When I Met Resilient Me- by Jennifer Cahuantzi

My favorite outfit of all-time was a kelly green, terrycloth jumper. It had solid block colors across the front in red, yellow and blue, with strings at the shoulders that tied at the top. I loved that thing, but I would only wear it in my bedroom because the shoulder strings exposed my arms. My plump, padded arms. They lacked any definition and for that,

I refused to let anyone see them. This was middle school. I was not, by any means, overweight. My family often joked that I ate like a bird and usually fell asleep before dinner was on the table, but by high school, I was dieting.

I remember walking down the hall in high school and thinking to myself, “Wait a second … is that my rear shaking behind me?” And it was! So I made the necessary changes and started eating a Granny Smith apple and two Quaker rice cakes everyday for lunch, for years. My family didn’t know, but it didn’t feel like a secret. It felt more like brushing my teeth twice a day. It was just something I had to do.

I was already very active. I’m from the generation of kids that immediately went outside to play after getting home from school in the afternoon. I’d also been dancing since the age of six. Everyday, after school, Monday through Friday and Saturday mornings. Performances, Recitals, Competitions, After-school Intensive and Dance Company.

Since I didn’t know where I wanted to go to college, I attended a community college for a year and continued my dance training at the Artistic Dance Centre. I also joined a gym and went to a cardio class everyday. If I couldn’t make the gym, I did one of my mom’s workout videos at home. I felt great! And I was thin. And that felt incredible.

* 17 years old

* 5’8”

* 120 lbs

Pretty perfect dancer specs. Or so I thought.

In that same year, I discovered a university whose primary focus was dance and musical theatre performance and that’s when I knew that that university was exactly where I wanted to be.

One hundred thirty-two dancers auditioned for the university’s dance program in 1993. Fifty-seven made it. Sitting in the front seat of my mom’s Volkswagen Cabriolet, parked at the top of our driveway, I opened the envelope from the university and cried when I read the letter.

I was accepted as a Dance Performance Major. I was one of the fifty-seven and I was elated.

This was not your typical dance school. Most colleges focus on Ballet and Modern. This program was modeled after the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, offering Tap, Jazz, Ballet and Musical Theatre with an acute

focus on creating a triple threat … someone who can sing and dance and act, so they’re more marketable in the industry.

Leaving home for the first time, so many emotions swirled within me … excitement, fear, anticipation. I moved from Maryland to the Midwest where the school was planted and fell in love with my decision, my new place in life and the personal path I was beginning to carve for myself. Something about being there on campus, finding and connecting with new people, my people, felt so freeing and meaningful.

With that joy and excitement came hardship, too. At least for me it did. Part of the industry, I learned, pays particular attention to body image. Just as the Rockettes and many other shows do today, dancers are required to make and maintain a certain weight. So in preparation for the real world, we were required to weigh in. No problem, I thought. I was slim and dancing everyday would only make me slimmer. We weighed in three times a semester and our weight was a part of our grade, but as the semesters passed, even though I was a proficient dancer, I began to receive low marks because of my body. It did not match what they wanted.

And then the dance faculty addressed my weight directly. They told me I needed to lose. I was shocked at first. Me?! I mean, I was thin. In fact,

I was thinner than most. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand their logic, but I was also too afraid to ask questions. Instead, I began to watch and study and try to determine how they were making their decisions. It just did not make sense. It appeared to me that they were holding me to the 122 lbs I came in weighing in my freshman year. And while other girls weighed more and had more body mass, if the other girls lost 1 lb, but I gained 3 lbs, they were ‘good’ and I was ‘bad.’

So what did I do? Well, a natural-born people-pleaser, I wanted the dance faculty to like me, so I tried to lose the weight. Dancing 4-6 hours a day and afterwards, hitting the gym, I ate as healthy as I could at the time, but also regressed into binges with friends on the weekends.

So I began to manage my weight in ways I had never tried before. Restrict. Diet. Binge. Restrict. I tried not to eat what I thought was ‘bad.’ I tried to control my eating. I tried to control what I ate, the amount I ate and when I couldn’t take it anymore, I’d cave and binge. Restrict. Diet. Binge. Restrict. Smoke. Restrict. Diet. Drink. Binge.

God, I hated those next mornings. Peeling myself out of bed with guilt and shame bound to my body like dead weights at my ankles.

I was devastated and at 5’8”, now weighing in at 128 lbs, my body was beginning to affect my path as a dancer. I was cut from the Dance Company and forgotten, or so it seemed, for Choreography Shows. For all the performances, I was required to work backstage, helping dancers make quick costume changes and then re-hang their costumes on hangers, or I was required to work front of house as an usher rather than being onstage where I wanted to be, where I was training to be, where I belonged. It was diminishing. I hated it. I hated me. I hated me for not being able to get this right. I hated me for not being able to fix myself.

I hated my body for failing me, for not losing weight, for its bone structure and for having cravings I couldn’t control. I hated myself. I was ashamed of myself. I was embarrassed that I’d been rejected. Couldn’t they see? Didn’t they know? Didn’t they know how hard I was trying? Apparently not. So I tried even harder.

Restrict. Diet. Binge. Restrict. Smoke. Restrict. Drink. Binge. Diet. Restrict. The cycle continued again and again, until I had an idea.

I decided one night in my sophomore year to try something I’d never done before, but just this once. I was only going to try it once. I ordered a Domino’s pizza for delivery. Again, it was just this once. No big deal. And then, my brighter idea. “If I’m gonna do this, I might as well add ice cream.” But again, just this once. So I raced to the Braum’s on the corner, purchased a hot fudge sundae – no nuts, no cherry – and raced back home before the pizza arrived. Just this once. Just this once. Sitting and waiting for the doorbell, I tried to remember the last time I had had pizza or ice cream, let along both on the same night. Had it been two years? Two and a half? I couldn’t remember, but you know, just this once.

*ding*

Here we go.

I really don’t remember tasting a thing. I packed it in swiftly and raced to the bathroom. Knees down. Lid up. Fingers down. Food up. Flushed down. Cleaned up. And that was that. Just this once. It was almost a little too easy, but again it was just this once. Yeah. Just this once. Until it wasn’t. Until it was 13 years later.

What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I stop this? Where was my strength? Where was my will? Every time I knelt down to make myself sick, I would prop my elbows on the toilet seat, interlace my fingers, rest my forehead on my clasped hands and sincerely pray, “Please God … please don’t let me die from this. Please don’t let me have a heart attack. I know You’re going to use this for Your will and purposes someday. Just please don’t let me die.”

I tried so many times to stop and I couldn’t. I kept it a secret as long as I could and then I couldn’t. I tried to get help and take their suggestions and I did and then I couldn’t. I went to see a nutritionist, a therapist and a hypnotist. Nothing worked long term. Therapy, with a handful of different professionals, helped for a session or two. I was able to vent

about things I was holding onto and the therapist, who knew nothing of my past, politely sat and listened. I appreciated that, but I needed more.

I wasn’t changing. Nothing was changing. And I was getting frustrated which only lead to more episodes.

This went on for years. When I thought I had it licked, it returned. It rarely got better. It only got worse. One of the therapists even told me flat out, “You know you’ll never get over this. You will have this forever. It will get better at times, but it will never go away.” Her candor shocked me. I refused to believe her. That couldn’t be true. Because I didn’t always have this thing and if I started it, I could stop it. Oddly enough,

it was comments like hers that kept me fighting and so I did. I kept on fighting. I never stopped fighting. I just kept fighting. And it was a living hell.

In my late twenties and through my thirties, I studied under the tutelage of a Spiritual Director. God had had a tug on my heart since my youth and at this time, I wanted to explore more. It was what my Spiritual Director said that finally flipped the switch. Not a switch that turned the disorder off, but a switch that turned me on. A switch that ignited something new in me. Knowing my struggle, she asked me what God would think of me having an eating disorder. I’d never thought about that.

I didn’t know the answer. And when I took time to consider it, I couldn’t connect the dots. What I could do, though, was consider what my dad would think of me having an eating disorder. And that struck something deep within me that started a slow, but continuous shift. My dad had passed away suddenly in my junior year at that university.

I missed him terribly and to think how he might respond to learn that his daughter, his baby girl, his only girl was suffering and struggling and failing and depleted. I could definitely connect to that. It broke my heart and that breaking began my rebuilding.

It didn’t happen overnight, the way I wished; the way it seemed to start. It was and has been a very long road and it is possible. Here are a few of my takeaways:

• Acceptance. Yes, acceptance. I spent most of those 13 years waiting wishing and hoping my life were different, that I was different. Yet, waiting, wishing and hoping only distracted me from exactly what was happening. I was suffering. When I let go of the idea that there was something wrong with me and accepted that I was suffering, I got curious about my suffering. I got curious about me. Instead of running away from me, I started to learn who I was, what I needed and how to meet those needs.

• Start Something New. Have you ever tried to stop something? Like, stop eating after 7pm? Or stop eating the pint of ice cream? Or stop smoking? It sucks! It’s hard! I don’t want to stop anything! I’m not a quitter!!! What I’ve learned I can do is start something. Start something new. Start calling someone you care about when the clock strikes 7pm. Start eating ice cream from a bowl versus directly from the container. Start a new class at the gym or buy a bike and go for a spin. I’ve never been good at stopping anything, but when I start something new, the old thing, the dead thing that no longer serves, starts dissolving into the background.

• Become Your Own Best Friend. For God’s sake, do this. Start treating yourself like one of your own, one of your inner circle, one of your buddies because you are. You deserve the love and attention and kindness and compassion that you probably extend to most other people without a thought or question. For the love of all that is good in this world, toss your loving self into that category. Spend some time with you and give yourself the gift of your own friendship.

• Come Back to Life. Ever notice how much our struggles with body and body image issues cause us to retract and hide from life? I know I did this. A lot. I missed out on so much because I didn’t like the way I felt or looked. Even if I showed up, I couldn’t let myself be seen. I hid inside my life and so coming back to life has been an exciting adventure. Bringing people back to life is essentially what I do as a Coach. I give my clients the tools they need to see themselves and to let themselves be seen. Be in your life. Stand in your life. And whenever you find yourself hiding away, come back. Come back to life.

So do I ever slip up and regress? Heck, yes. Do I still purge? No.

I haven’t for over nine years. I can, however, still put some sugar down, but it no longer takes me where it used to. And when I indulge, I choose the best of the best. The best ice cream. My favorite candy. I only want the best because, for me, it’s the best that satiates.

And when I’m done, I’m done. And I start back clean again. And I rarely feel the guilt and shame for being who I am. Do I still love candy? Yes. Always have; probably always will. It’s just that these days, the difference is, I love me, too, and these days, I choose to include myself in life and living.

My hope is, if you need to, you will get there, too.

I know you can. I know it.

And that, I know to be true.

* * *

For over two decades, Jennifer Cahuantzi, a professionally trained dancer, has worked with celebrity clients as a Pilates Instructor and Personal Trainer – an experience that has inspired her development as a Certified Fearless Living Coach and Certified Fearless Trainer – training people from the inside out.

Through triumphs and trials, getting it right, but more often getting it wrong, struggling with addiction, overcoming addiction and learning to live life versus just survive it, Jennifer has learned some incredible lessons along the way.

Through IgniteSheShines, she expands her clients’ awareness and equips them with tools that empower them to build confidence and stand in the freedom of authenticity.

Teens choose electric shock over spending time alone!

I was just reading Growing Up Mindful by Clinical Psychologist Christopher Willard,  and I was SHOCKED (forgive the pun) when I read that, “A recent study found that young men would rather receive ten minutes of low-level electric shocks than spend ten minutes alone with their thoughts, without electronics” (pg 3, Growing Up Mindful)

This is the heartbreaking truth for many of our teens today: They would rather CHECK OUT with social media, shopping, eating, drugs, etc, than CHECK IN with their own thoughts and emotions.

WHY? Because they have never been TAUGHT how to CHECK IN, and SHIFT their thoughts and emotions.

Checking in with your own thoughts and emotions is a CRITICAL SKILL for life which generates:

  • Authentic CONFIDENCE
  • Healthy BOUNDARIES
  • Healthy DECISION MAKING
  • EMPOWERMENT

If you are a TEEN, or the parent of a TEEN, It’s time to learn how to

CHECK IN to your authentic confidence (this doesn’t mean taking over the room, it means knowing what you stand for and not second-guessing yourself)

CHECK IN to your POWER and WISDOM

You’re invited to CHECK IN to Power Centers: Unlock the power of your LEGENDARY SELF by learning to CHECK IN not CHECK OUT

This 8 week program will guide you step-by-step through a process of CHECKING IN with yourself

CLICK HERE to register

In this 8 week series, you’ll learn how to

  1. Accept yourself
  2. Balance Creativity and Discipline
  3. Develop Authentic Confidence
  4. Love yourself
  5. Speak UP
  6. Trust yourself
  7. Connect to your Purpose
  8. Set Healthy Boundaries

I’m SO excited to share this with you!

CLICK HERE to grab your spot!

With gratitude for YOU!

Deanne

P.S. We start on Tuesday, February 21st, so don’t delay! CLICK HERE to register

Having the freedom to love

All the heart shaped chocolates in the stores these days reminded me of this e-interview that I did this past summer! I know that part of the process of growing up is figuring out who you are, and I know that the usual teen drama is amplified when teens are struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity, because there are so many people who haven’t ever thought about something other than their own experiences. I had the great fortune of connecting with the folks at Free2Luv, an award-winning nonprofit dedicated to rockin’ individuality, celebrating equality, spreading kindness & standing up to bullying through arts & entertainment, and they were gracious enough to have both Tonya (President and Co-Founder of Free2Luv) AND a youth volunteer answer my questions!

How did Free2Luv begin?

1 out of every 3 children experience some form of bullying and 9 out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment at school and online.  Further, 20% of high school students say they have seriously considered suicide.  As parents, Tonya and Kym Sandis believed this epidemic needed to stop and Free2Luv was born. “We know the scarring and lasting impact bullying has on our youth, robbing them of their innocence and emotionally stripping them of their well-being.  Coming from the entertainment industry, we understand the power the arts have to heal, uplift and empower and we utilize this platform to spread our mission of celebrating individuality, rockin’ kindness and standing up to bullying,” says Tonya, President and Co-Founder of Free2Luv.

How can shy teens show their peers that they can be free to love anyone they choose?

We like this question as it opens up the reason why we named our nonprofit Free2Luv.  We believe first and foremost, self-love is key, whether you are a teen, child or adult.  When you are confident in who you are and treat others with love and respect, you show everyone around you unconditional love.

“If a shy teen wants to advocate everyone’s freedom to love, I recommend they tap into their passion and share from their place of comfort.  This can be done through art, music, dance, sports, you name it.  We have had youth advocates share poems, art, stories, even their passion for race car driving and they have used it as a platform to spread LUV, kindness and compassion with others,” says Tonya.

“There are many LGBTQ+ groups, either at school or online, that are a great way to express yourself.  They are both a safe space and a place where you can share and be yourself. You can also talk about and share things that you love that are related to your identity; i.e. LGBTQ+ books, music, TV shows etc.,” says Free2Luv LGBT Teen Ambassador.

What can teens do if they are in a situation where it is not safe for them to share the message that love is love?

Safety is of the utmost importance.  If you feel that an environment is unsafe to share your message that love is love, find a supportive community and/or environment.  It could be a gay/straight alliance at school, an online organization such as ours or an informal community gathering.

“Find a safe space online.  There are so many people going through the same thing that want to share and speak out, but are not safe to do so in their home or where they live.  Finding a place online where you can be yourself and talk to others who are going through the same thing can help so much,” says LGBT Teen Ambassador.

What is the best part of being a teen in today’s society?

“As the Co-Founder of Free2Luv, I work with teens and youth daily and I’m so moved and impressed by how socially aware and conscious they are.  If we could focus on that every day instead of all the news we hear through the media and online, there are real, young inspirational people that are true game changers in the world and we are proud to hold hands with them.  There are so many wonderful vehicles today that offer youth a way to express their voice that weren’t available even 10 years ago, so it’s a really exciting time to be a teen.   And with that, also comes a big responsibility because as easy as it is to spread kindness, new technology can also be used in destructive ways to spread hate.  The age-old adage, treat others as you want to be treated, still applies.   We need to model kindness and compassion to create a kinder world for all,” says Tonya.

“Technology is a big part of why being a teenager today is amazing.  The ability to learn anything and learn quickly, the ability to talk to anyone anywhere in the world, the ability to hold the world in your pocket, the ability to be a part of a movement that is happening on the other side of the world and to speak out and stand up is amazing.

I think another, if not the most amazing part of being a teen today is that we are changing the world for the better every day.  We are passionate and we care about the world we live in.  We are using our voices and standing up for what is right.  It’s so important and wonderful,” says LGBT Teen Ambassador.

 What evidence of their work would the Free2luv team love to see in ten year’s time?

We would love to see thousands of advocates holding hands with us in communities around the world sharing our message of love, unity and the importance of kindness and compassion.  We are passionate about growing our empowerment events and workshops and reaching more and more communities throughout the U.S.  We are especially passionate about sharing our programs with underserved youth who may not normally have access to the type of programming we offer.  We know the power of one person to stand up and make a difference and for us, success is one more child becoming self-aware, standing up, speaking out and letting their voice be heard.  Will you join us?

check out www.free2luv.org for more details!

 

ConnecTeen 24 hour support for TEENS in Calgary, Alberta

My mission is tomainconnecteencallout connect teens and those who care about them with the resources they need to THRIVE! I recently connected with an amazing, FREE resource here in my home town of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. ConnecTeen offers FREE, confidential 24 hour support through online chat, phone, text, and e-mail to Calgary and the surrounding area. Teens offer peer support between 5pm – 10pm on weekdays and from 12 – 10pm on Saturday and Sunday. Outside of those hours, adult volunteers respond to calls so there is always someone to talk to, 24 hours every day. CLICK HERE to access ConnecTeen

I asked some of the teen volunteers at ConnecTeen to answer some of my questions about this AMAZING resource. Here’s what you’ll learn in this article:

  • Why it’s ok to call ConnecTeen even when we think “It’s not that bad”
  • Why teen-to-teen support is so important
  • What to expect when you call ConnecTeen
  • What is AWESOME about being a teen today

Deanne : What would you like to tell a teen who hesitates calling ConnecTeen because they think “it’s not that bad”

When we talk to teens about our service, we like to emphasize that it’s better to talk about something that’s “not that bad” than to wait or hold it in until it becomes “that bad”. Stress, anger or worry can become a huge burden if we don’t try to cope with it right away. We also encourage youth to open up about their problems no matter how big or small it may be. We will never minimize how someone is feeling because all problems are worth talking about. Our volunteers are eager to help and support everyone that contacts us, no matter the size of their problem. At ConnecTeen, it’s about supporting someone who may feel alone in their problem or if they need to just vent.

Volunteer: Venting whatever you might at feel, whether it is “not that bad” or not, does help! Having someone else to listen to you, anonymously through a chat or not, lets you to sort out how you really feel about what you are going through, and helps you to not only feel better, but organize your thoughts as well.

Volunteer: No problem is ever too small to call. We are here to listen, no matter what the problem is. Sometimes, it’s good to have a 3rd person assess the situation since one cannot see the forest when he/she is inside it. Even if you are feeling down, don’t hesitate to call us.

Deanne : Why do you have teens answering the ConnecTeen line?

CT: ConnecTeen, originally named “Teen Line” was initiated as a peer support line; the first of its kind in Canada in 1983. We believe that no one understands teens better than their peers. As adults, we tend to forget what it’s like to have such little control over your life when you’re a teenager. We also tend to forget how many important milestones and “firsts” occur during this time too. Our youth volunteers have either lived through similar experiences or can truly empathize with our service users because of their age. We also find that teens are more likely to open to someone who is closer to their age. At ConnecTeen, our volunteers don’t have any authority or judgement over our users and I think that creates a safe space to open up and be vulnerable.

Volunteer: I think its because as teenagers ourselves, we can relate better with the feelings that other teenagers might feel at certain times. It is because we are all at such a close range in terms of our age group, we are capable of talking through what we’ve been through in relating with other teenagers.

Volunteer: Teens now face different problems than the teens of the past generations. Although many issues that have existed in the past such as drugs for example still exist today, the rise of social media and the internet has changed the lives of teens completely. Teens are now exposed to different ideas such as ones regarding their sexuality, body images, etc. Other teens, who were actually born and raised with such social media tend to have a better understanding and can relate better to teens going through such issues and struggles.

 

Deanne : What does ConnecTeen offer when teens do make the call?

When teens decide to contact us, we offer non-judgmental support. Our volunteers will never lecture you or make you feel bad for the decisions you’ve made or for what you’ve experienced. We want to connect you to the people in your life that could help or to free resources in the city. Our support is confidential and anonymous so you can share whatever you feel comfortable sharing which gives you a lot of the freedom to decide what you want to talk to about. Our volunteers are highly trained in crisis intervention, so whatever issue you are dealing with, they are prepared to support you and help you through it. Sometimes, you just need someone to listen to you without offering advice or trying to solve your problems. A lot of what we do is listening and giving you some of the tools you may need to work through it.

Volunteer: We mainly offer emotional support, and a place where they can tell us what they feel without pressure. We let the conversation flow according to the pace in which the callers want to pace themselves at, and we validate and normalize with how they are feeling. We also offer resources like counseling, a place to stay, or financial support if it is desired by the callers.

Volunteer: We offer emotional support, validation and empathy for those in crisis. We also offer resources for  those who need professional help / information / advice.

Deanne : What have you learned about teens since working/volunteering at ConnecTeen

I’ve learned that youth face a variety of different issues- many of which I never thought about as an adult. For example, we get a lot of contacts regarding financial issues, abuse in the home or in relationships, wanting to move out on their own and dealing with the fundamental “firsts” (i.e. first break up, first fight with your best friend, first time failing a class etc). I really enjoy working at ConnecTeen because I get to learn many different perspectives from both the volunteers and the users who contact our lines. I’m constantly reminded of how strong and resilient the youth of Calgary are because they are so courageous to reach out for help.

Volunteer: I’ve learned a great deal about communicating with other people, in general. Learning about diverse social issues that our society and our youth have opened my eyes and provided me with a perspective that broke me away from the stigma. I became more unbiased, informed, social and approachable to others, and I also think I became a better person, overall.

Volunteer: A lot of teens at my age are going through really tough times. Teens tend to be shy reaching out at first, but I feel like this service is really helpful for teens in terms of finding them the right resources and providing the emotional support they need. The internet is like a double-edged sword: teens have access to unlimited amounts of information, but they don’t know what services are right and appropriate for them. Also, I feel like a lot of teens are unable to talk about their feelings and situation to other people, especially to those around them because they feel embarrassed or scared. Thus, ConnecTeen provides the anonymous help they need so that they can feel safe while still receiving the support and help they need.

Deanne : What is the best part of being a teen today?

I think the best part of being a teen today is the availability of information and resources teens can access. When I was growing up, I had no idea what was out there for support. Now, everything is available with the click of a button or a short phone call. I love that ConnecTeen offers text and online chat too, I think it really helps youth connect to us in a way that makes them feel comfortable.

Volunteer: We have vast amount of resources that we can access whenever we want to, wherever we want to (like connecteen). Also, the best part of being a teenager is that we have a great deal of potential in how we can still shape ourselves. We are still learning and growing, faster than ever before. To have that opportunity, I believe is the best part of being a teenager in our world.

Volunteer: We have so many opportunities to build our future. From academics, sports, volunteering, jobs.. there are limitless opportunities that given the effort, we can achieve our dreams.

Deep appreciation goes to Vanessa DeSouza and her team for taking the time to respond to my questions. ConnecTeen also offers FREE resources for schools, so please connect with ConnecTeen!

Online calgaryconnecteen.com

Twitter at twitter.com/YYCConnecTeen

Facebook at www.facebook.com/calgaryconnecteen

Instagram at www.instagram.com/yycconnecteen/

YouTube at www.youtube.com/user/DistressCentreYYC?feature=watch