When All Else Fails: a Year of Surrender

It’s been over a year since I published my last blog post.  I’m well aware of how such a long lapse violates every best practice in the world of blogging.  But I don’t really care…. In our world of constant (digital) connection, sometimes you need to retreat and make space to reflect, feel what you need to feel, and heal.  Disengage from the triggers of Facebook.  Engage in authentic human connection with those who matter most to you, those who accept and love you no matter what.   Write for no other audience than yourself.  Prioritize self-care.  Give yourself permission to FEEL and, eventually, to HEAL.

And that’s exactly what I needed to do in my own time and space, while trusting that I’d know when I was ready to share my heart and soul online.  Over the last year, I’ve been mentally crafting this post about my lessons in surrendering, appropriately titled “When All Else Fails.”  I’ve held off from publishing for a couple reasons.  Firstly, I don’t feel comfortable sharing all of the details, especially those related to my loved ones, so I’ve been experimenting with ways to share without oversharing.   Secondly, I haven’t felt up to the vulnerability hangover I experience with every post, yet I know how much freer I feel when I share and how connected I feel when I discover that I’m not alone.

So bear with me as I delicately dance around certain details from this year of surrender…..

Over a year ago, towards the end of 2015, life dealt us a few unexpected blows in a row.  There’s a saying that “bad things happen in three’s,” which is exactly how it all went down.  First, my husband’s company decided to end their Alaska ventures, effectively ending my husband’s and all of his co-workers’ assignments in Alaska.  We immediately knew this meant we’d be relocating much sooner than we originally anticipated, but we wouldn’t know for a couple months where or when we’d move.  Not long after this announcement, a few of our loved ones shared saddening news with us, which weighed heavily on our hearts.  And then, as the final sucker punch, we miscarried a perfectly healthy baby.  This was our 3rd loss, and last attempt at giving our son a sibling.

To say that I was an emotional mess would be an understatement.  Even now- a year later- I’m still grieving and trying to process what happened at the end of 2015.  At the time, I distracted myself with the day-to-day activities of caring for my then 3 year old, and preparing for our rather abrupt move to Houston.  I couldn’t bear to look at his baby clothes and gear, so, as part of our move prep, I gave most of it away, which was the emotional equivalent of throwing kerosene onto my open wounds and then lighting a match (=white-hot-searing-pain).  Our relocation, combined with the overlapping holiday season, forced me to fake my way through daily life and pretend like I was taking it all in stride.  Looking back at myself, I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep it together as much as I did.  But truth is that I was overwhelmed by intense emotional pain, covering me in a heavy blanket of grief laced with disappointment, anger, and deep–seeded shame.

With 2015 ending so painfully, I realized that my only option was to surrender….to completely let go and trust God’s plan for our lives.  As go-getter who has white-knuckled my way through life, I couldn’t imagine a greater challenge than handing the keys to my life over to God, climbing into the back seat and staring out the window at life’s passing scenery.  At first, surrendering felt like I was giving up… like I was stepping out of the driver’s seat of my car, waving my pathetic little flag, and then lying down in the middle of the road to allow car after car to drive over me.  I felt like a quitter:  beaten down, discouraged, and flattened.  A total f’ing failure.  Being someone who doesn’t give up easily, this isn’t how I imagined my story ending.

Until my coach, Cassi, sent me a short piece written by Liz Gilbert, I struggled to differentiate between quitting and surrendering.  I just didn’t get it until I read this piece and then the proverbial light bulb switched on.  Here’s an excerpt of what Liz wrote about surrender:

“Surrender is what happens when you come to the end of your power. Surrender is what happens when you have searched to the bottom of your soul and found out this truth — which is that you really can’t do this thing anymore. Surrender is what happens when you don’t have any more ideas for how to fix everything. Surrender is what happens when none of your survival strategies work anymore — and your playbook is out of pages. Surrender is what happens when you turn it all over to God. You release your grip on the thing. You stop white-knuckling it. You stop pretending things are great when things are actually horrible. You stop putting on a fake face, or glossing over the problem, or lying. You face the truth that you are not the most powerful force in the universe. You turn it over to fate. You exhale, and let go.

There is always grace in surrender. There is always truth in surrender. There is always a great deal of human dignity in surrender. And what happens next is often very beautiful. You crack open because you have stopped fighting and pretending, and once you do that…anything whatsoever can now occur. Sometimes your true fate can only find you after you have surrendered. As Richard from Texas taught me about cracking yourself open in surrender…well, that where God can rush in. The universe can sometimes only work through you once you have surrendered.”

 

Suddenly, after years of believing that surrendering was just a fancy word for quitting, I experienced my AHA! moment.  This mental shift enabled me to practice true surrender at a time when I had come to the end of my power, when I had run out of options, when ALL ELSE HAD FAILED.  I surrendered to this devastatingly dark place… to my broken, grieving heart… to the uncertainties of our future….to my powerlessness.  I chose SURRENDER as my theme for 2016, and decided to practice the art of surrender whenever possible, trusting everything would work out according to God’s plan.

As the saying goes, “life is a roller coaster,” and 2016 has been no exception.  At the end of 2015, I felt like my ‘coaster went off the rails and bottomed out in the pitch black.  My only option was to surrender to this darkness and trust that I’d eventually find my way back to the light.  As I’ve roller-coastered through 2016, I practiced surrendering to all of unknowns in my life, regularly repeating my mantra of “trust and let go, trust and let go, trust and let go.”  Of course, life continuously tested my ability to trust and let go…from moving to a new city without having a place to live or knowing how long we’d stay… to finding a new home/school/gym/church/social circle/etc… to setting boundaries with family members… to an ongoing dental drama (read: no front teeth!)….. to countless doctor’s appointments and multiple surgeries… to anxiously awaiting results from cancer screenings… to the unexpected ending of a friendship I hold dear… to touring over 70 homes before making an offer only to lose out to another buyer….to having this same house fall back into our laps 10 days later when the first buyer walked away without reason… to the disappointing election results… to planning yet another move over the year-end holidays.. my “surrender” list could go on and on!

Despite the abundant opportunities to practice, I’m still haven’t mastered the art of surrender.  I am–and will always be–a humble student in the “School of Surrender.”  But what I will say is this: There are moments– like the one captured in this photo taken on Disneyland Paris’ Space Mountain roller coaster earlier this year– where I am riding in complete darkness and I am fully present, where I am energized and open, where I am free and one with God, where I have complete faith that my ride will bring me safely back to the light. These moments are fleeting–few and far between–but I have experienced them, so I know they are within my reach when I simply let go and enjoy the ride.

Space Mountain, Disneyland Paris, May 2016

PS: I also surrendered to my inner poet, a voice I’ve silenced for many years but desperately wants to express herself.  So here goes…

The Arms of Surrender

She admitted,

without pause,

to be one of THOSE types

who clung to life like a tick to skin

She was known as

a control freak

a white-knuckler

a perfectionista

(and a micro-manager, according to some)

She was both adored and abhorred

for her attention to detail

for her ability to deliver

for her “dedication”

She clung so tightly because

she knew no different

As a girl, this is how she learned to survive

Her persistence even earned her praise

Until one day, she found herself hanging onto the very end of life’s rope

She had tried everything

And nothing had worked

She didn’t know what else to do

But to let go

While she wiped the sweat from her brow, she loosened her grip, just a bit

Lingering here for a moment

Relishing in the tension

Between doing and being

Then she let go

Completely

And as she fell

She released all of the beliefs

which had held her back

which had kept her clinging

to that tangled, knotted rope

She stopped trying so hard to please, to be perfect, to maintain control

She stopped forcing herself to be anything she wasn’t meant to be

She stopped blaming and shaming herself

She stopped feeling like she was damaged goods, broken and irreparable

She stopped believing she was unworthy, undesirable, unlovable

She fell freely,

evenly,

gracefully

through baby blue skies and bruise-colored clouds

through the sun’s strong rays and the moon’s chalky glow

through the Milky Way and the galaxies far far away

And when she landed,

she found herself

lovingly embraced by

the Arms of Surrender

— Christina Zini, June 2016

 


Want to know more about Surrendering?

Surrendering, as I’m learning, is a constant practice…. Like a daily (or even minute-by-minute) practice of letting go of my thoughts, emotions,  desires, anything and everything I’ve got a firm grip on.  It begins with truly experiencing my emotions, not avoiding them or disassociating myself from them, not telling myself that I shouldn’t feel anger/fear/grief/jealousy/etc..  I’ve learned a lot from reading Michael Singer’s books “The Surrender Experiment” and “Untethered Soul.”  I also enjoyed reading John Ortberg’s “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.”  I’ve found practices like prayer, meditation, visualizations helpful. My nightly ritual of writing a “Love/Leave” list in my journal has helped me to capture whatever I appreciated or loved about the day and whatever I want to leave behind or let go of.  Thankfully, my “love” list is always longer than my “leave” list.  I’ve also found yoga, spinning and walking/running to help me release whatever is festering.  I’m also a HUGE believer in and consumer of therapy, acupuncture, and energy work.. but I wouldn’t have come this far in my surrender journey without the support and guidance of my fabulous coach, Cassi Christiansen!

 

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bodyshame part II: shame vs. love

This month, I’m blogging about body shame, which is the #1 source of shame for women.  At the end of body shame part I, I shared how I was able to leave behind destructive eating habits, but I still needed to change my mindset and develop a healthy relationship with food.  In this follow-up piece, I share how my mindset has evolved over many years as I practice self-love and focus on wellness.  If you haven’t read the first post in this series, please take a few minutes to read my personal story before reading this post.  Thanks!

Please join me on Instagram (shedreamsbig1) and FB throughout the month of March to end body shame by sharing body positive images with #noshame.

As always, I’d love to hear from you!

XOXO Christina


IMG_5026

Source: prettypearbride.com

I’d be lying if I claimed that I no longer experience body shame.  I’d be lying if I said that I don’t care about my weight and that I’m not actively trying to lose the “extra insulation” I gained after moving to Alaska.  I’d be lying if I told you that I’m completely content with being a comfy size 8, that I’m not hanging onto a few of my svelte size 6 clothes in hopes that SOMEDAY I’ll squeeze my post-partum hips back into them.  I’d be lying if I claimed that I no longer use food to comfort me when I’m feeling anxious or blue (nope, never- now where did I hide the chocolate???).

The truth is…

In my adult years, I have worn size 4’s to size 14’s, and I perceived myself in the same way regardless of my dress size.  The number on the scale or size on a label didn’t make a difference in changing how I felt about myself.  I wasn’t any happier being a size 4 than I was when I was a size 14, and I certainly wasn’t freed of body shame.  The same shame demons still haunted me, convincing me that, without them around to “keep me in check,” I was one Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (my drug of choice) away from needing a forklift to leave the house.  Sometimes, I’d feel a little high when I dropped a few pounds or I fit into a smaller size, but it always was a fleeting surge of egotistic pride followed by a sharp slap of shame.   Whether I gained or lost, the demons found a way to shower me with a shame storm.  I eventually recognized that what I needed to lose was the shame, not the weight… or at least I needed to find a sturdy umbrella to protect myself from the storms!

So, while the shame storms continued to rage over the years, I carefully constructed my umbrella from the finest sources.  Wanna know what holds my umbrella high?  I thought so.  Now keep in mind that what works for me might not work for you, but I think these three elements are pretty critical if you want your umbrella to stand a chance against shame.

  • TRIBE:  I choose to surround myself with women who care more about making a difference in this world than the size of their thighs. I choose to socialize with women who embrace healthy, balanced living like I do.  They fill their bodies with wholesome, healthy foods yet they aren’t ashamed to order dessert and finish the entire slice of decadent goodness on their plate.  Because they are busy changing the world, raising babies, and generally kicking-butt, they don’t spend HOURS at the gym trying to whittle themselves down to a size 0. They choose activities which makes them feel empowered and ahhhhmaazing.   They are the kind of women who will stay up late drinking wine and inhaling copious amounts of cheese and chocolate with me.  They are women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures whom I admire and adore, not because of how they look but because of WHO they are.  You are my TRIBE, and you form the base of my umbrella.  A shout-out to my husband, Mr T, because he’s also a big part of my anti-shame tribe.
  • WELLNESS: I choose to focus on wellness, instead of weight. I choose to define myself by WHO I am, not by a number on the scale or a dress size.  I acknowledge that weight is important to wellness, and I choose to strive for what feels healthy and realistic for my height and build. I choose to appreciate each part of my body for how it has served me and honor how it looks and feels today.  I choose to nourish myself with delicious, wholesome foods every day.  I choose to eat a healthy diet which allows for indulgences (why hello there, Reese’s!).  No food is off- limits, no food is “good” or “bad,” but I choose to minimize or eliminate foods which are allergens or toxins.   I choose activities which I enjoy and contribute to my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  I honor my body when I am tired, hungry, injured, or need of extra TLC.  I deliberately choose to read, watch, or listen to media which reinforces body-positive messages (e.g., Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”).  I choose to define what wellness means for me and live accordingly. I’m a positive—not perfect– role model to my family and friends. Wellness forms the ribbing, or spindles, of my umbrella.
  • SELF-LOVE: I choose to love my body as it is today.  I am deeply grateful for my body and its unique design.  I choose to speak lovingly of my body and treat it with respect, especially in front of my children.  I nourish my body because I love my body, and I exercise because I love my body.   I choose love instead of shame to “keep myself in check.”  I let self-love guide me in making healthy food and exercise choices.  When I make mistakes, I learn from them, forgive myself, and move on.  Self-love, not shame, is what motivates me in reaching my wellness goals.  I rely on my inner wisdom to indicate when I need to adjust my choices: when it’s time to cut back on snacks and sweets, when it’s time for extra sleep, when it’s time to switch from high-impact to low-impact, etc.  Self-love determines how I spend my time and with whom I spend my time.  I choose activities which I love, and I surround myself with people who love themselves and encourage me to do the same.  Self-love forms the rainbow-colored, super- shame-fightin’ canopy of my umbrella.

How’s that for an anti-body shame manifesto????

So, the TRUTH is that I have come a looooong way in learning to accept and love my body.  The TRUTH is I’m not perfect in practicing self-love (and it IS a practice!).  But I’ve also learned that I don’t need to be perfect, I just need to keep practicing.  Body shame took root so early in my life and became deeply ingrained in my psyche, so naturally the shame demons make a cameo appearance from time to time.  The DIFFERENCE is that I’m now uber-conscious when shame starts to creep into my mental chatter and sprinkle on my parade, and then-  snaaaaap-  UP goes my umbrella of self-love.  Through continuous practice, I’m much faster on the draw to combat these occasional, passing showers and no longer let a little rain ruin my beach plans.  The darkness of shame doesn’t stand much of a chance when met with the lightness of love.   The more I practice accepting and loving my body as it is TODAY, the freer I am to dance in the rain.

Dancing in the Rain

Dancing in the Rain by Heather Norton-Ruston


Questions & Resources:

Brene Brown writes about shame and developing shame resilience in her three books. Her theory is that shame is an everyday human emotion and, rather expecting ourselves to never experience this emotion, she believes in the importance of developing shame resilience.  In this piece, I use the metaphor of a shame-resilient umbrella to combat my body shame storms. At the end, I acknowledge my storms, albeit less frequent, are still part of life, so I’ve learned to use my umbrella to “dance in the rain.”  Do you agree or disagree with Brene’s theory on shame and shame resilience? What rings true from your own experience?

If you designed your own “umbrella” to combat body shame, what would your umbrella look like? How would you know when it’s time to take cover? How would you continuously bolster your umbrella?

Which parts of your body and appearance crave your love and acceptance?  Connect with each part and lovingly ask them what they need from you.  Thank them for showing up and serving you every single second of the day. If you are looking to read inspiring, body-positive messages which do NOT emphasize dieting or weight loss gimmicks, then I highly recommend you check out Geneen Roth’s works:  http://geneenroth.com/

As parents, one of the ways we teach our children about their bodies is by role-modelling. What would you like to teach your children about their bodies? How can you show them what it means to love and respect their bodies? What behaviors do you want to start/stop/continue as a role model?  How can you promote wellness, not body shame, in your family?

bodyshame part I: “Big=Bad”

For the past two months, I’ve been blogging about topic which makes people cringe: shame.  In my first post, “A Year without Shame,” I shared my intention to experience a deeper, more spiritual level of joy in 2015, which meant continuing to let go of the shame, grief, and pain which blocks me from experiencing supernatural joy.  In my second post, “The Joy Robber,” I tackled a recent experience which triggered shame, and how I was able to confront how I was feeling and release myself from shame’s grip by speaking my truth.

Since I’m finding freedom in writing about shame and inspiring so many other women to do the same, I decided to write this month’s post about a deeply rooted issue for many of us: BODY SHAME.   As I started to write, a waterfall of memories, emotions, and insights flowed from my heart to the page, and I quickly realized that this topic deserves more than just one post.  This month, I’ll be publishing two posts:  the first to share my “shame story” of how body shame wormed its way into my psyche, and the second to explore how I feel about my body today and how I continuously work on surrendering my body shame.

This post differs from my previous posts because I’m writing about my formative memories and pinpointing when…

body awareness: “I’m aware that I am different”

transitioned into

body consciousness: “I feel self-conscious about being different”

and eventually into

body shame: “I feel ashamed that I am different.”

I’m not writing this to blame anyone for my shame– I’m simply sharing how a young girl (me) interpreted the messages she received from her parents, teachers, classmates, and the media about her body and how her feelings evolved over time.  Some of you reading this post will remember me as a bright, talented, independent, creative young girl who danced to the beat of a different drummer and wasn’t afraid to take the stage.  You may be surprised to read about my hidden body shame, but I believe my story will resonate with many of you who also excelled in school and extracurricular activities, while hiding painful insecurities and shame about your appearance.

I hope you’ll read Part I with an open and compassionate heart, and that you’ll reflect on the messages you received about your body as you were growing up and how they continue to influence you as an adult. If you are a parent, I hope you will think about the messages you are sending your children about their bodies and what you can say and do to be a positive role model.   Most importantly, I hope you will do what I did as I wrote this piece:  Hug the little girl inside of you as you wipe away her tears.  Forgive her for what she didn’t know and release her from the mistakes she made.  Let her know how proud you are of her.  Let her know that you love her just the way she was and is today.  Set her free to be who she was intended to be.

Please join me on Instagram (shedreamsbig1), Twitter (she_dreams_big), and Facebook throughout the month of March to end body shame by sharing body positive images with #noshame.

XOXO

Christina

PS:  Spoiler alert: it’s a LONG one… get comfy and grab a glass of wine or a cup of tea, maybe some Kleenex nearby if this is a sensitive subject for you too.


I remember when I first became aware of my size….

In 2nd grade, I was the first kid in my class to own a ten-speed bike.  Unlike my schoolmates, my 7 year old legs had outgrown the kiddie bikes, so my parents gave me a shiny blue ten-speed for my birthday. I was pretty proud of myself– I knew that being tall made me unique and eligible for special perks like ten-speed bicycles.  YEEEEEEEHAAW!!!!

Dancing Queen- age 7

Dancing Queen- age 7

In 3rd grade, my teacher (Miss Johnson- still my fav!) asked for volunteers to perform the Mexican Hat Dance for an upcoming celebration and my hand immediately shot up.  “YEEESSS, PICK ME!,” my heart screamed.  I never turned down an opportunity to dance!  Miss Johnson then faced the challenge of finding a suitable male dance partner as no one had volunteered to dance with me.  I vividly recall that height was the selection criteria as I towered over most of the boys in my class.  She settled on the tallest boy in the class, Peter, as my dance partner.  I don’t think he had a choice in the matter.  The take-away for 8 year old Chrissy was that boys should be taller than girls, and boys don’t want to dance with girls who are towering over them.  (In retrospect, 8 year old boys probably don’t want to dance with ANY girl, but this wasn’t how I saw the situation at the time.)

Then, in 5th grade, I remember riding on the bus next to a classmate who called me a “she-man” referring to both my height and sturdy build. I was 10 years old, and my shoe size was the same as my age.  I certainly wasn’t an overweight child, but I wasn’t built like my petite girlfriends.  I left elementary school with an acute awareness of being taller and bigger than my peers, including the boys.  My mom always reminded me of the “perks” of being tall, but I really just wanted to look my pixy-n-pretty friends… you know, the popular girls who the boys thought were cute.  From my childish standpoint, BIG=BAD.  I couldn’t really see any perks in that equation.

At home, I only found evidence that supported my BIG=BAD theory.  My tall, Scandinavian mother was constantly dieting and talking about losing weight with my dad and her friends.   To this day, I DESPISE Wasa Crisp bread because I associate it with my mom being a diet and replacing our sandwich bread with this tasteless, cardboard substitute.  While I never remember her as overweight, I know my mom felt ashamed of her size and worked very hard to maintain a certain size.  I remember digging through her closet and finding a love letter that my dad had written to my mom shortly after they married. In the letter, my dad wrote that he would love her “even if she weighed 150 pounds.”   My dad, having grown up with an overweight and domineering mother, liked his women skinny and subservient.  He also dieted, and boasted about his quick weight losses.  In my childish mind, I determined that love must be conditional, linked to one’s weight.  To be loved, you must stay thin.  THIN=LOVABLE.

Middle school was a self-esteem minefield, as it is for so many kids. Even though my peers were catching up thanks to growth spurts, I was still tall, still sturdy, and STILL growing.  Us girls were starting our periods, developing breasts, and growing hair in unexpected places.  I started to wear baggier clothing to hide my changing figure.  When it was my “time of the month,” I tied a sweatshirt around my waist to hide any potential leakage (golden rule: never, ever wear white pants) and safety-pinned my pads to the inside of my waistband.  Girls who carried purses were targets for teasing because everyone knew that they were having their periods and needed to carry a purse full of pads.  Body shame was rampant as we couldn’t control or hide these bodily changes, and the school bullies preyed on our vulnerability and awkwardness.

One of the most humiliating and shaming experiences happened in my home economics class when I was in 8th grade (13 years old). The teacher set up a scale in the front of the classroom where she weighed every single student in her classes.  She then recorded our weights on index cards and kept them in a box on her desk.  As if the public weigh-in wasn’t embarrassing enough, the boys in the class would regularly open the box and shout out other kids’ weights.  They liked to pick on the girls in the class, typically those who were on the “bigger” side.  I remember a classmate sitting at the desk with the index box in his hand, yelling across the room, “Hey Chris, do you weigh 140 pounds?”  I turned all shades of crimson, lowered my head, and mumbled, “No, I don’t.”  Deny, deny, deny.  I wanted to crawl under the table, leave the room, jump out of the second floor window…anything to escape being shamed in front of the class. I still remember how physically sick I felt in that moment, and how badly I wanted to fall off the face of the earth.  The boys continued on, doing the same to the other girls in the class, humiliating every single one of us.[1]

8th grade

Dressed like an Amish girl to hide my figure- age 13 (approx 5’8,” 140 lbs)

So, in 8th grade, I went on my first crash diet. I remember feeling proud of myself for losing 10 pounds in a week right before my mom took my sister and me on a shopping trip. Never mind that I gained the weight back within a few days of resuming my usual habits. That summer, with my parents’ support as avid dieters themselves, I joined The Diet Center, which included a zillion mystery pills, a restrictive diet, and weekly weigh-ins.  While my skinny girlfriends were munching on Fun Yums and Skittles, I was concocting strawberry-tofu smoothies and eating eggs with wilted spinach on diet toast.  Every week, I biked to my weigh-in to log my progress and replenish my supply of mystery pills.  It didn’t matter how much weight I lost, I already felt deeply-rooted shame over my body and its inability to conform to a smaller size.

If middle school was bad, then high school was waaaaaay worse.  In high school, I hung out with a group of girls who didn’t want their thighs to touch.  We were all “good” girls who excelled in school and our extracurricular activities, but we would have preferred being called “dumb” over being called “fat.”  We all struggled with the same desire to be perfect.  We spent our evenings doing Jane Fonda exercises in our bedrooms while on the phone with each other comparing diet and exercise notes.  By this point, I had developed a full blown eating disorder:  I binged and purged, I compulsively overate, and I went on 800 calorie a day diets.  Breakfast was often a cup of yogurt, lunch was usually a granola bar washed down with a Diet Coke, and dinner was a miniscule portion of whatever my parents were serving up that night.  I would lie in bed at night, hungry and admiring how my hips jutted out.  As a slave to the scale, I didn’t want to eat in the middle of the night because it would mess up my morning weigh-in and ruin my mood for the day.  Everyone, including my parents, complimented my slimmer figure, which further reinforced my desire to be thin at all costs.  THIN=LOVABLE.  Whenever I would feel upset about my dad’s drinking and verbal abuse, agitated by my parents’ fighting, or stressed by school pressures, I would binge on comfort foods, purge out of guilt for overeating, and then hate myself for being so weak and out of control.  Sure, I lost weight, but at a significant price to my health and happiness.

After a falling out with my group of girlfriends, I gained 20 pounds between my junior and senior year of high school thanks to a summer of compulsive overeating.  That August, I remember baking myself a pink confetti 17th birthday cake, which I promptly frosted and ate as soon as it cooled. I sat on the kitchen floor, sobbing and stuffing myself with globs of pastel cake to numb my pain and self-hatred.  I was embarrassed to tell my mom the truth about the cake, so I told her that it hadn’t turned out.  A month later, I returned to school feeling horribly ashamed of myself for putting on so much weight.  Again, I just wanted to disappear, to hide, to fall off the face of the earth… I spent most of my senior year in a depression, only attending the classes required to graduate, and taking a class at the local university where I felt anonymous.

Senior Class Photo- age 17

Senior Class Photo- age 17

Despite feeling trapped in a vicious circle of restricting and overeating, my blossoming inner voice told me that I could find a way out of this hell hole by developing a different relationship with food and my body.  I took the first step by joining a support group, unbeknownst to my parents who had regularly encouraged me to diet and were oblivious to my eating disorder.  I discovered Geneen Roth’s books on breaking free from compulsive eating and I devoured them just as frantically as I had devoured my birthday cake.  I journaled and wrote poetry about my misery and self-hatred, opened up to a few close friends, and asked my parents to help me find a therapist (which they did).  Over the course of my senior year, I was able to stop the extreme dieting, binge-purge cycles, and compulsive overeating, but I hadn’t stopped believing in the BIG=BAD body shame equation.  Even though I was never overweight, I had a horribly distorted body image and poor self-esteem.  Changing my mindset and developing a healthy relationship with food took time….a long time and a LOT of self-love.

Part II coming in mid-March

[1] To this day, I don’t understand why this teacher weighed us—it certainly wasn’t part of her duties as a home economics teacher- and I don’t understand why she allowed the boys to further shame us.


Untitled

Poem written May 30, 1990, when I was 16 years old at the end of my junior year of high school

I shut the window, sealing myself into my virginal, sacred room

From my view, I watch, gaze, wonder, judge

Raindrops flattening themselves

Clouds overlapping the sun like men denied water

I feel the layers of fat building upon myself

Muddling my brain

Crushing every sane thought

I grow larger, more obscure in hopes of becoming obsolete

The drops smatter against my looking glass

A punishment in each tiny capsule

The window remains sealed, only to leak in the spring.

The Joy Robber

Mama & Toots just after delivery

A few weeks before Christmas, I made a rare solo trip to the local mall to finish my holiday shopping before we jetted off to sunny California.  Filled with festive cheer, I chatted with the woman standing next to me in line as we waited to pay for our gifts.  I first complimented her on her stylish attire: she was dressed from head-to-toe in Michael Kors and looked much more fashionable than the average Alaskan woman.  In turn, she complimented me on my black Coach messenger-style handbag.  I thanked her and explained that I really liked the cross-body strap as it kept my hands free when chasing after my 2 year old son.  She looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face, and asked, “Is he yours?”  (awkward pause)  “I mean, did you give birth to him?” Now the puzzled expression was on my face… of course he is MINE!!!  I felt a tightening in my chest as I replied, “Yes, I gave birth to him.”  Then she proceeded to ask me if he was my first, how old I was when I gave birth to him, and if I wanted to have any more children.  I felt a sudden downpour of shame from this series of rapidly-fired, judgmental questions, instantly drowning my holiday cheer and confidence.  In shock, I froze and mumbled a brief yet truthful reply, leaving our future “in God’s Hands.”  I figured this would end our discussion, but alas she left me with these parting words:  “Well, I’m 47, and I already have grandchildren. My doctor put me on birth control pill because he says I’m too old to have anymore.”   (Apparently she hasn’t heard of TMI…)

As I paid for my gift and headed towards the parking garage, I found myself in an all-too-familiar state of numbness: the feeling of swallowing an ice cube, which then lodges itself at the back of my throat and numbs my brain as it slowly melts.  The brain-freeze sensation allows me to temporarily escape from the shame I feel when asked such probing questions about my age, fertility, and shortcomings as a mother.   I wish I could chalk this incidence up to a “one-off” and let it go along with all of the other junk I’ve recently burned, flushed, or otherwise released.  However, since moving to Alaska in early 2014, I’m asked almost daily why I have “just one” and if I want to have more children.  I’ve become so adept at numbing myself when I reply to these questions that I no longer notice the ice cube permanently lodged at the back of my throat.  In zombie-mode, I politely reply, divert the conversation, and then I stoically shuffle away…. Only to cry in the bathroom, in my car, or into my pillow at night from overwhelming, heart-wrenching shame.

Ohhhhhhh Shame…. that cunning thief, sucking every ounce of joy juice from my soul and leaving me dehydrated and deflated in a ditch.  Shame is quite a smooth operator: an abuser who injures me with his razor-sharp words, punctures my joyful spirit and tender heart, and then professes his “love” for me.  Shame claims he needs me, can’t live without me… apologizes and promises it won’t happen again. He wants to lurk in the dark corners of my mind and thrive on secrecy, silence, and smallness. Shame hates being labeled, being identified, or being seen for what he is.  Shame is my Voldemort, and the only way to release myself from his grip is to shine light and love on the parts of me which feel so shameful.

I spent most of my life in repetitive shame cycles: experiencing moments of sheer joy followed by a shame beating and then numbness. This pattern felt strangely comfortable—after all, I had yet to experience a life without shame and felt that I deserved such scathing words to keep me “in check.”  Yet a little voice inside me told me that I deserved better and I could live differently.  As I committed to living joyfully in 2015, I realized that shame was such a JOY-robber… the ultimate buzz-kill, a real Debbie-Downer.  If I truly want to experience “joie de vivre,” then I need to be aware of what triggers my shame, counter every cruel word with love, and then let it go…. get back down on my knees and surrender my shame to God.  I need to regularly talk and write about my shame so that it doesn’t fester in the recesses of mind. I need to connect with other women who share the same shame associated with their bodies and want to free themselves from it.

And I need to respond courageously when I encounter people like Ms. Michael Kors…

“Yes, I gave birth to my son.  He is my child, just as he would be if I had adopted him or used a donor or a surrogate to bring him into this world.  Yes, he’s my first, but he’s not my only.  He’s our miracle baby after a long wait, much heartache, and ceaseless prayers.  He chose to arrive a week after my 39th birthday and he thinks I’m the perfect age to be his mother.  We are always open for more miracles regardless of age… our lives are in God’s Hands.”

There’s no shame or sadness in my statement… just honesty, gratitude, and whole lotta love.  Another step towards living joyfully and authentically in 2015, the year without shame!

………………………………………………………….

We all have shame. No need to deny it or be embarrassed about it. I’ve been inspired by Brene Brown’s Ted Talks, books, and column in O Magazine where she speaks and writes about shame resiliency, vulnerability, and wholeheartedness. Check out her website:  http://brenebrown.com/

For connecting with your fertile heart and losing the shame associated with infertility, I highly recommend Julia Indichova’s books, resources, and classes: http://www.fertileheart.com/

Lastly, I’m also very grateful and inspired by my friends, Ali K and Jen B, who share their journeys to motherhood so courageously.  Their honesty and openness has encouraged me to do the same.

A year without shame

“If we are going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of ‘what we’re supposed to be’ is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”
Brené Brown

Happy New Year! How did you ring in the new year? Did you spend some time reflecting on 2014 and dreaming about 2015? Or did you let 2014 slllliiiiide right into 2015? Totally ok if you did! I decided it was time for some soul-searchin’, so I signed up for Stratejoy’s Holiday Council in December and went deep into reflection mode with a couple hundred big-dreamin’ gals around the globe.  Led by super-coach Molly Mahar, we reviewed, released, dreamed, schemed, plotted, and planned as we closed 2014 and began 2015.  I absolutely loved this conscious way of reflecting on the past year and then planning for the new year, so I thought I’d share my new year-changing rituals and what surfaced during this journey.

Flame o' Shame

Flame o’ Shame

On New Year’s Eve, I locked myself in our bathroom to perform a year-end releasing ceremony.  Noooooo, not that sort of release, but an emotional release of what I want to leave behind in 2014.  As part of my Holiday Council reflections, I made a list of what I want to keep versus what I want to release from 2014.  The keepers—like intuition, God, writing, and vision–are colorfully captured on little strips of paper and tucked away in a decorative chest of drawers as positive reinforcement for years to come, whereas the emotional “poo” was ceremoniously burned and flushed away.  Shame, guilt, fear, anger, regret, grief, negative self-talk, limiting beliefs, the past, and a few other doozies… I burned every single one of those mo-fo’s and then flushed the whole pile of emotional crap down the toilet.  As skeptical as I was about this year-end releasing ritual, I actually felt freer after the flame-n-flush, like a minuscule mental shit—I mean SHIFT—took place.  Did I expect to wake up on January 1 feeling like a whole new person? Not really, but I felt good about taking a symbolic step towards the joyful and carefree life I so desire.

Emotional Poo

Emotional Poo

With 2014’s negativity behind me, I then spent a few hours on New Year’s Day finalizing my 2015 vision board, with the theme of “Joie de Vivre.”  I came upon this lovely French expression when I was searching for a word which embodies feeling joyful, carefree, and creative.  I love how it is defined on Wikipedia as “cheerful enjoyment of life,” and, even more fitting, “an exultation of spirit.”  Yep, that’s what I want— an exultation of spirit! C’est bon, non? I’ll take THAT with a glass of champagne please!  The end result was a beautiful, inspiring board full of images and quotes which reflect joy, authenticity, creativity, freedom, and God-consciousness.   I went to bed feeling optimistic and accomplished– maybe, just maybe, 2015 would be the year of free-flowing joy. YEEEEESSSS!!!!!!!

Joie de Vivre

The inspiration behind my vision board

Fast forward several days, and I am here to tell you that absolutely NOTHING has changed.  The same ol’ pesky demons– the ones I flamed-n-flushed–still haunt me throughout the day, leaving little room for the unbridled joy depicted on my vision board.  Hmm…what to do?  Now, I know JOY- we go waaaaay back.  I can relive many joyful memories and tap into that emotion easily.  I just think about my little Toots and the joy juice starts a-flowin’.  So, this isn’t about my ability to experience joy, or that I need to give myself permission to live joyfully.

As I thought about what was getting in the way of my “joie de vivre,” I realized that SHAME was the culprit, hogging the biggest slice of emotional cake.  As far back as I can remember, I have never experienced a day without shame.   Shame is so deeply ingrained in my psyche (thanks Mom & Dad!) that it will take a lot more than a flame-n-flush to release its iron grip.  And oh man do I want to get rid of shame…  I want to stop feeling ashamed of my body. I want to stop feeling ashamed of my imperfect figure and aging skin. I want to stop feeling ashamed of being an older mom to a toddler.  I want to stop feeling ashamed of my longing for another baby.  I want to stop feeling ashamed of infertility, of the repeated failures and losses on my very bumpy road to motherhood. I want to stop feeling ashamed of my choices, including those which were uninformed or made to please others.  I want to stop feeling ashamed of shame.  I want to stop feeling ashamed… period.

I want a year without shame.

…because a little voice tells me that, without shame, I will have a LOT more room for JOY.  She’ll be able to show up freely and abundantly…. joy at a cellular level, joy flowing through my veins, joy flowing into the world around me.  Picture me as a platinum member of the Joie de Vivre Club, shakin’ my bootie, tossing my long hair around like a boss, laughing uncontrollably, and bear-hugging everyone in my path.  A conduit of joy! A true “exultation of spirit!”  YEEEHAAAW!!!!!

So, as I’ve stumbled through the first days of 2015, attempting this joyful dance with my feet still shackled by shame, I only found my footing when I stopped to pray. Down on the floor, hands and knees, sobbing, waving my white flag of surrender… asking God to release me from this shame which consumes me, open my heart to His Grace,  fill me with His Joy, and make me an instrument of His Peace (yep, just like the Prayer of St Francis!).  Adding to my anti-shame arsenal of releasing rituals, zany visualizations, and affirmations, I now have my daily prayer for 2015…a year without shame, a year of drawing closer to God, a year with plenty of space for joy, authenticity, freedom and creativity.

shame_grace

From “Saved by Mercy and Grace” on Tumblr

The final step in releasing my shame is writing and talking about it. No more secrets, no more hiding.  What about you?  What are you ashamed of and what steps would you like to take to release yourself from shame?  Let me know… I’m curious. I’m here. Open arms, bear-hug, no judgment.

“Shame loses power when it is spoken. In this way, we need to cultivate our story to let go of shame, and we need to develop shame resilience in order to cultivate our story.”
Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are