Sip a Cup of Positivitea

Whenever I feel happy, I try to record it.  Write it down, snap a silly selfie, wiggle my shoulders and belt out an NSYNC holiday song, smother one of my dogs with hugs and kisses, dig in dirt, stare at some trees, whatever.  I wrote the following in my journal just two weeks ago…and last night I cried and cried until the veins on my temples popped like on the biceps of bodybuilders.  Where had that joy gone?  Why can’t I keep it in my locket and open it whenever I need my mojo back?  It’s so easy to get sucked into the quicksand of sadness.  But the more I get to know myself, the quicker my recovery time is.  Why?  Because I know what specific things I can do to lift my spirits.  I can fake an obnoxious smile until my cheeks hurt (see photo).  I can read poetry, or an inspiring story.  I can curl up under a heated throw and eat dark chocolate chips out of the bag.  I can sip tea and tell myself, “you are worth it.  You have a birthright to be happy.”  And there it is.  My cup of positivitea.  It is my foremost goal in life to discover what it is that makes me/people/communities happy.

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I feel so inexplicably wonderful in this moment.  Full of love, devoid of anxiety, relaxed, and grateful.  I smile because I am blessed.  Suddenly, I noticed that I was brimming with love and I was not trying.  Maybe my metta meditation has worked.  Maybe I’m moving closer to my dharma and that makes me feel hopeful.  Maybe it’s just that there’s nothing going horribly wrong right now.

I feel held by something greater than myself.  Quiet, soft, my body billows like a down comforter.  Self-love, perhaps, is the culprit, the wellspring.  Maybe that’s what this feeling is.  The idea that I am in charge of my life.  That I have the passion and the inspiration to be successful no matter what I end up doing.  Maybe I’m starting to enjoy the journey.  Trust the process.  Know, deep in my gut, that everything will be as it should be, and so I can let go of my worrying about it all.  This is a remarkable feeling.

Next I think, “I hope this never ends.”  Clinging to comfort.  Buddhism says grasping causes suffering.  I am mindful enough to recognize this knee-jerk reaction to clutch to comfort.

As I began writing this, halfway through the page I started to feel that old pang in my chest come up again, like that stubborn eyebrow hair you keep on plucking.  I wonder if that anxiety comes from not wanting this happiness to end.  Or maybe the anxiety comes from the ever-increasing hushed words of the self-critic, who could be suggesting that I don’t deserve this happiness, and it, in fact, won’t last, and I’ll be back to discomfort and dissatisfaction.  Even still, I feel pretty darn rooted in the belief that I can accomplish anything, and I no longer need to seek approval.

I’m an adult.  I have to remember that.  Sometimes I still feel like a child.  But I’m an adult.  A fierce, compassionate, innovative healer.  I can eat popcorn for dinner and soup for breakfast if I want to.  It’s exhilarating to start to release perfectionism, approval-seeking, whatever.  I am happy being me.  Finally!

What dream of yours seems so outlandish, that it couldn’t possibly materialize into reality?  I challenge you to challenge that belief.  Instead, say, “why not?”  Why can’t this dream happen?  Pay attention to what stories you might be telling yourself.  Write them down.  We’re about to turn all of that on it’s head and chuck it into the ocean.

xo Steph

Lean Into Joy

This is a poem I entered into my school’s poetry contest. My poem placed, I scored some cash, and more importantly, a spot in the next publication of The Beacon, the school’s creative writing magazine. Today I read this poem in front of an audience of people (most of whom were there because it was a class requirement). I’ve never been much for public speaking. But something about sharing it made me feel all squishy and warm inside. Truth be told, I didn’t feel much of a connection to this poem, until I realized what it’s all about (sometimes I don’t write the poem, the poem writes me). It’s about gratitude for yourself. A deep appreciation and satisfaction in your capabilities and gifts. It’s about connecting with your inner flame, your lifeblood. It’s about linking with “your people”, finding the ones who “get you”. Your place in the world is right around the corner, if you haven’t already found it. It’s also inside yourself, if you dare to get that close.

Lean into joy
In its simplest form.
Find it in the questions
You commit to memory and
hold in your heart.

Maybe some things
Are meant to be unseen.
Maybe, we focus our attention
on what sustains us.

Look, I mean truly look,
Deep down into the well of your soul.
If you drop a coin and make a wish,
Will you hear the pleasant plop
of the penny reaching water?
Or will it land among dust and debris,
Where water was once abundant?

Seek out moments,
Experiences that energize and delight.
Learn what fills your well again.
Wealth is not found in material form,
But in the ecstatic joy and passion
That fills our well to overflowing.

Our hearts have no time for the trivial
When there are wondrous landscapes to discover.
Untold stories,
Unwritten memories,
Pieces of personality,
Fragments of our true essence;
The hidden corners of our being
That we guard and conceal from the world.

Take this brief life in stride.
Gather all the brightest pieces
into your box of jewels,
And lean into joy.

My Story

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Everyone has a story.  Your story is unique, and it is capable of reaching others in some capacity that will be received as a gift.  If you have an empowering story, I encourage you to share it.  Not only can this be healing and freeing for you, but it is healing and freeing for others.  It is your story that heals.

Most of my life, I was a private person.  I was overly cautious in friendships and relationships, and hesitant to let anyone into my world.  I flew under the radar, and preferred to be alone.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, with being an introvert who prefers books over social activities.  But by hiding, well into adulthood, and keeping my story locked away, I was missing out on a great opportunity.  The opportunity to build connections with people, especially those who have a similar story.  I realized I was withholding a major gift that can lead to my great work being done in the world.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life.  As far back as my memory will allow, and as soon as I became self-aware as a child, there was a strange sense of pervasive melancholy and isolation.  I lived two blocks away from my elementary school, and would walk to and from school each day.  I’ll never forget walking to school, backpack in tow, feeling this bizarre disconnection from my body.  It was as if I was viewing myself from the sky while sleepwalking.  Later in life, I was able to label this feeling with a legitimate psychological term, which is a phenomenon known as “dissociation”.

I’ve experienced dissociation many times in my life, and still do on occasion.  For those who fortunately have not felt this, the best way I can describe it is an extreme and frightening version of déjà vu.

Anxiety has been with me just as long as depression, at least 20 years now.  For those reading this who have chronic anxiety or have had panic attacks, or both, you know what kind of hell this can be.  I get it.  I’ve been there.  Most importantly, you are not alone.  You are not the story you tell yourself.  You are not what others think of you.  You are not the pithy and insensitive remarks that are directed toward you.  You are not taboo as a byproduct of your depression or anxiety or eating disorder.  You do not need to hide.  Please keep reading.  This story has a happy “ending” (I put this word in quotations because it’s really a lifelong journey).  I will tell you what coping mechanisms have worked for me, and how I’ve found relief from states of mental distress.

Anxiety and depression are often close cousins with eating disorders.  It’s often a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” scenario.  Either anxiety and depression somehow contribute to an eating disorder, an eating disorder worsens anxiety and depression, or some combination of all three exists (which was the case for me).  It’s like back in the day, when finger-painting, and I mixed all the colors together to create this sort of non-specific brown.  My thoughts were all blurred together into that brown.  I felt out of control when it came to the canvas of my life.

Enter eating disorder, or ED.  At age 14, the battle began.  Controlling my food and exercise gave me a false sense of control in my life.  I could not yet accept that there were things that were outside of my control.  I had to reign everything in and use my puppet strings to create idealized, unrealistic outcomes.   Everything became black or white.  I didn’t allow myself to consume ANY foods that contained fat.  I HAD to exercise excessively every day.  At the time, it felt like it wasn’t a choice.  ED had me in shackles.  It was a dire demand.  It was the difference between failing and succeeding.  It was an ABSOLUTE requirement that I kept my calorie intake below 500 a day, no exceptions.  This was meticulously recorded and poured over every night.  If something was out of balance, if I ate one too many apples or rice cakes, I panicked.  I would then need to sneak out of the house at night to go for a run.  I took ephedrine (which of course is now illegal because of its harmful effects on the body), wrapped food in napkins and threw them away or hid them underneath a sweatshirt until I could be excused from the table, made excuses for missing dinner because I had “homework”, told my parents I had a stomach ache, became vegetarian so I could cut out entire food groups, avoided like the plague social or family events where large amounts of food would be present, and the diversions go on and on.

My anorexia, from a clinical perspective, did not continue long, probably two years.  But for me it was a lifetime of living in my own prison.  And it was about to get worse.  My body couldn’t sustain itself, especially since I was involved with physical activities such as dance team in high school.  We’d have 3-hour practices after school in the cafeteria; following that, I walked 2 miles home.  For all that exercise, I’d have the smallest possible bite of a Power Bar.  You don’t have to be a dietician to understand that’s not enough food.  After a summer of extreme restricting and over-the-top workouts, entering into my freshman year of high school, I stepped on the scale and felt an electric current of fear rush through me.  I was 97 pounds.  Oh and by the way, I’m 5’9”.  I was emaciated, dangerously underweight.

That number on the scale, and the emotions associated with it, will stay with me for the rest of my life.  (Only now, 14 years later, can I be weighed at the doctor’s office without losing my shit).  I looked in the mirror and was unrecognizable, miserable, and desperate.  I often had heart palpitations, hadn’t had a menstrual cycle in months, and couldn’t sleep at night because my bones jutted out to the point where I couldn’t find a comfortable position, even on a soft mattress.  I suddenly understood the magnitude of the hole I was in.  That was the first day I ever binged.

I raced downstairs and all but unloaded the kitchen’s contents.  I gorged on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cereal, cookies, ice cream, whatever I could get my hands on.  My parents were more than puzzled at the mysterious disappearance of vast amounts of food from the cabinets and fridge.  They had to start labeling Tupperware containers with a note that said “Do Not Eat”.  I was embarrassed, humiliated.  I only binged while I was alone, and barely ate in the presence of others.  For obvious reasons, I gained weight rapidly, and ED didn’t like that one bit.  So it took on a different form.  A seamless transition.  Bulimia.

In many aspects, this was without question the worst period of my life.  Everything I did was dictated by my eating disorder.  I would skip school to walk home, binge, and purge.  I made choices that would change the course of my life.  I’m still working on mending those mistakes.  I experimented with a number of harmful substances.  I’ll never forget my rock bottom; most people don’t.  They may block it out temporarily, but a traumatic experience is usually committed to long-term memory.  There are often triggers (a sound, a smell, an image, a word) that bring the experience back to the surface, the forefront of the mind.

Like any other ordinary day, I skipped class.  I walked to Dunkin Donuts, and bought myself a bag of donuts.  Yes, they were all for me.  Knowing what would come next, I had a new idea.  I had heard of people using ipecac.  For those who don’t know, Ipecac is an over-the-counter medicine intended to induce vomiting following ingestion of a poisonous substance.  With my bag of donuts, I walked to the grocery store.  Heart racing, mind reeling, I stole a bottle of ipecac.  I was too paranoid about being questioned at the counter to purchase it.  Back at home, I binged, gulped back a couple teaspoons of the disgusting liquid, and waited.  I’ll spare you the details of the events that followed.  I collapsed on the floor and blacked out.  I came back to consciousness an undeterminable time later, on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, my head throbbing.  I was overwrought with anxiety and despair.  In that moment, I wanted to die.  I wanted to be released from the grips of my eating disorder.   I had hit the very bottom of my well.  I would have more lows to come in my life, but I believe this was one of my all-time lows.  As I write this, my hands are shaking and my chest is tight.  This is a painful memory to share.

My parents soon caught on to my behaviors.  I was pulled out of school to receive outpatient treatment for my eating disorder at the Institute of Living in Hartford, CT.  It was there that I met some of the most authentically beautiful souls I’ll ever encounter.  These women and men ranged in age from 12 to 60.  Each was at a different stage in their recovery.  Even in the depths of my own need for healing, I recognized how sad it was that we were there.  How fundamentally fucked up it was to be caught in the crossfire of self-deprecation.  That society’s messages had, in any way, a role in causing this dis-ease.  It was there that the seed was planted.  It was there that a flame was sparked inside me to challenge and to combat the way we, as a society, reward or deny people based on their appearance.  It was there that I had my first brush with meditation and yoga.  I experienced firsthand the transformative, healing power of meditation, coupled with the intuitive wisdom of yoga.  I observed how my friends with eating disorders responded to guided meditation.  They were calmer, they were breathing deeper, the light returned to their eyes.  Those shifts alone were huge triumphs.  In a nutshell, meditation and yoga became my healer, my relief from anxiety and damaging thoughts about myself.

Fast forward to today.  Since my last treatment at IOL ended, I’ve healed and transformed in a big way.  I’ve continued therapy on and off with different people.  I’ve learned to listen to my body.  I feed myself with what truly fuels me, from a literal perspective of nutrition, to a visceral level of intuitive life choices.  I’ve continued to meditate often.  I became a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher.  I went back to school.  I landed a job I thought I was unqualified for.  I got married, bought a house, and am starting my own business.  I’ve been called “a leader”.  Never would I have imagined myself emerging as a leader.  That is truly astounding to me.  I am slowly learning how to stand in that truth with confidence, and firmly, unapologetically, take my seat as a teacher and leader.  That is the happy ending, or better, happy beginning.  Each day, I begin again.  I show up differently each day, but I show up.  And that’s what matters.  From my life cred even more than my formal training, I am qualified to lead and to teach.  I now seek progress instead of perfection, and try to my best ability to delight in simple joys.  I want to help others heal, grow, and bloom fully.

If your story has yet to be told, tell it.  Talk about it, share about it, stand in your truth.  Reach out to others.  Reinforce to yourself that you and everyone else deserves to be happy, to be healthy, to be free from danger.  Be in support of yourself first and foremost.  Become your own best friend.  Tell yourself a new story, and discard the old one that says “you can’t”.  Because you can.  And you will. 

I hope that sharing my story will serve someone in some capacity.  If you have questions, comments, or want to share your story with me, please do.  I’ll do my best to respond and support you in any way that I can.

Practicing Self-Care

Some of the ways we practice self-care are a little less obvious than others, but equally as deserving of our attention and celebration. The usual ways a woman might treat herself: a pedicure, a piece of cheesecake, an expensive bottle of wine, a yoga class, a chick flick, an uninterrupted bubble bath, glazing over into food-admiring oblivion while watching re-runs of the Barefoot Contessa…the list goes on. Indirect ways a woman might practice self-care: not engaging in approval-seeking behavior (I mean, who really cares how many “likes” that Instagram pic generated anyway?), not pinching the fat cells on the back of her arm to see if they’ve shrunk and/or magically disappeared (oh wait, maybe that’s just me), not participating in gossip or other toxic chatter, taking a break from the news or social media (or breaking up with them completely), letting her hair go wild and free instead of styling it to an unnatural state, etc.

I’ve found that cultivating an awareness which allows us to recognize those small ways that we treat ourselves, is key. Writing them down is even better. The less we complicate our lives, the better. In other words, we can practice self-care in simple ways. Perhaps in such simple ways, that we just tend to overlook them.

By practicing self-care, and celebrating yourself for that practice, you’re able to find gratitude. For yourself, for others, and for your life.

Namaste.

xo Steph

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Travel Adventures: Puerto Rico

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My boyfriend was born on the island of Puerto Rico, in a city called Carolina. His grandparents, aunt, godmother, and other relatives still call Puerto Rico home. Since his grandmother is not doing well and he is extremely close with his family in PR, we decided to make a trip there (we went last week for six days).

Shown above is a photo of Condado Beach in San Juan, which was our front yard for five glorious sunrises and sunsets. I loved the pulse of San Juan, the enthusiasm and pride of its inhabitants, and the ever-present wonder of the ocean.

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I fell in love with Old San Juan. The brightly-painted rowhouses, the stately Capital building, the gorgeous Governor’s mansion, the sprawling lawn overlooking the ocean, the Princess walk, the cobblestone streets, the charm and the beauty of it all captivated me.

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We borrowed John’s abuelo’s truck at 5:30 am on Thursday morning, drove it an hour from San Juan to the town of Fajardo, where a ferry would take us to the island of Culebra. Culebra happens to be the 3rd best beach in the WORLD. Needless to say, John was excited to take me there, and I was more than happy to travel to the famous beach. Standing in line with other tourists and islanders, we heard an announcement. I don’t speak Spanish, but John does fluently. I saw his face fall. He didn’t need to tell me. I knew the ferry to Culebra had sold out, and we wouldn’t be going.

There was, however, an alternative. We went to the island of Vieques. It was beautiful. There were wild horses grazing in the grass, palm trees served as our umbrella and relief from the scorching sun, and crystal clear water that felt like a bath.

I would recommend a trip to Puerto Rico to anyone who wants to experience fantastic beaches, food, and culture.

My next project: learn to speak Spanish fluently!

xo Steph

3 Simple Ways to Maintain a Healthy Relationship

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I always thought I wasn’t “good at relationships”.  Turns out, I just hadn’t met the right person.  It took a lot of trial and error, being single for a long time, and introspection/solidifying my values, but I finally met that person.  He’s the most loving, supportive, patient person I’ve ever known.  It was well worth the wait, and I’m so glad I trusted my intuition and never settled for something less than I truly deserved and wanted.

That said, I often need to remind myself that a relationship requires thoughtfulness.  It requires us to swallow our pride.  It requires us to be selfless (or sometimes, selfish! See # 3).  Below are some of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received about relationships, and I wanted to share them with you.  These things may come natural for a lot of you; I, on the other hand, sometimes need a little reality check!

1.  Express appreciation.

Try not to assume your partner knows that you are grateful for the things they do.  Tell them every chance you get.  The person who loves you usually just wants to please you.  Hearing that their actions makes you happy encourages them to keep it up!  Positive reinforcement works…everybody wins.

2.  Be present.

Enjoy downtime with your partner, and be in the moment.  Men have a knack for compartmentalizing, meaning they can generally leave work at work, and be able to focus in on relaxing/shifting gears.  This is more difficult for women.  We dwell on the past, or worry about what’s coming next.  The present moment is the place of enjoyment, and peace.  It allows us to listen better, stress less, and be the best partner we can be.

3.  Do you.

This is a big one for me.  If I neglect myself, I eventually start to feel a little bit resentful.  Ultimately, we as individuals are responsible for our own happiness.  It’s not fair for us to place that expectation on our partners.   Take care of yourself when you’re feeling down or anxious.  Do things that will empower you, cheer you up, make you smile, and lift your spirit while honoring your soul.  For me, this might be going for a run with my dog, practicing yoga, listening to inspirational music, or going shopping for some new makeup.  Take care of you first, and your relationships will thrive. 

 

I hope you enjoyed this mini list.  What simple things do you practice in your relationship to keep it healthy and happy?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

xo Steph

5 Ways to Love Yourself Today

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1. Stop comparing yourself to others.

You are uniquely you for a reason….God makes no mistakes.  Remember this truth everyday.

 2.  Find your beauty.

Look at yourself in the mirror without judgment.  Shift your experience to one of love, and take note of the things you like, even if it’s as seemingly insignificant as thinking your ears are cute, or noticing the beauty of a birthmark.

3.  Indulge…without guilt!

Have a piece of your favorite, rich dark chocolate (or whatever you LOVE, but are currently depriving yourself of).  Take a moment to yourself, without distraction, to really fully enjoy the taste.  Don’t look at the calorie count.

4.  Compliment another woman.

Too often, womens’ insecurities lead to jealousy of one another.  Instead, be a leader and choose to lift your fellow females up.  Encourage each other and build confidence together.  If you think your co-worker looks fabulous in that shade of blue she’s wearing today, let her know.  Chances are, spreading love in this way will help you love yourself.

5.  Stand for something.

Giving back feels good, and benefits others as well as ourselves.  If you love animals, maybe consider switching to a vegetarian diet, or if you’re able, fostering/adopting a pet.  Another great option is looking into volunteer opportunities; Foodshare and Rebuilding Together are fantastic organizations that help the hungry and people with at-risk homes, respectively.  Simply giving up a Saturday morning to volunteer your time will touch many, and likely inspire you, too.  It helps us put life into perspective, and be grateful for all we have, rather than focusing on what we lack.

 

What do you do to love yourself?  I look forward to your feedback!

xo Steph