Thursday, March 28, 2013


"Don't make me live for my Friday nights" has been replaced with "afterall, there's only one more sleep til Friday!" Damn. I am not amused. This wasn't supposed to happen this way!
Eventually the Prime Directive of the Twentysomething will wear off, and I'll turn 30 and go "oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck!" as is apparently the custom, since almost all of my closest friends who have achieved that age have had something of a crisis over it.
Something about the idea of success has changed in me lately too. It used to be success was making enough money to pay all of my bills and make some headway in my credit card debt. Then success came from doing things I hadn't ever done before. Recently, success was something as simple as keeping a meal down, or eating it in the first place. Now... success is bullshit.
I don't mean to say that it's not important to have goals and to work to achieve them, that's fine. It's this idea that "once I have/do/am X, I'll be successful, which means" whatever you want it to mean. I've begun to realize that that isn't even important. Having, doing, or being something doesn't mean shit if you're unhappy. Actually, even if you're happy those things don't mean anything, because being happy is what's important and a happy person is happy whether they languish in poverty or dive into vaults of gold coins a la Uncle Scrooge McDuck*.
So, I don't know. Maybe the idea of success is just a piece of cheese designed to keep us in the rat race. Obsessing over our life situation makes us unhappy, when if we could just let that all go and sit down and breath for a moment, everything feels much better.
Earlier tonight, after a long day exhausted by Monday's glutenizing**, I went to an event where I had arranged a little booth and smiled at people for two hours. I was doing other things, of course, but most of what I was doing was smiling at people and being friendly. During this time, I forgot about being exhausted, and my relative level of pain diminished. I was there, in the moment, feeling and acting happy, and it actually felt good. I didn't feel especially successful in that moment (and I don't now either), but I was doing something that gave me life and energy, so maybe it was a form of achieving success.
I keep thinking what 10-year-old me would think of my life, and I realized MAN! 10-year-old me would LOVE my life! I have men paying attention to me. I have a real bed. I have tons of books - oh, and computers, man 10-year-old me would be so jazzed that I can talk to any one of my friends in seconds from a square little thing in my pocket and I don't even have to make a phone call! Plus, unlimited Star Trek. 10-year-old me would dig that so hard and fast. But then I get bogged down by all that grown-up bullshit...
Not even the working and paying bills part. I understood that when I was a kid***. The grown up bullshit like being worried if someone's going to say something about my weight/size/shape; or being overly concerned about that giant zit in the middle of my chin*'... or being in pain virtually all of the time, taking handfulls of pills on a regular basis just to make sure I'm pissing out enough nutrients. Having to talk myself into or out of eating something so I can keep functioning on a near-human level.
And taxes. Taxes are bullshit too.
*Please note, such activities would actually kill you, but gold is more valuable when there's blood all over it.
**Mentos are bad m'kay?
***It's why quality time with my mom was spent in the car going to school.
*'Fuck you hormones.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Screen Behind the Mirror - whatever that means

I dove into an audiobook this week Anti Fragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and really enjoyed over half of it until my phone started going all wonky and I had to reset it to factory before discovering that the problem was unfixable and it was time to order a new phone. Things that need insurance, like handset devices, are not anti-fragile. 

The premise of this book is that there isn't a word for things which benefit from chaos. Something destroyed or harmed by chaos is fragile. Something which neither is harmed nor benefited by chaos is robust, stable. And so it becomes necessary to invent a word for things which benefit and become stronger through chaos. There are certain things which cause an object, person, or concept to be vulnerable to circumstances, (there's a lot in there about economic and governmental concepts); and that acting and performing tasks helps to make one anti-fragile, whereas simply talking about things leaves you open to chaos. There's some amount of anti-intellectualism in there, but it appears to come from a place of earnestly disagreeing with certain systems which are endemic in academia and our current scholastic system. 

This book seemed to have been my lesson for the week. Chaos is going to occur; the wind will blow, the earth will shake, the fire will burn. Today I went to a class at my synagogue and we talked about that passage in the story of Elijah where he goes up to the mountain top and all this crazy shit happens, but g-d isn't in the wind, the quake, or the fire; g-d is the "still small voice" inside that insists you are anti-fragile. Rather, it's not the shiny, pretty, noisy things that give us strength, but the person who insists that you're much more durable than you've allowed yourself to believe. 

The journey through the last six months has me believing that I am anti-fragile. Recovery from any destructive habit is scary, chaotic, and breaks all of your available tools, but those broken tool make you look for new ones, which makes you less vulnerable to chaos next time around because not only do you have new tools, you now have the ability to look for and create new ways to make the world work for you.

In a way, being anti-fragile is what lead me to bulimia in the first place. Of course, my anti-fragility lead me out of it too. I've learned a lot, grown a lot, and become so much stronger through this, so I'm convinced that I'm being primed for greatness. Leaders are born out of adversity; they don't just appear. And yeah, we tell people things like "do hard things", but choosing to play the game on expert is a lot different from having that choice made by your life circumstances. Maybe people who intentionally do things that are more difficult than they can handle are anti-fragile too, all I know is that having that pressure, pain, and adversity just happen as a form of chaos made me better at whatever it is I do these days.

If none of that made sense to you, that's okay. Here's a picture of a derpy dinosaur that I got for my birthday.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Invisibility versus Leadership

I had a realization today: almost all of my setbacks, roadblocks, and self-sabotage throughout my entire life* have stemmed from my desire to remain invisible. I have been fighting again myself this entire time because one part of me wanted and craved (at times to the point of desperation) recognition and attention, but a separate, deeper part wanted to be invisible, ignored, passed over, and forgotten**. That's where my eating disorder came from. I thought I would fit in if I was skinny, and fitting in meant invisibility. 

Invisibility isn't easy, but there are a whole host of benefits to it: 
  • freedom from criticism
  • freedom to remain mediocre
  • an easier time dodging the slings and arrows of Outrageous Fortune (which incidentally takes a to-hit impediment of -4 against invisibility)***
  • observation without the risk of affecting the subject
  • performing nefarious deeds without risking getting caught
I could go on, but you are probably well acquainted with the benefits of invisibility. There are of course some drawbacks, like not being heard when you cry for help; or if you get knocked unconscious because the Outrageous Fortune rolled a 20, your cleric can't find and Heal you***. But the greatest drawback of invisibility is that it is diametrically opposed to leadership. You can't take on any form of leadership roll without being visible. It's impossible. For others to follow you, they first have to see you and then have to know why they should follow you. But it all begins with visibility.

Now, there are drawbacks to visibility, but we all have the ability to create our own little magic items to counter-balance those drawbacks. For example, me allowing myself to become visible leads directly to the possibility that someone is going to criticize my weight, shape, or size (unfortunately, it also opens the door for innocuous comments that I take as criticism because I'm sensitive). But, I have the ability to craft a +7 Ring of Body Acceptance and have a greater chance of making my Save versus Assholes roll***. I can use my charisma to attract followers who will buffer me against the criticism of others (less effective), or I can dual class as a cleric and cast a spell that makes me impervious to superficial criticism. 

None of that makes me a leader, though. Visibility is just the first step... well, in my case, stopping the quest to find invisibility is the first step. All of my body image and other self-esteem issues go back to that desire to become invisible, because when I was very young invisibility meant safety both while playing D&D and while trying to navigate my life. However, as an adult, I can't get safety from being invisible anymore. If I continue my analogy (which, yes, I'm going to do), as I've leveled up the things I'm fighting have better abilities, including ones that render invisibility useless: Poverty and Heartbreak aren't affected by invisibility, because they don't use their eyes to find their victims. What's worse, the things that I want in my life still can't find me! 

In order to lead myself, I've had to shine a bright light on the deepest, darkest corners of my psyche and make my whole self visible. There are things in me that I wanted to ignore, but instead I must accept them as part of me and move on. Like my favorite D&D character, I have the capacity to turn all those scary and dangerous traits about myself into something amazing that I can use to control the outcome of the game. Remaining invisible, however, means that the GM is going to say "you just hid the whole time, why should I give you any experience points?"*' And worldly ambition, my friends, requires mega XP.

Maybe this post is less accessible to you because you don't play RPGs*'', but the message is the same: you'll never become a leader if you keep finding ways to make yourself invisible again. Visibility brings vulnerability, sure, but vulnerability is the antidote to shame which is what makes us want to be invisible in the first place. Vulnerability also leads to love, learning, acceptance, and vision. Being vulnerable gives you experience and wisdom, and when you couple your vulnerability with visibility you become a leader. Maybe on a small scale like within your family; maybe in your faith community or your professional field; maybe even on a much broader scale. Other people will be drawn to what you have to say when you speak from a place of having walked through the fire and finding peace and actual safety on the other side. 

Stop being afraid of other people seeing you as you are and just lead them. Anyone who's going to follow you wants to see what's really there anyway.

*From the Age of Ambition, anyway
**To the point where I once had my best friend go off on me because I said I didn't want to be remembered when I died. She was right to chastise me.
***That was a D&D joke
*'And then the Paladin gets all of your XP because she's a freakin tank.
*''Or think they're evil, in which case, why are you reading my blog? 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

You're right, it's not fair.

The worst part about this whole journey is that the issues I dealt with via my eating disorder don't go away when you start trying to avoid symptoms, or change thought patterns. I didn't start mattering the day I decided I wasn't going to throw up anymore. I didn't undo years of trauma when I stopped stepping onto the scale everyday. I didn't stop having anxiety attacks. I didn't stop feeling unloved and worthless in the moment when I realized that beauty begins with acceptance. 

I think this is true for most people, but comprehending one's self-worth is a cycle. There's a feel good part, and a feel shitty part. For people who have self-destructive habits or compulsions, the feel shitty part is briefly alleviated when you act on the impulse. The burning of a knife across exposed flesh takes away some of the worthlessness for a minute because it shocks your system into a completely different kind of survival mode. There is relief after emptying your stomach because you feel like you got rid of the bad stuff; emotional emptiness is exhausting, but the work to make the physical match the emotional seems comforting. 

But I've decided that shocking myself into a fight or flight response, or forcing my stomach to be empty so I can fake some kind of peace are not options for me anymore. I have to find new ways of dealing with the feelings of worthlessness, the trauma and abandonment, anxiety, depression, and isolation. Of course, by now it seems like the only part of this whole thing that anyone really cared about was the part where I said "I have this thing, and I want to heal it". Everyone congratulates you when you stop hitting yourself, but what really matters is the aftercare. 

In the eyes of everyone I know, life is back to normal. I'm the confident, beautiful, center of attention my loved ones are used to seeing. The hard part is over, Rachel has accepted that she's fat and no longer needs to do anything about it. "You're beautiful," I hear, but it doesn't really mean anything because my physical form is not what this is really about. I just channeled it into something physically self-destructive because that's how I was taught. 

I'm drifting between being outspoken and being silent. It's a cycle, you understand. Except, there are some feel okay parts (happy), some feel shitty-but-okay-with-that parts (outspoken), and some feel shitty-and-think-no-one-cares parts (silence). Sometimes, all three happen at once. Sometimes I just feel unloved and want to hide and never talk to anyone ever again. Sometimes I open up and bare my soul or let my guard down and somebody does something shitty that ruins my entire weekend. 

Sometimes, someone throws a temper tantrum and yells that something isn't fair, and I completely shut down.

What's not fair is not being able to turn to the things that give you comfort. But I'm not interested in fairness. I discovered that the world is a cold, cruel place a long time ago and came to terms with it. When I had the flu as a child and my step mom said that if I threw up I was going to have to clean it up, I realized the kind of world I was up against (I might have been 7). 

Life isn't fair. And the kicker is, no one actually gives a shit when something bad does happen because they're too busy thinking about their own things. I'm guilty of that too. And while I at least try to spend time with the people I love when they're having a tough time, the fact that I'm alone right now is a sign that life is not fair. 

Boo. Fucking. Hoo.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What can I do to help someone who has an eating disorder?

At the end of the workbook I've been using there's a list of "dos and don'ts" for family and friends to help support someone with an eating disorder (in this case specifically bulimia, but I'm sure similar guidelines apply to other eating disorders as well).
1. Educate yourself about eating disorders. It's not your loved one's job to teach you about eating disorders. She can share her experiences, if she wants to, but if you want to learn data and facts, you're better off finding them out on your own. When other people expect us to teach them about our illnesses, it feels less like you're asking out of love and more like we're a curiosity. Additionally, once you've learned that eating disorders are caused by a number of factors (and that "symptoms can serve as a very effective coping mechanism"), you'll be able to act with more compassion rather than asking your loved one to "snap out of it".
2. Discuss aspects of your loved one that you enjoy that aren't related to weight or shape. At first, you want to reinforce characteristics about your loved one that are not physical at all. Don't say "you're so pretty" when someone first tells you they have an eating disorder, it might backfire and reinforce their behavior if they're still acting on urges for symptoms. However, as your loved one progresses through their recovery, it is nice to hear that we are pretty but that it doesn't envelop the whole of who we are.
3. Share activities that don't raise concerns about weight or shape. For a while the idea of exercising seemed kind of terrifying. One of my symptoms was to over-exercise, so it took a while for me to be comfortable with trying to find forms of exercise that I enjoy. This is also good for helping your loved one avoid thinking about or acting on urges for symptoms.
4. Express your concerns and communicate directly and openly. Words are very important things, and how you use them can be helpful or harmful, and when you're talking to your loved one about their eating disorder don't make it about you. If you have concerns, express them honestly, without threats, ultimatums, insults, or incriminations.
5. Offer your support by being available and listening. This journey feels like you're gradually going insane, and you feel completely alone. Part of why eating disorders are so difficult to recover from is because of that alienation. Knowing that the Emperor, and a number of other people, were on my team during this helped me get through it, because just about everywhere I went, if I suddenly needed to vent or talk about it I could and I felt less alone because of that.
6. Allow your loved one to be independent and in charge of his or her own recovery. Confidence is part of self-esteem, just like being comfortable in your body. I know the desire to rush in and save your loved one is strong, and that sometimes you want to monitor how much, how often, and/or whether your loved one is or isn't engaging in symptoms. You love them, and want to make sure they're getting enough nutrition, and aren't continuing to engage in behaviors that you both know are harmful. But, if you're too aggressive about your loved one's recovery they might be less likely to recover. It's not your fault, you just want to help, but sometimes the best help you can give is to just say "I love you" give them a hug or a kiss and shut up about everything else.
7. Allow your loved one to make their own choices and go at their own pace for recovery.  Don't rush them. Don't offer unsolicited advice. If you want to say something, but aren't sure if it will help, just say tell your loved one that you love them and are proud of them.
8. Examine your own beliefs about food, weight, and shape. This means don't talk shit about your own body. That's going to make your loved one feel badly about their body. Don't talk about dieting or weight loss. Don't talk about other people's bodies either. No gossiping. It's harmful in general, but in this specific case, you could alienate your loved one, which means the recovery process is less likely to hold. Be aware, again, that words are powerful, and that what you say really matters because your loved one is extremely vulnerable right now.

9. Treat your loved one normally. Aside from watching what you say, please avoid giving your loved one special status because of their eating disorder. This is a form of objectification, and it's hurtful.

10. Be aware of your own needs. This whole process is emotionally costly. If you are taking care of yourself, you'll be able to help your loved one. If you're not taking care of yourself, you run the risk of dumping your emotional garbage on your loved one who is already wading through a swamp of it.

11. Be patient. This journey takes time. Like any kind of success, successfully recovering from an eating disorder looks a lot more like your headphones do when you pull them out of your pocket than a straight line from A to B. "Having symptom slips after a symptom-free period is not unusual and does not mean your loved one is giving up or is back to square one."

And, if you've learned nothing else from me here, when you are helping a loved one recover from an eating disorder:
  •  Don't make comments on weight, shape or appearance. "Any comments you make about weight, shape, or appearance will probably be interpreted negatively." Even when you're talking about someone else. When in doubt, shut up.
  • Don't ignore the problem. Eating disorders won't go away on their own, and most people who have eating disorders aren't going to just change everything about themselves over night with no support.
  • Don't blame yourself or your loved one for the eating disorder. Not helpful.
  • Don't make demands. Confrontation is likely to cause symptoms to become worse. Also, making demands on someone who is sick is totally a dick move.
  • Don't get involved in a power struggle. "If you find yourself in a situation where your loved one is arguing in favor of the eating disorder and you are arguing the other side, disengage and reevaluate."
  • Don't take control or police eating or symptoms. Again, dick move.
  • Don't rescue your loved one. (See above)
  • Don't take on the role of therapist. If your loved one needs therapy, you are not qualified or objective enough to provide it. Help them get professional help, go along with them if they ask (but keep your mouth shut), and make sure they are seeing someone who has a background helping people with eating disorders. That last bit is really important.
The workbook I used is the 2003 edition of The Overcoming Bulimia Workbook by Randi E McCabe, PhD, Traci L McFarlane PhD, and Marion P Olmsted PhD; published by New Harbinger Publications, Inc

Monday, March 4, 2013

Being whole with broken tools

A friend of mine recently wrote a status on Facebook bemoaning feelings of brokenness, to which I replied
"One thing I've learned about breaking is that what is really broken is the old way of doing things. I can't speak for anyone else, but I know that I wasn't happy with the old ways, so their breaking makes room for new ways. You're not broken, the stuff that isn't working for you is what's broken. It's time to find new tools."
Sometime after this exchange, my friend's cousin yoinked this quote and attributed it to me in his own status. A friend of his was touched and decided to share it with her teenaged son. My friend's cousin remarked on how far my wisdom traveled, and I mentioned that, considering what I had gone through to achieve this understanding, I was very glad it was resonating with someone else. At that moment, I realized that my reach is much broader than I had previously though and by that my leadership is much greater than I had previously thought.
Later that day, I felt completely whole. Nothing was remotely different about me or my "life situation" as Master Eckhart would say; I just felt whole. All at once, for no reason, all of my illusions, delusions, vulnerabilities, and issues of pride dropped off and I was whole again, like I haven't been since I was a child. The feeling didn't last very long, but its existence made me feel like I am starting to emerge from the cocoon wherein I've been gestating since September.
Feelings like that are more common now than they have been before, and I realize that it's because I before I was treating myself as broken because my tools didn't work. However, I am not my tools. I am not my body, my mind, my feelings, my desires; any of it. I am the observer of my mind, feelings, desires, and disappointments; the observer living in my body has the ability to change out the broken tools for new ones that do work.
I don't really know what to make of all of this. I mean, I've been sick for the last several days, and I don't really feel like I'm making any progress in my life. Then again, I've accepted the leadership role I have earned in my networking circle and begun using my brilliance for helping my colleagues grow their businesses. This kind of attitude could really benefit me as I keep working my own business, but in the very least I've realized that people are willing to follow me.
That's the thing. Others are not only interested in following me, they are willing. I just have to lead. Pick up my shiny new tools and lead them somewhere.
Let's go gang...