Life Is Pain

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." -The Princess Bride

I had a rough weekend.

It started with a terrible dream, followed by an extended bout of insomnia that left me in a fog of anxiety and discomfort. We were scheduled to have a family dinner Sunday night, but my mounting insecurity led me to send J and the kids without me.

While avoiding a social event seemed the most gentle choice for myself, I wondered why it was {and is} that so often I become obsessively ashamed of my body when I'm depressed. What had started out as feeling just a little off-kilter and sad had quickly transformed into a full-fledged case of self-loathing.

I couldn't possibly be in the presence of normal, attractive people and pretend to be one of them, I thought. They would see right through me. Being caught trying to walk among them would be torture of the highest order. An unredeemable embarrassment.

I knew, at least on some level, that these thoughts were ridiculous; self-defeating and entirely unhelpful. But where do they come from? They're like a well-worn path that my brain unconsciously treads with the slightest provocation. The ease with which I walk it must mean I've thought this way for a long, long time. I reason that even the most hurtful coping mechanisms were-- once upon a time-- just that. Coping mechanisms.

My theory is this: a long time ago, I was a teenager with very little control of my life, and a very high level of fear surrounding that. It felt powerful and affirming to set goals {run 4 miles} and achieve them. It was meditative and calming to know that whatever else happened, I could succeed in controlling my body.

It was healthy until it wasn't.

Because somewhere along the line, it stopped being simply a means of dealing with pain and fear, and became a hoped-for cure to pain and fear.

Instead of thinking,  I'll feel happier after I go running I'd think, I wouldn't be so sad if I looked like a real runner.

Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment as I achieved goals, I began seeing my unmet, unrealistic goals {to look like a model} as the source of all that was wrong with my life. I wanted to feel complete-- inoculated from all dissatisfaction and uncertainty. I wanted to be a finished product.

I still do this. Unknowingly, yes, but still-- whenever uncomfortable feelings start to overwhelm me, I tread that well-worn path of thought. If I could fit those old size 0 jeans, this wouldn't hurt me so much. Aside from being patently untrue, thoughts like these inevitably lead to shame and despise, not motivation. I sink into a pit of despair.

What snaps me out of it is often a variation on a theme. {It seems I must learn the same lesson, over and over again.} I remember that when the Buddha was asked to reveal the meaning of life, he replied, "Life is pain." A rather macabre statement, but one that I find oddly comforting. I looked it up; In fact, the inescapability of pain is the first of the Four Noble Truths.

Remembering that life is pain frees me from reading too much into painful experiences. Pain does NOT mean that I'm unworthy of happiness until I'm thinner or richer or admired or what-have-you. Pain does not mean God is punishing me, or testing me, or playing cruel games with me. Pain does not mean that I'm just pessimistic and could be blindingly happy if I would look on the bright side. Pain is just life, and remembering that saves me from wasting my time hopelessly trying to avoid it.

I had a therapist once who said that the degree to which we open ourselves to pain is the degree to which we open ourselves to joy. That we cannot experience one without the other, and that when we live in fear or pursuit of only one, we live a half life.

I think of all the good people in this world who have suffered and yet done heroic, good things with their lives. I think of how none of us ever has true control over anything. I think of how little it matters in the end what dress size I wear. I think of all the small yet sacred things I can do with my time if only I wouldn't allow fear of pain to derail me.

I'm trying to condense all these thoughts into a concise mantra I can feed myself as I tread a new path of thought in my brain: "I am not my body. Life is pain. Embrace it. Look for God in it."

Baby steps, people.



Monday Links

My posts this month are all rather single-minded-- quite a reflection on how I tend to get. :) But changing my self-perception is no small feat! As I've pursued it with increasing vigor, I've become convinced that body shame and self-objectification is a pervasive, deeply entrenched ailment among women. The more I learn about it, the more I long for all of us to shake off the shackles and own our true potential.

Don't know where to start? Here are some of the resources I've found that have helped me recently:

Beauty Redefined couples telling-it-like-it-is {on everything from photoshopping to ageism} with empowering step-by-step guides to developing media literacy and dealing with our own negative thoughts. I've found it so enlightening, I've started re-reading a few posts every morning just to ensure that they stay on the forefront of my mind.

I love the way Weightless encourages me to be gentle.

Cultivating self-love through self-portraiture.

Turn off the television, put down the magazine and start enjoying real women, face to face.

I love that Mara doesn't shy away from talking about the deep stuff.

The truth behind before and after photos.

Feed your soul. I took my cue from Nicole and have started painting again.

Have a great MLK Day everyone!


Be Gentle

This morning, I met my own eyes in the mirror and it felt like it'd been ages since I'd truly seen myself.

That is, I see my reflection every day, of course.

One must.

I check my outfit. I floss my teeth. I apply mascara. But I've become expert at seeing only the pieces. Thighs that are too wide for that skirt. Legs that could use some high heels. Under-eye circles that should be covered. I reduce myself to a list of flaws to be masked or fixed, never looking too long or allowing myself to dwell on the whole. Reflective surfaces are almost as bad as scales for producing shame and disgust within me.

No wonder it's so difficult to face myself.

But this morning I met my own eyes in the mirror and instead of quickly looking away in embarrassment, I lingered. I saw my own pain.

"You poor thing," I thought involuntarily.

It's been a difficult two years. It shows in my face; in my posture; in everything, I expect. Instead of dismissing my softly plumping body with revulsion, I found myself feeling an overwhelming sense of compassion.

There have been days when I can't get out of bed. Days when I live off of carbs. Days where I have to ignore all my own feelings and function for the kids. I've run miles and miles in search of endorphins and drugged myself with pounds upon pounds of chocolate. I've been faithful and discouraged, strong and fragile, vulnerable and steadfast. I do not begrudge myself the hours I've sat on a couch, wrapped in a blanket as I ate my stress. I deserved some ice cream amidst the demise of my life. But today, I thought, today I deserve more.

I should take you for a walk in the sun 

I should feed you something hearty and nourishing.

I should read you a book full of wit and humor. 

You've been through a lot. I need to be gentle with you. 

My self-directed thoughts were so uncharacteristically tender, I felt tears prick my eyes. I think that for quite some time now, my soul has longed to be seen. My body has longed to be respected. It felt right to honor them both.

I wrote "Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought" on my bathroom mirror. I think it's my mantra for the year as I strive to acknowledge my own worth and treat myself accordingly. If I can be gentle with myself, I think it only follows that I will be more gentle with others as well.

The world could use a little more gentle.




J and I were driving home from a party one night. I was deep in my own head, staring out the window when J asked what was wrong.

I had to explain that one of the guests had been talking about her nutrition class at the university. She'd been required to step inside a machine that measured body fat, and she {acting all demure and modest} reported the result to us. Her percentage was miniscule. As in, I've only ever heard of a number that low in men who were marathon training.

Instantly, I felt like a failure. My clothes felt uncomfortable. My SKIN felt uncomfortable. I wanted to crawl outside of myself. I felt like a thing unworthy of even taking up space. For the rest of the evening, I'd withdrawn to a corner of the room and tried to survive the onslaught of feelings.

However, If depression has taught me anything, it's been to examine and question my own thoughts. Before J interrupted my reverie, I'd been in the midst of some major self talk.

If my body fat percentage were lower than hers, would it actually make me better than her? 

What if I were in a car crash and became burned or disfigured, would I suddenly be worth less?

Can I only feel good about myself if I feel better than the other women in the room? Don't I actually hate that? 

I've seen other women look at me and feel bad about themselves. I always have to jump in and proclaim "This tan is fake!" "I'm wearing spanx!" "I'm just having a good hair day!" I feel like a fraud that has simply succeeded in fooling everyone.

If I don't want to feel better than other women-- if I don't believe I am better than other women-- why do I allow myself to feel worse? Less than?

Isn't this a no-win situation? Isn't this a distraction? Something to keep me discouraged so that I can't do wonderful, inspiring things with my time? Isn't beauty all just a mirage?

And just like that, I felt a moment of clarity. I'd been torturing myself like the plain-bellied sneetches with no stars upon thars.

Beauty does has a place in life. I appreciate beauty. I create beauty. I seek beauty.

But beauty is not the purpose of life.

In fact, if I allow myself to get lost in the world's narrow definition of beauty, I actually miss out on seeing, appreciating, creating and becoming. I think the unfathomable potential we all have is really, truly beautiful.

We are taught that even Jesus "hath no form nor comeliness: and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." {Isaiah 53:2} The greatest of them all didn't even match the world's expectation of beauty. 

I find that freeing.


Not Something to be Seen

"She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something." -Rainbow Rowell "Eleanor & Park"

Shortly after J moved back in following our 9 month separation, we began preparing for a trip to the Cayman Islands. 

Now, even if a new and relatively fragile reconciliation hadn't been part of the picture, a beach vacation and all that it would entail would have been enough to make me start to feel very small, anxious and insecure. 

This was meant to be a second honeymoon; an opportunity to reconnect and recommit. I didn't want it to be marred by my body shame, and I really didn't want to spend every second of the trip watching where my husband's eyes went and competing to keep them on me. 

So, how to feel calm, comfortable and confidant? I didn't know. I prayed for help. 

I'd already thrown out pretty much anything that had bad memories or past associations with them, so I was now forced to purchase essentials. Bras, underwear, swimsuits, sundresses, etc. The very first thing I determined was that I would not allow myself to perform. I was not going to buy something simply because of how it would make me look to others; my primary objective would be that it made me feel pretty. If I liked the way I looked, that would translate to security, right? I would be able to enjoy myself, sure that I looked nice to me.

I braced myself and went to Victoria's Secret, {Ugh. Who knew bra shopping could be so traumatic?!} and spent an ungodly amount of time in a dressing room with a box of bras, trying things on and crying. I wanted to look pretty. I wanted to feel pretty. Was that really so wrong? I didn't think so, and yet the whole experience was making me feel terrible. I went home with my purchases and felt like throwing up.

That evening as I poured out my anguish to the Lord in prayer, I heard these words in my mind: "... not meant to be looked at." and knew immediately that I was more than something to be seen. I was more than that to Him. I wanted to be more than that to others. And I certainly needed to be more than that to MYSELF. 

I'd been so terrified of being objectified and judged-- confused because I didn't want to be lusted, but scared of being dismissed and despised-- that I'd bought into the prevalent theory that the way to take back power is to objectify myself.  That if I thought of myself as sexy and desirable {something to be looked at} first, that what others thought of me wouldn't phase me. I would have confidance. I would have self-esteem.


I was accepting that I was nothing more than something to be looked at! It didn't matter if someone else said it through their actions towards me or if I said it to myself-- I was allowing myself to internalize the lie that my reflection was a measure of my worth. And that-- buying into that lie-- was killing me. 

All that pain, all that depression-- it was as if my very soul were rejecting the notion, refusing to be dismissed as simply a body. As I let the idea that I was more sink in, I began to feel free.

I took back the stupid, pink bag of 'sexy' undergarments and bought something simple instead. This time, I just wanted to honor and respect what I saw in the mirror. 

I purchased a modest, stylish swimsuit that felt like 'me'. I tried not to worry about whether it made me look thin or not. 

And when we ended up on a boat to see the stingrays and sat across from a model in a tiny bathing suit-- I closed my eyes and told myself that I am not my body-- and neither is she. We are not a threat to one another.

It was the first step in an ongoing journey. 

{image of a Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. I love the strength and humanity in her face. It reminds me that beauty is everywhere and is far more than society's 'ideal body'}


Measure of Worth

It is amazing how long one can cling to faulty thinking, even when that thinking is blatantly unhelpful, illogical, and extremely harmful.

For years I've said the words, "I am a child of God". I've sung them, recited them, taught them to my children and professed my stalwart belief in them. 

I am a daughter of God. 

Yet, how can I hold this sacred truth in one hand, while also holding the belief that what I look like is a measure of my worth in the other? It's a crazy-making dichotomy, one that undermines me constantly.

Over this last year, I've experienced a slow awakening. I'm seeing just how painful my own faulty beliefs are, and I've resolved to dedicate my efforts over the next 12 months to changing them.

Because I DO have immeasurable worth. We all do.

That worth is not conditional. It doesn't change. We can't earn it or lose it, no matter what we look like, or what may happen to us in this life, or how good or poor our decisions are, or how loved or despised we may be by others; no matter what. We have infinite, immeasurable, divine worth, simply because we were thoughtfully and individually created.

We exist, and so we have worth.

This week, I'll be writing about what I've learned and what I'm working on. I hope you'll join me. :)

 {image 1, image 2, image 3}


5 Minute Pain au Chocolat

I've been thinking over the last year-- recognizing victories, acknowledging growth, and contemplating my course for the coming year. It can be hard work, but nothing accompanies introspection like a warm cup of cocoa and a pastry. Try this before you make any of those 'eat less, exercise more' goals-- you look beautiful just the way you are, anyway.


  • Ready-made sheets of puff pastry {I use Pepperidge Farms}
  • Chocolate {I like semi-sweet ghirardelli chips}
  • Egg wash
Simply sandwich the chocolate between sheets of puff pastry. Pinch edges closed and brush with an egg wash. Bake at 350 until golden brown and enjoy!

And if you REALLY want a treat, skip the cocoa and have brewed cocoa beans instead. It's healthier {antioxidant rich!}, less sweet and dark in a sophisticated way. Like drinking chocolate coffee. 

Plus, it gave me a reason to buy a coffee press and spend a few minutes prepping and brewing in the morning, which is oddly calming and satisfying :)

Have a great weekend, all! I can't wait to start sharing again next week.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...