Archives for February, 2012
One of the most difficult lessons I have had to learn in my ongoing quest to explore the fullness of who I can be free from shame, blame, guilt, disordered eating, alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression, codependence and all other manner of life-limiting activities is that I deserve kindness. I DESERVE it. So do you. It is a lesson that my mentors, and now my life coach, continue to reinforce to me. They often have to remind me of it. Nearly equally as often they have to be that objective voice letting me know I'm not treating myself very kindly. This is painful, but very helpful too. I thought I would share a message I recently sent out to a group of folks who receive a monthly eating disorder support newsletter I publish called Good News for Eating Disorders Recovery. I hope you enjoy it! You Deserve Kindness As the years continue to pass, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon unfolding in my life. As the challenges get tougher, I get softer.
Because it is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week right as I type this, I guess the subject of health at every size, beauty in all shapes and sizes, and body acceptance and respect is just really on my mind. Whether we suffer from an eating disorder or disordered eating, have social anxiety that is body-related, or simply feel hampered or hindered in any area of our life due to a lack of comfort with how we are made, the simple fact is that body image issues plague nearly 100 percent of us. I was talking with a friend today about a cool conversation she had with a health care professional who wanted her to come in and talk to their weight loss support group about healthy eating. She told this professional, "I am not going to address healthy eating. I am going to address healthy relationships." She shared that she said this because it is about the food - in the sense that we all need to ingest a certain amount of nutrients in order to survive - but then again it isn't about the food at all - because food is just food, and it is designed to nourish, nothing less nor more than this. It isn't a surrogate partner. It isn't a friend to lean on. It also isn't an enemy that is out to get us. It is just food.
I really think it is. That does NOT mean I have it (body love) each and every day, by the way. Nor have I any way of knowing whether even the most famous celebrity body-love advocates feel absolutely zero pressure from the thinness-focused culture we live in. Nor is it really any business of mine whether they do or not. But I have had periods where I have really hated my body (the 15 year battle I had with anorexia and bulimia springs to mind) and also periods when I fell so in love with my body that every day felt like Valentine's Day (like after my surgery in 2010, when I watched in awe and disbelief as my body knit itself back together in record time after being split nearly in half).
A friend and mentor of mine recently recommended a book to me. The book is called Circle of Stones: Woman's Journey to Herself by Judith Duerk. It is currently in its 15th anniversary of printing - so pretty popular, I would say. While I tend to be a rather structured reader in the sense that I read from start-to-finish, chapter by chapter, assuming that is usually the most useful way of digesting the contents of your average book, this book didn't arrive with that sort of vibe. My friend had recommended it to me because I am continuing to enjoy the aftershocks from turning 40 -- more of a mid-life evolution than a crisis, I'd say -- and she thought it might help me make some sense of my longing to transition from a daily schedule that basically consists of work-til-I-drop into something with a bit more work/life-balance. That process, according to Judith Duerk, can reasonably involve connecting with other women who are undergoing the same. Totally makes sense. Sounds like mentoring, in fact.
In this culture (that is, the Westernized image-focused culture that influences and envelopes most of the developed world today) we have developed a warped view of mentoring. We are often cruel....but I for one continue to believe that our ultimate goal is to be kind. Whether we are investigating the January 2012 unveiling of the hotly contested Atlanta billboards denouncing the dangers of childhood obesity, or a recent Glamour magazine readers poll that reveals that a shocking 97 percent of women are mean to their bodies each and every day, I just cannot believe that we all wake up in the morning with the intention to spread our inner meanness out into the world. Rather, I think we wake up with the fear that the meanness that is already out there will find us - and those we care about most - if we don't do something to keep it out. We are like caped crusaders - heroes, really - but we keep misunderstanding our mission.
One great way to be mentored, and to mentor others, is to get involved in meaningful opportunities to raise awareness of issues you or someone you love has been impacted by. This month, we recognize National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2012, which is taking place from February 26 - March 3. Dubbed "NEDAwareness Week" by the sponsoring organization, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), this year's theme is "Everybody Knows Somebody." Through my own work with MentorCONNECT, the non-profit eating disorders mentoring community I run, I happen to know several thousand somebodies whose lives are affected by eating disorders, but whether you know one (you) or many, there is a way for you to take part in this important awareness-building and fundraising effort. The NEDA website lists all kinds of activities and events that are taking place in recognition of NEDAwareness Week. MentorCONNECT, in the spirit of the online-based community that we are, is also hosting a "Virtual Walk", where instead of joining a walk (think sneakers, water bottle, t-shirt) to raise awareness in your city, you can "walk" (think Facebook, Twitter, email, blog posts) wherever you are - even if you are currently orbiting the moon!
Outside of a few celebrities (Kate Winslet, Jamie Lee Curtis, Adele and Liv Tyler come to mind) who are adamant that they love their curves and plan to maintain them, finding visible role models who genuinely seem to like their bodies is an ongoing challenge. Which is why sometimes I turn to non-humans for inspiration. Take Snowball, for instance. Talk about a positive body image mentor! Snowball is a young sulfur crested cockatoo. He was dropped off at the Bird Lovers Only bird shelter by his frustrated former owner, who couldn't deal with the well-publized "terrible twos" that cockatoos and other large birds often go through. But Snowball's owner also left a DVD with the bird, and instructed shelter co-owners Charles & Irena Schulz to make sure to pop it in and watch what happened next. What happened next was that the couple discovered that Snowball realllllllyyyyy likes the Backstreet Boys.
Thom Rutledge may be best-known to the eating disorders world these days as Jenni Schaefer's therapist, but Jenni is just one of literally hundreds of folks who credit Thom for life-saving guidance, mentoring, and support. When I first published Beating Ana and launched MentorCONNECT, I was pretty starry-eyed around folks I considered to be "eating disorder celebrities." So when I first started getting email from Thom himself, I nearly fell over. But he liked what we were up to with MentorCONNECT, and proposed a collaboration. His idea involved "teleconferences," which made technologically-challenged me feel a bit faint for other reasons. His part would be to lead them. My part would be to run the teleconferencing program. Needless to say, it took awhile for us to get the thing up and running. But to date, Thom has presented 9 amazing teleconferences for us, and the 10th is right around the corner on February 9th.
When I turned 40 (one year and one month ago pretty much today) Woman's Day magazine just started arriving in my mailbox. They knew. In the mysterious ways of modern marketers, somehow they got an alert when another gal hit the big 4-0, and they were already prepared to deliver timely advice about reducing middle age pudge, covering up grey hairs (I've had that move mastered for years), menopause meds, and other helpful tips. Most of it I don't actually find that helpful....yet....some I find a bit scary. And yet I keep reading each month, out of curiosity if nothing else about what the coming years may bring. One article in January's edition caught my particular interest - it was titled "Body Talk," and the author, Annie Finnigan, interviewed several experts to find out how what we aren't saying verbally often gets said anyway.