On Grief

May 3 2018

it washed over me like a wave

only a child when I felt something bloom inside me

lacking the joy and colour of childhood

it was hard and empty in its birth

 

this seed of grief grew

it sprouted the first time a man laid his hands on me

it pushed through the surface by the tenth – or twentieth –

time fists made contact with my skin

 

its tender leaves blossomed and flourished within me

as i starved my body

and closed my heart

it grew – unruly – constricting the little bit of myself i had left

 

the rest of my faith died with a woman who fed me life

6:34am: i knew before i called

this grief would consume me

no longer a seed, it is rooted deeply in me

 

i made my home in these roots

laid my life at the base

let the poison seep in my bones

and travel through my blood

 

I hold this grief tighter, closer

closer than joy

closer than love

closer than the living

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The Dark Side of Healthy

 

CN: anorexia, disordered thoughts, diets, exercise.

 

I recently read an article by activist and writer Virgie Tovar called “(Re)Discovering My Love of Food After Dieting” (link), it’s short and emotive and captures the importance of unlearning diet culture and embracing bodies, food and pleasure in radical and liberating way.

 

I saw much of my own experience and that of my peers in Tover’s journey to find pleasure in food and eating. My research involves food (agriculture), I worked in food justice and the food service industry, I have a foodie instagram. I find baking relaxing and believe in the connective power of food and community. I just don’t enjoy eating. This is not a natural part of my personality (despite my insistence to myself and others for too many years). My thoughts around my own consumption of food are nothing but disordered:

 

How many calories is this?”

“When can I leave this dinner to go work out?”

 

“If I had X yesterday can I have X again today?”

 

“Is this healthy?”

 

I have cycled through many eating disorder behaviours but they have all been based on restriction. Whether that meant eliminating an entire food group, only choosing foods I considered “healthy” or under the banner of  “clean eating”, fad diets or excessive exercise, denying myself food and pleasure in that food has been ceaseless component of my eating disorder since I was around 12 years old.

 

This is not say that I have never enjoyed food or eating, I have had moments of enjoyment that are mere seconds or might last a day or two where I can enjoy the experience of eating, but those moments still exist within a rigid set of rules that define what is of “good” and “bad”. What is good or bad has changed and evolved throughout my disorder. These changes have been influenced by personal experience, diet culture, friends, family, and different treatment programs. When I am very sick, what is considered good is a short and sad looking list, when I’m better, it grows along with my capacity to experience other joys of life.  Yet, I have not be able to move beyond the boundaries that my disorder has built. This is not health. I may not be as sick as I once was, however, the insidiousness of anorexia still lurks in my thoughts and actions.

 

Being healthy is great, but it is not a possibility for everyone. Chronic illness, socioeconomic status, environmental factors and genetics all play a role in health. Unfortunately, we tend to moralize health and bodies in ways that are incredibly harmful. Health is associated with thinness, whiteness, being able-bodied, wealthy (comparatively) and cis. Health is seen as something to be achieved through hard work, but it is often not something we can control, and being healthy is so much more than what fits into these narrow binaries.

 

Fat people are healthy. Disabled people are healthy. People of colour are healthy. Queer and trans people are healthy. How we define health beyond survival is shaped by social relations of power and how we validate knowledge of bodies, health and care. The dominant narrative of what is healthy and what bodies should look like has been shaped by white supremacy. Our medical system has made the advancements it has through horrific levels of dehumanization and cruelty towards black people. This legacy still affects how bodies of colour are treated (and not treated) in the healthcare system.

 

Health is important and  the resources to be as healthy as we can be should be accessible to everyone, however,  none of this should translate to one’s health does not defining their worth. Unhealthy people – whether they have made choices that led to health problems or not – are just as valuable as healthy individuals. The idea that health = worth is something we first have to challenge in ourselves and then recognize that our positionality and experience may have benefited us in ways that others have not been excluded from. I am a thin, able-bodied, cis woman. This gives me greater access to resources. This means that I am not charged extra when flying and strangers generally don’t express their “concern” about my health. We must recognize that we live in a fat-phobic society and those of us who are not fat (even if we feel fat!) need to be in solidarity with fats folks who bear the brunt of body shaming.

 

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, but it is important to ask ourselves where this motivation comes from and how we define what health is. Does health = thinness? That is not only inaccurate, but can lead to other, perhaps more severe , health issues.

 

The obsessive drive I feel to be fit into a eurocentric version of healthy, has contribute to serious health effects of anorexia, both mentally and physically. As it has for many others who suffer from anorexia, bulimia and other forms of disordered eating. Healthy is different for everyone and changes as we move through life. Rigidity around health and bodies is not in line with nature. Nature is complex and does not suit the binaries we place on ourselves and each other. In order to be truly healthy, we must accept the complexities of bodies and experiences.

 

Tover closes her article by saying, “I can’t opt out of this culture, but each time that I choose what I want I know I’m one step closer to the freedom I crave.” I am in the process of unlearning the ideas on health and bodies that have kept me from moving closer freedom and liberation. To learn to feel joy and pleasure when we – especially as people of colour – are told that we are undeserving of this or that denying this pleasure will lead to a greater pay off, is not a simple task. It takes time, commitment and all the gentleness that we denied ourselves for so long.

Let the Water Carry You

It is almost a year ago that I traveled to New York City to the first annual conference held by Women of Colour in Solidarity (check them out/support their work, they are raddest people doing the real work). I had been on a journey to connect with my ethnic and cultural roots and this experience solidified that my ancestors were – and are – guiding me on a path of learning, growth and healing.

 

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with author and activist Lynn Gehl at the Racial Justice Symposium at Dalhousie University. Lynn spoke with my classmate and I about the memories our hearts hold. Gehl writes about decolonizing her spirit and identity in her book, Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit. I haven’t had a chance to read the book, but am excited to explore it this summer. Lynn spoke with us about the importance of connecting to our ancestral memories and the histories we hold in our heart. I left our brief conversation feeling shaken – in a beautiful way. I felt her words deep in my soul. There is an ancestral places of longing, belonging, remembering, searching, healing, loving, that exists in the bodies of people of colour. I have been discovering how deeply we hold these histories  which then manifest in physical bodies as well as our psyche.

 

Someone dear to me suggested I listen to a few episodes of  “How to Survive the End of the World”, a podcast hosted by Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown. The first episode I listened to is about Black Panther, and it’s obviously amazing (so many spoilers!) The second episode I checked out is called “Let the Ancestors Speak”, the hosts discuss their writing processes and the role of their ancestors in guiding them through their practice. Y’all should really listen to the podcast but I want to talk about their discussion of the memories that water holds and the ways in which the ocean remembers our ancestors.

 

The oceans hold the ancestors who chose death over bondage, the oceans hold our ancestors who tried to find their way back home, our oceans hold all their pain and all their creation. This water carried us, this water sustains us, this water was changed by our passage, this water flows through us, carrying the stories of our ancestors. The stories whose multitudes and intensities can only be carried by water and blood-memory as pages would crumble beneath them and there are not enough words in the colonizer’s tongue to tell the stories of our ancestors. The ocean is as vast and as powerful as our ancestors. The ocean moves, the ancestors speak.

 

I am on dry land. Parched. Trapped. The water has stopped flowing through me. My soul lies dormant. This is the imaginary that comes to mind when I reflect on the times that I have not been open to the ancestors guidance. When I have chosen assimilation with the colonizer, when I use my eating disorder to cut myself off – emotionally, physically and spiritually.

 

A year ago, in New York, I was able to connect to my ancestors in ways I had not imagined possible. Surrounded by women of colour who share my visions for a just future informed by the wisdom of our ancestors, I heard their voices clearly.

 

I have struggled to deepen and build this connection, but as the seasons change, I am beginning to hear their whispers again. I long for the ocean and what it can teach me, and as I prepare to go ‘home’,  I imagine the stories of my ancestors carrying me, teaching me, and reminding me that we hold multitudes within us. If we are open to receive the wisdom of our ancestors, the ancestral memories that live within us can be revealed.

 

Links:

l o n g i n g

I feel a longing for home so deeply in my centre

It’s like fire burning through deep winter ice

I have not been

 

h o m e

 

I do not know – h o m e

 

I move desperately

reaching reaching

I move across oceans in my mind

never reaching the shores of –  

 

          so

 

I go back –

I stay a little later

work a little harder

move towards h o m e

melt my centre

 

and

 

                    hope

 

I am moving towards something

that tastes familiar

 

and

                                     sweet

 

my words drip out my mouth

not fully formed

rich with desire

 

                                                  longing

 

for something i can’t name

can’t yet touch

 

fear chills me

desire melts me

I am open and –  

 

                                                                        ready

 

Just because you’re enlightened doesn’t mean you’re woke

“Just because you’re enlightened doesn’t mean you’re woke” – Chai Chats podcast, 2017

 

I was listening to Chai Chats, one of my favourite podcasts (the one on boundaries literally changed my life – and I’m using literally literally) yesterday and one of the hosts was talking about their interest and subsequent critiques of Buddha and Buddhism. Religious philosophy isn’t really my jam and I have been sleeping an average of 4 hours a night for 3 weeks so I was just about to drift off, when the above quote jumped out at me. “Just because you’re enlightened doesn’t mean you’re woke.” Holy fuck, the truth of that statement hit me with the kind of realness that travels from the mind to those deep places in the soul that are so easy to ignore as we move through life.

 

I love self-care, I have felt the benefits of mindfulness, meditation and I strongly believe in practicing yoga on and off the mat. I also believe in the power of collective care and get lost in daydreams of a future built on justice, equity and reciprocity. Unfortunately, sometimes communities that promote the former do so at the detriment of the latter.

 

Late capitalism, first coined by German economist Werner Sombart and later popularized by Ernst Mandel, originally referred to the period between 1945 and the early 1970s. However, the meaning has adapted as the so-called golden age of capitalism has come to an end. Late Capitalism could easily refer to the ultra rich kids of Instagram, the Kardashian/Jenner clan or wellness and yoga movements that co-opt, commodify and pervert the true meaning.

 

Last summer, I saw a sign outside a yoga studio that said “Namaslay”, once I was done audibly groaning, I snapped a photo and posted it online. A bunch of people I have on social media responded with both words and emojis showing they too were annoyed at this obvious appropriation of a sacred word (namaste) and a popular term in African American Vernacular English (slay). I felt slightly better that I wasn’t the only one upset but this sign. This was comforting at the time, but actually made no difference. This studio’s websites that’s that, “We believe in the power of breaking down doors of tradition and structure to introduce variety, music, and a taste of our own rock and soul.” That’s great, hun, but it’s not your tradition to break. The studio, similar to other yoga studios and various lululemon locations, employ phrases like “sweat tribe” or “find your tribe”, the words “zen”, “namaste” and various sanskrit terms are plastered everywhere and I have seen more white girls covered with imagery of mandalas and Hindu gods and goddess than in all the temples I have ever been in.

 

This is not to say that white people or non-Hindus can’t learn about and embrace the spiritual, and at times physical, benefits of yoga and Hindu philosophy. Unfortunately, many people involved in western yoga/mindfulness/wellness circles embrace this kind of faux spirituality that appropriates and then commodifies meaningful cultural practices and traditions.

 

Those in the wellness/yoga/hippie/new age (I know these can be different but share some common traits) often borrow and patch together “eastern” traditions while simultaneously benefitting from black culture to create sometime lucrative business and trends. Golden milk seems suddenly trendy as does big hoop earrings and long nails. I feel a certain bitterness at this. I’m not complaining about the ease of buying earrings or fresh turmeric, but it stings to think that they same people who once mocked my yellow stained fingers and who made “the bigger the hoop, the bigger the hoe” a catchphrase throughout high school now are all over IG with golden lattes and the so-called ‘baddie’ aesthetic.

 

I am not above mentioning my own guilt in this. There was a time when I embraced the ‘hippie’ aesthetic of “zen” and images of Buddha without having any knowledge of the cultural significance of these traditions and practices. We all fuck up. We all fuck up multiple times. What we have to ask ourselves is, are we learning from this? Can we admit our guilt without be frozen by it? Guilt is not useful unless we are using it to grow our understanding and change our practices.

 

My own yoga practice, along with my journey of healing from anorexia and related traumas, is meaningless unless it ties practices of mindfulness and wokeness. I can’t fully embrace the healing power of yoga if I’m not unpacking the historical trauma that colonialism has inflicted on my peoples. I can’t continue learning and unlearning – because woke is not a destination but like yoga it is a practice – if I don’t learn to care for myself. I can’t embody gratitude and peace if I do not embody liberation and practice intersectional solidarity, in both the personal and public spheres.

 

Enlightenment ™ , as exemplified in late capitalism, will not lead to true enlightenment and liberation if the majority of our earth’s populations are suffering the effects of systemic oppression. Care and liberation must go hand in hand. This is a journey and a process of learning/unlearning, so be gentle with yourself, admit your mistakes and move forward. That is a path to enlightenment that just may work.

Week 32//Feeling Feelings

 

On Monday, May 22nd 2017, I will have completed 32 weeks of eating disorder treatment.

**Content note: Eating disorders, Anorexia, restriction, mental illness.**

 

I’m having trouble writing because each line fills my eyes with tears. My brain’s reaction to crying is still, “ew, stop that” but now I cry, instead of engaging in behaviours that are y’know, deadly.

 

My struggle with Anorexia is no secret, but I have felt more protective of my time in this treatment program. I still say that I am in ‘recovery’ with an air of hesitancy; it feels new and fragile. Like a small, sometimes angry, baby. I reluctantly went to a psychologist last summer after “episode” that made the non-disordered part of me wonder if I should do something. I told the psychologist that I “didn’t really eat but was fine. Really.” I honestly believed this. I believed this at Week 13, I believed this at Christmas when I sat in my Grandmother’s kitchen while everyone else ate breakfast, feeling the same terror that I did 14 years ago. I stared at my black coffee, I talked to my Grandma about her life in Trinidad. I did not have some sort of epiphany that here I was, with so many of the people that I love, who were all eating and laughing and growing and healing, I did not think, “Maybe I should eat something.” Families, partners and friends often try to love the sufferer out of their eating disorder. Maybe, it works for some people, but I needed to make the choice myself. Love and concern is no match for an eating disorder. I wish I could tell you that’s what pushed me. I wish I could say that I wanted to get better for a specific reason. I don’t know. I’m only on Week 32. I just know that I know I now make choices that lead to recovery, instead of choices that keep me on the endless and terrible loop of anorexia.

 

It takes an average of 7 years to recover from an eating disorder. I first dabbled in recovery in 2012 and did well for about a year. A breakup, the loss of a dear friend and poor coping skills, lead me back to my eating disorder. Going back to anorexia is like that feeling of relief you get when you take off your pants after work and put on your comfies. It feels comfortable and safe. Except instead of being on your couch watching netflix, you’re in a toxic waste dump, drinking a cocktail of poison. I was not safe, I was killing myself, all the while, smiling and saying I’m fine™ (Code word for “I’m actually dying, but have been socially conditioned to see my needs as unimportant and my emotions as inherently irrational.”)

 

My discomfort with the label of recovery has held me back from blogging my way through treatment as I did the last time. I was eager to recover in 2012. I saw my future: bright, shiny, full of promise. I have had an eating disorder for just under half my life. Living without it sounds great, there is no doubt in my mind that it’s better to not have an eating disorder. I just don’t know what that feels or looks like, and for someone with anorexia (see related attributes: perfectionism, obsessiveness, anxiety), that is terrifying. The clinic I attend has a list “non-negotiables” that you have to have in place by Week 20 if you want to continue in the program. I did not meet them by Week 20. I had just decided I kind of wanted to be there like 6 weeks before, so in my mind, I was just starting. I was given a 2 weeks to meet the goals, an ultimatum, put gently. Long story short, I work well with a deadline. When I was told that I was allowed to stay in the program, I realized I had been holding my breath for 2 weeks/the last decade. I wanted to try. I wasn’t ready to fully let go, but I was willing to work towards something that was better than the eating disorder that I had been controlling my life for so long.

 

If you’re still reading, thank you. I don’t know if you will get anything out of this, but I already feel lighter. I wish I could tell you that at Week 32, I am fully recovered and feel Great™ (a totally subjective term). Unfortunately, recovery takes time, a lot of time and hardwork. Unlearning takes time. Healing is a winding path, and I’m learning that it’s ok to not know the destination.

Back to my baby analogy, I feel like I am learning things for the first time, like how expensive groceries are (despite having all the data for this, it’s still shocking irl), or that crying about something does not make you weak or a failure. Or that it’s ok to be happy. Even over something small. I wake up and my first thought isn’t dread. Coffee tastes a lot better with milk in it. I have enough energy to hang out with friends for more than 1 hour. Little good things are beginning to replace the pull of my eating disorder. I am slowly building a life that does not focus on my eating disorder. I don’t know if I will ever be fully rid of it, and at this point, I am ok with that. 32 weeks ago, I never would have thought that I would be able to complete this program. I planned to quit and run back to the relative safety of my eating disorder. I don’t want to think where I would be if I did quit and continue in my eating disorder. I am not sure what I will be like in another 32 weeks and for the first time, that’s ok. I am no longer standing still. I am healing, growing, creating, blooming.

 

Thank you to all those who have supported me in these last few months, particularly to those of you who have been there for the whole 32 weeks.

On Yoga, Resistance and Letting Go

Content Note: Eating disorders, racism, harassment, objectification 

I don’t want to write this post. I have been turning the words over in my mind for two months, I have been holding these message deep in my body. I Sharing my struggles with anorexia, sharing my anger and frustration at social oppressions and whatever else I feel a pull to write about has helped me explore my own thoughts and reduce the self-imposed isolation that my eating disorder brings. I am writing a workshop on yoga and decolonial healing for a conference by and for women of colour, I’m also facilitating this workshop in a week at another event, so I should probably finish it, but before I can do that, I need to need to write these words.

 

I started casually practicing yoga midway through my undergrad, mostly through home practice and the occasional free class. As someone living with chronic pain, yoga was the go-to suggestion of health practitioners, and as annoying as that is, it has been a great coping mechanism for me. Yoga hasn’t taken away my chronic pain, but offers arguably more significant healing.

 

I was trying to remember a time where my body felt like it was consistently mine. Sure, I have had moments: making the decision to move out east, and 1,421km away from toxic relationships, the first time I went more than a month without purging or restricting, breaking up with a long-term love. My body has been exoticfied, objectified, controlled, shamed for being, but when has it been mine? My experiences are unique to me, but in no way unusual. Countless women will tell you how their first experience of a man objectifying and harassing them was when they were around 11 or 12. Thousands of people, of all genders, struggle with eating disorders, and pretty much every person of colour has felt othered and often exotified.

 

I recently realized how tired I am of explaining the colonial histories and diasporas that allow for my existence. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me in those moments. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me when men stand too close on the bus or a professional meeting ends when a hand on my lower back. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me because we live in a world that has consistently confirms this.

 

Since I was 13 years old, I have attempted to take control of my body back by destroying it, by trying to become invisible enough to fend off unwanted words and touch, to erase myself into whiteness. My eating disorder became a safe haven. My mother wanted me to eat pasta during the same time I was being told my anger was unwarranted (and unattractive), refusing dinner became my resistance. I destroyed myself as a form of misguided resistance. Women refusing to eat dates back centuries and is often connected religious sacrifice – the woman who is free from needs and wants is the most holy. My resistance was just what our patriarchal and white supremacist society demands of women. I detach from my body as a mode of survival. I stopped having desires because my desires to be heard were too much ™ I am still figuring out how to accept that being too much ™ is exactly what I should be.

 

Almost a decade after my eating disorder began, I started doing yoga. However, it wasn’t until my roommate invited me to try hot yoga with her that I truly began to connect with yoga, my inner self and finally my body. I lay on my mat after my first class feeling sweaty and giddy. I survived an hour long class in a hot room surrounded by strangers while wearing half the amount of clothes I normally do. I was thrilled, I was proud. I felt a little high. I joined the studio the next day and began a journey towards my body.

 

Eventually, as my body got stronger, I could move through asanas with ease and have fun trying (and falling out of) new poses. I lie on my mat before class and wait as the anxieties of my day slip away. I take a few cleansing breaths and take back my body and mind. I am not thinking of the dissatisfaction with my body (ok,sometimes I still am, but that’s why I’m doing all of this), I’m not thinking of body as the exoctic other, or as on inconvience,I am not thinking of my career or debt or anything but keeping my breath and settling into my body – as a whole, as mine.

 

Some of my teachers read a quote or tell a story at the end of the class, as their words float through the now quiet room, I lay on my mat and let them wash over me. I chose to come to my mat, I made choices in my body that felt right, I let myself breathe, and began to connect my body and mind. I have found the concept of decolonization confusing; I understand it on a political level, but when I would hear activists talk about decolonizing the self, I felt lost. It wasn’t until I surrendered myself to my practice that I began to understand. As I write this workshop, I realize that my work to decolonize my self will be ongoing, because the act of colonization is ongoing.
We speak of colonization, racism, and even sexism as things of the past. We’re colourblind now. The Canadian government pretends that their colonization of Indigenous peoples has ended. Women have jobs or something so we don’t need feminism. We speak of our body and mind in similarly disconnected terms. We were asked to write a letter to our body as part of my treatment program, I was viscerally uncomfortable for many reasons, but when I moved from “You” (my body) and “I” (my mind) to “We” (body/mind/soul), I felt as if I could breathe again, the lump in my throat grew smaller and I began to write. This is what we do when we practice yoga, this is what happens when we listen to the wisdom of our ancestors. This is where the healing begins.

Unpredictable Fulfillment

“Between now and April 15, I will be imaginative and ingenious in getting my needs met. I will have fun calling on every trick necessary to ensure that my deepest requirements are playfully addressed. I will be a sweet seeker of unpredictable fulfillment.”

-Rob Brenszy

These words entered my consciousness and buried themselves deep within my desires. I am feeling stuck. I have begun at least three separate blog posts and I can’t even think of the words to describe writer’s block to y’all right now.

Over the next two weeks, I need to make some drastic changes for the benefit of my health. I am struggling with divergent emotions: fear and motivation, apathy and hope, insecurity and channeling my true bad bitch self.

As I struggle to make these changes, to take back control and to trust this process, regardless of how hard it may be, I think of the words above. I read my horoscope in our local free paper each week, mostly for fun, partially because I believe we can find wisdom in many things. “I will be a sweet seeker of unpredictable fulfillment.” The word unpredictable is the antithesis of everything I have created myself to be. I have had a five (and ten) year plan since I was a child and I like my life to be organized; there is not much room for mistakes and unpredictability. This aspect of my personality has allowed me to excel is work and school but I have also missed out on a lot of things. This horoscope coincided with the changes I need to make and caused me to take a step back and wonder would happen if I became a sweet seeker of unpredictable fulfillment rather than forcing myself into these rigid boxes I created many years ago?

Fear can be a motivation, it serves to warn us against danger or let us take a moment to notice we are embarking on something unfamiliar. Fear becomes detrimental when we let it take over. We wrap ourselves in fear as a form of protection, yet instead of keeping us safe, the fear weighs us down and we cannot move beyond it.

A few nights ago, my yoga teacher teacher suggested our intention for the class be patience and to trust the process – whatever that may look like for each of us. I am striving to trust that I will move through this fear, towards some kind of fulfillment and wholeness. Fear is not everlasting. Fear serves a purpose the same way feeling too cold or hot, it tells us something about our selves and our surrounding but is only useful if we listen to it. We need to check in with ourselves and ask: What do I need right now? Asking ourselves this, and then fulfilling those needs, is not selfish. It is an act of self-preservation and it may one day become an act of self-love.

Be patient with your impatience. We can’t change overnight, but we can begin to become sweet seekers of unpredictable fulfillment when we let go of the fear that holds us down and embrace the fear that motivates and moves us.