Beating Fear with a Stick

Fear: Is It Running Your Show?

September 19, 2011

Fear. We all have it.

It helps us. Sometimes. When you’re in a dark alley and you see a man with a long trenchcoat running towards you and your adrenaline kicks in and causes you to fly away. Totally helping you. Good fear.

For many years of my life I lived under its guardianship. Fear watched over me. Helped me make my choices. Was my voice of reason.  Helped me stay in the same job for 13 years, live in the same apartment, eat the same foods over and over again. It helped me stay in a rut. It helped me stay depressed. Bad fear. Cape Fear.

Lately the word fear has been popping up more than usual so I though I ought to pay it a visit.

I was in a yoga class last weekend with my mentor and teacher Annie Carpenter, and she had us all in navasana (boat pose) for a verrrrrrrrrry looong time. We all started to shake. I started to get angry. Then she started talking about fear. She asked us to identify a fear that we had previously had in our lives which we had conquered. Still in boat pose.

Then it hit me like a ton of navasanas. I had conquered my fear of gaining weight.

There I said it. Many people know this about me but I have never officially written about it or announced it on paper. Of course, it was not simply a fear of just gaining weight, but to simplify it, I’ll call it that. I was, for many years, in the throes of a bad eating disorder. Still in boat pose, I realized I had transcended the darkest, hardest years of my life. I felt like I could stay in navasana forever with this newfound realization.

Annie was saying how fear protects us at times but when it stops us from playing and living then it no longer serves us. Or something like that.  We were still in still in boat pose at this point…and here I was lost in my own newfound revelation, so I wasn’t exactly getting everything word for word.

My beloved teacher Annie Carpenter

I became severely anorexic when I was 17 years old after a doctor told me that if I wanted my breasts smaller, (they caused me a lot of unwanted attention and discomfort back then) I should just lose five pounds. (If I could go back in time and shake him uncontrollably for saying that, I would. Although I know it really wasn’t his fault. Even if it was a crappy thing to tell a teenage girl.) That was the exact moment I went home and made a list of all the foods I would and would not eat. Up until that point I had never exercised and I ate cheese steaks and TastyCakes. A lot. I’m from the Philly area. It’s what we do.

I quickly lost five pounds. Then 10. then 20.

Then I kept going.

Many years of my life were lived under a blanket of fear. I exercised four hours a day.  I was terrified to gain weight because I finally felt I could control what was happening around me and inside of me through my weight.

Cliché? I know.

I had a fear that people would stop asking me “Are you ill? ”  It made me feel like I stood out. Like I was special. When someone told me I looked “healthy,” I panicked. (I know that this is hard to believe for the people who know me now, especially my students. I am so at ease with my self these days. Most days.)

Well, here I am in boat pose still in Annie’s class last Sunday at Exhale in Venice, realizing all of this. I am at ease. I have released a huge debilitating fear. Finally. For the most part.

Of course, during times of stress, the eating disorder rears its ugly head. I never worry about what truly is the matter, such as, let’s say: getting married or letting go of a waitressing job I had for 13 years or my nephew having Prader Willi Syndrome. But rather, it becomes simply “I am fat.” My brain takes the path of least resistance, what it knows best. Much as the body will do. That is the old tape it knows.

This happens rarely these days.

I have, for the most part, conquered this thing that had such a clutch on me.

So here I am in boat pose, shaking like a dog, and I realize I have conquered this fear. This is huge. Finally we come out of the pose and I get a little teary-eyed. I start to feel sad for all the years I let this fear rule my life. What was the fear truly of?

It’s so dark and ugly. I mistakenly thought my self-worth was my appearance. Now, as a teacher of yoga, with so many beautiful young girls coming to me, I recognize the same thing in them. I know them immediately. Perhaps they recognize me as well. I somehow got programmed to believe that what I looked like signified who I was. Inside.

There is nothing farther from the truth. Nowadays, I feel such a deep love for who I am inside that it never even crosses my mind to think people even notice my weight or my face. How can it be so complicated? I am not, nor was I ever, a shallow person. I know better. And yet, for 15 years I battled this idea.

I was also terribly afraid to deal with life. With feeling or loss responsibility or death. When my stepfather died, 10 years after my father had passed away, I just ran. I went out to Cooper River Park in Pennsauken, New Jersey. and ran for over two hours straight. There, all better.

Not quite. It never works that way. Even if we want it to.

The pain and the feelings are still there, we have just distracted ourselves. Maybe fear is just a big distraction?

My sister said something savvy tonight. I love my sister. She said, “Ha. An article on fear? I could write that one in my sleep.”  (She could.)

As much as she has an innumerable amount of irrational fears, she is fearless when it comes to her son Blaise, who has Prader Willi Syndrome. She says that you find the courage somehow.

I get it. I have found courage through my own yoga practice, through my teaching yoga, through the amazing man I married, through my nephew Blaise.

I still have many fears and am working through them daily. Sometimes they feel so real, as if at any moment the fear will come true and I will be homeless, my family will perish, I will be without a job, people will hate me, that I will have to go back to waitressing. I will go completely deaf. A fear of the Future. The abnormal fears. They run the gamut.

But sometimes, when I am in navasana in Annie’s class, or teaching my own class, I look up at the sky and shake my fist and say “Eff you Fear! You ain’t real!”

Teaching for Lululemon

And anyway, as the amazing Wayne Dyer says, worrying is like saying little prayers for the things you do not want.

And of course, in a sense, it is real. But as Martin Luther King Jr said…….

Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyses us. Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; abnormal fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives.

Our problem is not to be rid of fear but, rather to harness and master it.

“First you jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” ― Ray Bradbury

 

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  • Reply barbarapotter September 19, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Proud of you Jen.

  • Reply Dana J. September 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Awesome and so true. I definitely let it run my show on occassion. In the past it almost completely ran my life. More often than I would like. Exactly what you said about keeping past in the past is my issue. It creeps up and the wounds reopen. I try to let good come in, but sometimes you don’t believe it, feel you deserve it, or your waiting for another shoe to drop. I NEED to just take it in and accept it. I can help others and do for others because that is who I am, but when it comes to myself I usually am last on the list. 🙂 Working on that. Mainly because of your inspiration, your words and YOU girl. xoxo much love

  • Reply Scarlett September 19, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I’m so happy your blog popped up in my tag surfer.

    I’m 25 and have been living with anorexia and bulimia since I was 14, and the way you describe the worst points in your eating disorder rings incredibly true to me–especially the fear, which is an emotion I very strongly identify with my ED. So getting to the part where you mentioned that your colleagues and students today would be very surprised to hear about who you used to be was amazing to me. It gives me hope that you’re not only no longer afraid of weight gain and of “not being sick”, but you’re so whole now that others would be shocked to hear you ever had anorexia. It’s easy for me to believe I will never get past this. Thanks for demonstrating that it CAN happen. 🙂 You’re inspiring!

  • Reply Flying Yogini September 19, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    I love this post.. so much strength in the words. Those darn long holdings can dredge up stuff, but wow: powerful! Really great Jennifer, thanks!! xo

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