Taming: Part I

The other night, I was watching the episode of Friends where Rachel goes out on the town for the first time since giving birth. She’s wearing a dress that shows off her (frankly amazing) cleavage, and Ross (of course) takes issue with it. When she’s at the bar and a couple of guys come up to her to chat and eventually ask her for her number, she says she didn’t go out to meet guys, she just wanted to go hang out with her friend and get a drink. I found myself thinking Why did you dress like that if you didn’t want guys’ attention? That is my taming.

Taming is something Glennon Doyle defines in Untamed as the conditioning we receive starting in childhood to make us more acceptable in the eyes of society. She points out that at one point, when we were kids, we were wild, and dreamt of uninhibited futures and expressed emotions freely. But then, society began feeding us its messages that tamed us and put us in cages, and we learned that we were not supposed to be wild. Glennon (yeah, I’m using her first name, because I see her as part of my sisterhood more so than an untouchable author) has opened millions of readers’ eyes by calling bullshit on capitalism and the patriarchy, and teaches us in Untamed how to return to our wild.

I remember one of my first tamings. It involved the school dress code. Girls were not allowed to dress too “provocatively” (how can we dress provocatively at six fucking years old, I ask you?!) because it was too distracting to our male peers. And with no similar rules warning boys not to distract the girls in their class, us girls grew into women who were taught that men can’t help but objectify us. This leads to the body-shaming and blaming of women that I found myself (a 26 year old female feminist) doing to a television character.

This doesn’t mean I’m a bad feminist. This means that I’m still learning how to fight the toxic training and taming I’ve received for most of my life. When that training starts in childhood, unlearning it as an adult is hard work! What’s exciting is that I immediately recognized my Rachel-shaming thought as my taming. A year ago, I think I would have noticed myself making such a comment, but not been curious about it.

I’m equal parts excited and scared to rekindle the wild inside me. But I’m insanely curious what my life can look like outside of the cage I’ve been tamed into.

Some days can feel like I’ve abandoned my cage entirely, when the next feels like I’m right back inside with the door firmly closed. Other days I’m sitting on the edge, questioning whether to leave the cage that’s been my home for ~20 years, or leap into the wild unknown. Being wild is scary, especially in a world that does not accept or appreciate wilderness. But I do know that I’m curious about the wilderness enough to explore.

New Moon, New Mindset

I’m still not sure if I’m one of those people who believes in astrology or the spirituality of lunar cycles, but I decided to use today’s new moon as an opportunity for change.

I need to reset. A depressive episode a couple of weeks ago left me in some bad habits, and shame has lingered enough to wreak some havoc on my thoughts and behaviors. I want to set some new intentions. I thought it was pretty exciting that I had these thoughts on the same day of a new moon…for those who don’t know, new moons symbolize new beginnings.

I figured I could use the blog as a means of accountability, to hopefully manifest new intentions and habits. So, here we go…

Intentions
~Self-love
~Communication
~Mindfulness
~Inner strength
~Gratitude

Affirmations
~I love you
~I am not my feelings
~My breath is my anchor, my anchor is my breath
~I am capable

Goals/Habits
~Regular sleep schedule; get up/go to bed earlier
~Daily walks
~Regular yoga practice; same time every other day
~Daily meditation practice

I’m ready for this change, I’m welcoming it. We’ve got a President-elect who gives me hope, and I have professional and personal opportunities on the horizon. Let’s go, New Moon. I’m ready.

Shame, That Cunning Bastard

Earlier today, after frustration over a search for socks snowballed into anger and I sent clothes flying all over our bedroom, my partner came to check on me. I was balled up on the floor, sandwiched between the bed and the wall, and my head was tucked below my knees. Anger, not being something I’m particularly used to yet, had left me feeling humiliated. As my kind and compassionate partner sat next to me rubbing my back, I didn’t want to admit to allowing socks (or lack thereof) to cause such a tidal wave of ferocity in me.

In the past, I wouldn’t have said anything. I would have remained silent and let my emotions consume me, driving away the person I desperately wanted to stay by my side. But see, I had made a promise. A promise to my partner not to shut him out. Not to make him think that my anger or moodiness is directed at him, or the result of anything he did or didn’t do. A promise to communicate.

I’m learning that I default to shutting people out, or shutting down entirely, when I feel intense emotions because of the unawareness my family and I had around my high sensitivity and my emotional needs as a highly sensitive person growing up. So, now that I know that my nervous system feels things much more deeply than the average person, I have to work hard at communicating when I’m feeling big things.

I’m not saying that I’m great at communicating now that I’ve learned all of this and have made this promise to my partner. In fact, I’m generally pretty bad at it. Sometimes, it’s so hard to say what it is I’m thinking or experiencing that it feels like I’m prying my mouth open with a crowbar and reaching down my throat to physically pull the words out. Often I’m speaking so softly that my partner has to ask me to repeat myself.

Today, though, I recognized that I have made some progress. This past week was particularly stressful, and I recalled the moments where I managed to use my words. At first, I wanted to celebrate this. I remembered how often I had kept my mouth shut in my relationships with my parents, friends, and partners in the past, and knew that any step in communicating was a step in the right direction. But quickly, shame piped in (that relentless bastard) and reminded me how far I still have to go. Shame said “How dare you celebrate this skill that you’re only less than mediocre at? You have way too far to go before you can pat yourself on the back.”

At first, I believed it. Shame is cunning, and uses small truths to create big lies. While it’s true that I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of what healthy communication looks like in my relationship, it is false that I have to wait until I’ve mastered the skill to acknowledge and celebrate my progress.

And, just because I’m not negating or discounting my success thus far, that doesn’t mean I can let up on the gas pedal. The fact is, I do have a long way to go before my communication is easy and open in those moments of moodiness or anger. But the more I practice it, the easier it will get, and I can celebrate the wins along the way.

Allowing Anger

Content Warning: self-harm

At the beginning of this global pandemic I noticed an uncomfortable feeling starting to grow within me. As my friends continued going to work or to the grocery store while I remained at home, petrified of catching this largely-unknown coronavirus, the feeling grew from a small flame into a roaring fire, until I could no longer ignore it. I was angry.

Since I was diagnosed with my autoimmune disease roughly 8 years ago—which was more than likely the result of the birth control pills I was taking at the time—I haven’t thought much about how different my life has become. Sure, I have to take daily medication for the rest of my life and I can’t unwind every night with a glass of wine, but generally things aren’t too different for me. It wasn’t until my life was threatened because of my compromised immune system that I began to think “Why the hell did this have to happen to me?!”

As I was wracked with fears of illness and death for weeks on end, this question grew louder and louder in my head. It suddenly didn’t seem fair that the pills I had been using to help regulate my menstrual cycle as a teenager had turned my immune system against me. And the longer I was stuck at home, the more anger I felt when I swallowed the meds that were lowering my immune system in order to keep my body safe.

Now, anger is not something I’m particularly familiar with. I’ve certainly experienced anger before, but, not knowing what to do with the feeling, it was often expressed through moodiness, passive aggression, or even self-harm. Or, like many other women who aren’t sure what to do when they feel anger starting to bubble under their skin, I suppressed it. Without knowing how to healthily let it out, or even that I can express it in healthy, safe ways, I stuff it down and close the lid as tight as I can.

This time around, however, I was having a hard time keeping it contained, and it certainly wasn’t going away. My anger was fierce, and desperately wanted out of the jar I had kept it stored in for all those years.

At first, the anger built into rage that exploded out of me in the form of self-harm. I didn’t know where to direct my anger, and I had enough shame lighting me up like a neon sign that I became an easy target. So when pacing and hand-flapping gave way, I released the pent-up energy the only way I knew how, at the only person in the room: me.

Of course, shortly after the energy had been expelled and the shame set in, I realized that this method of expression was not sustainable. Which is when I realized that I didn’t have a single solitary clue of how to safely express my anger. Nor could I recall any female role models who expressed their anger in healthy ways.

I started talking with a friend lately about this, and when I asked how she expressed anger, she had a hard time finding an answer, as well. She made the excellent point that systemically men are taught to be angry, but to stifle sadness because it’s a sign of weakness, and that women are taught to stifle anger because it’s not feminine. While I sat there wondering how I’ve managed to stifle anger all this time, she mentioned that these beliefs are so ingrained in us that we don’t even realize we do it.

It’s funny, because as I’ve learned more about the damage done by the patriarchy and capitalism in the last few classes I’ve taken in quarantine, the angrier I’ve become. How ironic that the notion of suppressed anger in women has caused me to become so angry that I don’t know how to express it because I’ve been taught to suppress it!

Naturally, I turned to my therapist for guidance. I knew there had to be ways of expressing anger that didn’t end up hurting myself or others, otherwise we’d all explode! She encouraged me that I can feel anger while controlling my behavior. In all those cases where anger has led to self-harm, there was always a moment where I could have chosen another option. I allowed those neuropathways to stay ingrained in my brain, until my therapist showed me how to flip that switch.

Now, I know to use my pillow at a punching bag, or throw some balled up socks or water balloons at the wall when I feel that anger grow into a big ball of energy that just wants to be uncaged. Even more important to remember: I’m allowed to be angry. It is a natural emotion, just like happiness, sadness, and even fear.

My anger has helped me clarify my values and beliefs. If I didn’t get so angry about the corporations who are making billions off of our insecurities, I wouldn’t know how much I cared about righting that wrong, of undoing the thoughts that they have implanted.

Anger can be liberating if we allow it. I’m not nearly done learning how to express it, or unlearning how not to suppress it. But I’d say it’s about time we free these gendered shackles of how women (or anyone!) are “supposed” to feel, look, or act, and use our anger as a compass to guide us towards empowerment, equality, and freedom.

Female Power

Content Warning: sexual assault (briefly mentioned, no details given)

I’ve told myself for a long time that I wasn’t cut out for female friendships. I never thought I’d have a Cristina Yang or a Lane Kim. I didn’t have the best track record with many of my relationships with women, so I didn’t see the point in trying to form new ones.

When I was in middle school I was bullied by other girls. My “best” [girl] friends turned on me, I don’t even remember why. In high school I was told I was selfish by a close girl friend. I felt as though I was competing or comparing myself with many of my female peers. In college I was raped by a woman, a friend of mine. I was called a liar when I asked for support from another close female friend. As an adult I had many female friendships end epically, awfully. I didn’t think I could maintain another close, healthy, happy friendship with another woman.

Recently I met a woman who changed that narrative for me. She allowed my vulnerability, and it brought us closer together, despite being an ocean apart. We became fast friends. I opened up to her about my history with women, and she recognized and acknowledged my fear. She saw me.

When I started feeling this fire in my belly about capitalism and the twisted narrative it feeds women in order to maintain its profits, I expressed my rage to this new friend. It unlocked something within me; sharing my frustration and anger about being a woman in 2020 with another woman was the key to embracing the female power within me, and feeling kinship and recognition in others. I suddenly saw all that I was missing by avoiding close relationships with women.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the friends in my life, regardless of gender. My partner and one of my closest friends are both men. And there is something to be said about sharing anger about an experience that is specifically female with another woman. My bestie and my partner both can empathize—and they do, quite well—but they will never truly understand my experiences without being a woman themselves.

I think I’ve subconsciously ignored aspects of my femininity for a long time. I spent most of my time with men, and never felt drawn to the interests of other women. I didn’t want to be like the women who hurt me. I didn’t want the feminine parts of myself that were judged or objectified to be seen by anyone, including myself.

I’m beginning to understand that hiding myself, any part of myself, is a disservice. Women have a history of being strong and powerful, and I am a contributor to that lineage. Now, instead of shying away from my feminine identity, I am choosing to step up and join hands with other strong and powerful women.

It’s time I step into my female power. It’s time I allow myself to share and listen and lean on women who are also aligned with my values and experiences. It’s time I channel my frustration and anger about the patriarchy and capitalism into passion, to enthusiastically lift up other powerful women and emphasize the strengths of being a woman that many in our dominant, patriarchal culture have ignored or dismissed for so long.

I’m proud to be a part of an amazing sisterhood of strong, beautiful, powerful women.


As I wrote this piece, I remembered a poem I once wrote about the women on staff at my eating disorder treatment center. Read it here.

I also want to recognize the amazing women I’ve met through Eat Breathe Thrive in the last few months. You all contributed to the inspiration for this post.

Authenticity over Approval

I’ve been experiencing a personal awakening lately. Some of which you read about in my Grey’s Anatomy post, and some you’ll read in future posts about emotions and activism. For now, however, I want to talk about authenticity.

I spent most of my life trying to be anyone but myself. In school, when I was bullied for the clothes I wore or the people I sat with at lunch, I spent years trying to fit into a more acceptable mold. I spent money I didn’t have on clothes that I thought would make me look cooler or more like “everyone else.” I spent time with people who didn’t share my values so that, if they accepted me, I could use them as a metric of my success or popularity. I posted content on social media that I told myself was authentic, but was really just a way to gain more likes, followers, or friends. I valued authenticity and independence above all else, but was too scared to actually live in accordance with those values. I was scared that if people saw the real me, they’d reject me.

After all those years of shoving myself into someone else’s ideal of what I “should” look, think, or act like, I still don’t have the things I craved since I was young. I could never find happiness in the clothes I bought, or friends in the amount of views I got on an Instagram story I had so carefully curated. Yet, I’ve discovered happiness and beautiful relationships despite those things…so I had to ask myself: Why do I waste precious time in my life trying to be someone else?! I will never fit into any mainstream ideal of what a woman should be, and I’m sick and tired of making myself smaller for anyone else’s benefit or comfort.

Being immunocompromised in this pandemic has forced me to spend a lot of uninterrupted time with myself. I’ve been blowing through journals, usually filling one within 3-4 weeks, which basically represents the amount of self-reflection and growth I’ve experienced in the last six months. The more I’ve gotten to know myself in quarantine, the more I’ve realized I want to become the person I want to be rather than the person I thought I should be.

After all of the self-reflection and journals I’ve gone through, I’ve decided to challenge myself to run towards the things that scare me. If I don’t, I will never truly know what I am capable of. Authenticity scares me. Showing people who I really am—including the parts of myself I want to hide away in deep, dark caves—absolutely terrifies me. But I’m done seeking approval from others, because their approval doesn’t matter. I matter. I choose me.

Caught in Black and White

Last night, a friend of mine sent me a folder of photos from a portrait shoot we did last week. I needed a new headshot for LinkedIn and asked my good friend, who happens to be a great photographer, to take them for me. Normally I hate being on the other side of the camera, but my previous LinkedIn photo was taken back in 2016 and I looked quite a bit different then. I let myself have fun during the shoot; I focused on my friend and allowed my weirdness to take over.

When I saw the photos last night, I cringed. Not because the photos themselves were bad—they were beautiful, in fact—but because I immediately saw the flaws in myself. I couldn’t even look at them longer than a few seconds because I didn’t see myself as a whole, I saw myself as small pieces to be picked apart.

I immediately began judging myself for judging myself. All I kept thinking was that I had made so much progress in the realm of body positivity, yet had failed epically in a crucial opportunity for self-love. Suddenly, I saw this small struggle as the demise of my capability to love myself. Yikes!

Not long after, I was able to pull away from the situation and look at it from a different angle. Not even a week ago, my therapist and I discussed my penchant for All or Nothing thinking. This mindset, also known as Black and White thinking, falls under the “Cognitive Distortion” category, and can trap you into feeling like things are either staunchly one way or the other, without anything existing in between. Examples include, but are not limited to, “If I don’t finish this task by tonight, I am a failure,” “I tried something new and made a mistake, so I will never be good at it,” and “I’m feeling frustrated with the people I work with, but they did a task correctly today, so everything is fine.” Double yikes!

Aha, but this is when dialectics come into play!

Thinking dialectically means acknowledging two things being true at the same time. For people who struggle with mental illness and/or eating disorders, this can be difficult. It’s easy to think that if you relapse it hurtles you backwards in your recovery, or even worse, it negates any and all of your progress. Let me set things straight: hiccups in recovery do not erase the progress you’ve made.

I’ll say it again, just to drive it home…You can struggle and be making progress. These two things can (and will) exist at the same time.

Last night, I experienced struggle. I looked at my 2-D face on the screen and couldn’t see the amazing qualities I’ve been discovering about myself lately. Picking apart my looks is my default mode right now. But I know now that it won’t always be. I am learning and growing and coming into my power. And part of that growth and stepping into who I was always meant to be means that I will stumble now and again.

I can stumble and be strong.

evening gratitude

Honesty

I haven’t been doing my best

and that’s okay

It does not erase the progress I’ve made

The recovery I’ve worked hard on

I’m grateful for my awareness

and for the ability to recognize when it’s time to keep working

I’m grateful for my body and its strength

even when I think I’m weak

I prove that I am strong

Tonight I am grateful for my ability to trust

Trust in my body

Trust in my mind

Trust in my muscles

Trust in my breath

Trust in my power

Thank you

For holding me up

For keeping me safe

For brimming with love

Thank you for being my home

Embodied Intimacy

In a homework assignment for a class I took recently, I had to practice abhyanga, or self-message, as a form of embodied intimacy.

You’ve probably heard of intimacy in the context of sex or romance, but intimacy isn’t just another word for sex. If we’re using the latin roots to provide our definition—intimus: innermost; intimare: to make known/familiar—we can understand intimacy to mean “making the innermost aspect of oneself known or familiar.” This can happen in a romantic relationship, yes, but also in friendships or familial relationships as you connect and share with one another.

But rarely do we show ourselves this same level of intimacy. One of the core principles of this course’s curriculum (designed to help those struggling with mental health challenges and eating disorder recovery) is Embodied Intimacy, which is the capacity to appreciate and use the body as a gateway to intimacy.

When I first heard this I was very confused. I could grasp the idea of emotional intimacy, since being an HSP makes me naturally predisposed to self-reflection and personal growth, but my understanding stopped there. As someone with an eating disorder and plenty of body image issues, my mind is historically disconnected from my body. The notion that I could use my body as a vehicle for connecting with myself seemed absurd.

When I was assigned this abhyanga exercise, I was honestly a little embarrassed. I mean, c’mon, I was supposed to undress in a room alone and use oil to massage myself for a significant amount of time?! The instructors of the class mentioned that when they assign this exercise they’re lucky if even a few people actually do it. There’s no denying that being intimate with ourselves is hard! I was proof of that.

I waited until the last possible moment to do the abhyanga, approaching it as something to check off my to-do list. At first, I even turned the TV on in the background. Bob’s Burgers was the perfect way to continue my trend of distracting and avoiding discomfort. I was instructed to use oil and pay special attention to my feet, so, after thoroughly washing my stinky feet, and feeling thoroughly ridiculous, I began.

I started on my left foot, keeping my ears on Bob’s Burgers and my eyes on my massage. When I moved up to my left leg, I noticed that I was using deep pressure, more than I thought I could handle, and my leg felt a lot stronger than I thought it was. I was so used to criticizing my muscles for being weaker than most, I hadn’t even noticed how strong they actually were. Suddenly, I realized there might be something to this exercise, and I turned off the TV.

By the time I reached my right foot, I was having an epiphany. The sole of my foot was calloused and tough, and I couldn’t remember ever intentionally giving my feet any love before doing this exercise. I found myself steeped in gratitude…my feet and legs are so much more capable than I ever give them credit for. They carry me, and have carried me, to so many places without faltering, and usually without my noticing. They have been through so much—from strolling on the beach, to dancing at concerts, to walking into dream jobs—and I never thank them for any of it.

I finally understood: this massage was a gift, my gift to my body.

My love language has always been giving gifts, so why don’t I ever give my body the gifts it so deserves? Despite all of the pain and illness I have faced, my body has continued to keep me alive and protect me. My sensitive nervous system provides my mind with this amazing intuition and empathy…my own superpowers. My hands have allowed me to do the things I am passionate about, like hold a camera or learn a language. My stretch marks are proof of the challenges I have overcome. My eyes help me to read and create and observe the beauty around me. My body is so incredible, always has been and always will be, and it deserves more gifts than I can ever give it. My body is my home.

My two biggest takeaways from my abhyanga practice that I want to make sure I never forget are 1) my body is far more strong and capable than I ever realized, and 2) my body deserves so much more gratitude than it currently receives. I am dedicating, right now, to the internet and to myself that I will spend more time thanking and loving my body. I will spend more time embracing embodied intimacy.

Gratitude is a powerful thing. Love is a powerful thing. It’s time I accept and respect that I am powerful, too.

I’m Not an Orthopedic Surgeon…but I’m Still Pretty Awesome

How many of you have watched Grey’s Anatomy? It’s okay, you can be honest. It’s on it’s 17th season for a reason.

Well, I’ve been re-watching the series for probably the 23rd time (and have gotten my partner into it, which is probably my greatest accomplishment ever), and one of the characters has actually rubbed off on me. Her name is Callie Torres.

To those of you who watch Grey’s, you know that Dr. Calliope Torres is a badass; she’s an orthopedic surgeon who never apologizes for her talent or her heart. In my opinion, Shonda Rhimes created a killer character in Callie. She doesn’t necessarily fit society’s strict standards of beauty…I mean, when she’s first introduced on the show, she’s like this punky, emo-looking chick. She’s also a woman of color who isn’t pencil-thin, yet she’s desirable.

But all of this aside, what is so remarkable about Callie is that she knows she’s a badass. Other than her occasional romantic insecurities (I dare you to name someone in your life who doesn’t have any insecurities), she is a confident motherf*ckin’ woman. She’s not too cocky, nor is she flawless, but she knows (and says repeatedly) that she is awesome. And I really believe she is why I am starting to believe the same thing about myself.

It’s true y’all. Last night I heard myself saying the words “I am awesome” out loud. Not only did I say it, but I actually meant it.

I’ve been doing a lot of work in my professional life lately, trying to beef up my resume and cover letter so that I can land a job in the field I really want to be in. This week I accepted an amazing volunteer position with an international nonprofit dedicated to helping those with eating disorders. I applied for the only volunteer position listed on their website that I felt qualified for—a copywriter—despite my fear that I wouldn’t be good enough. To make my anxiety even worse, I decided to attach a link to this very blog…and I’m so glad I did.

The organization has brought me on not only to write for their blog, but to basically run it. They want me to keep their blog fresh and up-to-date, stating that they thought my own blog was “brilliant” and they think I’ll be an asset to their team. They’re interested in my voice and trust me to take the initiative to keep the blog current and interesting. I’ve already sent them my first piece for their site.

Ever since I spoke with the Volunteer Coordinator about this position, a switch has flipped inside of me. The other night, when my partner and I were watching Grey’s (again, so proud that he watches with me), I commented on Callie’s overt confidence. I said that of all the characters on Grey’s, particularly the arrogant/cocky/self-assured ones (basically all of them, they are surgeons for crying out loud), Callie’s confidence was my favorite. Never self-important, beautifully and humanly flawed, yet powerful. Even joyful.

So, last night, when I was thinking about the resumes and cover letters I had sent out this week, I thought, “They’d be lucky to have me.” And then, channeling my inner-Dr. Torres, “I am awesome.”

Sara Ramirez as Dr. Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy

While I’ve wished that I had developed this confidence years ago—I’m about to turn 26, for god’s sake, and I sure as shit have watched Callie convince her boss that she can re-build someone’s bones from scratch way too many times—I think I needed to go through the last 6 months (and the last ~26 years) for it to sink in.

I feel as though I’ve conquered my fears through my recovery, and I’ve clarified and strengthened my values. I have stood up for my beliefs and for my friends; I have made mistakes and learned from them; I have fallen down and gotten back up. I’m not perfect (never have been, never will be) and I will continue to make mistakes and falter in my confidence every now and then. But damn…I am a total badass. And I’m ready to let the world know it.


It seems fitting that this is my 200th post on this blog. Thank you so much, dear readers, for your continued readership, love, and support.