October 6th & 7th, 2015
Dear Dr. Brené Brown (insert squeals of delight),
I’ve been wanting to tell you something for a long time. I just didn’t know how to reach you. It hit me last weekend and so I decided to write you a letter, then I vlogged my excitement. I’m very new at vlogging! The video part I created was a wee-bit emotional, in a good way, but emotional just the same, so I sort of fixed it, putting my own unique Whitney Gale spin on it.
Tickets to your show in Denver sold out in 15 minutes and I didn’t snag one. I’m in a two year writing program at Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and I have class this night. I quit my career in 2014 to write a book that’s been in my heart since I was a child, “Big Girl”. Those words have haunted me my whole life.
I couldn’t shake the idea of not seeing you in-person, not having the chance to hear you speak TRUTH, to say directly to you, ‘thank you from the bottom of my heart.” I knew I could have made it work, but chickening out was a lot easier. If I didn’t show up to Mile Hi, then I didn’t have to regret possibly missing out on a chance to shake your hand.
Last Saturday morning, while I was putting on my face for the day, I caught myself, I realized for the first time in my adult life, that as I was dabbing the base of my nose with cover-up, I was lost in a memory with one of my playground bullies. I’m 36 years old and I can still hear a nameless and faceless little girl at recess yelling to everyone, “Look at those ugly, red lines coming out of her nose!”
This is how I was born, not pretty enough. I don’t feel ready for the day until these birthmarks are veiled, not until I dab away my shame with a brownish-ivory colored goop. The motion is mechanical for me, I’ve perfected this action without mirrors for decades. It’s the one piece of makeup I put on even if it’s a frumpy stay-at-home-sort of day. I can’t let anyone see this part of me.
Sticks and stones may break our bones but shame can stick to us forever.
I continued to apply mascara. I don’t always have the presence to hear my shame, so I don’t always connect the dots and see how these memories still affect my outlook on life, but I know your research on shame resilience well. These tools continue to impact my life each day. My thoughts shifted towards your trip to Denver, even though that childhood shame persisted. I can’t believe I’m not going to see Brené Brown. You blew it, Whitney. You always chicken out. I looked at my eyes in the compact mirror containing my blush. Wait a minute.
I had to release these silent saboteurs. Of course I can figure out a way to thank Brené Brown. This letter isn’t premediated. I didn’t write the first draft years ago. This is me sitting down yesterday and today, to finally tell you, thank you, Brené Brown, thank you <3.
At the start of the New Year in 2013 I went to a girlfriend’s house where we set intentions. I felt safe in this little circle of women, safe enough to tell them I struggled with an eating disorder, but not safe enough to share the real details.
Our host invited each of us to design and bake something called a Shrinky Dink. They told me this weird little craft project was part of the 80’s. I seemed to have missed out on the Shrinky Dink craze in my childhood, just like Fraggle Rock (we didn’t have cable).
I crafted the word, “Forward’ on the little, plastic circle with markers. It took me a long time to come up with a word that would light a fire under my ass. It was time to ask for help, time to make changes.
I’ve kept this little reminder to move FORWARD in my wallet ever since. I still need it. I’ll always need it.
I was bulimic for 24 years because of my body shame. I’m 6 ft. tall and plus-sized. I was a size 14/16 in high school when Lane Bryant opened at the local mall. It was a godsend. My body didn’t fit into mainstream clothes. It was still a time when only ‘short and fat’ or ‘tall and skinny’ pants were being sold. No one made pants for tall, big-boned girls. Oh, the shopping fits I gave my poor mother!
I wasn’t the kind of girl guys considered because my body type was much too different from what was advertised on Beverly Hills 90210 or Melrose Place. I only felt good if I was perfect at every job and if I became friends with everyone. I laughed all along the way, while I quietly stayed focused on my weight, my food and my workouts. My confidence was served up in equal measures of shame.
I was dying from my secrets.
I discovered your magic the year I decided to move FORWARD. I would drive into work, stuffed from a big breakfast, already snacking on my packed lunch while listening to your voice over audio CDs. I learned about Daring Greatly, Men, Women & Worthiness, and The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting.
I fell in love with Amanda Palmer when I heard her sing and play the ukulele at the Tattered Cover last fall. Her vulnerability and authenticity showered me with hope. It was like icing on the cake when I saw you had written the foreword for her book, “The Art of Asking.”
You put words to my feelings. You taught me about marble jars and the shame gremlins. You documented the harshest and saddest word a man will most likely hear in his lifetime, over and over again. I loved how you gave your children choices and how they didn’t know what commercials were. God we’re old! The biggest epiphany was learning the definitions of shame and guilt. This is me. This is what I do to myself. Why do I do this?
Vulnerability set me free.
I only told my story to a few people in my life. Bulimia is not something we talk about, and if we do, it’s certainly not in depth. I told my then-boyfriend-now-husband. He told me I was worth it, so I met with a therapist every Monday for an entire year. I told her all the thoughts I had ever been too afraid to speak.
I healed my relationship with my Mama. She’s been my best friend and my biggest cheerleader for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been mean to her.
On my very bad days I carried a chip on my shoulder the size of Texas. I took silent inventory of her imperfections and hurt her feelings through backhanded teasing. Why do I do this to her? I resented her happiness and I was envious of her life. On good days, we laughed harder than any friend I’ve ever had, the snort & drool, ‘I’ve-got-the-giggles’, kind of laughter.
I could talk to her about anything except my weight.
The two of us healed. I broke her heart in the beginning. Talking to her about my deepest hurts was the hardest, scariest thing I had ever done in my entire life. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. We started allowing each other to make mistakes, to say we’re sorry and to stay present and vulnerable enough to own our imperfections <3.
The rest-of-my-life journey is going to be about healing with everyone who is and once was close to my heart. I imagine this is how your life has felt once you transitioned from “doing research” to living and practicing your life’s work. The more I open up, the more people tell me about their own relationship to food secrets and body shame. I want to create a safe place for all of us ED outliers.
I now have room in my mind to practice self-care and to move past, “Get Shit Done (GSD) Disease”, thanks to Shelley Hunter-Hillesheim . I have daily tools that help keep my old behaviors at bay, thanks to the therapist who saved my life. I listen to my body when it tells me to take a mental health break, or when it asks me to go stretch or move. On most days, I eat when I’m hungry and I stop when I’m full. I’ve slowed down enough to listen for the, “Hell Yes” before responding. I take the time to sit with things. I’m not the skinny-after me version I thought I had to be in order to live my dreams.
I’m just myself, the girl I’ve always been,
except now I love her fiercely.
I knew in my heart the moment I quit my career to follow my childhood dream, I was going to be alright. And I am! Oh how I am!
Now I practice sharing my story as a Leader with Real Life Book Club, a volunteer with The Eating Disorder Foundation , and a Temple Keeper with Rhythm Sanctuary. I don’t have a practice. I just practice. All the time! Sometimes I forget. Then I remember. FORWARD.
Despite how unbelievably scary it’s been, I keep sharing my story and it’s healing every part of my soul.
You ‘had me at hello’ when you opened up The Gifts of Imperfection with, “Wholehearted living is not a onetime choice. It is a process. In fact, I believe it’s the journey of a lifetime.” Oh, Brené, you are MY PEOPLE. Your writing not only resonates with the countless number of people who privately hold onto eating disorder secrets, your words are making an even bigger impact on entire generations of people. You are creating a revolution of change! Brené Brown, you’ll go down in history as a Healer.
“Shame cannot survive being spoken. Tell your story.”
Thank you, thank you.
My wildest dream is to start a movement <3 in the eating disorder world and actually create a safe space for the bigger majority of people who suffer in silence because they are trapped by shame. There are others out there like me, people who are healing private hells through your words. I want them to know they are not alone! Oh how we needed you, Ms. Brené Brown!
I’m planting a seed that I hope one day will grow. Perhaps this gratitude can cultivate into a beginning for you and I, as I would love to actually someday shake your hand or give you a good squeeze!
If I snag a ticket from one of my Real Life Book Club girls, I will most definitely be at your show. Our community of bookworms, movers and shakers study your books the most! Together, we continue to heal our lives through the power and grace of vulnerability. Thank you for creating our map.
I’m SO proud of you as a woman! You are leading with your WHOLE HEART and we can all feel it beam. You are changing lives and creating the kind of world I always dreamt of while growing up with Oprah after school!
I’m a believer. It’s always been in me, I just didn’t see my path. I thought I had to be a thin, ‘after’-me by the time I was this brave. Now I get it. Writing is my gift and connecting is my life’s purpose.
I can already start to feel the goodness unleashing from the #EmergingWomen conference!
Thank you for blazing the trail <3
p.s. Update-October 17th: I scored a ticket! (insert more squeals of delight)
p.p.s. Update-October 28th: I’m basking in the glow of seeing you last night! I took MAD NOTES! I’m kicking off my “Rising Strong” Real Life Book Club, 6-week session on Nov. 18th. I LOVED my hug (during Q & A)! I was overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions, trying to not lose my train of thought and I couldn’t focus over the pounding of my heart! Thank you for the squeeze! I FELT your <3