I am Lonely; I am Loved

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Throughout illness, I could not simply or efficiently answer the question I was so often presented with: “how are you?” I’m sure the answer seemed like an obvious, “not good.” To  the outside eye— I was undeniably amidst a shipwreck. I was skinny and pale and frail and depressed and being told there was probably no way out.  But “not good” didn’t resonate—it wasn’t true. The experience of being sick  felt (feels/felt/feels) dynamic.  I was learning indispensable lessons. I was developing as a human, deepening as a spirit and as a creative. I was gaining a wealth of knowledge and a sea of love and compassion. How could I be miserable about such a beautiful makeover?  I was very hopeful—always, almost painfully hopeful. I once read that “hope is the opiate for the truly hopeless.” I wondered if that was me. I still wonder if that is me. Maybe it is, but it feels more true to say that it has been light and dark all at once. All of my life, maybe—I have felt the lightness in equal proportion to the darkness. Amongst these monumental inconsistencies was the desperate loneliness I felt while absorbing more love than I even knew existed. A love not only from my fellows but also from myself. But what brings me to this post is not necessarily the reflection of the past (although, I am very much reflecting) but the feeling I have presently: Why after getting so much healthier do I still sometimes feel so completely heartbreakingly alone?

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I Don’t Want to Lock up my Feelings

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When I was home for the holidays, a basket full of papers and old chachkies was handed to me. I was meant to sort through it and throw stuff out. It was like a grab-bag of old family memories—things that brought a smile to my face, others that made me grimace. I pulled out a purple book, decorated with Esmerelda from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I immediately recognized it as the first journal I ever kept—I was 11. An age that I was unafraid of my passions, an age that offered a soft FULL heart and a spirt that, as an adult, I can’t quite find. As I read some of the brilliantly sweet things I wrote, I felt sad that I ended up taking such a violent detour, I felt inspired by my young self, and I laughed…hard.

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Fall Down, Get Up, Repeat.

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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.

With fun and love,

Jackie

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What this Election Season Made Me See, and Why I’m With Her.

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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.

 

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Failing Better: On Imperfection

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May 26th, 2016:

Melissa: I just want to get an A+ at life. I want to be perfect at everything and for everyone.

Me: I’ll give you an A+ when you can accept yourself in the moments where all you’ve got is a D-

Melissa, if she knew me better, could have retorted with the cliche, “you should practice what you preach.” But since she doesn’t, I let her assume that I do imperfect, perfectly. It’s fun to pretend. In reality, just a couple of days earlier, I was shaming myself for my own D-. I was getting my IVIG infusion. I forced myself up to pee, wheeling my IV drip into the bathroom with me, strategically shuffling to avoid tangling the tubing. I sat on the toilet which leaves me with nowhere to look but at my reflection in the mirror. I instinctively wanted to shatter what I saw. Defenseless against my bullying brain and my morphed perception, I saw dark eyes swallowing the blue sparkle I once loved, pale skin dully planted on a bony face, dirty unbrushed hair, eyebrows that needed tweezing, chapped lips, and sun spots. I saw a jaded, and imperfect face convicting me of a broken, worthless life. I started wondering where I went wrong- how did I end up so sick for so long? Then rapid-fire: I’m not drinking enough water, maybe I’m drinking too much water, what if I’m taking the wrong supplements, did I eat the wrong foods, did I take a drug that interfered with another, did I stay on antibiotics too long, should I have stuck out the Cowden protocol, should I have used more money for x instead of y, I don’t meditate enough, exercise enough, I’m not positive enough, maybe I didn’t rest enough, or maybe I rested too much. What is it about the “fucked-upness” of me that is keeping me sick? STOP. I know this voice —it’s been a lifelong enemy of mine that I can’t shake; it’s always finding new ways to attack me. But what a pussy it is—attacking me at my most vulnerable. This voice doesn’t have the same power it once did because after a year of being sick, I raised my white flag and I stuck it right where the enemy dies: in the acceptance of my own humanity.

In 2006, I lived in a Single Room Occupancy at the Y on 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue. It was depressing; the walls were bare, and each corner held a pitiful piece of furniture: a twin bed, a desk, and a dresser. That room reeked of a stale, lifelong loneliness. I tried to stay out as much as possible. I was in school, and I worked long hours as a waitress, saving money to pay my brother back. Apparently, I had been stealing from him. As it turns out, when you use someone’s debit card without asking (“for emergencies only”), you’re actually using their money and that’s considered stealing. Who knew? And what IS the definition of “emergency” anyway? I sat at my desk, counting the money I had saved AGAIN, stuffed it back into its white envelope, and looked at my bulky computer screen. BLANK. I had to write a paper, but I was overcome with a paralyzing embarrassment. I rested my elbow on the desk, my head to my fist, and I heard a sudden burst of laughter outside my door. I blushed from an increasing disgust in myself, and that’s when it hit me. I’m ashamed of my own existence, I thought, I don’t deserve to be alive- even the way I breathe- it’s pathetic. I feel guilty just to be taking up space, breathing in fresh oxygen. I was having a revelation- I knew exactly where that feeling was conceived. I felt the same in that moment as I did in 1996, Seven inches shorter, and about 95% more innocent, I sat in my bedroom alone- enduring my punishment for being a burdensome human who couldn’t do anything right. Thanks, Dad. That’s where I started unconsciously thinking: how could I make myself “perfect” so that I could prove my worth and avoid trouble? I didn’t want to be too needy, too independent, too obnoxious, too quiet, too sparkly, too dull, too smart, too dumb, too sick, too healthy, too happy, too sad, too pretty, or too ugly. I wanted to land right where everyone would HAVE to keep on loving me- right in the sweet spot of super cool but not cool enough to provoke jealousy. Wow. I assumed that the self-awareness in itself would act as a cure. Knowing where my need for perfection came from would surely evaporate the need itself. My self-awareness would be a short-cut around all of the pain. That theory proved to be wrong as I stumbled through the next 8 years, torturing myself- taking little steps forward but continuously seeking a way OUT of this whole human being business.

I started reading the spiritual books, meditating, going to therapy, journaling, doing yoga, and chanting -not to accept myself but to FIX myself. I stayed IN ACTION all of the time, soaking up every opportunity to “better myself” with the ultimate goal of finding a formidable plateau exempt from a vulnerable and fragile life. But life, by definition, is growth. So hanging in some euphoric plateau would actually just be heaven (aka death). I know, it’s super unfortunate. The whole “we’re on Earth to grow” business can be such a BUZZKILL. But why is it so scary to accept ourselves as imperfect? I mean, all magnificent art is built around imperfection. I remember doing a short study with an acting coach here in LA. We were talking about being in the audition room and how all of us actors want to go into the room and do a perfect job. She said, “ No one wants perfect. We watch movies and TV to watch other humans’ flaws and imperfections. It’s your flaws that MAKE YOU INTERESTING TO WATCH. You’d never watch a movie, read a book, or listen to a song about someone who is ‘perfect.’ What a snooze.” That inspired me- what if I could just let myself be, accept myself, and stop obsessing over every little mistake I made?

After all of that work I did to avoid my own humanity, I got sick. (I feel like this is the correct time to say, “isn’t it ironic,” but I’d hate for a bunch of controlling assholes to attack me with, “that isn’t what ironic means” after I write a whole essay on imperfection. OH, that would be ironic too, wouldn’t it?). Illness: the thing you think will never happen to you until it fucking does. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t fall prey to Lyme Disease like all the other weak people did; I’d be better in two months, at most. As time “ticked” by (see what I did there?), and I wasn’t getting better but getting sicker, I turned back to my favored tool: shame. And I used it to beat the shit out of myself. I blamed myself for the illness. I must be manifesting it, I thought, I’m weak, what’s wrong with me? I tormented myself for months, maybe even a year. When my beat-downs were getting so powerful that they became life or death, I started to aggressively seek a new way. That’s when I came to the conclusion that I had wasted my life trying to outsmart my humanity. I was on a scavenger hunt for something that never even existed. Talk about a buzzkill. I didn’t need to be healthy to be worthy. I didn’t need to look pretty or be sparkly or always have my wits about me. It has been through my battle with illness that I accepted myself as a flawed human…sometimes.

I didn’t LEARN; I’m learnING. The desire to outsmart my humanity still creeps in on me in unarmed moments—like last week during my IVIG, and even this afternoon when someone mentioned that I looked tired, and I heard, “you look pitiful and weak. You’re an embarrassing disgrace.” Why do we always get so offended when someone suggests we look tired? Why is it such an insult to be human? Today, I’m capable of recognizing those thoughts as unproductive, calling a loving friend, and forgiving myself for whatever mistakes I may have made. I’m capable of allowing myself to be tired— to love myself anyway. But sometimes I spiral into the darkness, anyway. I’m failing…better.

When I was like 19, I was having one of many heart- pounding tantrums about a boy. I stood in a circle of girls on a street corner in NYC puffing down cigarettes. I was in the quick sand of obsessiveness, talking in hysterics about whether or not he liked me, when he would call, or how to make him love me again- who knows – all of those big deals were such a blur once the next boy showed up. I looked at my 3 girlfriends around me, embarrassed, feeling like I couldn’t escape my own insanity, and said, “I know- I need to get over this.Oh God, I’m being so annoying.. who would ever want to be friends with me like this.” One of my friends smiled and said, “What? No, Jackie, I love you. And I don’t love you in spite of your ‘crazy’ I love you for it.”
I had never heard such an idea expressed. I try, and sometimes fail, to love myself and you for our collective crazy- our humanity. And when I fall short, I remember what Samuel Beckett said, “Try. Try Again. Fail. Fail better.”

 

With Fun and Love,

Jackie

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