“For twenty years, I kept a journal. I wrote about heartbreak, anxiety, and eating disorders. I wrote about trying to quit drugs while high on drugs. Pages and pages are filled with self-loathing and self-doubt. My journal was my only outlet from the turmoil and deep-rooted pain I felt every day. I’d release my fears onto the page and get honest about my sadness as I scribbled over my tears.”
This passage by Gabrielle Bernstein rings true for probably too many of us who floundered and wavered through our teens and early twenties and were lucky enough to live to tell about it. But also like many of us, Gabrielle pushed through the dark times and has since cultivated a sense of calm, peace, and happiness in her life. This week, Random House publishes her second book, titled SPIRIT JUNKIE: A Radical Road to Discovering Self-Love and Miracles.
Before Gabrielle “overcame fear and changed her perceptions” (guided by the popular spiritual book, A Course in Miracles), she was a New York City PR maven by day, Sex and the City party girl by night.
“By the time I was 23 or 24, that world was no longer glossy anymore. I was really, really disenchanted with the nightlife scene in New York. I had spent years looking for happiness ‘out there’ – in a pair of shoes, a boyfriend, getting past the velvet rope at some fancy nightclub. I learned the hard way that none of that worked. By the time I turned 25, I hit a huge bottom and had to surrender to the fact that true happiness had to come from within. This was when I shut down my outward search, turned inward and surrendered to a life as a full-on Spirit Junkie.”
Although I agree with the main premise of Gabrielle’s message, I’m not sure how much I love the “spirit junkie” moniker. Of course, it’s coming from an ex-PR gal, so the brazen title was certainly a calculated choice. With the title and the language she uses in the book, Gabrielle attempts to make spirituality hip to the younger generation. “My students are… a new generation of seekers looking for true happiness… Therefore, I must speak to them in a language they’ll dig. And most importantly a language that is authentic to me. This new spiritual lexicon uses words like ~ing to refer to inner guidance and Spirit Junkie to refer to oneself as a spiritual person. Making this work hip and relevant is a huge part of the gig.” Well, to each her own. Being a PR gal myself, I personally cringe at buzzwords, and that’s what it feels like to me. Then again, I don’t think I’m truly a marketer at heart, so what do I know?
Of course, we at Adios Barbie wanted to understand how Gabrielle felt about body acceptance relative to self-love and self-acceptance. “Body image and self-acceptance go hand in hand. When we take the necessary steps to reconnect with our self-love then our body image issues begin to subside. This miraculous shift occurs when our inner love shines so bright that it reflects outward.”
Gabrielle believes that when you find your path to self-love, self-care comes easy. “I had a beautiful experience of this,” she shares. “Three years into my self-reflective practice of overcoming addictions (to food, love, drugs – you name it), I began to respect my body more and more. I was at a party with some friends and they were passing around cupcakes. I took one bite out of my cupcake and offered the rest to my friends. They looked at me in awe saying, ‘how can you only take one bite!?’ I responded, ‘I love myself too much to eat the whole thing.’ This was a miracle! I’d spent 26 years binge eating and now my self love shone brighter than my addiction.”
Okay, hold on for a second: eating a whole cupcake means I don’t love my body? I can appreciate this story as an experience that was transformative to Gabrielle given her past with binge eating, but it seems like a potentially dangerous message to put out there to young women who are already being told from every other angle in life, “don’t put those calories in your body!” Yeah, I get it – the body is a temple. Most of the time it feels right to give my body the nutrients it needs and be cognizant of not putting crap in it, but I’ll be honest: sometimes, I find spiritual enlightenment in a brownie. (Judge away!)
It seems as though, in this example, Gabrielle is listening to external cues of what is “healthy” or “unhealthy” rather than trusting her body’s intuition. (At least that’s my interpretation of it.) To me, however, one of the most important connections between spirituality and body acceptance is mindfulness and learning to truly listen to your body. In eating disorder recovery, for example, people have to completely relearn how to listen to their bodies for signals of hunger and fullness. Sadly, many people in Western society (and arguably elsewhere, too) have actually forgotten how to do this, even if they’ve never experienced serious problems with disordered eating. We have become accustomed to listening to our brains – not our bodies – to tell us when it’s time to eat and what we should/shouldn’t eat. Once you start to become more mindful of the body’s hunger and fullness cues and eat accordingly, though, it can be very liberating and really does feel like a spiritual process. This is called “intuitive eating.” For many of us who have been listening only to our brains for so long, we have to unlearn previous habits before we can give our bodies what they intuitively want/need. And like I said before – sometimes, what my body wants is a brownie, and I will honor that!
Finally, I wanted to know what advice Gabrielle would give to those looking to find peace with themselves when they’re constantly bombarded with messages every day about not being sufficiently thin/beautiful/tall/busty/dark/light, etc. “We have to work very hard to combat the fears and projections of the world. We have years of fear-based illusions to recover from. Therefore we must be willing to do the work to reconnect with true self-love,” she explains. “When we commit to a daily practice of self-love, then we begin to have more faith in love than fear. This faith in love grows stronger one day at a time.” Sounds great, though Gabrielle admits that the path toward true self-love is not easy. “To be clear, it’s a full-time gig. My happiness maintenance comes in the form of daily prayer and meditation – a moment-to-moment practice of forgiveness and a daily inventory of my actions. I have also chosen a life of sobriety, which truly keeps me straight and connected to spirit. I no longer need drugs or alcohol to make me feel good. I just feel it.”
Since SPIRIT JUNKIE just officially hit the market this week, I should be clear that I haven’t yet read it, but was interested in a sneak peek into the woman behind the book. Based on my introduction to Gabrielle and SPIRIT JUNKIE, my bet is that it would be a great book for young adults who are interested in exploring their spiritual side and who also don’t mind (or are even drawn to) the marketing spin and buzzwords. Many people who feel truly at peace with their bodies cite spirituality as a strong force in their journey toward self-acceptance, and I definitely won’t argue with that. But if you’re looking for a great read that’s more directly related to body acceptance and also incorporates spirituality, I would check out Geneen Roth’s books, especially Breaking Free From Emotional Eating or Women, Food and God.