Browsing Tag

inspire

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, healing

5 Lessons from My Father’s Death.

February 10, 2014

5 Lessons from My Father’s Death

By Bethany Butzer.

When my stepfather Paul was twenty-two years old, he was shot in the face with a 12 gauge shotgun by his friend who was trying to kill him. He survived, but his injuries left him completely blind. After being shot, Paul got into AA and started to turn his life around. Over the next twenty-five years, he sponsored many people who struggled with addiction and gave talks at local community centers and jails in an effort to help people improve their lives.

Later in his life, Paul started to suffer from chronic pain in his feet, due to nerve damage caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency. His doctor prescribed Oxycontin—a powerful and highly addictive painkiller. Paul quickly became addicted to the medication, and over the next two years, he slowly wasted away before my eyes. He rarely got out of bed, seldom ate, and even stopped joining my family on Christmas morning.

Eventually, my mom left him. She refused to enable his destructive and addictive behavior.

Two months later, on October 25, 2007, Paul let out his final breath. He died alone on his bedroom floor. He was only fifty-five years old. And he was the only father I’d ever known.

Paul taught me five important lessons about life.

I work with these lessons every day, and I hope you will, too.

 Be Grateful

Growing up with someone who couldn’t see helped me appreciate the things we often take for granted, like our senses. Paul often had to ask me if his socks matched. He couldn’t pull a can out of the cupboard and know what it was. He couldn’t drive a car. He couldn’t take in a sunset. He once brushed his teeth with A535 (a cream for arthritis/joint pain) and ate a spoonful of dry cat food because he thought it was cereal. (We laughed about this at the time, but I think I’ve made my point!)

He never knew what I looked like. Instead of seeing with his eyes, Paul saw with his heart.

Be thankful for your ability to see. Not everyone is so lucky.

 Stay Strong

After being shot in the face and blinded, many people would give up. They would turn to a victim mentality, with “why me” playing continuously in their head. And while I’m sure that Paul experienced these thoughts at times, he was a striking example of how the human spirit can rise up and triumph over adversity.

Instead of playing the victim, Paul took his experience as a sign that he needed to turn his life around. He got sober and started inspiring others to do the same. He learned how to play the drums and joined a band. He got into weight lifting and worked out every day.

When tragedy strikes, pay attention to what the universe is trying to teach you.

 The Power of Forgiveness

One of the main tenets of AA is forgiveness. This meant that Paul needed to forgive the man who shot him. How on earth could you forgive someone who blinded you for life? I’m not quite sure how, but Paul did it.

One day, Paul was at a gas station with a friend who told him that the man who had shot him was at one of the other pumps. Paul asked to be led over to the man. He then hugged him and told him that he forgave him for what he’d done.

Paul taught me that holding onto anger and resentment doesn’t do anyone any good. These emotions eat you up inside and weigh on your shoulders. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person—it’s a gift that you give to yourself.

Who do you need to forgive?

Say What Needs to Be Said

Before Paul died, I had an opportunity to drop by his house to confront him about his addictive behavior. I was scared, so I drove by and reassured myself that I would talk to him the next time I visited my hometown. Instead, I decided to write him a letter, tape myself reading it, and mail him the tape.

He died two weeks later.

My letter didn’t arrive on time. I missed my chance.

From this experience, I learned the importance of telling people what we need to tell them. Don’t shy away from a confrontation because you feel awkward or uncomfortable. You never know when you might lose your opportunity.

 No One Is Perfect

Ultimately, Paul taught me that we all have our scars. We carry around personal demons that we struggle with from time to time. And that’s ok. We can’t expect ourselves, or anyone else for that matter, to be perfect.

Paul was a complex man. His heart was the same size as his temper—huge. He was rough, soft, kind, cruel, wise, and naive all at the same time.

I have fond memories of his kind side. The times we went for walks together and skated on ponds. The times he made me soup when I was sick. I’ll always remember how he loved to blare Bruce Springsteen and the tone in his voice when he would say to me, “You can do it, Grasshopper!”

Paul had his faults, and, like all of us, his faults were part of the package. His imperfections made him who he was. If he hadn’t been through what he’d been through, he never would have been able to motivate others to change their lives.

Realize that you are perfect exactly as you are, even with your imperfections.

I hope you take these five lessons and apply them to your life. That way, even though Paul isn’t around anymore, he can continue to inspire others.

As Helen Keller so aptly put it:

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.”

I’d like to leave you with a two-minute YouTube video that I made in honor of Paul. Another remarkable thing that Paul did was create and maintain a garden, complete with beautiful ponds, in our backyard. I remember him pulling weeds at 11:00 p.m. because, for him, it didn’t matter whether it was sunny or dark outside!

You’ll see Paul’s amazing garden in the video below:


Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
Author ● Speaker ● Researcher ● Yoga Teacher
Are You Ready To Create A Life You Love?
www.bethanybutzer.com

museum2 1

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. A lot. Next up is a workshop in London, England on Feb 15th. Book here.

Guest Posts, healing, motherhood

The Rocky Path To Grace.

January 22, 2014

                                                       By Lindsey Mead 
I have so few memories of the first weeks after Grace’s birth. It’s fascinating the way the mind recovers and copes, isn’t it? My memory has smoothed over those weeks of tears and panic like the airbrush facility in photoshop: the pain is still there, I can’t forget it, but its pointy, prickly granularity is sanded down to a more general, uniform memory. So I strive to remember specific moments, but I mostly can describe the overall experience. In my letter to my friend, I referred to the crucible of bewilderment, fear, and wonder known as postpartum depression, and I still think that’s a pretty good summary.

What do I remember about those first days and weeks?  I remember a blur of tears, darkness, crying, and most of all a visceral, frantic sense that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. This fear was powerful enough to almost topple me: the panic that I had ruined my life was layered with the guilt for having those feelings in the first place in an incredibly toxic cocktail. I remember walking one raw, early-November afternoon, Grace strapped to my chest in the baby Bjorn, my hand almost freezing off as I held a phone to my ear (one of very few phone calls in those days) and cried to a poor, unsuspecting friend who was expecting a joyful new mother. I remember sitting in the rocking chair in my kitchen, a week-old Grace asleep on my knees, wondering numbly why it was that my doula (there for her postpartum visit) was looking at me so oddly, why she kept urging me to call my midwives, why she took Matt into the other room and whispered something to him.

It all came crashing down at my 2 week midwife check-up. I am still horrified that most women have to wait until 6 weeks for their own appointments after giving birth, and am intensely grateful that my midwifery practice mandated this 2 week appointment. I sat across from the midwife, Grace asleep in her bucket carseat, and dissolved into tears. I remember crying with those all-encompassing sobs that make you feel like you are drowning. I could barely breathe. I was not allowed to leave until the end of the day, at which point I left with prescriptions and therapist appointment cards clutched in my hands and a dawning sense that I was truly not okay.

I have heard many funny stories of how control-fanatic women like myself struggled to adapt to motherhood. I always laugh, but the truth is that my reality was different. I crashed off the cliff of depression so quickly and so utterly that I was not even trying for control (for the first time in my life?). I didn’t even care, which was for me much scarier. I just sat there and cried. I think the fact of my surprise pregnancy contained within it the seeds of my PPD: I had never been in control of this, not from the very beginning. I, who have been able to muscle my way through basically any challenge (mostly because I was good at only selecting those challenges that I could conquer), was completely undone by this 7 pound, 12 ounce baby, and it devastated me.

My body fell apart as rapidly as did my mind: within 2 weeks I was 10 pounds thinner than I had been pre-pregnancy. I did not sleep, I did not eat, I did not smile. I looked like a cadaver, with deep circles under eyes that would not stop crying. I would not talk to anyone; the phone rang and rang and I refused to pick it up. Now I see I was recoiling into the deepest recesses of my body and spirit, trying to physically hide, to pretend somehow that this was not happening.

I tried reasoning with myself. I had had the unmedicated delivery I wanted so desperately, despite it being long and arduous. How could I have survived that experience, whose pain was fresh and blinding, and not be able to bear this? I had delivered a daughter, the gender of child that I’d never even allowed myself to admit how much I wanted. How could I not be grateful? In the face of such a thick, inarticulate fog of despair, whose power felt primal, logic absolutely failed. I could not see past the storm clouds either in my heart or on the horizon (and there were many there, too: an economy in collapse and a terminally-ill father-in-law awaiting a heart transplant).

I admit that for all of my pretense at open-mindedness, I had always thought that people who took anti-depressant medication were simply not trying hard enough. That arrogance disappeared overnight when I swallowed my first zoloft. Grace’s arrival was my hint – and, frankly, it was more like a sharp slap to the face, since I seemed to have trouble hearing the hints – that trying hard was not always going to be enough.

My recovery was gradual. If I plunged off a cliff in a near-vertical line when Grace was born, I climbed out on an angle just north of horizontal. I got significant help. I saw more than one therapist, frequently. I took medication. I can’t remember a specific day that I looked at my daughter and felt the swell of pleasure, of joy, of love that I had expected when she was born. It did happen, though I hate that I can’t note a specific day that those feelings arrived, and I love her fiercely now.

The truth is that I expected motherhood to be simple. I had been told that it would be instinctive, that I would look at my baby and realize I’d always been waiting for her. I didn’t. While I’ve spent my life working for specific achievements, I think I thought that this one thing, being a mother, was my birthright. It wasn’t. I am dogged by a profound guilt about those early days. I ask myself all the time what kind of damage my ambivalence did to her and to our bond. My passage to parenthood was marked by a deep grief that is integrally woven into my identity as a mother.

I delivered Grace myself, pulling her onto my chest with my own two hands. From that moment I began a long and difficult passage to the grace of motherhood. It did not come easily to me. I’ll never know if this has made me a more confident mother, for knowing the treacherous shoals I traversed, or a more insecure one, for the lingering knowledge that I did not embrace my child immediately. I try to tell myself it doesn’t matter now.

 headshot
Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston with her husband and two children.  Her writing has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources, including the Huffington Post, Literary Mama, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and Brain, Child.  She blogs regularly at A Design So Vast and loves connecting with people on twitter and facebook.
Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She will be leading a Manifestation Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October.
Guest Posts

Be Your Own Rockstar.

January 14, 2014

By Amy Roost.

While attending “The Evolution of Psychotherapy” conference with my husband, I rubbed shoulders (if only in the elevator) with several of the greatest minds in the field–Erving Polster, Jeffrey, Zweig, Sue Johnson, Harriet Lerner and Harvel Hendrix to name just a few –persons I wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with were my husband not a psychologist.

Surprisingly, the conference also featured a keynote address by Alainis Morrisette. I was excited to hear her speak since hers is a name I do recognize given that she’s a rock star and given that I’ve listened to her feminist anthems countless times. It turns out Morrisette is also an incredibly articulate advocate for mental health.

The morning after Morrisette spoke, I was standing in line at a hotel lobby Starbucks; three young women, likely graduate students, stood behind me. They were all atwitter about someone sitting nearby. “Should we introduce ourselves?”, one asked. “No, that would be rude”, another replied. “I’m going for it!” the third one said.

I tried to spot who it was they were referring to, even hoped it was Morrisette. Imagine then my surprise when the bravest of the three woman walked toward a table where Salvador Minuchin–a 92-year old pioneer of psychotherapy–was sitting alone enjoying a cup of joe. As the intrepid scout approached his table to introduce herself, Minuchin stood up to take leave. Startled, the woman lost her nerve, made a hasty u-turn and returned to her friends who stood snickering behind me.

We’ve all been there. In the presence of someone we admired so much it made us nervous.

I remember working as the events coordinator for a large independent bookstore. It was my job to greet, entertain (in the “green room”) and introduce all the authors who came to the store for book signings. Over the years the A-list included Colin Powell, John Irving, Hilary Clinton, John McCain, Billy Collins, Frances Mayes, Alexander McCall Smith, and Carl Hiassen. I was rarely nervous meeting such big-name celebrities, and even when an attack of the butterflies did set in, I was able to maintain my composure.

That is until I sat next to Stephen Colbert. For anyone who is not familiar with Colbert, he is a political satirist and, in my opinion, a comedic genius who will go down in history as one of the great American commentators, in the same company as Mark Twain, Will Rogers and Garrison Keillor. While he coined the term “truthiness”, he is paradoxically known for having delivered a speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner that was one of the most courageous speak-truth-to-power exhortations since Lenny Bruce’s rants about the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

I was in the company of Mr. Colbert for two hours, paging through to the title page of his book and passing it to him for his signature so as to expedite the line. I’d been through this routine numerous times making small talk with Pulitzer Prize winners and leaders of the free world alike. However, on this occasion, I was, for the first time, completely dumbstruck and tongue tied because Colbert is my rock star, as surely as Salvador Minuchin was the young woman at Starbucks’ rock star.

We all have a rock star (or two) in our lives. Someone who we dream of meeting; someone whose achievements humble and inspire us to be our best selves or do our best work. In those dreams we are not speechless. We are witty, charasmatic and engaging.

So how sad that the Starbucks woman couldn’t screw up the courage to introduce herself to Minuchin, or that I wasn’t able to take advantage of being in close proximity to Colbert, a man I admired in large part for his ability to speak his own truth. She and I left so much on the table and we walked away with the regret that comes from failing to grab the brass ring, and the stale dream of how the conversation with our hero might have transpired had we only found our voice. How Minuchin might have advised the young woman on her career path or how Colbert might have replied to my question about how his Catholicism has influenced his politics or whether he ever heard from President Bush after his Correspondents’ Dinner speech, or how he might have advised me to make my own writing more satirical.

What stopped both of us from speaking to our heroes was a fundamental lack of self worth. A failure to believe that we had anything compelling to offer. Maybe also a fear that our advances would be rejected and leave us feeling foolish–a small risk when you consider the potential payout.

My friend Dana did take the risk. When I conveyed the Minuchin story to her she recalled brazenly emailing her hero, the author Jean Houston, asking for guidance on her PhD dissertation. Houston, who is a highly regarded (and demanded) speaker on the topic of human potential, not only emailed Dana back with advice but invited Dana to keep in touch so they could pursue further dialogue.

Since I’d never heard of Salvador Minuchin until recently and I haven’t assigned him any superhero powers, I would have no problem–being the extrovert that I am–introducing myself to him. But sit me down next to Stephen Colbert and, I imagine, a handful of others–Bruce Springsteen, Mary Oliver, the Dalai Lama– and I do a complete mind f*ck on myself.

Maybe Colbert would have found me fascinating? Perhaps he would have wanted to hear about the travails of parenting chronically ill child or about my impressions of his home state of South Carolina, or about my six weeks spent in the Soviet Union, or my grandma’s sour cream raisin pie recipe. Who knows?

No one knows, that’s who. And no one ever will so long as I fail to embrace my own worthiness. My own inner rock star.

Click photo to connect with Amy.

Click photo to connect with Amy.

Her multi-dimensional suchness, Amy Roost, is a freelance writer, book publicist, legal and medical researcher, and vacation rental manager. She and her husband are the authors of “Ritual and the Art of Relationship Maintenance” due to be published later this year in a collection entitled Ritual and Healing: Ordinary and Extraordinary Stories of Transformation (Motivational Press). Amy is also Executive Director of Silver Age Yoga Community Outreach (SAYCO) which offers geriatric yoga teacher certification, and provides yoga instruction to underserved seniors.

 

Awe & Wonder, Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts, healing

Do You Want To Be On The Lifeboat?

December 23, 2013

Do You Want to be on the Lifeboat? 

By Catherine Hummel.

Close your eyes.

Imagine you are on a plane. You are on your way to a vacation you have saved up for and have been looking forward to for several months. You have your drink, your favorite book and a blanket. You are so grateful for a break from your busy life. Your eyes begin to soften as you settle in to your seat for your long ride across the ocean.

Just as you are about to drift off the pilot comes on the loudspeaker.

He begins to notify all passengers that one of the engines has gone out.

You are over the Atlantic Ocean and he informs you that the last engine’s gas will not last longer than one more hour and you won’t make it across the ocean.

The plane will crash.

Your heart starts to speed up.

You start to sweat.

Your mind is racing.

Is this the end of my life?

He then proceeds to tell you that there is one lifeboat on this plane.

6 people will be able to survive and that is it. Others, once they hit the water despite having life jackets will die immediately.

6 people will survive and all passengers on the plane will have a chance to make their case for why they should be the ones to live. And all passengers will have a chance to vote.

Panic. I can’t breathe.

Do you want to be on the boat?

***

I was in a workshop two years ago where I sat through this guided visualization.

I had a few minutes before I stood up in front of 15-20 people and would have 90 seconds to make a case for why I should be picked to be on the plane. I was 24 years old. I was working at a non-profit in downtown Boston. My life was simple. I had made some great changes over the past two years, I had decided to stop drinking. I began taking steps to living the life I dreamed of but at this point I had really settled in to playing really, really small. I had already lived the chaos and I wanted to just get by, wasn’t that enough? Perhaps now it wasn’t. I had passions and dreams but was I doing anything about them? How often did I feel comfortable sharing my heart? How often was I experiencing tremendous joy and excitement about the life I was living? Was I too comfortable playing small? What was I living for? What was important to me? What did I have to offer the world, offer to life? Was I living my life like I wanted to live it??

I stood up. I felt small and insignificant. I felt ridiculous having to fight for my life in front of total strangers and yet I said I want to be on the boat. I don’t even remember consciously saying it. I barely remember what else I said. My voice shook, my hands were trembling, and yet in that moment my life flashed before my eyes.Catherine, do you want to live? What are you doing with your life? What if you were about to die and this was your last chance, would you choose it? In my 90 seconds I talked about what was important to me, I shared my dreams I had never shared with anyone before, that I wanted to help people, specifically help women connect with themselves and their hearts, I wanted to build communities, I wanted people to remember how precious life is and that it’s all a gift, help them connect with their own inner spark, for them to choose a life that they were happy about living. I told the group that I wanted a spot on the boat. I chose life.

As the exercise went on I noticed some things about the way many other people shared. All of us were nervous but many were ready to give up their life. Women talked about how their children needed them but didn’t talk about why they wanted to live for themselves. Men talked about their businesses and their work but not about what really mattered to them. Others younger than me shared about how they had so much life left to live and they too had dreams and goals and passions. Others who were over age 65 said they were ready to die. I found myself getting angry at the ones who were ready to give up. Why are you giving up? Why aren’t they fighting for their life? We are all equally valuable to this world and what kinds of people are we BEING in our day to day life? What really matters? It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t even matter what you do for a living, each person has something to offer the world. It’s not over til it’s over. I knew people in my life that had found true love at age 70. There are 80 year olds running marathons. There are people who live each day as if it is their last, Wait, am I doing that? Some people got up and even though they made a case, never once said “I want to be on the boat.” Others stood there speechless.

Then we had to vote.  I voted for the ones who said they wanted to be on the boat. Who clearly said it. It didn’t matter if they had good reason, they said they wanted it. I shared with the ones who were ready to give up how angry that made me, that I wanted them to see that they were worthy of life, that they had something to offer regardless of their age, and why were you so easily ready to give up? The martyrdom made me sick. I don’t want people to step aside, I want each person to claim their space, know their worth, equals. It didn’t matter how much money people made, what mattered is what kind of difference they were making in the world. I wanted the ones on the boat who were real. Who were confident in who they were. Who believed in service to others. Who knew life wasn’t just about being happy, ones who had overcome tremendous struggle, and were continuing to live their life in gratitude and with passion. I wanted the fighters on the boat, the ones with hope and desire, the ones who wanted to live.

Of course many people were in reaction to the exercise and treated it as such. Just an exercise. But for me it felt real. I began to ask – Am I living my life like I actually want to?  What about those dreams that I just expressed to complete strangers, why am I not trying to live them? Am I confident in who I am? Do I like who I am? Do I know I am inherently worthy and valuable? Do I show up in my life fully self expressed and free?

I challenge you to ask yourself those questions.

Forget how you would do the exercise- how are you doing your life right now?

Life is a gift. It’s given to us the day we were born. We don’t have to earn it. We don’t have to work for it. It’s handed over and yet how many of us treat life that way?  Waking up in the morning do I act as if this day is a precious gift meant to be lived with kindness and grace? Am I deeply aware of the miracle that I am, that I was born worthy of all my hearts desires, and that my dreams are planted in my heart by spirit and I am strong enough to carry them out and make them real? Am I brave enough to handle when life doesn’t go my way? Do the people in my life know that I love them?

I created my coaching business after that weekend. I wanted to keep my spot on this planet. In this world. I wanted to help other women step up in their life, to know their worth, their passion, and their fire. To know their power and their value. I wanted others to be able to feel their desires, to know that they can handle both the light and the dark, that we were all given this life because we are strong enough to live it. Maybe up until this very moment you’ve been unhappy, you’ve been playing small, you’ve been afraid. Here’s the thing: every second is a chance to turn your life around. You don’t need to wait. This is what Second Chance Coaching was about It took one second for me to make the decision to do something different. To stop playing small. To stop criticizing myself. To pray to see what others see, the beauty within me, until I could see it myself. One second to believe I belong here, that I have a place in this world, and I am not ready to give up, no, I am not willing to give up.

That was 2 years ago when I sat in that workshop. Today I write this blog as a full-time women’s life coach and I have become a yoga teacher. I wanted to write this so I could remember. I could remember what it felt like when parts of me wanted to give up. When I thought life had become too bearable to live.  I want to remember the truth of who I am, of who we all are: unconditional love, infinite possibility, miracles. I want to remember the truth when I want to give up, when it gets too hard, when I don’t want to feel. I want to remember that I said YES to this, that I continue to say yes to this, my spot on the boat, my spot in this world, my life.

1351131838

 

Catherine Hummel is the gal who helps women who’ve lost their spark re-discover the magic within to fall in love with themselves and their life. At 26 years old she is a life coach, Reiki practitioner, yoga teacher, workshop and retreat facilitator, truth-telling machine and oh so very human. Her passion to help others transform their lives stems from her own experiences. At the age of 22 she hit rock bottom – lights out. As she rediscovered her own light and lit up her life, she found meaning in helping others do the same. She leads a monthly women’s circle titled “Sisters of the Heart” in Boston, MA, retreats in North Sandwich, NH and coaches women all over the country journey to their heart. 

 

Guest Posts, Letting Go, loss, love

Blue Is The Color of Sad.

December 17, 2013

Blue Is The Color of Sad. By Amy Ferris.

 

She must have a window seat.

This, she promises, is her last phone call for the night, reminding me one more time, it must be a window seat. I tell her I will do my best, the plane seems awfully full, and since it’s a last minute booking, it might be hard. “If I tell you I want a window seat, get me a window seat.”

This phone exchange was not long after her being diagnosed with moderate stage of dementia. She had some scary moments – unsettling, jarring, and horrifically confusing moments.

A Bat Mitzvah in Scarsdale, New York spurred her into a travel frenzy – wanting desperately to go, stay for few days, and see her family – her sisters, her nieces and nephews. I managed to work it out so a car service (a very kind man who lived on her street) would come and pick her up, drop her off at the JetBlue terminal, and make sure there was no seen or unforeseen problem. I paid the guy to wait an extra half-hour. She was still driving at that time, having just rammed her car into a fire hydrant. A glaring sign that she should never be behind the wheel ever again. “It came out of no where,” she said, “One minute I was sitting there, minding my own business, and the next minute, there it was, crossing the street.” What do you say? Really? “Ma, it can’t walk, a fire hydrant doesn’t walk.” You say nothing, but think plenty. I thought, “Oh shit, it’s really not so far downhill.”

I call the airline, JetBlue, and speak with a reservation agent, who had just the right combination of humor and sympathy and could not have been any more cordial or kind. She promised they will do whatever they could to accommodate my mom, but she needed to remind me that the plane was in fact full, and hopefully someone will be able to move if there was not a window seat available. I ask her if there is a ‘companion’ person who can help my mom get settled. Help her with the boarding pass, and the other unexpected frustrations that may arise. Yes, she says, someone will help my mom. I can only hope and pray for my mother to come ‘face to face’ with kindness. I think of all the times I gave up a window seat for an elderly person, or a pregnant woman, or a wife who wanted to sit next to her husband. I am hopeful, based on my own generosity, in situations like those.

She is picked up at the designated time. She is standing outside her condo with her suitcase and an overnight bag, having packed enough clothing for a month. “Maybe I’ll stay for a few extra weeks, “ she tells me the night before when she lists off all the clothing she’s bringing. I can hear in her voice something I never heard before: loneliness.

She gets to the JetBlue terminal, she checks her suitcase outside with baggage claim, and – I am told by the neighbor/car service driver – hands a crisp ten dollar bill to the lovely bag handler, telling him he is a lovely, lovely kind man. He deeply appreciates her gesture. Little does he know that the remaining eight or so crisp ten dollar bills that she has tucked ever so neatly in her wallet will make their way to others who smile, offer her hand, let her get ahead in line, help her with her carry-on. She makes her way up to the counter, where a ticket should be waiting for her. Yes, there is a ticket, but she must go to the gate, in order to try and get a window seat. This gives her great joy.

She goes through the whole scene – again, I am told by the neighbor/car service guy – the taking off of her shoes, the removing of her belt, the telling a joke or two about her hip replacement, and how it reminds her of the old days in Las Vegas when someone won at the slots, it was a sound filled with ‘good wishes.’ “No More,” she says. “It’s a phony sound, it has no heart. Gimme back my shoes.”

The car service guy cannot go any further with my mom. The rules. The companion person from Jet-Blue now meets her, thankfully.

There is no window seat available. She has an aisle seat. It appears that no one wants to give up a seat. I am horribly sad by this lack of generosity for this old, frail woman, and dare I say, embarrassed, because this old frail woman is my mom. This is where I get to envision the whole crazy scenario. My mother throwing a shit storm of a nut-dance, hauling a racial slur at the African American flight attendant, and then, if that wasn’t enough, causing another passenger who was somewhat overweight to breakdown and cry. “You know how fat you are, you should have your own zip-code.” The administrator later told me on the phone, it was like an unstoppable chaotic ruckus. I am sad. I tell her that my mom has dementia. It comes and goes, but mostly it’s coming these days. I give her all the broad strokes, my dad had died, she’s living alone, we know, we know, it’s time to get her settled, she’s stubborn, she’s independent, and there’s the whole question of what to do now? Move her, or does she stay? And she’s always been much more strident and righteous and defiant. Not going gently into the good night. Not one iota.

She leaves the airport, and manages to get back to her condo by renting a car, even though she is forbidden to drive. I would just love to meet that Avis rental person who gave my mom a red Mustang to tool around in.

She calls me in hysterics. She wants me to fire every single one of those nasty, bitchy flight attendants, and pilots. And the co-pilot, he’s as much to blame. And where is her luggage? Her goddamn luggage? I bet they stole it. They stole it and you should fire them, the whole lot of them. I find out from the very cordial and patient rep, that her luggage is on its way to New York. I am in Los Angeles on business; my brother is at a birthday celebration on Long Island. Nether one of us expected this hailstorm. I try to deal with the airport bureaucracy and arrange for my mom’s luggage to make its’ way to Fort Lauderdale within 48 hours, barring no glitches.

My mother refuses to speak to anyone. She feels duped and lied to and the fat girl should have gotten up. “My God she took up two god-damn seats.” And then she said, “I always, always have to sit at the window.” Why, I ask her, why? She hangs up on me. Typical. Some things never change.

We moved my mom to New Mexico where she was about to start living in an assisted living home. Good care. My brother researched, and found a lovely place that would make her feel just like home. I managed to get her a window seat. As the plane revved up it’s engines and was about to take off, my mom took my hand and squeezed it, staring out the window – watching the plane disappear into the gorgeous white clouds – and after a few long, long, moments, she turned to me, and said: “Up hear, in the clouds, I can dream all I want.” Then she pointed to two clouds, almost inter-wined, and she said with such joy: ‘See that, see that, they’re dancing together. You can only see this kind of magic from a window seat.”

It’s was here that my mother had always been able to see and feel and imagine clouds dancing, forms taking shape, lovers kissing, the intertwining of souls, and as her hand pressed up against the window, she could feel the kindness of Heaven.

amy_ferris
Amy Ferris: Author. Writer. Girl.

Book: Dancing at The Shame Prom, sharing the stories that kept us small – Anthology, Seal Press (2012) co-edited with Hollye Dexter
Book: Marrying George Clooney, Confessions From A Midlife Crisis, Seal Press (2010)
Guest Posts, healing, motherhood

Un-Motherhood.

December 7, 2013

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Laura C. Alonso

It’s one of those days. I curl on my side in a c-shape in the center of my bed, wrapping my arms around myself. Oh, these empty arms of mine, mocking this Fucking. Empty. Womb. I breathe in, breathe out, and allow myself to fall into the dreamspace where I can scream as loud as I want without scaring the neighbor’s children . . . my husband . . myself. I don’t scream in waking life. I don’t even talk about it, really. This gaping hole of real, raw, aching grief has no category, no name (at least none that I know of, none that seems to define this experience for me). There is no sympathy for me, for my loss. What loss? How do you lose something you never had in the first place? Well, you can. And I have.

Peach Skin

No sweet fruit to nourish the spirit, just a thin film that veils each day – velvet cheeks, never kissed . . . the souls of our unborn children.

Those twenty-five words were published about two years ago in a “tiny and colorful literary journal” called Nailpolish Stories, where writers tell stories in exactly twenty-five words with titles named after the colors of nail polish. At the time it was the best and the most I could do. It quite literally ripped through my heart to put those few words on paper, and it was a gift to me for it to be out in the world. Now I’m trying to do better, and for some reason it feels really important to get it right.

In sitting down to write this, the title that came to me first was “Notes from a Childless Mother.” Ugh. And . . . um, no.

To be clear, I don’t want or need sympathy. Empathy, perhaps, but sometimes I feel so unworthy of expecting anything at all. If my own empty arms can mock the fact that there never was and never will be a baby growing in this womb, then why shouldn’t you mock me, too? After all, there are people who have lost REAL babies. Living, breathing, beautiful children. Miscarriages, SIDS, horrible childhood diseases. Mothers losing babies. The stuff that makes you want to tear out your hair and scream at the universe for doing that to any mother, any child. Fuck chaos; fuck the lottery of where one lands in this world. Fuck the fact that those amazing women will never be the same. Never. Never again. I’ve known and loved those women. And I feel all of that, and it hurts me, too – it hurts me to my core, and I do scream out loud for them in my dreamspace as well.

I also wouldn’t dare to put myself in the shoes of those grieving mothers. And I don’t expect anyone else to, either. The same with couples who’ve tried and failed – often for years – to conceive much-wanted children only to then go on to fail at infertility treatments as well. Couples with so much to offer. Homes that children would be so blessed to be born into. So. Fucking. Unfair. I ache for them, too. But I also have not walked their path . . .

I just want a pair of shoes of my own. Shoes that actually fit – that I can walk around in and be who I am and feel what I feel and be understood by a handful of people. Is that too much to ask?  To most people I’m just a woman who never had a kid. It was a choice, after all. She never had kids. We’re a childless couple – we never even tried to conceive. They never had children . . . Never had a baby, those two . . . Tsk, tsk.

Yet not one of those “nevers” matches my experience. Not even close. In the permanent punched-out hole in my gut, I feel every day like a childless mother. I knew my children before they were(n’t) born. They existed for me. They had little nameless, faceless souls, but I knew them, and they were mine, and I looked forward to meeting their father and eventually meeting them – getting to know them and helping them unfold into the amazing little humans they chose to be. I dreamed often of the day I would be given that privilege. Emphasis on would have. Not might have. No; I knew. They waited for me in a future I hadn’t yet reached – in a life that I didn’t yet know . . . but I couldn’t wait to meet them there someday.

I read parenting books when I wasn’t even in a long-term dating relationship.  Throughout my twenties I worked full-time and went to university with an average of nine credits per semester. I spent a year working on an honor’s thesis and was preparing to apply to graduate school. I volunteered at a crisis hotline; I had many friends and a great social life. I was busy and happy and on my way. In addition to the reading, writing, studying, etc. that I had to do for my undergraduate work, I was a voracious reader outside of academics as well.

And somewhere in that “leisure” reading, I always had a book or two in my bag about children and parenting issues. And I read them. A lot. Many of them several times. And my friends would sincerely ask, why are you reading about parenting now? And that seemed like a silly question to me. I wanted to do it well. I hadn’t had the best preparation for it based on how I grew up, to say that in the most simple way possible. And if we spend the equivalent of four years of full-time study before we can enter most “professions” (and often study beyond that is required or at least recommended as an asset to your skill set), then why did it seem SO crazy to most people that I was studying about children and parenting several years before I was likely to actually have a child and be a parent?

And it went beyond the books, too. I had all sorts of ideas and plans that I tucked away for that future time in my life. My future home would definitely have a large, beautiful globe. I’d seen some that were made of gemstones – beautiful and multi-colored – and I imagined how delighted my children would be to have that reference whenever we talked about “the world.” Oh, and we would have a very large, thick-spined, gold-embossed dictionary. On a pedestal in some prominent spot in our home – you know, like they have in the library. Yes, and walls of bookshelves, and comfortable places to read . . . all of that and so much more, tucked away in my heart. Still there, really . . . sort of mocking me quite a bit, actually. I don’t know what to do with those things now – where to put them, how to somehow still have ownership of something that never materialized. How to talk about it with other people.

“This is the mother that I would have been . . .”

But things turned out different. Yes, I met a man I loved very much who shared the future vision of us waking up on Sunday mornings with children somersaulting onto our bed. I got married at thirty-one with every intention of meeting those lovely souls someday on the then-visible horizon. But other things happened on the way. I never made it to graduate school. Chronic illness crept into my life. Our finances never lined up. And time doesn’t stand still for those things.

Suddenly I was forty, and then forty-two – and without wanting to acknowledge it, I could feel that hole growing solid, permanent. Black. Never to be filled. And it’s something I’ve been quietly coming to terms with inside my heart and sometimes in painful, tear-filled mourning sessions with my husband over the last few years. I will be forty-six in February. Still chronically ill; still struggling financially. Never. Going. To. Be. A. Mother.

Yet in many ways I feel like we honored those precious little souls by not bringing them into the world simply because we selfishly wanted to know them. We knew we couldn’t care for them the way that they deserved. We wanted nothing more than to be parents. But we wanted to be good parents. And we had to come to terms with the quite literally agonizing fact that it really wasn’t possible in the place where life had taken us.

So, was it a choice? I suppose. But it is one that breaks my heart over and over again every single day. And I know it breaks my husband’s, too.

I often wonder what the future will be like when my peers and I start to become the “aged” generation – if I’m fortunate to make it that far! – what will it be like when I have nobody around me to look into my eyes and see their own eyes peering back at them? No one to cradle my hand, to kiss my cheek . . . and to call me that beautiful name?

Fucking.

Empty.

Womb.

At our wedding, a dear friend of mine took me aside and asked me not to bring up the subject of her two young children in front of our mutual friend, as this friend was currently undergoing infertility treatment and was overwhelmingly sad about not being able to get pregnant, and she didn’t want to bring up the subject of children in front of her. I’m not sure if that is how our mutual friend would have felt if I had asked to see photos of our friend’s children, but I know that the friend who asked did so out of the most loving and best intentions. I also know for sure that is not how I want to be treated.

I love kids. Love families. Absolutely adore seeing beautiful loving families doing everything they know to get it right. It makes me happy, brings me genuine, heart-swelling joy to see your photos, hear your stories. I’m HAPPY for you and your beautiful children. I might see something that reminds me – ah, yes, that’s how I thought it would be! – but you having it in your life doesn’t make me have it any more or any less in mine. It’s not really something to be jealous of. What you have in abundance doesn’t give or take anything from me.

So, yes, I’m that Facebook friend who sincerely enjoys watching all the videos and pictures of your children and their amazing milestones and all of those precious phrases, questions, etc., that only come from the mouths of children before they learn to “filter.” Love it. All of it. And it’s not in a creepy way, either. Being both overjoyed for you and sad as hell for me are not mutually exclusive.

When I first started reconnecting with old friends on Facebook, I was browsing through the photos of one of my high school friends. There was a picture of her daughter on her first day of kindergarten, and she was wearing the same dress my friend had worn on her first day of kindergarten. I burst into tears at the sight of that photo. But I was smiling. It was beautiful. And, yes, it was just the kind of thing I would have wanted to do if I had a daughter, and I felt that as an ache deep in the pit of my gut. But I also felt my heart swell with happiness for my friend and her beautiful girl. Since then there have been lots of tears from lots of Facebook posts, picture, videos . . . but again, they are tears of joy, of admiration – of “oh, how beautiful that is and how happy it makes me to see people I love and care about experiencing this amazing, awesome journey!”

I love those moments when I can see friends’ and family’s faces mirrored in their own children; whether they are biological children or not, this seems to occur in some fashion for most families I know, and it’s one of the most beautiful things to observe. I’ve had my own dreamlike moments when those floating souls of my unborn children have flashed before me and I’ve glimpsed a version of my own face in theirs – it’s a spark, a blur – and in those brief moments I’ve experienced the overwhelming feeling that comes with that kind of love, that kind of soul connection. I get it to the very core of my bones, and I miss it even if you might say that I never had it to begin with.

On that note, I guess if I have any advice for my friends (and/or for friends of “people like me”), it would be that you not say in our presence that one can only truly understand the love between a parent and child once one becomes a parent. I “get” how it must feel that way to you, but from our side of the experience – to those of us in this little undefinable space that I’m still trying to come up with a name for – that is, quite frankly, both condescending and hurtful. And I simply do not believe that it is true. I loved my kids – the little souls still floating around in my consciousness somewhere – long before I ever knew who their father would be or when (or if) they would enter my life. I love them still. Even if that makes me sound crazy.

I’ve also been extremely blessed to have several children in my life who’ve been my center and my world. My brother was born when I was fourteen, and he and I have shared a very special bond throughout his childhood until he went away to college and beyond. In that same space of time my older sister had a daughter, and then a son. And all three of those kids were the center of my universe for many years. I made life decisions around them and my ability to live near them and to be a part of their lives and to love them as big and as much as I could.

My niece then had a daughter, Kaylee, when she was still quite young herself, and my husband and I have enjoyed helping her as much as we possibly could from the time Kaylee was a baby. We used to keep her with us every weekend, and we took care of her during the week sometimes as well, and it was really such a gift to us – this beautiful baby girl who we had the privilege of helping to care for. In an odd way that experience is what helped us understand in the most tangible way that I could not care for a child full-time, seven days a week, around-the-clock. I would give everything I had for the time she was with us and then would literally have to rest for the entire day or two in-between before she came back to fill our lives with joy again. And I did so without any regret and an enormous sense of purpose. And she is now an amazing seven-year-old first grader who still spends weekends with us as often as she can (she is a very busy girl!), and we couldn’t love her any more if she were our own. It was always the same with my brother. It was the same with my niece and my nephew. And I hope that they all have known, and will always know and remember, that love from me.

But I also know that as much and as deep as I love them, I am not any of their mothers. I know that I am nobody’s mother and never will be. And it’s sad and unfair and it will always exist every day in that punched-out hole in my gut. And that’s my sorrow to bear. And I don’t want or need you to feel sorry for me. I just want this experience to be heard, to be known. And I know I am not the only one.

I think there are many of us “childless mothers” walking the earth, living our lives with their various circumstances, silently carrying the lifelong burdens of these empty, aching arms . . . and when we encounter your children, we happily admire and, yes, sometimes even love them – we often love them very, very much – but not with envy, and not in some creepy, coveting way. We love your children with genuine joy and (you better believe!) with a hard-earned, deep and heartfelt knowledge of what it takes for you to be a parent . . . and, finally, we love them with the truest appreciation of every single one of their beautiful, wonder-filled, velvet-cheeked, miracle moments on earth.

 

Laura C. Alonso‘s work has been published in In Posse ReviewLinnaean Street3AM MagazineSFWP, and other online literary journals. She is the former Senior Editor of Fictionline Press and former Fiction Editor of The God Particle (two sorely missed online venues), and her fiction  has been a finalist in the Santa Fe Writer’s Project’s Literary Awards Program in 2001, 2002, and 2010, as well as a finalist for the Glass Woman Prize in 2012.

Jen Pastiloff is back in London for ONE workshop only Feb 14th. Book by clicking poster. This is her most popular workshop and space is limited to 50 people.

Jen Pastiloff is back in London for ONE workshop only Feb 14th. Book by clicking poster. This is her most popular workshop and space is limited to 50 people.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Contact Rachel Pastiloff for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here or email rachyrachp@gmail.com.

Contact Rachel Pastiloff for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here or email rachyrachp@gmail.com.

depression, Guest Posts

Sad Fish.

December 3, 2013

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Maggie May Ethridge

In the news:a father, a mother at sixteen, a thirteen year old charged as an adult, a dog trapped in the sewer system, these five men, this famous singer, faulty wiring, a family torn apart by this devastating lie, a baby, a toddler, a car accident, a horrible accident no one could have predicted it it just happened, a man who did something good for a woman, a man who did something bad to three women, a horrible accident everyone predicted it still happened.

Remember to carry your sadness inside.

Do not bury it. Carry it. Remember to let it go occasionally and watch it fall apart at your feet. Remember to dance on its grave. Allow time for slow motion, disco, modern and robot dance maneuvers. Remember to lift the corners of your mouth enough to prevent an entire day of What’s wrong? Remember everyone has an answer to that question. Constantly address the present moment, like Hey what’s up PM? What’s happening? You chill? Check out the PM’s dress, manner, body language and if the PM is a dirty rat bastard, address it with the steely, dignified acceptance and enduring faith of someone you wish you are, someone you read about in a Robert Parker or Joyce Carol Oates novel, and are sure you will become more like if you just keep pretending.

Wear appropriate shoes. Find something small that is beautiful and carry it with you, like a rainbow keychain, a necklace of gold, your nails in chevron stripes. Glance at it all day. When The Sadness becomes a fish flapping nastily on the riverbank, reach back deeply into your throat, pull it out, flog it repeatedly while cursing in a loud and vigorous manner until breaking a sweat and becoming red of face and neck. When properly flogged, sternly yet quickly lecture The Sadness on it’s proper place in your life, being a good example for the children, remembering how much you actually have, that you are not special, Sad Fish, just another Sad Fish- actually a lot LESS sad than many in the river, and shove the flat and emasculated fish back into your gut, where it will hopefully remain meek and subdued for quite some time, or at least long enough to get you through this thing you have to do or  that other thing that must be done, or the kids are in bed.

Possible containment of The Sadness through medium glass of wine, which will either bring forth unencumbered weeping- therefore preventing public doing so- or giggling ridiculousness.  Let is be made clear that giggling and ridiculousness are both highly desirable and should be sought after as much as possible.***Do not make mistake of assuming the drink can kill The Sadness, and fall into the wishitwere’s. The drink cannot kill The Sadness, but when misued, can feed the Sad Fish until it is bloated, enormous and agitated, unable to be properly sorted, flogged or carried. The Sad Fish may, in this case, with scales of liquor and beer, lay eggs. In this case, you are truly fucked, until you make your way to a vigorously practicing AA meeting, rehab, or a spiritual experience.***Consume as much material as possible re: survival. Include: children’s stories, YA fiction, poetry, French films, 80’s and 90’s American dramatic films, any marvelous novel, classical, gospel, folk, alternative music, memoirs, certain TED lectures and face to face discussions.  Consume as much happiness as possible and is available.

FATAL MISTAKE: to begrudge happiness because you are angry/disenchanted/hurt/exhausted/sickofit or the worst of all: feeling sorry for yourself. FSFY is a known killer, causing Sad Fish to lay eggs, causing normal living humans to become the walking dead.  Unable to appreciate or acknowledge the good things and people around them out of a stubborn sense of being singled out in life for pain or fear of losing focus on the shitty things and/or people’s sympathy for them, FSFY causes severe uglification and decay of the soul, slowly poisoning a person until they vomit up their Sad, Dead Fish, and eat it while hissing brains, brainsssssss.

FSFY must be avoided at all costs. Better to become a Sickeningly Positive Person than a FSFY.

FSFY’s do not get great sex, great friends, family that likes them or even dogs that adore them. FSFY’s are toxic to normal human beings and are not allowed past the sitting room. Think ridiculous thoughts that make you chuckle to yourself, even if you must look around nervously afterward, feeling stupid and wondering if anyone heard you. Lay in grass in sunshine. Take hot baths and read. Watch hilarious movies and shows. Be around children often. Help someone else, every day. When you want to growl, bark or bite at your family or friends, slap yourself, begin again. It’s exactly like your damn mother told you: practice, practice, practice. No one becomes great at being sad without a shitload of effort.

Remember The Sadness is going to be a part of your life, forever. Why? Was that you, in the corner with the green headphones, ear piercing and energy drink who asked that? Because you were the lucky winner of life. You got chosen to be alive. Life is a package deal. It comes with The Sadness. It begins the first time we feel the sharp and salty tang of loss, yearning and frustration as an infant, and let out a wail.

Have sex you wanted to but were afraid to. Do yoga. Stretch. Instead of walking to your car, skip. You will feel ridiculous. And better. You will find those two words often go together; if you want to feel better, you have to be willing to be ridiculous. Take out your Sad Fish, put glasses and a hat on him, and dance with his short rubbery little arms in yours. Carpe Sad Fish! Later he’ll be so tired you will have an hour of peace. When you wake up every morning, slap water on  your face and say to your reflection ‘ Well, you ain’t no prize. ‘ This keeps you in check, and lessens possibility of FSFY.

Then smile at yourself and say “Well, on the other hand, you ain’t a piece of shit, either.”

Maggie May Ethridge is a novelist, poet and freelance writer from the deep South who has lived most of her life in San Diego, CA. She has an Ebook coming out in January with the new publishing company Shebooks ” Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From A Marriage ” and is completing her second novel. She has been published in magazines both on and offline in places like Diagram, The Nervous Breakdown, Equals Record and blogs regularly at Flux Capacitor.

The tattoo was sent to Maggie by a Flux reader who used Sad Fish to get through a dark year and ended up putting the words on her body- an ultimate compliment: The enduring faith of someone you wish you were.

SADFISHTAT

 

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on November 30th. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on November 30th. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Beating Fear with a Stick, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, healing

Nesting In Transition.

November 19, 2013

Nesting In Transition.

By Melisssa Black.

I suppose it’s time to use my carefully sculpted sentences and succinctly selected phrases to talk about pain, because contrary to my desperate belief, cutting its vocal chords doesn’t kill it and shoving it in the bottom drawer doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

I have come to adore the phrase “I used to feel” to describe my floundering around in pain and overwhelm and vague stagnancy. The thought of my path being unclear and my actions frozen and my past writhing inside of me existing right now is enough to send me away from myself, back into the shackles of the disciplinarian I bowed down to for far too long. Essentially I have been attempting to fool myself in hopes that I’ll believe it’s all decaying underneath my footsteps, and that belief will manifest my salvation. But it’s still swimming.

An atrocious amount of time is still spent in front of mirrors, searching, determined to find ugliness, something to improve, some red flag or blemish or untoned muscle that will justify the uneasiness in which I seem to place myself. I still put my conscience to sleep in acts of cruel hatred inflicted upon my own body, waking only to find fingers pinching flesh on my hips, gagging at every angle I can position myself in. While brushing my hair, my teeth, putting on lipstick or glasses, old fiends scratch on my windowpanes, reminding me of every flaw and unrelentingly tossing in images of the tiny body I had not even a year ago like rocks through the living room window. These rocks sink to the bottom of my every attempt to hold my head high and make it out of the grasp of my past.

Eating disorders are an ugly reality. Even uglier, for me, was the depth of the issue, which extended beyond wanting to be beautiful enough to be valued and into the realms of a crumbling identity and empty well of self-worth, which perpetuated into every fiber of my being until I realized I couldn’t escape the notion of “not enough.” It followed me everywhere, and it ate me alive from the inside out until I discovered myself one horrendously grey winter afternoon in Idaho Falls on my yoga mat, mid-crunch, heaving and blubbering the same question over and over: “Where have I gone?”

I had not laughed, I had not connected, I had not felt an inkling of substantiality since I decided that to be thin meant to be disciplined, to be disciplined meant to be good, and to be good meant to be loved by God. After so much unrelenting torture, more emotionally than physically, I had constructed my own make-shift light at the end of my self-imposed tunnel. This work, this dis-ease, this inferiority wasn’t for nothing; I would soon walk through one of my blessed days as a perfect human being and be awarded the love that my ego was promising me. That day never arrived, even when I had enough willpower to sink under 100 pounds and fail to menstruate for a year and a half.

I have healed significantly since then. I surrendered into the unconditional love of my mother’s arms and I opened my eyes and ears to the swarms of friends around me, willing to help and restore the girl that they missed. I turned eighteen and decided it was high time to quit fucking around and declare my own worth and beauty and value, regardless of the ideas I had previously allowed to possess my fragile mind. I wasn’t going to take my first steps into adulthood as a victim, shrinking away in a rotting corner under the pressure of the world’s and my own outlandish expectations. I have kissed my own wounds and I have grown. But I think I have let the virtue of strength possess me just as I had let the fantasy of perfection.

When I start to consider that I may not be exactly where I believed I was on my highest highs, when I spent romantic nights with Bob Dylan and impasto and poetry, indulging in the fantastic beauty I had every right to see in my own reflection, I start to panic. I begin to implement my new methods of beating the sadness out of myself, disguising it as unyielding tenacity. But I don’t want to be proud of my own feet on top of the vulnerability that it takes to express a long-lived sadness. I no longer want to pretend that being unaffected is strength personified. If something hateful is still squirming within me, it is not my job to condemn my own weakness for not having completely overcome it yet – those were some nasty demons and I am and always have been a sensitive girl.

I still see them when I silently beg with every action to be praised by people I don’t particularly like, or when I allow the dark matter of my mind to convince me that if I didn’t burn 400 calories or write a perfect paper, I have lost myself to unworthiness and sloth. I see it when I manipulate people in my cravings for affection and when I whisper stories to myself about others to battle my own insecurities, to extinguish the coals that are still burning within my anger of not having yet reached perfection. These things still trickle up, no matter how impossible I believe it to be in the blissful, fleeting moments of yoga, meditation, or prose fluidly leaking from my fingertips. But the intensity of my highs and lows is so staggering that it’s almost theatrical. Rest, now, is my only option.

I will no longer grapple with my past. I will no longer succumb to guilt. I will no longer condemn myself of ridiculous and fictitious offenses. Instead, I’m choosing to place myself in the ethers of flagrant honesty, and wrap that girl into arms mimicking my mother’s and let her know, with a kiss on her shoulder, that no matter how far she slips back down her own timeline, she is nevertheless welcome home in every moment.

picture015

Melissa Black is currently a student in Littleton, CO, pursuing a career in writing. She is on the road to recovery from anorexia and has found peace through yoga and meditation, and purpose in serving others through prose, art, and random (and frequent) acts of kindness. She aspires to give all that she has gained through her journey inward to those who struggle with eating disorders and poor self-image, and believes connection through writing is a powerful force for reaching out to those in need with compassion, understanding, and unconditional support.
Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts, Inspiration

Experience Becoming.

November 18, 2013

Experience Becoming.

By Jolie Jenkins.

kurt_vonnegut

As an actress, my day-to-day job is auditioning. For each one, I spend time and energy preparing for it, dressing for it, thinking about it, driving to it, waiting for it. And then I go in and perform, give it my all, be as present as I can be, spend time (hopefully) collaborating with the casting director or director or producer(s), feel pretty good (hopefully) about what I did and then leave. Often to never hear another word about it. Imagine a life of job interviews where you have to bare your soul in all manner of vulnerabilities and almost never get the job.

After almost two decades of this you’d think I’d have it down.

I have learned something though that I continue to keep learning: If I felt good about what I did in the room and felt good that I got to express myself that particular day doing my version of that particular role? That needs to be enough. No matter what they thought of me, no matter if they thought I was or wasn’t “right”. Especially if I’m seeking peace and happiness in my life. Look, is it always *enough*? No. But it should be and it’s worth working on.

You don’t get a phone call after an audition unless you get the job (read: result) but if I only counted the roles I booked as my successes, I’d be a ginormous failure. This sometimes makes for uneasy cocktail party conversation when people ask what I’ve been up to lately (“Um…auditioning lots and working on letting them go afterward…?”) It’s so freaking easier to have a concise sound-bite-y THING to answer in those moments, something that people can quickly understand. Even better if it sounds successful. People want results at cocktail parties (and it’s not easy to talk about the exploration of oneself while juggling a glass of merlot and a chicken skewer).

We are so conditioned to define our success/creativity/worthiness by others. Either by comparing ourselves to them or by giving in to what they think of us (cocktail parties included). What a revolutionary notion to cultivate an inner knowing instead. It takes the emphasis off the result and puts it on the process. And then there are way more things to celebrate along the way instead of merely the End All Be All Result. This is not an original idea (even I’ve said it before) but there is so much momentum in the collective consciousness that I feel it bears repeating. Often. Joy in the journey, people!

But then, hey, sometimes I get the job (result!), and the shooting part is a let down. Or let’s say it’s great and I enjoy the journey of shooting it (result!) and feel super accomplished (result!) then learn that the show gets cancelled before it airs. See? there is no scenario where this journey thing doesn’t apply. If a girl wearing a bikini on a new CBS comedy falls in the forest and no one is there to watch TV did it ever happen? Yes! It happened. And I have to choose to believe that I’m better for the experience of it all.

So. Here I was pondering all this. And then I came across this wonderful letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote and I think/hope you will enjoy it as much as I did/do/will forever………….

In 2006, a group of students from Ms. Lockwood’s class at Xavier High School were given an assignment to write a persuasive letter to their favorite author, asking them to visit their class. Five of them chose Kurt Vonnegut. This was their only reply:

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School,

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut


Here’s to soul growth! And to becoming! And to the Mystery of it all! And to more meaningful cocktail parties!
xoxo,
jolie

{thanks to Shoko for bringing this to my attention! And also to letters of note}

Jolie_3
Hi:) I’m Jolie. I’m a working actress living in Los Angeles with my husband and pooch.

Do you know what it’s like being an actress in Los Angeles? It’s simultaneously:

insane,
fun,
bizarre,
harrowing,
exciting,
maddening,
riveting,
and boring-as-hell.

Not unlike your Grandma taking you to have the expert photogs at K-Mart work their portrait magic after dressing yourself in a rad 80s outfit (see above).

When Show Business is good, it’s really good. But when it’s been a while between jobs, you’re so desperate for a creative outlet that it’s not uncommon to pin all your hopes and dreams on, say, a small guest-star on a CSI:MIAMI episode, fully believing that it will express all you have to offer as a creative entity. This can only end badly. Especially if you’re shooting all day on a small, musty boat getting tangled split-ends and active rosacea from the whipping, salty wind. 

After many years and many CSI:MIAMI moments, I made a concerted effort to take all my eggs out of one basket and spread them around: I learned the true value of having a hobby. I took up knitting and couldn’t stop. I always liked to cook so I enrolled in a 20-week cooking course. It was such a relief to find other things to enjoy. And in both cases, having a desire to create something and then see it through to an end result was tremendously satisfying. I didn’t have to wait by the phone for my agent to tell me I could. Feeling bolstered, I started writing more, tweaking recipes, documenting my experiences in the kitchen and out in the Crazytown that is Los Angeles.

I love to act and play other people but Joeycake is all me.  

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, healing

The Only Marriage Advice I Will Ever Give.

November 14, 2013

The Only Marriage Advice I Will Ever Give

By Julie Tijerina

Poster by Simplereminders.com

Poster by Simplereminders.com

When I was 13 years old, my father nearly punched me in the face.

He and my uncle were playing cards with my mother and aunt upstairs in the game room.  A green vinyl-topped card table had been erected to accommodate the game at the end of the pool table that filled the whole rest of the room.  Everyone was around the table, the adults, me and my kid sister because that room was the only one in the house with air conditioning.  I don’t really remember, but I’m sure it was a Fourth of July weekend, because that’s when my extended family would come down from Kansas to drink and blow up fireworks in the heat of the Texas summer.  We lived out in the country, so we weren’t breaking any laws to light fireworks and it became an annual stay-cation to invite the family and make a long weekend of the holiday.

The window unit circulated the cigarette smoke around the room.  It was smokier than any bar I’d ever visit as an adult. I lifted myself up to leave.  My drunken father pushed me back in my chair, laughing Jack and Coke in my face.  Again, I made a move to get up. Again, pushed back in my seat.  The third time, I expected the hand at my chest, so as he went to push me back into my chair, I swung hard at his forearm, knocking his arm back toward him and darted out the door, slamming it behind me.  I knew he was right behind me, so I ran as quickly as I could down the stairs, but he caught me as I was clearing the last piece of furniture in the living room, the sofa.

My dad’s left hand had me by the front of the shirt, his right raised with a closed fist. He had me backed over the arm of the sofa and I couldn’t have been any more trapped.  I turned my head as far to the right as I could, squeezing my eyes shut against what I knew was coming. My face would have been shattered if my mother hadn’t been hot on his heels down the stairs and was hanging onto his raised bicep with all of her body weight.

I was suddenly released. With a glare from my mother to each of us, she ordered him back upstairs and said to me with a finger pointing, “go to your room.”  Jesus Christ, you don’t have to tell me twice.

I didn’t forgive him for twenty five years.

Just before midnight on August 2, 2011, I found myself drunk on several glasses of wine in my best friends’ living room, having just finished a movie when a commercial came on that started a fight.  I’d relay the whole story, but it would make me sound like I was somehow justifying my behavior, which is totally impossible, so I’ll just paint you a picture instead: imagine a little blonde, drunk bitch, with her chest puffed out, screaming (yes, literally screaming) obscenities and insults at the people she eats dinner with 2 nights a week, traveled all over North America with and shared hotel rooms with, was at the time dreaming of moving to Florida with. In THEIR living room. I was so livid, my mouth was moving faster than my brain and I stormed out, taking the car, leaving my shell-shocked husband there to the deal with the group confusion.

My friends brought him home, where another fight ensued and I began to pack my clothes. My husband of 18 years helpfully handed me a box.

At one in the morning, I drove myself to my parents’ place, an hour away. (Yes, still drunk.)  I slept in my car until five in the morning when I heard my dad coughing on his back patio.  I guess that’s what old ex-smokers do.  They cough out of habit more than anything.

So, I knocked on the front door.  Since it was pre-dawn, I was greeted at the door by a flood light and a shotgun.  (No, I’m not kidding. This is Texas, after all.)  In hindsight, maybe I should have texted my parents to let them know I was there before I knocked on the door.

I stayed the day.  By the time I really sobered up and rested, I was so mortified by my behavior, I didn’t want to go home. I was invited home by my husband.  We had a long talk, as you can imagine.  And, when we were done, he arranged for me to make a 30-minute mea culpa to our friends. My memories of the day that my dad drunkenly attacked me came flooding back.  I had been in their place.  I knew exactly how they felt. I knew that I had dehumanized them, humiliated them, confused them, betrayed them, even. I also knew I didn’t deserve forgiveness because up to that point, I had been unable to forgive.  I knew I had destroyed something precious, something that was sweet and fun and brought us all joy.

The next day, I was so wracked with guilt and sadness that I did the long, big, ugly cry.  My poor husband was trying to be as supportive as he could without actually absolving me.  He knew too that I didn’t deserve redemption.  I had injured him as well, because our friendship now hung in the balance, and his life would be forever changed without these beloved friends.  But, like he always had, he stayed the course, working as an intermediary.  Trying to get us all to eat meals together and return to our normal activity level again. Since he and my girlfriend carpooled to work, I’m sure that many a conversation was had about what to do with me.  (He never shared them with me, for the record.)

I swore off booze for a time and kept my shoes on whenever I was in their home. I was determined not to make myself too comfortable in that space again, so I continually reminded myself I was a guest.  After five years of friendship, that thought tore at my heart.  It was ultimately my husband’s clearheaded words that struck a chord in the soul of my friend and healed her wound on my behalf.  (All the contrition in the world can’t make someone else forgive you.  It is their choice and their choice alone.)

At that point, my dad had actually been sober for 20 years – 20 YEARS! and had worked so hard to put his family back together. After 25 years reliving his alcoholism and trapping myself in my own head with emotional worthlessness, I was finally able to release that outdated version of him.  I never understood the angry outbursts before. I always felt victimized before.  Now I desperately wanted and needed that exact same forgiveness that I had been unwilling or unable to grant. Where it took me 25 years to forgive my father, it took her a mere year to forgive me and I’m grateful every day.

The “after-school special” part of this story, obviously is that we are all free.  After a year of (understandable) emotional distance, my girlfriend invited me to a pedicure, and I knew I had been forgiven.  But, because she chose to let go, she no longer has to relive the pain I inflicted. We don’t discuss it, or try to explain it. I released my father too and I no longer have to relive the pain he inflicted. When those memories find their way into my mind, they are easily dismissed as the vapor they are.

Our friendship and my family is (through changed behavior) whole. My husband and I bought a house behind our friends and we’ve all managed to get back to normal. We have since traveled together, shared hotel rooms together again and eaten many, many meals together. I still watch my alcohol intake when we are together in either of our homes. But, on the rare occasion I’ve had too much at a party, my “second husband” is willing to pretend to dance with me while he’s really supporting me on the dance floor.

You know when you go to a wedding, the little cards at your place setting that ask you for your marriage advice?  The only thing I write is, “forgive.”

JTijerina_03-13_small

Julie Tijerina is on a quest to learn about herself, the world and to observe other people with curiosity rather than judgment. Her home is in Dallas, but her soul is always at the ocean; her current job is in a cubicle, but her life’s work is writing. She’s a SciFi geek, a yogi, a former therapy patient, a lover of dark haired men and honest women. She was catapulted out of depression by Learned Optimism and may have just learned the secret of happiness by identifying her Core Desired Feelings. She believes all the hard stuff takes at least a year, so ease up on yourself, love.

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, healing

My Journey with Disorderly Eating.

November 12, 2013

My Journey with Disorderly Eating.

By Lynn Hasselberger

Food is an important part of a balanced diet.

Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life, “Food for Thought and Vice Versa”

Count Chocula was my favorite cereal. I’d save the marshmallows for last.

Our cabinet was loaded with sugary cereal—Quisp, Honeycomb, Sugar Pebbles, Frosted Flakes. But Count Chocula was my favorite. The marshmallows soaked in the milk while I ate around them. Their mushy texture at the end was such a treat, washed down with the sugar-laden chocolatey milk. Great start to any child’s day!

You can do a lot for your diet by eliminating foods that have mascots.
~Ted Spiker

Lunch was typically white bread with Jif peanut butter. Occasionally a hard boiled egg. And a Twinkie or Ho Ho. My drink of choice was Coca-Cola or root beer with milk. And cookies for dessert. Homemade or Double Stuff Oreos. Gasp!

A mid-afternoon snack was typically more cookies or a sleeve of Ritz or saltine crackers. Maybe a slice of good old American cheese. Meat and potatoes with overcooked vegetables or iceberg lettuce was typical dinner fare. And always a humongous bowl of ice cream drowning in Hershey’s chocolate sauce for dessert while the family sat down to watch The Love Boat.

In high school, I wasn’t really as hungry for breakfast, so I’d drink a Carnation Instant Breakfast. Our milk was raw, straight from the cow. I used to love the chocolate kids sold for charity so I’d buy a huge caramel filled chocolate bar and consider that lunch. Maybe I’d buy a chocolate milk. There were vending machines that sold soda so I’d be sure to get my fill of grape soda—one or two cans a day. I’d return home for some—you guessed it—cookies or crackers. And then back to the usual meat and potatoes and ice cream dessert.

I was “shy” growing up. But maybe I was just anxious and depressed.

I could not even begin to open my mouth to talk to a cute boy. I also found it hard to articulate in general, even if I was comfortable with someone. (Was I ever comfortable?) I had extreme dental problems that didn’t help my confidence.

Surprisingly, I was not fat. (Can you believe it?) I couldn’t get over a hundred pounds in high school and friends would ask me why I was so skinny. I was a late bloomer with a stick figure. That and the fact that I was mute meant the phone was not ringing off the hook with boys in hot pursuit. I had no concept of “exercise” or even being fat or thin. I tried to gain weight when I was a high school senior by eating McDonald’s for lunch. That didn’t work.

When I went away to college, food choices expanded greatly. The buffet in the dorm cafeteria was exciting to me—such variety and I could pick anything I wanted! I partied practically every night, attempting to keep up with my friends who were more used to drinking and typically weighed more than I. There was pizza delivery to the dorm! That was soooo cool. There was no pizza delivery in the small farm town where I came from. So Dominoes made its way to our dorm room at least once a week after a night of imbibing on cheap beer. Or we’d head to Spud & Sub at midnight, where they served baked potatoes drenched in butter and other fabulous toppings. I loved how the melted cheddar cheese would stretch as I shoveled each forkful into my mouth, finishing every last bite.

In general, mankind, since the improvement in cookery, eats twice as much as nature requires.
~Benjamin Franklin

I had a boyfriend or two (not at the same time), acquired during parties where I was suddenly able to talk, thanks to beer. I would get wasted! And I continued to engage in late night—and overall very poor—eating. The fact that I gained weight (finally) really didn’t bother me. Even though it gathered at very odd places—my face and knees mostly. (I burned the photographic evidence from those years.) But I didn’t really care. I wasn’t conscious of extra weight being a “bad” thing. I also wasn’t familiar with the reason for exercise. Activity had always been a normal part of my life with gym class at school, riding bikes, general running around and swimming in the summer, shoveling manure on our little farm.

My best friend from high school did sit-ups sometimes while we talked on the phone. I didn’t really understand the purpose of it. In college, a group of us would meet in the dorm lobby occasionally to do a Jane Fonda workout and one of my friends emphasized the importance of squeezing the butt muscles when walking around campus. But, again, I really didn’t give it any thought. I was just happy I had finally put on a few pounds (more like 25 or 30).

I don’t recall why, but I decided to eat better—well, less—the summer after freshman year. Maybe I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I’d start out the day by eating a not necessarily healthy breakfast. Skip lunch. Then eat dinner. No ice cream!

Then I met a guy. At a bar. Yes, I was drunk.

We fell in love. My first real love ever. I had never even told a guy I loved him before this. We were inseparable all summer long. I continued to skip lunch. Maybe even breakfast. I wasn’t really hungry because I was, after all, in love. He thought I had a fantastic body—I did look damn hot in a bikini.

I just remembered that, after junior year of high school, a guy from my class came up to me at the beach and said, “Wow! I didn’t know that was you. And that you had such a great body!” I had spent most of my high school years wearing my older brother’s hand-me-down jeans so my body was hidden. This is turning into a therapy session!

My confidence—something I never possessed—escalated. By day, I still had a hard time talking to this boyfriend. Come to think of it, we didn’t really talk much. We made out a lot.

And then summer ended and we had to say good-bye. Our colleges were six hours apart. It was heart-breaking.

I returned to school and fell into a deep, deep depression. I also returned to eating. Binge eating myself into a wallowing state. Specifically I remember enjoying my roommate’s Hamburger Helper (gag me!). Did I mention I continued to party every night?

My boyfriend surprised me with a visit and he acted, uh, less infatuated with me. He told me I wasn’t as cute without a tan. And noticed my weight gain. He actually used the word flabby. What a jerk, right?

You thought I was depressed before!

I stopped eating. I’d walk to my morning art class with a diet soda. Have a package of gum balls at lunch time (weird, I know). Sometimes I’d eat an apple. Dinner would consist of soup or popcorn. I lost weight. Lots and lots of weight.

I’d wake up hungry in the middle of the night and and snuck up to the apartment above us, where I they had Honeycomb (their pantry was outside their door at the top of our shared back stairway). I’d make my way all the way back downstairs with the box, fill a bowl and return the box. I was a stealth cereal snatcher and I’m guessing to this day they wonder where all their Honeycomb went. Couldn’t have been me—I was sooo skinny.

My best friend began to tell me I was getting to thin. She was worried about me. I’d laugh it off, telling her I’d always been skinny.

My boyfriend returned for a visit. This time he was mad at me. “You better not have anorexia. My last girlfriend had that,” he said in so many words. I denied having any problem and he continued to act less than loving. In fact, I think he left earlier than he was supposed to when I was still sleeping.

At one point, I decided to eat again (donuts and other crap). And exercise so the weight would go back on in the “right places.”

After gaining some weight, I finally hopped on the scale. Ninety pounds.

After gaining some weight, I finally hopped on the scale. Ninety pounds. Keep in mind, I had gained weight. Not only that, but I’m five foot six and a half. In the meantime, my long-distance relationship with that nice boyfriend was deteriorating.

I wasn’t returning back to “normal” weight-wise or otherwise.

One night, after an exceptionally filling dinner, my roommate and I were kidding around about how full we were. Oh, how sick we felt. It was worse than Thanksgiving. Then she let me in on her secret. Throwing it up was her answer. She’d been doing that since junior high. And off she went to purge, laughing about it afterward. She suggested I try it. “It’s easy.”

There’s nothing I hate more—to this day—than throwing up. I hardly ever got the stomach flu. Yes, I had thrown up after drinking too much beer and eating far too many hot dogs freshman year in college at a party, hugging the toilet in the frat house bathroom swearing off hot dogs for the rest of my life.

But I did it. I purged. Because in the back—make that the very forefront—of my mind was the fact that my boyfriend didn’t love me as much because I had gained weight.

And thus began my journey with bulimia.

I won’t go into the gory details, but suffice it to say, I’m pretty sure I could have died. I had hallucinations. My ears rang. Food was my enemy.

It lasted for three years.

I knew it had to stop. I devoured articles and books about health and food and fitness.

One time, someone noticed me binging on food and said, “I think you might be a fat woman trying to get out of your skinny body.” I may not have been super skinny when she made that comment since purging doesn’t rid your body of every single ounce of calories you’ve inhaled.

The truth was probably more like: I was trying to physically fill a painful hole in my soul.

And a need that never got met because what I really needed was proper nutrition. That was probably the case all along going back to the days when I thought sugar was a staple. What goes into the body has an effect on how you feel. It’s not just calories as fuel, it’s vitamins and minerals (duh!). Early on, the high levels of sugar was a form of self-medication. It fed my depression and I’d enjoy a temporary high only to crash in a spiral that could only be thwarted by more sugar.

I remember as a young child, climbing on the counter when nobody was around and sneaking a spoonful of sugar from the cabinet. Also vanilla extract. Later, I snuck Popsicles and ice cream bars when I was supposed to be in bed. And, like many children I’m guessing, I’d take sugar packets from restaurants and eat them on the way home in the back of the station wagon. That might explain a lot of my cavities.

I can’t explain how I did it without some serious therapy, but I quit. It was a gradual process with the occasional set-back. While I hadn’t completely figured out the right combination of nutrition and exercise yet, my bulimic period came to an end when I was on my own, living in Chicago in my 20s.

My bread transitioned to mostly wheat—but I wasn’t yet aware of the importance of whole grain. More salads made their way into my meals. Bran muffins I decided were good for me (compared to breakfasts of my past, they were a definite improvement). I drank a lot of coffee and still imbibed in alcohol socially. I decided in my late 20s/early 30s that no fat was a good idea which, of course, it wasn’t. No protein whatsoever with lunch I could later attribute to my fatigue. And binging on Hershey’s chocolate and Bit-o-Honey and/or ice cream during the peak of my PMS cycles was not unheard of.

In my mid-30s I had the opportunity to work with the sports nutrition company EAS and learned the philosophy of its founder Bill Philips who also wrote the New York best-seller “Body for Life.” That was a turning point for me. I learned to eat more frequent “meals” which was supposed to consist of an equal combo of protein and carbs (he recommended a fist size portion of each, six times a day) with one day each week of eating whatever the hell you want in any quantity. The change in my eating habits alone resulted in a higher and more stable energy level that lasted throughout the day. I felt better than I had ever remembered feeling.

I adopted a form of Bill’s exercise program which I use to this day (outlined at the end), which includes a combination of strength-training and cardio. I learned proper form from the EAS physical trainers who also trained some of the Denver Broncos. On the downside, I took the EAS creatine—a powdery, synthetic version of a substance created in the liver and kidneys which increases muscle mass—and my muscles transformed into high def. The stuff was free and, fortunately, I only ingested it and some of the other processed and probably very unnatural supplements for about a year. Hey—I was still learning (and still am)!

While my depression/anxiety overall had improved tremendously, I still suffered from PMS. It was getting worse (my husband refers to me as the tarantula) with age. The fact my body had been pumped full of hormones for six consecutive rounds of in vitro fertilization during my early 30s probably threw my hormonal balance off-kilter. Someone recommended  the book Prescription for Nutritional Healing—an A to Z reference to drug-free remedies using vitamins, minerals, herbs and food supplements. Who knew I was supposed to be eating whole grain foods?

Fast forward to today. I just turned 49 and am basically a health nut (some might argue that being such a health nut is its own form of eating disorder). I look healthy, not emaciated, hovering between 115 and 120 pounds. I eat and I eat well. I have a nutrition packed smoothie every morning, eat loads of nuts and whole grains, tons of fruits and vegetables, fish, free-range chicken, cage free/free range eggs… and most everything is organic. I eat all meals—breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, another snack before bed. It’s rare for me to eat red meat and I keep sugar to a minimum (although I must have ice cream, it’s only once a week). I would eat more sugar, believe me, if it made me feel spectacular and/or did not cause wrinkles.

I feel great. Sure, I still suffer a bit from depression and anxiety. But it’s not as extreme or frequent. Though whenever I eat crap or drink more than one glass of wine, I feel completely off the next day.

I should mention that I’m on a small dose of medication to reduce depression and anxiety, although I’ve tried really really hard to be medicine free. Believe me. I’ve been on and off the stuff over the last few years and blown loads of money I don’t have trying to find the right combination of holistic remedies. If I didn’t eat right, my meds dosage would have to be increased. The good news is, I’m not numbed by the medicine—I feel icky when something bad happens like anyone else. But I digress.

And while I limit the junk in my house—absolutely no Count Chocula—I love food. It’s my friend, but not an obsession. I allow my 12 1/2 year old son to purchase junk food with his own money and am teaching him that food is fuel. I’ll admit, I lecture him on all the bad chemicals and other nonsense that’s in the junk food any chance I get.

My relationship to food continues to evolve—I’m ashamed to admit that processed foods like the oh-so-convenient chicken nuggets and Trader Joe’s microwaveable burritos occasionally end up in my shopping cart and follow me home. What can I say?

There’s a lot of peer pressure to eat junk—when I turn down that brownie, I get a look and a “You can afford it!” Not to worry. I get my pint of Ben & Jerry’s every weekend—sometimes a Culver’s (gasp!) large concrete mixer with Oreos—and you can bet I eat cheese and douse things (not my ice cream) with olive oil.

Limiting the crap might make me “weird” to some, but it makes me a happier person. Please just accept that.

Originally published on elephantjournal.com.

 

 

Lynn Hasselberger-60
Lynn Hasselberger lives in Chicagoland with her son, husband and two cats. She loves sunrises, running, yoga, chocolate, reading and writing, and has a voracious appetite for comedy. Lynn is currently working for the documentary film Unacceptable Levels. In her spare time, she writes for her blogs I Count for myEARTH and LynnHasselberger.com and other publications. A treehugger and social media addict, you’ll most likely find Lynn on twitter (@LynnHasselbrgr@myEARTH360 and @IC4ME) and facebook. She hopes to make the world a better place, have more fun, re-develop her math skills and overcome her fear of public speaking.

 

Guest Posts, healing, loss

The Gift Within The Pain.

October 24, 2013

I received the following email from Sue Lawrence Putnam.

Hi Jen, My daughter Clara Coleman attended your workshop at Kripalu last February and inspired me to read your Facebook Page – where I saw the story by Suzanne Rolph-McFalls. Her story opened my heart to be brave & write the story I am sending you below. Thank you for your courage and ability to inspire others and pass this gift along.

1174_large_image

Jennifer Pastiloff‘s Facebook page:

Has anything in your life been hard or painful that you can now see the gift in? Love to hear…

Never, ever, EVER, would I place greater importance on a thing, any THING, than I did a living being.

I would never cease offering shelter from storms.

I would always share warmth.

I would always hug longer.

~ from: Blue Interior. By Suzanne Rolph-McFalls

Many years ago, I did the same thing:
I placed “things” before my living three year old daughter Heidi. She accidentally drowned nearby when I had sent her from the house so I could make it perfectly clean, without any distraction, to impress my soon-to-be arriving mother-in-law.

I, who had grown up in the generation when “THINGS go better with Coke”, had rebelled furiously against the material world. And I, who devotedly followed La Leche Leagues’ advice to forget & not notice the “dust bunnies”, so I could nurse my babies with a calm peace of mind and loving heart.

I rebelled so outrageously against the 50’s moms, who could almost eat off their kitchen floors because they were so spotlessly clean.

Ironically, I too was the perfect straight A+ student aiming to please and be loved for my hard school work, even receiving the DeCordova Medal of Honor for the most accomplished student.

But after that fateful day in 1976, when the irrigation pool on our organic farm had filled too high from the torrent of rain the night before, for my 3 year old to touch her little toes on the bottom – my life went from “before tragedy to after tragedy” – a shift only those who have been there can understand.

In hindsight, even the morning before it all happened, everything felt strange, off, uneasy, as if to say something’s up.

Being in the realm of “life before tragedy” it was a normal day and I didn’t take notice.
But now being in the realm of “after tragedy”, I am aware of the smallest detail, looking for warning signs, red flags; opening my heart to all that enters into my consciousness.

I remember that morning when little Heidi kept saying “Mama, mama, mama…..hug, hug, hug, uppie, uppie, uppie”, and I ignored her every need to feel loved.

I remember her older sister hiding out in her secret hiding place. I remember my unfaithful husband making a gourmet blintze breakfast for his “right hand female apprentice” in our kitchen, and not caring for me or my new baby nor my kids.

I was struggling to forage for enough raspberries in the patch to fill empty tummies and hearts.

I remember so many visitors and apprentices pouring into our small humble, dirty house for the usual lunch I prepared every day and watching the farm stand fill up with customers and rushing out with my wee baby on my back to cut them some lettuces for their fancy dinners in Blue Hill or thereabouts.

But did I remember to stop and breathe and find my heart and remember to hug my dear little Heidi when she needed me the most after all the people had left and everyone went back to work, including me ?

NO!

…. and never again will I put pressure to “look good” on the outside and place things before human beings.

Never will I play the part of the perfect person making everything “just so right” for everyone else but myself and my loved ones. Never again would I allow someone or something else decide how I was to be, nor go against my deepest gut feelings and not communicate how I was feeling.

In the end, I learned to:
“Listen to the Little Voices of Your Soul” ~Old Gypsy Saying.

~Sue Lawrence Putnam

**note from Jen: I will be at Kripalu again February 20-22, 2015. Click here to book or to find out more info. 

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the sunflowers!

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the sunflowers!

Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts, poetry

The Space of Rituals.

October 23, 2013

The Space of Rituals

by Andi Cumbo-Floyd

Every day, I kiss him goodbye at the back door of the farmhouse before pushing the door shut tight behind him.  I make my way across the galley kitchen, through the living room, into my office – a trip of 15 strides or less.

Then, I open the front door, stand behind the glass meant that keeps out storms but not stink bugs, and wait.

Every weekday.

It’s our ritual.

As I wait, I see how the wedding mums have started to fade – the honeymoon’s consequence.

The trees at the bottom of the farmyard illustrate, as if planned by the most creative and enthusiastic of third grade teachers, the stages of fall – just yellow, the orange-yellow of the dogwood, the bare spindle branches of the persimmon.

The chicken coop door stands empty still, waiting for us and Dad to resume now that the wedding work has faded.

I catch glimpses of Lee the tractor as he poses in the lower pasture.

All this in a few moments – a minutes, maybe two.

The gift of ritual – the space it creates to see, to breath, to wait.  The preparation of a moment. The air around time.

Like lighting a candle. Or closing his eyes before turning on the computer screen. Or standing at a storm door waiting to blow her new husband a good-bye kiss.

Click photo to buy Andi's book.

Click photo to buy Andi’s book.

 

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and writing teacher. She blogs regularly at her writing website – andilit.com – and the website for God’s Whisper Farm.  Her book about the principles in place at their small Virginia farm is God’s Whisper Manifesto. She just got married in September, and she plans to blow her husband Philip a kiss every day for the rest of their lives.  

And So It Is, Inspiration

I am Interested.

September 24, 2013

I am interested in inspiring, not fluff. In truth, not bullsh*t. I am interested in the way certain words string together in a seemingly impossible way to create a disarming sentence. The kind that makes you sit down and give pause.
I am interested in the fantastical, as long as it is fantastic, and in poetry and science alike. I am interested in science that reads like poetry, or rather, finding the poetry in it. In every molecule. In every discovery. I am interested in history, even if it’s recreated for the reader’s pleasure, as long as it is written well enough that you slip into belief and stay there for the duration.
I am interested in the quiet in back of words, in what is hidden behind what is said, the quiet stubbornness of the details. I am interested in imagination, not in regurgitation. I am interested in freshness of voice and “Holy Hell, that is risky. But it works” kind of stuff.
I am interested in originality. In the bold rather than same old. I am interested in poetry and fiction and stories of the heart, not in fingers counting ways I can lose 5 pounds. I am interested in anything that moves me, challenges me, breaks me. Not in anything that patronizes, manipulates, insults. I am interested in unique and brave, not mimicry and safety. I am interested in getting lost in words, ending up in Asia or Bali.
I am interested in things that make me recognize myself or parts of myself and all of humankind at once with the sleight of a hand, with a paragraph, with a metaphor, with skilled use of adverbs. Whatever it takes, I just want to be taken there.
I am interested in literature, but also in things unable to be categorized. I am interested in zero self-consciousness. I am not interested in anything so concerned with itself that it constructs a false self to sell. I am interested in risk-taking. I am interested in what speaks for itself; words so right that nothing needs to be done except nod and keep reading.
This is what I am interested in as a reader, and, as a writer.
I do not care for the nonsense, until it is beautiful nonsense. I don’t want the preachy or overly sentimental or the try-too-hards. I want what is pure creation or pure hard work or pure inspiration, just not what is pure contrivance.
I want to be touched and shook and grabbed.
I don’t want lists unless they make me a better human. Even then, they ought to be distinct, and, at the very least, funny as Hell.
I don’t need a lot. Or maybe I do.
Maybe I want everything.
I want the writer to have given me everything.
As the writer, I want to give everything.
I want words that send me to the moon.
I want what we all want, really.
To be shown what beauty is. What love is. What inspiration is. What the power of language and words can do.”

you-were-born-an-original-

 

Want a chance to attend my nest retreat free? Follow me on Instagram at @jenpastiloff. All details here.