Saturday, August 31, 2019

My (True) Scariest Story


I’ve told a lot of scary stories. Some are published; some aren’t. But there’s one scary story I’ve never told: mine.

It’s time.

It’s time because it’s been holding me back for thirty years. It keeps me at a distance from others, untrusting, wary, afraid.

It’s easier now for me to say publicly that I’ve been seeing and speaking with my spirit guides since I was little—running the risk that disbelievers will question my mental health while those on the religious right call me evil—than it is to tell this story of my past.

It is the last great block in my healing, the thick quicksand of shame that slows my progress, keeps me from moving forward, and takes a toll on my mental and physical health.

To those who know me, this may or may not come as a surprise. Any relatives who read this may find it difficult to accept, and that’s okay. None of us want to hear less than stellar things about those we love.



It really begins in my early childhood. 

I grew up in a chaotic, frequently violent home. My mom’s mood could change from jovial to angry at the drop of a hat, and she’d sometimes go into rages for no discernible reason. My dad liked getting reactions out of me, and intentionally used sexist, racist, homophobic language. He sent me pornographic photos (always exposed males) via email. He repeatedly talked about my body in a sexualized way, through my childhood and well into adulthood. He frequently touched me inappropriately, claiming each time it was an accident. He said he was a “dirty old man” like his father, and he took pride in that.

My mom blamed her moods on me. On what I had or hadn’t done. Nothing was ever good enough. I was never good enough. The gifts I gave her weren’t thoughtful enough, my housecleaning skills didn’t meet her standards, I talked too much, I didn’t call her enough, I was in her way, I’d distanced myself too much. And how dare I be happy when she was feeling sad. Anything she liked that I didn’t was a rejection of her.

And when I reacted the way one would expect a child to react, they told me I was wrong. I was too sensitive and needed to learn to take a joke. I was ungrateful for wanting or needing more than I had, or for desires that were different from theirs. I was a prude for not wanting to be touched or ogled. I was a slut for wanting to experiment with makeup at age sixteen. I was ungrateful for not setting my life aside to be there for them whenever they needed me.

My feelings of hurt or anger were labeled selfish and ungrateful. My mom said I ruined every family gathering and holiday, but I felt completely powerless. I attempted suicide more than once, and my parents ignored it. When Child Protective Services got involved, my parents got me into therapy, but then told me that they’d only pay for it if I told them what I told the therapist. 

I later found out the psychiatrist they hired to see me was someone for whom my dad had done work, someone who owed him. And that psychiatrist shared everything with my dad anyway. So much for confidentiality. After a handful of sessions during which the psychiatrist diagnosed me with depression and tried to convince me to take medication, they quit paying, saying they weren’t the problem. I was.

They brought up every time that I’d conflated two similar events (a known and normal trait of human memory) as evidence that my memory couldn’t be trusted. Every detail that I got wrong, every time I remembered events out of order (even when all the events were true), they told me I couldn’t trust what I remembered. I was prone to suggestion. I made things up.

But then, in the early 1990s, they admitted to me the things they’d done. They wouldn’t go so far as to call it “abuse” because to them, that meant broken bones and hospital visits. All I had were memories of welts, bruises, sickening touches, hurtful words, and a broken spirit. They said they did the best they could. They did say they could have done better. And then they shared some horrifying stories that they remembered, times when my mom “snapped” (her word) and went into a violent rage she couldn’t remember later. My dad recalled times when my mom called him at work, telling him to come home immediately, because she was going to kill us. And how my dad came home and wanted to know what my brother and I had done to cause this.

I didn’t feel vindicated. I just felt numb. I wish the story had ended there. 

But within a year or so of their confessions, they discovered the False Memory Syndrome Foundation—an organization founded by a guy who was accused of child sexual abuse by his adult daughter. (Those accusations against him were later corroborated by other family members.) It didn’t matter that I had never forgotten any of my memories, that none of them were repressed, or that the only therapy I’d had up to that point was the psychiatrist who’d shared with them everything I’d told him. My parents jumped on the bandwagon and claimed that everything I labeled “abuse” was actually a false memory, implanted by a therapist. They were innocent victims.

Granted, the psychiatrist I saw was unethical, but his only agenda in treating me was getting me medicated, which I consistently refused. 

They went one step further: they told all of our relatives and family friends that I was a victim of so-called “false memory syndrome,” that I was sick and not to be believed. They said they had no idea why I maintained this vendetta against them, but they were the victims. 

To this day, I don’t know what my relatives think about that. No one’s ever talked about it with me. But the family I knew growing up never talked about the unpleasant stuff. Everyone pretended it didn’t exist. And those who did dare speak about it were shamed. “We don’t air our dirty laundry in public.”

I found a letter that my parents had written to my husband, urging him to have me committed to a psychiatric hospital “for my own good,” and pleading with him to see their side, how much I was hurting them.

My husband witnessed some of the abuse. He read the threatening letters and email, he heard the sexual comments my father made about and to me. He remembers well pulling up to the house to pick me up for a date when I was 17, and hearing my mom screaming at me from inside the house because I had tried to fix a cheap necklace clasp and it broke. He heard similar screaming at me over the phone when my mom would call me.

I responded the way I honestly think a healthy adult would respond: I cut off contact with my parents. (This gave them more fodder for the “our daughter is sick” file.) A couple years later, my brother reached out to me via email. I was wary, but I wanted family so badly. I had my husband, a few friends, but no one else. I wrote back to him, but I was anxious about how much I told him. I tried to keep everything vague. I’d double- and triple-check my email before I sent it, because I couldn’t trust myself either. 

I didn’t trust doctors, therapists, anyone who offered something to me, because I was certain they’d want something in return, and whatever they wanted would be debilitatingly painful. I didn’t trust anyone enough to develop friendships, and the isolation fueled the recurring depression and anxiety I’d had since my early teens. I’d try to work, but I would wind up in the hospital with suicidal intentions. I thought everyone else would be better off if I was no longer on the planet—if they even noticed that I was gone. 
Throughout all of this, my guides were with me, but I didn’t always choose to listen to them. In the worst of my depression and self-hatred, I had a hard time connecting with them. And to be honest, I questioned if they were real, or if they were part of the delusions that my parents claimed I had. They were never wrong, and they always made me feel better, but maybe they were just the creations of a sick mind.

In 2003, I got into therapy. I’d kept copies of all the emails and letters I’d sent my parents while I was in touch with them, along with their letters to me. I gave them to the therapist. I avoided talking about memories and stuck to my current conversations with my parents, most of which revolved around their parenting advice about my two children, mostly warning me that I’d have spoiled children if I didn’t spank them. The therapist said the letters and emails were one of the most severe cases of gaslighting she’d ever seen. 

Eventually, I trusted her enough to tell her about my guides. She was skeptical at first, but asked a lot of questions. (My guides answered some of them.) She took my case to a board review, which included psychologists, psychiatrists, and clergy. They discussed it, considered other diagnoses, and unanimously declared me a “mystic.” They didn’t know how, but they were completely convinced that the entities I talked with were both divine and real.

My therapist heartily encouraged me to work more with my guides. I began to stop doubting their existence. And slowly, I began to trust them. 

For years, they talked about how I also needed to trust myself. Taking baby steps, I let go of my self-doubt too. When I posted in a very vague way on my blog about what it was like growing up, and the time CPS came to the house, my brother angrily commented that I was wrong, that none of this happened, that I was lying and hurting everyone. Fortunately for me, I had a witness to the CPS investigation—my best friend in high school, who also witnessed some of the things my parents did and said. But that experience left me too frightened to publicly state anything about what I’d experienced. Until now.

In 2009, my mom died. My dad had died a few years earlier. Going through my mom’s house, I found a file with my name on it. In it, she’d amassed every article she could find on false memories. She also had printed email correspondence with my brother. Back when he’d reached out to me by email, and I’d cautiously started talking with him, he was forwarding my responses to my parents. Between them, they’d discussed this, agreed it was best that I shouldn’t know what they were doing.

This time, instead of feeling like I was wrong or sick, I was angry.

My guides led me to a coach who was able to help me have experiences of trusting myself and trusting others in a safe space. Bit by bit, she helped me see that I could share myself with trusted people, safe people, and be supported. Even loved.

When I was later faced with another betrayal—this time from my (now former) faith community—I chose a different response. I walked away. 

I share all this with you now for several reasons. First and foremost, because I need to end the silence. In silence and secrecy about this, there has been shame, and I have nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, I want to walk forward in integrity and authenticity, and that requires honesty and speaking my truth. My guides are 100% behind me in this, and their support has given me the courage and strength to sit down and write this.

Second, I’m sharing this because every time I have wanted to post something about my experience, whether with my guides or about how I grew up, there has been an imposing What will people (especially relatives) think? hanging over my head. It keeps me in a wounded child position. I do not owe anyone my silence in exchange for maintaining their comfort.




Third, I’m sharing this for all of those who want to share their truth, who want to be free from the shame, but can’t yet. Maybe it’s not safe. Maybe they’re not ready. Maybe they still believe the gaslighting, the lies that it’s somehow our own fault, that we’re only speaking up to get attention, that we’re troublemakers or bitter, that we can’t let it go, we’re too sensitive and can’t take a joke, that it’s all in the past and we should forgive and forget.

No. I have forgiven my parents for myself, but to forget is to condone what was done, and what is still being done to others. To forget is to dishonor the past, to say it’s all okay now. It was not, and is not okay.

And as I see now parents and partners of people I know gaslighting them, verbally abusing them and then claiming they’re making it all up, that it’s their depression or anxiety talking, that what they remember are false memories (or fake news), that they’ve blown it all out of proportion, I can keep quiet no longer.

I am not sick or deranged or making it up or trying to get attention or wanting to file a lawsuit. I am claiming my truth and standing in it. I am no longer ashamed. I am free to be who I am, regardless of what others think or say.

And for all those who get me on a deep level, when you’re ready, I’ll be here and we can stand together.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Three Children

The following is a story I wrote over twenty years ago, as a way to understand multiple covenant theory (that there is more than one divine covenant with humanity). I'm guided to share this here, now.



This is a story about a Mother with many children. The Mother, like mothers who came after, had difficulty getting Her children to behave. Sometimes the children would disobey and get hurt; other times they would hurt each other. Distraught by the pain which they so unnecessarily endured, the Mother decided to make a contract with Her children.

Like all mothers that came after, She began by explaining, "I love you and I don't want to see you get hurt; besides, we are running out of Band-Aids. You are old enough now to take on some responsibility around the Home, so..." and She outlined the contract. The Mother would protect them against harm, make sure that their needs were met, and provide a special dessert after dinner every Friday. In return, the children would respect one another, treat new kids on the block with kindness, keep themselves clean, and wash their hands before dinner without being reminded.

All the children protested and wanted to know why things must change. But the Mother knew the children were not yet old enough to understand why, and so, like mothers who came after, explained with, "Because I'm your Mother."

A few of the oldest children, led by Her first-born, accepted the terms of the contract. They had experienced enough of the Mother's stern lectures that they knew when to stop arguing and do as they were told. Not that this was easy for these children, for to this day one can hear the occasional "But Mo-om!" echoing throughout their Home.

The younger children, however, had a more difficult time with this contract, and the Mother realized that She had not made this contract accessible to all Her children. So, after thinking about it for a while, the Mother came up with an idea. She gathered her younger children around Her and said, "I love you and I don't want to see you get hurt. I know that the contract I made with my oldest children doesn't allow for some of your needs and the differences in how you learn. So I am going to ask one of my oldest children to teach you by example."

The Mother then went to Her oldest children, a few of whom were in the middle of a game of Monopoly. Several of those children were arguing over the payment of a Community Chest card when another knocked the board over and said, "Come on, you guys, this isn't about money; we're supposed to be having fun and playing by the rules. Mom wouldn't like it if she saw us fighting." Another group of the oldest children were reading books to each other in a corner, looked up briefly at the interchange, and cautioned the outspoken one, "Shhh! You'll get us in trouble."

The Mother watched all this with a mixture of concern and amusement. Then She pretended to have just arrived and said, "I need a volunteer to teach the younger children how to behave and what I expect from them."

The oldest children looked at each other and then back at the Mother. "Can't we teach them as a group?" some asked. But the Mother knew the younger children would learn best from an individual, and explained as much. "Well, how about him?" the children in the corner said, indicating the outspoken one at the Monopoly game. "He likes talking to us about the rules."

The Mother looked at the outspoken one, who said, "Okay. I'll do it." And so, the Mother explained that there would be a different kind of contract, and She would use the input of this one child to adapt the terms to the needs of the younger children. She also cautioned him to be careful, because his new status could bring about both great praise and great pain from those around him. The outspoken one nodded and said, "Whatever it takes."

The younger children learned well from him, and the contract was adapted to their specific needs. But the youngest children still had a difficult time, and the Mother realized that their needs had not been met by either contract. And so She thought for a while and came up with another idea. She gathered her youngest children around Her and said, "I love you and I don't want to see you get hurt. I know that the other two contracts I made don't allow for all of your needs, and while you have learned some from the the others, I think you need someone else to teach you, to whom you can relate better."

The Mother then went to one of several of her oldest children who had never accepted the first contract. They were busy playing around the sandbox, building elaborate castles and then enacting a variation of capture the flag. She called one child aside, and said, "I want you to teach my youngest children how to behave and what I expect from them. I have watched you playing with your brothers and sisters, writing your stories, dreaming your dreams. I believe my youngest children will relate best to you. I will teach you anything you don't already know, particular to my youngest children's needs."

And so, the one child taught the youngest children, and they learned well from him.

Are there children who accepted none of the three contracts? Of course. Some insist on being rebellious, some have only recently been born and are too young to be accepting such responsibility, and many others—like the Children who were often seen camping and taking nature walks—have made other contracts. But that is for another story, another day.


Copyright © 1997 by Sheyna Galyan

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Balance

Sometimes labels are helpful. I have two new ones to add to my collection: post-exertional malaise and orthostatic intolerance.

Post-exertional malaise: the crash that happens after every physically or emotionally intense event. This seems to be particularly strong after emotional intensity more than physical intensity. Orthostatic intolerance: dizziness, lightheadedness, seeing stars, nausea, and/or fainting caused by standing or being upright for too long, or from physical exertion.



I'm seeing the patterns more clearly now. It goes like this:

  • I know I have a Big Event coming up (convention, book event, intensive, workshop, trip, etc.)
     
  • In order to prepare for it and not have a flare, I am careful about how/where/when I expend my energy. To me, it feels like "taking it easy" in comparison to my "normal" life
     
  • I feel great for the Big Event. I have the energy I need, and am able to make choices even during the Big Event, staying aware of my energy and pain levels, sometimes intentionally choosing downtime over going out to do more
     
  • I arrive back home, and within 24-48 hours, I am EXHAUSTED. Bone-deep exhaustion. Can't-stay-awake exhaustion. Sleep doesn't help. It doesn't matter how much downtime I opted for during the Big Event. I have no real choice but to sleep as much as 20 out of every 24 hours.
     
  • Exhaustion and dizziness continue for several days. Even sitting up is too exhausting. Back support is essential.
     
  • Depression and anxiety rear their heads. It comes on quickly. I no longer remember what it feels like to be in alignment with love and joy and gratitude. It is all I can do to stave off urges to self-harm and thoughts of suicide. It's easy to believe that no one remembers me, much less cares.
     
  • In an attempt to not isolate, which I know exacerbates the self-harm tendencies, I reach out to safe people. But I immediately regret saying anything, and resolve to keep my feelings and thoughts to myself until I'm better
     
  • Then the pain hits. Often starting in my hands and feet, it quickly moves into arms, shoulders, legs, hips, back, neck. Headaches become commonplace. I'm sensitive to light and sound. I cannot focus or track well.
     
  • The pain continues for several days
     
  • At some point, I catch glimpses of that joy and love and gratitude again. I remember I am not alone. I remember that I am loved.
     
  • After as much as a week, I am able to leave my bedroom again, though I'm often trembling and unsteady. Dizziness continues when I'm standing or upright. It's not yet safe to drive.
     
  • Then, as quickly as it came, it's gone. I feel back to "normal." I continue with my life until a week or two before the next Big Event, at which point I switch to "take it easy" mode to hopefully offset any flare right before the trip.

And therein lies the problem.

Both post-exertional malaise (PEM) and orthostatic intolerance (OI) are common with fibromyalgia. They're also key components of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), formerly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrom (CFS). It's not uncommon for people with fibromyalgia to also have ME. Neither has any cure, but symptoms can be managed.

The management for PEM? Doing that "take it easy" self-care ALL THE TIME. Not just in the two weeks before a Big Event.

I don't need to skip the Big Events. In fact, I've had a higher percentage of pain-free days when I have numerous Big Events than I do when I'm playing small.

It's about pacing. Balance. Harmony.

I recently learned that my parents were wrong: I'm neither shy nor an introvert. The real me was buried under layers of PTSD-induced social anxiety and fear of rejection. I'm extremely sensitive to energy, and I'm energized by being with another person or small groups. (Large crowds to tend to tire me out.) My Big Events nearly always involve lots of small groups and one-on-one time. It's no wonder I love it!

Even as I step into my dream of helping people connect with their guides, that also needs a balance. Solitude. Writing. Meditation.

In 2016, just a few months after I discovered Supernatural, but before I knew anything about the cast, I went through one of these times. At the time, I just thought it was a depression, with a side of exhaustion and pain. Now I think it was one of these flares. But that was the first time I thought about it in a different way.

I called it molting, and I wrote about it here: http://booksandbeliefs.blogspot.com/2016/10/wings.html

I wrote, "Something about this metaphor gave me hope. That maybe this was a natural process, and my responsibility is to make sure I have a safe "molt." That I eat enough to sustain my energy. That I rest as needed. That I take the time I need to be alone. That I accept I will be out of sorts and off my game. That I recognize that for this period of time, my freedom will be curtailed, my beauty in flux, my compassion needing to be more self-compassion, and my strength sorely tested. During this time, I'll feel unable to fly, helplessly grounded, but appreciating that freedom even more when I get it back."

In the fibro/ME communities, this pattern is called "push/crash." I've already made considerable progress moving away from pushing, but I may have more to do. My changes to my way of eating have helped a great deal, and I can see where I can shift my perspective more into balance and pace myself accordingly. I may not be able to avoid the molt, but I may diminish its frequency or severity.

And if you also are struggling with this sort of pattern, I hope this helps you feel not so alone or misunderstood.

P.S.: this post is for educational purposes only. I am not looking for advice, treatment, referrals, supplements, or any other solutions. I am sure it comes from a place of love and you not wanting me (or anyone else) to hurt, but I'm still not interested. Thank you for respecting this boundary.

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Demon Hunter (Feat. Sheyna Galyan)

I had a wonderful conversation in this podcast, talking about everything from the importance of weather to the role of writing to hunting and vanquishing our demons. Includes a shout-out to Teresa Romain & Access Abundance!

The Demon Hunter (Feat. Sheyna Galyan): In this surprisingly cathartic and emotionally-draining 25th episode (!!!), Hal has a lovely, haunting conversation with critically-acclaimed Jewish novelist Sheyna Galyan. The two talk about her books and discuss the ways that we, as humans, can conquer and vanquish the demons of the mind, body and soul. Have some tissues handy!! This is a can’t-miss!!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Healing and Food


My turbulent relationship with food began when I was an infant. The story, as my mother told it, was that she was unable to nurse and had zero support with breastfeeding (not unusual for the late 60s). The pediatrician told her to put me on a formula feeding schedule, and to stick to it, no matter how much I cried.
Some variation of a schedule continued throughout childhood. Mealtime was when I was to eat, hungry or not. If it wasn’t mealtime, there was to be no eating, lest it spoil my appetite. I learned early that the availability of food depended on the clock, not on a sense of hunger, which I was feeling less and less.


Growing up in a family with chaos and often violence, and no boundaries whatsoever, I often felt like I had no control over what happened to me. And then I discovered as a teenager that I could control how much food I ate. Or didn’t. And I discovered that starving myself gave me a kind of emotional high, a temporary feeling of power that was intoxicating. By the time I graduated from high school, I weighed less than 90 pounds, and I was thinking that 75 was a nice number to shoot for.
Dieting was a common thing, growing up. My mother was frequently trying one diet or another. She had these “candies” called Ayds (pronounced aids) that I would sometimes sneak out of the pantry when I was really hungry. They didn’t taste great, but they stopped my stomach from hurting.


In college, eating was a when-I-have-time event, folded around writing papers and going to classes. In my junior year of college, in 1989, I was eight miles from the epicenter of the Loma Prieta earthquake—the one that disrupted the World Series, broke part of the Bay Bridge, and collapsed a double-decker freeway in Oakland, killing quite a few people. We had so many aftershocks, I was terrified to cook in my apartment kitchen. We had no running water and no electricity for a couple of weeks. I survived on ready-to-eat snacks. I didn’t realize then that trauma is cumulative, and that the trauma I survived as a child meant that the earthquake trauma was that much worse for me.
After I got into therapy in the early 90s, as I began to deal with all that had happened and how it affected my current life, I was put on antidepressants. They helped with the suicidal thoughts (which I’d had—and acted on—since I was sixteen), but they also caused massive food cravings and weight gain. I gained 70 pounds within a year.
During the next ten years, I struggled with infertility. Most doctors blamed my weight. One doctor actually ran tests, and we discovered that I ovulated—at best—twice a year. My hormones were out of whack. I had too much cortisol, too much testosterone, and wildly fluctuating levels of estrogen. I added these to the reasons I hated myself. My weight continued to increase.
In 2000, the stars aligned and I got pregnant. It was, early on, a high-risk pregnancy. My blood pressure was too high, then my blood sugar spiraled out of control. I was on bed rest for half the pregnancy. I had hyperemesis gravidarum, a fancy term for morning/noon/night sickness, that lasted seven months. The only things I could keep down were Welch’s 100% juice grape popsicles and Betty Crocker Potato Buds instant mashed potatoes. I was on insulin until the baby was born, when my blood pressure and blood sugar returned to normal.
I got pregnant a second time, only instead of high blood sugar showing up at thirty-two weeks, it showed up in the fourteenth week. Four years later, I got pregnant a third time, and developed gestational diabetes 48 hours after I took a home pregnancy test, somewhere around five weeks pregnant. That baby was stillborn at five months. A few months later, I was diagnosed with fibrmyalgia.
In each of my pregnancies, because of the gestational diabetes, I was put on a “diabetes diet” for pregnant women. Once again, I was eating based on the clock, as well as counting carbohydrate grams and testing my blood sugar. I learned what my body liked and what made my blood sugar soar. After our daughter was stillborn, I gave up the diet. I figured I didn’t need it anymore and I was busy with a toddler and a preschooler and running a new publishing company.
In 2009, I tried a low-carb diet. I lost thirty-seven pounds in nine months, had a lot more energy, but wasn’t able to sustain it. It’s hard to eat so differently from everyone else. I already knew that, keeping kosher, but within my own home, at the dining table, it was harder still, watching everyone else eat bread and potatoes and I was stuck with a salad and a bland chicken breast.
Fast-forward nearly ten years. I’ve been working with a life coach for four years, doing in-depth healing for nearly as long, and in EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) for trauma therapy for two years. I fully accepted that the loving people I’d been able to see and hear since I was three years old—but no one else could—were my spirit guides, and when I stopped arguing with them and really started listening and acting on what they said, my life got better still. My therapists had questions for my guides, and were impressed with the answers. They jokingly said that with guides like these, therapists weren’t necessary. (They are. Sometimes I learn best from people “with skin on.”)
I healed enough emotionally and spiritually that it was time to look at my physical health. I was about a hundred pounds overweight, if I went by numbers alone. I hated to count things (carbs, points, calories) and I hated the sense of deprivation I felt on a “diet.”
I took a year-long class on intuitive eating, based on the book by the same name. I learned how to not base my eating on a clock. I learned for the first time what hunger felt like. I learned to honor my body.
But I still felt unwell. I had frequent fibromyalgia episodes, depressions, panic attacks, and debilitating fatigue. An author friend posted about eating a keto diet, and recommended the movie Cereal Killers. I watched it and was inspired. So I did something that had not occurred to me to do earlier: I asked my guides for advice on how/what to eat, and if this way of eating would help me. They were immediately forthcoming.
Don’t eat, they said, the following:
• Wheat
• Oats
• Rye
• Barley
• Spelt
• Sugar
• Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose)
• High glycemic-index fruits (oranges, bananas)
• Most beans
• Most root vegetables (potatoes, carrots)
• Most starchy vegetables (corn, peas)

Oh, I said. So, like year-round Passover, but without the matzah or sugar?

Do eat, they said:
• Fish (no shellfish)
• Poultry (with skin)
• Beef (in moderate amounts, and grass-fed, pasture-raised, antibiotic-free wherever possible)
• Green leafy vegetables
• Berries
• Avocados & guacamole
• Eggs
• Nuts
• Seeds
• Plain, whole-fat yogurt
• Cheese
• Natural sweeteners (stevia, erythritol) in moderation

My Passover comment came back around when I started eating this way and within less than a week, experienced exponentially more energy, less pain, better mood, and a disappearance of my cravings. I realized that every year during Passover, I felt much the same way. I always figured it was because I liked the holiday: the special dishes, special recipes, eating at home. Now I realized while those might have been true, the real reason for my increased joy and energy was because of what I was eating.
I began this way of eating in early May 2018. I found a never-before-felt passion for cooking and low-carb/keto recipes. My guides told me not to worry about counting anything. This wasn’t about maintaining specific macronutrient numbers (as in a strict ketogenic diet). This was about eating food that nourished me and testing other foods to see how my body responded to them. I was to continue my intuitive eating—eating when I was hungry, not eating when I wasn’t, no matter what the clock said.


Within five months, I’d released an unnecessary thirty pounds. (I no longer refer to “losing” weight. It’s not misplaced and I don’t want anyone finding it and returning it to me.) I felt better than I have in…probably decades.
And then came my first real test.
Within the space of a month, I attended two conventions and a multi-day training workshop, involving flights to both Vancouver and Los Angeles. At first, I was careful about what I ate, despite what I perceived as limited options. But “just a taste” of one food became “just a serving” and then “just a meal.” I continued to test my blood sugar, and was amazed that my body didn’t respond adversely to a small piece of cheesecake and some rice with my chicken. Maybe this meant I could loosen up a bit?
No. It did not. Just a small amount of wheat, and then oats another time, sent my body into a painful spiral. For days at a time, living out of a hotel, I was eating at restaurants, not all of which were keto-friendly. Several times, I chose being with new and old friends over eating at a restaurant that would support my way of eating. And because I didn’t value myself enough, I put their restaurant preferences over mine. I didn’t advocate for myself, and they never knew that I was going to pay with physical pain for eating with them at that restaurant.
That was a disservice both to me and to them.
Once I returned from Los Angeles, my final trip for a while, it took me three weeks to finally get over the carb cravings, regain my energy, and stabilize my mood. That was a painful lesson in making my needs important.
I realized that I was also looking at my way of eating with some judgment. I was looking at it the way my mother looked at my keeping kosher—as being a “picky eater.” She had nothing nice to say about my keeping kosher, or eating anything different from her, for that matter. If it inconvenienced her, it was unacceptable.
I was expecting everyone else to see my way of eating as a choice, something I could simply choose not to do when it might impact others. I never checked that out with them, but knowing them as I do, and taking my own judgments and pain out of the equation, they would have absolutely supported my way of eating, up to and including going to a different restaurant.
Then I read a book about eating an anti-inflammatory diet. Recent studies have strongly indicated that fibromyalgia (along with depression, bipolar, and possibly chronic fatigue, among others) is caused by neuroinflammation in the brain. Reducing inflammation in the body (and brain) by eating foods that are anti-inflammatory and avoiding foods that cause inflammation can drastically reduce symptoms.
How interesting that my modified-keto/no sugar way of eating is nearly identical to an anti-inflammatory diet. The only difference is that the anti-inflammatory diet has more carbs—mostly from beans, rice, and root vegetables—than I can safely eat, given my blood sugar.
My brain latched onto this: now I can tell people that I’m eating an anti-inflammatory diet for my health, and then it’s not a choice!
My guides shook their metaphorical heads. Why must I defend what I eat based on an assumption of others’ judgment? they asked. Why is it not enough for me to say that I eat what supports and nourishes my body? Why do I feel the need to explain that I regularly test my blood sugar to keep close tabs on what carbs I can and cannot eat?
Oh.
Here is another area where the lesson I learned well in childhood—that others’ opinions matter more than mine—continues to play out in adulthood. The wounded child is certain that friends would choose their preferred restaurant over eating with me, thus proving my low self-worth, proving that I don’t matter.
The reality is, any friend who would value their choice of restaurant over eating with me is not truly a friend. It’s better that I not go to lunch with these people. There are plenty of people who want the best for me, who do believe I matter, and that what I need to support my physical health also matters. There are plenty of those people. Even when the hurt child within doesn’t think they exist.
We women are conditioned to play to others’ preferences and interests, even to the detriment of our own. And anyone who believes deep down that they don’t matter has it even worse. But your health does matter. My health matters. We matter.
And now I’m going to go own that while eating my keto-friendly lunch.


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Beauty in Loss


May 9, 2018

Nine years ago today, my mother was dying. It was sad, and painful, and beautiful.

Let me explain.

The day before Thanksgiving in 2008, my mom was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. She was given six months to live. One week later, I pulled my kids—then seven and five—out of school and the three of us drove from Minnesota to California so we could spend some time with my mom. We stayed nearly a month.

I’d like to say that this time was pleasant, full of fond memories and loving connections, but that would be a lie. My kids enjoyed getting to see their grandmother, but I was already grieving. My mom’s diagnosis meant that all the hopes I had of ever having anything like a normal relationship with her, one in which she wasn’t constantly tearing me down, were also dying. This was confirmed a couple months later when chemo failed and my mom chose to go on hospice.

In April 2009, I got the call that it was time, and a day later, I was on a flight back to California. I was very clear that I was doing this for me. My mom had said to me that she didn’t really care if I was there or not when she died. I’m not sure if that was true, but I was sure that to be in integrity with myself and my own belief that family means something, I had to be there.

For two weeks, my brother, myself, two personal aides, and the occasional hospice nurse cared for her, talked to her, sang to her, and tried to keep her as comfortable as possible. One time, she told me that we should let bygones be bygones and leave the past behind. My hopes of making peace with her perked up. Then she said she could never forgive me for how much I’d hurt her. Those last weeks were an emotional minefield and every night, I’d collapse in my hotel bed in tears, echoes of countless nights as a kid when I cried myself to sleep.

I have a gift, though, that saved my sanity during this time. I’ve been able to see and talk with my spirit guides since I was about three. They offered me comfort and love, and over the years, they also gave me a broader perspective of life and death, of what family truly means, of how unconditional love feels, of Home. And so, after a long day of caring for my mom, trying not to take her hurtful words personally, I’d share what I was going through with my guides. My fears, my pain, my grief, my anger. One of my guides told me I was here for a reason, and it wasn’t for my integrity.

“What, then?” I’d asked.

“Pay attention. You’ll know.”

Despite not eating or drinking for nearly two weeks, my mom held on. She’d wake (or regain consciousness) and demand to know why she was still here. Why she hadn’t died yet. She said she was ready to go.

One week into May, I half-joked that maybe she was holding out for another Mother’s Day. My mom said she thought that idea was stupid. I paid attention, watching the comings and goings of the hospice people and a handful of relatives. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.

Until one day I did. I was sitting in the chair I’d appropriated next to my mom’s bed, sitting near her head, when I started to hear what sounded like a radio being tuned. Voices, sometimes overlapping, slightly echoing, clearly having a conversation. Sometimes it was louder, sometimes I could barely hear it. I thought maybe a radio or computer had been turned on, and I did an inspection of the house to make sure. Nothing turned on. Nothing coming out of any speakers. The sole TV was off. The voices continued, and as I caught snatches of the conversation, I made out that they were planning something. Who was going to be where. There was talk of a meeting, and who would have the honor of meeting “her.”

As the day wore on, I became more and more aware of movement in the room where my mom’s hospital bed was. I could make out figures, though not much more. Some were standing, others sitting, seemingly half in this world and half not. Gradually, the room filled with these beings. Some acknowledged that I saw them and nodded in greeting. All were giving off a palpable feeling of love and acceptance.

I knew that whoever all these beings (people?) were, they were here for my mom, and I realized that they saw her differently than I did. I’d like to think that they saw her soul, saw its inherent beauty and love. I saw more movement near my mom’s head and then could clearly see sparks of light dancing just above her forehead. I was entranced with this sight, feeling pure joy. I wondered if that was her.

Later, the low hum of voices from the various beings in the room was getting louder. I suddenly felt hands on my shoulders from someone standing behind me. The presence was familiar and reassuring, and then the hand on my right shoulder squeezed briefly. When I turned around, hoping to see (or verify) who it was, the space was empty. And no bodied person could fit behind my chair.

My mom unexpectedly cried out my deceased dad’s name, half- conscious. She woke, looking around. “Where is he?”

“Did you see him?” I asked.

“No.” My mom seemed agitated at this. “He’s waiting for me. I need to get to the harbor. I don’t want to miss the boat.”

I asked her more about this harbor, about the boat she was going to take, about how she knew where to go. She seemed to know exactly where to go until she tried to describe it, and then it wasn’t so clear. Mostly she was anxious that she wouldn’t make it in time. I asked her if this boat was waiting just for her or if it was picking up other people too. She thought about it and concluded that it was just for her. I suggested that they wouldn’t leave without her, and she relaxed, agreeing.

Nine years ago tomorrow, my mother died. It was Mother’s Day. It was sad, and painful, and beautiful.

Mom's hospice bed and the flower left by the mortuary.
May 11, 2009.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

If I Belonged

> When did it start to feel like… Like you fit? Like you…belonged here?
> Well, I'm still not sure I do.


If I belonged
Really belonged
I wouldn’t feel the need
To prove myself
To show my worth
To defend every action
Every desire for connection
Every longing for love

If I belonged
I wouldn’t feel like I was trespassing
On someone else’s territory
Fearful of triggering
Someone’s anger
That I had overstepped
My bounds
Taken what was
Not mine
Expected more than
I was owed
As if friendships are transactions
And love can be meted out
In weights and measures

I don’t know how to belong
Without being invited
How do I differentiate
An invitation
From my own longing?

Carving out a place for myself
Evokes images of sharp edges
Blades cutting and slashing
Creating a space
In the absence of a welcome

I’d rather nestle in
Where space is made
With the intent
That I should fill it
A me-shaped space
A perfect fit

But this requires
The involvement of others
One in which
Belonging can never be
A one-sided decision

I see now
This is belonging
Among people

What if this is too narrow a focus?

Can I belong in the world
Without people being involved?

Why should other people
Have the power to decide
If I belong?
Am I beholden to them
For my existence
Simply because I’ve never felt
What it means to belong?

What if belonging
Is a state of being
And not a status
A rank granted
Only if one meets
Subjective standards
And pays one’s dues?

If I belonged
As a state of being
I could stop apologizing
For being who I am
If I belonged
As a state of being
I would have just as much right
To happiness and joy
To love and fulfillment
As anyone else

If I belonged
As a state of being
My needs would be important
Should the cabin lose air pressure
One of those oxygen masks
Would be for me
And I could secure it on myself
With gratitude

If I belonged
As a state of being
Then should others
Overlook me
Forget me
Ignore me
Try to erase me
I have a right
Even an obligation
To speak up for myself
To fight for myself

Because I belong
And I will not be erased
I belong
And I have a right to be happy

I belong
I do not need to carve out a space
Or nestle in to one existing

I will make my own space
In the world
And invite others
To stand with me
To sit next to me
To share with me

And if I sometimes feel
Like a fish out of water
Because belonging
Has been foreign all my life
Then I will be that fish
Who learns to live on land
Big plans for that fish
Don’t step on me

I belong.