Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When I Stopped Being Skinny and the World Fell Apart.


The first time I was called fat I was actually told I wasn't fat. That may be a strange way to begin a blog post about the first time I was called fat, but there it is. It was a boy who said it and I had a major crush on him. I was 14 years old, tall and still reasonably thin despite the onset of puberty.

"You're not fat," he said, answering a question I hadn't asked. "You just need to tone up."

I stood in my first bikini at the lake's edge and froze. I felt naked and exposed. I wished I could sink into the sand and never re-emerge.

Having been skinny my whole life, the observation was in itself shocking. I'd always been the tall skinny girl who ran through the neighborhood in short shorts, legs and arms windmilling down the street without a care in the world.

Adults often commented on my appearance. I got a lot of praise for being tall, skinny and blond. Grown women would grab my chin and turn my face back and forth in their hands, admiring me.

"Such gorgeous cheekbones," they said.

"Do you know women pay a lot of money to have blond highlights like those?"

"When you get older, you'll love being so tall and thin. You'll look like a model."

I was Tall and Skinny. Long and Lean. It became my identity more than I realized. In fact, I didn't realize how important it was until I lost it.

I stopped wearing shorts after The Crush told me I needed to tone up. Sure I wore the polyester uniform basketball shorts when I played on a team, but I tugged at them during the game and ran to the locker room afterwards to put on sweats to cover how my body was changing. My once stick-like legs were becoming curvy and strong.

"You could be a plus-size model," a girl told me at lunch one day.

By then I was still tall and fit, but I had developed more of an athletic build rather than a slight willowy one ... which is a perfectly acceptable thing to be. But I was surrounded by tiny girls who talked about weighing tiny petite girly numbers. Wearing tiny petite clothing sizes. Inhabiting bodies with such tiny petite bones. I was starting to feel like a linebacker. I'm sure the girl was trying to say I was pretty … but all I heard was that I was fat. She had no way of knowing that I was descending into an eating disorder that would hold me in its grip for decades.

You see, being imperfect was unacceptable. If I wasn't perfect, no one would love me. If I could just attain perfection, then everything would get better. My mother wouldn't drink. My dad wouldn't leave. My brother and sister would move back home. A boy might even like me! I'd make more friends. Get better grades. Everyone would love me and no one would criticize me. The kids down the street wouldn't yell, "Your mother's a drunk!"every time I walked past their house. If I could only be perfect enough, then everything would be okay. I just knew it.

And so the refrain played over and over again in my brain. Look perfect. Feel perfect. Be perfect. Anything less means you're trash. A loser. A disgusting piece of filth that no one will love. If you  allow yourself to eat, if you eat your feelings and shove food down your throat like the love you crave, then you've ruined everything.

It became a vicious cycle of trying to starve myself thin so I could be lovable, binging on the food/love I so desperately craved, and then trying to erase the whole messy affair by vomiting. It was a brutal cycle of failure and disappointment. Which left me alone in the darkest hours of the night when I was at my loneliest … and then I'd do it all over again. I knew with 100% certainty that I was a disgusting beast who no one would ever love. I believed I deserved everything that I got, which was loneliness and despair.

The irony is, 30 years later, I don't think I'm fat but do think I need to tone up. But it's not the end of the world. I know you love me anyway. And I sorta love me too.

Of course I have therapy to thank for that. It took a lot a lot of work and a bit of courage too. For so long I was imprisoned by the shame of admitting I had this problem. That's another great irony of this disease. The shame of it keeps you silent, but the silence keeps you sick. What I learned in therapy was that when I was finally able to let go of the shame, I was able to let go of the disorder too.

I've been in recovery for over ten years and yet I rarely talk about it. Shame is a funny thing. It sticks and clings to us like a dirty scent we're afraid other people will notice. I still battle with trying to appear perfect. I'm afraid that by admitting that I have struggled with an eating disorder, you'll find me disgusting and unlovable.

But I know that's not true.

Nobody ever loved perfect things. Perfect things are scary. You're always afraid you'll drop them or break them or scratch them. We're so much more comfortable with worn things. The chipped glass. The stuffed toy with the missing ear. The girl with the imperfect past.

We can relate to imperfection.

Perfect is a mirage. You can chase it, but you'll never attain it. And if you think you have to wait to be perfect to be loved, you'll spend your entire life alone. It's funny, the more imperfect I've allowed myself to be, the more full my life has become. Now when I sit down, I instantly have two kids, a cat and a grown man all vying for space to get the closest to me on the couch.

"You know what," my husband commented the other day, looking at me with a kid sitting on each side and a cat on my lap. "You have the thing you always wanted. To not be alone."

I may never have attained perfection, but I did attain love.





This is a response to a writing prompt hosted by the indomitable Brittany, Herself. To participate in the August Writing Prompts, click here.



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Letter to Self of Years Past.

Dear Self of Years Past,

People who are lost often don't know they are lost. This is the worst kind of lost to be. You don't even know you've gone off the path, let alone how far off into the woods you've stumbled. The thing is, Self, you've been lost before. You've struggled to find a clear path to a decent future. You've had your heart broken and you've let bills go unpaid. You've drank too much, slept with the wrong people and made unfortunate fashion choices. But even amidst all that, you still knew who you were and retained the Essence of You.

But now you've arrived at the point where the Light of You has extinguished. You're so consumed with trying to make this relationship work that you've completely forgotten who you are. You're still the plucky kid you were all along. You're the child of an alcoholic who refused to go unloved. You sought out neighbors, teachers, friends, friends' parents and therapists. You never stopped seeking shelter and love. You didn't stand in the rain.

Today, you're drowning. You stand behind Him at parties. You're the quiet girlfriend in the corner. You're meek. You're mild. And you're terrified it isn't going to work. You think he lifted up the earth and hung it among the stars. What you don't know is that he's all bully and bluster. You're ten times more interesting and 100-fold smarter. Only everybody knows it but you.

Yesterday you had an old friend over and the two of you sat chatting on the couch. He walked through the room and said something you barely registered as he went out the front door and closed it behind him. You kept talking to your friend until she stopped you.

"I don't know what shocks me more. The fact that he talks to you that way … or the fact that you allow it."

I know it hurt to hear that. But Self, listen to her. She's not being mean. The people who love you the most are trying to tell you.  You need to listen.

"I don't even know you any more," your mom said on the phone the other day.

The comment still rings in your ears and makes your heart beat faster with a rabbit panic. You think they're wrong. You think you can fix it and make everything work. Once everything is fixed it will all be perfect and then they'll see. You can fix anything. You're determined. You're special. You're hardworking and hell-bent. It has to work. Just this once it has to work. You want the fairytale ending and you're willing to destroy yourself to get it.

Here's the truth. Trying to make it work is only working to destroy you.  And if you don't get out soon, you might lose yourself forever. If you leave, it's going to hurt. You'll burst into tears at a red light and the car behind you will honk while you sob into the steering wheel. It'll hurt so much you'll be quite convinced that it will break you. It will hurt so much your skin will prickle and your stomach will fold itself into such a tight little knot that you'd rather starve than go without love.

But you'll eat. You'll start to drink from the cup of life once more and then you'll take big greedy gulps until you make yourself sick. But you'll get past that too. And then you'll start to be yourself again. Your skin will fit the way it used to and the ground will meet your feet as you walk. You'll smile and pay bills. Friends will call. You'll get a new job and redecorate. You'll buy new shoes and go out on dates.

In fact, you'll not only get back to the girl you once were, you'll become the woman you always wanted to be. You'll be better. You'll come out the other side and your heart will be even bigger than it was before. Your life will expand. You'll reach out. You'll listen. People will call you and heed your advice. You'll find it in your heart to forgive. You'll just keep expanding until you're bigger than the world you knew.

Now start packing. It's time to start living again.


Love,

Self of Years Present





This is a response to a writing prompt hosted by the indomitable Brittany, Herself. To participate in the August Writing Prompts, click here.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Be Happy in the World of Social Media.

I read a truly wonderful article by Arthur C. Brooks in the New York Times the other day entitled “Love People, Not Pleasure.” The gist of the article is that our drives to be wealthy, famous and powerful are the precise factors that can make us unhappy. If we were to focus more on the quality and closeness of our personal relationships, we would be much happier.

That’s an over-simplification, of course, and I encourage you to read the article for yourself. It is dense with insight. One particular insight that I’d like to focus on today is the use of social media and specifically, blogging. For example, Brooks, says this:

“Consider fame. In 2009, researchers from the University of Rochester conducted a study tracking the success of 147 recent graduates in reaching their stated goals after graduation. Some had 'intrinsic' goals, such as deep, enduring relationships. Others had 'extrinsic' goals, such as achieving reputation or fame. The scholars found that intrinsic goals were associated with happier lives. But the people who pursued extrinsic goals experienced more negative emotions, such as shame and fear. They even suffered more physical maladies.”

I can certainly relate to this in terms of my own life and in terms of blogging. I’d always hoped to one day publish a book. Of course I’ve even fantasized about becoming popular and of one day reading my own book reviews on the New York Times. I’m human. But a long time ago, I found that the greatest pleasure in life comes from personal relationships. I get a lot of satisfaction from my marriage, from my children, from the friends and family I have. I’m lucky to be surrounded by caring, smart, hilarious people. It’s an embarrassment of riches, quite frankly. And I’ve spent a lot of time tending to these relationships. Touching base. Inviting people over. Going to get my nails done with a friend. Stopping to talk rather than hurrying off. Planning a girls night out. Going to lunch. These things bring me the greatest pleasure.

Don’t get me wrong. I still work with a writing coach. I still post when I feel like it on this blog. It is important that I do this work and spend time on my passion for writing. But the key is not being attached to the results. Do I need this blog to be hugely popular in order to be happy?

Nope.

Do I need to publish my book when it's done to make me happy?

Nope.

Would those things be nice?

Damn straight they would.

But what do I know for a fact gives me happiness in my current life, as it stands? Writing this post is making me happy at this precise moment. It is an end unto itself. Puzzling over the New York Times article and wondering how it applies to my life gives me a sort of intellectual stimulation, which makes me feel good. Is that odd? Is it strange that this is enough, right here? Maybe so.

But why post it on the Internet for all of you to see? There must be some pleasure in sharing it. And there is, of course. I'd be a liar to say it isn't part of the whole thing. I enjoy your comments. I like seeing what your reactions are to what I have to say. Even more magical is if we connect. If you get it and say, “Ah yes, me too!” For a moment I am not alone in this vast universe of existential loneliness and despair. Okay, perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit, but it does feel good to connect. It’s nice to know I'm not alone with these thoughts. I assume there's some pleasure in it for you too, otherwise you wouldn't be here.

Do I need 100 people to connect? 1,000? 10,000? Or am I satisfied with 1? Oddly enough, it feels good to connect one-on-one, even if it is on the Internet. When I share a post on Facebook and my friends comment on it and laugh, it feels good. I don't really think it's a matter of numbers, but more a matter of quality.

Do I need to be famous, do I need a 100 likes on every post? No. I do not need fame in order to be happy with this pursuit. I do know myself that much. Perhaps that is why I’ve been able to blog as long as I have. I think I started my first quiet little blog on Myspace as far back as 2006. I started with just one new friend who started commenting … and then at the peek I had hundreds of comments every time I posted. It was crazy. And with that came the negative stuff we’ve all heard about or experienced first hand. The trolls. The ridicule. The cruelty. Nasty comments for no damn reason.

So I left it all behind and I returned to a quiet blog with few comments. Familiar friends came and went.

And it made me smile.

This is enough for me, I've decided.

The article seems to suggest that I am an oddity:

“It makes sense. What do you post to Facebook? Pictures of yourself yelling at your kids, or having a hard time at work? No, you post smiling photos of a hiking trip with friends. You build a fake life — or at least an incomplete one — and share it. Furthermore, you consume almost exclusively the fake lives of your social media 'friends.' Unless you are extraordinarily self-aware, how could it not make you feel worse to spend part of your time pretending to be happier than you are, and the other part of your time seeing how much happier others seem to be than you?”

I must be extraordinarily self-aware because Facebook doesn’t make me feel bad. I’m aware that everyone’s lives are much more complicated than the glimpse we get in status updates. I know we all struggle. I know I struggle. I blog about it occasionally here. I see a therapist. I go to marriage counseling. I take an anti-depressant. I’m a work in progress. I suppose I don't experience any of this as "fake."

So maybe there’s hope for us all. This article was a nice reminder. It’s good to know what will yield happiness and what will not. It’s good to know that my instincts are right. It’s not the possessions I accumulate (although I do enjoy shoes). It’s not the amount of wealth I accumulate (although I am very fortunate, I know that). It’s not the popularity that I may or may not have (I have this little blog and I have a lot of Facebook friends). None of those things make me happy. I know this.

It’s the little moments. It’s when you leave a comment and I respond. It’s when we make each other laugh in a comment thread on Facebook. It’s when you come to dinner and I cook for you. It’s my writer’s group, gathered around the coffee table. It’s the friends I’ve made at my daughter’s preschool. It’s the friends I’ve had since high school, since my first teaching job, my first advertising gig … and the friends I have at my current ad agency. It’s when my husband and I get through a really tough marriage counseling session and we hug outside when it is over. It’s when my ten-year-old son tells me it’s been the best week of his summer because he spent it at home with me.

I may not be the most popular blogger. I may never publish a book. But when I die I'll know I led a good life. A meaningful life. And it’s because of all of you. All 3 of you. Or all 30 of you. The numbers never made a whit of difference. They may have given me a momentary high, but it quickly faded. I could either chase that high again and be deflated not to have attained it, or I could let go of the pursuit.

It’s nice to have this reminder. Every so often I think of quitting blogging, like so many of us do. But then I wonder why? It's here if I want it. But I am free to ignore it too. It requires nothing of me and yet it gives me pleasure when I want it. I must remember that, above all else. The next time I don't get very many comments or I see a blogger friend has been published on Huffington Post while I have not, I'll say:

"It's the connection, stupid!"

It always was and it always will be. If we can remind ourselves of that, we'll be much more happier for it. I just know it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I'm Not Saying I Pick Internet Fights. I'm Saying I End Them.



Sometimes the hardest part of being a Buddhist is not being a bitch. Hey! It just comes naturally to some of us. (Re: Me.) Read more about it on my Buddhist blog Buddha Mama Sans Drama.

What do you do to keep yourself from engaging in internet arguments?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Not-to-Do List.

I'm sick. I'm also tired. But I refuse to say that I'm sick and tired because that sounds so negative.

But I am sick. I've been nauseous since April. And no, I am not pregnant. Ha ha. Very funny. And yes, I've taken a pregnancy test. Or two. But I'm definitely not carrying another child THANK BUDDHA. It turns out that feeling nauseous is actually a sign of getting an ulcer. Who knew? I thought it would be more of a burny sensation. So apparently being an anxious/stressy person can cause your stomach to eat itself. I learn something new every day!

So until I get this acid situation under control with medication and dietary changes, I'm trying to reduce stress. Part of that is doing decidedly less than I have been doing. I'm allowing myself not to do anything if I don't want to instead of forcing myself to do it all.

I don't want to take any grad classes this summer … so I'm not.

I don't want to work out. So I'm not …. not every day at least.

I don't want to write my book … so I'm editing instead.

I don't want to write in my blog … so I'm not. Well, not much.

I don't want to practice my mandolin … so I'm not.

I just want this summer to be about being lazy. Sure, I'll go to work but I don't want to do anything after work. I don't want to do anything on the weekend. I don't want any responsibility besides my husband, my children and the things I want to do.


Things I like doing:

Reading.

Gardening.

Watching Orange Is the New Black with my husband.

Drinking sparkling water.

Watering the flowers with my kids.

Spending time with friends.


This all feels so indulgent. But I think I'm tired, stressed out and I need to rest. I need to soak up time with my family. Time being outside while the weather is nice. Time sitting in temple with my sangha.

So that's what I'm gonna do. If you need me, you'll probably find me lounging on the couch or watering my front yard. Be sure to stop by and say hello, because suddenly I find I have some extra time.

More of this.

Less of that.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Detroiters Love Their Classic Cars.

Here's a fun blog post from my friend and former co-worker Bill. Today he's featuring a photo of my dad's Ford Mustang circa 1975-ish. If you're a car nut or love looking at old pictures of cars and hearing the stories of people and their sweet rides, be sure to check it out at Attic Autos.

Click here to see today's post with a picture of me and my older sister Beth standing in front of my dad's Mustang.

This post was inspired by a bunch of photos I'd posted on Facebook last week after my dad sent me a bunch of old slides from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. The majority of them feature people posing in front of cars, planes, boats and motorcycles, in case you were wondering how an automotive engineer in Detroit stages his photo shoots. 

My sister just found this gem this past weekend. Look real hard. 

Cousin Debbie, brother Charlie, sister Beth, cousin Jimmy and baby Mandy.

You've got to love the 1970s. We don't need your stinking bike helmets, your 5-point harness seat restraints or your gun safety. Survival of the fittest, baby!


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

For All the Things That Husbands and Fathers Do.

Fred with a newborn Grace.
I've shared some thoughts I had after listening to a Father's Day talk at my temple this past Sunday. It opened my eyes to all the things that fathers and husbands do without much fanfare or glory. You can read it here. Thanks!