Saturday, January 13, 2018

Stripped Down to Brass Tacs

I did a boudoir photo shoot. In fact, I did two. One was with hair and make-up and one was without.

I was molested as a child, for a very long time. As a young woman, I was inappropriately promiscuous. As an adult in marriage counseling, I was asked if I felt my "past" was a contributor to my negative feelings toward my (now ex) husband.

Uh...ya think? How could it not be?

But more than that, my "past" was a direct contributor to my negative feelings toward myself.

For most of my life I have hated myself. It hasn't been a mild dissatisfaction, it has been outright hatred. I have used various methods to fight that feeling. I attempted to allow my faith in God, and my belief in His unfailing love of me, override my personal feelings of myself. I attempted to find friends and men who would love me "enough" to prove my value to myself. I excelled in school. I excelled in work. I took on hard challenges in many areas of my life. I have been to gob-tons of therapy. I've talked about my childhood, my inner child, my inner critic, the particulars of what happened, and how everything made me and makes me feel. I've kept a journal. I've gone on retreats. For years I have been an athlete and a coach. I even got a degree in psychology in an attempt to fully understand and "love" myself.

There have been numerous times in my life when I thought I was making progress. Then something would happen to knock me back into the pit of self-loathing. I would make a mistake, I would have a bad outcome, I would get into an argument with my friend or spouse and I would be reminded, once again, that no matter what I did I seemed to end up back in that pit. I was in a never-ending cycle of try hard/succeed/feel good/"fail"/feel bad, only to start "trying hard" again. I was never satisfied with where I was in life and certainly never satisfied with who I was.

What happened to me took something from me. Well, it took a lot of things from me. Growing up with a stolen innocence molded me into a form I tried my whole life to change. It shaped me into a being I despised. When I was able to put on a mask I liked, I could fall in love with that mask and pretend it was me I loved. "Oh, look how well you do your job! You are a hard worker!" "Oh, see how much this person wants to be with you? You are desirable!" "Oh, look how well you are doing at (fill in the blank). You have value."

I was able to recognize the voice of the inner critic as unhealthy. I wasn't able to recognize the voice of the inner cheerleader as unhealthy. Until it was silenced.

Almost two years ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune brain disease. In a nutshell, my body's immune system was literally attacking my brain cells! Thankfully my husband forced me to go see a neurologist and thankfully that doctor knew what all my crazy symptoms meant and thankfully he knew how to get treatment started. I eventually went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to confirm the diagnosis and to have an expert in the field devise a treatment plan. That plan included high dose IV steroids. The disease and the treatment took a big toll on every part of me. I gained a lot of weight. I lost a lot (most of) my fitness. All the masks I had worn were stripped away.

As treatments began to work, I came to the realization that I didn't want to wear a mask any longer. I wanted to live the way I said I believed was best-from the inside out. Our actions are ALWAYS a product of our beliefs. We can work very hard to try to change behaviors in an attempt to change beliefs, but it never works long term. What is on the inside ALWAYS makes its way to the surface. For a long time I had tried to make what was on the outside align with what was on the inside but I was going about it in the wrong way. I was trying to live a life that matched what I wanted to believe hoping it would eventually sink in. What I truly believed was so ugly that I couldn't even fully admit it much less deal with it. Self-hatred feels insurmountable.

Years ago a friend of mine did a boudoir photo shoot with The Adore Girls in Nashville as a wedding gift to her husband. Her photos were AMAZING! She is pretty in everyday life, but those photos were INCREDIBLE. I told myself that I wanted to do that after I lost that last 10 pounds, after I got my butt more firm, after I got my hair looking better. And then I got sick. I gained 30 pounds. My butt spread out. I lost A LOT of hair, and cut it all off because what was left was in very bad shape. My masks had been stripped down like upholstery off a chair. My foundation was not only ugly, it was severely damaged.

And then something happened.

I changed my mind.

Well...I'm in the process of changing my mind. There's a verse in Romans that says we are transformed by the renewing of our mind. As I changed my mind about how I feel about myself, about who I am as a person, I wanted to commemorate that decision. I am beautiful. I am empowered. I am worthy. I am sexy. From the inside out. What was stolen from me at such a young age is being renewed.

When I reached out to The Adore Girls to book my boudoir photo shoot I had the option to add on a video. I had seen their videos before. They were polished and sexy. But I wanted something a little different. I wanted to have a way to remember the whole experience. I knew it was going to be a turning point for me and I wanted a way to capture the process not just have a finished product.

I was not disappointed. Sarah expertly applied my make up and coiffed my hair. Jamie took some incredible shots while Courtney captured it on video. Jamie worked some magic in the editing room and Courtney clipped and spliced several hours of material down to a few minutes. They all three seemed to exactly capture the essence of me. More than that, they made the outside match how I was feeling on the inside!

Brass tacks are used in upholstery not only for decoration but because they don't rust and won't stain the fabric. At one time it was considered very gauche to have the tacks showing, especially if they weren't fanciful. At that time the tacks were utilized as a foundation for the decoration of the material. Plain brass tacks have never been used for any other purpose. Decorative brass tacks have been added to the outer layer of the fabric to embellish the piece, but plain tacks are to be hidden.

When Jamie presented the idea of a photo shoot without the hair and makeup, I jumped at the opportunity. Plain brass tacks. Exposed. And beautiful. Me, as I am. Without a mask, without embellishment. And, I have to say, I am loving what's there.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Vulture

Last Friday I taught a Spin class with a "to be continued" story line about camping in the woods (a Halloween themed class). I continued the story Monday but ended again with another "to be continued". A friend sent me a link to a blog called "Mondays Finish the Story" that has a "finish this story" challenge each week. She gives you a picture and a line and you finish the story in 100-150 words. I am NOT a writer, but I would love to write better. I know the only way to do something well is to hone your practice so you are practicing it well.'s my stab at this week's challenge.

“I watched the vulture looking at me hungrily as I lay on the ground bleeding and injured.”

I had heard Savon tell this story a hundred times but it never got old. How he managed to cheat that vulture out of a meal always bewildered me. I want his kind of perseverance, but I’m fooling myself to think I can have it. I’m lazy. Always have been, always will be. In the same scenario I'm sure I would hang my head and cry. As death wrapped me in a cold blanket I would let it carry me away.

How does one learn to stay the course?

For the first time I interrupted the retelling, “What made you think you could?” Those warm eyes stared back at me, “What makes you think you can’t?”

This was incredibly fun. I think I might have to do this every week!!