Browsing Tag

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Guest Posts, healing, self-loathing

My Monster

April 10, 2022

I wasn’t always a monster, of course. I like to believe no one ever really sets out to become a monster, and I think most monsters are created by forces bigger than themselves, often in the murky darkness of childhood.

My sister Michele and I spent a lot of time on my family’s dairy farm as children. Our mother was the oldest of nine siblings, so my sister and I were delightful little playthings to the many aunts and uncles who still lived on the farm. We basked in their attention as they showered us with sleepovers and wagon rides and trips to the nearby lake.

There was a dangerous freedom to the barn, with the powerful hind legs of the massive cows that towered over our small selves as we ran down the center aisle, squealing to avoid a sudden discharge of liquid shit. Michele, the cherished first-born, was a tomboy who loved running around chasing cats by their tails and dodging in and out of the barn as our uncles and grandfather worked the cows on their rigorous milking schedule. My sister languished in the smells of summer hay being put up and danced in the swirls of dusty dry sunshine that accompanied all those animals.

But it was soon discovered that what seemed like wild, sweet freedom to one granddaughter was the very thing that threatened another. My grandmother never quite seemed to accept that I wasn’t just being stubborn or lazy when I stopped wanting to go to the barn. That, in fact, I had asthma. And all that dander from the cows whose milk was the sole source of the family’s income was cutting off my airways and strangling me.

But in the mid 1970’s, things like asthma and allergies weren’t well understood – at least, not in our neck of the woods in Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland, where my people lived and worked. Generations of my family were raised on milk: not just to nourish bodies, but to pay the bills. Going against the family farm in any way was akin to treason. My grandmother, in particular, had little tolerance for time-consuming things like asthma attacks. Sniffles? Quit all that snorting, Krissy. There’s work to be done. Stop bothering me.

So, every summer I tried in vain not to be a nuisance, to get out in the barn and help with chores like my good, big sister. And each time, I’d end up coughing and wheezing and back at the house, crying as I knew how much I’d disappointed my grandmother by being weak.

Crying only worsened my asthma attacks. I fled to the bathroom, closed the door, and ran a washcloth under cold water to wipe my face. I stood at the sink trying to calm down as aunts and uncles would bang on the door, saying they had to pee. Looking in the mirror, I watched my itchy and enflamed eyes as the whites turned an angry red and swelled over the green circles of my iris. For a few hours, my eyes took on the appearance of some swollen, sickly Christmas decorations in the middle of July.

My grandmother was a woman of efficiency whose nerves were worn thin by too many people needing too many things. What love she had in her heart was painfully and privately shrouded in vigil for her own long-dead mother who was cruelly taken from her by cancer when she was only sixteen. Unprocessed heartbreak with no place to go can get lodged on repeat in a cruel sort of rhythm that no amount of barking at sick children will unstick. Such is life for a generation with nowhere to place such cavernous grief.

But I didn’t know this as a child. Instead, I learned from a young age that there was something wrong with me. Something inside my body that was bad. Something shameful that didn’t allow me to participate in the regular work and play of the family like everyone else.

By the time I was five, I learned that my wheezing and gasping for air were something akin to a moral weakness – that if I would just toughen up a bit, I could get over it. Thus, I didn’t deserve to breathe like other people. I was five years old, and I didn’t deserve to breathe.

***

Sheila, my uncle Mitch’s wife, was a teacher who worked with special needs kids and took an interest in me. She loved my drawings and encouraged the stories I wrote. I relished the whirling worlds in the books we shared, one adventure weaving into another. We stayed inside her yellow brick house across the road from my grandmother’s, with air conditioning that insulated our activities from the farm’s threatening allergens.

Sleepovers at her house were a special treat for me and my sister with ice cream sundaes and buttered popcorn so rich it gave me a tummy ache. As the sun set through the white eyelet curtains of the yellow room with the shag carpeting, cool darkness fell over the house. We would lay our heads on embroidered pillows, knowing that she was safely nearby in the room she shared with Mitch, just on the other side of the closet door that secretly adjoined our room.

***

Years passed. I turned twelve before my mother finally took me to an allergist to treat my asthma. Several rounds of steroids to clear my lungs resulted in rapid weight gain and crushing depression, which perfectly coincided with the onset of puberty. It didn’t take long for my inner monster to latch on to my self-loathing. An eating disorder quickly took root, enabling me to lose fifty pounds in three months, and by the time I was seventeen, I had downed a bottle of pills in a botched suicide attempt and earned a month long stay in a mental hospital.

My psychiatrist found me to be a curious case. I’d landed a coveted spot on the high school pom-pon squad, and we had a somewhat stable, loving, upper middle class family. I had excellent grades, an artistic gift, and a boyfriend who was the running back on our school’s state-winning football team. Yet, my symptoms didn’t seem to add up. Debilitating depression. Self-loathing. Cutting. Looking at my chart, the doctor asked my mother: had I ever been sexually abused?

Goodness no, she said. Of course not.

***

It wouldn’t be long before I discovered the joys of alcohol. My Irish Catholic family was practically raised on beer, bourbon, and brats. When we weren’t floating in a lake drinking under the warm sun, we were at college football games, Summerfest, and family weddings. Life was one big celebration, and my monster loved to party.

It was at one such wedding where I met my future husband, a longtime friend of the groom. A few years older than me, he was a good Catholic farm boy from Iowa whose steadiness was the perfect counter to my volatile self. We married when I was just twenty-two, but it would be many years before I’d fully appreciate just what a fantastic sense of foresight God had in bringing us together.

We went on to have three children and life appeared to be good, but the darkness was always lurking just under the surface. My monster was often hiding in the corner, whispering that I wasn’t quite good enough. That I didn’t deserve to be happy. That there was no point in trying – I was just a sham. There were so many days when I didn’t know what would happen because I could never trust when my monster would demand to be fed next. Living with depression was like dragging myself through the day with a big boulder strapped on my back. Most days loomed dark, heavy, foreboding, as the weight threatened to crush me.

Alcohol has a cunning way of latching on to mental illness to create the perfect storm. I found that if I drank just enough, I could keep my darkness at bay. Wine had a way of blurring the edges of my anxiety, while vodka would obliterate them completely. To me, this was just the solution I needed.

Soon, I was waking up every day sick, parched, disgusted. I repeatedly told myself today would be the day I’d stop doing this. Today would be different. Knowing, even as I said it, that I was lying to myself. Just willing change into existence doesn’t make a damn difference if you don’t do anything to change. If your next move is to open up a bottle, you’ve already lost at your own game – and your only opponent is yourself.

My boogeyman never lurked around some dark corner. That bitch lived inside me. I opened the door and welcomed her to come right in and take a seat every time I bought a bottle. I thought I drank to quiet her down, hoping that the more I drank, the more likely I was to flood her out of her cave. What I didn’t know was that I had it all wrong. Alcohol didn’t put out my monster’s anger. Pouring alcohol on my monster only fed the flames, like gasoline on fire. My monster loved alcohol – thrived on it. More! More! She cried as she laughed, threw up all over the floor, then went on drinking.

With alcohol mixed into the equation, I had no chance against my monster. I hated myself when I drank. Everyone around me hated me when I drank. And even though I knew better and had everything going for me, I wasn’t smarter than alcohol; it had locked me in a vice grip that I couldn’t break. I no longer wanted to drink, but I could barely function without it.

I was circling the drain but instead of putting the cap back in the bottle, I was pouring my life away with every glass I emptied. That’s the way addiction works. Nobody wakes up one day and says they want to become an addict. It’s a slippery slope that seems to work just fine for a long time as it does what it promises to do: it takes the edge off. But after a while, it stops working. And you need more and more to get the same effect.

Twenty-five years after my first suicide attempt, I found myself with an Exacto knife in my hand, pulling it across my wrist and drawing blood. Another time, I stumbled into the middle of a country road and stared down a Mack truck that was barreling towards me. And it became commonplace for me to stand on the Metra platform in Chicago, willing my body to throw itself in front of the train. I told my doctor at the time that this was normal for me. Nothing to worry about here, folks.

But this time was different. I wasn’t just some dumb seventeen-year-old kid. I was married with three children. I owned a business with employees and was doing work I loved. I had everything. But I couldn’t see any of that when the monster came out of her cave. She was now a fire-breathing dragon, and she was going to burn down every last fucking thing that stood in her path.

The thing that wasn’t different this time was how I felt. The way I felt at seventeen was still the same way I felt again at forty-two. Twenty-five years later, and the pain inside me was exactly the same. No number of years or ounces of alcohol could drown the darkness that a lifetime of trauma had built. That powerful pull to finally give in and end it all – it was too big to resist, and I just wasn’t strong enough. And once I finally decided to kill myself, the decision was complete. Then, just like when I was seventeen, it came as a relief.

If I thought of my children at all in that moment, my only thought was: the kids are better off without me. They had my husband to take care of them. I was useless. Better off dead. And that logic made perfect sense to me. Perfect sense.

That’s what depression does. It’s a darkness that works on you from the inside out. It wears you down and pulls you in and wraps its tentacles around you and doesn’t let go until it sucks all the light from your soul. It squeezes the air out of your lungs until you’re gasping for breath. Until you can no longer breathe.

Because you don’t deserve to breathe.

***

I was surprised to find that my mental hospital had been locked in its own stagnant time capsule: faded floral artwork trapped behind plexiglass screwed to cinder block walls. A single caged lightbulb dimly casting shadow over moldy shower stalls. A wall-mounted telephone with a frayed eight-inch cord flanked by nefarious steel-barred windows. I snagged my color-coded socks on cracked and peeling linoleum as I learned that pink signified fall risk, blue for suicide watch. Mine were blue. I could have gone a lifetime without knowing any of this.

For five days, I walked up and down the stale hallway thinking of the many ways I’d changed in twenty-five years, and the many more parts of me, like this place, that were still the same. Those early days of padded, shaky steps in my fuzzy blue socks were the first of many in the tentative direction of eventual healing. It took a long time to realize that alcohol was a former friend that had turned on me a long time ago; I was just too sick to see it. Once I was able to get some clarity and distance from my old pal, I finally had a fighting chance.

I learned there were many root causes to my monster’s growth. Genetics played a part, such as living in a family with layers of madness and addiction. Ultimately, it didn’t matter why a monster had grown inside me like a cancerous tumor. The damage was done. But understanding where it came from was a way to help me untangle its interwoven grip on my life. And in order to extricate myself and live freely, I had to do the work.

I learned to separate the monster from myself. The monster lived inside me, but she was not me. In time, I could learn to tame her and live with her.

I learned that when I stopped drinking, I stopped being so afraid. And I was finally able to ask myself: what was I so afraid of? What was I trying to drink away?

My fears ran from broad and expansive to precisely imagined scenarios. Drinking had been a way to run from the fear of living in a violent and unpredictable society full of senseless acts and random school shootings. I found that I could alleviate the anxiety of not knowing if each morning’s goodbye kisses would be our last by turning to the bottle. But eventually, no amount of alcohol could keep the terror at bay; in spite of our country’s lavish thoughts and prayers, the shootings kept coming.

I was afraid of what would happen if my kids found out I was an alcoholic. But judging by the way they dumped out my wine, it was pretty clear they already knew.

I was terrified that my children were destined to live with the same madness that had hijacked my own brain from such a young age. That my daughters would develop eating disorders that would ravage them for decades. That my son would develop an addiction and attempt suicide. In sum, I was afraid of everything. Most of all: myself.

I finally had to admit to myself that I was afraid of saying I was an alcoholic, because I just didn’t want it to be true. I was afraid to stop drinking because I didn’t know how to live without it. And if I was really trying to be honest with myself, I just had to edit that last sentence a bit:

I was afraid to stop drinking because I was afraid to live.

I believed that addiction and mental illness and abuse and suicide attempts were all just a matter of time for my children, because that’s simply how it was. Because that’s what was passed down through generations of trauma in my family. Because it was destiny, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I kept continuing the cycle with every bottle I drained because I didn’t believe I had any power to stop it.

Until: I stopped.

When I learned to stop fearing my monster, I found that I was growing stronger and could finally start to face my fears. And I realized that my monster was really just a coward that hid in the darkness of her cave and thrived on alcohol, and bred depression and shame.

I learned that love is stronger than fear. Love is what breaks the cycle. Love is what cracks open the darkness and allows the light back in. And by coming back to love, one day at a time, I learned to start trusting myself again.

I remembered the ferocious love I felt for each of my children from the moment I was aware of their tiny sparks growing inside me. And I remembered the biggest love of all: God’s love. In beginning my recovery, I learned that though I never believed I was worthy of God’s love, that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. It was there all along, from the moment I was just a spark in my own mother’s womb. I just couldn’t see it through the darkness.

I finally learned to love myself.

And twenty-five years later, I would recall my psychiatrist’s question to my mother about whether I’d been sexually abused as a child. Memories would float back to me at random, like fireflies flickering in the night. The yellow room with the shag carpeting. The white eyelet curtain. The sleepovers that endured long after I wanted them to. I would remember my uncle, insistent that we keep up those overnight visits far after we felt comfortable. And when given the choice of any of the other rooms in the farmhouse, he would emphatically press on that my sister and I should stay in that room, the yellow room with the shag carpeting, the one that connected to theirs via secret passageway.

***

My monster’s fire-breathing roar has been replaced by the sounds of laughter that now fill our house. Our comings-together at the end of the day are reminders that we’ve survived something together. My children may carry the strains of mental illness; time will tell. But if that happens, we now have the tools to manage it. I’ve finally learned that dealing with mental illness and addiction is something I can control. At least now, we have a fighting chance.

My monster is still there. I see her sometimes, sleeping in the back of her cave. I like to think of her in a sort of permanent hibernation. To keep her there, I’ve learned to put a blanket over her when she’s cold. I’ve taken away her alcohol and replaced it with nutritious food that I put at the mouth of her cave, offering it to her if she ever gets hungry, too. I sometimes wave to her as I pass by on my daily walk, or during yoga. I see her sleeping and I think – oh yes, there she is. I remember her. I nod and respect her space. I let her sleep if she’s tired. And I pass by, thankful that she no longer has any power over me. I let her keep sleeping.

And then, I walk out into the light.

Kris Martinez been in marketing for over 25 years and has owned an award-winning digital creative agency near Chicago since 2004. Her work has been published in Entropy, The Manifest-Station, Literary Mama, Iris Literary Journal, and Enterprising Women Magazine where she was honored in 2018 as an Enterprising Woman of the Year. In 2020, Kris completed her MFA in Creative Nonfiction and Screenwriting from Antioch University Los Angeles. The essay “My Monster” is an excerpt from her memoir and first book, for which she is seeking representation. Kris lives near Chicago with her husband and their three teenage children.

***

Writing Cohort Opportunity

Circe is offering: Crucible – A Year-Long Writing Cohort 

Let by Gina Frangello and Emily Black, this cohort is designed for writers seeking to spend a year deeply immersed in writing or revising a book length work.

Cohort Includes:

  • Once monthly class meeting over Zoom
    • 2-3 members will have their pages workshopped per meeting (each participant will be workshopped twice)
  • Every other month individual/private meeting with Emily or Gina over Zoom (participants will have a chance to work with both)
  • Ongoing online communication between members of the cohort to share resources and ask questions in between sessions
  • Writing prompts
  •  100 manuscript pages read and reviewed by Emily and Gina

Email info@circeconsulting.net for more information

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Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Grief, Guest Posts, Self Image

The Grief In My Belly

July 29, 2021
weight

by Elizabeth O’Nuanain

Fatness: Everyone will look at me. Everyone will judge me. Everyone will imagine I spend my days shoveling doughnuts and pizzas in my mouth, one after another, and another…

Fat sucks ass. Can I get an amen, people?

Fat programmed me to avert my eyes from full-length mirrors and large window-panes. Fat, I imagined (though not without evidence) made people look at me and think ‘lazy’; ‘unclean’, ‘dim-witted’, ‘gluttonous’, ‘weak-willed’ and as a cultural subject within patriarchy, ‘utterly un-fuckable’. Fat is still, after over forty years, a feminist issue.

Internalisation: Body-size and shape equate not only to body-worth, but overall human-worth.  From jobs, to education, to romance, fat girls and women will struggle far more than their thin counterparts. Unless I shaped up and embraced the aspartame, my body weight doomed me to a life of ignorance, poverty and loneliness. I learned this lesson at my mother’s knee before I could write my name.  My mother, now eighty-one, arthritic and losing her eyesight, spoke with me on the phone last week. She informed me she weighs one-hundred and ten pounds and wears a size three jeans.  What struck me was not that she shared that specific information so quickly, but that this is the routine of all our talks.  She is an excellent woman who watches her weight with steadfast commitment. I grew up immersed in this oversimplified notion of what fat means, how fat happens, and the place(s) that fat occupies in my culture.

I now weigh in somewhere between my very thinnest and my (more moderate) heaviest.  I am fifty-eight years old and have spent close to fifty of those years worrying over, or downright hating, my body.  This afternoon as I write this post, I feel only tenderness and appreciation for this body of mine.  It may go against the grain with all the lessons I internalised and all the practices (diets, obsessive weighing) I took part in, but here I am, living my quiet revolution in a world so full of callous regulations imposed within and without upon the bodies of women. In this new mindset, I have spent hours thinking, journaling and deconstructing my relationship with weight — particularly what has informed my thinking about weight and body shape over the past ten years as I notice the changes to my body corresponding to bereavement, emotional pain and the natural disaster of menopause.

Grief. How I lost my husband and swallowed my sister: When I met my husband, he stood over six foot, four inches tall. He was a good forty to fifty pounds overweight. When we buried him, his suit — the one he bought only a year before and that had so beautifully fit him, now completely engulfed him. The funeral director had to gather and pin the material at the back. In the months before he died, his thinness, the act of touching his body, running my hand across his shoulders and back, staggered me. So much of him had gone. I often retreated to another part of the house to weep alone. After he died, I became a walking, talking testament to emptiness. In the first two years I scarcely ate, every part of my body ached. I grew enviably thin. Insanely, I saw my aching, starving, empty body as perfect, and, importantly, lovable.

In the following years, I became little more than a body for draping clothes and garnering male attention. My capacity for joy, creativity, and human engagement scarcely functioned. My truncated grief found a place in my malnourished belly, where it hardened like a stone and rattled inside me. All the while I exchanged my slender body for (abusive) affirmation, seeking to fill that void in my belly. Then, out of the blue, my sister, Leslie, suddenly died from complications of the flu. After losing her, I put on weight and everything (it seemed) changed. In the magical thinking of bereavement, I imagined that my body had taken on the weight of her loss. I fixated on Leslie’s own emotional struggle with weight; her self-reproach, her isolation and her intense desire to be ‘thin enough’. Then I made that struggle my own.

Only, I did not really swallow my sister. My body did not mysteriously incorporate her weight. I did not become her, anymore than I became my emaciated husband six years earlier. Rather, I grieved, and I gained weight; these circumstances were not unrelated, nor were they the full picture. My body and I did not embark upon the grieving process with a clean slate — prior to her death my body was already experiencing depression, menopause, chronic back pain and recurring insomnia — all of which impact the body’s metabolism and contribute not only to weight gain, but even where the weight appears. Instead, I just reminded myself of my sister through my frustration and my self-deprecating inner dialogue. I merely succumbed, and reasonably so, to the cultural myths that shaped my conception of a worthy woman — a myth I complied with, even while common sense told me otherwise — throughout my life.

How grief also taught me self-acceptance. While grief played an active role in harming my body and enhanced the divide between my emotional and physical self, I discovered over time that allowing my sorrow to flow helped me to mend that divide. I cannot imagine anyone wants to feel loss; the relentless weight of an absence hanging across your shoulders like sandbags; the jaw perpetually clenched to hold the sobs at bay, the utter exhaustion mocked nightly by insomnia — it was horrible; it was also necessary. Allowing myself the space to experience my loss, I learned how what I think and what I feel are not activities separate from my body, but are instead of my body; interrelated and acting in concert at all times. Learning how intrinsic my body is to all else that I am, compels me to challenge my lifelong habit of seeing my body as an unruly, uncooperative force that threatened my happiness and self-image by its refusal to transform into some imaginary standard.

I have not made complete peace with my body; but I have ended our protracted war — it is more about treatment than cure. I still get frustrated if my jeans grow tighter, or my crow’s feet deepen. I have not defeated the effects of menopause on my mood, memory, and sleep cycle. Aging and corporality are inescapable facts for sentient beings like me. Sometimes the facts suck, but I prefer them to the alternative.

Elizabeth O’Nuanain is a (re)emerging blogger, poet and chicken keeper, living out her post-menopausal days in the wilds of West Cork, Ireland. She writes about grief, trauma, depression and recovery, and experiments with poetry. The Grief In My Belly was previously published in Elizabeth’s blog Shriekinglizzy.com and on Crow’s Feet.

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Margaret Attwood swooned over The Child Finder and The Butterfly Girl, but Enchanted is the novel that we keep going back to. The world of Enchanted is magical, mysterious, and perilous. The place itself is an old stone prison and the story is raw and beautiful. We are big fans of Rene Denfeld. Her advocacy and her creativity are inspiring. Check out our Rene Denfeld Archive.

Order the book from Amazon or Bookshop.org

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Eating/Food, Guest Posts

Taking Up Space

July 7, 2021
scale

by Molly Krause

Maybe it’s just the quarantine fifteen. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t weighed myself to get the actual number. I do know that my clothes are tight and some don’t fit. I know that it was sometime after I started weighing my eighteen year old daughter weekly that I stopped stepping on the scale myself. This was months before we were all gripped by the onslaught of all that the novel virus brought to our lives. I couldn’t have even imagined all that at this time. This was when my anxiety rose like a freight train when my daughter said, “I’m struggling to eat enough.”

I flew into action – appointments with the primary care physician, the therapist, the dietician, and I bought The Scale. I ordered it online with some dread as I’ve never had a scale in my house. Shiny and black with a digital display that revealed the number to a tenth of a pound, it was both inexpensive and highly rated. I hid it in my closet.

I bought it to monitor my daughter’s weight but this is not a story of a young adult controlling her life through restricting.

As a serious student of ballet throughout my teens, I viewed my body as a vessel to create beauty through movement. At a yoga class a few years ago I scoffed internally when the instructor said, “If it’s available, reach for your extended leg.” If it’s available? This was not a cooperative relationship I had with my limbs; I would make it available without question. Naturally lean, I did not grow up worried about my weight because I didn’t have to. I was happy with my size and my size was small. My body performed well for me by executing the physically difficult movements of ballet. I wasn’t conflicted about my body image as mine was easily accommodating with what I wanted from it. I never even had to consider if what I wanted from it was reasonable or even right.

Two pregnancies and changing middle age hormones stretched my comfort with my shape. I resolved to stay under a certain number, I even wrote that number down in my planner. I exercised to burn calories and played around with various diets. I only weighed myself occasionally at the gym and used clothing fit as a measure if I was on target. But it wasn’t until The Scale came in my house did I realize the pull the number had on me – what is the numer? Have I been going “good”? Is this water weight or muscle? So I stopped myself from stepping on The Scale, hidden in the closet, every day as a friend of mine told me she did to control her weight. When my daughter entered an intensive outpatient program for eating disorders I gave myself permission not to ever get on that scale again.

But I’ve wanted to and what I’m not sure about is why. To feel better about myself or worse?

When I told a friend that I had gained some weight during quarantine she said, “Really? You look the same to me.” I responded, “I can tell I have but I haven’t stepped on a scale because I don’t hate myself.” We snickered and quickly moved on but my comment stuck with me. Wouldn’t it be better to like myself no matter what the number is?

 I get out The Scale once a week for my daughter. Covid has eliminated in person meetings with most therapeutic professionals, dietitians included. My daughter does not resist The Scale and doesn’t seem fazed by the number it reveals. I still haven’t gotten on it for almost a year at this point. I’m trying out the idea that it’s ok for my body to take up as much space as it wants – whether that’s active on my paddleboard or lazily watching my new favorite station, Acorn TV. The Corora virus has taken away many things from me – from us all – but perhaps it has given me the time to view my shape as something other than a way to project smallness or beauty. Maybe this same body that I happily allowed to grow large to carry two lives will be the vessel to grow new chapters and lives so far not lived, of an unknown and exciting future, of a time that is not bound or defined by a number.

Molly Krause is the author of the memoir ‘Float On’, the novel ‘Joy Again’ and the cookbook ‘The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors’. Her writing has appeared in numerous locations, including Brain Child, Ragazine and Front Page Review. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her husband, her grown daughters and a pack of dogs and loves to hike, snowshoe and paddle board.

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emma

Stories of parent/child relationships can be complex, and Emma’s Laugh, The Gift of  Second Chances, is no exception.  Convinced of her inability to love her “imperfect” child and give her the best care and life she deserved, Diana gave Emma up for adoption. But as with all things that are meant to be, Emma found her way back home. As Emma grew, Diana watched her live life determinedly and unapologetically, radiating love always. Emma evolved from a survivor to a warrior, and the little girl that Diana didn’t think she could love enough rearranged her heart. In her short eighteen years of life, Emma gifted her family the indelible lesson of the healing and redemptive power of love.

Read Diana’s ManifestStation essay here

Order the book from Amazon or Bookshop.org

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Abortion, Guest Posts

Automatic Failure

February 10, 2021
know

By Bethany Petano

The automatic toilet flushes, mistaking projectile vomit for human movement. The backsplash hits me in the face. I vomit again at the thought of public toilet water mixed with my own throw up dripping down my cheek. Again, the backsplash hits me in the face. This continues until I am emptied. At the sink, I fill my hands with water and bring them to my face, scrubbing it dry with a paper towel, avoiding my reflection in the mirror.

Only six more hours before I can finally go home and crawl into bed. If I hadn’t already missed one class–I wouldn’t be here. The attendance policy for the Saturday Program at Bay Path College is severe. Missing two classes out of a six-week course means automatic failure.

Automatic failure–I was already one of those.

At least class gave me something to think about–besides overwhelming waves of nausea and the cramps gripping my abdomen in a steely vice. After my third sprint from classroom to bathroom, the women in my class exchange knowing looks.

“Does someone have a touch of morning sickness?”

Grinning faces blur as I blink back tears.

“Just a stomach bug,” I mumble. Pointedly turning my attention back to our professor.

A stomach bug I caught six weeks ago, on Valentine’s Day, one that I felt almost the instant it was created.

***

“You don’t look so good, Doll.”

My friend Amina is leaning against my cubicle partition ready to go on our mid-morning coffee break. We’ve been friends for years both in and outside of work.

“I don’t feel so great. Can’t keep anything down.”

“Ginger ale and saltines.”

“I know, I’m on it.” I lift my warm can of Canada Dry in a mock salute. “It’s super weird though, like–I can smell everything. It’s not helping.”

“Girl.”

“What?”

“I could smell everything the instant I was pregnant with Khi.”

“What?”

“You need to take a test.”

***

I call my primary care physician and make an appointment. In addition to measuring and weighing me, I am given a specimen cup to pee in. When the doctor enters the room she is beaming.

“Congratulations! You’re pregnant.”

I immediately burst into tears.

The doctor is visibly taken aback. This is not the response she expected.

“If that’s not necessarily good news, there are options we can discuss. Of course, we do not provide those services here.”

“Okay,” I manage to get out.

“I’ll give you a moment to get dressed.”

I cry the entire time I put my clothes back on. Finally, after countless deep breaths, I pull myself together. I do not stop at the desk to check out, leaving the practice without settling my co-pay.

Who the fuck congratulates an unmarried woman who isn’t trying to get pregnant?

***

The smell of eggs sends me running to the bathroom. Amina and I are at Friendly’s, explaining my situation to our buddy Johnny. His friend, Chris, is the partner-in-crime for my current predicament. We had only just started hooking up. Fucking for the first time after the Anti-Valentine’s Day Party I threw, and then again after a sub-par dinner date. At first, Johnny doesn’t understand the complexity of the situation, until Amina eludes I may not want to simply make this “problem” disappear.

Somehow, by violating the first rule of casual hook-ups (Don’t get pregnant!), we had reverted to a middle school era social construct with our appointed representatives negotiating the terms of our deal. Only this time, there is more at stake then holding hands during lunch.

Johnny contacts Chris, explaining the situation. It’s agreed, Chris and I will talk later that afternoon at Forest Park.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

We start walking, shoulder to shoulder, not touching. The March air is brisk but small bursts of pale green signal signs of Spring.

“Why don’t you want to? We used a condom every other time for a reason.” He looks over at me.

“We didn’t use a condom on Valentine’s Day?” I ask, looking up.

“The first time. The second time you climbed on top of me and went for it. I just assumed you were on the pill,” he shrugs.

“I used to be. I don’t remember that. I just… Never thought… I would, you know?” I’m doing my best not to cry when I realize my feet have stopped moving.

“Do you not believe in it?” he asks, gently touching my shoulder.

“No, it’s not that.” I turn to face him. “I just always thought I would have kids someday.” I look past him, staring at nothing.

“Right, someday.” He ducks his head trying to catch my eye.

“But I’m twenty-eight…” I look him in the face.

“I’m only twenty-three. I’m not ready to have a kid.”

“I don’t know if I am either,” I admit softly, looking away.

But, what if this is my chance?

“So don’t,” he says softly.

The words hang between us. The meniscus of tears welling in my eyes finally spills over, falling down my cheeks. Chris pulls me into a hug. The wool of his grey pea coat scratches my face.

“I’m scared,” I mumble into his chest.

“I’ll be there with you,” he says, looking down at me.

There is a gentleness to the desperation screaming in his eyes.

“Can I think about it? We have time.”

“Of course.”

He keeps his arm around my shoulder as we walk back to our cars. This was not how I imagined this moment would go. Not how I imagined starting a family.

What if I had it anyway?

Would Chris help?

Would he hate me?

What would we tell the kid?

Could I do this alone?

Do I want to do this alone?

What does that even look like?

I don’t know.

I don’t know. 

I don’t…

No.

“Okay,” I say when we reach the parking lot.

“Are you sure?” he asks.

“No.” My body releases a sob/shrug/laugh.

He wraps both arms around me. His embrace is warm but feels somehow wrong now.

I pull away.

“I guess I’ll call and make an appointment.” My eyes don’t quite meet his.

“I’ll pay for everything and go with you. If you want me to?” He touches my arm, leaning down, trying to make eye contact.

“Umm sure, okay, I’ll let you know when.” I turn, walking the rest of the way without him.

“Thank you,” he says emphatically, staring at me over the roof of my Honda Civic.

I can practically see the relief pouring off him.

I drive home. Not seeing the road through my tears. Not caring.

***

I think we will never talk again, but for months after, he checks in on me. The Facebook messages feel intrusive, but I understand his need to “do the right thing.” I don’t know what that looks like for me yet. It is awkward and uncomfortable to think about, so I put it all in a box and drown it with vodka.

I think about writing and sharing my experience. Maybe it will help others feel less alone. Maybe it will help me feel less alone. When I tell my mother, she cautions me, “Do you really want your father or grandfathers to know about that? I don’t.”

Shame wraps me in a heavy, black blanket, tucking the emotions I had almost processed back to bed. I made her a mother, as she birthed a daughter. Neither of us lives up to the other’s expectations.

At first glance, on the surface, you would not look at me and think of anything other than “pretty white girl.” Except maybe, loud-mouthed pretty white girl. That is a privilege I have become startlingly aware of recently.

Because my mother is blond and light-skinned, she has never been identified as a “spic.” A word she forbad us to use. I remember as a child having dinner at my father’s parent’s house. We were eating hot dogs and beans so it must have been a Saturday. I’m not sure how old I was, probably eight or nine. Gramps was on a racist rant about “spics and niggers.” Such comments were commonplace but on this occasion, I was paying attention. A realization hit me-I was probably a “spic.”

“What about me, and Mom, and Grama Gloria? Are we “spics,” too?”

The clattering of silverware ceases as silence fills the room and the adults look from one another communicating without speaking.

The silence is broken as my grandfather clears his voice, “Ahem, uh, you’re different,” he says ending the discussion.

That was the only explanation I received about my question of race. But, never again did I hear my grandfather speak that word. I sincerely doubt he stopped using racial slurs all together but he had at least developed a sensitivity as far as his granddaughter was concerned.

Identifying as Puerto Rican wasn’t something that ever occurred to me until filling out college application forms. It seemed logical that I checked the box next to Hispanic. And, even though, at the time, you weren’t allowed to check more than one box, I also checked the one next to white. I was both, wasn’t I?

When I came up with the phrase “Quarter Rican” to explain my racial identity my mother was horrified. At first, I thought this was because she equated the phrase to a racial slur. Then I found out–my mother only checks one box–white. Is that why she said nothing to her racist father-in-law?

Growing up my mother was teased by classmates–for her mother had an accent she didn’t hear. That doesn’t seem like a deep enough wound to deny one’s heritage. But, before I judge someone else’s trauma too quickly, I wonder, is that what my mother’s shame looks like? A tiny Puerto Rican lady I recall mostly through hazy memories of other people’s stories.

My shame–she takes many forms. She’s crafty like that. The day I told my mother I was pregnant drenched blue with shame. Even March in Connecticut couldn’t cool the red hot burning humiliation of also admitting I wasn’t quite sure who the father was. There were only two options but shame stood on the coffee table and screamed, “Whore!” I had no recollection. The night was a blackout. One of many. Disgrace filled me with darkness.

After he begged me, “please, don’t have this baby.” I again went to my mother and told her my news. My shame turned cold and gray. Like the sky on the March day he sat in the waiting area while I was counseled, poked, and prodded. I found it ironic the vaginal ultrasound wand looked exactly like a vibrator. Maybe I wouldn’t have ended up there if I’d just taken care of myself.

***

That was 2009, a decade before, “you know me,” would become a trending hashtag on Twitter. Hell, it was before most people even knew what a hashtag was. In May 2019, on her talk show “Busy Tonight,” host Busy Phillips shared facts and figures from a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. “The statistic is one in four women will have an abortion before age 45,” she said. “That statistic sometimes surprises people, and maybe you’re sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t know a woman who would have an abortion.’ Well, you know me.”

Phillips followed up her on-air insight with a social media post, creating the hashtag #YouKnowMe. The response was instant. Thousands of women shared their own abortion stories. Scrolling through Instagram, I came across Phillips’s post. The pinprick of tears surprised me. I was certain in the last ten years I had processed my feelings about my own abortion. It turned out I was wrong.

Reading post after post of women publicly sharing their stories cracked something open inside me. Tears streamed down my face. Shame can’t live in the light. Busy Phillips shined a bright hot light on abortion and women everywhere stepped into it. I tried to step into it too. Typing and re-typing my own post. Trying to find the right words that would eradicate my shame. I couldn’t find them. I hadn’t realized yet that inherited shame isn’t a gift you have to accept. There is, in fact, a return process for other people’s judgments—even from family. It starts with boundaries and it ends with the truth. I had failed to protect myself from unwanted pregnancy but I was not a failure. #YouKnowMe

Bethany Petano grew up and still resides in New England. Her work has been published in the literary journals Weatherbeaten and Meat for Tea. She has an M.F.A. in Creative Non-fiction from Bay Path University.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


We love this book for so many reasons! The writing is incredible, the story is important, and seeing what life looks like when you survive the unthinkable is transformative. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Sanctuary, by Emily Rapp Black. Purchase at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Kindness, parenting, Self Love

Golden Repair: A Disfigured Mom’s Quest to Raise a More Loving Child

February 8, 2021
god

By Melissa Akie Wiley

She looked at my face with disgust. My infant daughter cooed. I had just placed the baby into a shopping cart when the woman first approached. A stranger. She came too close. Staring at my daughter.

“Your baby is perfect,” she said. “She looks like a doll.”

I thanked her and pulled the cart away. Then the woman looked up at me and froze. She was silent and scurried to her car, as if I might run after her. I stood in front of the grocery store with my daughter. The automatic doors opened and closed but I didn’t move. My baby smiled. Too young to know that she is beautiful but her mother is disfigured.

My daughter is 2 years old now. She has round blue eyes and blonde hair. Her face inspires joy. My face is lopsided and scarred. It was a dog attack. I was five. I am not afraid of dogs. People always seem more concerned about my feelings toward dogs than they do about me. I have had over thirty surgeries and they helped. But my face is instantly noticeable. And the world is bothered by asymmetry and imperfection. I am also part Japanese and part white. My skin is too pale and my hair is too dark. People tell me that my daughter is perfect and then they say she looks nothing like me.

I have never looked like anyone. Bi-racial and disfigured is a cocktail of isolation. In childhood, I left my hometown of Boulder, Colorado every summer to visit my Japanese grandma in Tucson, Arizona. One summer I begged her to take me to a crowded shopping mall to buy doll clothes. I was 7 years old.

“Did you see that disgusting girl?” a woman said then.

She was talking to her daughter and looking directly at me.

The girl met my eyes and glared. Her hair twisted in a tight braid. I dreamed of ponytails but didn’t dare wear my hair up. I looked at the girl’s flawless appearance and sank into shame.

“So gross. I can’t believe she even came out of her house. She’s going to give me nightmares. She’s a monster,” the girl said. She was my age and already this callous.

The mother hugged her daughter and shot my grandma a scowl.

Then she said, “I’m so sorry, sweetie. People should know better but she’s clearly with some immigrant nanny who probably doesn’t even speak English.”

We stood in silence with our doll clothes. I felt devastation that my grandma should suffer due to my deformity. I tried to wedge myself behind stacks of toys to prevent further commentary. My grandma adjusted her glasses with shaky hands.

“I am sorry I don’t speak good English,” she said.

That day she bought more doll clothes than she could afford. She had worked as a hotel maid and saved tips in the form of crisp dollar bills. She set this carefully preserved money aside for me. When we approached the counter to pay for the items, the cashier said, “what’s wrong with her face?”

“Nothing wrong with my granddaughter,” she said, in broken English.

Once I asked my mom if she was mad at God. We were sitting in my grandma’s backyard in Tucson. Looking at the night sky. It’s easier to talk about God’s failings in the dark.

On the day of the dog attack, she had only looked away for a minute. Long enough to drain noodles from a boiling pan. When she turned around, the yard lay covered in blood and my face was gone.

“No,” she said. “Because you are extraordinary. You have shown me what it is to live next to suffering and become truly beautiful.”

People ask how I survived. The answer is my mom.

I want to tell her that I am not mad at God because he gave me her, and a good mom is worth more than a pretty face.  I am thankful I learned this lesson in youth. When I still have more years on the earth with my mom.

Tragedy in childhood is a spiritual offering. Early redemption creates a fast track toward a more meaningful and grounded life. I shed the frivolousness of appearance, money, and status like a butterfly discards a cocoon. Because when the world rejected me, I sheltered only with the tender hearted and my own soul. And if we’re lucky, that is where we all eventually end up anyway.

My daughter will grow up with a disfigured mom.

On my daughter’s first day of Kindergarten, middle school, high school, and college, I will take photos of her and children will stare. After I am gone, they will ruin these moments of childhood by asking what’s wrong with her mom. I know this because these moments were taken from me, too.

I will want to stay in the car to spare her. But I will not. Instead I will show up for everything. And when we hear the comments, I will tell her that the Japanese have a word, Kintsugi, which roughly translates to golden repair. It is the Japanese art of taking broken pottery and patching it with gold so that the imperfection is illuminated instead of disguised. I will tell her that my mother’s love was the glue that made my flawed life golden. And my love will hold her together, too.

This pain will make my daughter kind. It will teach her that the world is unduly harsh because we are all more broken than whole. And she will learn that love is restorative and the only thing of true beauty. She will inherit this wisdom in childhood. When we are both still young enough to walk the earth together.

And when people ask, I hope she says, “There is nothing wrong with my mom”.

Melissa Akie Wiley is a public servant and fierce local government leader by day and a mother and writer by heart. She strives to infuse joy into all aspects of service by living with authenticity and resiliance. After overcoming a disfiguring childhood dog attack, Melissa committed to a life of repair and love. She holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania and lives with her husband, daughter, and dog in Denver, Colorado. She is the director of the nationally-recognized, Denver Peak Academy and is currently working on her memoir.

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We love this book for so many reasons! The writing is incredible, the story is important, and seeing what life looks like when you survive the unthinkable is transformative. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Sanctuary, by Emily Rapp Black. Purchase at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Click here for all things Jen

Eating/Food, Guest Posts, Self Image

Body Unlovable

May 8, 2019
body

By Karie Fugett

In my small Alabama high school, before I’d ever considered the calories I put into my body, a boy told me I needed to eat more cornbread to get some meat on my bones. He told me I had a flat ass, then said “But at least you got DSL.” I was fourteen. I was fourteen and I’d never heard of DSL, so I had to ask around to find out what that meant. This was before the high speed internet DSL. Back then, according to another boy who laughed at me when I asked, it meant dick sucking lips. I’d never considered that before, either.

. . .

When I quit high school, I gained weight rapidly. In a single year, a whole 20 pounds.  I was no longer on Adderall, was no longer playing sports. When my boyfriend at the time broke up with me, I stood at a payphone, cars buzzing by on a highway, all of them oblivious to the tragedy that was unfolding on the sidewalk. He told me he’d gone to New Orleans and cheated. “I got my dick sucked. I never wanna see you again.” He actually fucking said that.  I figured it was the weight I’d gained, and I craved punishment for letting it happen. That night, I stood looking in the mirror, crying, and cut a large chunk of my hair off, dyed my hair black, buried myself in my closet under a pile of garbage-bagged clothes mom kept forgetting to bring to Goodwill. I wished I could cut the fat off, too, leave chunks of my body hidden in the closet, pretend it never happened. Instead, I cried and I cried and I cried some more, the wet plastic from the trash bags sticking to my arms, my hair crooked and dark, my body unlovable. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Love Is A Hell Of A Drug

September 20, 2018
love

By Jasmine Sims

You fell in love with the word long ago. You watched the movies and figured out that was something you wanted. You didn’t realize that you had, early on, fallen into an addiction that you’d spend your life looking for.

You looked for it in the eyes of your father. Prided yourself in being daddy’s little girl. You lived for his laugh and nod of approval like an addict. The mere acknowledgment of your presence and masquerade of acceptance was enough of a hit to keep you pushing until the next time. You didn’t know you were the daughter of a drug addict, because he hid it so well that you didn’t realize when you visited his friends and left you in the car you were at a crack house. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Loveless at 34

July 12, 2017
garbage

By Shauna Lange

The day I found out I was having a heart attack, was a day like any other.  Other than the radiating pain in my arm and chest every time I moved, it was a fairly average day.  I smoked my two cigarettes on the way to work.  I typed my spreadsheets, drank my coffee, enjoyed some laughs with friends, binged at every meal, and smoked my last 2 cigarettes on the way to my second job.  Most importantly, I spent a good portion of the day internally bullying myself for every calorie, every mistake and bullshit excuse, with the good old stand-by “I’ll just try again tomorrow” – rationalizing every ugly moment.

Since complete self-loathing accompanies the decision to eat a few too many McDonald’s french fries, sans ketchup (to save some calories) you can only imagine my emotional state when the ER doctor came to me later that evening.  With a look of shock on her face, she told me that I was having a heart attack. As the tears streamed down my face, with a gaggle of hospital staff staring at me, paralyzed by my meltdown, I realized how truly broken I was.

I felt rejected by my own body.  How could it do this to me?  Stupid heart.  Lazy ass.  Ugly idiot. Fucking food addict.  I stayed up all night in the hospital in this state of anger and loss. I cried or I berated myself.  I sat there for hours and tried to figure out all the things I had done that lead me to that moment.  The years of poor eating and binging, the avoidance of exercise over the last year, the decision to take myself off my diabetes meds while putting myself on birth control to avoid my fear of pregnancy, all the way to the final cigarette I tried to have in the car as I drove myself to the hospital with pain shooting from my chest to my arm.

March 22, 2017 was my day of reckoning.  It was time to pay for my sins.  At 34 years of age, I was now confronted with the reality that all aspects of my life needed to change.  Each health issue needed to be addressed; each coping mechanism needed to be taken away and replaced with something healthy.  And while I had spent the last four years of my life making some healthy strides emotionally and physically, it was time to take off the kid gloves and dig into the mess.  Quit smoking, control my diabetes, exercise, and most importantly, finally deal with my compulsive eating.

I spent the first few weeks after getting out of the hospital lost.  For me, it’s been difficult not to blame my own actions for my heart attack.  “If only.”  The words circled around in my brain every day. While I was able to quit smoking and start exercising fairly easily, the food continues to be a struggle.  For the last 15 years, binging has been a way of life.  Food is used to celebrate or mask all emotion.  Hating myself for eating is an automatic response.  Choosing to eat poorly is easy, and frankly, safe and comforting.  Once that food is shoved into my mouth, an insult immediately follows.  With each bite I take, I berate myself, and imagine years of fast food piled on top of each other, an impenetrable wall in my stomach while the self-hate has created a wall around my heart so I feel loveless.  No love can get in, and no love will come out.

Where did my love go?  I don’t have problems expressing love, or cheering people up.  In fact, making people laugh is my favorite thing about life.  Making someone truly laugh is powerful.  So, why do I stop the love from penetrating my heart?  Where is my self-compassion, my patience, my own truth?  Even when people asked me how I was doing, I replied very upbeat and excited and made sure to reassure them that I was good.

I finally admitted to myself that I failed.  Not at losing the weight, or taking care of myself, or listening to the experts, or any of the shit the world throws at you.  I failed at loving my body, inside and out.  I became loveless at 34. “You gotta love yourself first” they say, right?  Fuck that. You have to love period. I realized that so often, I’m not actually sad or mad or angry.  I THINK I need to feel this way.  That my life should have some drama in it, or it’s not worthy.  But when I asked myself – “Worthy of what?”  – I came up with a lot of bullshit and decided enough was enough.  I admitted that while I can enlist the help of family, friends, doctors, nurses, nutritionists and therapists, they can’t do the work for me.  They can love me, and I can love them, but I still need to love myself.  This is starting to sound like an ad for masturbation….Let’s move on.

I admitted that regardless of the number on the scale, size of my boobs, the strength of my arms, the color of my nails, or the shininess of my hair, what is actually important to me are the beating organs that keep me alive. The gifts of the senses.  The ability to sleep and dream and wake up rested and ready to take life by the proverbial lady balls.  My body is not a garbage disposal, a punching bag, or a broken piece of glass. It’s fucking beautiful, in all its messy, fatty, sexy glory.

I may have a stent in my artery, but that just means I’m one piece closer to being bionic! I’ve got amazing bedhead.  I love my eyes, and sometimes I look at them in the mirror because the color is so unique.  If you ask me, my boobs are perfect.  I hate wearing a bra, and thankfully, my breasts are still a little perky!  My brain never stops, and while sometimes it’s exhausting, I love the constant state of randomness it’s in.

I’m learning to love the bloody, messy bleeding heart inside me.  I want to tear the wall down and build a nice soft pillow to protect it and keep it safe.  My heart is my queen, and she’s getting stronger every day.

I am beautiful, and I am fat. I have heart disease, and I am a diabetic. I am both complicated and simple.  I am love, and I am pain. I am loud and shy. We are all these amazing dichotomies and creations of our own choosing, and I am learning to embrace all the good and the bad, because I no longer want to be perfect.  I just want to be me, and as corny and cheesy as it sounds, it took breaking my heart to find the courage to accept that I want to live a life full of love.

Shauna Lange was born and raised in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. She has a BA in Psychology from Lemoyne College in Syracuse NY. While she dreamed of being a writer since she was a kid, it’s only been recently that she has allowed myself to write, and share it with the world. Shauna can be found on facebook and on instagram. She also loves photography, comedies, and the beach.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. Sep 30-October 7, 2017.. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

 

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Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

Guest Posts, Self Image, The Body

One Twenty Three

October 10, 2016
body

By Beth Cartino

Obscene.

This is the word I hear in my head whenever I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a car window, bathroom mirror, or full body photograph. I sometimes freeze in disbelief. I have no idea who this reflection belongs to.

A dress, seemingly tasteful and flowing on a smaller body becomes obscene over the dimpled creased lines of mine. My body always seems as if it is trying to burst out of my clothes. I wonder how I live with myself sometimes. I wonder when my body betrayed me. I wonder when I betrayed by body and why have I made the distinction between myself and my body. I am two separate beings inhabiting the same skin and we are at war. We are mortal enemies. I am the Hatfield’s and my body the McCoy’s. I am Irish Catholic, my body Protestant.

There can be no peace between us.

I am my own body terrorist. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, The Body

I Know What You’re Staring At- Teeth and Class in America.

September 30, 2016

By Celeste Gurevich

The scene goes like this: you are chatting with someone, somewhere, and because you’re half deaf in your right ear, you’re standing pretty close so you don’t lose the ends of words. You’re right there in the conversation, and then that thing happens. That jolt in your body when you see the person’s eyes looking a little bit crossed and aimed lower down, and you realize that they’re not looking you in the eyes anymore, but not quite at your chin either and somehow their gaze is both loose and locked.

And then, like every time, that stomach melting wallop of shame. It blasts into your nerve endings and makes you want to cry. Or run. Bolt stage left, and crawl under a rock.

Because that crossed eyed dip of the eyes south means they are staring at the crack in your front tooth.     Continue Reading…

Compassion, Guest Posts, Surviving

The Dress That Binds, Or How I Learned To Love My Mother

July 15, 2016
mother

By Jill Rothenberg

I held the delicate piece of lace tulle between my fingers, the light pink froth of it peeking out between the hot pink of the skirt layered on top. I pulled it off the rack and held it out at arm’s length, considering what kind of top would be perfect: plain white bodysuit or the cream-colored sweater with gold bling at the neck? Would the perfectly coordinated pastel pink fur coat be too much?

I took them from the rack and considered them all, holding each over the skirt in my right hand.

“Jesus Christ, I’ve been looking all over the store for you. Put that stuff down and come on.”

I jumped and turned around, the clothes falling to the floor.

There was my boyfriend, who had caught me red-handed in the little girl’s section of Target.

You would have thought he caught me with porn. Continue Reading…

beauty, Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, self-loathing, The Body

The Pretty Machine

January 11, 2016

By Melissa Carroll

When I was little I had an armada of Barbie dolls: Princess Ice Skater Barbie, Safari Barbie, Bikini Beach Barbie. My childhood bedroom was filled with legions of busty blondes. When I was little I was a nerdy girl with a big nose, a girl who got picked last in kickball and faked headaches to miss gym class. At home, when I chopped Barbie’s hair off, I loved the chunked slice of kitchen scissors against her plastic strands. Sometimes I stabbed my Papermate pens into her face to give her blue freckles. Sometimes I curiously examined her, took her pink Velcro dress off, and rotated her stiff limbs in their sockets, plucking out a leg or popping off her head to inspect the plastic bulb holding her impossibly beautiful rubber body together.

*

Certain women in Burma coil brass rings around their necks: slender, braced. The rings weigh down their collarbones, which gives the illusion of an elongated neck. It’s a delicate deformation, the hush of bone and blood.

In Mauritania women are force fed camel’s milk, they are fattened like calves for slaughter. Each brimming calabash promises a man.

Women of North America slice their faces open, peel back skin like almonds boiled in milk—thin, slimy, translucent. They cut their nipples open and insert bags of saline, they paint their faces, bleach their hair, they stick their fingers down their throats.

*

I’m in sixth grade, playing in my backyard with my best friend Carly. We’re inventing a rain dance, clucking our tongues, which looks very much like the chicken dance. This time I’m the shaman, pumping my fists in the air, howling vowels at the sky. We laugh wild, unbroken little girl laughs, loud and crackling.

This is before we learn to laugh while trying to look thin, to laugh and pose for anyone who might be watching. This is when our games are simple and our hair is tangled. We are on the cusp of puberty, when our bodies still belong to us. We have no idea that soon, any minute now, we’ll be fed to the American Pretty Machine, like a wood chipper, arms and legs and brains and hearts on the glittering conveyor belt.

The Pretty Machine materializes into plastic surgeries and celebrity gossip rags and eating disorders and an oil slick of self loathing. It pumps young girls with the idea that being sexy is the most important thing in the world, that looking good equals feeling good. Girls are sent, completely unaware, through the machine and come out the other side shellacked and lacquered, shell-shocked and pretty.

* Continue Reading…

beauty, Gratitude, Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, Women

THE REAL REASON I THINK I’M UGLY TODAY

December 2, 2015

By Jennifer Ann Butler

I looked in the mirror this evening and the first face I made at myself was one of disgust. There I was, in PJ pants, a baseball tee, messy hair in a bun, no makeup, ungroomed eyebrows, and dirty glasses. But I didn’t walk away. I also didn’t correct the reaction. I didn’t say, “NO, Jen. Be NICE to yourself. GAH.” And force myself to say something kind. Because that’s fake. And, frankly, that’s almost worse than the initial face of disgust. At least that reaction was authentic. Even if it wasn’t healthy or kind, it was authentic. It stemmed from somewhere in my psyche and it deserves light. It deserves attention and affection and expression just as the rest of my emotions and thoughts and opinions about myself do.

See, we’re all onto something with there being body image issues and us needing to love ourselves more, but I feel as though we’re going about it in the wrong way. Oftentimes, we’re combatting the issues rather than offering love and tenderness. By faking it until we make it, we are ignoring the emotions that are so desperately vying for our attention. From my [many] hours of research on self-love and self-acceptance, the main approach to increasing self-confidence seems to be through avoidance. Ignore the bad emotion; concentrate on a good one. Who decided which emotions were good and which were bad? What about making an effort to understand the roots of the emotions instead? What does that look like?

What I’ve learned through asking myself these questions is that we are more than who we are in this very moment. I am more than Jen Butler at 9:54PM on a Sunday night. I am also the Jen Butler from exactly four months ago, when my relationship surprisingly and suddenly crumbled, spending the entire night switching between inhaling the scent of my then-boyfriend’s Hawaiin shirt and reminding myself that yes, I could breathe, despite what my anxiety attack was telling me. I am the Jen Butler who went to the MRI and PET Scan by myself in February of 2014 when the doctors thought my melanoma had returned and metastasized in my brain. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want anyone to think I was overreacting. I am the Jen Butler from December 29th, 2011 who stood and watched as my horse was injected with a potent drug that ceased his heartbeat because I didn’t want him to go through the pains of surgeries and be confined to a stall and fed through a tube. I am the Jen Butler who swallowed a bottle full of prescription pills in March of 2011 in an effort to end my life because of how much of a burden I believed my presence to be. I am the 24-year-old Jen who listened intently as my then-boyfriend drunkenly told me of the stripper’s breasts he’d fondled that evening, afraid that if I showed the pain I felt that I would scare him away. I am the 21-year-old Jen who patiently listened to my then-boss’s wife call me a laundry list full of excuses when I explained that my daily retail sales were lower than normal due to having rolled my Trailblazer four times (or five times?) across a few lanes of I-75 the night prior and having a resulting concussion. I didn’t argue. I didn’t stand up for myself. I listened. I even agreed. I remained in my comfortable discomfort of voiceless victimhood. Continue Reading…

feminism, Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts, Young Voices

A 16 Year Old Writes “The Day I Became A Woman.”

November 5, 2015

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station: This is a piece for my “Young Voices” series. It was written by  Anastasia Kranz who is sixteen years old.  I am in the process of organizing the next Girl Power workshop so please stay tuned to this site and my social media, especially @GirlPowerYouAreEnough on instagram.

I am looking for more young voices to publish so please submit if you have something to say. Please note, if you are under 18 you must have parental permission unless you are using a pseudonym. I am so excited to be working on the book Girl Power: You Are Enough, as well as the workshop for young women which has been a HUGE success so far. Please help me spread the word and sign up or sign your daughters/nieces/friends. I am also in the process of selecting ambassadors to represent #GirlPowerYouAreEnough. More information on this on my instagram at @jenpastiloff. Love, Jen

By Anastasia Kranz

The day I became a woman was not the expected landmark in my puberty, it was the day I realized I needed to be a feminist. There were many factors that culminated in this epiphanic moment, and all of them were issues that I would later find addressed by feminism.

Two years ago, at fourteen, I was obsessed with the prospect of a perfect body. Despite asthma and a lack of athletic skills, I forced myself to run every single day after school. On a warm day in June I put on my running sneakers and started my workout playlist. As I was running, I heard a harsh voice—I turned around and the biggest fear of my preteen life was realized. A middle-aged man had pulled his car up next me and was opening the passenger door. He yelled “Get in the car!” repeatedly at my trembling face. I froze, then ran in the opposite direction, only pausing at the traffic light where I met my friend–to whom I didn’t relay the story. Later, when I got home, I didn’t even tell my mother. At the time, I wanted my freedom—and I needed freedom because I wanted to burn calories. At the time, I did not understand that I had just experienced an attempted kidnapping.

The scariest part of the event was surprisingly not when a man attempted to abduct me. Instead, it was what I was told by the police, a few days later, after I told my parents what had happened. I met with a detective whom I believed would be helpful and supportive. Instead, the detective labeled me guilty: for not reporting the event earlier, but also for the running clothes I’d been wearing. In the gray box of a room, I sat with my knees hugged to my chest and listened to the detective tell me that I should not have been outside alone wearing “provocative” activewear. Then he said that if, per se, my little sister had been abducted in the time that I had waited to report the event, then her abduction would have been my fault. The shame and guilt I felt from the words of this man were the detrimental effects of victim blaming. I knew that what he said was wrong and problematic, but I did not learn what those phrases meant until later down my journey when I learned about feminism. Once that word was in my vocabulary it became my identity and I discovered that this would be part of me for the rest of my life.

Continue Reading…