Becoming the Advocate You Were Born to Be

I believe we are all born as really great advocates. Despite mobility & language limitations, babies are the best advocates. There is no doubt in anyone's mind when a baby needs or wants something. Typical babies in loving happy homes scream and cry until their need gets met. If they don't like how you respond, they let you know with more screaming until you get it right. But something happens along our journey and we lose these advocacy skills. Adults told us to sit down, be quiet, stop asking for things. People said "that's just the way it is". Those who have all the power and resources showed us over and over again how small we are and how little we can influence the world. And after being worn down for years in so many ways, we just stopped trying. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it)  eventually life presents all of us with a situation that forces us to become advocates again. A loved one becomes disabled, we get caught in a toxic job or relationship, we are awakened to some injustice in the world. When that time comes for you, how will you reclaim these lost skills? Whether you are self-advocating, advocating for a loved one, or advocating for systemic change...here are a few things you can do to get started or be more effective:

  1. Gather information & learn the rules of the game. It doesn't take long for babies to learn that when they cry, somebody comes to attend to them. How many toddlers work the "fake cry" in an effort to get some attention? Whatever you are advocating for, learn how the systems already work. Read books, talk to people who are involved, try to find out what's working, what isn't, and what has been tried before. In order to be a super effective advocate, you have to know where you are starting before you can ever get a sense of where you should go. 
  2. Make a game plan. Truly effective advocacy work is strategic. It isn't haphazard or always coming from a defensive place, it's proactive and deliberate. Plan for the short term and the long term. As an advocate for my son my "big goal" is to see him live a fulfilling and happy life in adulthood, but that won't just magically happen. It means we have stuff to work on now, even at six years old, to ensure that happens. A couple of additional notes about your game plan: 
    1. Have a clear & simple message/goal. Don't over complicate what you are trying to do. You (and anyone along for the ride with you) will get bogged down in the chaos if you overcomplicate it. It needs to be hella clear what you are trying to accomplish. My goal in advocating for J in the school system is to help create the most effective learning environment for him. That's it. It's a big goal with a lot of moving parts, but it's a really clear and simple idea I can cling to and communicate to others. Every issue I tackle in the school environment comes back to that one goal. 
    2. Focus more on what is possible than what is impossible. People are drawn towards things. People want to hope for something, believe in something. It can be terribly immobilizing to hone in on the things that are not possible or the things that are beyond your control. Your plan should focus on all the possibilities in the areas that you can control or influence. 
  3. Start where you are with what you have. You may not have a million dollars or a huge audience or even be the most knowledgable about a topic. That's okay. Take what you have, what you know, and what you can do and run with it. You don't have to be an expert or have a huge platform to effect change in the world. Making a difference in one life, in one classroom, in one doctor's office...whatever...that matters. 
  4. Partner with others. There is power in numbers. Not only does the message seem a lot louder when more than one person is saying it, you can accomplish more when there are multiple people with a variety of skill sets and experiences working on an issue. You can also lean on each other when things get hard. Advocacy work can be so life giving, but it can also feel very draining and overwhelming. Having people who can help carry the torch when you're drained or feel lost is so important. Those partnerships might be other people or they might be other agencies depending on the work you are doing. You don't have to be the one stop shop tackling all the issues and you don't have to go it alone. Find people with common passions and experiences and go together. 
  5. Get some quick wins and build some momentum. If you are just getting started with advocacy work, get some quick wins under your belt. Find some "low hanging fruit" and grab it. Effecting change, even if it is seemingly small and insignificant can feel super empowering, can boost your confidence, and can help get the ball rolling. After accomplishing something, you will likely feel empowered to tackle bigger and harder issues. 
  6. Play for the long game. Advocacy work is rarely "finished" and it rarely happens quickly. Don't get so bogged down in more minor issues that you lose sight of the bigger picture. When you experience set backs, because you absolutely 100% will, remember your why. Why did you get started in this work? Why is it important to keep going? What are you working towards? Cling to that why for dear life and remember that change takes time and tomorrow is a new day. 

Remember, you were born an advocate. All you need to do is reclaim the advocate that is already in your bones. Over the next many weeks and months, I plan to share some more practical tips that you can apply to your every day work...so stay tuned! Here's to becoming the advocate you were born to be!

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Visioning & Setting Intention for 2018: Living My Best Life

Parker Palmer's A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward the Undivided Life begins with this story: "There was a time when farmers on the Great Plains, at the first sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door out to the barn. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own backyards". I worry that in a culture that constantly encourages us to do more, be more, and have more that we sometimes wander out into our own metaphorical backyards, chasing the things we think we need to be happy, or mindlessly moving with the wind, and lose sight of our way home, back to people and things that give us life. I am in the midst of my own reckoning. I am learning to let go of what it is I am "supposed to be", putting down the broken mirrors all around me that are giving me a distorted view of myself and my life, and trying to find my own way. I am slowly finding my way back in from the blizzard, from the do more/be more/have more hustle, and I am laying a rope for the times I will inevitably find myself out in the chaos. I hope you'll join me. 

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Why I Refuse to be Ashamed of My "Fat Girl" Body

Maybe it's that I am very quickly approaching 30 years old, maybe it's personal growth, maybe it's that in light of all the other things going on in the world I am completely out of fricks to give...I'm not sure, but I what I am sure about is that I am really really really over hating my body. You may not know this about me, but like so many other women, I am a recovering disordered eater. In my late teen years, I developed anorexia that later turned into binge eating disorder. It has been a long hard slog of owning my truth, being really frustrated with myself, and learning new healthy ways to navigate the world but I am learning that despite the shame I have felt my body over the years, there are also a lot of things about my body that I should be really proud of and grateful for. 

The first time I can consciously remember hating my body was just after a sexual assault that happened in my teen years. I was angry that my body could invite something so awful, devastated by the idea that my body was somehow not my own. I had always been a chubby girl and this experience made me want nothing to do with the thick hips and curves that made me seem so much older than I was. In the midst of feeling so emotionally out of control, I took control of the one thing I thought I could- food. It started as an effort to get a stronger body- a body that could fight, a body that could run, a body that was better equipped to defend itself. I started counting calories and running. The weight dripped off of me, slowly at first and then like an avalanche, but it was never enough. No matter how far I got or how much weight I lost the emotions I was running from kept catching me. I started exercising more and cutting back more, distracting myself from the demons I wasn't ready to face, and before I knew it I had developed full blown anorexia. I was chewing up food and spitting it out to avoid weight gain, I was exercising for hours at a time every single day of the week, I was hiding in bathroom stalls waiting for privacy so that I could purge, and I was limiting myself to an absurdly low number of calories each day. When we would go out to eat I would order a side of steamed veggies as my entree. What started as a way for me to gain a sense of control had suddenly become the thing that was controlling me. 

I got down into the 120s just before I got married. Even though I was at the lower end of a healthy weight range, perhaps for the first time in my life, I had gotten there in a terribly unhealthy way and far too quickly. When I moved in with my husband I found that hiding my lifestyle and unhealthy habits was hard. I wasn't alone enough to continue purging as often as I wanted and I didn't have the same time in my schedule to continue over-exercising. The weight crept back up and since I couldn't keep running from the bad feelings with my anorexia, I started stuffing them down with binge eating. I ate what I wanted when I wanted and as much of it as I wanted. I ate until I felt okay, and it took a lot of food for me to feel even a little bit okay. I snuck through fast food places for extra meals and disposed of the evidence. I sat at my desk and stuffed my face with as many carbs as I could get my hands on, binging on food that the store I was working at was discarding (yikes). I ate entire family-size boxes of snack foods in one sitting. A few months of this and unsurprisingly I was bigger and weighed more than I ever had in my entire life. I was officially obese. 

When we moved away from our hometown and I was no longer living in the same city where the trauma happened, the walls started coming down. I went to therapy. I started running and eating healthy. I got back down to my average weight...the weight I was at before anorexia and later binge eating took over my life. And yet again- it wasn't sustainable. We became parents. The foster care system wrecked me emotionally. Every one of our son's diagnoses wrecked me emotionally. And like most addicts, I turned to the thing that I knew would make me feel good even if it was just for a moment. A few months into this cycle, I ended up going to months of therapy specifically for binge eating because I just couldn't get a handle on it by myself. I was no long too proud to say I was out of control. I remember sitting in my therapist's office blankly staring at her because she asked me to identify my feelings and I couldn't. Literally not a single feeling came to mind. I was just.....empty....numb...disengaged. She handed me a list that had hundreds of feeling words on it and I started weeping because the last ten years had just been sort of grey. Feeling anything meant also feeling the bad things I had been trying to escape for so long and it had never been worth it to me. I had learned to stay numb as a way to stay safe but I also knew that in the numbness I was using to protect myself that I was missing out on some really great feelings too. I also knew that I had a little guy who needed a good example of dealing with big feelings in a healthy way, a way I couldn't show him at that point in my life. So I fought. It was hard and a lot of the time it was awful. There were setbacks and breakdowns and days I wanted to give up. There were days I retreated into the nothingness I had created for myself. I learned my triggers. I learned self-care. I faced big hard scary parts of my story. It has been a long hard journey and it's not over yet. It may never really be over for me and that's okay. I know now that the good beautiful moments are so good and the hard scary moments will pass. I know that no amount of food will make the feelings I'm trying to avoid go away. I know that I can't run forever and that when reality catches up it hits hard. I've learned that in the midst of running and stuffing down that other parts of my life suffer. I've learned that there are people who love me who will stand alongside me for the hard scary parts if I'll let them. I've learned that I am resilient. I've learned that I am enough. I've learned that I am lovable. 

I haven't lost the weight that I put on during my last cycle of binging that happened a few years ago and I have had a lot of shame tied up in that. Every fat roll, every piece of clothing tucked in my closet that no longer fits because of the weight I gained, every photo of myself that I hate is a reminder of how easily things can get out of control. It happens so fast and you are in so deep before you even realize it. But in the midst of this season I am also learning to love myself and to love my body. No, I am not where I want to be in terms of my health and physical fitness, but every day is a chance for me to take one step closer to those goals. And you know what else? Despite all of this, there are a lot of things my body is really great at. In just the past 24 hours, I.... ran a couple of miles, carried several days of groceries for a family of three up a flight of stairs, hugged my son, prepared food for the boys who have my heart, made art, moved boxes, swam laps. I loved big and I loved well. I refuse to be ashamed of the vessel that has carried me this far and has brought so much joy and strength to my life. This body has seen some shhh and it keeps getting back up. One day, this body will quit, but today was not that day so I refuse be ashamed of it for one more second.