nurture self-compassion. [an interview with annette auger]

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On sifting through pain, taking risks, fostering gratitude, and healing.

“Those moments where…I’m fucking proud? I’m fucking terrified? ‘Cause the thing is, in my life there have been a few of those moments,” Annette grins up at me from her iced coffee. “Life is… THAT, right?” She leans back in her seat, still smiling. “I had no plan in life. Ever. I mean, there were definitely thoughts of ‘I like these things’ and ‘how will I change the world?’ But any connecting thread of ‘how am I going to make money?’ or ‘what is a career?’ Those pieces were still lacking.”

We’re hunched over a poorly stabilized table—one of those pain-in-the-ass, forever-rocky situations—in a dark café playing terrible music at a terrible volume. Which, given that our chat was a first-ever attempt at meeting, let alone conversing about “Life is…THAT,” made for an interesting start to what wound up unfolding over the course of the afternoon.

“I found myself graduating from college with this degree in Creative Writing, with vague aspirations, and plenty of unsolidified hopes and dreams, but no real concrete “plan.” Kind of just ‘I’m dating this guy!’” she laughs, shrugging. “We broke up, and I had this moment of ‘FUCK IT.’ I wanted to detach myself from everything that was there—this was Ann Arbor, Michigan, and we were both very much enveloped in the theatre scene.” Annette continues, “I wanted to build my own stuff. My own life. Separate from all of that. So I picked Seattle because I had never been there, I didn’t have any friends there, and I didn’t have a job there. And, I was really heartbroken. Seattle just sounded…safe. That was 2002.”

She explains, “One of my friends drove out with me, and then flew home. And then, I was just…here. I barely had enough money to pay for a month or so of rent, and then it was ‘And now we just get random jobs. And now we hustle. And now we figure out how to do improv. And now we do this thing. And then we do that thing.’” Annette pauses. “A lot of my life was just about making enough money to be able to live, to be able to do the things I love. But,” she continues, “there were still no thoughts about like, ‘WHAT is my purpose?’ or ‘What am I doing?’ Sure, that was really great in certain senses. I learned a lot about myself. But I was also really under-fulfilled.”

“I began to make really good friends, but in terms of a career, I just felt so under utilized. And that was really depressing. And I just didn’t know how to solve that.” Annette sips her coffee and continues, “On top of all that, I really had a lot of self-loathing. A ton of self-loathing. I didn’t like what I looked like…in terms of how my body looked. How my face looked. So, I carried on all these relationships with men, and really embarked on this big exploration of dating, sleeping with people, a lot of drinking, all of that stuff. But underneath all of that, I just didn’t like who I was.”

She leans back, smiling. “Health was never one of those things I thought about much. Like, ‘Oh I’m healthy because I ran around Green Lake.’ Even though I smoked all the cigarettes and drank all the drinks and ate all the food. It was like, ‘oh, that’s low fat, that means I’m healthy.’ Or, ‘I’ll starve myself, or eat minimally—that’s healthy right?’ And the narrative in my head just got worse and worse and worse over these years. Annette continues, “I feel like I used drinking as a coping mechanism to deal with self loathing.

To get to this place of, ‘I’m okay, because I’m drunk enough to be okay.’ So, it was tough.”

“I mention health, as it’s an important underlying theme in my story,” she explains. “I went to the Netherlands my sophomore year in college. And before that, I was on a bunch of mild antibiotics for my face. But during this trip, I couldn’t get antibiotics, and I had cheese and bread and beer…all of that. My face exploded.” She sips her coffee, continuing, “It was really bad. And painful! Like, physically and emotionally painful.”

“So, coming out of that, I got back on antibiotics. Which helped for a bit. But after a couple of years, they just stopped working. And, this was about the time that I was more on stage, and doing some film stuff…so my face was always there. It was painful to watch myself on screen. And, you know, you start doing a lot of mental gymnastics. You have friends who are like ‘You are beautiful,’ and you want to believe them. But then, looking at yourself, it’s like…all you can see.”

Annette pauses before continuing, “You know, there’s the time when a homeless person actually yelled ‘NOXIMA!’ at me. Or the time a total stranger on the bus tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Hey…have you heard of this thing called Proactive?’” She shakes her fists at the café ceiling with a phrase that likely encapsulates the experience better than any words could: “GAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

“So,” Annette smiles, “it was a really painful time period. And that’s why there was a lot of drinking to feel okay. Sleeping with people to feel validated. Just a whole bunch of unhealthy behavior—with the mindset of ‘but I am healthy!’”

When after some time, Annette was introduced to a “fancy spa”—one that advertised skincare as much as intensive R&R—things began to shift. “I remember my first consultation with them. We went into the back room, and it was so tender. Tears began to well up, and I just started weeping. This was something that I never talked about! I never admitted how affected I was in this way—even to friends. And,” she continues, “I remember, I had a show that night, and the woman working on me was like ‘You’re so brave to be going on stage.’”

This time, it’s me who groans audibly. She meets my theatrical facepalm with laughter. “I KNOW! I know. It was so bad. It was really….not good.”

“So I spent far too much money going to this spa,” Annette explains smiling. “And after about a year of treatments, a different esthetician was like ‘Have you ever thought that you have an allergy to something?’ And I was like, ‘What? No…’”

Turns out it was an allergy. The real-deal, not-a-fad, anything-but-trending Celiac Disease. “I started working with naturopaths,” Annette elaborates, “you have to find one that works for you—I saw several. And we began this long, intense process of elimination.”

“Look,” she pauses, “I’m from the Midwest. We don’t have allergies. That is so Seattle, you know?” Laughing, Annette continues, “Taking care of yourself isn’t really ‘a thing.’ And also, you’re kind of taught to be a martyr! You’re not taught to take care of yourself—which perpetuates so much.

You can’t help people unless you help yourself. Besides…nobody wants a martyr.”

Annette continues, “At that time, I was like ‘oh… this could be something more.’ And really, at that point I began to question everything about my health.” She grins. “And then I got super passionate about it. I found better jobs and was working for tech companies doing sales. Which, for a while was really great. I’m an innately curious person. So at first just learning different things within a new industry was enough to fuel this outward passion. But,” she adds, “eventually that kind of faded to this place of ‘I don’t care!’”

She thoughtfully stirs her coffee for a moment. “I didn’t care if people bought this widget or that gadget! Sales and technology are great…but I DIDN’T CARE. I want to help you solve your problems. I want to help people. I really like people. I like narrative. I like story. So, I just sort of sat with that for a while. Let it all start to simmer.”

From here, and with both feet firmly imbedded in the corporate-ladder-climbing grind, Annette started to shift in the opposite direction. One towards “Extreme Health.”

She grins again. “So, I dove into different kinds of fitness. I got really into CrossFit. Like…too much into CrossFit. Because,” she interrupts herself, “look, you have GOT to have balance. I know this now, after having basically lived it, but if you’re the kind of person that’s like ‘oh… I’d love to see you, and we haven’t caught up in two months, but I HAVE to go work out at 5 PM EVERY DAY,’ because that’s what you need to have happen to feel like a ‘good’ or ‘healthy’ or ‘happy’ or ‘worthy’ person…well, there’s something inherently wrong in that too.” Annette shrugs unapologetically. “You know?”

“But again,” she circles back, “ I needed to live that experience. It taught me a lot about food. It taught me that you could actually work out too much. I learned about the sheer stress involved in that side of the “fitness equation.” And I just—once again—had to stop and reevaluate everything.” Annette sips her coffee. “I began to really understand how impactful nutrition is. And as that began, I started to understand that mindset is more important than any amount of “action.”

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At this point in Annette’s “What the Fuck am I Doing” journey, a few additional trailheads revealed themselves as potentially worth exploring. Given that “money is real and finite,” her next move was stacking up to be an important one. She shrugs, “I really struggled with what to do! Do I go back to school? Get a Master’s in nutrition? I mean, I didn’t have the money—so would it be worth it to have the loans, to maybe make this much down the line, to maybe never be able to pay it back…? And why do that? Is there another way?”

She continues, “I thought ‘maybe I want to be a trainer?’ Own a CrossFit gym? But then, I mean the truth of the matter is I’d tell people not to workout all the time, so…that’s not a great business model.” Annette pauses, “At this point, I joined a new technology startup. The energy there was great and I was much more engaged, but my passion for nutrition-type stuff kept growing. I became more dedicated to posting, and figuring stuff out—all of that. So I started following people online, and I found a woman who basically covers ALL of the things I’m passionate about, and also happens to make a living doing so. Her name is Liz Wolfe. I looked into what credentials she has to be doing what she’s doing, and that’s when I found out about something called an NTP—a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner.”

She decided to go for it.

“It’s a nine-month certification process,” Annette exclaims. “And it’s cool. I didn’t know fully about the program until I went into it. And they approach it much more from a physiological perspective, which I think is so much more important. Because,” she continues, “understanding the function of your body involves understanding that digestion is so vital. We’re obsessed with ‘what’s wrong’ and ‘how to fix it’ and…” she pauses, “it’s all way more complex than that. And sure, there are a thousand ways to put a Band-Aid on symptoms. But when you’re just chasing symptoms, you’re playing a game of whack-a-mole”

Annette adds, “But if you can get to what is actually wrong—at the root—you can really increase vitality in a person. And you can fuel them.

And they can build their own foundation and continue to seek out health, and not have that same thing happen.” She sips her coffee and continues, “So it’s about understanding that when digestion is compromised, the whole body is compromised. Every cell in your body runs on nutrients, and you get those nutrients by what you consume. So we’re a culture of people that under-consume nutrients and over-consume refined carbs. And we all have really compromised digestion. So the system is going to be inherently broken—it’s just that it doesn’t happen right away.” She makes a slow sloping motion with her hand. “It’s like this… A gradual incline. You know?”

Another essential layer to her growing appreciation (and perhaps intensity behind) All Things Health: Annette’s mother’s wellbeing. “During all of this, my mom was diagnosed with ALS, which is an autoimmune condition,” Annette explains softly. “Really fucking shitty. It attacks everything. And seeing her decline in that way…and knowing that she had cancer, and Type 2 Diabetes, all these things. I was just like ‘hells to the no.’ I don’t want any of that. It’s serious. And I need to take this seriously.”

Annette smiles, “so this former self that was just numbing everything, became this person who was like, ‘oh this is what health feels like.’ How do I live healthy?’ And…” she pauses, “there became this definitive point where I distilled my purpose: to heal myself, and to help heal others.” She grins, “And I still think that. I still strive for that.

But it’s evolved into more about teaching people to heal so that they can thrive. That’s where I’m really interested.”

When around the same time her techie day-job was restructuring, Annette had the opportunity to leave. “By this point, I had started my certification, and there was this opportunity to be let go. I just decided to go for it,” she beams. “There was this small umbrella of financial support, under what’s called the Self Employment Assistance program. You don’t have to apply for jobs, but you need to open your own business. And I was like, ‘Okay. This is it. I’m going to try this now.”

Enter Brain Body Gut. The mental, physical, and emotional lovechild of Annette’s entire life’s experiences, up until now. Her from-the-ground-up business model where nutritional insights and fitness plans intersect with much subtler forces at play: exploring willpower, drawing boundaries, building habits, nurturing self-compassion, sparking introspection, and inspiring self-worth—among many other things. Ultimately, her company strives to lead clients into their own fluid, flexible means of balance and wellbeing. A place of health. A place where they can truly thrive.

“The idea is to enjoy life.” Annette grins. “It’s all about changing relationships to things.

And, I lived in a place of pain. A really toxic pain. Like, does it matter?” She shrugs. “And why? For who? And for what reason? When you’re operating from a place of fear and scarcity, you just don’t get a lot done. And you don’t enjoy other people. When a person is really freaked out about their own stuff, they’re not very open to receiving. And then you came across as abrasive, or you come off as cold because you just want to hide…” Annette pauses. “I had to really work to overcome that. Move through that anxiety—that was a big chunk of what I had to do.”

“With my clients, it’s this incredible, deliberate balance of hearing their goals, and being able to explain that they might not ‘achieve’ them in the way they want to achieve them. And really, just working with that.” She sips her coffee before continuing, “Understanding where people are at, and what they are or are not ready for. And, when you are dealing with something as touchy and loaded as “diet,” things can get very psychological.”

Annette elaborates, “There’s this certain amount of pride in being able to restrict. So, if you meet someone who restricts a lot, and you tell him or her to eat more, or eat differently, that’s terrifying. They don’t really understand. They’re terrified of failing. What if it doesn’t work? What if they don’t want to stick to it long enough to see if it works? What if they’re not perfect? What does that mean about them as a person? Why can’t they succeed?”

She pauses, “It really ties into some deep worthiness issues. It’s like the Brené Brown stuff. ‘I will be worthy when _______.’ But they’re seeing me for a reason right? So, we figure it out together. Approach the whole thing as an experiment. Really,” Annette explains, “this is the stuff that is so interesting to me. Unwinding that bundle. This is the root of why I want to do this work.”

“I remember always being really restricted. Being completely fixated on ‘YES. NO. GOOD. BAD. THIS or THAT. Cut out. Control. All of that. And I remember always thinking…’when is my life going to be fun?’” Annette smiles. “And learning to extract that—I mean, obviously it has taken time—but I think the biggest learning of my story is just how to have self-compassion! You know? It’s made my life so much more joyful.”

“And,” she continues, “I think that gratitude and self-compassion are built into each other. I think they overlap. Gratitude is a little external, and you can start it in waves. Self-compassion is much more gentle. Much more self-oriented.” Annette stirs her coffee, pausing. “Gratitude helps you remember hurdles outside of yourself. Like, in moments where you’re stressing, or spinning out, just STOP. And think about three things, right then, right there, that you are grateful for. Doing that can promote self-compassion. Can instigate cutting yourself some slack. You know? Being gentle with yourself. And understanding your limits—but in a positive way.”

She smiles. “Being really nice to you. That’s really it. Just be nice to you.”

She digresses. “The thing that got me started moving in that direction was a book called “Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It.” It’s a super tiny book,” Annette grins. “Not even like, the best book I have ever read right? But something in it really resonated with me.” She continues, “The author was in this really bad place. And he couldn’t get out of it. It was just really bad depression. And he was like…’I need to get out of this.’ And the way he did that was just by saying ‘I love myself.’

“Repeatedly. Staring in the mirror in the morning: ‘I love myself.’ Walking down the street: ‘I love myself.’ And on and on. But,” Annette adds, “to a point where he was like, ‘Look, to start, you don’t even have to believe it. You just need to do it. You just say it.’ And,” she explains, “I’m sure everyone would have a different experience with this, but for me, it was completely revolutionary. I just needed to say it. That’s all I needed to do.” Annette pauses. “To start. To begin to move. To get more space.”

“So I’d be walking and I’d have this thought of ‘I’m not as put together as that person’ or I’d look in the mirror and not like what I see, and I’d be like ‘I love myself. I love myself. I love myself.’” She swirls her coffee, smiling. “And it just…changed the thought. It was very forceful. Very non-Zen right? This is very American. Just being like ‘shut the thought down. Switch it off.’ But through that,” Annette continues, “It did start to shift things. Slowly. But I stopped having such toxic thoughts. And I’m not saying that all of a sudden my thoughts were all ‘WHHHEEEEEE!’ either. It took a year or so for the effects of this to start rippling across my life. But the thing is, to start you just do this little, tiny thing.”

“You take the teensiest step towards something—even if it’s not much or not far—you take it. And if it works, if you get your footing, if there’s that much more space or energy at the end of it for you to take another, then you do that.” She smiles. “You take another little step, and build a little bit more off of that. And that works and you keep going, and then you fall back a little, but you keep moving.” Annette grins. “Today, my interior headspace is so vastly different.”

She leans forward, sipping the last of her drink. “I mean…this is IT. This is life. And I’m grateful and I have so much compassion for myself. I have a business that I can’t even believe. I have returning clients, and growing inquiries and potential partnerships opening up every day. And,” she continues, “even though I’m in this really thrilling, terrifying, totally uncertain point within it—it’s still life.” Annette grins, “so like, learn to enjoy what you can, within the uncertainty. You know?”

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