Sunday, April 28, 2013

Projecting positive thoughts to the universe

Judy and Kathy, my cheerleaders at my neighborhood Ace Hardware
"Happiness looks great on you."

So says the message inside the foil wrapper of my Dove dark chocolate.

Although a wise woman doesn't build the foundation of her philosophy on pithy phrases printed on candy wrappers, no one ever called me wise. So this foil message has become part of the photo collage on my refrigerator. Every day it reminds me to replace a lifetime of negative self-talk with positive self-talk.

Happiness does look great on me. I'm living proof that a woman can undergo a series of unfortunate events and come out on the other side with a smile on her face--and 50 pounds lighter too!

About 18 months ago, happiness wasn't a key ingredient in my life. I was feeling deer-in-the-headlights panic. Shock even.

After my divorce, I was laid off from my job without warning, and immediately had to sell my house in the worst housing market in decades. Incredibly, the house sold, I paid off the mortgage and had just enough money to pay rent and a deposit on a cheap, one-bedroom apartment. My dear mother co-signed the lease for her down-and-out unemployed daughter.

Today, looking back on that time, I took an online Holmes & Rahe Life Events Scale test, checking off which life-changing stressors I'd experienced. Divorce. Laid off from work. Change in residence. Major changes in my financial state and my living conditions. My daughter had moved out about six months earlier, and when I had to sell the house, my son moved out too. Now I was alone, with only my cat, Anakin Skywalker, to keep me company.

My score was 328 on the stress test. I received a message that I'd experienced "a significant amount of life change and had a significant susceptibility (about 80% probability) to stress-related illness."

Here at the lowest point in my life, the universe began to shift. Or perhaps I was the one who shifted. Instead of being angry, I became hopeful. After all, what more could go wrong?

I believe if you're positive in your life--in the way you see yourself and you project that positive energy--it gets reflected back to you.

Everywhere I went, people helped and reflected that positive energy back to me.

On my moving day, a week before Christmas, 17 friends and family helped me move.

Two days before moving day, I broke a tooth--an old root canal--and had to have emergency oral surgery. I had no money to pay the bill. When I checked in, I told the receptionist a little about my circumstances. As I was leaving the oral surgeon's office, the receptionist said: "Your surgery was doctor's gift to you. Merry Christmas."

My car needed $900 of work. My dear mechanic, Don Orange, owner of Hoesley Eco Auto, did the work at no charge. "It's on us," he told me.

And on my many expeditions to my neighborhood Ace Hardware to get settled into my tiny apartment, I chatted with Kathy and Judy and shared my circumstances. They listened, smiled, encouraged me, cheered me on.

In the past 18 months, I got a new job as a newspaper reporter, an all-new career for me. I started paddling on a women's dragon boat team, the Mighty Women. I started eating better and taking care of myself. I lost 50 pounds. I look and feel better than I've felt in 20 years.

Looking back, the severe losses and stressors I experienced were tough, but they actually made me a stronger, happier, joyful person. I'm still paddling a dragon boat with the Mighty Women. And recently I've tried skiing, swing dancing, belly dancing--and even dating.

The old me was too bogged down in unhappiness to imagine I could try new, fun experiences.The new me appreciates that life can change direction without warning at any moment. Life is a gift that should be cherished. Savored. Experienced with gusto. And dark chocolate.

Last week when I stopped by Ace Hardware to buy strawberry plants for my garden, Kathy greeted me with: "There's the woman who reinvented herself!"

I smiled. And bought a piece of chocolate.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Step out of your comfort zone and belly dance with gusto

Life is short. Belly dance--with gusto!
Imagine yourself in a mirrored dance studio, wearing yoga pants, a camisole and a scarf tied around your hips. You're standing in front of the mirror, and you realize you're the largest woman in the class. A year ago, I couldn't have done this.

But I'm the new me--50 pounds lighter and 400 times braver--and I'm up for almost any challenge. Even a daunting wall of mirrors. And standing in front of thinner women, shimmying my hips. And grinning.

About a week ago, I found myself moving my hips and learning to shimmy in a belly dancing class. Belly dancing is completely out of character for me. I'm the sporty woman who paddles a dragon boat and hikes. How did I get here, and how did I convince two girlfriends to try it with me?

I'd never given belly dancing a thought until a couple weeks ago. I'd just tried downhill skiing after a 34-year hiatus, and was feeling triumphant. I could do anything. Belly dancing was the next adventure to tackle on my bucket list. 

I am not a natural dancer. When I was 6, Mom signed me up for ballet lessons. I don't know why. The poor teacher couldn't even help me point my toes properly. When I took a ballet class in college, I was equally frustrated.

Yet, two weeks ago, I had a hankering to try belly dancing. Amy, a newsroom colleague and belly dancer, referred me to Viscount Dance on Sandy Boulevard in Portland. I posted on Facebook that I was trying belly dancing on Saturday. Did any brave girlfriends want to join me?

Immediately, friends began replying "This sounds like fun" and "I've always wanted to try belly dancing" and "I'll see if my husband will watch the kids." One fellow paddler and writer said, "Okay, you officially qualify as FEARLESS in my book now. And you must blog about this."

Facing a wall of mirrors with other women can be daunting. If you're like me, without meaning to, you begin comparing yourself to every woman in the room: "I'm bigger than her. I'm fatter than her. My rear is way bigger than hers...." 

Over the past year, I've been retraining myself to replace that negative self-talk with positive self-talk: "Yes! I conquered my fear and I'm standing in a dance studio with other women--facing a wall of mirrors. I look pretty good!" And my favorite mantra I repeat as many times as needed: "You can do this!" 

It's challenging to break my lifetime cycle of negative self-talk, but I'm working on it every day. And whenever I have the opportunity, I mention the benefits of positive self-talk to my gorgeous, young adult daughter, who is finding her own way and facing her own wall of mirrors.

Let's face it: women, particularly American women, have a body image crisis. We give our girls Barbie dolls to play with and indoctrinate them early into what the ideal woman should look like. If Barbie were a real woman, she'd be 5’9” tall and would weigh only 110 pounds. Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 which is severely underweight. Her cartoonlike proportions--39” bust, 18” waist, 33” thighs--would make it impossible for her to walk upright on those tiny size 3 feet (molded to fit stiletto heels, no less). Barbie would have to walk on all fours.

We are bombarded with images of anorexic models and actresses on the magazines at the supermarket checkout stands, on billboards, on TV and the movie screen. Everywhere we go, girls and women are told we should strive to be like these waif-like creatures: extremely tall and severely underweight.

I am the antithesis of a model. I am extremely short and until last summer, I was obese. Now, through mindful eating, paddling a dragon boat and other exercise, I've lost 50 pounds. I'm no longer obese, but technically, I'm still overweight according to the evil BMI (body mass index) chart. 

I still have 20 to 25 pounds to lose, but I'm learning to love my body, just as it is. I'm no longer afraid to step beyond my comfort zone and to have fun. I was definitely up for belly dancing.And unlike me, the dragon boating diva, top-heavy Barbie would not be able to belly dance on those tiny feet. 

And dance we did! Wendy, Kathleen and I moved our hips, shimmied, swooshed our veils through the air--and we had a blast. It was empowering to belly dance with gusto beside two friends. I felt brave. Even sexy.

I may have even pointed my toes!

Wendy, me and Kathleen--the belly dancing divas!