Love Thy Self: Day #6

This challenge started off so well. In the first few days, I felt great, happier, and was ready to shine my love on myself as well as onto the rest of the world. Then I hit an emotional snag, and I am starting to see some of my deep habits emerge. When things are not right with a loved one, I have a tendency to beat myself up. I feel sad and start nitpicking myself again: my skin looks bad, I have wrinkles, my hair is graying, I am not beautiful, I am fat, I am not worthy of love, etc. I have had to catch myself because these thoughts flood in unconsciously. I look in the mirror and I struggle. I know I could do more to feel better: take some extra time to do my makeup and hair, go shopping and buy cute clothes that fit. But I also really want to move beyond this notion that my value is based on my outward appearance. I have SO much more beauty to offer this world than my outward looks, but this journey is hard.

Truly loving myself, flaws and all, is hard work. I am also learning how closely related my food intake is to how I am feeling and how I value and love myself. For example, today I am deeply sad. I got into a massive fight last night with my partner. I do not know where things will go from here, and I am left feeling pretty miserable. There is a lot of pressure and stress on us and we are taking it out on each other instead of loving each other. So this morning, I found myself at a Dunkin Donuts. I was there just to get coffee, but found myself looking longingly at the shelf of donuts. I felt sad and surely one or ten of those shiny, sugary confections would cheer me up? But then I paused: would they really feel good in my tummy after I ate them? Would I feel better emotionally after I devoured every crumb? The truth is that those donuts would not fulfill the deep need I have in my heart, which is to feel loved and accepted. And if my partner cannot love and accept me right now, I need to do that for myself. I should do that anyways, but more than ever, I need to love and accept myself today. Putting fried fat and sugar into my mouth is not truly an act of kindness or love. An act of love would be what I did, which was to go to my office and eat my plain oatmeal with raisins and walnuts. (My tummy did a happy dance and I feel so much better than if I had caved to the donut’s allure and false promises.) So I am slowly making changes and moving forward on my path.

Today, I am working on stopping my automatic negative thoughts, and I am working on smiling more. I am working on smiling at people and making eye contact. I am working on being more present than getting lost in my tumultuous thoughts. To change my thoughts and attitude, I am thinking about things that make me happy, like my recent trip to Ireland (the picture at the top of this post is from that trip), and I am just repeating the mantra I started from Day #1, which is I am beautiful. I am worthy of love. I am enough. I have a purpose. I have gifts to share with the world. Dear Reader, whoever you are, I hope you believe that you are beautiful, worthy of love, that you are enough, and have a purpose too.

#IAMENOUGH #lovethyself #30dayLoveChallenge

Love Thy Self: Day #4

Today was a good test. In the past, fighting with my partner would drive me to an emotional food eating binge. But today I went for a 10 mile run. Today I am reflecting on the desire to eat my emotions. Eating chips, cookies, a tub of ice cream will not hurt my partner or get back at him for hurting me, but that action will have a negative effect on me. When I stop and pause, I feel pretty good internally. When the hurt and anger subsides, I am left with me and the choices I can make. Binge eating will not heal my heart. Binge eating will not make me feel any better. 

Instead, I am doing my laundry and setting myself up for a successful weekend. I am choosing to love myself when my partner cannot. He has his own drama and demons to face and I am working on mine. 

Today I am being kind to myself and choosing self-love. 

#IAMENOUGH #lovethyself #30dayLoveChallenge

Love Thy Self: Day #3

Today I am focusing on my heart. My heart is unwavering and steadfast. My heart does not stop working even while I am sleeping. An incredibly powerful and strong muscle, my heart is fierce in its determination to keep me alive. Thank you heart! Not only are you a metaphor for love, but you are the reason I am alive and breathing. I cannot do this journey without you on so many levels.

Even though this is only day #3, I am becoming more and more amazed at my body’s ability to truly care for me without my conscious awareness. My heart tirelessly pumps blood through my body, transporting nourishment and oxygen while also removing waste. It is a blessing to be alive, healthy, able-bodied: things I take for granted on a regular basis. My looks, size and shape have very little to do with the person I was created to be. How much I take for granted by being ungrateful and focusing on the parts of my body that I misjudge. It’s like being handed a gift from someone we love dearly and saying, “ugh, gross! You know, this would really be the perfect gift if you would just get ride of this part, change that part, scrap that part, add this and that, etc. I mean, why did you even give me this gift?! I do not want it. Take it away!!” This body is my gift to experience and cherish: she has taken me to the finish line of two Ironman triathlons, she has healed and been resilient, and maybe someday might bear life. Why do I hate what has given me so much?

My eyes are a little misty as I type this post because I do not think I have realized just how amazing my body is and how much of a blessing it is to be in this body. Why have I wasted so much time hating my physical self? It feels really embarrassing to type this post because I know this is all so obvious, but I think I am just starting to open my heart and love myself. I feel a shift, more love and peace. If I can love myself a little more every day, then what does it matter what is going on at work, school, life? I have gifts and a purpose, and there is so much good in this universe. I truly believe there is more than enough good for all of us. I am on my path. You are on your path. We will both get to where we need to go. Thank you body for carrying me on my path. Because my body is unique, I have my own journey to take. Don’t I love my journey so far? (Yes!) So why would I wish for anything else?! My flaws are part of this journey. They are probably more of a blessing than I realize. I am willing to open my eyes and explore those blessings.

I am beautiful. I am worthy. I am enough. I have a purpose. I have gifts to share with the world. (Repetition is key!)

#IAMENOUGH #lovethyself #30dayLoveChallenge

Love Thy Self: Day #2

Today I wanted to tackle one of the parts of my body that draws the most negative focus and thoughts: my tummy. I have always carried most of my weight in this area of my body. I have stretch marks, even though I have never birthed children. I have rolls (you know, the kind that babies have but that are not so cute on adults). In a world where flat stomachs are idolized, I have often bemoaned the look of my belly. Even at skinnier times in my life, I have always had visible cellulite (I have never had a smooth, toned stomach). I am aware of my midsection daily when I try to button pants, zip up my coat, or even when I am sitting down and the rolls press against my clothing and make me feel uncomfortable. Because I have expended so much negative energy hating this part of my body, I felt like this would be the place to start, where I need a major mental overhaul.

Ok, here goes nothing…

belly

The above picture I took today, May 4, 2017. I used a filter to soften the image, but you can see where my clothes have left prints, where I have some visible rolls (top and bottom of the image), and if you look close enough, you can see some of the stretch marks. But this post is not about adding to the negative talk, so let me get down to business. I thought a letter to my tummy might be most appropriate:

Dear Tummy,

You and I have been at odds with each other for most of our lives. I have done nothing but ridicule you and judge you, when all you do is house some of the most important organs in my body and work to keep me alive by processing the food I ingest. I have spent many years abusing you: the stretch marks are battle scars from wars I have had with myself and with food. But I am learning that to achieve my goals, I need to consider you an ally.

In times when I have abused myself with unhealthy food choices, you tried to let me know. You screamed at me enraged and inflamed, but after the pain subsided, I continued to ignore you. Now I am trying to listen to you when I think about eating unhealthy foods. I am working to give you the respect and nourishment you deserve. You have done nothing but support me, and I have shunned you and been angry at you. I have blamed you for my unhappiness, but you are not the problem. The more I can love and accept you as you are, the more I can learn to love and accept all of me.

I am sorry tummy. Please forgive me.

Love,

Me

I am beautiful, worthy and enough, tummy and all.

#IAMENOUGH #lovethyself #30dayLoveChallenge

Love Thy Self: Day #1

I have been thinking a lot lately about this blog. I started it after taking this wonderful course on Solution-Focused therapy. I felt inspired to go out in the world and share the positive psychology message of focusing on the things that go well in our lives. About a year later, I have not posted much and have definitely considered deleting this blog on many occasions. The reason why is because I’m not living out of a very positive space internally: I am not practicing what I preach, so why post anything?

I think there is value in authenticity. I think there is value in shedding our facades and being genuine and honest in a public way that might encourage others to have hope, feel more bold, or live authentically in their own lives.

This morning at work, we had an all-staff meeting. I was listening to the presenters and felt a little checked-out. I know myself enough to know that part of the reason why is that I feel overwhelmed in life right now: my boss left about four months ago and as a relatively new employee, I have had to shoulder that position’s workload on top of my own, on top of trying to do well in my graduate program, trying to maintain some level of a positive relationship with my partner, family and friends, and somewhere trying to find time to take care of myself. As an introvert, I have reached my threshold and am shutting down at my job. In the meeting, I found myself asking questions about what I really want to be doing with my life. Since I decided the theme of this year would be about finding clarity in my life, I have been asking myself similar questions for the past few months, such as: what do I love to do, what do I want to do, what do I want to contribute to the world, what past experiences validate these beliefs/ideas/feelings, and what are some of the roadblocks in my way?

The words that have been metaphorically following me around the past few months when I think about my purpose, and what I want to contribute to the world are: validation and hope. Today I would add a third word, which is inspiration. Validation is about helping others know that they exist, that they are seen, beautiful, amazing, have a unique purpose, and that they are important. Validation is also about encouraging others to own their feelings, wants and desires, which are important, real and not something to be dismissed because of negative self talk or feedback from the world. Hope is the next step for me after validation: once we own who we are then we can start realistically putting a plan in place to achieve our dreams/goals/aspirations, which is where hope comes in. Hope is what we need to step one foot forward and make meaningful changes in our lives. If we did not have some small whisper of hope that what we were about to do would work, be good, etc., then would we truly take that step or leap? I think hope encompasses courage, vision and dreams. Finally, I think inspiration involves community and synchronicity from the Universe/God/Whatever you believe. We feel inspired by words, images, actions, reactions, thoughts, feelings, and the list goes on. Once we have hope, we need inspiration to keep us going because the road can be long.

My deepest, darkest hope is to one day have a career/profession that allows me to live out those three words daily, as a counselor or a coach of some kind.

So where are the roadblocks?

I am starting to see where I want to go, who I want to be, the impact I want to make on this world, but I feel stuck. I cannot figure out how to get there. I am working on a degree in counseling, but right now, I cannot find an internship. The internship is key for me to graduate, and having my degree is key to moving forward with a different profession. But why do I feel stuck? Am I really stuck?

I have a good friend who has started a side business of coaching. She is a small business owner and has started down this other path of helping people live on purpose. Her work is amazing, beautiful, inspiring and courageous. I look at what she is doing and think, why do I think that I am incapable of doing something similar? What makes me less-than? And I think the answer is that I waste a lot of time with self-doubt, negative self-talk, and more.

One of the career paths I have dreamed about is becoming a fitness coach. At several points in my life, I have been told that I need to “look the part,” which means I cannot be fat, overweight, etc. I feel so torn about this notion in so many ways. First of all, why do skinny people have more authority over fitness than non-skinny people?! Wouldn’t larger fitness instructors possibly be more inspiring for those who just need a place to start in their journey (I have been there and have thought that skinny, super-fit people were intimidating)? But then again, I also know that I am not healthy right now. When I choose to eat queso and chips during lunch and then later try to run, I feel horrible (this scenario just happened yesterday). I know that when I practice the art of mindfulness, my body knows what makes me feel better physically: fruits, veggies, whole foods. I know that eating those things will actually help me lose weight and possibly achieve my goals, but I also eat when I am not hungry or already feel full because I am distracted, angry, sad, bored, wanting to avoid something, etc. So while I seriously dislike our society’s notion of beauty, I do know that I could be healthier and feel better. I know that I have distorted thinking about myself and food.

Essentially, I am in my own way.

How do I change this fact? How do I try to think differently in order to live brilliantly, as the motto of my blog suggests?

I do not have any concrete answers, but I do have hope and inspiration. For the sake of authenticity and to try to build new habits, I have decided to attempt a 30 Day Challenge about love. The challenge: post once a day about a part of me that I struggle with and need to start actually loving. My hope is that at the end of 30 days, I will love myself a little more and have more clarity on who I am and the gifts that I bring to this world (sort of my own validation).

Here goes nothing….

Day #1:

meWhen I look in the mirror lately, I see the woman on the left: tons of wrinkles, frizzy, thinning hair, drab, sagging skin, a non-symmetrical face. She looks frazzled to me. I feel frazzled. It is easy to think that if I looked better, I would have more opportunities. And I feel this concept deeply and am currently living out of this state: that my looks are holding me back.

However, when I smile, I feel like my face transforms. In the picture on the right, I focus on my eyes and the wrinkles around them, which I think are beautiful. I see my smile and my teeth, which I also think are beautiful. I also see my dimples, which I love. When I look at the picture on the right, I do not focus on my hair, or my skin, or my wrinkles. I see someone who is beautiful, and the only thing that changed is I am smiling. So many times in my life, I have met people who are radiant, amazing and simply gorgeous. They have all come in different body sizes, shapes, ethnicities, backgrounds, etc. The thing that unites them is this inner joy and happiness that transforms them into incredible and beautiful people. I want to be that person. Scratch that: I AM that person! I am beautiful. I am worthy. I am enough. I have a purpose. I have gifts to share with the world. And I will keep repeating these statements to myself until I truly believe them.

#IAMENOUGH #lovethyself #30dayLoveChallenge

Clarity

A little over four years ago, I moved to Boston from Portland, OR. At that time in my life, I had a lot of questions about identity and self-worth. I was a woman in search of something. On a superficial level, I was looking for better job advancement and an adventure in a new place. I had never lived on the East Coast, and having spent eight months in Italy during college, I was filled with a desire to see more of the world. When I moved, I had lived in Portland for almost ten years: my friends had experienced adventures and traveled while I stayed still. So I sold my car, quit my job, and traded rain and an incredible community of friends for snow, humidity and solitude.

Over the four years that I have lived in Boston, I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned that I need community to feel happy, healthy, and motivated. Left to my own devices, I will hide in my room gorging myself on some “feel good” snack (e.g. chips, ice cream, popcorn, candy, junk food) while bingeing on Netflix. When I lived in Portland, I had countless people encouraging me to get out and run, bike, swim, hike, etc. Since moving to Boston, I have been the heaviest I have ever weighed, and I am also kind of lonely.

But at the same time, I am also the most confident I have ever been.

I have spent most of my life feeling like a fake. In high school, I was an honor’s kid who procrastinated and still occasionally pulled off A’s. In college, I somehow managed to talk my way out of a Public Relations internship, which would have given me good experience and knowledge about whether I wanted to work in that field. In Italy, I rarely applied myself to learning and speaking Italian, even though I was in a language intensive program. And even training for an Ironman triathlon, I did the minimum and still somehow finished two races. I have gotten by in life, so when I moved to Boston, I was determined to spread my wings. I had a professional vision: I wanted to work in fundraising and I wanted to work at Boston University (BU) or Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I had no connections, no family here, and I successfully weaved my way through several positions until landing my current job at BU. I have gained so much confidence in my ability to achieve and focus on a goal. But now that I have achieved my goal, I am still left wondering whether or not I am happy. Did I pick the right goal? Am I good enough? Can I actually do this work and do I really want to?

Something is still not right with my soul. I am “successful” professionally but miserable personally. I am plagued with more questions than I have answers. Who am I? What do I want to do with my life? What am I good at? What brings me joy? How do I want to spend my days? Who do I want to be surrounded by? The worst part is I am not taking time to journal and reflect. I am surviving and not thriving. Some of that is just life: professional success has brought an increase in demands and responsibility while I am working on a master’s degree, balancing a romantic relationship, and trying to build friendships. I have been so busy “doing” and being industrious that I have lost touch with who I am at my core. And while I am busy being industrious at work and in graduate school, I am not exercising and I am eating to emotionally feel better (mmmm, donuts! Oh hello more dopamine, I missed you).

I also think I have been searching for happiness, as if the concept is some sort of destination that I can get to if I just do the right thing. If I just apply myself a bit more and stop faking my way through life, then I will be happy. If I just find the “right” relationship, make more friends, or lose 50 lbs, then I will be happy. If all my friends move to Boston, then I will be happy. If I become independently wealthy, then I will be happy. If I find the right job with the right coworkers, then I will be happy. But I came to Boston seeking professional goals that I achieved and I am still not 100% happy.

The year 2017 has been dubbed the year of “clarity” for me. Clarity on who I am and whether I am being true to my person, regardless of career success. Clarity on what I actually have in life vs. what I am missing. Clarity on my talents. Clarity on my relationships. Clarity on my health and fitness goals. Essentially, I want to take a hard, long and honest look at my thoughts, behaviors and feelings. One of the first pieces of clarity I have gained so far is that I am an emotional eater. In the moment, I am learning to name the emotion that is sparking a need to deep dive into a bag of Lays potato chips. I am also learning that to increase my physical activity, I need to increase my community. I need to make more friends who will get out and walk, bike, run, go to the gym, etc. with me because having good people in my life and doing active endeavors makes me happy.

This morning I was listening to the Science of Success podcast on the paradox of happiness. Dr. Tal Ben Shahar talked about the importance of gratitude and exercise in feeling happy, which makes a lot of sense to me as I look at my own life and behaviors. While I was Googling a link to the podcast to share on this post, I stumbled upon edX’s free course on the Science of Happiness. I signed up for the course, feeling like the Universe was giving me a nod that I am heading in the right direction toward my goal of clarity.

Ultimately, it feels really good to name 2017 the “year of clarity.” It gives me focus and takes some of the pressure off of finding the “right” answers. I might find that I enjoy being overweight and active. I might find I enjoy solitude while I am overwhelmed with responsibilities and that building a community will come in due course. The point is that my clarity is based on what I want and need to be happy, not on a set of societal pressures or expectations, and this year I want to find a way to separate the social influence in order to get at what I truly believe and want.

Pause and Reflect

I have been thinking a lot lately about anxiety. Everywhere we look right now, there are more than enough reasons to feel anxious. In an article from Psychology Today, which was actually published in 2012, Dr. Chapman lists two reasons why Americans have a high rate of anxiety: the normalcy bias and achievement motivation. The normalcy bias is the idea that we live beyond our means, the “keeping up with the Joneses” type of mentality where we will have more value and be happier if we accumulate more money, stuff, etc. Whereas the achievement motivation is a social need to pursue excellence, strive for success, achieve influence, etc. Doing a quick Google search for anxiety produces the following definition: “anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Right now many Americans are feeling anxious over the uncertainty of where the country is headed, which is another type of anxiety that is more externally based.

I don’t know about you, but even saying the word anxiety makes me feel anxious.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has so many wonderful tools to help break down our troubling thoughts, challenge them, and move toward a more peaceful state of mental existence. Depending on the cause of anxiety, such as if we feel like we are in control of our future or if we feel like the external world holds greater control, Narrative Therapy is also another great tool. Narrative Therapy challenges the stories we tell ourselves and the stories that are told about us from an external, political, sociocultural perspective. For those feeling anxious from oppression, Narrative Therapy can help people reclaim control of their personal stories (more to come on Narrative Therapy in a future post!).

So let’s get down to the heart of the matter.

First off, I highly recommend therapy if you are feeling deep levels of anxiety. Getting help is always a courageous act. Sometimes in this disconnected world of fast pace living, social media, smart phones, ear buds, and more, we do not engage and fully listen to each other, so having someone give you full, undivided attention and care can be healing in and of itself.

Now that I have given the counseling plug, I think there are definitely some tangible ways we can work on our own anxiety on a day-to-day basis.

Challenging your thoughts through a CBT lens:

There is a lot of chatter these days about journaling. You can buy journals to help you get organized, journals to help you dream and outline your passions, journals to remind you to focus on gratitude, and so much more. Journaling is a powerful tool. There is a great article on PsychCentral on the health benefits of journaling. So how can you use journaling to combat anxiety?

CBT focuses on the principal that our thoughts and actions are connected together with our feelings. Becoming more aware of how our thoughts, feelings and behaviors interact can help us make the changes we desire. For example, someone is anxious about making a life change, like going to graduate school. When this person thinks about graduate school, all these thoughts snowball, like “I cannot afford it; I do not have time; I will have to quit my job,” which lead to feelings of anxiety that cause this person to completely avoid graduate school all together.

cbt

Journaling can help us become more aware of the interconnection between our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

For example, start by writing down something you feel anxious about. Then define why this thing is important to you (why does this thing preoccupy your thoughts or cause you anxiety?). Then start listing all the fears and thoughts you have about this aspect of your life. Once everything is written down, then go back and see if you can challenge your thoughts. Is there any evidence to the contrary of your thoughts? What would a friend say to you (or what would you say to a friend expressing these thoughts)? If you look at the situation positively, how is it different? Will this situation really matter in a year or in 10 years from now? What strengths and resources do you possess that might make this situation better?

Example of a journal from someone anxious about graduate school:

journal

Looking at the examples in the journal above, as the person moves forward, there could be results that affirm her fears, such as maybe her HR department offers no resources for school, or maybe her boss will not allow her to have a flexible work schedule. This process of challenging our thoughts and behaviors needs to be a continual process. And sometimes challenging our thoughts does not work. When that happens, we can start with changing our actions, knowing we might still have to act while we feel anxious. For example, maybe the person above decides to go ahead with graduate school regardless of not getting any financial aid or help at work with a flexible schedule. As she acts, she might find that her worst fears were not even close to being true (e.g. maybe she is getting straight As, maybe the university offered an affordable payment plan to avoid debt, maybe she makes a career connection that leads her to her dream job, which makes the stress of time and money worth the anxiety because she can redefine the entire situation in light of this positive outcome). As she faces her fears and acts, she is building an internal resouce that she can draw strength from for any future worries. Next time when she is faced with a big life change, she can reflect back to her experience of going to graduate school and remind herself of her resilience, strength, and capability.

Not into journaling? 

There are all sorts of ways to try to calm our nervous system: yoga, deep-breathing, meditation, coloring, exercise, just to name a few. Another great idea is to just get outside of yourself and help someone else. There is a movement called One Kindness where essentially you focus on doing one nice thing for someone else during the day. To get inspired, you can hear the founder, John Wang, talk about the movement and the power of kindness here.

When all else fails? Find something that makes you laugh. Sometimes laughter truly is the best medicine.

Love

I have been thinking a lot lately about love and the importance of community. History and current events have demonstrated that human nature can be horrendous and cruel. So much hatred results from the inability to see ourselves in those who are somehow perceived as different. And sometimes we hate because we actually see the pieces of ourselves that we despise reflected back in another.

But much greater than our capacity for hate and violence, is our capacity for deep love and sacrifice. We have the capacity of reflection and the capacity to imagine. Imagination is one of the greatest gifts of the human mind. With imagination, we can empathize and relate to others. We can listen with open hearts and use our imagination to try to understand another person’s perspective and feelings. We can also use our imagination to discover incredible ideas and solutions.

There is no better time to lay down our stones and open our hearts. There are humans in this world, and in our nation, whose basic needs are not being met (e.g. food, shelter, etc.). There are people in this world/nation who are being denied basic human rights because they worship differently, look differently, have different abilities, etc.

To quote Michael Jackson, I am starting with the (wo)man in the mirror. It’s time to make a change.

I am starting small: looking for nonprofits in my community to volunteer and support financially. I am taking a hard look at my heart and biases. I am taking a hard look at my personal fears. If I do nothing, if I stay silent, then I am a part of the problem.

There is no better time than now to be solution-focused. Find a need in your community and help be a part of the solution. If every person on this planet worked on one issue in their community, this world would be on the fast track to peace and healing.

Truth and Transparency

Today I read an article on the Chicago Tribune about Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent Facebook message to her community. In the article, Gilbert was quoted as saying/writing the following:

“Here’s what it comes down to for me. I need to live my life in truth and transparency, even more than I need privacy, or good publicity, or prudence, or other people’s approval or understanding, or just about anything else. Truth and transparency not only make my life more ethical, but also easier. (Why easier? Because untruth is always complicating, and truth — no matter what the consequences — is always strangely simplifying.)”

I have been thinking a lot about transparency lately. I have also been thinking a lot about my truth. I have been wrestling with some big things, such as whether or not I am happy with the work I do, whether I am happy with my weight and my life, whether I am being honest with myself about my life, and so much more.

I think living our truth is so hard because the action takes a great deal of self-awareness. For example, this past spring I was seeing a counselor at work (a free service to employees, which is an amazing benefit). I think because my counselor is employed by my employer, I was not always honest with her, or myself, about what was going on in my life (e.g. issues with coworkers, struggles with my partner, stress at home, etc.). Instead, I focused on my weight.

My weight has been a buffer in my life, a sort of shield. One evening, within the last few weeks, I was upset with my partner. I found myself at home with a bag of potato chips. I was almost violently shoving the chips in my mouth as I was thinking about how angry I was with my partner. The realization made me pause. I felt like I was eating the bad food as a way to punish him, but instead, I was hurting myself. I know that eating has a close relationship to my emotions (anger, boredom, sadness have been triggers for me to eat more). I know that when I do not exercise, I turn to food to release stress. But I have also been realizing that addressing my eating habits and exercise habits will not 100% address my problem with food. The overeating is just a symptom of bigger issues in my relationships and with my tendency to avoid and stuff my thoughts and feelings.

I read a self-help book once about healing one’s relationship with food (I think it was Women, Food and God). One of the initial exercises had me imagine that I was with myself as a child. In this imagining, I was supposed to talk to myself as a little girl. The exercise always makes me cry. It seems so much easier to love myself as a little girl than as an adult with all my problems. But it is this same love that I feel for me as an innocent child, that I am trying to extend to me as an adult with flaws and rough edges. I mean think about it. As I have stumbled through life, I have picked up messages on who I am. Sometimes those message are good, such as I am caring, goofy, academically smart, I make others feel heard and loved, but sometimes those messages are painful: I am flaky, too self-sacrificing, a people-pleaser, I never follow through on goals, etc. For me the negative list is often longer and easier to generate than the positive list. But as a child, I have not experienced those disappointments or challenges. I am just innocent and looking to be loved and accepted.

I am medically overweight, ok, obese. I gained over 12 pounds back from the food study where I lost over 20 pounds last fall. And over the last two weeks, I hurt my back, got into a massive fight with my partner, have struggled at work, and have not been able to turn to exercise for stress relief. I turned to food: gummy bears, beer, beer-cheese nachos, wine, more nachos, chips, pasta, carbs, carbs, and MORE CARBS. The hard work I did this summer to lose weight is long gone. My clothes are tight and I was emotionally beating myself up for my actions. But yesterday when I bought a chocolate covered Oreo from Whole Foods, I chose the dessert because I wanted to eat it. I did not give myself a guilt trip. I made a choice and I owned my choice. I accepted it and I chose to accept myself exactly where I am today: overweight but still beautiful, smart, with something to contribute to this world, etc. My personal value does not decline as the inches on my waist increase.

The truth is that I have some big questions to answer in my life, questions regarding what I want out of my life, what I want to contribute to this world and to my community, what makes me feel good, etc. If I am honest with you and with myself, then I have not been happy lately, to the point that even a gratitude journal has not helped to spark a feeling of love and joy in my heart. I have been grasping for happiness and hope and instead have been feeling empty and automated. But I know that I have the capacity to love deeply and greatly. I have the capacity to give and to receive. I have the capacity to transform my life. I have the capacity to regain whatever part of my soul I feel like I have lost. Maybe my desperate attempt to find a solution to losing weight has really been a scientific trial and error. I am trying things out and finding what sticks, what works for me. Essentially, I am not giving up or quitting, but I am working to find a solution that nourishes my soul (see what I did there? I am trying to change my perception, change some of the negative stories/messages I have told myself along the way, such as I never follow through on my goals). Being healthy is important to me, and I know there are connections between physical fitness and happiness brain hormone levels (very scientific). I know I am happier when I exercise, but I also know I am beautiful and valuable and deserving of love and acceptance exactly where I am today, overweight and all.

As I write this post, I am feeling better. I know I am not alone and that we all have our struggles and issues. I am writing this post to be more transparent and authentic. As a counselor in training, it is easy to want to only talk about the easy, good things and the positive things I am trying, but life is messy. Life is full of immense joy and intense highs and incredible lows and acts of destruction too horrific to always comprehend. But I am not giving up. Sometimes darker moments in our life are just a reminder to truly celebrate and cherish the brighter moments. This too shall pass.

Thank you Elizabeth Gilbert for living your truth and inspiring me to try to live my truth as well.

 

Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

There is a great article on The Huffington Post about how to start practicing and cultivating an attitude of gratitude in your life. Gratitude, being thankful, it sounds so simple and yet I find that I constantly gravitate toward negativity. My automatic responses to life and in particular to myself are negative.

Change is possible.

Most of us know that habits are a big part of the human experience. Often these actions and behaviors that comprise habits are things we do unconsciously. For example, after 30 plus years, I can brush my teeth without thinking about that specific action, which allows me time to daydream or think about other things instead of concentrating on how to move my brush around my mouth to clean off tartar. So in theory, to make some lasting changes, I need to develop new habits, which is why a gratitude journal is such a fabulous idea.

I recently stumbled upon Ougies Gratitude Journals. The above picture is of the journal I ordered from their website that I just received yesterday (note: it does take a few weeks to arrive in the mail as they are shipping the books from Australia). Not only is the journal beautiful, easy to use and pleasing to touch and hold, but the company will donate a book to a child in need (literally paying it forward – see what I did there?!). My donated book was sent to South Africa. The premise of the journal is simple: write down 3 things you are grateful for in the morning, and then before you go to bed, reflect on 3 amazing things that happened to you during the day. This journal is a tool to create a new habit. My hope is that if I stick to this process daily, for 30+ days, my thoughts and perceptions of the world should start to change and shift to automatic thoughts of gratitude.

We perceive that which we focus on.

If you view the world from an optimistic lens, you are more likely to see opportunities and experience blessings, joy, awe, etc., which are the fun aspects of life. I love when something seems like divine intervention or synchronicity. Those experiences in my life are simply magical. Sure we could get mired down in the science and explain how I am prescribing meaning when meaning does not exist or WHATEVER, but I would rather live in a Harry Potter world where possibilities exist and the good guys/gals are flawed but capable of great love and acts of courage.

Do what works.

In my teens, I used to journal almost daily. I think I was more spiritual then (I was definitely more religious), and my journals were a way to pray. I found that writing (or typing) helped me to focus and actually “talk” to God. When I would try to pray in a more silent, eyes-closed fashion, I would be good for the first minute or two and then my mind would wander. Journaling helped me to focus. The outcome of journaling was not really an increase in answered prayers but an increase in my ability to look at life in a positive, hopeful way. During that time, I had lost my mom to cancer and was dealing with some tough family drama, but I remember being so hopeful about my life and future. I was the first kid in my family to go straight to college. My family came from middle-class wealth and if I wanted to go to school, I was looking at attending a state school, which would have been fine, but I wanted to go to Gonzaga University, an expensive, Catholic private school. I remember praying for a way to attend. I got accepted but my family could not afford the tuition. Call it divine intervention or my ability to find opportunities because I was focused on hope, but I ended up finding additional funding, which allowed me to attend GU, which led me to make amazing, life-long friends, and gave me the opportunity to study in Florence, Italy, which gave me the confidence to one day pack up and move to Boston, and so much more. When I journaled, I remember experiencing more awe and excitement in my life. Lately, I have not experienced much awe, but I am also not focusing on gratitude, nor am I journaling.

Today is day 1 of using my Ougies Gratitude Journal, and I can feel the seeds of hope sprouting somewhere deep inside.