Diet For A New Me

People are starting to ask what my first meal is going to be once I’m eating again. It’s too early for me to put much thought into that. It certainly doesn’t help my resolve to sit around daydreaming of my favorite foods, but I have been thinking quite a bit about how I will approach food when I come off of this cleanse.

When I was 21 years old I became vegan for moral and social reasons. Diet For A New America was a revelation to say the least. I devoured it, I believed in it and for the first time in my life I started paying attention to what I was eating. I began reading food labels and putting together the idea that we really are what we eat in more ways than the physical.

I absolutely buy into the idea that when we eat animals we also eat the pain they have suffered. Giving up meat was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. Zip! It was gone just like that as if someone had finally given me permission to do something I always dreamed of doing. (Thank you John Robbins!) Ultimately veganism became an outlet for the guilt I had been amassing up until then. If I did this one incredible selfless thing, I could feel better about anything else I had screwed up.

For four years veganism worked quite well for me. I was steadfast, my only gripe being the loss of cheese. Most of the time I figured it was an unnecessary craving due to the fact that I enjoyed all dairy substitutes except vegan cheese. I’m sure it’s come a long way since then but I used to say it was like opening a Kraft single, throwing away the cheese and eating the plastic wrapper.

When I was 25 I moved to New York City and entered the most difficult period of my life to date. I was alone, broke and beyond frustrated. I was also living within blocks of three delicious smelling pizza parlors. My cheese cravings were off the charts. One day at a particularly low moment I thought to myself: What if I just eat a slice of pizza? GASP! I couldn’t believe I was really contemplating it. I agonized over the idea for weeks before giving in. Veganism was a badge I had worn proudly. It was an identity I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up. For years I had genuinely hoped the whole world would go vegan, how could I face people if I was eating cheese again? There’s nothing I hate more than a hypocrite.

On my way home from the train one day though, I just did it. I bought a slice of pizza and smuggled it home, afraid someone would catch me and rat me out. I sat down at the table and treated it like it was a gold medal I had worked years to achieve.

Let me tell you that pizza went down smoothly. I expected to get cramps and be sick as a dog for days after eating it but nothing like that happened. Turns out I am the farthest thing from lactose intolerant, always have been and hopefully always will be. The biggest obstacle for bringing cheese back wasn’t physical; it was emotional. I was immediately filled with guilt from head to toe. Oh but it tasted and felt so good! My mood and my energy skyrocketed, which is exactly the opposite of what they tell you is supposed to happen, but it turned out to be my reality. Cheese makes me feel good. And in the end, no one ever wagged a finger at me for my sin.

I fully believe veganism is the most wonderfully compassionate eating choice there is and I salute every single person who adheres to it. My life changed in an incredibly positive way through the experience and my eyes were opened up to information I continue to learn and grow from. But eventually I reached a point where I had to pay more attention to my body than my moral guilt and I have come to peace with that.

After this cleanse I’m intending to bring eggs back as well. I’ve reached another turning point in my diet regarding soy (more on that later) and I think eggs are the best protein option for me moving forward. While I don’t expect any physical difficulties with that, I am expecting more emotional ones. I haven’t eaten eggs since the nineties.

Really it all circles around to moderation. Doesn’t it always? Depriving ourselves of something our body tells us it needs (over the long haul) can be just as bad as overflowing it with crap it doesn’t want. My Diet For A New Me will be centered around listening to my body and forgiving myself for its genuine needs.

Clarity In Large Doses

Clarity in large doses is much harder to come by. It manifests as something so much more than simple courage. It is larger than we are. If you catch it by the tail you find yourself on a wave of absolute fearlessness and you better hang on tight ‘cuz it’s gonna be a fuckin’ awesome ride.

In my lifetime I’ve been lucky to ride this wave a few times. Periodic episodes of fearlessness have pushed me to skydive, surf in the Pacific off the coast of Mexico despite my inflated fear of sharks and drowning, leave a comfortable long term relationship that wasn’t doing either of us any favors, move cross country to a new city and start a business in a recession. Oh and there was that time I jumped off a cliff into a river in Hawai’i. Yee-haw!

After yesterday’s post about clarity in small doses, I figured it only fair that the universe would today show me some more clarity in a large dose. But this morning didn’t start off too well. By the time I got the pups back from the dog park pain had come back to my leg. It’s the sitting in the car and the driving that constantly send my progress reeling backwards so I decided to ride my bike to work. On my way in my shoe came untied and when I reached down to fix it I froze again. Yesterday I could squat, today I cannot. I hobbled off my bike, limped to the side of the road and spent the next five minutes figuring out how to reach my shoe.

When I arrived at the cart I was greeted by massive road construction by the Portland Water Bureau. I couldn’t tell you what they were doing but it was obnoxiously loud and seemed to involve suction. They were working directly across from my window. Awesome. I could feel my blood pressure rising as the money worries set in. Business has slowed with the change of seasons and here we had a warm beautifully sunny day destroyed by street crews and noise pollution.

The downward spiral didn’t really hit until the dude I’m crushing on walked past and paid me no mind. This time I didn’t chase him, trusting my instincts as they rightfully pointed out that it was too loud to speak to anyone anyway. I would say I was OK for five minutes. Then the noise and the pain and the worry joined forces with that ego fucker and the berating began.

You’re so stupid! That was your chance and you screwed it up again. Your horoscope told you to make a grand gesture and you blew it. You’re an idiot for liking a stranger who clearly doesn’t find you interesting anyway. This is too hard. You should just quit and eat already. And on and on and on…

When I finally managed to take a breather I checked my email. Four comments to this blog from friends old and new reminding me of something critically important: I’m not doing this cleanse to get a date with a handsome stranger. This moment is about something much different. My job is to focus my attention and just do what needs to be done. In other words, shut up and drink some lemonade.

So I drank and from then on the day moved along quite nicely. Business was stellar, the temperatures hit the 80’s, my mood and clarity rose back to their newfound lofty heights and then all of a sudden there he was standing in line at my cart. I looked down at the smoothie I was making, looked back up and he was still there. After months, he had returned for a juice and immediately I knew it was time. There was no chaos in my head, no sweaty palms or dry mouth, just an understanding that this was my moment. I smiled. I was friendly. I made his juice and slipped him my phone number with a note asking, “Drinks?”

When you’re jumping out of an airplane at 13,000 feet, fearlessness feels like adrenalin. Your heart races so fast and so loud it drowns out any possible voice speaking of concern or negative consequence. The only thing that is happening is the exact thing that is happening. You are jumping out of an airplane.

Other times, back down on the ground, fearlessness just feels right and good. Still the only thing that’s happening is the thing that’s happening. You are taking a step forward.

Regardless of the future outcome (because let’s be honest, he might not call), I fucking loved today.

Clarity In Small Doses

Clarity in small doses, like the kind I came to last night, manifests as loss of fear, which then turns into courage. From there all we need to do is take action.

The action I took last night was in the form of reaching out to a past loved one, reminding him I still care and being clear that I am happy for him with his new wife and baby.

Not only did I awake this morning to a kind response from a man who has clearly grown in the last two years, I awoke to less pain. Today my limp was considerably smaller and halfway through the day I squatted without even thinking about it. I can also flex my ankle again!

Each of these bits of progress feels enormous.

The Hardest Day

Today has been the hardest day by far. I can think of a number of reasons for that. First of all it was freezing and grey all day, my absolute least favorite kind of weather. Umm… so tell us Jennifer, why did you move to Portland, OR then? I moved here for many other reasons, all of which have proven beneficial to my life and wellbeing, but the weather continues to be very difficult for me to deal with. My body seizes in the cold dampness and I lose all fluidity and movement. I hunch over and shiver constantly wreaking havoc on my muscles.

Money issues are playing themselves out today. Inclement weather is very bad for the food cart culture as I’m sure you can imagine. I’m also tired from not sleeping enough this weekend. Twice so far on this cleanse I’ve had nights where I just lie in bed staring at the ceiling, my body buzzing and my eyes unable to close. I gather it’s a combination of the cleansing effects and the large quantity of maple syrup I consume each day. Gosh, ya think?

But the biggest reason today is so hard is that I’ve finally reached unchartered territory. In 2008 I completed a 10-day master cleanse and last year I did 12 full days of master cleanse with a day on each side of extremely limited food intake (so 14 days total). Today is Day 15. I’ve entered a new realm.

Completing 3 days of a cleanse is difficult, but once you pass that 3rd day it’s pretty much smooth sailing. You’ve effectively conquered your ego, proved to yourself you’re not going to die and officially begun your journey of releasing toxicity and negative emotion. It’s all a game of mind over matter. That is the single most important lesson of a first cleanse. If you think you’re going to fail, you fail. If you think you’re going to do 10 days, you do 10 days just like that. On the 10th day you come down, congratulate yourself and go back to eating, hopefully with a broadened knowledge of how your mind interacts with your stomach.

There’s a flip side. On that first cleanse I was hoping to cure myself of Lyme disease. It didn’t work. There is no documented proof anywhere that says fasting can cure Lyme disease, I was simply working off the theory that when digestion stops the body gets a shit ton of energy to spend elsewhere and enjoys healing itself. Part of the problem was I didn’t set out with the goal of curing myself, I just wanted it to be a side effect of a 10-day cleanse. What I really set out to do was complete 10 days. Once I did that I allowed my ego back in to its normal resting place and went back to life as usual (also known as camping and binging on potato chips all weekend).

Last year my goal was to go longer than 12 days but once I passed 10 (what I already knew I could handle) I started to cave and gave up, convincing myself I had done enough. Honestly in that setting I think I had done enough. I was healthy and at a good weight. I was cleansing out of unemployed boredom before a vacation more than anything. Poor me! I didn’t feel a need to build resolve. I wasn’t trying to conquer a physical disorder, nor did I have much interest in testing my own limits just then.

So here I am surpassing what I did last year and coming up on the same emotions.

My ego asks: Haven’t you already done enough?

And my leg answers: Umm… No.

But it’s not just the sciatica talking this time. My brain is craving this too. When I’m in a good place in my life, I enjoy pushing boundaries. I get off on testing my strength. It’s part of how I feel alive and vital. When I’m stuck and bored, I’m boring. When I’m moving and happy, I fuckin’ move!

My ego pushes its agenda: But you don’t know if you can survive any longer without food.

Enter my heart: You won’t be satisfied unless you give it your all. Go as far as you can go then stop.

Today was very hard but ultimately my heart won. Finally the sun is going down and I’m realizing I made it through another day of this journey unscathed. Sure I was a little cranky and defensive in some emails and I complained to my cart neighbor a tad too much. I suspect I’ll be forgiven for my sins.

Lao Tsu says: Retire when the work is done. I promise I will, but I know it’s not done yet.

Here’s to new horizons.

I Got My Dad Back The Other Day

He had been missing for quite some time. He was captured by the Dread Pirate Sciatica years ago when he accidentally missed his footing on a small divot in the lawn (a divot in the lawn, people!). My father has been sailing solo on a choppy sea of chronic pain ever since. Like me, he has suffered intermittently with sciatica for more than a decade and, also like me, his bouts are triggered by seemingly inconsequential movements, like lifting a box of screws or turning to speak to someone.

It’s easy to forget someone is in constant pain when it goes on for such lengths because it doesn’t seem possible. This last experience for him has been non-stop for more than two years. Can you even imagine excruciating nerve pain every minute of every day for two years? I certainly couldn’t comprehend it until I was in it. It’s only been a few months for me and I have already been battling depression and a strong case of the crazies.

When bad moods and short tempers become the norm we jump to conclusions outside of the pain and get annoyed with the sufferer. He’s depressed because he’s lazy, he’s overweight, he’s not eating well or exercising. Well of course he is all of these things because the pain is prohibiting him from living his life! He has no ability to make healthy choices because he feels paralyzed. Once the downward spiral begins it’s increasingly difficult to get out of over time.

My father’s specific problem involves arthritis creating calcium deposits that crowd the nerve shaft and put pressure on it. The arthritis simultaneously pinches his nerve and destroys its protective sheathing thereby exposing it. Holy ouch.

He called the other day to tell me he had back surgery last week. Such timing! The pain had simply gone on too long and he couldn’t bear it anymore. No other options were helping. And for the first time in as long as I can remember I could hear him smiling over the phone. Surgery was successful and relief immediate. With his cloud of pain obliterated, my dad is back. Take that DPS!

Some days I wake up and wonder what the hell I’m doing with this cleanse. Then I think of what these past few years have been like for my dad and I remember. I’m giving my body a chance to heal itself naturally before it’s too late and I have to consider drastic options.

Always a skeptic when it comes to western medicine (also self-employed with no health insurance), I’ve said I don’t consider surgery an option for myself. It is most likely that my specific issues have not degenerated to the point his did because of my age, which buys me time to explore my body’s healing potential. While I continue to feel this way, I am also enormously grateful that procedures and technology have advanced so far in recent years that surgery is now a viable alternative to those who have run out of others.

Welcome back Popo. You were missed.

Is It Possible That This Is Working?

It’s 4:10 AM and I haven’t fallen asleep yet. I don’t mind though because a small miracle is happening. For the first time since July there is an absence of throbbing in my back, hip and ankle. I’ve been laying in my bed in a comfortable position savoring every second of it. It feels luxurious and decadent.

It’s probably only temporary and, while I’m bleary eyed and exhausted, I’m thankful to be awake to witness it.

I’ll Take “Things That Are Totally Awesome” for $1,000

What is the Oprah Winfrey & Eckhart Tolle 10 part web series exploring Tolle’s A New Earth? Correct!

My writing teachers Carrie Link and Deb Shucka turned me on to this gem and I absolutely love it. I know the name Oprah can be polarizing but I really think she’s at her best here. And it’s like having Eckhart over for dinner so he can explain in detail what he meant when he wrote: Suffering has a noble purpose: the evolution of consciousness and the burning up of the ego.

It’s downloadable for free on iTunes. Check it out here, listen to it in the car, fall asleep to it. Grow. Love. Find peace.