Ten Pounds

Something interesting I’ve learned on this little break from real life is that in 2016 I’ve gained 10 pounds. That’s not terribly interesting, I know, but when you’ve spent most of your adolescent and adult life freaking out about your weight, then finally making it to a point where you’re comfortable, seeing a number creep up like that puts you in an interesting mindset.

Funemployment this week has been more needed than I realized. It’s so rare to have time where I can completely power down and do nothing. I’m not worried about work emergencies or emails because I don’t have any; I’m not worried about making it somewhere on time because I don’t have a place to be. I had every intention last week of being so productive, blogging ahead of schedule, cleaning my apartment, doing all of the yoga, prepping for the classes I’m teaching in the next few months, but most of my free time I spent sitting. Relaxing. Meditating. Lots and lots of Netflix. I needed to power down completely from the past six years of steady working and just enjoy a few days to myself. I found out as a pleasant surprise last week that my time off between jobs has now been extended for another week, which means I’ll be more productive this week, since I can’t keep doing nothing. But the week of nothing was something I desperately, desperately needed to get the ten pounds of baggage off of my back that I’ve been carrying around for so long.

When you have nothing but time on your hands, you have nothing to stop a wave of thoughts, memories, emotions, everything that’s easy to suppress when there are emails to send and meetings to attend and other responsibilities to cater to, from surfacing. Think back to a time where an embarrassing memory from years ago popped into your head out of nowhere and you find yourself overwhelmed with the same shame as if it had happened again in that moment. I had a lot of moments like that this week, mostly because I had nothing else to think about. I had moments where I berated myself for not doing “more,” and I had lots of “holy shit what am I doing” moments about the job and about my life in general. I also had a lot of time to reflect on 2016, now that it’s halfway over, and my word it’s crazy how much has happened and how many things have changed. I wanted to dwell on all of those for a while but then I went back to Connecticut for a few days and learned that I put on ten pounds and for a little while that’s all I could think about.

At first those ten pounds were really negative. It’s weight on me I don’t want or need, it’s a reminder that I haven’t been as active in my  yoga practice as I should be and physical proof I’ve been neglecting the healthy foods that I love. It’s a reminder that my birthday is coming up soon and I’m getting older, and the days of endless beers and chicken wings may already be behind me. Ten pounds seems and feels and maybe even looks like a lot, especially when you’re someone who puts a lot of stock into some silly numbers on a crude metal square.

And then I started thinking about where those ten pounds came from. Those ten pounds are muscles in my arms that allow me to hold myself upside down with a semblance of ease. They’re trips to Austin to eat too many tacos with G, and they’re beers after a long Memorial Day hike with T and our persons. The ten pounds are handfuls of chocolate to survive a meeting with some of the best coworkers and enjoying the last few free lunches with them even if the food isn’t “Whole30 approved.” The ten pounds are new memories making their way into me as I let old ones that dragged me down go, replacing the illusion of a “perfect” body with real memories, like laughing with new friends that are some of the best people I’ve ever met. And those ten pounds are maybe skipping a yoga class or a healthy meal for date nights with someone who’s changed my whole life since he’s been in it.

So next week I’m starting a new job ten pounds heavier. New responsibilities, people, emails, meetings to weigh me down even more, especially after this much-needed mental vacation. Reflecting back though, I can take a little extra weight on me now and again. I may be ten pounds heavier, but for all the good, bad and in-between changes in 2016, ten pounds is a small price to pay.

Slide forward, jump back

I’ve come to learn I shouldn’t be left to my own devices in other people’s apartments. I don’t mean that I steal things, or that I look for embarrassing things under the beds and in the medicine cabinets. Those things don’t really interest me (though a certain Chanel purse had me rethinking the “don’t steal” thing), and between the Nickname Posse I would be SHOCKED if we had any secrets that would lurk under the bed or in the medicine cabinet; or at least any secrets that we don’t all already know/text/talk about in detail. But when left alone this weekend in my partner-in-crime R and her Scot H’s apartment to watch their pup while they went off somewhere beautiful and relaxing, I did *perhaps* go a little wild… on the wealth of non-Whole30 approved food in their cabinets and fridge.

Actually, even before arriving to their place down in the Financial District, the end of last week turned into a mini free-for-all for my diet, starting with indulging in free pizza for lunch at the office and ending with me ordering from my favorite Dominican restaurant in the Heights for dinner; I told myself it was because I had barely any groceries in the apartment to make a decent meal, but in reality I’d had a glass or two of wine and tipsy me figured “well, I already ate grains and dairy today so SCREW IT!” After settling in with the pup early Saturday afternoon, I went looking for a cup for water (because despite having watched the dog multiple times and having spent countless days and nights in this apartment, I still forget where everything is), and happened first upon a cabinet that contained, among other things, a jar of Nutella and something called “Cookie Chips.” I’d brought some leftover groceries with me and could have stuck closer to my normal diet if I wanted, but for Friday and Saturday I’d decided not to, which led to an interesting revelation on Sunday.

Sunday morning I woke up with what can only be described as a food hangover. My head hurt from all the sugar from a Nutella binge and an impulsive cupcake purchase, my skin was starting to break out from the dairy, and I was experiencing some gnarly stomach cramps due to I’m not even sure what. I wandered out of the guest room (aka my bedroom) in search of an essential oil or antacid or something to help, and found myself in R/H’s bathroom staring at a scale. Now, given my sordid history with anorexia, I do not own a scale and never will – but more often than not, I will still weigh myself if I see one. I know the number doesn’t matter. I know that. But Sunday morning after a delicious night of treats from R and H’s cabinets, their scale said that I was up 10 pounds from the end of Whole30, and seeing that number put me in a mental tailspin. Truly, I haven’t indulged in the Eating Disorder part of my brain in probably a year, but for whatever reason, this time, I did.

Life after an eating disorder is an endless struggle to think a certain way, constantly fighting to remember no, you’re not fat, and food is not scary. Before Whole30 I was really good at disassociating which voice was the eating disorder and which voice was rational thought, because okay, maybe I didn’t need to eat six KitKats from the work candy drawer that day but I won’t feel bad that I indulged in chocolate. During Whole30 I was really conscious about which voice could have been the eating disorder versus which was my body adapting to new meal patterns and eating schedules and the lack of sugar. It’s post-Whole30 where things have blurred; there’s this pull now to stay as close to that diet as possible because it makes a tangible difference in everything from my sleep, to my anxiety, to my work and to yoga, but once I’ve had something non-compliant for the day it turns into an awful cycle of “MIGHT AS WELL EAT EVERYTHING” followed by crippling anxiety about whether that will be the meal that finally makes me fat. Sunday night I sat on the couch for a while staring at a photo I’d put on Instagram earlier, a post-Bikram yoga sweaty shot where I’m in a sports bra, mentally bouncing between Rational Thought and Eating Disorder, and as I felt the panic start to rise, I immediately shut down Instagram and texted my soul sister E, the only person who could calm me down when anorexia rears its ugly head.

“It never really goes away, does it” I told E after we’d talked me down from my Nutella-induced food panic. “No,” she agreed. We talked a little more about how annoying it can be dealing with life post-ED, how one day I’m totally fine letting myself enjoy that third slice of pizza or a KitKat from the candy drawer, and then a week later I’m fighting back tears over a number on a scale. I hadn’t had a food-driven breakdown like this in months, maybe even over a year, and I’m lucky that E was available to help me step back and realize that everything is fine. I’m actually kind of grateful that I went a little crazy on R/H’s cabinets (*with full intentions to replace the Nutella I PROMISE), because I think I was starting to give in to the old rigid food rules that precede a relapse, hiding the anxieties connected to “bad foods” behind Whole30, instead of realizing what was happening and nipping it in the bud.

I’m not going to change my diet or lifestyle following this revelation – I still feel immensely better physically when I’m not eating things like grains and dairy, and frankly I prefer salads and smoothies to pretty much all foods – but this week my goal is to indulge in something every day, and to let myself enjoy it. Maybe it’s more Nutella on a spoon, a soy latte, or a warm croissant from the bakery in Chelsea Market; maybe it’s just an extra piece of fruit in the afternoon and a bigger portion for lunch. If I’ve learned anything else from yoga, aside from how to really shut down the anorexia part of my brain in such a way that dealing with this felt foreign, it’s that everything in life takes constant practice. Growth, after all, only comes after you slide back, fall down hard and still pick yourself up, always working so hard to move forward.

Nineteen

“It’s the last chance I have to act like 19 year-old LB again!”

The scene: joking around with my lovely friend M in her apartment after work on a Monday. Since she and her N live on top of our subway stop, I’ll usually stop by a few times a week for a quick visit on my way home from work, a chance to catch up on our days as though we’re not in constant contact via text and Instagram anyway. M and I were joking about our fast-approaching college reunion, and how we both ambitiously signed up for the 9am yoga class on Saturday; I made the point that the class is free to attend, so while it will be nice to make it, I’m certainly not going to hold back on Friday night, being around old friends for the first time together in half a decade, just so I can wake up early and stretch. I don’t know why I keep saying I’m going to regress to 19-year old LB, instead of 18, 20 or 21. I was 19 during my sophomore year at school, and that was EASILY the worst year of my college life – the year I was most entrenched in my eating disorder, the year my grades fell like they hadn’t my entire life, and the year I had my first panic attack, I don’t look back with fondness on sophomore year for a minute, and yet I keep saying I’m going to regress to that person come May 29.

I wonder sometimes why certain memories stay with us longer than others. Years of my life are condensed to two or three vivid memories; sometimes it’s a snippet of a family vacation in Disney World, watching a show with my father on one side and my sister on the other, fireworks and the humid Florida air, dank and sweet with sounds of childhood, and other times it’s sledding one night down the ice path my parents carved into our driveway. College memories are at extremes, either vivid and still cringe-worthy, or faded but sweet, or missing altogether save for a few minutes at a pregame that start up again the next morning. My sophomore year of college has an interesting hue to the memories that remain, a shiny bronze of new friends from sorority rush, the elated high of being part of a We and the promise of a semester abroad; all tinged with a murky green from a year of firsts, first panic attack, first almost-failed class, first re-emergence of the eating disorder I pretended to grow past a year before. I was looking at old photos recently to get in the college spirit, and I can’t help but think that I look like such a child, and I feel like such a child in memories, yet I thought I was making adult choices at the time.

Looking at my life as a 26 year old compared to life at 19 is really interesting, both in the similarities and the differences. The last time I cut my hair significantly was at 19; at the time I let myself be pushed into it by Mama B, who has always thought my hair looked better shorter (her words). I wasn’t ready for the change, the perfectionist in me resisting change like an awkward brush by a subway stranger, and I hated the haircut almost instantly after my hairdresser dangled the severed ponytail in front of me like a prize bull tail from a fight. I got my first tattoo at 19; I brought a half-formed idea into the shop in Buenos Aires recommended to me by my favorite bartender from the only bar that streamed NFL games. The artist listened to my idea and drew something completely different and I took a look at it and really disliked it but was too nervous to say anything other than “okay.” And at 19 I didn’t care that I had someone who loved me, because even though he really did, I didn’t love myself, and I let that guide me through a confusing mess of a year where I relied on someone to make me feel better, and when he didn’t, or couldn’t, I would find someone else who did. At 19 I thought by 26 I would be engaged or married, maybe even to the boy who loved me, and I thought I would have long learned to live with my disordered eating, something I was convinced would never let me go.

Now at 26, I just cut the same 10 inches off of my hair after a similarly impulsive decision that was egged on by Mama B, only this time I wanted it, and I laughed as the scissors cut deep into the pink curls. I can’t stop staring at myself in the mirror, so in love with the almost-bob, debating going shorter next time, already used to the look yet still pleasantly surprised every time I pass a mirror. Now at 26, I have five tattoos, and I’m working with my artist on the sixth; he and I worked for four months on my last one to nail the design, and we have another five months for this one, though I trust him so much I would gladly give him a portion of blank skin and say “Go.” Now at 26, I don’t really care that there isn’t someone in my life to love me like the boy from 19, because I love myself, really love who I’ve become and who I’m becoming all at once. Now at 26, I don’t really care that my life went in a different direction than I thought it would by now, because at 19 I didn’t realize how fluid life is, how quickly things change, the ebbs and flows of adulthood, moving you forward and backward like a game.

Maybe it won’t be the worst thing, to revert to 19 year old LB for a few nights. Though memories from that time feel more unpleasant than pleasant, I know so many of my decisions were driven by a reckless abandon that I still have and that I still enjoy. Maybe at the time it was driven to find something that I thought I needed, constantly tapping into an emerging free spirit by searching for happiness, for validation, for everything in all the wrong places. It’s a different story now though, less manic pixie dream girl, more actions and expected or anticipated consequences, holding back at the last minute sometimes or thinking about things a split second too long for the jump into the unknown to be fun. I can’t revert back to 19 again for a number of reasons, and for even more reasons I wouldn’t want to. But maybe for a few days it’ll be fun to revert back to the good parts of 19, that Say Yes spirit and the voice that screams GO, a chance to show 19 year old LB there’s a way to do things like short hair, tattoos and a slow-burning love for change and the unknown, without losing yourself somewhere along the way.

On Vinyasa, Backbends and My Eating Disorder

FC1.2

There are a few things I’ve been debating whether to share here or not for a very long time. While I’ve never actually censored myself from sharing a story, there are certain stories, certain parts of my history, that deserve to be told correctly, and I haven’t figured out how to tell all of them quite yet. There’s a story in particular I’ve been working on, but for a long time, I couldn’t find the right words to say everything, couldn’t find the best way to put the story out there in such a way that made me feel comfortable. Up until last week, when my anchor G and I were texting and the above words were exchanged. I read that part of the conversation over and over later that night, smiling at the truth to the words, and immediately got to work, finally inspired to tell the story now and tell it right. Before we start, however, there are a few things you need to know:

  • I have an Instagram account dedicated to yoga. Yes, I am one of *those* people. No, I will not tell you what it is. (Edit, 8/27/15: just reread this. Eventually I caved – follow me at @lbdoesyoga)
  • But OKAY SO GUYS, since I practice at home a lot, I need to film myself to check my alignment and posture. And sometimes I manage a really badass pose or I look really cute in those videos so I need a place to screenshot and share with the world. Duh.
  • The reason I have the account is to ensure I’m accountable to my goal of yoga every damn day. I can be harsh with myself very easily after a stressful or frustrating day, and I don’t want to use that as an excuse to get off the mat.
  • My goal is to do at least a little yoga every day so it becomes even more a part of my routine than it already is, no matter what. I don’t ever want the words “I used to do yoga” to come out of my mouth. Yoga has completely transformed me, mind, body, everything, and it’s the only thing that finally helped me escape the clutches of my true longest relationship.
  • Contrary to what I’ve said here in the past, my longest relationship was with my eating disorder.

Objectively speaking, I have always been a slim person, from childhood and even now. For years, I never gave food a second thought, a typical happy child who was more concerned with climbing trees than counting calories. Until the year I turned 15, when I went from someone who never gave food a second thought, to someone whose first, second, third thoughts and beyond were all about food. I spent ten years of my life exhausted from thinking about food almost all the time. I thought about how much I was eating, how many calories were in it, what foods were safe to ingest and what foods I could never touch again. I can still tell you how many calories (plus/minus 25) are in nearly any food item, and I can calculate how many I’ve eaten that day in under a minute. I spent ten years of my life fighting, and fighting, and fighting the little voice in my head that told me I wasn’t enough, I would never be enough, and even as I tried to walk away from the noise for the first, tenth, hundredth time, it always found me and forced me to listen. Having an eating disorder is like having a dragon hibernate within you; he gets high on anxiety and fear and laughs when you try and fight him with a wooden sword, feebly fending off his snarling insistence that everything is your fault, and it’s your fault because you’re fat.

My eating disorder was the toxic best friend that I couldn’t get rid of, the one who was only around in moments of weakness to distract me from the real issues by picking on my insecurities. It was the only way I knew how to cope with problems for years; I couldn’t fix a fighting family, I couldn’t fix the stress of applying, and then adjusting, to college, and I couldn’t fix a broken relationship, but I could dare myself not to eat anything for two days and I could consider making it that long without food “a success.” At 25, I tried to break the cycle by making the gym part of my routine, but a crazy work schedule and the fact that the closest gym is a mile from my apartment meant I wasn’t getting there as often as I would have liked, and I was still turning against food in times of trouble. Starting yoga was supposed to be an interim step, a simple, “easy” thing I could do at home on the days that I couldn’t make it to the gym. After all, yoga was “just a lot of stretching,” right? Certainly not anything that would shape my body and calm my mind like lifting weights and running did.

For lack of a better word, this fall was an absolute mindfuck. Work, personal things, family things, it was like a wild spiral of waves, good, bad, manageable, unbearable. It was all stress and bad days, the kind of wild adventure that used to put me curled into myself like a child on my bed, face stuffed in a pillow, screaming until I forgot that I was hungry. It wasn’t until a few weeks after things started to calm down, while looking back on the circles and spirals, that I realized for the first time in 10 years, despite all of the craziness, I hadn’t stopped eating to cope with an issue. I had, however, gotten on the mat at least once per week, forced myself to focus on my breath in times of stress and remembered to appreciate my body for the strong, powerful and capable thing that it is. After all, I can’t get into a headstand or flow through Sun Salutations if I haven’t taken care of my body on the most basic of levels. Unconsciously telling myself I would eventually pull out of the hole helped me push myself to eat each meal every day, and somehow, slowly, I managed to keep the dragon at bay. I mean, even writing that now is such a surreal experience. For the first time in a DECADE, I had actually managed to shoot down all thoughts of “you don’t need that” in favor of staying healthy. And honestly? I wouldn’t wish the journey to that moment of mental clarity on my worst enemy, but realizing I hadn’t turned to my old friend ann-oh-recks-ee-yuh in the worst of times was a pretty fucking incredible feeling.IMG_0823

This is the photo in question in my conversation with G above. I could tell you how I’ve been working on backbends to deepen my entire practice, write for days about my journey to pincha mayurasana, but I’m going to leave the yoga-nerd jargon off for now. I will say that looking at this picture makes me feel a lot of things. I still think I look too skinny, and then I’m incredulous that those words are still coming out of my mouth. I also think I look strong, and flexible, moreso than I’ve ever been in my life. And I feel so accomplished, because if you told me back in April when I first rolled out the mat on my living room floor that I would be able to do this pose with a semblance of ease, that I’m just about down in a full split and that my journey to handstand is well underway, I never would have believed that I could have come this far.

Much as I wish that this journey is something I’d never had to experience, I don’t fault 15 year old LB for making the decisions that she did. Anorexia is my dragon, and it’s my toxic former best friend, but that part of my life, my longest relationship, is a part of me, as much as my blue eyes and the scar on my leg. There is 10 years of damage to my body and my mind that I’ll never be able to erase; there’s a history I’ve written by my own choices and I can’t rewrite the past. But to look back, to ten months ago or ten years ago, and see tangible, real progress in so many aspects of my life is a pretty wonderful, very proud, and dare I say enlightening experience.