Dude. Yesterday, I vacuumed up a cockroach bigger than your head.
With fucking gusto.
I hope my friend Rachel is reading this right now with her mouth wide open, as she remembers me calling her two summers ago from atop my bed, weeping, telling her how there was a huge roach in my 5th floor apartment and I trapped it with a glass but there was no physical way I could proceed from there because I was so terrified of bugs. I stood on top of my bed and called six friends that day to come help me, including my mother who lives in Pennsylvania, and finally resorted to calling the closest person to me at the moment – my super – who swore at me that this wasn’t his job as he came up and took it away for me.
I slept at my best friend’s apartment at Cornell for two weeks because I was so scared I would end up cuddling with a roach.
The other day, I climbed up on top of a sink to dust the hanging light above the vanity in a bathroom here.
If you went to London with me my senior year of high school, your mouth might be agape right now as you remember me being too scared to even go to the second level of the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever been in – St. Paul’s – because it was high and it was grated steps. So I stayed at the bottom and cried because I was too terrified of heights.
I have been scared of so much shit for so long.
Seriously. Scared and overwhelmed of the simplest things – renting a car, trying tempeh, dying my hair (gasp, what if I don’t look like my headshot?!), asking for what I want, back-ne, you name it.
When I started all this therapy for all this binging, one of the questions Geneen Roth asks in one of her books is, “what are you afraid of losing if you stop eating compulsively?”
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes and exhaled and then I wrote down, “my sense of humor.”
And that’s when I realized that fear runs everything.
Dude, fear runs EVERYTHING.
Like, everything though.
I realized that if I took care of my chocolate addiction and my binging and excessive drinking, I would also run out of “fat” jokes. No more, “if I smell a beer, I gain five pounds” . No more, “should we get an entire ice cream cake and eat it while we talk about that dance call we got cut from today?” Down to during tech for a show, no more “i’m gonna kill someone if we don’t find a jar of Nutella right now.”
My next fear came up like word vomit. “Not making it.” And then another one. “Never having a man propose to me.” WHAT?! All these years I’ve spent making fun of marriage?! Ding ding ding. Defense mechanism.
OH SHIT. Just being put in my place by my own brain.
And then the idea for this blog came along. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t think TWICE. I was never scared of putting all my dirty laundry out there for the world to see. Because I knew it could help. And I knew it was right. And I knew it was time.
The other thing I never thought twice about? Wasn’t scared about? Nervous about? Coming to Hawaii. I never, ever questioned it.
And I guess the universe was on my side. Because now I’m here just surrounded by things that scare me. Thanks universe. We’ve got gnarly spiders. Fucking gigantic cockroaches that fly. Like I can see their eyeballs, you guys. We’ve got one too many reasons to be in a bikini. There’s so many flavors of ice cream. And there’s new people that I had to meet, without the security of my self-deprecating humor.
And guess what. Despite all that, I’m doing okay. I’m doing so okay you guys.
Because when I finally sat down and had an honest conversation with my friends Eddie and Natalie – the most beautiful, awesome, compassionate couple in the world who share my loft with me – we talked about fear. They opened my eyes and I realized that fear has basically controlled my entire life up until this point.
We talked about how I am fucking scared of failure. Scared of food. Scared of calories. Scared of getting caught eating. Scared of networking. Scared of men not wanting me. Scared of taking my clothes off. Scared of not making it to Broadway. Scared of trying all the things I’ve always wanted to try.
I put words like “overwhelmed” and “mind-blowing” in the same category as “fear”. For instance, I know that it’s not scary for a typical person to plan a trip to Maui from the Big Island – the whole booking a flight, renting a car, finding a hotel – but it’s just so overwhelming to me and so I give up and just stay where I am. Same with learning with guitar. Same with trying yoga (before I arrived here.) I get easily overwhelmed and then I don’t go for it at all.
So there we are, right? Eddie on the laundry folding table. Natalie folding towels. Me sitting on top of a dryer. And I decided that I am a stronger bitch than fear thinks I am. Fuck fear.
I’m doing something that scares me every day.
I went to The Point the next day, the Hawaiian cliff I always tell you about where magical things happen and there are sea turtles, and I made a list of things that scare me.
Um. Some of it makes me giggle. Some of it doesn’t.
- Wearing lipstick to dinner in a place where no one wears makeup.
- Asking questions about yoga and meditation.
- Going vegan.
- Holding someone else’s baby.
- Bringing Nutella into the house.
- Something happening to my grandparents before I get home from Hawaii.
- Falling in love with a woman.
- My mother’s opinion of tattoos.
- Falling in love again.
- Telling the truth.
- Maxi dresses.
The list goes on and on but I will tell you that at the end of it, one of the things that spontaneously came at the end of the train of thought was “losing weight and being a sell out” in regards to this blog. Right after that I wrote “I need to go write right now.” And so I left The Point and got to my computer and completely blanked. I was afraid of addressing the list that I had just written down so I had a beer instead. See? Nobody’s perfect.
That night just happened to be open mic. I had nothing prepared and I was so against performing. I thought that people were expecting this high-class performance from me and I was like, no way, I did not come here for this. Plus, I didn’t feel like putting anything together.
And then my dear, dear friend Robert posted a tap video on Facebook. That day. I love you so much, Robert. And I remembered this memory of dancing with Gregory Hines when I was 12 and saying to my father later, “I want to be Gregory Hines when I grow up.”
I had been doing some tap improv since I got here, but always in the company of some guitars and some drums during a jam session.
No one had seen me tap improv. Like, including myself.
So I fucking took a deep breath, went to dinner, put lipstick on, and got up for 130 people completely unprepared.
In college, all they teach us is “be prepared, be prepared, be prepared.” I am terrified of going to any audition unprepared. Like terrified.
So I prepared nothing. On purpose. And I got up, and pulled this here out of my ass. Actually, let me be less crude for once. This right here, came directly from my heart and soul. And I guarantee when you hear these amazing people cheering for me as I pull this shit out of thin air that you will smile because it makes me smile and I am so blessed.
Two days later, I went stand-up paddleboarding. With all the algae in the bay. All the fish. All the unknowns in the sea. And scariest of all, I went in a fucking bikini.
There were totally straight men there. I mean look at the muscles on the instructor, people.
Too bad. I got my ass up there and I fucking STAND-UP PADDLEBOARDED. I was terrifed that I wouldn’t be able to stand up and that I would be the weakest one who was at the end of the pack and I just wouldn’t be able to do it.
Um. I was second one in the pack to make it out there. And then, I did yoga on my paddleboard.
Most empowering day of my life. I am so much stronger than I think I am.
In between the big stuff, like open mic, stand-up paddleboarding, vacuuming roaches up like a champ, I’ve also branched off into the littler stuff that scares me. Talking to people of authority and going out of my way to get to know them. Instead of assuming they wouldn’t be interested in talking to just little old me, I sat at lunch with them instead.
I told a dude that I was hooking up with that I had an eating disorder as he was taking my clothes off. What? He told me his story. So I shared mine. I just put it out there, boldly and fearlessly. And then I was naked. And he could see the stretch marks. And the cellulite.
And then he did really, REALLY nice things to me.
I also had someone hand me their child during a day time community party and she didn’t cry. In fact, we danced together. And I didn’t cry out of fear either. All those years of teaching kids and thinking I couldn’t stand kids anymore after disciplining them in a dance studio for so long. All gone. This warmed my heart.
And then there’s the most important accomplishment of all. Skipping dessert.
The big thing since being here is Hawaii is this fear that if I don’t eat whatever I want at mealtimes that I will go back to binging.
Like when there’s oatmeal raisin cookies for dessert, I take them anyways and eat it anyways even though I think that the most disappointing thing in life is when you take a cookie and the chocolate chips happen to be…raisins. LIKE WHY THOUGH.
But what I’m saying is, I eat the damn oatmeal raisin cookie anyway because I am so scared that if I “deprive” myself that I’ll binge later.
Basically what I’m saying is, I have given myself no credit for being strong whatsoever.
When you’re a binger, you will stop at nothing to get what you want, right?
You will leave social gatherings, you will bail on friends, you will steal food out of friend’s cabinets, you will eat your roommate’s Nutella, and you will literally kill anyone who gets in your way of you and your drug of choice – which is food.
But guess what? I skipped dessert. And I didn’t binge. At all. That night, or the day after, or the day after. I had half a bag of miniature Twix the other day at a campfire but I mean, hey, baby steps right?
So. What are you scared of?
Is it telling your mother to stop commenting on your Facebook? Is it to reach out for help? Is it to tell someone you love them? Is it to go to yoga? (Cuz I thought we took care of that one. Don’t make me come all the way home and slap you cross the head. Get your sexy booty to that damn class!) Is it to tell your roommate that she has to stop having loud sex?
Make a list. Make a list and let it flow. Let that shit flow and see what comes up. Like a long string of spontaneous thought. Write it down even if it seems silly. Let it happen and some of it might even make you laugh but that’ll be good. Laugh while you can.
Cuz I’m about to CHALLENGE you, honey. And you might not be laughing so much.
I challenge you to start conquering that list. Do it with me. Conquer your list with me. Seriously. Is it renting a car? Because we can try doing that one together. Is it to go biking through Central Park because there’s hills? Because I’ll hook you up with one of my friends and they’ll take you along with them for a ride and light a fire under your ass. What do you need? You tell me. We’re gonna make it happen.
I challenge you to make a list and start checking things off. Because if you do, you could end up with a beautiful orange head of hair like mine, since “going blonde” was one of your fears. And you might just be able to laugh at yourself for the box of hair dye not working the way it was supposed to and also feel really hot all at the same time.
Make a list, check it twice, some of it may be naughty more than nice. But you’re gonna feel so fucking good when you start checking things off. Like climbing a mountain, one baby step at a time.
The other day, I was in my friend Mandi’s room keeping her company while she packed to go back to home. She wanted to show me a funny Thought Catalog article and at the very top, there was a blurb about Amanda Bynes. And it was obviously making fun of her. But underneath the blurb, in italics, it said, “baby steps, Amanda. Baby steps.”
I couldn’t even handle. My mantra, popping up in the most random places. That’s what’s up. That’s why this place is magic.
So as one last fear to conquer before I published this today, on this beautiful Sunday morning, after having a breakfast of rice, eggs, and Portuguese sausage with two men here who I love so dearly, I stepped on the scale.
I have refused to weigh myself since May because the number on the scale defined me for so long. It would seriously make or break my entire day. I was so scared of allowing that to happen again.
But after living on the Big Island, the island of “healing”, for over a month now, I’ve learned I have a choice about what makes or breaks my entire day. And I can choose to not let a number on a scale affect me.
So I stepped up on there. 160. Seven pounds less than May. I had no idea, because I’ve been too busy hating my stomach and watching my thighs jiggle when I walk to yoga class. And is that number still too high for my liking? Absolutely. But it’s also not going to define anything about today. Or tomorrow. Or next week. Or the rest of my life.
It’s my choice whether that number makes or breaks me. It’s my choice whether fear runs my life or not.
And the choice is all yours as well. Do something that scares you every day. We have no idea how much it will change our perspective, and our self-love, and our entire lives, until we try.
I wish you a week full of strength, courage, and ballsy moves.
Me and all my friends
We’re all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing and
There’s no way we ever could.
Now we see everything that’s going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don’t have the means
To rise above and beat it
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change…
I feel like it’s that time in this blog’s journey to talk about changing the world.
Dude, I know. My mind is blown at my new attitude as much as yours is.
I mean, I know there are skeptics out here who have known me for years who absolutely think that I have gone off the deep end.
Me. Amanda. Volunteering. Sharing.
It’s truly shocking. I know, you guys.
But it’s gonna make everything better!
The whole world is gonna be better.
Because I’m going to share with you what’s happening here and maybe it will hit a nerve in you that starts a ripple effect.
My volunteering here is starting a ripple effect.
When I called my mother to tell her I got accepted into the volunteer program here in Hawaii, I think the thing she was most excited about was for me to learn how to clean a toilet. Actually, I don’t think that. I know that. She said, “Thank God. It’ll be good for you to learn how to scrub a toilet.”
I was like, “Hey! I’ve always been a pretty clean chick!”
…but like, not really. My shit is always everywhere, always, all the time.
So now, I’m in Hawaii. Volunteering in the housekeeping department. And I clean a LOT of things here.
I’ve learned so many things.
And yes, Mom, I’ve scrubbed a lot of toilets.
We had a code brown this week and I had the pleasure of flushing it.
I’ve been bitten by fire ants while scrubbing the sink. (Fire ants, man, they looooooooove fat. So when I’m bent over and scrubbing a sink, my protruding stomach is in the perfect place for them to attack. #blessed)
I’ve made many, many, many beds and I’ve deep-cleaned campground showers and I’ve sorted trash.
All the humbling things are happening here in paradise, my friends.
And I like, love it.
Basically, I put in 30 hours a week with the housekeeping department in exchange for all of my food, housing, utilities, water, toilet paper (huge plus!), sheets, pool, yoga, art shed, coffee, juice, nature, stars, moon, workshops, love, community, and tattooed eye candy.
I sort of thought when I got here that the volunteering thing would be the worst part of my week but if I could just get through it, like any other survival job, I would be able to enjoy the rest of my time here.
It turns out that the people I’ve met in the housekeeping department are people that I am definitely supposed to meet in this life. People who I am meant to talk to. Laugh with. Cry with. Learn from.
Some of my days when I am working in housekeeping are my best days here. I get to have amazing conversations with people while folding laundry. I get to see the entire property. I get to meet guests that I wouldn’t have otherwise met. And I get to make things go from dirty to clean.
Something I was never, ever into before.
What’s more awesome than that is, none of us in the entire department, half-ass our work.
It’s like, we could totally get away with not sweeping the floor sometimes. We could totally not change the sheets when we are supposed to. Technically, no one would know.
But when you figure out that by making a room beautiful for a guest who is arriving, that you get so much satisfaction, you just go balls to the wall and work really hard every moment of your daily shift.
Because if guests who come here are happy during their stay here, their happy energy will carry throughout the entire property.
And then they will leave here with that happy energy. Relaxed, rejuvenated, and satisfied.
And if they go back home to their corporate job that they were taking a break from with this newfound energy, and light, and peace, they might impact someone else to retreat for a week or two in Hawaii.
And then that person will come here and experience the freedom, and leave here and spread the love.
Without even thinking about it. Without even trying. It will just happen.
And so on, and so forth, until more and more people are taking time for themselves to experience the love.
So I’m learning that by making beds and by scrubbing showers here, my volunteering is causing a ripple effect.
Me. Just little old me.
I never thought that just one person could make an effect on humanity. But here, it happens every day.
Just look at the things that I pass on to all of you that I learned from my yoga teacher. He’s just one person. And he affected me. And I’ve shared them and affected you. And you will share them and affect your roommate. And your roommate will share them and affect his girlfriend. And his girlfriend will share them and affect her mom. And her mom will share them and affect her hairdresser. And all of a sudden my yoga teacher has reached your roommate’s girlfriend’s mom’s hairdresser and she’s doing yoga with hair-dye stained fingers.
Dude, like, we can change the world. I did not know. And I think I’m on to something here with this whole volunteering thing.
This whole concept of volunteering – what is it really?
I’ve always considered volunteering the kind of thing where I donate my time to a friend’s play reading. Or when I choreograph for a web series (for free). Or when I sing backup harmonies on a demo (for free). All these things are “volunteering time” to someone’s project.
I sort of considered this my way of fulfilling the “volunteering and being good category”. You know, the category that consists of things like “donate my fat clothes to Goodwill” and “actually pay for my Broadway Bares ticket”.
I think a lot of us think that way.
I am not here to tell you that we are wrong in thinking that way.
But when you really come down to it, we are volunteering our time in hopes of it coming to fruition in some way, shape, or form. I don’t mind donating my voice to a demo if that demo will be heard by thousands of people. I don’t mind choreographing for a friend’s new musical if there will be producers at the showing of it. I don’t mind volunteering if there is a chance of getting something out of it.
Believe it or not, there are people in the world who also volunteer just to serve the greater good.
And I think maybe, if each of us starts to think just a little bit about adding that sort of volunteering into our daily life, little baby shifts in humanity could happen.
There’s these two different “categories” of volunteering it seems. The “good” – like volunteering at the soup kitchen – and the “selfish” – like when you clean yoga studio floors in exchange for yoga classes.
I don’t think that those labels are worth a damn.
Doing good is doing good. END OF STORY. I just think it would be nice if we all had a little bit of each “category” in our lives.
When I got here, I was under the impression I would work my 30 hours a week in housekeeping and in exhange I would get my food and my loft and my electric and I would spend the rest of my days laying at the pool or climbing lava and that would be that.
But then I found out I can offer dance classes. And volunteer to help plan trips. And volunteer to help organize the the art shed. I even volunteer to help people clean gecko poop off of the floor of their A-frame hut. Just to help out. I guess this falls under that “just volunteering but not necessarily getting anything out of it” category, even though all these things benefit the entire community.
On top of that, I found out that I can volunteer to feed and brush the Icelandic horses on property. Horses remind me of my childhood. The smell of them reminds me of my weekends at my aunt and uncle’s property when I went for trail rides with them at the age of 8. So I volunteer to feed them every Tuesday and brush them whenever I want throughout the week as well. I certainly get something out of it – I truly enjoy it. And so maybe it’s under the “selfish volunteering” category. But I mean, what the hell? Who cares? I’m happy, the horses are happy, everyone’s happy.
So, here I am. Finding out that just volunteering for all the things has brought me joy. And I know that when I feel joy, it definitely spreads. I laugh more, I smile more, and I know that my joy has an affect on those around me.
The gift of volunteering keeps on giving.
SERIOUSLY THOUGH, WHO AM I????????
I’ve never been a woman of service. But better late than never I say. Because it’s the start of me putting good, good, good energy out in the world.
This whole volunteering situation leads to more opportunities to spread love. Somehow, without people even knowing that I have a blog here, people that have had issues with addictions and food have naturally found me and we’ve had deep conversations about the void that we are filling with whatever we have been addicted to all of these years. I have been able to spread the knowledge that I have gained in the past few weeks with these people who have been unaware of what their addiction might be stemming from.
Instead of the competition of “whose story is worse”, here, we just have conversations and find solace in the fact that we are not alone in our journeys.
Sort of like this blog.
Finding solace and having a conversation about real shit.
Volunteering your time to the art of conversation is a huge act of kindness too. Don’t underestimate it.
There needs to be more conversation.
Volunteer your time to listen to people when they find you because they need to talk.
Volunteering your attention and energy to a conversation is just as important as the charity work. Because it can change someone’s perspective. And amazing things can come from that.
You, too, can be a part of the ripple affect.
Let me give you an example.
I had this incredible conversation here with a man named Lino.
He overheard me saying that I was from NYC and he told me how he lived there for a bit. He’s a resident here who sometimes holds meditation workshops but he’s not around as much as some of the other instructors. Some volunteers here have never even met him. For some reason, our paths happened to cross. He asked me what I do in New York and although I had kept it from most people because I didn’t want all the questions of “what’s that like” or “will you sing for us pleeeeeease?”, I felt that it was okay to share with this man.
He went to the default question when I told him I was a performer and a dancer. “Oh, are you gonna do something here for open mic?!”
I went to my default answer. “Oh, probably not, I’d rather just enjoy everyone else. I don’t want to be defined as the musical theatre girl here. I really am, like, just, like, trying to take a break right now.”
He cocked his head and scrunched up his face a little in confusion. He said gently, “No one here will ever define you by what you did in the past. Most of the time, people forget about five minutes after you tell them. You’re here now. That was the past. You can be whoever you want to be here.”
I brushed him off. He was saying such a profound thing that wasn’t sinking in yet. I argued, “Yea, but like, I just don’t want to indulge in performance right now. It feels selfish. I’m used to auditioning and spending my time performing for the sake of promotion. Or to meet an agent. It’s a very self-involved career that I’m in.”
His face softened and he smiled at me with the most beautiful, kind eyes you’ve ever seen.
He said to me, “Amanda, you don’t have to perform here. You don’t have to put on a show for us. But it is okay to share your art with us. Art is meant to be shared. Art is changing the world every day. Please share your art with us.”
And my entire perspective changed.
Amazing things have come from that change in perspective.
Now, I hold these jam sessions at the Field of Dreams – which is this wonderful set-up they have here, away from all the guest rooms and volunteer housing so that we can make music and make noise and see the stars and just be – and people come and dance, and drum, and sing, and hum, and play guitar, and I bring my tap shoes and we just make music and movement happen.
I basically just went to the volunteer office and asked to reserve it a few nights a week and it’s become this magical thing. This magical thing. I can’t even tell you how magical it is.
I’ve seen people come completely out of their shell. I’ve seen people try things they’ve never done before. I’ve heard endless laughter that echoes way beyond the Field of Dreams.
And it all comes from this place of wanting to share. It’s not to promote myself. It’s not to network. It’s not to show off. It’s just this place of wanting to be a part of music and art and dance and love and magic and I want to help faciliate it.
For the first time in my life, I am doing things for the goodness of the group, instead of for recognition.
I am dancing to dance. Not to get a choreographer to notice me.
I am harmonizing to make music. Not to prove that I am a dancer who also sings.
I am facilitating the jam session to fuckin’ jam. Not to be praised for holding something great.
And I gotta get the word out so that y’all start facilitating shit too.
Share your art. Share your knowledge. Share your shit.
If you know how to do yoga, and you see a friend in desperate need of peace, gently offer to show them some simple poses that will help break them in.
If you know how to play the guitar, and your friend bought a guitar but is too overwhelmed by finding a teacher, offer to show them some chords.
And do it for free.
Volunteer your time for the greater good.
Look, I know NYC is expensive. Basically, the world is expensive. But donating an hour of your time to someone different every week is not gonna break the bank. I promise.
We can change people’s outlook by offering to share what we know.
As a community, as the performing/auditioning/Broadway community, share. Just for the sake of sharing.
And if you are an extended part of the community that I speak of, which is all of you who read this blog who went to high school with me, or who met me bartending, or who don’t know me but read about it by a friend of a friend who shared it on facebook, you’re not off the hook.
You gotta share too.
Everyone knows something.
Do you know how to knit? Do you know how to eat a pomegranate? Do you know how to dye hair? Do you know how to yodel? Do you speak Mandarin? Do you do energy work? Do you know how to use a SodaStream? Do you know how to make homemade laundry detergent?
Share that shit.
Or, trade it off. We also do a lot of trades here. It’s…awesome.
“If you teach me ukelele, I’ll give you a massage.” (We have a ton of massage therapists here who are licensed in other states but can’t be employed by the state of Hawaii until they are licensed HERE so they are very willing to share their gift.)
“If you teach me some French, I’ll teach you how to make vegan cheese.”
“If you shave the right side of my head, I will teach you how to paint your leather tap shoes.”
Or my favorite, the ones that aren’t really trades as much as they are explorations together.
“Hey, if I reserve the Blue Moon room tonight, do you want to go try to tango?”
“Hey, if I get us t-shirts, do you want to learn how sew them into cool tank tops?”
Like just share your knowledge with people. Or ask someone to try something new with you.
Your artistic or intellectual gift could be just the spark that someone else needs to change their whole life. Their entire perspective. You can help someone become less overwhelmed with something that they’ve been wanting to try. Something that might end up meaning the world to them.
Meaning their life will improve. Meaning they will find happiness. Meaning that they might impact another person with their happiness. Which means that you helped inspire more than just one person.
WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD PEOPLE.
WE CAN WE CAN WE CAN WE CAN WE CAN WE CAN WE CAN WE CAN WE CAN WE CAN WE CAN WE CAN WE CAN!
Sigh. Life is good.
I know it might seem like I wrote this blog post while completely stoned. But I’m stone cold sober and I just had chocolate vegan pancakes for breakfast actually. So I wasn’t high. I think I’m just slowly calming the fuck down. And realizing that spreading good shit around could help everyone, a lot.
We’re gonna be okay.
It’s all gonna be okay.
If only someone had informed me how amazing orgasms become after you start doing yoga.
Okay. Now that I have your attention, let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.
I have two stomach rolls when I sit down.
One roll starts right beneath my boobs and stops about two inches above my belly button. There is a permanent crease here on my mid-section.
The next roll starts at that crease and ends where my hips start, commonly called the “pooch”, “tire”, or “fupa”.
My belly button becomes a flat line when I sit down even though I have an “innie” that when standing up, or at 143 pounds, looks like the cutest little belly button you ever did see.
When I stand up straight, I have two small rolls that form under my armpits in my back, right around my bra line.
When I wear tight jeans, not only is there a crease underneath my asscheeks, but there is another crease about 3 inches lower than that, where my saddlebags become restricted in tight clothing.
When I run, the flab underneath my arms flaps.
So the fact that I’m writing this to you in broad daylight in my birthday suit on a lounge chair at the clothing optional pool right now is a pretty bold life choice.
But without bold life choices, there wouldn’t be this blog. There wouldn’t be Hawaii in my life. And I would always be wrapped in a towel on the side of the pool, waiting for the right moment to jump in.
My clothes do fit a little looser now that I am in Hawaii – not by much – but it’s enough. I haven’t weighed myself since the first week of May, but I was around 167 back then. So the description I just gave you of my body is of an average 165 pound body. I am 5’7”.
And I am strong as hell.
Apparently, under all those imperfections, there lies some fierce muscle mass.
Do you know how I know I am strong as hell?
I do yoga.
I literally know nothing about yoga. Like, I don’t understand the bowing to the teacher at the end of the class so I just do it anyways and I look at my neighbor to know when to come up. I don’t understand the namaste’s or the inversions or why in the world anyone wants to use those crusty blankets that are always in the studio but never get washed.
All I know, is that I sweat like crazy and I get to sleep at the end of every class.
I am 26 years old and I think I took a total of two yoga classes in my seven year relationship with New York City. When people found out I was coming to Hawaii to do yoga, they gave me an eyebrow raise and a forced “wow, that’s……………..awesome.” They were so shocked that I was leaving New York to do something so peaceful. I normally like to box. Hit things. Torture myself with hours of cardio. Pound the pavement – both literally and figuratively.
I always complained that I didn’t have time for yoga because I was too busy exercising to lose weight all the time.
If only someone had informed me that I would sweat more in downward facing dog than on an elliptical.
If only someone had informed me that there are nice teachers out there who will explain everything as they go for first timers.
If only someone had informed me that tattooed straight dudes take yoga too.
And seriously, IF ONLY SOMEONE HAD SO KINDLY INFORMED ME OF THE WHOLE ORGASMS BEING BETTER THING.
All the things, and I literally mean all the things, would have been better.
I think yoga is quite overwhelming, don’t you? There are like 800 different kinds, there are expensive sports bras made for the 800 different kinds, and when you walk into class, everyone is sitting there, looking all meditative and shit – like they know exactly what they are doing. So I automatically get intimidated, and try to do what they are doing. And instead of resting my mind like someone told me I would automatically do when I get to class, I’m worried that my legs aren’t crossed the right way.
Regardless of all that shit, I jumped in and just went for it when I got here. Not knowing anything. And let me tell you something. Yoga has changed my life in the past two weeks.
So I’m going to do the informing now. I want to pay it forward.
You know how Lululemon has that campaign right now to get the world to do more yoga? I kind of scoffed at it when I went into the store to look at their sale stuff every day for seven days straight before I left for Hawaii.
Now I get it.
So I’m going to take the overwhelming shit that has overwhelmed me for too many years and I’m going to straighten it out for you, my people. Because whether you have had exercise bulimia, or you go to the gym to let out aggression, or you go to the gym to fit into a bathing suit, I just want to let you know, that you can get the same results by going to yoga and then laying in corpse pose for ten minutes afterwards. It’s fucking amazing.
(Um, just a little service announcement here. I didn’t Google anything. I asked a few questions of my teachers here but other than that, I’m speaking quite frankly from my own experience. Which isn’t much. I think it’s more important to give you the point of view of a normal, every day, non-meditating, newbie to yoga than to provide you with facts that you could find out on your own from Wikipedia. Below, are the things that I have learned by trial and error. Mahalo for your time.)
Yoga does not always look like this.
These people most definitely have sand in their crotch and they are most definitely getting a paycheck under the job title “model.”
You do not need to own Lululemon, Athleta, Under Armour, or a single piece of lycra clothing to do yoga. The men here do yoga in their board shorts and bathing suits. The women wear leggings, cut up t-shirts, cargo shorts, bikini tops, you name it. I realize that I am in Hawaii and New York is different. But fuck that. Seriously. If you find the right yoga studio for you, you will find that what you wear has nothing to do with it. It’s not about owning the newest built-in-bra-coral-colored-breezeway-split-racer-back-top. It’s just so not about that.
Garbagemen do yoga. Mailmen do yoga. Farmers do yoga. Motorcycle men do yoga. Mechanics do yoga. Single men do yoga. Married men do yoga. Men do yoga. Straight men do yoga. Fat men do yoga. Old men do yoga. Skinny men do yoga. Gay men do yoga. Pregnant moms do yoga. 86-year old women do yoga. Lesbians do yoga. Local Hawaiian people with dreadlocks do yoga. Recovering alcoholics do yoga. Chefs do yoga. My housekeeping manager here does yoga with his wife. The tech guys here do yoga. All these people I just mentioned are here doing yoga with me, right now. Just because yoga looks like this in magazines…
…does not mean that everyone looks like this in class. And I think that the variety is actually more beautiful.
Most yoga studios have no mirrors. So instead of going to Cardio Kickbox Trampoline Step Plyometric Impact Class and watching your arm flab bounce, you can do your yoga in peace. Nothing against cardio sweat classes. Some days they are great. But with no mirrors in sight, you only get to look at your own body doing the work. Or you just close your eyes and enjoy the moment when you reach a little farther for the first time. When your heels touch the mat in downward facing dog the first time. When you inhale and exhale through a Vinyasa flow for the first time. There’s no mirror to look at, and so you can’t see how red your face is from hanging upside down, or see the rolls that naturally form when you’re bent over. It’s nice to take a moment away from the cardio classes. And the mirrors. It’s nice to take a moment away from your own judgemental eyes. Because you know that you’re the only one judging your arm flab right?
I have always had trouble getting out of my head in the bedroom. My mind would race, my orgasm would be close but I would get distracted, and if there is a man somewhere reading this that’s been in bed with me, he’s nodding because he knows it’s true. It’s frustrating for both him, and me, at the same time. There he would be, doing all the right things, and my mind would be off in audition-land, or in ice-cream-land, or in hating-my-stomach-land.
Yoga is proven to improve your sex life. (Okay, fine, I did Google that one sentence right there). You are like, ten times more in tune with your body than you were before you started class. It does not matter if you can’t touch your toes. You are listening to your body when it tells you that you can’t touch your toes, right? So if you spend an entire hour listening to what your body wants and does not want, don’t you think that if you spend a few hours a week listening to your body that it will carry over to the bedroom? Not to mention how much farther your legs will go over your head after a few classes. And no one has ever complained about that.
Even more important than that, yoga is designed to take your focus out of your racing thoughts and into your body to prepare your body for meditation. So instead of making your grocery list while someone is trying to get you off, maybe your mind will have let go of the lists and the to-do’s and the worries when you held tree pose earlier that afternoon. Making you more present for that thing he/she does down there that you love so much.
Kissing will be different. Touching will be different. It’s just different. Trust me. I’ve been there. I’m…there.
Yoga has all kinds of frustrating names that don’t help describe it. Thanks for the ancient Sanskrit names guys. Super intimidating.
Yoga is actually designed to get the body ready for meditation. But you don’t need to worry about that yet. Baby steps, remember? Just try one class and see what it does for your entire nervous system, not to mention your brain. The meditation will come after. Just think of it as a free gift included in your class.
So which class are you supposed to try? That used to overwhelm me. Vinyasa Yoga or Hatha Yoga is your most popular option in NYC, and I recommend trying it before you go to anything with heat. Like, seriously, baby steps. Let’s try breathing through a downward facing dog before we add 105 degrees. Anything with the word “beginner” in the title is also maybe a great way to go.
All “Vinyasa” means is that it’s power yoga. Instead of holding a pose and then switching into the next one by standing up, fixing your hair, or having a moment to beat yourself up for not being as flexible as your neighbor, there is a flow to the whole class. There is a way to get from pose to pose. Connections to the next position. The breath connects all of this together. But don’t be overwhelmed by that. Just do your best to try a class, follow along, and rest in child’s pose whenever you’re over it. Seriously. A class that encourages you to rest when you need it. WHO COULD ASK FOR ANYTHING MORE???
Why do you bow?
Why do you breathe that annoying breath?
Why does the breath matter?
Why do you meditate afterwards?
I don’t know all the answers. But I do know that I didn’t do it all correctly at first and I’m still alive.
I think that it’s so intimidating when you go to a class and you feel like if you don’t breathe correctly the whole time, you won’t get the same results as everyone else. What I’ve found is, I still feel like I worked my body head to toe after class. And every class, I get better with the breathing thing. The inhaling and exhaling with the special “ocean” breath makes you sweat more. That’s all you need to know for now. There is a reason for everything in yoga. But instead of trying to figure all of it out at once, why don’t we all just try to go to class and learn one thing at a time? Every class, you will retain one more tiny thing and after two weeks, you will have learned two to four new tiny things that might just add up to one big fucking thing.
About three months ago, I saw this picture:
I got so pissed. Dude, just because I’m a (recovering) binger and I have ice cream inside me, does not mean that I don’t eat vegetables. That’s fucking ridiculous.
The picture got me to thinking. Thinking about our vision of health these days. What we get out of the pictures in the magazines, on Pinterest, on Facebook. It got me to thinking about how tired I am of all the pictures. All the pictures I am always seeing of these models in Self and Women’s Health in their sports bras and their booty shorts doing these poses, making it look like only skinny, flexible people run and do yoga.
So I decided to do something about that. I called up a friend who is a photographer and we did a photo shoot in Fort Tryon Park. I wanted to prove to the world that people who look like me run and dance and can do yoga too. I am not a size two. The garbage man here is not a size 2. But he goes to yoga with me and he touches his shins when he bends over. A month ago he could only touch his knees. That’s what’s up.
So for every time you see this in Shape…
…please know that my stomach rolls and I are doing that too:
And every time you see this in Fitness Magazine…
…know that my back fat, and my cellulite, and I, are doing that too:
And know that every time you see this, in the “Yoga Poses For Belly Fat” category online…
…that my constantly racing mind and I are focusing on holding this, in order to calm the fuck down and find peace within:
Any body type can do yoga. If you take nothing away from this blog post, please take that away from this blog post.
Any fucking body type can do yoga. Thank you.
If you know me and who I am, you’ll know that I’ve always been scared of doing lifts in shows. My friend Rich had to battle my fear every day he lifted me last year in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. My friend Matty had to look me in the eye every time we danced together in Mame to see if I was going to go for the lift that day or not. I always felt too heavy. I’ve been afraid of being dropped. I didn’t grow up in a dance studio with boys to practice lifts with. I’m just scared and I don’t trust my partner enough to let him do his job.
So when Joel, the IT guy, came up to me one day and asked if I wanted to try partner yoga, and I said yes without thinking, I nearly had a heart attack.
Next thing I knew, I was letting this skinny guy lift me by one arm and one leg while in my bikini. Stomach all hanging out, thighs jiggling, ass in his face. Not in the sexy way.
And what resulted from that first day of partner yoga was a freeing feeling that I can’t actually describe in words. I can’t describe it. I just can’t.
All I can say about it is, when you go from fear to flying in twenty seconds flat, your whole outlook can change.
Now when Joel sees me before lunch we will spend ten minutes “flying”. Which is what he calls it.
We do this:
Mind you, no one’s hands are touching the ground in this picture. My hands are wrapped behind his back. I just wanted to be clear that this is all happening with just our bodies and equilibrium. BAM.
And I feel free. And trusting. And he has never dropped me once. The first time I asked him if I was too heavy. He didn’t look at me like I was crazy. He just looked me in the eye and said no. And that was that.
If you contact the following studios in New York City, you can ask a shit ton of questions and you can get free passes to try their studio for up to a week.
http://www.yogaworks.com (1 free week)
http://yogatothepeople.com (donation based classes, the Vinyasa class in Brooklyn was my first class ever in New York City and it was everything)
http://www.pureyoga.com/en/newyork/purecontracts/enquiry.php (takes you right to the page where you sign up for a complimentary class, there is a location on the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side.)
These are just the three that I tried to take advantage of right before I left. I never even got to use the YogaWorks pass but there are a bunch of people from YogaWorks here doing their teacher training and I really like them all. There are many more options all over the city to try out studios. If you’re not from NYC, take a deep breath and Google “free trial yoga [insert your city of choice here]”. Ask your friends, co-workers, and local Starbucks barista where THEY do yoga. Force a friend to go with you so that you don’t feel confused or overwhelmed by yourself. And then if you hate it, at least you know you have a buddy to complain to afterwards over a beer.
That was quite a list huh? My goal was to inform, and not overwhelm. And so if you need to re-read this in sections at a later date, I totally get it. If just one person reads this this week and goes and takes yoga then my work is done. I’m going to keep telling you how amazing I feel until all of you just go and fucking try it. Seriously.
My favorite yoga teacher here, the one who also has us sing that song at the end of class that I wrote about last week, asked us this week why we feel like we have to wait to be happy.
Why do we have to wait til we are 90 and spent, to be happy?
Why do we have to work until we are fried, to be happy?
Why do we have to wait until we understand all the yoga positions to take it?
If yoga makes us happy right now, let’s just take it. Like, let’s just take it. Let’s fuck it up. Let’s be wrong. Let’s fall out of postures. Let’s forget to breathe. Let’s let our mind race.
Because one day, maybe one of those things will naturally correct itself and you won’t even notice until you leave class and realize something is different. You can’t put your finger on it but something feels right. Different. Good. Better.
Never underestimate the power of trying something new because it scares you.
Who knows what kind of orgasm, what kind of muscle, or what kind of peace of mind it might bring you.
And if nothing else, just admire the beauty of looking at your own two feet, rooted in the ground, holding all of your weight up without the help of a treadmill or a chin-up bar. It’s just you, standing up, hands on your heart, feeling your heartbeat, standing all on your own.
Sometimes we forget that we don’t need Lululemon, or the newest Nike’s, or a trainer to help us stand alone.
Our legs are always right there. The strongest help of all. Holding all of our body weight on their own.
That’s pretty gnarly, isn’t it?
In a world where we are trained to hate our bodies, it’s a pretty beautiful thing to spend an hour in a quiet class where the only thing holding you up is your own body. Makes you pretty fucking thankful for what you got – whether it’s perfect or not.
*Photographs by Michela Imbesi (you can find her on Facebook)
**Special thanks to my Hawaiian ohana: Ellard for photographing the partner yoga; Will and Jared for their constant yoga wisdom, in and out of class; and Joel, who has given me the freedom of flying.
***Deepest gratitude to my friend Christina, who told me that she had a feeling yoga would turn out to be my form of therapy, and for dragging me to that first class in Brooklyn.
There’s a song that we sing at the end of one of the yoga classes here. For someone with a musical theatre background, I cannot for the life of me ever remember the damn thing word for word unless I am in the class. It boggles my mind. Regardless, the song is a blessing about having the sun shine upon you, letting pure love surround you, and allowing the bright light guide you.
We sing it three times in a row. It is only three lines long. First, we sing it to ourselves – the person who walked in the door to take yoga today. The second time, we sing it to a person we love who means a lot to us. The third time, we sing it for the world, especially those who are suffering.
Both times when I’ve taken class and sung the song, I’ve gotten choked up as I picture my Mom’s face and my Gramma’s face – thousands of miles away from me – both with concerned looks on their faces as I said good-bye to them two weeks ago. I feel the energy in the room as all of us then sing to those we know, and those we don’t know in the world, who are suffering and in pain.
Both times when I’ve taken class and sung the song, the only person who I can’t sing to, is myself.
The first time, I thought that I was just unfocused or something.
The second time, I realized very suddenly in the middle of the song that although I have compassion for the world, I have absolutely no compassion for myself.
This is a heartbreaking realization to come to. It really, really is.
I preach about compassion all the time on this fucking blog. And then all of a sudden I hold a few downward facing dogs and I have this crazy breakthrough where I realize I don’t offer myself any compassion? What the hell.
I thought that by overcoming my binging that my whole life would change. And yea, I was right. It did.
But holy fucking hell do I still have a lot to learn.
Since I’ve been here, I’ve come to the realization that although I now accept myself, and hate myself less, I still am not able to sing a simple blessing of love and peace to the person that I am.
So if you’ve been wondering what the hell I’m doing here, you’re not alone. I’ve been wondering the same thing. But I think I have an idea now.
I was so resistant to the idea of “finding myself” when I arrived here at this paradise. I left amazing friends behind, a few decent booty calls, and a sensible following in the dance classes I started teaching. I was actually sort of reluctant to leave New York City in the midst of such happy things taking place for the first time in so long.
But again, they were things. They were people. Things and people other than just me, myself, and I, causing my happiness. Yes, I’ve found out how to be happy without a job or a boyfriend. But now I’ve found that dancing and friends and Hawaii make me happy.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I am on a constant quest to find happiness within myself. Just being myself. Just like you are. Just like we all are.
I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. We’re all in this together.
And you know what? It’s okay. It’s all gonna be okay.
When I arrived in Hawaii, I immediately forgot to follow all of my own advice.
I judged others. I ate excessively. I judged others some more. And I judged myself a lot more harshly than I thought I would after all of this time.
If you ever think that just because I am grammatically correct 89% of the time, and that just because I am not afraid to talk about pouring an entire cup of sprinkles on a half gallon of ice cream, that I am living a perfect life, then let’s clarify some things right here, right now.
I am far from perfect. And I have found, that learning how to accept this fact of life, is just one reason why I am here in Hawaii.
At first, I was soooooo not down with the whole scene here. My resistance to this place totally surprised me. The resistance was strong and intense.
Like, I literally think that I had bitchy resting face for four days straight.
I mean, everyone here eats so many sprouts. Just so many.
Everyone here says “welcome home” when they meet you. Everyone here hugs you instead of shaking your hand. Everyone here says “aloha” if you run into them on the path to the dining lanai.
I despised all of that for days. It seemed insincere and so, Portlandia or something. I’m an East Coaster. We do not like to be touched.
Everyone I talked to asked me how long I am staying here. When I politely returned the question, they proceeded to tell me they’ve extended their stay and they love it here and they have found themselves and they will be here open-endedly or at least until next year and they have already gotten an “ohm” tattoo.
I judged them immediately for fleeing their lives and staying here in paradise as an escape.
Girls at dinner annoyed me by talking about how they can’t eat the fresh mango because it’s so high in sugar. How could they be so inconsiderate? There I was, a judgemental, pale and jet-lagged newcomer, recovering from an eating disorder that they didn’t even know about, shoveling pumpkin polenta into my mouth faster than you can say “can you pass the natural sea salt please?” What, do I have to wear a sign saying “please don’t assume you can have freedom of speech when I am sitting at the dinner table”? Why didn’t they just know what topics to avoid without me telling them?
Most of the men here have tattoos and are smoking hot and I just hated them for it, assuming they’ve already slept with every girl…or boy…already here.
I mean I just had a stanky, stanky attitude.
I couldn’t be my brassy, sassy self when I sat at dinner with all the volunteers who already knew each other and had established their connections and their own inside jokes already. I chose to keep what I do for a living to myself at first, because I didn’t want it to define me while I am here. But then I realized I don’t have much to say when people ask me about myself, because SURPRISE SURPRISE! I have let my career define me for all of these years! Oh. The irony.
So I silently cursed all the beautiful people around me, and I shut down, and I went to my room to beat myself up for being a mean, cold-hearted, anti-social New Yorker.
Oh, don’t you worry. It gets even better.
All the women here embrace naked face. No one here wears any makeup whatsoever. It just melts off. And they’re all fucking stunning.
So while I was alone in my room, I spent time in front of the mirror trying to accept my uneven skin and the dark circles under my eyes. I would take a deep breath, say fuck it, leave the room, full out naked face, close the door, and then change my mind at the last second and run back upstairs to apply my expensive Smashbox concealer and my $23 mascara and my paraben-free lip gloss.
On my way to breakfast afterwards, I proceeded to curse at my insecurity.
Until I got to breakfast where I had another battle to face – how much mango am I actually allowed to eat without being judged. And why do I care?
When I got hungry between meals, mostly because I didn’t eat enough mango, I snuck the chocolate that my friend Johnathan sent with me from his chocolate shop in the West Village into my bedroom and tried to binge on it.
And it was in those moments, when I tried to binge, but couldn’t eat more than two or three little squares of the chocolate, that I realized a gigantic reason why I am here.
I have healed the binging. But I haven’t taken ample time to look at all the things that caused me to binge.
You see how I keep having these tiny little “aha” moments? They are healthy. They are good. They are fucking hard. LIFE IS SO HARD.
I’m telling you though, fresh mango helps, it really does. Like, it just does.
For three days, I retreated and spent a lot of time alone. It’s not that I was shut out or made to feel unwelcome. I chose this alone time. Which in reality, was something I was so excited about when I found out I got accepted into this program! To spend time alone on purpose! Away from the honking horns and away from the pressure to be “on” all the time!
So then WHY did I feel so guilty about leaving dinner to go be alone?
Why do I feel so guilty for sleeping in until 7 some days, instead of getting up with the sun at 5:30?
Why do I feel so guilty about not taking advantage of every yoga class, every Hawaiian culture class, every meditation that is offered?
Why do I feel so guilty when I drink the fresh juice they offer at lunch instead of just drinking water with lemon?
I don’t know. But it’s a fourth reason why I’m here.
The guilt complex.
After all of the amazing revelations I have come to since May, and after all of the steps I have taken to become more kind to myself, I am still not at my final destination.
I don’t really know what the final destination looks like, and I know I’m not really supposed to worry about it, but I do know that it’s sort of a peaceful place where my guilt complex is minimized. I absolutely believe the teachers and the yogi’s when they say the journey is more important than the destination. Any good Pinterest quote will tell you that, complete with a beautiful backdrop of fluffy clouds and palm trees. But living up to that every day is not as simple as it sounds. There are obstacles that pop up, mostly in my mind, during every minute of every day.
What I do know is this.
We have to take time to remind ourselves that while on our own individual journeys, shit is gonna happen. We’re going to mess up. We’re going to make mistakes and, hopefully, learn from them. Because nobody’s perfect.
During our personal journeys, we can take time to recognize the facts. For instance, I know that the New Yorker in me does not know how to rest. I know that my upbringing has taught me that if I have down time, I should be doing something with it. I have never known how to relax.
Learning to relax and rest my mind are more of the reasons why I am here.
I also know that I have let the pressure of my friends joking that I’ll be returning to NYC as a size two get up into my head a little too much. I’ve found myself avoiding bread at dinner or staying away from the cheesy eggs in the morning when I think of all the people expecting me to show up to dance class in a bra and booty shorts because I went away to “yoga camp”.
Letting go of other people’s expectations for my success is a humoungous reason why I am here.
What are we at now – four, five, six reasons? Those are just a few biggies. There are more, I am sure, that I will find out as I go.
The final reason that I know of for the moment, is forgiveness. Forgiving myself for judging people. Forgiving myself for tormenting my body over the years. Forgiving myself for fucking up.
Forgiving myself for not being perfect.
So. Here I am. Nine days in. At least seven huge realizations. That’s almost one for every day of the week. It’s exhausting living in paradise.
It’s at this point in the post where I point out that I haven’t been a complete and total bitch the entire time since being here. It gets better every day.
See, what I have taken away from my social experiences this week, is that from the outside, at first, everyone seems to love each other and shit. There are about 125 volunteers here and up to 100 guests all at once. But when you start observing more closely, there are groups of people who tend to hang with each other at certain times. Departments become close. Musicians become close. People who aren’t afraid to go hiking on lava tubes become close. Random friendships occur that wouldn’t necessarily make sense in the middle of New York City or even the middle of Kansas. But here, in the jungle, you find out things about people if you allow them to open up and share their story with you. I’ve found that I can relate to more people here than I thought, even if they have never sung a note or stepped foot inside of New York State.
Everyone has a story. Not just here. Everywhere. It’s just that, a lot of the people here, including myself, have stories that you don’t hear every day. That’s what’s so beautiful about encountering different people in this life. We’re always learning something new about somebody that we would have never expected.
It all goes back to my own words from the beginning of this fucking blog. EVERYONE HAS THEIR SHIT.
So every day, I am learning more about myself. Sometimes, I end up learning this through encountering others. And I write you today to remind you that yes, I write this blog for people every week, so that no one feels like they are alone in whatever battle they are facing. And it might seem brave. And it might be funny.
But I am still facing my own battles. There are a lot of people right here in the jungle with me with no makeup on and a lot of strange tattoos in places they regret who are also facing battles. We all got battles, you guys. And nobody’s perfect.
I’m not sure if my new guitar-playing, 22-year-old friend Brooke was looking over my shoulder this morning while I typed this or if she just felt the need to tell me this, but I want to close with this very important lesson she so generously offered me over her beloved dissonant guitar chords and coffee this morning.
Last night, she went to a class they offer here called Huna Healing. Huna healing comes straight to us from Hawaiian culture and consists of seven principles of something. Meditation or something. I don’t really know. I’ll get back to you on that.
I have a point though.
She shared with me how last night on the seventh meditation, everyone was instructed to picture themselves as a key.
Every key in the world is different. Think about it. Each one has it’s different bumps, ridges, and curves. Some are longer, some are tiny, some are brass, some are silver.
This key concept applies to all of us humans – both physically and spiritually.
Take a moment and think about what your key looks like.
Physically, my key has all KINDS of bumps and ridges. Like, fo’ real. It’s also probably dipped in chocolate.
Spiritually, by envisioning our “key” within us, we also choose the door that our key unlocks. Take a moment and think about what your door looks like.
Is it big and wooden like something out of a Harry Potter book? Is it tiny and colorful like something out of Alice In Wonderland? Is it an office door? A walk-in freezer? A french door with glass windows?
Guitar-playing, 22-year-old Brooke described the key to me that she envisioned last night. It was an antique. Heavy and brass with a beautiful emerald embedded in it. She also shared with me what kind of door that it unlocked – an old, heavy wooden door like you’d find inside an Irish pub. Dark, maybe paint chipping, and a big old fashioned handle. She was so deep in the meditation that she could see the key nearing the door. She could feel the excitement of being so close to discovering what was behind that heavy door.
And then, in one instant, something popped into her head and told her that the key was way too beautiful for her. Such a beautiful key with an embedded emerald and a brass color would never represent guitar-playing, 22-year-old Brooke.
Talk about a fucking heartbreaking realization. I mean, I’m tearing up just typing that. If you could see this chick, and her gorgeous curly hair and her kind green eyes and her welcoming, friendly smile, you’d be teary-eyed too.
That story, right there, is the reason why SHE is here. She must find the compassion for herself.
Just like I must find the compassion for myself.
Just like you must find the compassion for yourself.
Because my love, no one is perfect.
I don’t know what happened to us between the time we were children when the world was our playground and now, when we don’t even feel that we deserve emeralds in our dreams. But enough is enough.
There has got to be a way to help put the emeralds back into our dreams.
Can we keep complimenting our friends’ attributes and slow ourselves in judging strangers? We sure can try that. Putting the compassion out in the universe will definitely bring it back to us.
Can we look in the mirror every morning without makeup on, or without a good haircut, and still find the beauty in our eyes, our skin, our smiles? We sure can try that. It takes 40 days to build a good habit. It only takes 21 days to break a bad one. It’s worth a shot.
Can we spend an extra thirty seconds hugging a friend instead of just a half-assed pat on the back? Yea, I bet that would help too.
Because man oh man, in the past three days, have I sure as hell embraced the hugging. And the sprouts. And the no bra-wearing. And the “aloha” spirit. It is a beautiful thing to be welcomed into a geniunely, caring community made up of people who know nothing about me, but hug me anyway. I am now part of the family here. The “ohana.”
I am here to learn forgiveness and to learn how to embrace my imperfections. I am here to learn how to accept my flaws, how to calm my guilt complex, how to shrug off people’s expectations of me, and how to calm the fuck down.
And if these things apply to you too, then feel free to live your life and take solace in my journey. Know that you are not alone. You deserve to learn and accept and love all of these things too. Eating disorder or no eating disorder. Performing career or office job. Single or married. Gay or straight. Woman or man.
Let’s do some shit this week that makes us feel good inside. Shit for us. Shit that doesn’t involve significant others, promotions, or running 18 miles. Just some personal…shit, powered by love of who we are.
Because nobody’s perfect. And when you really take a minute and think about it, truly think about it, you’ll realize that you love a lot of people in your life for all that they are – including their imperfections. So why can’t you love yourself, and your imperfections, too?
Marilyn Monroe once said, “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”
She spoke the truth.
Today, I am writing you from here.
I am sitting on a cliff and if I drop my computer off my lap right now the barracudas below me will have it for lunch. Not even joking though.
Basically what I’m saying is, I’m in Hawaii.
You know how I keep talking about that damn book that my friend Rachel gave me? That’s sort of how I ended up here. I opened the book and there was a round trip United Airways boarding pass inside.
JUST KIDDING NOT REALLY BUT THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN REALLY REALLY GREAT.
Really though. How DID I get to Hawaii besides leaving New York City on a jet plane?
Well I hit rock bottom back in May. We’ve discussed this already – my friends left, I didn’t book a job, I was single, all that fabulous stuff.
Do you know what really is fabulous about all of that depressing stuff? What’s fabulous is that I didn’t have any of those things at my fingertips, meaning I had no strings attached to New York City for the month of May.
So when I found myself in that gray, ugly, rainy town called Rock Bottom, USA, I was like, “Heyyyyy God, how’s it goin’ up there? Hey, listen, um, all the quotes on Pinterest tell me that the only way to go from here is up. So where is up? Please help me find my ‘up’. Please.” I prayed and prayed that something would come along and help me up.
The books that I keep talking about were my “up.”
There is a woman named Geneen Roth who has written several books about compulsive eating and the way human beings use food as a drug rather than a fuel source. I was told about her books back in August of 2012 when I first realized that maybe I binge more than the average twentysomething female. So I spent 75 dollars at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square and bought three of her books plus a new journal with a bike on it cuz I really was dedicated to riding my new bike and also a medical book called “Binge No More” that to this day is way too scientific for any human being to comprehend.
Then I met Stallion. Then I got a choreography gig. So the books were shoved under my bed, unread and unopened, with my ballet shoes and my keyboard and never touched again. Very worthwhile investments, I tell you.
Holy crap, a wave just crashed up the cliff and splashed my entire computer screen with Pacific Ocean juice. I just thought you should know.
ANYFUCKINGWAYS, I keep talking about that book that Rachel gave me right? The one that started my journey back to sanity and healthy living?
It was one of Geneen Roth’s books.
See, when I went to visit Rachel and she was clearing out her apartment, she handed me two books. One was A Course In Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrending Your Weight Forever by Marianne Williamson. The other was When Food Is Love by Geneen Roth. The first one, the 21 lessons and shit, was more of a workbook that you journaled in and wrote notes to yourself in. It’s intention was to make you think about what you were using food to compensate for. It kept my attention for about 45 minutes and then my hand got really tired.
The other book that Rachel handed to me, I opened gently and found all sorts of markings and highlights and underlines. Pages folded over. Messages she had written to herself. I couldn’t take that shit from her! Are you kidding?
So I thanked her and I told her that I already had When Food Is Love at home.
That weekend, when I went home to Pennsylvania for my little brother’s graduation from an accredited university where he received his Bachelor’s of Science in Landscape Architecture, I took my own dusty copy of When Food Is Love with me. I don’t know. Maybe I thought I would read some message inside that would magically make me feel better about my Associate’s Degree in Musical Theatre while watching my brother walk down the aisle in his cap and gown that I didn’t even have at my “college” graduation. It’s hard to say.
Regardless, I opened it and never put it down. I found out things in that book that I literally never knew. I never knew that I eat when I am lonely, confused, or completely overwhelmed with the task at hand. I just always assumed I had no self-control over my cravings for chocolate. I never knew that I specifically found ways to chase men and date men who do not chase me.
You might be thinking that a therapist could have told me this years ago.
Look. When you’ve been dieting your whole life and you can’t keep weight off, you blame it on your metabolism. Your genes. Your lack of self control. Your mother for never keeping Oreo’s in the house. Your grandmother for making you clean your plate. You don’t think of going to therapy. You never once think that there might be something more psychological that is causing all of this depression and anxiety in your life.
So this book, was my therapist. Geneen Roth was my personal advisor. My mentor. And probably the only person I’ve ever heard of that has come out and talked about all of the disgusting things that she, and I, have been doing, eating, or manifesting throughout the years.
Geneen Roth wrote many other books. Her most popular, the one that has been featured on Oprah, is Women Food and God.
I read three of her books. When Food Is Love was the first. It opened my eyes to the fact that I had a problem that needed to be addressed. Women Food and God was the third, and probably the one that spoke to me the least.
The second book was the book that saved my life. The second book helped me learn how to heal most of my personal addictions and habits. That second book was Breaking Free from Emotional Eating (formally entitled Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating.)
That book taught me to only eat when I was hungry. What a concept.
That book taught me to eat what I wanted, no matter what it was, when I was hungry. What a concept.
That book taught me to bring “bad” things into the house – ice cream, Reese’s, cheese, pesto sauce – to remind me that no food is off limits.
“Bad” foods are the ones we have deprived ourselves of for most of our life. They are different for everybody. The reason most of us binge on specific foods is because there are these “bad” foods that are off-limits to us. No one has labeled them “bad” except for us. And maybe our mothers. And the multi-billion dollar diet and fitness industry.
Geneen Roth taught me that if you bring the “bad”, off-limit foods into the house, eventually the security of knowing they are always there will allow you to live a life where you’re not thinking about them all the time. Not to mention the money you will save by bringing a half gallon of ice cream into the house for $3.99 instead of forbidding it and then spending nine dollars on Pinkberry five days a week when you are on a binge.
Geneen opened my eyes to the fact that I am not weak. I am not irresponsible. And I am not defined by my weight.
She also taught me the most important lesson of all.
Once you are aware of something, you can never become unaware again.
Seriously. Think about it. If I just told you that the tattoo on the back of your neck is crooked, you will always be aware that the tattoo on the back of your neck is crooked. I would never do that to you because sometimes people get drunk and get crooked tattoos and they are a part of you and that’s that and it’s also on the back of your neck so who really gives a fuck but the point is, you are now aware that the tattoo is crooked and you can never again be unaware of the fact that your tattoo is crooked.
So once I read in these books that I had a binge-eating problem, I could never become unaware again. Once I read that I used food as a drug, I could never become unaware again. And seriously, binging has never been the same.
When I first started reading the books, it was very overwhleming. 26 years of hating myself coming undone in a few pages? Insanity. Some author from California who lived a life of ups and down similar to mine, telling me that it’s okay that I have never been able to keep thirty pounds off? Crazy.
Because I was a little overwhelmed by all of this radical, hopeful information, I tried to hold on to the binging for a while. I would follow all of Geneen’s instructions and bring the “bad” foods into the house but then still eat them excessively. But not as excessively as before. Because now I was aware. I brought home those damn sea salt brownies from Trader Joe’s, the white pizza with roasted red peppers from Domino’s, the cookies ‘n’ cream, the Cheez-Its, the orange juice. Yes, you heard me. Orange juice.
What can I say? Orange juice is two Weight Watchers points for eight ounces. I gave that shit up years ago.
I brought all those foods in the house and would sort of, kind of, still binge on them. And then get full. Or just get sick of the taste. My mind was blown.
Because now I was aware. I was aware of how eating eight sea salt brownies made me feel. It did not really help my hunger and after one brownie, they actually don’t taste all that great. Now that I knew I was eating them to help mask a feeling like sadness or frustration, they meant nothing to me. Now that I knew that the brownies were not going to take away the sadness or frustration, it was almost easier to follow Geneen’s suggestions and face the sadness and frustration for a few minutes and deal with the situation at hand.
For someone who didn’t know she had a food addiction, this very simple concept of facing your feelings in the moment was very, very, very new. Strange. Uninvited. Confusing.
In the midst of all of this enlightenment and this weird thing where I was still sort of trying to binge and also this weird thing where I would only eat when I was hungry, I Google’d homegirl.
Geneen Roth. That’s my homegirl.
She’s blonde. She’s binged her whole life. She came out alive. And she supposedly holds these life-changing, view-altering, mind-blowing retreats in San Diego.
The retreats cost a mere $1800 plus travel and hotel. Since I am actually a very wealthy, successful woman, I paid to go to her retreat and everything has been fine every since.
GOTCHA. Gotcha again.
1800 what?? Right. Sure. Great.
Gave up on THAT idea.
Until a few weeks later when I was on her website again, just browsing around (like you do when you’re trying to eat a jar of Nutella that doesn’t have the same enticing quality that it used to, which is almost a really sad thing because you’re like, moving on from Nutella, and it’s a very spiritual experience) and I found out that she was doing a $400 retreat.
At Kripalu. A huge center for yoga and health in the Berkshires. Like three hours north of NYC! Holy shit, life was amazing. Right then and there I was thinking, I’m totally doing this retreat. I’m gonna kick my depression’s ass and come back and be on Broadway and tell my story at 54 Below in a very successful one woman show and make young girl’s cry and like, life is good.
Well, actually, it was $400 plus room, travel, and food. Ironic that you have to pay for food when going to a retreat about food.
Great. I continued to half-ass scroll down Kripalu’s website – beer or maybe Maker’s Mark in hand, hard to remember – and I saw a link for Volunteering.
Me? Volunteer? Shit, I won’t even cat-sit for free much less fucking volunteer.
Wait. Wait for it. You go to this magical yoga place called Kripalu, and you volunteer for six months, and everything is free. Free. Workshops, yoga, food, room, board, pool, nature, all the things.
Okay, I say to myself, it’s all happening. I’m doing this. I’m peacing out of New York and I’m going to go away for six months and save myself and get skinny and maybe get out of my head and also maybe meet a yogi husband who has tattoos on his ribs and loves to pull my hair even though he’s really calm in everyday life.
I called my mom. I explained the whole volunteering option, sans the yogi husband who is going to pull my hair.
“Hey, Mom, do you think this is crazy?” (I had finally come out to my Mom about all of my issues about three weeks prior, more on that in another post.)
“No, I don’t think it’s crazy. But you hate the winter. You grew up in Pennsylvania. Why would you not research something on the beach in warm weather?”
“Mom. Oh my God. I gotta go. I gotta go. I have to google shit.”
I hung up the phone. The next day, instead of keeping all of my plans on a Saturday afternoon like a good friend does, I sat on the couch with my new cat and Google’d “beach yoga retreat volunteer”.
You know how Google predicts shit for you?
Yea. Mine predicted this:
“beach yoga retreat volunteer in hawaii”
UM OKAY THANKS GOOGLE.
Three things we all need to know about Hawaii. I feel tied to it more than the other cities that came up after the Hawaii listing because of 1) My very amazing friend Ethan, who passed away three years ago very suddenly, who was born and raised in Kauai and 2) I almost landed a choreography gig at the Ohana Arts Center in O’ahu two summers ago but didn’t get it due to funding and flying me in from NYC and 3) it’s fucking Hawaii.
So I clicked on the website. There’s a rainbow on the homepage and it says “Hawaii’s largest retreat center” and it promises rest, relaxation, wellness, yoga, beauty, and so much more.
I found the volunteer link. I read the facts. I viewed the pictures. I felt the need to apply immediately. I spent the next hour and a half pouring my heart and soul into the volunteer application that asked me about everything from my mental issues, to my experience in volunteering (uh-oh), to where I’m from, to what makes me want this life changing thing badly enough to pick up my entire life and move to the most remote part of the Big Island of Hawaii.
The application really made me think about why I wanted this yoga retreat situation so badly. I realized it wasn’t about running away. I realized it wasn’t about getting skinny. It wasn’t actually about meeting a yogi husband. It was just a chance at something completely different, and maybe even a reward for saving myself from myself.
I submitted the application with my $50 processing fee and felt a strange sense of calm. Like I had done the right thing.
Three days later I got an email about scheduling a phone interview.
Two days after that I was having a phone interview with an amazing man named Sam who ironically enough, had been an actor in London. God works in mysterious ways, ladies and gentleman. This man understood everything that I was going through – frustration with my career, frustration with living in a city, frustration with my weight, my twenties, my everything. Who knows what would have happened had I interviewed with anyone else. Sometimes, my life kind of sounds dazzling and fabulous to someone who’s never stepped foot in Nola Studios on a Sunday morning. Our phone interview lasted an hour longer than scheduled and at the end of it, he said, “alright Amanda, I would like to offer you a place here in our volunteer program. Congratulations. We would love to have you.” Just like that.
Oh my God. Just, oh my God. I just typed that and I have goosebumps and I am crying on a cliff in Hawaii as I remember that very special day at the end of May.
Because here I am, two and a half months later, in my little sundress my mom bought me that’s actually long enough to cover my butt, sitting on my bathroom towel because I don’t have a beach towel yet, on a cliff, with the geckos, and I am living my life.
Ironically enough, after my acceptance into the volunteer program, I found out that this entire 119 acre paradise where I am living right now was founded by two gay dancers that lived in the West Village, in NYC, forty years ago. Richard Koob and Earnest Morgan. If that isn’t a sign that I am right where I need to be right now, I have no idea what is.
I definitely have a lot more to tell you about the journey since that first acceptance phone call on May 31st up until arriving at this moment, right now, where I am currently sitting under a coconut tree drinking UV-filtered rain water. But I think that’s enough for this week. I have sea turtles to see at 4pm when they come in to the rocks to be in the sun.
I want you to remember that if you live in the moment, life can take you to the most beautiful places. Even if it’s just 181st Street and the Hudson river, right after reading this, because you feel like you’re having a rough morning and you want to be near something that calms you, like the water. Go do that. Yea, it’s totally a walk. No train goes there, it’s down a long hill, okay so what? You have an hour to kill, so go do that. Do what you need to do EVERY DAY to feel like you are living your life in the moment. Don’t do it tomorrow. Do it today.
And above all, if someone hands you a book, and looks you in the eye, and tells you that they love you and they want you to read it, open the fucking book and read every word. It could be your ticket to a whole new place in life.