Illustration by Daniel Zender
Please submit questions to dearwestghost.tumbr.com or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: If someone you loved was lonely, lost, confused about life and, as a result, recently joined a CULT, what would you say to convince them to rethink? Assuming you were able to get ahold of them. Typical religious cult: kind presenting with family style compound living, family meals – welcoming at first but they cut u off from the outside world (no cell phone, no computers) and have problematic core views which they don’t originally present (racism, sexism, homophobia). She’s smart but young & vulnerable.
A: I don’t have much life experience to lend here, but I think some helpful comparisons can be drawn between this situation and a loved one in an abusive relationship. It’s like you see her get in the car with the man who has a bad reputation and pray she’ll come home soon, no black eye.
She’s making a choice that separates you two. As frustrated as you are, try to keep communication lines open. While this is going to be difficult (and probably all on her terms) your support will play a leading role in the story of her recovery. She needs to feel less lonely, less isolated and some kind of tie to the life she left behind. Bring up home, family, make her laugh. Let her feel the light on the other side of the telephone. Soften her blind resolve by showing her how un-lost she really is.
Listen very, very carefully to the way she talks about her experiences. It’s possible that the approach more effective than begging for her return will be looking for cracks in the system and blowing them up. The leader of the family contradicting himself? Presenting as progressive, but exploiting its members? Promising community but restricting communication? Point out the places where they are failing and manipulating her.
The giant red flag on top of the mountain of shit is “they cut u off from the outside world.” You can agree to disagree about a lot in this life, but that is point-blank controlling and if I were you, I’d hammer that one in hard. But a patient ear can only go so far. If any kind of contact becomes impossible and googling/asking about this “family” leads you to believe they might be truly dangerous, consider getting outside help. There are resources and support groups galore, just a search bar away.
This phase of her life will have a physiological impact, but will it be temporary? Will it fill a momentary void in her life and teach her a lesson? Or will it lead to brainwashing and self-harm? There are the questions that will probably be keeping you up at night until this is resolved and I’m sorry. If one of my girls moved her ass to a compound, I honestly don’t know how I could keep myself from driving up to pull her out kicking and screaming.
Q; Dear West Ghost, Do you have a mantra?
A: I’d never really thought that I had a mantra but, after reflecting on your question, I think I might have a few. I don’t have a word, sound or phrase that I meditate on for religious reasons, but I definitely have recurring, self-affirming thoughts which I focus on to help ground me.
When I feel nervous or anxious, especially in public:
This situation is totally in my control.
Relax, everyone is safe.
When I feel inadequate or insecure:
I deserve the same respect as everyone else.
I am my own endless source of power.
Whenever I light sage (which I do a lot these days):
All things are made new.
Also, when I’m starting to feel sick or my mind turns generally toward my health, I close my eyes and individually thank every body part/organ and system for its hard work, which I realize sounds REALLY corny but it’s a pretty rejuvenating meditation I’ve been practicing for a few years now. Always seems to make me want to take better care of myself.
Those are some general mantra-type affirmations I find myself coming back to again and again. But when I’m working toward something specific like trying to accomplish a goal or generally change my perspective on something, I always write it down. I put it somewhere private, but somewhere I know I will see more than once a day (bathroom mirror, the dash of my car, or even on this laptop) and I read it out loud as often as possible.
Q: Yo West Ghost, if you had to guess without googling it, how tall would you say Jake Gyllenhall is?
A; Tall enough to get it but not much taller so like 6′1″ ??
Q: Dear West Ghost, what advice can you give me for my bad body image days? I feel like I’ve worked for a long time to really love my body and most days I’m feeling pretty good about it. But then every once in a while I get stuck and I’m thinking about how I need to go on a diet or lose weight or go to the gym. Then thinking that way makes me feel guilty and I know I shouldn’t care about body image norms projected onto me by society, so how can I learn to love my body all of the time? xoxo
A: Ugh. Body image norms – the images and shapes we see valued from the time we have the most basic understanding of life. We are shown, even as children, who gets the boys and who wears the crowns and who should cover up at the pool. Who stops traffic and who is the punchline of a joke? No one needs to tell us. These norms are everywhere and we are subjected to them constantly. We hear our mothers hate their bodies, standing and sighing in the mirror, and every image in popular media reinforces the central thought of the suffering sisterhood: “I’d look better if I just lost a few more pounds.”
My anonymous friend, on days you’re not feeling like your boldest, most beautiful badass self, I want you to place your hand on your tummy or your arms or thighs or whatever parts of your body you tend to feel are inadequate. Think and speak the same kind and loving thoughts to yourself that you might share with someone else you love. “I am gorgeous today. I am worthy of love the way I am. I am enough, just like this.”
Trust me, I feel you on this one and I’m on this journey with you, learning to love myself. Fighting to feel worthy. Resisting the urge to be invisible. But, we are not alone and sometimes it just helps to see how other normal people live their beautiful and fulfilling lives. If you don’t follow any fat-positive bloggers, you might consider it. I find it refreshing to see different bodies in my feed every day, looking beautiful, falling in love, living their dreams. (Here’s a good place to start: http://www.bustle.com/articles/17333-7-fat-positive-bloggers-activists-you-should-follow)
While I’m talking fat-positivity, let me add something. Love doesn’t always mean saying yes. In the same way you might take the keys from a loved one who’s had too much to drink or discourage a friend from reaching out someone who isn’t good for them, sometimes you may need to tell your body no. Sometimes you show yourself love by buying and eating exactly what you want and loving every minute of it. Sometimes you show yourself love by ordering the side of veggies instead of fries.
Love and punishment. Sometimes they can look identical but come from two completely different places: one nourishing and one toxic. A small salad with dressing on the side, the 2 hours logged at the gym, are they gifts to the body or forms of self-hatred? I believe it all begins in the mind. No, you should not feel guilty if you don’t go to the gym. That kind of self-shaming doesn’t help build you up into a happier and more confident person. But you also shouldn’t feel guilty for thinking you should go to the gym. Pay attention to your body and what it needs. It’s communicating with you all the time. If it wants a walk, then walk. If it wants a long stretch, then stretch. And if it wants chocolate ice cream, then scoop on.