June began with a joy filled bar mitzvah and has ended with a heart wrenching funeral. One dear child has become a man, and one beloved man has moved on to the next stage of his next journey.
I have thought a lot recently about our path from cradle to grave. While not being intentionally morbid, I recognize that, I am indeed in my “middle” age and the rest of my time here will likely be far less than the time I have already spent. It is a sobering thought that I have had with increasing frequency. Watched time is supposed to slow down, but that has not been the case with the past six months. When I made the decision that I would take a year to discover what I was supposed to be when I grow up. I actually thought that much of that “answer” was already known to me. I thought I was getting a year off, but I actually was pretty sure I had the cheat sheet for the final exam. I knew I was supposed to teach people that #foodislove and how to cook and eat in a way that nourished their body and soul. That year is more than half over, and it turns out that those answers were only a very small fraction of the truth.
While wonderful in so many ways, the last six months has been an adjustment for everyone dearest to me. My eldest daughter is used to having the whole house to herself for days on end and her cleanliness and ability to share a bathroom are on the lowest end of the spectrum. The last eight years, Haydn has always spent more time with her father. This year it has become the reverse. My non-traditional parenting agreement with Hadyn’s father has been shaken to the core, requiring us to redefine our roles as caretakers as I am now the stay at home parent. It turns out there are a lot of ‘feelings’ to be shared in that process. We are working on it, as people who still love one another and their children continue to do despite no longer living under the same roof.
In the winter and spring I had gotten used to having six uninterrupted hours every day to write before I did afternoon school pick up. Now, I am lucky if I have twenty minutes to myself without having to lock the bathroom door. I keep reminding myself that I was the one that wanted to have all this togetherness, when having conversations through a keyhole. I keep reminding myself that there will be plenty of time to write when they are back in middle school, high school, and then college and on to their own lives. I keep reminding myself that the time we have together is so very fleeting, and there will be so much more time spent missing them after they leave.
I have always considered myself a late bloomer, even though I rushed headlong into my adolescence and early adulthood, I didn’t actually learn how to be ‘adultish’ till much later than my contemporaries. I spent two years in my early twenties battling a cocaine addiction, and then struggled with an eating disorder for the next twenty years. I look at the street drugs as an anomaly, designed to deaden the pain of my childhood sexual abuse. I spent two years in drug induced euphoria so I didn’t have to face my reality. When that intoxicating euphoria ran its inevitable course, as it always does, I went back to my true drug of choice: food.
My eating disorder represented exactly what I felt I deserved. And more importantly what I didn’t. I would starve myself because I didn’t deserve to be nourished. I would binge because I never could fill that emptiness inside that told me I wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until my 40’s that I came into my own, and it wasn’t until I had disowned my family of origin that I found myself questioning who I really was, rather than hearing my mother’s voice, and then my own, tell me who I was not.
I had an intense discussion with a friend from high school who told me they were surprised by my high level of confidence when discussing my accomplishments and what I believe to be my strengths. I was a little girl when last we spoke and now I am sometimes called a force of nature. The strength of my confidence of who “I AM” confounded them. They felt challenged by my resolute self assuredness in such statements. My hubris, however, has come at a dear cost. I would never wish it upon anyone to pay the price I have had to pay.
I posted on Facebook this week, “If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?”. This query resonated strongly with some of you. If I could actually tell my younger self what to do in order to avoid those horrific lessons would I do so? I have thought about this for the last seventeen years and as much as I wish I could say to young Gretchen “run as fast and as hard as you can away from the people who will harm you” – I simply can’t do it. I would never have Holly, I would never have Hadyn. And most importantly I would never have become the person that can clearly state “I am profoundly aware of who I am and my connection to everything in the universe.” Still, a tiny part of me wishes those lessons had not come at such a dear cost. A tiny part of me wishes that I was normal and my life had followed the inevitable, predictable path of many of my contemporaries. A tiny part of me wishes that I had simply married my high school sweetheart and lived happily ever afterward.
Then Jeff died this week and reminded me again of just how extraordinary a journey we each have from cradle to grave. How each trip around the sun is uniquely designed to make us the exact person we are meant to be. How my journey to “I AM” was informed by each bad decision, each bad relationship, each bad decade with its correspondingly horrific consequences. Had I married my first true love I would never know who I am, because that person would have never learned the lessons that have shaped my journey, and make my voice unique. Indeed, I probably would never have gotten past my belief that I wasn’t worthy of love and nourishment. I certainly could never have grown to believe I was worthy to access the divinity within myself.
I fought long and hard to find my way back to God.
When, at eighteen, I finally acknowledged the abuse of my childhood and sought solace in cocaine, I felt there was no way God could exist if he allowed bad things to happen to a little girl. Surely there could never be a loving and all powerful God that allowed an innocent child like me to have suffered at the hands of the people who were entrusted to keep me safe.
It seemed obvious to my young adult self that there was no God. Why were my parents so profoundly unfit, when all around me were mothers and fathers who loved their offspring unreservedly and without conditions? These were people that would do anything to prevent those entrusted to them from experiencing the neglect and abuse that my parents induced and ignored. No, God definitely did not exist. Drugs had seemed a temporarily easy way out of the ache of my loneliness and pain of my abuse . The next two decades passed in a miasma of self absorption. I wasn’t a bad person, but I certainly wasn’t a good one either. I labeled myself “agnostic” because, in my head I only heard ME ME ME. Being labeled as an atheist felt too…final. I was angry and “done” with God (as I knew him) but I also felt there had to be something more. I was still blind to the divinity that resides within each of us, connecting all that is, for better and or for worse.
It was only through being profoundly lost after the divorce to Holly’s father, in my mid thirties that I found out who I was again. I had nowhere else to turn, so I tried God once more because, what did I really have to lose? In the process of not wanting to be a victim anymore, the part of me that believed that “bad things didn’t happen to good people” dissolved, and I saw quite clearly that each and every step of our journey is about making us the person we need to become. It was only in that painful abyss I found the spark that rekindled my humanity. I moved from a perception of limitation to the understanding of infinite connection.
Being skinny, having money, a big house, an “important ” job…none of these mattered at all. I should have learned that through the dysfunction of my silver spoon family, but I didn’t, so the universe obligingly handed me the lesson again until this time I got it right.
I was told by this same high school friend that in his attempt to reconnect with me he reached out to my family. I was “probably still doing drugs”, he was told; a thirty year old long forgotten song that is playing in their head as if it’s still in the top forty countdown. I have spent the last month since that phone call working toward finding grace in forgiveness. I will not allow their self-serving, destructive stories to reach out from the past, trying to mute my voice. A voice that has not stilled, but is growing stronger than ever before; ‘I AM’ sings out a new and proud song into my new reality. My tools are no longer limited to fire and knives. I have enlisted my lifetime collection of words and my bottomless reserve of hope. I AM a woman of compassion and empathy who is profoundly aware of my connection to all that is. I AM a person who is unafraid to speak her truth even though that truth is sometimes scary and sad. I AM driven to becoming the person I am supposed to be, so that by the end of my wondrous journey, I will have found my way home.
Jeff was a person filled with boundless compassion, love and kindness. His heart and smile lit the darkness all around him and me. Whenever he came into my restaurant I felt truly loved by him, not that I was the one responsible for his happiness , with his favorite well cooked salmon and specially made spice free tomato soup. He truly deeply cared about me as a person, not just as a chef. He would smile at me with a radiance and gentleness that warmed my soul. No matter what I am going to eventually be when I grow up, I just want to be a little more like Jeff when my journey home begins.