The Year Of Us

While many people do their reflecting and goal-setting at the end of each calendar year, I typically wait until my birthday at the end of January to look back at the year that has passed and to make my plans for the year that is beginning for me.

The year that followed my turning thirty-six broke the mold of all years that came before. It broke me.

And now that my birthday is, once again, here, I find that I don’t want to do things as I have previously done them.

I don’t want to look back and reflect on the year I became an only child. I don’t want to examine all of the ways this year has changed me. I don’t want to make silly lists of all of the things I plan to do on this next trip around the sun (Get back in shape! Visit new countries! Find life’s purpose!!)

My windows of time now are shorter, more fragile. Long term reflecting and planning have both been abandoned out of necessity rather than any rational choice.

Instead of ruminating about all that has occurred since my last birthday, I can only reminisce about my most recent experience. Instead of formulating plans for the upcoming year, I can only arrange for today.

*

When I booked my trip to Guatemala, life looked a lot different. It was a new country to visit, and an opportunity to connect with friends, but it really didn’t extend past that for me. Once it came time to leave, however, the circumstances of my world had so drastically changed that I was now assigning a new weight to everything, counting on each trip to save me. I worried that Guatemala, or I, might crumble under this pressure.

I arrived in Quetzaltenango (Xela to locals) with three suitcases full of clothing and random belongings to distribute to the children and women at Education and Hope, an organization founded by my friend Julie Coyne that brings access to education to impoverished children in nearby areas of the Western Highlands. Specifically, they provide scholarships, bus tickets, school supplies, clothing, day care, food, and love to the Educación y Esperanza family.

What they actually do can only be encompassed in one word: miraculous.

I was intimidated by the closeness I witnessed, each person who walked through the doors of the Proyecto offering a hug and kiss to Julie, her husband Gordon, me. I was intimidated by my elementary grasp of Spanish, and what to say to people who spoke no English. I was intimidated by the enormity of what happens there. As the week went on, I tried to memorize all of the faces and names. I didn’t succeed but I managed with a few.

*

On my last night in Xela, Lorena walks with me to set up my ride out of town the next morning. I am taken care of here, never left to fend for myself, and Lorena takes over this duty happily tonight.

I ask her how long she has worked at Education and Hope, and she tells me she has been there for twelve years, first as a student and now working there. She loves it, and loves the people. They are my second family, she says. I ask her if she has children. She tells me she has nine siblings and that as the second oldest, that is enough work for her.

She asks me if I have brothers or sisters.

It’s the first time someone has asked me since my sister died. It’s the question I have been most dreading each time I meet someone new. I anticipated it coming up on a first date, or maybe even a job interview at home. Instead, it hits me in Spanish, with the force of a sledgehammer. Tienes hermanos?

I say no, only me. But that doesn’t feel right, so I think of how I can say this in Spanish. Mi hermana está muerta. Mi hermana murió. Mi hermana no está vivo.

Sometimes even when you don’t want to know the words, your body, your mind, your heart still knows them.

Lo siento, she says. I can feel how deeply she means it. She pauses for a moment while I blink back tears, before touching my arm and telling me, Now you have a second family here, too.

On my final morning in Xela, I spend thirty minutes with the smallest of the children, letting them climb all over me, playing peek-a-boo, pretending to sleep while they shriek with laughter above me. I don’t worry about the language barrier anymore. There is no language for their smiles, and no miscommunication in their fierce hugs. The love they offer me is simple and crosses all cultural divides. As it is happening, I think I have maybe never been this happy.

It’s nearly time for me to leave.

I make my way to the kitchen to begin saying goodbye to the ladies working there, who have fed me so lovingly all week. The little kids are napping, and the bigger kids are across the street in class. The kitchen is almost empty; I discover it is because all of the women are waiting in the main room, in a receiving line of sorts, to send me off.

They each hug me, and somehow I have no trouble understanding the things they say to me, my Spanish coming through in a way it hasn’t all week. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. Please come back again to see us. We love you.

Rosenda is there, one of the younger women, hugging me intensely, before drawing back and putting her hand firmly on my heart while she looks straight into my eyes. Tu tienes un gran corazón.

I cry, because I can’t fathom how she can see this, especially with the big fault line running through its center. Until I realize that she sees the fissure too, and maybe loves me just a little more because of it. I cry harder. For Kelly, for my parents, for the women here, for all of our collective losses, for myself.

And a tiny piece of the crack fuses back together again. Not healed, not like before, but held together somehow from the purest form of love I have been shown in this special place. When I walk outside and find all of the students standing in the street yelling, Adios Katie, before running to hug and kiss me goodbye, I understand that this is the kind of day worthy of reflection. This is the kind of day worthy of planning. This is the kind of day you learn how to change someone’s life.

*

This is the year I turn 37.

This is the year that will remain largely unplanned.

This is the year that I turn the front facing camera in my mind around, and point it outwards.

This is the year of ordinary and extraordinary miracles.

This is the year of doing more, for others; of giving back that love I have received.

This is the year of sharing, nurturing, assisting, comforting, trusting, hugging, believing, smiling.

This is the year of love.

 

This is the Year of Us.

 

***To learn more about Education and Hope, or to make a donation (I can make this request, it’s my birthday), please visit http://educationandhope.org/. It is so easy to make a difference in the lives of these wonderful people. Thank you!

Mis nuevos amigos

Mis nuevos amigos

Un-Grounded (as seen originally on The Manifest-Station)

Every night, at an interval of approximately ten minutes, the bed shakes violently. The first time it happens, I think it’s an earthquake. I lie in bed, roused from near sleep by the jarring movement, and have trouble remembering where I am. I don’t think Cape Cod has earthquakes, but I allow for the possibility. Or the other possibility that someone has run up the stairs to the patio outside the bedroom, powerfully enough to move the furniture. I never feel safe sleeping in rooms with doors that lead to the outside, and I hate that through the sheer-curtain-covered windowpane I can see shadows moving slowly. I don’t know if they are from leaves, or from the heavy-footed man who tromped up the steps to look in at me. The house next-door, with its menacing cracked window and abandoned sheets on the clothesline only fuels this fantasy. I turn my back to the door; what I can’t see can’t hurt me. And then the rocking begins again.

In Iceland last month, I felt similarly uneasy. I woke from a dreamless sleep at three o’clock one morning to find light streaming through the blackout shades that I had neglected to close all the way. A local had asked me earlier that evening to go on a sunset stroll at midnight, but there was no actual sunset. There was never a sunset. In the week I spent there, it was as bright at midnight as it was at five in the evening or five in the morning. Instead of it feeling like I was there for a week, it felt like I was there for one endlessly long day, or perhaps year. Time lost all relevance. I was always exhausted, always restless. I could not find the ground while standing on jagged lava rocks in unending daylight.

These nights in Provincetown, like those nights in Reykjavik, are un-grounding me…


 

To read the rest of the above piece, please click on the link to The Manifest-Station below!

http://themanifeststation.net/2014/09/05/un-grounded/

And follow Jen Pastiloff’s incredible site if you aren’t already!

xx,
Katie

A Letter of Closure

“Wow, she’s gained so much weight.”

“She really looks terrible.”

“I can’t believe how big she is.”

This is what I imagine people say about me when I walk out of a room.

When I get up from the table to go to the bathroom. When I go to get my car from the valet. When I walk to the bar to grab another round of drinks. Even when I am still sitting right there in front of them, the words run in a scroll through my mind, a news ticker only I can see that broadcasts what I am so certain everyone must be thinking.

I stopped into my New York office before leaving for a two week trip to Italy. I obsessed for weeks in advance about how I would face colleagues I hadn’t seen in six months, and what they would surely think of me once they saw me now.  I anticipated conversations where I could plead with them, “Remember, I didn’t always look this way?! Remember, I used to be thin?!? Please, remember???”

The lingering rational part of my mind reasons that most likely no one is talking about me. And if they are, it’s probably not about the pounds I have gained.  But still the thoughts cut through rhyme and reason and stick there, adhered to my brain and seared into my heart.

I arrived in Tuscany last week for my second yoga retreat, this time with my extra literal and figurative baggage. Set amongst rolling hills, with a view of the Monteriggioni castle, Ebbio is an 800-year old farmhouse complete with roosters who function as alarm clocks, wild horses who nuzzle your hand looking for food, and a tree-covered trellis that is suspended above the communal table where all food is served. It is, in a word, picturesque. It is, in a feeling, home.

It is also, as I settled in, the place where I would fully face the demons that have become my daily companions of late.

The fears from New York remained; multiplied perhaps. This group would see beyond even what those in my office saw.

I couldn’t hide a fuller stomach under a blousy dress, just as I couldn’t hide my shame with self-deprecating jokes. Here, it all shows. Amidst the yoga pants and the bikinis, the massages and the acupuncture, the tears and the laughter, everything here demands to be seen and felt. Here, you wear your heart on the outside.

It took me until the last day on my first retreat to say the words: I have an eating disorder. They came out on the first day at Ebbio. I surrendered. I can’t trust that what I see in myself is real. It is time to let others show me the truth.

When we wrote our 5 Most Beautiful Things about each other, none of the letters from my friends mentioned weight or pants size. When we were asked to describe ourselves as others see us, the words “fat” and “gross” were not among those used. It is time to remove those words from my vocabulary. It is time to end this book, finally, and begin another. It is time to say goodbye.

On our second class, on a Sunday evening in the middle of asanas and flowing and opening up and crying and sharing came the directive, “Write a letter of closure.”

And so it follows, the beginning of the end.  

Dear Eating Disorder,

This is a Dear John letter. The time has come for us to say goodbye. You have been a loyal companion since my teenage years. We were high school sweethearts I guess. Though at times I made attempts as finding love elsewhere, I could never forget you. I always returned. You worked your way into my heart and my soul back when they were still discovering what should actually be there, and you convinced me that I could not live without you. And naively, I believed you. You tricked me. You lied to me. You made me hate me. Sometimes I even hated you. But I was never ready to close the proverbial door on you.

It is time. It was time. It was never time. How did you ever even get here in the first place? It doesn’t really matter now.

You will be moving out soon. You can take the flat screen tv and the fancy chandelier and even the complicated wine opener. You can take it all. You don’t deserve any of it, of course, but I will give them to you in order to ensure your leaving.

I don’t wish you well. I don’t hope you will find a soulmate in someone else one day. I don’t pray for your future happiness. I’m sure you understand. Or maybe not. That’s fine too. It doesn’t matter anymore, as long as you are gone.

Please leave the keys when you go. I am still going to change the locks, because I don’t trust that you didn’t make copies, and I suspect you will show up and try to let yourself in again.  But it’s symbolic, so leave them behind on the counter with the garage door opener and my heart. 

It’s over. This is your eviction notice. Your contract will not be renewed. We are done. 

Do not call. Do not write.  Do not text me for a booty call at 1am on a lonely Saturday night. Don’t tweet me. Don’t tag me in your Instagram pictures, attempting to make me nostalgic. Just go, and stay gone.

It. Is. Over. É Finita in Italy.

PS—I know it’s customary to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But it IS you. It’s NOT ME. And that’s why this must end now.

xx,

Katie

Letting Go in a field of sunflowers in Tuscany.

Letting Go in a field of sunflowers in Tuscany. “May you always be this happy. May you always be this free.”

 

 

Confession: I Am Cleansed OUT

greenjuice

I’m currently on Day Six of a Seven Day, self-imposed cleanse. I’ve done them before. Almost everyone I know has done one. We even did them as a team when I worked in our New York office (otherwise known as the last time I will ever eat avocado).  I should have been completely prepared for what this week would be like. 

People rave about the benefits of cleanses.

“I feel so energized!”

“I feel so light!”

“I feel so clearheaded!”

“I love life!!!”

THIS IS NOT ME.

I feel utterly exhausted.

I feel like I’m dragging myself around with weights tied to my appendages.

I feel foggy and confused.

I hate life.

I hate life right now. I hate this cleanse. I hate everyone who is euphoric on this cleanse. I hate everyone who is not on this cleanse. I hate everyone who can eat sugar, or fat, or any food more than once a day.  

Instead of the elated feelings, I’m at my worst. Why on earth have I done this to myself again?

I am punishing myself.

For a few months, since the holidays really, I have been eating with complete lack of discernment about what I’m putting into my mouth. With a complete lack of regard for what I’m doing to my body.

Bacon for breakfast (and lunch, maybe dinner too)? Yes, please!

Dessert after every meal? Of course!

Three glasses of wine? Better than two!

Candy, just because? Obviously!!

It caught up with me. My yoga practice has suffered. My skin has suffered. My sleep has suffered. And my poor clothes have suffered the worst of all. When I nearly ripped my jeans trying to squeeze into them last weekend in Santa Fe, and certainly stretched them past the point where jeans should ever go, I knew it had to stop.

It probably would have been a good idea to just start eating cleanly again, or to just cut back on the excessive fat and sugar. But I don’t always, or usually, like to do what’s good for me. I like to do what works quickly. It’s what I know. Thus the cleanse.

For the indulgences, for the lack of willpower, for the out of control eating…I punish myself.

I drink my shakes. I choke down my green juices. I force myself to keep eating my daily meal of spinach and protein. Each sip, each bite reminds me that I deserve this punishment. I have tried, convicted and sentenced myself.

So I sit here on my couch, alone, on a Saturday night. Going out seems pointless. I can’t eat. I can’t drink. I have no energy. I am hypersensitive and frequently on the verge of tears. It’s better that I stay here. I’m resigned to serving out this sentence.

This is a slippery slope for me. It only takes one cleanse for me to start monitoring every morsel of food, every calorie. One cleanse to set me on the road to obsession. One cleanse to be my gateway drug.

I think about what it would be like instead to stop this Draconian punishment. I think about what it would be like to be eating dinner, drinking wine like normal people. I think about what fun these normal people must be out having tonight.

I think, there must be more than this.

I know there is.

That logical part of my brain continues to hang on, despite being starved, and tells me, You don’t have to do this. Just eat healthy! Everything in moderation! Even, I think you look great! Sometimes it starts to sound just like my mom, encouraging and supporting and believing and loving, even when the other part of me fights back. I’m relieved when I hear it though, knowing I haven’t totally given over to the other, darker voice. Knowing I can still find my way out of the darkness. 

So screw Day Seven.

I’m done with this cleanse on Day Six, and I’m climbing out of the darkness and taking my life back. I want to be strong and present in my yoga class tomorrow. I want to be able to meet up with friends, and laugh and share and enjoy. For one day at least, I want to stop punishing myself, and accept my imperfect, sugar-loving, over-indulging self.

There is more than this. And I’m ready for it. With a side of chocolate.

xx,

Katie

 

 

Confession: I Cried Today

I cried today.

I woke up too early. I called my dad. I went to work. I took conference calls and did a presentation for clients. I went to the grocery store. I skipped yoga. I packed for a ski trip.

And in between, I cried.

A beautiful little boy, I don’t actually know him, is slowly dying. I see his sweet face when I go on Facebook.  His picture pops up in my newsfeed, sometimes in the form of people asking for prayers for him, sometimes as a profile pic. I can see his huge eyes, focused on something past the viewfinder of the camera. Focused on something we can’t see, that probably only he can, in spite of his blindness (or possibly because of it). The light that shines on him seems otherworldly.

I don’t know this baby and yet I cried for him today. I cried first for him, and then for everything else. For my mom and my grandfather, facing the anniversary of my beloved grandmother’s passing this week. For the 4 year old girl we dedicated yoga to last week in New Jersey, just diagnosed with brain cancer. For the one I never talk about, the one who would have been 23 this year, the one whose name I don’t say.

Sometimes it’s just too hard.

M was 2 when I met him during my freshman year of high school. He had a host of medical problems; it was apparent in the way he looked, in his development. I don’t know if I ever understood exactly what he was dealing with medically, or if I’m just not remembering now. But I knew it was serious.

The light that radiated off this kid was blinding. He was universally adored by anyone who spent time with him. If he said your name, you melted. You felt like a chosen one. He didn’t look like everyone else, and I think now, of course not. He was too special to look the same. He was the best of all of us.

He was my idol’s son. I can call her that, because I actually worshipped her. She was the one I put on a pedestal, the one whose opinion mattered most. If she asked, the answer was always yes. I believed my every success was due to her. When I was 17, and M was 5, she asked me to babysit for him over the summer. I knew this meant that I was special. The answer, of course, was yes.

We did a trial run or two, making sure I was strong enough to lift him, knew how to feed him and clean his trach after lunch. He was comfortable with me. She made a recording of him asking “Katie coming tomorrow?” the weekend before my first day.

I babysat once, on a Monday. That’s all I can remember, though maybe there were more times. We read books, we taped ourselves laughing, we wrote stories in a journal, we talked about Elmo and how silly Elmo was. He loved Elmo. He loved being silly. I repeated the same jokes over and over again until they were ours, just for us.

The next day he died.

His heart just slowed down and stopped beating in the bathroom that night. When his mother, my idol, called and woke me with the news the following morning, nothing made sense. My mom handed me the cordless phone and I knew, even in my sleepy haze, that something had happened. But not that.

The summer was a blur. The school year started again and it was all the same but everything was different. The ones who loved him were all different.

The distance happened after I left for college. Distance would have been natural anyway, as 1200 miles will do to people. I didn’t realize until after it happened that I had been written out of the end of this story. There would be no tearful reunions, no coffee dates to catch up after a semester away. There would be nothing, just an end; not even acknowledged, just observed.

I tried. I attempted to write myself back in. I begged really. Please don’t cut me out of your life. Please still love me. How could someone I loved as a mentor for 5 years just walk away? How could the person I picked up off the floor and propped up for a year of hell see through me as if I wasn’t even there?

What I didn’t know then was that I had been written out of the beginning of the story too. There could be no happy ending because I didn’t exist in the beginning anymore. I was simply erased from the record books, stripped of the medals earned loving this child and his mother. When I got a blank stare, it’s because she really didn’t see me anymore. I wasn’t there.

I don’t know if I will ever understand why my part was eliminated, why I got killed off like a character leaving the tv show before the end of the season, easily disposed. Maybe she thinks it is my fault. Maybe I do too. For 15 years I have wondered, and no answers ever materialize. I am resigned to this. As my friend would say, “And so it is.”

I stopped grieving back then. How could I grieve a little boy who I loved when it didn’t feel like I was allowed to have loved him anymore?

So I shut down.

I stopped visiting his grave, I stopped acknowledging the anniversary of his death, I stopped reaching out to my idol. I accepted this new story that was written.

I don’t anymore. I can’t write myself back into the end of this story, but I can claim my part in the beginning. It’s time.

Today I cry for Ronan, and pray for his family. I cry for my mom, and my grandfather, and that little girl in NJ.

And I cry for M. I loved you. I’ve never forgotten.

You will always be part of my story.

xx,
Katie

Confession: I Am Healing

One of the spots I was most looking forward to visiting in Bali this week were the famous healing waters at Tampak Siring Temple.  It’s a Hindu Temple located in a valley between two hills in central Bali, and is sacred to the Balinese people as a place to “melt all the bad influences in the body and purify the soul and mind”.  You go there with an intention of being healed of something that has been troubling you.

Tampak Siring
Holy Spring Water Temple

 
The theme for our morning practice the day of the trip was “I FORGIVE”.  This was probably the 4th time this year that I have done this exercise with Jen, so I actually thought, I got this, this will be easy.  I have worked really hard to forgive those I had been carrying around in a negative way, whether they asked for it or not.  I feel I have truly made peace with these people in my heart.  And then it turned inward and became “I Forgive Myself”.  Ok, that part was a little more tricky.  I struggle everyday with beating myself up, and tearing myself down…so forgiving myself always feels like a challenge.
 
I went into the healing waters with that in mind, and with a very clear intention–to rinse off that nasty old crone who lives in my head.  The one who constantly says things like “You’re fat”.  “You look terrible”.  “YOU AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH”.  It’s absurd–I would NEVER let someone talk to people I love like that, yet I allow this voice to penetrate my thoughts and my heart regularly.  I wanted to go to the healing waters and literally “Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” (I’ve been singing South Pacific songs in my head for 3 days; Bali Hai anyone? It felt fitting).  I dunked my head, in and out of flowing water, 12 times, trying to wash this demon out.
 
Walking out of the waters, I expected to feel cleansed.  Elated.  Renewed.  Or at least content.  Instead I felt decidedly…bad.  Sad.  Unsettled.  Like I wanted to go cry without knowing why, and close myself up in a room with no one around.  How different this felt from what I had imagined it would.  And since I had an hour long trip back to Soulshine in a car with 6 other people, I couldn’t shut everyone out.  I know, I tried.
 
Someone brought up a complicated situation in my life, and asked me the question “Do you feel guilty?”.  I was so overcome with the entire experience that I couldn’t articulate any feelings, so I just cried.  We returned and I went right into a massage, where I had an hour to process the feelings and figure out what what was going on in my head (and my heart).
 
And it became really clear, really quickly:
 
I DON’T FEEL GUILTY.
 
For the first time in ages.  I am finished punishing myself for sins committed 15, 20, 25 years ago.  I have repented, I have done my time, and I’m finished.  I HAVE forgiven myself.  I don’t know if it was the intention set during class, or the healing waters, or just…me.  But today, right now, I’m there.  I forgive me.
 
Our Balinese tour guide/driver/guru, Agung, shared a story with our group about why the Balinese make offerings 3 times a day.
 

Temple offerings

They make offerings to the Gods to say thank you, to get protection from them.  But they also make offerings to the evil spirits.  They need to appeal to the evil spirits as well as the Gods, so that everything in their lives is in harmony.  They understand that there is good and there is evil, and instead of fighting against the evil, they try to balance it out with good.  They make offerings to the evil spirits to create this balance, to make peace with it, to make friends with it.
 
Maybe rather than trying to force an exorcism of this evil spirit in my head, this self-critic, I need to become friends with it.  Make offerings to it.  Everyday.  So that I can change the dialogue that it has with me.  So that I can give it a different, more helpful role.
 
I didn’t get what I expected from the healing waters, but perhaps I got exactly what I needed.