Ivonne, You’re My Hero

Yesterday was a day of friendship.

I got to spend time with my dear friend Sonya who is a powerful and compassionate woman.  She is helping me create a transformational workshop using the metaphor of dance that I’m planning for March.  She shared with me her current struggles, and I shared my with her.  She is one of those friends you can not talk to for a year and pick up right where you left off.

I also got to hang with my new friend, Ivonne.  I met Ivonne at Dance Starz and immediately liked her.  She is vibrant and inquisitive, and has an amazing zest for life.  She’s one of those people you meet and suddenly, effortlessly, you are friends.  No need to set up a coffee date, you just fall into an easy pattern of talking on the phone and meeting up for different activities.

Finally, I got to talk to another special friend, Erin, who lives across the country and has been experiencing some very difficult health issues.  I hadn’t heard from her since I heard that she was injured, so I was thrilled that she called.  She and I enjoy one of those very deep, authentic friendships in which we can share absolutely anything with one another and will receive support, even if it looks like tough love.  She brings out the best in me, and reminds me of my specialness and awesomeness.

I treasure all my friends, so if you are reading this and you aren’t mentioned, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it just means that I didn’t see you yesterday!  So call me!  Let’s hang out soon.

Being with my friends yesterday, whether in person or on the phone was just what I needed.  I am feeling much better about myself and life after sharing with my friends.  This post, however, is mostly dedicated to Ivonne because she is a dancer like me, and this blog is, of course, mostly about dancing, right?

So Ivonne is amazing.  Let’s just start there.  She has been dancing all her life.  She has a Cuban heritage and so dancing to rhythm is in her blood.  But in terms of ballroom dancing, she just started in October.  She’s already lost a partner and gained a new one.  And, get this, she’s already committed to doing a competition next month!  Can you believe it?  This girl doesn’t mess around.  I have rarely experienced this level of courage and committment in others.  But with Ivonne, it is just one of her traits.  She regularly dives head-first into experiences that may be beyond her current abilities.  Listen, she blew me away when she told me about racing a Chinese Dragon Boat.  How many people would say yes to an experience like that, especially when she just showed up because they needed one extra person on the team?  They won gold!

I think being Ivonne’s friend is going to be a rich, effervescent adventure and I can hardly wait.  It could also be very dangerous because she is comfortable with being uncomfortable.  She has made it a habit to get out of her comfort zone, something I admire greatly about her, and want to do a bit more in my own life….but that comes with a price….the price of being uncomfortable, and even, gasp! failing once in a while.  That, I have yet to experience as fun, but this I know:  If you’re not failing at anything, then you’re not doing anything.  (Hmmm, I should listen to my own advice)

So last night Ivonne came with me to Inna’s class at Imperial studio.  Inna and Artem are busy placing first in the Rising Star category of the UK championship (Congratulations, guys!) so Igor taught the class.

I personally had a great time.  It was actually pretty enjoyable for me, for once, because we wern’t doing cardio intervals in the form of Cha Cha combinations across their football-field-sized ballroom.  Rather, we focused on technique.  I especially liked the exercise he did taking each body part one at a time.  We did the same combination over and over but first we focused only on our feet, trying to make them absolutely perfect, forgetting about anything else.  Then we worked on the legs, then the hips, then the arms, then presentation.  Finally we did it (ahem, attempted) to incorporate all aspects.  He also had each student step forward and dance in front of the rest of us one-by-one.

Now, mind you, this is still an advanced level course.  When Ivonne asked me if she could come, I didn’t want to discourage her.  How many times are people passionate about something and others throw cold water on them to dampen their spirits, to tell them what is “reasonable” to do?  Well, the heck with that!  I think if Ivonne wanted to be there, then Ivonne should be there.  No matter what, she could create value for herself, even if it was just by watching, even if she wasn’t yet able to do everything presented.  Also, who am I to determine Ivonne’s limitations?  I think Ivan has proven to me that I don’t even know my own limitations, so how can I possibly presume to determine them for another human being.  So I decided to encourage Ivonne to join me.  Maybe I could have mentioned that there is another class on Wednesday that might be less intimidating, or demanding, but even if I had, I have a feeling that Ivonne wouldn’t have backed down from the challenge.

So Ivonne came and told me about a quarter of the way in that it was way over her head.  Oh well!  She hung in there, did what she could, and even got in front of the class (Igor was kind enough to stand beside her for some support) just like us regular students.

I love her courage.

At the end of the class, Ivonne shared with me that she felt a little defeated, just like I had felt after Marieta’s class on Monday.  But, also like me, she knew it would pass.

What a Samurai!

I’m just so proud of my new friend.  She is open to the full experience of life and even the threat of potentially failing in the moment doesn’t deter her.  I am excited for her as she prepares for the Dancesport Jam in Tucson, Arizona next month.  I’m also excited for me because I get to watch her journey as she kicks butt and takes names and because she is my friend.

So for Tuesday, January 17, 2012, Ivonne, you are my hero.  Just thought you should know.  Love, Stef

Fat Shopping

This post is a bit overdue seeing as I went shopping with Katie last Friday.  But I still want to share the experience because it is part of my transformation and I wanted to contrast it with a previous experience I had a few years ago.

So, this post isn’t about dancing but it seems like this blog is shaping up to be mostly about dancing but also about my process of changing and sometimes there are peripheral stories that are a part of that.

Katie and I met at Nordstroms at Fashion Square mall.  You have to understand that Katie is a professional at this.  She had called ahead and made an appointment with Karen in the women’s department to help me find the perfect outfit for Ivan’s Name Day party.  Karen was gorgeous and effervescent.  I liked her immediately – her lovely cocoa skin, her adorable feminine outfit, her toothpaste-worthy sized smile, and her enthusiasm.  We made our introductions and she began pulling clothes for me.

I have to say, it was the most painless shopping trip I have ever had.  I did little more than try clothes on in the dressing room and then show Katie if I thought they were a possibility.  Far from being overwhelming, it felt effortless.  And I’ll never forget the moment that I found the right outfit.  I stepped out of the dressing room and both Karen and Katie, open-mouthed like groupers, exclaimed, “Oh my God!”  Their reaction was priceless.

So, although some outfits didn’t work, I didn’t get discouraged nor go into my usual pattern of self-loathing.  I didn’t feel overwhelmed searching the racks of clothing for something that might look good on me.  This contrasts greatly with previous shopping trips I’ve made.  They have generally been so painful for me that I avoid shopping for clothes as much as possible, wearing items over and over even to the point of disintegration.

Here’s what it used to be like for me:

There’s nothing like a trip to the clothing store to knock a girl right out of her confidence.

I wake up this morning, and, unexpectedly, I am happy for no reason.  I head straight to my trainer at the gym and bang out thirty minutes of strength training.  I don’t have time to do cardio before I meet my mother-in-law for lunch, so I promise myself to return to the gym later and complete forty-five minutes.  I go have a lovely lunch, a delicious Cobb salad with dressing on the side, and keep my word to myself and make it back to the gym.  The endorphins are flowing, and I am feeling confident and pretty after a shower and applying some mascara.  So, I decide, in my infinite wisdom, to knock myself right out of this happy place. 

How, you ask?  Well, I decide to go get something cute to wear out to dinner on a date with my husband tonight.  I have it all planned out:  I’ll do my hair, apply thick black eye makeup, and gloss my lips the perfect shade.  I’ll look great.  I might even wear high heels.  The sparkly ones I got at Nordstrom’s pop into my head. 

The sick part is that I’m going to the store to find something cute.  I think I’m going to enhance my already high self-esteem today.  I’m going to find the cutest little top to accentuate my eyes, and step out on the town boldly, radiating confidence in my beauty.

The only trouble is I’m fat.  I know what you’re thinking…some twiggy chick complaining about two pounds of water weight during her cycle.  Well, think again.  I’m one-hundred pounds over a healthy weight, so it is a realistic issue.  I know, however, that I am not my weight.  I know that I am not even my body.  I know that I am a spiritual being having a human experience.  And that doesn’t stop me from identifying with my body, nor does it prevent the pain of feeling inadequate solely based on my body image. 

The interesting thing is that I have had the same experience with shopping all my life.  Even when I was more than one-hundred pounds lighter, I found all the parts of me to despise:  my too thick thighs, the cellulite, the wings under my arms, the double chin, the belly pooch.  I realize that I have always experienced shopping for clothes as a reinforcement of how truly ugly, unappealing, and unworthy I am.  It is a prime opportunity for self-loathing.  And even when I had a body I would kill for now, I had the same thought processes about it all.  I see all that is wrong, all that needs to be “fixed.”  I do not see me in the mirror.  I see the projection of all the love I withhold from myself simply because of my body size and shape, as if by somehow withholding that love and acceptance will motivate me to become acceptable or loveable by having a “better” body.  It is truly agonizing.

This time, I cried in the dressing room.  With each shirt, that was supposed to accentuate the positives and help me feel and look my best in this current state, I felt instead like a walrus.  I see a huge black mass with a pretty face staring back at me in the mirror.  It is too painful to see.  It is why I usually avoid shopping.  There is this bright shining face, with vibrant, beautiful eyes staring back at me from the mirror.  They are so expressive and yet they are shadowed by the meaty black bulk trailing behind them.  The large whale-like mass is distracting from the being inside who wants to be seen.

I remember that even as a child on the playground I would daydream about going to a body part store where I could exchange out my belly or my arm for a perfectly toned one.  It is a deep-seated weed that has roots entrenched inside my heart and one that continues to grow back even after I remove it’s leaves.  I don’t know how to finally expel it from my psyche. 

One thing is sure, I am not happy with how I am now.  I am not happy with how I am choosing to present myself to the world.  It is a struggle to continue to be engaged in life and risk when I feel this way.  I want to hide in my shame and embarrassment.  I want to disappear until I have transformed in my bat cave so that I can reappear to the world as a perfectly toned goddess.  It is tricky not to be knocked sideways out of the flow of life in this vehement torrent of self-pity. 

So, the choice before me is to choose something different.  If I want to change, then take action to change.  It is all up to me. 

And. 

And.

And, I find it very difficult to sustain the changed choices over a long period of time.  I find it difficult to based on my past experiences to maintain the program of exercise, eating on a strict diet, when my body changes at a barely perceptible rate.  I want instant gratification, damn it!  I want to see the results of working out today, today!  And every time I don’t see the results, I label it a failure.  Of course I can’t be skinny.  I can’t have that lean healthy body.  It just isn’t in my genetic makeup, or some other such excuse.  The hardest part is that I know I’m full of shit.  I know that saying “can’t” really means “won’t.”  I know that I’m making up excuses to stay stuck where I am at.  I know that I do have the power to change this, if I really want to. 

And I don’t change it. 

Or if I do change, it is half-hearted.  Really, how can someone work out with a trainer and ballroom dance for over three years and still be obese?  I don’t know exactly how, but I’m managing to do it!  So if I’m already doing all that, then I shouldn’t have to do more, right?  I just don’t have a body that responds to exercise like other bodies.  Plus, there are so many other more “important” things that must take precedence over my health like marriage, career, school, friends, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.   I know that if I want to make time for activities that move me in the direction toward a healthy weight, then I could make that time. 

There must be some inner conflict, some benefit that I am enjoying with being so big and fat that it is painful to go shopping.  Something that really is tied into my emotional survival instincts.  They say that being fat is simply an external, physical form of armor or protection of self.  What, oh what, dear God, am I protecting myself from?  What, oh what, God, is the benefit I am getting from being so big?  If I could answer these questions then I could address the underlying hurt behind them.  So far, I am just hurting.

So now I have a choice.  I’m sitting here crying in my office, writing this out in the hopes that it will be of some benefit to someone someday.  And, I have a date planned with my husband.  I want to honor myself and fully acknowledge my pain.  And, after doing so, after sitting in this really uncomfortable place, I am going to put on the shiny heels and black eye make up.  I am going to be the confident, sexy, beautiful girl that I am.  I am going to brave the world and continue living despite my huge frame.  I am going to find some love and compassion for this person who is hurting so deeply.  I am going to find the love for me. 

I don’t know how just yet, but I will.

It is hard to read this, even today.  But the good news is that little by little I am finding some love and compassion for myself.  I was able to have a different shopping experience this time because of the support of a friend.  I don’t think I’ll ever tackle this task alone again – it is just too easy to get caught up in all the negative self-talk.  But with the help of a friend, who loves me for me and wants me to feel good about myself as I am in this moment, I am able to stay more positive and even feel good about myself.

I’m not where I want to be, but at least I’m moving in the right direction.  And with the support and friendship of people like Katie, I just might get there.