“If you’re going through Hell, keep going.” –Winston Churchill
The worst assumptions we make are the ones we don’t even know we are making; the ones that we don’t see easily, but can completely disrupt the quality of our lives.
Let’s take a deep look at set of assumptions that underlie the wellness movement.
What I am about to say points to a profound paradox because in their essence, both wellness and motherhood (which I will address in Part II of this series) are life-giving, but they also involve death.
When we make a decision to become well, the assumption we make is that when you start to change your diet and lifestyle habits, use nutritional supplements, go to yoga class, etc. you will feel better.
Using myself as an example. I was here in the land of asthma and inflammation, and I want get over there to the land of health, wealth, and happiness.
That is the goal, right? But is that what actually happens? Is there a straight line?
No! Because some people make changes and things get worse.
Over the years, I have noticed two types of people.
One group makes positive choices and feels great. They eat real food and have more energy and their skin glows and they are happy. These are the ones others look up to and compare themselves to.
In fact, I know people who build their entire career in wellness around this persona. They came into this world fitting the mold of what the media says is beautiful and they become personal trainers and nutritionists and health coaches. And these people aren’t wrong…not one bit! Good for them. I just want to point out what’s being unsaid here – you don’t have to look a certain way to be healthy. People want to buy what they have, but it’s false advertising, and can make people feel really, really unworthy and ashamed when they make all the same “good” choices and not only don’t look the part, but still feel like crap.
That’s right, there's a second group of people who make positive changes and feel like shit and look like shit and everything is really just a big pile of shit. They start eating real food and living “right” and slip into a deep, dark hole. They feel alone and scared, wondering what is happening.
The assumption is that if you make positive changes and suffer, then something must be wrong and/or you are doing something wrong.
But I don’t think it’s so simple. Healing can be messy and chaotic. When you clean out the pantry or the junk drawer, you make a much bigger mess, with things strewn all about. You have to carefully decide which things you will throw away and which you’ll select to go back into the drawer. It’s an emotional and also an intuitive process.
When I started learning how to live in a model of wellness, I thought I was going to die. At different points in my journey, I actually had thoughts of suicide.
But here is what I have learned about suicide: it is a very wise urge that rises up from a very deep place. It is basically communicating to you that something must die, but it’s not you. The mistake is that people collapse the two and think they must die, so they find a way to end their lives. I came to this understanding by studying the work of Karla McLaren, who writes about this in her book, The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You.
In retrospect, I realized that I was dying a symbolic death. I had to let go of everything I loved to take charge of my vitality.
I let go of my drug of choice - sugar, along with all of its partners in crime: alcohol, rice, bread, pasta, and flour.
I let go of dreams of owning a bakery.
I let go of a pet dog named Fonzie – the cutest little West Highland White Terrier you ever did see.
I let go of friends.
I let go things I thought were healthy that were actually destroying me.
I let go of swimming in chlorinated pools.
I let go of athletic competitions.
I let go of staying up late and going out.
I let go of gluten and dairy.
I let go of everything that was not in line with my highest good.
I let go of just about everything I knew to be me in order to re-create myself.
Since I am writing a book about vitality, I am asking myself a very difficult question: Why did I stay in the game? What made me keep going even when things weren’t working?
I’m pretty convinced that other people, in my shoes, would have just given up and gone back to their former way of life. I know this is true because I work with these people clinically. Things don’t go their way and “boom, I’m outta here.” I get it. I was working hard on changing things and not seeing any real results, too. I wanted to throw in the towel, but I didn’t.
I realized that there was some place inside me that knew I was on the right track, despite my reality, so I kept going. If I had made this an intellectual process, I would have stopped, but there are other ways of knowing in this world that don’t have to do with thinking. What kept me going was a feeling. Feelings that many people either ignore or cut off.
I had a deep feeling that I had to get worse before getting better.
Just because things aren’t working the way you expect them to, doesn’t mean that you stop what you’re doing.
Just because you’re not happy doesn’t mean something is wrong.
Yes, you need to question what you’re doing when it’s not working, but you also need to find that deep place within you that teaches you how to live, and that doesn’t mean escaping the pain of being human, especially the pain of the healing process.
The saying “No pain. No gain.” has even more meaning in life than it does in the gym. When things get bad, I want you to know that you can get help. What I’ve learned over the past decade is that I couldn’t do it by myself. I needed other people to help me think differently, to help me live differently. Our Western notions of do it yourself don’t apply here.
I realized that when I hit rock bottom, one of the things I needed to wake up to was the human need for interdependence. Our Western culture glorifies independence (“I will do this myself. Thank you very much!”) and demonizes co-dependence (“I neeeeeeed you! I can’t live without this!”), but what we truly need is in the middle.
The only way I kept going through hell was that I got help.
Attending 12-Step Al-Anon meetings normalized my struggles and gave me hope. Group therapy is powerful.
Acupuncture increased my life force and energy.
Massage therapy calmed my nervous system and helped me recover from years of stress.
Herbal medicine literally gave me my life back. It changed my physiology in such a way that I could “see” things differently. It taught me that circumstances are not the source of happiness. Standard Process nutritional supplements brought forth my vitality in a way that only real food can, including the organs and glands that are missing from our modern diets.
Eating real food restored me on all levels – physical, mental, and spiritual (not that those things can be separated, but we need to name them).
One-on-one therapy taught me how to love myself, which is where everything good and right comes from.
Bottom line: you are not alone, so don’t act like it. Embrace your struggles and get help along the way.
I am reminded of a great line from the movie Concussion, when the lead actor played by Will Smith says to his new roommate: “Need is not weak. Need is need.”
Stay tuned next week when I will address this same pattern in motherhood. Until then...Eat in Peace!
P.S. Stay tuned for Part II of this blog: Surviving Motherhood and if you'd like to go deeper and become part of our interdependent community, subscribe to get my weekly emails.