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?
“I just have a deep sense, a deep inner-knowing, that I am safe in this world now,” I told my mother one day in early 2013. It was true. For a girl who seriously suffered from panic attacks and PTSD, I had gotten so far in life. I had worked through my issues very seriously, utilizing everything from medication to meditation, and it was all proving worth it. Life’s anxiety inducing situations rarely spun me into a panic— deep down I could feel that the Universe was my ally, not my enemy. My risk-taking, fear-facing, and spirit-searching had left me with (what seemed like) an excess of emotional and physical freedom. And I attached to that freedom like it was my identity, endlessly exploring my options, hopping the fences that said “no entry,” and following my heart’s desire to go to the parts of the Earth that were untouched. I didn’t want to walk away from this life unscarred, untouched and inexperienced. In an effort to affirm this preconceived notion of myself, I took a camera man and got my photos taken while rolling around in the dirt as an expression of my free-spirt. This attachment to identity and proving myself…it got me sick. How ironic that, in an attempt to solidify myself into one small box called “free-spirit,” I got bit by a tick, I contracted Lyme disease from the tick, and everything I thought I knew about myself violently unraveled. It was terrifying. That “sense of safety” I had confidently chatted about to my mother months earlier was tested and, as it turns out, fear is a whole different beast when it’s NOT irrational. But it had to be faced and overcome because if I had acted from fear when it came to healing from Lyme disease, I would have died.
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.
In 1998, at ten years old, I discovered that Mama Cass died choking on a ham sandwich. Maybe I heard it on TV. Or maybe I was eavesdropping on some random adult chatter. Or maybe my mother told me during one of my relentless questioning sessions about all of her favorite musicians. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that with that news, I was hit— for no rational reason— with life-changing fear. My brain grabbed onto this idea of “death -by -choking” like a shark grabs its prey: What if I choke in the school lunchroom, nobody hears me over the chatter and I die? Days passed as that thought flipped and flopped and tossed and turned restlessly—violently—through my brain. Choke and die, choke and die, choke and die. I sat through school lunches half invested in the innocent adolescent conversations about lipstick and half obsessed with my imminent death. One March day, the thoughts were so overbearing that when I took a sip of my peach flavored Snapple, it went down the wrong pipe, coughing commenced, and I came into contact with my first debilitating panic attack.
“Are you ok? Jackie, are you ok?” The teacher spoke to me over the microphone, “stand up, stand up.” I stood up. I was overheated from both embarrassment and physical stress. I was already unpopular, but now an entire cafeteria of cruel ten and eleven year olds were staring at me. I gasped for breath and simultaneously considered my poor wardrobe choice that day. If I had known I was going to be the center of attention, I wouldn’t have worn that stupid pink cardigan and those unbecoming gray sweatpants. “Nod your head, nod your head,” the teacher was saying, “do we have to do the Heimlich?” I knew they didn’t have to do the Heimlich. After all, it was only Snapple that I was “choking” on. But I certainly wasn’t going to admit that, not after the spectacle I was creating. My coughing slowly subsided, and a breath of relief rippled through the couple hundred kids in the cafeteria… immediately followed by an outburst laughter. I sat down, wanting to hide, and suddenly—just like that— all of the ease I had previously lived with was gone. Who knew that it was a luxury to be able to interact with your peers, go to school, eat lunch, and exist in the world without a consistent feeling of impending doom holding you back? I tried to act normal. I walked with the herd to my next class, took my seat, stared at the chalkboard, and wrung my sweaty hands seeking some sort of solace in myself. Something was infinitely unsafe, but I didn’t know what so I couldn’t even protect myself. The walls were closing in on me, my friends looked like enemies, words were muttered, faces were fuzzy, and I burst into tears.
I was sent to the nurse’s office. I could barely speak by the time I got there. Sweating through that stupid fleece cardigan, I was crying so hard that I could only gasp out one comprehensible word at a time, “I—choked. and. am. —scared.” The nurse looked at me confused and harshly, got me a five ounce dixie cup of water, and led me to a small, poorly lit, corner room. There was one beige metal folding chair meant for me to collect myself on. “Sit in here and calm down,” she said. I took the seat thinking I’d rather be anywhere else or maybe nowhere at all. I wanted a hug desperately. That is what I wanted. As the nurse closed the door, I heard her say to her colleague, “I mean, seriously, she should be able to control herself, she’s ten years old. What’s wrong with her? My God.” Did she think I couldn’t hear her? I was so embarrassed, so ashamed. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and if I could have controlled it—like she was suggesting— I certainly would have.
By the time I got home that day, I had decided that I should probably never leave my bedroom again and that I should definitely never eat again. If it was up to me, I would have lived a very small life. My parents got in the way of my ideas.
I cried through dinner one night, trying to spoon a small amount of plain broth into my mouth but every time I looked at the bowl of liquid, I was hit with the memory of “choking” in the lunchroom. I just cried and shook until my father lost his cool, dropped his fork and said, “What’re you gonna do? Never eat again? If you went outside and tripped and fell, would you never go outside again?” I felt pathetic. What I was experiencing was NOT logical and could not be beaten with logic.
My mother held me in bed that night as i sobbed and sobbed. I said, “I wish I had some physical illness. Even cancer. Anything but this. It’s so scary.” And I meant it. I was in unthinkable pain. Thankfully, my mother understood what I was experiencing due to her own turbulent history with panic attacks and, as a by-product, she pushed me. She wasn’t going to let me become a slave to my anxiety. It was strategic, and it was brilliant. She sent me to school everyday, she denied me medication even though doctor’s suggested it, and I was forced to take part in all daily commitments whether I sobbed through them or not. To this day, I consider it the greatest gift my mother gave me. To this day, I consider it her shining moment as a parent.
When my seventh grade field day came around, I was hit with a new deepening wave of panic. Who knows why. There was no real why. At 7:30 am, I hid in the closet sobbing, “I’m not going. Please, please, please don’t make me go.” I begged for an hour until the bus came and my mother lovingly pushed me out the door. I went. I mean, I WAS forced. I went full of terror, but I went. And, as the day went on under the suburban sun, the fearful pangs subsided. The distraction was helping. The sun was helping. Exercise was helping. I was easily able to take part in field day activities, and I even won a flimsy second place ribbon for a short-distance race. By the end of the day, I felt great, and I was deeply proud of myself. I sprinted through my door that afternoon, impatiently shouting at my mother, “mom, mom. I had the best day ever. Thank you for making me go! Look, I won 2nd place in the sprint!” She was so proud of me. In that one day, I had instanteously grown muscle where there wasn’t any, I had a new life experience that would forever change the way I lived—a reference point for what it felt like to feel the fear and do it anywaywhich remains a saying I try to live by. Curiously—or not so curiously— I didn’t have another panic attack for seven years.
At nineteen years old, everything I had learned about coping with anxiety was put to the test. My panic attacks came back, and this time they were not so easily defeated.
Ideally, I would wake up at 7 am everyday and immediately scoop a fresh wad of coconut oil into my mouth for fifteen minutes of oil pulling. After spitting out the freshly swirled toxins, I’d down 16 oz. of fresh celery juice. Then I’d use green tea to get my caffeine buzz on, journal, pray, and meditate. Around 8:30 am, I’d start responding to emails and writing. I’d make my morning smoothie around 9:30, do more work, eventually get to a yoga class, make a raw salad for lunch, take an hour to rest, hit an infrared sauna or acupuncture, get some joyful activity in like socializing or dancing, and end my night with a healthy ,balanced meal, my necessary supplements, powdered magnesium, and red root tea. I’d then zap with my TENS machine and be in bed with a delicious story by 10 pm to read for thirty minutes before I passed out, benefitting from a solid 8 or 9 hours of perfect rest. IDEALLY. Sounds overwhelming right? So perfect it’s jarring. That’s why it’s an ideal. Because right now I’m sitting in this cafe writing and eating french fries. I woke up at a lagging 9:30 am, oil pulled for ten semi-bearable minutes, drank coconut water, drank a couple of cups of coffee (instead of the more advantageous tea), responded to emails, made my smoothie by 11:30 am,and got out of the house— not to do yoga but to work. Also, I forgot my supplements at home. Eh, oh well.
I am imperfect. At everything. Including healing from Lyme disease. A shorter way to get the point across is to say, “I am human.” But I have found that statement to be ineffective; we need specific examples in order to actually believe that other people are just as human as we are. Or I do, anyway. I’ve always felt a little paranoid that I was missing some very important piece of information about this whole life thing— especially the whole healing from illness thing. Like other people had the rules—the user manual, the directions—and I didn’t. I would often get advice from other women—people who had previously suffered from Lyme—and I used their advice as an opportunity to beat myself up. Everyone was doing it better than me! “Your” diet was better than mine (or at least you were more disciplined about it), “you” were a better meditator, you saw the “right” doctors, took the “right” herbs, did the “right” research, spent money on the “right” things, you drank better water, had a better air purifier, did the “right” energy work, etc. I thought I was bad at being sick (and “you were good at it??) I cried every single day even though I knew it was harmful to my central nervous system. I cried every single day. And I thought maybe if I could just stop crying, I’d be doing it right. I looked at people who seemed to hold it together—was that the right way, I wondered? I looked at people who worked serious jobs—was it a more serious job I needed? I looked at people who took two years off of work—did I need to take off? It was an endless mind-fuck. And now people are looking at me through sick eyes and wondering some of the same things: what does she do that I am not doing? She’s better at it than I am. I can’t be as disciplined as her. What’s her diet? Her protocol? on and on.. I’ve heard you say these things and I’m here to tell you all about how I fuck up.
It’s important for me to write this as a wellness advocate— as a person who preaches a certain diet and lifestyle—to let you know, that I fall short a lot of the time. We cannot all be Kris Carr or Louise Hay. I hold myself to pretty high standards as you saw in my “ideal day.” Some practices have just become habit for me—no questions asked. And other practices—the ones that have less severe consequences— I have to work hard at. And some things, I’m just waiting on the willingness to carry out (like quitting coffee). The most important thing is that when I do fall off of the horse, I get back on. And that I get back on quickly. One of my dear friends once told me, “there’s only one rule. The rule is that you never, under any circumstance, beat yourself up.” That’s the rule I carry with me. It makes it much easier to get back up if I’m not whipping myself into a state of unrelenting weakness, forcing myself to stay down.
Two weeks ago, I was in Hawaii—my first vacation in three years. I took the vacation thing to heart. I ate all wrong, consuming more dairy and gluten than I’ve had in at least a year. I over did it physically, doing long hikes without shoes/water, and I didn’t get enough sleep. Oops. A few days after getting back to LA and trying to get back into my healthy groove, it was my birthday. Again, I bailed on my raw afternoon salad, I ate sweets that night, and instead of prayer and meditation, I spent the whole morning crying. Then it was Thanksgiving and, again, I “cheated” on my diet eating some extra desserts because… it’s the holidays!
It’s true. It’s a very hard time of year to eat a mostly-vegan, gluten-free diet. So, I fucked up a little. Every single day, I fuck up a little. Either I eat something a little off of the perfection I’m going for, I drink too much coffee, I forget to exercise or I don’t rest enough. It is challenging to fit it all into one day and have a job and live with any bit of flexibility. So, I don’t. But I do always wake up with the intention to try. I am always willing to get back on the horse when I fall off. My inner dialogue after whatever poor choice I made is something like this, Ok, that didn’t feel great. What’s next? Should I maybe consider doing it differently next time? Should I drink some detox tea or hit a yoga class? Or do something else that makes me feel good now? It’s OK. It happens. If I don’t beat myself up then I have the space to compose a solution. So, let’s be real: you’re probably going to slip up this holiday season and abandon some of your custom self-care practices. What do you do then? Keep going, be kind to yourself, allow humanness and try again. And please know that all of us—all of us—are fucking up, too.
For those who are not feeling well today—whether in body or mind—I’m holding your hand, I’ve got you.
I once was complaining to my grandfather about how hard life felt. He, who had spent two years in the hospital healing from 3rd degree burns, who lost his beloved fiancee in that same fire, who then lost half of his foot in a welding accident, who had family troubles, and financial struggles for so much of his life— HE said, “Ack, Life’s hard? Eat a piece of candy!”
I like to remember that simple and joyful solution on days like today. It’s just not that serious. Just eat a piece of candy.
A small disclaimer: my grandfather also eventually developed diabetes. So, maybe take that quote figuratively instead of literally.
My birthdays are different now—this is the third year in a row that, as my birthday approached, I wasn’t just excited for the endless birthday attention and validation but I was excited about the potential for a healthier year. A happier year. My birthdays now come with a newfound hope—hope that painfully evaporates as the year plays out as hard as the one before it.
I got bit by a tick on November 17 2013, 4 days before my 26th birthday. That was my last amazing birthday. However, in my memory it’s tainted with the knowledge of the danger that I now know was lurking.
It was a typical birthday for me. Filled with mini adventure and friends. I took a trapeze class and then unapologetically karaoke’d until early the next morning.
I had no idea that bacteria was scurrying through my body just waiting to make a formal attack. I, in fact, thought I was gearing up for the best year of my life.
About 3 weeks later, spotted with strange rashes, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease.
By my 27th birthday, 11 months later, I was falling apart physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The ten months of antibiotics I was on had failed. I was so sure I’d be well by my birthday, but instead I was very sick. I was lost, it was lonely and dark.November 21st, 2014 was my worst birthday yet. I went to an audition and it was one the first times I couldn’t sit up without support. I sat in the casting office holding back tears and using all of my strength to keep my head up and to keep my back straight—lifeless. I cried the whole way home. It was rush hour in Los Angeles so the “whole way home” was—not exaggerating— two full hours of torture. I had plans to go to the shooting range because I had never shot a gun before and decided that was what I wanted to do. Probably because I was really angry. I never made it which is probably for the best—I didn’t have the strength, I couldn’t stand up, no matter how much I wanted to fake a celebratory experience, I didn’t have the will. I surrendered into my dear friend Gina’s arms. I burst into tears and collapsed at the top of my staircase and she held out a cold piece of cake and an unlit candle. Which seemed apropos. She held me. She changed me out of my clothes and into pajamas. I took an ambien and went to bed devastated.
That year was a hard one to swallow. But all of the holistic healing I did left me much better by my 28th birthday. I wasn’t 100% but I didn’t cry all day. We had a little house party. I had fun. It was mellow.
This year, I’m even better, albeit terrified to rejoice and trust it.
Reflecting over the last few years is painful. Thinking about the hope that came with each birthday and the incredible hardships (physical, emotional, financial) that followed breaks my heart. Denial is a coping mechanism. A good one. Sometimes, it’s the only way to stay alive through the hardest times. The denial has mostly cleared now that the pain is more manageable. And I can look realistically at the last few years.
I’ve been laid up.
Unable to hold my own head up.
Under 100 pounds.
Mad at my family.
Getting poked with needles.
Eating pounds and pounds of raw veggies.
In a wheelchair for any extended periods of walking.
Screaming out in pain.
Learning a LOT.
Nurturing a beautiful romance
Touching on radical acceptance and next-level patience.
Finding new passions.
Getting fired up about those passions.
Gaining a level of intimacy with my friends I never knew existed.
And this year as the “lyme-anniversary” approached with my birthday following, I decided to take my first vacation in three years!
I spent November 17th, 2016 on O’ahu.
I was tired that day…because I did a five-mile hike.
I haven’t walked more than a couple of miles at a time in over two years. I conquered this rocky landscape under the afternoon sun without water. That was a horrible mistake, but I survived it!
Oh, hahahaha, it wasn’t the only five mile hike I did. But it was the only one I did with shoes on. I took on the five-six miles Aiea loop trail… barefoot…like an idiot.
When I lived on Maui —four years ago—I would hike barefoot all of the time. In fact, I would convince others to go barefoot—“it’s much better. You’ll be fine. You can feel the Earth. You can grip easily and if it gets wet, you don’t have to worry about shoes.” No one was EVER happy about the decision, and I laughed at them and called them names. Because, once upon a time, I was a big asshole and I thought anyone who couldn’t hike barefoot, jump off cliffs or do something equally as dumb was a “wimp.” Then I got sick and couldn’t even stand up and got some compassion for our fragile humanness. I softened. I would never “force” someone to go barefoot today. Except myself.
Guess what? I couldn’t handle it. I held back tears for the last mile of the hike. Every time I took another step and felt the million tiny stabby rocks break the surface of my skin, I squealed. I thought of my friend who told me in a fit of anger four years ago that it felt like he was walking on a cheese grater. It DOES feel that way. I thought of the 12-year-old that I made go barefoot on a hike called “swinging bridges.” Poor thing was so miserable. Now I know why. I owe him a big apology. Also, I realize that I sound like an insane human right now, and I have no defense. I was insane. And I am deeply sorry that I ever made anyone take their shoes (AKA FEET PROTECTORS) off. I will never do that again. I am proud to say that I, too, cannot handle it.
But, still, before all of the intense pain, I was beyond happy to walk through the mud, climb the trees, and smell nature. I almost forgot how wonderful it is to move through the wild.
That wasn’t even all I did that day! Later that day, I got on a horse. It was my first time riding English. It was my first time posting. And it was my first time on a horse in over three years because that was something else I quit doing when illness came along. I got back on the horse, literally and figuratively.
We spent a day at Pearl Harbor. December 7, 2016 will be the 75th anniversary. Pearl Harbor is beautiful—the last time I was there it was December 7, 2011, the 70th anniversary. It’s yet another reminder of how lucky we are each and every time we take a peaceful breath. As I stood over the USS Arizona where hundreds (maybe over a thousand) died, I felt the luxurious breeze, the hard sun, and my lover’s presence. I felt grateful to be standing on my strong legs, to be smiling again, able to hold my head up, able to walk. So lucky to feel alive. And I can’t help but feel immense gratitude for all of those who came before me fighting—and dying— for my rights and my freedom. Thank you.
We made a stop at the USS Missouri where many less tragic stories took place. The main story being that it was the ship where the official surrender document was signed by the world powers bringing an end to WWII.
The USS Missouri is a giant maze of a ship. It holds thousands of men at a time. But, to be clear, it holds them uncomfortably. It’s no cruise ship; it’s a war ship. The cafeteria is uglier than the one you ate at in grade school and the sleeping arrangements are cramped, smelly and itchy. The stairs up and down the countless decks are steep enough to kill, and the chains that hold the anchor have more girth than an elephant. It’s intimidating, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tiny bit afraid of A.) the ship accidentally launching while I was on it B.) getting lost in the lower decks and never being found again or C.) hitting an iceberg suddenly and sinking into the shallow waters of Hawaii where I’d swim safely to shore (I’ve just seen Titanic too many times.)
Before you “board” the husky ship, there’s an opportunity to take a photo in front of a green screen. Because apparently we all just want to feel like we are Disneyland. I was into it. Our hosts knew all about the secret prop table of army helmets so instead of some boring ol’ smiley photo in front of a war ship, we took this:
Apparently, I will go to war with my coconut water. And also this photo suggests that none of us should ever sign up for war since apparently all we would do is scream and take cover.
I thank god for our army—truly. I don’t know how they live without things like coconut water and duvet covers.
The trip to Hawaii showed me just how far I’ve come in my health. It was amazing to be back in my body like that, and I’m so grateful.
And today is my birthday. I’m feeling the love big time. I’m faced with a choice about how I want today to go as I sit here in a shitty mood. I’ll keep you posted.
This week, I opted for a post on Monday due to Tuesday’s election.
As a person recovering from Lyme disease, I do not have the luxury of being wildly angry and fired up about yesterday’s events. It’s too exhausting, too taxing and too risky to let myself spiral into the darkness.
Instead, I have to focus on love. And healing.
Here is a link to my new wellness advice column. Yesterday’s column was on how not to panic. View it here.
I am a woman with a hard-hearted history towards women’s issues—I was quick to unite with sexist men in an effort to gain their attention and approval. I’m ashamed to say that I thought women were being over-dramatic and whiney about what I once also considered “locker room talk.” I didn’t understand why women found cat calling so annoying and disrespectful. I was all “free attention? what’s the problem?” I came from the “I’m asking for it” line of thinking. Yes, even around rape. My father and brother made it very clear that whatever came my way…I WAS asking for it, that I was a “whore”, and that if men ever had a bar fight it was the woman’s fault. Because women don’t know how to keep their mouths shut. And now we have a big-mouthed MAN named Donald Trump, and his words may kill millions of people. His slandering words directed at women have made me sick to my stomach—partially because it’s not my first time hearing them. His center stage presence has propelled me to ruminate about WHY I ever thought it was okay to speak about women like he does— why I once was the girl who preferred to be “one of the guys,” how it feels to be a girl who has been sexually degraded, mistreated, and abused. How it feels to be a terrified girl. And also how it feels to be an incredibly powerful and intelligent woman. His words have been like gasoline to my inner-fire for FEMALE.
I spent most of my life trying to be more masculine. I was brought up to believe that the only asset women had was their sexual power—their hotness. And if that’s really all we had to offer then we better be very very hot. It seemed like by my generation, the expectation of aprons and dish gloves lifted and was replaced with an expectation for smoking hot sex, perfect vaginas, perfect faces and perfect bodies. I got “lucky” and happened to be a very pretty young woman. I didn’t need hair dye, diets, or proactiv to be considered attractive. I strategized for my father’s love by leading with red-hot sexuality and supplementing with “manly” qualities: a firm handshake, a foul mouth, drinking, being low maintenance, being a smoker, a wide strut, ego, confidence, drive, having a pair of “balls,” being drama free, being a go-getter, provider, money earner, heavy hitter, etc. Of course this definition of manly is what my upbringing showed me; these qualities do not represent manliness. My target was to be the sexiest girl in the room while also being “one of the guys.” When I was about seven, I told my father I wanted to be a football player. Trust me, I didn’t. I just wanted his attention. That’s the way it starts. That’s the innocent version of needing Daddy’s attention. The more grown up version is unsavory to say the least.
I wanted to make my crack smoking, cheating, lying father proud. He was the STRENGTH. He made the money. He drove the Porsche, and he used his money to control us. I wanted to be like him. Hard like him. Not soft and weak like my mom. I cheated, I lied, and I did drugs. I desperately sought love and affection from men. I took my clothes off in front of crowds, I danced on tables, and I made out with all of the girls FOR all of the boys, and precarious situations were the result. I was told that any trouble was my own fault because I was a “slut.” But really, I was a young teenager with minimal guidance, and I didn’t know how else to get “love.”
I was 16 and my father was leaving the house to go see his new mistress. I stood in the kitchen, watching him go, not knowing if I’d see him again. I begged him, pleaded with him, to come back to us when my eye caught something strange sticking out of his “briefcase.” It wasn’t really a briefcase anymore. It was an overflowing sack of dregs and crap, but there was this shiny photo sticking out that looked familiar. It was my headshot. “Dad, why do you have my headshots in that briefcase?” He laughed and twitched and spurted out from a thumping heart, “Oh! I carry them around and tell people you’re my wife.” I was confounded and silenced. And he left. What people? His drug dealers? And also, sadly, I felt loved. At least he wants me. Did he tell the creep he copped from the other day, I wondered. He had sat me down around that time to boast about how he saved some girls from drug-den torment. Apparently, his dealer had a couple of girls over and when my dad paid for the drugs, the dealer said, “watch this.” The dealer tossed the drugs and told the naked girls to get down on all fours and “fetch.” My father bragged to me, ” I kicked him down and told him that I have a daughter and how dare he treat women like that. I beat the shit out of him, Jack.” I stared at him baffled AND totally jealous. He was taking care of those girls and not me. Did I need to degrade myself that much to get his attention? And also I really hoped he didn’t show that guy my picture. Because dealers were coming to our house seeking out my dad and I was really scared that they had seen my picture. Because I am a woman and constantly afraid of being raped.
Where was my dad when I was 17 and ended up in an empty parking lot with a guy three times my age and three times my size. A guy who was supposed to be helping me “straighten out my life” took me somewhere private and told me to sit on his lap—that I needed a hug. I cringed as he pulled me over to him but I didn’t know how to stop him because I was afraid to use my voice and I didn’t know how. Because I didn’t want to excite him further. Besides, it seemed like I hadn’t been hugged in a while.
When Hillary and Trump took the stage, I didn’t actively care so much about women’s issues —well, not beyond our right to choose. Initially, I was not a huge Hillary fan. You know why?
I was a pre adolescent when Bill Clinton was in office and what I remember about the Clintons is this: Chelsea Clinton was “ugly” and Hillary was laughable. Why? Chelsea was a bookish looking teenager and Hillary cared more about the state of affairs than her body or her dresses. For that, the pair were the butt of many jokes in my home. Because they weren’t sexy.
And as the 2016 election rolled on, I was getting more and more fired up for Hillary and more and more angry at Trump. Here’s just a sliver of what Donald Trump has said about women:
He has called women “bimbos,” “pigs,” “gold diggers,” and “FAT” He’s compared women’s faces to the faces of dogs.
He said, “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?” Ouch.
He tweeted, “While Bette Midler is an extremely unattractive woman. I refuse to say that because I always insist on being politically correct.” Unattractive? Bette Midler founded the New York Restoration Project in 1995. That’s your city, Donald. How about thank you?
His favorite part of Pulp Fiction is when Sam tells the guy to tell his girlfriend to be cool. He said, “‘Bitch be cool.’ I love those lines,” Donald said.
Donald Trump said women should be punished for having abortions. I was scared because my boyfriend was abusive and I didn’t want to live a life like my mother lived and I didn’t want my child to experience an upbringing like I had. I was with the guy because he was just like my father and I didn’t know better yet. You want to punish me?
Donald Trump joked that he would date his daughter. “If Ivanka wasn’t my daughter perhaps I’d be dating her.” Yeah, my dad thought that was funny, too. It fucked me up. Ivanka, my heart goes out to you and to your mother who accused your father of rape.
He said this about Katarina Witt, the gold-winnning olympic athlete: “Wonderful looking while on the ice but up close and personal, she could only be described as attractive if you like a woman with a bad complexion who is built like a linebacker”.
He mocked Rosie O’Donnells weight. Multiple times. Rosie started the Rosie’s For All Kids Foundation for disadvantaged children. What has Donald done? No, really—WHAT has he done?
Oh, he ran beauty pageants and you know how he ran them… He had pageant girls parade in front of him so he could separate who he found attractive and who he didn’t. Before the pageant even began, he sent girls home. Thank you for contributing more image issues, humiliation and insecurity in women world-wide.
He tweeted: “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military- only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?” THEY EXPECTED MEN NOT TO RAPE.
Maybe that’s confusing for Donald Trump considering he has had three rape allegations against him.
And then there was the— now infamous— tape of him bragging about all of his “pussy-grabbing” and his ability to kiss whoever he wants because he’s famous. That’s terribly bothersome, but what bothered me more about the video was the woman who greeted him immediately after his comments with a big smile and a great dress. The way he kissed her. The sly and creepy way he put his arm around her, and the way she seemed to not care. The way she hung her sex up on his arm and the way he carried it with pride and said “Melania said it’s ok.” I’ve been that pretty girl. It’s not rewarding. And I can’t stomach that being a woman’s role in society anymore.
After that video, a new tweet surfaced: #repealthe19thamendment . And that’s when my heart broke and I got really scared. This is the man my country elected to run for President? And, he’s not even far behind. Oh my god. How many people feel this way about women?
I do not need any more time in my life dictated by an ego maniacal sexist. By the way, my father destroyed his life and ours in the process. I have direct experience with what an ego like that can do. There’s no money—only debt. There’s no love, only psych wards, and hospitals, and heartbreak. That’s all. I will do everything I can to negate this crazy belief that what we have to offer as women is sex, attractiveness, “a pleasing aesthetic.” I will be part of making a woman president. Not because she’s a woman and not because she fits some bullshit standard but because she is smarter. She has more experience. She has self-control. She is stronger. She has self-restraint. She has WORKED HARDER. She is wiser. She has compassion. She cares. Her fortitude is admirable. Her policies are logical. She HAS policies. She deserves to be the next President of the United States. And I’ve never been so proud to be FEMALE.
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.