You are not the bad guy in the story of your life.
If you read a novel and the main character made all the same, moment by moment, choices that you have, in the context of a life identical to yours, the result, I’m sure, would be compassion and empathy for that character—not judgement.
At every turn of your life from the day you were born you have first acted to keep yourself safe and soothed. This is primal. This makes sense. You make sense.
We don’t always have access to resources within ourselves that might steer us toward less harmful actions. Sometimes our actions hurt ourselves or others. And still this doesn’t make us the bad guy.
If you are carrying around a thousand pound boulder of guilt and shame, of belief that you failed in some way or should have done better I implore you to put the boulder down. Forgive yourself!
You are not the bad guy in the story of your life.
You have always always always been trying to survive.
That might mean that for thirty years you came home from work and binged on food you didn’t taste or enjoy.
That might mean that for a while you lived beyond your means, regularly buying shoes and other empty impulse purchases
That might mean that you’ve acted poorly, childlike perhaps, toward a friend or family member. Lashed out. Been selfish. Held a grudge.
No matter the scenario: you are still not the bad guy in the story of your life.
You are just the human—good, fallible, sacred—finding your way.
Forgive yourself. Please.
Your unnecessary self-judgement and shame only builds walls: between you and I, between you and your self, between you and life.
As you read back over the book of you, notice that it makes perfect sense why the protagonist made that choice and then, as they say, take heart that when you know better you will do better.
Related post: Doing your best.
Even though we live in a relatively free world and women’s independence is increasingly celebrated, too often we still go along with the crowd at times when it doesn’t serve us and, more importantly, when we don’t have to.
Participation is optional.
Today I invite you to opt out.
Opt out of being weighed at the doctor’s office. Did you know it’s optional? You can simply say “I pass” and if they pressure you, and you don’t feel you have a choice, you can step on the scale backwards and say “I don’t want to know the number, it’s not useful to me.”
Opt out of allowing your child to have their BMI measured at school. Seriously. Let’s stop this early weight stigmatization and use of this most meaningless measurement.
Opt of out the pervasive “I’m so bad, I ate a piece of bread” conversations. If the people around you are gib gabbing about their latest diet, weight loss success or failure you can: change the topic, explain that you don’t partake in ‘diet culture’, or even say “You know how some people don’t talk about religion or politics because it causes conflict, well, I don’t talk dieting.” And leave it at that. You do not have to participate in or respond to every conversation you’re invited to.
Opt out of “Operation Get Bikini Body Ready”. You already have a bikini body, whether you want to wear one or not. This summer is not something to dread. The beach is not something to starve or slave for. Opt out.
Opt out of the hysteria over eating clean and of the diet fad (aka “lifestyle change”) of the moment. Just because “all the cool kinds are doing it” doesn’t mean it’s good for you (or them) and you have every right to opt out without any guilt.
Opt out of any yoga or exercise class that doesn’t feel welcoming to you and your body. As a wise friend of mine once said about bad yoga classes: “Treat them like a bad movie and walk out.” On that note, opt out of the “free” body fat scan that comes with your new gym membership. When it comes to movement, you and your body deserve to feel welcomed, accepted, and met. Anything less is a great opportunity to opt out.
Opt out of seeing any medical practitioner who brings weight stigma into their practice. Increasingly you have choice in this country and more and more there are medical professionals who understand the harm of weight-stigma and scientific validity of the Health at Every Size paradigm. Don’t like your doctor? Afraid to go see them because of the weight shaming comments they’ve made? Opt out.
Opt out of television shows (I’m looking at you Biggest Loser), magazines (I’m looking at you Shape Magazine), and other media that leave you feeling less than. Turn them off, unsubscribe, and go enjoy entertainment that respect you and everyone.
Bottom line: you’re free. You can say “No” and “No Thank You” and “No Fucking Way.”
Even if you feel like the odd one out, no one ever regrets doing what feels right and true to them.
Participation is truly optional.
For the past few years I’ve been unraveling my motherhood knot—the jumble of questions, fears, desires, and beliefs I have about having a child.
As you can imagine (or perhaps relate) this tangle has many layers but one in particular, while perhaps obvious, surprised me.
Or, as I’ve come to think of it: Perfection Coins.
Perfection Coins are what we amass the more in control and ‘perfect’ our life is. If our life somehow reflects a greater percentage of our personal preferences, with minimal compromise or vulnerability we are very rich in Perfection Coins.
When we want something that requires risk, or change, or giving up control we have to trade in our Perfection Coins.
And why would anyone trade them in?
Because the payoff is often living a life in greater alignment with yourself, deeper intimacy with other people, more meaning, and more happiness.
When we become a mother we have to trade in a lot of our Perfection Coins. For some women the cost is too high. For some women, the giving up of control, of order, of predictability is not worth it.
And yet most mothers would tell you that what they trade in Perfection Coins (sleep, a clean house, clothes without stains, etc.) is paid back ten times over in love, connection, and intangible magic.
And as I began to think about this in the context of motherhood it struck me that the same is true about the choice I made to give up my eating disorder and become a body-accepting intuitive eater. I traded in compliments from strangers who idealized by anorexic body, an ego high from eating ‘clean’, and so much more. Tons of Perfection Coins given away and in return I’ve received freedom, sanity, well being, joy, ease and pleasure.
Had I known ahead of time things would work out, I wouldn’t have hesitated. But we can’t know.
When we make the trade it’s done on faith.
It’s always a bet taken because something else becomes more valuable than Perfection Coins.
With each run of Feast my students arrive at this crossroads too. Which would they rather have:
Thighs that don’t touch or sanity around food?
The (false) sense of order delivered by a diet or feeling good in their own skin?
The approval of judgemental family members or freedom to take up space?
Being numb to life’s pain (but also numb to joy) or feeling joy, and all the other emotions too?
We can’t have both. We can’t hold life white-knuckled, gripping to the safety of what we know and also receive the good stuff.
There are simply times when we have to make a choice, or rather, we get to make a choice.
Times when we choose to stay in or leave the relationship. Times when we choose to quit or take the job. Times when we choose to tell the truth or bite our tongue.
Increasingly I choose to trade in my Perfection Coins for the messy, unknown, not-in-my-control, but deeply connected, vibrant life that calls to me.
And truthfully, at the end of life I imagine that Perfection Coins aren’t worth very much.
Oh, you want to know what I’ve decided about motherhood?
But for the first time in my adult life I do know that my decision won’t be based on a need for life to be so tightly ordered.
There’s a vicious cycle I’m witnessing amongst my Feast students.
They’re tired, as in sleepy tired, and they respond to their fatigue, generally, in one of two ways.
Some push through, live their lives from this depleted life, and feed their hunger for rest with food.
Others do nap, when they can, and then wake wracked with guilt. Their thoughts flood in:
“You’re so lazy.”
“You’ve gotten nothing done this afternoon.”
“Your husband/wife only needs 6 hours of sleep, what’s wrong with you?!”
And the shame spiral begins.
And to put a damper on the cacophony of mean voices within they eat.
So I’m asking:
When did it become a badge of honor to run on very little sleep?
When did the “glorification of busy” become part our cultural lexicon?
When did taking naps as adults become shameful?
When did “I’m tired” become an unsurprising response to “how are you?”?
Life certainly does not always accommodate our sleep ideals and some compromises must be made for infants and office hours, but where we can reclaim and luxuriate in rest we must. And we must do so without apology.
The simple fact is you are allowed to spend time in ways that aren’t traditionally considered ‘productive’.
And, time spent just being or resting is, in fact, productive.
Napping does not make you a lazy person. I repeat: napping does not make you a lazy person.
You’re allowed to need more sleep than the average person. Whatever that means.
You’re allowed to rest in the middle of the day.
You’re allowed to rest even if you just a weekend or a vacation or a full night’s sleep. You don’t have to earn it.
You’re allowed to lay down and close your eyes, while the sun is still up, without any guilt or shame.
If you find yourself eating as a way to avoid the rest you’re craving or as a way to silence your inner critic who bashes you for your laziness, consider embracing your unique needs for rest and see what happens.
You might just find yourself a bit more energized, a bit more at ease at the table, and yes, a bit more well-fed
Nearly every Friday morning you can find me at the holy altar of Laurie Wagner’s Wild Writing table. Myself and a handful of other women spend a few hours writing messy, brutally honest words as fast as we can so as to circumvent our inner critic and the part of us that wants to write well and sound smart.
We just go, we write, we share — no feedback is given— and we repeat. Leaving that table we are scrubbed clean, pried open, and held. It’s all just enough to prepare us to go back out into the world, into our real lives and live them with just a bit more grace.
Today’s post is something I wrote recently at that table about a sacred ritual I keep when swimming.
A bit of back story: when I was twenty over exercise had made me bed ridden with a bum hip. I couldn’t walk or even sit without being in pain. My salvation was discovering lap swimming. By some miracle of miracles I never felt compulsive about lap swimming. Or rather I insisted that the same rigid and critical energy I’d had on the treadmill would not follow me into the water.
Over the years swimming has remained an oasis for me. I may go away for periods of time but when I return it’s always a homecoming and that’s in large part because I pray…
It’s a big, wide open stairwell—maybe 12 feet across—leading from the warmth and safety of the locker room up to the rooftop pool. I’d tried to avoid it on this night, not wanting the cool air on my already goose-pimpled skin. I’d first gone to the indoor pool which is divided into two lap lanes and an expanse of open water. This night the lap lanes were filled with what appeared to be adults learning to swim, but the remainder (and majority) of the pool was empty.
To be polite I checked in with the instructor to see if she minded if did laps in the open area of the pool. She replied, while glancing at the abundance of unoccupied water “Um, no, sorry, I’m not sure if we’ll need it.” (Side note: If you’ve ever asked someone who was clearly done eating if you could finish their food only to have them say no because they don’t want you to have their food either then you get the vibe this woman was putting out. Moving on…)
“No problem” I muttered “I’ll go up to the roof.”
So to the stairwell I went. Steeling myself for that moment when I cross the threshold, midway up, from warm air to chilly San Francisco fog.
Truthfully though, the outside temperature was gentle that night.
But this isn’t about climate.
This is about the prayer I say on that stairwell on my way up. The prayer I have said every time I enter the water since I was twenty years old. The prayer that soothes the still raw wounds of compulsive exercise and the havoc it wreaked on my life long ago.
So I say to myself kindly “Just get in. Getting in the water is enough. Just get in.”
So I say “Remember, the water takes you just as you are.”
So I say “Swim at your body’s pace.”
So I say “Just get in. The water takes you just as you are.”
And little miracles happen all around me.
Like the temperate air. Like having half a lap lane all to myself. Like the fact that in this crazy, overpriced, crowded, over-hip city for $42 a month I get to swim under the stars and be watched over by the moon in a half undisturbed lane letting my muscle memory take over.
Like savoring the fact that I already won the gold medal by simply getting into the water and letting it take me as I was on that night. I won the gold medal and kicked not enoughness to the curb when I got in, not when I pushed off the wall, or swam the first lap. Not when I raised my heart rate or traversed a certain distance. I won just when I lowered myself into that pool on that night.
So the prayer or the pep talking in the double-wide stairwell, in what felt like just one square foot of space and time, “Just get in. The water takes you just as you are.” That prayer has saved me so many times.
The invitation here for you is to think about how you might stay right by your own side in situations that beckon you far away from yourself.
The invitation here for you is to allow the sacred into what might feel mundane.
The invitation here is for you to listen to that little kind voice inside you that’s trying to be heard over the often louder critic.
The invitation is for you to look around and discover all the places in your life where, if you show up, you already are accepted just as you are.