Why I’m Matcha Obsessed

 

It’s all of the buzz right now: We are experiencing a bit of obnoxious “matcha madness” in Los Angeles,  and I’m joining in on the trend. But I’m hoping that as an ex-coffee junkie, my message is more palatable for the masses. Are you confused about what matcha is, WHY matcha is, and how the hell to make it? Allow me to explain..

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3. Lyme Disease: How to Self-Care with a Demanding Job

Halley Feiffer

 

Lyme disease:

 

Halley Feiffer ignored her symptoms until they were drastically affecting her lifestyle. It was backstage in the middle of a performance, when she realized that she couldn’t rely on booking effortless jobs and she needed to go to the doctor. Through treating Lyme and strategically monitoring her self-care, today Halley manages a jam-packed schedule and demanding atmospheres. Find out how in this episode!

More about Halley:

Halley Feiffer is a bi-coastal actress and writer. Currently she is writing on “Kidding,” the upcoming Showtime series starring Jim Carrey. Halley was diagnosed with Lyme disease three years ago in New York City.

Listen to this episode if you are especially interested in:

  • How to keep working with your symptoms!
  • How to self-care with a demanding job
  • How to manage stress
  • Dr. Richard Horowitz
  • Antibiotics vs. holistic treatment
  • Lyme diet options

Happy listening!

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Clean Eating: My “Controversial” Diet

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I gave up booze and drugs at the startling age of 17—the age many (or most?) people are just getting started. Jaws still drop when I mention in passing that I, in fact, do not drink and haven’t in over a decade, but the news doesn’t land with the same deafening impact it did in my early twenties when my peers found such a choice to be blasphemous. I am no stranger to the often judgmental— but sometimes inquisitive— reaction I get from strangers or new friends (or even “friends”) about my lifestyle choices. Choice. If you want to call it that. But I quit drinking because it was destroying me and I really want to live…fully and vibrantly. And in order to LIVE fully, vibrantly, and, ironically, limitlessly—I now follow an extremely strict diet as well, a diet that generates the same jaw-dropping, mind-boggling reaction— “Why do you do that to yourself?  What DO you eat? Do you have any fun, ever? How do you do it?” I’d like to address these questions I am faced with almost daily.

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How I Step Into the New Year

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It was hours before midnight, and I was already wasted. Running around in shredded jeans that put my hip bones on display, a tight red, spaghetti- strap shirt that revealed the push- up- bra- boobs of a teenager, and a pair of red sunglasses just to complete the “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” look, I was not making mom and dad proud. The New Years Eve party I attended was at my own house—my parents’ friends, my friends, and my brother’s friends shared the space in one excitable gathering. We had been throwing these parties for years, but that would be our last one—the last time we could pretend to be somewhat functional. Although, I’m not sure we had anyone fooled.  My father was only half present that year, leaving the room every so often to take a hit— an omen for what was to come. The clock was running out on 2003, and I had no resolutions for 2004. I was 15 and lost. All of the vitality I had lived with most of my life was just gone, eaten up by poison. I wanted out, I sought escape every chance I got. Around ten PM, with a red Dixie cup in hand, I sloppily took a stand atop our coffee table. Inspired by the music of The Spice Girls (I had picked out the song), I made a loud, screechy toast, “You know,” I shouted, “people never keep their resolutions… so THIS YEAR, I’m going to make a resolution to drink and be fucked up as much as possible because THAT’S a resolution I know I’ll keep.” Laughing so hard, feeling so clever, I stumbled off the table, found my way to the bathroom and spent the remainder of the night puking my guts up. I missed midnight. Technically, I was off to a good start considering my resolution, right?

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Treating Anxiety, Part II

Part I here. 

treating-anxiety

My hips led me around a Montauk boutique. My jean skirt was too short, my acrylic nails too long, and my shirt too tight. I drank too much, smoked too many cigarettes and cursed more than a “young lady should.” I was too wild, too antsy, too dishonest, too sexy. I was monitoring my movement around the store, looking for mirrors so I could watch myself sway by. Deeply immersed in the passion of self-obsession, I could hear my mother’s muted voice trying to pull me out of my too-cool-for-you attitude, “Jack, jack, this is cute, isn’t it?” She held up a beige shirt,  “Ugh, no mom,” immediately dismissing her excitement, “I don’t like it.” “Well, it’s not for you, it’s for me,” she said annoyed. “Oh. Well then sure.”  I was 15. My mother and I were vacationing in Montauk and we were killing time shopping. At the register,  I spotted a brown leather bracelet. I picked it up to see what was inscribed in it and read, “feel the fear and do it anyway,” written in italic script.  I was cosmically drawn to the saying. It made me feel like the badass I was determined to be. My life had been so overtaken by mood altering substances and experiences that I was numb to my childhood, numb to my passions, numb to love. SO, when I saw that bracelet, I thought, “yeah, feel the fear of overdosing and take all of the drugs anyway, yeah feel like you’re going to die from the insane adventure and do it anyway, be afraid of drunk driving and do it anyway, feel the fear of mixing all of the booze, of fucking the wrong guy, and DO IT ANYWAY.” It was with that M.O that I begged my mother to buy me the bracelet. Because she was in denial of my M.O, she agreed. I wore it everyday,  I followed its direction, and it got me into trouble. That is, until I learned how to use that saying to my life’s benefit.

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The Power of Passionate Living

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Fuck the power of positive thinking. Spirit is far superior to the brain.

“Show me how you fight.”

“Show me how you live.”

“Show me who the fuck you are!”

– Aaron Eckhart in “Bleed for This,” the new Ben Younger biopic based on the life of boxer, Vinny Pazienza.

Do you know about Vinny Pazienza? Or maybe you know him better as the Pazmanian devil?  Don’t feel bad if you’re drawing a blank. I had never even heard his name before I went to the screening of “Bleed for This” last week. Of course I didn’t know his name—I didn’t even know the World Series were presently happening until I called a friend last night and she was like, “can I call you back. I’m watching the World Series.” And I wondered who was playing but forgot to google it because I just really don’t care. So it’s no shock that I didn’t know about the life of a pro boxer from the 90’s.

Vinny Pazienza is known to have the greatest comeback in boxing history. In 1991, on the heels of great success, a grave car accident left him with a broken neck. Doctors gave him the unsettling news that he may never walk again and that the boxing ring was undoubtedly only a part of his history—not his future. He wouldn’t have it. Fueled by fierce determination to fight again, Pazienza passed on spinal fusion surgery and opted to be fit with a halo—a medical device screwed (literally) into his head for a few months so his upper body would remain entirely still while his bones mended. The halo was a risk; spinal fusion would guarantee a future that involved full mobility while the halo simultaneously put him at risk to never walk again BUT if it worked, he’d have a shot at the ring. His friends, family and doctors saw him as delusional—all were confident that he would never fight again. Ignoring the doctor’s orders, Vinny secretly trained while inside of the halo—an act that is incredibly dangerous considering that one misstep—one bump or fall— could push the screws through his skull impacting his brain. He had a shitload of passion and determination. He needed to fight, he needed back in the ring—nothing would deter him from getting well. Indeed, he returned to the ring within a year and won his first fight back. It was a title win… he got one of those big belts.

In the movie, the bloody  story is supplemented with inspiring music and montages, ramping up the audience to get busy living their own life with an equal amount of passion and perseverance. Music and montages can make the most horrific experiences seem almost desirable, can’t they? Life isn’t like that. I’m sure it was an incredibly challenging year for him—I’m sure it SUCKED. But  he had a goal, and he had a fervor and zeal that kept him moving toward that goal— that kept his cells bursting with energy. He was not “thinking positively,” his spirit was at work. And THAT gets my rocks off.

The ecstasy I felt watching Vinny conquer his injury reminded me of “Meru.” Do you know about Meru? Meru is a Himalayan mountain with a summit at 21,850 feet known to some as the new Everest—in fact, it’s technically a harder climb with its icy vertical faces. The first completed ascent was made in 2011 by a team of three pro- climbers—Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, and Renan Ozturk. It was their second attempt as a team.In 2008, the three gave it an honest go but they made the calculated decision to descend before triumph due to dangerous weather conditions. Chin, Anker, and Ozturk were determined to reach Meru’s summit to spite the painful conditions, and after a couple of years, they decided to play with mother nature at her most violent…again. This time, they had hard-earned knowledge of the mountain and they were set to succeed. But, five months before their planned ascent, Ozturk had a skiing accident so brutal that it has continued to be referred to as”near-fatal.” His vertebrae were shattered, he had a cranial fracture, and was facing a stark future.

Five months later, he climbed Meru with Chin and Anker and made summit—a task that verges on inhumane. Just in case climbing the mountain twice wasn’t enough, they also filmed and completed a beautiful documentary called—wait for it— Meru. Like Pazienza, Ozturk was determined, dedicated, and full of life- force-passion—nothing would stop him and nothing did. He had a full recovery and continues to climb today. How the fuck?  Thankfully, you don’t need to have a passion for fighitng or climbing a mountain. You don’t need to “live on the edge” to know what I’m talking about.

When I was first diagnosed with Lyme, I KNEW I would beat it. I wouldn’t live with it. I wouldn’t be a person that “managed symptoms.” I imagine it was the same way Pazienza and Ozturk looked  their fate dead in the eye and said “no.” I had no choice. I loved life too much to be inhibited by an illness. I was too determined to experience the abundant juice and zest. I refused to suck on a dry orange. But then I got sicker, and it got scarier, and I got more and more beaten down and worried that maybe I didn’t have what I needed to beat it. And in those moments, I needed to remember two things. I needed to remember that *some things* are beyond my control. Let me be very clear. I know people who were not as lucky as Ozturk and Pazienza.  I know the people who are stuck in wheelchairs for life because of freak accidents. People that are not actively choosing to put themselves in danger, die or end up paralyzed. It’s “unfair” and I am in no way suggesting that if those friends of mine had a little more determination and passion, they would reverse their condition. NOPE. I believe that certain things are beyond our control. I’m not a monster. I needed to have compassion for myself and my reality BUT I also needed to remember the stories that prove the impossible IS possible. Lyme IS curable. I needed to remember that healing could happen even when the doctor (a human being with an MD that makes mistakes all of the time) swears it can’t. I needed to see the people who were hit with the “irreversible” obstacles, REVERSE them. And that includes all of the people who are in a wheelchair AND living their best lives. In fact, that’s even fucking cooler.

About one year into my illness, I was crying on the phone with a friend— a friend who had a complete recovery from Lyme. Crying about how sick I felt, about how lost and alone I was, about how weak I was, how ugly and depressed I had become, and how completely terrified I was. I was pacing back and forth in my bedroom fueled by anxiety. She wouldn’t listen to my complaints or my symptoms. She kept redirecting my attention to my heart. “You need to get in touch with the most powerful part of yourself. Think back and remember a time where you felt the most powerful. Think about how you felt before you got on stage for the first time or something..I’m sure you have something.” I stopped pacing. I did.I felt a surge of energy boil in my core and overflow into the rest of my cells—my fire.

I was in the fourth grade. I was uncool, becoming more timid by the day, and a complete liar in an effort to make friends. I felt more and more ashamed of who I was on a daily basis. Was it my father’s abuse catching up to me, was it the school I was in, the cruel kids I was surrounded by? How had I gone from an entirely confident and optimistic kid to one that profusely sweat and blushed with embarrassment at the sight of herself? I sat upright in the school auditorium waiting for my name to be called: I was signed up to perform for the Storytelling contest that day in front of my whole grade. I had been practicing, “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” with my mother, and I felt READY. I didn’t know I wanted to be an actor yet. Looking back, I don’t know why I was so excited, so ready, so talented. I just was. The teacher in charge called my name and I walked confidently up to stage. I was handed a microphone, I turned on my heels to look out at my peers and something happened. They couldn’t touch me. I was free. I was lit up and ready to explode. And  I did. I was brilliant and I knew it. I held the audience captive—even the girls who would have loved to hate me— they couldn’t. I sparkled through my last line and figuratively dropped the fucking mic. I wasn’t surprised that I won—I knew I would. THAT power—the kind I had before my brain knew *too much* about life.

I tapped into the power I felt when I auditioned for Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School—the steadfast confidence and the surety that I WOULD get accepted. I was 13 and the audition process was a day long—performing  monologues, improv,  interviews, memorization tests. I walked into one interview room that had wall-to-wall mirrors in it, and I eyed myself sweeping across the floor. My back was straight, my heart was full, and I was being PULLED forward. I wasn’t pushing or forcing. I was letting passion carry me.  I did get accepted and within one year everything took a nose dive. My brain became too active, my father started using drugs, I was distracted by boys, I hated myself,  and self-medicating was the only solution. Brene Brown says we can’t selectively numb. We can’t. As I numbed my dark thoughts, I also numbed all of my passion until I was left empty.

By 19 years old,  I had cleaned up my act and started thawing out. My passionate light was burning again and melting away all of the icy stuff, but I never fully recovered. I still knew too much—I still thought too much. I used my brain to outsmart my humanity forgetting that while my heart might be where the scary feelings are, it’s also where my power is. When I got sick, I needed my spirit more than ever. I needed to get out of my own way, shut the thoughts down. I needed to tap into the part of me that shouted  “I AM CAPABLE OF ANYTHING. I’VE GOT THIS.” I started closing my eyes and remembering that pure feeling in my body and every time I tapped into that same power I felt at 9 and 13, I felt brighter and lighter and stronger and way more capable of accessing full health. It’s no easy feat when you can barely find the energy to get out of bed, let alone the PASSION to get well, but if I could just tap into it every now and then, if I could just find  the surge to keep going then I’d keep going and slowly but surely… I went.

I love being alive. There is so much sweetness, so much power in this life and I want IN. I want in. I use that same passion, the same drive, the same need that Ozturk used to get up Meru and that Pazienza used to get in the ring, to experience this life free from illness. The same fire I used to mount stage at nine years old, and the same fire that fueled my admission into LaGuardia is what keeps me going—I am determined to live my best life. While I am about 1,000 times better than I was, I am not always free from illness and pain (and I highly doubt that Ozturk and Pazienza are free from pain). I woke up today exhausted, with pain in my joints and sore feet. I’m not going to run a marathon today (or ever because I have no desire to), I’m not even going to do yoga today. But I have two choices: To obsess over my pain and my fatigue, beating myself into a deeper darkness, OR to take a little trip into my lively spirit and let it do the steering. I got out of bed, I drank a green juice, and I got to the coffee shop to do some writing. I’m in warrior training. It’s more hardcore than surviving Meru or getting my nose broken for some big old belt. I’m in training for mind, body, spirit thriving and  thinking has nothing to do with it. It’s pure fucking spirit. It’s heart. And all of us have it.

With fun!

Jackie

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The Symptoms, Part One: Depression

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I sat submerged in the bath water.  The bathroom was dark and quiet, lit only by one large, flickering candle. My face dripped with sweat from the steaming hot water infused with epsom salts. I was motionless. Only my eyes shifted, taking note of my surroundings— the blue walls, the dancing light, the sparkly new bathtub—I worked hard to have my old one replaced because it presented with moldy spots, and as a person recovering from Lyme disease, the sight of mold scared me— and the water. I noticed the still water, and it was calling me to go under, go quiet, go completely still until my heart stopped beating. I stared at this element that I once found harmless and enjoyable, and how weird that I suddenly couldn’t see any other use for being in the bath other than it being the thing that assisted in my death. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? It seemed so obvious. How easy and seemingly peaceful it would be to just go under water and stay there. All of the hell I was living would stop—no more doctors, no more pain, no more fear, no more needles, no more uncertainty, no more isolation, no more crying and staring out of the window next to my bed, no more HOPING, and no more being let down. The temptation was great. I was spiraling and then suddenly I gasped because I had stopped breathing, and I pulled myself up to sitting. The water rippled with force and I frantically pulled the drain open and jumped out of the tub. The appeal was so great that I thought I shouldn’t use a knife or get in the car for the next couple of days.That night I became  intimately acquainted  with the  profound uses of everyday appliances. And I needed to protect myself.

That’s the type of depression that taunted me during my sickest year and a half.  In the moments that symptom flare- ups made death seem imminent, I would be almost relieved, “good. let it be over. I don’t want to live like this. This is not a life.” Sometimes, I hoped I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. It felt like too much work just to stay alive. Lyme depression is two-fold and a real mother fucker. First,  Lyme is a neurological disease—that means it’s a disease in your brain. That means that anxiety and depression are a SYMPTOM. Second, along with the depression and anxiety, you’re hit with a host of other symptoms. For me, I had extreme fatigue, insomnia, terrible physical pain, loss of appetite, hormone and thyroid dysfunction, and  brain fog…just to name a few. So, all of the things I’d generally use to fight depression like exercise, socializing, working hard, food, books, creative outlets, spontaneity,  or vacation also got taken off of the table and I was left isolated, broke, and painfully under slept. It’s common knowledge that the experience of being home sick with a cold or the flu can make someone a little batty. Now think about that experience on repeat for many weeks/ months/ years, add A LOT more symptoms, and then remember that you CANNOT sleep. Sound like hell? It is. I was in hell. As a person in the Lyme community, I hear it all. I hear about the deaths that are a direct result from Lyme. I hear about people getting cured. I hear about the seizures and the fainting and the permanent brain damage, and I hear about those whose lives will be forever better because they fought and prevailed. I hear the cases that are just “mild” but so disruptive. And I hear about the people who kill themselves—there are more than you’d like to believe. It doesn’t surprise me. It was so real for me. It’s very hard to want to live when there is a disease in your brain affecting how you think and when most of what was previously enjoyable about life gets hijacked. Lyme disease pushed me right to the edge. For some reason, I got willing to turn around and fight the wind, and LOVE is what pushed me along.

I had met depression earlier in life in more manageable doses. My attempts to harm myself in the past were half-assed: In high school, I tried to cut myself with a metal nail file —I quit as soon as I broke skin, I tried to be bulimic in middle school, but it took way too much energy to force myself to puke,  and, as a teenager, I took a lighter to my skin every once in a blue moon to make the mental anguish quiet down. Yes, I liked forcing my brain to redirect its attention to physical pain and off of my thoughts. But, in the end, I LOVED being alive. Yes, there were moments of serious darkness, but, most of the time,  I was excited about life.  With Lyme, I didn’t feel alive. Everything I loved about life felt like it was taken from me without my consent. There was no escape from the mental or the physical pain. It was prison.  I had *very sparingly* comforted myself  with the idea of suicide in my earlier life—I’d remind myself that if my depression or anxiety got bad enough, I always had an out, but it never got bad enough. It never lasted long enough…not until illness.

I had been sick for about ten months before I started losing hope. It was when I stopped sleeping in September of 2014 that I spun out of control. It went on night after night—adding up to 50 or 60 sleepless hours at a time. The relief came in very small doses—maybe 3 hours of sleep in a row—never a full nights sleep. I was desperate. My eyes burned, and I was driven to tears throughout each day. I took many variations of sleeping drugs—most didn’t work, and two of them made me more depressed. More emotional pain would cause less sleep which would cause more physical and emotional pain and on and on and on the cycle went.

One October day, I sat on the bottom step of my staircase trying to execute the simple task of putting my shoes on. Something that I used to do in less than a minute multiple times a day was now a terrifying, olympic- style task. For the gold, all I had to do was put my fucking shoes on. But it was so hard—I was so tired. I took a deep breath and slipped one foot in, methodically tied the laces and then paused. I took another deep breath and did the same on the other foot—the last bunny ear went through the hole, I pulled tight and PHEW, I just sat there. I couldn’t move, I had exhausted myself. The roaring sadness was called from my gut and rose up through my body and tears choked out, one after the other. I just needed to stand up and leave the house. Anger struck.  I was enraged with myself, “how the fuck is it possible that you can’t stand up. STAND UP. STAND UP.”  I wanted to drag myself across the floor by my ponytail and beat the living shit out of myself. And that thought devastated me. The desire to harm myself, the self-loathing I was feeling became so unmanageable. I wouldn’t get well if I kept it up.  I needed help.

That  Thursday night, I decided I had enough. No matter how tired I was, or how sick I was, I was going to go to show up at the Hollywood Mental Health Center at 7:30 am the next day—Friday. It’s where my insurance told me to go when I called hysterical.  I crawled out of bed with blood-shot eyes encased in dark circles and willed myself to get ready— put on a sweater and some shoes, grabbed my insurance card and just went. I hadn’t been in therapy for almost a year, and I certainly was not on any anti-depressant, I was free-balling, trying to be “strong,” and it obviously wasn’t working. It was a cold, foggy morning,  and I was  NOT drinking a coffee near a fireplace. I was shivering on a long, scattered line  with Hollywood’s homeless population.  I kept my head down and my nose tucked in my sweater because it smelled, and I was too sick to deal. The man in front of me kept hacking up phlegm and the guy behind me fluctuated between nodding out and jarring himself awake with the sound of his personal cocktail of snore and snot.  Goddamnit, this is not my shining moment, I thought. When I looked up to determine how much longer I’d have to wait, I fucking saw someone I knew. Not a friend—not yet— but an acquaintance I had met a couple of times through friends.  I was painfully ashamed—so ashamed that I considered leaving right then. I couldn’t be seen in this place. I was supposed to be the girl who had it together, but  I couldn’t justify leaving—it was too dangerous, my life depended on what came at the end of this stupid line. He, unfortunately, spotted me, and he came over to greet me like it was just some normal morning. I was so sick I felt like I was dreaming, and he was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, “Hey, are you ok?” he asked. I acted surprised, “hey, whoa, crazy running into you. I’m uhh. I’m OK, yeah. I’m actually just considering leaving.” Yeah, Jack, play it cool on the line at the Hollywood Mental Health Center lol. His face was compassionate, and  he told me—point blank— to stay. He was the familiarity I needed to get through that morning, and he was so kind to me.

I took a seat on a plastic orange chair in the waiting room with the rest of the early morning crazies, and, for some reason, I told my new friend what was happening in my head and in my life. I had nothing left to lose. I mean, how was I going to get around the fact that I was spotted at the Hollywood Mental Health Center at 8 am on a Friday morning—sober.  Only desperate people do shit like that. He listened intently and casually said, “I have a therapist and she takes your insurance, and I respect her a lot. She’s well educated and no joke. And you won’t have to do any of this nonsense.” A gift from the fucking angels, “Are you kidding me?” I said, “Insurance wouldn’t give me any therapist’s names. They just told me to come here.” “Oh yeah, I know,” he said with an eye roll, “her name is Claire. Call her, she’ll be good for you.”  I took her info and waited out my turn in the clinic because I was trying to cover my ass from all angles. If Claire didn’t work out, I needed something else in motion.

I called that day, and she got right back to me. It seemed like one of the first times since I had been sick that a medical professional got right back to me. And it saved my life. It was all of the hope I needed that day. That week. The first time I saw her, she promised that she would have my back—that even if insurance failed, we would be able to work something out. I’ve been seeing her twice a week, for free, for almost two years. Insurance never failed. Her office, her familiar face, her kindness, her insights, and just the simple consistency salvaged what was left of me.

I sat in Claire’s office last night crying about how far I’ve come, how lucky I feel just to have an appetite. How lucky I feel to be able to hold my head up. She wrapped up the session at minute 49 instead of 50 so we could “talk about a couple things.”  She said, “I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m pregnant.” I took a moment to congratulate myself on “being right,” because I had a suspicion she was pregnant and THEN promptly congratulated her. She spoke directly—her maternity leave will start in March, and she’s taking six months off.  She will no longer be working in the office where I see her—she will have a private practice and not be accepting insurance. She might do sliding scale with me if I need it, but, in the meantime, she will help me find someone new. BUMMER.

I started writing this a few days before I got the news and I’ve come to realize in that time just how much I credit her with keeping me alive/afloat during the last couple of years. The magic is this:  Just as I NEEDED her in the moment she came into my life and just as I needed her for the last two years, I am now perfectly capable and ready to let go of her. My need is not what it was. I AM alive. I AM afloat. I am so much healthier, in mind, body and spirit. She watched me fall completely apart and slowly reassemble the pieces—sometimes finding new, shinier pieces while throwing away the old ones. And how amazing that I feel ready to part with what we had. Yet again, it is proven to me that I CAN trust the Universe.

I think more today about how grateful I am to have some sense of myself back. I am often excited about life again. The days where I “just can’t imagine another day” are fewer…much fewer. Actually, they’re rare. But for a while there, I was just holding on and hoping it would pass reminding myself again and again that I was willing to do one more day. I was willing to do another hour or minute while I took care of myself and did the next right thing. I was willing to keep swimming and not let myself drown. And I was willing everyday until I got here:

Today I woke up at 6:30 am after about 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep, drank celery juice, drank some tea, read some spiritual stuff, and then STOOD IN LINE at the Chinese consulate to pick up my visa for an upcoming trip. And I was grateful for that whole hour-long wait—that line was glorious.

With Fun and Love,

Jackie

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A Note for my Caretakers

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Dear Caretakers,

I imagine that this will be the first of many letters and many conversations between us. I’m starting here in a seemingly distant and formal way  because I’m not strong enough for the more intimate teary-eyed conversations right now. I’m also unsure of who needs to read this letter, and I want to give each and every one of you an opportunity to know that you are seen. As I ascend to wellness and the fog is slowly clearing, the vast impact my Lyme disease has had is coming into focus. I look around and I see many faces who have fought with me, and I have no idea what your experience has been, how hard it might have been for various reasons— I never asked. I’ve counted 20 of you who were very close to me over the last three years— 20 of you who I consider to be my main caretakers. 20 of you who were present for much of the suffering, many of the needles, too much of the heartbreak and all of the unthinkable need I was experiencing. But that leaves out maybe 200 people— or more— who donated, prayed, tracked my progress on Facebook, or worried about me. This letter is for all of you, whoever needs it: those of you who fought with me on an almost daily basis on the front lines, those of you who stayed back in the trenches gathering much needed supplies, and  those of you who prayed from your bedroom.  You were not my cheerleaders— you were my ARMY. I write every week about my story—my personal struggle with Lyme disease, stored trauma, and chronic illness. Yes, I often touch on how grateful I feel to have had the most compassionate army of people surrounding me, protecting me from all angles, but it’s come to my attention recently that you have been at war, too. This isn’t just my story—you’ve had your own journey watching someone you love suffer and fight for wellness. And no matter what part you played in this particular journey, your feelings— whether past, present, or future— are valid.

I can empathize—I’ve watched all members of my immediate family,  suffer for most of my life, and I’ve remained unable to do much of anything to help. While I have seen physical illness take hold of people, my family mainly suffers from addiction and mental illness—heartbreaking diseases that impact all surrounding loved ones. Addiction is called a “family disease” for a reason—the powerful current ripples out larger and larger often affecting generations of people whether they’re drinking OR NOT.  People suffering from diseases like these tend to be under the delusion that no one else is affected, that no one else could possibly be in the kind of pain they are in. But I can assure you, there’s PLENTY of suffering to go around. And it’s that type of thinking, that you’re not allowed to have feelings because you couldn’t possibly be suffering more, that prolongs the effects and keeps the current going strong. For a long time, I didn’t let myself really experience the hurt and abandonment I felt because I just assumed that my father suffered more than I did. He talked often and loudly about his own fucked up childhood and made it clear that my own was a cake walk compared to his. I have no idea if that’s true. But I watch people tormented by that voice all of the time—it says, “oh, but my father had it so much worse than me. He was abusive BECAUSE he was abused so I should just be grateful for what I got.” Or, “My mother was the one who suffered in her illness, I can’t possibly make that about me.” It seems like a very compassionate and empathetic voice but really its DNA is that of martyrdom and martyrdom is the tidal wave on the horizon preparing to wipe you out. IF that voice is active around my Lyme disease, if you are one of the 20— or one of the few hundred— and you have suffered through my illness let me just say your pain is valid, your fear is valid and whatever you experienced or begin experiencing is 100 percent valid. I’m not delusional—I’m not saying that Facebook friend #427 is wildly affected by my Lyme disease and needs to seek counseling. I’m just saying that whoever you are and however you’ve been affected—I hope that you have given/ are giving yourself an opportunity to feel it.

I can’t imagine  what it must have been like to be with me every single day through such horror, so many breakdowns, and so much illness. I have no idea what it was like for you to listen to me talk about my own impending death on repeat. Or what it was like for you to watch me go from excited about the full life I had in front of me to bed ridden and in tears every single day. I don’t know how it felt to lose your fun, reliable and available friend. I don’t know what it’s like to care for someone at such a young age, to not know if they’re going to get well and to be terrified to lose them. I don’t know what it was like to stick me with needles while I yelled out in pain, or  what it was like to leave my house when I so obviously didn’t want you to leave. Or how painful it might have been to hear me talk about how suicidal I was or how much I hated myself for being sick or how much I just “couldn’t do another single day in my body.” I imagine that, at moments, I may have felt safer in my own body than you felt watching me—I always held some sense of knowing that I was going to be ok (one day), and you might not have had that. Maybe you were scared to leave me alone, maybe you were scared to hang up the phone with me after I expressed so much pain. Maybe you’re scared that I’m going to abandon our friendship or relationship now that I don’t “need” you anymore. Maybe you’re scared that I’ll forget about you. Maybe this experience kicked up some old experience you’ve had with illness and death in the past or maybe it’s scared you…maybe now you know too much about the in’s and out’s of illness, fucked up doctors and how the medical system doesn’t EXACTLY have our back. And maybe you’re fucking mad at me. I don’t know. I know that I’m incredibly grateful for every single moment that you loaned your hearts to me, and I know that your love has altered me forever.

You people have inspired me every single day to be a better human. You have taught me through your own kind hearts and incredible efforts how to show up for the people I love. I am grateful for each and every thing you did for me. For you who held me day in and day out, always believed in me, and made me feel beautiful when my lips were purple and I was under 100 pounds. You who flew around the world with me to care for me while I got Ozone therapy. You who put me up in Florida and wheeled me around Disneyworld so I could have a day of magic in the midst of shit. You who sent me care packages, called, and texted endlessly. You who made me fundraisers and rubbed my body when it hurt. You who changed me into pajamas, who helped me get up stairs and hills, who brightened up my day with smoothies, food, and laughter. YOU are my fucking heroes.

I sincerely hope that you’ve gathered your own support through whatever journey you’re on—your own army—and that, if you haven’t, you begin to get help now if you need it. This is not just a message about my Lyme disease. It’s also a message to say that no one gets left out of life’s obstacles. Pain is pain—it’s relative and credible no matter what. And while I’m not particularly ready to counsel with you on how the past three years have potentially hurt you, I do want you to know that you are in my thoughts. I hope you know that I think of each of you everyday. That I know I couldn’t have gotten well without your endless support and love. I hope you know that I’m not going anywhere, and that now we get to do all of the fun things we’ve been planning for the last three years. I hope you know that every single hug, every text message, every phone call, and every time you held me while I sobbed, screamed and cried took me one step closer to health. And please know that as I heal, I imagine all of us healing together.

With Fun and Love,

Jackie

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No Inner-Child Gets Left Behind

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Stored trauma is Lyme disease’s best friend. They play off of each other like school yard bullies relentlessly tormenting the mind, body, and spirit. Lyme is an opportunistic disease and tends to jump on those whose systems are already compromised. Personally, I had a weakened immune system from years of infections and antibiotics, I had been breathing in mold and smoke all of my life, I had those heavy -metal- filled amalgams in my mouth, and I had—maybe most importantly—a shitload of stored trauma. Healing the past has been a vital part of  my recovery; I went into the basement and the attic and met the old memories, had a new experience with them, and then went to the freakin’ Materials Recovery Facility where they got recycled into something new and sparkly.  But how to do that? Getting sick stripped me of all of my effective coping mechanisms. I had nothing— no distractions, no booze, cigarettes, cake, no over exercising, and no late-night coquetry (well, Ian got some of that). I had only myself—a self that was ignored for most of my life, a self that I was scared of, a self that I often absued. Caring for myself and healing all of the built up heartache meant getting in touch with my inner-child (yup. deep breath. I am talking inner-child work. It might get weird. But if you’re here to save your life then maybe it’s time to try weird shit?)—that little girl inside who had been shouting out for attention for two decades. The little girl who I just kept hushing, “you want to rest? Well, too bad, I want to party.” We were going to have to team up to fight this thing. I was going to have to pay attention to all of her needs. My parents weren’t showing up for me and I was either going to cry over that every single day or take the power back into my hands and “re-parent” myself. My boyfriend and my friends made an incredible support system, but there were too many times where I was left alone and panicked. It’s frightening to go into the darkness alone—naturally, we want someone to hold our hand through the haunted house tour. And that’s ok. Hold a hand. God knows, I hold so many hands. But, acquiring the art of being my own primary care-taker while everyone else acted as support instead of the other way around enhanced my life, my freedom, and my health.  I needed to find a way to rely on myself, to hold myself through the hard times, have my own back, and thoroughly heal from all of that old nasty trauma.

I was an adult before I ever got to be a kid, and I was pissed off about it. Full of resistance, I sought people out who would care for me the way my parents never did. Collecting father figures and mother figures was my favorite hobby—I had a whole china closet full of them and, yet, no real fulfillment. My collection brought me short-lived comfort; my internal-void remained. I was introduced to inner-child work in 2013  when I was detoxing from a wildly fucked up romance. In an effort to snag what little dignity I had left and not text or call this dude, my friend suggested I start telling myself everything that I wanted him to tell me. When the quick-fix cravings hit, she would say, ” put your hand on your heart and say, ‘I love you. I’ve got you.’Imagine a photo of you as a little girl that is just so cute and precious and start taking care of that girl.” I was down. Anything to get my life back. I found myself picturing my little self and organically saying, “I’m your guardian now and I’m going to take really good care of you.” That became my mantra. I said it all day ,everyday, so that I could make positive choices for myself: like going on a hike instead of calling someone who would inevitably hurt me. I practiced just enough self-love to keep me from getting involved in another demoralizing situation, and (for the skeptics) I’m here to tell you that my practice paid off—I have been blessed with a beautiful relationship. However,  when I got bit by a tick just six months later,  my inner-child got tossed away and quieted again. She suddenly needed way too fucking much from me (sick people are needy as fuck), and I had no idea how to give it to her.

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I spent a long time beating myself up for being sick—maybe a year. It felt like my fault, like I was weak, powerless, or had bad Karma. There were moments where I was so angry at myself for not being able to “pull it together” that I considered physically harming myself. I couldn’t stand the sight of myself in the mirror. Every single day was agony. I couldn’t tell what was worse —the physical symptoms or the way I emotionally tormented myself. My internal dialogue went on repeat, “Get better. Be better. What is wrong with you? You’re disgusting. You’re weak.” Oh hi mom and dad!  That voice started keeping me awake at night. I lied in bed seething in pain and with a monster in my head, “you’re faking it. You’re not even really sick. This is just a ploy to get people to pay attention to you. Stop being so afraid. You’re not dying. You are being SUCH A BABY.” I only got sicker. Shockingly, that cruel self-talk wasn’t doing the trick. I was not “pulling myself up by my boot straps” at all. In fact, I was getting to a point where I could hardly put on my own shoes. As my symptoms ramped up and not a single doctor had a complete answer, I got willing to do whatever it was going to take—to do whatever was in my power— to get well.

I said farewell to the audiobook “A People’s History of the United States” which took up  most of my cell phone space with its 35 hours of “entertainment” and purchased—instead—self-help books like, “SelfCompassion,” by Kristin Neff and “You Can Heal your Life,” by Louise Hay. I listened to those calming voices preaching self-tenderness in the car, in bed, and while I made myself food. I was in research mode, a good student of self-love, entirely teachable. It was one thing to care of myself enough so that I wouldn’t reach out to a toxic dude, but how do I take care of and love a sick person? Like a really sick person?  I went practical—the basics— I started with the 101 course, if you will.  I used to work in childcare—I have looked after hundreds of children of all ages. I used my behavior as a caregiver  as my blueprint for my own self-care.  I would never let a child go hungry or thirsty or without sunscreen. I wouldn’t let a kid fall asleep without brushing their teeth and listening to a calming story in their comfiest PJ’s. If a child woke up afraid, I would comfort them.If they were too hot, I would take layers off and give them some water; too cold, I would give them layers and hold them tight. It seems so simple, but I certainly wasn’t that careful with myself on a daily basis. There’s no “age plateau” where we stop needing those simple things; we just get better at tolerating the discomfort.  I had to learn that it didn’t make me “high-maintenance” to need the basic human comforts. I didn’t let myself go hungry, thirsty,  without a nap, or without my vegetables. That was a tremendous beginning for me, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

My insomnia was a son- of- a- bitch. When hard-drugs weren’t working, I needed to find a way to soothe myself enough into a sleep. That’s how I started a dialogue with “little me.”   I would put one hand on my heart and one on my belly and picture little Jackie. My imagination— which sometimes works like the Beauty and the Beast mirror— showed me a toddler. She sat alone on a metal folding chair in the middle of a dark room. Her shoe laces were untied and she wore grungy sweats. She was so lonely, afraid, and dying for someone to come save her.  And, in my head (because, hello, Ian sleeps next to me and I was still trying to seem *somewhat* normal) I would tell her things like, “you’re OK, I’ve got you. I know this is so so scary. And I know you feel so bad. Yes, I feel that crazy pain all through our body. It’s real. I’ve got you. I will take the best care of you that I can. You’re not making this up. I love you.” It was usually the only thing that would calm me down. And, eventually, I started imagining myself hugging her, and ASKING, “what do you need little Jackie?”  And then I’d listen. This is truly one of the fucking winning practices in healing. My inner-child is smart as fuck. Every single time I ask “what’s up?” she’s like, “this is what’s up! Please fix it!”  Sometimes, she wants things like Advil or a cool cloth and other times, she wants a hug, but A LOT of the time, she really wants to have FUN and be free. It’s my job to give that to her. When a child is sick, parents do the bulk of the work to get them well, right? A Doctor only steps in for prescriptions and a diagnosis. So, it only makes sense, that we need to constantly care for ourselves the same way.

I was getting noticeably better. I had  this direct line of communication to my inner- child.We were having ping-pong conversations before I knew it, and I started knowing exactly how to care for myself at all times. I no longer saw little me in that lonely metal folding chair. She grew up a little bit, wearing bright colors and a high ponytail. She was healing and needed to play and be free more and more. The more I did this, the healthier I got, and the less I needed from others— including my parents. Being able to meet my own needs time and time again left me feeling, ultimately,  free.

Now I’m in the home-stretch and I’ve got this one problem: there’s a wildly hurt teenager in me that i really do not want to commune with. So much damage was done in those years, they were the most dangerous years of my life—because my parents were more unreliable and more destructive than ever, but, on top of their ruination, I was harming myself.  I turned all of my anger inwards and started self-medicating to make the pain stop.  I remember once around 16 when I was so stoned I hadn’t stopped laughing for three hours… or maybe 30 seconds? There was no such thing as time. I said to my best friend, “You know, if I ever met myself, I would absolutely hate her. We would never get along.” We both laughed so hard, knowing it was true. I hated myself. I shudder thinking about those years, between the way I behaved in public and the lunatic man who merely resembled my dad that lurked around corners in my “home.” So, can’t I just put that all to rest? Tie it up in a neat little box, pack it away in the attic, and just forget about it?  Apparently not.

I sat at my shrink’s office confessing how deeply I’m aching for Ian, (who’s Ian? Keep up!) the man I love who I don’t get to join on his big adventure for another 4 weeks. “I don’t know. We are both in so much pain. And it’s sweet, but it also feels just…excruciating,” I said. She suggested, like a good pain in the ass shrink, that it wasn’t just “love” and just “missing” each other, but that it may be something deeper. Something probably relating to my family of origin. ugh I had to open my big mouth about Ian. Here we go again. “Really? I think that’s maybe a psycho-babble stretch. I mean, how many times am I really going to miss my dad?” I retorted. “Exactly,” she said, “I think you miss your dad. That’s not to say that you don’t miss Ian and love Ian and that you guys aren’t yearning for each other. It’s the excruciating pain you’re experiencing that I think might have something to do with your dad.” With the same immediate shock value of a popped balloon, I broke and started to cry. Oh, fuck.

I kept that idea safely on the periphery for the next few days, not letting it quite into or out of my sight. I got on Skype to do a distance-healing with the dazzling, vital, sweet and madly intuitive  Emily, and as I detailed the week, I mentioned the possibility, “My therapist thinks that Ian’s departure has opened up my “dad” wounds and that all of the hollow emptiness I feel in my heart is actually from my father. I mean, whatever, it’s almost too obvious. So obvious I don’t really buy it.” But Emily, bless her,  was intrigued. I had to open my big mouth again. Thankfully, her instict had been precise on earlier occasions so I trust her. In our work together that day, she had me travel back to my past, finding the moment that left me with that hollow emptiness. In my meditation,  I found this one tragic scene from when I was 17—the day I watched everything I knew about my nuclear family collapse in on itself. Emily had me watch the scene play out and then freeze everyone and everything except my younger self and my present self. Everyone was frozen —my father froze mid-stomp on his way to attack me, my mother froze with her head in her hands crying in the car, and our dog froze in a frantic bark. Emily said, “approach your past self and tell her all of the things that she needs to hear right in this moment.” I slowly approached her, feeling very skeptical. I judge her, and I don’t know how to comfort my teenage self. She’s so stabby.  So I started with the basics again. I took her by the hands and brought her to the curb to sit down, I got her some water, and I took her bubble-gum pink leopard coat off. It was a warm day in October and she was covered in sweat from running, screaming, crying, and being dressed in 1,000 awesomely torn up layers. I fanned her off, helped her breathe and got her some food. I parented her. All things that I needed that day, that year, my whole life. Finally, I was able to say some kind things, “I love you. it’s ok. you’re ok. You’re beautiful, and you’re doing the best you can. Don’t worry about your dad. I promise you are loved.” My 17-year-old self was feeling calmer and calmer, and as I walked her back to the car, to finish out this scene, I said, “I really love you, and I promise dad is just high. This isn’t about you.” My past self turned to me with a smirk, totally cool and calm, and said, “thank you, you know, I don’t even like him that much. I think this day is actually the beginning of my freedom.”

I realized, as I came out of this time traveling experience that once I gave myself all the love I needed in that moment, I didn’t need my dad anymore and the experience completely transformed—from one of traumatizing heartbreak, to one of total freedom and joy. I also—wait for it—didn’t feel empty without Ian. With the willingness to heal this part of my life, I’ve had more and more memories surface over the last few days leaving me feelng irrationally unsafe in this world. That’s the risk of doing this work—all the stuff really does fucking surface. But UP AND OUT, BABY, my body has limited storage space and I need room for joy! I know now to go into the darkness, to let it surface, and heal it instead of ignoring it and powering through. Because no matter how much I try to fight it with my mind, there are things that my body will not let me forget.

Two nights ago, I laid awake panicking. Why, I wondered, while tears soaked my pillow, why am I especially panicked in my own home, in my own bed? Why, in my unscathed, sweet home today, do I feel terrified, like someone is lurking around every corner. I thought I’d ask that teenage version of myself what was up since that has worked so well in the past. Again, I was willing to do what it took to fall asleep. I did the ol’ trick: one hand on my heart, one on my belly, and I asked, “what is going on? Why is it at home that you’re so afraid?” In my imagination, we were sitting on the same curb outside of my teenage “home” that I comforted her on in my last meditation.  She said, “Well, it’s not outside that’s scary. It’s in there,” she nodded to the front door, “that’s where I fear for my life.” Ding ding ding.  My home was always the scariest place to be. There was no resting in my house, resting left you vulnerable to god knows what. By high school, I was realistically safer outside of my home. So, of course I feel like enemies are at every window or just outside of my door. Of course. But I am safe now. In this present moment, I have given myself a very safe life. And, so, with the knowledge of why I’m freaking out, I can start comforting myself, “you’re safe. you’re loved. It’s over. It’s OK.” All of that healing in the middle of the night when no one else was around to comfort me? It’s proof that I have everything I need within.

People ask me all of the time if Ian has been my primary caregiver. And, I usually say something like, “it has taken a village to get me well, but, in the end, I have been my own primary caregiver.” I am not a victim today. I can choose how to take care of myself, who takes care of me, and furthermore/even more radically I can give my past self all that she’s been looking. ALL of my past selves. Even the needy, over sexualized, annoying and sweetly confused teenager. I’m calling off the search party! Now, I can get get busy collecting memories instead of mother and father figures.

With fun, and love,

Jackie

 

 

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Finding your G-Spot: On Gratitude

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I was sitting  in a circle of spiritual strangers on a meditation pillow,  my knees resting heavily on the pillow’s surface, my sit bones heavy on my heels, and my head heavily hung— crying. The air was humid—the air was always humid  in Bali. We had just been led through a magical service conducted by the radiant and tender High Priestess of Bang Li— an experience that thawed me out, leaving me in tears. A vibrant woman approached me softly, “I feel moved to speak to you,” she said, “are you sick?” God, it hurt me so bad to know that I didn’t look well, that people could see it,  “I’m getting better but, yes, I have Lyme disease. I’m in Bali doing Ozone therapy,” I said.  She held my hands,  “I had MS, I was about to end up in a wheelchair—in fact I had ordered the wheelchair— and now my lesions are reversing because, in a weird way, I started vibrating above the illness.  You will get well, I can tell.” I cried harder…because I was sad, because I was exhausted, because I hadn’t slept in maybe 2 weeks, because I felt loved in that moment.  We talked for a good while—she was Greek,  a graduate of MIT, and on her way to study mysticism in Thailand and she found her extraordinary story hilarious. She laughed and laughed. I cried. “You just need a few things to heal,” she said,  “one, you need to laugh.” I stopped her, ” I never laugh anymore. My sense of humor is gone.” It was true. I had been suffocating in my own sadness AND lack of sleep for so long. Her lightness was contagious though, and  I softened enough to release an honest smile and chuckle. I felt free in her presence.  She continued, “you need to vibrate above the illness. Do what brings you joy. I think you belong on stage—dancing or acting.” I lit up, my energy coming more forward thinking about the things I loved.  “And, third,” she said, “you need gratitude.” I jumped in, “OH I have that!” She said, “I can tell, you’re actually full of gratitude.” I was so relieved. I was doing something right all of that time. I was/am grateful and she could see it. I wear gratitude like I wear my other glaring personality traits—loud and proud. She hugged me goodbye that night, promising I’d get well, and we never spoke again, but she gave me an incredible gift in that brief exchange. That was the night I welcomed my sense of humor back after an absurdly long intermission, I reinstated myself to the performing arts, AND that was the moment that I realized that my gratitude practice (nine years deep) was having a profound effect on my life. In more exciting words, I’ve done the work, I know where my G-Spot is and—ahem—I  can orgasm whenever I choose.

Now that I AM on the way to a full recovery, I’m here to back her up—an “attitude of gratitude” is indispensable during illness (or at any other time—let’s be real).  It can be the light IN the tunnel—not at the end of it. And if joy and happiness are scientifically proven to support our immune system then making a list of things we are grateful for (which is a verified way to increase joy and satisfaction) seems like a really obvious place to start, right? But how to gratitude!? How does this practice just become part of your life instead of that nagging thing that you HAVE TO DO every night?  And, how can you ALWAYS be grateful no matter what horrifying thing is happening in your life? Like  chronic illness, depression, loneliness, death, divorce, and so on. Gratitude got me out of bed and happy to participate in my life countless times, and how did I get there? Like so many of my stories, it all started  with my personalized cocktail of cocaine and daddy issues. 

My father was in rehab again.  He had been sent once  before under the same Wall Street conditions, “get sober and you can keep your six-figure income and your executive position. Don’t get sober and keep up this behavior— we will have no choice but to fire you.” Eight years earlier that threat worked, but this time, he was frighteningly unaffected by the potential risk. He was wildly against getting sober—putting him in rehab was like caging a lion, he was just waiting to get out and go on a killing frenzy.And I, apparently, wasn’t one to judge.  On February 14th, 2004, while my dad sat on his hands in rehab fighting his cocaine addiction, I ripped my first line off of a mirror in a bedroom on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And I got so high—so staggeringly high. Later that night/early that morning,  back at home, I was experiencing my first miserable come-down while my brother stumbled around freshly wasted. We did what 2 high siblings affected by alcoholism do—we fought an incoherent, mindless fight. He wanted to visit our father in rehab, and I was not invited. In fact, I was forbidden, he said. I squealed in his face, pissed off,  provoking him to throw cautionary punches at me, purposefully grazing past the tip of my nose— just to let me know how mad he was and close he was to losing it. I eventually stormed off to bed. Defeated and exhausted, I fell asleep as the sun came up.

When it turned out that my dad didn’t want visitors, we were given the option to write him a letter. I wrote him a fucking letter, alright— my anger toward the old man had become unhinged. The problem with my “unhinged” letter was that it lacked ANY strategy. If my plan was to shame him into getting sober (which I believed it was), I was failing miserably.  My real motive—that of a 16-year-old girl desperate for her dad’s attention— went undisguised:

“I’m a party girl. I just ripped my first line of coke the other night. I party hard.I’m no goodie                -two- shoes. I drink and smoke and take pills—I measure up to all of the guys, but I don’t get carried away. Not like you. So this isn’t coming from some pussy place. I know what it is to love drugs, and I know     what it looks like when someone needs to stop. You need to stop. I love you.  Jackie”

Ah, the Hallmark greeting card from one dysfunctional family member to another.

He never wrote me back, but in his first few turbulent days back from rehab, he asked to speak to me alone. I was on edge and excited—I hadn’t been alone with him in so long, and I was hoping for some deep connection, a new spark, love reignited. We went into his office, I took my seat at his cherry oak desk and he strutted to the power seat— behind the desk. His office was dark, heavy, and cluttered.  We  lit our respective Marlboro lights. He took a deep drag and as the smoke filled his lungs, he got his thoughts in order. He leaned back, exhaled, smoke filling the room, and said,  “Let me just read your letter aloud…” After he read it in full, he took another drag, put his cigarette out and leaned forward— his elbows on the desk and his piercing narcissistic eyes challenging me.  Yikes. Embarrassing—I could even see that I sounded loco. But I kept my cool, “yeah, well, it’s true. I do drugs, and, as it turns out, I like cocaine.” He grilled me. We must have talked for an hour about my specific experiences with sex and drugs before he challenged me to not drink, smoke or use for two weeks. “Two weeks. that’s all,”  he said. Anxiety coursed through my body. He took note, “you look scared because you’re thinking about the two weeks, but you can do it just one day at a time,” he said.”OK. but how in the fuck will I not use ‘one day at a time’  for TWO WEEKS?” And that’s when he laid out some other tools like journaling, the serenity prayer, and gratitude lists.

When he said “every night, you write down 10 things you’re grateful for,” my immediate response was, “but what if I have nothing to be grateful for?” Sound familiar? Have you scoffed in a similar way the last time someone suggested you write a gratitude list? My dad, totally fucked up in so many ways, came through with a life-long lesson in that moment: “You have nothing to be grateful for? You have ten fingers and ten toes. There, that’s 20 things.” I giggled, a bit ashamed that I had missed something so equally simple AND significant.  He went on, “you have all of your limbs, your senses, you can walk, you have shelter, a bed, and food.” Oh shit— It was jarring that I hadn’t thought of those things myself, but I’m forever grateful for that lesson— even though I didn’t take the suggestion for another couple of years.

Neither of us made it through the two weeks without using.  Instead, we took one last family vacation to the bowels of Hell. Apparently, Satan found the taste of me  unsuitable for his palate. Too feisty or too sweet,  he couldn’t fully digest me so he spat me out. Once I was upchucked from that vile journey, I had a lot of grime to clean off. And so at 18, I started wiping away the debris with spirituality. When a wise woman on the spiritual path suggested that I start writing gratitude lists due to my blinding self-pity,  the lessons my father taught me in his office two years earlier came rushing back.  I picked up a pen and started writing: ten fingers, ten toes, my limbs, and my senses. It was an unbearably painful time— so I kept writing and my lists grew;  I’m grateful for my limbs, my senses, shelter, food, a job, clothes, and my friends. And they kept growing.

In 2009, when my twenties were as fresh as a juicy peach, my treasured friend asked me if I wanted to participate in a gratitude email chain where we would each write our daily lists and “reply all.” “Sure,” I said, not thinking much of it, unconsciously assuming it would fizzle within a few months because most things like that do. How fun it is to be proven wrong sometimes. That email chain has changed my life. There are 11 of us on the exchange, all women,  and we have been writing for —please wait as I access the left side of my brain—seven years! We started as friends in NYC and, in seven years time, we have adventured with one another through big moves, marriage, children, death, divorce, break -ups, new relationships, new jobs  and, in my case, illness—all through gratitude listsWe have had delicious “gratitude brunches,” attended each other’s weddings, been on the other side of the screen when the first  “Introducing: insert new baby picture” got sent, been cheerleaders for each other’s dreams, and every one of those girls donated to my fundraiser. I’m so grateful for them. But because of all of that practice, I never have to do much digging to find my gratitudes, and, as a result, I’m often (not always) one of those “glass half-full” people: often optimistic with moments of pure elation. Let me be super clear as you may now be rolling your eyes at my perkiness. I am madly-pro taking days off from “positive thinking.” This is no time to go beating yourself up for not being “grateful enough.” If you need to lie in bed and steep in self-pity every once in a while, I support that, and I believe it’s also crucial to healing (in small doses). I never suggest you “gratitude list” your way out of feelings, out of humanity, but that you gratitude list yourself into a more balanced view of reality. 

You’re feel -good- G can be equally as accessible (if it isn’t already). Here are some tips:

Make your own email chain! All you need is one other person and access to your own discipline and consistency. It can take as little as 30 seconds to shoot off a gratitude list and  connect with a friend. Most of you know that I’m all about FUN (and love) so give yourself a laugh and a creative outlet as you write your lists. The subject line is where all of the genius is in our group:  We have seven years worth of quirky subject lines:  “G’zzzzzz ma Ladiezzzzzz,” “Gratitat,” “Nothing left to do but gratitude,” “Forever G,” “In Flight Gratitude announcement!” “Saturday Graterday””Guys WHOA I need gratitude,” “Spring Ahead into Sunny Gratitude,” “She’s All Grat.” “Even in Frosty California, Gratitude Survives,” “We so G and so Free,” “Grateful Feet have Got A lot of Rhythm.”  Do you catch my drift? I know, we are *the coolest.*

If your stomach is turning at the idea of being on a gratitude email chain with corny subject lines then simply start writing lists. Write them on your phone as you sit in waiting rooms ( or half-naked on the exam table), pause your stinking thinking and say things out loud when you’re stuck in traffic, write things down in your journal, and on the days when things are just so bad and you’re desperate, text a friend and say, “wanna do the gratitude ABC’s?” All day long, you can go back and forth with that trusted friend stating what you’re grateful for. They say “I’m grateful for my hot Ass,” and you say, “I’m grateful for my Bone Broth.” And they say, “My Cat,” and you say, “My Dog —AND ew you have a cat?” This is so efficient as you’ll be mastering multiple “healing activities” at once: gratitude, laughter, AND companionship. But if you’re still rolling your eyes and you’re a driven person that just needs a challenge then I challenge you to find one thing a day and write it down for the next 365 days.Try and make it as specific to the day as possible.I promise you that if you practice gratitude consistently for just a little while, you, too, will find your G-Spot. You, too, will have gratitude orgasms.

Get writing!

With fun and love,

Jackie

 

 

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