Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Image of Body

I've put on more than 20 pounds in the last two years. The first ten, many will tell you, I needed. The second ten, however, I didn't. But in the grand scheme of things they are just numbers, sizes, extra flesh and fat covering my body that is still sexy, still looks good in the right dress and a fine pair of boots, that is still considered to be in pretty good shape--especially three kids later.

And most days, I am content with it. My body serves me well, and is certainly only one part of the whole quantum structure--including thoughts, feelings, and mechanisms of life--that contain me. But today, I am torn between being a woman who doesn't let societal standards of beauty define me and a woman who stares at the thickening upper arms in the mirror and wonders how I got back there. The linebacker.

My mom used to tell the story about when I was a baby and the doctor examining me for my check-up commented on my wide shoulders and sturdy one-year-old frame. "She could be a linebacker," he chuckled. And we always laughed at the retelling of it.

The reality is that I was never really overweight until after my second child--despite the teenage chatter about my thighs being too thick, or my belly curling over my jeans only when I leaned over (if only that were the case now!). Sure, I put on weight with my first baby, but I was young and active--and while I never went back to those pre-baby jeans, I certainly retained a healthy weight for a young twenty-something.

With my son, it was different. I was closer to 30 and craved hot dogs and big macs. I put on pound after pound in my second trimester after my doctor warned me that I wasn't putting on enough weight. A year after he was born, I was still 40 pounds over my natural weight and miserable. It was the pain from my diseased gallbladder than finally kicked in the weight loss--foods high in fat triggered a pain comparable to labor and as I waited six weeks for surgery, I dined on only the finest vegetables, fruit, and bread. Even lean meats would induce a daggering effect under my ribcage--and the weight fell off, and continued to fall for three months until I became pregnant with my third child.

And the weight climbed, steadily and healthily--just as it should when nurturing a new life. And I didn't worry about the weight. I ate well, and gained well, and after my baby was born I set my sights on fat-free foods and just right portions.

And then I got sick. Real sick, and the lines began to blur between my state of mind, my body's reactions, and the motivations behind not only my physical digestive ailments, but also the psychological beginnings of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in which I had thought germs were contaminating my food. (Read other details of my experience with this here.) There are so many different facets of what began as the flu and what ended as some strange mix of OCD and Anorexia, that I have spent the last two years pulling out each piece and examining it. This piece here, I'm realizing, is the body image part--which until recently, I didn't think was actually involved.

But as I struggle to fit into the jeans I bought six months ago, and I resist putting on the pants that I swam in two years ago, I understand that I truly wish to be thinner. I look at photos of myself (there are not many) when I was at my lowest weight in the winter of 2008, and I long to see the bones of my hips and wrap my hands around my upper thigh until my thumbs touch. But I know--also--that I was not well. My body may have been thin, but it wasn't healthy.

I was having heart problems, pain and odd rhythms, enough so that I had to wear a heart monitor for 30 days which recorded every palpitation that luckily came out to be harmless as far as heart disease and such was concerned, but it was a signal that my electrolyte balance was off. Nutritionally, I was not feeding my body enough calories, and so the amount of energy I was expending daily was akin to running a marathon. In less than six months my body mass index (BMI) went from 24% to 18%--the low end of the "normal" scale, and was the signal to my physician that I needed to see a nutritionist to make sure I was eating enough. Which, of course, I shamefully knew I wasn't.

And so I would look at that thin body in the mirror and tell myself it wasn't good, even though I felt that I looked fabulous in my new jeans and my niece's skin tight tanks and tees. But I was cheating, and I was miserable. Anxiety ridden at every meal and without any appetite to speak of, I forced myself to eat so I wouldn't kill myself slowly. Other things began to change--outside elements that healed my aching heart and cleared my cluttered mind--and I gained new perspective. I began feeling hunger again. I began feeling other things, too, like desire and happiness. And all this helped. I was eating consciously, but healthily, and slowly I'd introduce different forbidden foods back in my diet.

But now I'm finding--as the scale tips in the other direction--that so has my appetite, and also my feeling of once again being out of control of what I am eating. Stuffing myself with sugar in many forms: cookies, candy, sweetened teas and feeling like I can't shut off the valve. The numbers on the scale climb back up and the majority of the clothes in my closet don't fit, but I don't understand it because I always likened overeating with a state of unhappiness, and I'm certainly not unhappy these days. Instead, I am now beginning to understand that my relationship with food goes beyond the markings of the scale, beyond the last few years and my struggle with OCD, and even beyond the linebacker comments of my early childhood. Instead of nutritional need, food has a place in my life as something that controls me, or needs to be controlled. It is manipulation. It is comfort. It is greed. It is love. It is loneliness. It is sex.

And so this isn't really about body image after all. It is about my ability to redefine, once again, the role that food plays in my life. To understand that my discomfort with my growing waistline is more about being out of control than it is about being overweight, and to try and understand that. My body is the vessel within which my soul moves about in the physical world. It is the piece that ties me between the spirit and the earth, and it deserves as much attention, love, and nurturing as the rest of me--no matter what shape or size I may be.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

October Choices

I've recently gotten to the point where life gets in the way of passion. Where I long to write, but stare at a blank page while my mind races with things left undone. Where I feel no desire to play, to sing, to dance--until I'm in the midst of doing those things, of course. And I am reminded that in order to be our best Selves, sometimes it takes a little force, a little dragging, and often a lot of patience and acceptance of the times in which we feel the need to retreat, once again, deeper into ourselves.

Last fall I wrote an article for a local magazine, Little Village, that discussed fall as a time of gathering and retreat. It's not only the animals that forage and store up for winter; It's not only the trees that drop their leaves and turn themselves inward. It is people, too. And so I've learned to go with the feelings of retreat and not worry that there is something wrong if I no longer wish to stray from home on a Saturday night--even if it will be my last chance to do so for a while. I've come to greet the turning inward as a time to digest the whirlwind of summer, to reflect on what's come before and make choices about what I wish will be.

Choices. We have them. Always.

The choice to embrace change, or the choice to fight it. Last year I wrote a song called October. At its core, it's a song about transitions. And while the word "October" doesn't actually occur once in the entire song, it embodies some of the bigger changes my personal life has gone through--many of which in the last few years began in the month of October. On the first of October in 2004, my now former husband and I bought our first house. In October of 2005--right around Halloween, we found out I was pregnant with my third child. Two years later, in the month of October--my husband and I separated. The following year, in October of 2008, our divorce was legally finalized, and a year after that, again on the first of October, I bought his share of our home and became sole owner.

But this October will bring a different change. While my boyfriend's car sits in my driveway awaiting his October return, my exhusband is back in my home--temporarily sleeping in the basement. By October 1st he will be gone--taking a job a few states away, and hoping the space will provide him with a much needed new outlook. His leaving will mark a new era for our children, as they negotiate living with a long-distance father, and I know the change will affect each of his children in different ways.

I also know that there is much that I could fear, but that I am making the choice not to. I've had advice from friends and family members who insist that I see a lawyer right away--they worry he will take the kids, or not pay me enough money. They worry that I will be left either with everything, or nothing. They worry, and I understand their worries, but I can not swim in them. In order to keep my Self--and my children--afloat in the next big transition I must continue to rely on the strength that has gotten me through each big change in my life. That strength comes from a faith in knowing that good will prevail, that I don't need to spend my time fretting about what COULD happen, and rest in the knowledge of what IS happening and what my choices are within that space.

And what IS happening is a shift in relation. Despite our differences, I know that he is a good man who is making the choices he believes are going to help him become a better person. I know that our children will survive, not without bumps and bruises, but with a whole lot of wisdom--and a community of friends and family who will continue to help me care for them daily. I know, that at the end of the day, what matters most is how I choose to react to the change.

My children will take cues from me on how to choose to react. The most important choice being that I allow them to feel their feelings, and also that I show them strategies to shift those feelings with a change in thought, in scenery, in music. I could choose to be angry that I'm left doing it "alone" or I can revel in the fact that I get to be with my children, and that I'm loved and supported by others who get to be with them, too. I'm no fool. There will be days when all I will want to do is howl and scream, when the kids will act up and the money won't replace the man, when I've not had a moment to myself for weeks and I'll feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. But those times, too, will become lessons learned. They will be moments to let flow and rise above. Moments to feel and then heal. Moments to rely on the love of others, and the strength of family and friends.


I can choose to suffer alone, or I can be strong enough to know when I can't do it mySelf.


I can choose to be afraid, or I can choose to Trust that everything will work out just fine.


I can choose to believe that my children--and even I--would be lost without him in our daily lives, or I can choose to believe that the distance will provide a space in which understanding and compassion can prevail.

So this fall, as the weather cools and I once again look forward to spending most of my evenings at home, I have much to reflect on. And it is my hope that reflection will give birth to a new kind of strength--the kind of strength that surpasses my fingertips in order to hold together the hearts of my children.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mind Over Matter

For the last few years I have diligently managed to prevent illness in multiple ways. At first, it was the manic hand-washing and careful observation of what touched my mouth, ears, and eyes. Around the same time, I was also doing some heavy reading on the Law of Attraction, The Secret, and a book called, Feelings Buried Alive Never Die (see my earlier post about books, here), and I began visualizing myself in a protective bubble of sorts--imagining that the energy around me was filled with golden light. I'd place that bubble on my kids, too, each morning as I dropped them off to school, or before they entered the infamous "germ pit" play area at the mall.

But as I dug deeper into my beliefs about mind over matter--essentially putting to test my fear of germs against what I knew to be true about illness in the body--I didn't need those outside forces to keep me healthy. In my new world view, it is trouble in the Soul--the Self, the Spirit--that sends signals to the body. The signals often come through subconscious memory, to the mind, and lastly rest in the body. The headache is a signal that something isn't going quite right--often, that there is resistance to whatever is occurring in the Now, and the task then becomes one of figuring out what is amiss in your heart and mind, rather than how many milligrams of Execedrin to take. The scratchiness in the throat is more about the hurts you've swallowed, or the anger you've not expressed moreso than because Strep throat is going around the neighborhood. And while I certainly don't discount germ theory entirely, or the magic of a pill from time-to-time, what's more important to me is the knowledge that my body can heal itself--quickly and completely--when I've tended to my higher Self and taken the time and space to heal through meditation, imagery, and sometimes even the help of my Doctor. She is a doctor who works to clear interference: the energy that gets in the way of the body's ability to heal.

And this is how I've operated for a long time now. While those around the office hack through winter months, and friends recount stories of stomach bugs being passed around the home, I feel confident that because I am spiritually healthy--and because I pay attention to my own body's signals (they come first in the form of feelings, and if ignored--aches) that I am able to continue a state of health. It's been a wonderful way of being, and I understand not only how to maintain a state of health--but also ways to shorten the duration of an illness I may get--without the use of antibiotics or cold medicine.

I am very thankful to have this strong belief about my body's ability to be healthy and heal itself, and so I was caught a little off guard a few weeks ago when I woke on a Monday morning with a sore throat and developed a low-grade fever by Tuesday. After a day full of rest, I was nearly back to complete health but I still could not pinpoint the moment in which my immune system could not work its magic any longer. I could not consciously figure out what was stirring so deep inside that my body was ailing so much.

In the end, I came up with this: I had been overloaded with the idea that I had to stay in a 9-5 job to keep my family afloat financially, and the thinking was causing me to feel very restricted. I want to change the idea that I can not make money doing what I love (writing, music, making connections with artists of all kinds) and because the desire to change what I am doing is so strong, my resistance to where I am Now career-wise is even stronger. In my fight came misery; in my misery came poor health. It was as if my Soul was saying: "You want out so bad right now? Fine, here you go. You're too sick to go to the office today, and again tomorrow." So I got out of sitting in my cube for a couple days, but I also didn't have the energy to do anything else. I cried hard at one point, understanding that if I want to move from Here to There, that I've got to appreciate what I have Now and step up, instead of continually fighting against what I'm "required" to do. In order to attract the experiences and people in to my life that will allow me to be a stable financial and emotional source for my family, I must feel those possibilities, believe in them, and at the same time be grateful for the road that gets me there: including the cubicle in which I dare to dream.