A Lesson in Shame…from Bugs

Since delving deeply into the work of Brené Brown—a brilliant and delightful academic who studies shame, vulnerability, authenticity, and courage—I now have a greater understanding of what’s happening when something or someone pushes my shame button(s).

Here’s the TED talk she gave on shame, which currently has over 6 million views. Watch it when you have 20 minutes because this is an uncomfortable subject that is of extreme importance.

Brené defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.”

I can identify a shame attack by its accompanying physiological symptoms: my heart races, my eyesight blanks out for a second, time stands still, tears fill my eyes, and my pits sweat like crazy. I often can’t speak for a few seconds because of the lump in my throat. And then my mind alights on the belief or old story that has been triggered, almost always related to unworthiness and unloveability.

So, looking through this lens of shame, I’ll tell you a little story that happened a few months back.

One night I was tidying my apartment, specifically the table beside the front door on which I feed the cat (so the dogs can’t eat his food) and compile towering mounds of junk mail, random paper, and books.

On this table was also a beautiful hand-woven basket from Central or South America given to me by my friend Katie. It is small, shallow, oval-shaped, dark brown, and pliable, with a handle running along its length. I love this basket and have moved it from place to place for well over 15 years. It has been where I store spare keys, pens, paper clips, buttons, and whatever else I have no other place for.

Now we all know how it is to do mindless straightening, right? My thoughts were wandering and I was chill and relaxed, heading to bed soon, just decluttering as part of my nightly wind down. I was discarding junk mail, reducing and reforming piles of paper, and wiping down the table. Whereas I typically slide the basket to clean under it, on this particular night I chose to LIFT it.

What I discovered beneath the basket caused me to simultaneously squeak (or scream, who can remember?), vomit in my mouth (or at least feel the need to), and possibly do the “Oh my god that’s disgusting!!!” full-body vibratory shake.

For there, underneath the beloved and sacred basket, was a NEST of baby cockroaches. Forty or fifty of them were crawling all over each other in panic. AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!! So. Effing. Disgusting.

(This is where I would insert a picture…but that would be gross. I’ll let you imagine.)

Fortunately my “calm in times of emergency” mode kicked in and I very slowly (despite the screaming in my head) lowered the basket back onto the table and ran into my bedroom to fetch my handheld vacuum—the one with the wand.

OreckI turned it on and sucked up all those baby cockroaches—every.single.one—even though they were running for their lives in every direction possible.

Knowing that these are quite possibly the most resilient creatures on the planet, I knew I couldn’t just turn off the vacuum and think everything would be fine. Sucking their little bodies into the vacuum bag wouldn’t kill them—and I couldn’t handle the vision of an angry mob of baby roaches emerging from the vacuum tube to hunt me down in my sleep—so I kept the machine running while I grabbed packing tape. (The advantage of a tiny apartment is that everything is only a few steps away.)

As quickly as I could, I stopped the vacuum, opened it up, and slammed some tape over the opening of the tiny bag before removing the bag entirely from the vacuum. Unfortunately the tape was clear, so I could see the panicked roaches crawling all over themselves in an attempt to escape. I swallowed a bit of bile and asked forgiveness for what I was doing. Then I ran the bag out of my apartment and threw it in the trash receptacle behind my building.

I took a deep breath, physically shook off my disgust, and then headed back inside for Roach Murder Part II: Momma Roach. I knew that everyone I’d sucked up with the wand was a baby (“please forgive me, please forgive me”), so I knew Momma was likely IN THE BASKET. (I have heebie-jeebies even retelling this story—full-body goosebumps.)

I picked up the basket gingerly by the handle, made sure my iPhone was in my pocket, and headed out into the frigid black night (it was probably around 10pm when this waking nightmare went down). I headed straight for the alley, where I commenced to set the basket on the pavement and illuminate its contents with the flashlight feature of my phone. All I could see was my stuff. So item by item, very slowly and deliberately—and as though a coiled snake might attack my hand at any moment from the shadows within —I emptied the basket. Once the last item had been removed, I flashed the light all around the inside of the basket and saw panicked Momma running in circles around the inside walls like a tiny NASCAR driver.

Feeling like my actions were already damning me to hell, I dumped her out and crushed her under the sole of my shoe. No more Momma. Again I pleaded for forgiveness (I don’t take killing lightly) and did the shakeoff dance of disgust. (I also threw away the basket, which I now regret and which Katie understands is not a reflection of any lack of love for her.)

Once my adrenaline rush subsided, the shame attack began. I felt all the aforementioned physical symptoms of shame and then I became aware of the thought that was front and center in my mind: “I am a slob. I am a horrifically disgusting excuse for a human being to have cockroaches in my apartment.”

To give context for this thought I’ll explain that I live in Colorado, where roaches aren’t super common (or so I thought). Sure, maybe in restaurants, maybe downtown, maybe wherever—but NOT IN PEOPLE’S HOMES!! I’d heard of some of the older apartment buildings in Capitol Hill becoming overrun with roaches, but to my knowledge Denver isn’t a roachy kind of place (except for the marijuana kind)—unless people are absolutely filthy. Meaning that I must be a filthy slob and roaches are clear evidence of that. I mean, I do leave the dishes unwashed sometimes for a couple days too many and my tiny place gets cluttered easily…

As Brené says, “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” She talks about how if you were to put shame in a Petri dish with secrecy, silence, and judgment, it would grow into every crevice and crack of your life and influence every thought you have and every choice you make.

So what was my initial reaction to the roach situation? Secrecy: “I can’t tell anyone!!” Silence: (see secrecy). Judgment: “People [in Colorado] with roaches in their homes are slobs and I have roaches in my home.”

Brené again: “Shame depends on [you] buying into the belief that [you are] alone.” I bought into being alone—hook, line, and sinker. I immediately googled “how to eliminate cockroaches” and settled into my usual pattern of solo problem-solving (using the collective wisdom found on the interwebs).

Do you know the antidote to shame? As Brené has learned from her research, “The antidote to shame is empathy.” Put shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy and it will have zero chance of survival. (I’m loosely quoting Brené there.)

I ended up telling my friend Michelle about the incident (a few days later?). She responded with empathy and indeed my shame diminished. (Brené knows what she’s talking about!)

One weekday morning a couple weeks later I was gifted what I consider to be a miracle (I allow them to come in all shapes and sizes). As I was leaving for work I noticed a van parked on the street. The picture on the side of the van? It was a cockroach lying on its back, dead. My adjoining neighbor’s door was open and I could hear men talking, so I hollered into the apartment, “Hey! What are you here for?” The main guy rushed out of the apartment and said in a lowered voice, “Why do you ask? Have you had any roach problems?”

Hallelujah!! The proverbial light went on and I realized how immensely self-absorbed and ridiculous I had been to assume that the roaches proved something horrible about me. Turns out this exterminator had treated two of the five units in my building not once but TWICE for roaches—and the first time he used the method of making them scatter. He said that because I shared a wall with the neighbor he assumed was the originator of the problem, it was likely that I would get some, too.

So I laughed at myself for my shame attack, I laughed at myself for my self-absorption, and I laughed at myself for NOT ONCE thinking that having roaches in my apartment was a reason to call the landlord.

(By the way, no more roaches have been spotted in my place…)

So much gratitude to Brené Brown. Check out her website HERE. She’s given TED talks, she’s written books, she teaches online courses, and (in my humble opinion) her work should be taught as part of the public school curriculum. The class could be called, “How To Be a Better Human” or “A Big Chunk of the Operating Manual for Life That Nobody Ever Shared with You.”

The Move-In Day Miracle

If You Don't Believe Miracles Happen

 

 

 

 

I see my life as a series of miracles. It’s hard not to, really. Some are bread crumbs guiding me forward, some are life saving, some make me belly laugh…and all are awe inspiring. Here’s the story of one that changed my life forever:

Sometime in late 1993 or early 1994, my mom took me to visit Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA.

Whitman Logo Walla Walla

A group of prospective students and their parents were guided around campus on an official tour. I remember nothing about the tour except for one particular girl (surprise, surprise, right?). She had a friendly demeanor and we kinda’ smiled back and forth at each other, nodding and oohing and aaahing at appropriate times for the tour guide. If we spoke, it was probably only to exchange names. She reminded me of my favorite actress, Annabeth Gish. She had dark hair and brown intelligent eyes—she seemed like the girl-next-door…with surprises up her sleeve.

After the tour each child/parent unit moseyed in different directions. About an hour later my mom and I were eating snacks at the student center, sitting across from each other and gazing out the huge windows overlooking the street. Students were coming and going, greeting each other happily, lugging heavy backpacks. And then I saw the girl from the tour and her dad—they were walking along the sidewalk outside the student center. My mom and I simultaneously waved in greeting and soon they were sharing our table.

Her name was Amy and she was from the Bay Area of California. As we were both spending the night in Walla Walla with nothing to do, she and I made plans to see a movie that evening. We chose Threesome, starring Lara Flynn Boyle and a Baldwin brother.

ThreesomeAmy’s dad, Pat, took us to the movie and then wisely chose to see something different. Before the movie started we were jabbering like life-long best friends and when the movie was over all we could talk about was how mortifying it would have been if her dad had stayed in the theater with us (due to the, um, obviously sexual nature of the movie).

Neither of us knew if Whitman would be where we ended up. Amy had other schools to tour and I (meaning my parents) had logistics to work out (financial aid and the like). Amy and I exchanged addresses and phone numbers, though I don’t recall that either of us wrote to or called the other. Remember, this was before Facebook, cell phones, and the internet…

Whitman ended up being my choice for college. I’d known it was home from the moment I laid eyes on it.

A view of Mem from Jewett Hall

In the late summer of 1994, my mom drove me from Denver to Walla Walla. Leaving home and everyone I knew to go to a place with nobody I knew was as scary as it was exciting. My head was filled with the promises that college would be the best time of my life and that I would meet the friends I would have for the rest of my life. I really wanted that to be true.

I showed up at Whitman 9 days before the other freshmen because I had signed up for a “scramble.” Mine was 4 days of backpacking and 4 days of kayaking in the Cascade Mountains. It was a way to get a jump on the year, have a self-esteem building adventure, and meet some classmates. I was so grateful for the experience—it was challenging and breathtakingly beautiful. I had blisters on every surface of my feet. I’d never smelled so bad. And I learned that not all cheese needs to be refrigerated ((mind blown)).

I don’t think the scramble made official move-in day any easier, though.

move-in day

While I had been on my wilderness adventure, my mom had continued on to Sequim, WA, to visit her parents. On move-in day she came back to Walla Walla with all my stuff still tightly packed in the car and helped me drag it all up to my room in 3-West of Jewett Hall. I arrived before my roommate, so I took my pick of bed and started unpacking. My mom needed to get on the road for her long drive back to Denver. She maybe didn’t have to be in such a hurry, but I could tell she was fighting back tears…and my mom does NOT like to be seen crying.

Before I knew it, I was alone…watching out my window as my mom got into the car and drove away. It physically tore at my heart to see her drive away—like taffy being stretched to its max and then breaking. I lost it. I sat down on my bare mattress and sobbed. I’d never felt so alone. I could hear other kids and their families carrying things through the hallways, bumping into walls, bumping into each other, laughing, talking loudly. I didn’t know what to do so I continued unpacking.

About 5 minutes later I walked out of my room to see what was happening in the hallway. Towering there before me was the happy and familiar face of Pat Vallely—Amy’s dad.

My face lit up and with open arms I almost tackled him as I yelled, “Paaaaaattttt!!!” We hugged and I panted, “Where’s Amy?” He said, “Just a couple doors down! Follow me, I’ll take you there.” No joke, she was 4 doors down on the opposite side of the hall from my room. Given that there are at least 3 dorms on campus where freshmen might end up—and multiple floors in each of those dorms—the odds of being near each other had not been in our favor (nor was it a given we’d both end up at Whitman).

With the tiniest flick of its wand, the universe assured me at a time of intense fear and loneliness that everything was going to be okay. Amy was just down the hall.

—————-

Amy ended up leaving Whitman after sophomore year to move to Alabama to be near family. The distance has never been an issue—over twenty years later, she’s one of my closest friends. Our lives have tracked very similarly, in a macro and micro way. No matter what’s going on, she’s always there with love, support, words of wisdom, and a book recommendation. Here we are at her wedding, a long time ago:

wedding

I could write 80 posts about how much I adore this woman and about the serendipity that nips at our heels. There are so many memories: that time freshman year when we were studying for Spanish and she realized I didn’t understand what it meant to conjugate a verb; the time we mistook the clock on Mem for a full moon; spending Thanksgiving with her family in California and experiencing her mom’s yummy southern diabetes-inducing sweet potato casserole; meeting in Columbus, OH, for a weekend to get caught up and being surprised by how much we liked it; meeting both of her children as babies and watching them grow up; the thrill of seeing her name on my caller ID when she’s calling from her “phone booth” (aka car)—especially when I can take the call; the gift of having witnessed her as a mother and a wife and a daughter and the rock-star employee of the ages…

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Early 2015 in Denver, CO

I knew the immediate impact of the miracle I experienced on that move-in day, but I had no concept of how much fuller the rest of my life would be because of this amazing woman. To have a friend who has seen the best of you, the worst of you, and everything in between…and loves you no matter what…that’s the miracle that Amy and I have in each other.

Although I missed it by a few minutes with this post–Happy Birthday, my friend. May our 40s be exquisite. I love you.

A Transformational Tool for 2016 and Beyond

I paid roughly $12,000 for massage school (give or take a couple thousand) and I can’t tell you the last time I gave a massage. Despite having zero desire to be a professional in this field (except for maybe reflexology), I gained so much more than the legal right to touch people therapeutically in a nonsexual way. I also walked away with the following:

  • Lifelong friendships. Massage therapy school is like quick-drying superglue for friendships. Those of us who tracked together through the program shared laughter, energy work, insecurities, laughter, awkwardness, nervousness, laughter, physiology notes, and so much touch. Did I mention laughter? The level of comfort we developed with each other was amazing. Disrobing anytime anywhere became no big thing. I only have to think about a massage-school friend to feel relaxed…and want to get naked.
  • Many thousands of dollars’ worth of massages. I never did the math, but given how many hours of massage we each received, school was almost worth its weight in massages. And it’s safe to say that we all needed to touch and be touched as much as we were. There is little as powerful as the loving (therapeutic) touch of another person.
  • The love and wisdom of one of my favorite teachers ever: Judy Harper. She had the pleasure and responsibility of teaching the night students their first hands-on massage class. She got to cover logistics like how to get undressed privately in a room of ten other people, how to properly undrape different areas of the body while keeping the private parts private, and what to do when a client farts on the table.

Judy and Eric

This sweet goddess of a teacher was infamous for renaming people. I was Eric (instead of my given female name, Erin). In addition to Judy being oblivious to my real name, the squirms it sent through my classmates was hilarious!

Aside from points 1 and 2 above, I could have quit massage school after Judy’s class and been quite content with what I’d learned. Her class was better than any expensive self-help seminar I’ve been to (and I’ve been to many).

Here’s one golden nugget from Judy that will stick with me always:

“Cancel, clear, forgive me.”

Any time Judy thought or said something that was not supportive of herself or someone else, she would say, “Cancel, clear, forgive me.”

This is a very self-loving and self-affirming practice. It brings awareness to our thoughts and words and acts as a prompt to help us think something different when our thoughts are hurtful to ourselves or others.

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can have the biggest impact. Don’t let the simplicity fool you!! This is pure genius.


My intention for 2016 is that it be a year of transformational self-love (transformation by means of self-love). I will be using “cancel, clear, forgive me” to cancel, clear, and forgive the words of my inner trash-talker and to stop it in its tracks.

And if I choose not to stop it, I’ll choose to love the part of me that likes to trash-talk myself and I’ll find out what that part of me needs that it’s not getting. Befriending the shadow? Feeling my feelings? Whoa!! Stay tuned!!

When the Obvious Is Too Obvious

Hello again, my friends!!

I have not written a post in many a moon and none have suffered as much as I.

Ugh. See what happens when I get rusty? I start channeling some past incarnation of myself…or something.

I’ve attempted this very post—the big I’M BACK!! post—about four times over the past couple weeks. All crap. All lacked flow. And that might be true of this one as well. Damn it, though, I’ve gotta’ get back on that horse somehow.

The good news is that I’ve had many comfort-stretching adventures in the time of neglecting this blog. For starters: I joined the circus, I attended workshops in two different styles of clowning, and I made a valiant and flawed attempt at dating. I will write more in depth about these endeavors later but for the moment I’ll just say that I had many opportunities to witness myself writhing in anxiety and discomfort. And we all know how much I enjoy observing myself squirm.

I’ve also come to learn something so terribly obvious about myself that I’m embarrassed to admit it to the people who read my blog. I hope you’re sitting down for this because it’s pretty shocking.

I learned that I MUST WRITE.

fork.jpg

My life works better when I’m writing. I am happier when I’m writing. Writing is not superfluous. Writing is not optional. Writing is essential to my health and well-being. Writing is an act of self love.

From every direction for the past few months I’ve been hearing the same message loud and clear: Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write.

So I started writing again in November—for myself. I reignited my journaling practice as a way to process the plethora of uncomfortable situations I was choosing. Each experience left me a little more open, a little more vulnerable, and a little more confused. Writing created a sense of peace I couldn’t find any other way.

And when I didn’t process an intense experience on the page? Ah, yes. That was when I found trouble. That was when I felt so uncomfortable I wanted to crawl out of my skin. That was when something as simple as making eye contact with people was difficult. That was when the A-Bomb (as in Awkward Bomb) fell on my fledgling relationship and blew it to bits before it even had a chance to get on its feet.

So this year I will focus on consistency. I will build systems into my life that encourage writing. And I will share with you both recent and past adventures…in whatever order they demand.

Thanks for hanging with me after many months of absence. If you’ve seen me around and asked after my blog and said you missed it…thank you. Sometimes we all just need a little nudge to get us moving again in the right direction.

What’s the thing you do that feeds your soul, glues your pieces back together, and gives you immense joy? If you’re not doing it, consider this your nudge.

I Don’t…Understand.

I’m not going to sleep much tonight so I might as well write. The world lost an amazing woman yesterday to a drug overdose. A woman I didn’t know well but knew well enough that just the mention of her name would bring a smile to my face. I knew her to be saucy, stunningly beautiful with a huge smile and deep chocolate eyes, fun to be around, full of life, and full of light.

The first hint I caught that she might be gone was earlier today when I noticed a friend’s post on her Facebook wall. It said, “You are in my heart. You were so brave. I’m so sorry. God damn that monster.” And I’m thinking, “Huh, wonder what that means.” So I keep reading. Another post says, “i love you and i’m proud of you. i miss you so much already.” “Okay,” I think, “now we’re getting somewhere. She did something brave (as mentioned in previous post), for which this friend is proud of her. Maybe she moved across the country for graduate school like she’d mentioned wanting to do.” The next post I saw said lots of words and then, “I’m sad to hear about your passing. I was blessed to have known you.”

So do you know what I did? I got onto Google and I typed in her name and was relieved to see that only the recent(ish) passing of her grandfather was coming up in my search. “If Google doesn’t know about it, it hasn’t happened. People are always doing effed up stuff on Facebook as jokes. I’m just missing a bit of information. I’ll check it out further tonight.” And then I put it out of my mind.

Wow, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt! Which part of “I’m sad to hear about your passing” did I NOT comprehend? And yet, why WOULD I comprehend that? I’m thankful that my denial superpower protected me as long as it could—it did a great job. In hindsight I realize that it even diverted me from seeing the post written by the woman’s sister stating very clearly the very thing I was not allowing myself to think could be true. Then about an hour ago I saw a close friend’s post about it and the denial could no longer hold (the post was not cryptic and it was now information from the mouth of someone I would trust with my life).

I’m not a fan of comparing suffering or struggle or demons. We all have these things and to each of us, regardless of the appearance to the outside world, our demons are all probably pretty freaking scary. The prickly that’s been up for me lately is food addiction, especially to sugar and gluten. Despite having been off them during two months on Whole30, once I started reintroducing foods and was no longer relying on the firm structure of the rules to protect me, I slid quickly down the slippery slope. I slid so far that I’d even returned (for three days) to drinking soda and eating candy.

I was at a party this past weekend eating Red Vines like they might be the last to exist on Earth. I was surrounded by friends, bingeing in plain sight, and I was thinking, “Wow, if my addiction were to drugs and I were relapsing right now in front of all of them, they would have something to say about it. There would be an intervention.” But I was eating RED VINES. Totally fine, totally acceptable. Only not fine.

I had become so clean during the Whole30 that one week of intensely inappropriate consumption of sugar and gluten made me lose life force. It made me sad. It re-inflated the tube around my midsection. My posture slumped. I felt like a failure. I started wearing my biggest clothes again. I wanted to be invisible. The skin on my face broke out. My urine smelled sickly sweet. My mind could think of nothing but sugar. And I felt momentarily hopeless.

I’m thankful my addiction is to food. Relapsing won’t kill me instantly. An accidental overdose will only leave me with a food and shame hangover. I will have many more chances to make healthier choices. I might need to keep learning the same lesson over and over before it really sticks—BUT I WILL HAVE THAT OPPORTUNITY. And for that I am grateful.

And for the bright light that my beautiful friend shined every time I saw her, I will continue to be grateful. Shine on, my friend. You are dearly missed.

How Hairprint Ended My Struggle

I’ve been going gray for many years. And while gray hair can be beautiful, I’ve also seen it make people look WAY older than their years. It can make someone otherwise youthful in appearance look drawn and wan. Knowing that I would likely be unable to recognize when enough was enough, I had entrusted a few friends over the years to tell me when the gray was too much, but that’s quite a burden to put on someone.

My first indication that I might want to take action was when I was dating a woman who was considerably older than me (15 years) and she stated that she liked my graying hair because it closed the age gap in our appearances. Say what?!

Then the next woman I hung out with stated that she thought gray was cool and had considered dying her own hair gray. I didn’t even know such a thing could happen…nor do I understand why it would. As Suzanne and I often joke, “Does not compute.”

My hair stylist has been very sweet about the whole thing. I asked her to tell me when the gray had gone too far and she said, “I absolutely respect your decision to do whatever is best for you. I would never pressure you into it. It’s not something to be taken lightly because once you start, it’s hard to stop.” Were we talking about coloring hair or doing drugs?!

The struggle has been real. The thought of putting CHEMICALS on my scalp (near which is my BRAIN, which already doesn’t hold onto many memories) was just never something that made sense to me. Women the world over do it without a second thought and yet there I was…giving it a third thought and a fourth and a fifteen-hundredth. I have never been able to make that beauty choice add up in my head to “worth it.” Nor, quite frankly, is it in my budget to pay someone to do it well.

Now enter Hairprint. Here’s a picture of the box. Even the BOX is beautiful. (That’s a box joke for my friend Maureen D.)

boxI discovered this product quite by accident while strolling around the interwebs one day. I started reading it with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. Could it be true that my hair dilemma has a nontoxic solution?!! YESSSS!!

As the website explains, this is how Hairprint works (and it’s only for naturally brown- and black-haired people):

Hairprint creates a process whereby the natural pigment in your hair called eumelanin is recreated in the hair shaft. Eumelanin is arranged in the hair in a pattern unique to each person. We coined a word to name that unique pattern: Hairprint. That pattern determines how we see color.  When eumelanin is restored to the shaft of the hair, your innate hair color returns.

There are EIGHT ingredients in this product and it’s totally nontoxic. And the coolest part: the color it turns my hair will be totally different from the color it will turn someone else’s hair (because it does not work like chemical dyes).

So…my friend Suzanne took some extensive time out of her day to play hair with me. She very patiently led me through the entire process and here are the results:

Before:

side view gray 1top view grayside view gray 2

After:

side view dark 1top view brownside view dark 2

The lighting in these photos is tricky because I was standing under a fluorescent light, but I think they capture the gist. For a first attempt, I’m thrilled with the results. I still have some sparkles where it didn’t take completely, but overall it’s nothing short of a miracle to see my original hair color restored. I’ve always loved my dark brown hair. Even my brother has always been envious that I got the “good hair,” as he calls it (his is much lighter and thinner). And no joke, the treatment left my hair soft as a baby’s butt. And it was an added benefit that Suzanne has salon-quality shampoo and conditioner that left me with that just-from-the-salon smell.

So, my friends, the war has been won. The battle that still remains is learning how to apply it by myself so I won’t have to bug anyone else to help me. I think with a little practice and a lot of patience, I’ll be fine.

If you’ve been waiting to find a nontoxic solution for your graying hair, please check out the website. It even gives instructions for how someone who has used chemical dyes in the past can transition to Hairprint. This stuff is pure brilliant. I would become a salesperson for the product if they’d have me. Thank you, Dr. John Warner (of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry in Massachusetts) for inventing a solution to a very real problem. 😉

The Journey That’s Way Bigger than Whole30

First of all, I am not going to evangelize for Whole30. It is a very well conceived program…and there are bazillions of great programs out there that can help people clean up their eating. I ended up doing Whole30 because a few people at my new place of employment were about to embark on it and I was ripe for a change—just waiting for guidance about which program to do. I had become slightly paralyzed by my stack of nutrition books because they conflicted with each other as often as they agreed. I knew the most important thing I could do was to learn about MY body—what works and what doesn’t. I’ve spent the last 20 years nailing what doesn’t work—I should win awards for figuring that out so thoroughly!—so I knew an elimination diet was in my near future. Whole30 fit the bill and I knew I would benefit immeasurably from the support of people at work.

Whole30 is an elimination diet. It is designed to remove the most inflammatory foods from one’s diet (e.g., grains, dairy, sugar, legumes, etc.) so that a) the body gets a respite and can do some housecleaning, and b) the systematic reintroduction of food groups makes it obvious which foods work and which don’t. The creators of the Whole30 have a strong grasp on psychology and they have built into their guidelines many suggestions that are really helpful. I have great respect for this program. I also like Dr. Mark Hyman’s 10-Day Detox Diet, Dave Asprey’s The Bulletproof Diet, and Timothy Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Body. All are great programs and I incorporated elements of each of them during my Whole30.

When I invest in change, I invest with all my heart and wallet. In one of the emails I received from Whole30 (you can pay to have them send you a supportive email each day for the 30 days), they outlined the Stages of Change Model:

The idea behind the Stages of Change Model (SCM) is that behavior change does not happen in one step. People tend to progress through different stages on their way to successful change, and each of us progresses through the stages at our own rate.

The five stages of change include:

  • Precontemplation. Not yet acknowledging that there is a problematic behavior that needs to be changed. People in this stage tend to defend their current bad habit(s) and do not feel it is a problem. They may be defensive in the face of other people’s efforts to pressure them to quit. They do not focus their attention on quitting and tend not to discuss their bad habit with others. In some addiction circles, this stage is also called “denial.”

  • Contemplation. Acknowledging that there is a problem, but not yet ready or sure of wanting to make a change. In the contemplation stage people are more aware of the personal consequences of their bad habit, and spend time thinking about their problem. People are on a teeter-totter, weighing the pros and cons of quitting or modifying their behavior. Although they think about the negative aspects of their bad habit and the positives associated with giving it up (or reducing), they may doubt that the long-term benefits associated with quitting will outweigh the short-term costs.

  • Preparation/Determination. Getting ready to change. In the preparation/determination stage, people have made a commitment to make a change. Their motivation for changing is reflected by statements such as: “I’ve got to do something about this—this is serious. Something has to change. What can I do?” This is sort of a research phase: people are now taking small steps toward change. They are trying to gather information about what they will need to do to change their behavior.

  • Action/Willpower. Changing behavior. This is the stage where people believe they have the ability to change their behavior and are actively involved in taking steps to change. This is a stage when people most depend on their own willpower. They are making overt efforts to quit or change the behavior, and are at greatest risk for relapse, so it’s key that they leverage any techniques available to stay motivated.

  • Maintenance. Maintaining the behavior change. Maintenance involves being able to successfully avoid any temptations to return to the bad habits. The goal of the maintenance stage is to maintain the new status quo. People in this stage tend to remind themselves of how much progress they have made. They remain aware that what they are striving for is personally worthwhile and meaningful. They are patient with themselves and recognize that it often takes a while to let go of old behavior patterns and practice new ones until they are second nature to them. Even though they may have thoughts of returning to their old bad habits, they resist the temptation and stay on track.

I have observed myself working through the first few stages over MANY YEARS. While in Stage 1 (precontemplation/denial) I dated a woman I refer to as “Cruela” who was intolerant of my refusal to take care of myself. Instead of simply expressing her concern, she went on the attack and made it clear that everything about my body and physical appearance revolted her. (Sidebar: I would not recommend this approach for trying to get someone to change.) It hurt my feelings deeply and it has taken a long time for my self-esteem to crawl out of that gutter. (In hindsight I realized she was just mirroring back to me how I already felt about myself.)

Did I know there was a problem? Absolutely. Was I ready to do anything about it? Absolutely not. I was very consciously choosing to stuff my emotions down with fast food and sugar. My brain had been hijacked by neurotoxic foods and I was truly and deeply addicted to sugar. I felt like crap but as long as I could keep my sugar levels up with over-sugared coffee, candy, pastries, fast food, and soda…I could get through each day (let’s not discuss what it was like to have to wake up in the morning).

My bestie’s behavior during and since that time has been in direct contrast to Cruela’s. Michelle eats in a Whole30ish way every day and has for years. She’s not preachy or angsty about it. She knows what works for her and she does what keeps her feeling her best. Has she seen me struggling all these years? Yes. Is she happy to answer questions when I have them? Yes. Has she prepared me a meal full of love and nutrients once a week for the last many years? Yes. Has she ever shamed me or pushed her agenda on me? No. She has lived her life doing her thing…and in so doing she’s been an incredibly influential change agent in my food life (as have Carla and Sue).

I allowed the experience with Cruela to put me back years. I’ve been scared to be with someone new lest they have all the same complaints she had. Fortunately I’m unsettled if I’m not changing and growing, so finally I started seeing the light. I witnessed my friend Maureen turn her life into a radical self-love experiment and I started paying close attention to the people in my life who love themselves and act accordingly (I’m fortunate to have many such friends). I started my own self-love experiment, slowly at first, then gaining so much momentum I feel there’s hardly time to do anything BUT take care of myself and my animals. And it’s a journey. I know that soon I’ll figure out how to take care of me and include others in the process.

I did the contemplation and preparation stages simultaneously. I’ve spent the last year creating a highly functional kitchen with all the equipment I might need to be successful (should I ever get in there and start making food). Michelle was instrumental in this because she could tell me honestly which stuff was essential and which was just marketed well. She also gifted me a huge box of kitchen stuff for Christmas, rounding out what I’d already been able to purchase. Every day I am thankful for my ScanPan skillet; I use it constantly. It’s nonstick but doesn’t use Teflon or any other chemical agent that could give me cancer. We’re tight. I’ve also become close friends with my amazingly sharp kitchen knives, my lemon squeezer, my Vitamix, my salt and pepper grinders, my glass kettle, and my glass storage containers. I have a tiny kitchen outfitted with just the right mix of things to get the job done easily and healthfully.

Another fun thing I did during the contemplation and preparation stages was to take cooking classes. Michelle and I did one together, I attended a knife skills class with my nephew, and I took a pie baking class last November (all at Sur la Table—I love that place). These classes are fun and give great information about cooking fundamentals.

And then there are the books:

IMG_0645

Obsessed much?! Exactly. I am a curious one.

I give all this background to shed light on the years that have gone into the change that might appear to others to be practically overnight. Yes, I’ve lost weight. Today is day 42 and as of now I’ve probably lost close to 20 pounds (hard to say because I didn’t weigh myself at the start). Pants I couldn’t fit into at the start of the 30 days are now too big for me. The weight has come off my face, neck, back, chest, belly, ass, thighs…I’m starting to recognize myself in the mirror again. My skin is so soft I have a hard time believing it’s mine. I have more energy and it doesn’t come with big highs and lows—it’s slow-burning and sustainable. I have no sugar cravings (never really did during any of the process). I’m good at keeping my focus on what I’m choosing to eat rather than what I’m not eating. I’ve learned that I really enjoy cooking and know way more about it than I ever acknowledged knowing.

I feel empowered. I’m allowing this time of change to be about way more than just food. I’m incorporating bodywork whenever I can (reflexology mostly) as a way to give myself love. I’m getting darn close to 8 hours of sleep every night. I feel great satisfaction whenever I get 10,000 steps for the day (big thanks to my Jawbone Move and my UP partner, Suzanne). I’ve done extensive purging in my apartment to get rid of things I don’t need or use. I’m slowly upgrading my wardrobe (huge thanks to Coley for letting me raid her closet). I finally retired the Elvis purse I’d been carrying for about 5 years (MUCH gratitude to that bag) and have replaced it with something else I love. I’m exploring the world of makeup (not going crazy—just subtle touches) and I’m about to restore my hair to its natural color (read: eliminate the gray) with a nontoxic product I found called HairPrint (I’m super excited about this!). I’m moisturizing my face at night, doing mud masks for fun and to feel decadent, and dry brushing my skin when I happen to remember.

I guess this is what it looks like for me to love myself (at this moment). I didn’t do it alone and it didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a fun journey—and I’m still barely off the starting line.

The Magical Mystery Tour of Breathwork

One of my favorite things, which I’ve been oddly silent about in my blog thus far, is my passion for exploring healing modalities. You name it, I’ve likely done it or plan to do it. Everything has its time, though, so I proceed as I’m guided. And in this case I was guided to breathwork by beauty, the oldest trick in the book. “Look, Erin, a beautiful woman! Why don’t you go find out what makes her so sparkly?”

I was in Boulder, Colorado, at a training that I felt guided to attend (tangential to explain here). I left the training wondering, “Huh, did I get what I came for?” and right then I realized that I needed to turn around, take my shoes off again, go back into the room, and talk to Gurpreet. Without going totally off the rails I’ll just say that she’s physically gorgeous (those eyes!), energetically gorgeous, smart, multilingual, playful, nurturing, deeply feminine in the way that’s both soft and totally badass, and she has the strongest-looking legs I’ve seen since my soccer days. She’s pretty much my dream woman, which assures me she’s unavailable to me in probably ten different ways, but that’s not the point—that’s never the point. The point is: MEET HER AND FIND OUT WHAT SHE DOES.

I almost laughed when she said she facilitates breathwork because it’s something that has long been on my list of modalities to try. There are various schools of thought under the umbrella term of “breathwork,” but as Wikipedia explains:

Breathwork is a method of breath control that is meant to give rise to altered states of consciousness and to have an effect on physical and mental well-being.

Well, shit fire, sign me up! I love altering my state of consciousness in ways that won’t get me arrested or make me ineligible for jobs!

The first thing that MUST be in place when doing work like this is trust. If I had any doubts about Gurpreet’s ability to hold the space and care for me while I’m “out there,” I wouldn’t be able to do it. Plain and simple, this work requires vulnerability—as any self-growth work does—and being able to trust the facilitator is of supreme importance. I implicitly trust Gurpreet.

The second thing that MUST be in place when doing work like this is trust. Yep, saying it again, only this time I mean trust in the process. Breathwork, like any other practice (e.g., yoga, meditation, etc.) is a practice. It’s not something to be done once and boom, you’re healed! It’s a conversation. And so far, it’s a conversation that I’m enjoying more than almost any other I’ve experienced. It’s a conversation with Source, God, Great Spirit, or whatever capital-letter term you prefer to use. Or maybe it’s a conversation with your own soul? Only you can define it for yourself. It’s the kind of thing that has to be experienced first-hand, and even then, trying to describe it is difficult. So I think it’s best to ease up on trying to understand it and instead just trust in the process and be an observer of ones’ own experience of it.

I’ve attended two group sessions and each one was completely unique. My first attempt was surely influenced by a bit of self-doubt and wondering whether I was doing it correctly. Last night I was able to let most of that go as I put my focus instead on playing with my breath. I moved it in different directions and I played with different rhythms to see what would happen. I became curious and childlike.

At one point I felt like I was being held in a lover’s embrace (as much as I can remember what that feels like)—it was deeply nurturing. At another point I felt intense heat above my feet and then it moved up to just above my knees and I realized it was the feeling of having a cat on my lap (Lexi? Miranda? Princess? Jingle? Chester?). It was as obvious as if someone had been holding a heat lamp right over that spot on my legs. I perceived many other things as well but it’s so moment by moment that it would become tedious to describe it all. I ended the session with so much energy I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt like the kid who wakes up first thing in the morning at a slumber party and just CAN’T WAIT for someone else to wake up so she can play!

I think one of the most profound things about this work is that it doesn’t require words. I love words and I know that I receive guidance through writing and I figure things out by writing and I give love in writing…but sometimes, words need to be set aside. This work allows great releases of whatever you’re willing to let go of, without having to talk it to death or experience the trauma all over again. It can be peaceful and easy or tight and uncomfortable; it can be a blissful ride on a magic carpet or it can feel like trudging through mud. The magic is in the allowing. It’s always perfect.

Information about Gurpreet’s classes in Boulder can be found on her Facebook page. And regardless of where you live, you can probably find a class via the interwebs. I, for one, am sticking with Gurpreet and look forward to more of what this healing system has to offer.

Transcending the Illusion of Adulthood

I turn 39 next week. Do you know why that’s crazy? That’s crazy because I feel NOT A BIT different than when I was in my early 20s. I’m still me, looking out the same two eyeballs, and I’m fairly convinced that this age business is the best trick of the matrix.

Sure, becoming an adult hopefully comes with emotional, mental, and spiritual growth. We get jobs and places to live and cars and we have friendships and intimate relationships…and for some of us, shit gets serious. We give tremendous meaning to things like marriage and acquiring possessions and climbing the corporate ladder/making enough money to support our basic needs. We get buried under the tedium of shoulds and have tos.

I’ve learned from observing myself that if I’m not vigilantly choosing joy, my spirit can lose its light and life can become dull and tedious.

It’s often at the very times when things are lifeless and dull that a little miracle happens and everything gets bright again. Like last night. I was at the bar supporting the re-election of a smart and motivated city councilwoman when a beautiful woman came over and asked if anyone would like to play pool. My immediate inclination was to say “No” but then time stopped for a second (like is does when I need to become aware of something important) and I realized that the better choice was to say, “Yes…yes, I would love to play pool.” And it’s those little moments of saying yes that can change everything.

I ended up having an outrageously fun evening of being drawn into the fold of three flight attendants who were laying over in Denver for the night. One from Chicago, one from Dallas/Fort Worth, and one from Puerto Rico–they barely knew each other, yet there was a camaraderie that was undeniable. And you know what it reminded me of? Being a kid. You can set two kids down near each other or put them on the same jungle gym and in no time they will become friends. When are adults going to get over themselves and realize that they are still those same kids who could literally become friends with ANY OTHER KID?

Last night, having three instantaneous new playmates on the adult playground (aka bar) reminded me how fun life really is. We spend so much of childhood imitating our parents and pretending to be adults–dreaming of having a house and a car and a job and someone to smooch and welcome home at the end of the day. And then we finally have all those things…and they seem to come at the expense of being able to appreciate them. They come with the stress of paying for everything, maintaining everything, checking off long lists of to-dos…and the joy gets sucked up into our overpriced Dyson vacuum cleaners.

I remember as a kid wanting so badly to be able to drive a car. I acted out the shifting of the gears and I made noises that mimicked the sound of a car. Then as an adult, driving lost its glow a bit and I started to complain about traffic and potholes. But in another instance of the small miracles that can change everything, one afternoon I experienced a time-stopping moment with my friend Michelle. We had been at a function at her daughter’s school and we were driving separately to a coffee shop afterward.

When I pulled into the parking spot beside Michelle’s car (somewhat dramatically because I was being silly) and waved over to her, I was overcome with pure joy as I realized that my dream had come true! Michelle and I were grown ups, each driving a car, about to enjoy the adult treat of coffee that we would purchase with money we earned. It’s hard to describe how profound this moment was for me. It was like my adult reality folded onto my child reality and I was able to see my adult self through the eyes of the little Erin who yearned so badly to be able to drive a real car and pull it into a parking space next to my bestie (like all the times I’d played out that scenario on my Big Wheel).

So here’s to the grown-up kids of the world and to the small miracles, the glitches in the matrix, that incite joy and gratitude and reignite soul lights. And here’s to friends…new and old…because, really, what would life be without them?

My Initiation and Rebirth: Binge-Watching The Walking Dead While Almost Becoming The Walking Dead

I was just recently ill for a very long ten days and in those ten days I watched 63 episodes of The Walking Dead (an American post-apocalyptic horror drama set in a world overrun by flesh-eating zombies, aka “walkers”). For a couch-bound ill person who can’t handle anything requiring brain power, binge watching a great series is a logical way to pass the time. My choice of series was interesting, however. I realized all too quickly that my constant headache and half-dead state were mirrored perhaps a little too closely by those walkers.

Obvious signs I have been initiated into the cult of The Walking Dead:

  • I immediately assessed how inept I would be post-apocalypse. Most obviously: I have very few survival skills such as making fires and hunting small rodents, I do not know how to repair automobiles, my medical training is lacking, I neither own guns nor have experience shooting them, I neither own a sword nor would be very graceful (at first) wielding one.
  • I then assessed ways I would be bad-ass post-apocalyse: I’m strong. I’m fast in short spurts. I lean way more toward bad-ass than coward. I’m naturally paranoid (in a way that is helpful to staying alive). I think ahead. I would never leave a friend behind. I’m a pretty accurate judge of character as long as I’m not trying to date the person.
  • I now see walkers everywhere (and they were even more pronounced through my haze of sick exhaustion). The grocery store near my house is known to host some strange characters; now I know many are walkers. I was following a woman who has clearly always had an awkward and lopsided gait. Walker. The old woman who I almost collided with turning the corner into the aisle who just stopped and stared at me, eyes glazed over; I stepped around her. Walker. The guy at self-checkout…beep…beep…beep…beep…beep…the rhythm steady, his back arched, eyes staring straight ahead. Walker.
  • As my wise friend Sarah warned: “You can also expect to assess every structure, neighborhood, and geographical location for survival probability, along with any new person you meet.” Truth. Every word.
  • Although I have real stress in my life and actual things to worry about, my greatest worry lately has been what would become of my animal companions. I think I’ll need to get a dual compartment backpack/baby carrier to hold my cat and small dog (who amount to about 25 pounds, which means I need to start lifting serious weight). My medium-sized dog will be a companion warrior obviously. The small dog: How do I get her to understand that barking will just draw them closer? Her early warning signals could serve to get us all killed. Any input on this matter would be greatly appreciated. You don’t see anyone in the show rolling with their companion animals, that’s all I’m saying. This is more distressing than the thought of the world being overrun with walkers.
  • My initiation into the cult of The Walking Dead has actually uplifted my faith in what is possible post-apocalypse. I know I would find myself among a tribe like Rick’s in which everyone looks out for each other. I might not be the last standing, but I’d have love and give love until the end.

 10 Days of Illness Can Only Portend a Rebirth

The illness didn’t come as any huge surprise. I’m under stress at work and I haven’t been taking great care of myself. Two nights before I came down with the plague, I’d gone for a massage at the inexpensive Chinese reflexology place I love. It was a great idea gone wrong. As it turns out, I hadn’t received any type of therapeutic touch in longer than I could remember. The poor guy, Tom, pretty much felt compelled to beat the crap out of me—he was working SO hard trying to loosen the cement of my upper back and shoulders. He even leaned over at one point and said in a concerned voice, “Why so tight?” It was painful in a way that almost made me tear up a couple times because of whatever emotions were hiding inside those muscly knots. I knew upon leaving that shit got stirred that I couldn’t unstir. And sure enough, I had a headache all the next day and two days later I left work early because of the onset of the plague.

The funniest thing about not feeling well was the way I could have entire conversations with myself using only the word “okay.”

For example, faced with the daunting task of getting dressed, I sat on my bed for a minute and gave myself a pep talk much like this: “Okay” (said with resolve, meaning “I can do this”). “Okay” (said as though it were already done, like, “I got this!”). “Okay!” (said with the false enthusiasm of a cheerleader, as in, “I can do this!”). I pulled on socks, pants, a shirt. “Okay” (said exhaustedly, meaning “Mission accomplished.”).

Pep talks like these were commonplace before attempting almost anything: making tea, getting more water, moving from the couch to the bed, feeding the animals, walking the dogs, etc. I knew that as long as I could still talk, though, I had not yet become a walker. My poor dogs, though. They would cock their heads to that magically cute 45-degree angle every time I said “okay.” They had no idea what I was talking about because usually “okay” is a good thing and precedes phrases like, “Wanna go for a walk?” and “Want some breakfast?”

My sense of vitality will return and it will feel like a rebirth…but it might still take a while. Today I noticed that my emotions are flushing out—anger and sadness most prominently. Tricky how physical things are never just physical and emotional things are never just emotional. But hey, at least I’m alive. Unlike the walkers, whose brain stems are firing despite no one being home, my brain and body will recover…and I will enjoy a couple more thrilling episodes of The Walking Dead before the season ends.