So here’s the thing about eating disorder recovery.
It is so freaking hard to write about.
I’ve started out posts multiple times with some tips or some techniques I’ve learned but then I realize that it’s impossible to describe how I’ve implemented them into my life because some of them have only worked once and some of them work always but I ignore them on purpose because I’m kind of messed up in the head like that and I don’t want to lead anyone astray.
But now I’m just kind of like, fuck it.
As long as you know that the information below is only my personal experience, and I’m certainly no doctah, and what you read could also trigger you into a binge or a relapse, then I’ll write it. Read at your discretion and know that I’m not here with any concrete answers, only the things that have worked for moi.
So here goes.
First of all – let me just fill you in on what I’m actually recovering from. I started secretly bingeing at age fifteen. I hit puberty at age fourteen on a family cruise to Alaska where I was too afraid to try tampons and thus spent the entire week staying out of the hot tub. It was fantastic.
At fifteen, I was no longer wearing cute little size three flares and tube tops from Wal-mart. I ballooned to a size nine within minutes it seemed. My dance teacher was less than thrilled with my “pooch pouch” that was forming below my belly button because it meant that two piece costumes at competition were out of the question. While the older girls in class were still able to wear low-cut jazz pants and sports bras to class, I was stuffing myself into leotards and covering them up with jazz pants and then another shirt on top of that. I guess “thick” would be a good word to describe my fifteen-year-old self. Dancing twenty hours a week in front of mirrors made it impossible for me to deny that that my body was changing rapidly.
I was just so sad that this was all happening. I didn’t know what to do about my expanding hips and my soft back fat and my stretch marked thighs, so I ate to forget. My parents would leave me home alone because I was old enough and I would eat all the Ritz crackers with jelly. All the chocolate peanut butter chips – straight from the bag. All the cheese, all the ice cream, all the pickles. Oh my God and the Better Cheddars. We were ALWAYS out of Better Cheddars. Sorry.
Take this story all over the east coast – from Pennsylvania to Virginia (college) to New York City (auditioning) to New Jersey (boyfriend) to Hilton Head (performing job) to Albany to Fort Lauderdale and all the way back to Washington Heights, NYC where everything came crashing down around me, finally, a decade after I first learned how to eat myself into a coma.
I came to find that I was an emotional eater. A compulsive eater. A secret eater. A food addict. And an extremely disordered eating female with depression and anxiety and no way to get help through my measly health insurance.
And through reading and my own tweaks and my own journaling, this is what I’ve learned.
- I have to keep all the food in the house. Fuck this Weight Watchers “keep your environment safe” bullshit. I need to have the Nutella and the ice cream and the cheese and the pesto and the cookies and the pizza and the beer in the house. For ten years I kept it all OUT of the house and spent nearly $40,000 on binges where I’d go and get it anyway, bring it in, eat it all up, and throw the containers in the garbage outside so that in my mind I could say “it was never inside”. For me to feel safe, I need all of it IN my environment. Now when I started doing this, yea, the ice cream disappeared within hours. But a month into it, I kept a carton of cookies ‘n’ cream in the house for an entire two weeks. Six months later, and I kept it in the freezer so long I forgot about it (community housing – it got hidden behind everyone else’s stuff and I totally forgot it was there). A year later, and I can bring multiple flavors into the house and they can be in there anywhere between one day and one month. It depends on my PMS and how hot it is outside, but it no longer scares me to have it in there. I need to know it’s there for my convenience at any time, and all of a sudden, it doesn’t consume my thoughts anymore. Hence why we’ve had two monstrous containers of Nutella from Costco in our pantry for over a month and I’ve only eaten an eighth of one jar. (I was going to show a picture but HELLO triggers – not appropriate today.)
- When I’m hungry, I need to eat NOW. I spent ten years ignoring hunger signals and only eating carbs for breakfast but never dinner and always before 7pm and every three hours and not at all and counting points and when I finally hit that rock bottom, I learned to listen to my body. My beautiful intuitive body that I never gave any credit to. My body tells me when I’m hungry and I listen now. It took me a year to figure out exactly what those signals are – the hunger signals and the full signals and the “i need protein” signals – but it was worth all the listening because I’m not one of those people that wakes up every day at the same time and can eat oatmeal for breakfast for the rest of my life. I need change and I need options and I need to eat when my body is ready – not before or after. Diets never taught me any of these things, and it was only after I stopped dieting that I could really spend time with my own body and learn the way it speaks. And it took me A YEAR y’all. As in, TWELVE MONTHS. As in, A WHILE. It did not, I repeat, IT DID NOT happen overnight.
- Oh my God the triggers. None of this “Healthy is the new skinny” shit on Facebook and no recipes. Nooooo recipes. No Women’s Health, no Glamour, no Cosmo. Twitter is a constant trigger no matter who I unfollow so I just stay off it altogether unless I post. Facebook has a mind of it’s own so I choose to follow Astrology writers and Ram Dass and “I Fucking Love Science” instead of all this Mind Body Green shit. I can’t see lists of things to eat and things not to eat and not be triggered. Know your triggers. Does seeing a list of things to do with chia seeds trigger you? Unfollow. Do ads for beer or weight loss or life coaching trigger you? Unfollow. Unfriend. Unlike. Immediately. Like it or not, social media is a humungous part of our lives. It’s how I’ve reached all of you. Thank God. I fucking love you and would not trade this for the world. But know your triggers – even if it’s me and my page – and cut them out.
- Friendship/Significant Others/Family: Be straight up. Don’t tiptoe. This might not be your style, so perhaps emailing them one of these articles could be helpful as well.*
Table for Three: You, Me and My Eating Disorder (a straight up guide for friends and loved ones)
Tips for Family (from the Renfrew site)
*There are many many many like TOO MANY articles on how to stage an intervention and how to try to get help for a person with an eating disorder but not nearly enough articles on what to do once they are in recovery and are seeking help. Especially for significant others. This is something I am determined to work on and will post as soon as it comes. If you know of one, please post it in the comments below so we can spread it far and wide. Mahalo.
With friends, family, and loved ones, do not be afraid to tell them exactly what you need. My family, well, those who understand anyway (grandparents don’t count – they forget and they don’t understand and they really just want to “fatten” us all up with cookies and how can you get mad at that?), knows to not say a word about my eating choices. When I eat, what I eat, and how I eat it (yes, mom, sometimes I wrap cheese around a pickle like a pregnant woman and put sriracha on it and I don’t even have an answer for why) is off the table for comments. It took them a few years to fully commit to this but this summer with my seven weeks home really helped them understand. Not eating at dinner because I’m not hungry? Sorry mom, that pasta looks delicous, but I might not be ready to eat it til 9pm tonight when you’ve already cleaned up. And I say, that’s okay because of where I’m at on my journey.
When it comes to loved ones, ask and you shall receive, for the most part. My mom was amazing and understanding and never once pushed me this summer when I ate at weird times with weird condiments. My dad is still learning, but he’ll get there and he’s aware and that’s what matters. Talk to your friends and your cousins and your girlfriend and your hubby and be as straight up as possible.
“I need to keep this nine dollar jar of organic pecan butter in the house and I need you to not comment on it’s price, it’s size, or it’s taste. It is my choice right now and it’s part of my recovery and I need you to support me.”
“I need you to pick the place for dinner tonight, and if you say it and I wrinkle up my nose because it doesn’t sound good to me, I need you to not get frustrated. I realize that I am frustrating you but I am not in a place to make decisions because I don’t know what I want and I would really appreciate your patience in this decision making process tonight.”
Okay, whatever it is, there is no harm in asking. And if your friend/boy/mom can’t understand why this is, I ask you to also be patient with them. They may accidentally make a judgemental face that they have no control over when they see you pouring animal crackers on top of a bowl of ice cream and they may accidentally ask you why you need to order pizza AND pasta AND salad AND dessert and the more patient you are with them, the more patient they will get with you. It’s a give give situation here. No one is perfect and this is a touchy subject that needs care and compassion from all sides – including yours.
5. Know your other “vices”. Cigarettes and TV are mine. When I am emotional and want to binge, I don’t reach for the beer so much as I crave a smoke and an SVU marathon. And you know what, I fully accept that laying on the couch on a beautiful beach day and choosing Olivia and Elliot over the sunshine is absolutely part of my healing process and a choice that I make when I don’t have the energy to go live life in the sand today. It’s a distraction, it’s a simple comfort, but you know what? It’s not a jar of Nutella and as long as I’m aware of it, I carry on with my marathon and do my best to forgive myself. The cigarettes – not so much, because I’m a role model for my students and I had such a hard time quitting that buying a pack would just send me into hardcore reverse. But occasionally I’ll bum one and feel satisfied and I do my best not to feel shitty about that too. I’m in recovery from an addictive habit – and most disordered eating is addictive if you really think about it – so knowing what you are using instead of eating/refraining from eating as your new vice is super crucial to your recovery and a healthy life. Forgive yourself for the replacements and give yourself a little credit for being aware and just do your best today. That’s all you, or anyone else, can ask for.
6. Therapy. Finding a therapist isn’t easy. Depending on where you live, you might be lucky enough to have an eating disorder clinic in your area that offers outpatient therapy. If you’re not so lucky, and you live in Hawaii like me and there is absolutely NOTHING pertaining to eating disorders at all (on the Big Island anyway), ask your health care provider for a list of counselors in your community and buck up and give them a call. I called around today, yes literally today before typing this up, and talked to some “therapists” that didn’t even ask my full name or what I was looking to get out of counseling. NEXT PLEASE. Then, when I was about to give up, I called a woman that has a PhD and asked appropriate questions and has already sent me forms to fill out so I can show up and just have a relaxing appointment. Shopping around is clutch – it’s like finding an agent as an actress – they are working for you, not the other way around. Trying them on for size takes time and is a real pain in the ass, but at the end, the payoff is something healthy for YOU. You get to take away the benefits of therapy and apply it towards a happier healthier life.
Holy shit, my arm hurts from typing this so fast. But you know, it’s been calling to be written for months now and I can’t keep putting it off until I find the right pictures or the right title or the right statistics to offer you. Please, for the love of all things healthy, pick up a copy of When Food is Love by Geneen Roth and allow yourself to become aware of your patterns. Or start from the very beginning and find solace in others like you in Feeding The Hungry Heart. I don’t love Geneen so much anymore because she charges you for everything and doesn’t really like to communicate with her fans but you know what the bitch can write and she writes it all and she helped me and I can’t deny that for a second.
Body love is a whole nother topic in this whole recovery thing and I’ll be on it very soon. It’s actually a huge gigantic amazing fabulous component that deserves a post all of its own.
I hope this list helps and I hope you find something here that sheds some light. Share it with someone who needs it. Print it out and put it in an inspiring place. YOU CAN DO THIS. I HAVE FAITH IN YOU. YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU REALIZE. YOUR LIFE IS YOURS AND YOURS ALONE. I AM YELLING AND I AM SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE I BELIEVE ALL THESE THINGS TO BE TRUE. YOU ARE FUCKING AMAZING AND YOU DESERVE RECOVERY AND THERAPY AND LIGHT AND BREATH AND SANITY AND FEELINGS OF SAFETY AND CONTENT.
AND, last but not least, you know you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions and concerns.
All my love and support and congratulations for being open to help and doing what you can to recover –
I’ll never forget the way I was sitting on my bed last May in my underwear – left leg tucked, right leg straight, cookies and cream container stuck between my thighs – when I first read this excerpt from Geneen Roth’s When Food Is Love:
“From a journal entry, October 10, 1978. Today I ate:
1/3 package graham crackers (100 calories)
1 salad with dressing (300 calories)
1/8 lb. carob chips (200 calories)
1 cookie (75 calories)
1/4 lb. granola (300 calories)
4 tbsp. cashew butter (300 calories)
32 ounces apple juice (300 calories)
1/2 Wayfarer’s bread (250 calories)
5 tbsp. hummus (300 calories)
1 ice cream sandwich (400 calories)
1 apple (76 calories)
1 fudge bar (200 calories)
1 package brown rice crackers (200 calories)
1 tbsp. peanut butter (75 calories)
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream (2000 calories)
DAY’S TOTAL CALORIES: 5176
October 11, 1978, 3 A.M.: I awaken with an image of myself slashing each organ in my body to pieces. With each strike I say, “Good. Again. Harder.” I want to destroy myself. I want to eat until I die. The pain seems so deserving. It is the only way I am comfortable. Not sleeping, eating uncontrollably, driving myself to the edge, this feels right. I want to get in my car and go to Albertson’s. 3 A.M. Bright lights. Eat ice cream. Be totally mad and fling myself into the ocean. Get rid of myself. I hate this creature that I am. Good. Again. Harder.”
When I read that, and realized that I was not the only one in the world that did such things – that ate like that, that hated myself at 3 A.M. like that, that wanted to go out and get more ice cream even after all that – I was overwhelmed with relief, and grief, and a sick happiness, and the daunting question of “well shit, now what?”
The only way to answer my question was to keep reading. And I never stopped. Over the past nine months I have read myself sane. I have read myself happy. I have read myself healthy. Not 100% sane, or 100% happy, and not even close to 100% healthy, but I’m a lot closer today than I was last May, covered in sticky ice cream and chocolate sprinkles.
My library is a compilation of used books, borrowed books, yard sale books, and Kindle purchases all based off of loving friends’ recommendations or my own random discoveries or even gifts from strangers who I met at the yoga retreat.
I want to share my personal library with you because you never know what might strike a chord with you. I’m currently going on a JOURNEY with Stasi Eldredge’s Captivating, thanks to my aunt who sent it to me for Christmas. Books are my therapy, dude, seriously. My life is constantly changing because of what I read and how I apply it to my life.
Just like people, no book is ever perfect. I’ve learned to take what I need and leave the rest. Sometimes, only one chapter applies to me at the time, and I know that at a later point, I’ll understand the rest of the book. I read Eat, Pray, Love when I was 23, and again when I was 25, and each time was extremely different. A lot can happen in two years. So I encourage you to check out these books now – and if they don’t speak to you, keep them on your list for the future.
One last thing – you’ll notice that each book is directly linked to Amazon.com where you can purchase it directly. I personally support used book stores and local business before I ever buy a book online, but sometimes, you see the description for a book and you’re just like, “I NEED TO READ THAT RIGHT NOW.”
The books listed below are not just for emotional eaters or for women who struggle with body image. There’s something here for everybody – the anxious, the depressed, the confused, the performer, the creator, the lover – or the friend of an anxious, depressed, confused, performer-creator-lover. You might find insight on people you love, even if it doesn’t relate to you. I want to help, inspire, and encourage you and your loved ones. I hope that what you find below suits your needs.
Ready? Here we go. My library, in the order that I read them this past year. Each bulletpoint includes the title with a link to Amazon, the author, and my description of the book or an excerpt from the book in italics (sometimes, the book needs to do the talking):
- When Food Is Love by Geneen Roth: The excerpt that opened this blog post is from this book. This is the first book I read when I hit rock bottom. It started my journey with Geneen Roth, whose books literally saved my life. It brought awareness to the way I use food as a drug, and the way I have used dating, addiction, and failure as distractions.
- Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth: “By the time I was twenty-eight I knew how many calories were in any food that was presented to me. I knew how to lose weight and how to gain weight. I knew how to maintain my weight. I knew how to diet and how to binge. But I didn’t know when I was hungry. More painful, I didn’t know it was okay to be hungry. No one ever told me, or if they did, I had forgotten that being hungry was natural. My body was the enemy.” I learned how to eat, when I’m hungry, and not feel completely consumed by diet, food, or compulsion from this book. This book is my bible – still, to this day.
- Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth: “There are many ways to bolt. Walking out the door. Renting a helicopter. Distracting yourself from your pain by doing a thousand different things: thinking about something else, blaming your mother, blaming someone else, getting into a fight, comparing yourself to other people, dreaming about life in the future, recalling life in the past, never getting deeply involved. Eating. Spending your life trying to lose weight or figure it all out…Staying where you are with what you are feeling or seeing or sensing is the first step in ending the obsession with food. And although it seems as if ending the obsession is what we all want to do, we actually want to keep it more…Obsession gives you something to do besides having your heart shattered by heart-shattering events.”
- How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie: I had no idea that the most simple acts of really remembering someone’s name and smiling in public could change my entire life. I can deal with anyone now – and I have truly become, a people person. I read this book right before I went to New Orleans last June and was hit on by every single attractive man I set my eyes on. Something about it must have worked, I’m telling you.
- How To Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie: I have had anxiety my entire life. This common sense approach to overcome worry and anxiety has calmed me down and put everything in perspective. I constantly go back to it for gentle reminding that it’s all gonna be okay.
- Mindful Recovery: A Spiritual Path to Healing from Addiction by Thomas and Beverly Bien: This book totally cleared my vision after reading all of Geneen Roth’s books. Once I battled the actual eating disorder, I could take a step back and look at the addiction part of my eating disorder. This book can help anyone who has ever used cigarettes, weed, alcohol, sex, drugs, or food to fill the void in the past. You don’t have to be a serious addict to appreciate the amazing help this book provides – it can shed light on things regardless of your past.
- Return To Love by Marianne Williamson: This book completely overhauled my thinking in terms of what “love” is. There really aren’t enough words in the English language to define all the ways love affects us, but this book taught me to surrender what is out of my control and truly open myself up for the goodness that the universe provides. Ms. Williamson writes sort of like I do – very down to earth and honest, and I like that. She writes like a human – not a psychology professor.
- The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz: My life is forever changed because of these four simple principles. If the entire world read this book, there wouldn’t be guilt, anger, insecurity, or confrontation. By reading this book, you are contributing to a better world. I also wrote out the four agreements in relation to the audition world – if you are a performer, or an artist, please read this book – or at least check out my recent blog post about it.
- The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp: Finding this in a used book store last month is the best thing that’s happened to me in 2014. Even if you are by no means in the creative or entertainment industry – this book is a must-read for a reminder that everyone is human, everyone struggles, and there are small ways to work through it and improve the way you find order and happiness in your daily life.
- Feeding The Hungry Heart by Geneen Roth: I read this months after I read the first three Geneen Roth books and I wish I had read it first in a way. It’s concise, personal, and makes me feel completely not alone in this journey of mine. It’s a mix between Geneen’s advice and a compilation of different people who have dealt with emotional eating and eating disorders, telling their stories honestly and openly. I HIGHLY recommend reading this even if you aren’t an emotional eater – it will clue you into what some of your loved ones may be going through.
- Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge: After doing months and months of reading on emotional and compulsive eating, sometimes you just need to read something else. My aunt sent me this book and I was skeptical because I don’t identify with Christianity – and Stasi Eldredge is a Christian-based author. However, I went on a JOURNEY with this book – every woman should read this and whoever you believe in, regardless if it’s God or Jesus or just good, old-fashioned love – you’ll find what you need in this book.
- Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge: This book’s caption is “unveiling the mystery of a woman’s soul”. I’m three-quarters done with this book and I feel extremely vulnerable, but thank God. Again, this husband/wife team writes Christianity-based books, but I still identify with what this book is saying, regardless of my religion. I’m opening up and stepping back and looking at old wounds, old hurts, old battle scars, and really taking the time to accept them, process them, see how they’ve affected who I am today. This book is taking me into a journey of forgiveness, self-discovery, and self-trust.
These are the books that have profoundly shaped my past year. I quote them in my posts, on my vision boards, and in emails to friends. They are the best therapists I’ve ever known and none of them have ever asked to see my health insurance card.
I have to close with this quote that made me smile from ear to ear today while on my short plane ride from Maui to Kona:
“The word mother is more powerful when used as a verb than as a noun. All women are not mothers, but all women are called to mother. To mother is to nurture, to train, to educate, to rear…all women are uniquely gifted to help others in their lives become more of who they truly are – to encourage, nurture, and mother them toward their true selves. All women are called to mother. And all women are called to give birth. Women give birth to all kinds of things – to books (it’s nearly as hard as a child, believe me), to churches, to movements. Women give birth to ideas, to creative expressions, to ministries. A woman is not less of a woman because she is not a wife or has not physically borne a child…When we enter into our world and into the lives of those we love and offer our tender and strong feminine hearts, we cannot help but mother them.” – John and Stasi Eldredge, Captivating
If you’re reading this and you aren’t married, and you don’t have kids (like me), I hope this makes you smile too. My Facebook newsfeed might be full of newborn babies and engagement announcements each morning, but reading a quote like that reminds me that we’re all on different paths, and mine is mine for a reason. I’d like to think that I gave birth to the Roar movement, or the masking tape movement – which is what I’ll eventually have to call it when Katy Perry’s lawyers finally catch wind – and I have always had a tendency to mother my nearest and dearest. And today, while reading, I had a beautiful moment of realizing, accepting, and loving that about myself.
I hope one or more of these books offers you the same sort of moments.
Aloha and happy reading!
STAY TUNED FRIDAY, MARCH 28TH FOR THE RELEASE OF ROAR 2! I’M SO EXCITED I’M SO EXCITED I’M SO EXCITED I’M SO EXCITED!
I always used to get the best sweet potato recipes at Weight Watchers meetings.
Now, I’ve been to Weight Watcher meetings in Pennysylvania, and in New Jersey, and even in Hilton Head, South Carolina. But you ain’t never seen a Weight Watcher meeting like the ones they have in New York City. Those meetings involved iPads, lots of Powerpoint, and sometimes semi-formal attire.
Those bright blue, mod-chic, windowless rooms would be so filled with people that there weren’t enough chairs to seat everybody’s (hopefully shrinking) ass. There would be this insane line of people out the door – women jetting over after work, men running over during their lunch break, me killing time between auditions with a fully painted face – and all you would see in front and back of you was the the frantic stripping of jackets, belts, shoes, even jewelry, in antipation of that weekly weigh-in.
One at a time, each of us would step up to the scale, hold our breath, moan or cheer at the results, frantically pick up our entire wardrobe we’d thrown in a pile on the floor only moments before, and then sprint to find a seat before the meeting began.
We always started the meetings whether people were still in line to weigh in or not – we just had to, or we’d be waiting around all day. Our leader would step to the front of the room and introduce herself, tell us how much weight she’d lost and how long she’d been following the program, and proceed to bring up a weekly topic such as “cooking with new spices” or “summer drinks and mocktails”.
Each week, the leader would have the same three women stand up and tell all the newbies their name, how much weight they’d lost, and how long they’d been a member of Weight Watchers.
The same three women had been following the program religiously for like, thirty or forty years. They’d lost about fifty to a hundred pounds each, and they’d kept it off for like, twenty-nine or thirty-nine years, and they always had the best sweet potato recipes.
The leader introduced these same ladies every single week in order to inspire the rest of us in the room. “Look where you can end up with this program!” “See how a little counting and some walking can pay off?!” “If she can do it, so can you!” and all that jazz.
I always used to applaud the ladies while I looked down at my little weigh-in booklet, thinking to myself – it doesn’t matter that I ate four jars of Nutella this week if I still lost half a pound from not eating yesterday. If she can do it, so can I.
Later that night when I went out for a second dinner (after the one I shoveled in at home – meals after weigh-ins are taken very seriously – and by seriously, I mean there’s more than one of them) I would skip dessert thinking to myself, “if she can do it, so can I.”
And then when I ate half a gallon of ice cream before bed and threw the rest of it in the garbage in disgust, I looked at the melted mess in the trash proudly thinking, “if she can do it, so can I.”
For years I looked to those other ladies for inspiration, waiting for the day I could proudly stand in front of everyone at the meeting and say how long I’d been following the program and offer my own sweet potato recipe.
When I gave up on Weight Watchers for the fourth time around, I no longer had the sweet potato ladies for inspiration. So, I started looking elsewhere. There were always Victoria’s Secret models pasted to my fridge. Vision boards crafted from Self Magazine home-workouts and quotes about running would be propped up against my desk. I would sit in the holding room at auditions with hundreds of other girls and seek out the most perfect body in the room, fantasizing what I would book if I looked like that.
Never once did I look in the mirror at my own face, much less my own body, and find inspiration in my own expressions or my own curves. Never once did I look back through my personal journal entries or timeline of life events to find inspiration in my own journey. Never once did I think to myself, “look what I’ve done so far,” “look how much I’ve learned,” or “look how far I’ve come”.
Perhaps if I had, I would have noticed my own issues before I hit rock bottom.
I had blinders on. And those blinders were always focused on one thing. “If she/they/he/Jennifer Hudson can do it, so can I.”
I was always looking at everyone else with envy – wishing I looked like them, or ate like them, or ran like them. I never even noticed my world spinning out of control.
I bring all of this up because of how differently I look at things now. I didn’t realize that in finding my own strength, and facing my own demons, I have had to rely on myself for inspiration. I’ve had to look at my own life for encouragement at times, because it is the only thing there to remind me what I have overcome, meaning that if I had the strength to prevail at one point in my life, then I know I’ll have it again when I need it. This concept of seeking inspiration from within, is kind of, not something that was instilled in me for the first twenty-five years of my life.
Now, my friend Namaste brings her daughter to dance class at the studio where I teach almost every day of the week. We’ve become close in a short time because of all the time we both spend at the studio – and because she used to be a ballerina before she had her children.
Namaste was in a horrific car accident about four years ago – nearly destroying her ability to walk and causing life-long knee, neck, and joint problems. She definitely did not think she would ever dance again.
However something interesting has happened. I’m not sure if she started coming to my adult ballet classes because she felt bad I was a new teacher and I didn’t have many students, or if she started coming because she thought it was time to try getting back to the barre, but either way, she is dancing again.
This woman’s feet – my God, if you appreciate the feet of a ballerina – that perfect arch, that incredible relevé – you would die over Namaste’s feet. This woman’s posture – it beats my showgirl posture any day. And even if she hasn’t danced in many years, you can see that it’s all still there.
Now since mid-January, Namaste has gone from wearing knee braces just to do pliés at the barre, and marking the across the floor combinations, to turning and jumping and balancing for almost half of the class.
She doesn’t always see the progress. She often apologizes that she can’t get all the way up on the ball of her foot yet, and that she can’t do every single jump that we practice. But all I see, is beautiful, miraculous, inspiring progress.
So I tell her. I tell her every week how much I can see a difference and how amazing she looks.
Last week she finally took the compliment. She said, “you know, I can’t do it all yet. But I’m a lot farther now than I was three years ago.”
Three years ago, Namaste wasn’t driving, or walking, and most certainly not dancing.
And that’s what inspired me to write this post this week. Namaste has been through a journey people, but she was able to stop for a second – and look at how far she has come. She was able to stop apologizing and stop focusing on what she can’t do, long enough to smile and look at what she can do.
If she can take a pause in this busy world and find the inspiration inside herself to keep going, then why can’t I? Why can’t you?
Dare I say it, “if she can do it, so can we.”
It’s not about looking at everyone else’s highlight reel on Facebook. It’s not always about the miracle stories in the magazines and the forwarded emails and the Upworthy links. Those things have their place, but before all that, we can find inspiration right at home. It’s already inside of all of us.
Our own personal journey would probably inspire the masses if we each took the time to write a book about it. Why doesn’t it inspire us the same way?
Whether we realize it or not, we have our own highlight reel. A real, honest, unique highlight reel that includes the good and the bad. The shitty times and the celebrations. The bad boyfriends and the bad hangovers. The small victories and the big achievements.
And that’s the highlight reel we should be focusing on a little more. It’s lovely to congratulate our friends, and celebrate with our friends, and encourage our friends. But there’s a time and place for celebrating ourselves as well.
Look at how much we have done. Look at how much we have learned. Look at how far we have come.
My friend and writing mentor, Rae Gouirand, told me that she believes “the single most damaging idea facing the survival of creative culture is the idea that creative work comes from inspiration. That inspiration begets engagement.”
She says, “The truth is, most creative people I know live in a kind of perpetual terror of not being inspired, trying desperately to set themselves up for inspiration, when the truth is that external inspiration is almost always absent from most of our lives. My thesis: inspiration is best chased THROUGH the process itself. It is rare that I sit down feeling like I’m on fire, but if I start typing shit and get the right song on loop and no one interrupts me, I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll find a flow where I feel happy.”
I’m not saying that we are all looking to sit down and write a novel here, but I love what she says about “chasing inspiration through the process itself.” Whatever you need, you have it. Whatever you’re looking for, it’s already inside of you. You just have to actively seek and find it within your daily life.
The definition of the word chase is “to pursue in order to seize or overtake; to follow or devote one’s attention to with the hope of attracting, winning or gaining.”
Seize your life. Overtake the desire to look elsewhere for inspiration. Follow your gut and search within the things you already know. There, you will find the hope, and the inspiration, that you’ve been seeking.
It’s worked for me. Now, let’s be real, it’s been actual work. This shit takes work. It’s not easy to look at all of the things I’ve seized and all the things that have almost overtaken me – but it’s definitely work that is worth it. It is absolutely necessary work.
It’s the work that saved my life, and it’s the work that makes me cherish the life I’m living right now.
“Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.” -Elizabeth Gilbert
Bada bing. Bada boom. You can always count on Elizabeth Gilbert to say it right.
The next time you look in the mirror, I hope that you recognize yourself as an inspiration. Because regardless if you see it now, or you see it five years from now, it’s already a fact. You are inspiration. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Whenever you are ready, take the time to chase that fact. Process that fact, love that fact, explore that fact – that fact that you are inspiration. It might take some work, but with time, your brain and your heart will accept this fact as truth, and everything will change. Everything.
I dare you to start the chase right now. Go look through your kitchen cabinet for your own sweet potato recipe. I bet you already have one hidden in there, and didn’t even remember.
Next week’s posting:
The Library That Saved My Life
So last week, I wrote about Johnny.
This week, he wrote about me. He even came up with this week’s title. Ladies and gents, a guest blog post from the man I’m dating, Johnny Burkhart.
Beauty & The Beast
What It’s Like To Date A Woman Recovering From An Eating Disorder
When Amanda asked me to write a guest blog, I was hesitant to say the least. Could I really be honest about what it’s like to date a woman with a binge eating disorder and would she still love me afterwards? I pray that the latter part is true.
Another reason I was hesitant was because she wanted me to respond to an article entitled 5 Reasons To Date A Girl With An Eating Disorder written by an anonymous guy on the misogynistic website “Return of Kings”. The author of the article, who writes under an alias (ahem, coward), claims to “specialize in dating culture and social intelligence”. Before I read the article, I glanced at the comments below it which were strewn with hate for this anonymous guy and disgust for the article. Alrighty then, this oughta be great. After I read the actual article, I realized this guy had no idea what he was talking about. The article did not contain any intelligence, but was possibly his attempt at humor? One can only hope.
Apparently any idiot can spew out a bunch of nonsense and have it posted on the internet. So why shouldn’t I give it a shot?
This post is in no way a response to that article, and if you have any sense at all, you will totally ignore that article and not give it any more energy than it has already received. What I have written below is simply my experience dating Amanda and is not a blanket statement about what it’s like to date women with eating disorders or specifically binge eating disorders.
Honestly Though! – One of the things that most attracted me to Amanda was her honesty. I don’t think we would be together today if it weren’t for her brutal honesty. I read her blog before we ever went on our first date, so I knew what kind of craziness I was signing up for. I was in awe of how honest she was in her blog, and even face to face with people. It’s truly inspiring and sometimes a little scary, especially when she writes about me in her blog.
Something that came to me after reading her blog was that I had grown up with a binge eater. I had never called it that or thought of it in the terms she puts it in, but my mother was/is a binge eater. I watched her slowly put on the pounds as I grew up and saw the toll that it took on her body. She is now in recovery for it and working on getting healthier which I am incredibly proud of her for.
This realization caught me off guard, and I was afraid that if Amanda found out, she wouldn’t want to date me. I was afraid that she might think that I was trying to heal some old shit with my mother – which could be true, let’s face it – and that she wouldn’t want any part of it. I mean, we did meet when we were at a retreat center where she came to do some major healing around her ED. But I knew that honesty was the only course of action here, so I told her.
Honesty plays a big role in our relationship today and it has to. It has to go both ways. We have to be honest with each other. That could be said for any relationship really, but when you’re dating a binge eater that is especially true. Even when it’s hard and I feel that pit in the bottom of my stomach, no pun intended, I know that I have to be honest with Amanda. So bear with me as I get real honest about some shit here.
Shame vs. Accountability “You ate all the cookies?!!” – When we first started dating, Amanda told me that I couldn’t say “anything” to her about her food decisions. I understand that shame plays a big role with women who have ED’s, I get it! But there’s a fine line between shame and accountability when you date/live with a woman who is a binge eater.
There are times when I bite my tongue because I don’t want risk her feeling shamed by me. Look, I don’t want to sound like her mother or anything. But we do share food and expenses, so there does need to be some form of accountability for what we consume. So when I ask where all the Fudge Mint Cookies are, I am not trying to shame her. I just want some fucking cookies!
I have learned to know when to pick my battles. Sometimes you can’t win, no matter what, you just can’t! When she does eat all the cookies, I know better than to say “why did you eat all the cookies, what were you thinking?” That would be shaming. I have also learned that if she buys cupcakes and there’s only one left, I better not eat it without asking her first or there will be hell to pay.
Now, when she asks if we can go get some ice cream, I know better than to say to her, “Really? Ice cream? Is that such a great choice right now?” I either say “Yeah, let’s go get some ice cream”, or “No thanks.” It can be that simple. I know better than to try and play her mom and monitor her food choices – I think that’s part of the reason we’re in this whole mess in the first place. That’s not my job nor do I ever want that job. My job is to love her no matter what her food choices are that day or that moment and to try to encourage her to be the best she can be.
The Emotional Roller Coaster Ride – They say that women are ruled by their emotions, and having an eating disorder just adds to that equation. Dating a woman with an ED can be quite the emotional roller coaster. The ups and downs, good decisions followed by bad decisions, craziness and uncertainty make for some interesting times.
There are days when she feels good about herself and she makes good decisions. She’s confident and it seems nothing can get in her way. Those are the days when she loves me and I can do nothing wrong, she’s supportive and nonjudgmental. Even if I say the wrong thing to her she can just laugh it off.
Then there are the days when she doesn’t want to get out of bed, let alone get dressed. She makes unhealthy decisions, like eating cake just before going to sleep. She has zero confidence in herself or what she’s doing in life. Those are the days when if I make the slightest comment about anything she wants to kill me and I would rather be anywhere else but by her side. Thankfully there are less of these days and more of the good days or I might have to reconsider the situation.
Amanda is one of the most ambitious and positive people I have ever met or had the pleasure of being in a relationship with. But when she has bad days, there’s not much I can say or do to bring her out of it. As much as possible, I try and let her find her own solutions to things and encourage her to look inside at what’s really going on. I know from experience that people need to really sit in their shit and feel it before they are ready to come out of it.
The same fire that fuels her passion for dance and performing is also at the heart of her addiction in some way.
“It is a beast, this thing that stirs in the core of her being, but it is also the star of her innermost nature. We have to care for this suffering with extreme reverence so that, in our fear and anger at the beast, we do not overlook the star.” – Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul
Body Image & Sex – When I was 19 years old, I told my live-in girlfriend that if she got fat that I would leave her. OK, OK, put down your weapons ladies! That was a long time ago and I have learned to be more compassionate. I’d also like to think I’ve gotten a lot smarter about how to talk to women. Key word, “think”.
Many years later, I find myself in a relationship with a woman whose weight has slowly but steadily increased since we began dating. Now I would never say anything to her about this because it really doesn’t matter to me anymore. I find her just as sexy and attractive as when we first began dating.
Sexy to me isn’t about being rail thin or starving yourself or working out 8 hours a day. Sexy to me is about how you carry yourself, the love that you share with others and being emotionally present. Amanda has that; I mean did you see her Roar performance? This woman has got that attitude and drive that just does it for me and it doesn’t matter what the number on the scale says.
Amanda has asked me before if I think she is fat or has gained weight but I don’t take the bait. I’m not going to stand over her shoulder as she steps on the scale either. It’s not my job or place to say if she’s gained weight or needs to lose a few pounds. Again, my job is to love her just the way she is, fat, thin, clear skin, or broken out.
I’m not saying it’s always easy because it’s not. Having sex with someone who just engulfed a bowl of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate chips doesn’t exactly do it for me. Then there’s the days she wants to make out in the morning with a huge whitehead on her upper lip from binging on chocolate the night before. “Um… hey babe maybe you uh… can you take care of that before we uh… um I mean have you uh… oh boy!” Thankfully those times are the exceptions and not the rule.
The “D” Word – Recently Amanda asked me if I would be willing to do an Intolerance Test with her. Not sure what she was talking about I asked her to explain what that meant. She proceeded to tell me how you weren’t allowed to have any gluten, dairy, corn, sugar, bread, processed foods, or bananas for 3 weeks. Oh, and no eating out at restaurants either, my personal favorite. “Well,” I said, “as fun as that sounds, I don’t really like doing Diets!”. Then the earth actually stopped spinning for a few seconds and she said “IT’S NOT A DIET! It’s an intolerance test don’t call it a Diet!” Yep, I actually said the “D” word to a binger, my bad.
Not realizing what the “D” word meant to someone with an eating disorder, I had some back peddling to do here. I proceeded to tell her that I would help support her in any way I could without actually doing the intolerance test with her the whole time. I’m willing to try some new recipes and things but giving all that up for 3 weeks basically amounted to torture to me. I’m of the philosophy of everything in moderation.
Amanda used to tell me about her experiences with trying to cut out sugar and desserts and how that would just lead to more bingeing. So I wasn’t so gung ho about this intolerance test to begin with. She would always say that it’s better to have some of her favorite foods around just in case the cravings came on and she could try and hit them off at the pass before full bingeing mode kicked in.
So a few days later she started her “intolerance test” and the fun began. I really should have seen it coming. It hit me like that magical visit from Aunt Flo each month. When you take away sugar and all the deliciousness of most foods away from a binger, it’s not a pretty picture at first. Luckily that only lasted a couple days.
I was surprised that she even wanted to try it, given her history of trying food restriction, and I was honestly skeptical of the whole thing. She eventually settled into it though and seems to be hitting her stride now. She really is handling it amazingly well. It speaks volumes for her recovery that she is able to stick with it, and I am so proud of her for that.
So #Blessed – One of our closest friends, John Reardon, was the catalyst for our relationship. He is always saying to me how blessed Amanda is to have me in her life. I can literally feel Amanda’s eyes roll back in her skull and cringe every time he says this or texts it to me. But like, it’s true. Some of you know or have experienced what it’s like to be in a relationship where you don’t feel supported by the other person OR their behavior just seems to trigger you into doing things you shouldn’t. When you find the “right” person, they should lift you up and encourage you, not trigger your bad habits and addictions. I think, (again, key word, “think”), that I lift Amanda up instead of triggering her, and that’s why John always says how blessed she is to have me in her life.
I am also so blessed to have Amanda in my life. Her love and enthusiasm for life are infectious and I am so inspired by her. So much so, that I agreed to learn a duet tap dance with her for the May recital with the dance studio she’s teaching at – in front of an actual audience. I have mixed feelings about this decision, but it’s all happening now, so I’m just gonna go with it. I was also inspired by her to write this post and put it out there to you all. All of her passion and love for life make all of the craziness of her ED seem so insignificant.
“The uniqueness of a person is made up of the insane and twisted as much as it is of the rational and normal.” Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul
You see, Amanda and I are both a little twisted and insane, but in a way that supports each other. And for that, we are both so blessed.
Seriously Though! – Dating a woman who is recovering from an eating disorder isn’t as scary as it might seem. As I started out saying here, the key is really all about honesty. Like Amanda always says, “everyone has their shit” that they are dealing with – some more than others. But if you’re honest about your shit, it makes all the difference in the world. Hiding your shit really only makes things worse in the end.
So ladies and gents, if you think that hiding an eating disorder or an addiction from the person you are dating is a good thing, or the safe thing, I want you to reconsider. I strongly encourage you to share your shit with your partner. It may help explain some of the crazy shit you do from time to time. I know that if I didn’t know what Amanda was dealing with, I would have been out the door a long time ago. Knowing what she’s going through allows me to be more compassionate with her when she’s acting like a crazy bitch. Seriously though!
I don’t try and heal Amanda. That’s not the intention here. You are honest not so your partner can help fix you, but to bear witness to what you are going through. I’ve dated, and was even married, to women who were a closed book and would never reveal what was really going on, not even to a therapist. They carried a lot of extra baggage around to basically try and save some face. It eventually catches up to all of us at some point. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m thankful everyday for Amanda’s honesty – even when things are rough between us – because it’s the foundation of our relationship and the reason our love is so strong to this day.
Let me just remind you – like I remind Amanda often – of the second agreement of The Four Agreements: Don’t make assumptions. You cannot assume what your friends or your significant other will think if you open up to them about your issues. Never assume. And if you open up to them, and they make an ass out of you, then seriously though, they are NOT worth your time.
Well, I think I covered all the ground I wanted to here. I’ve been trying to come up with a good way to close this all up, but I’m a little stuck, so I’m just gonna let Bob Marley do the talking.
Lots of aloha from Hawaii,
Next Week’s Posting:
I’m not sure but I’m sure Amanda has something good to say
Everyone keeps asking me what my aha moment was. To write this blog, to start living, to start healing, to re-surface.
I don’t believe that my “aha” moment was this big bolt of lightning that struck me on my way to Schmackary’s for my second red velvet cookie of the day. No one gave me the “aha” moment in a gift-wrapped bag. No quote on Pinterest inspired it.
It was sort of just, another little moment in time, just like the rest of my previous moments in time, that was way more profound than all the others.
Sometimes, your moments have to lead you to a very dark place before the next moment can come along and change everything.
And my God, have I had quite a variety of little moments that have added up over the years.
So I think I want to explain the timeline of my personal little moments, in hopes that it will inspire you to turn around and think about your own. I actually wrote this timeline on August 1st, 2013, on my six hour plane ride from Phoenix, Arizona to Honolulu, Hawaii. I have all sorts of documents on this computer of mine, meant for blog posts at a later date, and this one hasn’t seemed appropriate until now. Because, as I begin to retrace my own steps with my beloved Geneen Roth books, since I’ve been finding myself sneaking entire bags of mint milano cookies (Karen Walker’s favorite!) during momentary setbacks this week, I feel that now is the best time to share what got me to this point.
I hope that this week’s post helps those who are looking for answers, or looking for someone to relate to. And if you yourself don’t need this help, I hope it invokes empathy in you for someone you love who may be stuggling with similar timeline events to mine. As unbelievably therapeutic, and occasionally hilarious this was for me to write, I encourage you, my strong, courageous, ferocious readers, to consider doing the same for yourself. It’s okay to embrace our funny and sad and ironic and amazing pasts so that we can learn from them, find gratitude for them, and then look to the future with hope. Because remember, my friends: all the little moments, the teeniest, tiniest of moments, have added up in their own unique ways to get all of us to right here, where we are right now.
Ladies and gentlemen, a story.
Once upon a time and all that jazz, sometime around the age of 18, a girl found herself in a land called Rock Bottom. Girl has never been quite sure how she got there, but all of a sudden, it was her new home. A home that she didn’t feel at home in.
Girl had freckles, blue eyes, unmanageable curly hair, and a tiny indent of a scar on the very tip of her nose from a chicken pox scab that she scratched when she was 4. She started dancing when she was three years old, around the time that she learned how to sing “Ten Little Angels” in church. She grew up riding forewheelers and horses in Pennsylvania. She always loved the winter because it meant hot chocolate and sledding on huge hills on her grandfather’s farm with her cousins.
Through many series of events, girl came to love food. The comfort of it. The memories it could bring back to life. The holes that it filled during times of confusion, loneliness, insecurity, emptiness.
Without her realizing it, a lot of moments in Girl’s life led her to her new home in Rock Bottom. Some of it was growing up in a dance studio, comparing herself to the other prettier, skinnier, more talented girls in full length mirrors every day. Some of it was being a band nerd instead of a cheerleader. Some of it was dating a gay man who didn’t know he was gay. Some of it was just part of growing up.
When Girl arrived in Rock Bottom, she knew that it was a place she wanted to leave immediately. So for the next six years, she came and went a lot. No really, like, a lot.
First, she went to college. For musical theatre. Some might say that was the first mistake. Looking back, it really was just all part of the journey.
She left Rock Bottom with a suitcase packed with t-shirts from every show she ever did, Abercrombie & Fitch tank tops that were too tight and too short in the stomach, pink tips at the bottom of her waist-length hair, and a broken heart. Not only did she get rejected from NYU’s Cap21 Musical Theatre program, she was dumped by her high school boyfriend that you met in Blog Post 5. So she arrived in Winchester, Virginia at Shenandoah University in August 2005, where she hung her dance pictures (aka cut-outs from ballet calendars, thank you for your time) on her closet door and decked out her entire side of the dorm room in Little Mermaid garb. Basically, Girl was nailing it. In every way.
While at Shenandoah, she discovered she couldn’t sing well enough to be in the fall musical, Sweeney Todd. So, she decided that the spring musical – the tap-dancing, showgirl-packed The Will Roger’s Follies – would definitely be where she would get her chance to shine.
Too bad there were five months in there to steal pie from the dessert bar in the cafeteria. Too bad there were no parents around to tell her not to eat peanut butter out of the jar. Too bad she discovered her tolerance for Natty Light straight from the keg.
Too bad that by the time auditions for The Will Roger’s Follies rolled around, she weighed 189 pounds. Showgirls do not weigh 189 pounds. Girl did not get a chance to shine once while at Shenandoah. Too bad, so sad.
Somewhere in there she talked to her friend Christine from high school and found out about AMDA – The American Musical and Dramatic Academy. It was a two year musical theatre program in New York City. It was her ticket out of Virginia. And after all, she really only ever wanted to be in New York City. This was it. It felt right.
So, after just one year, she left her friends and her chance at a four-year college experience at Shenandoah behind.
Just want to throw in there the near-death car accident Girl had on July 8th, 2006 which made her immobile for most of the summer before her transfer to AMDA – helping her maintain the 189 pounds with flying colors.
Girl moved to New York City in October of 2006. AMDA happened. It was great, at the time, for what it was. Are there things that could have been better? Absolutely. Were there teachers who promoted staying fit in order to make it in the business? Yes. Did Girl take those teachers seriously? Yes. Could Girl control her binge-eating, knowing that if she could stop binging she had a better chance at being cast? She tried. She really tried you guys. But no.
At this point, Girl had done Weight Watchers twice – once after her car accident and once during her second semester at AMDA in 2007. Full out, no marking, Weight Watchers program. Tracking points, losing 25 pounds, keeping it off for a hot minute, and binging it back on in a matter of days.
Girl was struggling. Trying. Trying. Boy, did that bitch try to keep that weight off.
Graduation came. There Girl was. Freshly 21. Freshly graduated. Freshly clueless. In New York City.
Over the next few years, she made frequent trips back to Rock Bottom but always left as soon as she had the chance. She was given a lot of opportunity to run away from Rock Bottom and she always, ALWAYS, took the opportunity. But she also, always returned to it. She was always so unclear on how she got there to start with, but at some point, it just became her permanent home base.
Life after AMDA looked like this:
May 25th, 2008: Girl graduates from AMDA. 160 pounds. This is fifteen pounds heavier than she was two months before when she auditioned for her senior showcase.
May 26th, 2008: Girl says good-bye to her best girlfriend from AMDA who goes home to New Jersey for the summer…and stays there.
May 27th, 2008: Girl starts bartending at Broadway theatres for survival job. Pounds are being gained.
July 2008: Girl and fellow AMDA alumni start talking about doing an all AMDA-alum production in the city.
August 2008: Girl gets drunk and meets the chef from Peru, who we shall call, The Little One, who strung her along for a year and a half.
September 2008: Girl starts working at Jake’s Dilemma, a frat-boy bar on the Upper West Side of NYC. Girl continues going home with The Little One after working all night. She also starts rehearsals for the AMDA-alum production. Pounds are being gained. Cigarettes are being smoked. Beer is becoming a staple.
October 2008: Girl, age 21 at this point, produces and choreographs Lucky Stiff in Times Square, and forms a non-profit theatre company while cocktail waitressing and trying not to piss off every friend she’s ever made with her insane mood swings and binge-drinking. What the fuck? Too much stress. Too much stress.
November 2008: Girl starts guest bartending at McFadden’s (Douchebag Central, 42nd Street and 2nd) and Turtle Bay (Douchbag Central Overflow, 51st and 2nd).
January 2009: Girl starts working at Equinox Fitness at the spa in order to get a free gym membership. 170 pounds.
Sometime in 2009: Girl’s only female cousin gets engaged.
Sometime in 2009: Girl realizes she has to sing in front of people in a bridesmaid dress. Girl gets a personal trainer through Equinox. Girl drinks a lot of Carnation Instant Breakfast and eats a lot of tomatoes with salt and pepper.
June 2009: Girl gets a sweet job working at Poco, a new restaurant downtown in the east village. Spanish tapas. Sweet, specialty cocktails. Pounds are gained.
August 2009: Girl is making so much money as a waitress and bartender. Auditions? What auditions?
Labor Day Weekend 2009: The Little One fucks up royally and girl finally cuts him out of her life before heading to New Jersey to visit previously mentioned girlfriend who was bestie at AMDA.
Labor Day Weekend 2009 continued: While visiting best girlfriend in New Jersey, Girl sleeps with the man she will proceed to date for the next two and a half years. His name in this blog is New Jersey. I know. The cleverness.
October 2009: Girl continues working at Poco. New Jersey comes to visit a few weekends and between that and a lot of phone dates they decide they are official. Cousin’s wedding comes and goes. 160 pounds. The thinnest Girl has been since March of 2008.
October 31st, 2009: New Jersey tells Girl he loves her.
Thanksgiving, 2009: New Jersey meets Girl’s family for the first time.
January 1st, 2010: Girl starts Weight Watchers for the third time.
Audition season, 2010: Girl gets called back for everything she auditions for. She is still working with personal trainer. She gives up her mild attempt at following Weight Watchers and just eats 1100 calories a day. And a lot of Splenda. She weighs 148 pounds and she is ripped.
May 2010, right before Girl’s mother’s birthday: Girl books her first professional gig at an Equity theatre. Damn Yankees. Happy birthday, Mom.
Night after booking first professional job: Girl starts a two week binge period that takes her weight from 148 to 157 in mere days.
June 2010: Girl goes to get measurements done for her Damn Yankees costumes. She tells the girls (who are dear, dear friends now) that she has just returned from vacation and they should take an inch off of all the measurements because she never weighs this much. Girl was lying.
July 2010: Girl starts rehearsals for Damn Yankees AND moves apartments during tech. Strong life choices.
August 2010: Girl closes Damn Yankees and goes to live with New Jersey for a month while doing next professional job – Anything Goes. She arrives for the first day of rehearsal 15 pounds heavier than when she auditioned. New Jersey does not ever want to have sex.
October 2010: Girl is sitting on the couch eating a pint of blueberry ice cream and gets a call that she booked Mame in Florida.
November 2010: Girl finds out New Jersey has a porn addiction. Girl drinks a lot of alcohol and looks at herself in the mirror naked a lot.
December 2010: Girl goes to Florida. Rehearses for Mame. Keeps porn addicted boyfriend a secret until halfway through the contract. Meets some of her best friends in life.
February 2011: Girl returns to New York from Florida.
March 2011: Girl goes to upstate New York to play Fraulein Kost in Cabaret. Costume designer is disgusted by how curvy all the women in the show are. Costume designer makes sarcastic comments about the size of corset all the Kit Kat girls need.
May 2011: Girl returns to same theatre to dance captain Crazy For You. Cheats on New Jersey. Dates new guy from contract. Weighs 170 pounds.
June 2011: Girl breaks things off with new guy. Girl is a total asshole about the breaking off. Girl is confused. Girl is fat. Girl can’t book any jobs because she is fat and she is a dancer and there are no fat dancers in 42nd Street.
July 2011: Girl starts talking to New Jersey again.
August 2011: Girl bartends the US Open. So. Much. Grey Goose.
September 11th, 2011: Girl moves to New Jersey to be with New Jersey for three months. Understudies a role at a theatre near his house for Equity points.
September 29th, 2011: Girl starts Weight Watchers for the 4th and final time.
December 6th, 2011: Girl gets new headshots at 155 pounds.
January 1st, 2012: Girl and New Jersey break up. For the last time. It’s really over.
February, 2012: Girl is nailing it and weighs in at Weight Watchers at 143 pounds. Girl is doing an off-Broadway show. Forty-eight of Girl’s friends come to see the show. A rich guy starts courting Girl and turns her life around, or so it seems, for two months. Life is good.
February 19th, 2012, 1pm: Girl receives an offer for How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying in Hilton Head, SC.
February 19th, 2012, 10pm: Girl starts a two week binge that just, never ends, that gets her up to 150 pounds by the time she leaves for Hilton Head on April 2nd.
April 2nd, 2012: Girl goes to Hilton Head at 152 pounds. Battles a ten pound window for most of the contract. Living with boys doesn’t help.
Two hours before invited dress rehearsal on April 24th: Rich dude tells Girl he’s not in love with her and cuts all contact. Fries are ordered. Ice cream is inhaled.
Beginning of May, 2012: Girl finds out she booked another contract, George M!, immediately following this current one. Only thing is, she auditioned for it at 12 pounds lighter than she is now. Now what?
May 22nd, 2012: Girl cuts out sugar, carbs, and alcohol for the last week of her Hilton Head contract in order to drop weight quickly for her next contract.
May 28th, 2012: Girl starts rehearsals for George M! and tries not to let anyone see her eat. Ever.
Sometime in May, 2012: Girl starts sleeping with a man who is in a relationship.
July 1st, 2012: Contract ends. Girl orders Bareburger delivery a lot. Continues sleeping with taken man. Gains back all weight she lost during contract.
August 15th, 2012: Girl meets Stallion. The man who will distract her from her depression, binging, and anxiety for the next 8 months.
August 15th, 2012 – March 12th, 2013: Life happens. But Stallion is in it. Life is like, kind of good. Girl choreographs two shows. Does Les Miserables in Illinois. Eats ice cream out of half gallon containers with Stallion.
March 12th – March 22nd, 2013: Stallion says he needs a break. Girl doesn’t eat. Girl wants to look fierce when they have the final “talk”.
March 22nd, 2013: Stallion admits to being depressed and emotionally unavailable. Girl looks fierce though. 150 pounds. The relationship ends.
March 28th, 2013: Girl’s birthday. Single. Unemployed. Many croissants are eaten.
April 2013: Out of all the callbacks Girl has in 2013, nada one works out.
April 14th, 2013: Girl looks great. Hasn’t been eating carbs or sugar. Goes to pick up things she left at Stallion’s house.
April 15th, 2013: The worst of the binging over the years begins.
Beginning of May 2013: Girl returns to Rock Bottom. And stays. Lays there in her gray little bed. Looking at her gray little ceiling. Pretzel crumbs on one side. A Yeungling bottle on the nightstand. Many a “not feeling well, can’t make it to your party/thing/birthday/lunch/housewarming tonight” text is sent.
May 9th, 2013: Girl goes to see her friend, Rachel. Rachel gives her two books, including Geneen Roth’s When Food Is Love.
May 10th, 2013: Girl goes home for Mother’s Day and brother’s graduation from college. Brother graduates with a degree in Landscape Architecture. Girl feels really great about her Associate’s Degree in Musical Theatre.
May 12th, 2013 at 1pm: Girl starts reading When Food Is Love on a bus back to New York City after brother’s graduation.
May 12th, 2013 at 5pm: Life is changed forever.
The story doesn’t end there. The story, this story, my story that you read every week, actually started there. A new, difficult, eye-opening story began there. Somewhere between May 12th, 2013 and May 31st, 2013, it all started happening. The calling Renfrew Center and the eating disorder diagnosis, the taking it all in and accepting and sharing of the news with friends and family, some friends being weird about it – some friends being awesome about it – some friends only finding out months later via the blog, the application and the acceptance to volunteer in Hawaii, and, the decision to share it all on the internet, with you.
I’ve had so many moments that have led me to my “aha” moment that are not the obvious. I listed pretty many of them for you.
I’d say, that there wouldn’t have been an “aha” moment without all the little moments leading up to Rachel handing me that book. I had to really be in a place where I couldn’t stand on my own two feet anymore in order for that book to speak to me.
When I opened that book, and realized that all these years, my binging was not a personal flaw, everything changed. I was using food as a drug and I had no idea. I always thought I was just really weak and had no self control and just didn’t want to be on Broadway bad enough to give up ice cream cake forever.
Sometimes, your “aha” moment will come when you least expect it. In Weight Watchers meetings, ironically enough, they ask new members what their “aha” moment was. Some ladies say it was seeing a picture at their son’s high school graduation and seeing how wide their hips were. Some say it was when they found themselves binging on their kid’s after school snacks while making dinner for the family. Some say that their doctor told them they needed to lose weight or face serious health issues for the rest of their lives.
I guess I didn’t realize that all these years, I didn’t have to be doing Weight Watchers to have an “aha” moment. Because this “aha” moment for me, in May of 2013, was the most important of them all, and it took place on a dirty bus on a Sunday afternoon coming into Port Authority after a weekend at home in PA.
I just want to say, that I think that it’s okay for us to embrace every little moment, no matter how small and trivial, with love and acceptance. Because all of those small moments make up our life. They are what makes each of our journeys unique to us. And without the shitty moments, the great moments wouldn’t stand out so much, don’t you agree?
I don’t really know what I’m doing. One day I want to choreograph, one day I want to write music, one day I want to keep Nutella in the house, one day I’m terrified of walking down the grocery aisle that even holds the Nutella, one day I want to be a vegan, one day I want to move back to New York even though there’s two feet of snow, one day I want to open a theatre in Hawaii. I am constantly changing my mind. I cry a lot. I laugh a lot. I drink too much coffee. I confuse my boyfriend constantly. But if I look back at my past, which half of my self-help books completely ban, I am reminded that I’ve had a lot of moments where I’ve changed my mind or I’ve been utterly confused. Where I’ve drank too much and where I’ve made, ahem, interesting, decisions. But I’ve still landed on my feet.
I might be 178 pounds at the moment. I might not be a showgirl at the moment. But I’m learning from my mistakes, and I’m recording them so I can look back on them when I need reminding. I’m alive and breathing. I can stop at one beer. I can keep chocolate chips in the house for over two months. And at 26, approaching 27, after a year of frightening health scares and depressive periods that scared my nearest and dearest, I’m thankful to be here – not just surviving – but learning, growing, living, loving, crying, laughing, and recovering, one day at a time.
May your personal timeline reveal to you what you need to see, learn, or revisit at this moment in your life. May your personal journal entries and recorded moments inspire you to embrace your mistakes and your successes, your gains and your losses, your failures and your lessons. I said it once, I said it twice, I’ll say it again and again – we all have our shit, dude, and that’s why we have to keep spreading the love to each other. We’re not alone. We’re all in this together, and we got this.
Peace, love, and aloha.
If you’ve read my posts before, you’ll know that I have a very intimate relationship with self-help books. I’ve never been able to afford therapy, and I truly believe that certain books saved my life this past year.
I believe that the official book for anyone who ever auditions, should be The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Please buy it (clicking on the title takes you right to Amazon), check it out of the library, steal it from a friend, read over someone’s shoulder, please. Please read it. It will change your life – not just auditionwise and careerwise, but it will change your entire life. Randy Skinner used to talk about it, but it wasn’t until Johnny forced me to get it (or else), that I picked it up.
The agreements are simple: Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. Mr. Ruiz writes in simple text, that sometimes makes me feel like a child, but I don’t mind at all. I like that he breaks down the crucial information into easy reading and eye-opening sentences that I can comprehend.
This week, in a continuation with my promise to make February about audition preparation and coming together as a performing ohana across the miles, I tweaked all four of the agreements to fit the life of a performer. There’s even a bonus for you at the end.
The First Agreement
Don Miguel Ruiz says: Be impeccable with your word.
Trusty says: Just be honest.
I know that it’s extremely hard to follow through with everything we say during audition season. We sure do plan on getting up every day at five to get to the gym by six to get to the EPA by eight so we can do three different calls today before work at four. And there is nothing wrong with ambitious plans. But sometimes, we’re just pooped. Or sick. Or PMSing. Or whatever. So I think that we have to twist the first agreement a little bit to fit the actor life, just this once. We would love to follow through with this daily plan. We make ambitious plans in hopes that one or two of them come to fruition. But the more we beat ourselves up about not keeping every plan we make, the worse the gray cloud around us becomes, and we can throw ourselves into a personal guilt trip that spirals so far out of control we are just staying home every day to eat the cookies and cream for breakfast. No? Just me? Okay. Well, hopefully you get my drift.
My suggestion? Let’s just be honest with ourselves this year. As actors who sometimes audition for jobs more than we work jobs, we are constantly coming up with different tactics to deal with rejection. “They were only keeping tall girls.” “They only wanted Asian guys.” “The accompanist played my song way too slow.” Sometimes, this stuff is true. But sometimes, if we step back, these things are merely ego padding to keep us going. And that’s okay. It’s so okay. My suggestion is to be honest with ourselves in every other aspect of our life, so that there’s as much truth-facing as possible to keep us sane. Are we really being ourselves in our relationships? Are we lying to our mothers that we had a callback when we really don’t just to keep her from asking what’s happening every day? Are we eating our feelings because we’re so busy trying not to eat at all? Those three questions lie closest to my personal life, so they’re the first three I thought of, but there are more. I was myself in my relationship with Stallion last year unless I had to cry, I had to poop, or I was sober. I’ve lied to my mother a whoooole lot over the years. And the third question about food, well, c’mon, have you read the catch line for the blog? So in the midst of all these white lies and exaggerations we share on our OkCupid dates and our family visits during the holidays, let’s just observe what’s coming out of our mouths, and try to bring it back to honesty. The closest thing to honesty that we can get. And it’s not always gonna work. But like the fourth agreement says, just do your best, right?
That serious problem we’re ignoring, or the general assholery of people we date, or our love/hate relationship with Cheetoh’s whenever we have a bad day, is something to be observed rather than ignored, noticed rather than pushed away. It’s hard. It sucks. It like, totally sucks. But it leads to a better you. A more real you. An honest you, who you can fall in love with. And all of this personal growth that might come from more honesty, might also carry over into our artistic work. Our writing, our singing, our acting, our performing, our general persona when we walk into a room. We will find our authenticity through our honesty, and it will reflect in every aspect of our life. After all, aren’t we always being asked to bring authenticity to the characters we play? Authenticity starts with you. You at your very core. What makes you you, is fucking awesome. And the more honest you are, even when times get tough, the closer you come to staying true to who you awesomely are. It’s worth a try, no?
The Second Agreement
Don Miguel Ruiz says: Don’t take anything personally.
Trusty says: Ditto.
I’m not going to preach on taking rejection personally. Your mom preached it to you, your college professors preached it to you, your dance teachers and your roommates and anyone you’ve ever taken a master class with has preached it to you. Don’t take rejection personally. Easier said than done, but at least you’ve heard it before.
I want to talk about the question we all hate the most. The awful, the dreaded, the “what are you up to?” Listen. We have to stop taking “what are you up to” so personally. It’s a question. It’s a thing. Instead of hating whatever mouth it comes out of, let’s figure out some tactics for dealing.
First of all, the “what are you up to” is not a personal attack, 98% of the time. There are always the malicious ladies who I see every season who love to ask the question and get my blood pumping, but even then, it’s not about me. It’s about them. They have their own shit to figure out. I can’t take that personally.
“What are you up to” has caused many, many interesting answers to come out of my mouth before I had time to think about them (hence, my paragraph on honesty above.) I’m sure you can relate with your own stories and your own exaggerations, and I’ll give you a moment of silence to reflect with me about what we do to save ourselves from looking like we are jobless, starving artists who have to bartend at 5pm tonight. And seriously, is that really so, so, so bad? Cut yourselves a break. Seriously.
Ways to deal:
If an acquaintance, or a casting director asks you “what are you up to”: Kate Galvin, who used to cast shows for the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, gave me one of the most excellent pieces of advice I’d ever heard back in 2011. She said that people in that room just want to see if you’re a real person. Instead of stuttering over what job or what callback is going to make you look like “the shit”, just be honest. Answer the question by telling them about your sister’s new baby, or the wedding you just went to in New Orleans, or your yoga teacher training, or how you just moved to Brooklyn and you don’t own enough fake glasses to fit in. Tell them anything honest, anything about you, anything that could be funny, or interesting, or a conversation-starter. People love to compare stories – who knows where your answer might lead you with that choreographer who was just in New Orleans for a wedding as well. You don’t have to tell them about how you just closed Les Mis (four months ago) and how you’re in callbacks for Chicago (well, you got seen at the EPA, so). Don’t feel drilled. Don’t feel put on the spot. Just be yourself. Just show them you’re a real person who lives life outside of your career (even if it feels like most of the time, you don’t.)
If a family member asks you “what are you up to”, or better yet, “have you been on the Broadway yet?”: I know it’s hard. I know it’s hard to breathe, and try to empathize with your grandmother’s lack of understanding for your performing pursuit, but try to remember, she is not out to get you. She is not out to tell you you’re stupid for doing what you’re doing, or tell you to get a real job, or whatever. I mean, maybe she is, but I know that mine is not. My grandma, and my aunts and uncles and cousins and high school friends honest-to-God just have no idea what auditioning and performing really means. If you can, forgive said family member for making you feel like you’re doing nothing with your life, and answer with this: “I’ve made a lot of promising contacts this year, and in my business, who you know is just as important as what you know, and I’m really looking forward to continue my networking while I audition.” This will cause 90% of said family members to start talking about how politics are everything in this world, and Sue, their manager, just got promoted because her husband plays golf with some higher-up’s brother, and can you believe this Obamacare stuff and also, they saw Sue’s husband the other day at the grocery store and he looks like he’s gained weight. I mean, I’m not guaranteeing anything but people love to talk about themselves and if you open a door – like the “who you know not what you know” thing, they will probably let you off the hook and change the subject to something they know. After all, they might have just been asking “what are you up to” to be polite. They’d actually rather talk about something that they know, instead of feeling ignorant to what Broadway really is and whether or not it’s the same thing as that Times Square place.
If a close friend asks you “what are you up to”: Try and recall the last time a close friend did this. Most of the time, close friends respect the question asking process and avoid traveling down that road that they also don’t want to travel down. If you are a close friend of someone who is an actor and you find yourself asking them this question a lot, consider cutting it out of your vocabulary. We hate it, and we don’t want to hate you for asking it.
If your mother asks you “what are you up to”: Tell her you miss her and you love her. Don’t hate her for asking. She’s asking because she wants to support you and be there for you.
The Third Agreement
Don Miguel Ruiz says: Don’t make assumptions.
Trusty says: Seriously, ditto.
Don’t assume the girl across the holding room is looking at you with disgust. She might simply be picking blueberry seeds out of her teeth with her tongue.
Don’t assume the casting team will only be thinking about Chipotle if your audition is at 11:30. They might have had a big breakfast and are very intent on listening to you.
Don’t assume the dance call will be easy just because it’s non-Equity. Ever.
Don’t assume you won’t get a callback just because a casting intern is in the room for the EPA.
Don’t assume that the director is over it. Don’t assume the director hates you. Don’t assume the director thinks you’re too fat just because your birthday was yesterday and you feel like you look like the chocolate cake you treated yourself to. Don’t assume the choreographer wants you to fall out of your double pirouette. Don’t assume the accompanist can play obscure shit, unless it’s Joshua Zecher-Ross behind the piano. Don’t assume.
Don’t assume. Go in, like we talked about last week, fully respecting the people behind the table. Go in with no expections, no assumptions, no doubts at all. Go in there to do your best and be yourself, nothing more, nothing less.
The Fourth Agreement
Don Miguel Ruiz: Always do your best.
Trusty says: Always do your best.
It’s audition season. It’s cold. It’s exhausting. It’s a lot of things. But it’s also an awesome time of year. It’s not December, and it’s not July. There are auditions and opportunities and people to meet every single day from here until the end of April, at least. So listen, if you’re not honest with yourself today, or you flipped on your mom because she asked you how your audition went, forgive yourself. It’s today. Tomorrow is a new day. Do your best today. Your best today might be different than your best yesterday and it might be different than your best tomorrow, so focus on doing your best today. I know you work tonight, but for the next half hour, you’re dancing for Gerry McIntyre so honey, focus on this half hour and enjoy yourself! He’s teaching you soft-boiled egg hands – enjoy this moment brought to you by Gerry McIntyre yourself. If you don’t know who Gerry McIntyre is, get off Facebook this instant and google him. Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing, just do something about it instead. Do your best.
Nobody’s perfect. Nobody’s doing it all right, all the time. And this year, remember that. You’re up against thousands of other performers, yes. There aren’t enough jobs to go around, I know. But none of those performers are perfect. Nor are the jobs. They’re all just doing their best too – and their best, is different than your best. You are the only person who is best at being you. So rejoice in that, and rejoice in the authenticity you find this season as you bring more honesty into your life.
The Johnny Agreement
Johnny says: Do not make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on love.
Trusty says: Johnny’s right. Again.
Johnny (who is my boyfriend, by the way) reminds me of this when I have pitfalls along the way. He’s always right.
Fear is an ugly character in our personal stories. If Fear is the antagonist, make yourself the leading lady who knocks out Fear with your stilettos. If Fear is the bad guy, make yourself the dashing prince who crushes Fear to a pulp with one, good, stage combat punch.
We did not choose an easy career path. We did not choose the most lucrative career path. We chose this journey of ours out of love for all things music, all things dance, all things comedy, all things beautiful and creative and moving.
Remember to continue making choices and decisions based on love. Our love of art is what got us here. Let the love continue to carry us through our daily lives as we bring honesty and authenticity to everything we do
“We have to choose life. Choose risk. Choose love. The only safe place for our hearts is to dive deeply into magnificent, eternal, ridiculous, overhelming love. Really, do you have an option? How is that life of fearful control working for you? Better to ask, how it working for those who have to live with your fearful control? Come and be free in the love.” – Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself
I can’t elaborate much more. Just think on this one, The Johnny Agreement. It’s not really his agreement by the way – he’s just sharing it because he’s learned it in his own personal experience. It’s a learning experience we will all continue to have for the rest of our lives. Better to consider embarking on the journey now, rather than waiting until fear has completely overtaken us.
This week’s post has been spiritual, I admit. But isn’t audition season sort of spiritual in a way? We have to keep the faith that it will all work out the way it’s supposed to. Faith that our hard work will pay off. Faith that our karma will come back one day. Faith in ourselves.
I hope this helps in the next few weeks. I wish you faith, love, and freedom this week.
PS: Mahalo to those of you who submitted pictures and videos to Roar Part 2. I’ve received pictures from brave breast cancer survivers, women with C-section scars, men who think they are too skinny, and things that moved me beyond words. I couldn’t be more humbled, and inspired by all of you. You are all so much braver than you give yourselves credit for. It’s truly amazing. In order to proceed, we need about forty more submissions. Please consider contributing this week so we can move forward with this amazing, inspiring project.
So the SuperBowl is over. Christmas has passed. Chinese New Year has come and gone.
Now all we have to look forward to is the 50% off candy on February 15th and…
Audition. Seeing that word stirs up all sorts of emotions inside my bones.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the “season” lately. Living in Hawaii is extraordinary. It’s healthy. It’s beautiful. But I admit, missing the summerstock audition season keeps me up some nights. Five seasons in NYC have, well, seasoned me. But like all of us do after a tumultous relationship ends, I look back at my previous audition seasons with a fondness. I find myself only remembering the good things and conveniently forgetting the pain and the heartache.
This season, I can’t be there with my friends at Ripley-Grier digging for a photo I.D. on the one day a new guard starts working the ground floor and actually requires it. I won’t be there to tie my friends’ jewel tone halter dresses, or to take turns bringing Starbucks to an EPA at Nola, or to lend out my baby blue stapler at an open Gateway call.
But just because I can’t be there to take part, doesn’t mean I can’t be there in spirit.
So this month, I dedicate each post to you – my auditioning friends who are bustin’ their tail every day in the cold, tryna getta job for the summa.
Now if you aren’t an actress, or a dancer, or a singer, and you are lost as to what “audition season” pertains to, I welcome you to continue reading. Because you can probably relate to us more than you realize.
You know how you head to a job interview excitedly, making yourself presentable, and wearing a nice outfit, and updating your resume, and hoping – praying really – that they like you, and then leave wondering if you’re qualified or not, knowing that you did all you can and the decision is now all theirs and it’s completely out of your hands, and maybe having a lot of anxiety about it, not being able to completely let it go?
Actors do that process every single day, sometimes more than once.
Auditions are like interviews – only we have to sing, dance, and act on top of having a fabulous resume. And also play nice with others. And also look amazing. All the time.
So actors – this month is for you. This blog was born for you really. For us. For all of us who struggle with the ups and downs of this labor of love we have pursued for so many years.
And non-actors, this is for you too. In reading the next few posts, I hope you find yourself gaining new appreciation for performers at your local regional theatre, or for your granddaughter who has big dreams of moving to NYC after attending college for musical theatre, and even, for yourself. Whether your significant other is pursuing their dream this spring, or your brother or sister is traveling up and down the east coast to fill up their 2014 with gigs for their health insurance, these posts are for you as much as they are for the artists.. Empathy is a powerful thing. I hope this helps everyone find empathy and understanding for the lives of performers and artists.
1. The respect for “auntie”.
There is so much respect for elders in Hawaii. When we come across a woman older than us, we call her “auntie” as a sign of respect. The same applies to men – we call them “uncle”. It’s still not ingrained in me, and I forget sometimes, but I didn’t grow up here. It’s a different story for children who are born here. As soon as they learn to speak, little kids call everyone older than them, including me, “auntie”. It’s part of their culture. It’s how they’ve been raised.
When the four and five year olds that I teach forget my name, they call me “auntie”. Those children walk into my classroom without questioning how nice, or mean, or boring I might be. They give me the benefit of the doubt. I am immediately respected, and I am immediately “auntie”.
What if we walked into each audition room in the same manner?
Often times, I find myself walking into the audition room assuming I won’t get kept even if I do well. I assume the person sitting behind the table is “over it”. This is partly a protective measure for my ego, but it’s also the result of many audition experiences that have, what’s the word, oh, right, “jaded” me. Rarely do I find myself heading into that room full of respect for the people casting the show I’m auditioning for. But truth be told, we’ve all auditioned for some visionaries. We walk into that room expecting a casting intern, and much to our surprise, Kathleen Marshall is standing there waiting for us to line up. Shit. Hello, Kathleen Marshall. I wasn’t expecting you at all. I left my A-game in the changing room. I’ll…be right back. #jaded #shit #whydidn’tIwearmyflourescentleotard
This season, I just thought it might behoove all of us to walk into that room full of respect for the pianist, the director, the choreographer, the music director, the casting director, and even the intern who is taking lunch orders. I know that the people behind the table can sense the energy that comes through that door. Although they might not be able to put a name to the powerful aura we let off, they will feel it if we walk into that room full of respect for them – those “aunties” and “uncles” behind the table. Leaving our cynical attitude in the holding room and giving each person in that room the benefit of the doubt might change our entire thirty seconds in that room. And then, we can walk out of there feeling like we #nailedit.
2. Only use your fins when you need to.
If you ever have the opportunity to sit on hardened lava and observe sea turtles in the wild, I highly recommend you put your iPhone away and do so. You’ll find that sea turtles often float in the roughest of seas, near cliffs and rocks that would prove fatal for any human who finds himself so close to a dangerous shoreline. As a turtle comes up for air, you can spot his fins flapping above the surface, enabling you to follow him through your sunglasses as he floats in the treacherous water.
The turtles have been around for centuries, and when you watch them float, you can almost see why. They allow themselves to be carried into shore by each wave, but they never, ever crash into anything. As the waves ebb and flow, the turtles only use their fins when they have to to keep themselves away from danger. They float in, and swim away from the rocks just in time to get back into the flow of the sea. Over and over, they float with the waves looking helpless, and just when you gasp in fear that they’ll be crushed by the powerful water, they use their ancient fins to steer themselves clear of peril. It’s truly amazing to watch, and we can all learn a lesson from these protected creatures. By only using our fins when we have to, we can go with the flow a little more.
This audition season, things might not always work out the way we want them to. We might not get the time slot we want, and we might not get called back for the character we really wanted to read for, and we might miss one ECC because we’re caught dancing a second time at another. But hey, e ho mai baby. Let it come, let it flow. Flow with the waves this season, so that when you really have to use your fins – aka cut a bitch who jipped you in line at the one EPA you got up at 6am for – you’re calm, collected, and ready with a piping hot cup of Starbucks to chug after the confrontation. Don’t exhaust yourself on anything that doesn’t really matter in the long run. Only use your fins if you have to.
3. Don’t forget to look up.
Before I left for Hawaii in August, I made a final trip home to say goodbye to my family in Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful day in July when I drove down the lane to my Poppop’s farm and hugged him, assuming I’d see him again in November after my time at the yoga retreat was done. We both looked up at the sky and he said, “Man, that’s a blue sky. You know, sometimes I call Rick just to say, ‘Rick, did you look up today?” Rick is my uncle, my Poppop’s oldest son, and he shoes horses, so he’s often looking down when he’s working. Grandfathers are always full of simple wisdom, aren’t they? I’m so lucky to have mine in my life, even if it’s only over the phone ever two weeks.
Here in Hawaii, we’re blessed with beautiful skies most every day. But we’re also blessed with the humpback whales who make their home here for the winter. They come here from up north to have their babies and mate before beginning their trek home in April. Johnny and I are kind of obsessed with them, and often find ourselves in danger of rear-ending the car in front of us because we’re watching the ocean for whales breaching instead of the road ahead of us.
There have been times where we’ve been chillin’ on the beach, and a whale will breach two, three, four times in a row and we fist pump and cheer. We look down the beach and everyone has their nose in their phone. They only look up because they hear us cheering and they have no idea why. They miss the humpback breaching, and then they board their plane back to the mainland complaining that they didn’t see a single whale on their trip.
This season, don’t forget to look up. If you take your nose out of your phone in that holding room, who knows what might happen. You’ll make a new friend who will sign you up tomorrow morning at Chelsea while you’re at Nola. You’ll catch the eye of the casting director who is familiar with you who ushers you into the room just before lunch so you don’t have to wait all day. You’ll spot a girl across the room wearing your same dress, giving you ample time to change into the second dress you bring to each audition for emergencies like a good little actress always does.
Observe your surroundings. Pay attention to who gets kept and who doesn’t. Make nice with the monitor. While everyone else is playing Candycrush, you could find opportunity for networking and inspiration without even trying. Don’t miss the whale breach. Don’t forget to look up.
4. Finally, show off when everyone else is resting.
We have spinner dolphins here who live up to their name whenever we have the privilege of swimming with them in their natural habitat. These wild dolphins feed at night, and rest during the day in quiet bays where snorkelers and paddleboarders don’t seem to bother them. The dolphins shut off half their brain when they rest, and travel in small groups for protection.
However some of them, don’t seem like the resting type. They’re actually little stars waiting to be discovered by their snorkeling audience. The dolphins jump, and play, and shoot so high out of the water that they spin multiple times before splashing back into the clear blue sea. They’ll often do this jump-spin several times in a row, and you’ll hear lots of people chuckling that the beauties are “showing off”. Because they rest the majority of the day, everyone squeals with delight when the dolphins “show off” because it’s a real treat.
This season, pull out your element of surprise, and show off when everyone around you is resting.
It’s a Thursday. You worked late last night. You’re in the third group of men to be seen at an afternoon dancer ECC and you’ve already been to a singer call this morning and you’ve only had time to pick up a banana and a coffee today. You look around you, and every other guy in the room bares the same, bored, exhausted look on their face as yours. No one even feels like going in that room to learn any sort of dance that might require physical exertion. It is now, that the spinner dolphins can inspire you. It is now, that you can think of the sea turtles, and use your fins.
This is a time to pull your energies together and show off when your exhausted group gets called to dance in front of the casting team. Make those poses pop. Use your face. Walk into that room respecting those “aunties” and “uncles” and find the passion in your heart to make them look up with your energetic dancing. The same applies to a singer appointment late in the day, or pulling a second monologue out of your ass even though your boyfriend kept you up all last night crying about his fear, of your fear, of commitment.
Show off in the room (and I mean seriously, in the room only, none of this holding room show off crap) when everyone else is resting. When everyone else is “over it”. When everyone else walks into that room hating the casting team with a passion without an ounce of respect for their artistry.
This is YOUR time to shine.
This is your season to shine.
I can’t be there to shine with you, but honey, I am cheering for you like you wouldn’t even believe. That cheer that Johnny and I do when a whale breaches – when we fist pump like idiots and yell “YEAH” like big burly men who just watched the Seahawks kick the Bronco’s sorry asses – that obnoxious cheer is for the whales, and the turtles, and the spinner dolphins, and for you.
Go get ’em, Broadway baby. This year is yours.
And I don’t know what it’s worth, but I’m sending you all the aloha. All the love. And all the support. Because you’re my ohana. And ohana means family.
Shit, I’m crying. I gotta go. But next week, more audition season February Hawaiian love for you. Also, I made a shitty poster of these tidbits of Hawaiian audition advice so you can hang it on your bathroom mirror if you so choose: Hawaiian-Audition-Wisdom. That’s all.
*If you haven’t yet considered contributing a positive body word picture for my next video project for the Roar movement, please read the guidelines here (short version) or here (more specific, long version.) I would LOVE love LOVE to have your participation!