Tuesday, September 13, 2016

clarity

today i started 40 clear days.  meaning no alcohol or mood changers of any type. i've never tried to go any expanded amount of time without being able to relax with a glass of wine.  i have friends that do "dry july," which i've never consider doing, since that's my birthday month.  i have friends who have done cleanses, which i just never really felt called to do.  and luckily i never get sick, so i'm never forced to go on breaks while on antibiotics.

but last week i decided i wanted to do 40 clear days.  kind of spontaneously actually.  i texted my bff and told her and she immediately signed up. ("signed up" means she said "ok, i'll do it too!") over the course of the next few days before i started, a few other friends committed to their own variations of the theme.

and then, last night, right before i started, i added a challenge: a challenge that is way scarier than going to dinner or bars with my friends and watching them drink; way more horrifying than feeling left out of a social situation; much more terrifying than fomo.  i decided that i'd try to stop counting my calories for the next 40 days.

counting calories is something i've been doing some version of for 25 years.  i don't write everything i eat down anymore, and i don't keep track of each day's input and output now, but i still keep a running tally in my head every day.  i know that my usual breakfast has 450 calories.  i know i usually run 6 miles a day.  i know i usually have -250 going into lunch.  i check my daily mileage tracker regularly to see if i get to count extra calories as "burned."  i try to fit extra activity in where i can and automatically subtract it off my total consumed for the day.  ...the math is constant.

harlem street food, exhibit 1.
and it's also exhausting.  my brain gets quite consumed by this activity.  when i'm bored in a meeting, i recalculate for the day.  when i'm eating, i'm actually calculating calories. i can't concentrate on conversation at the dinner table until i've figured out the calorie count.

so i decided to experiment with letting it go--since i was getting clear.

today: i had my usual breakfast.  so i knew how many calories there were without having to do any work.  i ran an hour, and i knew how many calories i burned, so i didn't have to do the math.  it wasn't working.

so for lunch, i skipped usual options and went rogue.  i went to a cart on the street and bought a falafel pita: something that would've taken me several attempts and re-attempts until i decided which calorie total was closest to the truth.

while i was eating it, my brain actually tried to start adding things up.  SEVERAL TIMES.  so i pulled up an article and focused really hard on reading it while i was eating.  and then went right to the next task and kept yelling at myself: DO NOT THINK ABOUT HOW MANY CALORIES WERE IN THAT WRAP.

very occasionally, cat is calm.
i had a few more meetings.  i prepped for evening teaching.  i went to yoga.  i rushed back to teach and grabbed a snack en route.  i knew there were 250 calories in what i was eating, but i didn't know what to add it to.  i didn't know what my total was for the day. it hurt my brain not to think about it, but i pushed it away as i rushed into the classroom. 

i ate dinner watching tv. i kept quieting my mind.  but writing this is still quite an effort in non-addition.

however, it's 1am and i don't know my daily total.  i don't know if i'm "over" or "under" for the day.  the mental energy to not add, subtract, and re-calculate all day was almost equal to the amount of energy i would have expended doing so. i assume it will be easier tomorrow.

and, if it isn't, i'll just scratch cat behind the ears and think about  how much a glass of wine would help me forget about counting calories.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

creating ease

—> friday afternoon
i walked out of my second movie ever last night.  watching sausage party made me physically sick to my stomach. the rape culture that exists in our society was never so visible.

but spending any of my time writing about that movie is not what i want to do.  i left four friends in the theatre. i texted them and told them that i would be around the corner at a bar.  but i didn’t end up staying there: i sat down at the bar, ordered a glass of wine, started to cry immediately, and then promptly left and took an uber home. 

when i got in the uber, i had a few tears trickling down my face.  the uber driver told me not to be sad; i was too pretty to be sad. 

that command, combined with the implied cartoon rapes i had just watched, crashed down a wall blocking a lot of sadness and anger.  maybe even rage.  i began crying hysterically.  loud sobs were heaving from my body. 

i texted my friends at the movie; i texted a best friend abroad; i texted my gf.  tania called, heard me hysterical, and upon learning i was almost home, immediately followed up with my friends at the movie to ensure they were coming to attend to me. 

(what was the uber driver doing, you ask?  turning up the radio to drown me out.)

before tania even texted them though, my friends from the theater were on their way.  they all crowded into my bedroom, soothing and comforting me.  i was feeling guilty—that they had not gotten to eat dinner, that they hadn’t had a fun night out, that they would regret that they “had” to spend their evening this way.

of course that’s not what any of them were feeling.  and their check-ins later in the evening and the next morning confirmed that.  the gratitude i have for friends that are willing to chuck everything out the window to make their way to my side at a moment’s notice is… well, it's everything.

and this afternoon, here i am escaping to a yoga retreat in upstate new york: leaving the internet behind, leaving most of my every-day support behind, and venturing into soul-space.

space for my journalling, my sketching and doodling, my blogging, my chanting and meditation, and my yoga-ing. no bad movies, no uber drivers, no bad juju. 

—> insert yoga weekend 

we talked a lot this weekend about ganesha—who happens to be one of my favorite deities.  he is generally known as “the remover of obstacles,” but one of our teachers (deb) flipped that a bit and called him “the creator of ease,” which i really liked.  kenny told a story about him (oh, ps, he has the head of an elephant), where ganesha is the one who is under your foot, supporting it, when you lift your foot to take a step.

creating an easeful path, helping you move forward. 

just like my support team.

this is a blog of gratitude (i know, common theme), but also a reminder.  a reminder to 1) use your support teams without question: your friends love you and want to help.  and 2) to reflect that back out to all your closest friends: see what you can offer before they ask.  mirror mirror.

love/gratitude/support xo

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

no.

disclaimer: this is one of the harder posts to share. 

when i teach about sexuality and the importance of enthusiastic consent for sexual activities, we talk about all the things that don't count as consent.  for example: assuming that because someone is ok with naked kissing that they want to have sex.  or assuming that because someone has had sex with you before they want to have sex with you again.  

or wearing someone down and getting a "yes" after 97 "no" replies.  

there's even an activity that is used in some sexuality courses where we give two individuals a role to play:  one is trying to get a "yes" from the other; the other is instructed to only say "no" to the first. what happens is that inevitably the person saying "no" is worn down; it is exhausting to say no so many times.  

i consider myself to have high sexual agency and am intelligent about my actions and reactions.  and yet my protective self-armor was worn down yesterday.

i was left feeling very angry.

i posted on facebook that i had a bad experience. several friends texted, offering support in numerous forms. one friend didn't think i needed support though, and she simply told me: "No matter what you go through you always come out on top, you're not just a fighter, you also inspire. That's why I love you Spring." 

it was nice to have various forms of support, but it was also nice to hear my strengths reflected back to me.  most friends i shared all the details with were very supportive; even creating new plans with me about how best to feel happy and safe.   one friend, however, replied "how could you let him treat you like that?" 

i know that friend cares about me deeply, and was angry at what had happened.  but i did not let him treat me badly.  it is this whole situation: the bad behavior i experienced as well as that response that led me to get over the fear of sharing this and to write this.

i've experienced other similar situations, and i know many of you reading this have as well.  the range of sexual assault is wide, and all too often hidden.  i work in sexuality and sexual health, so i felt somewhat responsible to share this story.

through this post i hope to 1) inspire--maybe you have a story you haven't ever shared or haven't told more than a couple of people, or maybe you want to share this story with others as a form of education; 2) start conversations--talking with peers and young people about consent and how it should look is an ongoing job; and 3) remind people to respond with unequivocal support to anyone who has experienced any form of sexual assault: blaming someone (even with a "how could you let him..." text) lays more burden on that person.

as a friend of mine, i'm asking you to challenge "typical" gender roles of males as aggressors, of females as conquests, as any gender as more powerful than another.  speak up when you hear friends or colleagues reinforcing them: it's up to all of us to make change. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

you can't judge my body

a boy recently dumped me because he didn't like my body (too skinny).  at least, that's the reason i interpreted from the one minute break up conversation. 

why does this reason piss me off more than any other reason i've ever heard in my life?  i'm so glad you asked.  BECAUSE I HAVE SPENT YEARS TRYING TO LEARN HOW TO LOVE MY BODY.  the last thing i need is someone else telling me they don't like something about it.

when i was thinking about this a little more today, i thought "i don't think anyone i've dated or been friends with has ever judged my body."  i mean i have, for sure.  but i had to scan each person in my life until i finally remembered one other:  a guy i was casually hooking up with about 4 years ago, who was 21 and very buff (and on steroids), told me after sex one day "you know, you could stand to do a few squats." 

i responded "i'm 32; this is the best it's gonna get, honey."

and then i proceeded to never again have sex with him.  but i did start doing a lot more squats.

why?  because i was still very intertwined with my bulimia.  i had just run a marathon; i was nearly the skinniest i've ever been.  i was teaching tons of fitness classes; i was well toned.  there was no reason i should have felt bad about my body, but of course i did.  and hearing it confirmed from someone i had just had sex with tore at my ego.

but this one last week--it hurt way more.  in a totally different way.  i have done a FUCK TON of work to love this body just as it is.  not because of its shape.  but because it houses a beautiful and brave soul.

no one gets to judge my body: no one gets to say i'm too fat.  no one gets to say i'm too thin.  no one gets to say i need to do a few more squats.

INCLUDING ME.

re: that one minute call last week: i don't think i'm maddest about the judgment received or the self-judgement inflicted afterwards; it was that i didn't stick up for the years of work i've done.

i respect each person's unique fetishes and attractions.  i respect each person's decision to date who they want. 

but i really respect myself, and my body.  and so, my gift to myself today, on my 8th wedding anniversary (if i still do that type of thing), is to come to my own defense.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

love letter

let me situate you in my life right now:
  • yesterday i went to art therapy and was talking with my therapist about how i was fearful about the idea that other people may not approve of my lifestyle.
  • on the way home from that session, i listened to a podcast and heard this: "i got married largely because i was trying to please my mother... neither one of my marriages seemed to make her particularly happy. so it occurred to me that i didn't need to get married to try to make someone else happy. only person i could make happy was me... so I don't need to get married again."
  • this morning someone i started seeing recently called me and told me that they didn't want to date me anymore.
this afternoon, here i am, feeling fiercely independent and yet very unsettled. i taught yoga right after the upsetting call this morning, and it was hard to teach.  i centered myself for a few minutes before the class and then taught a class on twisting and releasing.  i expected to leave feeling a little more full, but i had a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

the feeling in my stomach was familiar--it was the feeling that used to always trigger binging and purging.  i recognized this and texted a few friends.  texting friends meant that i was less likely to do it: i would have to answer to them later.  i then avoided eating lunch out of the fear that it would lead straight into a binge session.

then, at 4pm, i finally ate something. and didn't binge.  and didn't purge.

i think inherent in risking lots of emotional connections is that i'm sometimes going to feel unsettled about relationships in my life.  but it also means that i have a lot of other people around to talk to when i need extra support.

and so i owe my lovely independence that i love so much to you all.  xo

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

butterfly

i found this old journal today, with entries from march 2006-may 2008.  let me tell you what just happened to occur during this period of my life:
  • i started binging and purging; 
  • i became consumed by bulimia; 
  • i met the person i thought i'd spend my life with
...and subsequently avoided dealing with the eating disorder because many of its symptoms were masked in the early stages of this relationship.

there were other events of course: a few weeks in italy, visiting my sister who was studying abroad;  my own study abroad experience in germany, with many additional trips around europe; the successful defense of my dissertation; and getting engaged.

though i was just completing my phd, the journal reads more like a young adolescent's diary.  the painful extremes i felt in relation to food and to my body were hard to re-read.  there was shame embedded in the writing, and i felt immediately ashamed while reading my own words from ten years before. i cried, without realizing why. later this afternoon it clicked: i was mourning the years i lost, the experiences i lost to bulimia.

in an entry i wrote while in london, i talked about an amazing gym i went to.  in an entry in an airport, i wondered whether the bathroom was crowded and whether there was an empty stall with a sink in it that i could use to throw up.  and though this part wasn't an entry, i was reminded of my stay at a hotel the night before a flight back to the US where they had an all you can eat buffet bar. i went back up the buffet several times until my binge cycle was complete, and then i went up to my room to throw up.  i clogged the toilet throwing up and prayed i wouldn't get charged any additional fees.

during this period of my life, my whole being centered around bulimia (which i affectionately called "mia," as if it were a friend).  i knew there was a disconnect between my mind and body: i wrote about it, i drew about it, and i summarized articles and books about it.  but i also wrote about the need mia was serving in my life.

in the parts of the journal where i wrote about this new relationship with billy and then engagement, it was scary to feel the differential between how i felt about myself and how i felt about him. i mused to myself today that there was no way my relationship with billy stood a chance.  anyone reading this could tell that all of my attention was focused on mia.

reading back through this journal gave me the range of emotions any loss spurns (the loss of experiences over the past several years): i felt denial in the first readings; like "it couldn't have really been like this." i felt anger at myself for taking so long to recover, for somehow ignoring all the things i knew. i felt deep sadness for myself and those that were in my life that weren't receiving my full attention.  moving through the grief was how i spent a majority of my afternoon (while multitasking through my day).

and, on the other side, i felt acceptance for where i am now; happiness for the support i have in my life; gratitude for the ability to change.

June 29, 2016: butterfly
that ability to change though.  yes i still think about food and exercise more than the average person.  yes i still panic about desserts or missing a workout.   yes i still workout on vacation. 

but i am not the same person i was then.

on the first page of the journal i wrote "i'm waiting to become the butterfly; i'm 1/2 way there--"

so much gratitude that i kept evolving.  and for all those on the journey with me.

and so much hope for anyone else going through that shit.  or any shit.  because if i can get from "mia is my closest friend" to butterfly--there's hope for anyone. 

evidence that change is possible.  that miracles happen every day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

24 years (un)strong: cycles

this piece is originally posted on cycledork.com, but re-posted here for blog continuity.

i have struggled with eating disorders for most of my life, though i have only just realized how long.  through writing this piece it became clear to me that i started the practice of ignoring my body when i was 11.  after practicing that for so long, it's no wonder that it can seem normal to me.

i’ve written before about how long it took me to start listening to my body and its signals.  oddly enough being obsessed with my body was directly related to ignoring it.

when i think through the increased severity of the stages of the disordered eating choices i’ve made throughout my life, i can track the inverse relationship to being present in my body.  it may sound evident, but the effects of engaging with an eating disorder affect every part of sense of self.

--age 11: not allowing any fat in my diet
when i was young, my best friend’s mother started counting fat grams.  it was all the rage in the early 90s, and my best friend and i started counting as well; it seemed like a fun game.  i got pretty competitive with myself and tried to keep my fat grams just under the minimum suggested per day.  i stopped eating things i liked.  not because i wanted to lose weight; not because i wasn’t happy with my body.  i loved the game aspect of it: so much so that i didn’t care that i couldn’t eat cake at my friends’ birthday parties. i learned very quickly to ignore wants and cravings… for the sake of the game.  i invented reasons "oh, i just don't like cake; i never have!"

as a result of the extreme fat deprivation in my diet, i had severely dry skin.  my mom tried to get me to eat a spoonful of olive oil each day.  i refused to, but pretended i was by pouring a tiny bit out of the bottle each day. the low percentage of body fat then prevented me from getting my first period until i was a couple months shy of 15.

--age 21: becoming obsessed with exercise
i continued the fat gram counting, and later recording of fat intake and exercise output for years.  i didn’t become obsessed with exercise until i became a fitness instructor in undergrad.  the culture of teaching fitness is that “more is better” and i bought right into it.  i was teaching 8-10 fitness classes a week, and i went to at least another 5 a week for fun/experience/whatever i told myself was a good excuse.

ignoring body signals is pretty necessary when you are doing way too much exercise.  muscles hurt. injuries happen.  and ignoring them is the only way to continue that level of exercise. 

the length of my cycle extended during this time: i was having periods with less frequency and i wasn’t sure if it was normal for me or if something was wrong.

--age 23: restricting calories
i went on a hormonal birth control method at 22 that caused me to gain a lot of weight, despite me not changing my eating or exercise patterns. i panicked.  for the first time in my life i was upset with how my body looked.  but, i felt like i knew what i needed to do: eat less calories.  my eating got very competitive.  i tried to eat the fewest number of calories i could per day: this got down to about 600-800 a day.  and i was still working out 1-3 times a day.  the weight did begin to come off.

however, i was starving all of the time. i learned to ignore the hunger pains, and to hide them from others.  i would bring snacks to my grad school classes as a cover.  it would be one of the only things i would eat that night, but i wanted it to seem “normal” to other people.  i would eat the snack part way through class, trying to keep my stomach from making noises.  but it must have looked suspect as i broke a granola bar up into 6 pieces and slowly ate them over the course of an hour, watching the clock to keep it evenly spaced over the hour.  the reason i realized this was obvious was that one of my professors pulled me aside after class one day and asked me if i was experiencing any eating issues.  i laughed, and told her i had just gone off the birth control i had been on, and that the cause of any weight loss was probably a result of that.

during this time in my life, my periods were pretty irregular.  i often took pregnancy tests, certain it wasn’t a result of my diet.   but i was never so concerned that i thought of changing any of my exercise or dietary behaviors.

--age 25: binging and purging
i went through a break up, most likely the result of me being obsessed with calories and food instead of my life.  after the break up i finally decided to allow myself to eat food.  but i didn’t know how.  i would end up binging and eating so much food because i felt so hungry.  the next day i would then add a few hours of exercise on to my regimen to make up for it.  i was spending all day exercising, doing a little work on my PhD, and then binging.  after a few weeks of this, it became unmanageable.  and one day i ate so much food that my stomach hurt so badly that i couldn’t do anything—not even sit there.  so i made myself throw up.  i didn’t even know how to do it, but the food came up.

i immediately felt addicted to throwing up.  i had just saved three hours of excessive exercise for the next day and i was elated.

my choice to binge and purge involved extreme levels of ignoring my needs.  i had to mentally leave my body during the binge session: eating that quickly and that volume of food is not comfortable.  after a binge session, i never even remembered what tv shows i had watched during it: that’s how far i was from my body during binging. after binging came the purging.  even though i dreaded doing it, i would throw up and throw up until it was all out.  my throat would be raw, my eyes would bulge and look bloodshot, my hand became cracked and dry and would get cuts from my teeth.  i would fall asleep exhausted and wake up dehydrated with a headache.

i began to go to therapy the same week that i started throwing up.  in my head, i had just developed an eating disorder.  but in reality, i had been engaging with disordered eating for 14 years. 

it took me another 8 years to figure out that ignoring my body’s wants and needs was the real problem.  i stopped binging and purging but was still recording things.  i stopped recording things but still insisted on exercise through injuries and exhaustion.  it was a regular yoga practice and, later, the addition of a meditation practice that helped me finally begin to really tune in.

and once i was tuning in, there was a difference: i could notice things about my behavior and reactions and how they were related to things in my body.  i could notice things about my cycle and how they affected my mood and cravings. 

now it’s hard for me to binge and purge: being present during that process is not something i enjoy.  i’m still practicing being present.  i’m still practicing noticing all the signs. and now i can acknowledge that i’ve struggled with being fully alive in my body for a majority of my life. 

but seeing what my body can do, and noticing little changes and signals, is a gift.  one that i don’t take lightly. i’m excited for the possibility of one day experiencing a pregnancy.  for eventually going through menopause.  and for being present to all the little changes that happen along the way.

and to keep trending up, listen to this: i love this song.