Tuesday, July 14, 2015

We Aren't So Different, You and I

"Am I easily irritated?" 

I was laying in bed with my husband yesterday afternoon, catching up with him about our days. Sometimes he comes home and I crave being with him and just having a real conversation without distractions, and when that's what we want, our bedroom is where we go. I lay in the crook of his arm and he pretends he's asleep and we go over what happened at work and what's on our minds. Yesterday, I asked him the above question. It was one of those questions that I wanted the answer to, but I didn't. Where I wanted him to be honest, but I was kind of hoping the answer would be, "No, never." But my husband is not the kind of man to lie to spare my feelings, or sugarcoat anything. If I ask, he will tell me point-blank that no, that dress does not flatter me, or no, he does not want to be seen with me at the supermarket wearing those pajamas. And you know, even though I would love to be told how perfect I am all the time, I'm kind of glad Rob is the man he is. 

So when I asked that question, I got a real answer. 

"Sometimes," he said. I turned that over in my mind for a minute. My stress level and how I am responding to stress is a topic I've had to confront in the past couple of weeks, as I've been having tension headaches every moment of every day and haven't been feeling well. Visits to all kinds of doctors have brought about the same comment: You need to think about the sources of stress in your life. And being the easily irritated woman I am, my internal dialogue was, "The $%^& these people talking about? No one is helping me with a damn thing. I might as well go on WebMD and buy some Advil." 

And then I realized something: I sound exactly like the kids I work with. Same attitude. Same profanity. Adulthood and my mama and the knowledge of how to behave in a publicly acceptable manner have taught me to keep that dialogue on the inside, but at the end of the day...we're the same people. I may have a decade-plus more life experience, I may have more education, I may have a badge around my neck that says I deserve a certain level of respect...but inside? We're not so different. I think some rules are stupid, too. I think some people are annoying as hell (okay...more than some). I'd rather be home, also. I am also mystified/irritated as to why you have a detention (and why I have to be the adult that sits with you as you serve it). And hell, sometimes, I also want to call my mom. 

Maybe that doesn't make me the perfect adult, but I think it makes me a better counselor in some ways. I'm not one to pretend that I'm beyond all of life's little irritations. Perhaps that means I'm a little more stressed out than others, but maybe I just need to do more yoga, meditate, drink the occasional glass of wine, and enjoy my life a little more to balance out my sarcastic self. 

And if you find yourself relating to me in any kind of way, perhaps this meditation is for you...(note, it's full of curse words and is not safe for work):

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Over nine years ago, I met a guy on the internet and decided to take a chance and go out with him in person, even though his webcam picture was really not the greatest and I had zero idea if he was cute, or even what color his eyes were. 

At my friend Erin's wedding! :)

The whole thing made me nervous as hell and I thought a bazillion times about calling him and canceling the whole thing. But I went through with it anyway. 

Sparkler exit at the end of our wedding

It was absolutely pouring rain, and all the work I did to actually look cute (re: I may have actually worn makeup) was ruined instantly, I am sure. I got into the guy's car and looked into the gorgeous blue eyes of my future husband. And I was done. 

Our private dance at the very end of our wedding

I don't know if it just hits me harder this year because now we are married, or because we're already planning our ten year anniversary in our minds, but I'm in awe of the whole thing. I am not a religious person, but there is so much grace  in our love story. I met Rob three months after one of the most horrific experiences of my life. It would have made complete sense for me not to feel comfortable around men at all, and for the most part, I didn't. But when I met Rob, from the first day I laid eyes on him, I felt safe. A thousand percent safe. That is grace.

We've come a long way since that day. We've had tragedies and celebrations, tears and laughter, and we've never failed to emerge from a trial in our lives without growing closer together. I celebrate this day every year because I count our relationship among my proudest accomplishments. We work at this. We argue over dumb things and make up. We suck it up and say we're sorry. We compromise even when we don't want to. And what has come out of that is that we're best friends, teammates, and spouses that love each other unconditionally. 

There are so many dreams and thoughts and hopes that I hold in my heart for what our future will look like, and there's a part of me that can't wait to get there. For right now, though, I am making the effort to stand still and allow this moment and the memories from these nine years to wash over me. 

Happy ninthiversary. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Body-Positive Magic of Magic Mike XXL

The other night, two friends and I decided to go see a movie and celebrate my birthday.

Yeah. That one. As it turns out, the three of us had seen the original together when celebrating my birthday three years ago, and we felt like it would be a fun way to celebrate this one. So we went, expecting the raunchy, guilty pleasure, who-cares-if-there's-a-plot movie that we watched the first time around. And it was all that...and it wasn't.

Actually, it was, if you can believe it...a lot better than the first one. For one thing, as one of my friends pointed out, the movie really focused on the friendship between the male characters. In the first one, it was all about Mike getting the girl. In this one, it was about him reconnecting with his friends and exploring his talent (and boy, does he have talent...and it's not acting talent). But what I wanted to talk about here is the way that the movie portrays women, particularly women of size (or fat women, or plus-size women, if you prefer). Shockingly, amazingly, it treats us like actual humans. And not just like humans, but sexual creatures.

I truly couldn't believe my eyes. For those of you who may not be aware, there seems to be some kind of mental block that occurs when people write parts for larger women on the screen. As Margaret Cho has said, we are usually reduced to the "best friend with a heart of gold but still a wildebeest character". The chubby girl isn't the one who gets the guy, and isn't the star of the show. Or she ends up being super gross and hilarious, like Melissa McCarthy's character in Bridesmaids, or the funny one who recognizes that her fatness may be an issue for people and confronts them up front (but follows stereotypes like not exercising), like Rebel Wilson in Pitch Perfect. And then there's the fact that some people can't wrap their heads around fat women having sex, or being sexual beings. Seriously, if another Huffington Post article about "fat sex" pops up on my newsfeed, someone is going to die.

Anyway, I say all of that to explain my thought process when I saw the first plus-size woman on the screen. Here we go, I thought. They're going to make fun of her. Or act like they like her and then laugh about it when she's not around. I was ready for it. That's what I'm used to. And then...it didn't happen. She was just another woman. The movie went on, and in scene after seen, I kept seeing them. Women of all shapes and sizes. Beautiful, sexy. And since this is a movie about strippers - ahem, male entertainers, the women were actually part of the acts. Hot, ripped guys dancing upon them, pouring chocolate and whipped cream on them, you name it. The best part was, their size was never mentioned. It was a complete non-issue. And yes, I recognize the irony that I am making it an issue because usually, it is one.

Walking out of the theater, we couldn't stop talking about how great the movie was. How encouraging  and empowering to see women being treated like queens, like the special people they are. How wonderful to see women that truly represent the general population on the screen, and, moreover, how surprising that all of this came from a movie about stripping. I can only hope we'll be seeing more of that in the future. Until then, treat yourself to a fun girls night featuring Magic Mike XXL.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Space Between

My husband has been getting on my nerves lately.

And, um, vice versa. 

Which was basically my inspiration for my last post. Relationships are hard, even when they're healthy and mostly happy. I feel like it's a big deal to admit that and say it out loud, even though it shouldn't be. We all know it, of course, but it's almost taboo to come out and say, "Hey! Sometimes I hate your face! Sometimes this sucks!" Or...

Okay, so I didn't go that far with Rob.

The main issue in our case was stress. Stress at work, with our loved ones, with our schedules. I've mentioned the book The Zimzum of Love by Rob and Kristen Bell on here before (although maybe not by name), but it bears repeating. It is truly the best book I've read on marriage yet. I learned so much from the idea they presented that there is a sacred space between you and your partner, and you have to pay attention to that space and what you bring into it. And lately, we have been bringing a lot of crap into that space that just does not need to be there (see above). Work does not belong there. Other people do not belong there. One of the things they present in the book is that the space between a person and his/her partner is extremely sensitive. If you have something going on in your life, there is no way it could not affect your relationship with your partner.

Last weekend, we had a bad day. We kept bugging each other to the point where I just said, "Can we please start over?" Rob agreed we could. "Hi, I'm Ashley...are you single?"

This weekend, we did the best possible thing. We got in the car after work and drove to Tampa for a weekend I had (in a moment of genius) planned months ago. The only thing on the agenda was to be together and relax (and go to a favorite restaurant one night). We've been reading, talking, laughing, napping, and just reconnecting. This morning, while my husband held me, I felt like we were back where we needed to be. I had missed him, missed us. It reminds me how easily things can slip away if we're not conscious of it. There will never be a time when my job, or his job, or drama is more important than our marriage. But it's so easy to focus on the minutiae of our lives and allow it to impact the quality of our interactions. As I said last time, I am still learning how to be a better wife, a better partner, a better woman. Right now, I am just reminded of how wonderful it is to be partnered with someone who is also learning, who is willing to dive into this with me every day...who won't let me take anything, including life, too seriously.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Learning Curve

Out of the two of us, I've always been the one who is a little more doubtful and afraid of this institution called marriage. Rob never seems to doubt anything when it comes to the two of us, but even before we took our vows, I was the person asking, "What if this doesn't work out? What if we end up hating each other?" I am the type of person who always wants to have a backup plan, an exit strategy. I imagine how things could go wrong and I plan for the worst case scenario. It drives my therapist nuts. But Rob is the opposite. He doesn't think as far into the future as I do, and he's less emotional and more logical. To him, it seemed unlikely that something so catastrophic would tear us apart after nearly nine years together, most of those years living in the same house. Most likely, he's right.

But sometimes the responsibility of being a wife, of being part of a marriage, weighs on me. Even though the day to day of living together hasn't changed, there is a shift. In many ways, it is a great shift. When we first got married, it was such an emotional change. It hit me in such a deep way that we were bound together legally and spiritually, that we had made this commitment in front of the people we love. It felt like falling in love with Rob all over again in this new way. I would ask him if he felt it, too, and he would agree, it was different. It's an amazing feeling, being married. But then there's the gravity of the entire thing. I'm not sure if it's my religious upbringing, or society, or my own expectations, but I expect so much of myself as a wife. I wanted to take care of everything for my husband, to make his life easier, to be the perfect partner. I wrote previously about realizing after we got married that I could bring more to our relationship and be better, and that is certainly true. When we got married, I raised the bar for myself. I think a lot about our vows. I sometimes mention parts of my vows to Rob in difficult moments to remind him of what I said I would do for him. We wrote our own, and they mean all that much more to me because I want to live up to my own words.

I think I'm doing that, but I also think at times I've taken too much on in the spirit of trying to be this perfect spouse. I become overwhelmed by the standards I've set for myself and also by the idea that marriage is supposed to be permanent. At times when we're having difficulties, there's this voice in my head that says, "And this is what it's going to be like FOREVER. AND YOU CAN'T RUN AWAY!!!!" Did I mention I am always considering the worst case scenario? God bless my therapist.

In reality, we're a pretty happy couple. We have our issues like anyone else, but they never last long. We respect and love each other and enjoy being each other's best friend. We put up with each other's anxieties and try to understand. We correct each other in love. We dig in our heels sometimes. We hurt each other, but we more frequently help each other. The fact is, marriage is a learning curve. I think we are always going to be figuring things out, especially in the beginning. I read a wonderful book recently that said that marriage is a conversation that never ends. I agree wholeheartedly. I'm glad I'm with this person that allows me to be myself...my insecure, perfectionist self, and who allows me to bring all of that to this lifelong conversation. Despite my fears, I am so excited to see where this journey continues to lead us, and what I learn from it as we go.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Time Hop

The universe is funny sometimes.

All day I've been having conversations with people about my career. The ups, the downs, the learning experiences, the unexpected blessings. I was going through some of it with Rob just now when I realized that today marks two years exactly since I became a professional, post-graduate counselor. It must have been somewhere in the air, in the back of my mind, because I've been thinking about where I've been and how far I've come all day.

Two years ago today, I started my first job as a therapist. I was working in transitional housing with the homeless. As expected, the adults I worked with initially ate me alive. I wanted so badly to be liked. I wanted them to embrace me, accept me. More than that, I think I wanted their validation. I wanted to deserve to be their therapist, and I wanted them to tell me that I did deserve it. It took me some time to realize that it didn't work that way, not at all.

Today, I was sitting at a table with my coworker (a social worker) and someone we've been working with who just graduated with his college degree. He's an aspiring social worker and the two of us were telling him about our experiences, sharing wisdom. Actually, in my situation, I was probably just sharing my horror stories. But our intent was the same: these were the things we wished someone had told us. I get this feeling every time I meet someone who is about to get into this field. I want to warn them, and I realize how bad that sounds, but that's how it feels. I remember that feeling of just wanting a job, being so desperate to be hired and not have to bag groceries at Walmart (my second option) that I would have done anything. I did do anything. I remember crying when I got the call that I had been hired because I didn't feel peace about taking it, but felt like I had no other option. (I was right to be wary, as it turns out, but I don't regret my decision).

I didn't ask the questions I wish I had asked. I didn't know how much I was worth, even at that very first job.

"Ask a lot of questions," I told that aspiring social worker today. "Be really specific and make sure you get answers."

He asked me if I learned anything, even with the bad experiences.

"Oh yes," I said. "Absolutely." I told them about the clients I worked with at my first job, how even my clinical supervisor was impressed with the variety of issues I was working with so early in my career. It shaped who I am as a clinician. It was baptism by fire. It gave me the confidence and the conviction that I could handle anything. And while I suffered a great deal personally while I was there, the experience of working with those individuals was absolutely priceless. More than that, what I went through taught me I was stronger than I knew not just as a person, but as a professional.

Tonight, I was telling Rob about a client of mine who told me straight to my face this afternoon that she didn't like me. When it happened, I heard another staff member gasp, poised to tell her it wasn't nice. But I just said, "Okay." I remembered this piece of advice I was given in school: Don't take it personally, because they don't know you well enough for it to even be about you. 

There was a time, I told Rob, when a statement like that would have hurt me. And I won't lie, sometimes the kids I work with now do break my heart just a little in my weaker moments. But it was a moment like that today when I realized how far I've come, and that I'm in a new place personally and professionally. I'm grateful for all the difficult and beautiful moments in equal measure, because they've gotten me to this place. I know I'll be looking back again, years from now, at this moment, and I look forward to marveling once again at how far I've come.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Actually, Put Me Down For Cardio

Remember that time I made some New Year's Resolutions? Now, typically, I write a big list of what I'm going to do and I forget the whole thing about two weeks later, like most Americans...and then we all promise never to talk about it again like the good invisible friends we are. But this time, it's different. You know why?


So of course I had to come back and brag, because this is history in the making. This post is about my progress with exercise.

If you've been reading this blog a while (and thank you, if you have), you know that exercise is my Achilles heel. I've never been one of those people who dreams of Crossfit or loves to run or lives for the elliptical. But when I sat in the bleachers at this year's NEDA Walk, I finally had to acknowledge that I was feeling stagnant in my recovery, and had for some time. There was only one way forward.

So about two months ago, I started exercising. I started with this app that I mentioned in my New Year's Resolution post, called Yoga Studio. If you like yoga at all, or if you are curious about it, this app is amazing. You do pay for it (I think I paid $2.99), but it's so worth it. On the app, I have a huge collection of classes at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes. Plus you have the option to create your own class, pose by pose. I love it. I am still in the beginner classes, and will be for the foreseeable future, but I love having tons of options and the ability to challenge myself. This does not mean that I cannot be found in my living room, cursing at the soothing voice on the app about how I want nothing to do with her crabs or her boats (both are poses). But we're getting there. It's becoming a more spiritual experience every day. ;)

I've learned a lot about my body through my yoga journey. Because of the shape of my body,  my poses won't look the same as the much smaller instructor. I'm learning that this is okay, and I am also learning how to properly modify the poses to get the most out of them. Just because my body doesn't always allow me to do the same thing as what I am watching doesn't mean that what I am doing isn't equally valuable.

When I'm not doing yoga, I'm on my bike. After I pumped up my flat bike tires, I got back on the road. I've had this fear since I was small on riding with traffic, but I managed to ditch that pretty quickly. I rode to my mom's house as a surprise, which was a big deal since I had to ride next to a lot of cars. (She wasn't there, by the way, but she was sweet enough to drive back home just to see me!). I've also been riding through local neighborhoods checking out houses, since that's one of the next big steps Rob and I will be taking as a couple.

I'm amazed at how exercising regularly has made me feel. It's so different for me this time because it's not about losing weight, or fear of my body's size. It's finally about celebrating what my body can do, and challenging myself to do more. I feel more in touch with my body than ever, and I am so proud of the progress I've made in my recovery in just these couple of months. I can't wait to see where it takes me.

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