Small Breasts and Crooked Teeth

We all have something that we feel vehemently about or, if you’re anything like me, a multitude of things. But, there is one thing that I have felt the same way about for as long as I can remember:

Love and accept the body you were given - unconditionally. 

Kids don't usually know that there is something "wrong" about their body until someone points it out to them. They happily go about their day not worried about the shape of their body, the contours of their face, or the size of their appendages. 

The real shitty thing is that there is nothing wrong with their body (or their face), it's completely perfect just the way that it is. You know the saying, "humans are perfectly imperfect." It isn't until some arbitrary fucked up societal and cultural standards are called out to them do they then start to feel like something is wrong with them... something different... something inadequate. And if they feel that way, then they better make their counterparts feel just as shitty. And so, the cycle begins. At a very, very young age. 

Biased comparison isn't innate. Babies and toddlers simply take note of differences and process them as neutral differences. "I'm this color, they are that color;" "my nose is shaped this way, their's is shaped that way;" "my hair is this color, their's is that color." They have a genuine curiosity but typically don't associate their observation with something negative until someone else like a parent, sibling, or playmate teaches it to them. They make simple and objective observations without viewing one as desirable and one as less desirable or undesirable. 

When I was about 12-years-old I was at a routine dentist appointment. The dentist started talking to me and my late step-mom about orthodontics and straightening my teeth. We were both a little confused as to why this was brought up and asked why he was giving us information on "fixing my teeth." His answer beat around the bush a bit. I was taken back. And, well, offended. We asked if this was medically necessary or if this was strictly cosmetic. He confirmed it would simply be to straighten my teeth for aesthetics. 

F-that. I was a tough little horse-riding BB Gun shooting cookie infused with The Doors, Metallica, and Alice N' Chains.

I laughed and told him I didn't need or want to have my teeth straight. My step-mom laughed with me and reflecting back, I think she was pretty damn proud. 

Before that visit to the dentist office, I didn't think much of my teeth. I smiled in pictures and laughed without concern of someone looking at my crooked teeth. But after that visit, there was little voice inside me that whispered..."Your teeth don't look like they should. You don't have a pretty smile." I increasingly become self-conscious of my teeth and smile. I compared my teeth to my peers, my siblings, and girls in magazines and on TV. In family photos, you can see me going from a teeth-showing smile to a subtle smirk, or pursed lips (before it was a raving trend), or even no smile at all. Thank God this was before the likes of Facebook and Instagram or even wide-spread internet adoption.

  I even rocked my unibrow

I even rocked my unibrow

  My siblings and I, me, far right

My siblings and I, me, far right

Of course, I negatively compared myself to others before then (like when I hit puberty and broke out with acne before other kids my age in elementary school resulting in relentless teasing by older boys), but this was certainly a time in my life when I became even more concerned with my looks. And, started to consider whether or not I was pretty enough just the way that I was. 

Thankfully during this time of my life, I didn't only listen to classic rock and metal. While I was questioning my beauty and uniqueness, Jewel was breaking records with her album, Pieces of You and my sister and I had her hits on repeat. 

Jewel's face was all over magazines and VH1, and although most images and clips of her were with her lips closed or slightly parted, there was the rare few that showed her now famed crooked teeth. 

I was affirmed. I wasn't alone in letting my teeth be au naturel. 

Jewel's teeth have been the topic of conversation on more than one occasion in the entertainment industry. In writing this post, I came across this interview were she intimately discusses her stance on her teeth. 

When I first got signed to a recording contract, I saw other girls in my industry getting nose jobs and boob jobs and chin jobs, because they wanted to gain an acceptance they were unwilling to give themselves. Of course I considered having my teeth fixed. But I knew that if I started down that path, it would be a slippery slope—having come from a broken and dysfunctional home life, I was not the picture of high self-esteem. I was, however, the daughter of pioneers. In Alaska, I was raised on a homestead. We lived off the land, which taught me that hard work pays off. It also taught me one of the most important things I have ever learned, something I still try to live by to this day: Hard wood grows slowly. I know, that isn’t a very flashy life motto, but make no mistake, it is profound. If you want something to last, it has to develop over time. An oak may take a long time to grow, but it lives for hundreds of years. Country living taught me that there are no shortcuts or quick fixes for a meaningful life. I had to figure out real solutions to my problems if I wanted them to be permanent. If I wanted to build a healthy new life, it meant learning to love and accept myself, and to be a friend to myself. It meant forgiving my short comings, accepting my flaws, and finding the courage to not make decisions out of insecurity. It meant letting people call me “snaggle tooth” or anything else they wanted, without losing my pride. Happiness and self- acceptance wouldn’t come overnight. They were a process, and if I wanted lasting results, I had to commit to that process—even if it was a public one. I had to define beauty for myself.
— Jewel

Jewel beautifully and profoundly states what I have come to fervently believe for myself.

You cannot fix the way you feel on the inside by changing something on the outside. Learning to love and accept yourself unconditionally is a feat most people will never conquer. 

Looking in the mirror and saying "I am beautiful," is fucking hard. Looking in the mirror and saying, "I am beautiful, I love and accept myself," is really fucking hard. Embracing it is really, really fucking hard and takes massive work. Work that is internal and that no one else can do for you or validate. This isn't to say that you are alone in the process, I've received massive support and guidance. I've asked for help in my times of darkness and visceral feelings that I was the ugliest human being on the planet and I was met with empathy; though I was alone the work to pull myself out of despair.

It's hard work that needs to be done over and over throughout our entire life. Through aging, illness, weight changes, injuries, depression, stress, and heartache. It's a practice that takes humility and it's work that I don't believe is ever finished or fixed. Certainly not through cosmetic surgeries, anti-aging bullshit, airbrushing, or “beauty” products. Time and time again, I've thought I fully accepted my body and then wham-bam I have some jiggly skin out of nowhere and my thighs have a couple more spots with cellulite that can be seen from my neighbors house. Some days, I am more accepting and graceful of myself than others.

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The next big kick to my self-esteem was when I was 19. My college boyfriend and I were laying in his bed one morning and I asked him (oooooh the naivety!), "what would you change about me if you could change something?" Fully expecting him to say "absolutely nothing baby," or something sweet and ironically complimentary like "the way you're so hard on yourself." Yeah, there is no Relationships 101 in college. 

No, what he said ( I still remember nearly 15 years later) was, "I'd have your teeth fixed and get you some bigger boobs." 

My dropped-jaw and complete silence must have signaled to him to backtrack. He then said "you know... if you want to keep modeling." At the time I was doing some modeling but little did he comprehend that the type of fashion modeling that I was doing gave a shit about my small breasts and actually preferred them small and rarely wanted a smile. Thin? Yes (which is one of the reasons I did not pursue a career), but big boobs and tattoos? No. Smile? Not really. Stone cold or seductive smirk, please.

I quickly left his bed and called my sister balling while I drove to go ride my horse to blow off steam and center myself. Riding always reminded me of who I was and what truly mattered in life - similar to how yoga does for me now. 

The paradox was that before that moment, I hadn't really ever thought about my breasts in a negative light before. I have small frame and for the most part, have always been slender. Having small breasts just kind of made sense. In fact, I found them to be sexy. I could go braless and wear plunging neckline shirts and chic dresses that some of my friends couldn't "pull off" without being judged for looking slutty (you can't win). Up until that moment, I felt quite confident with my breasts. They were perky and just... fit. I was never teased for being "flat" so maybe they are a cup bigger than the "pancake"? So, this was a big WTF moment for me. 

You can imagine what that did to my confidence. Despite how much I wanted to not care what other people thought about me, I did. Especially, my then boyfriend. And, despite his comment and pornography addiction, I stayed with him for four more years. 

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Along with my horse and sister, music came to the rescue once again and this time it was India Arie. Her Grammy winning songs helped to lift me higher and continuously  gave me the message that I needed to accept myself, even if others didn't. 

Her lyrics from  'Video' ran through my head day-in and day-out.

Don't need your silicone I prefer my own
What God gave me is just fine

Yet, I still had that tiny voice inside my head. This time it said, "no one will ever love and accept your body just the way that it is." The abstruse thing being that I really did prefer my own. Not once did I look in the mirror and long for bigger breasts - or straight teeth for that matter. 

Each time after that when a man told me, "I love your body," the thought inside my head was "yeah sure, you love parts of it, but what would you change to make me perfect?" And each time he said "I will love you forever," I told myself "yeah, he'll love me while I still have the elasticity in my skin or until he finds someone 'like me' with bigger boobs...or straighter teeth... or straight hair... or who is taller... or skinnier...or younger." I never believed that anyone could love and embrace all of me and continue to through the changes of time be it aging, illness, injury, pregnancy, and all of the other things that life may throw my way.

I have experienced the heaviness of infidelity, verbal abuse, manipulation, anger, rape, and yet something came up recently that caused me to discover that I had never forgiven that young man all those years ago. An incident that is seemingly very insignificant in comparison and nevertheless, has impacted my life, self-esteem, and relationships for years. Since that discovery, I have forgiven him and feel completely unattached to that moment and his immature sentiments. I had no idea I had been tied to that moment for so long. It has me pondering the notion of forgiveness and do we sometimes tell ourselves that we have forgiven when in actuality, we have only attempted to forget?

It took me many years of internal work to get to a place where I could welcome love into my heart and it's an endless practice of opening. Years of self-help practices, energy work, yoga, solo travel, mediation, living alone, and mindfulness (I'm starting to not like that trendy word but it is valid).

I’ve learned walls are actually the least protective. When you let your walls fall down and stand naked and vulnerable, raw intimacy blankets you. 

  BIG crooked smile with the man that loves it

BIG crooked smile with the man that loves it

Now in my thirties, I have a loving and gracious man in my life who embraces me fully and it's still difficult for me to be vulnerable and trust that he will continue to love me unconditionally as the years pass. Trusting your partner is a recipe I'm still learning but what I've found is that it's a concoction of a leap of faith, benefit of the doubt, conscious forgiveness, respect, reminding myself of who he is (rather than grouping him in with men from my past), reminding myself of who we are together, communicating my concerns and insecurities, and giving him the trust that I wish to receive. 

While that's a nice ingredient list, it's the relationship with myself that allows me to open myself up to my partner, to love him unconditionally, and welcome imperfections with myself, him, and us. I thank my 12 and 19-year-old self for staying true to myself and not giving into cultural and societal ideals and pressures. 

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I do not believe myself to be better than those who have made permanent changes to their bodies, I too have made changes to my body albeit temporary, such as dying my hair and wearing hot pink lipstick. There is a fine line and I try to understand my motives of any change I make to my body. Who is it for? Why will this make me happier? Is there something going on inside that I am trying to fix on the outside? What example will this set to those who look up to me? And, I do not think less of anyone who chooses to permanently change their body - men or women (because poor body-image does not just effect women), that's their prerogative. Though, I do wish for them the same thing that I wish for myself and that is the ability and willingness to love and accept their body unconditionally and the strength to do the ever-lasting internal work that makes that more attainable. 

With love, 

-AEB

Coming Forward: 15 Reasons Why It's So Fucking Hard and Never Before Told Chapters

If you are reading this post strictly to gain an understanding about some of the reasons why it's difficult for people to come forward after sexual abuse, assault, trauma, and/or violence, please skip down to the very bottom where I've listed them out. If you came here for additional insights and thought processes, grab a pot of coffee and take a seat. 

Warning: this post contains explicit adult language and graphic sexually violent descriptions. 

If you or someone you know is being or have ben sexually abused, assaulted, and/or raped, please seek help and call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area or visit https://hotline.rainn.org/online/. 

Chapter One: 15, Dazed and Confused 

The first time I was raped was when I was 15. 

Some of you may be thinking... first time? Why did you put yourself in the situation to be raped in the first place and then again? What did you do to cause those circumstances? 

You are one of the top reasons why it's so fucking difficult for someone who has been sexually abused, attacked, or otherwise traumatized, to come forward. 

But despite your judgements and naivety, I'm going to continue my story. 

I stayed the night at girls house that I didn't know too well but we had recently bonded. I can't really recall how the sleepover came about but my parents agreed and my Dad drove me to her house. Except, we didn't spend the night in her house. We immediately went into a small garage type room right next to her house that her older brother occupied. Which, at the time, felt like his "place." He had several friends in the room with him. We were the only girls. I felt unsure, but followed her in anyway. This was next to her parents house, after-all. Her brother was older, I'm guessing around 17-years-old.

I remember thinking that he was cute. Tall and strong with chiseled cheek bones and well-groomed black slicked back hair.

I remember what I was wearing. Relaxed fitting blue pants - you know the baggy lightweight material kind - like you'd wear to the beach. And, I had on a cut off "wife-beater." This was the early 2000s when grunge met hip-hop. And, knowing me back then, I probably had some type of 70s-type hippie jewelry on. 

There was alcohol and pot. Being nearly 20 years ago now, I really couldn't tell you how much I consumed. 

I remember I was sitting next to her brother on a couch. My memory has faded on all of the peripheral details. Partly because of the years that have passed, partly because of the substances consumed at the time, and partly because of what came next. 

That part, I do remember.

The mood in the room shifted and I felt uneasy. My friend exited and I was left with her brother and some of his friends at which point he gave everyone a distinct "nod" and they all proceeded to leave. It was just us two left in the room. This was before cell-phones and long before texting. There was no one I could alert.

I felt confused. 

And scared.

He brought me over to a different couch that was bigger and longer. He said "just don't say or do anything, I'm going to rock your world." 

I am 5'4" and at that time, probably about 100 lbs. Heck I may not have even been 5'4"yet. A little girl. He was 3 times my size. More man than boy in terms of stature.

He covered my mouth with his hand and forcefully penetrated my vagina with his penis. I realized what was happening and tried to yell no. He held me down more aggressively. I attempted to move... he was so heavy. I was completely trapped. I said no several more times and attempted pushing him off me. His shoulders were so big. I remember I wanted to be careful, because I didn't want to piss him off. Who knew what would happen if I made him angry? There was a time when he let go of my mouth with his hand and buried my face in his shoulder.

I have no recollection of what happened after that. Now, in my 30s, I know that clinically, this is referred to as fragmented memory due to trauma - more commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.  When your in a high-stress state of being, your brain’s fear circuitry kicks in and your brain actually focuses in on certain things (like my face in his shoulder and suppresses other things). This is an extremely complex topic in which I wont get into at this time. 

The next thing I vaguely remember is calling my Dad from her parents house phone the next morning to come pick me up. I don't remember the car ride. I imagine he asked me if  I had a good time and I am sure that I lied and told him I did. I know telling him about the rape wouldn't have crossed my mind, but even more than that, in my 15-year-old brain, telling him would have meant that I would have to tell him that we weren't in her parents house and that I had drank alcohol and smoked pot. No way. I would be grounded for sure. And, in my young and confused brain, it would have meant that I was "sexually active." At that point, I hadn't yet fully accepted or processed that a rape actually occurred - not consensual sex. 

You'll know by now that I wasn't the model adolescent. I tried my first hit of pot at the very young age of about 13. A child and yet I yearned to be a free-spirit in my 20s with long hippie hair, slender physique, bell-bottoms, cigarette from my lips, and singing Joan Baez with a flower in my hair on Height Ashbury. Of course, with no care in the world or regard for how I would support my livelihood. I masked my delves in drugs and alcohol with a deep admiration of the 60s and 70s and most adults simply just called me a little flower child. Endearing... until it wasn't. 

After the rape occurred, I went to school as if nothing ever happened. Except, I could't stomach even looking at the girl whose brother attacked me. I saw her and saw a rapist. My poetry grew darker and darker, I withdrew more and more from my family and friends.

Months later I confided in my on again-off again boyfriend. He brought one of my best friends into the conversation and they convinced me that I had to tell my parents. 

Even to them. Both also involved in drugs and alcohol, I was spiraling out of control and needed help. 

 Photo by  Henry Be  on  Unsplash

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

It became harder and harder for me to mask my behavior with an innocent affection toward the hippie era with The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, and smell of incense oozing from my bedroom. Even more, I cared less and less about my own mortality. I hurt myself, parents, siblings, and friends repeatedly with my reckless behavior. 

I was getting so much heat, questions, frustration, and sadness from my parents that I decided I should indeed tell them..part of the story. Maybe then they would understand my confusing behavior. A child that once love to ride her horse everyday, go on hikes and walks with the family, and spend time with her siblings had increasingly become less interested in previous beloved activities - over the course of about two short years. 

I'll never forget the look on my Dad's face when I told him.. part of the story along with a lie. A half-truth. 

In a recent phone call to my sister, I learned that what I told my parents and apparently my sister was that he forced me to perform oral sex on him in a hot tub. I vaguely remember this lie. I'll never know why I thought this was a "better" story. Maybe I thought it was less serious. Maybe I thought that it wasn't exactly sex. Maybe I thought it was more believable. Maybe I thought my parents wouldn't be as upset or mad. Maybe I was too afraid to tell the whole truth. I'll never know why I thought this lie was "better" than the truth.

When I told my (inaccurate) variation of the story, it was sheer anger in my Dad's eyes. Not at me. It took everything my late step-mom had to calm him down enough and to think rationally enough to be the bigger person and law-abiding man that he is and bring it to the police department. I hated that they now had that knowledge about me. That my Dad had those images and descriptions in his head about me, his youngest daughter. The same daughter he told stories to on evening walks, taught how to fish, danced with at school dances, coached through the commitment of shaving her legs for the first time, brought to her horse shows, found at the neighbors house trick-or-treating when it wasn't Halloween, and brought to the movies three times to see Titantic. 

I was disgusted, ashamed, and embarrassed.

That night, we cried and embraced each other. Alas, my acting out did not stop. I remember seeing a therapist. I don't remember it helping. I don't remember feeling any sort of relief. Perhaps I would have if I had told the whole story. I don't know. 

I felt like I had quickly changed from my Dad's little girl to someone he was ashamed of, disappointed in, and who just grew into a teenager that he wasn't proud of calling his daughter.

Mind you, he did not say nor convey any of those sentiments. That was my 15-year-old scared and confused brain. 

My parents comforted me and assured me I was safe. I made them broken promises that I wouldn't be involved in any more bad crowds or make any more bad choices. 

A short-while after I came forward to me parents, I came home from school one day and my Dad told me that his lawyer said we didn't have a case. There was nothing we could do. Because I didn't come forward right away and there was no evidence. It would be my word against his and likely his friends' and sister. And, because I was dressed inappropriately (according the the lawyer, the fact that I had a tank top that revealed my belly, I was dressed inappropriate), then I would be "made to look like I was a slut." WOW! That hit my 15-year-old brain like a bullet to the heart. In addition, the fact that I partook in drugs (pot) and underage drinking, and flirted with the attacker earlier that night, made it so we had no case whatsoever.

I cannot remember anymore details of that conversation - I do remember it ended quickly. Knowing my Dad, I know it was unimaginably difficult for him to discuss and I likely said something closed, like "ok." 

It was at that point that I didn't feel that I could be accepted as part of the family - as who I was before all of that took place. I felt... like a disappointment. I felt... like my family (especially my Dad) viewed me differently. Like... a deviant. Like... a slut. 

Again, I never expressed these feelings to my Dad or anyone else. My walls built tall and thick, I kept them bottled up inside and sought the outside distraction of drugs, alcohol, and the attention of boys to fill the emptiness and cover my shame. Things I felt like would accept me. Or perhaps more accurately, things that affirmed my new identity. A deviant.

My Dad didn't love me any less. My family didn't treat me any different or shun me. In fact, they desperately wanted Ashley back and they grew increasingly concerned. 

Chapter Two: 17, Helplessly Hoping

Fast forward a couple of years. I had received help and guidance and was "on the straight and narrow." The good thing about getting into shit in your younger years, before just about everyone else, is that if you do have the grit and support to straighten up, you get out of it before everyone else too, learn massive lessons, and mature quickly in time for when real-life begins. If there is a silver lining, it's that. 

I was working as a receptionist at a hair salon and completing my high-school in a different district. Out of the blue, I received a call at the salon from a girl I use to go to school with, let's call her Nell. She sounded timid. I didn't know her all that well, an acquaintance. I took the call standing by the backdoor with the door open so I could hear and get some air. 

Nell said she had heard what happened to me. 

And then told me it happened to her to.

By the same person. 

I pleaded with her to go to the police. I assured her that I would stand by her and that I would testify and that maybe if she came forward, they would then believe my (full) story. I told her she wouldn't be alone. 

She said she couldn't. 

I pleaded more. 

She told me that they just wanted me to know that I wasn't the only one. That I wasn't alone.

I remember telling each other that we were so sorry that it happened to the other. I could feel her hug through the phone line.

I never heard from her again. 

 Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Chapter Three: 24, Newly Single and Independent 

I was raped for the second and third time when I was 24, by two men in the same incident. 

God willing, there will never be a fourth. 

At 24, I was early in my career and working at my first job out of college. A technology company in Boulder, Colorado. 

My boyfriend of 4.5 years and I had recently broken up and I was feeling the independence of being a newly single woman. I was living alone and felt... empowered. 

Meanwhile, a cousin, let's call her Adi, of mine and her soon to be husband, let's call him Josh, were having a house warming party one Friday night at their home in a small mountain town. Being attached the hip for just about our entire lives, even when we lived in different states, of course I was going to go to Adi's party. Even though I would be going to the party solo. 

After all, I was a strong, intelligent, and capable woman. 

Both my Mom and sister had trepidation about me going it alone. I assured them I would be fine especially because I would be with Adi. 

At this time in my life, cell phones were a thing as was texting. However, I didn't get cell reception at their house. 

It was Adi, Josh, two of his friends, and me. A very small gathering. I had known Josh from my previous life of drugs and bad choices - but I had been trying to give him the benefit of the doubt despite his continued use of drugs. I had changed, so maybe he did too (even though it appeared he had not). 

I recall that I had wine and Josh had some wine from Chile. We laughed, did some yoga poses, and listened to music. Loudly. The stereo was in Josh and Adi's bedroom but there were no doors, it opened up into the living area. The entire house was small, about 900 square feet. The wine kept pouring and  I remember feeling a little guilty for "partying" but quickly forgave myself. Ah hell, I'm amongst friends and even family! Enjoy yourself Ashley... you haven't in so long. You're safe.

Josh and Adi retreated to bed and it was myself and the two guys. I used to remember their names, now all I remember is that one was a yoga instructor and the other, if my memory serves me right, had the nickname, Bear. Let's just call one David and the other Bear.

We were standing in the kitchen when it happened. Josh had walked out. I really am not sure why. The four of us were chatting when they looked at Josh in what I have later put together as a look of approval. I can't confirm this. It's that gut feeling. 

The next thing I knew, I was being pushed into the hall bathroom by David and Bear. The music in the house was still on. Playing loudly. Bear starting crushing up some pills he said was ritalin. All three of us partook in a line. I can remember immediately regretting that decision. It brought back flashbacks of my old life and although I don't remember feeling anything in particular from it as I was already intoxicated - I was disappointed in myself for not turning it down. 

It was shortly thereafter that I realized they weren't letting me out of the bathroom. I banged on the door. Bear laughed. "We aren't done with you." 

I felt... paralyzed. 

Bear pulled my pants down while I was standing up and leaned me against David. David had an apologetic look on his face. I remember looking at him in fear and confusion as he held my upper body. Bear then penetrated my vagina with his fingers and his tongue. I began crying and begging David to "make him stop... please make him stop." And begging to Bear, "please don't do this. stop! stop! stop!" 

He didn't stop. And when he finally did, he had David take his turn in same manner except Bear wasn't in front of me like David was. The wall was in front of me and the two of them were behind me, positioning me folded over the toilet while I cried. They were each twice my size.

When they were done with me they passed out in the living room. By this time It was the wee hours of the morning. I was too intoxicated to drive back home. I waited on the couch for Adi to wake up, never closing my eyes to sleep. I still felt paralyzed. Is an assault like that rape if they didn't use their penis? I later learned that yes, it is.

"In 2012, the FBI issued a revised definition of rape as 'penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.' The revised law is gender neutral, meaning that anyone can be a victim. More." 

Was it my fault because I had been flirting with them and chose to be under the influence of alcohol and even drugs? Did I allow this to happen because I didn't kick and scream or try to fight them off me? Was it my fault for going by myself in the first place? Should I have just laid on the couch and gone to bed with Adi went to bed? It's my body, I should be solely accountable for what happens to it... right? 

Adi woke up perky and her and Josh wanted to go to breakfast. I was still in shock and despite the pit in my stomach, went along with them. Bear joined. It was as if nothing happened. Having known me since we were in our Mom's wombs, Adi could tell something was up with me. When we returned I took Adi into the bathroom to confide in her as it was the only room in the house with a door that shut - but not before she said Bear wanted to see me before he left. Both Adi and I walked out to his truck and he said he "really liked me, and wanted to see me again." I just looked at him in confusion and Adi said something like "ummm, you are married..." 

We went into the bathroom and I told her everything that happened. I was sitting on the floor, crying, and she perched up on the counter. She was noticeably upset, crying, and telling me that everything was going to be OK and that I would never have to talk to or see them again. And, that she would tell Josh.

I left Adi and Josh's house and halfway through my drive home I broke down - emotionally. I called my sister and her husband and told them I had been sexually assaulted. My sister, always worried about me and trying to protect me my entire life, was devastated. Her husband was also devastated and I'll never forget him picking me up when I fell to the ground out of my Jeep Liberty. We went inside and I was extremely vague on the details and they didn't pry. I didn’t want them to have those horrifying images in their head. I didn’t want anyone else to have that knowledge. I recall telling them “it could have been worse. I am OK.” I cried with my head in my sister's lap and had her take me upstairs so I could shower. I just wanted to feel clean. 

They asked me to turn them in and go to the police. I just wanted it to be over with. And, I didn't want to give them any more power than they already had. By talking about it...by spending any time and energy on it... I felt I was giving them power. I felt... I would be letting them win. I wanted to move on, I wanted to get back to my "normal" life. And, what if I did turn them in? And they were questioned, and then released... what then? Would they come after me in retaliation? What if I told my story and I wasn't believed? What if I was told that I would be viewed as a slut, case closed, again? And, talking about somehow made it all more... real. When you talk about it, there is a feeling that you have to relive it. Even now, it's extraordinarily difficult to compartmentalize my emotions apart from simply sharing my story and stating facts.

I had a solo vacation to Los Angeles coming up the following week and I just wanted to hurry up and get out the state, go to the beach, see my friends, and forget it ever happened. 

Monday came and I was convinced I had a urinary tract infection (UTI). I called my gynecologist and made an urgent appointment. I withheld telling them what happened and just told them I was feeling off. They didn't see anything in my urine to indicate an infection under the microscope and they also tested for any vaginal infections. They sent the specimens to the lab for further testing. Since I was leaving on vacation and was clearly worried and didn't feel right, my doctor prescribed me an antibiotic, Macrobid for a UTI, just in case while we waited for the test results. I felt comforted knowing I could take an antibiotic, somehow this made me feel like I was cleaning my system... getting the bad out of me. It took me years to recognize why I did that.  

That same day, I was sitting at work eager to get to L.A. and my hotel in Westwood, when my phone began blowing up with text messages and phone calls from Adi and Josh calling me a liar, a whore, a slut, and cunt. I briefly spoke to Adi and she told me that she "talked to Josh and he said his friends wouldn't have done that." My closest cousin of 24 years had sided with a person I couldn’t even call a man. 

I soon realized that there was no changing either of their minds. I recall sending Adi a message shortly after that I didn't feel safe around her or her fiancé and had to end our friendship - which also meant ending our relationship as cousins as we knew it. The only thing that remains of our relationship is sharing some of the same genetics. Years went by before I spoke to her again and quickly learned that nothing had changed. We still do not speak. 

I ended up going to L.A. and taking the full course of Macrobid - which later gave me an allergic reaction with a full gambit of side effects including hives over my entire body and joint swelling. As it turned out, all of my test results came back negative for any sort of infection. This was long before I knew the risks of taking antibiotics - especially when they are not necessary. 

What transpired after was years of battling eating disorders, digestive distress, fear in unfamiliar situations, and social isolation. Yes, there were numerous other factors that contributed to my struggles - most notably deeply rooted esteem challenges and dysfunctional romantic relationships. But, I will no longer pretend that these events had no impact on my life or influence on my behaviors. I refuse to tuck them under a rug as if they never happened because what happened to me happens to others (male and female) everyday in various ways and it's still being buried. What happened to me does not rule my life, it has passionately influenced it. It has not hardened me, it has made me even more soft. After years of trying to deny my sensitive, vulnerable, and nurturing nature - I've come to embrace these qualities and allow my rugs to hang out in the open. Someone may need one.

 Photo by  Toa Heftiba  on  Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Chapter 4: 32, Hello Darkness My Old Friend and The Era of Coming Forward

Comedian Louis C.K., Pixar and Disney is Animation chief John Lasseter, Actor Kevin Spacey, Producer Harvey Weinstein, PBS and CBS host Charlie Rose, NBC News booker Matt Zimmerman, NBC "Today" show anchor Matt Lauer, and one I heard about most recently Indian Yoga Teacher and founder of Bikram Yoga, Bikram Choudury. Though like all of the others, the corruption and sexual violence had been going on for years before the spotlight was on them. There are of course, countless other prominent figures and thousands of "everyday" people. I've pointed out the recent ones and ones who come from all walks of life from comedy to yoga. 

Bikram yoga entered my life about a decade ago and quickly became a crutch. A lifeline. A saving grace. It helped me heal from unhealthy relationships, sexual violence, and eating disorders. It helped me to feel more empowered. And more... me. I would sweat, tune out, and even enter to what I could only explain as an altered state. I could think more clearly after class and felt.. alive.

Eventually, I found other yoga practices and have come to love Vinyasa and Yin. I let go of the extreme and rigid nature of Bikram and the 105º F heat that Came with it. Though, I continued to respect the practice - never knowing the history. I went years without ever hearing about Bikram Choudury or taking it upon myself to learn the story of how Bikram yoga came to be. I was so immersed in learning the poses and spiritual elements brought by my (wonderful) teachers. It wasn't until the recent podcast by ESPN's 30 For 30 on Bikram that I became aware of the real Bikram story. Only then to discover that Bikram Choudury is one of many fraudulent "gurus" in the yoga world. It's taken a minute for me to still honor my roots in yoga, and my experience with yoga while knowing the horrific corruptness and sexual harassment and violence that has and still takes place. I am extremely blessed that my yoga journey has been untainted by the pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth of Bikram Choudury and others in the community. And, very grateful for the teachers and guides I have had in my yoga world. 

 Photo by  Chris Ensey  on  Unsplash

Photo by Chris Ensey on Unsplash

Learning about Bikram Choudury and his sexual power trips hit me a little more than the others. It felt, a little more personal. What has been plaguing me when I hear these stories in the media and my own experiences both what has happened to me as well as close friends,  is the all-too-often-heard blame-shifting question to the victim(s). 

"Why didn't you come forward sooner?" In The Era of Coming Forward, that's the first thing we hear after someone (or several people) come forward. 

There is some validity to that question. One would think that the sooner someone comes forward, the better the chances are that any evidence to prove their case will be discovered. They are also far more likely to remember critical details. Though, keep in mind that fragmented memory and PTSD can cause memory blocks. Just because it happened last night, doesn't mean that the person with PTSD will recall things fully or accurately this morning. More importantly however, the sooner someone comes forward, the sooner they will be able to heal. And the white elephant, the sooner the person comes forward, the sooner the perpetrator can be prosecuted and punished (the perfect scenario in an imperfect situation). 

So, without further ado, I'll attempt to answer that question based on my experience, what I've observed in the media, and experiences of dear friends (men and women) who have confided in me about their trauma.

15 Reasons Why It's So Fucking Hard to Come Forward

  1. You have to admit to yourself and others that it happened
  2. You fear that if you talk/write about it, you'll have to relive it, you just want it to be over
  3. You fear that they will come after you once they've discovered you've told someone
  4. You have to share explicit details that include your reproductive organs; which brings an extraordinary amount of embarrassment and shame, YOU are suppose to be able to protect yourself and your body and decide who gets to touch you, where, and how
  5. You have to state anything you may have done or said prior to the event(s), making you feel like it was/is your fault 
  6. You don't want anyone to have those types of images of you in their head, it's bad enough that you have to live with the knowledge 
  7. You don't want anyone's perception of you to change, i.e. will people think you're weak? How could you let that happen? Why couldn't you fight them off? Will people think you've lost your innocence? Will people think you're a whore? A slut? That you wanted it? That you're homosexual/straight (for those who have been attacked by someone of the opposite gender they are sexually attracted to)? 
  8. You don't want to ruin someone else's idolized image, this is especially true in families such as a a parent, sibling, or other relative as well as famed and prominent figures who are often well-liked
  9. You fear you will not be believed, after all, what happened is that horrible
  10. You fear people will think your accusations are a cry for attention, "they're just doing it for attention," we've heard this time and time again in schools, workplaces, and in the media
  11. You fear the facts will be twisted and it will be made to look like your fault, why were you at the party? How much did you drink? Why were you at the gym so late at night? Why were you wearing a short dress? Why were you there, at that time?
  12. You fear you will lose something important to you such as family members, friends, your position at work, scholarship, reputation, certification etc. 
  13. You second guess yourself, have I blown it out of proportion? Did I give the wrong signals? Is this my fault? It's it as big of a deal as I'm making it out to be in my mind? It could have been worse... 
  14. When people do come forward, the the focus is on irrelevant details such as what the victim was wearing suggesting or outright saying that "they got what was coming to them" or that you "wanted it" and the perpetrator is ultimately excused 
  15. When people do come forward, the focus is on if the victim behaved in any sort way such as flirting implying or outright saying that it was "their fault for luring them" or "asking for it" and the perpetrator is ultimately excused 
 The Vast Majority of Perpatrators will Not Go To Jail or Prison

The Vast Majority of Perpatrators will Not Go To Jail or Prison

We (as in society, encompassing: law-enforcement, teachers, family, friends, media, and other trusted figures) are taking a heinous offense and instead of highlighting what the attacker did, we are highlighting what the victim did or didn't do. 

In other words, victims are asked "what did you do to cause this?" 

If we as society want people (men and women, including children) to come forward sooner, then we need to step it up and make it a safe space for them to do so. The perp may be innocent until proven guilty, but that goes both ways. The accuser is also innocent until proven otherwise and that means supporting them, listening to them, putting yourself in their shoes, respecting them, showing compassion, and giving them as much privacy as possible. 

Coming forward sooner means a culture shift, and you can't change culture with the same behaviors and beliefs. 

This starts with me and you. The friend, the family member, the law enforcement officer, the teacher, the boss, the significant other, the neighbor, the trusted confidant. 

With love, 

-AEB

Face Value is Destroying Us

Social media has become our society's arch nemesis. It's the thing most of us love to hate but also refuse to live without. 

We see white picket fences, the kiss after the argument, the corner of the house that's not messy, the angle of the face that meets society's standards of beauty, the filter that smooths out wrinkles and wipes away blemishes, the sucked in bellies, the flexed muscles, and the splurge masking the debt. 

We see the filtered and intellectually (most of us) know that it's there, yet turn a blind eye and are adamant and convinced that what we see is reality. We laugh and joke over the superficial and then turn around judge others or ourselves based on the face value we perceive. The result is spectrum with rage and disdain on one end, and envy and lust on the other. 

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We're conditioned to view flawless as desirable and beautiful yet we, as humans, are inherently flawed.

Even more ironic, is that perfection, flawless, and sameness is often considered boring, stodgy, uptight, and uninteresting. A double-edged sword. 

We choose the media we want to see and get a curated selection within that choice, and as a result, glean a skewed outlook of reality. 

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We see memes, images, videos, and stories conjured up portraying someone or a group of people as someone they may not be based on one characteristic. 

We see slivers of people's lives and personalities and assume we know what their all about. 

Don't assume that I'm anti-hunting because I drive a Subaru. 
Don't assume that I haven't shot a gun because I do yoga.
Don't assume that I don't support our president  because I drink green juice.
Don't assume that I'm Godless because I believe in the healing powers of crystals. 
Don't assume that I'm uneducated because I love country music. 
Don't assume that I had everything handed to me on silver platter because I'm well-traveled.
Don't assume I haven't experienced hardships because I am a white female with blue eyes, and (dyed) blonde hair. 
Don't assume I am against homosexuality because I believe in the right to bear arms.
Don't assume that my boyfriend and I never disagree because I post happy pictures of us. 
Don't assume I'm positive and calm all of the time because I meditate.

These face value assumptions don't just happen in media. They happen walking down the street, driving down the highway, passing through the neighborhood, attending a gathering, shopping at the grocery store, they happen anywhere, and everywhere. They happen in our everyday lives, in and outside of our online lives, and they are destroying our relationships with one another and with ourselves. 

With love, 

-AEB

You Did Sign Up for This

No, you did not sign up for emotional or physical abuse so let's just get that out of the way. And to be clear, infidelity, lying, secrecy, illegal activity, and otherwise malicious and/or immoral behavior would fall under emotional abuse.

I've heard people in committed, romantic, and monogamous relationships say: "I didn't sign up for this." Or worse, after the relationship falls apart, I've heard: "I didn't sign up for that."

Actually, you did. By saying yes, you signed up.

You signed up for depression. 
You signed up for tears.
You signed up for demotions. 
You signed up for less pay. 
You signed up for shitty jobs. 
You signed up for failure.
You signed up for unanticipated expectations. 
You signed up for disappointment. 
You signed up for weight gain. 
You signed up for weight loss. 
You singed up for confusion. 
You signed up for anxiety. 
You signed up for miscommunications. 
You signed up for uncomfortableness. 
You signed up for awkwardness. 
You signed up for illness. 
You signed up for struggle. 
You signed up for a low sex drive. 
You signed up for wrinkles. 
You signed up for stretch marks. 
You signed up for thinning hair. 
You signed up for sagging body parts.
You signed up for unknowns. 

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You signed up for all of it.

You also signed up for happiness. 
You signed up for laughter.
You signed up for promotions. 
You signed up for celebrations. 
You signed up for amazing opportunities.
You signed up for success. 
You signed up for reliability. 
You signed up for self-improvement. 
You signed up for surprises. 
You singed up for change.
You signed up for clarity. 
You signed up for communication.
You signed up for trust.
You signed up for connection.
You signed up for comfort.
You signed up for playfulness.
You signed up for vitality.
You signed up for break-throughs. 
You signed up for being sexually desired. 
You signed up growing older together.
You signed up for a companion.
You signed up for an adventure. 

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With love, 

-AEB

I Am Alive - My Eating Disorders are Too

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

I've written numerous posts on eating disorders  and specifically my eating disorders. And I've been debating about whether or not I should write this one. 

I'm not sure why exactly except for the fact that it's very painful for me and I have been in continuous recovery now for nearly two years. This is something I am not sure I ever thought was possible. And quite honestly, there was a time that I didn't want it to be possible. I was afraid of who I would be without my eating disorders and I was afraid of what I would look like. And most of all, I was afraid of the lack of control I would have over my eating - and my life if I didn't have my eating disorders. 

For those of you that don't know, the eating disorders I struggle with are: Orthorexia and Anorexia Nervosa. In short, orthorexia is a lesser known but increasingly prevalent eating disorder in which the person is so fixated on being healthy and eating healthy that it becomes unhealthy. 

To give you a tiny glimpse: I was in my mid-20s (5'4") and weighed a whopping 95 lbs. Mind you, prior to my eating disorders I was very healthy all around with a strong frame and weighed about 118 lbs. In the depths of eating disorders, I landed myself in the hospital twice with agonizing stomach pains and long story short - my pain was due to the fact that I wasn't eating enough food for my digestive system to function properly. I was so severely depleted of nutrients and under my "set" weight for so long that it took my body four years to regain my menstrual cycle. 

This post isn't to mull over everything that my eating disorders are and everything that they are not - I have done that several times over and you may read them in links posted above if you choose.

This post is to honor my past struggles with my eating disorders, celebrate the leaps and bounds I have made in my recovery, and stay humble in knowing that my demon may rear it's head at anytime. 

I recently did an interview with a women's health magazine on Orthorexia and was asked if I am "fully recovered." No, I am not and don't believe that I ever will be. I have not acted on my eating disorder thoughts. Those thoughts are not as strong as they once were but they are still within me. It's still something I face every day, with every meal, and I have made a commitment to myself to not allow my eating disorders to control me. 

I have eating disorder thoughts now and for the most part, I am able to see those thoughts for what they are and say "hey, I hear you, and I'm not going to listen."

I have finally come to a place in my life were intuitive eating is something that comes naturally to me. I never knew this to be possible. I was so reliant on other people's concepts and viewpoints that I lost the connection with my own body and hunger. At some point, I will write more about the how in intuitive eating because I think it's essential for me to live a peaceful life with food and I think others could benefit from more of that story - but I want to keep this post about my celebration and raise awareness about the types of eating disorders, dangers, and offer hope to those struggling.  

This week (February 26th-March 4th) is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. It's always a time where I reflect deeply about the long battle I have had since 2010. Over the course of those eight years, there were times that I was in complete denial about my eating disorders, other times were I was acutely aware yet succumbed to the panic, and other times I tore through walls I never knew I had the strength to bust apart. And, it was not a linear journey - at all. I had many relapses in both my thinking and behavior. And, while thoughts may not be visible - they can be just as destructive - trapped in your mind, consumed by obsession. 

 Left: my Dad and I, winter 2012 (95 lbs) ; right: my nephew and I, summer 2017  (? lbs I don't weigh myself)

Left: my Dad and I, winter 2012 (95 lbs) ; right: my nephew and I, summer 2017  (? lbs I don't weigh myself)

Over the years, I found myself in various parts across the country and I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for the people who helped me along the way.

My dearest family and friends, I would not be where I am today without you. Thank you.

And, to my loving boyfriend who helps to keep me so grounded - you amaze me each day. You are my rock. I love cooking for you - for us and reminding myself of "oh yes, this what a wholesome meal looks like." I love you so much my darling, my sweet. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for your support. 

A diet will never be able to tell you how to eat like your body can. Once you trust your body, it will teach you everything you need to know. 

With love & gratitude,

-AEB

Dissecting a Secret

My boyfriend and I recently watched "The Circle," arguably Tom Hanks' worst movie. Though not due to his performance (Hanks is always great) or even Emma Watson's - but the movie lacked substance  - IMO. 

While it was neither of our favorite movies, it did help to pass the time on the plane back from vacation, and one line stood out to me that I am still thinking about today: "Secrets are lies." 

Are they? 

In order to have this conversation, we need to get clear on what defines a secret. I'll venture to say that most people know what a lie is, but we will take a look at that word as well.

You see, not everyone looks at a secret the same way (and this in and of itself is a factor in the justification of keeping secrets). 

Keep in mind folks that this my blog. It's my opinion. There will be very little research and a whole lot of emotion. 

Let's take a look at America's most trusted dictionary, Merriam Webster, for a definition of the word

Definition of secret (as an adjective)

  1. a :  kept from knowledge or view
    b :  marked by the habit of discretion   
    c :  working with hidden aims or methods
    d :  not acknowledged
    e :  conducted in secret a secret trial

  2. remote from human frequentation or notice :  secluded

  3. revealed only to the initiated :  esoteric

  4. designed to elude observation or detection

  5. containing information whose unauthorized disclosure could endanger national security 

  6.  kept hidden from others : known to only a few people

  7.  keeping information hidden from others

  8.  hidden from the knowledge of others 

Definition of secret (as a noun)

  1. a :  something kept hidden or unexplained
    b :  something kept from the knowledge of others or shared only confidentially with a few
    c :  a method, formula, or process used in an art or operation and divulged only to those of one's own company or craft
    d secrets plural :  the practices or knowledge making up the shared discipline or culture of an esoteric society

  2. a prayer traditionally said inaudibly by the celebrant just before the preface of the mass

  3. something taken to be a specific or key to a desired end 

  4. a fact or piece of information that is kept hidden from other people

in secret

  1. :  in a private place or manner

The key here is that withholding the information is purposeful. One is deliberately not telling the other person(s) pertinent information. 

Here's an interesting piece of history of the origin: In late Middle English: from Old French, from Latin secretus (adjective) ‘separate, set apart,’ from the verb secernere, from se- ‘apart’ + cernere ‘sift.’

When someone keeps a secret, they are setting that information apart from the rest of the information so that the entire truth is not known. 

Before we dissect the definition of secret a bit further, let's take a look at the word lie

Definition of lie (as a verb)

lied; lying

:to say something that is not true in order to deceive someone

Definition of lie (as a noun) 

:something said or done in the hope of deceiving :an untrue statement

Now, let's examine some of the parallels between a secret in a lie:

  • In a secret, one is purposefully withholding information (not saying anything); and in a lie, one is sharing information that is not true (saying* something)
  • In both a secret and a lie, the person** is deceiving someone
  • In both a secret and a lie, the whole truth is deliberately kept form someone
  • In both a secret and lie, the person is betraying the other person

*Saying could also be speaking, writing, doing, etc. 
** For sanities sake I will keep person, someone, individual etc. singular  but it could be more than one person

It likely goes without saying but I will note it anyway, that the person that is kept in the dark by both a secret and a lie are interested parties - the ones that wish to know the truth.  The ones that arguably, should know the truth - the whole truth (yes, I too have the solemn oath running through my head). 

The point of lie is deception. It's to lead someone to believe something other than the truth. Given this, by default a secret is a lie. By keeping a secret, and withholding relevant information, you are leading someone to believe something other than the truth. 

Both are keeping the other person from knowing the truth. 

Ah... But is keeping the truth from someone inherently malevolent?

A few weeks ago, I would have told you that yes, keeping secret or telling a lie is never acceptable. And then...my boyfriend surprised me with an amazing trip that we will be taking to the islands next year. He had this planned and kept this a secret from me for about a month. We even talked about the trip and had decided (or so I thought) that we would pass on this one... save our money for something else and/or a trip in the future. Other people knew about this and they too kept the secret.

I didn't feel betrayed. I wasn't angry or upset in any way by this secret/lie. As you can imagine,  I was elated. I bursted into tears of joy and jumped up and down at work when he shared the news with me in order to make my Monday a little better. 

So what's the difference here? Is this the quintessential "white lie?" 

Alright, we'll take a quick look at the definition of a white lie. 

Definition of white lie

:a lie about a small or unimportant matter that someone tells to avoid hurting another person

Hm.... So it wasn't exactly a white lie as he wasn't trying to avoid hurting me. He was however, keeping the information from me to bring me joy.  

There are two things that jump out of me in this example that makes it an outlier: 

  1. The intent of the secret/lie was to bring joy
  2. It was always intended that the truth would be revealed (temporary) 

Well that's a little messy isn't it?

What are some of the other reasons that people lie?

One that I think about often is the classic "I did it to protect you." 

When we begin to peel the layers off that onion it's nearly impossible to not tear up from the burning of lie within a lie. 

You are not protecting someone by not telling the the truth.

No dear, that is a lie you tell yourself. You are attempting to protect yourself from having to deal with whatever it is you are keeping from them. And, you don't trust them enough to handle the truth (yep, I too have Jack Nicholson's face from A Few Good Men in my head). 

You're lying to yourself thinking that you are protecting them when ultimately you are afraid of what you may have to do/change/say/confront when the truth is known. You don't want to have to change your behavior or uproot a status quo. 

There are few things worse than being kept in the dark about something because someone didn't trust you enough to know the information. Ultimately, the lie itself becomes worse than whatever the lie was about.  

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"Why didn't you tell me?" 

"Because you didn't need to know." OR "Because you never asked."

It's not your job to decide if someone needs to know something when they are involved in the situation. If it crosses your mind to tell them then chances are - you should tell them the truth. And when you choose to keep it a secret (lie) then chances are - the truth will come out eventually. 
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You know that sinking feeling when that happens to you? The why didn't they just tell me? The why didn't they trust me enough to be able to handle this? Why didn't they feel safe enough to talk to me?

When you don't trust someone enough to handle the truth you are making a decision on their behalf and belittling their ability to rise above your expectations. 

What if they don't handle the truth? Then you have bigger problems and you should be glad you now have the opportunity to address them. 

Infidelity and family affairs are likely on our minds at this point. I don't think this means we are all cynical humans - I think it's because it's with the people we love the most that a lie hurts the most. 

The situations like: 

  • Finding out your significant other frequents a grocery store across from town so that they can visit with their ex with the intent of seeing if they can get back together
  • Finding out your significant other and your best friend have been romantically talking and spending time together 
  • Finding out well into adulthood that you were adopted
  • Finding out you have half-siblings from a parent's affair 10 years ago

These situations happen. And whether you tell the truth or lie - there is hurt and/or confusion. The difference is when the truth is revealed, a whole lot of hurt and confusion can be spared and a conversation can be had. That doesn't mean you'll be surrounded by rainbows and flowers after the fact, but you will be able to move forward.

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There is an outlier banging at my door. I  was talking about writing this with my sister and brother-in-law a couple of weeks ago and we got on the subject of ... "ok what about ones that really are to protect someones feelings... ?"

The example of a person dying. The person dying asks, "Am I going to die?" You say: "No, you are not going to die." But you know that they are going to die. But you don't want to cause them more pain so you lie. Is this justified? Is this an "OK lie?" One that is helping them? Is this the accepted white lie? 

The natural response is that yes, of course it is OK. You were bringing them peace and comfort. You truly were protecting them. 

I'm going to challenge this a bit. 

What if... you told them the truth to bring them peace and comfort? 

"Yes, you are going to die. And I don't know what is going to happen to you but right here - right now, you are loved by me and so many others. You are not alone." 

I realize that is radical and I'm writing this while sitting on my couch with my coffee and Wille Nelson on and very from from that tragic situation. 

Would I lie in that situation? I'm not sure. But I will tell you that I'm going to ponder it some more. 

I'll leave you with this: 

If there is a lie weighing heavy on your shoulders ask yourself: 

  1. Am I lying to bring joy to the person I'm lying to?
  2. Am I protecting myself but hurting another by not revealing the truth?
  3. Can I trust them enough to handle the truth?
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You're Being Judged

You’re being judged. 

Everyday. 

Judged by yourself. 

And, judged my others. 

Judged by people you know, love, and trust. 

And, judged by strangers. 

We know it. 

We feel it. 

We judge others. 

And, we judge ourselves.

The other day I was fishing, across the lake from me was a man fishing. I realized a woman was in the truck on the side of the road close to him. I would see him catch and fish and then show her and then release the fish. When I heard her say “I thought we were having fish for supper?,” I immediately judged her. I thought: ‘Ugh… lazy…. It’s a beautiful day out, why aren’t you out here fishing? Why are you making him do the work? Why are you being greedy? And, ...at this lake?... Come on lady, this isn't a fishery.’

These judgements stuck with me. Why did I judge her so harshly? 

I know nothing about her. Maybe she underwent surgery recently, or is following her doctor’s orders, or is getting over an illness, or has a disability, and she cannot easily get out of the vehicle? Maybe she wants badly to be by his side fishing and for some reason - is unable to. Maybe they are living paycheck-to-paycheck and they do not have the liberty to purchase clean protein for their dinner. 

I'll offer another story:

When I was living in Philly, I worked from home (which was an apartment) and I would go for walks around my building during the day. I got to know many of the people in my building, staff, and folks that well… just kind of hung around that building (I lived right were South Philly begins). 

There was a man that would often be around the building - nice as can be and we would make small talk and chat from time to time. He would walk with me for a block or two perhaps and then we would part ways. I’d say this man was likely in his late 40s. 

Over time, I learned that he had a disability and many employers would not hire him due to his disability. When he could find work, it did not pay well. I am not sure where he lived exactly, but it wasn’t my building. I learned he had a son and paid for his college - even when he could not feed himself properly. He wanted to eat healthy and would comment on my green juice and he said that he would go down to the Italian Market and buy produce for cheap. 

One day, I was walking and bumped into him and saw that he was crying. I put my arm through his and asked him to walk with me. He told me about some troubles. Something was happening with his house and something also happened with his son and his wallet was now empty. This was not a cry for help but a cry for someone to simply listen. But, I knew that in order for me to sleep that night, I had to try and do something to alleviate some of his pain. I asked him to come with me and I went to the ATM and pulled out some cash. I can’t remember how much it was but I do know that at this time in my life I was living nearly paycheck-to-paycheck. I knew that for the next week or two, I would have to eliminate some luxuries like green juice… coffee out… lunch out for the money that I was about to give him. I was more than OK with this. He started to cry more when I gave him the money. He looked at me in disbelief. He said that it wasn't why he told me those things. I insisted that he take the money. He told me that he wasn’t sure when he would able to pay me back - or if he could. I told him that I did not want him to pay me back and told him to go buy himself some food right away before he did anything else. He had a huge smile on his face and his eyes lit up. 

If I knew nothing about this man - had never seen him before and saw him crying on the side of an apartment building, I would have felt a sadness. But I know I wouldn’t have talked to him about his troubles or helped him in any way. I likely would have been frightened of him and judged him… maybe he is on drugs… or an alcoholic (mind you this was not the case with this man), or maybe he beat his wife and they divorced and she got the house and now he is on the streets. 

Why would those judgements come to my mind? 

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The stories we tell ourselves about other people often have zero basis. They are distorted and toxic. For our close friends and family; we may know some - or a lot about them but we still don’t know what exactly has shaped them or who they will be tomorrow. When it comes to people whom we’ve never met or just met; the raw truth is that we have no idea what they have been through in their life - or what they are going through right now. We don’t know if they have had multiple neck surgeries, or battled cancer, or lost their parent(s) in an accident, or fought in a war and saw their friends die, or that they've been sexually abused, or lost their home in a fire, or a multitude of real life things that we like to think only happens to us or our family or that those types of extraordinary circumstances are only for the movies. Where do we think the ideas for movies come from?  

Why do we tell ourselves negative stories and illusions about others?

Why do we assume the woman sitting alone at a bar is cheating on her husband and not that she is taking a break while traveling and it’s less lonely to sit up at the bar than a table by yourself and she’s having soda water with lemon - not a cocktail - oh, and  she is texting her kids and husband - not the made up man who will be meeting her - and cheating on his wife. 

Why do we assume the couple next to us in a car are having a horrible fight because of their facial expressions and gestures and not talking about a movie that they saw last night? 

Why do we think the older man working as a waiter at a restaurant didn’t go to college? Or, has limited options? Perhaps he was in finance and discovered it really wasn’t for him and is now taking night classes at a Culinary Institute. Perhaps his son fell ill and he dropped everything he was doing to cover for him so that his son didn’t lose his job. Or, perhaps, he is the owner. 

Why do we look at an overweight man and assume that he is lazy, doesn’t work out, and doesn’t eat well rather than considering that perhaps he has a medical condition - or two - mixed with some genes that cause him to predisposed to obesity. Maybe he is extremely active, does workout, and eats well. Maybe he tries. Maybe he tries more than anyone you know to be fit and thin. Maybe he has tried every diet in the book. Maybe he has even had gastric bypass surgery. Maybe not. Maybe… this is simply the way he was born. Maybe… he is happy with his body.

Why do we look at a skinny woman and tell ourselves that she is probably anorexic - or addicted to exercise or drugs and hates her life and family. Or, all of the above. Oh, she is probably a bitch too and has no life other than avoiding food and exercising. Instead of thinking that maybe… maybe she was born with a wicked high metabolism. Perhaps she doesn’t even work out regularly and eats like a french woman. Maybe, she is super self-conscious of the fact that she is not as curvy  as some of her friends. Maybe she is ill. Maybe, she has tried to gain weight. Maybe, she has tried to gain weight because of the judgements that she has received. 

Why don’t we think about the fact that everyone has real world shit going on in their life just like we do? People’s loved ones die. And so, they don’t care when they run to the grocery store in their wear-at-home-only sweatpants and should-be-thrown-away flip flops to pick up a few things because what they really care about is making sure their brother’s will is honored.  

Everyone has drama and trauma. People get into accidents. They fall ill. They lose jobs, relationships, homes, and cars. They have hardships. They have others around them that have hardships - which can in turn become a hardship for them. 

I've never met anyone who was on Cloud 9 all of the time. I chat with my dearest friends and I love hearing about their joys, loves, and excitements but inevitably there are hardships, quarrels, questions, and all of the other life stressors that happen. To all of us. No one escapes stress. Stress does not discriminate. Yes, some may have it seemingly more or worse than others - but it's present. For everyone. Every single day. Most of us experience days where feel amazing, days where we’re on a high, smiling, walking with a bounce in our stride, other days  where we cruise neutral, and others where the day is massively challenging… hard… dark… days where we feel despair. 

And what about those days or moments where we do feel like we are on Cloud 9? Do we really care about what others around us think about what we are doing, saying, or wearing?

When I'm on Cloud 9, I'm not thinking about the possibility of judgements. I'll swing at the playground and laugh and run around and not care that I am a grown adult playing like a child. When I'm on Cloud 9, I'm not worried about if people are judging me at Whole Foods when my boyfriend and I are acting totally silly. When I'm on Cloud 9, I couldn't care less if my clothes match when I run to the store after a long and glorious day on the lake - kissed by the sun and high on life. 

Yet, I'm certain that in those circumstances - when I'm on Cloud 9, others do judge me. And, I'm certain that I have judged them. 

So, we can't be happy and on Cloud 9 or in despair or anything in between without being judged. 

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To try and make sense of this dynamic, I can't help but think that protection plays a fundamental role in the incessant need to judge. Judging others to make ourselves feel better about ourself isn't what I'm talking about here. It's a true protection mechanism within us. If something is marked red it likely means stop. If something is steaming -it's likely hot. If there is lightening then static electricity is likely high. If the wind is whipping and there are white caps then we likely won't put the boat out on the water. We've learned to judge situations throughout our entire lives. We judge situations. We make judgement calls. Usually we do this to protect ourselves. To literally keep ourselves safe. 

So, do we judge other people as we do situations? Do we judge other people for our own livelihood? 

Our brains seemed to have missed the fact that people are not situations. One cannot simply look at a person and know who they are and what they are about. We are each made up of approximately 37.2 trillion cells. This, is a commonality amongst a trillion other differences. There is much to learn about each-other. 

So keep your circle small if you must (I do) but may we all know that red does not always mean stop. 

Who Are You? Who Am I?

"But, that's what you have always done."

"But, you always use to like to do that."

"But, you have always liked that kind of music."

"But, you always eat those kind of cookies."

"But, you have always done [ FILL IN THE BLANK ] "

Have you ever had someone say something along those lines to you? Or, have you ever said them to someone else? 

I would be shocked if you said no to either of those questions. 

We preach that we need to grow and change yet... when it comes down to it, most people are uncomfortable when someone around them grows and changes. Particularly those that are closest to them such a spouse, parent, best friend or sibling. 

Despite the intense (and often obsessive) desire we have to change our ways, get out of our element, out of comfort zone, and live our lives just a little bit... different.. maybe a little bit... better, we are change adverse creatures. And not only that, we are often 'change blockers.' 

I am not a psychologist so bare with me as I run through my thoughts. 

We become accustom to knowing someone in one way that we have a difficult time accepting when they mature, grow, and change. When they take steps to 'better themselves,' or when they simply start to like new things,  take up a different hobbies, drop other hobbies or habits, and explore other ways of living life, we (the other person) has a difficult time accepting that change. 

Some, straight up refuse to accept the change... have you ever gone back to a place where you grew up or spent time as an adolescent and inevitably the people there still believe that you love the things that you loved and participate in the same activities as you did when you were... oh say... about 12 years-old? 

Though perhaps more dispiriting and often more damaging than those moments are the day-to-day moments when someone feels unable or not allowed, or unsafe to change because of the response they receive from the people around them. And not just acquaintances - these are typically the people who are closest to them. That is where the real dagger strikes - this is where the open-space of love and acceptance from a place of truth and respect turns into a closed-space of suffocation and dismissal usually from a place of denial, misunderstanding, or even jealousy. The person trying or seeking change will likely feel boxed in and unworthy, and often, unfortunately, begin to second guess and doubt themselves. 

"Well, I guess I'll just do what I have always done...Stick to status quo," they may think..."this is how I am loved and accepted right now. What would it be like if I were different?" What they (we) are not usually thinking is that when they change ourselves for the better they are embraced even more fully than we were before - yet there is that period of time that is messy... scary... disorienting... and disheartening. Sometimes, we are forced to let go of those that don't fit our new lifestyle or who won't accept our changed ways. 

I'll take diet as a relatively easy and common example of change.  

"So hun, I think I'm going to switch to low-carb diet. I really think I'm going to cut out refined sugar for a while too. And, I don't think I'll drink alcohol for some time either. I just feel I need to clean up my diet a bit. Eat more lean protein, less sugary snacks, and more veggies." 

One would think that the other would be delighted. And surely not for 'Keeping up with Joneses,' but rather because their partner is choosing to honor their body and are making an effort to give themselves a bit of self-love and feel better. They are respecting themselves. 

Yet, this is not always the response that occurs. They think to themselves... "well I do eat cookies. I do eat carbs. I frickin' love white potatoes. And beer. And thick juicy steak!"

They mistakenly think... "given their change, what will I have to change?"  What is not recognized (usually) is that the other person doesn't have to change a damn thing! The other person was simply voicing their proposed change most likely because voicing change/action makes it feel more real. That, and perhaps most importantly,  they are seeking support.

Mind you, these are not always strikingly positive or negative changes... they are simply.. change. 

"I don't really feel I want to crochet any more ... I really think that I may then take up photography. I've been thinking about taking a coarse in it." This coming from someone who has crocheted for over half of their life may come as a shock to the people that are closest to them. 

Instead of support, the other person may think, 'how will this effect me? how will our schedule change... how will I change? How will we change?' Or, 'where is this stemming from? What has happened for them to want suddenly change their ways?' And often, 'is something wrong with them?' 

 Photo by Daniel Bowman,  Unsplash

Photo by Daniel Bowman, Unsplash

On that note... 

We (people) become so deeply tied to the things we do that we identify ourselves with that 'thing' rather than being who we are separate from things that we do - who we are becomes the things that we do. 

I am a yogi. 

I am a hiker. 

I am a runner. 

I am a cook. 

I am a writer. 

What happens to a yogi when they for some reason cannot or decide to not do yoga? They decide to start kick-boxing or they injure their back. Who are they without yoga? Or a runner who has ran consistently their entire adult life has to slow their role and switch to walking because their knees cannot handle the force of the runners stride. Who are they if they are not a runner? A writer who cannot write due to a stroke... who are they now? 

Suddenly, there is an identity crisis. 

This happens many times throughout our lives. A scholar of History whose entire career thus far has been studies, enters the workforce as a sales associate at a software company. An owner of a Bed & Breakfast of 30 years, sells their property. A dentist of 40 years, retires. A horse rider of 20 years, decides to stop riding to travel and explore their growing interest in cultural studies.  

The reasons are not always clear. Sometimes, we don't even know the reason(s) for a significant life change. Sometimes, it is simply a want or desire to feed another passion. Or, the former passion no longer 'feeds our soul.' Other times, the reason(s) are more concise. Retirement. Physical conditions. Environmental surroundings such as a skier moving to Florida. 

At times, we may even devalue ourselves when we don't do the things that we use to do - because of the high value we once placed on them. 

My point, is that when we tie ourselves to what we do with such conviction that it becomes who we are, we risk an identity crisis. 

I am not a yogi.

Currently, I do yoga. 

Embracing who we are without the things that we do and knowing who we are without the things that we do has the ability to bring grounding despite the changes in and around us.

 Photo by Morgan McBride,  Unsplash  

Photo by Morgan McBride, Unsplash 

As tree (yes, I am anthropomorphizing) who weathers a storm, and has core that stands unwavering when it's branches are shaking, bending, and even breaking. And endure seasons of change, even changing of colors, and sometimes, stranding bare with no leaves and awaiting the sun of the next season where they will begin to bud and blossom once again.