The Absence of Love
"Pass me some of that slop." I said to the older Asian gentleman who had politely welcomed me into his home only an hour before. He was sitting quietly and respectfully at the far end of the table, and I was doing my best immitation of the rudest person I knew at the time, a friend of mine who was on the cusp of being thrown out of high school for screaming a line from a Judas Priest song at his teacher. In bold contrast and quite unfortunately, my remark seemed to go unnoticed.
My mother knew I didn't want to be there; my whole family knew I didn't want to be there, and every time I looked at him, I saw the terror in his eyes. His recently engaged, soccer-playing, interior-designing, dumb-ass brown eyes.
He was afraid I would tell; blurt it out and let everyone at the table know that he, my latest and least-favorite step-brother, a tall, handsome man, had been having a sexual relationship with me, his 15 year-old step-sister, until about a year ago when my mother found out and kicked him out. I was beyond livid when she forced me to go to that ridiculous engagement dinner. I couldn't believe I was complicit in my own soul-crushing PTSD-inducing trauma, which happened to include a ginormous table of Chinese food which I am sure was delicious but was little more than sulfur on my tongue.
It would be, in addition to many other putrid events in my life, what determined my value for many years to come. It would be what dictated my expectations of the world. It would be the thing I would always be working to grow beyond.
For years and years, I would re-enact this horror in my relationships, imagining that my boyfriend of the time had put my best interest at risk in order to be comfortable or popular or lovable. Any subtle act of inconsiderate behavior would register at least a four on the Richter scale and result in an earth-shattering eruption which would leave him, (no matter who he was) scratching his head and wondering where this crazy woman had come from and where she had hidden his awesome girlfriend.
This took many hours of therapy, yoga, and energy work to undo. Even now, I am still working on it. Every once in a while, I have to convince myself that I am worthy of love, of protection, of support. I have to talk myself down from the ledge of self-destruction every so often when some small slight occurs.
When the people you love, the people you really need to love you, direct you to lie down like a mat at the front door and thank everyone who walks across your chest with shitty boots, it does damage. So much damage that I actually believed that other people knew. I believed that the adults in my family were aware of what was going on. And my father? I was worried that if I told him, he wouldn't do anything about it. I never gave him the opportunity to protect me because I didn't think he would.
I can tell when someone has been treated this way. These are the people who behave badly, or as some call it, CRAZY. It is a huge irony in this life that I am told on a pretty regular basis by men who I go out with, (or just consider going out with, up until they say this to me), that women are CRAZY. Yeah. We are crazy alright. Crazy because the world treats us like we are disposable. Crazy because we are not supposed to get very angry when we are asked to be complicit in the white washing of our own abuse. Crazy when we are asked to swallow our pain in the name of the shame of those who cannot admit that they could be monsters.
And there is a continuum. When my abuser was a boy, his father abused him. He learned his abuse from another abuser. My mother grew up un-lovable, compounded by the fact that she was a lesbian in a world that would reject her. As and adult, she would give up the safety of her children in exchange for the love she desperately wanted. I have come through this knowing that happy people, people comfortable in their own skin, people who feel loved, would not do this. There is always pain behind pain. This does not excuse this abuse. This explains it. This helps me get to compassion, because that is my only way out of it.
The first person I had to have compassion for was myself. There was a time when I believed that I had wanted his attention. Like my mother before me, I desperately wanted to be loved. He appeared to be that opportunity. My young mind had no idea of the lies, deception, the pain he would cause me in the form of other women. I believed everything he told me; that he had to date other women so our moms wouldn't suspect, that he would marry me one day, that he loved me. I wanted so badly to believe it that I allowed myself to be treated like garbabe. I also had not protected me. For this, I had to forgive myself. I had to love myself anyway.
Up until several weeks ago when I heard this story, I barely ever gave Kesha a second thought; but I will tell you what, I think about her now. I think about how an entire industry, save a few female vocalists and her loyal fans, is asking her to work with the man who abused her. It brings up the memories of the abuse I suffered, the shame I felt, and the confusion I had about my part in it.
It is telling that other women in her industry have come out to support her; I am sure they have experienced this type of treatment in some form or another, as we all have. But it is not a man-woman thing. It is a human-human thing. We can't allow this anymore. We can't allow our shame to keep us from admitting that we are capable of horrible, de-humanizing things. This is our heritage. We have been abusing individuals, large groups of people, and small groups of people, for far too long, and justifying it with whatever is handy.
It is a sickness born of the shame we feel around our frailties. It is the fear we have about what our behavior says about us. It is not too much to say that this is a world-wide problem born of pain and suffering.
I know today that back then, if I had felt loved, I would not have gone looking for it. If I had felt valued, cared for, and taken care of, I would not have been vulnerable. If my abuser had not been abused, he would never have done that to me. If my mother had felt genuinely accepted and loved for who she was, she would not have allowed it to happen.
That is why I hope that you can find a way to love yourself. Once you have done that, I hope that you can truly love those around you. After that, you might find your way clear to love those you don't know, because they are humans too. Then, maybe, hope upon hope, love those who you see as threats. Show them the love they might not know.
The absence of love leaves room for things that damage us all. The absence of love is what we suffer from.
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As if it was Your Last.
"Live every day as if it was your last." This is the message I received from a man I met on Instagram. I thought about that for a bit. What would I do if this were my last day? How would I behave? If I am going to be honest, the first few hours of the day would most likely be aimlessly reckless and frantic. Last day on earth? That is a lot of pressure, and frankly, I am not sure I am equipped to handle it.
Most of the things I would want to do, I actually do already, and it brings me great comfort knowing that I am spending my time so well. There is just one thing, one plan I would make that would ensure that I made my last day the very best it could be.
After the dust settled and the shock wore off, I would go about finding the best food I could, the most beautiful, delicious, amazing food, and I would spend my last day eating. I would eat only what I want, only as much as I want, being careful to save room for the next amazing and delicious meal that I had planned for myself.
I would share my meals with certain people, have specific people cook for me, and in general, include the special people in my life in specific ways so that they understood how much they have meant to me.
This is my relationship with food; I love that it can be comforting, that it can be art, that it can be medicine, and orgasmic, and community building, and of course, satisfying. Food brings people together. Food is a universal experience that each one of us experiences differently. This is why it is magical; because it can be anything to anyone, depending on the person.
I used to have a very different experience of food. At the age of 21, my body all but stopped digesting. It sounds crazy, but after 21 years of emotional and physical stress, my intestines were pretty much ready to call it quits. To that point, I had been eating lots of deep fried foods, sugar, alcohol, and really, anything else I could get my hands on when I was either drunk or stoned. My body was pissed and it showed me this by sending intense stabbing pains throughout my intestines and stomach every time I tried to eat just about anything.
I went to my Naturopath and she gave me three options: eat a carefully planned and balanced diet, take a bunch of pharmaceuticals for who knows how long, or surgery. I opted for the food plan, I started eating Macrobiotically, and this was tough; all the food was plant-based, and every meal contained fermented foods such as pickles, miso and some type of sea vegetable like Wakame,, Kombu, or Hijiki. No raw veggies. No fruit juice. The only things I could drink were Twig tea, Amazake, and water. Coming from Chicago, and being used to the wide variety of crappy food I had been eating, this plan was somewhat heart wrenching. I could never eat out. Everything took hours to prepare. I had to balance the energy of my food in order for it to do the proper things for my body. I actually had a Macrobiotic coach, but I fired her when she scared the crap out of me because I accidentally cut my collards wrong. Long story short, there was a lot of pressure associated with this diet.
A year later, my Naturopath and Acupuncturist each told me I could stop the insanity; that my body needed meat, and I could start, very slowly, re-introducing regular people food into my diet. So, naturally, I went to the store and purchased a pint of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream. I remember feeling anxious; I had worked so hard for so long eating clean, that while I desperately wanted the ice cream, I was kind of freaked out about what it would do to me.
So began my several-decade struggle with food. It started with the stress around the strictness with which I had to eat for that year, and then, became this weird pendulum swinging back and forth from overeating sugary fatty treats to picking at kale, brown rice and miso covered tofu. My weight fluctuated wildly though I worked out constantly. I was always thinking about what I should and shouldn't eat, always worried about how much of what I could eat. I still wasn't eating a whole lot of meat, but my sugar intake was insane.
Years later I read a book that stated that in order to have a good relationship with food, you must eat whatever you want, whenever you want, but make sure that before and after, you really check in with your body and see if what you want is really what you want. This practice took years to perfect, because there was always some part of me, in the back of my mind, that doubted. WAS I really allowed to eat whatever I want, whenever I want? Wouldn't I just wind up eating Macrobiotics again? Wouldn't I gain a bajillion pounds if I ate anything I wanted at any time I wanted?
Well...no. Actually, it was weird. The better I got at checking in with how my body actually felt about my food, before and after I ate it, the easier it was to eat. I read that sentence and it seems like a thunderclap of obvious followed by a lightning bolt of epiphany, but for some reason, listening to my body had never occurred to me, even AFTER I went through a year of eating fermented food and sea vegetables. Years later, I would find myself working at a food co-op, overseeing a bakery and eating cake every day for breakfast. Why? Because I really, really wanted to. Until I didn't. Then I stopped. Roughly six months later. Roughly.
But I know I am lucky. I have put myself in a place where eating high quality, local, organic food is encouraged, supported and most importantly, affordable. It is not like that for most of the people in the US, nor is it possible to get actual truthful information about food or even how to eat. Even if you are listening to your body, there is so much misinformation out there about food and how to eat, in addition to the body shaming and ridiculous expectations for body image that we put on ourselves, it can be pretty challenging.
I hear about all kinds of diets and eating plans, but the best one I have ever found is the one that my body dictates. If I am really listening to my body, I know I won't go wrong. Even if it is my last day. Even if I am with friends who are all eating differently. The food that is best for me is the food my body chooses.
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"I want to take your picture." My date smiles at me and takes out his phone as I sip my tea. I instanty get nervous. I stare into my weak-ass tea, worrying about my nose, my skin, my hair; I think about how I will have to tilt my head like my girlfriend instructed me to in order to make my nose look smaller. I am intensely uncomfortable.
Until he lowers his phone under the table and tells me to spread my legs. I am instantly relaxed at that moment and I happily do as he says. He takes the picture, thanks me, and I smile. It hits me that I am much more comfortable allowing a picture taken of my vagina than my face.
I have been doing my body confidence project for seven months now, and the truth of it is that while it is always challenging to do, it is not as terrifying as it would be to put up hundreds of pictures of my face online.
When I send pictures of myself to men, many of them ask, quite often, why I do not include my face. Yikes! My face? NO!!! I love my body. My face? Eh. This fear, this trepidation, this constant doubt in the back of my mind, is a relic of my decades-long struggle with cystic acne. For many years of my life, my face hurt. Large, boil-like pimples on my face, shoulders and back which pulsed with pain throughout the day and night kept me looking at the floor for much of my young life. When boys would talk to me, I could not bring myself to look them in the eye.
I became stand-offish and angry. I became socially what I felt like physically. I felt angry, frustrated, ashamed. All of this culminated in self-deprecation, self-destructive behavior, and the tendency to do ridiculous things in order to be liked. No, in order to be loved. Feeling physically pained made me feel unlovabe, and I had no control over it. It was impossible to feel happy while strategically avoiding mirrors and humans.
This is how I knew to come back. I knew that if I felt good physically, my emotions would reflect that to a certain extent. Yoga was my vehicle, and the more I did it, the more I opened myself up through yoga, the more I was openning up to myself. The more I connected with my body, the more I cared for it, the more I loved it. But there is no face yoga. There is nothing I can do to shake the feeing that I should look down. Every time someone I don't know looks me in the eye, almost without exception, my first impulse is to avert my eyes.
Which is why I do the oppostie. I focus on eye contact. I keep my head up against everything in my mind telling me to look away. I go into my fear because I know it is not real. I know what is in my mind are the thoughts of an adolescent, afraid of her own shadow and walking around with the belief that she is not worthy of love. Those are not my thoughts.
I used to feel alone in this. I used to feel like I was the only ugly-feeling person on the planet. But I am not. I would not have known if I hadn't talked with people, listened to people, gave people a chance beyond my low expectations of them to tell me their stories. Once I knew I was not alone, I knew I could do something about it.
It is a common theme in the human experience to feel inadequate, unlovable, or in some way inferior. But that is not because we are, it is because we have the power and the strength to do something about it. The other day a teenage girl asked me how she could be more confident in her body; that she was very popular at school, but she just didn't feel good about her body. As soon as I told her that it was natural and normal to feel that way, she relaxed instantly. Once she had the permission to feel it, she could deal with it and move through it in a way that she could handle.
These feelings of inadequacy make us feel alone, but they are what bonds us. They are what unites us, and this is why it is easy for me to understand shitty people. They believe they are alone in their pain, that no one before them has ever felt this and there is no way to get out of it. But there is. While these feelings make us feel like closing in, like protecting, the best thing you can do is reach out. Teach yourself that those false beliefs are wrong. Give yourself and others a chance to be kind to you. Give yourself the opportunity to surprise yourself. Do not believe the stuff in the world and your mind that tells you that you are not lovable, that you are not valuable, that you are not worthy.
It is bullshit created by people who unfortunately mistakenly believe this about themselves. The best thing you can do is to figure out how to go about proving them, and the negative thoughts in your mind, wrong. This is personal. This must be done with the knowedge of you. You must know what you love, what makes you happy. This is the great thing about this process. It shows you how you actually are different, how unique and special you are. It is not your pain and feeling of inadequacy that makes you unique. It is what moves you, what pleases you, and what you dream, desire, and want for yourself.
So dive in to figure this out. I found yoga because I knew that it had always given me great joy to be able to do things with my body. There was nothing like the feeling of hitting a ball, throwing a perfect spiral, or shooting a basket. The joy I derived from physical achievement guided me. And this is just one thing that I love. Once I realized all the things in life that brought me joy, I started looking for more, and decided to do more of that stuff. I soon found that doing that stuff made the negative bullshit melt away. There was no way I wasn't lovable!!! I could do a handstand! There was no way I wasn't worthy of attention, I could draw a jar!!! These things did not come easily, they came with work. They came with practice. My improvement, and my ability to give myself the room to fail taught me that I could love myself in the face of all supposed evidence to the contrary.
So, now, as I have ended so many other of my posts, it is your turn. How are you special? You now get the privelege of finding out more about yourself. And it is a privelege. It is an adventure. What do you love? What thrills you? What makes you feel tough-as-nails-invincible?
What makes you great? Holy crow, you get the opportunity to find out what makes you great. How lucky are you?
Want more help? I am giving a free five day email class on how to start. Each day you will receive an email with prompts and a small practice to start so that you can discover yourself and celebrate how awesome you are. Watch the blog for the announcement. If you want, you can even sign up for my newsletter. It too will have all the details.
Also, share this bad boy! Peeps need to know they are not alone.
Why I Must Let Go.
Every year, about a week before Valentines Day, I start to feel empty. It is not something I think about, it just happens. I can't help it and at this point, I know I just have to feel it. My body remembers the loss, so I let it have that. My muscles, sinew, blood, it all remembers the loss of my father. Even if it slips my mind, though it rarely does. My mind only ever forgets the stuff I need to remember...like big words when I am trying to make an important point to interesting people.
Several years ago, my father died on Valentines Day. It was not the first time I had lost my father; he had left me, over and over again, all my life. It would be the last. It was the only time I was able to tell him that I was not ready for him to leave, and the only time that that information had no effect whatsoever on his departure.
I think of him often; he is in my dreams, I see him staring back at me when I look in the mirror, I hear him when I take on a tone of self-righteousness. His presence and absence formed my world. He is also why I have other biological memories. Memories I can't shake; unnamable fears that haunt me at the worst times.
I sometimes imagine that my boyfriend will just up and leave. He will find someone better, more beautiful, cooler, smarter, stronger than me. These thoughts come upon me almost without warning and produce a very real anxiety within me that I have to work to overcome. Because today, now, there is no threat. My boyfriend is not my father, and what my father did to me, so long ago and many times over, he really did to himself.
But still, I struggle. I must remember that I am not the little girl who gets left behind, I am the woman who is loved. Loved by her boyfriend, loved by her very self. She is a whole other wonderful person in her mind. But her body remembers because the repeated trauma still echoes in her bones.
This is what I work on letting go. This is my last great thing, to get my body to believe the person I have become. To get my muscle, my nerves, my genes to understand that I have become this whole other wonder of a person. I need to wake them up so that they will stop repeating that trauma. I need to let them know that it is okay. That I am okay. That life does not repeat itself, but is a becoming.
Life is a becoming, and it is all I can do to get my biological memory to keep up. So I have to train it, my energetic, my biological body, to let go. My father is physically gone, and I must let the rest of him go. I must let the fear and anxiety that came with abandonment go.
So I will give myself that time and that space. I will allow these anxieties to arise, and just as gently, I will allow them to pass. I will not beat up on myself for my fears. I will love myself for them, because that is what was needed in the first place.
I don't know for sure, but I bet you know someone who needs to hear this. Just in case, go ahead and share. Just to be safe.
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