Browsing Tag

shame

Guest Posts

Secrets.

March 11, 2015

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By Maryann Gray.

I was 13, in 8th grade, and my mother had enrolled me in the John Roberts School of Charm, which was around the corner from the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Every Saturday, I rode the train by myself from Scarsdale to Grand Central Station, took the Madison Avenue bus uptown to 59th street, and devoted the hours of 9:00 a.m. to noon to classes on make-up (called “make-down” in JRP), wardrobe, figure control, and something called “poise and personality.” After, I went to lunch with the girls in my class and then we wandered around the Upper East Side until it was time to go home.

There was something about the ride from Grand Central back to Scarsdale that brought out the melancholy in me. The train started in a long black tunnel, and then emerged into daylight somewhere in Harlem to roll by tenements and housing projects. They were so close to the tracks I could see anemic houseplants reaching for sun on fire escape landings and window curtains fluttering in the breeze. There was something pathetic and brave about these small efforts to prettify urban grit. Gradually the city gave way to the Westchester suburbs, where I could catch glimpses of a stream running alongside the tracks and see the back sides of houses, with their swing sets and cement patios. They were further away from the tracks than the tenements but close enough that train noise had to be a fact of life. I felt sorry for those families – the only houses they could afford were the ones that no one really wanted. The closer we got to Scarsdale, the denser the trees alongside the tracks became.

The train ride home was both comforting and lonely. My day had been devoted to the hope, or maybe fantasy is a better word, that I could be beautiful, self-assured, and popular. Now I was returning to my real life, uncomfortably aware that charm school was not going to fix me. I stared out the window and wrapped myself in depression like a big cozy blanket.

I carried a notebook with me on these days, so I could take notes at JRP. Moisturize before applying foundation, I wrote. Use a sponge. Always stroke upwards. I made shopping lists — eyelash curler, lip liner, good tweezers, natural bristle brushes, a magnifying mirror. I recorded my homework assignments. Walk with a book on my head for ten minutes every day. Do twenty side bends, twenty toe-touches, and twenty twists every other day. Once a week, apply an egg facial. Let the egg come to room temperature. Separate the white from the yolk. Smear the yolk all over your face, except the eyes and lips. Don’t forget under the chin. When it dries, apply the egg white right over the yolk. When that dries, gently wash your face. Pat dry, never rub.

On one of those rides home, tired and morose, I tore a corner off a page in the notebook, and in neat rounded letters wrote, “Help me please.” I folded the scrap, then folded it again, and slipped it in the thin crack between the window and the metal frame.

Even as I did it, I knew I was being adolescent and overwrought. I hadn’t been kidnapped and held as some maniac’s sex slave. I wasn’t dying a tragic death from a rare and painful disease. I was healthy, loved, and heading home to Scarsdale, where my mother would pick me up at the train station and take me to Lord and Taylor, so we could buy eyeliner and maybe a sweater.

But as soon as I tucked that note into the window frame, I longed for someone to find it. I wanted them to wonder about the girl who left it there (they’d think “girl” because my handwriting was pretty obviously feminine). Maybe it would be the conductor, cleaning up the train at the end of the line, a couple of hours away in Connecticut. Maybe he would read the note and remember the quiet girl in the blue dress, and maybe he would be extra nice to me the next time I rode the train. Or perhaps somebody’s father would read it, a businessman on his way home from work. He would feel badly for the mysterious unhappy girl and wish he could find her and give her a hug. Or maybe another girl about my own age would read it, and she would understand. “Help me, too,” she might write before slipping the note back where she found it. Or maybe some cute boy would find it and feel touched by the note’s raw vulnerability. He might start riding in that carriage every Saturday afternoon, studying the passengers until he noticed me and knew right away that I was the author. Maybe someone, an old lady perhaps, would find the note and call the conductor over. “Do you think we should call the police?” she might ask. “Someone on this train needed help.”

What was most likely, I knew, was that no one read it. It probably got plucked from the window and tossed in the trash, along with gum wrappers, cigarette butts, soda cans, food bags, and other notes from other lonely girls.

But it was at least possible that someone read it, and that was enough. The note became my precious secret. I thought about it all the time – while waiting to be excused from the dinner table at home, struggling with pre-algebra homework, and watching other kids flirt on the playground while I sat on the bleachers and pretended to read.

I thought about leaving a note on the train every week, but that first one said it all. I had written down my prayer, although I didn’t call it that at the time, and sent it into the universe.

***

A few months after graduating from JRP, I made up a boyfriend. That summer, instead of going back to sleep-away camp in Maine, I signed up for a teen tour and spent six weeks traveling across country with 30 girls and 5 chaperones. We started in Denver, made our way west, drove up the California coast, and then flew to Hawaii. We stayed in luxury hotels and traveled to fancy restaurants in a fleet of limousines. We had to wear dresses, and we weren’t allowed to chew gum or date. Everyone complained about missing McDonalds, but I only pretended to miss it because I’d never been permitted to eat there.

The cliques formed quickly. There were the losers – the girl with the badly repaired harelip, the one who was maybe just a little bit retarded. There were the sophisticates – an impossibly thin girl who hid from the sun because a tan would hinder her modeling career, a girl whose last name placed her in one of the wealthiest families in the world, a girl who was going to boarding school in France after the teen tour. Then there were the girls with attitude. They couldn’t believe they had to wear a pastel dress and spring coat to sit in a box seat at the Hollywood Bowl and listen to stupid classical music while their friends back east were on their way to a rock concert somewhere in upstate New York. They sneaked onto their hotel balconies late at night to smoke joints that they scored from boys on the street. They scowled at the chaperones, broke the rules every chance they got, and were staunchly unimpressed by things like museums or even the marble bathrooms in the I. Magnin department store in Beverly Hills. They preferred to hang out by the pool and flirt with boys.

Iris Bishop was the center of this clique. She had long red hair and big breasts. She was as sultry as a 15-year old can be. Everyone knew that Iris had a boyfriend back home in Philadelphia. He sent letters to each hotel on our itinerary, and she was constantly bumming stamps for letters and postcards back to him.

I wanted to hang out with Iris and her clique. I wanted to be one of them, unafraid of adult condemnation, a little contemptuous, ready for adventure. At first, they wanted nothing to do with me. My clothes were too conservative, my manners too deferential. I was a goody-goody, afraid of breaking the rules. To solve this problem, I invented a boyfriend, telling Iris all about him on one long bus ride from Denver to Aspen. His name was Robbie, he was three years older than me, and I met him through my cousin. We had to sneak around because his parents were poor and mine were rich. We hadn’t gone all the way, but we had made out on the bed with most of our clothes off. I loved him, but had broken it off just before the summer because I was going to college and he wasn’t, so we really had no future together.

Iris became my friend. We spent hours trading stories about our boyfriends, and she picked me to be her roommate at each hotel. Under her tutelage, I learned to ignore instructions from the chaperones and flirt with boys just for the heck of it (because I was still in love with Robbie and not ready for another relationship. In Hawaii, I stole a golf cart one evening and we careened around the resort grounds laughing hysterically until hotel security stopped us and the chaperones threatened to send us home. It was the highlight of the entire trip, much better than the 17-mile Drive or Hearst Castle. On the last night of the trip, Iris and I vowed to stay friends forever. “I used to think you were so straight, but that was before I knew about Robbie,” she said, and we both laughed and laughed.

I never told anyone that I lied to her. It was my secret, private information. I didn’t feel guilty about it; if anything I was proud of the way I’d figured out how to make friends. The girl who was in a passionate but troubled relationship with Robbie felt more like the real me than the girl who took notes on make-up techniques at the John Robert School of Charm, spent her weekend evenings baby-sitting for the neighbors, and had never been kissed. She was the false self, all wrapped in anxiety and ambivalence. The real me was bold and sexy, and she would emerge as soon as I shed the cocoon of family and childhood that still encased me.

I had another secret that summer, too. The secret was that I couldn’t stop thinking about killing myself. I had no intention of actually doing it. When Iris and I paraded to the beach in our bikinis, shared tokes off a joint after escaping the chaperones, or traded stories about our boyfriends, I felt happy. But as soon as I was alone for any period of time, my thoughts turned to death, specifically suicide. Often this occurred on our bus or car rides, when I felt the same sad sense of dislocation that came over me on the train. A few years later, when I read about anomie in sociology class, I had a label for what I felt, a dull depression that put me at a distance from everyone and everything. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to cry as that it seemed like my smile muscles were permanently frozen.

In Los Angeles, I dared myself, knowing I’d never do it, to fling open the door of the limousine carrying us to Universal Studios and jump out onto the freeway. A few days later, as we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway in a chartered bus, I tuned out the chaperone’s lecture on Cannery Row and wondered what it would feel like to run to the edge of a cliff and jump. Would I reach the water, or land on the rocks below? Would I be scared? Would it kill me? During our surfing lesson in Hawaii, I had the strongest urge to just keep paddling out to sea, until I was out of sight of our group and the shoreline receded and all I could see was water.

I had these impulses everywhere we went. But then I’d hear Iris’ throaty laugh, or someone would poke me or ask me a question, or the chaperones would hand out treats, and just like that it was over. I could smile, I could talk, I was a normal girl again.

Months after the teen tour had ended, my sister eavesdropped on a telephone call I had with Iris. “I heard you,” she said as soon as I hung up with phone. “You made up a boyfriend, didn’t you? That’s so pathetic.”

I hated my sister that day, for listening in and discovering my secret and then for exposing me. Most of all, I hated her for confronting me with my lies. I wasn’t the person that Iris thought I was, or the person that I could believe myself to be when I was with her. I was just me, flushed with shame and full of impotent anger.

 

***

When I was 22 years old and had largely but not entirely quit making up lies, I accidentally killed an 8-year old boy named Brian who darted in front of my car. News about the accident spread rapidly in the small Ohio college town. The son of one of my professors played on the same little league team with the boy who died; the department secretary belonged to their church. The local newspaper ran a story about the accident including my name and address. For months, I couldn’t not talk about it. The accident totally dominated my attention; it was all I had room for. I told the story over and over again, to friends, to my therapist, to the lawyer, to the insurance agent. It was an edited story, though, a story that left out some details. I didn’t do this as part of some master plan. I simply had no vocabulary for certain aspects of the experience. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Binders, Guest Posts, Race/Racism

A Glossary of Ambiguous Terms for Difficult Situations.

February 5, 2015

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By Laurence Dumortier.

Cocksure (adj.):

In September I arrive in Italy for my Junior Year Abroad thinking I know a thing or two about life. I have had two “big” relationships, each lasting about two years. I’ve had sex a lot, mostly with my boyfriends, but also a few weird one-night stands. I’ve also been hurt, and this makes me feel tough. I’ve been alone since the summer and liking it. I don’t need anyone. I just want to learn Italian, eat with abandon, drink it all in.

In truth I know nothing about a million things—including love and sex—I just don’t know that I don’t know them.

Infatuation (n.):

When I first meet Arthur he seems shy but friendly, and with a winning smile.

Everything feels new and exciting, though, so there isn’t a lot of excitement left over for boys. I’m more intrigued by my flat-mate Carolyn. She seems even more knowing than I think I am. She grew up in New York; she is knowledgeable about art; she studies film and semiotics and in an argument she can make her point with deadly accuracy; she is on the tail end of a painful breakup and looking for distraction; she is devastatingly funny and beautiful. I don’t know it yet but she will become, and remain to this day, one of my closest friends and co-conspirators.

Tight (adj.):

There is a lot of drinking in Italy, but it feels joyous and grown-up. We make dinner in our tiny Italian kitchens and though we are inexpert, it all somehow ends up tasting delicious. It’s hard to go wrong with tomatoes and zucchini and whatever is in season, all ripened to bursting, glorious with flavor, picked up from the little fruit-and-vegetable man down the block.

Our little group of Junior-Yearers is intimate and funny. It feels safe somehow to flirt, to laugh, to begin new adventures. There are a few outliers in the group, doing their own thing, but there is no hostility, we are chill.

Thirst (n.):

On Halloween we dress up. This is over twenty years ago in Italy, in a town with few Americans or Brits, so Halloween is just our little group. We party. I end up on the balcony of one of the flats with Arthur. We are kissing and it is surprisingly, electrifyingly, good. Back in his bedroom we take off our clothes. I notice his body which is beautiful and strong in a way I never knew I would care about. His beauty, and his interest in my body, the way he looks at me, makes me feel beautiful too. I have never felt that way before, I’ve always thought of myself as okay, cute-ish, verging on ugly at times. It is a strange thing to feel beautiful. In his bed, his face, which had earlier struck me as pleasant, looks beautiful too. It’s like love at first sight, except we’ve been exchanging pleasantries for months.

In the next weeks we spend whole days curled up in bed together, laughing, fucking, sleeping, listening to music. I feel like I’m on the drugs. The feel of his skin under my fingertips is like that weird velvety buzz of being on X. Continue Reading…

Dear Life., Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts

Dear Life: I’m Emotionally Out of Steam & My Solace is Food.

February 4, 2015

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Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by author Kim Kankiewicz.

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. ps, I will see you in NYC and Atlanta next month for my workshops!

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Dear Life,

I am struggling and would love your insight.

I would love nothing more than to find my purpose, get in tune with who I really am in the universe and find a way to love myself but feel drowned in the demands of every day life. Between my job (teacher for kids with special needs) my husband, my two kids, and my animal rescue work, it is all I can do to stay afloat emotionally. I am grateful to have so many opportunities every day to nurture others but there are those times that all I want to do is curl up in a corner, close my eyes, plug my ears, and just float away somewhere where I don’t need to give any more. Is that sefish? Is that wrong?

My solace is food, but in the opposite way that it was when Jen Pastiloff wrote about her anorexic years. I cannot control my eating. When I eat, I don’t have to think or give. Eating is something just for me, something safe, something that fills me. I now have passed the dreaded 200 lb. mark and the shame is overwhelming. I have tried every diet known to man and nothing works long term.

I struggle with my spirituality and my belief in who God is, what my life means, what my purpose is in this world. I want to have some solid ground under my feet, to not question whether my life is good enough, whether I am fulfilling my purpose. I have loved the few yoga classes I have taken, but going to classes is hard, as my husband and I work full time and with the kids, homework, sports, etc. it seems there is no time.

I know I need to make a change but have no idea where to start. I don’t know how to learn to love myself when all I feel is shame in my appearance, and resentment that I don’t have the ability to travel to different places, to learn the things I want to learn about, and to take the time to figure out my “higher self”.

Please know that I love my family, my career, and my rescue work dearly but I am emotionally out of steam. I need to recharge my batteries in a serious way and take charge of my inner and outer health. As I said though, I have no idea how to begin.

Any advice would be extremely helpful…
Thanks,

Struggling

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, Women

An Open Letter To All Companies Who Body Shame Women.

January 27, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Annie Sertich.

I’ve been so inspired by #thisgirlcan (an ad in Britain to get chicks active age 14-40).

So a few months ago, a bestie Mindy Sterling (actor from Austin Powers), and I were shopping at the Promenade in Santa Monica, California. We went into Joe’s jeans.

A sweet, cute, 20-something girl greeted us. We smiled back. Then after about 15 seconds she said to me, and only me… ’Just so you know we have more sizes in the back.’

“Huh?” I said.

“We have bigger sizes in the back.’ She sweetly said.

I laughed.

**And this is NOT a post fishing for anything other than I needed to share how bummed this made me for women/girls eating gum for dinner. Plus really Joe’s? LAME.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, healing

Sugar Spots: On Being Bulimic.

January 15, 2015

 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

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. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Sep 26-Oct 3, 2015

By Kit Rempala.

“So, this is rock bottom,” I find myself thinking again.  “How does it feel?”  Just seconds before I had been bounding up the stairs into the darkness, calling to my family that I’d be back in a few minutes, smiling. Always smiling.  But once that light clicks on, that door slides closed, the lock turns over with that slow, grinding sound that reminds me of stiff, cracking joints – the world goes silent.  On the other side of that door the rest of the house vanishes, as if I’ve been scooped up and deposited into the back pocket of the world.  My entire universe is reduced to a bathroom.   And once that lock turns over, I’ve got nothing left.

To me, rock bottom looks an awful lot like the bottom of a toilet bowl.  With one hand around my skinny ankle and a toothbrush down my throat, I deposit the last shreds of my dignity into the water below.  I stand to make it easier, though I tell myself it’s because I refuse to kneel before this disease.  It’s a sad way of reassuring myself that there’s still some fight left in me.

The lining of my stomach blisters with the presence of food.  The slightest crumb is too heavy for it to bear.  It rejects each meal like a cancer, stretching bigger and bigger as though it would rather rip than absorb the toxin I’ve planted at its core.  Nerve endings are peppered with the gunfire of pain.  My abdomen swells like the belly of a pregnant woman, preceding me wherever I go.  A dull ache spreads from my midsection to my mind, begging me to make it stop.

I never believed in sin before anorexia and bulimia.  And yet now I feel the burden of sin inside me, not as something I carry but as something I am, a piece within me, an inseparable devil and parasite.  It whispers to me and I believe what it says.  Food angers it; I writhe in its fury – and I find myself craving a salvation that has nothing to do with God.  I crave relief from the heaviness in my guts as much as anyone else craves the food itself.

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Continue Reading…

Anonymous, courage, Guest Posts, healing

Shame to Love: Learning To Live Again After Rape.

August 24, 2014

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Trigger warning: rape/stalking.

By Anonymous.

On our second date, he raped me.

It wasn’t “rape” like I had imagined rape would be. I intended to have sex with him- when we first met, the chemistry was amazing. He was tall, fit, handsome, and charming. Plus, my aunt set us up, which in my mind made him safe. We danced to that stupid “Pina Colada Song” after drinks on date two, and going back to his place might have even been my suggestion.

But there we were, in his bedroom, and my condoms were in my purse downstairs. When I tried to get up to one, he pushed me back. I tried to explain what I was doing.

He called me a slut and held me down. I pushed against him, this 6-foot tall kickboxer, to no avail. I begged him to get a condom, but he wasn’t even hearing me any more.

Oddly, I remember saying to myself, “It’s not rape if you don’t fight back.” Maybe that should have been my nudge to fight this beast. Instead, I resigned.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

The Poop of Life.

June 8, 2014

The Poop of Life or: When Guilt Masks Shame. By Debra Cusick.

When Jen asked me to write something, I thought I’d scribble about guilt because her post on that topic inspired our meeting. So, I did what any good teacher would do, and I went to see what one of my gurus, John Bradshaw, has to say on the subject. His book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, taught me that shame, disguised as toxic guilt, ruled my life. He says, “people will readily admit guilt, hurt or fear before they will admit shame.” So I’ve decided to examine the girl behind the curtain of guilt and expose my toxic shame. I’m free writing, so I have no idea how this will go.

For as far back as I can remember, I had nightmares about a boogieman in the basement closet, who’d appear out of nowhere and slowly come to get me. I could see the evil in his eyes and ran like crazy, to the foot of the stairs. As I’d get about half way to the top, everything would go into slow motion, my feet would turn into sandbags, and I’d stare in horror as his hand came closer to grasping my ankle. I’d awaken–dripping with sweat, heart pounding, ears ringing– and run to my parents bed, only to be further terrorized by my dad’s snoring that soon became the gruff voice of the boogieman, as I into and out of sleep. I couldn’t find what I needed.

Years later, as I recounted that story in group, my therapist told me “The first memory you have becomes your life script. What do you think yours is?” After thinking about it, I concluded that I had erected a “no win” agenda. If I tried to be a “big girl,” the boogieman would come for me, but seeking comfort from my parents (whom I instinctively knew not to awaken—more food for thought) just lead to more misery.

Bradshaw says, “Shame is internalized when one is abandoned. Abandonment is the precise term to describe how one loses one’s authentic self and ceases to exist psychologically.” I lost my authentic self on Sunday, September 25, 1965, when I was 10. The day my mother died. The day before, an ambulance came to our house and took her away. I had been playing in the front yard, when it arrived. I ran inside and hid behind a couch. I could see paramedics wheeling the gurney to the front door with her on it. She saw me peeking though the cushions and in a drug-induced stupor whispered, “Good-bye, Debbie.” Little did I know it would be the last time I’d ever see her.

When the hospital called that morning, I answered the phone. A voice I didn’t recognize asked to speak to my father. Shortly thereafter, he and my oldest sister left in a fury. Two hours later, when they returned, I was practicing my future cheerleader moves in the front picture window. The moment I laid eyes on my father’s face, I knew. Mother’s dead. I had no idea what death meant, but I knew she was dead.

She had explicitly requested that my seven-year-old brother and I not see her dead. She knew she was dying. She knew she had metastatic breast cancer. But I didn’t. People who are sick get better. Even if they go to the hospital, they get better and come home. But she didn’t. I never saw her again. So I sent a part of me with her. Some might say she abandoned me that day. But she didn’t. I abandoned me that day.

Something else happened that day. I decided that—upon seeing my father’s stricken face—I had to save him. I had always been a daddy’s girl, and I couldn’t have a sad dad. Right then and there, I decided I had to be perfect, so he’d have something to take the place of his grief over the loss of my mother. From that moment on, I vowed to myself that I’d make him proud and never disappoint him. Little did I know that within hours of my mother’s death, which completed the fracturing of my family of origin, I’d create two roles for myself, to mask my shame.

The next few days are all a blur, but at the party which normally follows a funeral, when everyone of Irish descent drinks away his pain and laments the dearly departed with laughter and tears, I could only imitate the adults and must have spoken too loudly or merrily because my dad leaned over to whisper for me to “knock it off,” reminding me that “we just buried your mother.”

In this one sentence, I further cemented my no-win script. If I’m happy at an inappropriate moment, I have no heart, but if I express sadness, I’m a baby (later Drama Queen or Depresso). I had disappointed my dad on the very day I had vowed to be his rescuer! SHAME ON ME!

And the shame—too terrifying to admit—turned into guilt. And the guilt reinforced my no-win script. In becoming an overachiever, to make my dad proud—and hide my toxic shame from the world—I set myself up to experience the wrath from peers who wanted what I got. When I made cheerleading, I felt guilty about beating out other girls. Girls whose mothers didn’t want them hanging around with me, because “she doesn’t have a mother.” When there was a competition, I had to win—to make dad proud—but when I did, my peers accused me of thinking I was better than they were.

Society does an excellent job of telling us how to meet its unreal expectations, but I wasn’t going to fail. By god, I had failed to keep my mother from dying; I couldn’t let my father down, too. So, I earned straight A’s, participated in sports and music and honor societies and went to Girl’s State and dated the captain of the football team (which really made my dad happy) and was a homecoming princess and won the staring role of Maria in The Sound of Music, and earned a 1st in State in vocal competitions, got accepted to Northwestern University’s Music School. And felt guilty every step of the way.

If there were ten reasons to feel proud of myself and one reason to feel guilty based on something I heard other’s say, I listened to the voices that accused. I no longer felt guilty. I personified guilt. And I allowed it to wreak havoc in my life. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted (other than love) because I wasn’t a self. I had no idea what “going within” meant because I had no within to go. I operated as an overachieving shell, who won the cookie after a backflip and the accolades that accompany success. And, as long as it worked, I didn’t have to contemplate the shame I felt, if ever there were a quite moment in my world.

I finally crashed at the age of 40, when I couldn’t get my alcoholic husband to quit drinking (and all the other things that go with it). Admitting I’m powerless over the alcoholic? Inconceivable. In my own world of denial, there was nothing I couldn’t achieve. So, I cracked. But—unlike Humpty Dumpty, whose horses and men couldn’t put him back together—I took all the energy I had spent on others (and avoiding my fractured self) and used it to uncover, discover and recover my abandoned self. And while guilt and overachieving alarms still ring, when I stop working my program, I have my tool belt on at all times and know where to go, when I’m tempted to check out over the poop of life.

About Debra Cusick:  I was born, and grew up in NW Indiana, but I tell people Chicago because I am exactly 28 miles SE of the Loop, right over the boarder and can get there faster than most people living in the burbs and besides, it sounds much cooler.  I went to college at Northwestern, right on Lake Michigan but graduated with a Master’s in English from Purdue. I became a single mom—of two of the coolest kids on earth—when they were 4 and 9 months, respectively, and got five jobs in a week, determined to stay in our house.  Ever the overachiever, I worked from home and as a direct report in Chicago, till the kids were both in school all day.  By then, I took a full-time job as the Director of Marketing for the largest prison lighting manufacturer in the USA (before there were too many slammers and more ill-sentenced inmates).  In 1991, I tried my hand at marriage again, and produced my third child, who must have bargained with the gods to come back this life to teach me more than I knew I could learn.  She is a blessing. The marriage wasn’t. I finally had to choose between death and myself . . . and since you’re reading this, you know which I chose.  Seven years of intense experiential therapy later, I emerged, whole for the first time, probably, since birth. I sucked in everything I could from the lighting industry and eventually worked as a manufacturer’s representative in Portland, OR, calling on the architectural and design communities.  I’ve always been a sucker for beauty, natural or man made, and Portland gave me both. Things brought me back to my house in Indiana—which I had rented to strangers for the three years the kids and I lived in OR—and I began teaching composition, research and technical writing at Purdue University Calumet, while I sought more jobs in lighting to pay the bills.  Since 2001, I have served as an adjunct instructor at seven universities (not all at once, but close) and sold outdoor architectural, custom library, architectural asymmetric lighting and specialty lamps. Three years ago, I started to work for the biggest lighting manufacturer on earth, where I conduct energy audits to show large industrials, schools and other huge energy suckers how to save money and cut their carbon footprint.   I was born with drive and a will to succeed.  I just had to learn self-love first.  That has provided the journey of my life.  With many teachers, right when I needed them, my glass has managed to stay at least half-full.  When I take the time to indulge in them, my passions include reading, cooking (I went vegetarian a year ago and LIVE off recipes from Thug Kitchen and other amazing places on the Internet), gardening and interior design.  I have truly made my home, which I share with Patrick—the kindest, coolest and most understanding man I have ever known—and Max, and Cassie—our two longhaired miniature dachshunds—into a sanctuary of peace and creative inspiration.  If my life is half over, I still have time to carry out the rest of my dreams.

About Debra Cusick:
I was born, and grew up in NW Indiana, but I tell people Chicago because I am exactly 28 miles SE of the Loop, right over the boarder and can get there faster than most people living in the burbs and besides, it sounds much cooler. I went to college at Northwestern, right on Lake Michigan but graduated with a Master’s in English from Purdue.
I became a single mom—of two of the coolest kids on earth—when they were 4 and 9 months, respectively, and got five jobs in a week, determined to stay in our house. Ever the overachiever, I worked from home and as a direct report in Chicago, till the kids were both in school all day. By then, I took a full-time job as the Director of Marketing for the largest prison lighting manufacturer in the USA (before there were too many slammers and more ill-sentenced inmates). In 1991, I tried my hand at marriage again, and produced my third child, who must have bargained with the gods to come back this life to teach me more than I knew I could learn. She is a blessing. The marriage wasn’t. I finally had to choose between death and myself . . . and since you’re reading this, you know which I chose. Seven years of intense experiential therapy later, I emerged, whole for the first time, probably, since birth.
I sucked in everything I could from the lighting industry and eventually worked as a manufacturer’s representative in Portland, OR, calling on the architectural and design communities. I’ve always been a sucker for beauty, natural or man made, and Portland gave me both.
Things brought me back to my house in Indiana—which I had rented to strangers for the three years the kids and I lived in OR—and I began teaching composition, research and technical writing at Purdue University Calumet, while I sought more jobs in lighting to pay the bills. Since 2001, I have served as an adjunct instructor at seven universities (not all at once, but close) and sold outdoor architectural, custom library, architectural asymmetric lighting and specialty lamps.
Three years ago, I started to work for the biggest lighting manufacturer on earth, where I conduct energy audits to show large industrials, schools and other huge energy suckers how to save money and cut their carbon footprint.
I was born with drive and a will to succeed. I just had to learn self-love first. That has provided the journey of my life. With many teachers, right when I needed them, my glass has managed to stay at least half-full. When I take the time to indulge in them, my passions include reading, cooking (I went vegetarian a year ago and LIVE off recipes from Thug Kitchen and other amazing places on the Internet), gardening and interior design. I have truly made my home, which I share with Patrick—the kindest, coolest and most understanding man I have ever known—and Max, and Cassie—our two longhaired miniature dachshunds—into a sanctuary of peace and creative inspiration. If my life is half over, I still have time to carry out the rest of my dreams.

 

Jennifer Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and over New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up:  SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson, Vancouver. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. Join a retreat/workshop by emailing barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com. If you want to attend the July 6th London workshop sign up now as it’s almost full.

 

Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

Out To Sea by Ally Hamilton.

December 24, 2013

By Ally Hamilton.

 

When I was seventeen I began dating a man who was twenty-one years older than me. My parents tried to stop me, but they have nineteen years between them, and even though they divorced when I was four, I was positive my relationship was different. Because I was seventeen and I thought I had all the answers. My previous boyfriend, who had been kind and sweet and awesome in every way, also tried to stop me. But he had moved across the country to go to college, and the truth was, I was heartbroken. I felt abandoned, even though he was talking about Christmas break, and calling every day. No matter; he’d left, and it stirred in me something old and raw and completely unhealed. So I let this guy who was so much older come at me with his cars and his boats and his private plane to his house in the Hamptons. He had a terrible reputation for cheating on everyone he dated. And I signed myself up for the task like I’d be able to fix that. Also, something inside me was believing the idea that I was the kind of person someone could leave. So who cared, really.

The first time we were together it was strange and sad. We flew out to his house, and went directly to the beach where we got in his speedboat. He drove us out to the middle of a secluded bay area. I knew he’d done it before, all of it. It was like some kind of ritual. Something to get out of the way. I knew he didn’t love me. That came a few years later, after he’d broken me and it was too late. But I let him have me, even though I felt nothing. I mean, I was hooked in, I was playing out all kinds of ancient history. But I wasn’t in love with him, and I certainly wasn’t loving myself. Not even a little. When it was over and I was swimming in the ocean, tears came streaming down my face, unexpectedly, without permission. I dove underwater, trying to wash them away, trying to wash the whole thing away. I don’t remember much else about that day, or that night. I think he spent most of the rest of the afternoon working, and I curled up in front of the fire with a book. I felt dead to myself, and also strangely satisfied that I’d done something so unlike me.

I stayed with him for three years. Once he had me, he kept a tight leash on me. It’s funny how people without integrity assume other people also have none. He was threatened by the guys at Columbia who were my age. He’d drop me off on campus sometimes and get upset if I was wearing lipstick, or tight jeans, or short skirts, or pretty much anything that wasn’t a sack. But he cheated on me regularly. He was good at it, I could never prove it, but I always knew when he was with someone else because it hurt. It hurt in the way that sends you under the kitchen table, holding onto yourself as you sob and wonder what the hell you’re doing in this situation, and why you don’t get out. But getting out wasn’t even possible at that point, because I was so attached to getting my happy ending. If I could just be perfect enough to get him to love me. If I could just hang in there long enough he’d finally realize I really did love him. Because after awhile, I did.

I began to see this insecure guy who felt he wasn’t enough, regardless of how many women he took to bed, or how much money he had, or how many sparkly, shiny toys. Nothing did it for him, not even the unwavering love of a good girl. I can’t call myself a woman when I think about this experience, because I wasn’t yet. I had a lot of healing to do, and a lot of growing, but I was very kind to him. And the longer I stayed, the more he gave me reasons to leave. For his fortieth birthday, I planned an elaborate surprise party. I rented a pool hall, had it catered from his favorite sushi place, and ordered dessert from an amazing pastry chef. I sent invitations to all his friends. I made a reservation at a new restaurant that had opened downtown that he was dying to try, and planned to take him to the pool hall from there. I ordered a bottle of champagne to be waiting at the table. It took me months to save up the money to pull it off.

A week before the party he confronted me in the kitchen in East Hampton. He told me he knew about the party, and he wanted to see the guest list to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anyone. At first I tried to deny there was a party, but he kept coming. He laughed at me. He knew it was at a pool hall. He wanted to know if I’d ordered food, and all the other details. He didn’t want to be embarrassed. I stood there in that kitchen and I felt everything fall away from me. I felt like I was made of bones that could disintegrate into a pile of dust on the floor, that his housekeeper could just come along and sweep away, out the door, into the ocean, to meet up with those tears I’d cried the first day. I told him every last detail. He took away any shred of joy I might have felt at having been able to give him something. Three days before the party, he went to the restaurant I’d made reservations at a few months before. So that the night of the party, the only surprise was that sad bottle of champagne, waiting at the table.

You cannot save anyone. All the love in the world won’t get the job done. You can’t make someone faithful or kind or compassionate or sensitive. You can’t make another person happy. They are, or they are not. You can harm yourself. You can allow yourself to be abused, mistreated, neglected and betrayed. But I don’t recommend it. A healthy, happy, secure person wouldn’t have been on that boat with him in the first place. Of course, he preyed on a seventeen year old, and when I look back on it I have all kinds of compassion for myself. But it took me years to get there. And a lot of yoga, and a lot of therapy, and a lot of weeping and writing and reading. Anything you repress, or run from, or deny, owns you. It owns you. And if you don’t turn and face that stuff down, you’ll call it into your life in other ways. The truth wants out. Your heart wants to heal so it can open for you again. Whatever is in your past does not have to define your future. But it probably will if you don’t do the work to liberate yourself. We have such fear. We think these things will overwhelm us, that we won’t survive. But what you won’t survive is the not facing it. That’s the part that kills you. That’s the part that makes you feel you could be swept away in the wind. Looking at your stuff hurts. It’s painful and deeply uncomfortable, but if you trust yourself enough to lean into all that pain, you’ll find it loses its grip over you. If you let yourself weep out the searing heat from those wounds, your whole being can take a real, deep breath, maybe for the first time in ages.

You can forgive those who let you down, who didn’t or couldn’t show up for you the way you would have liked or the way you deserved. You can forgive yourself for choices you might have made that were harmful to you or others. When we’re in pain, we don’t tend to treat ourselves well, and sometimes that also spills onto the people with whom we’re closest. But life can be beautiful. You can close the book on the old, painful story that was just a replaying of your past. And you can start working on this new creation that gets to be your life after you’ve healed. Not that the old pain won’t show up from time to time when you’re feeling triggered or tested or vulnerable, but it won’t grab you and knock you off your feet and show you who’s boss. Because it won’t be boss anymore, it won’t rule your life. You’ll just see it for what it is, an echo of a very old story that came to completion. It can’t be rewritten, it is what it is. But you get to decide where to place your energy and your attention. And I highly recommend you direct it toward love. That’s your happy ending, although it doesn’t end. You get to keep choosing it every day. If you do that, you’ll never find yourself sailing out to sea with someone who doesn’t know how to do anything but hurt you. Your own ship will have sailed. And maybe someday you’ll pass your seventeen year old self, weeping in the ocean next to your ship and you’ll pull her on board and show her your future. Which holds so much joy and gratitude and meaning and fulfillment, maybe she’ll weep there on the deck with you, not in sadness, but in relief.

If you’re allowing yourself to be mistreated and you need help, feel free to message me. Sending you love. Ally

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Bio: Ally Hamilton is a Santa Monica-based yoga teacher and writer who streams online yoga classes all over the world. She’s the co-creator of YogisAnonymous.com, which has been featured in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, Self Magazine, Shape Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. She’s a regular contributor for The Huffington Post, a wellness expert at MindBodyGreen, and writes an almost-daily blog at blog.yogisanonymous.com. She’s the mama of two amazing kids and one energetic Labradoodle. She believes everyone can benefit from some regular time on a yoga mat.

**Jen Pastiloff has over 30 online classes at Ally’s studio Yogis Anonymous. Click here.

Join Jen and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

Join Jen and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

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Click poster to order book!

 

healing, Inspiration

Shame.

January 13, 2013

I used to see this therapist when I was in 5th and 6th grade. I can’t remember his name for the life of me, but he was kind, and he would abide by my silly laws of I will talk if you ____. 

He let me bring friends to my session. I would talk for 30 minutes without them and then he’d let me bring them in for the remaining 30. He would take me across the street to this candy store and buy me these wax filled Cola candies that I loved (and sometimes gummy bears). He let me play board games in our session and also this weird leap frog game with little plastic pieces. I thought I was way too cool to go to a psychologist and I would tell my friends that my mom made me go. I would clarify that it was not a psychiatrist. Somehow that made a difference to me at the time. As if I was less damaged.

I never opened up to him. Not once.

I hated him for it.

When 7th grade came and I went to the middle school, which might as well be called the middle level of Hell, he’d started working at my school. I would see him in the hall and walk by him like I had never met him before. He’d say hello to me and I would cruise past as if I had no idea he’d been talking to me. I never once acknowledged him.

I had stopped seeing him the year before after 6th grade had ended. I called my mother tonight to remind me of him and she couldn’t remember much except that he was helping us in some way. He was either not charging us or was billing us through some weird system where we weren’t actually paying.

He’d wanted to save me. And he’d failed.

Except tonight in yoga, the first time I’d moved my body in a while if I tell you the truth, which I am committed to doing, I realized that he had saved me. That what I’d needed at that time wasn’t someone to force me to talk but to let me be. He did that. He let me be without a word. He let me do whatever I’d wanted and express my disdain at having to go see him and he’d let me eat candy and be mad. I really just wanted to be mad.

I wish I could remember his name so I could look him up, maybe on Facebook even, and thank him.

So much of my life has been spent being ashamed.

I had this boyfriend in high school. My first love. I loved him like you can only love that first one. In that way that seems so small and ridiculously large at the same time when you look back on it twenty years later. That I am going to be with you forever and I will die if you leave me and I will never leave you and I will go to the same college as you and we will get married even though most of you knew it wouldn’t ever end up that way. The part of you that felt it was larger than the other parts and outweighed the facts and the This won’t lasts.

My mother (G-d bless her) would let him sleep over. We were in high school! I think about this now and cringe and, at the same time, bow to my mom for trusting me like that. I wouldn’t even lock my door. She just wouldn’t come in if he was over. Like we were 30 somethings. Because her trust in me was so big, I lived up to it. I was an adult at 17. I was serious and proud and in love with someone who stayed in my room on school nights.

When I would see him in school though I would walk by him like I didn’t know him. I wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. I knew I was doing it and I would beg myself as I saw him coming down the hallway Jen, reach out. Hug him. Hold his hand. Do something. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

It was like I was drowning in the Lake of Shame. I couldn’t let anyone see that I could feel anything. I was stone. I would walk by him and we’d silently agree that it was the normal thing to do. To be in shame, as it were.

I was ashamed of any feelings I had. I tried to starve them out of myself most days.

Twenty years later I am a pretty affectionate person. I still battle it though. With my family, my mother and my sister, for example, it’s hard. I wall up. I am a solid thing and I will not collapse and you can’t make me either.  

Where does this shame stem from? What elephant have I shot in the wake of my growing into a woman?

I have always been sad. Look at my childhood photos. I never smiled. I was always asked why are you so sad, why don’t you smile, what could be so wrong? To which I didn’t know the answer until I did. Until so much heartache and heartbreak fell upon me that I wanted to bop people over the head and ask them How dare you ask someone how they can be so sad when you have absolutely no idea what it is like to be them? Maybe their father just died? 

I was always ashamed of my grief and my sadness. I would not talk to any therapist. When my dad first died and I was maybe 8 or 9, I had gone to a therapist in Philadelphia and when she’s asked me how I felt, the best I could do was scribble on a 3 by 5 card with 5 different colored pens and then write This is How I Feel in all capital letters.

That was the best I could do.

And everyone was always tssk tsssking me about how sad I looked.

I was ashamed. I was ashamed of anything I felt. Sadness, love, sexuality.

It makes sense now when I think back on how I ignored my first boyfriend in the hallways at school. I loved him so much and I could not let anyone see that. I would walk by him in my cute green leather vest and Doc Martins and overly skinny body and not even look in his direction. I wouldn’t even nod. And he loved me still.

How guilty I felt!

Eventually I learned how to reach for a hand. How to hug. How to be vulnerable.

I have always had a grief stamp on my forehead, even before my father died, as if my body knew what was going to happen and had prepared me. As if my mind had known all along and was simply waiting, which is perhaps the worst thing in all the world. I have always had a certain sadness and grief and have always been made wrong for it until recently.

I write about it and so many people say Yes Yes I get it. I understand or me too!

Am I validated all of a sudden? Is it okay to be sad and happy at the same time? Well, yes. It always was okay. The thing is, when you find a tribe, as I have done, it feels as if all along you had reason to feel such sadness. That were a slew of others like you in the world just waiting for you to say Our Place Is Here. Just waiting for you to crack open the pattern of days, splitting what’s solid and finding that underneath it all, underneath the shame and sadness and grief is love.

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courage, Eating Disorders/Healing, healing

This Is What Courage Looks Like.

October 25, 2012

Here is Part 2 by my Anonymous Guest Poster. This person is someone I met through my yoga classes and whom I am close to. She is working on opening up. I am very very proud of her. Read Part 1 called “What Happens When You Admit Out Loud That You Are Scared” here. The responses/comments are so inspiring it brought me to tears. They will blow you away. Just watch what happens when you admit you are scared, when you say you need help. Just watch! It’s downright amazing and magical.

Why are some imperfections in our lives so easy to share with others, whereas others are buried so deeply that we almost forget they are a part of us?

I have a serious candy addiction.

I love getting my hair blown out. So much that it’s probably also an addiction.

I will hashtag anything. My friends staged a #HashtagIntervention this summer.

I am very particular. I order food like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.

I am not naturally inclined towards yoga; my body just does NOT want to do most of those poses.

These are all quirks of my personality that any of my friends can attest to; even those who follow me on Twitter know them. I’ve always thought of myself as an open book because I share funny, self-deprecating anecdotes about my life–sometimes with virtual strangers.

But what about the things I have never shared with anyone?

I never feel “normal”.

Sometimes when I’m adjusted in a yoga pose, it’s the only time someone has touched me all day. It can reduce me to tears.

I think the way I treated my sister when we were younger has contributed to her struggles, and could impact our relationship permanently. I worry we will never get past our past.

I am still haunted by a breach of trust that happened 15 years ago. It devastated me, and it affects my ability to trust everyone.

Every now and then I hibernate–lock the door, turn off my phone, and spend 2 days completely by myself at home. When friends ask about my weekend, I give vague answers so they don’t know that I did nothing, saw no one.

I struggle every single day with what I eat. It’s usually too much or too little based on my perception of my weight or my emotional state that day. It’s consuming, exhausting and often very isolating. It’s disordered.

I have an eating disorder.

As I work towards living with a more open heart, it feels crucial that I finally say these things out loud–to myself and to other people. And to own them by putting my name to them. These pieces that aren’t pretty, but are a part of me.

And it’s time I start dealing with them.

**Note from Jen. The author has told me to tell you her name. Katie. It’s Katie. Now, that’s courage. That was a very big deal for her. No last name yet, but I applaud her! We welcome your comments at the bottom. Please let Katie know that she is not alone! And feel free to share the things that you want to get off your chest. With nothing but love xojen