So, I hung out with Glennon this weekend. And by hang out, I mean I bought a ticket to sit in the front row and soak up her every word while she talked to an audience full of people. Same thing, right?
A little back story for you on how Glennon and I became BFFs. A few years ago I read her New York Times bestselling book, Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life. In her book, she shares stories on her recovery from bulimia and alcoholism, a rocky start to her marriage and the challenge of raising three children in a universe that prefers us not to talk about the “messier” parts of our lives. Her delivery is so vulnerable, raw and hilarious that you feel you know her by heart. Glennon’s gift and massive following resides in her ability to be so REAL that she creates space for you to say, “Me too, sister and here’s how it went down for me…” In a world where “having it all together” feels like a prerequisite, she gives us permission to honor our own stories and to have the courage to share them.
Glennon’s voice really resonates with me. I too am an imperfect wife and mother of three, as well as BEDR (pronounced better, an acronym I made up to describe the tribe of us who are, Beautifully Eating Disorder Recovered — BAM!). Once introduced to her work, I found myself devouring her many scrumptious treats (TED Talk, Momastery blog, etc.). Meeting her for the first time this weekend was equally delicious, which is why I secretly wanted to kidnap Glennon and her adorable sister that accompanied her, and bring them home with me where we could change into our jammies and stay up all night talking about how kick ass it is to be REAL.
Although Glennon is not my BFF in real life (I’m not relinquishing this as a possibility, however), she embodies all of the traits of my real life tribe of sisters. It’s important for me to share with you how I’ve created my tribe, because it often doesn’t magically happen; you have to cultivate it. My clients and I talk about the deep need for this tribe in session — A LOT. They come to me lonely and afraid; Tribeless. This is the poison the ED infuses, liter after liter, until you are robbed fully of any semblance of a tribe.
In my own eating disorder, I spent many years “playing the part” with whomever was in front of me. By playing the part, I mean engaging in conversations and relationships that ultimately left me feeling deeply lonely; “the hot loneliness” as G describes one of Pema Chodron’s beloved quotes. I call these Level 1 conversations and relationships (super on the surface). I’m drained and bored to tears by these exchanges, and more importantly, I feel incredibly disconnected during and afterwards. I knew it felt crappy, but I didn’t know how else to be.
As humans, we have a universal need to belong. I can attest to the longing to be seen and known, and I know you can too. Throughout my recovery, what I learned was that the more vulnerable I was with others, the more likely they were to be vulnerable with me. Someone has to be willing to take on the risky and courageous task of leaping out of Level 1; which can be super uncomfortable initially. A word of caution — I will tell you, not everyone is interested in moving beyond Level 1 and you will know it right away, I mean like, right away!! They don’t reciprocate your vulnerability and they tend to get really twitchy. And that’s ok, that’s just where they are, I was there too! What is of significance for you when you are creating your tribe is to steer clear of investing in relationships where it’s evident that the other party isn’t interested in the same type of connection. I just say, “and so it is,” and move on, all the while making sure to not create a story where I did something wrong, or to make them wrong in the process.
My tribe, the people that live deep in my heart are the kind of people where we may not talk for a month, and when we do connect we skip over the pleasantries and get straight to the heart of the matter. These are the women in my life who I can call and say, “I feel like packing my bags and abandoning my life; honestly, it’s just way too much for me.” Most of them will start by cracking up, because I tend to lean towards the dramatic (and they accept me anyway), and then they’ll say, “Can I come too? I so get it. ‘m knee deep in the muck too. Tell me what’s going on.”
I want to give you a practical example of how this showed up when Glennon came to visit me this weekend (I mean, when Glennon came to talk to thousands of women in the Kansas City area). Whatever, I’m still indulging the fantasy, okay!
Exhibit A: A few lovely ladies shared the table with me at the conference. We introduced ourselves and I learned that one lady, similar in age to me, is a mother and an architect who lives in California. In exchanging mommy pleasantries I learned that she loves being a boy mom, she doesn’t “do” the emotions of little girls very well, and identified herself as more of a tomboy who spent her childhood building things with legos. I’m putting each detail together like pieces in a puzzle. I decide she is a very logical woman, who is successful and independent. I live in Kansas, okay, and I played with dolls growing up. I’m a highly emotional, girly-girl and adore having an equally girly daughter. I decide prematurely that we likely have very little in common.
Because my old brain still likes the idea of the occasional act of self-harm, I asked what the weather is like in California in contrast to this freezing misery going on here, “oh, I think this weekend it’s around 80,” they all agree, as my frostbit toes and fingers groan. Well, how lovely. I proceed to create a glamorous life for them in my head, including homes with panoramic ocean views and long walks on the beach at sunrise. Then the full catastrophe moment happens. I ask how they all know each other and what brings them to Kansas. The lady I’ve been chatting with introduces the woman next to her, “this is my mother-in-law,” she simply says, in a way that conveys their closeness and proceeds with the explanation, which I am unable to hear at this point because a dagger is securing itself deep within my ribs. I comment on the beauty of her relationship with her mother-in-law who comes across as very warm and loving. And, I share that I too had that kind of bond with my mother-in-law, secretly hoping they will ask about her. Inside, I feel deep, gut wrenching pangs of sadness and grief in my heart as I bear witness to their bond, for I have lost my most beloved mother-in-law to brain cancer and desperately long for her to share in my life and the lives of all of her children and grandchildren. I feel the hot loneliness in my heart as I look the empty chair at my side. As I’ve been taught by my own therapist, I breathe into my loss, make room for it, and ride out the urge to raid the dessert table set up behind me, while running the hell out of there.
And then… I got CURIOUS about them (a theme that came up several times that day by the speakers), and dug deeper, because again, Level 1 convos ain’t workin’ for this girl. And with only one clarifying question that I posed to them, everything changed. We became sisters and my heart softened. You see, their bond goes far beyond the obvious connection I observed. With tear filled eyes and soft glances between the two of them, the daughter-in-law shared that her husband had passed away. I saw more clearly, that in front of me sat a 30-something widow and a mother who had lost her son. All of the sudden, these two women and I now were in a shared space that shed the story I had created about them and we had moved beyond the pleasantries. We were real together in that moment. I no longer was alone in my grief, and maybe they weren’t either. We are a special kind of women, women with badges of honor that have survived heartbreak. AND YET in the midst of that are living “Brutiful” lives (Glennon’s term for embracing the brutal and beautiful parts of life). We are Warriors. I hugged them as we left, likely to never see them again, but a deep knowing in my heart that they offered me a gift by allowing me to really see them.
So my sweet one, my deepest wish for you this week, as you journey out into the world of acceptable Level 1 exchanges, is to get curious about the souls you encounter throughout your day. Let the story you’ve made up about their perfect lives fall away and try to really see them. I mean, like hard core, really SEE THEM, and as you do, please open yourself up to the vast possibility of allowing them to also SEE YOU. Don’t hide out in Level 1. I know it’s safe and familiar. But it’s also terribly isolating. Breathe into your most courageous self that is desperate to be seen and known and know that the person you sit next to at work or in class that you’ve never really connected with, is likely longing for the same thing.
Love + Light,
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
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