Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The power of dismissal

GUYS! I had a breakthrough last month. Break. Through. I'm so excited I can finally share something positive, here.

Last month my brother Dan was in town for this big old two-day family event. THE biggest annual gathering on my father's side. A family tradition from backwoods Virginia over a hundred years old, I think. Cousins, aunts and uncles, lifelong friends, random friends, and the offspring come to eat, talk, and take turns stirring an 18 gallon copper kettle full of applebutter that has to boil constantly for eight hours over an open open flame. It's intense. We call it Applebutter Day because our ancestors are creative.
The canning of the applebutter after it's been boiling all day. The kettle is at the far end, and my sister, Jen, is stirring, just for reference.

The thing is, in order to fill a giant kettle with applebutter, you have to have gallons and gallons of applesauce, which is made the day before on Applesauce Day. That day is a much calmer, more intimate gathering of my parents, my siblings and all of our children, cutting up apples, listening to Guster, and making the sauce.
Two of my brothers, Jimmy and Dan  on Applesauce Day

This year my parents weren't there. And we ran out of apples. I swear these two facts are unrelated. Anyway, Dan and I had to high-tail it to the farmer's market before they closed.
Uncle Dan and my son

We got talking about my relapse, and how things were really going. I explained about the constant battle in my mind over my looks and my worth. Then he told me a very powerful story. When we were young, he remembers my mom saying that she was going to start a new diet. In his precious 3 year old mind, he pictured my mom waltzing into church or somewhere, all skinny and different, and him not being able to recognize her.  He was terrified. He said, "I was so worried that she'd look like someone else, not Mom. And that really worried me, because her size was completely irrelevant to who she was to me."

I saw it. I saw it all through preschool-Dan's eyes. His mother, my mother, how we adored her. How she was our entire lives. Our foundation, our safety, our stability. Her size was 100% irrelevant. I see my kids, how they adore me. How I am their entire lives. How they need me to be someone to build on, shelter under, and discover things with. My size is 100% irrelevant to them. To all my relationships, actually. Except the one with myself. But, here's where the magic happened. I latched on to that one word: Irrelevant.

It's such a powerful word, don't you think?  Plus it's fun to say. And if I think something is irrelevant, I immediately dismiss it. I give the word that much power. And if my size really is irrelevant to my children, and to my friends, maybe I could teach myself to think of it that way. For the whole last month, every time I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror, or my reflection in a window, and the negative emotions and thoughts rushed in, I said, out loud, "my size is irrelevant." All day. Every day. For weeks. And when I looked at other women and analyzed their looks, or wondered if I was bigger or smaller, I stopped myself and said, "her size is irrelevant to who she is."
This is me and my nephew on Applebutter Day. My size is irrelevant him. He loves me because I'm aunt Rach
I can't do affirmations quite yet. I can't look at myself in the mirror and say things like, "you're strong," or "you're beautiful." I just can't take myself seriously doing that. But this one feels totally authentic. No nonsense. Just taking an immature and dangerous train of thought and turning that thing right around. It's working. I'm not perfect. I'm not completely happy with myself all the time, but recognizing what is relevant about me and what is not, and labeling it, has been a very successful beginning to stripping off the bindings of this disorder.

I don't have to wallow in the thoughts. I can dismiss them. They're irrelevant.

That's my assignment? Seriously?

I want to love myself. I want to quit caring about my size. I don't even care about my looks, guys, it literally is just my size. I'll go to the grocery store with no make-up, wicked bedhead and no bra and not even think twice about it. But if I thought my love handles were noticeable I'd wear a snowsuit in July to cover it up. And I'd think about it all. Day. Long.
In the above photo, my friends and I got together to make these wreaths.They're cool, right? And these ladies are the very best. The best. I couldn't really enjoy them, though. Wanna know why? All I could think about was how much weight I'd gained since I started therapy. I pictured myself as a goliath next to them, and it made me uncomfortable. Around people I love. Now I want to be a hermit and not be around anyone. This is a huge problem.

I go to my dietician. She's mean, but she does it so nicely. Always smiling. I ask the question. How in the hell am I going to get over this chasm? This mammoth division between what I know to be true about human worth, and what I believe about my own? She asks how my meals are going.

Fine. They are going really, really well. I have no more guilt about food. I don't squirm at dinner time. I don't hyper-focus on macro-nutrients or calories. I don't skip meals. I don't over-eat. I'm comfortable.

 Except I hate myself. And I want to quit therapy and go on a diet. Like, now.

She looks at me long and hard. Probably to assess whether or not I'm lying about the ease with which I ditched the eating disorder behaviors. But I told the truth. I've been going to group therapy. I've been doing my one-on one sessions. I meet with her weekly. And yet....

"I'm so huge. I've gained so much weight."

"That's the body dysmorphia talking."

"My eyes aren't broken."

"I know. But your filters are."

Great. My eyes aren't broken. My brain is.

She thinks it's time to address the body image issues. This, people, is the real heart of my eating disorder. The behaviors are not the issue. I don't starve myself, or make myself throw up, or punish my body with hours of ruthless work-outs. The ideas about myself are doing the real damage. She makes me buy a workbook. That's right, I had to spend my own money on the next new torture device.

Assignment number one: Assessments. A series of tests designed to tell me whether or not I have a poor body image. Uh. Why else would I buy the book? It wasn't pretty. They took an hour, and I was a mess for several hours after. Results: I have poor body image.

Assignment number two: Stand in front of a mirror and describe yourself head to toe, out loud, as if you were describing a stranger to a sketch artist. You may not use any subjective or critical language. You must use unbiased and objective language. Describe a stranger to a stranger. 

From head to shoulders was ok. After that, it hurt. That exercise was to be repeated daily for four days, alternating toe to head and head to toe, and eventually wearing nothing but underwear. Not my fave. But, on day two I noticed that describing myself in a non-judgy tone was a relief from the constant barrage of disapproving messages I typically send myself. Huh.

Assignment number 3: Go back to your childhood and revisit significant memories that shaped your body image. Memories of elementary school flood my mind. Really, flood it. And in every one, I felt so inadequate,  and so determined to hide it. I was in a constant state of competition. It was as if I didn't believe I had value, but that I had to prove it to others. Or earn it. Prove, prove, prove. Earn, earn, earn.  Always on stage. But I couldn't pinpoint where or why it started.

I talked to my mom about it, and she told me that when I was three people would come up to her and say, "Your kids are so cute. Rachel doesn't look like them." They meant that my older siblings were blond and I was brunette, I'm sure. But little me didn't take it that way. One day I tearfully apologized to my mom for not being cute. I apologized. That means at three, not only did I feel badly about not being cute, I felt a responsibility to my mother to be cute. I owed it to her. 

I still don't really know what to do with that information, but it's pretty obvious that we're trying to undo more damage than I thought. And I don't know how. I asked my therapist. I told him the story and asked what I'm supposed to do to get a better body image. In case you thought the therapy world had any better answers than the rest of the world for basically any problem you can let go of that right now. He gave me the two worst ones. Practice. And time. 


More assignments.

Instinct vs. Intuition - The battle's in your head

Why does therapy suck?  I mean, an objective professional who sits and listens while you talk about yourself? Where's the downside to that?And yet, it's excruciating. You have to face the two sides of yourself that are in conflict.I'm in a constant state of cognitive dissonance. That's right, I just used dissonance in a sentence. Probably even correctly. Boom.

Anyway, at the Center for Change they have several inpatient and outpatient programs to help with eating disorders. They've got therapists, dieticians, groups, classes, and reading materials. Oh, the eternal supply of reading materials. The first day there, I was assigned to read a book called Intuitive Eating.
 It looks exactly like a diet book. Which is the opposite of what I was looking for, right? RIGHT? Well, I read it. I'll give you the quick version. You go through a re-feeding process. Basically, you have to look at all food as the same. It's fuel. Period. Sure, some fuel might be better than others, but it's all fuel. And, in order to let go of any shame and/or guilt you have about eating food, you have to literally see a piece of chocolate cake the same as you see a cucumber. They don't even address nutrition until the end of the book. Problem number one. In my brain, and most people's brains, there are forbidden foods. I am to ignore this completely, and lose any moral price tags on any food.

Then, you have to give yourself unconditional permission to eat. You listen to your cues. You eat whatever you want, whenever you want it. You have a hunger/fullness scale 1 being absolutely starving, and 10 being so full you might throw up. You don't allow yourself to get hungrier than a 3, and you don't eat past a 7 on the scale. The dietician outlined what an appropriate "meal" looks like and what an appropriate "snack" looks like using fist sizes. You keep a record of your meals and snacks for a full 7 days or longer if necessary. Problem number two. Charts give me guilt and anxiety. Also, whatever I want whenever I want it? I'll only eat ice cream. Seriously, lady, if allowed, I will only eat ice cream.

They smile and tell me this is my assignment. That it will be difficult makes no difference.

At first it was fascinating. Liberating. I ate ice cream, sure, but I also wanted healthy food. The first day I realized the "unconditional permission to eat" exercise was working was when I woke up craving grape nuts and a banana before a run.  I was terrified of both those foods, but I honored my craving, ate the stuff and ran. My quads, which usually feel fatigued the first mile or two, felt amazing. Seriously, I felt nothing. I had so much energy. Not one step of that run was difficult, not even the hills. I was a believer.

Then I gained weight.

Those morons.

What were they trying to do to me? Make me a happy fat person? I didn't go in there at an unhealthy weight. I didn't need weight restoration. I charged back into that office in tears. I begged my dietician to tell me my weight because then I could fix it (yeah, I get that I'm adult and I could have driven to Target right then and bought a scale, but I forgot). She calmly told me that re-feeding is not the same as weight restoration, and that re-feeding was necessary to get my body back on track. I could yell at her, blame her, do anything else I thought necessary, but she wouldn't tell me my weight unless I could give her a compelling reason why that would be to my benefit. Then she awarded me with a super smug smile. SUPER SMUG.

This is where the real difficulty in facing my creepy demon marched in. I crumpled. I mean. You guys, I came undone. How? How could I do this to myself? Allow myself to gain weight? That's why I have the effing disorder in the first place. How long would this go on? They told me my body could fluctuate a great deal over the next while, but would find its own set-point. A healthy one for me. Uh, yeah, ok, but what if "my body" chooses a set-point I disagree with?

They gave me more reading material. This time on metabolism. If anyone wants to read it, I'll give it to them. It helped me. But, it didn't make the tight pants easier to wear. It didn't make the giant in the mirror any more attractive.  I slept better, and on the inside was internally more comfortable than I'd been my whole life. I wasn't ever hungry, and never too full. But, emotionally, mentally, oh man.I died a little inside those few weeks. I had failed. I'd allowed my value to be stripped from me, and like a pitiful creature with no other choice, I allowed others to see it by walking around in public! I watched friends on social media with their super-diets and workout challenges and everyone was so happy to have taken charge of their health and lost weight. And there I was, allowing myself to gain weight all in the name of my health. My mental- freaking- health.

I know inside that I can't add to or subtract from my value by losing or gaining weight. I know it. But then, I can't make myself believe it. I embraced my eating disorder because it gave me a set of external controls. A false sense of control, actually. And eating like this new program, using my body's cues, and good sense for what it needs is actual control. It truly is intuitive. But my instinct is to buck it. I want to go on a diet so bad I can't stand it. I need to fix it. To mend my value. My very worth is being threatened because I have a false idea of what my worth is based on.

It's exhausting. I'm not quitting. But it's exhausting. And that was just the tip of the crap hill.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Post Card from Hell: The aftermath

I realize that I haven't posted on this blog since June, even though I promised to document the whole journey. Here's the issue: This part of the journey sucks. It's not good news and exciting changes. It's struggle. It's depression. And it's hard to write, which is a guarantee it will be hard to read. But I'm finally ready. I won't sugar coat it, and I won't censor my thoughts. Hopefully that won't offend anyone, but in my opinion, the raw and ragged truth of it is what makes it worth sharing.

I was on a high after buzzing my head, for like, 3 weeks.  I was proud, my head felt soft and fuzzy, and I literally didn't even have to towel my head dry after a shower. It was ahhhmazing.
Don't these look so happy?? This is one and two weeks after the buzz, that's why.

Then--no big surprise--the regrowth started. And it didn't hurry.

Pretty soon I looked like a full-blown baby gorilla. You know what I'm talking about. 2 inches of straight up fuzzy helmet hair. I couldn't style it. I couldn't make it behave with product, I couldn't even comb it. It was funny for a minute, but then my demons emerged.

Last fall when I started this hair thing my motivations were two-fold. One, I wanted to try all the hair styles. Fun, scary, exciting. That sounded like a recipe for empowerment. And two, I wanted to challenge my looks. My eating disorder was ruling my life and my body image issues had become unmanageable. If I changed my hair and eventually buzzed my head I'd be forced to face down all the shallow parts of myself. I pictured myself laughing at them. I pictured myself cleaning out these closets in my soul and when I found the brutal abusive boyfriend people refer to as ED (Eating Disorder), I'd laugh at him and kick him out. Like a boss.

What I found instead was more like that creepy little girl from The Ring, staring me down and leering from a haunted corner of my mind. Every time I tried to tell her I was strong she smiled her disturbing, crooked smile and whispered her little lies in my head. I believed them.

Dammit, you guys, I believed them.

I don't have many pictures of this time, for obvious reasons. But here's one where you can practically feel the insecurity oozing off of me.
I can't get into all the details, but what followed was a summer of defeat. A summer of complete undoing. I'd been convinced that I didn't have good looks anymore, so I had nothing. I was nothing. By the end of July, I realized something.  Maybe people that took their own lives hadn't necessarily quit. Maybe they didn't do it because they were selfish. Maybe, just maybe, they had taken their lives because they'd tried everything else. Maybe they knew their load was so heavy they wouldn't make it into their golden years still carrying it. Maybe they were out of ideas, and tries, and couldn't stand to watch the people around them try to help, knowing it wasn't helping, but their loved ones still had to deal with them everyday.

I began to empathize with suicide. And it scared the hell out of me.

Nathan, of course, had noticed this drastic darkening. He'd seen me retreat into myself and become a bitter, snippish version of the girl I once was, and he was scared, too. And when I finally confided the depth of it he stepped in. He was strong enough to do what I couldn't. He didn't suggest professional help. He demanded it.

I can see now that my hair journey did exactly what it was supposed to. It took me to the shallow parts of myself and I faced them. I just didn't picture that enemy being so out-of-my-league. I really thought I was strong enough on my own to let the illness go, guys. But I wasn't. And so began the chapter of my life I call the hell of therapy. It started with intensive work at the Center for Change eating disorder clinic. I'll tell you all about my tyrant dietician, and the Hallmark-movie group sessions, and my excruciating one on one sessions. But I'm not gonna lie. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. And I'm not done. So, if you want the truth, stay tuned. I've been promised it will be worth it in the end.
This is me at the end of September. One cool thing about baby gorilla hair is the amazing bed head.

P.S. Comments on and sharing this blog is greatly encouraged. I love to feel connection, especially with those that are suffering these things along with me, and also with those that love and care. Please feel free to share the blog posts with others, and comment away.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Vulnerability is violet, procrastination is blue, you use up all your color, and then what do you do?

The Faux-hawk phase lasted much longer than anticipated :-) Like, months longer.  But once I started messing with colors, a very magical thing happened.
If you look closely at that purple, you'll see it's rather, um, bright. I happen to have a shirt the exact same unearthly hue, and believe it or not, the day after we dyed it I threw on my purple shirt. Without remembering my hair was purple.

 More than half-way through the busy Saturday, standing in front of my reflection at a paint store window, I looked up. My shirt matched my hair. Exactly matched my hair.

As embarrassing as that is, I want to point out the most important part of this story.
I went about my day, doing my things, not thinking about what I looked like. 

The next week I gave a Love and Logic presentation to fifty women in a MOPS group downtown. Not once while I was speaking did I think about how I looked while I was speaking. I felt my own spirit in that place, my own soul coming out unfettered by any insecurities. That's magic.
The same thing happened with the blue, and though I got a lot of fun attention, and I loved the cool and funky ways the colors faded out, most of the time, all I felt was authentic. I was me. Really, really me. Does that sound like magic to you??

Two full months of freedom.

Then I had to face the goal. The end goal has always been a buzz cut. I've been saying it all along. People have been reminding me of it all along. And when it came time, things came up. So I used up all my old color, and kept the faux for "just another couple weeks," and more things came up. Some were legitimately good reasons to hold off buzzing. Some weren't. Some made me think I wasn't being true to the people who were waiting to see pictures. Some reasons made me think I wasn't being true to myself.

I loved the purple faux-hawk. Really loved it. I could have stayed with it for years, but the point wasn't to find the hairstyle I liked the most. The point was to challenge my looks. The point was to try something that scared me. The point was to do something to my hair that I knew would take years to grow out. And learn to love and accept myself in it, no matter how it looked.

So, one sunny morning on vacation in South Carolina, my bedhead and I braced ourselves.  I handed my loved ones the clippers. My daughters, my nephew, and my sister in law went to town.
And I came out renewed. No one has to agree with that statement. You don't have to like it. You certainly don't have to tell me I still look cute. I don't care if I look cute. I did something I've wanted to do my whole life. It scared the crap out of me, and I did it. There will be consequences. I'm already enjoying some of them. But I embraced the deed and all its consequences.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Looks 7-9 - Faux-shizzle

People, I think I've arrived at the place this experience was meant to take me. INSECURITY.

Insecurity in the form of Faux Hawks.

Every time I glimpse myself in the mirror I pause to get my bearings. These styles are SO different. Once I saw my friend on the street and I stopped in my car to ask her a question. She answered in a strangely polite way.  I said, "Friend, it's Rachel," and then I nearly peed my pants laughing as the truth crept across her face. Classic. That happened so many more times. I still hear "I didn't even recognize you!" almost every day.
 So, here they are as critics have named them. The three faux-hawks:

The Billy Idol (blonde shaggy)

 The Punk (turquoise-shorter-sides)

 and The-that's-better-than-the-turquoise (Titanium short faux)

Not everyone liked the styles. There was a time when someone literally could not look at me. She turned her head and told me she didn't like my hair. I laughed a little and cried a little inside that day. Another time a lady I barely knew went out of her way to tell me how much she doesn't like it, or get it, and then offered various reasons why she wasn't the right person to like my hairstyle. I frequently held my tongue.

Also, when I had the turquoise faux-hawk, I experienced awkward staring for the first time in my life. I mean, even when I was in the Netherlands wearing a name tag, long skirts, and a helmet astride a bike I wasn't stared at like I was one night with The Punk. Usually you don't notice when people look at you, but that night at a wedding reception, everywhere I looked I met someone's eyes. It was bizarre. I think they might have been confused because I was holding hands with a very responsible looking man, but I could be wrong. Which brings me to my next point.

Stereotypes. They're for real.

When I'm out with my girlfriends, people assume we're lesbians. I'm not just guessing about this. They say stuff. Not rude stuff; most of the time people are warm and accepting, but it's funny how a haircut can change what others assume about your life.

I can't say I feel super about myself everyday with this style, but there are moments I feel so cool I grin like a kid. I mean, I have a blue faux-hawk! I don't have many more things to try before the end of phase one and the beginning of phase two, and I'm not going to lie. I'm really scared. So far, though, the experience has been so overwhelmingly positive, so fascinating and perception-altering that I'm excited to see it through. I'm excited to see "me" in all this. I am learning to recognize shallowness in myself and little by little, begin to let it go.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Phase 1: Look 6 Just a little bit of Pixie dust

 It's officially the beginning of the end of Phase One.
I'm calling it the long-shaggy-pixie. You can call it whatever you want.

 This hairstyle worried Rachel the most. She actually lost sleep over it. I had complete faith in her, though. I also had zero understanding of the color chemistry involved in this kind of transformation. The answer was: several applications, blistered hands (hers), a singed scalp (mine), and several real prayers begging that my hair follicles wouldn't give up and let go.

 During the two-day process, I had the privilege of channeling my inner Shaneequa, Carol Brady, and Donald Trump. We were quite afraid, actually.

But the most terrifying times were made fantastic by my support group. They laughed at the right moments, squealed at the right moments, and basically made all the moments feel like the important experience this was meant to be.
L-R: Jenny, Me, and Rachel. 
Steff wasn't there day 2, but she was there for the scary day1!

And, Rach has outdone herself. We ended up with a style I'd NEVER have tried before. It's so foreign, and so fun. There are latent pastel highlights hanging on from the pink, purple, and blue past styles. I kind of love them. The only downside to this do, really, is that now no one in my neighborhood waves back to me. I still drive the same car, but apparently, a good portion of people recognize us based on our hairstyle.


I don't feel as naked as I thought I'd feel. I don't feel as elderly as I thought I'd feel. But I don't feel same-old-me, either. This one is definitely different. This will probably be the only few weeks I'm blonde in my whole life, and it's exciting! I can't believe it took me so long to allow myself this experience. It's been one of the most important of my life.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Phase 1: Look 5

It finally happened. I can officially say I did NOT like a style on me. I guess we all knew it would happen at some point. So here's look #5.

 There's nothing wrong with it. It was exactly what I asked for. Chin length, stacked in the back, red with caramel highlights. And as soon as it was done I knew.


Nope. Definitely not me.

The color's not bad, the cut was, of course, expertly executed. But for some reason, it didn't resonate at all with my idea of me. It felt like someone else's hair on my head. Crazy, right? Especially since it wasn't that different from look 4. Also, I should have felt that with all of the looks so far. None of them were me.

Except they totally were.

I'm sure there's some deep psychological reason for it, but I'm not even going to try to find out what it is. All I need to know is that one didn't work for me. I kept it for whopping ten days, and then we moved on.

To the pixies. Blonde ones.

Who's ready??

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Phase 1: Look 4

I've been putting off writing this post.
 I think it's because I don't have anything profound to say. I'm sitting here thinking, and still I can't think of a thing to tell you.  Really. The chick who can talk for two hours without skipping a beat has nothing to say.
No life lessons. No profound insights. No earth shattering discoveries.
The cut and style are fantastic. The look is easy, versatile, and it's red. I love all those things. I'd prepared myself to feel vulnerable and freaked out this time, but, I'm good. I'm not scared of the styles anymore. Any of them.

 Maybe it's because I'm doing it. The anticipation of trying all the hairstyles is over, and fear is no longer a formidable obstacle. Short hair isn't a spooky whisper in a dark and empty house.
 My neck isn't even that cold. Plus I have scarves. And one by one, my flimsy reasons for never trying short hairstyles fall to the ground with every snip of Rachel's scissors. Maybe it's because I'm finally allowing myself to have an experience I should have allowed my whole life.

 Or maybe it's because I know that no matter what these styles look like on me, they are not ME. 
I'm me. And I'm awesome.
I'm about to ask you to do something hard, but I don't care. I want you to tell me the thing you love most about yourself. What makes you awesome? I want you to write it because I want  to hear you own it. Most likely, we're all aware of it, but I want to hear you say it. You don't have to post it publicly on this blog, you can email, text, or message me. Who's in??