How to Eat Intuitively (You Already have Everything you Need)

In the days of incessant dieting, the concept of “intuitive eating” is alluring and it is somewhat of a trending topic as of late in the health community.

I can eat whatever I want?

Yes, actually you can! 

But, there is a but (of course). A beautiful little caveat. 

The Key to Intuitive Eating:

In order for your body to give you the proper signals of what it needs, it needs to be fed well in the first place. 

Think of it this way, for a tomato plant to grow and pull in the nutrients it needs and position itself appropriately to sunlight, it needs nutrient dense soil, plenty of water, access to sunlight, and proper support. A tomato seed will not sprout let alone thrive if it’s covered with a layer of gunk and it’s only source of food is Gatorade. We know this innately and if you’re a movie buff, you saw it play out in Idiocracy (one of the most brilliantly stupid movies that I have ever seen - I actually think my IQ lowered watching it but that is a testament to the brilliance of the film).

Likewise, you cannot expect your body to tell your brain “mmm I would love a nice salmon fillet and a big salad with some cheese and olives for dinner,” if you fancy a candy bar and energy drink for breakfast and a chemically infused cheese burger, processed bun, and sodium ladened, inflammatory fries for lunch - nearly all void of nutrients. No, those food-like products when eaten on the daily actually confuse your brain and can cause impaired memory and learning, anxiety, depression and can lead to a number of diseases (more on that here).

What we eat and drink literally fuels every single part of our body, including our brain.

Photo by    Brooke Lark    on    Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

This post isn’t to deter you from ever reaching for a container of full fat delicious ice cream, or from chowing down on a sodium-rich (hopefully responsibly raised) hotdog, or indulging in a cocktail on occasion, but it is to give you encouragement to make those indulgences 5-20% of your diet and 80-95% real whole foods as close to their natural state as possible for the rest of your diet. The 80/20ish is something that I have embraced in my life for many years and I have found it has not only worked for me but it is has made it possible for me to naturally and authentically eat intuitively.

To be healthy, you do not need to be restricted. In fact, that is a contributor to an unhealthy lifestyle and detrimental to both for your physical and emotional wellbeing. Restriction is not a sign of willpower, the willpower comes with the balance.

Eating can be very joyous and pleasurable. And, indulging is not only good for your body for harmony but your mind and soul as well. Food and particularly sharing both cooking and eating with others has been ingrained in cultures all over the world for hundreds of years. Very few things beat sitting around a table with loved ones and enjoying a wholesome home cooked meal filled with nutrient dense delightful bites. I’m a firm believer that if something is homemade and made with love - it has health benefits no matter what the ingredients are (so please, welcome Grandma’s Chocolate Cake on special occasions!). BTW, there are numerous quantifiable studies that have been done on the importance of dining together, hit up Google if you’d like to dig in.

I’ve talked to some who follow a strict 80/20 or 90/10 rule and follow the guideline during the week and binge on the weekends. While this may seem tempting, I caution you as this could be a wide open door to disordered eating. Binging in any form does not typically set us up for success. I prefer to get my 5-10-20% daily with delicious dark chocolate, coffee (if you consider that an indulgence), some olive or avocado oil potato chips here and there, some oat bread (though I’d argue that’s part of the 80%), or a gluten free cookie etc.

When your body is fed with nutrient dense whole foods, it’s set up to intuitively feel and give your brain signals on what you are truly craving. If you’re like me those cravings are: Salmon, dark chocolate, fresh veggies, a big bowl of fruit, nuts, oats, eggs, a (preferably venison) steak, and yes even some french fries, chips, french toast, pizza, and ice cream every so often. This is when you can begin to form a trusting relationship with your body. After fueling your body (80-90% of the time) with nutrient dense foods, if your body wants something you consider an indulgence, chances are you should trust it and just eat the thing. I don’t recommend curbing that craving with a substitute - rarely does that work long term. A few macadamia nuts will not take your french fry craving away. The key, is setting your body up for success to give those true intuitive signals in the first place. When you do this you will have less urgent cravings for purely indulgent foods.

A couple of rule of thumb guides around cravings:

  • If the thought of it makes your mouth water, the craving is not coming from your body’s intuition (unfortunate I know!) and it’s not hunger

  • If the craving is urgent but you are not actually feeling hungry, it’s not coming from your body’s intuition and it’s not hunger

  • If the craving is urgent and you are hungry, it may be your body’s intuition - start off with nutrient dense foods and eat slowly to determine how much or how little (or any at all) of the indulgence you truly need

  • Hunger is often gradual and lends you the ability to make thoughtful decisions on what you will eat

  • You can absolutely still follow a craving but just be aware of that situation so that you can eat more mindfully

We are bombarded with diet plans, weight-loss regimens, and images of what we should look like yet surrounded by food-like products that don’t support our wellbeing. It’s no wonder so many people feel at a loss.

Paleo, Keto, Raw, Raw Vegan, Macrobiotic, <insert trend here,> all work for a time despite their polarity. Why? Because they all (if followed correctly) eliminate processed food and introduce more natural foods. You do this and you will feel better and you will almost definitely shed some pounds, it’s that simple. Not only that, but folks who adopt these trendy diets usually start changing other aspects of their health too. They start working out more, walking, meditating, listening to self-help podcasts, reading self-help books, taking up different fun and playful activities such as SUP or dancing - you do this all in combination with removing processed foods and you are going to feel better regardless of which trendy path you take with your meals.

The diet and weight-loss market in America is worth 72 billion dollars annually (2019 research report). While folks are taking less diet-pills a trend of the 80s and 90s, and taking on more do-it-yourself programs (i.e. read something online and then do it), remember by following someone else’s plan - you are denying yourself the chance to learn about what works for you. There is nothing wrong with researching but remember that your body has all of the answers when given the opportunity.

You know more than you think do when it comes to what to eat.

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With love,

-AEB 

 

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 &nbsp;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 &nbsp;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 &nbsp;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 &nbsp;on  Unsplash

Photo by Chris Ensey on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love, 

-AEB

Face Value is Destroying Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love, 

-AEB

You Did Sign Up for This

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

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

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

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

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You signed up for all of it.

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

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With love, 

-AEB