The other night I watched one of my favorite actors, Nicolas Cage, in a movie called “Joe.”
If you have seen the film, you know it is a bit, well, gritty.
Joe himself is rough around the edges (although at times he appears nearly genteel compared with some of his neighbors).
Why am I bringing up this particular movie in a column about mentoring and recovery?
The truth is, as I get older, I find hope in the strangest places, and often it comes in the form of a story of “mentee meets mentor.”
Joe and Gary may have appeared on the surface to be an unlikely mentor-mentee match, but they were a match just the same.
And when the movie ended, what I remembered most – and continue to remember – is that mentoring bond between Gary and Joe.
It is awfully hard to believe he is gone.
I am so very sad!!
In a recent Facebook post about his death, Williams’ friend, writer Anne Lamott, shared how sad she is, and also shared how she has always viewed laughter as “carbonated holiness.”
As a fellow depression sufferer, I too have found much-needed upliftment and release through laughter….and often through laughter at Williams’ antics.
He had that rarest of gifts – the vision to perceive exactly where the fine line lies when addressing serious subjects from a lighthearted perspective.
Two of my favorite Robin Williams movies are “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “Good Will Hunting.”
But my current reigning favorite is this six-minute interview clip from 2011.
In the clip, Williams speaks about his work, his life, his kids, his childhood and young adult years, his fame, his addiction, his recovery…..and his fear.
Recently I read the story of Robin Korth – called “My ‘Naked’ Truth.”
Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure how I came across it.
But once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.
Here is a beautiful woman, vibrant and alive in the decade just one ahead of mine (Robin is 59, I am 44) being told by her 55-year-old boyfriend that she is “too wrinkly” to be desirable in the bedroom.
Lately it feels like everywhere I turn, I am confronted with another story like Robin’s.
And lately, each time I read another one of these stories, I discover another courageous mentor – someone I desire to emulate, to embrace, to thank, to join.
Here I have to share that, in the two decades since my eating disorder battle subsided, I have maintained an uneasy truce with my ever-changing body.
I have agreed not to mention the parts I don’t like, and it has agreed not to flaunt them in my face when I look in the mirror.
But I know they are there. And it knows I don’t like those parts.
After reading Robin’s story in particular – and even though her tale is not unlike many others I have heard in the last several months (years, decades) – something inside me just put her foot down.
It said, “Enough.”
Enough of this.
Enough waffling over whether or not to really “go for it” – for the full experience of genuine body love.
Don’t get me wrong.
I don’t love making mistakes.
But I love mistakes themselves.
Mistakes are great mentors.
I usually hate mistakes when I’ve just made one (especially if other people notice) but then I start learning whatever cool new lesson it has to teach me, and everything shifts.
At that point, I fall a little bit in love with mistakes….all over again.
For the past couple of months, I have been successfully guarding a slip of fortune cookie paper from the sharp and eager beak of my parrot, Pearl.
The fortune reads:
It was when you found out you could make mistakes that you knew you were onto something.
Yet for most of my earlier years, I didn’t realize mistakes were okay….allowed….expected, even.
I didn’t think any of the people around me ever made mistakes.
I didn’t think I was supposed to make mistakes either – not if I was living right.
Yet mistakes kept happening, all the time and in so many ways.
I made mistakes about what I ate (or didn’t eat), what hobbies and classes I pursued, what friends (and boyfriends – don’t get me started on this one) I chose, what I wore, what I said, and what I did.
For a time I thought that I myself was a mistake.
This was the most painful time in my life to date.
The other day I cracked open a fortune cookie.
The fortune read:
Better face danger than be always in fear.
I nodded sagely….totally on board with this philosophy.
But looking at my own life, I can see how, time and time again, I still forget I am brave in the very moment a new danger appears.
For instance, I forget I overcame a deadly eating disorder.
The other day I caught myself saying these words out loud:
Today, I am so much closer than I ever have been before to becoming the person I want to be.
I seriously impressed myself.
Not just for having the guts and the honesty to state my truth, but also for recognizing that this IS the truth, and for being able to look at the past-present picture of me and predict such a positive future for myself.
I was all kinds of proud of myself for that.
But the real truth is, I can still remember a time in my life – many years in fact – when I honestly hated who I was.
I didn’t think I would ever turn out to be anybody worth being.
I looked for ways to help others to justify the space I took up….somehow assuming that if I didn’t “pay rent” on my life, it would be taken away and given to someone much more deserving.
Today I know that the real me – the me I thought I would never be able to be – has been inside me all along.
I wish I had known that earlier.
I wish I had known I would someday be proud to be who I am becoming.
I wish I had known I have had it in me all along.
So I am telling you now, here, just in case you don’t know this yet either.
My own tendency to judge (both others and myself) has long mystified me.
On the one hand – yuck. A life spent judging self and others isn’t much of a life at all.
Yet at times, judging others has also felt like it might serve some evolutionary purpose, perhaps even with my safety foremost in mind.
By this I mean – let’s say I am a lady bald eagle.
I tend to mate for life, which means I should choose my mate with great care.
Here, I want to choose a male who is coordinated (otherwise, we both might die during our unique courtship “spiral air dance”).
I also want a mate who is affectionate and persistent (no one respects a suitor who gives up too quickly).
Best of all, I want a mate who is a good hunter, since raising (and feeding!) hungry chicks is hard work.
So in the part of my brain that is wired to choose, as soon as mating season comes around, I am fully engaged in constantly judging, judging, judging.
The same may hold true for us human animals even in our top-of-the-food-chain, big-brained and oh-so-evolved state.
Perhaps we still judge with an eye towards survival.
Certainly we have evolved to judge so we can not just survive but thrive by selecting only the best – the best suitor, the best nesting site, the best victuals, the best of everything.
So then what if that part of our brain just keeps on judging…whether we actually need it to or not?
What if that ancient core of our brain is totally unaware that human life today is not nearly so dire – that it is not quite so absolutely necessary to notice and point out every little (real or perceived) flaw, foible, or fault in those around us?
What if we can’t even really be blamed for judging others – after all, it is in our DNA?
This month has been a month of interesting contemplations …. specifically, about the costumes we wear and how we relate to ourselves and others when those costumes look different.
For instance, my brother and his wife recently added a new little one to our all-Caucasian family – a sweet, brave, chubby Chinese infant who just set foot on American soil for the first time last month.
In the same month, one of my dearest friends has returned home to Houston to build a counseling practice supporting LGBT kids, teens, and young adults.
And my personal dreams lately have been full of memories of my long journey away from anorexia and bulimia and towards fully recovered life….a journey I consider to be still “in progress.”
So when I happened across a recent article in Time that focused on the plight of transgendered persons in America, it hit me right in the heart.
As I read about how transgender, transvestite, and transsexual individuals have been mis-addressed and mis-labeled through the DSM (the Diagnostic Standards Manual – a worldwide “bible” of sorts for diagnosing and treating mental illness) it reminded me of my own struggles with how eating disorders in the DSM have been repeatedly re-labeled and often mis-labeled, and how that has affected my experience of seeking support, treatment, and recovery over the years.
One line in the Time article especially caught my attention – a comment by women’s and gender studies professor Elizabeth Reis (University of Oregon):
Most people are happy in the gender that they’re raised. They don’t wake up every day questioning if they are male or female.
The article continues with author Katy Steinmetz commenting:
For many trans people, the body they were born in is a suffocating costume they are unable to take off.”
Over the years I have talked with and met so many folks who can relate – but not because they are “trans” in some way that is specific to body parts or gender.
Some of the people I’ve met who feel trapped in a costume they didn’t order and so they want a smaller costume. Others want a larger costume. Some people want a costume that is shaped differently. Still others want a younger or older costume, or a costume that comes with a different story, life, partner, or family attached to it.
In some way, we all feel “different” – oh so very different – inside our “costumes.”
Right now I only get two magazine subscriptions.
Birds and Blooms was a gift to my avian from his doting grandma (aka my mom).
Time was yet another attempt to use up those expiring airline miles.
While you can probably already guess which one I find easier to read all the way through, Time does have the occasional newsworthy highlight.
For instance, this week’s edition shared the passing of an Austrian painter named Maria Lassnig.
Lassnig was an artist who spent much of her career exploring the felt experience of existing within a body (a style she termed “body awareness.”)
I found this quite intriguing!
In fact, I’ve been pondering Time’s little blurb about her for the last week or so. The question on my mind is this:
What DOES it feel like to be in a body?
As of this year, I am in the 3rd year of my 40th decade.
First of all (just for the record) I can’t understand why anyone dreads turning 40.
The 40′s are awesome!!
When I turned 40, I dyed my hair purple. At 41, I added bright blue. In my 42nd year, I launched a blog about my pet parrot. This year, at age 43, I added a mini-tortoise named Malti to our little family.
In addition to these many wonders, I am also finding that, in my 40′s, I no mostly longer desire to be perceived in any particular light by others.
In my teens, 20′s, 30′s….heck, basically all the years up til now….I was pretty concerned about being perceived as a “good” person.
As such, I took any leadership opportunities SO seriously that letting someone else down, disappointing another person, or crossing horns (or swords) left me waiting for the handcuffs to arrive and the cell door to swing shut.
In fact, I looked forward to it – I felt that was exactly what I deserved for being less than perfect.
Today I know there is no perfect. Thank goodness.
Which brings me to pedestals and people.