I have this thing I’ve been doing this winter: I stand over my stove most mornings stirring chocolate chips into steaming milk; I use my grandmother’s hand mixer to whip full-fat cream and maple syrup together. The whipping cream tops my homemade cocoa. Did I mention I want to reduce my sugar intake?
I have this thing I’ve been doing for years: I clear out a build up of life junk, bringing it through the drive-thru at the Goodwill because I long to live a simpler life. Did I mention that sometimes—most times—on my Goodwill visits, I park my car after unloading it so that I can peruse the Goodwill’s diverse section of used books? I might bring home an old book simply because I like it’s cover. “Check out that Mid-century design—they don’t make covers like that anymore,” I tell my husband when he questions why I purchased a book on football in the 1950s. I also pick up vintage maps, old family photos, and other ephemera.
I have this thing I do when I’m sick: I binge watch old TV shows about large families, like Eight is Enough, The Partridge Family, andThe Brady Bunch. Did I mention that I suffer from cyclical—yet profound—longing for uninterrupted solitude?
Life is filled with opposite pulls. While it’s still common for me to struggle against the opposing poles of my life, through studying yoga, I learned that to be alive is to suffer the pull of opposites; hatha yoga creates a path towards the union of opposites. The more I can get away from black and white thinking, labeling emotions as “good” or “bad” and just rest in my knowledge that the whole of my life has the capacity to work with all experiences, the better I live.
A battery derives power from both a positive and negative charge.
This post is merely an interlude before I speak about my current health and dietary restrictions/adjustments. I was once (and for a longtime) a vegetarian. I was even, for a few months here and there, vegan throughout this period. During that time, I was often self-righteous about my diet. I was also very self-righteous about my decade of “no white stuff” with no sugar or refined flour. I was also was pretty self-congratulatory about the fact that my two older children ate the full spectrum of vegetables and whole grains. I really thought I was doing things right. I’m sure I’ve even shared some of that good old-fashioned self-righteousness on this blog–particularly during my yoga teacher’s training with the vegan brigade.
In the last five years, I have been humbled. First, my extreme pregnancy-long nausea (kid 3) brought me back to sugar when sugar-based foods were often the only thing that my body would accept. Second, I had a child that was born a pathologically picky eater even when I did everything “right” (as defined by the dietary thought police), such as eating a wide-variety of fruits and vegetables while breastfeeding him. Finally, after weaning J. at age three (because breast milk was still one of the only things he consumed back then but had at least stretched his diet to twelve items), I became sick. Overtime, my ability to digest grains diminished and then left me all together. My ability to consume green leafy veggies also vacated the premises. My lactose intolerance re-emerged with a vengeance. Left weak and exhausted (with scary amounts of hair loss), I finally decided to add meat into my diet.
Now, I feel really really chagrined by the self-righteousness of my past. I finally understand that each person may have completely different food needs (for what ever reason) then the next person. One person may have diabetes, one may have problems coping with certain food textures**, and another may lack the digestive enzymes to process dairy or grains. Another may have developed a leaky gut over time and now may be developing allergies to almost every food they eat. Still others are just struggling to find the funds to keep enough of any kind of food on the table. [On that note, I just read this fabulous article by Holly Goodman that puts a very human face on what it’s like to live at or near the poverty line in this country today. I highly recommend reading it!]
In our effort to promote health in this country, we’ve become so preachy about food choices. Even so, I’ve yet to find a consistent dietary principle. For example, while some now might be speaking of the benefits of butter, there are still those (ahem, yoga teachers) that would tell you what a great alternative Earth Balance is to butter. It all comes down to R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Respect for one another’s individual choices, in food, parenting, and otherwise. Respect because we do not know what path our neighbor walks down.
Perhaps its age, perhaps it’s Al-anon, perhaps it’s the humility gained from my evaporating health guiding me. These days, when it comes to diet, I find it is best to focus on just myself and let others be responsible for themselves. That said, I plan to tell everyone about my current diet–not because I think anyone should adopt my diet, but simply because I’ve combed through gobs of other bloggers’ posts to glean some small bit of information that might help my own quest for health. On that quest, however, there was never any one person’s dietary regime that would have completely “fixed” me.
Therefore, before i expound on my quest for health via diet, let me just say that if I ever get that log worked out of my eye, well then maybe I can see well enough to spot the speck in your eye–but by that time, I hope I’ll just congratulate you on the small size of the speck in your eye and ask you humbly, “How do you do it?”
**Recently, my dentist told me that everyone has different sensors in their mouth and dental work that might feel smooth to one person, will feel completely rough to another. She told me this to assure me that it was okay that I had come back in to have her do additional sanding and buffing of a recent composite filling because it felt scratchy to me, not unlike the horrible cheap nylons that my mom made me wear on Easter Sunday the year I turned nine. She couldn’t understand why I threw such a fit about the hose. To this day, I cannot even tolerate the thought of wearing panty hose. Their texture makes me shiver.
Other people’s expectations are not my responsibility unless I helped create them.
From Courage to Change: One Day at a Time in Al-Anon II
I’ve been mulling over this quote since I read it in one of my daily Al-Anon readings this past week. Over the past few years, I’ve been living with the words of my yoga teacher echoing in my head. That is, “to be true to yourself, you may have to disappoint other people.” Hmmm. But if I helped create an expectation? This pulls “responsibility” back into the picture once again.
I was the last of four kids, with two working parents and I think that it was often assumed that someone was at home with me when, in fact, I was often left alone—perhaps before I was ready. But it was the 70s and parenting styles were quite a bit different than they are now. Perhaps as a result of this early independence, I learned to deal with my pain alone. I don’t believe I ever even cried in front of my parents. I did try to cry in front of my Siamese cat, Catboy, but he’d usually exit the room and find a bed to hide under until my tears subsided. I also somehow learned to resort to food to provide comfort or to stop my pain. When you binge, you definitely stop feeling your feelings.
I cut my parenting teeth on my first-born and only daughter, born when I was just twenty-two years old. When she’d cry as a newborn, I would feel a sense of panic rise up inside me. I already felt responsible for solving all of her problems; and I wasn’t always confidant in my ability to do so. I also had never had the witnessing of wounds modeled to me. When my daughter was older, I’d often react in anger when she’d hurt herself. Instead of focusing on her pain, I’d get all wrapped up in lecturing her about how she shouldn’t have been doing whatever she had been doing that produced the pain. “You shouldn’t have been walking on that high wall in the first place!” I couldn’t just stand by and send love to her wounds. I couldn’t do so because I couldn’t do that for my own self. (A prime example of how we all might do this is when we, upon stubbing a toe, mutter angry expletives instead of just allowing ourselves to really feel the pain; in this way, we lean away from the experience of suffering instead of leaning into it. By leaning in, we enable the growth that suffering can bring).
It was my training as a yoga teacher that finally caused me to learn to stop to witness my own hurt feelings and my own wounds, along with that of my children. Yoga teachers love to say, “to heal you must feel.” In the last year or so, I’ve read much about how healing tears and crying are to kids. In fact, tears are one way our body detoxifies all of us. So why are we so quick to try to stop our children’s tears? We are often far too ready to hand over an iPad, or a sugary treat to our children to get the tears to stop. A nurse even tried to hand J. a sucker after he had a bad blood draw this past spring. Don’t get me wrong; I used to do this too. But I am starting to think that one of our primary roles as a parent is to simply witness our children’s wounds. To witness and allow is enough. I am also teaching my youngest child, a four year old, to send love to his “ouches.” Stubbed toes provide a fantastic opportunity to practice.
This past week, I had the opportunity to witness both my oldest and youngest child’s wounds. On Sunday night, my daughter, who is almost the age I was one when I had her, phoned home from college in tears. I just listened to her cry for about five minutes before I could even understand her enough to know why she was crying. Her long-term boyfriend had just broken her heart, just a month before they graduated. Once I knew what had happened, I also knew that she needed those tears to get through to the other side of the pain and begin to heal. As much as I wanted to stop her pain, I knew that the best thing I could do was to listen patiently and tell her that it wouldn’t always feel this bad. By serving as her witness, she knew I was there for her and that I loved her.
Today, my youngest son exploded into tears when I picked him up from preschool. Before driving home, I assessed the situation the best I could and learned that his tears were not from a physical pain but an emotional hurt. I knew the tears would not be ending anytime soon and so I calmly strapped him into his car seat and drove home. He cried (and by cried, I mean, all out wailed) the entire fifteen-minute drive home. In the past, this would have really stressed me out. I might have even pulled the car over and insisted, “we’re not driving any further until you stop crying.” Instead, however, I just kept telling myself, “all you need to do is bear witness to his wounds–you don’t need to anesthetize his pain.”
When we got home, I was able to hold J. close in the rocking chair and tell him how much I loved him. I also told him I’d always love him and be there for him, no matter what happened. He eventually calmed down enough to tell me about how two other boys trapped him in a hula-hoop and wouldn’t let him out. One of the boys used to identify as my son’s best friend but has now switched his allegiance to the other boy involved. I was not sure whether my son was more hurt by the stress of losing his “best” friend or from a fear of being trapped. Either way, all I could do was love him and know that feeling our pain is the only way to get through it. Pain is a part of the human experience and the best thing I can do for my children is to allow them their pain and validate it, as I quietly bear witness to their sufferings.