courage, Guest Posts

If You Weren’t Afraid.

December 23, 2012

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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.

~~~

Jennifer,

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.

-S

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. 

Her response:

~~

Jen,

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.

 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her second Manifestation Retreat this year. Click the Tuscan hills above! Sep 26-Oct 3rd.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it's magical.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2016 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it’s magical.

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9 Comments

  • Reply jamesvincentknowles December 23, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    so then, this is how one heals into love. thank you, S. thank you for your remarkably clear, honest, heart wrenching writing. your anonymous emails just helped me feel some stuff I thought I might never do again. the right kind of love.

  • Reply Katie D December 23, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    S, I want to repeat, in Jen’s words: “Come home now. It’s okay. You’re okay. You’re safe. I love you. You’re home now. It’s okay.” We really can’t hear those words enough.

    I was an anonymous emailer in this same manner three months ago. Having Jen share my story, and my writing, has opened up a door I didn’t know was closed (or even existed). It has changed my life. I can’t wait for you to experience the same love, support, clarity and life-altering moments that I did–because I know they are coming for you. It gets even better!!!

    Your writing is beautiful, and your story is inspiring. Please keep opening up and sharing…you are special and deserve to have your voice heard!

    (If you ever want support from another (almost) 35 year old, eating disorder stricken, learning to open up yogi writer who just came out of anonymity, please reach out!)

  • Reply James Fetters December 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    I sat next to a Vietnam veteran for dinner tonight and realized what real courage is.. It’s something you can actually see.. It’s not a statement or a degree or any amount of money or reward.

    It’s doing the right thing when everything falls to shit and the world around you tells you to go in one direction out of fear or greed or any lesser product or reward.. It’s knowing the greater good and putting your life on the line to accomplish that because that good is more important than your own.

    I wonder if all people get to see what I saw tonight at the bar with my buddy when we got to meet a real man of courage.

    It was good and after noticing your subject line I had to share it with you.. Love you Jen!

    Sent frommy iPhone

  • Reply Tiffany December 23, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Sooooooooooooooo beautiful. I see you, both… and am hugging you so tight. Thank you for sharing your hearts. I love you.

  • Reply barbarapotter December 24, 2012 at 12:19 am

    Wow this post hit me hard. I am Jen’s mom and on so many levels it makes me cry.
    We love you and you are so special even though we do not know who you are. You are in a very safe space. You are such a beautiful person and beautiful writer.
    There was a time I thought my daughter was lost or could be lost as that was what all the professionals were saying about anorexia, but I never gave up hope. There was a time that other parent’s of our close group of friends turned their back on me because they were saying/thinking “what kind of mother is this to allow this to happen”. No one allows this to happen as you know. This mother whose heart was breaking in a million pieces. Shattering more and more each day. How could I let his happen? Only Jen let this happen and no one but Jen could be the one to fix it. She had no one to turn to that would understand her particular pain. There were those who loved her of course but no one who could truly understand. Through the grace of God and her courage and someone up there wanting Jen to be able to help others she did it. Yes, she did it all on her own without any real support except for the love of her family, she did it. She found yoga. She found her voice. She accepted herself for who she was. She found her confidence. You can too. I think it takes a belief you can and also to find someone that you can turn to, or read their words or just care about you. You have stepped into a group of people who are just what you have been looking for and you will one day find all of those things yourself with these connections that were set into place long before any of you knew that the others existed. Thank you for writing this to my daughter. I bow to you. (By the way, excuse my sentence structure, etc I am not a writer:)

  • Reply Michelle December 24, 2012 at 7:15 am

    Thank you S…I understand your words and your feelings…. my struggles are different, but the fears are the same. You are definately not alone. The question I like to ask myself, that sometimes helps is this… “If this were the last day of my life, would this matter?” Somehow that helps to put things in perspective for me…. Whether it’s the fear of a critical person rejecting you, or the fear of being laughed at, of being less than perfect, or just the fear of people seeing the real you, are “these” people the ones who will be in your heart at the end of the road? Who are you really answering to? Who are these people that you fear, and do you want to give them that much control over your life? Maybe if you look, you will find that there is one person’s voice and judgements that you are attributing to some of the people around you. Finally, for your daughter, if you can be for her what she needs, you may end up being that for yourself too…. wishing you all the peace and bravery that you need.
    Like the person that posted before me said, please reach out if you are looking for support.

  • Reply Willow (Paige Pellegrino) December 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Dearest Jen and S,
    Inspired by both of your stories. Little things resonate here and there, but overall I believe people with authentic hearts hold up half the sky, especially women because it’s born into us to nurture. That is why sometimes things feel so heavy. We must learn to nurture ourselves as well as others.
    S, being comfortable with the uncomfortable is the first step in truly finding ourselves. This is the first step in finding our truth. You’ve been holding your secrets for so long, I hope it feels lighter by sharing. Typing your words is a big deal, pressing “submit” is huge! We keep our secrets because we fear. We are all different people, but I assure you we all bleed red.
    Thank you both for being fearless and for sharing what’s “hidden” in your closets. Remember the old adage, “Love is letting go of fear”. Wishing you both love and support in a huge triangle!…NJ to Texas…to California…and back! xoxo

  • Reply Susan November 22, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    S – My 21 year old daughter is fighting the battle with anorexia. Every day is tough for her. I feel your words hitting home. I live in Dallas too, would love to connect.

  • Reply Leslie D. Lanagan December 26, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    One of my friends posted this blog article on my Facebook page and said that it reminded her of the story on my blog. I clicked on the link and stepped in my own world. My boss sucks, and I fight her every day to be the person I need to be instead of the person my inner critic says I ought to be. I hope you enjoy my stuff as much as I’ve enjoyed reading yours. Keep going, because I love your voice.

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