There was a time I lived like a carefree woman who read bad news, shook her head, and went about her usual day. I felt secure in the world, and the knowledge that I controlled my own destiny. That time ended on April 13, 2002.
Before then, I hadn’t experienced how one moment could change the course of many lives – that a hard knock on the head could erase precious memories or alter a personality, that our brain alone programs who we are by speeding up or slowing down our mental power, determining our behavior, aggressive or passive, even controlling how we think, sound, and interact with the world.
I used to think the heart was in charge. I guess I was a romantic. It was the brain all along. The brain, by itself, can stop the heart.
Since the day my husband’s head was smacked on the pavement by a car, I’ve worked hard to let go of fear. We nearly fell into debt with the use of loans and credit cards, and barely scraped through that period. Hugh is fine now. He’s recovered. After a traumatic brain injury requiring three surgeries, an induced coma, over a year of grueling rehab, and the loss of his job and identity, he moved on. Not only on, but up. He works a full-time executive job, attends an evening MBA program, and surfs at the beach. Many are surprised he rides a bike again, despite the fact his old bike ended up a mangled metal mess beneath a car. Hugh is a walking miracle. One doctor calls him the highest functioning traumatic brain injury patient he’s ever treated, and he has treated over 5,000 patients.
But, just yesterday, as Hugh drove me along Interstate 64 in a downpour, I stopped breathing when the brakes hesitated for a moment as Hugh stamped down hard. We never crashed, but I lurched forward, and saw myself fly through the windshield, like I have a thousand times since the day he was hit. It’s not the crash that haunts me. My real fear lies in knowing the months and years of devastation that can follow one horrific moment.
How can I let go of fear? What can I learn from it? Maybe it’s just that we can only control our own response to threats as we see them, choosing to step over them like landmines dotting our lives. Or, we could dance around them, almost forgetting they lie in wait, until the day we step on one.
My husband, a smart man and seasoned athlete, once coached a mountain biker, “Look where you want to go. If you look at the tree, you’ll hit the tree.” Because of him, I’m looking ahead, a little more comfortable each day. And though I see the landmines from the corner of my eye, they no longer dominate the landscape. I want to dance with Hugh, the way he does with confidence – without looking down at my feet, without anticipating a misstep. He shows me how every day: just take a deep breath and go!
One of our favourite things to do now is to go out and eat. But sadly, our culture has largely forgotten how to truly enjoy and appreciate food. On one hand, we’re encouraged to be over-stimulated gluttons. Insane amounts of salt, sugar, and artificial flavoring in much of what we buy at grocery stores, not to mention fast food, masks the real flavor of the foods we eat, so we forget how to enjoy the subtle pleasures of natural foods. And all this synthetic “food” comes super-sized, so we gorge ourselves, instead of taking the time to slowly savour a rational portion of food.
On the other hand, many of us (myself included) fall into the trap of obsessing over what we eat. Because we’re conditioned to have unhealthy relationships with our bodies, we find ourselves counting carbs, calories, and Weight Watchers points until we’ve sapped all the enjoyment out of our meals.
Moreover, I read an article recently about how young women are told by the media to be “sexy” without being given the chance to develop and understand their own “authentic sexuality.” We start to see our own bodies as merely physical objects that are separate from our spiritual being, yet somehow define our value. And, as we know, the media reinforce this neurotic way of thinking. But our bodies are connected to our spirit, so not only are warped views of food bad for us nutritionally, they also damage us spiritually.
As is the case with overcoming so many unhealthy habits, the key here is to love yourself (in addition to eating high quality, natural foods). We often overeat because something else is missing in our lives, and we criticize ourselves – unfairly and unnecessarily – for what we see as a shortcoming. And as for those of us who are overly controlling with what we eat, it’s often a control issue. This has been my problem. In my early twenties, I put a great deal of pressure on myself to be “successful,” and I felt like I’d be a complete failure if I didn’t accomplish certain goals. I didn’t recognize that I was valuable just as I was. So I became overly controlling of everything in my life – including food – because I was afraid that if I gave myself an inch of wiggle room, everything would spin out of control and I’d be destined for a life if inadequacy.
But food is an incredible source of nourishment. It creates memories that bond us to one another in a primordial way. And to miss out on the opportunity to cultivate that love and nourishment because we’re being overly critical of ourselves is truly a shame. So love yourself. Realize that you are inherently valuable just as you are. And allow yourself to feel deeply nourished. You deserve it!