On writing: a stream of consciousness

It’s one of those nights when you can’t make yourself write whatever it is you’re supposed to be writing. When you lay on the couch and press the button that says, “Yes Netflix, I am still watching. Yes, I know I’ve been watching for multiple consecutive hours. Yes, I know there’s definitely something better I should be doing with my time. But right now, right this minute, I’m going to continue watching West Wing and running away from my crippling insecurities.”

It’s one of those days when you know you haven’t written anything good. You know you haven’t written anything worth reading. You wrote an article, yes. It met the word count and it was submitted long before deadline, not at 2 or 3am when you normally turn in an article. But it wasn’t anything worth reading. It wasn’t particularly good writing. It was decent writing, submitted on deadline, content to entice readers, to gain views. You’re Hemingway when he wrote for the newspaper, before he published any stories. You’re writing to get paid.

It’s been one of those days when you wonder if you’ll ever actually be a writer who’s worth anything at all. When you wonder if you’ll ever write that one great article. When you wonder if you’re ever actually going to write the novel you keep telling everyone you’re going to write. When you wonder all day if anyone’s going to publish that story you think is really good.

When you fear that one day you’ll run out of ideas entirely. When you fear that someday you won’t be able to put words together anymore. And what if that day is today? What if I’ve run dry before I’ve even started?

It’s been one of those days when you wonder if you’re actually a good writer at all or if everyone else is just humoring you. If you’re just better than some and not truly extraordinary. Because that’s all you’ve ever wanted to be is extraordinary. Is that too much to ask? Perhaps.

It’s been one of those days when you wonder why you wanted to do this at all. Why you abandoned all other pursuits and chose to write. Do you really love it at all? Actually, that’s not even a question. You know you love it, but is it worth all this anguish? With a brain like yours, is writing really something you should be devoting your life to? A career that’s so based inside your head, which isn’t the best place to be. A career that’s so dependent on the acceptance and validation of others, where rejection is much more common than acceptance. Is this really what’s best for you, a hypercritical, overly sensitive fragile creature?

This would be agonizing if I didn’t know that this is the struggle of all writers. A constant paradox: the conviction that your voice is special enough to be worth hearing balanced with the conviction that nothing you write is worth reading. Walking the fine line between believing that you’re everything and that you’re nothing. Walking the tightrope of arrogance and self-loathing. I’m glad so many writers have written about these feelings because if I thought I was alone in this struggle I’d never have made it to my desk tonight. I’d never have sat down and put together words. And in the end that’s all that matters. Sitting down and putting words together to express a thought, a feeling. Hopefully in an order that makes sense to somebody.

I am a writer. I struggle to internally justify that existence to myself and the world. I want so badly to write that one thing that proves to everyone that I am a real writer, that I am really worth it. But I am already a writer. My mental anguish over being so proves it.

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3 Ways I Fought the Patriarchy in 2016

Unfortunately, there were a lot of wins for the patriarchy in 2016. Laws that restricted access to abortion were passed all over the country. Brock Turner raped a woman and served only 3 months in prison, exposing the dangerous and despicable rape culture that is the norm in the United States. Multiple states passed or attempted to pass “bathroom bills”, requiring that people only use the bathroom that matches their assigned sex rather than their gender identity, laws which are openly discriminatory to trans individuals. Worst of all, a highly-qualified female presidential candidate lost the election to an openly sexist bigot. And 53% of white women voted for that sexist bigot instead of the highly-qualified woman.

These are only a very few highlights of a particularly shitty year where women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community suffered while white, heteronormative, conservative men thrived. For a feminist in America, 2016 was particularly disheartening. I always realized that being a feminist meant fighting an uphill battle, but this year was the first time I felt like feminism was actually losing.

On this last day of 2016 it would be easy to recall all the patriarchy’s wins this year and get lost in despair. But sitting idle in overwhelming feelings is the opposite of feminism, which is action rather than inaction. So, on this last day of 2016, I want to reflect on the ways I chose to fight the patriarchy this year.

1) I Chose Recovery from my Eating Disorder

The feminist in me was born when I realized that I was ruining my life with an eating disorder. I entered outpatient treatment and began to read as much as I could about eating disorders. It didn’t take long to discover feminist literature proposing that eating disorders are a repressive tool of the patriarchy used to keep women from rising above their station in the world.

I read about how beauty standards, set by white, straight, men, are used to convince women that they are imperfect and that if they work hard enough they can be perfect. I learned how this pursuit of the elusive “beauty” kept women so preoccupied and set up so many barriers to entry that women were unable succeed at the same level of men. I recognized the way that the pursuit of beauty and the affection of men pits women against each other in order to keep them from banding together and overthrowing the cause of their misery: the patriarchy. I deeply identified with the feeling of being made to feel small by being continually silenced and ignored, and I saw the connection between being made to feel small and actually trying to have a smaller body. I realized that I was a victim of the patriarchy, as are all women.

Instead of languishing in my victimhood, I became angry and pursued recovery from my eating disorder with a fervent drive. I internalized the idea that my recovery was an active form of rebellion against the patriarchy. I refused to conform to the patriarchy’s standards. I refused to be silenced or ignored. I refused to be made small. I refused to be distracted by the pursuit of meaningless physical goals.

In 2016, I committed and recommitted to the active rebellion of recovery. I have made immense progress in my recovery and I have also stumbled. I have come to accept my larger body as the body I am intended to have, and I have relapsed in to bingeing as a way to manage my emotions. I spent hours in therapy. I practice intuitive eating and mindful eating. I wore a bathing suit in front of hundreds of people as part of my job as a camp counselor. I was active in ways that made me happy rather in ways that I thought burnt the most calories. I wore the clothes I wanted when I wanted and most of the time I felt okay. I learned to take care of myself, to take time to pause, to take time to eat, to take time to read a fun book, binge Netflix instead of food, and let myself rest.

In 2016 I learned to love myself more than I ever thought possible by choosing recovery every day and telling the patriarchy to fuck right off with their beauty standards.

2) I stopped giving a fuck about bras

I started getting breasts when I was 10 years old and I have always been, shall we say, “well endowed”. When I was young and developing, I was pretty immediately warned that my breasts would cause me trouble. I was told that my large breasts would have an inappropriate effect on men. I was also told that it was my responsibility to manage these effects. Instead of men being responsible for their reactions to my breasts, I was responsible for controlling my breasts so they wouldn’t have such an effect on men. Being the defiant pre-teen that I was, I went out and bought a shirt that said, “My eyes are up here” emblazoned right across my large breasts in bright red with an arrow pointing up to my face. Apparently, pre-teen me was a feminist and older me got lost somewhere along the line.

In my teen years, I was told that I could use men’s reactions to my breasts to get things that I wanted. I internalized the idea that it was empowering to manipulate men with my physical appearance. I know now that many women identify with this. Using our bodies to manipulate men is one of the only times we can exercise power over men. I started to wear revealing clothing, lean over counters, and smile coyly when men stared. Side note: when I say men, I actually mean men, not boys my age. Boys stared too, of course, but more often than I’d like to admit full grown men engaged with my sexually suggestive manipulation even though I was only a teenager. I soon learned that using my body to exercise power over men came with consequences that I wasn’t necessarily willing to face, but always felt obligated to face.

Obviously, I have a part in all this. I was choosing to use my body to exercise power over men. However, the patriarchy is what makes this power play possible. The patriarchy strips women of their real power and gives men power over them. Women are then taught that their bodies are magic objects with the power to make men temporarily unable to control themselves, and if women are clever, they can use this magic object to their advantage. The patriarchy perverts the already perverted power structure between men and women.

The ultimate patriarchal tool of control is the bra. Men, I would like to inform you that most bras, especially bras that are designed to make breasts look “good” or “hot” are supremely uncomfortable. The underwire pokes into our sideboob. The underwire digs in to our chests under the weight of our breasts. With larger breasts, like mine, there is always spillage over the cups, which makes us have to adjust our bras multiple times a day. The best time of the day is when a woman gets home and takes off her bra. And I am entirely sure that if society didn’t operate under the myth that breasts drive men to insane behavior, bras would not exist and women would be infinitely happier.

In 2016 I decided that it was not my responsibility to control my breasts or people’s reactions to them. I always thought I couldn’t get away with not wearing a bra because of my double D’s. This summer I proudly wore sundresses without a bra. It was insanely comfortable. My boobs were out everywhere and I got catcalled all the damn time, and I didn’t give a single fuck. My breasts were not on display for anyone, I was not trying to provoke a reaction, I was just being comfortable and free.

I used to spend a ton of money on push up bras and sexy, lacy bras to make my breasts “look great”. In 2016 I discovered the Hanes Cozy ComfortFlex Bra. It’s a super thin microfiber bra, without an underwire, that holds my breasts in place and that’s about it. It’s the most comfortable bra I have ever worn. It doesn’t pinch like sports bras or poke like underwire bras. It’s like pajamas for my breasts. I pretty much only wear these bras now, unless I’m wearing a dress which requires a “real bra” in which case, I grit my teeth and curse the patriarchy.

In giving zero fucks about making my breasts “look good” I am rebelling against the idea that my breasts exist for male gaze and I am prioritizing my own comfort and happiness.

3) I used my vote to support female politicians

I’m not going to pretend that I was on the Hillary train from the beginning. I fell hard for Bernie in the primaries. I believed he was authentic and I agreed with pretty much everything he said. I also fell victim to the propaganda machine that made Hillary out to be a corrupt devil. I still think she’s been involved in some shady shit. I’m not a rah rah Hillary cheerleader, but I did vote for her and I did so happily.

For a while after she won the primary I was one of those people who groaned, “I’ll vote for Hillary, but I’m not happy about it”, but after the DNC I was happy to vote for her. When I saw her accept the nomination I cried. I didn’t expect it, but I cried hard. I didn’t know how overwhelmingly happy I would be to see a woman nominated to run for President. I was energized by the idea of actually having a female President. I really wanted her to win, and not just to prevent Donald Trump from winning. Despite all the supposed “scandals” she was one of, if not the most qualified candidate to ever run.

I voted a day early and felt a surge of pride as I colored in the circle next to her name on that ballot. And Hillary was not the only woman I voted for that day. I took my local ballot and filled in the circles next to the names of multiple women running for office in my state. It’s not just about electing the first female President, it’s about supporting women in every level of government. I didn’t vote for women based on their gender, I voted for them because I believed they were the best candidates for the jobs for which they were running and I believe that women need all the support they can get.

This country claims to be a democracy, which means that my vote counts for something (even if the electoral college makes my vote basically meaningless because I live in Vermont). By using my vote to elect women, I did my part in ensuring that there are more women in local and national government, which lessens the number of positions in the government held by white men. In fact, the only win for feminism on election night was the fact that more women of color were elected to Congress than ever before. Using my vote to dethrone men and crown women in our governmental structures in 2016 is a direct blow to the patriarchy.

These are just a few of the things I did this year to fight the patriarchy. I also stopped using beauty products, which I wrote about for The Tempest. I connected with more women and made deeper friendships based on equality. I discussed feminism with my husband and we brainstormed ways to make our marriage more egalitarian. Most importantly, though, I used my voice to speak out. I wrote a lot this year. I was published for the first time and then many more times after that. I wrote in my blog, which gained new readers after I was published. I used my voice to express my hurt and my anger against the patriarchy. In 2017 I hope to use my voice even more and I hope to continue to fight the good fight. And in honor of Carrie Fisher, a badass feminist we just lost, I plan to “be a general”:

So, to 2016: get the fuck outta here. To 2017: let’s do this.

Daily Practices to Help Your Recovery

In my last post I briefly mentioned the daily practices that I use to stay on track in my recovery. I have found that having a daily routine including journaling, meditation, and embodied movement helps me stay grounded in myself and my body. At times in my recovery when I have maintained these daily practices, I find it relatively easy to move through life without being hindered by my eating disorder. At times in my recovery when I have neglected these practices, I have struggled.

Developing a daily routine that works for you can help keep you focused on your recovery. It can also help you identify areas of your recovery that are causing issues so you can discuss them with your treatment team. Early recovery can be a very uncomfortable time, so building in time for reflection and development of coping mechanisms is essential.

Here are a few things that have consistently been a part of my daily routine:

Journaling

My college graduation present from my trusted mentor was a Batman journal and a beautiful set of pens. I asked her what I should write, and she suggested that every morning I just let my thoughts pour out on to the page, stream of consciousness style. So, I started writing for five minutes every morning about whatever came in to my head. After a month or so, I looked back through the journal entries and noticed a disturbing pattern: almost all my entries included worries about my weight and food.

The fact that these worries were coming out in my journaling every day made me more aware of my thoughts about weight and food, and I began to realize that I thought about these things almost all the time. To the point that it was interfering with my ability to do my job or interact with others. As I continued to journal about this obsession I began to realize that it was not as normal as I thought, and I decided that I needed to seek help. Journaling was the catalyst for getting me to my second outpatient treatment program.

When I was in treatment I was encouraged to keep journaling. I began to understand that my eating disorder had a lot to do with avoiding uncomfortable and intense feelings, so I began to write about these feelings as a way of processing them. It seemed like when I put pen to paper things came out that I hadn’t even acknowledged I was feeling. When I identified these feelings by writing about them I was better able to discuss them with my treatment team. Then my treatment team was able to suggest different coping mechanisms that helped me deal with those feelings without using behaviors.

Today I journal twice a day: once in the morning and once at night. Sometimes I write on journal prompts provided by my therapist or other trusted people in my life. Sometimes I just write stream of consciousness style and then reflect on what’s come up. Journaling daily allows me to get in touch with and process whatever thoughts or emotions I may be consciously or unconsciously avoiding, which allows me to address these emotions without resorting to behaviors.

Meditation

I have struggled with meditation for a long time. I have gone through periods where I’ve meditated daily and then long stretches where I didn’t meditate at all. About five years ago I really committed to daily meditation and since then I’ve been on a journey to find a meditation practice that works in my life. The problem I had when I first started meditating was that I couldn’t quietly sit still for any extended period of time. I was too uncomfortable in my own skin. The thoughts in my head were too loud. I couldn’t calm down. Trying to just “sit and quiet my mind” ended up being incredibly stressful.

After trying this for months, I started asking other people about their meditation practices and I discovered that there are other ways to meditate than just sitting quietly. People told me about meditation practices that involved focusing on special kinds of breathing. Others told me about meditation practices that focus on silently repeating mantras. They told me about meditations practices that involved movement, like yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong. I also heard about guided meditation, which involved listening to recordings of people leading spoken meditations. I tried all of them, testing out which ones I enjoyed and which ones actually worked to quiet my mind and get me in touch with my body.

The format I landed on was guided meditation. I found a great app called Insight Timer, which contains a library of guided meditations. The app even has meditations in multiple languages! When I began to search through their library of meditations I found they had meditations for specific topics like forgiveness, gratitude, self-love, compassion, and even eating disorders. Two of my favorite meditations from this app are: “There is nothing wrong with you” by Robin Rice and “Mindful Eating: Forgiveness for the Body” by Cinzia Pezzolesi.

I started using the app every morning to meditate for at least a couple minutes. Today I still use the app on almost a daily basis. I try to listen to a meditation that’s at least five minutes long, but on days that I’m running really late I’ll throw on something a minute or two long. I always try to tell myself that something is better than nothing.

Meditating gives me a reprieve from the racing thoughts that are so often associated with eating disorders. Meditating gives me a chance to slow down and really observe what is happening in my mind. It also provides a way for me to really connect to my body. Sometimes this is very uncomfortable because my feelings manifest in certain areas of my body, like anxiety can feel like a stomachache or tightness in my chest. Using meditation allows me to identify these physical manifestations of my feelings and become curious about them. When I could identify these feelings in my body and not be judgmental of them, I found that my body can give me clues about hidden emotions. I can also use meditation to work through these emotions so they don’t feel so overwhelming, which can help prevent me from using behaviors to manage my emotions.

Embodied Movement

Part of my active eating disorder was compulsive exercise, so finding a way to add movement back to my daily life was difficult for a long time. A note on this daily practice: do not try to add movement back in to your life without consulting with your treatment team. Most people in eating disorder recovery have a hard time with balanced exercise and it takes a lot of guidance to reintegrate movement safely and healthfully. I found it very helpful to work with my treatment team on movement rather than exercise. Instead of focusing on exercise, which felt like an obligation, focusing on movement allowed me to explore activities that felt fun and joyful in my body.

I started to hike a lot. Being in nature was both calming and rejuvenating. I kept my focus on my surroundings rather than miles or hours spent on the trail. Hiking was about seeing beautiful things and appreciating my body’s capabilities. The first time I stood at the summit of the highest mountain in Vermont I realized that my body was powerful and capable and I found a new appreciation for the things my body could accomplish when I was caring for it properly. This gave me more motivation to eat well and honor my body’s needs.

I also started practicing yoga. My relationship with yoga throughout the years has been difficult. When I was still active in my eating disorder I viewed yoga like any other form of exercise. It was for strength building and calorie burning. I would go through times of attending intense yoga classes every day, then not go to yoga at all for months. Yoga was also a great place for me to compare myself to others. I would critique my body against the other women in class and compare my progress in poses to theirs.

If you’re familiar with yoga, you’ll know that this experience is the exact opposite of the intention of yoga. Yoga is intended to be an inward, meditative practice. The practitioner works on connecting their mind, breath, and body, to become more aware of themselves. Unfortunately, a lot of Westernized yoga is focused on bodily fitness rather than spiritual fitness.

I started to have a different experience with yoga when I went in to outpatient treatment. The program I attended used therapeutic yoga as a treatment tool. I had group and one on one sessions with yoga therapists who taught me how to make yoga my own and how to use the practice to connect my body and my emotions. At first, it was incredibly uncomfortable. I was shocked to discover that my body was storing difficult emotions that I’d never processed and unleashing those stored emotions through movement was intense. Luckily, my treatment team was comprised of experts who were able to walk me through this uncomfortable process. I began to see yoga as a way to be present in my body and sit with my feelings in a safe way.

I have not dedicated myself to a continuous yoga practice for my entire recovery, but it is something I’m trying to add back to my daily routine right now. Adding daily, embodied movement to my routine has allowed me to appreciate my body in ways I never expected. It shows me that my body is strong and capable, regardless of its size or shape.

I won’t lie, doing all these things on a daily basis takes time. I spend 20-30 minutes every morning and night journaling, meditating, and doing some yoga. It can seem overwhelming to set aside that kind of time in an already busy schedule. What worked for me was adding practices one at a time and starting with short versions of each practice. When I started meditating it was two to three minutes once a day. Slowly I began to add minutes on to that practice. Then I added five minutes of journaling. Then I started to add ten to fifteen minutes of yoga. Gradually, over a long period of time, I developed a solid morning and nighttime routine that was focused on self-reflection and self-care.

I would suggest trying one or two of these practices each day for a week. If they don’t work for you, then try something else! Building a routine of daily self-reflection and self-care practices is a very individual journey. What works for me may not work for you at all. Once you find a practice that works for you, try to do it consistently. Since I’m a perfectionist, I’ve had to learn to be compassionate with myself if I miss a day or two of my routine. I’m human and life gets busy. I just do my best to get back in to it as soon as I can.

Maintaining a daily routine throughout my recovery has helped me to connect with my body and mind in ways I didn’t think possible. It has also allowed me to process difficult emotions, which has helped me to avoid using behaviors. These practices have deepened my recovery and continue to help on the path to full recovery.

Avoiding Relapse in Eating Disorder Recovery

A few months ago, after eight months behavior free, I binged. It seemed like it happened completely out of the blue. I was shocked and embarrassed. I was disappointed in myself. I was consumed with anxiety. Did this relapse mean I would plummet back in to the depths of my eating disorder? Was I starting over from square one? Would I lose all the freedom I had gained during my eight months behaviors free?

I saw my therapist and we discussed the relapse, and more importantly, the weeks leading up to the relapse. Two things commonly said about relapsing in eating disorder recovery are “relapse is part of recovery” and “the relapse starts long before behaviors are used.” In talking with my therapist I immediately began to see the importance of these sayings. It became very clear that I had been gearing up for a relapse for a while. I had become less vigilant about my recovery, in a number of ways.

My therapist reminded me to be compassionate and remember that relapse happens often in eating disorders. Recovery is a journey and a process, it doesn’t all happen at once. He reminded me that the most important thing was to learn as much as I could from the relapse. So we analyzed what circumstances led up to the relapse.

Getting Too Busy and Out of My Routine

In the weeks leading up to the relapse, there were a lot of things happening. I was traveling a lot. I spent a week out of town with my husband for his new job, we went away for our one year wedding anniversary, and I went to a music festival with my sister in NYC. All within the span of two and a half weeks. I was frequently in unfamiliar surroundings, and often completely out of my routine.

A big part of my recovery has been my spiritual practice which involves a daily routine of readings, journaling, and meditation. While I was traveling, I quickly fell out of these practices. Before I knew it, I had gone almost a week without my full routine, and I began to feel really off kilter.

I had also been working at two different jobs and participating in a lot of extracurricular activities in the weeks leading up to my relapse. My therapist and I spent a lot of time talking about why I’d chosen to make myself so busy. We came to the conclusion that I was making myself busy to avoid the anxiety I was feeling about the transitional time I’m going through right now. I became so caught up in my busy lifestyle that I didn’t even realize I had an intense amount of anxiety and fear building inside.

Not Talking About What I’m Really Thinking and Feeling

Early in recovery I learned that saying out loud what I’m really thinking and feeling, even if that seems terrifying, is essential to not engaging in eating disorder behaviors. Since I often used behaviors to avoid my feelings, I had to find a new outlet for those feelings. Talking to my therapist and other people that I really trusted became that outlet. I was often afraid of being judged, but whenever I spoke to people I trusted they were incredibly understanding and kind. Letting it out instead of keeping it all in was incredibly healing.

Leading up to the relapse I had been slowly isolating myself. I hadn’t seen my therapist in almost a month. I hadn’t been in contact with my most trusted friends. I had convinced myself I didn’t have time to call or that I didn’t need to call. I hadn’t made plans to see anyone because I was “too busy”. All of the anxiety I was trying to avoid by being so busy was building up inside with no release valve.

I Wasn’t Paying Attention to How I Ate

Right before I stopped using behaviors I read the book “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. This book literally changed my life. It introduced me to the concept that our bodies are made to know how to eat, but dieting and messages from society about how we are “supposed” to eat make it impossible to listen to our bodies. The book provides guidelines for getting back in touch with your body so you can recognize its natural hunger and fullness signals.

One of the suggested tools for learning to recognize hunger and fullness signals is mindful eating. Mindful eating is a practice that requires paying close attention during the process of eating. When eating mindfully, you generally eat without distractions like TV or a computer. You eat slowly, really savoring every bite. You check in with yourself while eating asking questions like “does this still taste good? Do I want another bite? Am I full yet?” Eating becomes almost a meditative ritual that allows you to connect to your body.

Earlier on in my recovery I used mindful eating a lot to learn to recognize my hunger and fullness signals. Reconnecting to my body enough to know when I was hungry and full allowed me to find a lot of freedom around eating.

Gradually I began to trust my body and moved away from mindful eating. I thought I was familiar enough with my body’s signals to maintain the habit of eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was full. I started to eat while distracted more often. I stopped paying attention to how my body was feeling during and after eating. I didn’t notice that my ability to pay attention to my body’s signals was decreasing. Slowly, I started overeating, just a little. Not bingeing, but eating past the point of fullness. Slowly I started waiting a bit longer between meals. I would wait to eat until I was overly hungry, which often resulted in frenzied overeating. It didn’t take long without mindful eating for my eating to get really out of sync with my body.

So What Did I Learn from this Relapse?

The most important thing I learned is that recovery takes work, even if it’s been a long time since I’ve actively used behaviors. I have to keep doing the things I did in the beginning of my recovery in order to stay behavior free.

The most important thing I have to do is confront my anxiety and difficult feelings on a regular basis. This means I need to be talking about my feelings on a regular basis. I also need to slow down and take a lot of time for self-reflection. If I allow myself to get “too busy” to reflect, I am likely to miss the fact that I’m having difficult feelings in the first place. If I am avoiding feeling my feelings this will eventually lead to a relapse.

I learned just how important my daily spiritual practices are and that maintaining them is essential. I have gotten back in to reading, journaling, and meditating on a daily basis. I am trying to get back in to a regular yoga practice, which helps me to be more present in my body.

I also learned that I have to be aware of my body and the way I am consuming food. I need to pay close attention to when I am hungry. While I am eating, I have to be aware of how the food tastes and how my body feels. I am trying to commit to not being distracted while I eat, which is hard. I am giving up my membership in the “clean plate club” and becoming comfortable with leaving food uneaten if I’m full.

I am still disappointed that I relapsed, but I am doing my best to view this as an opportunity to deepen my commitment to recovery. This relapse provided a lot of valuable information about what I need to do to maintain my recovery. Sometimes I wonder if I will always have to work this hard to maintain my recovery and it seems overwhelming. But I have heard from many people with long term recovery that it becomes easier as time goes on. I believe that one day, I will just be able to live my life without thinking about my eating disorder at all. For now, I need to put in the work and trust that it will pay off.

The Uncomfortable Process of Becoming a White Ally

After the shootings of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling in July something inside me snapped. I could no longer stay silent about the racism that is overtaking this country. I was just beginning my career as a freelance writer and I wanted desperately to use my newly found voice to speak out. The problem I didn’t know I had was that I was clueless about how to use my voice to speak about racism, white supremacy, privilege, or police brutality.

The majority of my writing has come from my own experience as a white, middle class woman. I am comfortable writing about feminism, body image, eating disorders, and pop culture because these are part of my own experience. I don’t have to reach far to articulate my thoughts; I simply have to write honestly and vulnerably about things that have happened. When it came to writing about the struggles black and brown people face in this country, I always assumed it wasn’t my place. It wasn’t my experience. I should let other people write about their experiences. I shouldn’t presume to talk about something I didn’t know.

When the shootings happened, I reacted with my gut and my broken heart and decided it was my place to say something. Unfortunately, I said all the wrong things. I talked about my own feelings and how much the shootings had affected me. I spoke without recognizing my own privilege. I spoke without first understanding my own implicit biases. I spoke as if my voice was special and would bring change when other voices had not. I spoke about my experience without acknowledging the experiences of people of color, who were actually being traumatized.

Luckily, I have friends who have existed in activist and social justice spaces much longer than I have and they spoke to me about the problems with what I was saying. They were kind enough to direct me to articles and books I could read. They taught me about amplifying the voices of people of color rather than speaking out with my own voice. They asked me to look at my thoughts and beliefs to identify how they were problematic. These friends spent their time having conversations with me about recognizing my own racism and privilege. They directed me to groups of white people who were having similar conversations and struggling with how to help without hurting.

I began to see that I held racist thoughts and beliefs, just like most people in this country. This is a result of a culture that subtly reinforces how we should think about people of color through public conversation, news coverage, media representations, and economics. This culture of insidious racism is powerful enough to have an effect on all of us, whether we can see it or not. I never would have thought that I was racist. I was raised by exceptionally liberal parents who promoted the concept of colorblindness. I have black and brown friends. I even dated a black girl once. I was that white person who says “I like people of color, therefore I can’t be racist, right?” I never bothered to look deeper than that.

Instead, like so many of us, I pushed down racist thoughts and feelings when they arose. I derided myself when I felt uncomfortable driving through “bad neighborhoods” mostly populated by people of color. I felt ashamed when I dismissed the experiences of people of color with thoughts like “well that doesn’t happen to all black people” or “that doesn’t happen where I live”. I barely gave it a second thought when I justified police shootings by villainizing the victim or assuming they had a gun. I was unwilling to acknowledge that these thoughts and feelings existed within me and that they made me racist.

I couldn’t see my own privilege as a white woman. I’d never had to think about all the things that were easier for me because of the color of my skin. When I was up to no good late at night as a rebellious teenager I never worried about being beaten or shot if I ran in to the police. My parents never had to teach me how to interact with police officers so I would be safe. I had access to good public schools because my parents could afford to live in a wholesome, mostly white, Connecticut suburb. When I applied to college I never worried that I wouldn’t be accepted because I didn’t fit some demographic requirement. If I get pulled over I do not fear for my life or my safety. My life is and has been significantly easier because I am white, and that is the definition of privilege. I need to be able to acknowledge this privilege so that I can truly listen to the experiences of people of color and understand how different their experiences are from my own.

I was also unable to recognize the white supremacy in the United States. Whenever I heard people talking about white supremacy scenes from American History X flashed through my brain. I assumed they were talking about the KKK or neo-Nazis; things I had very little experience with as a woman who’s only ever lived in liberal New England towns. I didn’t realize that white supremacy refers to the way the country is structured to benefit white people and not people of color. White supremacy is about the fact that American society is built to make it easier for white people to move through the world. It refers to the reality that people of color do not have access to the same resources as white people, even if policy and legislation says they theoretically do. Even our assumptions about activism and social justice are based around whiteness. We believe that being equal means having access to the same life as a white person, which doesn’t even take in to account what people of color want or need. What if they want a world created in their image, not mine?

Looking deep within myself and gaining all this insight was extremely uncomfortable. I felt like an awful person. I was humiliated by my feelings. I was ashamed of the systems that benefited me and hurt others. I felt dumb. I felt ignorant. I sat with these feelings. I talked about them with my friends who had already been through this processing. I got together with groups of other white people struggling with this process. I read a lot of articles. I read some books. I listened to people of color. I began to really understand what it means to be a white ally.

Being a white ally means really listening to the experiences of people of color. It means being willing to educate other white people about racism, privilege, and white supremacy because the responsibility of education should not fall on the shoulders of people of color. They are already too exhausted from experiencing racism in their everyday lives. Being a white ally means speaking up when someone says something racist, even if it means other white people not liking you. It means being willing to make mistakes, own them, and change. It means being willing to attend meetings, rallies, and protests to show your solidarity. It means shutting up when you don’t know what to say and it means speaking up when you do know what to say.

Becoming a white ally in the fight for racial justice is hard. It’s not comfortable. It’s emotionally exhausting and sometimes it’s traumatizing. But it’s nothing compared to experiencing systematic racism on a daily basis. As white people, we should be willing to take on this journey in order to dismantle the injustice people of color face constantly.

I realize that I’m not saying anything new here. Many smarter and more aware people have said these things before. I still think it’s important to talk, among white folks, about how hard it is to confront privilege and become a true ally. It’s hard because racism is hard and white supremacy is pervasive and white folks need to take time to process how hard it is. But we should not be taking that time and space from people of color. They don’t need to hear us whine about how hard social justice is; they’ve known for a long time. It’s about time we shoulder some of the burden.

 

3 ways that women can fight internalized misogyny

The United States is an inherently patriarchal society. This means that the power structures in this country are set up to keep men in power and to keep women out of power. Nothing made this more clear then the election last week, when a completely unqualified man beat out an overqualified woman for the most powerful job in the country, maybe even the world. In order to ensure that men stay in power and women stay out of power, patriarchal systems instill a deep sense of misogyny in the people, especially women.

Patriarchal systems used the media to depict women in ways that decreases their value by making their worth tied to their appearance. Double standards in the workplace ensure that when a woman displays what are seen as leadership qualities in men, she is seen as aggressive. These double standards also mean that a woman has to work twice as hard as a man doing the same job and may never see the benefits of that extra work.

This results in few women in leadership roles, which reinforces the idea that men are better in leadership roles. The less we see women in leadership roles, the less likely we are to believe they are competent in leadership roles. The same is true for women in politics. Every action they make is harshly critiqued by their contemporaries and the media, holding them back from achieving leadership positions.

All of this results in a society where we have very few examples of women in leadership roles and women are valued for their appearances and docile personalities rather than their skills and abilities, even if those skills and abilities are equal to or surpass a man’s.

In a society that is so clearly against women, it’s not surprise that women internalize misogyny. Women are indoctrinated to believe that they are worth less than men, so on a subconscious level they begin to believe they are worth less than men. Any intelligent, ass kicking woman knows that this isn’t true, but somehow she can’t shake the lingering feeling that she doesn’t deserve that promotion or that she’s not pretty enough or that no one should take her seriously. This is internalized misogyny.

So how can we ass kicking ladies fight internalized misogyny so we can overthrow the patriarchy? Here are a few of my ideas.

1) Educate yourself about feminism

Oooh, the F word. Feminism has become another dirty F word. How, you may ask? The answer is always the same: patriarchy. The male dominated power systems are, rightfully, threatened by the idea of equality for women, so for years the systems have slandered feminists. Did you know that feminists in the 60’s never actually burned their bras? That story was made up by a male dominated media that wanted to make feminists seem scary and crazy. The media also spends a wild amount of time talking about the ugliness of feminists. In a world where women’s value is linked to their appearance, calling feminists ugly has been a way to discredit feminists and their movement.

In short, the media has made up all sorts of stories about feminists to make them seem like awful people as a way to discourage women from being feminists. Don’t believe the hype. Read some books. Like “The Feminine Mystique“, “The Beauty Myth“, “We Should All be Feminists“, and “The Feminist Utopia Project“. Read articles on sites like Everyday Feminism, Bitch Media, Adios Barbie, and The Body is not an Apology. Listen to podcasts like Call Your Girlfriend, The Guilty Feminist, and The Bodcast. Find out what feminism is really about (hint: it’s just the idea that women are equal to men and should be treated as such). Find out how patriarchal systems have affected your perception of yourself and your daily life.

If you’re not angry enough to shout from the rooftops about the patriarchy after all that, find more resources to educate yourself. Educate yourself until you understand how badly the patriarchy has screwed you and then get ready to fight back.

2) Talk to other feminists on a regular basis

One of the ingenious ways the patriarchy has kept women from overthrowing them is by keeping women apart and at each other’s throats. Women have been taught their whole lives that other women are the competition: for jobs, for success, for men. The patriarchy has taught women to compare themselves to other women constantly and to be jealous of women we judge as better. We’ve also been taught to try to tear down women so that we can succeed as if success is a finite resource that can only be possessed by a few women. Unfortunately, the systems that keep women out of power reinforce the idea that success is finite and only available to certain women. In short, the patriarchy has kept women from connecting in order to ensure we will never band together to overthrow the system.

In the sixties, when the Women’s Liberation Movement really began, women started hosting get togethers at their houses where women got to know each other. These get togethers were also used as a way to educate women about the Movement. Women at these get togethers shared their experiences, which led to the realization that they all faced the same sexism in their homes and offices. When these women realized they were not alone, and became friends, they created a powerful force that allowed the Women’s Liberation Movement to succeed.

So, ladies, you need to get you some awesome girlfriends. I know this can be really uncomfortable at first. Many women, myself included, have been taught to believe that they just can’t be friends with women. Too much cattiness, too much drama, too much trouble. But it’s actually not.

Find a core group of women and start talking to them about the sexism you experience. They’re going to tell you that they’ve experienced the same. Bond over the frustrations of being a woman in this world. Don’t just talk about makeup and clothes and men. Talk about changing the world. Build each other up. Compliment each other on things other than appearance. Tell each other how smart and brave you are. Reflect their value back to them. Start to make them believe that they deserve everything.

3) Work on a self acceptance/self love practice

The words “self acceptance” and “self love” used to make me throw up in my mouth. Every time someone said “love yourself” or “accept yourself exactly the way you are” I wanted to punch them in the mouth.

After entering recovery for an eating disorder and starting to educate myself on feminism, I discovered that my self hatred was a result of internalized misogyny. Women are constantly told by patriarchal systems that they are less than and that they are not worthy or love or acceptance. The media, beauty, and diet industries all profit off telling women that there is something wrong with them and that they need to change. This barrage of negative messaging results in women being literally unable to accept themselves, let alone love themselves.

The patriarchal systems of power are never going to teach women to accept or love themselves, so we have to do it ourselves. How, you ask? Good question. There are plenty of ways to start recognizing your own value and to start working toward self acceptance and self love. You just have to get over the hokeyness of them and do them without judgement. Or with as little judgement as possible.

Try writing affirmations on your mirror like “you are worthy of love” or “this mirror is a lie, your value is not tied to your appearance” or “you are a strong, smart woman”. Whatever it is you want to believe about yourself, write it on your mirror and read it every time you brush your teeth or work on your makeup. While you’re at it, say “I love you just the way you are” to your reflection in the mirror. Start a daily journaling practice and write things that you like about yourself or think that you’re good at. Before bed, write down all the things you did well during the day. Call a friend and ask them to tell you what they love about you.

I know all these things seem stupid and awful, but I’ve done all of them at some point over the past couple of years and my perception of myself has infinitely improved. So suck it up, swallow the mouth vomit, and give these things a try. You won’t be willing to fight for your worth if you don’t believe you have it in the first place.

Women face an uphill battle in patriarchal systems. At every turn they will be pushed back and told to be quiet. Unless women confront their internalized misogyny, they won’t be able to fight back and shout loud for the things they deserve. And trust me, you deserve everything. If no one’s ever told you that before, listen closely: you deserve everything.

Now go forth and educate yourself, find some other bad ass women, and learn to love yourself so we can start another revolution.

 

My five stages of grief over the election

Since Tuesday many in this country have been going through a grieving process. Despite multiple attempts by others to shut this down, despite the cries of “stop whining” or “just get over it”, the grief is real and it is warranted. People are grieving Hillary’s actual loss. They are grieving for the ideals that appear to be lost as a result of this election. People are grieving the loss of a country they thought existed, which is actually much different. For many, myself included, this is a gut wrenching, heartbreaking loss. We deserve to feel that pain.

The well known stages of grief model describes the emotions that arise when dealing with loss: Denial, Bargaining, Depression, Anger, and Acceptance. Sometimes the feelings arise in that order and people move linearly through the stages arriving at acceptance. More often, the feelings arise haphazardly, leaving the grieving person feeling discombobulated and perhaps a bit insane. They can jump from Bargaining, to Anger, back to Denial, and plunge in to Depression. The grieving person may feel brief periods of Acceptance then plunge back in to Denial and start the whole cycle over again. Grieving is a complicated process and we should all be giving ourselves the necessary time to feel and process these difficult emotions. We should be talking this through with people we love. And we should be ignoring those who insist that we should already be over this. Or that we should get over it at all.

My grief process has not been linear. I’ve been jumping back and forth through the stages hour to hour on a daily basis. Here’s a little of what each stage has looked like for me:

Denial

My denial phase on election night was super brief. By the time I got home to watch the coverage around 8:30 Trump was already ahead in electoral votes. I tried to convince myself that it was early and things would turn around, but I didn’t hang on to that for very long. When I awoke briefly at 3:45 Wednesday morning and saw the results, my denial phase was pretty much over. I haven’t really been back there since. I’d known in my gut for months that this was the way the election would go, I just hadn’t wanted to believe it. Now that it had happened, I wasn’t really wasting my time with denial. This was real, it was happening, and I had to deal.

Anger

During election night and certainly on Wednesday, I skipped bargaining and depression and went straight to anger. No anger isn’t right. Rage. I went straight to rage. Howling, screaming, visceral rage. At one point during election night, a straight male friend I was watching with began to complain about how annoyed he was at how vocal everyone was about their political views pre-election. I stared at the electoral vote map on the screen, almost completely red, looked back to him and screamed, “I’m not going to be able to get birth control!” It’s not the biggest consequence of this election that was already brewing in my mind, but it was the most relevant thing I could think of at the time. I continued on, yelling, “It’s time for all of us to get very angry. It’s time for us to yell.” Five days later I still believe this is true.

I have been pretty stuck in anger for the majority of the past five days. It started with anger at those who chose to vote third party. While watching the numbers come out of Florida and Michigan, one of the first things I noticed was that in both states the percentage difference between Trump and Clinton was tiny, and that two percent of voters had voted for Gary Johnson. It seemed pretty obvious to me that if Gary Johnson hadn’t been on the ballot that there would have been clearer results from these states. And that if Gary Johnson voters who hated Trump had just sucked it up and voted for Clinton, she would have won both states. Of course, I cannot be sure how the numbers would have been effected without his name on the ballot because that’s not what happened. And it’s ridiculous and reductive to blame the loss of an election on third party voters, even if I had written multiple articles about why a third party vote was contributing to a Trump presidency.

Eventually, my anger at third party voters shifted to anger at the DNC. I was a die hard Bernie supporter. I went door to door in New Hampshire in the middle of February to campaign for him in the primaries. I read everything he wrote, proudly wore a hand knitted (by someone else) Bernie beanie, and talked the ears off of anyone who would listen. I believed in our Lord and Savior Bernie Sanders. When it became apparent that he would lose the primary, I begrudgingly supported Hillary. I didn’t want to because I truly believed Bernie was the right choice, but I did because I believed that Hillary was obviously better than Trump.

When it came out that the DNC had tipped the scales in Hillary’s favor I was livid. I yelled about the rigged system, spent some time considering writing in Bernie, and then settled, angrily, on voting for Hillary anyway. When Trump won, all of my anger at the DNC was rekindled. Hadn’t they said that Hillary was the only viable candidate against Trump? Hadn’t they promised the Democratic party that Bernie stood no chance, even though polls showed that Bernie was much more likely to beat Trump? If they’d just let us have Bernie, none of this would be happening!

From there, my anger turned to the people who voted for Trump. How could there be so many racist, sexist, homophobic, assholes in this country? What kind of awful place was I calling home? Didn’t they understand what this would mean for all the marginalized people in this country? Did they even care? I fell hard in to the myth that everyone who voted for Trump was an ignorant, uneducated, white person and I began to hate them.

It’s taken a lot of talking to those around me to realize that my hatred for an imaginary “Trump voter” does no good. When I am truly ready to listen, which I’m not right now, I need to listen to Trump voters and find out why they truly believed he was the better option. And I need to work with others to address their concerns. Because the rage I have felt all week is the rage they’ve felt for years, and they poured all that rage in to electing a hateful bigot. The longer we exile these people, the longer their rage will control our future.

I still haven’t been able to let go of the anger. I’ve gotten to the place where I’m not angry all the time, but the anger is still there the majority of the time. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the anger is unproductive; that it’s just another way that Trump wins. I agree and disagree. If we stay stuck in our anger then it certainly is unproductive. We just rage and nothing changes. But if we hold on to our anger and let it fuel action, then change can occur. I believe that the collective anger of the country can be transformative. If nothing else, this election teaches us that anger can change the landscape of an entire country. So, I believe that we must hold on to our anger to transform this country back in to the one we want. Anger over injustice has changed this country many times over. It can happen again if we refuse to stay stuck and let the fire of anger burn and cleanse us.

Depression

Wednesday was spent oscillating between anger and depression. I cried all the way to work as I listened to the NPR coverage of the morning after. My job on Wednesdays is at a Visitor’s Center where I’m basically there to answer the phone and say hi to folks when they come in. This leaves me with a lot of downtime, which is good when I have an article due, but not so great the day after a traumatic election. It took everything in me not to break down in tears. I read Hillary’s concession speech and fought back tears. I read Obama’s speech and held back tears.

I felt legitimate despair in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time; utter hopelessness. At times during the day on Wednesday it really seemed like the world was over. I didn’t know how to move forward. I felt like this had all happened despite my best efforts and that nothing I could do could stop the ball the country had set rolling.

A lot of my friends have expressed this kind of depression and despair. And we have been called melodramatic, but are we really? The world fundamentally changed on Tuesday and the way we will be living their lives day to day is being threatened by this administration. We are mourning the loss of the lives we’ve been living. We’re mourning the loss of our safety. This depression is real and we’re allowed to feel it.

Bargaining

I’ve seen a lot floating around my Facebook feed about how the electoral college could fix this mess by changing their votes from Trump to Clinton. In some states, the electoral college representatives are not required to cast their votes the way their state voted. In theory, this means that the representatives to the electoral college could switch their votes and elect Hillary president.

When my husband first reminded me of this on Wednesday, I temporarily thought it was a great idea. I was entering the bargaining stage. Maybe this doesn’t have to be true. Maybe the electoral college can save the country from itself. Maybe we could get Clinton after all!

Upon reflection, however, I realized that though this scenario was technically possible, it would not be the right decision for the country. As much as I hate it, Trump was legally elected via our democratic process. Part of the anger and resentment that led to his election was the belief that insider elites have control of the government. The same people harboring that anger and resentment complained loudly about the system being rigged against Trump. If a group of insider elites changed the vote in favor of Hillary, chaos would erupt. The anger and resentment would boil over and I truly believe that violence would ensue. The country may never recover from the violence that would take place and those harboring anger and resentment at the system would continue to be ignored by said system. We’d only be making the problem worse.

Another bargaining technique I’ve employed was believing that all of Trump’s bad actions would catch up with him in the courts, and he would be barred from taking office or impeached shortly after taking office. This bargaining logic was flimsy to begin with, as the judiciary system has time and again proved that rich, white men can do whatever they want without facing prosecution or punishment. I also quickly realized that if Trump were impeached, Mike Pence would be President, which is honestly more terrifying than a President Trump.

So, my bargaining phase passed as quickly as it came.

Acceptance

In certain ways I have reached acceptance and in other ways I don’t believe I ever will. I have accepted the result of the election. Donald Trump legally, as far as we know, won the 2016 election. He will be inaugurated on January 20th 2017. He is moving in to the White House. He will be largely in charge of the country where I live. These things are facts that I really cannot change, and I have learned through lots of experience that when we cannot accept the things we cannot change we create our own pain. So, I accept that Donald Trump will be President.

I refuse to accept him as my President, and I will not advocate that anyone else does. I will not accept the legislation he intends to enact. I will not accept the repeals he is planning. I will not accept the ways in which he wants to change my life and the lives of my friends. A line must be drawn and it must be held. I will not accept this regime and I will do everything in my power to fight.

So what can I do? What can we all do? It’s time to make some earnest decisions about how we are using our resources, primarily our money and our time, and how we can give those resources to things that matter. Because it is time for action, and it is time for every single person who will not accept this administration and its goals to take action.

As a white, straight passing (even though I’m not straight), woman I have a ton of privilege. For years I have sat idle while marginalized people fought for themselves and I have not lifted a finger to help them in their fight. It wasn’t until the shootings this summer that I even began to be involved with activist groups. Yes, I was writing about feminism before then, but I wasn’t doing anything in my community. Then I joined Black Lives Matter Vermont and SURJ-BTV and I started to truly understand how much work there is to do and that it was my responsibility as a compassionate citizen to help do that work.

I always thought that I didn’t have the time to help or the money to give and the truth is that I was too selfish about my time and money. I have the time to give if I make the time for what I believe is important. I have the money to give $5 or $10 to organizations that matter. So do you. Over is the time where we can simply share Facebook statuses or wear safety pins and call ourselves allies. We have to take tangible actions, in our community and nationally.

Here is a list of charities that need your money and your time. Find out which local nonprofits need help fundraising or someone to sit at their desk and answer their phones. Check out protests in your area or nationally. Get out of your house and in to the streets. Most importantly, ask marginalized communities what they need. It’s not up to us to decide what action would be best to support them right now. We need to listen and show up in the ways they ask.

So, take your time to get through these stages of grief, and forgive yourself if that takes time. Be kind to yourself and others as we process this trauma. Once you feel able, take action. We can start the change we want to see.