My Year of Blogging Shamelessly: Part One of Six
One woman’s journey from her body to her soul letting her relationship with food show the way.
I was in the middle of getting my hair done at a salon (a luxury I treat myself to every week) when my phone rang. I wasn’t surprised as it was the opening night of the film festival I was mounting in honour of International Women’s Day—a huge event I’d created on my own for a cause I am passionate about. The caller identified herself as being from the CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster, and asked if she was speaking to the Michelle Brewer who was responsible for the event. I replied that she was. She then asked me if I spoke French. I paused. I have worked hard at my French—including having lived two and a half years in immersion in Québec City. In fact, I can usually even pass as francophone for the first few sentences—that is, until my lack of vocabulary, my English mind moving faster than my French mouth and the letter R betray me. Still, out of love for the film festival and being a proud Canadian, I took a deep breath and responded oui.
We all want big and meaningful lives. Lives that when we step back from, we cherish as rich and full. Ones where we live up to our potential, make our existence significant and leave our mark in some way. I love how the poet Mary Oliver puts it at the end of her poem “When Death Comes:” I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. In our best moments, we want to live feeling good with who we are as individuals and in relationship with wonderful, worthy people. For storyteller-researcher and author Brené Brown, we are hardwired for love and belonging. Connection is what life is all about.
Living such a life means showing up, stretching ourselves and letting ourselves be seen. It is a life of vulnerability. In her book Daring Greatly, Brown defines vulnerability as the embracing of emotional exposure, risk and uncertainty. She draws her title from a famous talk given at the Sorbonne by Theodore Roosevelt often referred to as “The Man in the Arena” speech. It is worth including because for Brené Brown it encapsulates vulnerability:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….
Vulnerability is the willingness to keep going knowing that there are no guarantees. Why? Because if you dare greatly, if you enter the arena in pursuit of a big life, you will, in the words of Brown, get your ass kicked. You try. You fall. You get up. You try again. You may fall again. Then you get up again. And you get up as tall as you did the first time.
Vulnerability is the acceptance of and surrender to the inevitability of discomfort, disappointment, pain and heartbreak because those feelings are the constant companions of trust, belonging, happiness, creativity, gratitude, joy and love. If you want more of the good stuff, you have to stick it out with the bad stuff too. There is no picking and choosing. You take all or you get none. You don’t make yourself vulnerable because it is comfortable. It is not. You do not avoid it because it is excruciating. It often is. You make yourself vulnerable because you recognize it as necessary. Vulnerability is the key to fulfilling and well-lived life.
Weight became an issue for me in Grade 8. It was the first year of junior high and when I first got my period. I believe that the seeds of my problematic relationship to food and my body had long been planted, but that things came to a head in the negotiation of my new identity as a woman.
There are various reasons for this. On my mum’s side of the family there is a history of incest, and (separately or not so separately) as a young person I was often the recipient of sexual touchings by men. My family was not a place where I learned boundaries. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of obesity in my mum’s family. Also, my parents split up when I was nine. It is always surprising to me how lightly we treat the effects of divorce on children. Research like Vincent Felitti’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study shows that the emotional harm to a child from divorce is often worse than that of the death of a parent. This is not to say that people shouldn’t get divorced. I did. I just wish we’d be more aware of its impact, especially on children.
The physical loss of my dad’s daily presence in my life was shattering to me. The emotional loss of my mum, with the burden she bore being a relatively unsupported single working mother (combined with the shame she felt for choosing to end her marriage) was disorienting to me. As the eldest of three girls, I was the one to manage everything in the chaos and neglect of the situation, but at the cost of not being allowed (or allowing myself) to have any needs of my own.
This was not a tenable position. So I turned to food to get my needs met.
Within an hour of the phone call, an aspiring young journalist from Radio-Canada, the francophone side of the CBC, her producer and a cameraman were in my living room setting up for a TV interview. I learned at the outset of their arrival that she was doing an internship as part of her studies and this was her first ever formal interview. They explained that some of what they got from our exchange would become a short piece to promote the film festival but most would be on me for a project she was working on.
It did all feel a little hazy and stilted with my limited linguistic ability. The nervousness of my student journalist made me feel better. Mercifully, the producer told us both that we were allowed to ask to pause and restart any time. Everything was going along as well as could be expected with the taping. Then, after about ten minutes of preliminary questions, my interviewer asked me about my motivation for doing the film festival.
For me, this centred on my personal interest in feminism. So I alluded to a couple of incidences in my life that had awakened what I see now as my feminist consciousness. I had been purposely keeping it light as I assumed that the intent of the question was simply to provide some context to the coverage of the film festival. But she pressed for more. So in broad strokes, I started to tell her about an abusive situation with a man that I had been in when I was younger. Wanting to take it deeper, she asked if I was referring to the time with my mum’s boyfriend.
I was puzzled. Disoriented even. How had she known this about me? Suddenly it hit me, she had been to my website. More than this, she had read through my blog. Then it dawned on me: she hadn’t found me through the film festival, rather she had found the film festival through me. She was in my living room conducting a face-to-face interview because she was wanting to know more about me, my story and my understanding of the relationship between food, eating, body, self and society.
When I recounted this unanticipated turn in the questioning to a friend a short time later, she asked if I had felt blindsided by my interviewer’s deeply personal knowledge of me. To the contrary, I responded. I felt moved. I felt love.