Tag Archives: self-discovery

The Meaning of Big Brothers

15 Jun

The boys. That’s what we called my big brothers growing up. They are eleven months apart, so they’ve essentially been a pair from the beginning.

My brothers have always had each other’s backs. Dave once intercepted Dan’s “warning notice” from middle school and called their shared answering machine to leave him a message in hushed tones: “Dan, go in the closet and check your left boot.” These heroic acts of brotherhood occurred often. (Of course my mom heard the message first and totally appreciated the explicit directions.)

It’s obvious that Dan and Dave have a special bond. But as their little sister, what I appreciate most is the kind of brothers they’ve been to me.

Admittedly, I’m biased. But it seems to me that every little girl ought to be blessed with a big brother. Lucky me—I have two.

When my mom brought me home from the hospital and lay me down in the crib, my oldest brother Dave made his first brotherly sacrifice. Just five years old, he marched into my room and covered me with his Sesame Street blanket, announcing: “I’m a big boy now so I’m gonna give this to baby Lauren so she will be happy.”

My brothers quickly became my heroes. I wanted to be just like them.

At age two, I made my own bold announcement: “I’m ready to be a big girl now!” Then I removed my diaper and attempted to pee standing up. My mother had to explain, much to my dismay, that I couldn’t pee like the boys. Ladies must sit–a fact I still find terribly inconvenient.

When I was eight I attempted to join the football team, but Mom said no and offered cheerleading as an alternative. Standing on the sidelines with pom-poms in hand, I fantasized about being out on the field in a helmet and heavy shoulder pads. I sat on the kitchen counter and watched the boys dip their mouth guards in microwaved hot water, preparing to create a perfect mould. When they weren’t home, I tried on their jerseys and swiped black goop across my cheeks.

Awkward photos, tucked away in boxes at Mom’s house, feature me in hand-me-down neon Umbros and boy-short hair. I hacked worms in half to watch them squirm, climbed sap-coated trees, played on a boys baseball team, sat happily-strapped to the front of charter boat with a fishing pole in hand, and traipsed up and down our driveway in oversized jeans, a boom box on my shoulder blasting Dave’s Naughty by Nature tape.

I tried, despite emerging breasts and a monthly reminder of my womanhood, to be one of the boys. And my brothers, for the most part, let me in on their fun.

Because my dad was president of our town football club, we hosted weigh-in-eve parties at our house. The kids watched team footage and took turns in the sweat box, trying to shed those last pounds. These nights threw a wrench in my tomboy identity. I was pumped about hanging out and watching films, but also unexpectedly delighted by the sight of sweaty, shirtless teenage boys.

Hormones continued to course through my body until one day in the midst of a middle school social studies class, a boy turned to me and said: You really need to wear a bra or something. I should’ve punched him in the nose. Instead, I hid in a bathroom stall and cried.

And it’s in my growth from that insecure twelve year-old tomboy to a confident woman that my brothers have played the most significant role.

This influence began in seventh grade, when a boy from Cherry Hill with a skater cut and a single mom moved to town. I hung around like a limp dish towel while he hooked up with each of my friends until finally, finally he decided to be my boyfriend.

Throwing in a load of laundry one afternoon, my mom found a neatly-folded note in the pocket of my jeans:

Lauren,

Roses are red
Violets are blue
If you f**k me
I’ll f**k you

Love, Brandon

I mean, what was so bad about your twelve year-old daughter receiving such a note from her boyfriend? I, for one, was secretly thrilled. A boy thought I was attractive enough to have sex with. Not that I understood much about sex, but I felt special.

A few days later I watched from an upstairs window, tears streaming dramatically down my face, as Brandon paced the corner across the street from my house.

Oh. My. God. I thought. My parents are so cruel, forcing him to bow down and apologize like this.

To his credit, Brandon did cross that street and say he was sorry. He listened to my mother’s speech about respecting her daughter. I, too, listened from the top of the stairs, and briefly considered throwing myself down them.

It wasn’t until my brothers threatened to “kill that kid” that I finally realized something was wrong. It’s one thing for your parents to disapprove of your badass boyfriend. It’s quite another when the disapproval comes from your big brothers, who happen to be your idols. I pretended to be embarrassed by their threat, but the next day I went to school and told my boyfriend he better not speak to me that way again ‘cause my big brothers would kick his ass.

The boys had their mean moments, too. When I was ten, Dave told me the Laura’s Fudge shop on the boardwalk was named after me because I looked like I ate a lot of fudge. Dan told me that being a Virgo meant I’d be a virgin for the rest of my life. They poked me and pinched me and told me to leave them alone. They held me underwater as my limbs flailed and rubbed my face in the snow. Typical brotherly antics.

At the time I cried and tattled to my parents. Once I phoned Mom at work to tell her David had called me a bad word, one I couldn’t say out loud. “Spell it,” my mom said. “B. i. c. h.” I heard muffled laughter–why wasn’t she wasn’t taking this more seriously?

But now? Now I’m a tough girl. Not in a worm-killing, tomboy kind of way, but in a speak-my-mind, don’t-take-crap-from-people kind of way. I have my brothers to thank for that.

The boys support my endeavors, my adventures, and my passions. Whenever I get a new job, they are two of the first to congratulate me. They take me to Phillies games, befriend the guys I date, and these days, they even pay my tabs. We aren’t just siblings, we are friends.

Dan lives in New Jersey, Dave lives in Florida, and I live halfway in-between. But having big brothers means knowing that, even from 600 miles away, there are two people willing to kick some ass for me. A long time ago I stopped wishing to be a boy. But I still want to be just like my brothers, who are two of the finest people I know.

Women Food and God: An Excerpt

3 Jan

On New Year’s Day we posted about Women Food and God, a wonderful book by Geneen Roth. Today we are providing you with an excerpt from the book, in hopes that it will inspire all of you to read it (whether or not you have a weight “problem” or food addiction). Women Food and God can be enlightening for anyone–even, say, a thin male atheist.

Food is the example Roth uses, as she has struggled personally with a food addiction and worked for decades with people who have eating disorders. Still, her words apply to anyone who has experienced an obsessive behavior–whether food, sex, drugs, alcohol, excercise, or any other substance/activity be the drug of choice.

The following excerpt is particularly striking to me as a 27 year-old grappling with the questions, disappointments and confusions of life.

Deficiency. Emptiness. They’re just words, names that evoke scary thoughts, which then evoke scary feelings. And both the thoughts and the feelings are based on her idea of what is supposed to be happening that isn’t: “I’m supposed to be Someone Special and here I am doing grunt work and reviewing other people’s documents. This isn’t what I dreamed about. I’m never going to amount to anything. My life is a waste. What if it’s always like this? What if my dreams are just pipe dreams? I should have known this was going to happen. I should have listened to my eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Simpkinson, when she told me I’d never amount to anything. Oh, I feel so empty. I feel deficient, flawed, like I am and never will be enough. I need to eat.”

Deficiency sounds awful, but is it? What does it actually feel like? Is it a big hole in her stomach? Her chest? Does it feel like everything has dropped away and she’s holding on to the edge of a huge abyss, about to fall in? If she stops trying to hold on and lets herself fall, what would happen? (Remember that all of these are images in her mind. She’s not really holding on to the edge of an abyss, she’s probably sitting in a chair. She wouldn’t actually fall anywhere if, in her mind, she let herself “fall.”) Is emptiness the experience of space or is it something else? If it’s space and she feels it direclty–in her body where it resides–she might notice if there is anything that is actually scary about it or if it’s just a story she is telling herself.

There is a whole universe to discover between “I’m feeling empty” and turning to food to make it go away. The problem of weight is predictable. We know what to do when we have that problem. Beat ourselves up. Make ourselves wrong. Eat fewer donuts. But staying with the emptiness–entering it, welcoming it, using it to get to know ourselves better, being able to distinguish the stories we tell ourselves about it from the actual feeling itself–that’s radical.

Imagine not being frightened by any feeling. Imagine knowing that nothing will destroy you. That you are beyond any feeling, any state. Bigger than. Vaster than. That there is no reason to use drugs because anything a drug could do would pale in comparison to knowing who you are. To what you can understand, live, be, just by being with what presents itself to you in the form of the feelings you have when you get home from work at night…

Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, pp 56-57

Bookshelf: Journey of Love

9 Nov

Last year, I suffered a massive heartbreak. The rug was swept out from under me when my boyfriend of nearly 6 years cheated on me, broke off our engagement, and moved out. I was sad, hurt, angry, depressed… all the usual less-than-desireable states of being that accompany a broken heart.

Then something beautiful happened. For the first time in my life, I stopped and asked myself two questions: Who am I? and What do I want? I had vaguely considered these questions before, but this time it was different. This time I considered these questions with absolutely no one else in mind but myself. As thoughts such as Maybe I want to move to California and Perhaps joining the Peace Corps would be fun floated into my mind, I did not feel compelled to consider how my decisions would affect a relationship or another person.

A sense of freedom rushed into my consciousness like a gust of wind blowing a back door wide open. I reveled in it. More courageous thoughts found a voice in my mind: Maybe I never want to get married. Maybe I don’t want to have kids.

After the exhilaration wore off, loneliness sunk in. Marriage and children might not be in my future (or maybe they will) but I could not forgo love and parternship for the rest of my life. The question then became: How can I live the life I want and honor my needs while also experiencing love?

As I usually do when I’m looking for answers, I turned to books. Through my reading, I grew confident that relationships don’t require legal certificates, children, or social approval to be fulfilling. They don’t even need to be labeled as relationships–what counts is the act of love. Although I still don’t have definitive answers to my questions, the following books have helped reshape my path towards self-discovery and love. Hopefully they will guide you on whatever path you’re traveling.

Communion: The female search for love

Part memoir and part critical analysis, this book by bell hooks is essentially a love letter to young women about the search for love in a patriarchal world. It’s a book every woman–gay, straight, or bisexual–should read. This book empowered me to seek relationships that are based on love, equality, honesty, and freedom. Moreover, hooks brought me to the realization that I must take responsibility in my quest for love, rather than blaming men for their shortcomings or relying on a man to complete me.

From the pages:

“Women who choose to love must be wise, daring, and courageous. All around us the culture of lovelessness mocks our quest for love. Wisdom is needed if we would restore love to its rightful place as a heroic journey, arduous, difficult–more vital to human survival and development on planet Earth than going off to slay mythical dragons, to ravage and conquer others with war or all other forms of violence that are like war. Wisdom is needed if we are to demand that our culture acknowledge the journey to love as a grand, magical, life-transforming, thrilling, risky adventure.”

Love, freedom, aloneness: The koan of relationships

One of Osho‘s many writings on the topic of love, this book focuses on the seemingly-opposite needs for freedom and intimacy. Citing the Buddhist teaching that you must first love yourself, Osho says that self-love is the only path to sharing love with others. Ultimately, both freedom and intimacy are necessary for a human being to be fulfilled. This is the book that guided me towards an understanding of free love as ultimate; there is no need for labels, legal certificates, or spoken commitments.

 From the pages:

“Love is never a relationship; love is relating. It is always a river, flowing, unending. Love knows no full stop; the honeymoon begins but never ends. It is not like a novel that starts at a certain point and ends at a certain point. It is an ongoing phenomenon. Lovers end, love continues–it is a continuum.

And why do we reduce the beauty of relating to relationship? WHy are we in such a hurry? Because to relate is insecure, and relationship is a security. Relationship has a certainty; relating is just a meeting of two strangers, maybe just an overnight stay and in the morning we say goodbye. Who knows what is going to happen tomorrow? And we are so afraid that we want to make it certain, we want to make it predictable. We would like tomorrow to be according to our ideas; we don’t allow it freedom to have its own say. So we immediately reduce every verb to a noun.”

Yoga and the Quest for the True Self

While this memoir is about a man’s quest for self-discovery, it’s a useful tool to accompany both men and women on their own journeys. Stephen Cope, a yogi and psychotherapist, demonstrates how Eastern and Western philosophies can be compatible–and how both can help us better understand ourselves and connect to the universe. Like me, Cope began his search for self on the heels of a heartbreaking betrayal and breakup. Not only do I relate to Cope’s story, but his book led me to begin practicing yoga, which has been an infinitely helpful approach to healing and self-care.

From the pages:

“‘He was in the middle of some kind of midlife lunacy, I guess.’ I told her the worst part—that he was having an affair with a guy in his twenties, whom everyone said looked exactly as I had at that age. ‘He actually took him to our goddamned summer place when I wasn’t there. It just walloped me, experiencing betrayal like that after fifteen years together.’ I had been living in a state of shock, uncomprehending. How could he leave all that we had?

‘It’s unbelievable. You just watch as the whole infrastructure of your life collapses—friends, extended family, rituals, holidays, the cat and dog, neighbors. I mean, Sean is my niece’s godfather. I adore his family. And we had so many friends who looked up to us as a stable gay couple.’ I wasn’t feeling self-pity so much as bewilderment, like standing on a dock in a storm, watching helplessly as the boat that contains your most precious possessions comes off its mooring and drifts slowly out to sea.

I wondered secretly if I would be ruined beyond repair by this loss. I felt sure that I would never have the treasure of a relationship lasting long into old age the way my parents and grandparents had had. And I’d always assumed I would have this. I took another sip of wine and looked into the middle distance. What had I done wrong? Was there a great big L for loser plastered on my back that nobody had told me about?”

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