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

Face Value is Destroying Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love, 

-AEB

You're Being Judged

You’re being judged. 

Everyday. 

Judged by yourself. 

And, judged my others. 

Judged by people you know, love, and trust. 

And, judged by strangers. 

We know it. 

We feel it. 

We judge others. 

And, we judge ourselves.

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

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

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

I'll offer another story:

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

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

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

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

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

Why would those judgements come to my mind? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Are You? Who Am I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Daniel Bowman,  Unsplash

Photo by Daniel Bowman, Unsplash

On that note... 

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

I am a yogi. 

I am a hiker. 

I am a runner. 

I am a cook. 

I am a writer. 

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

Suddenly, there is an identity crisis. 

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

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

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

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

I am not a yogi.

Currently, I do yoga. 

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

Photo by Morgan McBride,  Unsplash  

Photo by Morgan McBride, Unsplash 

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

Fifty Shades of Orthorexia: Including Grey

Those of you that know me, know that I am equipped with an extreme personality. Grey is hard for me. Middle is hard for me. Subtle is hard for me. Waiting is hard for me. In between is hard for me. Balance…is hard for me.

*Note: Fair-warning that many of my paragraphs and sentences in this post will begin with an I. 

You’ll either find me with my phone in hand, ever-connected, or, I am nowhere to be found with my phone on Airplane mode accessing only the camera and notepad.

I either have my music on the loudest decibel or I am relishing in complete silence. 

I am either involved in one activity after another – working, jogging, yoga, hiking, cooking, cleaning, errands – or I am laying in savasana doing absolutely nothing.

I am either teetoll’ing it, or I am indulging in a few (or several) nightly cocktails.

I have the ability to thrive in the middle of no where – nestled comfortably in the country – miles from any major city with sounds of roosters and crows peacefully waking me in the dawn hours, or smack dab in the middle a city – downtown amid the around-the-clock sirens, horns, hollers and, screeches.

I am either an Unconventional Cave-Woman Paleo-er… or  a Virtuous Raw Vegan.

I am all natural, or bright hot pink lipstick.

I am an all in... or... all out girl.

I am all black. Or, all white. 

It’s the in between that makes my palms sweat. The middle-sized towns with things like Walmart, Home Depot , car washes, and chain restaurants that are missing the local cafes, mom-and-pop hardware stores, and farmers markets but far away from the cityscapes, fitness studios,  fashion districts,  coffee houses, and Whole Foods.

Obsessions. Extremes. Addictions.

All of these lie at the heart of Orthorexia, an unhealthy fixation on being healthy - specifically eating healthfully.

Obsessions and addictions are interrelated and so often serve as distractions - anything to get us outside of ourselves rather than looking (or living…) inward.

To explore this notion of distraction a bit further, watch the video below with Amber Valletta on her struggle with living with addiction.

An eating disorder (ED) is very much like an addiction. When I am active in my eating disorders (Orthorexia and Anorexia), I am all-consuming. Utterly fixated on my food… specific ingredients, where they are sourced, whether or not they are organic, availability (will I be able to get these ‘superfoods’ if I were to travel?),  how clean they are, how much I will eat and at what times, and perhaps the biggest one of all – how it will effect me physically, mentally, and even spiritually (i.e. "will eating this raise or lower my vibration?") 

My addictive personality only amplifies my predisposition to live in an extreme way.

Coconut is a miracle food? Oh, coconut EVERYTHING! Lip-balm, hair mask, sunscreen, lotion, cooking oil, coconut water, coconut milk, coconut meat, coconut butter, anti-fungal, anti-viral….Ok really coconut is a miracle food but I have taken it to an extreme. And have even been called, “Coconut Head,” on more than one occasion.  Another example would be my most recent rabbit hole, of living as a Fruitarian. Consuming not one, not two, no…not three, but upwards of twenty bananas a day. Yes, twenty. And no fats or protein other than the minuscule amount that is in fruit and vegetables. So this meant no nuts, seeds, or legumes either. On the surface, it was an honest attempt to ‘heal’ my body from illness, disease, and pain. 

Image found on: https://www.facebook.com/WellandGoodNYC/photos/a.175204979693.120205.91915774693/10153660388004694/?type=3&theater

The eating disorder(s) for me, only begin to scratch the surface. Beneath the fixation with food and being the healthiest that I can possibly be, I discovered that it was once again about control (a false sense of) and fear.  When I cut through the bullshit and take a good look back on this year and what sent me deep into the abyss of eating disorder insanity, the situation became very clear to me.

Earlier this year (2015), I felt scared. I felt defeated and helpless. And, I didn’t want anyone to know. Especially myself.

*Note: I have learned that denial with oneself can perhaps be the most damaging form of self-sabotage

Events that prompted my (recent) ED relapse:

This is not to BLAME any of these circumstances – these were stressors that occurred and triggered my Eating Disorder Demon

  1. Change in positions at place of employment
  2. Frequent travel for work
  3. Laid off from work
  4. Unemployment
  5. Selling/giving away belongings
  6. Moving out of my apartment
  7. Moving to a different city/town (3 times)

I was numb to my emotions and went on autopilot (survival mode).

I didn't admit ... to anyone that I didn’t feel ‘OK,’ that I may need some help… Instead, I ran. I left where I was living and went back to to a place that felt safe and comfortable.

I have learned that people (myself included) are doing the best that they can with the knowledge and resources that they have at the time.

While the debate is still out whether addiction is a disease, it is in fact, a mental illness. I am of the opinion that it is both. Addiction is complex, and wildly difficult to treat. 

While my intention wasn't to write about addiction - I feel that the behavioral aspect of addiction is so closely tied to that of Orthorexia, that I simply can't write about one without acknowledging the other. It seems that the word 'addiction' or 'addict' has a common connotation of drugs.. alcohol.. sex... gambling... but what about everything else? What about being addicted to things that are seemingly healthy?  Exercise, health foods, detoxing, cleansing, cleaning, working... even things like cooking, fishing, knitting... seemingly harmless - joyful activities can become an addiction. 

I'm reminded of an article that I read on Goop, "Why We're All Addicts." The article is so on point, that I could quote it all - so I implore you to give it a read. Though, below is an excerpt.

“Addiction is inside you no matter how far your soul has evolved.
The truth is that each one of us possesses the same attributes that fuel alcoholic binges, restrictive eating patterns, and marital infidelity. Yes, addiction is inside you no matter how far your soul has evolved. It resides in your psyche and binds you together with all other addicted beings in the world. Addiction is archetypal. This means that we all share its energy in the unconscious part of our psyche. It is a feeling that we know instinctively and is imprinted in our DNA. We could not shake it if we tried...
So, what is addiction anyway? This is a question that has sparked some debate in recent years. One contingent of prestigious psychologists considers it a genetic disease, while others would argue that it is a learned condition brought on by the trappings of one’s environment. I respectfully disagree with both of these theories. As someone who has faced my own addiction for over 30 years, I have come to know it well. It is my belief that addiction is simply energy. It is energy that flows through the body and lodges itself in the mind. Initially, it saturates the body with a sense of longing and fills the mind with invasive and obsessive thoughts. These repetitive thoughts will not cease until some sort of compulsive act has been committed. Here is an example. There is one homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cookie left in the tin and you are thinking about it relentlessly. You have already eaten two and by no means are still hungry but still have the urge to eat the last one. In fact, it is difficult for you to concentrate on anything else until it is in your mouth. You have just succumbed to addiction. Addiction is the inability to control your urges in the face of potentially negative consequences. You are attempting to stay healthy and that cookie does not correspond well with your proposed fitness program. But you couldn’t control yourself so you ate it anyway. When this behavior becomes a pattern, you are in the throes of an addictive cycle...
It is my belief that addiction is simply energy. It is energy that flows through the body and lodges itself in the mind.”
- Dr. Carder Stout

So here we are - faced with choices. Choices of extremes. Choices of balance. Black or white. And if we look close enough, we begin to see the shades. All of these different shades. 

What I a coming to understand is that Grey – grey represents flexibility.
Grey is neither good nor bad.
Me.

Me.

Fifty Shades of Orthorexia

*Note: This list pertains to behaviors, thought patterns, and actions when I am in the depths of my ED (not recovery)

  1. In the depths of my ED, I become numb to feeling, both physically and emotionally
  2. I deprive myself of the nutrients that I need to properly function
  3. Emotionally I shut down to feeling
  4. Eventually,  I am unable to cry
  5. It's difficult for me to relate others
  6. I lack empathy
  7. And physically, with little to no food to digest... or only digesting one type of food (like fruit), one cannot feel the food in their body as much
  8. You're literally empty inside
  9. I become infatuated by this emptiness
  10. And find a certain type of comfort in the nothingness
  11. When I succumb to the tight grip of Orthorexia, I lose sense of my roots
  12. I become off balance
  13. I am not grounded
  14. As an Orthorexic, I have a constant need to feel 'pure and clean' 
  15. On the flip side of that desire to feel or be 'pure and clean,' I think that there is a belief deep down inside of me that feels I am 'impure and unclean,' I am working on that
  16. When I feel impure or unclean, I find it nearly impossible to accept myself
  17. Or love myself
  18. No amount of green juice, salads, fruits, water, herbs, supplements, showers, detoxifying cleaners, yoga, running, or saunas, will make me feel clean or 'detoxed' 
  19. Orthorexia offers a false sense of control
  20.  Restricting my body of nutritions is one of the ways that I punish myself for things that I have not forgiven myself for
  21. Not only do I restrict my body of nutrients, but I will also find ways to deprive myself of other joys in life
  22. Joys such as going out with friends,traveling, having adventures, taking (healthy) risks
  23. Orthorexia becomes a way that I sabotage myself
  24. When Orthorexia is ruling my mind (and life), I act out of fear
  25. And make rash decisions
  26. When Orthorexia is ruling my mind (and life), I am in flight or fight mode
  27. (My) Orthorexic practices provide a false sense of safety
  28. (My) Orthorexic practices provide a false sense of security
  29. Through regimented and methodological behaviors
  30. When Orthorexia is ruling my mind (and life), it's difficult for me to relate to others
  31. Or feel accepted 
  32. Orthorexia becomes a way that I isolate myself 
  33. When Orthorexia is ruling my mind (and life), the way that I eat is not sustainable
  34. And therefore, I have an easy excuse to have to deprive myself
  35. Orthorexia causes me to feel that there is constantly something wrong with my body
  36. Orthorexia is way for me to feel safe in a world full of uncertainties 
  37. Orthorexia fuels my addictive and obsessive personality 
  38. The stress and anxiety of dining out causes me to lose all sense of focus 
  39. Or the ability to stay in the present moment 
  40. Or the ability to truly enjoy the the taste of the food in my mouth
  41. Stopping for a quick bite turns into an hour or more of finding something that is suitable based on onerous or impractical requirements  
  42. Because I am not getting the nutrients that I need, I lose all sense of my hunger 
  43. I eat in fear and worry 
  44. My body is so deprived that my mind is consumed with thoughts of food
  45. Thoughts different recipes occupy my mind
  46. I obsessively read about food, recipes, and stare at restaurant menus as though I haven't eaten in days
  47. Because my hunger gauge is off - I become uncertain of my portions. Is this too much food? Not enough? Is this a normal amount to eat for dinner? Should I be having less snacks? More?
  48. I become uncertain at the times of the day that I should eat rather than relying on my hunger cues
  49. And when I do have a mouthful of something that I have deprived myself of - my anxiety sky rockets with worry about what it will do to my body (even if it is something that is known to be healthy like sweet potatoes)
  50. My passion is health, sometimes, I allow my passion to turn into an obsession

Before I close, I'd like to thank Dr. Steven Bratman, who coined the term Orthorexia in 1996, for all of his time and work into the study of Orthorexia. 

"Enthusiasm for healthy eating doesn’t become “orthorexia” until a tipping point is reached and enthusiasm transforms into obsession.
Orthorexia is an emotionally disturbed, self-punishing relationship with food that involves a progressively shrinking universe of foods deemed acceptable. A gradual constriction of many other dimensions of life occurs so that thinking about healthy food can becomes the central theme of almost every moment of the day, the sword and shield against every kind of anxiety, and the primary source of self-esteem, value and meaning. This may result in social isolation, psychological disturbance and even, possibly, physical harm.
To put it another way, the search for healthy eating has become unhealthy."
-Dr. Steven Bratman

I am learning to live and be comfortable with grey. Embrace grey. And dance in the glorious and delicate balance of the rainbow of colors that surround grey.

So here's to the Grey... and everything in between, 

-AEB

 

Anitya: Processing and Embracing Change with Grace

Let me just tell you, that you can change the circumstances in your life. I’m not saying that it will be easy. In fact, I am willing to bet that it won’t be. But, I assure you that it is worth it.

We all feel the desire to create change in our lives, but we don’t always act upon it. In fact, I think we often don’t. We, as humans like to be comfortable.  It is during those times that we are really comfortable with our life that it seems a force far greater and more powerful than ourself comes in and throws a wrench in our perfectly predictable and relaxed routine - and a dust storm obliterates our white picket fence.

This isn’t to say that we need to be constantly changing our lives (habits, routines, lifestyles etc.), though change need not be feared - but rather accepted, welcomed, and embraced. 

Change, the heartbeat of life, is inevitable. It is through change that we continue to evolve into the best versions of ourselves with more awareness, perspective, and gratitude.
Change is… variety. And what is it that ‘they’ say?
Variety is the spice of life.


The process of change is simple.

·      You decide
·      You act with intention

Now, this isn’t to say that it is predictable. There will be unforeseeable events. There will be unanticipated people, places, and things that catch you off guard. But, with each minor change involved in a major change, you still take it day-by-day… or, hour-by-hour… or, moment-by-moment.

Over analyzing and excessive worrying will make the process incredibly more challenging, or it will stop the process all together. This, my dear ones is commonly referred to as: Getting in your own way.

Yes, there may be situations that are part of your physical (i.e. external: children, pets, possessions  / internal: chronic pain, auto-immune disorders, diseases) or mental (disorders/illnesses) world that are unique and need to be properly considered. It’s important to view these things objectively rather than allowing them to block you from making a necessary change in your life. They are not blockers. They are simply factors. They are part of your equation. They have a function. Learn how to manage them. Better yet, learn how they can work in your favor.

Photo Source: http://i.livescience.com/images/i/000/036/124/i02/shutterstock_112794550.jpg?1359486624

Get well acquainted with all of the facts of your life. Know what isn’t going to change (i.e. your height or nationality), what you want to change (i.e. your career or weight), what you don’t want to change (i.e. your pets, kids, spouse or place of residence), what may change (i.e. the amount of wrinkles around your eyes as you age or who your colleagues are), and what will inevitably change (i.e. the weather or political leaders). Lay it all out on the table. When everything is out in the open, things become less scary and more manageable – and easier to accept.

Processing change requires perspective.
Have you ever completed or watched someone else complete a jumbled rubix cube? It may take time, and it may look messy during the process, but with patience and perseverance, the cubes will align, the colors will match, and the cube will begin to make sense. Often it takes looking at a situation (cube) objectively- to gather the information needed to make sense of the seemingly (impossible) chaos.  Often – it is not that something cannot be done; it is simply that we didn’t have enough information to choose a different way of accomplishing the task.

As soon as you believe that there are no options – that there is no way out, you’ve boxed yourself in.

Once the process of change begins, it can be extremely invigorating and liberating. This energy is hugely powerful! Although you may feel superhuman during this time, you still need to give yourself time to process and time dedicated to the things in your life that you enjoy and wish to stay a constant (yoga, meditation, music, time with friends, jogging etc.). Skipping these things for a long period of time may leave you suddenly feeling lost and out of touch with who you are…you see, with change… you are still you.  It may be - that part of the fear of change lies in the fear of losing ourselves - of not knowing who we are anymore. Without the same front door we walk through, the same café we frequent, the same hair we pull back into a ponytail, the same driveway we drive up, the same familiar faces at the grocery checkout, the same route to work, or the same hand we hold on our evening walks – it’s difficult to stay grounded with who we are at our very core. Change, whether initiated by you or by someone/something else, doesn’t strip the you away from you. You are still you. And, you still need to rest. You still need to eat. You still need to breathe. You still need to live your life. 

Omitting the processing part is a short-term solution born out of the desire to get to the next destination/phase/point as quickly and painlessly as possible. Which is actually a protection mechanism. But this sort of instant gratification – will catch up with you, maybe days, maybe weeks… but more than likely months or even years later. Often times, we don’t neglect this part intentionally… we plow through change on autopilot, wanting to stay strong and “make it through,” and then the aftershock hits us. Which is why it’s important to stay grounded within yourself and aware of how you’re responding and feeling before, during, and after change.

Meditation, yoga, breath work, stillness, music, journaling, nature, and talking with close friends and family are all awareness techniques that can be used to help process change. It’s important to have multiple forums as they all provide a different sort of perspective. For example, what you will discover within yourself while out on a hike in the mountains in solitude is going to be much different than what you will discover while talking to your sister over dinner about the events in your life and how you feel about them. Yet each is equally important.

Whether you change your hair, your place of work, your place of residence, your status from ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single’ or visa versa, or the car you drive, the necessity to process the change is still relevant – regardless of the perceived significance. The weight of change is relative. What may seem like a minor, insignificant change to one person may be a major significant change to another.

And what about the changes that aren’t something that you wanted or intended to create??? A spouse leaving, a loved one dying, being laid off of work, a catastrophic event, an unexpected pregnancy…The fact that something wasn’t anticipated or planned for doesn’t mean that we skip the processing part – it’s a change – a shift in your life. And deserves proper acknowledgment.

Welcome change into your life, become comfortable with the state of change

  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
  • Get comfortable with the unknown
  • Get comfortable with impermanence

Where there is Anitya, there is a way

Anitya (or Annica in Buddhism), is a Sanskirt term symbolizing the concept of impermanence. 

The Buddha explained that we should not become too attached to our bodies and their sensual experiences and thoughts that arise from them, because the attachment to our bodies and to life causes us great dukkha, suffering and misery. Sense contact brings us sense experiences which we then term as desirable or undesirable. From this judgment arises the desire to re-experience similar sensual experiences, which lead directly to attachment. This attachment then leads to a great thirst or craving for the experience. Soon we are entrapped in the need to continue such experiences, for we feel we need or want them. But all experience is very momentary. Hardly have we grasped onto one, when it disappears and a new attraction grabs our minds. Soon we are enmeshed in a great, complex web of desire, all of which is very transitory, and thus unsatisfactory.

The Buddha stated that for us to become free from the constant round of rebirth and suffering, we would need to realize the changing nature of things in its true perspective, so that we could free ourselves from the need for certain experiences, attachment to self and to the illusion of permanence.

One of the major causes of dukkha is our puny attempts to make impermanent things permanent. We want to amass and hold on to things which please our ego concepts. We strive to hold on to youth, to wealth, to fame, to romance. All of these experiences are fleeting. They arise, mature and disintegrate. It is not change itself which causes the greatest pain, it is our resistance to this change that causes the real dukkha. The Buddha again and again explained: “Impermanent indeed are all conditioned things; they are of the nature of arising and passing away. Having come into being, they cease to exist. Hence their pacification is tranquillity.
— http://www.buddhismtoday.com/english/buddha/Teachings/041-anitya.htm

There is always an option. There is always another way – an alternate route. 

Here's to Anitya, 

- AeBailey