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.

Suicide Prevention

A teen in my neighbourhood took her own life over a week ago. My heart goes out to her family, friends, and her school community who is grieving her loss and wondering what they could have done to prevent her death.

Just today I met a woman who recently lost her son, who took his own life. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to go through each day knowing that your child is gone. And wondering what you could have done, if you had only known what was REALLY going on in your child’s mind. This is every parent’s worst nightmare.

In Canada, suicide is the second highest cause of death for youth aged 10-24.

Suicide prevention isn’t a term that I use often because it evokes our fear of losing those closest to us, however, for some parents and teens that fear is very real.

Suicide prevention strategies might seem like something that only a few people, in very extreme situations, or teens labelled as “high risk” might need.

Today, I’m inviting you to think differently about suicide prevention by thinking about your own Mental Health.

Mental Health is important for EVERYONE because we all face difficult periods in our life. The loss of a family member, losing a job, divorce, having to move, all of these stressers have an impact on our mental health. The pressure on adolescents to be successful at school and be successful socially is intense, and teens don’t always have the understanding that their difficult times are only temporary.

I know that many teens roll their eyes when we talk about mental health in schools, because they feel like it doesn’t affect them. Or their deep shame about  their own internal dialogue prevents them from reaching out for support.

This is why we NEED to embed mental health education in the high school curriculum.

As an English Language Arts specialist, I know that literature allows us an amazing opportunity to explore the thoughts and behaviours of fictional characters to open an continue on a conversation about mental health that can last weeks and months, instead of minutes or an hour.

Understanding mental health through fictional characters also helps us understand that mental health is not an individual issue, but that there are environmental, social, and physiological factors that can impact our mental health.

Mindfulness practice is also a way for students AND teachers to learn the strategies necessary for checking in on their own thoughts, and learning to shift their thoughts in a way that supports their mental health. Whether you’re a teen, or an adult, EVERYONE needs to check in with the thoughts they’re having on a consistent basis. Mindfulness practice gives you that time and space to check in with your thoughts.

The Canadian Mental Health Association describes 5 characteristics of Mental Health, which are

  1. Ability to enjoy life
  2. Resilience
  3. Balance
  4. Self-Actualization
  5. Flexibility

CLICK HERE to take the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Health Meter to really check in with your own mental health. Only YOU really know your heart and mind.

You deserve a life that FEELS GOOD!

Yours in mental health,

Deanne

P.S. The first step is admitting your mental health status to yourself. The next step is reaching out for support. For immediate, 24 hour support call kids help line.

What’s your current AWESOMENESS level?

Have you ever wondered how some people manage to just be so AWESOME?

DO you sometimes wish for a user’s manual to YOUR life?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to tap into your LEGENDARY SELF?

You know, the parts of you that are the most awesome, the most funny, the most talented, and to make your decisions from the centre of your own awesomeness?

If you’re ready to UNLOCK the POWER of your LEGENDARY SELF, then join me for a FREE webinar training to take the first steps to YOUR authentic power.

Saturday, February 18th at 9:00 am PT

CLICK HERE to register for YOUR LEGENDARY SELF: Rock solid strategies to live YOUR life not someone else’s

In this webinar you’ll learn the first steps in

1.       Accepting yourself

2.       Balancing Creativity and Discipline

3.       Developing Authentic Confidence

4.       Loving yourself

5.       Speaking UP

6.       Trusting yourself

7.       Connecting to your Purpose

8.       Setting Healthy Boundaries

I’m SO excited to share this with you!

CLICK HERE to grab your spot!

With love,

Deanne

UNSTOPPABLE CONFIDENCE for TEENS: Choosing ME Challenge!

Valentine’s Day brings a LOT of pressure for teens (and, quite frankly, for adults too!)

There is pressure to show your friends that you care, by giving them gifts of chocolate, or a thoughtful card, or supporting the leadership club’s Valentine’s Day fundraiser by having a flower delivered to their homeroom. (While you hold your breath and hope that they did the same thing for you. Is your BFF really your BFF?)

There is pressure to ask out your “crush”, or to tell your friends who your “crush” is (or to be constantly wondering if it’s safe to tell your best friend that your “crush” is someone of the same sex)

There’s pressure to ask someone out because the other kids are dating, or at least telling stories about dating.

There’s pressure to take the relationship you’re in to “the next level”.

There’s the constant worry that the relationship won’t work out, or maybe it will, and do you really want that?

Let’s take some of the pressure off, and focus on the TRUTH:

The ONLY relationship that you will have for your ENTIRE LIFE is the relationship you have with yourself.

So, how’s that going for you?

If you’d love to build UNSTOPPABLE CONFIDENCE in yourSELF

AND

Have a chance to play on Facebook and Instagram to win some cool prizes

Then I have the perfect opportunity for YOU!

CHOOSING ME 5-Day Instagram Challenge for teens (and adults too!)

In this FREE challenge you will receive

  • Daily video lessons to build your CONFIDENCE so you can TRUST yourself to make good decisions
  • Access to our EXCLUSIVE Gratitude Lounge Facebook Community
  • Daily strategic action items for you to do to figure out what it means to LOVE YOURSELF
  • The opportunity to WIN big prizes that will help you to nourish your inner life

Authentic CONFIDENCE happens when we know how to give ourselves what we need at the deepest level.

 

You have nothing to lose, and so much CONFIDENCE to gain!

I would LOVE to be your guide in this 5 day Choosing ME challenge to help you become your own best friend. The challenge begins on February 10th, so go ahead and

CLICK HERE to get started!

With love,

Deanne

 

Looking for UNSTOPPABLE CONFIDENCE?

hey self”

“yeah”

“you suck”

****************************

“Hey voice in my head”

“yeah”

“tell me something you like about me”

“you, uh…well…”

*****************************

“Hey voice in my head”

“yeah”

“you suck”

***************************

Get OUT of this cycle of thought and turn that inner critic into your inner coach.

Join me for HEART POWER for teens: Transform your inner critic into your inner coach for authentic confidence.

This is a 3 part webinar series.January 31, February 7, February 14, 2017

CLICK HERE to register

I look forward to seeing you there!

Deanne

Finding Fulfillment in an Achievement-Driven World

What

What if you knew how to create

a fulfilling life for yourself

no matter what circumstances arise?

Teens are suffering from anxiety and depression in record numbers. Teens are under immense pressure to achieve high grades, high status in their social groups, and a long list of extra-curriculars. Parents are under pressure to perform at work, and to provide their teens with all the opportunities at sports, and dance, and drama, etc. etc., that they need to be “successful”. We are living in an achievement-driven world. We reward people for their athletic accomplishments, their physical appearance, their wealth, and their credentials. Many people who are admired for their talent, beauty, fame, and wealth are MISERABLE. So, the question is, how do we find fulfillment in an achievement-driven world?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t set goals. Everyone needs something that they are reaching for so they continue to grow and develop. Maybe, just maybe, all of this striving for something in the future needs to be balanced out by some time spent enjoying the moment.

How can I learn to enjoy the moment?

 

Stick with me, my friend, I’ll show you the way.

Parents, you need to show your teens that ADULT LIFE IS ENJOYABLE.

Teens, if you can learn to balance out striving for your goals with an ability to enjoy the moment, then you will have an AMAZING LIFE and save yourself from the anxiety and burn-out suffered by many of your peers, and the adults in your life.

What if you could really ENJOY your life?

 

Teens finding HOPE amidst despair

Does your teen dare to hope?

Teens are reporting higher levels of anxiety, stress and overwhelm each year; despair looms larger than hope. Many of my students feel like everything has already been thought, it has already been said, and they wonder what they could possibly contribute to the world. In this disconnected and isolated space, hope becomes a radical proposition. I’ve heard from many parents who are worried because their teen DOESN’T have any hopes or dreams.

So, how do we nurture our children’s hopes and dreams? How do we hold open the door of possibility?

Hope is all about having a new perspective. It is about seeing the evidence in the present moment that good things are on their way in the future. My students who have been involved in service projects or community groups all see evidence that that their presence is valuable.  Whether they volunteered at a Senior’s home, spent time babysitting small children, or volunteered at a community event, they all report feeling connected to the people they serve, and knowing that their presence makes a difference. Teens need to see evidence of their efforts being worthwhile. If they can see the face of a child or a senior light up, they have the undeniable instant feedback that THEY MATTER. This is just one way of providing our teens with the HOPE that their life will continue to matter.

Another powerful way of nurturing dreams and cultivating hope is through inspiring stories. In October I have the incredible honour of interviewing Mark Black for the LIT FROM WITHIN speaker series.

Mark Black is a man who knows about hope. At age 23 Mark faced an unimaginable challenge; His doctor informed him that his heart was failing. Without a rare and dangerous heart and double-lung transplant he would not see his 25th birthday. Three years later, after receiving his second chance at life, Mark ran his first marathon. Since then, Mark has gone on to run more marathons, develop a successful career, and raise a family. Mark Black, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) is a Heart and Double-Lung Transplant Recipient, 4-time marathoner, resilience expert, speaker, and coach. Mark helps people “Thrive in Challenging Times”.  A Certified Speaking Professional, Mark has inspired more than 100,000 people in more than 350 presentations. CLICK HERE for the interviews

Not only is telling stories of hope about other people important, but as you’ll see from Mark’s interviews, the stories we tell ourselves are also critically important. One of my favourite take-aways from these interviews was Mark’s question about “which bucket are you rummaging around in?” which is really his metaphor for asking which stories we are telling ourselves, about ourselves, most often. One of the most powerful themes of the LIT FROM WITHIN speaker series is the importance of training your mind to focus on thoughts that are helpful and life-affirming. When we can tell ourselves the best version of our story, we can dare to dream about a compelling future ahead.

CLICK HERE to enjoy this video encore with Mark Black. My hope is that you’ll be inspired to dream a bigger dream.

Expand.

Open the door to possibility.

Think bigger.

HOPE

Holiday Harmony With Your Teens

I know that the pressure is ON for everyone in these last few weeks of December.

The holidays are supposed to be a time to connect with family and friends, but sometimes, the tension is so high that these are the days of the most frustration, resentment, and disappointment. Our teens are riding the rollercoaster of emotions as they are reminded that one more year has passed, and the regular family holiday traditions that they once enjoyed don’t give them the same feelings anymore. If you want HARMONY with your teens this holiday, give yourself the gift of one hour to truly prepare for the holidays.

You’re invited to Holiday Harmony With Your Teens, a free 75 minute RETREAT webinar designed to get your out of overwhelm and into what is really important. Together we’ll explore HOPE, PEACE, JOY and LOVE and how those qualities can help you create a lasting connection with your teens.

Holiday Harmony With Your Teens is available until December 23rd.

CLICK HERE to watch.

With tidings of comfort and joy,

Deanne