On Befriending My Body: An Inside Job

Me and this body of mine—we are not friends.

Or rather, I’m not friends with her. She is the new girl in the high school cafeteria, and I am holding court at my designated table with no intention of leaving her a space.

She is the partner I am stuck with in a group project at whom I invariably point the finger if our score doesn’t equal A+.

She is the subject of my inane after-school gossip. Omigosh. Did you notice how my Body looked today? Who told her that was attractive? Such a loser, right? Like hire a personal trainer STAT.  

Our lockers are adjacent. Our classes are the same. We constantly brush shoulders but never honestly connect. Her nearness is unnerving. I sidestep her glances as we dart around each other in the hallway, and I scowl at her retreating form as she melts into the shuffle.

I resent her for existing, but I have no reason why. She’s just too close for comfort—a reflection in the mirror of a truth I deem intolerable.

She is me. I am her. And that’s the problem.

I discredit, disavow, distrust myself. And this body suffers the blame. She is the martyr in our relationship, the workhorse I bridle and tame, the machine I pump every last ounce of battery from.

I was 8 when I realized this body wasn’t small and submissive like the other girls’ bodies. I was 9 when I determined she was unsafe and unreliable.

I was 11 when she morphed into a stubby, chunky, lumpy frame I could not contain. I was 13 when I declared warfare against her inadequacies.

I was 15 when I learned to ration just enough food to keep her alive. I was 17 when her colorless eyes, vigorless bones and lusterless skin exposed my secret methods of coercion.

I was 19 when, together, we entered a treatment program that could “heal” our perverse dynamic. I was 20 when that approach didn’t work.

I was 21 when I became aware that bodies are objectified and exploited by outside forces too. I was 23 when I resigned us both to a lifetime of undercover opposition.

I was 26 when all the barricades, deceptions and assurances that “I’m fiiiiiiine” came screeching to an impasse in one cataclysmic swoop.

Now here we find ourselves at the age of 27—this body and this soul. Naked, disoriented, afraid. Tender in years though hardened in combat. I regard us both as enemies. But maybe we’re just strangers who never had a proper introduction.

So what caused this fragmentation, this departure from myself? I don’t think one precise moment bears the onus altogether. It’s a series of chain reactions and domino collisions which framed the dogma I succumbed to 20 years ago.

A dogma that’s informed my actions and decisions ever since.

A dogma that hissed: Little girl, be delicate. Little girl, condense your space. And little girl, for the love of God, don’t hunger. It’s unfeminine, unattractive, unacceptable. To hunger is to be human, and you should rise above that—an object of desire, a model of perfection. 

So I reached a conclusion then and there. Hunger is what makes little girls fleshy, greasy and messy when they’re supposed to be anything but.

Hunger is weakness. Hunger is mediocre. Hunger is repellant. But I am invulnerable to hunger. Or so that delusion told me.

Which meant abandoning this body. “Voting her off the island,” as Glennon Doyle words it. Dissociating from a part of my own essence. Dissolving into a pretense I felt stronger, steadier, safer behind.

I made a choice, so this body never had a chance. And in the fallout, we stopped knowing each other.

I didn’t know that she is complexity and intricacy, beauty and artistry. I didn’t know that she is resilience and vibrance and exuberance. I didn’t know that she is toughness and softness and fierceness. I didn’t know that she is precision and imagination and captivation.

She is a miracle—I just didn’t know.

I starved the wonder right out of her until she was all bones and no being. Physically and spiritually emaciated, both halves famished to unite again. But maybe I can restore these drifting islands into a single, undivided me. Remember the oneness. Reclaim the miraculous.

Maybe I can befriend this body. Maybe I can do it after all.

And maybe she can teach me a lesson or two in love.

love warrior

Its Name is Humanity.

It’s in the onyx colored irises of the Ethiopian orphan’s eyes.

Ravenous for a nurturing caress that she has never known.

It’s in the desert toughened leather of the Syrian refugee’s brow.

Etched and imprinted with the carnage of his nation’s diaspora.

It’s in the painted on smirk of the Cambodian stripper’s mouth.

Concealing her body slick with sweat and debased with bruises.

It’s in the russet grime and grit of the Mexican immigrant’s feet.

Straddling a border that divides his home and a fate unknown.

It’s in the viscous crimson ink of the suburban teenager’s wrists.

Serrated, muffled tears which she punctuates by a razor’s edge.

It’s in the faint tremor of the varsity quarterback’s shoulders.

Fearful of an urge inside him that finds other boys attractive.

It’s in the bold, defiant keystrokes of the rape survivor’s hands.

Resorting to a hashtag when the courtroom denied her justice.

It’s in the clenching rage of the Starbucks customer’s jawline.

Hauled away in handcuffs for the crime of his chestnut skin.

It’s in the sacred chiffon wrapping of the subway rider’s hijab.

Absorbing the tension of her fellow passengers’ surveillance.

It’s in the sinewed, pulsing veins of the eleventh grader’s neck.

Fraught with panic that today his school might be a graveyard.

It’s in the boardrooms of Wall Street.

It’s in the brothels of Chennai.

It’s in the privilege and on the margins.

It’s in the protests and the marches.

It’s in all faces, on all tongues.

Its creed is universal, and its name is humanity.

Confessions of an Enneagram Eight…Who Also Happens to Be a Female

vulnerability

Sometimes I feel like the rarest of unicorns. Weird. Quirky. A downright enigma. Sometimes I feel like a charging herd of rhinos. Too much of me to contain in one body.

Such is the paradox of an Enneagram Eight. Now add in the “female” component, and I might as well have a tattoo on my forehead that reads: Walking Contradiction.

But I would embrace that. I love tattoos.

I’ve heard it speculated that a female eight is the most misunderstood type on the Enneagram, and call me biased—but I can attest there might be some accuracy to this claim.

The traits indicative of an eight personality are often the same traits our culture has branded unfeminine.

Aggressive. Outspoken. Intense. Combustible. An eight is all fire and fervor and fight. Energy and activity, tenacity and urgency. A passion for justice, a lust for extremes, an impulse for anger, a need for control.

Ahhh control. We can’t discuss this Enneagram number without using the “c-word.” Eights are motivated by a desire to control their own environments, relationships, circumstances and decisions.

They challenge norms with a steely persistence and rugged independence. They turn combative when that illusion of control is shattered, but it’s a reaction to vulnerability—something no eight wants to acknowledge. They fear being overpowered, so they micro-manage out of desperation just to keep themselves safe.

Eights appear dauntless and tough, poised for a feverish scuffle or fanatical debate at a moment’s notice. This wild, untamed presence sizzles through each atom of their bodies, making it seem like no fear can break them down.

But I assure you, that is not reality.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The female eight knows she doesn’t belong—not in the socially acceptable sense anyway. She instructs herself, “Fine. No sweat. I’ll just be a nonconformist then.” But somewhere in her depths, she feels the rejection and exclusion. She has a name for this, and it’s what her nightmares are made of. Betrayal.

She’s caught in the tension of longing to be part of the same institutions she defies. It’s isolating territory, but it’s also where she lives.

She perceives herself as an underdog, a crusader for the marginalized. She brims with such conviction that others find her intimidating. She is an acquired taste—and trust me, she’s all too aware.

Her universe is one of extremes. Too loud. Too quiet. Too brittle. Too fragile. Too opinionated. Too indifferent. Too emotional. Too stoic. Too invested. Too distant.

Too much. Just. Too. Much.

I am proud to be a female eight, a member of this beatnik tribe. But we eights have a dark side—an underbelly where our passion becomes antagonism, and our control becomes manipulation. We’ll browbeat. We’ll dominate. Because we can’t admit we’re scared. We’d rather be alone than love and be rejected.

But that’s another paradox—we do love. And we love hard. Once you’ve gained the trust and loyalty of an eight, I guarantee it’s for life. We rally for our people. We notice their potential. We believe in their impact. We’re not afraid to champion their cause before we’re even asked.

We know there’s electric power in our bones, and we ache for it to change the world. Because we love. If only we dropped our defenses long enough to accept love in return.

If you encountered me for the first time, I wouldn’t strike you as a powerhouse. I would strike you as small. But interact with me awhile, and I suspect you’ll wonder, “How does all that intensity exist in this 4’11” body?” To which I just smirk and shrug. It’s nothing I haven’t questioned myself. I’m a rhino-unicorn, remember?

This is how an eight operates—and it rarely makes sense.

A friend of mine jokes that she can gauge when I enter a room because my footsteps are loud. Emphatic. Purposeful. Not unlike the rest of me. And that’s Enneagram Eight-ness for you. A wildfire on the move with no intentions of slowing down.

Culture will not define me. Society will not restrain me. Stereotypes will not cheapen me.

So I’ll create the drum.

I’ll invent the rhythm.

Then I’ll march off-beat.

And if you’re reading this, chances are I love you—so reassure me that it’s better if we march together. I forget sometimes.

If I Could Tell Her

growing pains

If I could tell her…

The groans in her stomach would echo the hunger in her soul.

If I could tell her…

The defiance in her eyes would unmask the trembling in her heart.

If I could tell her…

The recoil in her posture would betray the chinks in her armor.

If I could tell her…

The frailty in her bones would match the decay in her facade.

If I could tell her…

The sinews in her limbs would expose the tangles in her mind.

If I could tell her…

The hollows in her cheeks would mirror the artifice in her smile.

If I could tell her…

The quiver in her chin would reveal the aching in her marrow.

If I could tell her…

The rashness in her actions would belie the apathy in her voice.

If I could tell her…

The catch in her breath would confess the panting in her spirit.

If I could tell her…

That it doesn’t need to be like this.

That her body,

Her life,

Her purpose,

Her self,

They are destined for something more.

For wholeness, abundance, freedom, revival.

If I could tell her…

Then maybe she’d grasp what is real and tactile, human and true.

Maybe she’d know that integrity breeds identity,

That conscience molds character.

Maybe she’d extend love in the face of her wildest imperfections.

Maybe she’d exude light in the face of her toughest oppositions.

Maybe this culture would get no vote in her value.

And maybe her story would be different than mine.

That is what I’d tell her.

I Hope We Never Stop Saying “Me Too.”

me too

I hope we never stop saying, “Me Too.”

I hope we never stop believing in the force we are together. I hope we never stop defending the love that keeps us tethered.

I hope we never stop combatting the fears which threaten us apart. I hope we never stop feeling the strength of linked arms and the warmth of cleaved hearts.

I hope we never stop mending the severs and schisms this world fights to harden. I hope we never stop hearing the groans of those downcast, exploited, forgotten on the margins.

I hope we never stop raising the banner of justice, the emblem of truth, the pennant of courage. I hope we never stop exposing the bedrock of kindness where a culture can flourish.

I hope we never stop handing off the megaphone to voices muted in the uproar. I hope we never stop receiving the words from each mouth that broken systems dare to speak for.

I hope we never stop gazing at the faces a shade darker, the eyes tinged with fire and sorrow. I hope we never stop sensing the might of their stories from our bones to our marrow.

I hope we never stop braving the tension of what is and our faith in what could be. I hope we never stop declaring this shared humanity.

I hope we never stop knowing that united as one is the course we are given to see this life through…

And I hope we never ever stop saying, “Me Too.”

Truth Found Me in the Trauma

it is well

This past year began with a march on the nation’s capital. Thousands of female voices and bodies and hearts surged together in one pulsing, roaring, fire-breathing crusade.

It ended with a hashtag. The simplest and yet most disarming of words—Me Too—which affirmed the everywhere-ness and everyday-ness of sexual trauma for women.

In both cases, the message was loud, passionate and overdue: “We’ve had enough. We are not subdued. Our faces will be known. Our stories will be recognized. Our truth will be heard. Our moment for justice and equality is now.”

I cannot think of two more rabble-rousing events to bookend 2017. But crammed right in between these cultural touchstones, a subtler force of reckoning had taken shape within the breath and bones of my personal narrative. And that is the story I must tell.

It caught no media attention, but it disrupted the rigidity, normality and predictability I assumed would keep me sane. It did not contribute to the clamor on Facebook, but it jarred all the defenses I believed would keep me safe.

 It wasn’t named among the “silence breakers” in Time Magazine, but it forced me to break the silence anyway—to scream and grieve and rage and weep.

This was my own experience with trauma, lodged in the darkest crevice of my soul.

Something primal inside of me could sense it existed, but conscious memory had chosen to forget. The idea of being known too profoundly, seen too intently, felt too strongly­­—I couldn’t allow this to happen. I refused to give anyone else that access.

I became relentless in making sure they never learned the truth—that I was tainted, undesirable, too broken for love. And so I decided vulnerability was unsafe. Emotion was weakness. Authenticity was reckless. Human contact was out of the question.

Instead I clung to the trifecta of control, independence and badass-ery. My opiates of choice.

I was addicted to the notion that I could survive alone, that I could outrun the abuse and betrayal, that I could protect this heart from being hurt all over again. And for awhile, I succeeded. I was high on self-reliance, and I managed not to hurt. But I didn’t heal either.

So when the narcotizing ebbed and the white noise faded, all that remained was me.

Still bruised. Still afraid. Still jaded. Still detached. In a solitary confinement where I had locked myself. Warden and inmate. Judge and defendant. Clutching the keys but too familiar with the chains—resisting the freedom which meant rejoining the world.

But then a different truth found me.

It was quieter than isolation, louder than fear. It sighed within my spirit: “You are not tainted, you are redeemed. You are not undesirable, you are irreplaceable. You are not broken, you are under reconstruction.” And I caught myself aching to believe.

Truth doesn’t need my endorsement. Truth is real whether I accept it or not. But I could either ignore that same truth clanging on the prison bars—or allow it to shove me toward an audacious new realm of connection and compassion outside my own angst.

So I want the truth. I want the freefall. I want the pain and mess and discomfort and grit. All those reminders I am, in fact, alive.

I want the people who kept their word and stuck around. I want the relationships that yanked me from the shadows, tilting my face toward the sun.

I want to be transformed from lone drifter into rebel with a cause—from impassive and withdrawn to crackling with fire and ferocity.

Because the truth is a springboard for radical, extraordinary, astonishing redemption. I don’t always hear the truth. I don’t always seek it out. I don’t always soften to its message. There is always a “don’t” involved. But I am learning.

And no amount of trauma can diminish that lesson.

Intentions > Resolutions

intention

So I was listening to a podcast yesterday…

(Random side-note: 90% of my sentences begin with that conversation opener. I have a podcast problem, deal with it).

But I digress…the theme of this podcast episode was all about New Year’s resolutions. Groundbreaking stuff, right? It’s not like we just entered 2018 or anything. And here’s another bombshell—more often than not, resolutions don’t even work.

*Cue the collective gasp track.*

Not that it’s a shock to anyone who’s, oh I don’t know, made a resolution at some point, but the excitement and motivation tend to fizzle out after awhile. Once that novelty of goal-setting wears off, most of us find ourselves back at the status quo with a nagging sense of regret or an “ehhh I tried” kind of attitude. We humans are creatures of habit—we resist change, avoid the uncertain, question the unfamiliar.

It’s our struggle. And it’s real.

But now that we’ve established “resolution” carries an undertone of failure, how about a different approach? What if we used another word instead? Like “intention” maybe.

Does a shift in language matter though? Is there some nugget of nuance to extract between the lines? Umm…I think so anyway.

A resolution is expected or obliged.

An intention feels softer, gentler, more mindful somehow.

A resolution has no margin for error.

An intention creates the space to just learn as we go along.

To accept that mistakes happen but only define us if we give permission.

To honor the process of growth and renewal.

To be transformed with a loving touch on the inside, rather than browbeating ourselves into “doing better” on the outside.

One is a performance. The other is a lifestyle. One confines. The other sustains. One is action-oriented. The other is soul-centered.

I picture intention as a creative force. A conscious, dynamic burst of awakening. The genesis of every dream or desire. This might sound too meta for some, but I believe the human experience is rooted in spirituality. And we need to nourish this corner of the triangle (mind, body, spirit) before the wildest, fiercest, bravest, messiest, rawest, truest, fullest expression of ourselves can break through.

So this year, I’m issuing a new challenge to myself—acknowledge the intent behind the resolve. If my goal is to workout more often, for instance (which is an absurd goal since I already workout like it’s my job), rather than just increasing miles, weights or repetitions, I need to investigate what’s fueling this urgency.

Do I have an impulse to exercise because I want to feel active, energized and healthy?

Or could I be using exercise to “outrun” the fear that who I am will never be enough?

9 times out of 10, it’s the latter. In which case, the most beneficial strides toward self-improvement won’t take place through fitness. Resolving to workout more can medicate the symptom. Yeah, sure…of course it can. But the heart-issue will go untreated. And love, impact, art, service—they won’t sprout from a fissured heart.

Instead of focusing all my efforts on the physical, what if I tried setting my intentions on the spiritual? Choosing to affirm that I am enough without “fixing” my appearance to prove it? Now that would be a radical shift. Downright crazy. Weird and wonderful. A pattern of living disrupted. A comfort zone flipped on its head.

But hey, comfort zones are so 2017. Moving forward, I’d rather be soft and intentional. Not stiff and resolute.

So on that note…hello, 2018!