important issues that we need to be talking about, and sharing my story about disordered eating and our culture of self-hatred only fueled that fire.

Next, in February, I went to Colorado, pretended to “preach” a sermon (wowzy) and spoke at a women’s event that I mistakenly assumed would be comprised of college to middle-aged women. Those senior citizens were dang sweet though and one woman commented to Jeremy, “I have no idea what she was talking about, but I appreciate her story.” I suppose some of our stories are best understand generationally. From here, I made my first-ever trip to Texas where I was warmly welcomed by Southwestern University and Burton academy.

In March, I journeyed to Washington Adventist University and truly enjoyed my short time on their campus. I spoke for a chapel of mostly college-aged students, so I was surprised when a woman (of at least 70 years old) approached me in passionate tears and said, "Thank you for saying what I've been wanting to say to Adventists my entire life."

My last trip this past weekend was to Canadian Adventist Union College in Alberta. I spent time with some academy students, some college students, and some Cree First Nation Indians where I spoke at a teeny SDA church on their reservation.

And now I am airborne, flying home from Canada, my last speaking trip this semester. Out my window, the sun just disappeared behind the horizon and the clouds are now dark as we soar through them.

At first, when I considered traveling and speaking, I was stoked. I knew I was passionate about telling my story. But what I learned very quickly was that all the other work necessary to making that happen wasn’t what I wanted (self-promotion, calling people, setting up appointments, booking, etc.). I learned right away that while I was passionate about sharing my story with people, there was a line to how much work I was willing to put into making that happen. At first I felt guilty about this, but then I realized: this isn’t my only life-long dream. No way. I’m interested, yes. But I’m not looking to make this my career.

Establishing early my expectations on the breadth and depth of this trip was important, because when friends and family suggested ways to be successful in speaking such as joining a speaker’s bureau or taking courses in public speaking, it just didn’t feel right. And that’s okay. The experience has still been well worth it even if this is never my career. I’m too much of an introverted home-body. I don’t know how business people and entertainers do it. Traveling wears me out. Whew.

This experience has taught me three important lessons.

Number one: It’s not easy walking into a room full of strangers and spilling your dirt. And every single time I’ve arrived somewhere to speak, I’d get a look around, meet a few people, get set up for my talk, and like clock-work, get struck with this fear: “Oh gosh, maybe they were unclear about what I came here to talk about. I shouldn’t be here. Who do I think I am?” I would imagine them picking up rocks and hurling them in my direction chanting: “Heathen! Heathen!” (slight exaggeration). But everywhere I have gone this semester I’ve found--time and time again--that people are drawn to honesty. People will say, “Thank you. We need more of this” or “We aren’t talking about these things enough,” as if transparency is a new, revolutionary idea. I suppose—unfortunately--to some of us, it really is. We’re good at masks. We’re gifted in isolation.

Number two: Adventists have got a lot of pain and hurt we’re not talking about: from sexual abuse to pornography addictions, eating disorders to disordered eating, self-doubt to profound shame. No one is immune: not Christians, not atheists, not Americans, not Canadians, not men, not women, not white people, not people of color. Secrets, guilt, and shame: some of the few things in life that are universal no matter who you talk to. So it only makes sense--in my mind--that we should be talking about one of the few things we all have in common.

Number three: There’s this thing called Seventh-day Adventism. It’s a religion. It’s a group of people. It’s a set of beliefs. And sometimes it’s hard for me to find my place there. I struggle to see where I fit in or if I really want to. I used to see Adventism as a thing, an object, made of concrete or steel. Immovable. Unchanging. But now I’ve realized that it’s more like an umbrella. We all fit under its reach in different ways and for different reasons. I was born under this umbrella, others found it on their own. I tend to inhabit the far left side of the umbrella and sometimes it’s difficult for me to understand (or even want to understand) the people who share the same umbrella yet stand on the complete opposite side. Sometimes I disagree slightly or immensely with the people under here and stand outside of it. Sometimes I want to try a new umbrella. Sometimes it seems crowded. Sometimes I want to ditch all umbrellas. Forever.

What’s been encouraging to me in my travels this semester has been the unique opportunity to see multiple varieties of Adventism at work and at play and at worship; from the warm ballads of united voices in D.C. to the softer, more serene prayers of First Nation children in Canada. We’ve all got different interpretations of what it means to be with God. Of what it means to be spiritual. Of what it means to be human. I’ve seen first-hand that the umbrella is bigger than I thought and there may be a place for me too.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Dear Fourteen Year-Old Self

Dear Fourteen Year-old Self,

I know this might be hard for you to understand, but I am writing you this letter ten years in the future when you are twenty-four years old. Don't try to understand it. Just go with it. I have a few things I'd like for you to know.

You're in the 8th grade. You're at the top of your game, the top of the school. The oldest, coolest thing since, well...last year's eighth-grade class. At least, that's what you're thinking right now. Believe me, this feeling of dominance and accomplishment fades each and every time you reach the next landmark. Right now you're the one that the other kids look up to, next year (in high school) you'll be the one everyone looks down on. This will happen again when you're a senior in high school and then a freshman in college. And again when you're a senior in college and then...well, just a young adult with no direction. So I'd recommend you just be grateful for where you are and not dwell too much on status and "coolness." It'll just bite you in the butt every four years anyway.

Girl, you've got spunk. You're fun. You're intelligent. You're athletic. You're well-liked (this may all sound incredibly unnecessary to you right now because at this point you're thinking, "Yeah, I know." But you haven't yet endured the confidence-sapping rigors of high school, but believe me, in ten years you'll be so flip-turned around and humbled, you'll need to hear yourself say it nearly every day). You're a good person. I'm proud of you. And always will be.

I wish I could save you from the pressures of high school. I wish I could give you the armour to be strong against her insidious glare, his top-down glances, her words, and his touch. But I can't. So instead, I just want you to know, it's going to be all right. Those messages you'll probably absorb about how you should look and act and talk and be; they'll come. And when they do, remember that your infinite value and worth remains the same even with a few chinks in your armour.

And when you feel worthless (and you will), please take heart that while this feels like the biggest, worst, most painful thing you'll ever go through, it's not. It actually just gets worse. But you'll make it through that too. I promise.

So to you, my fourteen year-old counterpart, may you encounter the newness of this growing up process with all the grace and endurance you can muster.

May you be unshaken by the rhetoric of womanhood. You need not look like her or act like her in order to be a woman. You were born. That's enough.

May you know that God is more complex than you think right now. Don't try too hard to have it all figured out. I mean, you've got a spiritual crisis coming in about six years, you might as well just enjoy the ride.

May you be confident that you're good enough without a boy. Yes, even that one. He'll kinda break your heart anyway. I'd just let it go.

May you know, even then and even now, that life will let you down. High school, college, and adulthood will take you by surprise. Life won't look like you thought it would, and that's okay. Resist expectations.

May you give yourself break and resist the urge to tear yourself apart. It doesn't help you. It doesn't help anyone. It's not admirable and yes, it's still abuse. Be kind. You're worth it.

May you know that "perfect" is a fiction. And you, yes you, pre-acne, heart break, and a college degree are exactly what you need to be. Right now. Forever.

May you find your voice and learn to recognize its sound, its nuance, its truth.

Your twenty-four year old friend,
Heather

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Thirty-five Days

These two people...
young and twitterpated...

happily naive and adventurous...

silly and full of joy...

these two people...

are getting married.

In 35 days.
Yay.
And it's gonna be good.
The party and the marriage.

Check out our wedding website: sterndalebohlender.ourwedding.com.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Awe

Yesterday, I played UNO with Mary and when she laid down a "Draw Four" card, I said, "Gross!" And she busted up laughing and repeated: "Gross? Ha, ha gross! Gross."

Randy walks everywhere slowly with his hands behind his back as if he's pondering deeply the philosophies of our time. And he might well be for all we know.

Charlotte sits for all of 2nd period two inches away from the computer screen listening to Taylor Swift's YouTube music videos over and over and over again. Then she smiles mischievously as she steals my checker pieces.

Kristin is our own little pop culture juke box. She remembers what she's heard and repeats it back to us: commercials, songs, a conversation in the hallway, a Disney movie. The other day, I said, "Giddyup" and she did too for the next 30 minutes.

Mckayla races me back from the cafeteria. In her wheelchair. And wins.

We walk in circles around the gymnasium and James comes up behind me. I say, "Turn left." And he repeats "Turn left" and then does so. We turn right. We run. We stop. We lift our right hand. We jump. He can repeat what I'm saying and follow directions, but he can't form new sentences of his own.

Mary kicks the soccer ball. I put up my hand for a high-five. She smiles and takes a step forward before dropping her hand at the last moment and grinning over her shoulder.


The last two days, I've looked around at these students and been humbled. Some have hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, Downs syndrome, or autism, and they are all vastly unique and impressive in their own way. I've been substitute teaching in the SPED (special education) department at a public high school and it continues to teach me so much.

Several times in the last year, I've realized I enjoy these kids. I love how unpredictable they are, yet how completely methodical. I love how they each have their quirks and their habits. Emilia doesn't like new people. Randy randomly jumps and yells. Kristin likes to pace. Mckayla likes to comfort.

Mckayla has cerebral palsy. She strolls about in a wheelchair by directing her movements with her head and uses her nose to point to letters to spell out everything she wants to say. Her arms, legs, and head move about out of her control. Her helper, Roberta, watches her movements intently to be able to spell out what Mckayla is trying desperately to say.

So the other day, Colin stormed into the classroom, breathing heavy, threw his books on the ground and plopped into his chair. After a few minutes we found out that Mckayla was saying, "Colin looks sad. Let's go talk to him." So Roberta pushed Mckayla in his direction and spelled out, one letter at a time, "What's wrong?" Colin was having a relationship "crisis." He talked. She listened. Her head dipped and bobbled in between sentences and she would spell out what she wanted to say in response. After a few minutes, Mckayla asked Colin, "Do you feel better?" And he did. And that was that.

Those of us watching sat in awe. We weren't able to understand what he wanted or comfort him, but Mckayla, with her limited resources and abilities, was. Amazing.

SPED is this whole 'nother world that it's easy to forget about (which is true of any world that is not our own reality). If you are not a person who is disabled, and if you don't know someone who is, it's easy to be uninformed about the day-to-day reality of this world.

I do this with just about everyone whoss reality is different than mine. I don't often think about what it would be like to be Mexican or a millionaire or a police officer or gay or to live in Bangladesh. I don't think about these things because I don't have to think about these things. And that's a problem and that's selfish. It's this limited-perspective reasoning that keeps most of us separate and isolated and ignorant.

We have to be willing to try on another pair of shoes. To experience, even for a few minutes, what it would be like to live another life. It makes me more aware. It makes me conscious. It makes me compassionate. It makes me humble.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dare Greatly

Dr. Brene Brown is one of my favorite people.
I don't know her.
We've never met.
We probably never will.
I just like her. A lot.

She's given three different TED talks: "The Power of Vulnerability," "The Price of Invulnerability," and her latest, "Listening to Shame." Watch it here. Now:












Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"Vulnerability is not weakness...How many of you when you're thinking of being vulnerable think, 'This is weakness.' The majority. Now, how many of you when you see vulnerability in someone else, see it as pure courage? Again, the majority. Vulnerability: emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty, it fuels our daily lives. Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage. To be vulnerable, to allow ourselves, to be honest.

"We have to talk about shame...Shame is the swamp land of the soul. We need to put on some galoshes and look around.

"Theodore Roosevelt said, 'It is not the critic who counts. It is not the man who sits and points out how the doer of deeds could've done things better and how he falls and stumbles. The credit goes to the man in the arena whose face is marred with dust and blood and sweat but when he's in the arena at best, he wins and at worse he loses, but when he fails when he loses he's does so daring greatly.'

"And when you dare to step into the arena, shame is the gremlin who says, 'Uh-uh, you're not good enough.' Shame is that thing. We look up and the critic we see pointing and laughing, it's us. Shame drives two big tapes: 'never good enough' and 'who do you think you are?'.

"Shame is a focus on self. Guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is "I am bad." Guilt is "I did something bad.

"Guilt: I'm sorry I made a mistake.
Shame: I'm sorry I am a mistake.

"Shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, agrression, suicide, eating disorders. Guilt is inversely correlated with those things.

"Shame is absolutely organized by gender...For women, shame is do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat. Web of unattainable conflicting expectations about who we are supposed to be. For men, shame means not letting people see you as weak.

"You show me a woman who can actually sit with a man in real vulnerability and fear. I'll show you a woman who has done incredible work. You show me a man who can sit with a woman who's just had it, who can't do it all anymore and who's first response isn't, "I unloaded the dishwasher!", but he really listens? Cause that's all we need. I'll show you a guy who has done alot of work.

"Shame is an epidemic in our culture.

"Researchers from Boston College asked, 'What do women need to do to conform to female norms in this country?': nice, thin, modest, use all available resources for appearance.

"And for men to conform to male norms?: always show emotional control, work is first, pursue status, violence.

"Empathy is the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a petri dish it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgement. If you put the same amount of shame in a petri dish and you douse it with empathy, it can't suivive. The two most powerful words when we're in struggle, 'Me too.'

"If we're going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is the path.

"It's seductive to stand outside the arena and say, 'I'm going to go in their and kick some ass when I'm bullet-proof and when I'm perfect.' "


We need to "dare greatly."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Dear Child,

It's been awhile since I've written. It's been awhile since I've needed to. But I knew as soon as you woke up this morning, it was just going to be one of those days.

One of those days when you wake up feeling drowsy and it's difficult to keep your eyes open.
One of those days when the sun is shining, yet the horizon looks gloomy.
One of those days when you feel like a child, unsure about the future, and unwilling to step forward.
One of those days when you look in the mirror and don't recognize your own reflection. Or don't want to.
One of those days when the list is too long and the time is too short.
One of those days when you realize life is slipping through your fingers and you can only think about the twenty-four years you've "wasted," instead of the seventy-six years ahead of you.
One of those days when you forget your name and need reminding.
You forget your value.
You forget your worth.
And what began as a ho-hum morning turns into a bleak outlook on just about everything.

I know you want to sulk.
I know you want to eat to solve your problems.
I know you want to whine and commiserate.
I know you want to sleep and awake on the other side of this day.

And you can. You're a big girl. You can make your own decisions. And choosing anything else is just about the hardest thing to do on a day like this.

But here's my two-cents:
Take a deep breath.
Sit still.
Be nice to yourself.
Drink some water.
Stretch.
Go teach that Zumba class.
Go get that wedding dress altered.
Eat supper.
Go to bed.

Yes, that's right: just show up. Nothing flashy. Nothing valiant. Just move forward.

I believe in you.
You can believe in you too.

Sincerely,
Truth