May 24, 2016

How Visiting the Country Taught Me About Taking Risks

Recently, I spent sometime in the countryside of California. Now, I didn’t feel like a fish out of water – far from it. I grew up in Oklahoma so I felt right at home (though to be sure California country is a tad bit different from Oklahoma country). I soaked in the slow pace, enjoyed a day at the cabin doing nothing but reading and cozying up near the fireplace, and generally allowed my mind and body to relax.

I spent lots of time driving the winding country roads through little towns boasting populations of 60. I sat at the bar with the locals and chatted about the weather, their lives, Facebook (I know!!), and the general state of the world. 

I have to say, this was the highlight of the trip. The ease with which people strike up a conversation in these small towns struck a chord with me. I have this same natural inclination – one has to after years of watching her folks talk to just about anyone just about anywhere – but it’s definitely stifled in the city. 

Moreover, I know many of those in my circle, even minus the country upbringing, feel stifled in this same way. We walk around with our heads down, avoid eye contact, always leave a space between ourselves and the other person at the bar. It’s amazing that, with a multitude of opportunities to enjoy other people, city dwellers end up feeling the most disconnected and alone. What’s up with that!?

I noticed two things going on that I think partly explain why people in the country are able to share with such ease. First of all, there is less risk in the country because there is a greater likelihood that the person you cross paths with is actually someone you already know. They have a deeper sense of who it is they are engaging, so are not inhibited by the initial fear of the unknown. As I thought about this, though, I just had to laugh. Surely the city can’t be so teeming with undesirable people that we can’t even risk saying hi over a beer or smiling at a stranger as we walk down the street!

Secondly, people return to their same local bar all the time – I mean, they may only have three to choose from after all! In doing so, they see the same faces, get to know the bartender, and, most importantly, gain a sense of ownership of the place. It becomes a bit like home, so, of course, when someone comes to your home, you don’t ignore them! You welcome them, find out what they’d like to have, and learn about who they are.

In the city, we have hundreds of bars from which to choose (this has its own richness and benefits – definitely not trying to completely bash the city here). I’ve mentioned before how sometimes having too many choices actually leaves you worse off than only having a few in being able to connect and build friendships. 

I think what happens in this instance is that people lack a sense of belonging and ownership and the resulting ease and so become stifled and closed off, because they never go to the same place more than a few times. They have no “home base” so to speak.

So, the big lessons I learned through my visit back to my country roots was:
Create a home base, take the risk and start a conversation, and smile at strangers.

Now, your home base doesn’t have to be a bar, but it should be a place you can easily get to and that’s small enough that some of the same people might show up over and over again.

You can strike up a conversation anywhere – in the grocery line, at the bus stop – but definitely practice this at your home base often!

As to smiling at strangers – well, you can do that one anywhere!

If you could use some support in learning how to take healthy risks, please don't hesitate to connect with me.

May 18, 2016

How Weighing Myself Daily Taught Me About Self-Acceptance

When I was ten years old, my grandfather began abusing me. Not long after the abuse began, food became my go to strategy for comfort. I remember even playing "sick" so I could stay home to avoid going to school where I felt so out of place. I would sit it in front of the TV and eat -- completely dissociating (of course, I didn't know that word then, but that's what I was doing).

As so many survivors of abuse do, I turned to food as a way to distract myself. Had beliefs that, "If I am just fat enough, he will stop touching me" or "This extra layer of me is what's being hurt, not the real me on the inside".

In my adult years, I felt like each day was a constant battle with food. Feeling guilty and wrong for eating one thing (ice cream), feeling like a winner if I ate another (salad). 

It didn't help that I ended up in an abusive marriage with a man hellbent on making me his "trophy" and so I had to look the part, and if I didn't was quickly called every body-shaming word in the book. This caused me to hugely rebel (never have liked being told what to do) and I gained 60 pounds.

When he and I divorced, the weight melted away and yet, I still struggled everyday -- absolutely uncomfortable in my own skin, worried about my weight, constantly monitoring what I was eating.

I'd make some progress and then throw it all away by eating everything in sight, often as a result of someone noticing or complimenting me on my slimmed down body. It was so jarring and triggering that I pretty much made a beeline for the ice cream aisle.

Despite any reassurance from my lovers that I was beautiful, I couldn't absorb it. I refused to believe it. In fact, all during this time of my life, the scale was my only real judge. If I hopped on and the number was down, I felt great. If I hopped on and the number was up, I felt like shit. And I got on that scale every day to determine how I should feel, to be validated (or invalidated).

Then one day it hit me, "I am hitting the reset button on my self-acceptance meter every damn time I step on that scale!"

I realized that I had fallen into a terrible trap of looking to external information for validation and acceptance (I did it with a scale, maybe you do it with people, money, career).

The question that came up for me then was, "How do I love and accept myself completely in each moment, regardless of the external things that will always change anyway?"

See, I didn't want to be on a rollercoaster of acceptance and un-acceptance! This is so painful and exhausting, because the weight is ever changing, the wrinkles and gray hairs staking their claim, the money comes and goes (and so do people). If loving ourselves is tied to such transitory things -- well, the outcome is a total and complete lack of self-love.

So, I had to learn how to have standards for myself (eating healthy, exercising, movement, taking care of myself) without tying it to my value or worth or self-acceptance.

This has been a long road to be sure, but one of the very first steps I took was to create an acceptance mantra (this is one my favorite things to teach clients these days). 

Here's an example:

"I am beautiful and deserve to be cherished." 

Notice how I don't say, "... if I am ______, or if I do _________, or if I achieve ____________."

As a result, I've come to see that self-acceptance is a declaration of value that stands, is unmovable, is absolutely independent of anything external.

So, if I eat ice cream everyday, I am beautiful and deserve to be cherished. If I eat ice cream once a week, I am beautiful and deserve to be cherished. Now, one might think, "Oh no Rachel! You must be eating ice cream all of the time now then!"

But actually, when I stopped tying what I eat to my value, food became about nourishment, community, and pleasure, and so I was able to give food it's proper place in my life!

What would be the benefit today for you of separating your value from meeting certain standards?

May 11, 2016

How Classical Music Taught Me About Healing from Sexual Abuse

I recently came across this Ted talk by Benjamin Zander, who "has two infectious passions: classical music, and helping us all realize our untapped love for it — and by extension, our untapped love for all new possibilities, new experiences, new connections."

As I listened to him, in the first three seconds he tells a funny joke about two men who go to Africa to sell shoes. They call their boss and one man says, "It's hopeless, no one wears shoes!" The other man says, "This is a huge opportunity! No one wears shoes!"

I love love love this because it translates so perfectly to one of the things I often work on with my clients -- shifting our focus! Notice these two men walked into the same exact experience but ended up with two very different conclusions (and therefore next steps, options, feelings, opportunities).

When we are abused, our focus shifts so primarily to the negative, that we often end up walking through life only seeing defeat, misery, hardship, upset. And I'm not saying those things don't actually exist.

But, what I've learned in my healing journey and in helping others heal is that there is a choice, there is an opportunity to transform our perspective and shift our focus so that how we see ourselves, others, even the world can radically change.

This is just one of the many beautiful lessons Zander brings forward in this eloquent talk that has supported me in my own healing. Check it out!!

If you're ready to shift your focus, heal from abuse, and begin seeing yourself as you truly are, please don't hesitate to connect with me.

May 3, 2016

How My Trip to the Kitty ER Taught Me About Confidence

So, here's our kitten, Bandit. He's 8 months old and quite the handful!

Recently, he was not himself. It was late on a Friday night and he was super lethargic, throwing up, barely moving, and just meowed like crazy if you tried to touch him or move him. Something was seriously wrong here!

We spent some time weighing the pros and cons of taking him in to the ER, but eventually decided it was the best thing to do.

Once we arrived at the ER, they got straight to work: taking his temperature, examining him for any signs of trauma, etc.

They invited us to wait in the exam room, and about fifteen minutes later, the doctor walked in. He explained that he had a temperature and no obvious signs as to why. Having barely said this, he then launched into the "recommended" next step: overnight stay, IV drip, blood work. Oh, and it will only be $2000.

I sat back for a moment, paused (something I've had to learn how to do and work with many of my clients on as well). I asked myself, "What's the most important thing right now?" To which the answer came, "Explore all of the options."

So, I turned to the doc and said, "So, this is the only option? Or are there other things we can explore?"

I kid you not -- he right away grabbed another estimate for services that included blood work and an internal IV (never knew that existed!) for $400. So -- the survivor in me immediately flared up, "He's trying to trick me. He's not telling me the whole story. He's trying to take advantage of me."

I asked him to leave so we could discuss our options and so I could de-trigger using one of the many strategies that I now have. I got quiet and I decided there must be a better way. How could I handle this logically?

When the doctor came back in, I told him I wanted him just to do the blood work ($50) so we could see if there was a clear indication of what was going on. No doubt he was surprised as I'm sure many people don't go "off script" in these circumstances.

An hour later, he returned with the results. All was clear! With this information, we then felt comfortable giving our little guy an IV pouch and heading back home. The next morning, he was right as rain (well, maybe a little wobbly, but he's been golden ever since).

Now, I'm telling you this story because there are so many moments in this experience where things could have really gone badly were I not healed from the past abuse (a beyond survivor). 

First, I would have felt obligated to just listen and do what I was being told to do, a common trap survivors fall into. I would have been out $2000 and feeling pretty used and manipulated.

Second, I wouldn't have given myself time to think things through and tune in to my own intuition about the situation. I would have stayed in a triggered state and likely made poor decisions that I'd regret.

Third, I wouldn't have had the confidence to take a stand and ask for something that wasn't even being presented as an option!

We are often very aware of the big ways that abuse affects us, but this experience reminded me of how insidious the impact of abuse can be in the day-to-day experiences. When we are still struggling in shame, low self-worth, lack of confidence, or an inability to trust ourselves then even something like a trip to the kitty ER can become a minefield.

It's so so important that we have a toolkit of skills that help us navigate the challenges of life with confidence and clarity. If you'd like to learn more about how I learned to do this, then I encourage you to schedule a Discover Your Genuine Self session with me today!

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