The Grapes of Recovery

Featured Image: “and more fruits,” © jACK TWO (own work), April 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license available here)

On just about any Saturday morning when I’m in town and not traveling, you can predict my routine with fair reliability. I wake up early and start the laundry. I head downstairs and prepare breakfast for two (Pangur Ban, the cat, and me). With either smooth jazz tunes or ‘90s French pop music playing in the background, I swish awkwardly around my kitchen. Pangur Ban doesn’t seem to mind that I can’t dance. Or sing. In fairness, he can’t dance or sing either, and I don’t hold it against him. After breakfast, I generally rush out the door, and in under ten minutes I am in the yoga studio rolling out my mat as the rest of the class begins the first flow of practice. A snack consistently follows yoga (always a Kind bar), and the morning concludes with a trip to the nearby grocery. There, I peruse the plethora of produce with child-like curiosity, marveling at rutabagas, star fruits, colorful chard with stems of pink, yellow, and orange, a half dozen varieties of pears and potatoes… and I proceed to place the exact same items in my cart every week. Cucumbers? Check. Red and yellow bell peppers? Check. Arugula? Check. Apples? Double check. Carrots? Hmmmm…. nah. I don’t eat those up very quickly. Snow peas? Ok. Parsnips? I love the flavor of roasted parsnips… but maybe next time. Roasting vegetables is still a bit too intimidating. Grapes? … … … … someday?

Ickworth Vineyard
Ickworth Vineyard,” © Dave Catchpole (own work), October 2012. CC BY 2.0.
Well, it turned out that “someday” was February 6th. It seemed as if I was taking inventory of my standard produce haul and making tracks toward the case of soy milk and Greek yogurt when, in the turn of an instant, I was suddenly plucking a big bunch of grapes up by their twiggy stem. The cooler of grapes sat directly beside the path of my cart as I aimed for the dairy, but that never stopped me from breezing by it before without more than a microsecond’s hesitation.

There’s something going on here that reaches beyond buying a cluster of purple fruit. If you read some of my past blog entries (“Um, Excuse Me, But I ATE A POTATO!” or “A Moment in a Pear”), you know that introducing variety into my eating routine is not easy for me. My list of safe foods is much longer now than the approximately ten items it encompassed when I entered partial, but the number of things I won’t eat far exceeds what I will. So, I find myself wondering… what gives?

A few weeks after I left Walden, I bought a box of rice to serve with a recipe that I was attempting for a Super Bowl party to which I happened to be invited. The easy solution to my lack of control over the food served would be to not attend, but isolating was what I did when I was engaged in my eating disorder. Instead, I was preparing a vegetable curry. It was a recipe given to me by my nutritionist, and I knew the exact exchanges in a single serving. At least there would be one safe side for me. When I bought the box of rice, I knew that I would never finish the remainder of it. Then, one day, I was just plain bored of the same old starch I nearly always paired with dinner, and I reached into the pantry for the rice. I wouldn’t claim to be entirely comfortable eating it on a regular basis, but as a change-up now or then, it turned out to be not so bad. It wasn’t that the taste ever dissuaded me. I was paralyzed by the fear of the food itself lacking any significant nutritive qualities and consisting of “empty calories,” which would just “make me fat.” Well, I didn’t gain weight when I introduced occasional rice into my diet. As for the nutritional content, I remained dubious, but I trusted my nutritionist, Kelly, who reached over-the-moon enthusiasm with each new food I risked. She constantly reminded me that by varying my consumption, I was obtaining copious nutrients that were lacking when I was deep into my orthorexia, and she celebrated my healthiness.

The berry family presented another big hurdle. Beginning with cherries in July, Kelly spent about ten minutes of each appointment reviewing what would be ripening next and encouraging (i.e., humorously cajoling) me to push my boundaries. As summer transitioned to autumn and the string of holidays approached, I slid back into my habitual patterns. Kelly began bemoaning, “the same things again,” as she read out of my food journal every two weeks. At the time, I was a bit frustrated with her. Didn’t she see that I ate a Nutrigrain bar instead of a Kind bar on Tuesday? Didn’t she see that I ate steak when I went out for dinner last Saturday night? However, I could also acknowledge that I wasn’t trying new foods at the same pace that I was when a variety of fresh fruits and veggies were available to me in abundance. We both accepted that, in many ways, I was gritting it out through November, December, and January.

Several weeks ago, there was a beautiful display of pineapples by the entrance to the supermarket. It was unavoidable, and it was captivating. The prickly skin and sweet, tropical smell teased me with promises of warm, summer sun. I circled the table, daydreaming of beaches and sidewalk cafés. Picking up a pineapple, I ran my fingers cautiously over its rough skin. Squeezing it gently, I shook it a bit. I don’t even know how to tell if it’s ripe, I realized. Smiling to myself, I carefully chose a smaller one with a healthy-looking stem and gingerly settled it into my cart as if it was some fragile, precious artifact. Once in my apartment, though, it sat untouched on my kitchen counter for three days. Each time I glanced at it, I felt the pressure to DO something with it followed by an underlying dread. Eating pineapple was one thing. Getting TO the pineapple was an entirely separate issue. Finally, I decided that if I didn’t cut it up, it was destined for the dumpster, and I couldn’t bring myself to treat my beautiful pineapple so callously. With a determination that aborted my over-analysis, I plopped it on a bamboo board and sliced into it with my largest kitchen knife. Strip by strip, the prickles and spikes gave way to reveal juicy, yellow flesh. I was convinced that the success of the result was that much sweeter for the effort.

Untitled - pineapple
Untitled, © James Folley (own work), April 2015. CC BY 2.0.
Before I could leave Walden, my treatment team set a hurdle before me. Eat an actual meal in an actual restaurant, while following my meal plan, without binging. I couldn’t remember if I was ever, in my entire life, able to dine out without either starving or over-stuffing myself, and it was ages since I did so without a full-on binge. The anxiety, apprehension, and distress that I experienced as I planned my approach and confronted that obstacle resembled one prolonged panic attack. For a while, eating out was something that I did mainly under Kelly’s coercion and out of my desperation for social interaction. Many, many restaurant meals later, I found myself a bit more comfortable. It wasn’t necessarily a transition that was obvious to me, but it didn’t go unnoticed by my friend, Amelia. “I can see the changes,” she told me, and I believed her, because she was attentive enough to detail to call me out when I tried to order the same dish I tried three months earlier. No repeats. Then, I made a statement to my therapist that only struck me as funny and weird in retrospect. “It’s great!” I grinned as I described the every-other-week-or-so pattern of eating out that Amelia and I found ourselves falling into. “We are discovering all these little, independently owned places with seasonal menus and fresh, local ingredients. I’m such a terrible cook. It’s the one time that I get to try new foods that are really well prepared!” It wasn’t until much later that it occurred to me what a shift in perspective this thinking represented.

Not long ago, I described one of those dinners in a post about the apprehension provoked by a challenging menu. The fanciful language and disproportionate number of pasta offerings unwound me. The meal and the evening ended up becoming one of my favorite nights out in recent memory, but I was a little disappointed in myself for shirking the noodles. I was so close to that leap of faith, I could feel myself dangling my toes over the ledge… and four days ago I took the plunge. Even with my lack of kitchen skills, I managed to prepare the whole wheat rotini while allowing the water to boil over the sides of the pot only once. What surprised me the most was how very little a half cup of pasta actually appeared on my plate after I measured it out. One little handful of slippery starch. That was what I was so worried about for all those years? Tossed with a hint of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and some sautéed shrimp (which I also cooked myself!), it was delectable! It would be another matter to order pasta in a restaurant, where I might be more likely to receive a mound of spaghetti heaped onto the plate. But, just like the rice last year, it was a start.

The list of foods I am willing to try and the spontaneity with which I will try them continues to grow. Sausage, lamb, and beef tenderloin. Macadamia nuts. Kefir. What I really want is to be comfortable enough with food to travel abroad again. Kelly tells me that if I want to go to Paris, I need to eat baguettes. And butter. And maybe a croissant. Um, yeah. Yet, who knows? There is a small, chef-owned French restaurant two towns over that I hear serves amazing moules et pommes frites.

Another weekend will be here in the blink of an eye, and I’ll be off to the grocery store once more. I wonder what I will return home with this time.

moules frites
moules frites,” © Merle ja Joonas (own work), September 2014. CC BY-ND 2.0. (license available here)

Ode to Mustard

Featured Image: “Whole Grain Stout Mustard,” © Susy Morris, May 2011. CC BY-NC 2.0.

A few weeks ago, Laura Bruno Lilly reminded me that not every blog post must be a deep, existential, soul-searching exploration of my past, present, and future or the state of the human condition. For that, I am grateful; and in that spirit, here is my ode to mustard.

When I was little, mustard was my absolute favorite condiment. In fact, it was my only condiment. Ketchup? Blech! Not for this girl. I put mustard on everything. Sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers, eggs, the Easter ham. I would even smear mustard on slices of hard cheese for an afternoon snack. The mustard stains on the sleeves of all of my weekend clothes was a testament to my passion. When I was wrapped up in my orthorexia, mustard was a definite no-no, if for no other reason than it seemed extemporaneous and I wouldn’t afford the now-seemingly-inconsequential extra calories. Yet, I never forgot the taste of mustard. When I was in Boston participating in a partial hospitalization program and living with my friend Veronica and her husband, there was mustard in the refrigerator door, waiting patiently for me.

Oh, mustard! I love your zest! Your pungence! Your garish yellowness! From the simple mustard of my youth to the spicy browns and French Dijons currently occupying places in my fridge and on my palate, you never fail me. How could I have ever thought your flavor not worthwhile? Oh, mustard! I’m glad I found you again. Let us never again be apart!

Bee on mustard
Bee on mustard,” © Meg Lauber, May 2008. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

A New Kind of Valentine

Featured Image: “Mt Edgecumbe Flowers,” © Rob Wright (own work), July 2011. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Over the last few days, I read many wonderful reflections about Valentine’s Day written by so many talented and thoughtful people. There were poems, letters, treatises, quotations, and photographs. My favorite pieces were written by Sanny Spear (“How many likes do you need to like yourself?”) and Ashley Wilson Fellers (“Five Little Reminders for You, On Valentine’s Day”). (Go read them!). Although Valentine’s Day came and went, I wanted to share my own, small voice on the subject.

Oh, Valentine’s Day. A friend of mine jokingly refers to this occasion as “Singles Awareness Day.” I have a new name for Valentine’s Day, though. I-Love-Me Day. Here is the story of my second annual I-Love-Me Day and the history behind it.

What could be worse than an entire holiday dedicated to true love (or at least expertly marketed that way), for a perpetually single, lonely, unhappy person? Actually, pretty much any special event that might be enjoyed with a special someone, like a birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Saturday… During all those long years of untreated depression, any event was an invitation to self-pity. When I first sought mental health treatment for my mood disorder, in the midst of an acute adjustment crisis precipitated by some very traumatic life events, my personality testing revealed some “problem areas.” My cognitive behavioral therapist chose his words carefully. If I really wanted to improve, I was going to need to delve deep into my core, into the very framework of my being, to the foundations of my personality that were laid in infancy and built upon through childhood, adolescence, and on which I continued to construct. The basement was shoddy, dug in unstable ground, cracked and leaking, and the framework around it was all catawampus. I was going to need to dance with some very old, very scary skeletons, to shine a light into some dark corners while not entirely knowing what lurked out of sight. I remember my reaction as clearly as if it all unfolded yesterday. After thirty years of coping, what difference did it make? I wanted some survival skills to improve just enough to pull myself back from the precipice I was approaching. “Um, no thanks!” I replied, overly chipper. “Maybe we could just do some basic CBT so I can learn tools to help me be not quite so depressed.” I figured that I would be satisfied if I could return to my previous status quo. I didn’t know any other way of being. Oh, naiveté. What a blessing. I was about to go to places that I didn’t know existed in the depths of my mind and soul and open sealed trunks that I didn’t remember shutting. Before the rebuilding came the demolition, and it turned out that I had less choice in the matter than I presumed.

Ruined Steps
Ruined Steps,” © Chris Samuel (own work), January 2011. CC BY 2.0.

That girl, the depressed, driven, anxious, perfectionistic, never-enough, super-achieving, relentless, angry, resentful, hurting, fragmented person, was the one who loathed Valentine’s Day. Every February 14th delivered a fresh wound. Not only did I pick at the scabs, but I twisted the knives deeper and deeper into my chest with my own hand. Not once did I ever make plans, reach out, or consider anyone other than myself. Yet, when I wasn’t remembered and pitied by family and friends, I stewed in bitterness. At least my own parents ought to send me flowers! I thought. They have each other, and I have nobody. And I never will. At the risk of sounding too all-or-nothing and self-deprecating, even then, I could be thoughtful, sweet, and generous. But not on Valentine’s Day. On that day, I was toxic. I wasn’t yet able to recognize the distortions in my thinking that influenced my mood and behavior and contributed to my isolation and misery.

Part of the problem was that I wholly believed a lie promulgated by society and by many very well-meaning people in my life. I thought that my life would dramatically change for the better if I found love, or at if I was in a relationship. How many times did I hear, “The right person is out there for you,” and “It will happen when you least expect it.” There was always a bit of conflict in my heart, though, when those conversations arose, because, a) I didn’t believe such unsubstantiated and trite statements, and b) I was never certain that I wanted to marry. I was pretty sure from a very young age that I didn’t want to raise children. It just didn’t feel right. The idea made me uneasy, as though I was called toward some different path. I wasn’t opposed to the idea of marriage and raising a family. If it happened, that would be wonderful, but if it didn’t, that would be wonderful, too. It was while I was undergoing partial hospitalization treatment for my eating disorder that I realized it was okay to feel that way. A funny thing happened when I explained to my friends the new sense of fulfillment and enjoyment I discovered through cultivating my other meaningful relationships and exploring what it meant to live wholeheartedly. Suddenly, they thought my single life was fine as it was, and the pressure to date stopped!

Along came Valentine’s Day 2015. The message on the marker board at Walden on January 1st read, “Let 2015 be the year you start moving away from external validation and moving toward internal validation,” and I began to learn that I didn’t need anyone else to tell me that I was worthy of love. Thus, I-Love-Me Day was born. My little acts of self-care didn’t amount to much at first glance, but it was the attitude behind them that made the fundamental difference. Several weeks in advance, I ordered myself a dozen roses, to be delivered a few days before the big occasion. The fourteenth was a Saturday, so I purchased a plane ticket home for the weekend. Who wants to be alone for I-Love-Me Day? Love is meant to be SHARED! Of course, home is Connecticut. Of course, it snowed. Yet, it was beautiful snow. I thrilled at that lovely, fluffy, white stuff from the other side of a picture window, inside the warmth of a house filled with people, while I painted my nails and wrote Valentine’s cards to all of my friends, far and wide. I covered the stationary with glitter and with pink and red hearts. Considering the fact that I penned those notes on Valentine’s Day itself, I knew they would all arrived at their destinations a week late, but I embraced my imperfection, expressed my apologies along with my affection, and imagined someone cheerfully discovering an unexpected, belated Valentine on a random Thursday. I spent time with friends from high school, and I returned to Vanillasville brimming with gratitude and joy.

Soar,” © Dr. Wendy Longo (own work), September 2007. CC-BY-ND 2.0.

It was with eager anticipation that I looked forward to this Valentine’s Day. I ordered myself another dozen roses (yellow this time), and booked my flights. Around the middle of January, I noticed a particular sweater in the window of the clothing store next to one of my favorite coffee shops. It was heather gray with multi-colored little hearts in several rows along the scoop neck. It was perfect! This year, I managed to mail out most of my glittery greeting cards with at least two days to spare (although some are still un-mailed on my counter… I’m simply spreading out the love). During the days preceding my departure, I took so much delight in the thought of my second I-Love-Me Day that I never experienced the teensy bit of angst and apprehension that would typically pester me before any trip. Instead of perseverating over the laundry to be done and the messy state of the apartment, worrying about packing, ruminating on what I would eat, and repeatedly planning my schedule down to the minute, I told myself, It’s my I-Love-Me Day. It’s all okay. I never get the house cleaned before I leave on any of my trips anyway, so why bother about it? Everything will work out one way or another, just like always. And it did. I gave the driver of the airport shuttle an exorbitant tip simply because I could. I decided not to paint my nails simply because I didn’t want to. I stayed at a familiar hotel, where, despite sub-zero temperatures, I remained toasty warm. Each night, I took extra-hot showers for an extra-long time and then fell asleep extra-early on an extra-soft mattress. Confession – I wore my special sweater for two days in a row. On Saturday, I passed the entire day with wonderful friends. We made an excursion to the Children’s Museum, rode the train back from the city, and chatted away all afternoon. Sunday dawned cold and bright. After a bit of a sunny drive, I found myself enjoying lunch with another precious friend and sharing apple crisp à la mode. When we were finished, our waitress even brought us two long-stem roses. An unexpected treat! It was not as though the entire weekend was without bumps and hiccups, but they each seemed rather inconsequential when the tape deck in my head was playing, I-Love-Me Day, I-Love-Me Day, Oh how I love I-Love-Me Day over and over.

Now that I’m back, and my routine is creeping into my life once more, I am wondering, why can’t I-Love-Me-Day be I-Love-Me Week? How long can I make this last? There is still a pack of Hallmark cards awaiting a pen stroke or two. Maybe I will stop at the florist on the way home from the post office for another colorful bouquet. Perhaps tomorrow is the day that I will feel like painting my nails…

Pink Ones
Pink Ones,” © William (own work), June 2010. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Three-Day Quote Challenge – The Last Day

Featured Image: “Misadventures,” © Michael Yan, Jan 2012. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Thank you, Jenny, for nominating me for this challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed thumbing through all of my favorite quotes, and it was tremendously difficult to settle on a choice few. I would like to leave off with these last words of encouragement…

“I plead with you – never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

 “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his son, Jesus.”

 ~ St. Pope John Paul II

And now, for my nominations…

Nominees, if you’d like to participate, here are the rules:

  1. Post for three consecutive days
  2. Posts can be one or three quotes per day
  3. Nominate three different blogs per day

Here are my nominees. Each one writes a marvelous blog, and I hope that you will check them out. I hope that they all participate, because I have an inkling they would choose some fabulous quotes!

Thank you to all of you who are reading! Until next time… ♥


Quote Challenge – Day Two

Featured Image: “Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard,” based on a sketch by Niels Christian Kierkegaard, ca. 1840. Public domain (PD-old-100). Available at Wikimedia Commons.

Today marks the second of my three consecutive days of quote-posting, and I would like to dedicate it to Søren Kierkegaard. I’m not nearly as well-versed in his writings as I would like to be (oh, why didn’t I take more philosophy classes in college?!), but I offer you this sampling for your minds, hearts, and souls.

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.”

“There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming.”

Three-Day Quote Challenge

Featured Image: “Bush Rose,” © Carol Von Canon, Sep 2011. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Thank you to Jenny at Peace from Panic for nominating me for this challenge…

For my first day, I would actually like to offer two quotes, if I may be so bold. I hold both of these very close to me, and I can never think of one without thinking of the other. To me, they are simultaneously moving and troubling, beautiful and difficult, sweet and frustrating.

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

~ St. Thérèse of Lisieux

“We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love.”

~ Blessed Mother Teresa

Hoping that you each find warmth and kindness in the world today. ♥

The Centering

Featured Image: “Inauguración Tempus Cuaresma 57,” © NELO Mijangos, Feb 2015. CC BY-NC 2.0.

At some point tomorrow, I will find myself at mass for Ash Wednesday, to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. I am telling myself that I will attend the morning service at 7 am, but being realistic, I know that making it to my office by 8 o’clock on a daily basis is a struggle. Fortunately, there is another service in the evening. I’m looking forward to this Lent with a great deal of eagerness and anticipation. Does that seem strange, especially for someone with an eating disorder? After all, Lent is a penitential season, meaning that it is a season of repentance. We listen to readings about fasting, weeping, and mourning for our sins, about our need to turn to God for mercy, and then we receive a word of caution to guard against hypocrisy, self-aggrandizement, and self-pity. As the ashes are distributed, we hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Or, alternatively, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”) Why would I be looking forward to Lent with joy?

To be quite honest, until last year, Lent was a season of perfect misery and torture for me. In case I needed any external reminders of how imperfect, broken, fallen, wicked, miserable, and wretched I was, the Church dedicated 40 days to this theme. Throughout the whole year, I did a well enough job of berating myself and denying my worth and value, convinced there was no hope of ever changing. During Lent, the self-shaming and self-hating escalated astronomically. My unhealthy Lenten metamorphosis was partly due to the disordered core beliefs at the center of my destructive personality and partly due to my untreated depression. It was facilitated by some fundamental misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the philosophy, tradition, and teachings of the Catholic Church. All of these factors intertwined with one another, shaping my view of myself, my life, the world, my faith, and God into some sort of creepy, hall-of-mirrors distortion.

Until last year, Lent was my God-imposed diet. As I was growing up, my family made the same Lenten sacrifices every year. No eating between meals, no chocolate, and no meat on Fridays. The reason that it followed so closely after Christmas was as much about making up for eating too many peanut butter blossoms and toffee crunch squares as it was about reorienting toward God. The Church only required fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Catholic definition of a fast was more lenient than one might expect, and allowed for two small meals and one larger meal during the course of the day. The idea was not to restrict food in an unhealthy way, but to introduce a little inconvenience into life for a short time so as to remember that one does not live on bread alone.* Abstinence from meat was called for on Ash Wednesday and each Friday of the season. These “minimal” obligations were too lax for my parents, though, who thought the Church was going soft. To demonstrate real faith required daily fasting. By the time we ate dinner at 7:30 or 8 o’clock at night, I would be starving, especially once I was in high school and was playing varsity tennis in the afternoons. Those nights were when I engaged in some of my earliest binges. Yet, the rules were absolute. When I moved out on my own, I became even more rigid and strict with myself, believing that this proved my worthiness and faithfulness. With each passing year, the anxiety, desperation, and shame that I felt as I fell short of my goals again and again deepened. As I intensified my self-deprivation, my mental health tanked. The last two or three years before my eating disorder was diagnosed and treated were the worst. By Easter, invariably, I was binging out of control and praying for death to bring an end to my suffering.

Cathédrale de Chartres – Labyrinthe,” © H. Silenus, June 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

There was no single “Aha!” moment when it suddenly dawned on me that Lent was a spiritual gift. As I plugged away at my practice of cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy skills, my self-view began to slowly, ever so slightly, shift. Inch by hesitant, halting inch, my core beliefs started to change. My relationship with God radically altered. The instant that I finally understood, deep in my heart, that I could be loved and forgiven by God in my flawed and imperfect state, before I fixed anything about myself, was a defining moment in the course of my eating disorder recovery. I became curious about the real traditions and teachings of the faith in which I was raised. I started to read voraciously. C. S. Lewis, Rev. Robert Barron, and Mother Teresa. I started asking questions of actual Biblical scholars. It turned out that just about everything I thought I knew was wrong. A humbling universe of love, mystery, wonder, forgiveness, mercy, and beauty opened before me. It was a place in which it was safe to be uncertain. In fact, uncertainty was a requirement. It was a place where imperfection was the expectation. I wanted more.

What I am learning about Lent is that it is a time for centering. It is, indeed, a time for penitence, but not in my old way of understanding. It is a summons to remember our flaws and to realize that we are not able to overcome them on our own. We are asked to turn our shortcomings over to our merciful God, trusting that he forgives us completely and is always helping us to do better. It is a reminder that we are not supposed to be perfect or self-sufficient EVER. The focus of Lent is prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, but the definitions of these concepts are not necessarily what you find when you flip through a copy Merriam-Webster’s. The Lenten “fast” is an invitation to let go of those worldly habits or material goods that distract a person from a life devoted to God. A life devoted to God is a life devoted to LOVE, because LOVE is what God IS. Thus, we are reminded to LOVE, not only God, but each other and… wait for it… ourselves. For six short weeks, we are asked to let go of something that diminishes our capacity to known God and to love, or something that distracts us from praying and from loving. This Lent, rather than altering my eating (fasting is not required or recommended for people with medical needs, and my ED recovery is the priority), I am giving up television. Call it an experiment. I am hoping that I will free up some time for those practices that enliven and enrich my soul, like writing, reading, and just sitting quietly in contemplation. Oh, contemplation. The stillness and silence. It’s hard for me to slow down, and for 40 days, I will be receiving focused reminders about the importance of pausing for quiet reflection. Finally, almsgiving. There is no connection quite like the one forged through a true act of loving service. Pope Francis declared 2016 the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In this year of mercy, I want to open my heart to others and stretch myself to be vulnerable and generous, while exploring boundary-setting, which is an ongoing challenge for me.

So, there’s the plan. Set my heart on God, my center. Search him out wherever I can. Examine the parts of my life that lead me away from him. Work on acknowledging that yes, I am imperfect, just like everyone else. Practice receiving God’s perfect love and accepting his tender mercy… meaning I must forgive myself, too. Be open to offering love freely, however, wherever, and whenever I am called.

Small Easter Lily
Small Easter Lily,” © Carol Von Canon, Aug 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

A brief note…

* Even though I am medically exempted from fasting, I still struggle to come to terms with the rationalizations and justifications used to endorse this spiritual practice. If you are reading this and are interested in why the church promotes fasting, you can learn more about it here. Fasting is NOT recommended for anyone with a medical condition that would be impacted by keeping a fast, which includes anyone who struggles with disordered eating.


The Menu Obscura

Featured Image: “Dictionary” © Dave Worley, Mar 2009. CC BY 2.0.

Bolognese. Demi-glace. Poblana crema. Lardons. Pappardelle. Puttanesca. I guessed that airline chicken breast was not something that would be served at a cabin pressure of 8,000 feet and that tomato ragù was not the same non-descript red sauce I could find sitting in a glass jar on any supermarket shelf. My head was swimming, my heart was racing, and I could feel myself becoming dizzy as I scrolled through the bistro’s online menu. I ate there before, on more than one occasion, but by “before,” I mean… BEFORE… When I suggested to Amelia that she pick the restaurant because I was running out of ideas, I was without expectations. Quickly, I dialed Kelly, my nutritionist. “What should I do? Nothing is SAFE,” I lamented.

“Would it be all right to ask that you go to a different restaurant?” she inquired. That wasn’t the response I was anticipating from Kelly, who usually uses humor to cajole me into push my boundaries and shakes her head in mock dismay when I attempt to retreat into my cave of safety. I didn’t want to back down. Instead, I did what any right-minded, hyper-analytical, recovering orthorexic would do. I turned to Wikipedia.

It was a daunting task. Every menu option contained at least one if not five unknown (and therefore inherently dangerous, potentially lethal, might-just-cause-me-to-drop-dead-of-a-heart-attack-in-the-restaurant) elements. I started at the top. Fortunately, I discovered that I didn’t need to work my way through the entire list. All I needed was to unravel enough of the mystery that the menu didn’t scare me anymore. As I methodically searched term after term, my breath abated, my racing heart slowed, and the panic left me. “I just need to find one thing,” I muttered to myself. “Just one entre I would enjoy eating. Or tolerate.” Substitutions allowed.

Unfortunately, most cream sauces, cheese-based dishes, and any food in the noodle or pasta family remains in the might-just-cause-me-to-drop-dead-of-a-heart-attack unsafe zone. I am inching closer and closer to trying pasta again, but a touch of lactose intolerance means that I am not highly motivated to stretch my boundaries when it comes to heavily creamed or cheesed meals. Most of the dinner entrées at this particular bistro feature some combination of pasta, cream sauce, or “augratins.” The other descriptions include ingredients like chili, chili broth, chili coriander spice, chili honey, and green chili dirty rice. It turns out that poblanos and anchos are peppers. It turns out that I’m not much of a spicy, peppery kind of girl.

I think it’s to my credit that I remained open-minded about the menu. Once I settled my initial startle reflex, of course. The herb crusted airline chicken breast looked like the most comfortable choice, but I wasn’t opposed to trying something a bit more challenging. It was winter restaurant week in Vanillasville, and I anticipated that the place would be bustling, but as our hostess escorted us to a small table against a far wall, I felt my expectations for the evening peel away like the splitting of a flower’s calyx to reveal the whorl of colorful petals within. The joy of being out with Amelia for the first time in three weeks swept away any anxiety about the linguine and tortellini. It was quiet, almost subdued and there was more than one empty table. A book club was meeting in the large event room behind our wall, but despite the placidity, even our cheerful waiter, Danny, seemed to join in our exuberance. I sighed; I smiled; I blossomed.

“Do you have any questions about the menu?” Danny asked. I was undecided between the airline breast and the tuna ahi puttanesca. According to Wikipedia, the word was an adjective to describe pasta “in the style of a prostitute,” which was just a bit ambiguous. His face brightened and his hands waved as he described the diced tomatoes, capers, and olives that comprised the sauce. It sounded delicious… but I stuttered and stalled at the spaghetti upon which it was served. Maybe next time.

“I’ll have the herb crusted chicken and tomato polenta,” I requested. The concept that tomato polenta sounded appealing to me was earth-shattering enough, and I was not disappointed. I lost track of the number of times I exclaimed, “I can’t believe how GOOD this is!” I closed my eyes and delighted in the flavor, the texture, the consistency, of each of the different ingredients, and the way the garnish of carmelized carrot shavings melted ephemerally into my tongue. When the dishes were cleared, the conversation continued. Amelia is one of the few people in Vanillasville with whom I can be entirely, wholly, authentically, messily, unabashedly myself. We share a history and a trust that doesn’t just happen. “I can’t believe I almost missed this,” I thought. “I can’t believe that we might not have come here because I was scared.” My heart was over-brimming.

When I returned to my apartment, I slept more soundly than any night in at least the previous two weeks. Snug in the warmth of fleece blankets and soft pillows, I was nestled in the comfort of friendship. Knowledge is power. It gave me the courage to nudge myself forward. But…

Connection changes everything.

Purple hydrangea,” © tanakawho, Feb 2009. CC BY-NC 2.0.