On women (bloggers) and authority

“Look! Look! Look!” cried Lucy.

“Where? What?” asked everyone.

“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.

“Do you really mean——” began Peter.

“Where did you think you saw him?” asked Susan.

“Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”

“Where, Lu?” asked Peter.

“Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you want to go. And he wanted us to go where he was—up there.”

“How do you know that was what he wanted?” asked Edmund.

“He—I—I just know,” said Lucy, “by his face.”

The others all looked at each other in puzzled silence.

A few weeks ago Christianity Today published an article by Tish Harrison Warren entitled Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere. The article suggested that there was a crisis in the church because women bloggers were writing and teaching without clear ecclesiastical (church) authority. It engendered a lot of discussion on Twitter, which I spent quite a bit of time reading. There was the usual hyperbole, anger, and miscommunication that happens in online discussions, but amidst that were women of various backgrounds and perspectives engaging in genuine dialogue, wanting to understand as well as be understood.

The issue, in some ways, is very complex, and it is not my intention to dive into it all here. There is, for example, the whole 2000 years of church history, with debates about who is in charge beginning almost as soon as there was a church — Paul challenging Peter, Apollos challenging Paul — and continuing with Rome breaking with the Eastern Orthodox church in 1054, the Protestant reformation in the 16th century, and the church I currently attend leaving its denomination a few years ago for doctrinal reasons — and tens of thousands of breaks and schisms in between, resulting in an almost uncountable number of current Christian denominations. Then there is the issue of women being in leadership at all, which is still, sadly, debated.

But I am not here to discuss church history or ecclesiastical structure. I am here today to tell you a little of my own story. And here it is:

As a Christian, woman, blogger, I am not under anyone’s authority. I tried it: It didn’t take.

“Her Majesty may well have seen a lion,” put in Trumpkin. “There are lions in these woods, I’ve been told. But it needn’t have been a friendly and talking lion any more than the bear was a friendly and talking bear.”

“Oh, don’t be so stupid,” said Lucy. “Do you think I don’t know Aslan when I see him?”

“He’d be a pretty elderly lion by now,” said Trumpkin, “if he’s one you knew when you were here before! And if it could be the same one, what’s to prevent him having gone wild and witless like so many others?”

Lucy turned crimson and I think she would have flown at Trumpkin, if Peter had not laid his hand on her arm. “The D.L.F. doesn’t understand. How could he? You must just take it, Trumpkin, that we do really know about Aslan; a little bit about him, I mean. And you mustn’t talk about him like that again. It isn’t lucky for one thing: and it’s all nonsense for another. The only question is whether Aslan was really there.”

“But I know he was,” said Lucy, her eyes filling with tears.

“Yes, Lu, but we don’t, you see,” said Peter.

“There’s nothing for it but a vote,” said Edmund.

“All right,” replied Peter. “You’re the eldest, D.L.F. What do you vote for? Up or down?”

“Down,” said the Dwarf. “I know nothing about Aslan. But I do know that if we turn left and follow the gorge up, it might lead us all day before we found a place where we could cross it. Whereas if we turn right and go down, we’re bound to reach the Great River in about a couple of hours. And if there are any real lions about, we want to go away from them, not towards them.”

“What do you say, Susan?”

“Don’t be angry, Lu,” said Susan, “but I do think we should go down. I’m dead tired. Do let’s get out of this wretched wood into the open as quick as we can. And none of us except you saw anything.”

“Edmund?” said Peter.

“Well, there’s just this,” said Edmund, speaking quickly and turning a little red. “When we first discovered Narnia a year ago—or a thousand years ago, whichever it is—it was Lucy who discovered it first and none of us would believe her. I was the worst of the lot, I know. Yet she was right after all. Wouldn’t it be fair to believe her this time? I vote for going up.”

“Oh, Ed!” said Lucy and seized his hand.

“And now it’s your turn, Peter,” said Susan, “and I do hope——”

“Oh, shut up, shut up and let a chap think,” interrupted Peter. “I’d much rather not have to vote.”

“You’re the High King,” said Trumpkin sternly.

“Down,” said Peter after a long pause. “I know Lucy may be right after all, but I can’t help it. We must do one or the other.”

So they set off to their right along the edge, downstream. And Lucy came last of the party, crying bitterly.

When I say I tried being under authority, what I means is that I tried it for decades, with many different churches, pastors, supervisors, “house parents” and vaguely defined “community leaders.” By “didn’t take” I mean it made me seriously ill physically, emotionally and spiritually. It took me years to recover, and in some ways I am still recovering.

Not all the relationships of authority were bad. I’ve had great mentors, employers, and teachers. I studied under many amazing professors at seminary, did internships under wonderful pastors and lay leaders. The difference, I’ve found, besides the people themselves, is that in the great relationships the authority was clearly defined and limited. In the bad ones, the ones that did the damage, the authority over me was broad and poorly defined. Employers in Christian organizations gave me advice/instructions on my living situation, friendships, healthcare. People claimed authority over me I had never agreed to by virtue of their age and gender.

They dropped off to sleep one by one, but all pretty quickly.

Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name. She thought at first it was her father’s voice, but that did not seem quite right. Then she thought it was Peter’s voice, but that did not seem to fit either. She did not want to get up; not because she was still tired—on the contrary she was wonderfully rested and all the aches had gone from her bones—but because she felt so extremely happy and comfortable. She was looking straight up at the Narnian moon, which is larger than ours, and at the starry sky, for the place where they had bivouacked was comparatively open.

“Lucy,” came the call again, neither her father’s voice nor Peter’s. She sat up, trembling with excitement but not with fear. The moon was so bright that the whole forest landscape around her was almost as clear as day, though it looked wilder. Behind her was the fir wood; away to her right the jagged cliff-tops on the far side of the gorge; straight ahead, open grass to where a glade of trees began about a bow-shot away. Lucy looked very hard at the trees of that glade.

“Why, I do believe they’re moving,” she said to her self. “They’re walking about.”

She got up, her heart beating wildly, and walked towards them. There was certainly a noise in the glade, a noise such as trees make in a high wind, though there was no wind to-night. Yet it was not exactly an ordinary tree-noise either. Lucy felt there was a tune in it, but she could not catch the tune any more than she had been able to catch the words when the trees had so nearly talked to her the night before. But there was, at least, a lilt; she felt her own feet wanting to dance as she got nearer. And now there was no doubt that the trees were really moving—moving in and out through one another as if in a complicated country dance. (“And I suppose,” thought Lucy, “when trees dance, it must be a very, very country dance indeed.”) She was almost among them now.

The first tree she looked at seemed at first glance to be not a tree at all but a huge man with a shaggy beard and great bushes of hair. She was not frightened: she had seen such things before. But when she looked again he was only a tree, though he was still moving. You couldn’t see whether he had feet or roots, of course, because when trees move they don’t walk on the surface of the earth; they wade in it as we do in water. The same thing happened with every tree she looked at. At one moment they seemed to be the friendly, lovely giant and giantess forms which the tree-people put on when some good magic has called them into full life: next moment they all looked like trees again. But when they looked like trees, it was like strangely human trees, and when they looked like people, it was like strangely branchy and leafy people—and all the time that queer lilting, rustling, cool, merry noise.

“They are almost awake, not quite,” said Lucy. She knew she herself was wide awake, wider than anyone usually is.

She went fearlessly in among them, dancing herself at, she leaped this way and that to avoid being run into by these huge partners. But she was only half interested in them. She wanted to get beyond them to something else; it was from beyond them that the dear voice had called.

She soon got through them (half wondering whether she had been using her arms to push branches aside, or to take hands in a Great Chain with big dancers who stooped to reach her) for they were really a ring of trees round a central open place. She stepped out from among their shifting confusion of lovely lights and shadows.

A circle of grass, smooth as a lawn, met her eyes, with dark trees dancing all round it. And then—oh joy! For he was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight, with his huge black shadow underneath him.

But for the movement of his tail he might have been a stone lion, but Lucy never thought of that. She never stopped to think whether he was a friendly lion or not. She rushed to him. She felt her heart would burst if she lost a moment. And the next thing she knew was that she was kissing him and putting her arms as far round his neck as she could and burying her face in the beautiful rich silkiness of his mane.

“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.”

So as a writer, as a blogger, I am not under anyone’s authority. But I do have a lot of really smart, wise, loving friends and family, old and young, Christian and not. I listen to their advice. They listen to mine. Sometimes they’re right. And sometimes what they tell me doesn’t jibe with my own experience or what I feel God is speaking to my heart. Then I’m so glad they’re not my pastor or supervisor, because I am free to say, thank you, but God is calling me in a different direction.

The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

“Welcome, child,” he said.

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

For a time she was so happy that she did not want to speak. But Aslan spoke.

“Lucy,” he said, “we must not lie here for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost to-day.”

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so——”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that … oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right—somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Lucy.

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

“Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasped Lucy.

“Yes, little one,” said Aslan.

“Will the others see you too?” asked Lucy.

“Certainly not at first,” said Aslan. “Later on, it depends.”

“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.

My authority to write, to speak, to tell my story, does not come from having a pastor or a bishop or a priest overseeing me. My authority comes from Jesus who said, “Talitha koum” — “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” My authority comes from the angel at the tomb who said to the women, “Jesus is risen — go tell his disciples.” My authority comes from Jesus who spoke alone to the Samaritan woman at the well, and in whom many believed because of her testimony. My authority comes from the book of Revelation where John wrote, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” My authority comes from Peter and the prophet Joel, who said, “”In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” My authority comes from Jesus’ last words to his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” My authority comes from the Spirit within me, from the fire in my belly that compels me to write.

Friends, do you have something to say? I believe so strongly that if you have something inside you longing to be expressed, there is a good change that it is something someone else needs to hear. Have you been waiting for permission to speak? Good news! You are free! We have been waiting around for someone to unlock our chains, but it turns out the chains have been loose the whole time. All we have to do is stand up straight and step forward in faith, and they will fall off of us.

Love,
Jessica

***

As always, I have more to say but I am running late. Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

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As you love yourself, a birthday project

Good morning, friends! It’s my birthday today, and I have a (hopefully) fun project I’d love for you to take part in. Earlier this week I wrote about a photograph of people in London clasping the body of a man to prevent him from taking his life, and asked you to study the photo and think about who you identified with. I then shared a passage from Matthew where Jesus answers the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus’ answer was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” I asked you to notice that there are actually three people God is calling us to love in those commandments: God, our neighbor, and ourselves.

How can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t love ourselves? How can we treat people as we would want to be treated when we often can’t even treat ourselves with kindness and respect? In a culture where women and femmes especially are taught to examine our every flaw, outward and inward, to apologize for everything even when it’s not our fault, to be meek and submissive, to be beautiful but not vain, and to view our own emotions as unreasonable and manipulative, it can be hard to know how to simply love ourselves. (Not to leave out the men-folk — I know you can struggle with this, too.) Self-love is viewed as narcissistic, vain, selfish, or overly-indulgent. But, guess what! There’s a loophole! There’s one time when it’s okay to be self-focused, to pamper yourself and accept pampering from others, and to accept compliments about your appearance — it’s your birthday! So since my birthday is today, I’d like to share that dispensation with you. And since I don’t want to put too much pressure on one day (and since it is going to rain all day today in Boston) I’m claiming the whole month of May as my birthday and ours. Hey la! It’s our birthday month! Let’s celebrate!!!

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give you five suggestions of ways to treat yourself, to celebrate your life and practice some self-love this May. For each of you that does one and leaves a comment about it, I will donate $2 to Together Rising. I’m poor right now, so I’ll have to limit it to 15 commenters, but I really want to get up to 15 so please play along. It’s my birthday, after all, and this is what I want for my present. Here are your choices:

  1. Have a selfie photo session! You can put on your favorite clothes, jewelry, and make-up, or snap a picture after a work-out — whenever you feel most lovely and most like yourself. Find your light and your favorite angle, snap several photos and choose your favorite one. Then study it for a moment and tell me two or three things that you like about your face. My selfie is the one at the top of this post. I turned toward the morning sun and took a photo from above. I’m not wearing any make-up, but I love my freckles and rosy cheeks, rightfully earned at playground and parks, and the friendly crinkles of my crow’s feet. You can read more of my thoughts on selfies here.
  2. Eat or drink something that you usually deny yourself. This can be as simple as cream in your coffee when you usually have skim milk, or as decadent as an ice cream sundae (it’s our birthday!). And — this is a two-parter — don’t beat yourself up about it. You don’t have to punish yourself with thoughts of shame and disgust every time (or any time) you eat something the diet magazines tell you you shouldn’t. They don’t know you or your body (and, frankly, their science is pretty shoddy). Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves (thank you, Mary Oliver!). You can read more of my thoughts on eating here.
  3. Take a 20 minute vacation. Leave the dishes in the sink and the emails unanswered and go for a walk, or read a book, or sit on your porch and watch the sunset. Sleep in an extra 20 minutes, or get up 20 minutes early and do some yoga — whatever would make you feel loved and cared for. If you need your significant other’s help to make that happen, ask for it.
  4. Buy yourself flowers, or a house plant, or — what else do people get for themselves for treats? I mostly get plants. If you can’t think of anything else, I recommend getting a tiny mint plant and putting it outside in the biggest pot you have. By mid-June the pot will be overflowing with mint. If you don’t like plants, feel free to substitute your own favorite treat here.
  5. Notice your negative self-talk and replace it with a truth. If we talked to our friends the way we talk to ourselves we wouldn’t have any friends left. Notice if you are saying things in your head to put yourself down. I had a friend who constantly called herself stupid. I tend to say, “What is wrong with me?” when I do simple things like forget why I came into a room. (There’s a scientific explanation for that, by the way.) Think of a truth you can replace it with. I have gotten in the habit of saying, “I’m doing my best, and that’s enough,” to which I often add, “and so are most people.” You might also try, “I am God’s beloved child, made in the divine image” or even Stuart Smalley’s “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

Okay, I have to go pack for a quick, fun, last minute birthday trip to New York City to see some friends. Happy birthday, everyone, and I can’t wait to hear what you got yourselves!

Love,
Jessica

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No more fatal flaws

whiteme_1The past couple of days I’ve been struggling to focus and get my work done. I have a to-do list that’s quite long, commitments that I’ve made to things that need to get done this weekend. And as the hours have passed and not much has gotten done I’ve felt this vague sense of shame about it. I don’t do negative self-talk, really — the words in my head tend to be more free-flowing and random — but I do negative self-feelings. I sink into familiar feelings of shame, that go back to when I was a kid and I couldn’t explain what I was experiencing physically. “I don’t feel good,” was all I had, and I don’t remember exactly where the message came from, but somehow I internalized it: “You’re fine, get over it, do what you’re supposed to do.”

Even more than that, I somehow got the message that if I didn’t feel good it was somehow my fault. I can’t really explain it. Maybe it was because my mom was really into health food and vitamins, and I sometimes balked at the orange juice with brewer’s yeast or carob bars instead of chocolate. Maybe I felt bad for sneaking candy (successfully) or those bright orange cheese puffs (unsuccessfully — kids, pro-tip, wash your hands and face after) at parties. But somehow I grew up thinking that the headaches, nausea, fatigue, light-sensitivity, sound sensitivity, inability to focus, overeating — all the strange migrainey symptoms that could come in any combination, often without the tell-tale headache — that they weren’t really real, or a good enough reason to go home (oh what I would have given for an ailment that showed up on the thermometer at the nurse’s office!), and that if I was just a better kid I wouldn’t feel so yucky anyway. No one ever told me that, I don’t think. I just put together the pieces weirdly. And that feeling continued into adulthood, the sense of shame whenever a migraine came on.

I’ve done a lot of work on that. But it’s amazing how, even after years of migraines and years of working through exactly this issue, it still takes me hours and hours to frame days like today as, “I have a bad migraine,” rather than, “I’m being so lazy and unfocused today, what’s wrong with me?”

Does anyone else struggle with this feeling? I’m going to speak some truths to myself today, and you can listen along:

You have a bad migraine today.

You have a lot that needs to get done, but you might not be able to get it all done, because YOU HAVE A BAD MIGRAINE TODAY.

You are not making excuses, that’s just how it is.

You didn’t do anything wrong; you didn’t make yourself have a migraine. You just have one.

You are doing the best that you can.

You are trying really hard.

Your body is telling you that you need to rest.

It’s okay. Rest.

You’re not lazy. You’re ill.

Or, maybe you’re exhausted, worn down, over-stressed.

Life can be insanely stressful, you know. Not because you’re doing it wrong, just because it is.

You are not lazy. You do not have a fatal flaw of laziness, or spaciness, or excuse-making.

You work so hard. You try SO hard.

Having a chronic illness is hard enough without blaming yourself for it.

Having a chronic illness is hard enough without misdiagnosing yourself.

You have a bad migraine today.

That’s all.

Love,
Jessica

***

Stay tuned Monday for an exciting book review and give-away! Unless I can’t get it done, because I have a bad migraine. But I’m going to try.

On banishing shame, or how I found and ate three day old rice under my covers and woke up the next day free

Photo by OzRocky

Photo by OzRocky

Sometimes I eat a late night snack in my bed. I used to have much bigger binges late at night, sometimes eating the equivalent of an additional one or two meals. The best thing for my body, for my sleep rhythms, for my emotional well-being, is not to snack after 9pm. I sleep better when I don’t, and I wake up feeling somehow clearer, less foggy, not retaining water from the salt of last night’s snack. Sometimes I manage not to late-night-snack, but often I don’t. I have gotten really good at not keeping things in the house that lend themselves to mindless snacking — chips, candy, salty things, big bags of things. So when the urge does come I can only eat what I have — an apple or a single-serving yogurt. That’s all well and good, but when I’m tired and medicated (I take my migraine meds a couple of hours before bed) sometimes I still manage to overeat. Even bread can be a temptation. I crave something I can put in my mouth, bite after bite. I crave the dopamine stimulation of salt, the busy-ness of my hand going back and forth from the bag to my mouth.

Some nights I still eat too much. But as I’ve written before, it’s not overeating that perpetuates eating disorders. It’s shame. Do you remember my three rules of eating? Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, forgive yourself when you don’t? That last one, forgive yourself when you don’t, is the absolute most important. If you forgive yourself, that day is over, that binge is over, and you get to wake up a normal human being on a normal day. You can feed yourself a healthy breakfast, plan a healthy lunch and dinner, enjoy the taste of the food, the nice full feeling in your stomach, and the energy the food gives you. That night you might overeat, or you might just eat an apple, or even just go to bed with no snack at all.

If you don’t forgive yourself you wake up, not just foggy and bloated, but angry and in caloric debt. You try to force yourself to eat smaller meals, you punish yourself with bitter thoughts; you furrow your brow at your reflection in the mirror. You don’t feed yourself lovingly throughout the day, so when you get to the night you are hungry. You dislike yourself. Guess what makes you feel better while at the same time validating your self-castigation? Half a loaf of that raisin bread you were saving for breakfast. Shame begets shame. Forgiveness begets healing.

I have gotten really good at forgiving myself. I think that is the only reason that the 50+ pounds I lost a few years ago has stayed off. Sure, I could probably lose another 30 by breaking my rules, by not eating when I’m hungry, by turning my shame into the fuel to beat my body into submission. I’ve done that before, and it works, for a little while. But then the weight comes back, and, like the demon in Jesus’ obscure parable in Matthew 12, it brings back seven of its friends with it. Better to welcome the one demon you have, gently allow it space in your life without giving it control over anything. And maybe you will find that that demon was just you all along — wonderful, imperfect, adorable, multi-faceted, dearly loved you.

Something funny happened this past weekend, that showed me just how far I’ve come and just how good at forgiving myself. I went away for the weekend, and got back Monday afternoon. I didn’t have the energy to cook dinner, but I remembered that I had some leftover rice and planned to eat that with frozen veggies. But when dinner time came, I couldn’t find the rice anywhere. It wasn’t on my shelf in the fridge, or my housemates’ shelves. I asked Mark twice if he had eaten it, and he denied it. Then I remembered that Friday night I’d had the late night snacking urge. Nervously I pulled back the covers of my bed, and found it there: A Pyrex container of rice. It had been in my bed the whole weekend.

>Five years ago I would have felt that sick feeling of shame in my gut. I would have immediately begun spiraling into hateful thoughts towards myself. I would have thought that the rice represented a deep, secret, fatal flaw, that it confirmed that I was abnormal and broken. What kind of person loses rice in their bed? What was wrong with me? In an effort to purge and punish myself I would have thrown the rice into the garbage disposal and eaten only veggies for dinner. Three hours later, hungry and full of shame, I would probably have overeaten again, salt and sugar, something bad for me.

Do you know what I did this time? I laughed. I told Mark where I’d found it, thereby depriving the shame of oxygen and snuffing it out. Secrecy is oxygen to shame, did you know that? And I checked that the rice was still good (it was!) and heated it up with veggies and I ate it. I was hungry, so I ate good, healthy food, and I ate until I was full. I forgave myself, and I fed myself.

Friends, forgive yourselves. Feed yourselves. You are good and whole and loved. Yesterday is over, it does not get to make demands on us today. Go to sleep forgiven and whole, wake up to a new day, and feed yourself.

*****

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Love,
Jessica

How I finally learned to feed myself, part two

Mädchen mit Teller by Carl von Bergen

Mädchen mit Teller by Carl von Bergen

There are many different ways of wanting food, and many reasons for eating; there are many reasons for not eating, too. Last winter I gained seven or eight pounds because I couldn’t stop eating chocolate croissants — my daily rounds with the little girl I was nannying took us into cafes for bathroom breaks and for coffee, and there were the pastries, loaded with carbs and sugar, a perfect mid-morning treat, especially when paired with a second cup of coffee. Hunger for those croissants was primal, passed down from generation to generation over millions of years when not eating the food in front of you would have been madness, would have meant death. If any of those ancient people chose not to eat, they died, and their DNA was not passed down to me. Those who ate, survived. Our bodies developed complex, irresistible mechanisms to ensure that we ate — the hunger in our bellies is nothing compared to the synapses firing between our ears, the chemicals that light up our brain’s pleasure centers like a Christmas tree when salt or sugar hits our tongues. The frigid temperatures of last January and February, and the pounding of foot after foot of snow triggered every millennia-honed instinct to eat as much as possible, to put on extra fat to survive the winter. My genes didn’t care that I was wearing long underwear and sweaters, or that inside it was a cozy sixty-eight degrees. They had no concept that my body was already sufficiently padded with extra fat, that in fact losing rather than gaining seven pounds would have been healthier all around. They had been given one task, their prime directive: Make sure Jessica eats. And they did their job splendidly.

That summer, when I slowed down after a busy spring, I finally had time to look down at the scale (and to look at the pictures of myself at the Momastery event in June) and to realize that a little focus was needed to get back on track. I put myself back on probiotics which, beside their multiple heath benefits also had the helpful instruction, “Take three times daily on an empty stomach.” (The probiotics need to get to the intestines to do their work, which means they need to make it through the stomach without being digested. They basically sneak through while the stomach isn’t looking, i.e. while it’s not digesting any food.) This meant that I had to pay attention to what and when I was eating enough that my stomach was actually empty three times per day. I poked around online and made the guess that three hours would empty my stomach, plus another hour after I took the pill to let it pass through. Basically I stopped eating between meals, and in doing so, rediscovered the joy of eating when you’re really, truly hungry. I had big salads loaded with lentils and vegetables, an apple or two every day, toast and peanut butter in the morning, yogurt for a late night snack. Everything tasted so GOOD when I was well and truly hungry. I didn’t mess around with low-fat anything, I put olive oil and vinegar on my salads and ate cream-on-top yogurts, and I ate till I was full at meals. I began to feel at peace with the periods of not eating, enjoying the comfort of not having to think about food during that time. It just wasn’t time to eat yet, but it would be soon. No big deal. I could wait another hour.

I wasn’t starving myself, like I had in the past. The point of feeling hunger was so that I could eat well later. When I was starving myself, back in college, the point of hunger had been power, pure power over myself, my body, and my life. Nothing else mattered, and nothing felt as good. Then the pounds had melted off at 10lbs a month as I tried to eat around 500-1000 calories a day. Now, if I found myself at the end of the day having only eaten 1500 calories I’d have another apple, or a yogurt, or both. The goal wasn’t to starve myself. The goal was to feed myself. And I lost weight, but slowly, two or three pounds a month till I lost the seven I had gained and another seven after that. I wondered how I ever could have been so careless as to eat all those extra pastries. I laughed at last-winter Jessica. Then this winter came.

At first I didn’t notice much of a change. I breezed through December, eating a Christmas cookie or two here or there then calmly closing the box and putting it away. I stopped losing weight, but I didn’t gain any. Well, maybe I gained a pound. It was an exceptionally warm December, so that may have been part of it. Christmas Eve was 70 degrees. I made blithe plans to allow myself one chocolate croissant each winter month, since I liked them so much, patting myself gently on the head. Then January came and it got cold, and something switched in my brain again. I started eating two or three cookies at a time, instead of one or two, then following them up with chips. Instead of no snacks between meals I was having trouble eating only one or two snacks between meals. I tried getting back on schedule with the probiotics and letting my stomach empty before I took them, but a force greater than my will power had taken over. I laughed at last-summer Jessica. She obviously hadn’t remembered what it was like.

So here we are, one week away from February, and I have gained another pound, maybe two. My goal has changed from not gaining weight again over the winter to minimizing my weight gain. And, honestly, it’s not so much a goal as a hope. But I have come to accept this as natural. It’s okay. The winter will end eventually, and this year I will try to refocus earlier than June and get back to healthier eating. In the meantime, I’m not doing so bad. I make myself hearty soups with lots of beans and veggies, and some animal protein here and there. This afternoon I’m going to whip up some sausage, bean, and kale soup. And I allow myself a piece of sourdough bread with sweet butter on the side. Maybe in March I will give up the side of bread. But for now, I’d rather be at peace with my body than fighting against it. I’ve seen what happens when you pull the rubber band too taut: It snaps back with a vengeance. In college, after I lost sixty pounds in six months by starving myself, I gained all that back, plus forty five more. After months of not eating, the rubber band snapped and I couldn’t stop eating. Long after I was full, I’d keep putting food into my mouth: salty, sweet, savory, bland — anything to convince my body it wasn’t starving. Better to gain five pounds gently over the winter than to trigger my body into panic mode, into starvation mode.

Friends, be gentle with yourselves. Eat when you’re hungry. Do your best to stop eating when you’re full. When you don’t, forgive yourself. Nothing keeps the cycle of overeating going like shame. It’s okay. You’ll be all right. Brush and floss and go to bed. Wake up the next day, forgiven, and feed yourself again.

*****

How I finally learned to feed myself, part one

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Say it Survivor — Today is the day!

marypaullaura

Mary, Officer Paul and Laura. January 18, 2015

Today is the day! In January, Officer Paul wrote down the story of my friends Laura and Mary’s abuse. Here is a little bit of Laura’s incredible essay, He Wrote it Down, which went viral:

We were ushered into a conference room, where a young officer came in to talk to us. He handles all of their sexual assault and rape cases. He introduced himself, sat down and proceeded to ask us questions about what happened. Names, addresses, dates. I called my sister, Aimee, and put her on speakerphone. We were all crying.

Aimee, I said, He’s writing it down.

He wrote it down.

We said, This happened to us, and he listened. He WROTE IT DOWN.

You can read the rest of the post here.

Since then they have been working hard to bring that same hope and healing to others. You guys, I’m so excited and proud of them that I almost can’t breathe. Look what they’ve done:

First, they have an article in the October issue of Boston Magazine. I drove all over my neighborhood yesterday looking for it but all the stores near me still had September’s issue. Come on, stores, seriously. September is so last month. I’m going out again in a little bit to look again. If you find it, will you let me know, here or on my Facebook page? You can also read it online, here.

Second, they are unveiling their new website, Say it Survivor, which features gorgeous videos of Mary and Laura sharing their story and their mission statement. Here’s a little bit of what they’re doing:

The thing is, our stories only have that power if we decide to give it to them.  They only wield that power if we keep them hidden inside, if we decide that our truths are so awful that they must be kept in the dark.  If we attach shame to them.  If we decide that they are UNSPEAKABLE.

Here’s the good news- and there is good news.  Shame cannot survive having a light shined on it.  Shame cannot survive being spoken aloud.  Shame requires a host, and it can’t survive if you don’t feed it.

Say it, Survivor was born when two cousins, abused in childhood by the same predator, decided to plant their feet firmly inside their stories and say them out loud. They wrote them down. They sent them out into the world.

Go read more and watch the videos at their website! www.sayitsurvivor.com

When He Wrote it Down went viral (spurred on by shares by Glennon Doyle Melton and Jen Hatmaker), so many people wrote to Laura and Mary, sharing their own stories, saying “me too, me too.” Laura wrote down the first name of everyone who wrote to her, bearing witness to their stories. And through that sharing and bearing witness, healing began to happen, and community was formed. So Mary and Laura asked, How can we widen this circle, and bring this healing to more survivors? And, knowing the power of writing down their own story, they created a writing workshop to help other survivors write theirs. The first one is November 14th, in Westford, Massachusetts. You can register here. And Mary and Laura will be traveling, speaking their story, speaking out for other survivors, and for change in perceptions and legislation that will prevent abuse from happening and make reporting it easier and more effective when it does. If you want to bring them to your town to speak, you can find more information and contact them here.

Me with Mary and Laura at Old South Church, waiting to hear our friend Glennon speak

Me with Mary and Laura at Old South Church, waiting to hear our friend Glennon speak

I am so darned proud of my friends. Look at them. Warriors.

And I am proud of all of you, too, who have stories of childhood abuse. You have been through hell but you survived. You are here. You are stronger than you know. I pray that you would find community and find the words to tell your story.

So much love,

Jessica