Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ashes Ashes We All Fall Down

I think I fired my speech pathologist. It all started when I thought I might be going out of town a few weeks ago. I cancelled my appointment, just in case, and even though I ended up staying in town, I didn't bother to reschedule. I had another appointment already set for the week after that and I fully intended to go, but then I started writing and reflecting on how so very unhelpful she is and by Sunday night, the night before my appointment, the thought of having to sit in her cold corner office, listening to her complain, made me queazy. I clicked on the reminder email they'd sent me, scrolled to the bottom of the page and merrily clicked on the cancel button. Are you sure???!!!???!!!! The fact that the swift click of a button was freeing my shoulders of tension told me yes, yes I was sure. I selected the yes-I'm-sure option and the appointment transformed into a pile of wrinkly dust.

It wasn't just that she treated me like I'd killed her childhood cat (that first day I came back after the silence), it was that every subsequent visit was filled with a lot of complaining and not a whole lot of healing. One visit she bitched about her job and made comments about the stuck-ness of her situation. Another time she whined about her poison oak and how the meds she was taking for it were making her fuzzy. All interesting stuff if I gave a shit, lady, but you're my doctor and I'm the one who needs your help... I am not paying a million dollars for a less-than-half-assed speech therapy session just to be forced to listen to your problems... go get yourself a damn shrink. (There, I feel better now.)

The decision to not go back to her was not made lightly, despite her obvious shortcomings. I considered the possibility that I was running away from (and therefore sabotaging) my own recovery (it certainly wouldn't be the first time) but I quickly concluded that, this time around, that was not the case. Granted, I was having some difficulty with the whole recovery process, but I am quite sure I wasn't subconsciously (or consciously for that matter) trying to ruin my own life. After all, difficulties are part of the healing, as there is a lesson and an opportunity in every obstacle. (It's possible that I'm just deluding myself, but the fact of the matter is - delusion or no - the prognosis is the same.)

I returned from OHI (and my month of silence) intending to stay the course, as it were (I'm hereby reclaiming that phrase and renouncing its Bush-ism-ness). I planned to stay on the vegan diet (it really seemed to be helping my overall health), exercise every day (or at least 5 times a week), keep alcohol, caffeine, refined sugar and salt out of my sight (and, therefore, out of my belly), meditate more, and implement all the things I had learned at OHI. After I quit my job and the sketch comedy show, I had all the time in the world to focus on healing, to implement new routines and form new habits. Instead, I found myself doing none of it. The story I began to tell, as to why I was having so much trouble, goes something like this:

I do really well in a structured environment. I was always a very good student, a good team member, a good restaurant manager or server or bartender. With structure, I know where to be and when. At OHI I had no trouble getting up at 6:45 every morning. Every morning I drank water upon waking, then juiced and drank wheatgrass, and then headed to the 7:30 exercise class. After that I went to breakfast, then morning classes, lunch, afternoon classes, dinner, evening classes. Even free time was relatively structured because there were certain things you "had" to get done (E's & I's, for example). Back home, without the comfort of the structure at OHI, I am at a loss. With no job or rehearsals scheduled, with no deadlines of any sort I feel like I have plenty of time to get things done, so of course I procrastinate and got absolutely nothing accomplished. Without structure, I am overwhelmed by the amount of lifestyle changes I'm trying to implement, so I unwittingly retreat into the safety of old habits and methods of coping. Weeks have passed and I haven't done any of the things I had intended to do, and I am beating myself up about it too, which isn't constructive or helpful in any way. I've given up so many things in order to heal, yet I am becoming all-too skilled in the art of avoidance and I am inexplicably apathetic toward the things that are instrumental in my recovery. I am in a rut.

Something had to change - of that I was sure - but I didn't know what or how or who or when. I started telling that story, putting it out into the universe, and it didn't take long for the solution to present itself...

I met someone who dabbles in astrology, and she asked me to give her the date and time of my birth. Shortly thereafter I received a 23-page interpretation of my astrological chart and as I read through it I was overcome with emotion. The sheer truth of it all was enough to turn my vague interest in astrology into a ravenous desire to know more. I wanted everyone I knew to read those pages because they contained the truest explanation of 'me' that I'd ever seen; those pages articulated things I felt but never understood, things I experienced but could not put into words; those pages gave me back my power...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Time out!

My computer is fired. I packed up the ole laptop earlier, excited to go to my new favorite place to sit and write for a good part of the day (it's easier without the distractions intrinsic in my habitat). I stopped for lunch at La Med and then sheepishly walked into Lululemon to treat myself to some new exercise clothes. Perhaps not the most intelligent thing to do while jobless and living off of savings and borrowed money, but I have started exercising every day and need some workout clothes that don't have the frailty and appearance of something you might see on your favorite San Francisco bum. I've never been one to spend much on clothes so you can imagine how little I opt to spend on exercise garb. Well, not today... today I am the proud owner of two brand spankin' new Lululemon items (and, by the way, I might hit you up for a small loan later this week). I mean good GOD. How do they get away with those prices? (She asks, stroking her new shirt and nestling her face into the impossibly soft waistband of her new pants - like a child, newly reunited with her blanky after mom so rudely washed it... but I digress.) After breaking the bank with Lulu I headed to the aforementioned new favorite place.

I have been a long time fan of a particular coffee shop in San Francisco, and I found out many months ago that they were opening one in Berkeley. I rejoiced. Shortly thereafter I stopped drinking coffee and forgot all about it... until Sunday. It was a lazy morning, and I was laying in bed thinking that I might treat myself to a decaf (lots of treats this week, apparently), but the only place I wanted to go was Philz in The Mission. I was getting ready to make the trip when I remembered the new Berkeley location. I was so excited I skipped down the street and broke out into an impromptu song that went something like this, "Philz Philz Philz Philz Philz Philz Phiiiiiiiiiiilz." Well, it's difficult to convey melody over the computer but, trust me, it was brilliant. I ordered my decaf swiss water something-or-other and headed up to use the restroom, and when I reached the landing I could hardly contain my excitement. This was going to be my new writing place. The walls are alternately red, yellow and khaki with art hanging everywhere, there's an upright piano in the corner of what looks like it could be a stage (if they cleared off the tables currently residing there), three couches, a couple comfy chairs and a bunch of small dark wooden tables with mismatched chairs. Over in one corner is a long communal table with high-backed, regal-looking chairs complete with velour seats. I love it.

So when I left my house earlier today with my laptop in tow, I planned on an afternoon at Philz to commence my new writing tradition. I found a spot at the communal table, took out my computer and rescued it from hibernation. First on the agenda was my next blog entry. I had already written a substantial portion of it so it wouldn't take long, but as I opened my computer the Philz free wifi function kicked in, and my computer went and lost what I'd written. It's supposed to back it up every few seconds (which it is successfully doing right now) and I'm not sure what went wrong, but what I do know is that I have to start over. Fired, I say. Or... maybe just a time out. And now, back to the topic at hand...

After rehearsal, I stayed seated as people hustled and bustled around me. Someone had brought fresh-picked tomatoes from her garden, there was birthday cake for one of the writers, and a general sense of mingling was in the air -the energy in the room was electric but I couldn't bring myself to match it. I guess you could say I was sulking; I really felt like I'd just given the worst first impression ever. A couple people came over and, having seen me in Singin' in the Rain, started singin' my praises. I thanked them for their kind words, but instead of being positive and grateful that they'd seen me in something other than tonight's sub-par performance, in my head I was thinking, "Well I certainly didn't live up to your expectations then, did I?" I am quite sure I was being unnecessarily hard on myself but that's where my head was, at that moment in time. I was suddenly motivated to get out of my seat when I saw that the tomato ration was dwindling. I wanted to get in on that action. I plucked a wax baggie off the table and dropped a handful of light orangish tomatoes into it. (I snacked on them for a few days to come and they were scrumptious - totally made it worth getting off my sulky ass.) The room emptied out and the production meeting started so Andy and I sat on the sidelines talking quietly amongst ourselves. About 10 or fifteen minutes later I saw, in my periphery, the production meeting starting to disperse. My stomach turned upside-down, my breathing became shallow and my blood pressure shot up to the moon. I wasn't doing anything wrong - it's not like I was about to tell a big lie to get out of a nasty situation or anything of that nature - but my body was responding as if I was coming face to face with Certain Death.

The meeting ended and the director turned his attention to me. I took a deep breath and with a slight nervous shake in my voice (perceptible only to me, I'm sure) I explained the situation - what I'd been dealing with and going through with my throat and my voice and my health. I tried to be thorough but concise and, as part of the explanation I said, "I held back tonight," to which he responded, "I could tell." Like I said, terrible first impression. The monologue continued and I concluded with, "I don't know if there's a way to do the show and take care of my voice, but-"

"No," he replied, "there's not, it's not worth it. The most important thing for you to do right now is take care of yourself. There will be other shows." In that moment I felt as if every cell in my body let out a giant sigh of relief. Andy chimed in and reminded me that he'd recruited me to audition because he liked my work, but it had been over a year since he'd seen me in a show. "Don't worry, you're not going anywhere!" Andy said. I was trying to hang on to the project because I wanted to do it, but also because I was worried about the consequences of dropping out. I was reassured that my absence for this show did not mean eternal absence - my future with the company was not in jeopardy - and suddenly there was nothing to decide, it was clear what I had to do. I thanked the director for being so blunt and decisive about it, and I joked about trying to hang on to the show by a thread. They both commented on how much easier it was to see the answer when you weren't in the middle of it. I agreed. I still felt bad for not being able to do the show, but I left feeling like the right decision was made - especially since "holding back" isn't really in my vocabulary and, knowing me, attempts at saving my voice while doing a show like that would have been futile. I was simply going to have to take a time out... from everything. I quit the show and I quit my day job. The only thing left to do is heal.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Fat Lady Singeth Not

Well folks, it ain't over yet (as you may have gathered from the title). I ended up getting stuck in San Diego with car trouble so I got home a few days later than originally planned (and in fact ended up flying because there was no end in sight for poor Johnny 5). I was able to reschedule the speech pathologist for August 4th. What a bitter-sweet day that was. One minute I was rejoicing at Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling and moments later I was sitting in my car with tears streaming down my face at the prospect of having to continue to put my life on hold.

I sat down in the blue vinyl chair and waited for Dr. B to prepare the equipment. As she did, she asked me if I'd done everything she'd prescribed during my last visit. I proudly announced that I'd done her one better, that I'd spent the entire month of July in silence, checked myself in to a health clinic and followed a raw vegan diet. "But how did it go with the stuff I told you to do?" "Um, well I sorta' replaced it with an entire month of silence...." My heart sank. The enormity of the situation, the sacrifices I'd made, seemed to be lost on her. "Well, let's see...." She approached, equipment in hand, and my stomach did a few flip-flops in anticipation of finding out if a month of silence and flavorless food was enough to vanquish the polyps. I leaned forward with my back upright as she held my tongue down with one gloved hand and inserted the arguably phallic apparatus with the other. "LLLLLLLLLLLLL" I sang out, my attempt at an "EEEE" thwarted by probes and outstretched tongue. Again. "LLLLLLLLLLLL." She huffed and pulled the apparatus out, changed it's position and reinserted it. Again. "LLLLLLLLLLL." This went on for another five minutes, changing the angle of the camera, changing the pitch of my voice, changing the gauze to hold my tongue an impossible distance from my mouth. Finally she took the camera out for the last time and heaved a woeful sigh. "Well, it took several tries and the right angle to see them because they're so small, but they're still there. I nodded my head and said, "Okay," stoically, as if that had no bearing on my life whatsoever. Meanwhile my insides erupted in a volcano of emotion. She angled the computer screen toward me and played the video, pausing it so I could see the eensy weensy bumps that are still impeding my ability to get full closure on my vocal cords as I produce sound. She was cold and almost mean in her interaction with me which made it all the harder to receive this news. I don't think she knows just what this means to me. I don't think she understands, even as a speech pathologist whose job it is to understand, the colossity (my new word for the day) of the situation. She asked me a question and after speaking a few words, tears started forming at the edge of my eyes and the lump in my throat had nowhere to go but shakingly into the air as I spoke. At that moment she began to treat me with a little more kindness. At that point, perhaps, she realized just how seriously I'm taking this, and just how awful this news was.

She asked me what I had on my plate. I told her I was starting rehearsal that night for a new show. "What's the character? What do you have to do?" That night was going to be my first time reading the script, so I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to have to do, but I told her it was sketch comedy and therefore each sketch would require a different character. She pursed her lips and shook her head. "You see, that's where you can get into big trouble." She went on to explain that if I did this project I risked not only reversing the progress I'd made, but making it harder for my body to heal down the line. If I took on a project like that before being completely healed, I would spend the rest of my life teetering between being healthy and not; it would be an endless cycle of doing a project, and then having to take time off to heal... doing a project, taking time off to heal. I didn't want to live like that, did I? But then she told me to go to the rehearsal, find out what kind of characters I would have to play, and then Monday at our first speech pathology appointment we could work on it. So she was advising me against it but then supporting it at the same time. I'm realizing through all of this that I really need people to be direct with me. Cut and dry, no two ways about it. My life seems to be full of making difficult decisions based on polar opposite options. When the choice is life or death (in this instance life being allowing myself to heal and enjoying a long career down the line, and death being doing something NOW, before I'm physically ready and potentially ruining my career) don't give me the option to choose death. If you approve of it, I will think it's a viable option, especially if it means I won't have to effect other people's lives in the process. She created a still photo of my cords and wrote a new list of instructions to follow in my day-to-day life. I waited for the printer to finish spitting out my doom, and clenched my throat muscles around the lump to keep the tears in.

I left the room and went into the lobby to make my next appointment. As I waited for the receptionist to call me over the lump in my throat released full force and there was no stopping it. Tears started streaming down my face, pooling in the creases of my neck. I was beckoned by the receptionist and apologized, trying in vain to wipe away the mess of tears as I approached. What a sight I must have been. One of the women behind the desk got me some kleenex as the other one helped me schedule four future appointments for speech therapy. The tears stopped as I became distracted by appointment-making but as soon as I got outside and began walking, they came flooding back. I didn't even know what to do with myself. I went to my car (actually it was my dad's car, which I was borrowing while he was out of town and Johnny was still in San Diego) opened the door, sat in the driver's seat and cried. Then I cleaned myself up, straightened my back and took a deep, get-ready-to-be-human-again breath, when another wave of emotion came barging in and the sobbing returned. So it went for almost an hour. I was near the gym and in no mood to drive, so I locked the car and went to work it all out of my body.

I didn't want to quit the show. I'd wanted to work with this company since I knew of its existence and this was going to be my first opportunity to do so. I felt like my professional reputation would be on the line if I had to drop out; I didn't want to be pegged as a flakey actor because that couldn't be further from the truth. I didn't want to deal with this any more. Why couldn't it just be over? Why hadn't the throat fairy made it all better by now?

I'd find a way to do it without detrimental effects, perhaps hold back in rehearsal and save the gusto for performance. I went to rehearsal that night intending to talk to the director before it began, but for some unknown reason (it was a seemingly normal Wednesday night) traffic was horrendous. I got there on time but not early, as I'd hoped. I rang the buzzer and waited for someone to come let me in. I saw Andy's beaming face (he is always smiling) through the window as he came bounding down the stairs. He opened the door and we exchanged a warm, gracious (on my part) hug. Andy is the one who contacted me about auditioning for this project in the first place. I wasn't able to attend the auditions but despite that fact, and without hesitation, he invited me to come to the callbacks. I was, essentially, there because of him. As we started up the stairs to the rehearsal room, Andy said, "Your blog is so inspiring." I didn't even know he had been reading it! "Oh, thank you!" I said, and upon realizing there was someone there who knew what I'd been going through, I couldn't help but say, "Well, it's not over yet." And I told him the nutshell version of my appointment with the speech pathologist and alluded to the fact that I might not be able to do the show. We arrived at the rehearsal room so I said a final, "It's all gonna be okay." before breaking off and meeting the other people in the room. He smiled and said, like a cheerleader trying to lift someone's spirits, "Yeah, it will!"

Andy was the only person I knew. Everyone else was a stranger and everyone was there - writers, actors, lighting designers, stage managers, company members who weren't working on the show but wanted to be there for the first read-through, everyone. In the first act I played everything from a potential cannibal to an 80-year-old woman to an uptight boss with a deadline. I was ultra conscious of my voice and the words of my doctor rang in my head. I was holding back. For a first impression, I felt, this was not going well... I wasn't even able to let them know beforehand that I would have to be careful. I felt like a terrible actor and an even worse comedienne. Sketch comedy should be my forte but I felt, in that moment, like a steaming pile of failure. I realized that I couldn't go through the rehearsal process feeling like that. Holding back isn't really in my vocabulary and it would either make me feel terrible (not to mention be unfair for everyone else involved) or I'd say fuck it and go back to my old ways which could be dangerous at this point. Neither of those options seemed viable and I could feel the volcano of emotion smoldering within. We got to the end of act one and took a 5-minute break. As Andy passed by me I said, "See how I'm holding back?" "Yeah," he said as a little somberness crept into his otherwise cheery disposition. He sat in the chair beside me and we started talking and I started crying and all hell broke loose. Well, all hell broke loose internally, anyway. He offered to wait after rehearsal to talk to the director with me. I was so grateful to him in that moment, I can't even express it fully. I don't know why, but it was important to me to have backup. To have someone there who knew my story and could vouch for the validity of my woes was invaluable, it made me feel like less of a failure, like I would somehow be taken more seriously and not cast off as a flake. After rehearsal I waited for the room to clear, waited for a production meeting to conclude, waited to have a discussion that I never wanted to (nor dreamed I would have to) have....

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Learning Curve

On Thursday nights there is a class called Toning. It is a sound healing class wherein you focus on each individual chakra and imagine a specific color while "singing" on an assigned note and vowel. For example, the first chakra (tailbone) is associated with the color red, the note "A" and the sound "ooooo" as in tool. You spend about 5 minutes on each chakra and the sound and vibration are meant to increase circulation, energy and vitality in the organs or parts of the body represented by each chakra (the first being adrenal glands, legs, feet, bones and large intestine). The first week I was here I decided not to go since, for one thing, I had a colonic scheduled right before the class started and, for another thing, I couldn't make sound anyway. Last Thursday, however, my throat was still feeling open and relaxed from the raike-type session the week before so I decided to go since it was supposed to be healing and, hey, that's what I'm here for. So I oooooed for the first chakra and I ohhhhhed for the second chakra and somewhere in there my throat completely tensed up and went back to its old habit of carrying the weight of the world. I tried breathing into it, trying with all my might to relax. I stopped producing sound because clearly I wasn't ready to do so, but my throat remained in an upright and locked position. So I just laid on the floor, listening to everyone else aw ah eh ih ee and aum while tears streamed down my face.

My grandparents had a dog named Muggins when I was growing up and I'm not sure exactly when he died, but I haven't thought about that dog for over 15 years. For some reason he popped into my mind the day I got to OHI. Laying on the floor during the toning class I had a vision of a line-up of people (among others were all three of my deceased grandparents, Mandala - the dog my family had when I was a kid, the Verizon guy [no joke], the woman I picture as Divine Femininity) and in this vision I went to Muggins and put my arms around him, just a little hug, and for some unknown reason that image and the feeling it invoked started me sobbing, while frustration and anxiety kept me sobbing. Unable to relax my throat and frustrated that the mere production of (what was supposed to be healing) sound undid an entire week's worth of relaxation, I was reminded that silence and a healthy throat are only the beginning of my healing process. Lifestyle changes will continue to be made while I start the learning process over from scratch; I have to learn how to talk and breathe and sing as if I've never done it before. I have to remain constantly aware of how I'm using my voice and will most likely need help from chiropractors and acupuncturists and massage therapists to ease the tension that haunts my upper body. I have a long road ahead of me. But hopefully not TOO long! I shall pray to the learning curve gods.

As I went to sit by myself at lunch the other day someone called me over to sit with his group. I sat down and he said, "It must be so hard in a new place not to be able to talk. I mean, you want to be accepted and all that. You must feel a little insecure walking around, not be able to talk to people." I shook my head with a positive smirk on my face and wrote, "It's a nice change of pace for me. I'm a big talker." He guffawed as if I'd told the best joke EVER and said, "Really? It's hard to imagine that!" It's so interesting to hear people's perceptions of you when you can't talk. During my first week I befriended a guy named Eric, a lovely soul from Philly. He asked me what my voice sounded like and before I could answer he said, "You have the voice of a pixie, don't you? It's a little high?" WRONG. It's surreal to get to know people and not really be able to reciprocate. In a group, conveying sense of humor is out of the question. By the time I've written my extremely witty response to something they're on to the next-next-next thing. So I'm being impeccable with my silence too, it would seem. Eric got to know my sense of humor a little bit as we ate lunch together one day on the raggedly uncomfortable reclining lawn chairs. From that moment on we delighted in telling each other horribly wrong and/or dirty jokes but he very rudely left OHI at the end of my first week. Fortunately he didn't leave without talking about a magic chiropractor in town that we just HAD to go to, so Ray and I went together last week. Magic indeed. I wrote Eric an email that said simply, "I love Dr. Charlie. He is my hero." He wrote back and asked if I was going to see him again before leaving and suggested that I sing Wind Beneath My Wings to him on my last day. I was reminded of my first public performance when I was eleven or twelve singing that song in an auditorium for reasons I do not remember. I wrote him back and said I still wouldn't be producing sound then, but I'd do an interpretive dance instead. "Tell him to leave whatever misalignment makes you so damned funny," he replied. Man I wish I could have laughed out loud just then. What a great thing to say to the poor silent girl. Best line ever.

If nothing else, this place has done wonders for my confidence in other, unexpected areas. I have received numerous compliments on my state of fit-ness, which is something I've never felt good about. Yesterday I was surrounded by a small group of women after the stretch class who were gushing, saying I was beautiful to watch and calling me the yoga master. Today a man with whom I've never interacted came up to me after the exercise class and told me I had great form and he was really glad I was in front of him so he could try to mimic my moves. I have never been esteemed for the way I move, in fact most of my life I've felt frumpy and clumsy and not at all graceful. In college dance teachers yelled at me; nothing I did was ever good enough, graceful enough, sucked in enough, straight enough (I have double-jointed elbows and they look crooked even when my arms are straight). Now all of a sudden the way I move my body stands out in a crowd and people aren't afraid to say so. (And not a single person has commented on my crooked elbows.) It makes me wonder if I've changed the way I move or if my audience is friendlier and, perhaps, a little less discerning. Either way, I'll take it.

I hate to admit it, but I have short-timer's disease. I am quite ready to be home and able to communicate again, but I am also trying to make the most of these last couple of days. Classes (for third-weekers) are over so I'm going back to the classes I liked last week, just to make sure I'm not missing anything. Tomorrow will be a great day. To start, we third-weekers have spent all week making lunch for the second-weekers which we'll serve tomorrow, and I had the honor of naming our cafe. It is called ExtRAWdinary Cafe. Unfortunately I can't say it out loud and for some reason people are having the hardest time pronouncing it. "Say it with a New York accent!" I want to say. People are stumbling like they've never spoken more than 2 syllables at a time. Extrarawrrrrdinary, Extrastrawdinary, ExtRARdinary. Pretty much everything but ExtRAWdinary. Ah well, as long as the food is good (or as good as possible under the circumstances). Then I have my very last colonic (waaaaaaaah) and THEN I will break the silence.

Every Friday night there is a talent show at OHI called Friday Night Live. I have refrained from performing for the last two weeks, of course, but I feel like it's the perfect way to break the silence. I'm not even going to introduce myself, I'm just gonna walk on stage with Chief (my guitar) and sing. After that I'll have someone tell me a joke so I can laugh my ass off and the breaking of the silence will be complete.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Out With The Old

July 25th

I am the last man standing. Everyone I have befriended over the last two weeks is gone. I have a very good feeling about this week, though, despite the fact that if I have to eat one more salad without dressing I will most likely set fire to my taste buds. I mean, seriously. The first week the food was verging on enjoyable. The second week it was tolerable and the third week, it seems, it is deplorable. Oh, but it hasn't changed and therein lies the problem. It's the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am having a considerable amount of difficulty downing a plate of dressingless, flavorless salad and scrawny watery vegetables first thing in the morning and then having to do it all over again at lunch and dinner... ach, just the thought of lettuce makes me queazy, I have to say. Strangely I have become a huge fan of cabbage. Never could stand the stuff before but now I can't get enough of it. Tonight I picked through the greens of the salad and ate only the cabbage and I'll do it for the next 6 days if I have to, mark my words. I'm considering a visit to the local organic market to pick up some dressing. I don't need much, just a dollop to get me through the day. Is that bad? Is that cheating? Or is it just plain survival?

July 26th

Okay, I'm better now. It was just a momentary fit of culinary proportions. I had taken the off-campus "cooking" class the day before and even though it was all raw (and vegan) it was the damn tastiest food ever. So much flavor and excitement it made me look forward to going home and keeping up with the raw food diet, but it also ruined me for the rest of my time at OHI because I got a taste of what this diet COULD be like. I added some seasoning to my salads today and (lo and behold) they tasted much better! The seasonings have been here the whole time but I haven't really needed them... now they are saving my life.

There has been all this talk about letting go of old stories. I first heard this from J (the psychic) and then again in just about every class I've taken here. I knew what that meant and thought I was doing a pretty good job of clearing out the old stories and negative "self-talk." Then the other day in our stretch class (I thought it would be more like yoga but it really is just a meditative stretch class) I was on my back with my left leg stretched out on the floor and my right leg up in the air (upside down splits, if you will). I was then instructed to take my right leg out to the side so I steered with my right hand and went as far as I could, all the while thinking, "Gah, my hips are SO tight... so tight... so tight." Then it hit me that, as inconsequential as it seemed, I was telling myself an old story. So I experimented and switched my thought to "my hips are relaxed and open... relaxed and open... relaxed and open." I shit you not, my hip responded immediately, opening up and allowing my leg to fall another 6 inches toward the floor. Don't get me wrong, there is still a lot of physical work to be done before my hips are pain-free, open and relaxed to their full potential, but simply changing the story got me six inches closer in a matter of seconds, and it really made me think. The big, obvious stories are easily recognized and therefore easily changed, but there's so much more to it; so many stories that don't seem to matter actually might, in the end, be more important to change than the bigger ones (I say change because simply getting rid of an old story is not enough - nature abhors a vacuum - it must be replaced with a new, positive story). In a yoga class a few weeks ago, before I arrived at Nutrition Prison, we were doing hip openers and the teacher informed us that the hips are where we store old relationships. This made absolute sense to me in the moment, but for some reason I had let go of that information until that moment in the stretch class. Every time I've stretched my hips since then I do so with the mantra, "I don't need you [my body, my hips] to protect me anymore, I protect myself by following my heart and my intuition. You can let go now." And it all sounds like a bunch of New Age bullshit but I tell you, my hips feel more open and less painful every time I recite those words (in my head, of course) and I haven't experienced such openness in my hips since before college (fancy that... even my protective hips date back to college).

July 27

With all my old friends gone I find myself alone even more so than before. I eat alone, I do the morning walk by myself (it's just not the same without Ray. I've started doing 2 1/2 laps in the time others do 1 1/2, probably because I'm unable to saunter along and discuss the woes of dressingless salad) and just about every minute of the day, except during class, I am alone. I suppose it is the week I am meant to face myself without any real distraction. There are a few exceptions to this solitude, of course, but interactions are short and (mostly) sweet. Last night a man (who was here last week but with whom I have never had occasion to interact) said hello to me as I sat and ate by myself. I waved and smiled and he leaned over and said into my ear, "You're like a pixie." He straightened up and I smiled, letting out a puff of air through my nostrils. He leaned over again, and into my ear whispered "Can you fly?" He popped up to get my answer and I nodded my head with a coy corner-mouth smile. He leaned over again, "Good, I've got a few wishes I'd like to talk to you about." With that he was gone and I continued shoveling gazpacho into my mouth. A couple hours later I was sitting in an over-sized chair drinking rejuvelac (a fermented quinoa water that is a natural probiotic, replacing the good bacteria that's been flushed out with the bad during the detox process). This same man spotted me, stopped, gently pointed in my direction and said, "There's the magic. The magic lady." Silence, it would seem, has added a layer of mystery and magic to my personae. I can live with that :)

This morning I sat outside with my vegetable juice (Tuesdays - Thursdays are optional juicing days and I LOVE me some green juice as an alternative to three more days of salad) and a man approached, gesturing to the chair next to me and asked if anyone was sitting there. I shook my head and made a small motion for him to go ahead and sit. He asked how I was and I gave a thumbs up. We sat in silence for several minutes and then he held out a piece of his watermelon and asked if I'd like it. I shook my head and smiled and, perhaps instinctually, held up one hand as if to say "no thank you." After several more minutes of silence the man got up and left. I guess I was not enough of a conversationalist for him, though he never bothered to find out why I wasn't speaking and I no longer offer that information until it is imminently necessary or requested.

Watermelon?! You may ask. Well, I should explain that there are two different diets here. There's the hypo diet (short for hypoglycemic) which does not include ANY sugar (no fruit and no sugary vegetables such as jicama, carrots or beets). Then there is the regular diet on which you're served watermelon 4 days a week for breakfast, apple sauce another day, oranges another day and I don't know what-all that 7th day because I try not to drool over other people's breakfast. I have opted for the hypo diet for several reasons, the most of which I will not mention here, but not the least of which is that I have this intuition that it will do my throat some good. I loves me some sugar and it's helpful to flush it out and give my body a break. Speaking of which, that's not all I'm flushing out...

I urge you to stop reading now if the mere mention of a colonic a few posts ago made you uneasy. I don't know why I feel the need to share this with you but the post is called "Out With The Old" for more than just the previously mentioned reasons. Colonics are my new best friends. I actually quite look forward to them which is, I admit, a little bit crazy. My first colonic two weeks ago (I now realize) was a disaster. The woman really knew her shit (oh yeah, there's gonna be lots of those). She massaged my abdomen (more specifically my colon by way of my abdomen) but nothing was coming out. She said old stuff (I'll spare you the phrase that's in my head) can be the same consistency as a tire. Gulp. She said she could feel it in there and I should sign up for another colonic the next day because the first one is always the toughest and it would be good to get them back to back. She had a lot to say about my eating habits and food allergies and all this without me saying a word (or even writing a word for that matter). She could just tell by feeling the desperate state of my colon. She massaged my abdomen and reflexology points on my feet and legs for an entire hour, but still nada. I was, quite literally, full of shit (I think I've been waiting all my life to say that and have it be true). Subsequent colonics have been just astounding. The tube is clear so you can watch as the old shit escapes from your body. It's gotten to the point where I'm slightly disappointed if the colon therapist's arm gets in the way of the tube as she massages my abdomen. It is inexplicably cathartic to watch yourself release shit that looks like a cross between driftwood and dinosaur poop. It's poetic, really. Letting go of old stories, letting go of old bullshit, letting go of old actual shit that's been holding me back and dragging me down. Halle-fuckin-lujah.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

All In Good Time

It's strange to be me right now. I'm silent and as such I am introverted and anti-social, two words that I have never used to describe myself, not even at my most hermitic of times. Normally I'd be asking more questions, talking to and befriending teachers, and socializing with pretty much anyone who crossed my path. I'd be cracking witty (and, of course, stupid) jokes and making quite a fool of myself on a regular basis. It is both liberating and frustrating that I can do none of these things. Mostly liberating. I think.

There's a woman here named Janine who is just lovely. She's a beautiful woman in her (I'd say) late forties/early fifties with a little bit of grey just on the edges of her hairline and the coolest freckles I've ever seen. I didn't have much interaction with her the first week but we were in all the same classes and often sat near each other. In a lot of these classes the teacher will have us introduce ourselves and (depending on the theme of the class) say a word or two about this, that, or even the other thing. I always write mine down and recruit someone to read it for me. That person was Janine a couple times last week and this week, even if she's clear across the room she reaches out for my notebook when it's my turn. The other day she handed it back after she'd finished reading and said, "I love being Rana's voice, I don't know why!" That afternoon I sat with her and a few others outside during lunch and she introduced me and told the group that I was silent. Another woman in our lunch circle, Helen, a woman who still carries more than a sparkle of her youthful beauty (I imagine she was quite the socialite) started asking questions. I handed her the index card with my explanation on it. "Oh! Oh.... aaaaah..... oooooh." Our other lunch mates looked on in anticipation so Helen read it aloud in a classic new york accent, "I am on doctor-prescribed vocal rest due to a health opportunity on my vocal chords. I am a singer/songwriter and actor and my voice is my life. I am doing one month of silence coupled with 3 weeks here to ensure a full recovery."

Janine turned to me, this was the first she'd heard of the actual reason I was silent, and said, "Well Rana, I am not surprised at all." Turns out she's an actor and a singer as well. Must be why we had that connection, even from afar. Helen asked, "What was your name again?" and I handed her my name tag. "Rawna." She said it with such conviction I almost didn't correct her but it's my life's work to get people to say my name right so I put my hands in the air and brought them down with a twinkle in my fingers. "Rain-a!" She exclaimed, proud to have understood this game of charades. I made a "that's it" gesture and she said, "It helps to be an actor!" She went on about how amazing my silence could be, that I get to observe people and learn so much and all the while I was furiously nodding my head. "It's enlightening" I wrote. She said she was a clinical psychologist and she wished more of her clients would be observers like, for example, at a company Christmas party. She said if they'd just abstain from drinking they'd learn a helluva lot about their co-workers and wouldn't get themselves into trouble. The best thing was that with all her talk about how amazing silence and observation could be, she completely usurped the conversation for the rest of the hour and didn't let anyone get a word in edgewise no matter what the topic. I was silently amused. She is a wonderfully petite woman with a gargantuan personality.

Another woman, Leslie, who I see everywhere but have not had occasion to "talk" to has recently started playfully commenting as she passes me, "There's the silent girl," or "Hello silent girl." I smile and wave and we continue walking in our different directions. Then there's Ray. Ray and I met the first day I was here and we always seemed to be in the same place at the same time. We'd sit near each other in class and he'd pass little notes of commentary on the subject matter or ask questions if he missed something. Outside of class he'd chat away and I'd nod and give my thumbs up and occasionally write something down. We are often in situations where I don't have "my voice" (the notebook I use to communicate) so we have engaged in many truly one-sided conversations. He is patient and just laughs when I try to "say" something but fail miserably with my charades, and he invariably keeps the one-sided chatting going strong. Every morning in our exercise class we take two laps around the perimeter of the campus (about a mile). Ray and I always walk together, leading the masses. He talks and I respond with lip noises or tongue clicks or exaggerated gesticulations and every so often he asks me a question that I am unable to answer without pen and paper so (after a failed attempt at flailing my arms in explanation) we just let it go and move on to the next thing. The most phenomenal part of the whole thing is that he is usually extremely shy and reserved and has found his inner extrovert (haha) at OHI. He admitted his shyness to me the second day we were here and I was shocked, I mean I never would have known based on the interactions I'd had with him that he was outside of his comfort zone. On our (very brisk) walk the other day he told me he'd like to record our walk one morning with the audio recording function on his iphone (with just him carrying the conversation) so as to be able to play it for his wife. "She'll just about fall out of her chair," he said, sharing in the marvel that was his new personality. What he doesn't know is just how outgoing and verbose I usually am. So we've essentially traded places, re-inventing ourselves in each other's shadows.

Today on our walk Leslie was in stride with me and Ray and she called me by my name for the first time (I didn't think she knew my name) and though we couldn't have a conversation at that point we did get to interact, so to speak (heh). She informed me that we're taking the same off-campus "cooking" class (in quotes because it is a raw food preparation class) this weekend and I mimed that I had a car and could take her. She and Ray continued to talk as I listened and nodded and smiled. Ray announced that he had a session with Evangeline later and I gave a ginormous nod of approval and a thumbs up (that's the session that left my throat in a state of utter relaxation). Leslie asked what it was and Ray said, "I don't really know, Rana you tell her." I gave him a playfully weary look and he laughed, knowing full well I could do no such thing. Leslie turned to me and said, "Oh, you don't even have to speak. Your face, your eyes, your smile... you are so expressive." Well, on an egotistical level, that made my day. There I was, feeling incomprehensible and drab compared to my usual self, unable to carry on the simplest of conversations and all at once I was reminded that I am me no matter what level of sound (or lack thereof) comes forth from my lips. Since I'm supposed to be changing the frequency (in all senses of the word) at which I speak, I was relieved to know that my personality was not lost along with my voice. l later realized, on a more spiritual level, that my silence was helping me fulfill one of the intentions I'd set (in that old journal I found under my bed) which was to let people get to know me on their terms, not mine. That is exactly what is happening here. People are coming to me in their own time and on their own terms. I am just sitting back and letting my energy draw them in, rather than bombarding them with my obnoxious outgoingness. It's nice, for a change, and boy does it take some pressure off; pressure I didn't even know was there until it wasn't anymore.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Alpha Alfalfa

I am, once again, in a juice-fast, detox fog so I apologize in advance for my inarticulateness :) The second week is off to a running start. I played hooky for the weekend and took a little trip to Santa Monica to be with my grandfather for his 92nd birthday. I was careful to stick as closely to the detox diet as I could but restaurants in the outside world (unless you're in Berkeley) don't tend to cater to such needs. But I'm back in the routine now and after crashing at 8pm on Sunday night after an event-filled weekend, I woke up Monday morning ready to rock. On Monday of week one, I practically licked my plate clean but this Monday I grazed more than ate, munching on the celery sticks and zucchini rounds and sprouts. Lots of sprouts. They are emphatic about growing your own sprouts and eating as many as possible because they are rich in enzymes and so so so so good for your body, especially the digestive system. Alfalfa, mung bean, fenugreek and lentil sprouts abound and if, when I return, you wonder why I suddenly smell like maple syrup the answer is in the fenugreek. Tuesday of last week the juice fast started and I was content with my 300 calories a day (the juice is full of nutrients but it's all vegetables so has very few calories) and never felt hungry. This Tuesday, I am drinking the juice and helping myself to a few solid items as well. I'm not sure what happened but my appetite is back in full swing.

I recently realized that I am the sort of person who needs to know why things work the way they do in order to make good choices. For example, I smoked a pack a day for ten years and then, upon reading a book that explained the mechanics of nicotine I was able to quit easily, and it's been three-and-a-half years without so much as a puff. As another example, last February I quit drinking coffee and soda. Once or twice a week I allowed myself a cup of decaf just to get that taste, but then I read a whole thing about coffee and the mechanics of it and why it is harmful to our bodies, even decaf, and I haven't had a cup since. That's precisely what OHI is providing. Classes on food combining and the digestive system allow me to understand, anatomically, how to make good food choices and WHY. All of the classes are in-depth explanations of the way things work and the reasons why I need to make certain changes and choices and it's empowering. I can't wait for next week because it's more about how to implement these changes once back in the real world and that, for me, is where the real challenge is. For now, though, I'd just like to share a funny little story from back in the days of detox fog week one.

My first night out in the Starbucks parking lot, just after I'd posted "Silence Opens The Door To Infinity," a delivery truck pulled up right next to me and blocked the WiFi signal, completely disabling the internet. So I revved up the old engine, switched on the lights and found myself a new spot on the other side of the truck. I turned off the engine and was catching up with email and the like when all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the stereo (which wasn't on at the time) start blinking spastically. I did not take this as a good sign. I turned the key in the ignition to see if it would start and it sounded like a donkey with a hair ball stuck in its throat. I sat back and smiled, shaking my head. I totally manifested this....

There's a state of being known as Alpha (also referred to as meditation, daydreaming, or relaxation) in which you are calm, open to imagination, have enhanced learning, and heightened suggestibility (we are in Alpha while we watch TV which is why companies will pay millions of dollars for a 30-second spot during the Superbowl). It is this state which allows us to access our subconscious mind. We were instructed to reach this state several times a day for 5 to 20 minutes each time, the purpose of which is to essentially erase negative habits or patterns or health opportunities and replace them with positive ones, ones that will serve us instead of hinder us. When a thought comes in that is negative or doesn't support us in some way, we are supposed to cancel-cancel it (like a computer that needs to be told twice to delete - are you SURE you want to delete it?) so that our brain does not move forward with that plan. It is in this state that I imagine my appointment with the speech pathologist on August 3rd after an entire month of silence. I imagine sitting in the chair while she preps the camera for action, then I see her put the contraption in my mouth as I attempt an "eeeeee" sound and I envision the monitor on which my vocal chords appear. I see them flap together without interference and as the "eeeeee" stops and the chords come apart, I see the healthy V shape with chords as smooth as a baby's bum and I jump out of my chair and hug the speech pathologist right there on the spot. She laughs and says, "Would you like to start with some speech therapy to keep your voice healthy?" And I say, "I thought you'd never ask!" Well, that is where Alpha has taken me lately but back at the beginning I was not so well versed in the art of meditation.

I believe I mentioned that I live in my brain and my thoughts are often very difficult to silence. Well, last Wednesday (the night in question) was, for all intents and purposes, my first attempt at Alpha. I put my yoga mat on the floor and laid with my head atop a few books (something my voice teacher told me to do to take pressure off my back - it's Alexander Technique, I think). My mind was racing and I tried to focus on my breath and relax my body but there was no getting away from the rapid fire of thoughts. After several minutes I was able to imagine my healthy self but it was mostly in snippets, with other thoughts thundering like mack trucks through my future. One of those thoughts was that this would be a good night to go into town and post a new blog. Another of those thoughts was that my car wouldn't start and this cascaded into a full-blown (albeit short) movie in my head about trying to get to Starbucks and my car not starting. Finally, I turned my attention back to the task at hand but I didn't cancel-cancel, I just moved on. I didn't think about the car-not-starting movie again until I got ready to leave campus. I put the key in with baited breath and, of course, it started. I was mildly relieved and thought "Tch, silly goose of course it started, why wouldn't it start?!" Little did I know that movie would play out on the other side.

So there I was, the only human being in an 11,000-spot parking lot (the delivery truck had come and gone) and my car wouldn't start. It was after 11pm and I was no less than 1/2 a mile away from my cozy little room. I pictured myself walking back to campus and dealing with it in the morning and, though it was a terrible idea, in my detox fog it seemed to be the only option. Unfortunately, when I moved my car around that (damn) truck I thought I was only going to be a few minutes so I didn't even attempt to park well. I was a little more than half-way in to the spot with Johnny Five's butt (Johnny Five is the name of my car, by the way) hanging out in what would be the middle of the roadway come morning. So I put him in neutral and pushed him forward, only there was a small incline and Johnny slid farther into the road so I ducked in and pulled up the emergency break, took a deep Xena Warrior Princess breath and tried again, knowing this time that I'd have to put some muscle into it. Nobody was trapped under there, but by god I got that car farther into that spot than ever imaginable. I was taking up a parking spot and-a-half but at least I was out of the road. Oy ve. Exhausted, I sat back down in the driver's seat and, shortly thereafter, the detox fog burned off momentarily and I remembered that I have roadside assistance through my insurance company. Hurrah! But you can't exactly text message roadside assistance so I took a deep breath and decided that desperate times called for speaking measures. I said as few words as possible and 30 minutes later a couple of dudes rolled up in a tow truck (I think one of them was in training), jumped Johnny in a matter of seconds, and I was back in business. I left the car running while I sent off a couple emails and headed back to campus. I have to admit I enjoyed this little scenario. No one was hurt, all was well, and I got to experience the power of manifestation. Even if it was in a relatively "negative" form, it had a positive outcome and taught me quite a lesson. May I never again forget to cancel-cancel such (seemingly harmless) thoughts, and may such manifestations work on all the positive, important movies in my head.