By Jen Pastiloff.
I posted an essay I wrote called “Waking Up In The Wrong House” where I posited the question: Am I living the right life? I talked about my eating disorder, sex and Tolstoy among other things. You can read it here. Anyway, I woke up to the following email which stopped me in my tracks.
Because it answered my question with a resounding Yes. Yes, Jennifer you are clearly living the right life.
With permission here are the emails. I bow to the writer of them who for now, shall stay anonymous. With time, I hope she shares her name. I hope she shares her true self with a vulnerability that will only be perceived as grace. As courage.
I was treated for anorexia when I was 11 years old. I am now 35. I am in graduate school studying to become a therapist so I can treat children and adolescents with eating disorders and addiction. I study nutrition so that I can help clients create healthy meal plans. I became a RYT to teach others to love and care for their body, mind, and spirit. My intention is set. It is honest. My purpose is to help others…but I cannot help myself. I. Am. Stuck. This is not the life I was supposed to lead…but I am too afraid to change.
I was certified to teach in 2010 but I have never taught a yoga class. I cannot find the voice I lost to fears of imperfection, rejection, criticism, and disapproval.
I still have disordered eating. I still overexercise. My choices affects my health, my mood, my concentration, and my ability to love myself and others. As a mother, my choices affect my eight year-old daughter. My life is the lesson I teach to my child and the children I will someday treat.
How can I fuel others when I cannot fuel myself? Because you see, I am a super girl. My super power is control; my kryptonite is fear. My appearance is my super girl costume and my (under) weight is my armor. It makes me different, special, accepted, and admired. When I go out into the world as super girl, I am praised. Yet the confidence is fleeting because I know it is a lie. It is not who-or all-that I am. I am a super girl in a battle with herself.
My inside and outside are not congruent. My outside attracts people and circumstances my inside hates. I have created a life that I feel like a stranger living in. I have been deconstructing my life, my relationships, and my beliefs for the past three years. It is a journey and I have traveled far. I have made all of the changes that I wished to make that still allowed me to remain stuck in the status quo. And now I have reached the point of no return. It is time to conjure the courage to be who I am and live a healthy, authentic life.
I know I can offer more to the world. I want to offer more to the world. I want to take the risk. I want to fight the fear and do it anyway. I want to give myself the biggest gift of all this new year: freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom to feel. Instead of looking into the mirror and seeing my reflection, I want to see a flame burning from within. I have the spark within me. I just need to transform it into a flame.
What gave you the courage to make the most challenging changes? How did you quiet your inner critic and face the fear off disapproval? How did you deal with the people in your life who resisted your changes because they preferred you as you are? How did you cope with the negative consequences of positive change?
I have not had the opportunity to take a yoga class from you but your words are, for me, yoga off the mat. Your life is a lesson that it is possible. For that, I thank you. You were right when you said there are not accidents. Your post today gave me the courage to write this email. Even if you do not respond, there is a sense of accountability in putting the words to paper, to admitting your fears to another. I realized today that this is not the life I was supposed to lead. And only I have the ability to change it.
I wrote her back and asked her if what she would do if she wasn’t afraid. I told her that I loved her and that I thought she was an incredible writer and could I share her email anonymously.
I cried when I read your response. You are the first person to tell the real me that you love me. You love me and you have never met me so it has nothing to do with weight or appearance. How is that possible? Yet I believe you. Because I love you too. And I get you. I hear the things you don’t say in your writing, the meaning behind the words. You have no idea what that means to read those words. And you went further to compliment my writing. I have always wanted to be a writer but I have always been too afraid of what others might think. I think I will start by sharing anonymously. That is the next step. I live in Dallas, Texas. I have never met you but you have impacted my life more than the people I see every day. I don’t believe in accidents either. The self-loathing you felt by posting your message can be silenced by the fact that it impacted at least one (and I suspect others) super girl to take off her cape and get real.
I did read “The Audience Is Listening”. I also read Judy Blume’s “Forever” in my closet, and I recently wrote a paper on Sylvia Plath. “Sometimes I feel so stupid and dull and uncreative that I am amazed when people tell me differently.” -Sylvia Plath. Apropos. No one knows those things about me (except you) because they wouldn’t care. They would much rather ask how I stay so thin or compliment me on my hair extensions (scheduled to come out on January 10 after a fifth grader told me she loved me hair…I AM A FRAUD!). I congratulate you on writing a memoir, very courageous. I can’t wait to read it.
What do I want to do…if I weren’t afraid? I would have the courage to be myself. I would represent a REAL depiction of a 35 year-old woman. I would cook and I would eat. I would savor a glass of wine instead of using it to forget that I am hungry. I would teach a yoga class. I would open up to the possibility of falling in love. I would not hate myself if I don’t fit into my size 25 J Brands (I shutter at the superficiality of this as I write this). I would no longer love men that criticize me. I would go within in during yoga class instead of criticizing myself in the mirror. I would be a woman that my daughter could admire.
My name is S. You can find me on Facebook. I am scared to put my name on my writing to you but this is Step 2. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the opportunity to take your online class. And Step 3…share my story anonymously. I hope it helps someone. Your story certainly helped me.
Her emails broke my heart in all the familiar ways. Because I know her pain and because I am overwhelmed by the power of connection, despite all the fault lines of social media and all the crap we have to go through to get to one another, we find each other. The possibility of it all is disarming and humbling and yes, heartbreaking. Not in a bad way at all, but rather in the way of finally reaching a destination you’ve spent your entire life trying to get to, only to realize upon getting there that you are back home. That you never left. That where you were running from is where you ended up. That what you were chasing was there all along. That kind of heartbreak.
Please send S. love and encouragement and all the things we want for ourselves. She is brave. You know S just as you know yourself.
She emailed me: a person she’d never met and spilled her guts. That’s brave, man. She’s brave and she simply needs to be reminded of that is all. We have the power to do that and it is also our duty because really when we are talking to S., we are talking to ourselves.
We will say: Come home now. It’s okay. You’re okay. You’re safe. I love you. You’re home now. It’s okay.
Love, Jen Pastiloff.