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

My Battle with Orthorexia:Tricking Myself with Bananas

I keep saying "I'm going to write a blog about this." "This" being, the past year, my struggles with living in a new city, living alone, charges in my career, developing and pursuing my passions, battling my eating disorder, the ups, the downs, the in-betweens ...  I've just been bouncing words around in my head that barely form sentences. There is so much to say, so much I have learned, so much that has changed, so much that I want to share, so many feelings I want my readers to understand and so many messages that I wish convey. 

The year 2014 was by far the most challenging year thus far - in my life. Wait, didn't I feel that way about 2013? Certainly in 2012? Maybe even 2011? Perhaps the years do continue to get more challenging. Wouldn't one expect for life to get a little easier as you learn a little more each day on how to navigate through it? You're all LOL'ing right now I'm sure. Because yes, isn't there a popular saying "No one ever said life would be easy" or something like that?

Ah, yes.

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Is what we strive for in life ease? Does ease equate happiness? I'm sure you're all shaking your head 'no,' because of course ease does not equate happiness. Happiness is a state of mind - or a state of being - happiness can be embraced in the midst of struggle and when life is difficult. Or, not easy. In fact, there is another popular saying suggesting that easy is quite boring and that we should continuously challenge ourselves.

So you know what I mean when I say that it (2014) was a challenge? That it was a massive struggle? That it was difficult beyond comprehension? That is was hard?

What the !*$# happened?!? You may be wondering. Well, I'll tell you what happened. There were shifts in my life that I hadn't expected. In fact, just about everything in my life changed dramatically. My move from sunny Boulder, CO to the enlightened Bar Harbor, ME was a beautiful and transformative journey with many ups and downs. I met some of the most incredible people and embraced the sacred land of Mt. Desert Island. From there, I went to West Palm Beach, FL after falling deeply and madly in love (or so I thought)- and when that came to end, I started anew in not so sunny (but shockingly authentic and charming) Philadelphia, PA to take on a new career endeavor and start my 'new life.'

That is where my 2014 began. So, not only did I have a heart wrenching break-up from a man that I thought I would spend the rest of my life with, I was working in a new career and living in a new city. And, I was lonely (not be confused with being alone as I have come to find that we are never truly alone). Needless to say, there were times that I not only felt uneasy, but I felt unsafe, unloved and unworthy. That's a lot of un's. And un's weigh us down. Un's trigger all sorts of physical, spiritual and emotional responses.

What happens, when we are not at ease? Let's say, we are not at ease for an extended period of time. What happens? Disease.

When we simply examine the word, we can see how very true this concept is:

Dis• ease = disease.

Louise Hay, the great Metaphysical Teacher and motivational author, explains this concept at length.

There were moments through the changes in my life that I started to feel at ease -  comfortable, safe, confident, loved, and deserving. And it was during those times that I naturally took care of myself in all areas of my health. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially and so on. It was during the times that I felt uneasy or was at dis-ease, that I neglected each area of my health - some more than others and it was during those times that I began to feel particularly unwell (aka malaise) and unbalanced.

If you've been reading my blog over the years, you know that I have struggled with an eating disorder known as Orthorexia for quite some time. After my initial breakthrough in recovery, I was able to stay true to myself, listen to my intuition and my body and stay in recovery for many months. However, when certain things in life started to feel 'out of control,' I relapsed quite heavily. An eating disorder, like an addiction, does not simply go away. It is always with you and you have to learn how to overcome the antagonist (for lack of a better word) day-in and day-out. Some days, weeks, months and years may be better or easier  than others

In 2014, I relapsed a few different times throughout the year, with the latter part of the year being the most devastating. It was difficult for me to recognize when I fell back into old behaviors because I went about it differently than I had in the past. The obsessive compulsive and destructive behaviors and patterns were present but the methods were different. In other words, the what and why where the same, but the how was different.  I thought because I wasn't 94 lbs and starving myself that I didn't have a problem. 

In essence - I very strategically yet subconsciously tricked myself.

In fact, I actually gained weight and lost muscle with my new way of restricting. Instead of restricting carbohydrates and sugar, I restricted my intake of other foods like protein and fat and increased my carbohydrates and sugar (fruit) but the underlying pull was the same - a desire to be clean, pure and healthy. At a glance, these don't seem like bad things to desire. Doesn't everyone want to feel healthy? So, looking at it the other way, it is an obsession and feeling that you are dirty, impure and unhealthy and unwell. Now that...that feeling will not only bring you down but disturb any shred of peace and confidence you may have.

So when does this obsession fire a trigger in my brain? Well folks, as I have said in previous posts, it doesn't have anything to do with food. These thoughts and behaviors rear up on their hind legs when things in my life feel out of control and I am frightened or uncertain (aka fear of the unknown). Food is something I can control - of course this is a false sense of control because it actually ends up controlling me. I touched on this in my previous posts on Orthorexia.

Mind you, restricting is never a good idea, but restricting protein and fat is especially detrimental and the crux of it is that I would NEVER coach anyone to do what I was doing.

Red flag number one. I had gotten so wrapped up in this new style of eating (remember, desire to be pure and clean) that I had transitioned to Vegan then onto Raw Vegan and then nearly Fruitarian following an 80/10/10 lifestyle spear headed by Dr. Douglas Graham and his practices. In fact, I did actually try 'The Banana Diet.' What happened? Well, I truly felt like I had gone...bananas. All the while, I had this nagging thought in my head that I needed to heal my body. That there was something wrong with my body.

I'm not going to say that those styles of eating don't work for some people - I'm not them. But the simple fact of the matter is that these styles of eating were extremely detrimental to my health. In fact, I function very poorly on them and become very sick. I actually lost strength and energy and literally felt down-right loopy. Some people DO thrive on beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and very little or no animal protein. I on the other hand, do not. I actually have a true sensitivity to nuts and seeds especially sesame and flax and have a very difficult time digesting beans and legumes. But I ate them anyway.

I ate them because I wanted to be able to, I ate them because I was rebelling against my body and angry at my body for all of the food intolerances that I have (like gluten, dairy, sulfites). Let's back up a moment though, I wasn't only angry at my body for these food intolerances and allergies... I was angry at my body for much more than that. And this is deeply rooted to my past of sexual assaults, abusive relationships, body shaming, and low self-esteem. I was trying to design a diet for myself that screamed health to me - that let me know that I was OK - and in my mind, that was strictly plant-based.

After a just a few months on a strict vegan diet, along with the loss of muscle and disruptive cognitive function, I also developed cystic acne, my eyes become very bloodshot surrounded by dark circles, extreme fatigue, headaches, my hair dry, I become more depressed and increasingly irritable. And, because I was consuming foods that didn't agree with with me and perpetuated inflammation while depriving myself of the foods that I thrive on (like properly sourced animal protein), I started a cycle of binging; which I had never experienced before. I would be floating along 'just fine' and then I would find myself out and about or invited to a dinner and my hunger and cravings would be so extreme and out of control that I felt like I could eat through the night. And then I would leave feeling bloated, with heartburn and full of guilt and shame for eating so much and being that out of control. 

I had this picture perfect image in my head on what health would look like in my life. 

Smoothies every morning! Wheatgrass shots! Green juice and salad for lunch and dinner! Plant-based! Cleanse, cleanse, cleanse! Detox! Alkalize! Doesn't paint a picture of health in your mind?

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Now, some advocates from those types of food lifestyles (aka diets) may argue that I wasn't doing it right or that I didn't give myself enough to heal. That I still had toxins in my body or that the feelings I was having and physical difficulties like fatigue and trouble concentrating were just the side-effects of detox and that I needed to push through.

Some "Food" for thought: This Will Change Your Mind About Hunting

This 21st century notion that we are walking toxins and need to constantly detox is part of what is wrong with the world (I'd say mostly in America). If we go about thinking everything that we eat is going to have a negative impact on our health - well it probably will just by detrimental emotional impact of fearing the food that you are putting into your body. Don't get me wrong, I will always lean toward buying organic and I will do my best to always by properly sourced animal meat and fish but that apple at the airport that surely had pesticides at one point is NOT going to kill me - in the scheme of things, I am better off eating the apple than: a) Starving or b) Eating some gluten-free vegan processed junk. This constant 'oh, I need to detox' or 'oh, I need to cleanse,' is a vicious cycle in our society.

We need to eat a diverse selection of real whole foods as close to their natural state as possible. And we need to be grateful for our food while honoring our body and our hunger. That's it. It's really not that much more complicated. The human body is well equip to take care of any toxins that we encounter and if we are eating real whole foods that are nutrient dense, then we are giving our body's what they need to naturally and continuously cleanse and detox.  

I was not honoring my body and I certainly wasn't honoring my hunger. I lost all sense of when I was hungry and when I was full. I had to get real honest with myself. Smoothies generally make me feel sick, I'm not sure if it's the concentration of fruit and vegetables all once or what but smoothies off all kinds will usually hurt my stomach no matter how slowly I drink them. I seem to be able to tolerate them better during the hot summer days and in the morning. And juice (you know the Cold-Pressed, Fresh-Pressed, High-Pressured, Organic, Non-GMO, Enzyme-rich, Juice Frenzy of the decade) unless it's mostly vegetables spikes my blood sugar - even green juice I need to be careful and drink sparingly. And most nuts and seeds cause digestive distress if I have a lot them.

So, what is this desire to be clean and pure really about it?

Well, I already told you that it really doesn't have anything to do with food and is more about control. Yes, this true but that only grazes the surface. The desire to be clean and pure doesn't even have anything to do with the physical body at all. This desire is deeply rooted on a spiritual and emotional level. This past relapse has shown me that while I made great progress uncovering old wounds that need to be healed and made strides in my recovery, I still have a lot of work and healing to do. This type of emotional healing is a continuous process - though sometimes... we need to go back further to points and times in our lives that may have been too difficult or painful for us to deal with it when it happened.

There comes a time when your soul has to let your mind know that you the issue can no longer be pushed aside - the memories can no longer be suppressed. And that in order to fully heal on a physical level, you need to heal on the emotional and spiritual level first.

Those of you that know me on a personal level, know that I have a tendency to build walls. OK - THICK HEAVY walls. And I tend to keep things inside - only opening up to a few if that - and have a very difficult time reaching out to others for help. I don't even like writing that word. Help. Ah, yes, "I Am a Rock," by Simon & Garfunkel comes to mind.

A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

Transformation is a funny thing. A year goes by and at first I think, "Wow, that went fast." And then, I really think about... and I'm like "Wow... I feel like I've changed so much in last 12 months. Certainly 24 months. And 36 months? I feel like I was a completely different person. Actually, I take that back. I was not completely different but my life was different, the way I lived my life was different, my thoughts were different and my surroundings were different. But the core of me has remained the same - my roots - my values  - my morals. Yet there were moments... moments where I lost grasp of that core. I fell away from my Authentic Self and lived my life according to how I thought I should rather than how I wanted. Out of FEAR, I separated myself - from myself. 

Music is one of the elements that can bring me back to my Authentic Self - that core - and that bring ME back. In fact, sometimes, it is the only thing that will. I have a playlist that I have titled 'Authentic.' When I have that feeling that I have lost my roots and I don't feel like I can trust myself and have lost that connection with my intuition - I put on that playlist, sometimes for hours and slowly but surely, I come back around. I have quite a bit of Simon & Garfunkel on that list. I highly recommend creating our own Authentic playlist to tune into when you are feeling out of sorts - or otherwise 'not yourself.' 

"Just as one must not attempt to cure the eyes without the head or the head without the body, so neither the body without the soul. In fact, one must care 'first and foremost' for the soul if one intends the body to be healthy. If the soul is moderate and sensible, it will not be difficult to effect health in the body; if not, health be difficult to procure..." 

Ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates.

Most people think of health as one dimension: Physical. I tend to think of it as three dimensions: PhysicalEmotional, and Spiritual. Though, truly, it is more accurately six dimensions: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual, Social, and Environmental.

Where I get into trouble is when I focus too much on one of those dimensions and for me, that is typically too much focus on the physical. Then what happens and when I really get into trouble is that ALL six of my dimensions of health fall out of whack.

The first step for me in cure my 'dimensional upset' is to get grounded. Get back to my roots. I mentioned music as one way that I start that process. There are many others.

Things that I do to get ME back (aka Embracing my Authentic Self) and connect to my Higher Power:

1) Get out in nature
2) Do yoga
3) Listen to my Authentic Playlist
4) Talk to my family and/or close friends
5) Meditate
6) Get some perspective and read some books (books of all kinds!)
7) Write (non-fiction, fiction, free-form and all of the above!)
8) Play! Do something FUN like swinging on swings
9) Drive - anywhere
10) Indulge in something that I have deprived myself from (like a decadent piece of chocolate cake - yep gluten/dairy free chocolate cake does exist ;) )

Hiking may trump all others on my Authentic list

Hiking may trump all others on my Authentic list

Coming to the realization that I wasn't taking care of myself and that I had relapsed was somewhat devastating. How could I possibly help others if I was neglecting myself?  How could I, as a Health & Lifestyle Coach, create these beautifully healthy and balanced programs for other people and do the exact opposite and place extreme restrictions on myself? But then I had to remember something. I had to remember to love myself through it. To forgive myself and love myself. To honor my Eating Disorder Demon for serving a very important purpose of giving me a sense of comfort and protection in a time that I was uncomfortable and scared. 

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Once again, I am so very grateful for the people that I have in my life. Some of you are dear old friends, some of you teachers and mentors and some of you are wonderful new friends - I lovingly embrace all of you and thank you for being along side me as I go through the many adventures that life has to offer. 

I find great comfort in knowing that I have a strong support system and I have great knowledge and resources around me to help me through this and keep me strong on my road to recovery once again. Part of this recovery includes abstaining from alcohol as well. Alcohol has a very negative effect on my body and my find and consequently, the other dimensions of my health. It is one thing that will very quickly disrupt the connection and communication with myself and my higher power. 

My Book 'stash' 

My Book 'stash' 

I will be spending time reading through amazing and inspiring books. Some I have read before like Eating in the Light of the Moon by Dr. Anita Johnston and some of them are new to my collection. I've also been spending time on my creating a new Vision Board and tapping into my creativity.  

What's the moral to my long story?

Always, always listen to your body. Trust your intuition. Trust yourself.

Always, listen to The Wind of Your Soul.

I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I'll end up, well, I think
Only God really knows
I've sat upon the setting sun
But never, never, never, never
I never wanted water once
No, never, never, never
I listen to my words
But they fall far below
I let my music take me where
My heart wants to go
I swam upon the devil's lake
But never, never, never, never
I'll never make the same mistake
No, never, never, never

With Love,

-AEB 

My Battle with Orthorexia: Living in Maine, Restoration

Sideways, upside down, inside out, whatever terminology you'd like to insert here, my life has had quite a shuffle over the past month. And to tell you the truth, it feels as though it has been a year. Not in time, no. In the way that feel.

I feel different. I feel calm. I feel at ease. I feel happy.

There has been a shift.

I won't delve into the details of what exactly went on over the past month, but I am now in a new home here in Maine. And, it is perfect for me right now. While a bit challenging at first, in the end, I am so very glad that this move happened. Not only because I'm in love with where I am now, but because there were some important lessons learned and growth had along the way.

My view

My view

Nestled in the lush woods, with views of rolling green hills, unique barns, sheep, and deer, I am resting easy and enjoying the sunrise and sunset like never before. My first night there, I stepped out onto the deck above the budding blueberry bushes to checkout the night sky. My roommate and I shut off all the lights so that we can see the stars more easily.

What we saw immediately went onto my informal list of the 'top most incredible things that I have seen.' The sky was clear, stars bright and appeared closer than I can ever recall seeing them. I was awestruck and then I shifted my gaze below and saw hundreds of fireflies sparkling beneath us. It was magical. Purely magical.

So here I am, going on my fourth month living in Maine. Wow, how very different my life is today than this time last year. Maine is serving a great purpose in my life. I believe wholeheartedly that this move was exactly what I needed. It has not all been beautiful, in the traditional sense of the word and it has not been all 'roses' and 'peaches,' nor has it been easy. There have been some struggles, some tears and some restless nights. Though through that, I have shown myself the strength that I embody, exercised the tools within me to carry me through some rough winds and came out stronger and more focused than I was before.

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While there were some struggles, there were also great breakthroughs. And where there were tears, there were also deep soul-baring laughs. And now I sleep, sometimes for nine hours at a time.

There were two paths laid before me:

One was rocky, dark, cold, damp and full of cobwebs.

The other...

Clear, a bit sandy, some turns, subtle hills and full of sunshine.

I chose the latter, and it was just that simple.

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Many of you know that I have been in recovery from an Orthorexia, a lesser known eating disorder, since March of this year; and near the end of April I made my move to Bar Harbor, ME from Boulder, CO.

The harvest of my pain was its own peace and remedy.

As low as I had sunk, I rose, faith restored from blasphemy.

Body, heart, and soul obscured the path, until

Body melted into heart, heart in soul, and soul in love itself.
— Rumi
Where I like to practice my yoga

Where I like to practice my yoga

I work daily in maintaining a healthy recovery from Orthorexia. Yesterday was the first time that I weighed myself since mid-March. I am up 13 pounds and at a 'healthy/normal' BMI of 18.7 (according to the Centers of Disease Control).

While emotional, this number ultimately makes me very proud. My yoga poses are becoming stronger, the muscles in my arms and legs are surprising the heck out of me and earlier this week I ran my longest run (non-stop running) of 5.7 miles. Think I could have been able to that a year ago? No.

The list of those that I am grateful for continues to grow. You all know who you are, and I thank you each day. Looking forward to seeing how this chapter unfolds.

With Love,

-AEB

10 Ways to Appreciate Yourself

Who better to appreciate you than yourself? Sure, it's nice to have others appreciate us whether it be with words, washing your car, or buying your oh-so-delicious iced chai on a Sunday afternoon but who are we with 24/7? Whose thoughts are we entertaining day-in-day-out? Whose body are we carrying through illness and wellness? Whose emotions are we embracing and battling each day?

Ours.

And, we deserve to appreciate ourselves. In fact, we ought to make it a priority. Men and women.

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Below are some of the ways that I appreciate ME.

10 Ways to Appreciate Yourself

1). Give yourself a "free" morning

A free morning. What is a free morning? A morning in which you can do whatever you please that is free of obligation, free of timelines and essentially, free of duties. Your only duty being to do whatever it is that you want to do. This can of course, last all day if you have that luxury.

There are no rules with this free morning. If you want to lay in bed for hours with your coffee, comfy throw, good book, and indulge in some homemade muffins- go for it. Or, perhaps you want to take this morning to go for a long walk and then enjoy a nice home-cooked breakfast with your tunes playing.

Whatever it is, whatever makes your morning- yours. Do it.

For as long as you can.

Seem impossible with your lifestyle? Create the change you need for that one day to make it happen. Call in a baby-sitter or whatever it is you need to allow for your free morning.

2). 15 Minutes of Daily Vitamin D (aka SUN)

Daily. Give yourself AT LEAST fifteen minutes of sunshine each day (providing it's available). Whether it's popping out of the office and taking a stroll, stepping outside and sitting on a bench or sitting in your own backyard, get yourself under the sun. 

Vitamin D not only lifts our mood, it's essential to a healthy immune system. Go ahead, worship that sun ;)

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3). Buy yourself flowers

I love coming home from the market with fresh flowers that I picked out for myself. A a simple bouquet that catches my eye and gives off that heavenly aroma.

They are yours to look at (and smell) as reminder to yourself of just how much you matter.  And what a difference they can make in a room! Place them in the room that you spend the most time in and stop to smell them and appreciate their beauty each day.

4). Decompress with a walk

I could go on and on about how much I love to walk. I've said for years, if I have adequate shoes and enough food, water, and lip balm, I can walk all day. And it still holds true. The benefits I find in walking are simply endless and, priceless.

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Walking is brilliant because it can both help to collect your thoughts or clear your mind. I find it very meditative. I've had many clarifying moments during a walk. And although I love to be walking somewhere in nature, such as alongside the ocean or in the mountains, a walk can be healing anywhere. In fact, I also love to walk in the city as well.

Whether it's 10 minutes or 60, walking is a way to 'reset' your mind and undeniably one of the best exercises for your body.

5). Give yourself an hour to 'be'

Don't you ever just want to 'be' ? You know, that tranquil state when you aren't juggling multiple things between your activities and thoughts. When you can hear your own breath and your not worried about what time you need to leave your house tomorrow to beat the construction traffic, or what you will make for dinner or the bill you need to pay that keeps escaping your mind.

I'd love to say to do this daily, but I'll settle for an hour a week.

This, does not replace or cut into your free morning, decompression walk, or Time under the sun! This, my dear ones, is an hour all on its own. An hour for you to get away from your engaging life and racing mind.

The beauty of this  hour, is that it may take many different forms. It could be lying still in shavasana with a few stones, or under a tree in the woods. Or perhaps slowly walking or maybe some light stretching (I recommend if you are doing any movement for your hour, that is intentionally slow and gentle). Music can of course be part of your hour (it is your hour after-all). If I have music on during this time, I love to listen to artists like Dave Matthews, Xavier Rudd, Howie Day, India Arie, Bob Marley or soft classic rock like Simon & Garfunkel  &  The Moody Blues or classical such as Bach & Motzart, depending on my mood.

6). Indulge in a good skin cream (yes, you too Fella's!)

Skin is our largest organ. And it's the one that's exposed all of the time. And sometimes, out in that sun. Unfortunately, with those fabulous UV rays comes cause for concern. While your out getting your skin cream, pick up a quality SPF ;) I love Aloe Up, Resort Collection

Now, on to the skin cream. Our skin gets put through a heck of a lot throughout our lives . From scrapes, cuts, blemishes and sunburns, to sometimes more bothersome conditions such as eczema, bacterial infections, or fungal growth.

Having well hydrated and smooth skin is  one of the best feelings (IMO). And not just physically. When something is out of balance with our skin, it's not only annoying, it can also affect our mood and self-esteem.

While, I recommend something that is natural, this is YOUR indulgence. So, choose something that not only makes your skin feel good, but makes you feel good, with a scent that you love (or unscented if you prefer).

My indulgences?Artisana Extra Virgin Unrefined Coconut OilNubian Heritage Indian Hemp & Haitian Vetiver and, L'occtane Shea Butter (their soap is heavenly also).

Enjoy, indulge and celebrate YOU.

7). Smile at yourself (in the mirror)

Yep, this one is easy. Or is it?

Maybe you're standing in front of your mirror and staring intently, or maybe you are just passing by and glance over. Whichever the circumstances happen to be, give yourself a genuine smile. And not one of those fake "hi stranger walking by on the side-walk smile's," a real "hey there beloved friend of mine smile's."

If you feel silly, that's OK, do it anyway. But try, if I may suggest, to take a deep breath and really think about the love that you have for yourself. Think about something that you are proud of about yourself. Or something that you are really excited for that you did or are going to do such as buying your first car, training for a marathon etc.

Don't have anything to smile about? Do it anyway. Every single day. One of those days, you will cross a chasm, and have something to smile about.

Point being, YOU are the one that is getting yourself through the day. YOU are the one that crosses all of those checks off of your to-do list, accomplishes those goals (big and smile) and endures each hardship, each struggle, each obstacle. SMILE. You got this.

I love this version of the song, Smile.

8). Cook yourself a wholesome meal

It perplexes me that so many people go about life preparing wholesome, nourishing meals for their family and friends but when it comes to solo meals, it's cereal, take-out, or a blend of leftovers.

You've worked hard, and you've earned that awesome meal! If you feel like you are on constant overdrive, start planning this meal days in advance and make it count. Get fresh ingredients. Make your favorite. Or, if your like me, do some experimenting and play around in the kitchen for a while.

But most importantly, savor every single last bite. Appreciate each ingredient and the flavor it provides. And whatever it is, have zero guilt. This your meal. Your time. Your body, mind and soul.

9). Write yourself notes

No, not 'reminder' notes (at least not the kind your thinking of) or 'to-do' lists. I am talking about notes to assure yourself of how amazing you are. Notes that help you check-in with yourself throughout your busy and perhaps stressful day. Think of them as mantras or affirmations.

They can be brief, or long, the choice is yours. But use encouraging words and place them somewhere that you can see them easily like a post-it on your bathroom or bedroom mirror, on your dresser, your refrigerator, on your laptop or in your wallet.

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Do this weekly at a minimum, daily is even better. Start a collection. And when you feel it's time to move on, copy them down into a notebook so that you can go back and read them in the moments when life gets heavy. Those moments can come in as quickly as a storm, having that notebook can help to support you and bring you guidance.

Another way that I use my notebook is in my yoga practice. If I don't already have a mantra that I working with that day, I will open it up to a random page before my session and allow that mantra to guide me in my practice.

10). Wear your 'special occasion' clothes

Only, this time, wear them when it's not a special occasion ;)

Have a little black dress that you bought last summer and STILL haven't had a place to wear it? Wear it tonight! Heck, wear it for yourself while you cook your wholesome meal! Or, wear it this afternoon while you cool down with a beverage (your honey may really appreciate it too ;)).

And you too fella's! Do you have a nice blazer your bought and still haven't had the chance to wear? Throw on some jeans, nice (mmm Italian..) shoes, a white-tee, and your blazer and head out! Or, stay in. I mean really, who cares?!? This is all for you.

YOU are the special occasion. Give yourself permission to boost your self-esteem no matter where you are going (or not going). Wear them at home, to the store, to a cafe, for a walk- wherever you are, wear those clothes. 

Be you. 

Appreciate you.

With Love,

-AEB

My Battle with Orthorexia: Recovery, Balance & Moderation

If you missed my two previous posts on my battle with orthorexia, you may view them here: My Battle with Orthorexia (first post), My Battle with Orthorexia: Epiphanies & Recovery, The move to Maine brought on a shift in gears for me. A healthy shift. Driving out here and now being here, I've been looking at food a bit differently. Nutritional therapy that I received before hand, helped with my new mindset. This has been a shift from thinking about food as a way to sustain me throughout the day, to food as FUEL.

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Just as I had to stop to put fuel in Europa (aka my Jetta), I have to continuously put fuel into my body as well. Seems quite simple doesn't it? It is. Instead of obsessing over the amount that I was eating or the specific ingredients, I just ate when I was hungry and  didn't worry about the exercise that I was not getting. In all reality, driving in and of itself sucked the energy out of me and my body NEEDED and DESERVED the time off from cardio and lifting. Not only that, but the day that I moved out of my apartment, in a hurry, I slipped and fell on black ice, pulling a ligament in the back of my right (driving) leg. Coincidence? "Slooooooooow down Ashley," says the Universe.

I had boxes of food with me for my cross-country drive as well as a cooler for berries, meat, hard boiled eggs etc. There was one that that I knew and that was that I didn't want to be caught without food. Looking back on it, it saddens me to know that in my restrictive food behaviors, I was not only restricting the intake of fuel for my body on a 'weight' level but on a holistic level. My nutritionist helped to bring this to light for me. When we are not giving our bodies the proper fuel (from ALL healthy food groups), we are not only effecting our physical appearance but our organs (including our brain), muscles, hormone levels, and a slew of other parts of anatomy that allow for us to properly FUNCTION. When that took hold in my brain, after I welled up with tears, I knew that my behaviors had to change for the safety and comfort of my LIFE.

I eat when I'm hungry, I listen to my body and I try very hard to not dwell on things like why I am hungry when I ate just an hour ago, or why I am hungry before bedtime. I just listen, and respond to my bodies signals. This requires both balance and moderation. 

Balance & Moderation

I  constantly check-in with myself on my eating behaviors to gauge whether I am being obsessive or restrictive and WHY.  Am I afraid of something? Is it a rational thought? Is it a replace in thinking? Is it 'My Eating Disorder Demon' talking? 

These check-ins are subtle. Keeping a food log, journal, counting calories or weighing oneself is generally NOT a good idea for a person struggling with or recovering from an eating disorder. This is true for me. I do not do any of those things.

Eating foods in all food groups is something that have come to embrace (aside from dairy). In my past I have been quite an extremist. Oh, grains aren't good for you? OK, I will eliminate every single grain for the rest of my life. Oh, cinnamon is good for you? Great, I will start taking cinnamon every day until it makes me sick (even though I was indeed taking the 'recommended' dose). Oh nuts and seeds are amazing for you? Awesome! I will chow down on nuts and seeds all day long until those too make me sick.

I did all of those things. And more. Not quite that casually, no, as I did do my research but that's just it. Instead of researching within myself, listening to what I needed; I acted upon outside research based on others experience whom may or may not have had any sort of credentials.

My diet has been consisting of some non-glutenious grains (mostly rice), starches (like squash and sweet potatoes), meats (mainly fish, poultry, eggs and some red meat), all sorts of fruits and vegetables, some legumes and a few nuts/seeds (significantly less that I was). My diet is still clean, yet it is a healthy clean. A balanced clean.

Aaaah yes... and coffee... in moderation... 

Aaaah yes... and coffee... in moderation... 

While I sincerely thought that I was embodying health before, what I was doing was actually depriving myself of the fuel that it needed to truly be healthy. Healthy for my mind, body, and soul.

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And I've returned to my jogging ;) Food = FUEL = ENERGY

Where I once believed firmly that health began with nutrition, followed by physical exercise, I now believe that health in fact, begins with our state of mind.

With Love,

-AEB

Maine Life & More Epiphanies

You know when you hear a quote, phrase, saying or what-have-you, over and over and you nod, appreciate it and then go on your merry way? Or maybe you really ponder it and try to allow it to sink into your being. Or perhaps you even say it aloud to yourself or others. Yet it isn't until that moment, that opening in the air where it really and truly resonates. Where the air feels less heavy, appears less hazy and suddenly you have found yourself stopped in your tracks.

All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer, artist and politician

At least, that is how epiphanies usually feel for me. Especially these recent ones. And the timing of the following quote that my lovely brother-in-law sent couldn't have come to me at a more perfect time because it is exactly how I felt.

That quote gives my goosebumps, even now. We can hear something for years and think that we understand the meaning, and perhaps we do understand yet the words are not truly integrated in the way in which we lead our lives.

While hiking up to Cadillac Mountain and back last week, I had a few of these moments.

Epiphany #1

If you truly focus your energy  into something, you can and will achieve it.

Epiphany #2

You are the only person that owns you and the life you lead.

Epiphany #3

Your thoughts will dictate your life path.
Top of Cadillac

Top of Cadillac

When these 'epiphanies' came to me, it was as if I had never heard anything like it before in my life. I literally stopped mid-carriage road, looked out over the serene landscape around me, furrowed my brow and thought, "Wow..."If you (I) truly focus your energy into something, you can and will achieve it....huh.... so that 'saying' IS true."

I continued to repeat the words over and over as I ascended up to the top of Cadillac. And it made me smile.

Mid-Trek

Mid-Trek

It's like someone telling you your entire life that blueberries are a very tasty fruit. You understand what they are telling you, you may believe their words and you may even smell some blueberry jam and think "sure, yes, blueberries I think would be a tasty fruit," yet you never try them. And then one day, you taste them. You taste their subtle sweetness on your palate and feel a certain sense of refreshment that you hadn't felt with other fruits. Suddenly, you get it. You understand fully the essence of the blueberry.

The other two epiphanies came to me in a similar fashion, and all in that one day (oh yes, I'll be hiking as much as I can on the island this summer ;))

As part of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's quote entails: 

"...but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience."

"Till they take root in our personal experience."

That my  friends, is the key. And perhaps the only way to have that happen is to act upon them - either consciously or unconsciously.

Carrying them out in our lives Living them. Integrating them into our life. Rooting them.

Now that I have written a novel on my experience on epiphanies, I'll give you all a little update on how life in Maine is going thus far.

First of all, "the people" are genuinely nice. Everyone that I have come into contact with has been not only nice, but completely selfless. Not that "hey let me know if you need anything," but the "You be sure to let me know if you need anything at all whether you have questions about the Island, the town, a personal problem, you call me..." And this hasn't been from one person. This has been from just about every single personal that I have met here.

Many have that 'Mainer' accent that some perceive as cold or harsh. On the contrary, they are gentle and sincere people. How very comforting it is to be immersed in a community that cares so deeply for others and for their island.

I continue to be amazed by the expanse of scenery that can be seen on the island. Roads that I drive on almost daily, will still have me pulling over on the side of the road to run out and snap photos. 

Hadley Point

Hadley Point

The Inn that I am working with for the season officially opens tomorrow (May 17th). I've been in training the past few weeks, learning the 'ins-and-outs' of how they operate; which has been both humbling and fascinating. When I attempt to explain what I did as a 'Product Marketing Analyst' at my previous work, I have to laugh at the sheer vast difference in the work that I will be doing over the next several months compared to my previous work. There is no good or bad in that statement- it is simply wildly different. And it has been inspiring to learn and experience the change in my environment.

View on my jog

View on my jog

Oh how I love my morning jogs with views of the sunrise shining upon the ocean, afternoon strolls and the space and time to focus on ME

With Love,

-AEB

The Question & My Move to Maine

The question is always the same:

"Why Maine?" And specifically, "why Bar Harbor?"

Frenchman's Bay, Downtown Bar Harbo r

Frenchman's Bay, Downtown Bar Harbor

Why after 15 years living along the Front Range of sunny Colorado did I decide to go to a small town on and island off the coast of Maine over 2000 miles away?

In summer of 2011, I wanted to take a trip by myself. Somewhere that I could "reset" in the midst of my chaotic and confusing life. During this time I was writing a novel (one in which I may or may not still be writing...). In the novel, I have a couple of the characters from Maine. I decided then, that I would go there for my vacation. Not to research, no, it more or less just helped me decide where I would vacation.

So, I pulled up google maps and with the index finger of my right hand, I circled around the state of Maine, zoomed in and then stopped and said "There, that's it. Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. That is where they (the characters in my novel) will be from and that is where I shall go."

The Shore Path

The Shore Path

I didn't research the island before I went though I knew that I wanted to stay at a Bed & Breakfast on the ocean. I chose the Shore Path Cottage. I booked my stay and then booked my flight (yes, in that order). And off I went for 7 days that July. Epiphanies came, clarity sparkled and I felt at peace. Perhaps those were the aspects that I couldn't shake.

When I left, there were no thoughts that I would ever move to Bar Harbor, but I knew one thing: I would be back.

February of this year, I found myself in a crossroads I had never experienced before. I knew that I needed a shift. A major, life altering, mind bending shift. Anyone that knows me, knows that I am generally a very happy, optimistic, lovin' life person. But, I was exhausted. Exhausted from pretending that I loved my life when I was struggling emotionally, physically, spiritually, and financially. Every aspect of my 'healthy' was...Broken. And, I wasn't asking for help.

I had to not only admit this, but allow myself to feel it. And accept it. I then had to also acknowledge that happiness is a choice. Just as our thoughts are a choice.

Working at a software company in Boulder, Colorado is dream to many. And it in many aspects, it was for me too. My time there was well spent. I learned, I grew and I met some amazing people that I still hold very dear to me. But after three years, my soul was telling me that there was something I needed to feed. Something I needed to explore. Or as I like to say, "feed the rat," an expression I picked up in Australia years ago.

There were thoughts of going back to Los Angeles, exploring San Francisco, New York City, or Washington D.C. And even some job applications that went out. But nothing resonated with me and the thought of actually moving seemed so HARD. Daunting. It came to me one day that what I truly wanted, was to just be. I can't explain that element so I will leave it up to your interpretation. Once I let go of the fear of not having money and the pressure of making other people proud and doing what I thought I should be doing, the decision was simple. I needed a place where I could just be and I needed to stop searching.

So I did. I stopped searching, stopped stressing about where I was working, what I was doing, my résumé, jobs, and what the next year of my life would hold. Soon thereafter, in my yoga session, it came to me. In hot yoga (triangle pose), "Bar Harbor. That is where I need to go. That's it." It was more clear than anything that had ever come to me before. In fact I saw a golden yellow aura around myself. That may be to out there for some of you. Anyway, that night, I began to put things in motion. That was in February. I made my way here the end of April. It took me 4 days and a total of 38 hours of driving to get here.

Below you will find 12 YouTube links to video clips that I posted along the way.

Part 1(Intro)
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12 (Finale)

In the three months prior to my move, I found movers, secured a temporary place to live, secured a job, and the various other odds and ends that moving entails. And although the time of my life was stressful and painful due to other circumstances, the move itself came quite easily. About a week after my move-in, the movers arrived with the rest of my belongings. My oh my, how I adore my own bed.

The view just down the hill from where I'm staying

The view just down the hill from where I'm staying

So, here I am in Bar Harbor. From an apartment (living solo, sans pets), in South Boulder, to a house in the woods on the ocean with three other people, a dog, two goats, and chickens. Three weeks ago, I was sipping my coffee-house Americano whilst checking my countless emails at the office, surrounded by technology. And this morning I was sipping my homemade coffee, outside in the sun whilst a goat attempted to eat my hair and then proceeded to climb into my lap, and spill my coffee.

A typical morning

A typical morning

My how the times have changed. As they always will. But I am me. And in ME, I will be. 

Just me, blowin' in the wind...

Just me, blowin' in the wind...

My gratitude goes out to many for helping me along in this journey. They know who they are.

I have no idea what the next chapter will be.

I'll let you know.

With love,

-AEB

My Battle With Orthorexia: Epiphanies and Recovery

Since my initial post on My Battle With Orthorexia last month,  I've had quite a few epiphanies and breakthroughs that I would like to share with you. I will warn you now that this post will be a bit stream of conscious as I attempt to explain things. 
 

Thank you sweet sister of mine for sharing this one with me

Thank you sweet sister of mine for sharing this one with me

Allow me to first start off by saying, that this is not an easy battle. I've had highs, lows and everything in-between with a few 'relapses' in thoughts and behaviors along the way. What one must recognize about an eating disorder, whether they are personally struggling with one or know someone that is, is that it is NOT about food. 

I know, right?

Just as an alcoholic uses and abuses alcohol as a coping mechanism, a person with an eating disorder uses food whether it be overeating, under-eating/restricting, and/or obsessing as a coping mechanism for circumstances and emotions things that are occurring or have occurred in their lives. The actual reasons behind the need for a coping mechanism will naturally vary from person-to-person. 

This disorder is powerful and strong. And it can indeed, kill you. Recovery from an eating disorder has one of the highest chances for relapse (or lowest recovery rate depending on how you look it) out of many other disorders/diseases and the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Why is this so?

I have a theory on one of the reasons why this may be true... 

We cannot live without food. We all know this. An eating disorder is a type of an addiction. And when you are in the thick of any addiction whether it be mental (obsessive/compulsive) or physical (substance abuse etc.), you are in fact, under the influence.  

Imagine if you will, that for an alcoholic to 'recover' they had to learn how to drink 'normally.' Not quit drinking entirelyThey had to stop their drinking in excess yet still frequent bars and only have a drink or two. And go to liquor stores on a regular basis but get a couple of beers instead of a bottle of whiskey and a case of beer. 

Now, I am NOT saying that recovering from alcoholism is not a feat. Wow, it is an enormous life-altering feat! Though it may explain why recovery rates for those with eating disorders are not as promising. Those of us that have found ourselves battling an eating disorder, are surrounded by food all of the time, from culture-to-culture, day-in-day-out, and we must learn how to eat 'normally' again. 

My Demon, my Friend

My Demon, my Friend

I've named my eating disorder, 'my eating disorder Demon.' But don't get me wrong. This Demon has actually protected me in many ways, has been there for me and provided me comfort throughout a very difficult time. So while I am actively battling this Demon, I am honoring it at the same time. And understand that it served a purpose.

I lovingly release and honor the past and joyously welcome the new.

The past is our past but that's just it, it's OUR past. We lived it. We made it through. We learned from it. And we should love it. Honor it. And be at peace with it. Whatever 'it' may be.

I spent a lot of time and energy pushing my past away. The "I've got this," "I'm fine," "Don't worry about me," "I'm tough," "I'm past that," "It could have been worse," "I don't need help, I don't need you, I don't need anyone..."

miracle.jpeg

The reality, is that with a BMI of about 16.5, I was not only classified as underweight, but severely underweight. Now, I am grateful that this had not gone on for years, but it did go on long enough to where the consequences of being at such a low BMI effected me. And the consequences are not only physical but mental as well. I won't delve deep into that topic but the mental implications can also be vast; such as the inability to focus and extreme obsessive compulsive behaviors. You are indeed, under the influence

So, I came upon some epiphanies over the past week.

Epiphany #1: Control

Life.

Life happens. And for the most part, the majority of things in our lives, are out of our control. And generally, that is OK. Expected. And accepted. But, there are those times that things go completely awry. And then there or those times when go not only awry, but devastated by trauma. 

When an event takes place that derails you life to the point where you feel out of control, you latch on to things that make you feel in control.

I am writing this using 'you,' but I am in fact, talking about myself.

Back in fall of 2010, I had series of life events that left me feeling dis-empowered, helpless and completely out of control. I latched onto three main things that enabled me to feel in control. Hence the word feel, in the end, these things controlled me. I didn't actually have control. 

Sources of 'False Control'

    1) Exercise

    For all of my adult life, I've found great joy in exercise. Whether it be walking, hiking, jogging, lifting, yoga etc., it is, and will remain to be one my favorite things in life.

    Though, I started to use exercise in such a way that it actually stressed my body in times where I truly needed emotional support and rest. I exercised/worked-out twice a day 6-7 days a week for over two years. Even when I was sick. When I was tired. Exhausted. Stressed. In pain. And even shortly after my surgeries. It wasn't a release anymore - it was an addiction. An obsession. But it made me feel in control. Little did I know, it was in fact, controlling me.

    This mind you, happened gradually over a long period of time. And I have since then, toned the exercising down to allow my body to heal during this process. Which in-and-of-itself, has been difficult to let go and give myself and my body permission to rest. 
      
    2) Food/restriction/elimination diets

    I latched onto the idea that there was a 'perfect' diet out there for me in order to feel my best. I've been writing several posts on this so I won't go into great detail but in essence, I used restriction around ingredients and specific food groups as a way to feel more in control over my life. It was something that I could research, tweak, see, and feel results.

    Over the past month, I have slowly introduced specific foods that I had eliminated back into my diet. Some worked (grains such as white rice and corn, added sugar, added starches). Some did not. Gluten, did not. For the same reasons that I initially stopped eating gluten (vertigo, exhaustion, stomach rashes etc). Dairy, did not. And for the same reasons that I had initially stopped eating dairy over four years ago now (heartburn/indigestion, diarrhea).

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    This is how I feel about the gluten and dairy. 

    Most importantly, I branched out. I gave myself permission to eat things that I had not eaten in a long time, even years. And it was scary, but I am also very proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone and I will continue to do so. It's a process. 

    3) Medicine/Doctors

      Similar to my diet, I felt that there was something in my body that needed 'fixed.' Something was wrong. What I failed to recognize, was that the something that was wrong was actually an internal cry for emotional help and support. The something that needed fixed, was on an emotional and spiritual level yet I stayed with the mindset for years that it was on a physical level. Yes, I did in fact have hernias. And I did in fact, have Endometriosis but those were not the sole source of my physical pain and symptoms. Not by a long shot.

      Countless visits to doctors, tests, procedures, herbs, medicines, supplements, and thousands of dollars. It's no wonder that my body was unable to recover and reset back to a state of 'normalcy' as it was constantly bombarded by things that it didn't need or couldn't absorb/breakdown as I was becoming malnourished due to lack of nourishment on both a diet and emotional level. As my nutritionist explains nourishment, there are two types: Nourishment with a capital (N) for food nourishment and nourishment with a lower case (n) for emotional/loving nourishment. 

      This fixation on 'fixing' something on a physical level also brought to me a false sense of control. 

      Epiphany #2: Fight or Flight

      Do you know what physically happens to animal (including humans) when they are in 'fight or flight' mode?

      Well, let me tell you, it's quite fascinating. Here is a website that explains the fight or flight response in more detail. Below are some highlights:

      • heart rate and blood pressure increase
      • pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible
      • veins in skin constrict to send more blood to major muscle groups (responsible for the "chill" sometimes associated with fear -- less blood in the skin to keep it warm)
      • blood-glucose level increases
      • muscles tense up, energized by adrenaline and glucose (responsible for goose bumps -- when tiny muscles attached to each hair on surface of skin tense up, the hairs are forced upright, pulling skin with them)
      • smooth muscle relaxes in order to allow more oxygen into the lungs
      • nonessential systems (like digestion and immune system) shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions
      • trouble focusing on small tasks (brain is directed to focus only on big picture in order to determine where threat is coming from)

      I can't even begin to tell you how much this resonates with with me. Bullet-by-bullet I nod my head. Yep, experienced that. Yep, experienced that. Dilated pupils, veins in the skin constricted, increased heart rate, low body temperature, trouble focusing... Though, I'd like to especially point the one on digestion and immune system shutting down to allow more energy for emergency functions. Wow, did it ever. Chronic diarrhea and various other immune related symptoms is the main thing that plagued me during this time.

      Bottom line, my body quit functioning properly. 

      To an outsider looking in, I had it pretty together. Living alone, working a full-time job, eating 'healthy' foods, exercising, and generally walking around with a smile on my face. But on the inside, I was full of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the relationships that I was in and those that I had left. Fear of what could happen. And most of all, fear of what had already happened that I continuously ran from facing. 

      You see, for years, I was in a chronic state of 'fight or flight.' Why?' you may ask. I didn't feel safe. Simple as that. My sense of safety and security had completely deteriorated. I began to think about this 'fight or flight' situation combined with my lack of feeling safe and secure and as it really soaked in, I reflected back on the times over the past few years that I did feel safe. 

      I can count them on one hand. And all but one of those times were when I was with my Dad. It didn't matter where I was with him. But when I was with him whether it be on vacation or one of his homes, I was generally symptom free irregardless of what I was eating or drinking. I felt safe. My systems relaxed. There was one other time that I can recall and this was when I went on vacation by myself to Bar Harbor, ME (where I am now moving BTW, post to follow). I stayed at a Bed & Breakfast for seven days, right on the ocean, took myself out for meals, ate things I normally wouldn't have and indulged in more wine than I normally would have and I felt great. And was again, generally symptom free. There it is again. My flight or fight response subsided and I felt safe. I allowed myself to relax. To be

      Now, this doesn't mean that I need my dad wherever I go (although that would be kind of cool because he's pretty amazing), but what it does mean, is that I need a balanced life on an emotional, spiritual, and physical level in order to establish a sense of safety, security and peace. 

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      I don't have a step-by-step guide on how I will do this, but I am getting there. By loving myself, by trusting myself, listening to my body, forgiving myself and forgiving others. I could go on and on, but those are some of the things that I am currently focusing on to help me in breaking free from 'fight or flight.' Here is another great site on fight or flight. 

      Epiphany #3: Deprivation

      Someone asked me not too long ago, not "What do you do for fun?" but rather, "When do you have fun?"

      I just looked at him blankly. There was really no answer that I had for him. I pondered this for a bit and came to the conclusion that the only time I really did have 'fun' was on the rare occasion that I was around my family or when I was alone hiking, writing or traveling. Alone. Mind you, I do rather enjoy being alone, but it had gotten to the point of isolation. Depriving myself.

      In learning more and more about restrictive eating disorders such as orthorexia, it's very common and almost always the case that the person also restricts (deprives) their lives in other ways.

      Why? To feel in control. Safe. Secure. 

      Like waves crashing in, there was a steady flow of realizations that hit me of other ways in my life that I deprived myself. Laughter, fun, socializing, love, indulgences such as alcohol, rest/relaxation, sleep... I started to write them all down and suddenly my life started to make a little more sense to me. Things became a bit more clear.

      Allowing myself to let go and release has been an invigorating experience. There has been fear, no doubt, but it's getting easier. And it makes me smile.

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      As I am writing this, Sting's 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot,' just came on. How very fitting. I think I'll be listening to this song often ;)

      Aids in my Recovery Process

      Professional Guidance

      I've been seeing both a nutritionist and therapist that work solely with those recovering from eating disorders. They have both helped me immensely in getting to the why behind my eating disorder,  learning how to be gentle with myself, forgive myself, putting things into perspective, understanding what it takes to truly fuel and nourish the human body and much, much more. 


      Recovery Stories

      I am especially fond of this one

      Affirmations

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      Books

      Eating In the Light of the Moon has been my favorite thus far. I recommend every female read this book whether they are struggling with an eating disorder or not. I also recommend that those supporting someone with an eating disorder read it to better understand their condition.

      Louise Hay and Crystal Alandrus' inspirational books (and audio recordings) have been a huge part of my recovery and although I have not met them in person- I feel like they are part of my life. You Can Heal Your Life, is another one of my favorites. 

      Others I am reading: The Passion TestThe Power of Myth and Healing From Trauma

      I adore books ;)

      Meditation, Yoga & Metaphysical Work

      Meditation, yoga and metaphysical work really could be an entire new post (as all of these could be). So rather than going in deep on this topic, I will simply let you know that all of these combined have not only helped me in my life path and recovery but have been part of a life transformation on a body, mind and spiritual level. 

      'Lifelines'
       

      When I am struggling with a relapse in behavior or struggling with my Demon in thoughts, I text, email or call one of my friends, my mom or my sister (if I am not actually with them). In other words, I TALK about it. I voice it. The support system that I have is truly a gift.

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      And with that, I will end this post and say thank you again to those that have helped me along the way and continue to support me. How very blessed I am to have you in my life.

      With Love, 

      -AEB