Tarot Cards, Food, & Counseling

I like finding metaphors in my life in new and different places.

I went with my friend to a psychic this past weekend- it was my first time. (I’m no longer a psychic virgin!!) Aside from what made me feel uncomfortable (I didn’t feel comfortable enough to ask questions or talk a whole bunch since it wasn’t really private), it was really interesting and thought-provoking for me.

She had me think of a question to myself before drawing my first hand. I couldn’t think of anything specific, but being a romantic at heart, I just kept thinking “love life, love life, I want to know about my love life.” (That’s a little embarrassing to write but it’s the truth). The cards I got, and her interpretation, were interesting. My main card was the Queen of Cups, which she said represents receptivity and relationships. Underneath was the Tower, which represents a really impactful and important event, and above was a card representing soul mates. In the position representing the past was a card for an important relationship, and in the position representing the future was a card representing change. In the position representing the present was a card for tension, mostly mental tension and stress. To fill out the piece between the present (mental tension) and future (change) she had me pull a few more cards. From what I remember I pulled a King card representing really unmovable and grounding energy and another card representing fluidity and spirituality (I remember her saying that the card represents a need to see situations from a higher place and the ability to laugh at situations more, and that it was likely I would need to adapt to the unmovable energy in order to arrive at change- a frequent pattern I am familiar with). Her interpretation of all of this: the stress seemed to be related to something physical (money, house) and that the relationship wasn’t breaking off, but simply changing. Because of J and I buying a house, that seemed to sum up my love life pretty well at the moment.

For my next hand I thought about my BDD/body image issues, and when I could expect to experience relief. The cards I pulled again included the Queen of Cups, as well as the Lovers card and the Magician card. She said that all of these could mean that the use of a relationship to help heal and cope could be possible. (Which has always felt true for me. I know I tend to obsess about my body more and overeat more when what I really crave is touch.) She said that the Magician card is really powerful in that it represents intention setting and the achieving of goals. She had me pull a few more cards, and one of them was the Hanged Man, representing delusion. (Ha!! I love that) I can’t remember the others… but she did say that one of the others, which is ruled by Aries, shows that now is a good time to seek change, assistance, and help in planting the seeds for change, and that I would expect to see the fruits of my labor by the winter.

It was a cool experience, even if it has a similar tinge for me in reading my horoscope.

That being said, I also find the description of The Year of the Horse to resonate with me so far:

“The time for pondering and planning was 2013 Snake year. Horse year is time to act fast, buy that home, launch that business, travel the world, make a big purchase, get a promotion at work, have a breakthrough – take a leap and fly.

“If it’s right, then there’s nothing to think about. Just follow instincts. Even if you miss the mark, you’ll have all of Wood Sheep year 2015 to get cozy and enjoy life’s comforts in all their artistic forms.”

The whole “planting seeds for change” thing is right on target. I have an appointment with a therapist who specializes in BDD set for next week. I’m also trying a diet change for a month (we’ll see how it goes) to see if cutting out certain things helps with the OCD part of my problem (the obsessive, out-of-my-control thoughts). I’ve been doing the diet change for about a day, and so far it’s actually helped quite a bit. I have a complicated relationship with food (as I’ve chronicled on here before), and so I am wary of feeding that compulsivity through external food regulation and control. But, the lack of sugar in the past day or so has seem to influenced my energy levels (increased), overall way my body feels (less bloated), and my OCD thoughts (running more slowly, less frequently, more on the back burner instead of the forefront). I’ve been more focused and present at work and at home- both of which make me feel more alive and happy.

Any helpful metaphors that you have encountered lately?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

bddAs many of my long-time readers and friends know, I have struggled with body image for a long time- since I was about 8. There have been periods in my life which have felt better and periods which I have felt much, much worse. Much of my mood surrounding my body image has been pinned to my weight, and a particular number on the scale.

Last year, about this time, I put our scale down in the basement and I haven’t weighed myself since. I want to feel good about my body, and not have an external message, in this case a pretty arbitrary number, tell me how to feel and think about myself. I even closed my eyes both times I was weighed at the doctor’s last week.

But since about October, my negative self talk and obsession with weight and body shape have been on a downslide and the past couple weeks have become worse. I finally typed in “body image disorder” into Google and was amazed to read about body dysmorphic disorder. I don’t necessarily think I could be clinically diagnosed with the disorder (although I do think it’s quite possible), and that part doesn’t really matter to me. What does matter to me is that what I deal with on a daily basis has been experienced by others, and it is considered a significant and detrimental experience; it’s not just a “silly” concern of mine, narcissism, vanity, or selfishness. And when people tell me that it’s “crazy” that I have body image concerns, I think to myself: You don’t understand. I logically know that my body shape and size is healthy and that many people find me attractive. But I am compulsive in my self-critiquing and worries and have no relief from my obsessive thoughts. (And many, many people in my life have told me I’m “crazy” or “silly” for my worries- it’s a common way of trying to compliment someone on their body.)ME_108_BodyDysmorphic

I spend hours a day obsessing about the parts of my body that displease me (usually, my thighs and stomach), thinking about food (how much I’ve had, what I want to eat, what I should and shouldn’t eat), and thinking about exercise (how much I have had, what I want to do, what I should do). I mirror-check constantly, to the point that it cuts into getting other things done. My obsessions interfere with my ability to concentrate on work, personal projects, and conversations I am having with people (including J, friends, and family). These obsessions have impacted my social life, making me feel as though perhaps people don’t like me or respect me. They have impacted my sex drive and sexual life. This comic is a pretty accurate portrayal of my internal world, most days, a lot of the time:

body_dysmorphic_disorder_by_x_shelley_x-d65e5zv

My counselor understands that these are deep concerns, but because she is a psychotherapist, she is less driven to help me with cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and much more interested in why and how I got these concerns. She sees my obsessions rooted in a fear that I won’t be valued or loved if I am not a particular body shape, and thinks I received these messages from my mom.

I don’t think my counselor is wrong. I definitely think all of that makes up part of my BDD/body image obsession pie. But I’m really not sure how far I am really going to get in dissecting my early childhood experiences related to body image, eating, and exercise. I’ve already thought about it all way too much, and I just want relief.

I want to wake up in the morning and think about social plans or work goals or personal projects, and not in a frantic dizzy over “needing” to exercise a certain amount, obsessing over my breakfast, or worried that yet again today I will not look good enough to myself in the mirror. I want to stop constantly looking at myself in every mirror, analyzing and critiquing and absolutely hating on myself. I want to appreciate and love the body I have, because it’s the only one I have.

bdd sign

Eating disorders are stigmatized, and it seems from the little bit that I have read that BDD that it  is particularly difficult for folks to talk about because it can come across as narcissism or vanity. However, it is way more like OCD or anorexia to warrant such dismissals.

I want to reclaim my mind and my body from my mom and from my childhood friends and from the media and from the fucking mirror. I’m on the road to figuring out how.

Sex Workers, the Internet, & Stigma

Last night I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Emily Kennedy, a sociology PhD student studying the role of the Internet in shaping the ways in which we view sex work and sex workers. It was a fantastic experience- one of the highlights was when I started talking about my experience with withdrawing from my counseling program and she jumped in her seat: “That’s you?! I saw that post on Tumblr!! I can’t believe you’re part of my interview sample!” She was so excited, and I loved that she had seen the HoP post. We talked about how Internet use has helped me attract customers, how I have communicated with regulars, how I got started stripping and why, who I have disclosed my experiences to and why, if I have had any negative experiences with school or law enforcement or other people in my life, and whether I think there has been a shift in general attitude toward sex work in the past 10-20 years. It was really fun to talk about all of that with a sociology student who herself has direct experience with sex work and also has a deep curiosity for how sex work is viewed and treated culturally in our country.

My interview came after an interesting afternoon at work, something I am still somewhat processing. I met with a coworker to discuss planning a financial planning workshop for sex workers in the area, and after about 20 minutes of me offering a lot of information without much clarity of source, she asked me:

So… how did you get involved in this work?

I stumbled for a minute, and probably looked a bit uncomfortable. Ummm…

You don’t have to tell me at all! It’s okay.

No, I’ve been struggling with this. And so I guess I’ll just tell you, and you (as I nodded to the coworker who I share an office with). I’ve actually been a stripper, so that’s how I got really interested in sex workers rights and advocacy.

Well that is so cool! You have a lot of insight then and probably a better ability to reach this population. What an asset. How great!

After I told my two coworkers I started doubting myself- was that a smart decision? Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut? What is wrong with me? So many people don’t talk about their personal lives at work- why do I have this compulsive need to be out everywhere?

I remember Louisa Leontiades telling me in a Skype chat once:

It’s addicting to be yourself.

It’s so true. Once you have felt what it’s like to be yourself, totally and completely, without shame and without regard for what others think, it’s hard to go back. It’s hard to stuff pieces of yourself away, for fear of retaliation or judgement.

I had a longer conversation with my officemate after the other person left, and she understood completely my need for discretion and to continue to feel out the culture of our program and the attitude of other coworkers. I trust her and I don’t worry about her telling anyone or gossiping about it. Then later, I emailed my other coworker and thanked her for her understanding and respect and discretion. And she replied with more kindness and a confirmation that she adheres to the Vegas rule- whatever was said in our office, stays in our office.

I need to trust my intuition about people- my coworkers felt like safe and supportive people to disclose to, and they are. While I have largely had good experiences coming out as a stripper, I also have enough experience from my school snafu to know that not everyone sees my stripping experience as an empowering, rich, and positive perspective. So taking it slow in my new work environment in disclosing feels like a good path to take. I am also feeling more “all here,” which is freeing and grounding at the same time.

One of the last questions that Emily asked me last night was: You’re only 25, but how do you think general attitudes toward sex work has changed in the past 20 years?

To which I replied:

Well, I was only 5 20 years ago, but I know from the time I was in high school to now, I personally have undergone a massive shift in how I view sex work. I used to have my mom’s attitude toward sex work- that it is objectifying, degrading, and hurts all women and people. I carried that through college, and it wasn’t until my partner and I opened up that I had a catalyst to unpack my views surrounding sexuality and sex work. I have noticed that a lot of other women in my age cohort have gone through similar transformations with how they view sexuality and sex work, although they have had different catalysts than me. It gives me hope!

She laughed and agreed.

Movie Nights in Lieu of Therapy

I read this article a few days ago while waiting for the crowd to come into the strip club: “Move Night Can Double as Therapy

I’m curious what people think about this idea- of watching “relationship movies” as a couple instead of going to couples counseling. It seems like it would take a lot of self-initiative on the parts of both/all people involved, and that the people in the relationship would not find it necessary to have a counselor present to move forward on thorny issues. I suppose if the purpose of counseling is simply to help people reconnect with one another, that this could do just as good of a job (again, as long as all people involved want to reconnect and rediscover one another). However, if there are any major challenges or hurdles within the relationship, it seems like having some outside support could be more helpful than a movie.

Thoughts? Have you gone to couples counseling? Would you opt to watch a movie with your honey instead, and talk about it afterwards?

Community Connections

The past week I have been offered some wonderful connections:

-My dear friend is the creator of the amazing Humans of Portland project. She offered to interview about my experience with school and take an anonymous photo. This past Monday, we had a lovely and in-depth conversation about it all, and took some fun photos of me wearing my favorite dance shoes in front of my library of sexuality books. I am excited for it to come out. (And I may share a link once it’s published)

-One of the dancers in Portland is putting together sort of an anthology of stories, poems, etc written by strippers about their experiences stripping. I had been toying with the idea of submitting something for quite some time, and late last night I finally got my creative juices flowing. I cranked out 4000+ words in less than 24 hours. It’s in poetry form, but I have worked on subjects ranging from the how I got started to regular relationships to getting ready for a shift to my rage over tip outs to my therapeutic relationship with dancing. Even if she doesn’t end up wanting the piece for her collection, I feel so relaxed and energized at the same time from getting to process my experiences in this way. I’ll probably post pieces of that here when I have finished editing it all.*

-I was contacted by the producer of Mystery Box Storytelling to submit a story! I have had friends tell me that I should tell a story at one of the shows, but I’ve never known what to do. I feel excited to brainstorm and potentially craft something to share. I’ll keep y’all posted! 🙂

*Here are a couple of parts that I love so far:

“Do you ever have that feeling

that somehow your life is unfolding

and you’re just watching? marveling at the mystery? laughing at the novelty of it all?

You’re doing what now, Self?

Stripping.

Stripping?

Stripping.

Okay, then. Let me grab some popcorn, ‘cause this is going to be entertaining.”

***

“Body image

Issues

have plagued me since I was about seven years old.

I carried a lot of baby fat through elementary school

feeling Fat and Fatter than all of my friends

I had my last growth spurt at 12

And suddenly I felt

Skinny

which equaled/s

Being Worthy (of love, appreciation, respect)

And the Hyper-vigilance began

when might the weight return?

the extra fat around my stomach and butt and thighs?

I kept myself hungry throughout high school,

priding myself on going to bed starving and eating small

amounts of food

at dinner.

When I began exercising in college,

and fell in Love,

I began eating more, my curves

filling out More.

I became More.

And the hyper-vigilance cranked up

and continues on.

At times,

dancing has helped me

feel beautiful and worthy and sexy

and at other times,

dancing has worsened my

Anxiety and Self-Shaming

as I watch my curves in the mirror,

trying to pray away my god-given shape and size

No amount of Hollow Flattery

or even Genuine Desire and Admiration

can ease the pain

It must come from inside, a

Recognition and Belief

that I am Worthy of love and belonging

simply because I am alive

and here.”

 

Life is Short

My heart was racing, my body was trembling. I read though my letter one final, agonizing time, and pressed print. And then send.

And then it felt finished. Mostly finished anyway.

I wrote a letter to the faculty and staff at the school I just withdrew from, explaining my reasons for withdrawing. It took me about two weeks to write it. J edited it a few times, and a friend of ours did as well (thank you both for helping me with the nitty gritty part of making it sound all professional and intelligent).

Here’s my favorite part; it happens to be the concluding paragraph:

“I highly encourage the faculty members to reconsider the process in which they evaluated my experiences, to examine their own personal values and perspectives related to sex work and social justice, and to be more mindful of the messages they give to students regarding sharing personal information and the potential ramifications of sharing that information. I also request that the faculty, on behalf of future and current students, consider how they will include and exclude various populations from this profession for which they are gatekeepers. If sex workers, in the opinion of this institution, cannot become competent and ethical therapists, then perhaps the school should include that piece of information in the application process as well as consider the ethics and legality of such a claim.”

I have mostly felt really good about my decision, with the occasional twinge and shade of regret and questioning that seeps into the back of my brain (are you sure that was the right decision? why couldn’t you just stop dancing and agree with your professor so you could stay? most people would think you’re crazy! what if you were just being idealistic and radical? what if there isn’t a program that will feel right? you should have just stayed!). And then I shake it off when I remember the absurdity of the situation and try to imagine myself staying there given the atmosphere. This has been my mantra lately; I love this quote so much that I got a wall decoration with it:

Life is short break the rules forgive quickly kiss slowly love truly

Life IS short. Why waste it on an institution that clearly is un-supportive of my perspectives and experiences? Especially when I can be me somewhere else?

I am talking to a reporter about my experience at my school. We’re waiting to see if I receive any kind of response from the school before moving forward with a formal story. I’ll keep y’all posted on that one for sure.

Jealousy Workbook

I received Kathy Labriola’s newest book in the mail, and I am so excited to crack it open! I’ll post a more full review once I’ve read it through, but wanted to put in a quick plug now. Kathy is a wonderful counselor, and I can’t say enough good things about her other book, Love in Abundance. This book, The Jealousy Workbook, looks chock full of exercises and techniques for understanding your jealousy, your partner’s jealousy, and for managing and circumventing it. She also brings in techniques practiced by other big names in open relationships. I’m excited to dive in, and encourage you all to check it out as well!

xo