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Body Image & Recovery

How I Knew I Was Recovered from My Eating Disorder


National eating disorders awareness week happened a few weeks ago.

As usual this year, I missed it.

Believe it or not, this is a good thing.

Anorexia and bulimia ate up (horrid pun intended) at least one-third of my useful life to date, so it is nice to forget it even exists for a few days or weeks or months at a time now and again.

Although I did find the breaking and mending process - a multi-decade saga - quite useful indeed.

During those decades, I discovered just how low a human being can sink in her own esteem. I learned all about rocks, hard places and the possibility of needing to gnaw off your own arm, or leg, or brain, to get free.

I found out that there are no impossible challenges, just impossible-feeling choices.

I also realized that the eating disorder had nothing but time. Lucky for me, so did I.

So I turned my attention away from getting very good at getting sicker and channeled it in its entirety towards getting very good at getting better.

I was pretty good at staying sick, in hind sight. But at healing, well, I was a rock star.

I have proof. I'm here. And I know I'm recovered.

(If you are reading this and want to learn more about the breaking and mending part, I wrote a book about that. It is now out of print. But of course Amazon still has copies. Because Amazon has everything.)

Last I checked, which I will admit was a few years ago now, the "recovering" versus "recovered" debate was still raging.

I was never very interested in this debate because semantics like these can keep my brain very busy and self-important so it never has to tackle the actual hard work of recovering or staying recovered, whichever term may resonate more on any given day.

Also, truthfully, in my experience both terms are very relevant. Like the five stages of grief and many other mostly useful structures, sometimes we vacillate.

But then sometimes we cross over a line that is so clear, so obvious, so un-missable in every way, that one term finally "sticks" for good.

Then we can personally self-identify with that term and other folks who are also in that camp. But it doesn't mean the other term has suddenly become invalid. It just means it doesn't apply to us personally anymore.

That was what happened to me.

Several years ago, long after I wrote my book and founded MentorCONNECT and considered myself to be "in recovery" in a really solid way, I signed myself up for a multi-day retreat.

When I enrolled myself, I didn't know the agenda or daily schedule. I only knew the speakers and the location. But I signed up anyway, because sometime I do things like that when my gut tells me to do them.

As it turned out, the retreat included a "surprise" extended fast.

Boy was I surprised.

The first day of the fast, I thought to myself, "oh good, a test. I can do this." (I also knew I had snack bars in my room if I discovered I couldn't do this. And the staff told us that they had snack bags for anyone who couldn't or just didn't want to attempt the fast.)

The second day of the fast, I thought to myself, "oh shit. But I can do this." That night I woke up in the middle of the night feeling extremely nauseated and woozy. I ate half a snack bar and went back to sleep, reassuring myself that in just a few hours I could eat breakfast. Because I was sure the fast would be over by then.

The third day of the fast, I didn't think. I Immediately  burst into tears and went running to the staff to explain my situation. They offered me a snack bag. I declined.

And THAT WAS WHEN IT HIT ME.

That was THE MOMENT I knew I was "recovered." Period. The End. As in, never, ever again.


Relationships

Have You Been Shame Slammed? What It Means & How to Deal


There I was, curled up under piles of covers with pillows over my head.

I just lay there, wide awake in the middle of the night, feeling....sick, sick, sick.

It wasn't the flu. It wasn't coronavirus or the citywide contaminated water outbreak from last week even now making its bacterial way through my digestive tract.

I knew this because I felt fine, physically speaking. All systems go.

But the part of me that is "me" - the part that normally stays well when the rest of me falls ill - felt gutted. Mutated, somehow. On its way to being MIA.

Earlier that day I had taken part in a group coaching call. The call was part of a new life coaching program I recently enrolled in. I'm not used to being a part of these types of calls and I made some mistakes.

Other attendees noticed and pointed my errors out over the group chat. I didn't respond that gracefully.

When the Q&A time came and it was my turn to ask a question, the group leader basically shot down my dream and told me I needed to find something else to do.

By the time the call ended, the four walls of my tiny casa felt far too spacious to protect me from the creeping white hot lightning rod of ache spreading up from my gut, along my spine, into my heart and head.

I had been shame slammed.

What Is Shame Slamming?

This is what shame slamming means to me.

It starts when you choose to become vulnerable when you open yourself up in some big way, like to ask for help or share honestly about something you are really struggling with that is already making you feel shame.

But then, when you finally work up the guts to admit it, tell someone else about it, or ask for help dealing with it, the person/persons you tell don't get it and shame you about it.

There is nothing wrong with choosing to open up and ask for help or feedback or to share, by the way. But it is important to pick who you do it with carefully to reduce the risk of shame slamming.

Also, just so you know - this isn't an "official" term or anything. It is just what I call this experience because that is what it feels like to me - being literally body-slammed over and over again with shame.

The first time I remember being shame slammed is when I failed the math quiz (again) in fifth grade. Our teacher made me stand up in front of the class and announced to everyone that they would all have to retake the quiz because Shannon had failed again.

I was shame slammed again as a teen. We were on vacation in South Padre. I had full-blown anorexia and just wanted to hide in our hotel room. My parents got so frustrated they yelled at me and told me I was selfish and horrible and why wasn't I more like my brother (I wanted to know the answer to that question too).

There were lots of other times as well.

Then of course there was last week's conference call, the public errors, the awful public question gone awry, the fetal ball barely visible under a pile of pillows and covers.

So you get the general idea.

Maybe you are even starting to call to mind some times when shame slamming has happened to you.

How Do You Deal With Shame Slamming?

So the next question then becomes, what do you do about it?


Relationships

What Is Forgiveness, Really?


This morning I asked myself a tough question.

It stemmed from a life coaching course I recently signed up for. Life coaches, of course, specialize in asking students tough questions...the exact kinds of tough questions we'd prefer not to ask ourselves.

This particular question asked whether there is anyone in our lives we still want to avoid.

I was surprised by how many names came up.

Former boyfriends. Former landlords. A family member (no former about this one). A handful of formerly close friends. A former boss.

When I thought about how I would feel if I was out and about one day and saw them walking towards me, I....squirmed.

Yuck. No thank you. I'd really rather not.

The thing is, I really thought I had forgiven each one of these folks.

After wrestling with this for awhile, I finally realized I might be getting forgiveness confused with forgetfulness.

After all, as more than one mentor has told me over the years, to forgive doesn't mean to forget. Not to mention that some people are forgiven and loved much better from a considerable distance.

But what if that distance were to suddenly disappear? What if, just say, the person who hurt you the most in the world were to suddenly be walking down the street right towards you? What would you do?

And would your choice in those stressed-out moments have anything to do with whether you had forgiven them or not?

I realized I didn't know the answer to this question. And then I realized this might be the kind of question where more than one answer choice is right.

So I did what most of us do when we have big unanswered questions in our lives. I googled it.

The article that resonated with me the most was one about how to maintain a relationship with a loved one who has hurt me. Is it possible? Is it wise? Is it necessary?

The answers I found seemed to boil down to these fundamental reminders:

Forgiveness is an internal state. The other person doesn't even have to know or care that it has happened.
Forgiveness doesn't mean "no boundaries." In contrast, building better boundaries can be forgiveness-sustaining.
Forgiveness may not change the other person's attitude or behavior towards me. It might even make either or both worse!
Forgiveness boils down to not taking things personally and not making assumptions (both of which are longtime Don Miguel Ruiz favorites that I clearly still haven't learned how to do).

With these insights in hand, I went back to my pile of folks to avoid. I picked out one of the most recent - a former landlord who really, really doesn't like me and lives just one house down from me.

This is a difficult and also especially relevant example because it really is highly likely we will meet out on the street and I know for a fact he is still very keen to avoid me. In fact, last week it actually did happen while I was out talking to another mutual neighbor and saw him out walking his dog out of the corner of my eye. I did my best to keep it not-awkward and so did he as our neighbor said hello and I hid behind the bumper of my car.

That is something, I guess.

But is that forgiveness? Or not-forgiveness?


Book Mentors

What It Was Like to Live In An Ashram


I rarely talk about the year I spent living in an ashram. For that matter, I don't actually even think about it all that often.

It was many years ago, in another incarnation of me, back before I knew that what I thought I could only find in a cloistered life is everywhere and anywhere that I also am.

But of course I would never have known that if I hadn't first tried to find it there.

How did it come to pass that a 26-year-old would ever decide to move into an ashram? It is a very long story that I will sum up as follows:

Girl develops eating disorder. Girl graduates college. Girl starts working in a corporate job she hates. Girl beats eating disorder (well, mostly). Girl begins trying to "find herself." "Find herself" goal leads (somehow) to volunteering at a local meditation center. Volunteering part-time turns into volunteering full-time....in an ashram.

Because I don't often mention my ashram days, I don't get many questions about what it was like. Perhaps that is by design. After all, I was born in the Bible Belt, where to be un-Christian (that is, not self-identifying as Christian) feels a lot like being un-American.

It is often safer to just skip that topic if and when it ever comes up, which is mostly never. Thank goodness.

But lately I've been realizing that is also kind of cowardly.


Death & Grief

Attachment: Is It Ever Really Possible to Let Go?

As I type out this blog post, Pearl is perched beside me on "our" writing table, chirping happily as he eats and flings his warm and nourishing blend of evening rice. Give up this attachment? Not a chance!

The word "attachments" is strange.

On the one hand, it is totally innocuous.

For example, my smart phone has lots of attachments.

It has power cords and earbuds and speakers and a fancy screen protector and...


Mind, Senses & Silence

Need More Time? Meditation Can Help You Find It


It doesn't sound intuitive, does it?

You need more time. And here I am suggesting you add something else that requires more time to your to-do list.

Hmmm.

What's the catch?

If you are not at all familiar with meditation, there might be a catch, actually, just because you need to get familiar if this is going to work.

But it won't require much of your time if you can quickly wrap your mind around this concept:

Meditation = mental focus.

Anything you concentrate on you might as well be meditating on....or actually, whatever you concentrate on you are meditating on.

Here is an example. Let's say you are reading this blog post in the morning and you haven't had your first cup of coffee yet.

So you keep trying to concentrate on the words in the article. Every other sentence, though, your brain scampers back over to the corner where your K-cups are stored and suggests "coffee?" You refocus your mind on the words. "Coffee?" Refocus. "What about now? Coffee, perhaps?"

Finally you give up and go get some coffee already.

This is meditation.

As an aside, this is also why I personally find it impossible to multitask. For me, anyway, multi-tasking takes way more time than simply focusing intently on one thing at a time and doing that one thing, and then doing the next thing, and then so forth and so on.

That way I get all my energy to do each thing in turn. I'm not fighting with my brain for what to place our attention on.

So now that you fully understand the concept of meditation, how can you use it to make more time for yourself?


Spirituality

What the World Needs Now Is More Self Love


If you are anything like me, you were probably nodding along there with the title of this blog post until your mind read the word "self."

Huh?

Isn't it amazing how one little word change can throw us so off track?

Personally, I was raised in what I would term a "lightly Christian" environment. By this I mean, once we reached middle school, my parents (bless them) gave us the option to a) continue going to church, or b) sleep in on Sunday mornings.

Guess which option I chose?

This is relevant because I never felt like religion was forced on me. I got interested in high school because I was socializing with other teens who were already interested.

I got interested again in college because the eating disorder was slowly killing me off and I thought perhaps it was time to call for (divine) backup.

Ultimately, after several years exploring faith and different religions from all accessible angles, including an extended trip to India to live in an ashram, much reading and study in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, an intensive Judaism conversion course led by an Orthodox rabbi, formal employment at a very large, famous and traditional Episcopalian church, and an intensive year-long process to release a Christian-themed music CD and form a music ministry band behind it, I finally realized what was missing in my faith quest.

Me.

Before I say this, I feel like I need to qualify that today I do not self-identify as any particular religion.


Death & Grief

What It Feels Like to Grow Old


Life is extremely odd.

I mean, can you think of anything weirder? Than life itself?

One minute we are...somewhere else. The next minute, without having any idea how or why, we are here.

In this body. In this mind. In this life.

We are very small, too. And very young. And very very dependent.

We can't even raise our head on our own. Or feed ourselves. Or walk. And we stay like that for what feels like a very long time.

Then at last we start to get bigger. And older. We learn from even bigger, older people around us that this process is called "growing up."

It keeps happening. Every day, we wake up and - presto! - we are another day older.

At some point, we stop getting bigger (at least upwards, although we may still keep getting bigger outwards).

But we still keep getting older. It happens like clockwork every single day.

Then one day we realize we can't stop it from happening (which is the same day we realize we might want to stop it from happening, because the alternative is....?).

Meanwhile, we keep waiting for the age we feel on the inside and the age we actually are on the outside to match up. We wait and we wait and we wait for this to happen, assuming when it does happen we will feel so....GOOD.

In the meantime, our inside-age/outside-age gap continues to grow.

It gets wider and wider.


Movie Mentors

Small Moves Can Lead to Big Changes


The new enclosed outdoor tortoise play area is wider and longer than the one we left behind.

And the turtles' new permanent outdoor enclosures are safer because of wonderful new custom-made sturdy level wooden platforms for each turtle habitat - one for Malti and one for Bruce.

My precious 21-year-old soul bird, Pearl, loves the whole setup of our (his) new space - he particularly enjoys the new shower and has already taken twice the showers in our new space that he ever deigned to take in our old space.

And me? I am slowly shaking off the two and a half year crust of grief and stress I didn't even know had formed around me while living in the old place. This is a home my former longtime partner has never seen and does not even know exists. We did not break up here. There are no memories of him here.

I needed this. Desperately.

This new home gives us all a fresh start. It brings new fresh meaning to the cliche "so close and yet so far."

Our first night in the new space, one of our new near neighbors went out back, picked a bunch of fresh ripe grapefruits off their tree and gifted them to us. It was literally the perfect welcome gift!

Now, is the whole setup perfect? Nope. Sure isn't. There are still things I could/would/would like to change.

But perfect was never my goal, anyway.

I was aiming for progress.

Particularly, with moving so suddenly and literally just down the street, I got the chance to put into practice everything I've been studying and learning about over the past several months about letting my intuition lead.

In past years (decades), my head has always insisted on being in charge when it comes to such things. I had gotten really used to listening to it and it could get quite loud and grumpy when anyone challenged its leadership, so it often felt easier just to acquiesce.

But not this time.

This time, freshly steeped in several months of intuition studies with Sonia Choquette and supported by nearly three years of daily practices with Adriene Mischler's Find What Feels Good online yoga classes, I finally had the inner strength and inside-out support system - a firm, fresh foundation if you will - to promote my intuition to the head honcho role.

The difference was ... palpable.


Celebrity Mentors

Heal the World By Helping Those Who Are Helping


I feel very lucky that my closest friends are interested in the same types of topics I am - intuition, empathy, creativity, meditation, service as a spiritual practice, spirit-based living, animals and nature as mentors.

These are the kinds of conversation starters I craved during my younger years but rarely heard....at least coming from anyone other than me.

Aging has been kind in this way, helping me understand that my peeps are out there and finding shared passions is a great way to i.d. them.

One of my dearest friends recently sent me a link to a free 10-day podcast series called "radical compassion." Since I generally view all compassion as radical this title intrigued me.

Are some acts of compassion more radical than others? What is the difference between regular garden-variety compassion and the radical kind?

A quick browse online yielded this insight:

"Regular compassion" is an innate sensing of the state of others that we all have (at least in theory). As a social species, every homo sapiens apparently does have the basic wiring to sense when another is suffering and empathize and even the following desire to alleviate the other's suffering.

This wiring is not just inside homo sapiens brains, by the way.

I recently blogged about new research demonstrating empathy and compassion in parrots, which was not a surprise to me but definitely seemed to surprise the researchers.

"Radical compassion," in contrast, is going above and beyond regular compassion by undertaking acts of compassion under more challenging circumstances.

My favorite of all the podcast interviews I've listened to was - no surprise here - by author Elizabeth Gilbert. I just love her. (I mean, I've always loved her since I read Eat Pray Love, but in the wake of my own previous grief-filled year as I've navigated parting ways from my long-time love, her wisdom stemming from her own recent loss of her best friend and partner, Rayya, has helped me make some sense of the "keep on keeping on" nature of losing someone you love.)

My point being, at one moment in their hour-long podcast, host Tara Brach asks Liz about (and I paraphrase) how she deals with the onslaught of horrific local or world news that can make even the most empathic, compassionate and help-minded beings feel helpless and hopeless and sometimes flat-out numb to all the suffering.

Liz answered - again, no surprise here - brilliantly.