Wednesday, November 28, 2007

When a Body Meets a Body

The following post is about a significant change in my health that I both want to write about and share on this blog. Forgive me if this seems too clinical or personal, but we’re all grown-ups here and my desire is to explain things as clearly as I can, because I’m certain that I’m not the only one out here coping with these matters. I hope you find this interesting, readable, and if necessary, helpful.

From the time I was 12 until I had a hysterectomy at 46, I knew I didn’t want children. I also had awful menstrual periods all my life that culminated in several huge fibroid tumors that nearly bled me to death for ten years until I couldn’t take anymore and had the surgery. So you can imagine how surprised I was when, as my recovery began, I felt a sense of loss as deep as that accompanying the death of a treasured loved one. I didn’t regret not having children, but I felt a peculiar sadness knowing that the issue was closed. And much to my astonishment, I missed my period and felt a palpable emptiness where my uterus used to be. It was like the kind of silence you hear when all the water in a large apartment building is shut down, the absence of a low, dull whoosh through miles of pipe that you don’t even know is there until you realize it’s missing.

It took over a year before I felt like myself again and it wasn’t my old self I returned to, but rather a familiar me who was somehow oddly different. Besides reaching puberty, which I don’t remember all that clearly, this post-hysterectomy recovery was the most stunning physical and emotional change I had ever experienced. Until now. And it feels like déjà vu all over again.

Early last month I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and put on daily oral medication to stabilize my blood sugar, as well as pills to lower my too-high cholesterol; it was a double-hitter I’ve never been hit with before. My doctor told me this over the phone during a short conversation in which he also blithely told me, essentially, to stop eating virtually everything I had eaten my whole food-obsessed life: enormous quantities of starch, fat and sugar occasionally garnished with fruit and vegetables.

If you are someone who eats to live rather than lives to eat, you may not get what this means to me. But literally from birth, I was a voracious eater and food was my raison d’etre. My parents called their new baby “our little ravenous doll.” Eating for pleasure, comfort and congeniality is a big part of both of the cultures I was raised with and the joy, indeed the imperative, to be constantly surrounded by whopping portions of wonderful food defined my world from Day One. And I had a lot of help.

My maternal grandmother was a retired professional cook who never quite got the hang of cooking for fewer than 25 people at a time, and who was convinced that I was skinny and on the verge of starvation. When I was in elementary school, every afternoon I went home to my grandparents, who provided childcare for my working parents. One of my most frequent after-school snacks was three large, chocolate-covered, custard donuts. This afternoon repast was just to tide me over until dinner, which always consisted of humongous amounts of whatever was on the evening’s menu. That barely held me until my mother came home later in the evening, when I ate again while she had dinner. Every holiday, every special occasion – in truth, every day – was reason enough for fabulous food. I loved it all and some of my fondest memories, most, in fact, are of great meals I’ve had with family and friends, not to mention a lifetime of hours of contented, solitary eating. Now everything’s different.

As a diabetic with high cholesterol, I can no longer eat whatever I want, in whatever quantity I want, whenever I feel like it. Most folks would say I never could do that, since the result was that I got very fat. I never wanted to be fat, so I tried to lose weight and did, very often, a great deal of weight on several occasions. But like 95-98% of all people who diet, I always gained the weight back, with interest. After repeatedly fighting this battle from ages 9 to 40, I surrendered. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never be thin, never even be an average weight for my height and build. Once I really made my peace with that and finally accepted myself as I was, my weight was quite stable for several years. Then, from ages 43 to 50, a lot of shit happened in my life and, as a result, I got considerably fatter. I dieted a few times during that period but it only made matters worse – as did stopping smoking for five months (that alone added 40 lbs.).

Indeed, my only experience with attempting to alter my diet has been in relation to weight loss; it was never about health. Now health is all it’s about. If I knew for certain that my old eating habits would simply lead to quick, sudden death, however prematurely, I’m not so sure I’d change my ways. But the very real prospects of blindness, amputation, kidney failure, or a stroke that wouldn’t kill me but instead leave me a drooling vegetable abandoned in some heartless institution…these are prospects much more unpleasant than straightforward death! So, I’ve embarked on a new adventure. I’ve done quite a bit of online research and each day I apply all my creative cooking talents to the creation of yummy low-sugar, low-carb and low-fat meals and snacks. I need to start exercising, too, which in my case means daily walks, but I haven’t gotten there yet. For now, I’m concentrating on what I eat, feeling okay about it, and reconstructing my emotional relationship with food. I’m not trying to lose weight, but weight loss will occur, since my new way of eating makes that inevitable; it’s already begun. Only time will tell where I level off, but wherever that is, it is. I’m more concerned with a different set of numbers – and a different way of life.

I’ll keep you posted.

This post is illustrated with the Two of Cups because the number two is regarded as the prime feminine number and symbolizes dichotomy, transformation, self-awareness and perception. In the Tarot, Cups is the suit of emotions and the Two of Cups traditionally signifies lovers presenting themselves to each other in a spirit of profound connection and on an equal footing. But during a number of readings I’ve done for others, this card has come up as a clear indication of the two halves of the self at odds and needing to merge into one – and because the Tarot is in essence a language, over time the cards “speak” to you as you perceive them. This is certainly a time of inner conflict that I have to find a way to resolve.

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