Animal Mentors

Confronting the Cruelty Within

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently finished reading a book by David Grimm called "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs." The book gave me a lot to think about on a lot of different levels. And while I expected to feel upset, especially while reading (or skimming, or sometimes skipping over) stories about the cruel things people have done to animals that is now prompting a push to give cats and dogs expanded "human" rights, I didn't expect it to become personal. As in, I don't think of myself as a cruel person. I have pets - my parrot, Pearl, and my tortoise, Malti - plus a puppy named Flash Gordon to whom I am a proud auntie. I have never deliberately harmed any creature...or at least I thought I hadn't until I read "Citizen Canine." The more I encountered stories of cruel animal abusers, the more everything inside of me began to revolt. To rage. I started questioning everything I thought I believed about how we are all connected....somehow....even though I couldn't begin to explain where my beliefs come from or how all that alleged connectedness might actually work. But I mean, how could I - gentle soul that I consider myself to be - have anything in common with those so-called humans who commit such horrific crimes against the non-human beings we share this planet with? How can those people - the cruel animal harmers - even be considered "human?" And if they are in fact human, then what species am I? I mean, I honestly think I have more in common with the garden rocks in our backyard than with those kinds of people. So I continued to ruminate as I continued to read. I continued to ponder, to worry and rage. This went on for days. And then one day, a small band of black sugar ants snuck under the sill of my kitchen window and onto the counter. 
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Animal Mentors

When Pets Become People

I just recently finished reading a book by David Grimm called "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs." I won't lie. I was expecting something a little....lighter. At nearly 300 pages and with a 2014 publication date, the book took me on a journey from our earliest interactions with companion animals all the way up to today. Along the way we hit a few (many) rough patches. This was especially true in the chapters addressing animal research, animal rescue during disasters, animals and religion and working animals. In the chapters detailing how dogs and cats' legal rights have moved increasingly closer to our own rights (what the author calls "personhood"), I found myself wishing the book included parrots and tortoises (and all other animals, of course). In the chapters reviewing all the horrific stuff we've subjected our canine and feline counterparts to, I found myself wishing to change my own species affiliation. People can be pretty awful sometimes. There is also an ongoing book-wide parallel drawn between how slaves became full citizens and the trajectory dogs and cats appear to be on now. This (at least as I read it) is not to downplay the significance of the end of slavery, but to signify how, when we change our mindset about the worth of any being, positive changes in the quality of life of that being tend to quickly follow. For instance, after quite a lengthy battle, pets can now legally inherit money left to them in people's wills.  But canines working for the military are still classified as "equipment" themselves, and there are groups actively fighting to change that even as I type right now. Perhaps the most gripping part of the book is near the end, however, when one Rutgers university professor named Gary Francione makes an unorthodox suggestion - to do away with "pets," period. When I first read that, everything in me revolted.
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Shannon Cutts

When Trauma Turns Into Euthanasia

Recently my friend and colleague Jenni Schaefer sent me a link to her story of recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder, aka PTSD.

Jenni and I have known each other for yet until I read her post, I didn't know she had been a victim of rape. I also didn't know she had struggled for many years with PTSD as a result of the rape.

To hear Jenni tell it, for a...
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Inspirational

World Eating Disorders Action Day (#WeDoAct)

35 years ago, I developed anorexia nervosa. I was 11. Today, at age 45, I have more than 20 years of recovery work under my belt, and every day there is still something new to learn - some new way I can make progress on the recovery path and fulfill my highest potential. Still, I have to admit - today marks the start of an event I honestly never thought I would see in my lifetime - the inauguration of World Eating Disorders Action Day (WEDAD). This first year, the social media-fueled campaign aims to get the word out through #WeDoAct, blogging and social shares. In future years - well, who knows what may become possible as even more activists and organizations jump on board! Personally, a big part of my recovery journey has revolved around sharing the gift of recovery mentoring with others. In each and every year of my life to date, my mentors have continually encouraged and supported me to keep struggling and striving, to stay hopeful and open, to visualize and then work to create a personally meaningful life that includes but does not revolve around my experience of having had an eating disorder. This, as you might imagine, has never been an easy balance to achieve, but it has shown itself to be worth every bit of the extra effort it has required. 
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Good News

When Your Body is Weak Your Spirit is STRONG

Trust me. I wouldn't say something like this if I didn't really mean it. And when I say "mean it," I'm not talking about a belief - something I say with my mouth and believe in my head. I mean I have experienced it first-hand with my body, mind, heart and spirit all expressing their willingness to go public to corroborate my story. Allow me to share a recent experience: One very early morning last month, my lower back woke me out of a sound sleep with two sharp, stabbing pains. Suddenly, I could barely move my legs. Not too many hours later, I bit down on my breakfast only to feel more stabbing pain issuing up through my jaw and across the right side of my skull. The only word I can think of to adequately describe that entire next week is "excruciating." My chiropractor did what she could for my back. I found an oral surgeon who introduced me to the dubious pleasures of "laughing gas" while she excised the offending root. In this way, most of my month was consumed by alternating bouts of upper and lower body pain, combined with regularly scheduled doses of antibiotics and pain medications and a startlingly high daily "nap count." As the days wore on and began to wear on me, I remembered something a mentor of mine had once shared - "when the body is weak, the spirit becomes really strong." Since I had nothing but time at this point, I decided to investigate her statement more fully. I started by becoming more deliberate about making daily time for meditation (versus snoring) and also taking more care to remember my dreams. As I did so, one "aha moment" after another began to emerge. Some of these aha moments unlocked repetitive dream-series I have been dreaming for years without any clue about what they mean. As this continued, I found myself wondering if physical weakness could be considered a divine gift of empathy, of sincere kindness, of unconditional love, because when we are living our conscious, physical-plane day-to-day lives, we are simply too present in the sheer "realness" of concrete daily life to even hear our spirit if it tries to reach us. Here is a very simple example of this that happens to me quite often: 
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Inspirational

No, I Don’t Feel Fat (and Yes, I’m Going to Eat That)

I had such a cool day today. It was the kind of day that makes every single day - all 2 decades of them - I spent recovering from an eating disorder worth it. More than worth it. When I left to meet my friend for coffee, I wasn't especially keen on what I was wearing or how I looked. I also felt like I might have a cold coming on. In short, I felt kind of .... iffy. But since I love this particular friend very much, I went to meet her anyway. We ordered. She got a latte. I got a giant cold coffee frappe and a tasty pastry. My friend is quite tiny (naturally so - not on account of any past history of an eating disorder). Where I curve, she hugs the straight line. When I offered to share my pastry with her, she turned me down, but not for the reasons I expected. My tiny friend told me her pants were suddenly way too tight and no way was she going to eat a pastry. And here is the best part. IT DIDN'T PHASE ME ONE BIT. 
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Celebrity Mentors

Retraining Your Eyes to Accept Your Body

These days, I spend increasingly less of my time focused on what I would call "recovery" matters. In other words, I can go whole days, weeks even, without really thinking about the me that used to struggle SO hard with an eating disorder on a daily basis. But there is one area that continues to require significant daily investments of my time and focus. That area is body acceptance. I certainly wasn't an overnight recovery success myself. By that I mean, I've never gotten to a place where, from that point forward, I simply stopped struggling with my eating issues. Rather, recovery happened gradually, not even day by day but minute by minute, until there were fewer moments of significant struggle with increasing stretches of relative peace in between them. Now I am working on body acceptance in the same way, minute by minute and day by day. Some days are harder than others, but the really tough days are fewer and farther between. One particular tactic is really paying off. I call it "retraining my eyes to accept my body." The way I do this is simple. 
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Mentoring

Are You a “Giving Tree?”

Once upon a time, I made a new friend. Over time, we became very close. When we first met, she mentored me. As we got to know each other better, we mentored each other. Then things shifted and I began supporting her through some of the toughest times a human being can endure. During those years, she gifted me with a book by Shel Silverstein called "The Giving Tree." This book talked about a relationship between a boy and a tree. The tree loved the boy, and the boy loved the tree back. But whereas the tree's love was unconditionally giving, the boy's love was focused on getting. At first, this was so innocent - after all, the boy was little. He needed a lot from the tree, and the tree gave it all willingly. But as the boy grew up, he continued to take. The tree continued to give. At last, the boy had grown old himself. He had taken so much from the tree that only a stump remained. Then the tree gave him even this. The book ends with these words, "And the tree was happy." 
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Celebrity Mentors

A Good Reason to Hide Your Face

I've been on stage since I was 10 years old. My family band first put me there, and much later I led a band of my own. In the middle years, I played and sang and acted and even danced in front of groups of strangers, feeling rather more perfectly placed there than anywhere else. This, I discovered later, was because I wasn't really comfortable in my own oh-so-ordinary regular company. I needed the odd safety of the stage to let the best bits of me out unguarded. But then later, being on stage started to feel less familiar....less comforting. Suddenly, gradually, I was no longer bugging my booking agent for more gigs. In fact, I felt relief when one event would end and there was no next event looming. Suddenly, and especially the more comfy I got living inside my own skin, I began noticing how much I enjoyed being out of the spotlight. Over the years, I have received some very genuine and heartfelt letters and emails and personal shares to let me know that my work mattered. But there were also many times when the critiques seemed unusually harsh, and focused on intensely personal aspects of being me - aspects that only the real me or perhaps someone very very close to me could possibly perceive or interpret with any accuracy. For instance, women would come to book signings and later email me with comments about my weight. Some event coordinators would witness the line of eager students waiting to talk one-to-one with me after a speaking event (lines that sometimes took an hour or more to break up) and then send a nastygram telling me they were disappointed in my presentation for one reason or another. At times someone decided they didn't like my book or a blog post I'd written, and they would let me know and then let their entire network know in the most public way possible. It all just got to be a little too much. I started to realize I liked myself and my life better with fewer eyes on me. 
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Celebrity Mentors

All About That Bass on the Dance Floor

A few weeks ago I tagged along for one of my boyfriend's many music gigs. This particular band happens to play mostly cover songs, and their singer is uh-mazing (he can sing anything - really - he's just that good). So I wasn't that surprised when, about halfway through their second set, I heard the familiar strains of one of my favorite songs. And with that, their tall, black, male lead singer launched into Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" (click HERE to read the song lyrics). He killed it. He sang the crap out of the bass, the treble, and all the parts in between. But that wasn't the best part. The best part was how the audience responded.
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