Honest Guilt

I’m a big girl.  I try to be okay with it, because apparently I don’t hate it enough to make the huge life-changes I would need to make in order for me not to be a big girl.  For me, it would be more than working out on a regular basis ( although that does make a big difference ).  My body needs more help than that, and I know — I worked out like crazy for a couple years.  For me, it would mean making huge changes to my diet.  And to be frank, I don’t want to do that.  Yet.

But there’s something new I’m discovering about my perception about myself.

I hate to eat.

I love food.  I really do. I like cooking it, I enjoy amazing meals just like everyone else.  But more and more often these days, I feel guilty every time I open my mouth.  I know where the guilt comes from: it comes from knowing what I could do, what I should do to be healthy…and then not doing it.

I know I’m supposed to love my body.  I know it’s within my power to change it if I really don’t.  I’ve been told all the do’s and dont’s of eating, exercising, and body image, told them over and over until I could probably hold a very educated dialogue with health professionals.

Women are told so much about how to feel about themselves, about how to take care of their bodies.  But in my case, it simply comes down to two factors: a stubborn laziness and a reluctance to change my diet and cut out some of the things that I really love.

I don’t have an out-of-control weight problem, but I do suffer from self-esteem issues.  I am beginning to make changes to keep myself under control.  But I want to be honest with those other girls out there like me, the ones who feel a little like a bad person every time they eat something other than an apple: I know how you feel.  We’ve got to get past that — the guilt, the poor body image, and the laziness.  It’s hard…all three of those things require changes to the way we think.  I know, I understand, I’m going to try harder too.

If we want to slim down, we know how to do it.  There is so much information about healthy living out there, adapted for almost every lifestyle.  And if we want to be happy with our bodies as they are, than we need to embrace ourselves, truly focus on things that we love about our bodies.  I usually start with my eyes.

But no matter what, it is time to let go of that guilt.

I am really interested in hearing stories from other women who might be reading this, but please be sensitive and encouraging.  I know I don’t always make the best food choices: I’m a rational adult and I’ve heard it, just like a smoker as heard all the reasons why they shouldn’t smoke.  I’m trying to change.  But I am hoping to hear stories about courage and health.

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A Victory for Equal Rights

Prop 8 Ruling

This is a victory.

It’s not my victory.  To be brutally honest, I didn’t campaign or protest the dismissal of Proposition 8 or argue why DOMA is just freaking ignorant.  But for all those out there who did, this is definitely a victory.  And I’m proud of all the people who went into action and stood against an infringement of rights.  Gay marriage can resume in California, and I’m happy that this is the case.

I know not everyone feels this way.  But let me tell you why I do:

When it looked like the American colonies were going to war with England, there were a lot of groups who saw this as an unprecedented opportunity to do something really revolutionary.  Women were one of those groups.  Another were slaves.  In fact, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband and said, “…And by way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.” [1]

Do you know what John Adams, one of our celebrated Founding Fathers, did?  He wrote back and essentially mocked her, called her “saucy,” and then completely dismissed her request for women’s rights.

A petition was put forth by a “Great Number of Blackes detained in a State of slavery,” which submitted to a general court assembled in Massachusetts Bay the plea that all men have in common the natural and inalienable right to freedom. [2]

A war was fought over that one, but until almost 100 years later.  And even at its completion, the fight for equality for black Americans was not over.

So why do I support legalization of gay marriage?  It’s not because I don’t understand the moral arguments that certain religious groups have against it.  I’m perfectly capable of understanding their arguments.  I just don’t agree.  In our country, we have a history of suppressing the rights of anyone who does not fall into the category of ‘white male.’  And in a country that has long lauded freedom and equality for all, there is absolutely no place for that.

We claim to be a nation built upon the principles of freedom and equality.  But every time we have a chance to prove it, we fail.  Utterly and completely.  We cannot look an adult in the eye and say, “It is illegal for you unite with the person that you’re in love with.”  Some people may consider it immoral.  Some people may consider it a sin against God, or a sin against nature.  Some may think of it as a sort of disorder or disease.  But the fact of the matter is, it does not cause physical harm or in any way block or infringe upon the rights of any other Americans.

So today is a victory.  It is not a personal victory, but a victory for the principles which we’ve all learned are what make America so different, and so wonderful.  That is worth celebrating.


[1] Abigail Adams, “Abigail and John Adams Debate Women’s Rights, 1776,” in Major Problems in American History Volume 1: To 1877, ed. Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman (Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning 2012), 109.

[2] “African Americans Petition for Freedom, 1777,” in Major Problems in American History Volume 1: To 1877, ed. Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman (Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning 2012), 112-113.

Needy, Greedy Me

It’s been nearly four months since I talked to the girl I had called “best friend” for many years of my life.

The circumstances were weird: I was on the verge of getting out of the Navy.  She was struggling with having feelings for a man who was not her husband.  Both of us were facing major, major changes in our lives and the way in which we’d been living them.  I had assumed we would help each other through those transitions.

My mum has always told me that one person can’t be everything you need in life.  It’s probably the best relationship advice I’ve ever gotten.  It applies to every sort or relationship: romantic, platonic, familial…it even applies in the workplace.  You simply cannot get everything you need in a relationship from one person in your life.  They are going to disappoint you, and you are going to disappoint them.  They’re going to have other obligations, just as you are.  Their lives are as complex and complicated as yours.

I had come to lean very heavily on my friendship with Michele.  Especially before I entered my current relationship.  We called, texted, emailed…we were co-writing a story together, planning shopping trips, all sorts of things.  We spent a lot of time together, even if it wasn’t physically.  But Michele has a husband and a toddler.  She was ( is? ) struggling in her marriage and her baby girl has recently been diagnosed with high-functioning autism.  Here I was, demanding her attention, insisting she take time out for me when her situation was already quite stressful and complex.  And these days, it really is easy to bug the hell out of someone, isn’t it?  Emails and Facebook and text messaging, all accessible on phones we take with us everywhere.

To top it off, you just plain outgrow people in time.  After being friends for nearly ten years, Michele and I were finally approaching a place in our lives where there were more differences between us than similarities.  I, for instance, do not have any children.  I have never been married.  And the little things were changing too: Michele’s new friends were into hardcore music, so she became increasingly involved in that scene.  She went from loving comic books and geekery to only being interested in hardcore music.  As her tastes changed and developed, it was harder and harder for us to find any common ground.  Which was a little scary for me, because although I had other friends, particularly friends that worked with me in the Navy, she was my only long-term friend.

I’m not saying that it isn’t possible to have long-term, even lifelong, friendships.  I know people who have been friends, literally, from birth.  I know it’s possible to maintain healthy relationships over a span of many years, and even across many, many miles.  But for us, it wasn’t possible.  She was my best friend.  And I had come to rely on her just a little too much.  I expected her to fill too many needs.  And her other relationships were heading in a very destructive path.

In the end, we had one of those horribly personal fights.  The kind of fight that you can only have with people who have known you better and longer than anyone else.  I don’t know if we will ever talk again.  I feel angry with her, I believe she has acted in a very selfish manner toward me and many others in her life.  Then again, I’m sure she feels the same way about me.  But I miss her, too, even if we drained rather than inspired each other at the end.

The moral of the story for me is to cut the people in my life a little slack, especially my boyfriend.  I know that it’s healthier ( and more fun, in the end ) to enjoy each person in my life for what they bring to it, and not to cling too hard to them.  And I know that I can’t rely on Mike to be the only strong relationship in my life.  He is a friend as well as my boyfriend, but he can’t be my only friend…that’s too much to ask of him.  I wouldn’t want him to put that kind of pressure on me, either.

It’s been a painful lesson to learn, and some of the laughter has definitely gone out of my life now that Michele is not in it.  But in the end, I think I’ll be a better friend and girlfriend because of it.

  • They Come and Go (shanmarie29.wordpress.com) – A really good argument about maintaining old relationships, which I agree with ( as long as they’re healthy ).

Our New Lives

I got a comment from Simone telling me about this amazing project she recently launched.  This is a Facebook paged dedicated to having an honest conversation about grief and what you can expect during the grieving process.

I am definitely encouraging people to check it out.  Your loss is unique…but grieving is a part of the human experience, and the empathy of others who have experienced loss can be very comforting.

Please take a minute to hop over to Facebook and check this page out: Our New Lives

Totems

In the days after my brother died, my concept of what was sacred radically changed.

I know I’m not alone in this.  There’s a phenomenon that happens when someone close to you has been lost.  The things that Luke liked, the things that Luke loved, the places he went, became special to me.  I ritually went to Taco Tuesday because he did.  I listened to the music he listened to.  I adopted hot pink as a favorite color because, perhaps only satirically, it was his.  In the weeks after he died, I looked for any way to honor him, to experience his life for just a few moments.

Eventually I realized what I was doing.  I was creating what I eventually called totems.  I was making the things Luke liked HUGE in my own life, like the beautiful giant wooden totems.  Maybe I was trying in some way to feel close to him again.  Maybe I was trying to get to know him better post-humorously.  Or maybe I just didn’t know how else to cope with this huge hole in my life.

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It didn’t last, however.  I used to cling to things like Taco Tuesday and Taylor Swift music with an almost religious fervor.  I didn’t know what else to do, I didn’t know what else I could really hang on to.  But the thing is, and no offense to any fans, that I don’t really enjoy Taylor Swift music.  Luke loved her and I tried to ( seriously, I downloaded all of her music ), but I just didn’t.

I love Luke and I still appreciate the things that he loved, but I don’t cling to them the way I did at first.  I can’t make myself like the same things he did, and to do so would be unhealthy.  But I can think back on him stuffing his face with carnitas tacos or singing Taylor Swift at the top of his lungs with a smile on my face.

I was in the totem stage for a while, and I think that’s pretty normal.  Some of his things are still a little sacred: I have a jacket of his that I will probably keep for the rest of my life, just to remind myself how big he was.  I don’t want to forget those bear hugs.  But for the most part, my insistence on making anything Luke associated with a part of my own life is now behind me.

Be patient, be patient, be patient.  That’s what I’m learning about grief.  To be patient with yourself and to recognize that sometimes you need little totems to comfort you, and sometimes you can let go of those totems and that’s okay too.  Being patient with your emotions as you traverse through grief is the best thing you can do for yourself.

The Price of Learning

Today was my first day of school.

I have been in the Navy for the past five years, a decision I made after totally screwing up my first attempt at college. I don’t regret those five years, although I very much looked forward to my transition back into civilian life. I deployed twice while I was in, and I got to travel to 11 different countries, some of them more than once. Those will always be some of my favorite memories and best stories.

But this was what it was for, the moment when I took my GI Bill and returned to school, this time with a goal and a lot more discipline.

What I find interesting about our country is our attitude about college. Long gone are the days when going to college really set an individual apart. Long gone are the days when financing this endeavor might be difficult but not to the point of being ruinous. Long gone are the days when seeking higher education was considered the product of hard work and dedication to studies.

I’m not saying that getting into certain universities is easy, or that there aren’t students out there striving to give themselves the best opportunities. Nor am I downplaying community colleges as a starting point. I’m attending a community college myself, and I’m happy to be starting this way.

What I am saying is that college seems to have become an expectation.

One of the reasons why my first attempts at college failed so spectacularly is that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. This was on top of the fact that I had zero discipline when it came to schoolwork: I’m more of an interactive individual, and I suffered for not working that into my plans for school.

The thing is, I signed up for college because that was what I was supposed to do. My parents expected it, my teachers lauded it, and by God my “future employers” would demand it. So I did it. My parents spent the money to pay the tuition and buy the books ( because even though I was working and I was going to a cheap school, I couldn’t do it without help ), and off I went. For a little while. And then I just didn’t go anymore. It didn’t engage me.

I was eighteen, like most first-time college students are, and I thought I knew what I wanted to major in, but I had no clue. And that made me a lukewarm student. Paired with my tendencies to procrastinate, I was all but destined to fail.

That’s not an unusual story.

The sad thing is, despite this common expectation, America doesn’t seem to be focused on academic excellence. Most people who end up with degrees don’t even end up with jobs that bear any relation to what they studied. And Americans are coming out of school with obscene amounts of debt. Debt which they carry with them as they then start careers and families. Debt which might prevent them from buying a home, and may even hurt them as they search for jobs.

In a country where higher education options seem to be abundant, and where the expectation is that every student will eventually get that degree or else face a future rife with poverty, a degree these days is not a guarantee of success, or even preferential treatment in a job market that is flooded with graduates.

And the way the prices are raising on that education — an education which might not be worth what you’ve paid for it in the end — is starting to get very discouraging.

But what modern, prosperous country exists without a focus on educating its youth? It might seem like we’re encouraging our children to pursue higher education. But we’re not making it worth their while.

An example? My father has worked with his company for 30 years and has on more than a few occasions conducted interviews. And what did he tell me as I rejoined the civilian world? That having a degree won’t get you anywhere if you don’t have leadership experience, or social skills, or some sort of working background.

I’m okay on that front: the Navy has provided me with ample experience in a tough working environment and placed me in several leadership roles.

My military service isn’t only going to pay for my education, it might even be the key factor in me getting hired.

I’m not saying that every person should graduate high school and immediately march down to their friendly neighborhood recruiter. It is not an easy lifestyle and it is increasingly difficult to stay in. It is not for everyone.

However, having some experience between me and school has done wonders for my confidence, my focus and my discipline. These things I can bring to my classroom and are making all the difference even today, on my first day.

I just wish that America would reevaluate its stance on education after high school. I wish that it wasn’t ‘expected,’ but a special thing to continue on in school. We don’t value a college degree the way that our parents did, and certainly not the way our grandparents did, and that is a shame. If this trend doesn’t change, I don’t see a future in which my children and grandchildren can make better lives for themselves, and isn’t that always the goal? To make things better?

But to end this on a positive note: I think having a degree is very important, and I salute all my fellow students and especially all the graduates. My aunt finally finished school and she’s almost 50! Get out there and get those degrees — and hopefully we can demand that those degrees are respected. Because, let’s face it, they’re not cheap and they take a lot of work.

Best of luck to those of you pursuing learning at any and all levels!

My Thank You

I was fortunate enough to be featured on WordPress.com’s Freshly Pressed site for a blog entry I wrote a few days ago called Thinking About Grief.  The response I’ve received from that has been overwhelming.  So many people have commented on that entry, reaching out with their own stories and thoughts about grief.  It has been a very moving experience to read through people’s stories, well-wishes, and personal thoughts and experiences with loss and grieving.

To say that I have been and am moved would be an understatement.

I want to say thank you to all the people who viewed the entry, to all the people that referred it to others who might be experiencing something similar, and to all the people who commented with their thoughts and personal stories.  There was a lot of bravery there in that comments section, and a lot of people taking a moment to wish the grievers well, and to give them hope.

My grief counselor told me that writing a journal or a blog could be a very therapudic and healing exercise.  It took me two years to be brave enough to follow that advice.  She was more right than I could have ever guessed.

People are amazing, more than willing to reach out from across the world in order to share a little of the human experience with each other.  To show kindness across thousands of miles, through many timezones and beyond many political borders.  I have more than seen evidence of that these past few days, and it has brought me a lot of comfort and joy.

So from me, a very heartfelt thank you.

I’ll sign off here with the words of comedian Patton Oswalt after the Boston Marathon bombings, because he says it far better than I could:

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Opa!

On Sunday my boyfriend and I went to the San Diego Greek Festival in Hillcrest.  For a small venue, it was absolutely packed.  And it was a fun, lighthearted glimpse at another culture.  We got to take a look at the beautiful St Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church.  Upbeat Greek music filled the air alongside the delicious smells of souvlaki and gyros.  Little kids had tied on belly dancer skirts over their jeans and danced alongside the adults while we watched, eating a delicious plate of lamb, bread and feta cheese.

church Getting to do stuff like this is one of my favorite parts about living in San Diego.  It might not measure up to the Greek Festival in New York or other major cities, but it was so cool to get out and do something just a little different.  The sun was shining and everyone was in a good mood.  I got to see an active Greek Orthodox culture right in the center of my community, something I’d never seen before.  What was really special was that Mike, my boyfriend, was just as interested in doing something new as I was.

With all the things happening at home right now, it was a really great getaway.  And it was cheap — only $3 each, plus whatever food we bought while we were there.  Another really fun thing about the festival was seeing all of the children participating.  They dressed up in traditional costumes, joined in the dances, and seemed to enjoy the festival just as much as the adults.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that it’s a great thing to get out there and experience something new.  Mike and I went to the Greek festival because we love Greek food, but we stayed because it was so neat to learn about Greek culture and the Greek Orthodox church.  Getting to do something that is perhaps slightly outside your normal comfort zone is invigorating.  The times I have been able to do so are some of my clearest and dearest memories.

I’ll be looking for opportunities similar to this one in the future.  And as for the festival itself?  It’s definitely something I’d recommend to anyone hoping to do something new and cheap.  Hopefully you have as much fun as we did!

Thinking About Grief

I am, and let’s just start by saying this because it should be said from the beginning, absolutely terrible at keeping blogs.  Absolutely terrible.  There, forewarned is forearmed.

My brother died almost two and a half years ago.  The event has completely reshaped my life.  Luke is on my mind now all the time; he is the first thought when I wake up, the last thought before I sleep.  I feel constantly compelled to tell people around me that I haven’t forgotten him.  It’s like I’m afraid of their judgement: if I don’t remind them that Luke’s loss is still prevalent, they will think I’m selfish and wrapped completely in the progression of my own life.  But I can’t talk about him too much, because the flip side of that coin is that people might then think I’m not dealing with my grief, that my mental health might not be what it should.

The truth is that these are silly things to think, to be afraid of.  The only person that’s worried about it is me, and I suspect that it’s yet another facet of the grieving process.  I’m doing as well as I can with it.  They tell you that every person grieves differently, but you’ll never know how true that is until you yourself are grieving.  It is, unfortunately, the worst time to find out, and the only time you can.

I still cry a lot.  So do my parents.  My father will talk to me about it for hours in the middle of the night, but hardly talks to my mum about it at all.  I don’t say much when he opens up.  Dad just needs to say it out loud.  On the other hand, my mother and I have very powerful but very brief conversations about Luke, both of us taking turns listening.  The problem is that it is still shockingly, achingly painful.  When I talk to my mum or listen to my dad, it is like an ice-cold fist closing around my heart.  It is just as painful as those first few days.  My chest doesn’t work right, and my heart aches.  They don’t tell you that after two years, it will still feel this way.

But then again, after a year has passed, a lot of people don’t talk about grief.  It’s awkward — the friends who are not grieving do not want to inadvertantly cause pain or bring up solemn memories.  And the grievers, the people like me, don’t know if they want to tell all the stories they can remember or just muscle on silently, hording their memories.  Or at least, that’s how I feel.  I’m not sure how much, how often, or if I should share Luke with anyone.

The years don’t make telling people who don’t know any easier, either.  In fact, in my case, getting the words out is almost harder.  And how do you say it?  Quickly, a burst of the truth, not to be dwelt upon?  Solemnly?  With the immediate assurance that you are glad you had the time that you did?  I always immediately want to tell people it’s okay when they apologize for not knowing.  But the thing is, it’s not okay.  It will never be okay again.  He was 22 years old.  There is nothing okay about death.  It might be natural, and of course none of us will get out alive, but it’s not okay.

I have, and am eternally grateful for, found a man that understands what I’m going through.  My boyfriend Mike lost his mother as a boy, and knows that sometimes if I get quiet, or if I silently insist on a hug, that I am missing my baby brother.  How could I not miss him?  Luke loved life and people like no one else I ever met, and his loss is still a giant hole in my chest.

Mike knows.  He doesn’t try to talk about how Luke is still with us, somehow, or that he’s watching over me.  Instead, Mike carefully pulls me to his chest, and tells me it’s okay to still be grieving.

And if someone is reading this and is also grieving, I don’t care how long it’s been: a day, a month, or fifteen years.  It’s okay to still be grieving.  It’s something I’m still trying to learn myself, but it needs to be said and said again.