Dig In! Out of the Darkness and into the Garden

The glorious season of fresh farm food hit the ground running in early May and I was excited to help my friend’s mother, Adrienne Metcalf, at Peace Haven Farm in Becket, MA. I couldn't wait to get ‘up there’ and away from it all for three days.  I arrived and spilled out of my car and into Mother Nature’s lap. 

Adrienne and I had never met before and as she came over to greet me, I anxiously explained, ”I…I had to bring my dog…she’s…she’s not doing too well…” In an instant, I was in floods of tears.  Over the past months, I have been watching my much beloved dog journey between Last Rights and miraculous bounce backs. At the same time, I am witnessing my mother recede into the mist of Alzheimer’s. Both form a complex, painful juxtaposition.  

It’s no wonder then that when I set eyes on Adrienne, I saw the physical embodiment of Mother Earth – tall, statuesque, sagacious and kind - and who better to cry to than a goddess?

Adrienne expertly settled my nerves. She, too, had been through this before with her dogs and for precisely the same reason I was crying in her garden would no longer be falling in love with a dog. Tears over, we both agreed that there’s nothing better to mend a broken heart than gardening and with that, we set to work.

Consistently warm weather had finally arrived. We opened up the greenhouse slats, raised the plastic side walls and switched out the winter hose for the summer one. All the while, Adrienne walked and talked me through the farm, explaining the tasks for the day. She is an excellent teacher. For every action there is a reaction and there is no better place to see this at work than in her garden.

Adrienne is a proficient autodidact who devoured Eliot Coleman’s teachings and applied them throughout the farm. She and I are both humbled and awed by Coleman but for slightly different reasons.  As a self-sustaining organic farmer, Adrienne has learned valuable methods from him. As for me, I did not learn about Coleman until I was an adult, a by-product of generations that had overlooked Eliot and had cast him as a hippy demon and denounced his prescient vision and practices as those of a renegade “Pinko.” I am sad for the time lost, that we are only just waking up as a nation to his profound contribution.

Our big project over the course of three days would be a slight departure from the teachings of Eliot Coleman as we prepared Hugel beds.  Pronounced “HOO-gul,” Hugelkultur is a permaculture practice that uses woody debris including branches, twigs, and hard wood logs as a resource, rather than burning them or removing them. When you see the beds for the first time, they resemble ancient burial mounds, complete with ‘sacrificial’ hard wood logs and slash in a ditch below that feed the plants above; act as sponges to conserve water; and make room for air as they decompose.  As we weeded the beds, we replanted clover along the sides of the Hugel beds. Clover roots are topped with nodules of bacteria that work with nitrogen and hydrogen to form ammonia and nitrates. What is not used by the plant remains to enrich the soil. 

We then carted aged horse manure and dumped it on to a Push-me-Pull-me. There was a whole lot of shaking going on as we ‘sifted shit,’ a metaphor that was not lost on me as I reflected on my own life and the shaking required to work through it to find what is most nourishing.  Shit happens to all of us. What is surprising to me now at nearly 50 is the force at which the sadder memories – the shitty years - have resurfaced. Oddly enough, they've come at time when I've been feeling pretty darned good, having made tremendous progress working through challenging health issues. I had not invited those dark memories back into my life, yet there they were banging on the door to my psyche at a most inconvenient time, demanding to be heard. Had they not seen the GO AWAY mat on my doorstep, the one woven in threads of Denial and Hope?   

Until recently I truly believed that I had processed "dark matters" years ago and that I had put them to rest. Newsflash: I had processed them as best I could years ago. As a teenager and young adult, my best coping skill was to accept what I cannot change and move on with my life. Simply put, I buried things and with that, the darkness covered the light, layer upon layer for many, many years. 

Like plants in the garden, dormant emotions inevitably burst from deep within us all. It is at this point where I find myself a teenager again - frightened, overwhelmed and alone. The force of the flood of returning emotions has left me breathless for emotional resolution.

Beauties. My friend Rebecca with her Mum Adrienne c. 1984

Beauties. My friend Rebecca with her Mum Adrienne c. 1984

There is a reason I landed in Adrienne’s garden and unfolded with a broken heart the week before Mother’s Day. I needed some mother-love and the universe delivered. I love how that works. Ask and ye shall receive.

Adrienne has a special way about her. She is an old soul with a young heart, an adventurer, and one who has lived life fully. Adrienne is as grounded as she is part of the ethereal beauty that becomes her. She’s switched-on, plugged-in to the earth, and tuned-in to a higher being. If Compassion could be detected on a Geiger counter, then she’d be off the charts.  

Adrienne inherited the property that has become Peace Haven Farm from her father Paul C. Metcalf, a “Yankee” writer who had very close ties to Black Mountain College near Ashville, North Carolina during the 1950's and 60's. The college emphasized that learning and living are intimately connected. Both faculty and students participated in work on the college farm, constructed buildings, did maintenance work, and served meals. All classes focused on fine arts, music and drama and were scheduled at night to allow time for work on the campus during the day.

With an early childhood in a setting like that, it doesn't surprise me that Adrienne is now farming and baking beautiful and healthy things and that the house she shares with her husband Josh is brightly painted on the inside and a modest brown on the outside.  Like book ends to Adrienne's life, there are similarities between her father's choice of work and what Elliot Coleman was trying to accomplish through Homesteading in Maine. 

Adrienne’s mother, a southern belle, and her father eventually settled in Becket, MA, not far from where Adrienne's father's great-grandfather, Herman Melville, called home - Arrowhead in Pittsfield. It was Adrienne’s grandmother who discovered the Billy Budd manuscript in a bread box in the attic.  From there on, the self-deprecating family joke was always “you’re never fully appreciated until you’re dead”.   Like books, gardens live on for future generations to discover and to steward.

I am not a gardener and what I am about to write probably comes across as old news to those readers who are gardeners … it quickly dawned on me that the garden is about the best place to think, and reflect upon life. There is a physical and metaphysical flow that gives purpose to the work as each labor emulsifies the proverbial darkness. As we tend the garden with our hands deep in rich soil, our pain, loss, and sorrow break down and allow for light to come in and fill the cracks, like water sinking through soil, harvesting Gratitude instead of Fear. I am reminded of the quote:

Help us to be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth, and without light nothing flowers. ~ May Sarton

Peace, Love and Adrienne in her garden

Peace, Love and Adrienne in her garden

There is an unspoken rhythm to the garden as words flow and spirits are fed by a conversation that transcends Time and our Life to-do’s. Adrienne and I wore no watches and as our days together ticked by, the “real-world” slipped away, leaving us closer to our senses and freeing us from the noise of every day. This is a sacred time with Nature, a time when real magic happens, a time when we are able to lose ourselves to the rhythm of planting, dropping a seed, visualizing its root - a shared meditation as the warmth and sunlight find their place in the earth, and in our hearts and in our minds.

We are all broken in parts and could choose to spend hours on a therapist’s sofa; or pop pills to make us happy; or bury things so deeply that we no longer care to feel. Or we could choose to do something very uncomfortable: confront our fears, dash them, and then let them go.  It is one thing to allow our pain to break through, but it is quite another to recognize that as adults we are fortified with more tools in a tool box borne of life experiences. We can choose to look the dragon in the eye. We can find the courage to venture deep into the belly of the whale and in the end, the beast that is our own darkness can be felled, but not without a painful journey. It is not unlike the tremendous strength required for a bulb to push up from the darkness to reveal its tender bud.  

Adrienne's outlook aligns personal spiritual growth with advancing global awareness and a shift that is bridging the individual with the global community.  "In this world of deep polarities isn't that what we're all being asked to do - to take a second look, to make a better choice, to use all the false and bad starts, the pain and the mistakes as manure to grow a better garden? Yes, I'm onto the global social situation because what is the difference between the macro and our personal micro?"

I've added her words to my tool box and know that when unwanted feelings come rushing from out of the darkness and are banging at the door, I can take great comfort and look upon it as a second chance, a glorious opportunity to free myself from the past, and I can let go of the weight of its darkness. “Go on, open the door,” I say to myself as I invite Pain in and put the kettle on. “It’s time for a long overdue chat.”    

As the first hummingbird flies inside the greenhouse at Peace Haven Farm and Adrienne cries “Joy!”, a new light enters after a long winter. I feel it tickle my dendrites, like roots to a plant and I know that I am in the right place, for the right reason and bang on time.   

_________________________________________________________

Sometimes you just have to invite the darkness in to let the light shine. Go, Good Girl Go!

Peace Haven Farm Stand is open year round – 509 Quarry Road Becket MA 01223. Call for shop hours or to sign up for their weekly emails: [413] 623.5208

For more information on Elliot Coleman, I highly recommend reading This Life is in Your Hands written by his daughter, Melissa Coleman

For more information on Hugelkultur here is a good link: http://allthingsplants.com/ideas/view/dave/41/Building-a-Hugelkultur-Raised-Bed/

Get a Life! Do Boot Camp with Laura Downing and Ditch the Self-Judgement

Most friendships start with a common interest or a shared passion, but my friendship with Laura Collins Downing started with Desperation: I needed to fit into a dress.  I was barely eating yet getting larger and larger. I did not know what was happening to me, but I was NOT going to settle for “it’s an age thing”.   

I know a million gorgeous, strong and radiant women in their 50’s.  Just because a woman is close to 50 doesn't mean she is doomed to a life of misery and Mom Jeans.   I only wanted to lose weight, but instead I found in Laura a biochemistry teacher, health coach, spiritual seeker, psychologist, motivational sports trainer, comedian and cheerleader all wrapped up in one. Lucky me, Laura Collins Downing really is all that, and more: she’s an awesome friend, too.

The second-to-youngest of nine children, Laura grew up in the Berkshires, moved away and then moved back in 2012. Her parents were also "born and bred" in the Berkshires.  Her father, Bernard, was a veterinarian and, like Laura, was the eighth child of nine. Together, he and Laura's mom Ann [nee O'Connell] ran Collins Veterinary Hospital from their 36 acre family home in Lee, [which had been the summer home to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands].

Laura's parents instilled in their children a sense of fun, hard work and meaning and their little army of nine knew how to roll up their sleeves and get to work. They all learned from an early age how to pitch in and put others - and animals - first. If you look at all of them today, you can see it still holds true, and that's possibly the greatest legacy any parents could hope to achieve.

Health and Fitness are a part of Laura's DNA as much as her Destiny.  In 1980, she was the first-ever graduate from Lee High School to earn all twelve Varsity letters [in field hockey, basketball, softball].  She's been in the health and fitness industry for 28 years, and loves what she’s doing. There is a perfect give-and-take to her life that offers her a chance to learn from others as well as to teach and inspire others to adopt new ways to find health and wellness.

Laura and me, after a 10 mile morning pilgrimage in France

Laura and me, after a 10 mile morning pilgrimage in France

Seems there is always a line outside her door.  Laura thrives in high gear so it's no wonder she bought a house right in the center of things, directly across from the Morris Elementary School. She doesn't even flinch over the morning school-run back ups blocking her drive and enjoys watching the summer Tanglewood traffic stream by.  There is a reason so many of us find our way to Laura. As a health coach, fitness instructor, and owner of Ideal Protein Weight Loss Clinic in Lenox, MA, she’s very good at what she does.

She makes sense out of the madness of losing weight. I use ‘madness’ lightly, but think about it – helping people change what they do, what they eat, and how they look at themselves and their relationship with food is nothing short of performing a frontal lobotomy. Laura gives dietary ‘lobotomies’ AND makes it fun. Now, that’s a rare gift.

From the moment you walk into Laura's “office” - a large farmer’s table in her front room - you immediately inhale the spirit of “I can.”

On your first visit, Laura spends time going through the science of the Ideal Protein Plan and how it applies to you. You leave with a powerful image of the 3 energy tanks that fuel the human body – SUGAR, FAT, and PROTEIN. Our bodies burn sugar first. When there is no sugar left to burn, then we will burn fat because fat burns faster than protein.  It’s important to keep your protein tank full so the body burns the fat off, not the muscle.

OK. Got it. Now, let’s rock ‘n roll!

1)     Empty the sugar tank [and keep it empty]

2)    Fill up the protein tank

3)    Watch the fat tank empty. *

* To illustrate this, Laura has 5lb and 20lb ‘weights,’ disgusting chunks of blubber on the table for people to pinch and get an even better image of the fat they are shedding. She also has a more palatable 20lb bag of winter Ice Melter for you to lift. It’s an amazing, albeit awkward correlation.

It’s one thing to read up on different diets, but it’s another thing entirely to read up and then know exactly which diet is best for you. That's why I needed help and Laura was THE person to make sense of it and to help me turns things around. Turns out, I wasn't eating enough. My metabolism had shut done. Now here's the kicker: on the new diet I would be required to eat more than I ever had before. At the end of the eight weeks, I didn't just lose 20 pounds, I gained my life back, and I am never going to let it go. I LOVE MY LIFE! 

Find out what is TOXIC to your system. 

Find out what is TOXIC to your system. 

“Gained my life back”? Through Laura’s help I was able to discover the single most important thing on my journey to wellness: sugar augments my pain.  The correlation was so obvious yet profoundly difficult to reach. I would never have discovered it on my own. When my sugar tank emptied, my pain went away. It was a most welcomed signpost on my way-too-confusing journey to wellness, one that I had not expected to see. What a relief to know that the cause of my pain was not something "big" like my PTSD or Hypothyroidism. It's just SUGAR, and I can control how much of it I allow into my system. 

 

Who knew a diet could be fun?! Laura’s optimism is ridiculously contagious. When you walk in the room, she lights up and blasts you with a glorious compliment. Immediately you feel good and relaxed about getting on the scale.  She’s the same when teaching a fitness class. She calls attention to what is positive in everyone there.  She will shout out your name and celebrate your strength, and because she celebrates you, it sends ripples out and everyone else in the class gives a subliminal, sweaty nod to you, too.

It's all about you. Remarkably outgoing and upbeat, Laura is surprisingly shy and has a superhuman ability to deflect attention away from her so that it shines back on to others.  When you take one of her turbo-charged classes at Lenox Fitness you can’t miss her. Her bright neon sportswear and headbands are rallying calls to Boot Camp. The class is packed and everyone is psyched for the hour of hard-core training because they know they are going to get something out of it – STRENGTH.

From the moment Laura switches on her headset and starts the class, the focus is on YOU. While she moves around the class, she keeps you focused and "in your zone."  While you're sweating to the JNL* [*Jennifer Nicole Lee] battle cries of ‘Strong is the New Skinny,’ and ‘Kiss my Abs,’ Laura bounces through exercises as though weightless and skipping down the lane with a balloon in her hand. 

Laura cracks jokes and reassures the boys that if they are wobbly with their balance they might be getting their period and reminds the ladies to wear a wee-wee pad for the jumping jacks. It’s hilarious. It’s also amazing to watch her in action and think: “Wow she is a really good teacher. I am lucky I found her. ” You don’t ever once think “oh, she is so strong. I will never be fit like her.” Laura keeps your focus right where it should be: on you, beautiful you.

No Judgement. Laura is an effective motivator in and out of class. She encourages everyone to ditch the self-judgment.  It gets in the way of everything. And she’s right.  Everyone knows I've never been to the gym, and the only weights I lift are grocery bags. I prefer to be outdoors, but Laura inspired me to push myself beyond my comfort zone and try her JNL* Fusion class at Lenox Fitness.  

JNL focuses on eight 3-minute “cycles” that are half cardio, half strength with one-minute breaks in between. Up until 3 weeks ago, I was too frightened to take an intense fitness class. Fearing my core was not strong enough, I avoided all things “muscle-y” thinking they might trigger my fibromyalgia or give me "Earl Campbell thighs," but years doing Pilates paid off. JNL Fusion did not leave me in pain for days. I was sore, but in a very good way. 

Shiny Happy Good Girls after one of Laura's class

Shiny Happy Good Girls after one of Laura's class

Whether she’s teaching a class or weighing you, Laura always focuses on the positive. Through her constructive example, you learn to look at the process of losing weight less as a schedule to follow and more as a script to learn. Soon, looking after your health becomes more natural. You learn to love your body for what it is and forgive it for what it is not.  You learn to stop and feed yourself throughout the day. You no longer blow through your body’s need to be nourished. You no longer skip meals and soon you choose to eat well. Nothing is more important than nourishing our bodies and minds. When we are strong and healthy, we live and love completely.

Laura really does stop and chill. Here she is, journalling in France and in the shade at  Le Lac du Verdon

Laura really does stop and chill. Here she is, journalling in France and in the shade at Le Lac du Verdon

Life gets hectic and sometimes we forget to eat or we don’t eat the right things.  We all need to learn how to stop and listen to our bodies and make the time to care for ourselves. I look back and wonder how I allowed myself to push to the side something so critical to life as eating the right things in the right way. Seriously, how does that happen? Like many, I was wrapped up in a rhythm of choices that breathlessly rushed me from one thing to the next, never nourishing only depleting.

 

Working through an effective diet plan with Laura reversed all that for me. The experience empowered me to change the rhythm of my life - to stop and eat, to slow down to make unhurried, healthy choices so that I could reclaim my health and my life - in that order. Once fueled with awareness [and Protein], I could take ownership of my bright and happy future. 

Eating well in France [Laura has just biked a million miles on this day. We didn't] 

Eating well in France [Laura has just biked a million miles on this day. We didn't] 

We are all different, but when it comes to weight loss, “whatever works best for you” is the greatest common denominator. It doesn’t really matter what plan you choose to follow as long as the process improves your understanding and acceptance of what your body needs.

A diet is a course of action that teaches you healthy patterns of self-care as part of a no-longer-dysfunctional relationship with food. No wonder the French call it "le regime". For me, Laura Collins Downing coupled with The Ideal Protein Plan was exactly what I needed. When I started the diet, I was only thinking about a dress. I had no idea I would get a life, too.

I am forever grateful to my dear friend Laura Collins Downing whose humor, sound advice and knowledge brought me back to a place of happiness and strength and showed me that I really could have a life and live well without pain.

Sometimes you just have to slow down, to get a life. Go, Good Girl, Go!

Before Boot Camp: Fighting Chronic Pain First Before Fitness

This is Part 1 of a two-part story. Before I can write about my next inspiring Good Girl – fitness instructor and health coach, Laura Collins Downing - I first need to explain why it took years to find my way to her. I’ve written about my fibromyalgia in previous blog entries but I haven’t really explained what I needed to work through and how I worked through it. Eventually, after three years, the pain is under control but there was A LOT of trial and error before I learned what works best for me. 

What is fibromyalgia? The definition below pretty much sums it up, though in my mind, it neglects to include the drama, misery, sorrow and despair that go hand in hand with fibromyalgia. Plus, it doesn't say anything about its relationship to chronic inflammation. Prolonged inflammation can lead to all sorts of health problems including cancer so it’s important to get things under control before they spin too far out of control.

 

Fibromyalgia: a common syndrome in which a person has long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. Fibromyalgia has also been linked to fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, depression, and anxiety * [* add: “all at once”].

‘Tenderness’ – that’s putting it mildly. My pain was so debilitating I could not go a day without a nap. I would wake every morning with one thought and one thought only: when can I get back into bed? How sad is that not to want to embrace each and every day of your life? I could no longer enjoy life’s pleasures – something as straight forward as preparing a nice meal for my family was overwhelming. I could barely unload the dishwasher let alone stand at the chopping board or stove for very long. Reaching up or bending down in the kitchen was torture.  In short, I was miserable. Pain prevented me from doing everything I loved to do. My only joy – and I clung to it like a piece of wood in the ocean – was walking my dogs.

The good news is that fibromyalgia doesn't have to be a crippling disease. In this brief video Dr. Jeffrey M. Thompson of Mayo Clinic explains how you can take charge and reduce your pain and live a happier, more fulfilling life.  His advice is spot on:

1) Reduce Stress - relax, breath, meditate, have fun

2) Get enough sleep

3) Don’t drink - alcohol interrupts your sleep

4) Cut out caffeine and nicotine

5) Exercise - find the right routine for you

6) Pace yourself - “Don’t over-do. Don’t under-do”

7) Eat Healthy Foods

But that’s just a short list – it’s far more complicated. Everyone is different, so it’s important that you follow your gut to figure out what works best for you. Here are some tips of my own that might be useful to you: 

the next chapteer.jpg

Be patient with yourself. This is not a quick fix. Ask loved ones and colleagues to be patient with you, too. You are not making this up. Your pain is real and it will take time for your mind.body.spirit to heal. When the healing eventually hits, you will be happier than ever before [I promise].

Take on one challenge at a time. Work through one item on the above list before you move to the next. Surrender and Accept that these are challenges – they are not easy and they are not fun, but it will become more fun as each success makes you happier, more positive, stronger and more confident. Eventually, you will want "the total package" for yourself.

Read up and visualize what each action means to you. Prepare yourself with ways to change your behavior and always remember that change is good and will translate to less pain and a better life.

Don’t set yourself up for failure, disappointment and self-judgment. You already feel rotten enough, so make sure every challenge you choose to tackle is one that you are ready to embrace. That way, you are sure to succeed.

Be realistic. Changing your life is the hardest work you will ever do, but it is also the most rewarding. We are hard-wired to resist change so it really helps to have a meaningful mantra to call upon when the going gets tough. 

Pain made me incredibly grumpy because, well, it hurt... but also because I could not enjoy anything in life. I could not join in bike rides with my son and husband; take fitness classes with my friends; prepare gorgeous meals; garden; host dinner parties; paint landscapes and absorb the beauty that is to be found in the normal, benign every day.  Pain was cutting off all my life lines and this is the mantra I created for my journey to wellness, happiness, and love:

because I love, and love deeply, 

I will love myself enough to change and to heal 

so that I can love more completely.

With my mantra in hand, I attacked my condition from every angle – for a complete mind, body, spirit overhaul. Here’s a summary of the past 3+ years of my life, and how I approached each challenge on the Doctor's list. I took BABY STEPS and I did not - could not - rush through this...

Reduce Stress: relax, breath, meditate, have fun

When I first embarked on my journey to wellness, I could not meditate. Not knowing an OM from an onion, I chose the closest thing to navel gazing calm and stillness that I knew – reading. Instead of taking a nap, I would read. I was resting but I was not sleeping and I was not in bed but in our sunny living room. That was my first baby step. I was doing something that I love and it was relaxing and while I was at it, I was learning how to change my life around. Doesn't sound so bad, right? 

It was during this phase that I devoured the profoundly inspiring Raising Lazarus, the Science of Healing the Soul by Blair Justice and J. Pitman McGehee. [I will definitely write about this book soon]. In short, the book uses Science and Spirituality to prove that we all have the power to rejig our brains. No pill popping required. Just dedication and focus.

Get enough sleep 

Well, this one had my name all over it, so I made sure to do it well. I set up some “rules” to safeguard my sleep… I do not watch t.v. dramas ever – the commercials, noise, violence and freaky plastic surgery jobs on actors are all deeply unsettling and would leave me twitching the whole night through.  I do enjoy BBC period dramas but even Downton Abbey got me all worked up and weepy and pining for England that I was pretty much limited to BBC World News. I've gobbled down every book in The Game of Thrones series and couldn't wait to watch it. No matter how much I love the books and adore Peter Dinklage, who I first saw on the Nikos Stage at Williamstown Theatre Festival, it was not the right choice for a good night’s sleep. I had to remain content with my own movie, the one I had made in my head as I read each book back-to-back. 

Don’t drink: alcohol interrupts your sleep

OK, OK I confess this one was NOT at the top of my list.  It was at the bottom, just above giving up caffeine. But here’s what I did to cut back on alcohol. I first lobbed off BEER as part of going Gluten Free. Oh, how I miss a proper pint and a packet of crisps, but I don’t miss the pain and cramping those wheat-y bubbles bring.

White wine, champagne and rose´ were already off the list as part of natural selection – after living in the south of France for years, too much of a good thing is…well, not a good thing.  

That left me with red wine, but it had to be a New World vintage with an aroma I found to be less “mildew-y” than Old World and the sulfates somehow less sickening [please don’t ask me about the science behind that, but I will investigate it and write about it one day]. Red Wine eventually got the chop as part of total sugar detox and was later kept to a bare minimum as part of a low-glycemic diet. Wine leads to a sugar spike at some inconvenient point in the wee hours and disrupts sleep. Honestly, I would do anything for a good night’s sleep. 

Now, it’s just down to sugar-free-gluten-free-carb-free QUALITY TEQUILLA - on the rocks, or sometimes with fresh squeezed lemon and club soda. If it's party-mode I need to bring my own to a party because it's not usually served. 

One key lesson I needed to learn and incorporate into my life is that barring total abstinence, MODERATION is the key to alcohol consumption. I now drink 0-2 portions a week and it feels just right. If there is a special occasion or a super fun dinner party or a dance floor to trance on, then I allow myself a glorious release, but I follow every big night with a detox for at least a full 7 days afterward.  It’s an equation that works for me now, but I am feeling so good that I am thinking about giving up alcohol for good. [post script: lesson learned since writing this. After de-toxing for one month at the start of the year, I continued to maintain a very low to zero alcohol intake for another two months so it was a VERY bad, and dangerous, idea when after three months detoxing I thought I could have a 'glorious release' big party night out. Guess what, my system can no longer tolerate what it used to. I know, big duhhh, but more on that in a future post that I will link here].  

Cut out caffeine and nicotine

My husband and I quit smoking together, years ago, leaving the much dreaded caffeine detox last on my list. I have written about the misery of it in Good Girl GoGoGo Facebook posts and in my Daily Smalls section and in a blog post. It wasn’t easy, but I am very glad I did it. Eliminating caffeine leads to a good night’s rest, effective pain management over the long term, and a more balanced Acid:Alkaline ratio.

Exercise: find the right routine for you and don’t rush it

It’s really hard to exercise when it causes so much pain. For me, one work out could set me back for weeks. The posture of Grief had really taken its toll on me and I was not aligned and injured easily. It was critical that I start off ‘nice and easy.’ I had a wonderful and caring pilates teacher [Karen Lee] who brought my body back to life from the inside out. After two years on her machines and in her care for two private sessions every week, I finally had a core to engage and the confidence to move into more challenging work outs with Bridget Ford-Hughes. After three years, I did my first Boot Camp with Laura Collins Downing [my next story covers the joys of Boot Camp – yes, JOYS, something I never expected]. 

Pace Yourself: “Don’t over-do. Don’t under-do”

This is really important. Be kind to yourself. Keep striving and don’t give up, but don’t expect too much. I ran into trouble on my “good days” – there was no pain to stop me from doing anything and everything, so I tended to over-do it. I have since learned that “good days” are just that - “good days” and not “days to cram everything in.” 

Eat Healthy Foods

This is more complicated than it appears and requires some dedication to figure out what dietary choices are right for you. For me, it first translated to Gluten Free but I soon discovered that so many Gluten Free products are loaded with Sugar so I knocked them out completely. My diet then morphed into a Complete Sugar Detox [no fruit, sugar, carbs, booze or lentils for 8 weeks. I will write about this in my next blog]. I now happily maintain a low-glycemic-low-carb-gluten-free diet, with only occasional fruit, grains, and lentils. Basically, I eat protein and greens – TONS of GREENS - but let me reassure you, I eat well, very well. Everything is delicious and I am never-ever hungry or craving.

Keep your eye on the prize! Life for me is so different now. I don’t feel as though I am missing out on one single thing and that’s because Pain is no longer cutting me off from living my life. All of these changes, difficult though they were to make, have made me happy again, and that’s a fact. 

I hope this article helps you or someone you love confront and tackle the pain of fibromyalgia or other chronic pain condition. Perhaps it will inspire you to find ways to relieve your own pain or to help another who is in pain. Don't ever give up trying - it really is possible for Brightness and Gratitude to take Pain’s place.

What's So Great About a 30 day Caffeine Detox? The Agony AND The Ecstasy

Yesterday was Day 30. I did it. I cut caffeine out of my life for 30 days. Now that I am still living and breathing at Day 31 [imagine that!?], you might be wondering if I've had a cup of coffee yet...but before I answer that, I've got to get this off my chest - the thought of a 30 Day Caffeine Detox was once a complete nightmare for me, but now it's a dream come true...yes, folks, I did my Linda Blair and turned my head around.

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Before my 30 day split with Java, I would awaken every night, same time, same breathless panicked state with ridiculous "omg. what the heck is going wrong now" thoughts in my head. I would meditate them away, put my legs up on the headboard and never-ever punch my pillow, but I got pretty fed up meditating with the monks with my legs in the air at 4am. Something had to change. There was no way I was going to pop pills for obvious reasons, but I won't side-track. I HAD to figure out another path to my zzzzz's ... taking out caffeine and adding breathing and meditation was the chosen course of action. And guess what, it worked. [duuhhh, but I am a bit slow to enlightenment]

Immediately - no joke - I slept through the night, from.day.one. So the answer to the question - have I had a cup of Joe on Day 31? No. I won't be going back to caffeine any time soon but I might just pop over to Dotties for an occasional decaf and I'll just have to figure out what to do in France when I get there.

But here's something that goes even deeper than Deep Sleep...a good night's rest is an effective aid in pain management. For those of you who suffer from the chronic pain of fibromyalgia like I do, Sleep - as in good, uninterrupted sleep - is a POWERFUL antidote to pain. It's free. It's painless and it has no negative side-effects, just positive results.  So, what's not to love about getting a good night's sleep? I'll tell you what's not to love: the process of detoxing from caffeine. Like it or not, it is a necessary part of making your way to a peaceful night's rest.  Ickbleck. Giving up caffeine was nothing short of dreadful, but the nice guy in the produce section at Guido's was spot on: after Day 21, life was remarkably brighter and so was I. At Day 31, things are totally rosy and I am no longer jones-ing for java. Spring awakening, or what?!  

So folks, this is my recommendation - If you do not sleep well, then do your best to find a way to give yourself the gift of Sleep, Glorious Z's, DeepREMs, and Bliss in Your Dreams. With every good night's rest, you will wake with the peace of mind and gratitude it brings. For me, cutting out caffeine was painful, but the pleasure of sustained good sleep is beyond measure. Agony and Ecstasy, indeed.

 

 

The Balancing Power of an Ancient Language: Yogawear Designer Annette Dale Kramek Divines a Line between Work and Wellness

A lot can happen in a split second. One moment Life is a straight line and then, BAMMO! It’s not.  

What happens in the crash of a moment shapes us for who we are to become later in life. Oftentimes, it changes us so profoundly, that we learn to look at our losses and setbacks as blessings.

Annette age 30, the day before her surgery

Such was the case for my dear friend Annette Dale Kramek, who at the age of thirty, was blind-sided by a brain tumor, something way beyond her control and certainly not a consequence of uninformed choices.  A graduate of Public Health and Nutrition, Annette was living a balanced, mindful life. A poster girl for the quintessential West Coast LA Lifestyle, she was enjoying her fit body and all-around sun-shiny good health; running, biking, and watching her surfer boyfriend ride the waves; and LOVING her work as a ski-wear designer. Life was good…

Except for the fact that a brain tumor got in the way of her dreams.  Annette took it head on and came to grips with her health: it was a beast she needed to learn about and tame, and tame fast. But getting an accurate diagnosis was anything but a fast process.  When severe symptoms presented themselves, Annette visited over 40 health care professionals before her tumor was detected.

Annette with her big brother, Randy

At an age when most young women are dreaming about careers, sex, weddings, and babies Annette courageously redirected her life and underwent life-changing brain surgery. It could have resulted in stroke, loss of speech and the need for a permanent gastrointestinal tube but ‘luckily’ for Annette, only her face, throat and digestive tract were temporarily paralyzed.  She could not talk or eat for months but the real life change is what happened inside her to enlighten and ignite her spirit.

During her recovery period, she moved in with her mother who cared for her, unconditionally. It was on one day when her mother was driving her from one place to another that Annette discovered a Transcendental Meditation Center right down the road from her.  Back in 1993, the center was one of a very small number nation-wide. Annette saw that as a very good sign and did not hesitate to begin her sessions. After only one session, movement returned to her face.  In four years Annette only missed one session.

Proud Mother with her daughters Joanie and Annette

For those of you who don’t already know, Transcendental Meditation is not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle.  It is a simple, natural practice that takes 20 minutes twice daily. Annette complemented her daily TM with four yoga classes a week.

Annette learned early on in life that finding her way to a clear understanding of her condition was - and always will be - the first step towards wellness.  Over time and with increasing awareness, the “right way” to treat her body was a natural practice for her. Through regular yoga and Transcendental Meditation, Annette acquired a hard-earned road map to living a balanced life.  

Annette with BFF Shelly Williams who played a big part in helping Annette launch her line of yogawear

Twenty years later, Annette is designing her own line of yoga wear. Her studio is based in Pittsfield, MA where she designs and manufactures yoga practice and lifestyle clothes for leading yoga retreats and wellness spas. Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health,JivamuktiCanyon RanchCranwell Resort and Spa , Mii Amo Resort Spa, and Club Med [and a sweet local favorite - Dottie's Coffee Lounge] are among her clients.   Profoundly influenced by the teachings she learned through the practice of yoga, she named her clothing line Ancient Language, calling upon Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Gods …and studious yoginis

The word “Yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit 'Yujir Yogey' which means to join, to yoke, to put together and to restore - to restore what is lost. Most of us have lost our balance at some point along the way and Yoga primarily seeks to restore that balance.  For Annette long after her brain surgery, yoga and meditation continue to be her road map and the signposts are written in Sanskrit. 

DO WHAT YOU LOVE and the rest will follow… The practicalities of owning and running her yoga wear company physically challenge Annette every day.  Like many small business owners, she readily accepts the challenges as a natural part of doing what she loves. While Ancient Language is growing exponentially, Annette’s dream is not to have a HUGE company that distances her from the design process she loves. Nor does she want to be alienated from her clients, instructors and customers who wear her clothes and provide inspiration.

Sudha Lundeen Annette's favorite Kripalu instructor wearing an early design for her first yoga video c. 2001 

To Annette, it’s still very personal and she wants to keep it that way. Ancient Language is a natural extension of her thoughts and feelings and beliefs which she is able to express and share through her designs and relationships.  She truly enjoys being in touch with every part of her business and doesn't want to lose that in the wake of a growing company.  Yet, she recognizes that striking a balance between her company’s growth and her personal involvement is not always a straight line. 

The amount of work required to run her company leads to exhaustion and debilitating pain, an on-going condition she is currently deciphering, not unlike the way she went about discovering her brain tumor. When the scales shift, Annette calls upon the teachings learned in her thirties. She admits that to achieve greater wellness, she still needs to carve out more time for yoga and meditation, and to dial back the hours at work.

Surrender.  Annette needed to learn new ways to communicate her vision before she could completely “let go,” but this was a particular challenge to her because the brain surgery severed one of her vocal cords. The act of talking exhausts Annette and her remaining vocal cords are often over-worked and strained so that her words come out muted. Annette has adjusted to this injury and speaks articulately, but not without effort, so she rests when she needs to rest.

After a recent yoga class while the two of us were dripping in the steam bath, she laughs as she tells me, “You wouldn't believe how LOUD I used to be! You could hear my laugh a mile away.” And that made me smile and think of the vibrant young woman whose life changed overnight at the age of 30.

Annette is still vibrant to this day and her light shines through her work. I had the pleasure of spending time with her in her design studio. It was a quiet, snowy afternoon and we were selecting spring colors and prints. Apart from being fun and providing an imaginary trip to warmer climes, it showed me just how efficient Annette is with her time and how she maximizes it to make room for the creative process, which she clearly loves. Annette is joyful at work. There is no doubt her work brings her joy. 

In order to protect and maintain that joy, Annette practices a constant system of checks and balances. If she works too much, she cuts back.  It is this agility to live each day as it comes that allows Annette to be very present and aware of the joys as well as the strains placed on her health.  By applying the life-long skills she learned through yoga and Transcendental Meditation, she is able to balance her life with her work, all the while practicing and sharing her deep love for yoga and its teachings.

Annette and Carolann

Later when Annette and I are together at Kripalu, her face lights up when she sees the girls in the shop. She greets them as good friends – it’s clear that staying in touch, literally, with her clients is an important key to her happiness. Beaming, Annette told me “I love this part!”

And I know it’s true. 

Source: ancient-language

Modern Day Mythology: Bridget Ford Hughes Rocks the Hero's Journey through Mind, Body, Spirit

When Bridget Ford Hughes emerged in 2008 from four years of breast cancer treatment and a double mastectomy before she got the “All Clear,” the first thing she did was to get married and celebrate Life and Love and the tremendous support she received from her husband and close friends.

The second thing she did was to set forth on yet another journey... 

With singular focus, Bridget began to manifest her cancer-fueled and inspired dream: to find a way to help other women through their journey with breast cancer.

When you first meet Bridget it’s really hard to tell she’s been through a battle. Standing at over six feet tall, all muscle and no fat on her, her strength and positive attitude are the first things you notice…after her smile. Since 2009, she’s applied all her strength, positive outlook, and that winning smile to setting up and maintaining a fund to improve the lives of women with cancer by enabling them to nurture their strength and wellness

In 2010, she launched The Women’s Cancer Wellness Fund at The Pastures, the home she shares with her artist husband, Jonathan Prince.

Practice what you preach, indeed… The fund’s mission is at the core of Bridget’s life and practices. She lives and breathes strength and wellness. Every morning starts with an Ayurvedic cleansing of her five senses; every day allows for reflection from daily prayer, meditation, and dog walks; and every week clocks in over twenty hours of physical exercise playing tennis, teaching group classes, and personal training - her own and private client sessions.

Bridget’s journey with cancer taught her a new way of looking at herself and looking after herself. She learned through hard work and struggle how to make good choices about her care and long-term well-being. Profoundly eased by the healing power of alternative care, Bridget made it her mission to make sure other women knew about the growing number of alternative healing methods out there. She also wanted to do her part to make them available to women with breast cancer.

Bridget's Healing Hands - the Gentle Touch

Bridget's Healing Hands - the Gentle Touch

Complementary medicine and alternative care are not, as a rule, covered by health insurance, yet we can no longer under-estimate the importance of that “gentle touch.” As individuals and as communities we need to embrace the process of learning new ways to approach health problems from multiple angles - and open up to the union of Mind, Body, Spirit. Alternative methods have been proven to contribute positively to wellness. As awareness grows and scientific data in support of alternative treatments mounts, the list of healing modalities increases, too.

Bridget made sure the fund was set up to support the ever-growing list of healing pathways such as: Acupuncture, Ayurveda, Chinese/Herbal Medicine, Chiropractic, Fitness Instruction, Homeopathy, Hypnosis, Kinesiology, Massage Therapy, Meditation, Movement Therapy, Naturopathy, Nutrition Counseling, Psychological Services, Physical Therapy, Reflexology, Reiki, Spiritual Counseling, Yoga.

Entrance to the studio at the pastures

Entrance to the studio at the pastures

Bridget is warm and welcoming, just like the huge St. Bridget’s door mat on the steps leading to her studio. She is completely open about her journey with cancer and this transparency helps others to open up, too. It is then that Bridget is able to flex one of her strongest muscles, and it’s a strong one – her ability to listen to another person’s story.

Bridget understands that cancer is a personal journey. A treatment that works for one woman might not work for another, but through constructive dialogue Bridget is able to help, and to reassure and to offer suggestions that support healing, strengthening and overall wellness.

Light n Brite - class in the studio

Light n Brite - class in the studio

In talking with my friend, I can’t help but be reminded that when we think of the archetype mythological hero and his journey, we intuit a man, his journey and his struggles, and his ability to impart wisdom to others upon his return home.  The key to this myth is that throughout his travails the hero [actually] stops along the way to ask for directions from wise guides who make his journey more…meaningful.

It is this ability – to ask for guidance as well as to share knowledge - that turns a mere mortal into a Hero because he is both able to listen and learn as well as to teach and help others.

But what if we fast-forward to modern day and that archetypal hero is a breast cancer survivor, a woman who acknowledges that through her own journey with cancer she has learned many lessons and is capable of sharing her knowledge for the greater good?

This is the beautiful under belly of breast cancer, the silver lining, the soft part that despite its innate frailty and vulnerability grants a woman with cancer the courage to open up and ask for help and when, in the end, she is possessed of strength and gratitude can help others become Heroines, too.

Like folklore passed down through the ages, the stories and wisdom these women share make them all modern day Heroines, key witnesses and chroniclers of a battle just waiting outside one out of every eight doors to a woman’s home. But every so often, a breast cancer survivor takes the dialogue a step beyond the sacred journey and sets up a fund to help others, to ease their journey and to bring those touched by cancer closer to wellness.

Strength and wellness are gifts we cannot fully comprehend until we find ourselves struggling to regain them. There are many paths to wellness, but no path can lead back to wellness without the gentle touch of Love and Encouragement and Reassurance.  Mountains of Gratitude have been built upon the power of a gentle touch and its ability to calm and sooth and ultimately - to heal. 

Like a true Heroine returned home, Bridget's own words describe how her experience taught her how very much “we need the support of well-informed, dedicated people to assist us at every level of healing — physical, emotional, and spiritual — so we can focus on hope and recovery…”

When you remember the many blessings in your life this Christmas and holiday season, please also think about the many women with breast cancer who are clinging to theirs.  A gentle touch can bring a woman with cancer one step closer to becoming a Heroine, and this belief is what lies at the heart of the network of support that Bridget Ford Hughes has lovingly established at the Women’s Cancer Wellness Fund.  

Feeling Blessed: B Chillin' with her good friends

Feeling Blessed: B Chillin' with her good friends

Dirty Filthy Farmgirls: Grounded and Digging Deeper

By Carolann Patterson

I haven't always eaten kale. In fact, I rarely ate my greens. Admitting that sounds like a confession. It wasn't until I was so desperate to feel better that I was willing to try anything new, but I still had my doubts...I wasn't yet convinced that changing my diet really could change my life. [How ridiculously unenlightened could I be?]

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Before being diagnosed with hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia, I had already changed to a gluten-free diet just to see if it would help... and it did, but it wasn't enough. I was only scratching the surface and needed to dig deeper and learn more.  I began reading more books and articles and listening to good advice from knowledgeable friends. I then transitioned from a merely gluten-free diet to a full-on organic, anti-inflammatory, low-glycemic diet. 

No amount of reading prepared me for the life-changing results I received... the ability to move without pain; to wake with optimism; to fall asleep in a daze of gratitude for a day well spent; and to sleep unburdened... all these were precious gifts restored to me. I embraced them all and wrapped them in the newfound joy of being able to move my body again and to live for days without constant, debilitating pain.

Profoundly grateful for the nourishment that enabled my body to repair and recover, I didn't just want to buy organic, I wanted to learn what it meant to be organic...and so I asked my friend Kyra Hart if she could indulge my quest.  Kyra alongside her husband, Matty, farm at Overmeade Farm, the Hart family farm in Lenox, Massachusetts.  Their crops are Authentically Grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides and are grown with cover crops and green manures, through crop rotation and soil management.

What I learned from 2 days farming with Kyra and Matty surprised and awakened me beyond my expectations.  At the outset my approach was straightforward: I was going to perform an act of physical labor and to learn some really useful things along the way. Nothing signaled to me in advance that I would receive a spiritual wake up call, a veritable "lightening bolt" not from Heaven Above but from the ground beneath my feet.

The beauty of farming with Kyra is that a day follows its natural rhythm. Mother Nature is in the driver's seat and what could be more natural than starting the day off with a Fire Cider shot and bringing my son AND my dog to work with me!? No make up. No high heals and no internal-maternal struggle. As my son, Allott, headed off for riding camp in the Overmeade barn, I met up with Kyra and her 3 year old daughter, Zofia, and together with my dog Trouble, we made our way to the lower fields.

We emerged from the track into the wide-open glory of the fields and an uninterrupted blue sky above. Kyra parked the car and set up the big red sun umbrella, while I did a 360 turn to take it all in, noting the red umbrella as the only flash of color amongst the deep earth tones and greens.  In an instant, I could feel myself exhale and release. 

The first thing to strike me was how incredibly neat and tidy all the rows of vegetables were. Added to which, there was no fence in sight. I asked Kyra how she kept the fields so beautifully maintained without a fence and her answer was profoundly simple: "we replant. and some times we replant again. and some times we replant again."

Replant. Replant. Replant: a profound take-away from the day. I have thought about this ever since - that no matter what kind of life we lead, the ground can always shift beneath our feet, and quite literally for Kyra, who needs to go to bed each night with a working knowledge of which way the wind is blowing in order to prepare for the next day.  There's a reason they call it a Farmers' Almanac, and not a Bankers' Almanac...but the truth is, whether you are a farmer or a Wall Street banker, we all need to learn at times how to adapt and redefine how we go about doing things in order to yield a crop and put food on the table.

Zoe is an amazing little girl and held her own in the heat.  The sweetest assignment was picking snap peas and eating them with Zoe, all of us talking as we moved down the tangled line of greens. I was equally charmed by the Coleman hoes we used to carve weeds gently out from under and around the baby lettuce heads.  Kyra told me how Eliot Coleman, the now famous Maine homesteader, had developed sharp, narrow tips to insert on long or short handles.  Kyra cleans and sharpens her blades each night.  It is interesting to see how Mr. Coleman's definition of "organic" has shifted over the years to "authentic."

As I researched Mr. Coleman, I was easily side-tracked when I discovered that his daughter, Melissa Coleman, had written a book on her family's life homesteading in the yet untamed environs of Maine. This Life is in your Hands is one of the best books I have read in a very, very long time. Ms. Coleman is a gifted writer whose prose are both lyrical and level

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While I have no desire to romanticize farming, I can say with confidence that there is nothing so grounding [actually] as getting dirty and "feeling green" all around you. Yes, of course it is Romantic [just read Thoreau] but Farming is about so much more than what we choose to put in our mouth; or what we choose to plant; and how we choose to plant it. It is bloody hard work but it's also one of THE most natural things we could ever do - growing our own food with our own hands and actually connecting with the earth.

I've never been one for the gym, and after a back-breaking day pulling garlic, the concept of going to the gym seems even more absurd: all that energy leaving our bodies and not going anywhere, and not making anything. There is no better place to find strength and to make ourselves strong than when we are closer to Nature. But Farming is no easy or convenient thing - if it were, we would all be doing it... Farming is a temperamental beast ....an elusive practice that is part beauty, part pain; part  bounty, part loss; part planned, part unpredictable; part sorrow, part joy. 

But in less than one week, farming [with a little 'f'] showed me that I could find so much happiness just by taking time to do a whole lot more with my hands and seeing a whole lot more with my eyes. If I could re-jig my life and make time for this hands-on approach to life, I could live more fully and breathe more deeply. I took this lesson with me, from the Overmeade fields and into my home and witnessed how magical and transformative it is to apply this approach to practically every thing I do...Like many people out there, I am Slow Living

And that means: no more rushing around for me. Now that I am healthy again, I plan to stay healthy and that means taking time to read labels on food; learning how to make good choices about the food I buy [i.e, just because it's gluten free doesn't automatically mean that the level of sugar is healthy for me]; and learning how best to prepare certain foods. 

But it also means no more multi-tasking. My to-do list is now an Un-Do list and it will take years to work through it. My phone is always turned off from the time I help my son with his homework after school until the next morning when we are making breakfast and packing lunches for my husband and my son. It's also turned off when I am walking our dogs, "hanging" with friends, and visiting with my elderly mother. I need that quiet to be present and engaged with what ever I am doing...I don't want one thing more to get in the way or pull me away from what I am doing and experiencing "right here.right now." 

Whatever I am doing, l needed to learn how to slow things down and to make time to be in touch with my life. The more nurturing and nourishing things I do for myself and for my loved ones, the deeper my life will be and the stronger, more able I will be when the ground shifts beneath my feet. And the ground always shifts, no matter where you are standing.  From now on, it's Hands-On!

Some times, you just gotta' slow down and live slow...

Source: /farmgirls

Olivia's Gift: A Grieving Mother's Gratitude

Slowly. Just beginning. Starting to breath again in Parrot Cay, three months after losing Olivia. You can see my foot slipping in the sand...it takes Time.

Slowly. Just beginning. Starting to breath again in Parrot Cay, three months after losing Olivia. You can see my foot slipping in the sand...it takes Time.

My baby daughter Olivia died. Stillborn on the day she was to be born. For years, I walked around as though carrying a heavily weighted sandwich board over my shoulders advertising “I’m the mother whose perfect baby just died” on the front of it and “I’m the mother whose perfect baby just died” on the back of it …a silent, endless cry as Grief’s mantle followed me wherever I was headed and whenever I looked back. For years, this is how I defined myself. but not any more...

I am now able to look back to the hot, hot summer in the South of France in 2003 when it was 110 degrees every. single. day. I understand my body struggled to sustain the pregnancy. I don’t hate God and I don’t blame the doctors. If anything, I blame myself for not knowing my baby was in trouble. Any parent whose child has died will fill a lifetime with futile wishes for something – the one thing – they could have done to save their child’s life.

Grief has many layers and anger is one ofthem. I learned to let go of my anger. And as I let it go, every new breath opened me up and allowed forgiveness in. I am forever straightening out and up from the posture of grief. My throat is relaxing, my words are coming out. My shoulders are no longer rounded in front of me, surrounding my heart, covering it. My lungs are no longer compressed. I can breathe again and so I feed every inch of my body and soul – and all the cracks in between – long starved of joy and light and laughter.

I watch my son grow and I do not fear for his life every minute of mine. I am no longer closer to the dead, slowly dying for my daughter. I am alive and I am living for my son. and for me.  It has taken a long time for me to get here -to a place of strength - but I have respected Grief as Life’s hardest taskmaster and followed its unpredictable, painful course. I did not avoid it or sugarcoat it. I allowed it to poison me and make me pure.

I have been through Grief’s cycle and emerged from the depths of despair. Chewed up and spat out, I finally found ‘happiness’ again and for me, it was like none that I had ever known before because I had to work so, so very hard to find it… and I treasure it and I keep it safe. I am blessed and I am thankful. I know now what I did not know before – my limits, my boundaries, and what things pull me off-center. I am grounded and I am alive again. Grief has deepened me and is one of the greatest teachers of all.  I believe that through Grief what is lost in Death will be returned to us in higher ways. This is Olivia’s Gift. and I carry it with me wherever I go, like a compass.

Source: /olivias-gift