What does perfection look like?

Last week I was expecting the delivery of an important package. I knew the delivery window began at 11am, and I also knew that I had time to get to the gym and back before then.

But just in case it comes early, I thought, I’ll leave a note on my door.

The next thing I knew, I looked down at the coffee table and saw this:

please leave package with doorman

Ohforchristssake.

It happened like lightning. In the blink of an eye, I had written a note for the delivery person not once, not twice, but three times, all to get it just right. The first one was spaced wrong, the second one was a disaster, and the third one — well, I wasn’t happy with that one either, but by that point I realized how weird this all was and acquiesced.

And why — why had I wasted all that ink and paper, all that time? Was it because I thought the random stranger delivering the package would like me better if my note was polite and well-spaced, so that they might send me goodwill and treat my package with the tiniest bit of extra care? Or because I was thinking about all the people who live on my apartment building floor and all of the conclusions they might draw about me based on the color and cadence of my post-it note?

Well, yes; actually, yes.

And oh man, doesn’t that speak volumes about all the time I’ve spent in my life, all the tiny moments I’ve wasted, worrying about what other people think of me? It makes me exhausted just thinking about it. I may have made some pretty beautiful progress so far, but it’s little post-it moments like these that reveal to me how much work there is to be done.

If you could call it perfection Leza LowitzWould I have even known what the perfect version of that post-it note looked like when I saw it? Probably not. And that’s the trap of perfectionism. As long as I’m striving for some standard of perfection that does not actually exist, then my writing will never be perfect, my body will never be perfect, my relationships will never be perfect…

But if I can learn to embrace things as they are, flaws and all, and just call that perfection, then I’m side-stepping a whole lot of suffering.

So in honor of the theme of this post, I’m just going to publish it without sleeping on it or spending multiple days editing it. It might not be my best post ever, but that’s okay. It’s more than enough.

What are you going to do this week to eschew the flawed ideal of perfection? In your yoga class are you going to resist the temptation to take a pose into its more advanced variation, even if it’s accessible to you? When you notice a typo you’ve made in a social media post, will you resist the urge to edit it? Will you look at yourself in the mirror and call what you see perfection, knowing that right now it is really enough?

The Tender Heart or: Sociopaths Aren’t All That

2006 was kind of a rock bottom year for me. Or the year that everything started to turn around, depending on how you look at it. I was in college, feeling helpless against my eating disorder, and lost in a pretty deep, dark depression.

One of the things I remember most from that period was what my paternal grandmother told me when she found out I had been struggling. Holding me in her arms and shaking me a little for emphasis, she said, “We’re survivors.

She said, “Every facet of your being, and of your hurt and pain, make you who you are.

She said, “Russians — we just feel, emote, to such a great extent; we’re very emotional people. Very happy or very sad; laughing one moment, crying the next.

She was half Russian. Me? Only an eighth. But I guess a little goes a long way.

A hug from Grandma on my wedding day | Credit: Briana Cichuniec

That was eight years ago, and she’s been gone for two summers. But I remember the things she said because I copied them into my diary right away. I knew then that they were important, that they held some very simple but very profound answers for me.

See, Grandma was what some people would call a sensitive person. I guess I am too.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m a textbook Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). I just mean that I really internalize whatever’s being dished out around me, you know?

When someone else in my general vicinity is not right, I definitely do not feel right. Just a whiff of conflict and my body goes into full fight or flight. I get anxious — a lot. A gruff interaction with a stranger on the subway will stay with me for hours. If one of my mistakes adversely affects another, I can assure you that I’ll have sleepless nights over it for years. And yes, I can go from laughing to crying at the drop of a hat.

All too often, my first instinct is to assume that any unpleasantness is my fault. I’ve done something wrong. They’re mad at me. I need to fix this.

Which of course is rarely the case! First of all, not everything is about me (thank the universe). And second, everything can’t be perfect all the time (thank the universe).

Still, it’s overwhelming to feel this much, and it can’t just be turned off, however hard I try.

I’ve known a person or two whose dispositions trend towards sociopathy, and I’d be lying if I said I’d never once wished that I were more like them. I mean, it must feel pretty freeing, in a way, to have no concept of other people’s feelings whatsoever. But who would really want that?

I was talking about all of this with the incredible soul that is my aunt. See, my grandma is her mother, and she too knows something about being a sensitive person. Then she said this:

high cost for a tender heart | MindBodyPlateThere’s a high cost for a tender heart; but it’s worth it.

And you guys, she’s totally right. I may struggle sometimes with the kind of pain that tends to seep through thin skin, but I’ll be damned if I’m not squeezing every inch of feeling out of this one life I have to live.

And let’s not forget that the sensitivity causing me trouble is the very same sensitivity that makes me an empathetic listener; a helpful coach; an intuitive yoga teacher; a kind leader, and a caring and thoughtful friend to those I love.

Every piece of art I’ve ever created, on stage or on paper, has been informed by my ability to feel things deeply — to feel sad like I never thought I could feel sad; to feel joy like I never thought was possible.

And for that I am grateful. Even for the pain.

What about you guys: Do you sometimes wish that you had a thicker skin? Has anyone ever told you that you were being “too sensitive”? What are the overlooked benefits of being you, exactly as you are, tender heart and all?

I Wear Purple

I wear purple because

February draws to a close this evening, and with it, Eating Disorder Awareness Month. If you’re looking for some inspiration, head on over to the facebook page for The Purple Project, a month-long event beautifully orchestrated by an organization called Where I Stand. All month, people from all over the world have been submitting pictures of themselves wearing purple, standing up for eating disorder awareness, recovery, and prevention. The whole project has been quite moving, and I’d like to congratulate Where I Stand for such a successful endeavor!

You’re perfect just as you are … and you could use a little improvement

MindBodyPlate Snowflake

You’re perfect just as you are … and you could use a little improvement.

— Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

It’s the 31st day of December, and fluffy snowflakes are beginning to fall outside my apartment window. 2013 is coming to a close, and like so many others, I’m preparing for a night of introspection and champagne.

You’re perfect just as you are …and you could use a little improvement. My teacher shared this zen quote in yoga this morning, and I’ll be taking it with me to the party tonight as my own private mantra, to be remembered in between lively conversations and lighting wish papers on fire.

MindBodyPlate Snowflake 2

On this day when most of us are thinking about resolutions and goal-setting, let us remember to be gentle with ourselves amid self-improvement.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty that I want to work on in 2014. My need for approval and to be “liked” by others has dominated my existence for as long as I can remember. It most definitely played a role in my eating disorder, and I suspect it’s also at the root of what others have criticized as my lack of authenticity. I suppose when you’re living to please everyone but yourself, even the most sincere expression can seen disingenuous.

Now it would be easy for me to say, “THIS is what I’m finally getting rid of in 2014: that damn need to please!” It would be a much greater challenge to softly acknowledge that character trait, observe that it’s not serving me, and then try to love it anyway.

MindBodyPlate Snowflake 3

Yet that’s just what I’m going to do. Because if I condemn this quality that must have served me at some point in my early life, then I’m sending my subconscious the message that there’s something wrong with me. And there isn’t. However, if I can find real love and compassion for the part of me that needs external approval, then it stops the cycle of self-punishment and frees me up to create a more beneficial pattern.

So when you finalize your New Year’s resolutions this evening, I challenge you to acknowledge that you are already perfect just as you are. Cultivate love for those parts of yourself that you perceive to be imperfections. Thank them for helping you navigate the world thus far. And then, sure – set a goal or two. Because all of us perfect souls could use a little improvement.

When Full Means Fat and Fat Means Bad

Bowl of Almonds

When full means fat and fat means bad,
nourishing your body is a treacherous task.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
an extra helping can make you feel like your own worst enemy.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
Thanksgiving dinner is like navigating a minefield.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
you’d rather miss your best friend’s birthday party than feel bloated in public.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
you can never truly appreciate a shared meal with loved ones.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
the world is a dark, scary place, and recovery seems nearly impossible.

But full is not fat. And fat is not bad.

Full is a signal: my body has had enough. How grateful I am for that satiety cue! How miraculous that I can communicate with my own body in this way, with the trillions of cells which comprise its form. Full can be uncomfortable, but full goes away. So I sit with it. I give it time. I say, “Thank you for the message; I hear you loud and clear.”

Fat is a macronutrient essential to my body’s functioning. It helps me digest and absorb many important vitamins and delivers essential fatty acids that my body can’t make by itself. It helps my cells do their various jobs, promotes healthy skin and hair, maintains my body temperature, allows my neurons to communicate, protects my organs, and helps combat disease.

My body also creates fat as a form of emergency energy storage. What a blessing that my body knows how to care for itself in this way! Sometimes, my body may go a little overboard, but I will never remedy this by depriving myself. Instead, I will help my body feel nourished and balanced. Only then will my body stop preparing for the worst case scenario. So I accept it for what it is. I say, “Thank you for protecting me in this way; there’s no emergency here.”

Sometimes I need to be reminded that being full isn’t the same as being fat, and that “fat” is a term which has been demonized beyond recognition. After all, these are ideas that I learned a long time ago, and those kinds of ideas can be the hardest to change. But if I’ve proven anything to myself it’s that I am capable of remarkable change. So thank you, Fullness. Thank you, Fat. I hear you loud and clear, but there’s no emergency here.

SKF at Window

Dare to Be Scrumptious

Macaroons

“Dare to be scrumptious in your body. It will affect everyone around you.” -J.M.

When my yoga mentor casually declared the above to a class full of eager yogis the other day, she was in the midst of discussing the yogic principle of ahimsa, or “non-harming.” Ultimately, the practice of yoga and ahimsa are one in the same. Though we often challenge our bodies to persevere through uncomfortable poses, our time on the mat is always about ahimsa, never about pushing ourselves to the point of injury. Even amidst challenging poses, says my teacher, it should all feel “yummy” …scrumptious, even.

So when my teacher dared me to be scrumptious in my body, I imagine she was daring me to respect my body’s limitations. To honor what felt good to me, in my body, in that particular moment.

But I couldn’t help interpreting the directive on a much deeper level. Scrumptious, huh? What would it take for me to truly “be scrumptious” in my own body, I wondered. What would that feel like?

I mean, it’s been a major victory just to get to a place of love and acceptance with my body. But I can’t remember the last time I was unabashedly proud of it, like it was the most appealing, appetizing, delicious human form ever. It sounded nice.

Be Scrumptious in Your Body

And then there was that intriguing append: It will affect everyone around you. This made my brain explode a little. I’ve never thought about how my self-image is affecting everyone else – HELLO: I’m too wrapped up in how it makes ME feel! But of course our self-perception affects those around us; we carry it with us everywhere, and it colors our every interaction.Feeling Scrumptious in Your Own Body

When we put ourselves down for not looking or feeling a certain way, we’re unwittingly signaling to those around us that we expect the same from them. On the other hand, feeling scrumptious in your own body gives other people permission to feel the same. It’s the exact opposite of the oppressive monoculture of high fashion and plastic beauty – an all-inclusive celebration of form!

Feeling scrumptious in your body takes guts. Many of us have no practice (80% of American women and up to 97% of women in the UK are dissatisfied with their bodies; somewhat ironically, even Glamour magazine has taken note). And if, like me, you suffer from overvaluing the opinions of others, the prospect of showcasing self-esteem can sometimes paradoxically make you feel more vulnerable, not less (What if someone disagrees with me? Challenges me? Calls me out?).

But you guys… we got this. And once we get started it’ll feel so good, so yummy, so delectable, that it’ll be hard to stop. Remember to start small:

  • When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, start showering yourself with luxurious praise. Yes, out loud if you have to. Yes, even if you don’t believe it.
  • Write yourself a compliment and set it as an alert in your iPhone for some random time in the next week – a delicious surprise for a rainy day.
  • Try experimenting with some self-massage – that coconut oil is good for more than just cooking, ya know.
  • Set a date with your best friend and exchange lists of what you love about each other’s bodies. Declare it a “no negative self-talk zone,” and hold each other to it.

What would it take for you to feel scrumptious in your body today? Do you think anyone would notice? How might it affect those around you – your family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers?

 

 

5 Years Recovered

Practice self-care, my friends; this post may be triggering to some.

Journal Entry on Recovery

When I wrote the above journal entry I had been in recovery for two years. It would be another two years and 8 months before I binged and purged for the last time. The road was long, grueling, messy, and confusing, but I made it, and today I celebrate five years recovered from an eating disorder that took 12 years of my life.

This old journal entry really captured my attention, because it sums up what was most challenging about my recovery process: sitting with the discomfort. Of course, at times, “discomfort” couldn’t begin to describe what I was feeling, the skin-crawling, nail-biting, heart-wrenching, head-pounding agony of living in my own skin after eating. I used to imagine digging my fingernails into the couch cushions, into the walls, into anything that would anchor me down and keep me out of the bathroom. There were times when I wanted to die, because it all seemed too painful to bear.

Looking back, it’s no surprise that I had trouble sitting with discomfort, with distress. Studies show that low levels of distress tolerance paired with high levels of urgency can predict bulimia nervosa (Anestis et al., 2007). The paradox of this life-threatening disease is that immediately following a binge/purge episode, bulimics experience a rapid drop in stress and other negative emotions along with a corresponding increase in positive emotions (Smyth et al., 2007). In other words, purging is an effective coping mechanism that makes sense… in the short-term. These reinforcing factors are part of what makes it so hard to beat.

And yet, it’s possible. I’m living proof.

This is not to say that my day-to-day is without struggle. A better marker than years for recovery would be the number of times I’ve felt physical discomfort or emotional pain and chosen to do something other than binge, purge, or restrict my food intake. What a number that would be! That’s how ‘five years recovered’ happens: sitting with one uncomfortable urge at a time.

Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, who was the director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, called this practice “urge surfing,” and he used it with patients suffering from all kinds of addiction, from drugs, to sex, to food (Taitz, 2012). But you don’t need an addiction to use urge surfing; everyone can benefit from mindfully observing the rise and fall of a craving. We all struggle with urges that satisfy us in the short-term but might not be in line with our long-term goals. That makes us human.

Luckily, the intensity of my struggle has diminished with time and practice. I’ve gained a great deal of insight studying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), mindfulness, and yoga. Each in their own way has helped me cultivate self-empathy and nonjudgmental awareness. I find when I’m able to slow down, notice what’s happening in the present moment, and accept the moment for what it is, I am free to create more beneficial patterns of thinking and behaving. And that is what recovery is all about.

So how do I plan on spending my big day? Well, I’ll start with my favorite yoga class, and I’ll probably end with a meal at my favorite New York City restaurant, Pure Food and Wine. A massage might be in order. More importantly, I’m dedicating this day to embracing each emotion as it comes, the good, the bad, and the not-conventionally-beautiful. Because if I can embrace those emotional waves and ride them with loving kindness, there’s nothing that can stop me.

5 Years of Recovery

References:

  • Anestis, M. D., Selby, E. A., Fink, E. L. and Joiner, T. E. (2007), The multifaceted role of distress tolerance in dysregulated eating behaviors. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 40: 718–726. doi: 10.1002/eat.20471
  • Smyth, J., Wonderlich, S., Heron, K., Sliwinski, M., Crosby, R., Mitchell, J., & Engel, S. (2007). Daily and momentary mood and stress are associated with binge eating and vomiting in bulimia nervosa patients in the natural environment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75 (4), 629-638 DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.75.4.629
  • Taitz, J. L. (2012). End emotional eating: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills to cope with difficult emotions and develop a healthy relationship to food. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.