“How can I be expansive and free and still be loved? Am I going to be a lady or am I going to be fully human? Do I trust the unfolding and continue to grow, or do I shut all of this down so I fit?”
-Glennon Doyle Melton (Love Warrior)
I have always been pretty good at learning things from books, or so I think. I have always valued my smarts, my cognitive abilities, my academic pursuits. I suppose that makes sense, given that I come from a family of teachers. My Dad, Mom, Grandma, aunts, uncles and many in my family were formally trained as teachers, and many of them taught until they retired. Today I view every person as a teacher. Every person I meet may have some bit of wisdom or some lesson to teach, if I stay open to hearing it. But I digress. Some readers may want me to return to the next chapter of my story, and get on with distilling some of those lessons I have learned about body awareness.
When I went back to read the first part of what I wrote yesterday while preparing myself for today, I realize that I revealed a bit more than I thought wanted to share out on the world wide web. It reminds me a little of Brene Brown’s Ted Talk, in which she described a “vulnerability hangover” after she confessed her “
breakdown -> spiritual awakening” to a group of what she thought was just a few hundred people. If you have not heard Brene Brown’s Ted Talks on the Power of Vulnerability or Listening to Shame, please do so. I am serious. They are about 20 minutes long, and they are gold. After watching the videos, I bought and read every book that Dr. Brown has written, and a few of them are in my little book pile of recent influential books below.
I have always had this tendency, when I feel like an author is speaking directly to me, I then go and read all the books they have ever written. This is what happened to me about 14 years ago when I discovered Martha Beck. I started with Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live. To this day, when Martha comes out with a new book, I am likely on the pre-order list because I think she is a modern day guru. She basically invented the concept of life-coaching and her wisdom is unmatched when it comes to career exploration and figuring changes you may need to be more aligned with your soul’s purpose.
So I promised more of my story, and I keep trying to deflect and talk about stuff I learned in books rather than stuff I learned through my own experience. Whew, I guess that is because it is so difficult to share one’s personal story when it reveals what we consider something about us that is “weak” or shameful. Brene Brown explains that “shame is an epidemic in our culture” and tells us that empathy is the antidote to shame. When we consider the shame so many of us feel about our bodies, about the things we are supposed to control, about the ways we are supposed to behave but cannot, it is no wonder we are the most addicted, over-medicated, depressed people in the history of the species.
I began realizing that I was using food and alcohol to buffer my emotions, and to not feel the things I needed to feel, in order to point me in the direction of my truths and my my soul’s calling. In my nurse practitioner’s office in July 2016 I realized that, even though my health numbers seemed fine, I was not fine. I knew it. I knew that coming home each night and feeling a strong urge to have a glass of wine was an indicator, and it was a warning sign to me. While I am not an alcoholic, I wondered what I was trying to avoid. Having been through depression before, I realized that I never wanted to go there again. That dark fog has been present in my life probably 3-4 times and it had been years since I had gone there.
So I asked my kind fiance to help me stop drinking for 10 days, just to see if it would make a difference to my quality of life. The first thing I noticed was: I had some really uncomfortable emotions coming up that I did not want to face. Fortunately a friend at the time shared a similar struggle and desire to give up drinking. She pointed me in the direction of Brooke Castillo’s podcast.
One of the most important things I learned here was that emotions are just vibrations in the body. They pass like waves, and they are fully endurable. Those of us who afraid to feel our emotions sometimes may have learned that emotions are dangerous. We are not “supposed to” feel sad, angry or disappointed. But these human emotions are universal. We may not like them, but we all feel them. When we learn to embrace all of our emotions, knowing that they will not destroy us, we become in tune with the messages of our body, which are delivered through our emotions.
Geneen Roth’s book, Women, Food and God: an Unexpected Path to Almost Anything was recommended to me by a therapist and it spoke to my concerns about the constant weight struggle. Years ago (in college, in fact) I had read Feeding the Hungry Heart, back when I was first learning about how I had used food to numb my emotions. It was my first clue into why I struggled so much with food. But at that time, I learned the lesson academically, not through mindful work with my own experience.
Working with a therapist on some of the issues I had around commitment and vulnerability in relationships, I realized what I really was trying to avoid. I was trying not to be seen for who I was. I was trying not to show up as an angry, hurt or vulnerable, and trying to push down the reality of those feelings.
As I started fully awakening to the possibility that I would not always have to use food to calm my feelings, I began to use my awareness of when I wanted to eat, especially outside of mealtimes, and what that was telling me. When I went to the fridge prior to a uncomfortable 1:1 call I needed to make to a direct report, rather than eat, I took a moment to reflect and ask: what is making me uncomfortable, that I want to escape my emotions and eat instead? I started tuning into that thought stream and doing a “thought download” (handwritten journal entry) every time I felt that urge to eat, to explore was was really going on in my head. It was no coincidence that I had been studying meditation for about a year before that, and starting to learn how to calm myself and observe my thought-stream without getting caught up in it.
When I read Glennon Doyle Melton’s book Love Warrior in December 2016 I felt as if she was speaking directly to me. I went on a vacation with my sweetie in Hawaii, where I was able to go to a wedding of two close friends from college, marrying each other after 20+ years of being a couple. I had lost about 12 pounds in the 4 months before that, and I brought a couple of books along to read on vacation. Glennon was putting in words things I had not yet even begin to understand, about my relationships, about my struggles with food and my fear of vulnerability. I must quote her because it is too good to paraphrase (from p 113 of her book):
We’ve spent our time together talking about everything but what matters. We’ve never brought each other the heavy things we were meant to help each other carry. We’ve only introduced each other to our representatives, while our real selves tried to live life along. We thought that was safer. We thought that this way our real selves wouldn’t get hurt…At our cores, we are our tender selves peeking out at a world of shiny representatives, so shame has been layered on top of our pain. We’re suffocating beneath all the layers.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Preach, my dear.
Dear Reader, it is now time for me to go to work again. I had thought this might be a 2-part series, but now it appears that it may have to extend it one more day. (Who was it who said: I could have made this letter shorter, but I ran out of time…?) I still have not explored how yoga has helped bring me back into my body (and out of my head, where I tend to live). And this entry is far over a thousand words, which I think may be the limit for a concise and readable blog post. Do you have comments? Do you have feedback for me? Feel free to share anything you would like in the comments section below. Disclaimer: I am not getting paid to promote books. I have an Amazon affiliates account that may pay me something like a penny per book if you do end up clicking through my site to order something. But that is not the point of the links – I really just want to share some of the learning I have done and the teachers that have guided me along the way.