Thursday, October 12, 2017

From Famine To Feast: My Journey Of Self-Acceptance

body.jpgFor as long as I can remember, I have thought that there was something wrong with my body. I’m sure it started when I was in my mother’s narcissistic womb. Most likely, I was taking too many prenatal nutrients for her liking.

Once I was born, my care fell into the hands of different nurses and nannies, as my mother was experiencing what we now call post-partum depression. Back then, it was called a nervous breakdown. I had literally broken my mother.

When I was 8, my mother left, and I stayed behind to be with my father. He loved me, but he had his issues. He was a male anorexic, before we knew that men had eating disorders. He would eat cucumbers and toothpaste for dinner, and serve me whatever fast food delicacy I craved. Naturally, I started to gain weight.

Upon seeing my growing body, my family had helpful advice. My grandmother told me to stop eating before I got a double chin, and my cousin told me to wait 5 hours between every meal. My father called me “Moon Face,” and a couple of kids on the bus started calling me “Hayl the Whale.” It was not a good year.

food2.jpgAnd so, at the ripe old age of 9, I went on my first diet. I substituted slim-fast for meals, and lost 15lbs. Yes, I was starving between “lunch” and dinner, but at least I lost weight, right? Mind you, when I look back at old pictures of myself, I realize that I was never really big, I was just an easy target for people to project their own insecurities onto.

For the next ten years, I remained weight conscious. I ate only low-fat, low-calorie foods, and I was downright scared of things like pizza or wings. My weight remained relatively stable, but I was never comfortable around food. I always thought that I was one mistake away from being obese, despite the fact that I was actually pretty small.

My next big diet came at the age of 21. I was a senior in college, and I was 5 lbs away from being considered “overweight,” by the ridiculous weight charts that doctors use. At the time, I thought that I was dieting “for my health,” but I now see that I was using restricting as a way to avoid thinking about the fact that I had moved in with my then-boyfriend, who would later become my husband, and then ex-husband. I was also in the midst of applying for graduate programs in psychology, which, you might not know, are actually harder to get into than medical school. It was an intense time. I responded by restricting my intake to 1000 calories a day, and got my weight down to 98 lbs, 2 lbs below “normal” for my 5 foot, frame.

goodenough.pngAlthough a doctor might have said that my weight was fine, I certainly was not. Never wanting to give up sweets, I often substituted real food for frozen yogurt, and walked around in a starving haze most of the time. It was just what I needed to ignore the fact that I was about to make a huge mistake, by marrying someone as narcissistic as my mother.

Through my marriage, graduate school, and divorce, my weight went back up a little bit, and I continued to be consumed by fears of being fat. I remember constantly asking my then-husband for validation, and once, he told me that “50% of people would probably call me fat.” I was a size 4 at the time. He did not help my self-esteem.

For the last 14 years, my weight has steadily gone up, with some intermittent dieting in-between (usually the result of being weighed at the doctor’s office). However, about a year ago, I committed to never dieting again.

beautiful.jpgIt helps that I now have a husband who loves me no matter my size, but the real work has come from within. I finally had to learn to love my body the way that it is, and stop trying to change it. I’ve come to realize that the quickest way to gain weight is to try to lose it, so I refuse to keep riding that roller-coaster. Plus, I have a daughter, and I do not want to pass down the fear of being fat. The cycle stops here.

I’ve also decided that food is not the enemy, being consumed with food is. I no longer count calories, and I think that activity trackers are nuts! We don’t need to know every step that we are taking, nor do we need to know the nutritional value of every single thing that goes into our mouths. Instead, we need to pay attention to how our bodies are feeling, and respond accordingly. At this point, I eat what I want, when I want it, because I trust myself. I’m no longer afraid of certain foods, and I don’t categorize foods as good or bad.


I still exercise, but not for weight loss. I do it because I love it, and because it makes me feel good. My work-out of choice is spinning, and I do it several times a week on my Peloton bike. I love Peloton because I get access to the best NYC instructors, and most of them have very positive messages about loving yourself and your body, while still providing an extremely challenging workout.

bodylove.jpgI wish I could go back and tell myself that I was perfect the way that I was right from the beginning. I wish I had never dieted, or treated my body with disrespect. But, I’m grateful to have finally learned that diets don’t work, and that the body has a way of knowing where it wants to be, if we are brave enough to let that happen.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

How To Stay Sane In An Insane World

turnoffnews.jpgIf it seems like you can’t turn on the news without seeing something awful, you aren’t alone. Most news outlets, are businesses after all, which means that they count on ratings to succeed. Unfortunately, it seems that bad news garners more ratings for these organizations, because when people see horror stories in the news, they tend to become afraid, and fear only leads to more consumption.
Bad things really do happen in the world. If you are like Jason Aldean, the country singer who was onstage during the recent Las Vegas attack, you might think that the world has gotten worse. However, history disagrees. Violence has always been part of the human condition. It’s only our access to deadlier weapons that has increased.

Be that as it may, it can be hard to find a balance in these scary times between self-care and being an informed citizen. Here are 5 tips to help you stay on track:

Limit Your Media Exposure Directly After An Attack

As outlined in WNYC’s Breaking News Consumer's Handbook, media outlets often get wrong information directly after an attack. Reporters are on deadline to get something out to the public and they often piece information together incorrectly at first. Don’t get caught up in this roller-coaster. Limit checking your devices to once or twice a day at most.

Pay Attention To The Difference Between What You See Online Vs. Your Environment

It’s very easy for people to sit behind a computer screen and make outrageous comments online, and, believe it or not, this is one way that people grieve. Make sure to balance your time online with time spent with real people, who, will undoubtedly offer a better perspective. Plus, as said above, you aren’t supposed to be online all day!

Keep Doing The Things That Make You Feel Sane

Everyone has at least 2 or 3 things that they can do to make them feel like themselves again. Whether it is working out, prayer, meditation, cooking, spending time in nature, or rereading “Harry Potter,” find your things, and do them. You may not feel 100% better, but, we bet you’ll at least feel more grounded.

Realize That You Don’t Have To Know Everything In Real Time

Remember life before facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? Maybe, you are even old enough to remember life (gasp), before cell-phones! It may be hard to imagine now, but, we survived without knowing everything the second that it happened. While the news may want you to feel the need to stay tuned in all day for “your safety,” it’s important to tune out for your sanity.

Hold Your Loved Ones, Including Your Inner-Self, A Little Closer

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.,


Guns, Men, and Violence: What Can We Do?

candles.jpgSince the mass shooting in Las Vegas, I’ve seen many people saying that this isn’t the time to politicize this tragedy. These are the same people, by the way, who never think it’s the right time to “politicize,” (aka, make sensible gun laws in this country). These people think that those of us who are advocating for stricter gun laws can be silenced by their accusations of disrespect and - what - not being polite? Interestingly, these are also the same people that tell Black people that it’s not the right time to protest when there is a flag present. Or traffic. Or, basically, anyone who can see or hear them.

JFK.jpgSo, to those people, I ask, when is the right time for these things? When is the right time to change gun laws, so that it’s harder to get a gun in this country instead of a chocolate kinder egg? When is the right time to protest police brutality so that Black people aren’t being killed at an alarmingly high rate by police officers? When will it be considered okay to bring these problems into the light?

Of course, for many, the answer will be never. Because bringing these issues into focus means that we have to change the way that things are.

itiswhatitis.jpgOne of the sayings that I, as a therapist, hate when my clients say is, “It is what it is.” No! It isn’t what it is! It is what we as a collective make it, what we allow, what we reinforce, and what we endure. Change happens when the fear of the unknown becomes smaller than the suffering of our current situation. The problem, it seems, is that a certain portion of the country isn’t suffering. Those who feel safer with a gun (which, statistically is just wrong), or those who aren’t targeted by law enforcement, for example.

Sometimes, one of the ones who has never felt threatened before experiences tragedy, and that’s when he changes his mind. This happened to Caleb Keeter, the country guitarist, and lifelong 2nd amendment supporter who has now realized how wrong he was. Sadly, it took country music fans being killed for him to see the error of his thinking.

So, yes, it’s clear that we need gun control in this country. We’ve all heard how Australia had a mass shooting - ONE MASS SHOOTING - in the 90’s, changed their laws, and hasn’t had one since. But, what ELSE do we need to heal the violence that is plaguing our nation?

When it comes to both mass shootings and police brutality, we can’t deny the fact that men, mostly, white men, are the ones committing the crimes, which leads me to wonder:

What are we doing to our boys and men in this country?
Why are so many of them so angry?
Why do they feel the need to use power and force and/or violence over others?
What can we do to reverse this?
How can we give boys and men the space that they need to cry and feel their feelings?

To answer these questions, I look to the research that’s been done on societal gender roles, and their influence on boy’s well-being. Although the majority of studies that we have on the negative impact of societal gender roles focus on women and girls, one study by researcher Maria do Mar Pereira, out of Lisbon, Portugal, showed that gender roles were detrimental to both boy’s and girl’s health.

In the study, Pereira found that male participants faced pressure to be “manly,” by using what she calls “everyday low-level violence,” (slapping/hitting/inflicting pain), and drinking unhealthy amounts of alcohol. She also found these males to be experiencing anxiety about proving their manliness, while suppressing their feelings and keeping their issues to themselves. Pereira wrote about her findings in her book, “Doing Gender In The Playground.”

As part of her research, Pereira invited all of the kids involved to talk about their experience afterwards, and many of them shared the same thoughts; that they did not like having to stick to their gender roles. Talking about this pressure led to noticeable change. Girls were more likely to participate in group sports, and boys showed less violent behaviors toward one another.

childrenquote.jpgThe results of this study point to something concrete that we can do with our children, today! Talk to them about gender roles! Help boys see that it is okay to cry, and that emotions are a healthy part of life. Stop believing that “boys will be boys,” and start encouraging young men to express their feelings.

It may be too late for our current members of Congress to remember what is truly important in life, but it’s never too early to start enlightening the next generation.  

And in the words of Crosby, Stills, and Nash:

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye
Teach your children well
Their father's hell
Will slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams...
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Does Everything Happen For A Reason?

everythingreason.jpgDo you believe that things happen for a reason?

I do.

I just don’t always know what the reason is at the time. And, sometimes, I think we never will.

Recently, I saw some greeting cards that were written for people with cancer. They were supposed to be cards that went against the norm. Cards that took down the irritating platitudes that people tend to bestow on the terminally ill. One of those cards said, “Please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason.”

em_gc263_everything_happens_for_empathy_2_1024x1024.jpgI get it. When you are going through something horrible, and someone tells you that there is a reason for it, it’s infuriating. You don’t want to hear about reasons. You want to hear that what you are going through sucks, and that there is no logic to it. You want to know that the person you are talking to will be there for you, and won’t pity you, or try to fit you into some neat little box. And you definitely don’t want to hear that your suffering is part of some bigger plan.

But, what if it is?

pain.jpgWhat if there is some mega agent out there that dictates balance in the Universe, and somehow, your suffering is allowing someone else to live? Or, what if what you are going through enables you to help others down the road?

I don’t know that any of this is true, but, it’s something I wonder about a lot. In fact, I’ve come to believe that part of the reason that I had to endure a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder was because it has helped me to be a more empathic person, and a better therapist. Did I suffer because of her? Hell. Yes. Would I change my upbringing if I could? Absolutely not.

One of my favorite singers, Dave Matthews, sings, “Be wary of those who believe in a neat little world, ‘cuz it’s just fucking crazy, you know that it is.” I’m guessing he doesn’t think that everything happens for a reason, but I’ll let that slide.

Now, I know, that when things work out in your favor, it’s much easier to attribute meaning, or order, to those events. And sometimes, when we look back on something that we wanted so badly, but didn’t get, we can see that we were, somehow, being protected from our own instincts. As Garth Brooks sings, “Sometimes, I thank God for unanswered prayers.”

fallapart.jpgThis actually happened to me and my husband. When we first moved to North Carolina, it was 2006, when home loans were being handed out like candy, and luckily so, because noone in their right mind would have given us a loan otherwise. We moved without knowing how many of my clients would follow me by phone, and if he would be able to find a job. Basically, we had no proven income, and nothing to put down either. We were a lender’s worst nightmare. But, because of the economic climate at the time, we were able to get a loan, an awful loan, but a loan nonetheless. Our loan had a high interest rate, and a balloon at the end of 15 years, meaning, that if we stayed in the house for 15 years, we would owe a ton of money all at once. Plus, since my husband was only a resident at the time, we put the loan in my name only, which meant we couldn’t even use his potential income.

From the very beginning, our plan was to refinance this loan, once my husband became a citizen, and our jobs were more concrete. But, every time we tried to refinance, something crazy would happen right before closing day. Crazy, as in, once I went into labor, and another time Diego got fired for the first time in his life, crazy. One way or another, we just could not refinance.

At the time, this was incredibly frustrating. We knew how much money we could be saving if we could lower our interest rate, and, like most Americans, we could have used the cash. Plus, every refinance effort came with a ridiculous amount of paperwork, back and forth with the bank, and a $600 appraisal fee! It was maddening.

That is, until I realized that another soul needed to join our family. Previously, after having survived a horrendous pregnancy and emergency c-section, we had decided that we were “one and done.” But, all that changed when I felt Gabriel’s soul speaking to me.

Once I became pregnant, we realized that our 2 bedroom house wasn’t going to cut it. We would need to move. Despite Diego’s belief that we could “just put the baby’s crib in the living room,” I became firm in my aspirations to move. And, I figured, we may as well get a house with a pool while we were at it.

As it turns out, our house didn’t sell as quickly as we would have liked, but my growing belly dictated that we needed to move before selling. I already knew which house I wanted, because it was the ONLY updated house, in our price range, with a pool. Amazingly, we were able to move into that house as renters, (for a short period of time, while we worked out the details of our new loan), the same day that renters moved into our old house!

When we finally were able to purchase our new house, we did it in only Diego’s name, because our old house still hadn’t sold. In other words, if we had been able to refinance our old house, we wouldn’t have been able to buy our new one, because Diego’s name would have been on the old loan too.

God.jpgOh, and we did eventually sell our old house, after I became a realtor. It was my first sale, but I’m saving that story for another post. The point here is that sometimes, after days, weeks, months, or years, we do get a glimpse into the divine nature of things. The question is, can we keep the faith, even when we can’t see the silver lining?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

She Talks To Animals

Tux.jpgI love animals. I think they are amazing, intuitive, and much easier to get along with than most humans. By far, my favorite animals, though, are cats. I got my first cat when I was 8 years old, after begging for one since I could talk. My Dad finally broke down and got me one as a consolation prize when my mother moved 3000 miles away. I was ecstatic about my new friend. He was all white, with green eyes, and his name was Garfey, after my childhood hero, Garfield. Garfey stayed with me for 12 years, and I still hold him closely to my heart.

Since Garfey, I’ve always had at least one cat. Usually two, but more recently, three. I’m pretty sure that three puts me squarely in the “crazy cat lady” category, but, I’m fine with that.

The downside of always having pets, of course, is dealing with it when they eventually die. I’ve had cats who have died of cancer, complications related to diabetes, and just old age. But, recently, I lost a cat who seemed to be in the prime of his life.

TuxCrush.jpgTux was a gorgeous black and white long haired cat with the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen. Like all of our cats, we got him from a shelter, but unlike most of the cats that I’ve ever adopted, he was already 6 years old when I took him home. It was actually my husband who decided we needed Tux in our lives. I was set on a tiny orange and white kitten, whom we took home as well. We named the kitten Crush, and he and Tux, having been in the same shelter, became immediate BFFs. They were inseparable, bathing each other, playing together, and going on outside adventures with one another. It was adorable.

That is, until one day, Tux went out and didn’t come home. He actually went out with our other cat, Wilson, who is now 14. Wilson never fully took to Tux, but Tux loved to follow Wilson everywhere he went. Anyway, the two were gone all day, which was very unusual, and when Wilson came home alone. Tux was nowhere to be found.

In the harrowing days that followed, I had all kinds of thoughts about what could have happened to Tux. I wondered half-jokingly if Wilson had gotten Tux lost on purpose, or if Tux had succumbed to a coyote or some other predator. I worried that maybe he was hit by a car, although, he was pretty street savvy, having survived for 6 years on his own. Most of all, I was surprised that he had ventured further than our yard, since he was always such a homebody. Most of the time, he could be found on our living room rug, belly up. I always marveled at how relaxed he could be, even with kids screaming and running around him.

13903174_10209835642558959_8449666442248772723_n.jpgI had a complicated relationship with Tux. I always kind of saw him as my husband’s cat, even though, he clearly chose me as his “person.” This caused more than a few scuffles between him and Wilson, who is, - okay- I’ll say it, my favorite. Wilson is my co-therapist, and, one of the coolest cats I’ve ever had. He’s here with me even as I write this.

I loved Tux, but not the way that I love Wilson, and I’ll always feel a little bad about that. Tux tried so hard, but he never learned how to cuddle without using his claws, and that always annoyed me.
Right before he disappeared, though, Tux started to break through with me. I finally started appreciating him for who he was, instead of comparing him to Wilson. I only wish I’d done that sooner.

Now, here’s the part, (if you haven’t gotten there already), where you’re going to think I’m really crazy. I believe that I got a message from Tux’s soul about what happened to him.

Okay, let’s back up a little bit.

I believe in things that we can’t see. I believe that souls exist past the time that our physical bodies exist. And, I believe that there are times when the “veils are thin.” In other words, there are times when we can gain access to thoughts, messages, and ideas that are coming from the spiritual world. I actually had the true story of how my son’s soul communicated to me before I became pregnant with him, published in the wonderful “Chicken Soup For The Soul: Dreams and Premonitions.”

I also believe that we can talk to animals.

One person who has helped me solidify that last belief is Anna Breytenbach. She is a professional animal communicator based out of South Africa. Anna has been practicing and teaching animal communication for about 15 years, and she is the subject of a 2013 documentary. She is probably best known for her work with Spirit, the black panther formerly known as “Diablo,” whom she helped immensely by listening to his concerns about the welfare of two panther cubs. If you haven’t heard of Anna or her work, follow the links above. She is amazing!

Anna’s work has helped me to validate my own beliefs about the possibilities present in regards to inter-species communication. But, I’m still very aware that many people think these ideas are ridiculous. But, then I remember that doctors used to think that babies didn’t feel, mainstream ideas are not always the best!

Anyway, back to Tux. A few days, or maybe more than a week, after he disappeared, I was lying in bed getting ready to go to sleep. This is the time that messages tend to come to me, since my mind is attempting to be quiet. Suddenly, I heard a very quick message that said:

Tux had to make choice.
He could either stay with you for a few more years,
Or leave now,
And get to come back to your family in a bigger capacity.
Like, maybe as Gabriel’s wife.
Look out for him in about 20 years.

After hearing this message, I fell asleep. The next morning, I told my husband, who, Thank God, shares my spiritual beliefs. We both expressed relief and joy that Tux’s soul was being taken care of. I also questioned whether this was a real message, or just me saying this to myself, but, my husband assured me that it was real because that’s what we do for each other. When spiritual events happen to him, like when a butterfly landed on his finger so that he could take it outside, I helped him see the significance of that. We each have an easier time believing in the other’s experiences, rather than our own.

TuxBelly - Edited.jpgWill Tux’s soul return to our family? My husband and I joke that if Gabriel’s future fiancee lies on the floor with her belly up, we’ll know it’s him. But, of course, we can’t be sure. Either way, the thought of him coming home to us has brought us comfort, and for that we are deeply thankful.

As a side note, Tux’s disappearance also allowed me to help a neighbor who lost her own tuxedo cat. After hearing that our cat was missing, a different neighbor got in touch with us to let us know that a deceased black and white cat was found in the neighborhood. After a bit of a goose chase that ended with us peering into a landscaper’s garbage bag at a huge cat carcass, we learned that the dead cat was not Tux. It was easy to identify this, because Tux had no teeth, and this cat had plenty. I was relieved because this cat looked like it just passed away, and that wouldn’t have made sense with what I had been told.

A few days later, we noticed a “lost cat” sign, picturing the very cat we had seen, and I was able to call the owner and give her some closure. Had we not lost Tux, I never would have been called to identify that cat, and his owner might never have known what became of him.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Truth About Money

money.jpgI grew up in a family where money ruled the roost. My parents fought, and eventually divorced, over money, my mother spent wildly on herself and used money as control over me and my sister, and my father did everything that he could to avoid paying for things that he used. He didn’t necessarily steal, per se, but, for example, instead of paying for trash recollection he would make everyone leaving our house take at least one bag of garbage to any dump that they could find. That “everyone,” by the way, included potential boyfriends, which was the bane of my teenage existence. But, I digress.

The point is that I didn’t grow up with a strong sense of what to do about money. I saw money as something that caused conflict, but, also, as something that I needed. So, I guess you could say that my relationship with money was complicated. I liked the things that money could buy, but whenever I bought something, I would feel guilt and regret. And there was always a nagging sense that there wouldn’t be enough, no matter how much money I made.

I know that many can relate to what I’m saying, since I see it now in so many of my clients. Couples fight over money. Individuals fear losing money. People use the numbers in their bank accounts to engender a false sense of security, or, a skewed reason for self-hatred, while others eschew the green stuff altogether.

But, there is hope.

I can honestly say, that with the exception of a very few times where something else was actually bothering me, and money was a convenient scapegoat, I haven’t worried about finances in years. And it’s not because we are drowning in dollars either! It’s because I’ve learned to approach money with a sense of Faith, that I never had growing up.

What do I mean by Faith?

Two Things: God, and the Universe.

Somewhere along the way, I started to believe that the Universe did not want me to be poor. Now, I know that sounds awful, considering the fact that there are so many millions of people that are way worse off financially than I am. And, no, I don’t know why those people have to suffer. I don’t pretend to understand all of the laws of the Universe, and I feel greatly for people who have no access to things like running water, or clean sheets. But, for some reason, I also know, that I was born into a relatively wealthy family, and that poverty is not one of my life lessons this time around. (I’m guessing that if you are reading this, it’s probably not one of yours either.)

What is one of my life lessons, however, is to trust that there will always be enough, even when that seems impossible. The first time that I was presented with this information, was 10 years ago, after moving to North Carolina. The move had proven costly, and my husband and I were a couple hundred dollars short for the month. We really didn’t know how we were going to pay all of our bills, without going in the red. That’s when a miracle happened. One thousand dollars, yes, you read that right, $1000, spontaneously showed up in our bank account with no explanation. I called the bank and asked where the money came from, and they said that someone had deposited a check into our account. I told them that this must have been a mistake, but the bank said that the depositor would have to call them and ask for the money back. At first, I thought that this gift would simply be the buffer to get us through that tough month. I gave thanks, while constantly checking the bank to see if the money disappeared.

It never did.

After that incident, I began to notice all of the smaller, yet, still significant things that happened every month to make sure that we always had enough. One person not cashing a check right away, some extra books selling, or receiving an unexpected discount were not uncommon occurrences. One way or another, money just seemed to be there when we needed it most.

Somewhere during this time, I was introduced to the work of Lynn Twist, who wrote the groundbreaking book called, “The Soul of Money.” To say that this book changed my life would be an understatement. Through this book, I learned that the best way to react when money gets tight, is to give it away. This lubricates the wheels of the Universal cycles, and allows more money to flow back to you. Whereas, our natural reaction to being tight may be hold on to what we have even tighter, we actually need to do the opposite in order to step into prosperity. It’s an amazing concept, and I’ve seen it work again and again.

Lynn’s book also taught me to think more about where and how I spend my money. She says that our spending should reflect our values. Think: spending $20 to support a local artist, vs. spending $20 to buy a print at Walmart. Supporting the local artist feels better, and might even encourage said artist to create more, while the money spent at Walmart supports child labor and low wages for poorly treated staff.

By far the best thing that Lynn’s work reinforced for me was the idea that scarcity is a lie, and that abundance is the truth. She spoke about the very things that I was noticing; how there is always enough, and how money is like water that flows where it is needed.

And so, I made a decision, about 8 years ago, to not worry about money anymore. There just wasn’t a point. When I thought about it, I realized that I always had enough. I never let a bill go unpaid. And I always had a roof over my head, electricity, and enough food to eat; plus, many other luxuries that I’m outrageously grateful for. Worrying about money just wasn’t worth my time, and, in the end, I haven’t missed it at all.