I was in my late 20′s, and well into my struggles with anorexia and bulimia, before I began to perceive a tangible difference between “my body” and “me.”
After so many years of casually speaking about “my body,” “my mind,” “my heart,” “my spirit,” I finally started to wonder just who the “my” was who claimed all of these things.
Who owned “my body?”
Who was in charge of “my mind?”
Who sensed the presence of “my heart?”
Who was it who spoke of “my spirit” with such confidence?
Well, it must be …. “me.”
All at once, I became deeply curious about just who this “me” was who rated a body, a mind, a heart, a spirit all her own.
With this post, I return again to that literal tome of life wisdom, “Voyage of the Turtle” by Carl Safina.
I have always learned so much from my animal companions….and continue to do so each and every day.
I also love watching nature documentaries that follow animals during their day-to-day lives so I can learn.
Sometimes while I’m watching these programs I think, “Oh, no, I could never eat termites for lunch!” and that is that.
At other times, the documentary reveals something so profound….a shared sense of deep and timeless, well, humanity – only the species I share it in common with is not technically “human.”
At a particular point in Safina’s book, he is describing the despair researchers have often felt as they have battled against humanity, global warming, inertia (from the general public, interested parties, and other scientists), and the suffering of the sea turtles themselves to maintain the hope for species regeneration.
All the senior professionals…..they all work from hope. They’re not the types to gloss over problems or look through rose-tinted lenses. Quite the opposite; they’ve been the first to sound alarms. They’ve felt despair and fought despite it. I’ve learned this by observing the real professionals who go the distance. You dodge despair by not taking the deluge of problems full-bore. You focus on what can work, what can help, or what you can do, and you seize it, and then – you don’t let go. What they see, and what I’ve come to see, is the possibility of making things better. That’s what hope is: the belief that things can get better. The world belongs to people who don’t give up. (emphasis added)
But wait – it gets even better:
If you’ve been following this blog for longer than five minutes, you already know I’m a staunch champion of mentoring (plus the blog title kind of gives it away).
And not just for eating disorders recovery, either, or even for recovery in general – I’m also a huge fan of mentoring just for living life.
Mentoring (like feathers) makes everything better.
From the moment I met my first mentor, the alienation I had always felt from everyone and everything else began to fade.
At last, another being SAW me.
A single other soul really LOOKED at me – into me – noticed me.
I felt known – like my name suddenly took on greater meaning, and so did my life.
If I tripped and fell, someone else would care (and bring a band-aid and antiseptic wipes).
If I had a great day (or even a great minute) someone would cheer and celebrate with me.
The gift of mentoring changed my life – my whole world.
Since founding MentorCONNECT in 2009, I have been working with a wonderful researcher, Dr. Marisol Perez, and her team at Texas A&M University to quantify the value of mentoring as a source of support during the eating disorders recovery process.
I have been blogging a bit about a fabulous book called “Voyage of the Turtle” by Carl Safina.
At some point, this book has become less about gaining a simple “tortoise education” and more about learning how to simply live life.
In one of my favorite quotes, the author writes (this about watching a single baby sea turtle enter the surf for the first time, encouraged in its first steps by a group of witnessing conservationists):
I wonder if this is the end of something ancient or the start of a future regained. I’m not certain what it is, but I know what it means: it means there truly is hope. Other peoples, other species, even other kinds of sea turtles – in situations as bad, sometimes worse – have recovered. Turtles have taught me this: Do all you can and don’t worry about the odds against you. Wield the miracle of life’s energy, never worrying whether we may fail, concerned only that whether we fail or succeed we do so with all our might. That’s all we need to know to feel certain that all our force of diligent effort is worth our while on Earth. (emphasis added)
And in fact, I told myself this very thing (although not so eloquently) when I first began my mighty struggle to recover from anorexia and bulimia.
The odds seemed powerfully stacked against me – leaning over me like a slobbering muscular bully, in fact.
My “support team” was minimal – one mentor, and me.
I had no money for therapy – inpatient, outpatient, or any other kind.
No one – least of all me – really understood what was wrong with me or how to fix it.
And I wasn’t yet fully convinced that what was wrong was a “something” – that it wasn’t just me, consummate failure at life and all things.
Yet I had nothing but time at that point, and I wanted to try.
I don’t typically pay much attention to daily news.
This is because I know if really big news hits, I will hear about it from someone.
Such is the case with Nature‘s recent discovery.
It would seem our universe is quite a bit more vast than we may have previously assumed it was.
With study results titled, “this is the most detailed map yet of our place in the universe,” I eagerly scanned the results.
Then I wondered – with surprise – why I wasn’t feeling surprised.
Perhaps is it because I have watched and rewatched the movie “Contact” for years (this movie, of course, is a film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel by the same name).
In the film, budding scientist (Jodie Foster) asks her dad if there is other life “out there.”
Her dad wisely responds, “Well if there isn’t, it would be an awful waste of space!”
I guess this has always just made sense to me.
I wonder if there has ever been a time in history when human beings have not been fascinated by the human body – our own and others’.
According to various sources, the “mirror” was invented sometime around the first century.
Depending on how you define “camera,” the first one was invented either in 1000 A.D., 1827, or still later.
All that to say, human beings have had access to the means for examining our visual selves for thousands of years.
Even before mirrors or cameras (let alone “selfies”), there were ponds and paintings, poetry and prose.
Recently I came across a photo montage entitled “Rare Pinups: Vintage Bikini Models.”
The montage contains images from as early as 1902 – just a few decades after the camera itself became widely accessible.
Some of the models’ costumes must be seen to be believed. It is hard to imagine bathing in these outfits – even walking in some of them must have been difficult.
Alongside the usual assortment of film and show stars are un-named models. Very few appear to be re-touched after the fact (aka the widespread use of tools like Photoshop today).
The two photos that most captivated me are #30 and #34 (just scroll through the montage – each photo is numbered).
I noticed a few key things after I completed my viewing of the full montage.
In a way, the montage had gently mentored me without me even realizing it – giving me a glimpse of what it might be like to live in a culture where beauty ideals more closely match my own body.
There was a time in my life when I thought my worth 100% relied upon my body shape and size.
In late 2013, the word “selfie” won “Word of the Year” – a somewhat dubious award given out annually by the Oxford English Dictionary.
The selfie – at least as it is recognized today – is also totally dependent on photography.
In other words, no camera, no selfie.
Interestingly, a “selfie friendly” camera has only been available to the masses (i.e. people like me with no photographic talent) since 2010, when Apple released the iPhone 4 with its turnaround front-facing camera feature.
Yet, just a few short years later, opinions about selfies are so polarized that, on any given day, we have an entire country scrabbling for founder’s rights, journalists claiming selfies are already on their way out in pop culture, and a French photographer named JR installing his 4,000 portrait tribute to selfies in none other than Paris’ Pantheon.
“French photographer JR thinks selfies can change the world,” a Time magazine headline proclaims.
At first the photographer (who sticks to his initials and won’t reveal any personal details beyond his French nationality) participated as bio-photographer in capturing people’s “selfie” images … a move which technically violates the spirit of what selfies are all about.
However, once he received TED funding ($100,000 worth), his role shifted firmly into one of documenting independently-snapped selfies voluntarily uploaded to his website.
JR believes selfies help us connect face to face and empathize with one another in a world that feels increasingly wide and impersonal.
On that note, in the spirit of writing a balanced post (gotta love being a writer) I did a little online sleuthing using the term “selfie.”
I first became aware that outer differences do not equal inner differences when I was six.
At the time, we attended a local church, and every so often we had special lessons to teach us about different religious practices.
I don’t remember what the lesson was on this particular day. I only remember that the story (parable) our teacher shared from a different religion sounded just like one of “our” stories, only with different costumes and character names.
I went home and told my mom, “Hey, guess what – our teacher told a story from a different religion but it sounded exactly like ours!”
Mom, busy fixing lunch for a hungry family, simply murmured something suitable and went back to building sandwiches.
But I was transfixed.
Thereafter, I have been on a lifelong search for at least one single shared point of connection common to us all….something tangible and powerful enough to make all the surface differences dissolve to reveal our shared humanity.
I know a lot about parrots but very little about tortoises, so lately I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on (which isn’t actually all that much).
My newest read is called “Voyage of the Turtle: in pursuit of the Earth’s last dinosaur,” by Carl Safina.
I will admit I did not expect to find that single point of connection I’ve been searching for these last 37 years in a book about sea turtles, but then all of a sudden there it was.
The other day, a friend said to me, “We are all in recovery from something.”
I deeply resonated with her statement.
For instance, while I no longer struggle to nourish my body appropriately, I am still working hard to reprogram old tapes in my brain that speak to me, saying, “your body should look different.”
This morning I caught myself looking in the mirror as a way to settle this exact type of dilemma.
Did I hate my curves or like them? I couldn’t decide.
In that instant, I realized the solution comes down to one of permission.
I have to decide – I GET to decide.
Do I like my curves? Or do I hate them?
Do I see beauty when I look in the mirror? Or do I see a shape and form that causes me pain?
If, in a flash, I catch myself thinking, “Wow – I look good today!,” do I allow myself to own and enjoy that sentiment?
Several years ago a friend called and asked me if I wanted to go with him to see a film called, simply, “Milk.”
I like movies in general, and this one sounded innocuous enough. So I said, “Sure!”
I left the theater sobbing.
I was furious with my friend – for inviting me, for not warning me, for reminding me of how deadly stigma and fear can be.
I was furious with the whole world – how could such a bright light be permitted to burn out just when we need bright lights the most?
I was furious, period.
I have never forgotten the movie, and I will never forget what Harvey Milk posthumously taught me.
In his San Francisco mayoral election campaign, Milk exhorted voters, saying:
Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all. And once you do, you will feel so much better. [emphasis added]
In the film, he explains his strategy by saying that when someone close to you knows that you struggle with a particular type of issue, they are more inclined to vote favorably on that issue at the polls.
Their inclination has nothing to do with the issue itself, and everything to do with how much they care about you – one single person who struggles with that issue and will be helped by their vote.
In other words, when given a choice, people don’t vote for issues. People vote for people – people they know, people they care about, people they love, people they don’t want to lose.
As you may know, I suffered with anorexia and bulimia for 15 years before I started my recovery work. I suffered with severe, crippling depression and anxiety for another decade beyond that. So approximately three-quarters of my life to date has been spent battling one type of issue or another – and battling the stigma and fear surrounding it.
This has formed my belief that the specific type of issue I have, versus the specific type of issue you may have, versus the type of issue a loved one of yours may have, doesn’t really much matter.
We basically need the same building blocks to begin healing – love, empathy, an open door to share and be heard, laughter, friendship, a way to serve, a willingness to be served, and the awareness we are not – are NEVER – alone in our struggles (even if the names of those struggles may change from one person to the next).
Harvey Milk taught me this.
On that note, I have a very dear friend who struggles with bipolar illness. She is one of my oldest, closest friends, and I care for her very much.
You see, I work from home, so I don’t go out every day.