Friday, January 25, 2013

An unexpected rain (Week 13)

This is Maimonides, our newest family member.
This week has been interesting, although I don't think that's a bad thing. Stressful, yes. But most weeks are like that anymore, so I think I'm getting used to it. Also, I got a fish.

I've been struggling a little more with some depression and anxiety, but I don't think it's any more than it was when I started my recovery. Then again, I feel these moments of incredible, transcendent joy that come out of no where and just bring light into my eyes.

The week began with a pinched nerve in my neck, and I'm not entirely certain it's not ending that way too. On Sunday, the Emperor took me to our family doctor, who cracked my bones and gave me a scrip for some pain meds. I, of course, took the pain meds (with food*), and laid on the couch for the rest of the day (probably watching Star Trek). We went to bed around 11pm, but I didn't take another dose of my meds because pain meds mess with my sleep... so I was in bed, awake, until 2:30 at which time, I came out into the living room and watched The Late Late Show** on my laptop. I did take another pain pill at that point, and started falling asleep during the show, but when I turned it off I was wide awake again.

3:30am doze
4:30am AWAKE!
4:35 doze
6:34am AWAKE!

And I wanted to listen to the Stephanie Miller coverage of the inauguration, so I turned my radio on at that point and half-listened, half-slept for another hour or so. At 8:30 when the inauguration was supposed to begin I turned on the tv and watched the second inauguration of our country's first non-white president. I love President Obama, so it was kind of a big deal. 

I then spent the rest of Monday half-asleep on the couch with episodes of Star Trek on in the background because I was only able to sleep with the tv on. I don't know why. 

Tuesday was less interesting, although I wish I had gotten more work done, and Wednesday was interesting for other reasons... but Thursday was very stressful. However, despite the stress of Thursday I both had breakfast AND took a snack with me during my appointments and errands (including seeing my dad during his chemo appointment). Afterward, the Emperor and I had a nice dinner for date night, and both got long, much needed nights of sleep.

Today... today I got a fish (see above). I ate my leftovers from dinner out last night, and we even went on a walk to wish the trees a happy tu b'shevat (Jewish arbor day - or the birthday of the trees). I find a few areas a little lacking still -- I would like more intimacy, exercise, and vegetables -- but I'm finding my body image improving and that's a big deal. I've nearly completed my workbook, and have listened to several audiobooks that are building me back up.

As I go forward, I think I'll do more writing on the ideas that have been growing in my brain while I've been growing through this journey. I've learned a lot about what is real and what needs to change, and I'm excited to explore those with you.

*PF Chang's Gluten Free I-don't-feel-good Special: egg drop soup and kids fried rice with a little bit of chili paste
**that I can't watch it on my phone is a crime against Rachelity.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sometimes it takes a brick (Week 12)

Was an 8... (
I pretty much didn't stop from last Monday (or perhaps the Friday before), until Friday morning. For some reason, a flurry of activities took over, and I felt unable to sit and rest, or even take time to read or work in my workbook. And then I was suddenly hit by a brick on Friday, which continued to get worse even after I went to the doctor yesterday to have my neck adjusted and get some pain meds.

Last night I think I may have netted 5 hours of sleep. From 11pm until 2am, I slept for less than an hour, finally getting up at 2:30 and watching Craig Ferguson until I fell asleep. Of course, after the show ended, I was awake again, and woke up every hour until 6:30 when I decided to listen to Stephanie Miller's inauguration coverage*. I dozed between 6:30 and 8:30, but never deeply enough to accomplish anything like sleep. Since then I may have gotten 40 or so minutes of sleep (maybe?), so I'm kinda out of it today.

Oh yeah, why did I have to go to the doctor? Turns out I have a pinched nerve in my neck, that happened somehow at some point through some possible action or lack of action. I don't actually know.

In other news, though, I may have conquered bingeing. While waiting to get my scrip filled yesterday, I bought binge-type foods (chocolate and chips), because if I was going to be on pain meds, I was also gonna eat junk food**. I haven't even finished off the almond M&Ms I bought. Normally it would all have been gone by the time the Emperor got home from being social, but I didn't even want to play Cthulhu and the Sacred Artifacts and devour each morsel without even tasting it. That's a breakthrough. It's actually a big fucking deal, because not wanting to eat until I made myself sick also means that I didn't want to make myself sick. Granted, I was (and still am) drugged, but I'll take the win where I can get it.

...but now closer to a 4 (on meds).
But through all the stress of the last week or so, I have been taking care of myself. I've been backsliding a little bit emotionally because I've been wracked by anxiety recently; but not to the point where I'm having symptoms. And even on those mornings where what I've been having for breakfast sounds disgusting, I've managed to eat something for breakfast, and hold myself over long enough to figure out something decent for lunch. And I've been eating meat again (YAAAAAAY!). I had tuna for lunch.

So, things are normalizing. I still have quite a bit of my workbook to get through, but I'm not going to stress about it too much***, and just try to be in the moment (even the painful ones). I think even the stress is kind of normal... the pain isn't, but *shrug*...

*Woo! O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA!
**It's therapeutic.
***I have enough to stress about... yay pinched nerve...

Monday, January 14, 2013

How can the desire to feel/be pretty coexist with beauty?

I did not create this image. I found it in a google image search.
If this is your image, thanks for making it.
Let's get one thing perfectly clear: beauty and pretty are not the same thing. A conventionally attractive person is no more guaranteed to be beautiful than a conventionally unattractive person or a person who is just sort of average-looking. Beauty isn't about outside stuff, beauty is about inside stuff. You and me, we have beauty if we choose to cultivate it; if we decide to show it off through our choices and behaviors. 

What's more, the image at left is 100% true. Beauty exists in each of us independent of the decorations we don. As RuPaul says, "You're born naked, everything else is drag."  

But, if it's what is inside that really counts - and really, everything starts with character - how do we reconcile the desire to bare our naked beauty for all its value with the desire to be seen as physically attractive or the desire to feel pretty? Can these two things coexist? Is beauty only in the eye of the beholder? Can we really get by in the world ignoring what other people think about how we look?

The answer to all of these questions is: it depends. The reason that we struggle with these questions is that their answers are nuanced and require effort to understand. We live in a very dualistic culture: hot/cold, yes/no, in/out, up/down, wrong/right, black/white, Perry*/Gaga, etc. When a question comes along that has an bit of depth to it, it is simply glossed over**, and we stick with what is superficially available. Everyone does this. As a society we are almost exclusively visual, and perception that is based in a single dimension is by definition, shallow.

The "beauty" industry is the worst offender as far as this shallowness goes. Do you ever see articles in Cosmo for character development? Nope. Sex, makeup, be skinny. What about Self magazine? A magazine dedicated to making its readers better!? Nope. Exercise, be skinny, makeup. The only magazine I've ever read that has any amount of character development included in its pages is Yoga Journal, and even that is fairly superficial. Now, something highly specialized like Success is reported to contain articles on the importance of character development in success, but people looking for beauty advice aren't going to read Success magazine for those tips, are they?

So what do we do? Ignore the messages? Abandon the "beauty" industry in droves? Those things haven't worked. Not only is the "beauty" industry not affected by people who actively avoid their products, demonizing makeup and fashion products creates antipathy at best, and enmity at worst! When we place a value judgment on makeup and fashion products, by extension, we also judge the people who do or don't use those products! That makes the world less beautiful, not more, and wasn't the point of all of this to make the world more beautiful?

Okay, so abandoning the "beauty" industry doesn't work. Judging people who do or don't value conventional physical attractiveness is counter-productive. But we still want to reconcile the desire to be beauty-full, with the desire to look how we want and have our character revealed through that venue. 

I have a revolutionary idea for you then: 
There is no moral imperative regarding how a person looks. None. Fat, skinny, average weight: all have the same determination of character. Makeup, no makeup; great skin, blemished skin; whatever color. Same diff. Natural hair color, wild hair, dreads, buzz, long curly blonde locks, a punky red reverse bob. All have the same impact on a person's value.

There is no moral imperative regarding how a person looks. That means you can look how you want! Maybe there are some standards for appearance based on your life-situation, but that doesn't affect your value, that is, your beauty. Your life-situation does impact who you be. What does have a determinant affect on your value is how you behave

You are beautiful without your makeup; and also with it. And while how you look may reveal the nuance of your character, how you act reveals that you actually have character in the first place.

*See what I did there?
**No pun intended, ahem.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

On not being angry or afraid anymore (Week 11)

I wrote an email to my sales director today, expressing a desire to talk with her about what I've learned while being down in the mess of myself for the last several months. "This process has humbled and softened me," I told her, but then I started to wonder what else I would say about what I've learned down here in the muck. 

I'm not afraid anymore, for one. For another, I'm no longer angry about my circumstances. I'm willing to accept that my ego needs to be set aside so that I can put g-d and family ahead of what I used to think would make everything okay. I've learned that the prizes, as nice as they are, will never say that they love me; that even after I do earn the suit and the car, those objects will not conspire to throw me a surprise birthday party; that while they're nice, and pretty, and might change my life situation a little, they won't change me or make me relevant. Those objects, whether attainable or not are not that important or relevant, because all they do is stand as symbols of something which actually is important: the people whose lives become better because I said hello to them, or put some stuff on their face, or asked them to help me make other people's lives better; and the people who make my life better. 

Through this process of telling the world that I have had such a powerful obsession with externalizing my own value that I was willing to put on the line things which actually are important in my life (my health and relationships), I have learned what is really important. I have gained some amount of peace, and taught myself to trust again. My most recent teacher, Eckhart Tolle, says that fear is simply a lack of trust. The idea that fear would be simply anything seemed like a completely incomprehensible concept to me before all this, but I get it now:

Trust your moment. Trust where g-d has put you. Trust yourself and be present, everything else will come.

At this point, I don't know where my moments will take me, but I'm starting to trust the process more and trust myself to simply know what to do with whatever the universe/moment (or g-d) brings me or sends me into. I can lead from wherever I am, because (as has been demonstrated by the readership of this blog in the last several months), people will listen to me if I tell them why they should. Before this, I didn't know why anyone would listen to me, and I was so frustrated at feeling unheard that I thought it was personal. Turns out, you just needed to know where I had been.

I think I've shown you every step of my madness. I've borne my soul, screamed, cried, and become a little more enlightened and you listened. Through all of it. And I think that's because when a leader shows their darkness people will look, and then the grace, patience, and beauty mean so much more. The darkness, the scars, the tears showed you that I am human, incomplete, and no longer in denial about what is really important. More meaningful, though, is the experience of no longer wailing away in the darkness. I acknowledge that it's there, that not only are there parts of me that are not perfect as I would have them, but that those aspects of my character make me more beautiful, even if they aren't attractive to some people (this applies both physically and spiritually); and those aspects, experiences, whatever, don't need to be redeemed. They don't.  

All these years of self-abuse will not be redeemed by the lessons that I have learned, or the ones that I hope to teach others. It's not possible, and even if it was, I don't want it. Those experiences are relevant to who I am, the scars that they left are relevant and it's all part of who I BE. They won't protect me from future scars, from disappointment, from failure or loss. They are now even too small for me to hide behind, but present enough in who I be to share relevant answers when I am asked about them. 

And so, while I don't know exactly where this moment is going to take me, as I sit present in its company, I know that whatever I do in the next moment will be an effort to bring peace and joy into the hearts of the people I share my moments with. It won't be perfect. I'll need reminding. I will fall, become wounded or ill. I will lose my patience; want to destroy myself again. I will watch fear and anger pop up in my egoic mind. I will feel pain, both in my physical body, and in my "pain body", but because my eyes are open to reality (at this moment at least), I can carry that with me into the next moment and remind myself what's truly important and not have to be so serious about it, either.

The prizes that I covet will not love me. You will. 
The cars and suits will not celebrate with me. You will.
Because you are what is important, not that stuff. You are what's relevant, and because of that fact I already have relevance. Knowing that I can go forth and show the world my relevance, be at peace with the results of that, and earn the symbols of leadership and relevance so that I don't always have to rely on my darkness as a demonstration of where I've been. 

I'm not done yet, but I am so grateful that you have been here with me in this crazy, messy place. You can bet that I will be there with you in your crazy, messy places too. The Buddha said that life is suffering; another buddha said that the only people who don't have problems are dead ones. However, no teacher ever said that we have to be so serious about all that suffering all of the time, and I think not taking all this shit so seriously is how we form peace and joy and enlightenment. 

Being forced into the muck but learning to smile anyway. That's what I've learned.

Monday, January 7, 2013

And back to me again

What moose?

Maybe it's just being highly suggestible. Maybe something has actually changed. Maybe I've been working on myself enough and making enough progress, but I feel differently than I did when I started down this road. I suppose I literally am different, but noticing it feels kinda... weird. 

Today I woke up and shortly after waking I felt hungry. I made toast, buttered it, and put it together with two pieces of cheese and a fake-sausage patty. It was. Delicious. And you know what? It was so much more delicious than it would have been if I had eaten it from a place of mechanical eating (where I've been since I've been in recovery); but even more, it was so much more satisfying than any binge.

I'm coming to a place in this journey where I'm allowing myself to enjoy good food (and even bad food!), and I'm enjoying it more because I feel hungry before I eat it! If you've spent your entire life with relatively normal eating habits, you may not realize how monumental this is. Hunger and I are not very well acquainted. I have spent so much time denying my body's needs and desires for sustenance, that the signals stopped being registered by my brain, (except in cases where my blood sugar is dangerously low, then I just start crying and screaming at people). Mechanical eating (having food at specific times each day like... now) has given my body the idea that I can be trusted to care for it properly and so hunger signals are being registered.

But what's most important is that food has never been so enjoyable as when I am responding properly to my body's needs. It's a serious paradigm shift for me, because I actually am starting to feel kinda happy about eating. It's still kind of nerve wracking to eat with other people - present company excepted - but being allowed to enjoy my food is nothing short of life-changing. I don't know what else to say.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Enough about me (for like a minute); what about you?

So, a lot of what I've been blogging about here is work on a project called Poverty of Pretty, the basic concept of which is that our culture's obsession with physical attractiveness is causing soul poverty in the best case, bullying and death in the worst cases. What I hope to accomplish with this project is a fundamental paradigm shift* in the beauty industry - that is, my industry, the industry in which I labor. What I would like to see throughout the beauty industry is what exists in Mary Kay and other direct selling companies that focus on beauty products.

In my world, the products are a vehicle that enables people of true beauty, soul beauty, to influence the lives of others and help them see and develop their own soulful beauty. Whether that's through use of good products; help from someone who actually knows and likes you; or through a business opportunity that opens doors and allows you to show other people how to get into their soul beauty. Meanwhile, the rest of the beauty industry (in cahoots with the dieting industry**!) feeds on the insecurities of people telling them that if they don't wear/use/weigh this or that, no one will love them. The corporate aspect is just one part of it, and I hope not to go on too much about it in this particular project, so pardon my rambling.

What I want to know is what beauty means to you. I have developed a survey that asks questions about your identity, relationship to beauty, and relationship to physical attractiveness. I'm not a professional researcher, but I do intend to keep these answers confidential and protect your privacy. This survey was developed out of curiosity and as research for my project. 

If you are interested in helping me with my research, please send a quick email to povertyofpretty at gmail dot com and I'll send you the survey. I would like participants of all genders, so if you're interested don't rule yourself out just cuz your identity doesn't necessarily fall in what you think my audience is ~_^.

**Thanks Self Magazine!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Happy 2013! (Recovery, week... uh... Ten!)

Funny thing happened this week: the New York Times, a paper that people actually read published an article about a study of several studies about people being fat. Now, the interesting thing about this study of studies1 is that it concluded that a fat person does not, despite popular belief, suddenly drop dead of a heartabetes as soon as they cross the invisible2 threshold of "clinically obese"3.

I just about fell out of my chair when I read this article, (in bed on my phone), because there is a doctor in that article admitting that the link between weight and mortality is unfounded at best, and completely backwards and stupid otherwise. Can you believe the gall that doctor must have? Telling fat people that it's okay to be fat? That it's probably not even doing them any harm? Or that, *gasp* fat people might actually have a decreased morality rate than "normal weight" people, especially as they get older?

As it turns out, your weight doesn't really have that much of an effect on your health (unless you develop an eating disorder because every fucking person on the planet "just wants you to be healthy" by which they mean "skinny"), and that there are other factors like genetics, and actual fucking science that predict whether a person (regardless of weight) develops high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, foot-in-mouth disease, rickets, chicken pox, rabies, or any other disease that has previously been tied to the fear of fat. 

I've read several articles since the NYT one linked above, and most of them (including the original) make sure to point out, in no uncertain terms that this study is not an excuse to gain weight, because if you do that you won't fit into the cultural ideal of pretty, and you don't want to be ugly, do you? Yeah, fatass, get back on that treadmill, we all know why you're doing it an it ain't for your health.

I think one of my resolutions this year was to be more sarcastic. Anyway, I thought this study and its related articles were very interesting, and I kind of built up a little ire about the reporting and had to say something about it. (I also thought it was an interesting juxtaposition of all the articles, and groups, and exercise programs, etc that my friends were posting on Facebook because they want to be skinny - which is totally their prerogative, I'm not going to shame them for it because I love them at any size.)

Most of the rest of what I have to report for myself this week is... I don't really know. I'm stressed out, but I think I'm getting better at dealing with it in a normal-person way, rather than a person who deals with shit by not eating (or eating until I'm sick). I've had a little body shame, a little food-consuming shame, a few thoughts about how disgustingly fat I am... but mostly not. I'm not feeling as overwhelmed by thoughts of food as I was before, and I even managed to cook up some red beans and rice4. I even think I may have my mojo back... but I'm not 100% sure, since I haven't done anything with it yet, I'm just less terrified of what might happen if I did do something with it.

So, really, starting to get back to normal and getting the ball rolling on my Poverty of Pretty survey (more on that later). I'm sure I'm not cured yet, though, so stay tuned for more drama...

1 what? in November every other word spoken on the teevee was "poll of polls", I can say "study of studies"
2 read: imaginary
3 read in giant, scary voice
4 It was good, although with the beans I used and how long I cooked it, it turned out more like brown beans and rice, but no one who ate it cared what color it was, cuz I don't associate with bean racists.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Reorganizing my priorities

So much of the last several years has been spent focused on money, bills, things... things that aren't important; things that won't mourn me, remember me, or matter; things that don't care about me because they aren't capable of caring. I got so focused on "work", on earning and advancing that I completely missed the point not just of my chosen career but of life.

Everyone does this to a point, I think, and I'm not beating myself up over it because I've begun to change it (or at least I see it as much in myself as I see it in others whom I would criticize for such behavior - PROGRESS!); I'm simply making an observation as a starting point. 

While journeying back to health, I have begun to search myself for the true meaning of beauty1 so that I might be able to properly call myself a "beauty educator" and someone who knows what she's talking about. In doing so, I have begun to actually "get" it. I don't know when I'll be able to get it enough to practice it full time and teach it to others, and attract people who want to teach this lesson themselves, but one step at a time, you know? 

Step one, then, was reorganizing my priorities. Or, at least actually prioritizing the things that I claim are my priorities2, rather than being so focused on things that don't really matter that I paralyze myself with stress. So, what are my claimed priorities?
  1. Faith
  2. Family
  3. Career
That means that spending time with what I consider to be g-d each day, in prayer, meditation, and gratitude; not just saying a few things in the morning and not really feeling it. It also means practicing presence3, spending more time in my feet than my head. In spending time with g-d, I'll also be taking better care of myself, making sure to eat 2-3 meals a day with at least one snack in there somewhere, and also promising to move my body in a way that I find enjoyable4.

My second priority being family, means that in my weekly goals I have a promise to spend some time with a family member every week. It means calling my mother more5. I have further goals to have dates, and reaching out to a friend OFF Facebook6.

Finally, I have career and work goals to accomplish too, but I must perform those duties from a place of fulfilling my obligations to my g-d, myself, and my family and knowing that those obligations will not be fulfilled by my career but by my love, devotion, maturity, and presence. The ironic thing being, I think I'll be a lot more successful coming at it from this perspective, rather than through force. I'll be able to connect better, and I'll (hopefully) stop using moments, and therefore people, as means to ends. Having my moments, and my interactions with other people be ends in themselves, I will connect and be genuine for reals this time.

There is still darkness I have to face and move through, but I have the power to do that now so I'm not as afraid of it as I was before.

1. This will be discussed in a later blog, sorry, it's kind of not relevant right now
2. After a long, painful, exhausting conversation with the Emperor, I realized that this was an issue that I have a lot of trouble with too.
3. Okay, I'll give you a sneak-peek of the beauty discussion: presence is absolutely necessary for beauty to even begin to be possible
4. With the focus being feeling good and keeping my body from breaking down and being useless.
5. Yes, I know.
6. What a freakin concept!