The psychology of women regarding weight is a strange and mythical beast. I know better. As an advocate for healthy body image, I know weight doesn't define us. I know weight is just a number that gives us an estimate of mass related to gravity. I know weight doesn't tell us how fat we are. I know all of these things and yet the number on the scale is still a number.
Most of us learned in grade school that numbers have value. An A is better than a B. A B is better than a C. Some kids learned that numbers begot better numbers. An A was a $20. A B was $10. These weren't my parents, but my family of origin issues aren't the point. Numbers mean something. They create a hierarchy. I know better. I haven't weighed myself with any interest in a long time. My clothes fit. I haven't bought any different sizes. I essentially look the same. And yet, the number wags it's finger.
As an experiment, I stepped back into the space of my clients. I stepped back into the space of even my own eating disorder. I weighed myself one day. And the next. And the next. The difference between the first day to the second didn't concern me much. It was up a pound. Big whoop. It will be down tomorrow I told myself. And then the next day it wasn't. It was even up another pound. And I felt the panic. I felt the thoughts creep in. You are out of control. Stop yourself. Starve today. Don't eat! Your body can't be trusted!
But, is that it? Where is the earth traveling in relation to the sun? How does gravity fit in? Maybe I've gained some muscle and I'm getting stronger. Wouldn't that be okay? My eating disorder mind screams no. My healthy mind knows it doesn't matter. Over the past few years that I didn't step a foot on a scale I'm sure my weight has traveled up and down. We don't stay at a set number. Our bodies find equilibrium in a range. That doesn't mean numbers aren't tricky. Numbers still create a hierarchy.
hen I'm competing in a horse show, seconds determine the difference between first and second place. Numbers mean something. What it comes down to is how much of a self we put on the hook for where the number is and what place we come in. Life isn't a weight contest. Nobody knows what your number on the scale is. What I do know is that inside my eating disorder mind there is never a number that is good enough. It's never low enough. What the number of the scale could never do was change how I felt inside.
How I feel in my skin isn't relative to the number on the scale anymore. Some days I feel bigger. I don't weigh myself to find out. It can be stress. It can be fear. It can be the dead of winter where all of us are bundled up. I feel everything. I feel all the parts of my body. It's not my bodies fault and it doesn't mean my body is wrong. It means it's a body and it's weight is no more or less an indicator of health than my mindset is that day. Maybe I'll weigh tomorrow. Maybe I won't. What I do know is that the number doesn't matter anymore. I get to be free.
We learn a lot from our parents. We learn that we should brush our teeth twice a day. We learn to say please and thank you. We learn how to tie our shoes. But, what if we didn't learn those things? What if the only shoes you could wear were velcro- and you are now thirty years old. The selection of velcro shoes might be slim pickens. They are less likely to come in the style you want or be geared for the activity you want. Imagine having to miss out on things as a result of not being able to have the shoes you need. It might be hard to not feel a little bit like something was missing. It might be hard not to feel like others 'got' something you didn't get. It might be hard not to at some point start to feel a little defective.
Imagine if instead of talking about shoes we were talking about an internal information system about yourself. We are all pretty familiar with what an external information system might be. That is what helps us hit the brakes when we hear a horn as we are moving through a parking lot. It's also what tells us to grab a raincoat when we feel drops of rain on our skin or see them out our window. Our external information system uses our senses to give us information about our external environment. We have an internal information system too. That tells you how to care for your emotional self.
Our parents are in part responsible for how this internal information system gets put together. As we move along developmentally we have an opportunity to 'tune in' more and more to our 'self' voice. That
tells us what we like and dislike. That tells us that when we are alone we experience sadness. That tells us when we run and play we feel joy. That tells us when someone hurts us we feel pain and that
pain tells us how close we want to be to that person. But, what if you weren't allowed to hear your 'self' voice? What if you were told you aren't lonely, or happy, or hurt?
If this happened, you likely learned that your 'self' voice can't be trusted, which means there is a short in your internal information system- in essence, a hole. People who were taught that they had a faulty internal information system look to others for their sense of worth. They are frequently over-achievers who strive for the hand claps of others to know they are okay or they are under-achievers who feel nothing will ever be good enough to change the hole.
The hole that's missing isn't your self-worth. That's innate. It's just given by right of birth. The hole that's missing is your emotional connection to that 'self' voice. The good news is that 'self' voice can be trusted. While it may take some time and some work learning to decipher it- listening for your internal information system can help you feel whole, not with a hole, and you can discover how to protect yourself from the emotional elements better. Now, where's my rain coat? It's starting to rain.
We have completely failed the pursuit of silence. In the current culture of dings, bells, rings, alarms, and whistles from a million electronic devices, it’s hard to find a place to just sit. Sitting in silence has become scary. Sitting in silence has become something to move away from instead of towards. We are contstantly taking opportunities away from silence and filling them with static. Mulit-tasking has become the norm and there are a number of ways we are suffering from it.
Creativity begs for silence. Our emotions are born out of our creative spaces. Like a garden craving space to grow in order to lay down roots and soak up the breath and life force needed to thrive, this is the space our emotions and creative places desire to thrive. It’s not just the opportunity to sit still for a minute that cultivates the soil. It’s the willingness to fill the space with silence. It is the willingness the make the silence be a thing that is sacred enough to hold space.
It’s the space that is required to allow out emotions to make their announcement with fullness and life. Without space they dart in and out with the fear of not being appreciated to the full intensity, without being held sacred enough to offer a sense of learning into our own heart space. It is in that scary space that we run away from them. We stuff them down, pushing the beach ball under water with waste of energy. Energy that is needed to cultivate the light we bring from the emotional center and into the creative space in which we can express our emotions, allowing them to process and move through our bodies with the gift of learning more about ourselves and our heart center.
The creative center has the power to own our souls, grow our garden, and bring us into our potential, which allows our voice to blossom. Without cultivating the silence and allowing room for it’s invitation, it is easily dismissed. Into the space of dings, bells, alarms, and whistles, we can lose our sunlight missing the room to breath. Without which, breath, we fail to take in what we need from the environment and our emotional, creative center withers away. Silence. We must own the silence and challenge ourselves to exist inside of it.
So breath. Be silent. Push the space open. Feel the opening into your creativity. Hear your own voice. Have stillness engulf you. Learn to move inside your emotional center inside nature’s natural balance.
Life gives reminders. Sometimes they are reminders we need to hear, like pockets of wisdom; other times, these reminders punch us in the face. Yesterday was a day of reminders. Emotions, as I was reminded, are fleeting. None of them are meant to last. They are meant, if you keep your eyes open, to make a deposit into your emotional bank account, only to be quickly followed by a withdrawal.
While most of the day was relatively uneventful within the last three hours of my day through this morning I've been reminded how unattached to any one emotion we can be. I was tagged in a photo on facebook only to see that a piece of my jewelry had been copied by another artist. As a surge of anger hit me, I was also confronted by a calm that allowed me to decide that this person's need to copy my work for his own gain, or they charitable gain he claimed it was for, didn't have to affect me. I needed to have faith in the universe, so to speak, that he would be taken care of. I told myself and the others it would affect to let it go and move on.
From there, my usual late night kiddo wanted to go to bed early. Translation: mom gets some extra time to herself. SCORE. This looked like a much needed ending to the rest of my evening. I love, love, love my kiddo. However, the wee hours of the day end tend to leave me energy spent and a bit more testy than either of us sometimes find enjoyable. While I was doing pretty good, an extra hour sounded like something I was definitely down for. And then my night hit the jackpot.
What I thought was a mistaken pocket dial turned into finding out I had won a SADDLE. Wait, what?!? Yep, you heard that right. I won a SADDLE! I'm still in the process of wrapping my head around that whole thing. That was, in part, because my kiddo's attempt at any bedtime quickly derailed. Countless attempts at putting her to bed were unsuccessful. Through screaming, tears, negotiations, everything failed. Upstairs. Downstairs. Eventually, exhaustion won over for both of us. As I sat trying to recap what had unfolded in the last couple hours I marveled at our emotional capacity. And was quietly grateful for the time change that was giving me an extra hour to sleep.
Fast forward to the next morning... in the midst of all these ups and downs, I embraced the morning only to have the zipper on my riding boots go bust. This was, of course, after I dismissed a pair of rare already made in my size boots! So, at this point I'm not sure if I should embrace my luck, or my capacity for huge upswings of joyful emotions, ex. winning a SADDLE, and go out and buy that horse I've had my eye on or figure my luck has run out! Either way it's a deposit in and a withdrawal out, and a deposit in and a withdrawal out.
Where does it end or maybe where does it even begin? Walking away from an eating disorder can feel like a long list of never to do agains. There are so many risk foods, pitfall behaviors, slippery slopes, and scary rides. And yet, many of those things can feel like the comfort of holding on to mommy's hand.
As a child, we cling to those hands as some sort of force that fends away our fear and begs them to build a fortitude of confidence in our abilities. And yet, all too often holding on too tightly can cause the monster of fear to only get bigger, draining our little confidence, robbing us of the experience of rising to the occasion. Rising to the occasion for ourself is critical in development. That's something that growing up with an eating disorder undermines.
Believing that the eating disorder can instill in us a unwavering confidence is both a lie and a trap. It doesn't only chastise us for being who we are but it continually punches us in the gut and as we stagger to stand up it challenges us with blame and fault. None of which is true, but how do you go against the things that swore to keep you safe against all the evils of life, all the emotions life brings.
But, what if one day we just stop. What if one day we just stop listening. What if we stop hearing all the things out there that other people can do- decide that we can and we just decide to stop and do. If I believe I can be like everyone else I can. Maybe that felt like a terrifying space to be like everyone else. Maybe now with a different lens removing the rose color glasses shows us that it's the eating disorder that is full of RED flags, instead of just flags of invitation.
Find the space to feel. Step inside yourself. Hold your own hand. Offer up grace, compassion, and a passion to exist inside of life. It's scary. It's hard. It's real. Be what is you.
I don't like the way I feel. How many of us as junior high girls carried those thoughts around? I'm guessing you may have been like me. What I did't understand was what my 'feelings' were. I just knew there was something that wasn't right. Pick your poison- friends, eventually boyfriends, parents, teachers, grades. There were lots of things not feeling right. Unfortunately for us, Inside Out wasn't a movie yet. No one was around to explain all those 'guys' hanging out in my head causing me to feel different things- things that weren't always good. How could I explain sadness? How could I share with someone that somebody was mean to me? I was embarrassed. Things were happening inside of me that didn't feel good.
Eventually what didn't feel good went from what I was feeling inside to what I was seeing outside. We see our image through our feelings. When we look through our eyes, we look through our feelings at our image. I bet you've never thought of that. The better we feel the more favorable we tend to see ourselves. The worse we feel the worse we tend to see ourselves. Now I won't swear that happens to every woman on the planet, but it happens to some and I'll bank that it happens to most. The difference may fall in what each women does next.
For some, and for me, something clicked. There were a thousand images telling me that I could change my outside. It started with learning Alisa Milano's weight in Bop magazine. That must be the golden standard I thought. She was my height. Then it went to the lunch room at school. I felt lucky to sit with them. I wasn't quite as popular as I perceived them to be. I admired their status and something in me translated part of that to their relative thinness. If they were eating carrots I was eating less. Their attempt at eating carrots was short-lived however. Mine was not.
What went from not feeling good on the inside became a mission to feel better and better from the outside in. If I could just get smaller I would feel better. The problem is that it feels like it works. If your only goal is the number on the scale or the 12 grapes you were allowed to eat that day you can find a way to be successful. The focus on food tunes everything out. Everything that hurt is gone. The only thing that matters is the outside. The inside is too scary to matter. And here begins a long road of disconnect and a belief that fat is a feeling. I feel bad becomes I feel fat and food is the enemy.
Fat is obviously not a feeling. Feelings are sadness, loneliness, pain, anger, shame, guilt, and joy. They all have gifts and they are all there to navigate our internal information system. I wish Inside Out would have been a class in elementary school. I've read books that suggest there be an Emotions 101 in college. I was so far sunk by the time I hit college. I needed that class in fifth grade. I needed to hear I was good enough even though I wasn't in the popular group. I needed guidance about all the things that change as we move through childhood. I needed to know it was normal to not be happy sometimes. I needed someone to tell me I was perfect just because I was me.
Hey... you out there... you are perfect just because you are YOU.
I grew up alone. I wasn't lonely. I was just alone. I wasn't alone like in the loner kind of way either. I was just alone. I was great at entertaining myself. I was crafty and creative. I always had a new project I was into. I loved to draw. I loved doing things with my hands. I loved working on things and tinkering. I never thought of myself as lonely.
I wasn't into any team sports. I had terrible asthma that kept me from running as any type of sport activity. I didn't have a tribe. I was alone. I liked moving through the world alone. I didn't realize there was any other way. I assumed my friends who had siblings still moved through the world like I did. Just alone.
Being alone isn't so bad when you don't know that it's not supposed to feel okay. Unfortunately the idea that it is okay to be alone doesn't last. Most people either conform or push way outside the norm to intently non-conform. Growing up with horses kept me from doing much of either. I had a separate space where being alone was accepted. Riding as a sport is an individual endeavor- one that still gave me some concept of a tribe. It gave me a place to go where I could be alone and was so not very alone at the same time. We all had this understanding of being alone.
Without intention the further I got into horses the more I left my creativity behind- not realizing the outlet that it may have been providing. As I lost my creative expression more rules were told to me and I accepted them, like the social constructs of fitting in. Talk to your junior high for a minute about what it was like trying to fit in and it probably wasn't pretty... or maybe it was high school... or maybe it was college... or maybe it was that first 'adult job'. Appearance is an easy thing to swing at. It;s the easiest shiny object in the room to create comparisons... in a world where we learn it isn't okay to be alone.
We are taught that feelings of alone-ness are supposed to be painful, even fearful. This same pain and same fear led me into the lies of my eating disorder that claimed to comfort me and make me fit in with all the other 'dieting girls' at my lunch table. Who knew I'd out do them and end up with an eating disorder while their 'diets' were really just a passing phase. I thought I was winning with my new best friend Ed. In retrospect they may have been the winners.
Leaving Ed was the journey into accepting it was okay to be alone. Learning how to be alone in the comfort of myself was key. So much time is spent alone in the dismay of ourselves, even disgust. For some it is learning to comfort that child in us that was never comforted in pain. For others its accepting their 'right' may be different than what the comparison monsters would ever let us believe. But in the end a life of steamed broccoli with amusement of seasonings won't be the knight on the white horse it claimed to be.
Where's your big magic? I love my clients. While most are completely unaware, I have the coolest clients around. They are generally serious ass kickers. They have endured. They have survived. They have fought there way. They have been unwilling to stop fighting. They come tattooed. They come with doctorates in super cool things. They have reached tremendous heights. They come with scars and bruises unable to be seen by the naked eye. They come too often fighting the wrong battle. They come too often a thousand voices away from their big magic.
So what is big magic? It's that tapping on the shoulder. It's that nudge for a story to be written. It's that image for a painting to be painted. It's that idea suggesting you turn your world upside down and move to another city. It's that little voice inside your head begging you to take over the world... because you can. It's that part of you that craves being unafraid. It's that little girl who was hushed. It's that little girl who was told she was too bright, too bold, too loud. It's that little girl who just needs someone to tell her that she is enough. Just as she is... enough.
I've met very few clients that I didn't at some point want to befriend. Considering that's really a no no in my line of work I haven't actually befriended any clients. It isn't easy. They are all full of big magic. If I'm lucky I get to watch the uncovering of their voice. I get to hear a client come in and talk about getting a story idea. I get to hear how she hasn't had an idea for a couple years... years that have been covered with grief and loss and stress. Now that she has uncovered her voice her big magic wants to play too. You feel it. That creative light. You know when it's out too.
I do. I do know when it's off. It's subtle. I'm still doing everything you'd see on the surface. It's on the inside that I've lost it. I'm just a little less present. I'm just a little more likely to throw a stone at myself before I open up the hands of grace. I'm likely to look at you and think you don't like me. That's the way I hide from my big magic. I hide my voice. I don't write. I don't 'show up'. I forget I'm capable of more. I accept less. What if we all refused to give up our big magic? What if we just stopped cluttering our head with anything that wasn't a step closer to conquering the world? You only have to conquer yours. Let the others be responsible for conquering the world that belongs to them.
Big magic. Hold tight. Enjoy the ride.
I'm not sure where she got the idea. I'm not sure if she knew what she was asking to do when she asked. Without even knowing it, I knew she was on to something. All I can ask for is that it saves her from turning out her light. I hope it saves her from letting someone else tell her that she needs to be quieter, dimmer, less bright, muted somehow. Silenced.
I hear the stories everyday. Sometimes the age varies. The context usually varies. The players vary, although it's usually initially an influential member of the family. It's usually in relation to someone who has a much louder voice and the ability to control others through fear. Their control is often passive and from the outside can even be seen as kind. That, of course, makes it even more confusing and harder to spot. So those who suffer learn to suffer in silence. Their voice gets smaller and smaller.
Where does it start? Can it be stopped early enough so as to not move through life having to always work on confidence? How do you create presence? We know to look for it in early teenagers. We know to stop and try and cultivate self-esteem in the pre-teen. Is that too late? I know the stories I hear start before those difficult teenage years. The supportive system needed to survive the teenage wasteland was already too many steps away by then.
Having a five year old has opened my eyes to a thousand things I would have never thought about. Her quiet voice when trying to tell someone what she needs has been a thought at the back of my mind. I quietly tell myself it's something she will grow out of. But, how? Why would she? I try not to blame myself for her shy tendencies as it is. How can I help her without drawing attention to her quiet voice in a why that suggests she should feel bad about it. It's a fact that we are telling children to be quieter as much if not more than we are telling them to speak up. I can see how she can get confused.
Standing there listening to her recite her 'magic words' at her second karate lesson I saw something. I saw the part of her that needs to earn her confidence. I saw how early on she needs to be empowered to be loud, to be proud, to feel strong, to feel presence. She needs to be able to own her own light and shine it bright. Here's to hoping she gets to build that foundation and instead of curling her shoulders forward, huddling over she can stand tall and say, 'mommy, I am here!'.
After years of trying to control my world by having a tight six pack abdomen, I've come to realize my real power comes from filling up my belly, letting my gut hang out and leaning in to the experience before me. With that comes breath, relaxation, and a power to conquer the world. --
If you read my facebook post the other day you'd think that I had finally hit a great milestone in my eating disorder recovery. That's not exactly the case. I moved past my eating disorder years ago. The experience I had that led to my post was a milestone that happened on the back of a horse. What led me to that milestone was a complete implosion on the back of a horse.
A few years ago something changed. Up until then I thought I was pretty fearless. Certainly a number of factors were at play, but what I watched manifest inside my body was a physiological response to fear that I could not control. My mind could be aware that the fearful thing I was predicting had an equal chance if not better of not happening. My body, on the other hand, was trying to freeze. It would have been better if my response to fear was to fight or even to flee (which it did try sometimes).
I've spent a lot of my life holding back and being afraid. I've constricted those muscles and my experiences. It manifested most with Sparrow because it held in the moment consequences. He imploded or I imploded, then I imploded or he imploded. I stopped breathing. I drew up, constricting my breath and my presence and he learned to hold his breath, draw up, constricting his presence with the power of refusing to have faith. I never blamed him. We went from nearly conquering the world- at least, what was going to be the height of our world- to falling.
Nothing in life is linear. The ideas that there is a predictable order is a fallacy. It's a prevalent fallacy among obsessive-compulsive folks. The idea that control can diminish fear instead of realizing the idea that we can hold fear in our hands is the utmost illusion. Yet, instead of trusting... instead of leaning in... instead of letting my belly hang out open to what would come, I started sucking back. The problem was it didn't stop on the back of a horse. It began to happen everywhere. That's the power of what we do. We rarely do anything in a vacuum. We do it on a grand scale, even when you can't see it.
It's powerful. It's in our essence. We look down. We shut down. We don't speak up. We hide. We stay home. We run away. We listen to what's inside our head. We allow ourselves to be bullied emotional. We suffer the physiological consequences and physical manifestations of turning off our light. But, who's the bully? It's not you. It's not them. It's me. I control looking someone in the eye. I control riding to that fence with my belly full of air, full of essence, full of faith. I control the volume and the channel of what's in my head.
My future is what I what it to become. With my belly hanging out, I want it to become all that I can achieve. What I can achieve is not up to anyone else. What I can achieve is a product of what I want to deliver to the world. It's not about what the world is trying to deliver to me because running away and hiding from that never taught me how to manage those moments and make them work. It's the working that life is about.