I've been thinking a lot lately about how the things that once mattered so much to me earlier in my life, matter so much less to me now. What I value and prioritize has shifted and evolved. I say this, and yet, there's a part of me that is crying out,
"No, Kori. You have always valued the truest things; you were just distracted more easily by what appeared to be the low hanging fruit."
That sounds right. I have always known that love and belonging mattered. I just tripped (or to be more accurate, took a nosedive!) into situations that couldn't nourish them genuinely and for real. I found the false refuges that so many of us do as we're searching for the truest, most authentic, sustainable thing.
I recall vividly the evening I had prepared for a community presentation in my wellness studio almost ten years ago. I'd carefully chosen my attire, wanting to be both comfortable and professional. I'd arranged the chairs not too closely, but closely enough for everyone to feel a part of the conversation. I'd shared the event as best I could, with the hopes of a solid turnout. And fortunately, many people came through my doors that night, eager to hear what I would be teaching them.
The participants were chatty, and they came with a lot of questions, which I always appreciate. I felt alive, engaged, absorbing their energy. Following the formal presentation, as I was fielding comments and milling about to share personal thank yous, I was approached by a woman who I remembered had been sitting in the front row. I'd noticed her when she arrived. It was clear that she had made a significant effort to get ready for the event, and it stood out to me. She touched by arm and with what felt like an aggressive gesture, pulled me away from the others. Without a beat, she said, "Don't ever wear that blouse again. It doesn't flatter you. I'm ____________ (sharing her name, which for the life of me I cannot remember, likely out of sheer emotional protection), and I'm an image consultant." She handed me her card. "I'd love to work with you if you'd like to see how much more of an impact you can make!" With that, she left, along with her confident swagger.
Suffice to say, I felt as if I'd been punched in the gut. I felt it all. I was disgusted. I felt defeated. I experienced confusion. I felt a sense of doubt. I felt shame. I felt defensive and furious. Who was she, to so boldly, and in my space, criticize my clothing? I felt like she had criticized me. So what did I, this self-respecting, competent woman do? I'm sad to say that after much rumination, I called this person. Even now, as I write this, looking back at the relationship we developed, I feel violated and taken advantage of. I never hired her, but we did spend some time together, grabbing a meal here and there. All the while, I was acutely fixated on and obsessing about what I was wearing, whether she would approve, and feeling the dopamine rush of inauthentic pleasure when we'd meet and she'd say, "Cute outfit!" or "Nice combination!" Why she continued to schedule dates with me, I'll never know. I think she felt she was nurturing a lead, and the more she could get me to feel desperate, ugly, and totally unskilled in the image department, the closer I would be to handing her my credit card. I feel nauseous as I think back to this time in my life, but I simultaneously feel a tenderness for the woman whom I recognize was navigating so many stressful situations during this period. I felt utterly alone. I was burning the candle at both ends, running a business, attempting to start a business, and working on my dissertation which I'd committed to defending successfully by a specific date. I was renting a bedroom in a home where I wasn't allowed to use the kitchen except for a space in the frig, and where my indoor cat was let out consistently by one of the other tenants who had Alzheimer's. I was a mess, barely holding myself together, and yet looking like I had it all figured out. Well, except for my clothing apparently. Not long after I'd started spending a bit of time with this person, my mom came into town for a visit. Over breakfast at my favorite IHOP, near the studio apartment I had been fortunate enough to find, I broke into tears as I shared with her how I longed to feel pretty. She looked into me with such warmth and also surprise. What did I mean, she inquired. I couldn't articulate it, but I just didn't feel pretty. Now, nearly a decade later, I know what to do with this longing. I understand that the longing to feel pretty is the language we may use for a deeper desire. At the time we say we long to feel pretty, to be thin, to feel confident, to feel more in control, or to be successful, for example, we may not get the deeper meaning.
Pretty, if we translate it in the language of the soul, means "seen." Pretty, if we translate it in the language of the heart, means "known." Neither of these desires are nourished by a look, fashion, hairstyle, makeup, body shape, clothing size, macronutrient ranges, body fat percentage, compliments about our bodies, or any of the like.
Neither of these desires are nourished by ulterior motive relationships like the one this woman initiated with me, or the ones I stepped into with men who would not commit fully to me or fully choose me.
I longed for belonging and a sense of enoughness. I longed to feel worthy. I longed to feel known and seen and chosen. I longed to be my whole, complete self. These are all deeply foundational, core emotional needs. We all have them. They will never go away. And because they are integral to us feeling energetic, integrated, and stable, we will always be reaching for ways to meet them. But often we reach for things that give us the illusion of their being met. Or, we will reach for things that help us to avoid the pain of them not being met. These are the false refuges I referenced above. We believe we can rest with them. We believe that we've found love and belonging in them. And yet, they don't love us back. They can't sustain us in any meaningful, matterful, conscious way. And they serve to reinforce the not-enoughness versus soothe and heal it.
Natural bodybuilding, despite my excelling in it, rising to the World Championship ranks, and amassing plenty of accolades while competing in it, did not love me back. I learned to not trust the wisdom of my body. I learned to control my food. I learned to live with rigid and inflexible, harmful rules. I learned how to be comfortable with discomfort in a sick way. Relationships with men who could not or would not commit 100% to us, had me questioning my own love. Was I loving too much? Was that even a thing? Was the fact that I wanted to love all-out and be all-in, demonstrative of something defective inside of me? These relationships didn't create a space for me to love fully, or to be loved entirely, which reinforced a sense of inadequacy that was and always has been a lie. Anorexia, despite it getting me to thinness, which in our sick, demented diet culture is prized and rewarded, did not love me back. I learned to fear my hunger, my appetite, the space I take up in the world, pleasure, creativity, fun, spontaneity, and trust in myself. So these days, am I immune to the low hanging fruit? Of course not. Our consumer culture is ready to hand us the memo describing exactly what we need, why, and how to get it so that we never have to be uncomfortable again! It's ready to step in and solve all of our problems. What I have developed an immunity to, is a lack of awareness. Because I believe I am worthy of love, loving, pleasure, feeling all my feelings without apology, comfort, and rest, just as a start, I can pause before impulsively jumping into a false refuge. I can wait just a bit, check in with myself, and ask what it is I truly long for? Am I perfect with this? Of course not. Perfection is another false refuge. They're everywhere. But that's for another blog.
What are your false refuges? Where do you go, or what do you use to feel better immediately? What do you use that doesn't meet the true need? What do you use to pretend you don't feel a specific way? What do you use to defend against what feels vulnerable and tender within you?
Increasing your awareness around how you fall for false refuges is worthy work. It invites you into a journey of discovering what you really value and what matters most to you so you can live your life with integrity and intention. If you're interested in this path, you know where to find me. Please reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org